24 Hours

Monday, March 17, 2008

OK, I have to write to you about my day on Saturday. If any of you have ever seen the TV show "24" they have in the States now, it is awesome. The main character is named Jack Bauer and he saves the world from Terrorists. Many people have told me about this show but until recently I had not seen it. Nicole a nurse that was here brought me a whole season on DVD and I thought it was new. She said it is about seven years old now. I said, "How could I not know about this?" She said, "I don't know have you been living in the jungle or something?" I said, "Hello..." Well anyway I had to tell you that to tell you the rest of the story.

About 1 year ago a man came to the Rio Dulce area and began stirring up trouble for the Indigenous Indians in this area. He kept telling them they needed to take their land back from the landowners even if it meant through force. The problem is, the Mayan people are very simple people and they can be easily lead one way or another by almost anyone. Well, 3 weeks ago, this leader was put in jail for something. Some villages got together and went and captured 22 police officers in a sleepy little village called Livingston. They were kept in a small village for about 38 hours and then a release was negotiated and they were dispersed peacefully.

Now fast forward to last Saturday:

24 hours

4:30 am: I get up to go do my run and work out for the day. I return home and head out for a place called El Farro† (The Lighthouse).

5:30 am: I start driving to the town of Puerto Barrios where I then go up behind the town and on to a dirt road. I travel about an hour on this dirt road in the jungle until I reach a Christian Compound called El Farro . This is a place that a friend of mine Phil, built to give Christian Churches and Youth groups in all of Guatemala a place to come and have camps and VBS schools and conferences. Phil had brought in an expensive piece of medical video equipment for me and one of the pieces was missing in the unloading. So I went to look for this piece. We could not find it so I felt like I had driven a long way for nothing. But this was not the case. I was supposed to be where I was.

10:00 am: I am now in Puerto Barrios returning home to Rio Dulce. I receive a call from a government official who advises me of a hostage situation were a group of Indigenous Indians have taken 4 Belgium tourists a Guatemalan Captain and a Guatemalan tour guide as hostages. I said, "What do you want with me?" They said, "We need you to come to the government offices and we need to talk to you." I said, "Where are you located?" They said, "In Puerto Barrios." I said I am here right now. They said, "Please come as fast as you can, there are lives at stake here." So I hit my lights and siren and drove through town like 007 in a Super turbo charged BMW. Only one problem... I was driving a 4 cylinder 4 wheel drive KIA truck that can only go about 55 miles per hour. I wanted to squeal the tires and peel out like the movies but it just didnít have the power.

10:30 am: I arrive at the government building. Two men come out and meet me and told me that a delegation of officials including the national chief of police, the head of the Navy, the head of the Human Rights Association, and the Guatemalan Government Tourism Board are all in the office waiting to brief me and ask me a question.

10:45 am: I enter the office and they all stand and introduce themselves and thank me for coming. I said what can I do to help? They explained that 24 hours ago 4 tourists were taken hostage and would be released only if the Indians demands for their leader to be let out of jail were acted upon. This group wanted me to get in a boat and go down river with two Human Rights Representatives and they wanted me to evaluate the medical condition of the hostage and then since the villagers knew me and I was neutral (non-government) they felt that I may be able to help negotiate a release of the hostages. I thought, "Yeah these Indians know me, sure, why not?" So now the mission was in place. I called for a Boat from my friends at El Farro and they were there in 15 minutes. However there was one small item they needed to inform me on. You see they wanted me to try and get me in and out as fast as possible because the president has just broken off all communications with the Indians and decided to go in and use military force to gain the release of these hostages. One of the hostages was a very important person. I am not at liberty to say who but I am sure it will come out in the news soon. So I said, "What if we are running late and don't get there before the Military?" They said, "Then you will need to get out of there as fast as you can." I said, "One minute, I need my nurse with me. She not only speaks English and Spanish but she can help me if there are real medical problems with the hostages. Also she is known on the river because she grew up on the river and everyone knows her." They said, "Great, we will send a government vehicle to get her. Where is she? I said, "She is supposed to be in class at the University where she is getting her Physiology degree." They said, "Yes, she is a go for this mission." They would not let me leave but they went and picked up my nurse Marleni.

11:10 AM Marleni arrives and we prepare to leave for the ocean and then head down river. As we are literally preparing to leave the building orders come in from the president that I am not to go because he cannot insure my safety. Also they expected the military would be there before we could get there. So I said, "If my job is over, can I please go get some Pollo Campero Chicken? I am starving." They say, "No we need you to be here so if we do get the hostages out you can do a medical exam and make sure they are OK. I use my Jack Bauer voice and demand they go get me and my nurse some chicken. They comply but not until after a fight. I had to put on my negotiators hat at this point. They only wanted to buy us a 2 piece chicken dinner, I knew this would not be easy dealing with the Guatemalan government but I had to give it all I had, so I said, "You donít give us the 3 piece, we walk." They countered with a 2 piece but fries and a coke. I looked them dead in the eye and said, "3 piece or Iíll drop you like a three day old dead fish." I could see the mans eye twitch and I knew I had them.

11:30 am We are eating a 2 piece chicken dinner; they lied and said they didn't have enough money. Just part of the game I guess.

12:30 pm I am asked to come outside the human rights delegation would like to have a word with me. At the same time the government man calls me on my cell phone and says if you do what the human rights guys want we canít guarantee your safety but you are a civilian and so it is your call. I listen to the plan of the human rights delegation and they wanted to fly me and Marleni and two Firemen into the village via a helicopter from the Navel base and see if we could negotiate a release. I still did not understand completely so I looked at Marleni and she said Bryan NO, they do not have authorization to do this and they are saying this would be completely on your own. Also when they negotiated last time they didnít do what they said and they are now not trusted by the Indians. So we declined and said when the situation is under control and no bullets flying we will go in and see what we can do. The government then took us over to the navel base where the Huey Helicopter was waiting and just the human rights guys went out to try and negotiate. I kind of felt bad till I heard one of the human right s guys was stabbed as soon as he got off the helicopter, He was not killed but apparently they did not trust him. So I may have just become another hostage if we went there.

2:00 am the military finds out that the hostage were moved to a different village, they decide to storm the village while everyone is asleep. They shoot one Indian and kill him. At this point all the other Indians say OK this is too rough for us, it is over you can have your tourist.

11:00 am I receive a call from Alfredo ( the man from the village that has TB and we sell his hand made crafts for him) since he knew my cell number the Indians ask him if he would call me and see if I could come and transport the body to the morgue in Puerto Barrios. I explained that I am not authorized to carry dead bodies only live ones. And I did not want to get between the people I have been serving for 7 years and the government. He understood and said OK Thank you anyway.

So everything has calmed down and the sad thing is that this will give Guatemala a black eye for tourism. I am sorry for that and all the people's lives it will affect. So most everything is back to normal and we are just seeing the normal emergencies for Easter Week. That was my 24 hours. Your Friend Bryan (Jack Bauer)

God Bless,
In His Service,

Bryan & Riechelle and Kids