Peace Corps Writers
A Writer Writes
   by Katherine Jamieson (Guyana 1996–98)
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IT WAS A STEADY JUNGLE NIGHT, dark and sweet. We slept in the tent as they approached andPrinter friendly version awakened to their voices, baiting us from our dreams.
     “Hey scouts, you’re not staying up to watch Bill Clinton and Saddam Hussein?” is what I heard first, the foreign names awkward on the tongue of an Amerindian man, young and drunk.
     “What’s wrong scouts, you’re tired?” There were two of them, hitting each syllable and verb tense to imitate an American accent. They seemed to be standing directly outside of our tent. Our bodies were still warm with sleep but we were awake now, looking into the enclosed darkness, no longer alone. The jungle was silent.
     “We are looking for our boat. Someone has gone with our boat,” I noticed that the voice was slurred this time, louder than it needed to be.
     The first voice spoke again, “We have to hear where our boat has gone,” and then both of them were laughing and moving around slowly, shuffling against the soft dirt of the campsite.
     Amerindians are the indigenous people of Guyana, descended from the ancient tribes that first populated South America and the Caribbean. In a poor country, they are the poorest, yet they still have knowledge of the land and are the only ones who can survive in the Interior. We were two young women, a Guyanese from the coastland and an American, camping in a village that we needed a permit to visit, outsiders sleeping in a tent by the creek a half-mile away from the village huts.
     For a time there was nothing and then the shadow of a fist on the top of the tent, a slight pressure on the canvas bearing down. It occurred to me then that tent was like an eggshell, only the pretense of a barrier, a paltry safety. There were no boundaries that could protect us, certainly not this synthetic sheath. We were inches away from them, just black air between us. Our tent was permeable, wispy, the hand above insistent. Our tent was a joke.
     “Open up scouts!” the hand said, and then bounced a little on the tent roof, sending ripples of material down the side.
     “We can’t go away until we hear from the scouts!” more laughing then. There are only two of them I thought, just two of them. All day long the river, the village children, the palm trees on the edge of the jungle had seemed so idyllic, so safe, but they must have been watching us because they knew we were two women alone in the tent. We were so lost in our own understanding of ourselves, our greater sense of freedom here camping in the rainforest, outside the watching eyes of the city, that we had forgotten the watching eyes of the country. We imagined ourselves hidden and invisible, our greatest threat the nighttime mosquitoes. They must have been planning all day to come to us together in the night.
     “Striptease, we need a striptease . . . Like the Brits!” and now we went to hold on, instinctively reaching for each others’ elbows and wrists as if to protect the parts we thought might break first. We were shivering, barely visible to each other in the dark, tensed with fear, hearts beating. No time for a plan, no way to speak or make sounds now, just knowing all we had was this same tissue paper tent, we held each other.
     It is a strange thing how you reckon danger, adding up the possibilities, the potential of two men outside your isolated tent by a river near a rainforest in South America. How much risk is there, exactly, what are the chances they will move on us? I felt it in my chest, this small sense of flying, a growing, tickling anxiety as their voices talked on and on of nothing, baiting us. We were like bats in a cave, lying in the shadows of our tent, pretending to be dead. We were playing dead because we were being hunted.
     “Do you scouts like Bob Marley? Do you like Bill Clinton?” What did they feel like, talking to a tent? Were they certain of what they would do next or were they deciding? How would they decide?
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