When Being the Messiah Goes Really, Really Wrong (featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition: Travel Nightmares)

Remember, left is right and right is wrong. DRIVE SAFELY!” I would have thought it political commentary, but since the words were stamped on a shiny metal plate posted near the highway, it was apparently a traffic safety slogan. In India people generally drive on the left side of the road, though it seems more a suggestion than a mandate. Regardless of how wrong right is, I frequently saw people driving on the right side, as well as atop sidewalks, and, once, straight through a municipal park.

The fact that the sign was in English, though, reassured me that our jeep had not crossed any indeterminate borders. Nestled between Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, China and Tibet, the exact boundaries of this remote area are still under international dispute. The lack of customs checkpoints was a godsend, since I looked nothing like my passport picture.

I had stopped cutting my hair and beard a year earlier when I left Thailand, which resulted in my head looking enormous atop my emaciated frame. Without a gym membership or nutritional supplements to compliment all the trekking I was doing, my bulky vanity muscles had disappeared and given way to bony limbs and taut sinews. Under the Himalayan sun, my skin had gotten even darker. In short, I looked like an Osama bin Laden PEZ dispenser.

I had learned to tolerate having eyes on me at all times… even while sleeping. Staring is socially acceptable in many parts of the world; even encouraged. It was common to see parents physically lift a shy child’s head by the chin, shifting his gaze from the floor to my face. They would admonish the child in exotic languages, but the meaning was easy for me to surmise: “What’s wrong with you, child? Don’t look at the floor when you have a perfectly good freak in front of you to unnerve with your creepy child stare.”

My reception at the villages I visited was always about the same. The children and animals would notice me first. Dolls, toys, and books would drop to the ground, forgotten, as faces turned to me, eyes wide, jaws agape, stupefied in innocent wonder. Like sunflowers tracking the sun’s movement, they would slowly move their heads to keep me in their view as I walked past. The bravest would eventually snap out of their trance and yell something akin to a war cry. This would cause a collective giggle that would trigger a sporadic dash to hide behind their parents’ legs.

Then came the eerie silence as the adults gawked at me. If I was feeling uninhibited, I would do a little tap dance or make a funny face. Sometimes this would disarm them and produce a chuckle. Other times, my clowning had the opposite effect… literally… as in they would take up arms. Once, a man threatened me with a brick when I flipped my eyelids inside out and approached him with my arms out like a zombie.

I immediately knew the next village would be different, though. The driver had said this village was known in the area for being the most pious. He explained that American Baptist missionaries had religiously colonized the region and turned formerly proud head hunters into self-righteous bible thumpers.

I was dropped off near a courtyard where a large group of children was playing something that looked like volleyball. One by one they stopped what they were doing to stare at me, but this time, no one ran away. Instead, they all dropped down on their knees and joined their hands in prayer. One of them glanced at me and then at a pamphlet in his hand with a rendering of Jesus.

That is when it hit me: “They think I’m Jesus!”

It is not every day one gets to be a messiah, so I immediately seized my newfound holiness. I stretched out my arms, crossed one ankle over the other, and hung my head. I heard my followers gasp. Holding in my laughter, I closed my eyes, upturned my face to catch my best light, and basked in my divine glory.

Next thing I knew I was on the floor about to vomit and grabbing at the source of excruciating pain emanating from my scrotum. A lady came running to my side and began babbling in her native tongue.

English,” I croaked.

My son hit you in your privates.” She said. “He loved his grandmother very much and he very angry.”

I thought the pain might be affecting my hearing. “I don’t understand,” I whimpered.

When his grandmother died, we told him Jesus took her away.”


Appeared on NPR’s Weekend Edition: Travel Nightmares


Jesus needed a Jesus shot.

Aimless Vagabond

Aimless Vagabond

Efraín Villa, the Aimless Vagabond, is an optimist, cynic, and lover of contradiction. He's also a photographer, actor, and global wanderer whose endless quest for randomness has led him to colorful roles as tourism marketing director for the great state of New Mexico, pharmaceutical salesman of vaginal cream, professional fondling recipient at med schools (AKA standardized patient), trainer in police shooting simulations, and “pseudo intoxicated patron” in federal liquor licensing studies. He has traveled, lived, worked, and volunteered in more than 50 countries in five continents. While not running his consulting firm in Albuquerque, he is busy avoiding adulthood while wearing the least amount of clothes possible... usually in far away countries. Oh, also, he writes.
Aimless Vagabond

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