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thinking about things
beyondutopia visionblog
Sunday, 5 December 2004
The Wild Dogs of Najaf Ate Well This Week
Mood:  lazy
"The wild dogs of Najaf, Iraq, ate well this week." Those were the words I heard on Fox News Channel just before I went to sleep. Now it is sometime past 3 am and something is breathing next to my bed - an animal presence. I look over and see three black dogs looking up at me. Something is warm and hovering just over my body, something is pinning the duvet cover down around my legs. I feel my temperature rise, and I am filled with strange longings mixed with dread. With a start, I awaken completely.

I'm not quite awake, but I'm not asleep. It is night. I am not sure of the time, or even of the place. I've been traveling a lot lately, and it's not unusual to wander around for a few seconds in that space between wakefulness and sleep and not quite know where I am. That does not bother me. What does bother me is the sense that there is something in the room with me. Red glowing pinpoints of light. Is it a smoke detector? The sound of the fan partially masks the sound of soft exhalations.

I'm in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow territory, but I'm not familiar with any werewolf tales around here. Is there a folk tale or myth that describes what I've just experienced? If there is, I'm not familiar with it, at least not where I live, a couple of blocks away from the "20 Mall" with a Dunkin Donuts, Price Chopper, Blockbuster, two local banks, Subway, Magic Wok, Eckerd, and an open 24-hours CVS pharmacy. I'm in the U.S., but I'm suddenly thinking of the small, poor, landlocked and largely unknown country of Paraguay.

In Paraguay, folklore met urban legend in Sombras en la Noche, an X-Files-inspired television series that was making a big splash in November 1996, when I arrived in Asuncion, the capital, for the first time, in order to give a few lectures on American film and literature and to start investigating Paraguayan women's literature. One of the members of the audience came up and introduced himself to me as Carlos Tarvajal, a Uruguayan film director working in Paraguay. He screened several of the episodes for me at the Universidad Catolica in Asuncion, and I was instantly fascinated. From a U.S. standpoint, Sombras en la Noche was a pretty low-budget affair, with hand-held cameras and film that looked more like something shot for a reality television show. Actually, come to think of it, it was a precursor of reality television, or a cousin of Cops, since it purported to document things that really happened in rural Paraguay.

The most popular episodes had to do with a small town plagued by a luison, a werewolf-type creature, but many times more ghastly. Drawn from indigenous Guarani folklore, the luison is a hideous wild dog-like creature with razor-sharp teeth and red, glowing eyes that feeds on cadavers it takes out of crypts and tombs in the cemetery. Even worse, after feeding on the flesh of the dead, it turns its eyes on the living, and feeds on them as well. The luison devours the soul of the living, and thus toys with one's fate. The luison lives among the townspeople as a normal human being during the day. However, one a full moon, he reverts to his beastly form, leaves his home, and begins feeding in the cemeteries.

To fully understand how and why Paraguayans consider the luison to be the most horrible of the creatures of the forest, night, and dreams, it is helpful to have a basic familiarity with Paraguayan folkloric creatures. The indigenous peoples of Paraguay are the Guarani, who lived in the forests, jungles around Iguazu Falls, and chaparral (the "chaco") region in what is now Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Their influence has remained, and in fact, Paraguayans have two official languages: Guarani and Spanish. The Guarani language is similar to Anglo-Saxons in that it creates nouns and adjectives by combining concrete nouns. Abstract concepts are related to concrete examples, which create a very metaphorical (and thus poetic) language. States of being are often expressed in terms of transformation, where an individual undergoes a metamorphosis and becomes a creature. For example, animals of the forest are thought to be able to metamorphose into a physically altered state which often corresponds to their inner condition.

What makes the luison much more ghastly than the average werewolf is how the myth became reanimated and changed with the devastating Chaco War, fought for three horrible years (1932-1935) between Bolivia and Paraguay in the arid, semi-desert Gran Chaco. Although Paraguay won the war on paper, the cost in human life was staggering. Fought in the inhospitable lands where there are numerous tropical diseases, poisonous plants, snakes, scorpions, insects, and animals, stinging thornbrush, quebracho, and absolutely no potable surface water, the suffering of soldiers on both sides was grisly. There was no way to bury the dead, which rose to a total of 100,000 by the end. Many died of malaria, thirst, heat exhaustion, and infection. Both nations were desperately poor, and could not afford to get adequate supplies to the troops. As the commands of both sides made suicidal decisions, the wild dogs came out at night and fed on the bodies of the dead and dying. More nightmarish than seeing one's dead comrade be eaten by a wild dog, was to see a wounded fellow-soldier being gnawed alive. The luison had returned, with a monstrous intensity. When the surviving soldiers returned home, they returned with stories of luisons. As poverty, hunger, economic collapse and war stress set in, more died of tropical diseases. Buried in the above-ground crypts in glass cases, it was easy to imagine a wild dog with supernatural strength, razor teeth and the ability to shape-shift. I could see the luison tearing the flesh of loved ones, and the preying upon the hopes and dreams of the living.

"It was a way to explain post-traumatic stress syndrome," explained Luisa Moreno, a Paraguayan writer familiar with Guarani traditions, whose short stories and poems written in both Guarani and Spanish incorporated folklore. In addition, she had spent two years investigating the sad state of public mental health care in Paraguay. "Instead of saying that he was suffering from depression, or having a psychotic break, you can just say that the luison stole his soul."

It was not hard to believe. It was a good way to save face in the villages, particularly when it was fairly hard to disguise the weird behavior, the propensity to roam around at night, to scream at shadows, hear voices, howl at the moon, weep at nothing, sleep in cemeteries.

I had not thought of luisons for several years, until August 2004 and the bloody battle of Najaf, Iraq, fought in and around crypts and above-ground tombs holding the bodies of the Muslim faithful.

"The wild dogs of Najaf, Iraq, ate well this week." That's what a young Marine told a reporter covering Najaf. Photographs showed exhausted Marines sleeping in the dark shadows of crypts and tombs.

The Iraqi insurgents, who did not have the ability to recover their dead, dying, and wounded, left them in the streets where they fell. The Marines said that wild dogs fed on them, gnawing off arms and feet. The dogs even lurked in the shadows as they were finally able to bring their dead out of the street. Did the Iraqis have werewolf or luisons in their folklore or mythologies? If so, certainly those beliefs would be resuscitated in this nightmarish slice of hell.

"The stench of death is overpowering," said one Marine sergeant. I wondered what would happen, sometime in the future, if the smell of death would trigger flashbacks, horrible memories. I remember attending a wake in Asuncion for a young man killed in a car accident almost a year to the day that his older brother had been killed in an accident. Ordinarily, the bodies are buried within a day, but it was Semana Santa and no one could find his father, who was somewhere in Argentina. No one wanted to bury the poor man's only remaining child without his knowing, so there was the mother awake now for three days straight, her voice hoarse with weeping, kneeling at the side of her son, and Tia, kneeling also and chanting the rosary, tears dried on her face. I went to pay my respects and was shocked at the odor. Despite the meat-locker chill of the funeral home and the banks and banks of carnations, gladioli, lilies, and other flowers, nothing could disguise the smell of putrifying human flesh. Even now, when I smell something similar, I am immediately transported to that scene, and I can't control the flood of thoughts and memories.

There were wild dogs in the streets of Asuncion. Not many, that's true, but they were definitely there. One little black, skinny one was hiding in an open storm drain. He looked hungry and I tossed him a chunk of chipa guazu, a bagel-shaped Paraguayan corn and cheese bread cooked in earthen ovens and delivered to street vendors during the early dawn hours. A big piece spilled out of my bag. The dog scooped up the small piece and then darted to the bigger piece next to my leg. He brushed against my ankle, causing me to jump in surprise.

"Don't ever pet a wild dog," said Tia. "They carry diseases and other bad things." There was something in her voice that caught my attention and made me think of the luisons. Don't pet a wild dog. It could be a luison, a descendant of one of those tragic and doomed Chaco soldiers, destined to roam the streets and howl as it scavenged scraps and realized that no one, just absolutely no one would ever pet it. It could turn on you. It could bite you. And, it could steal your soul.

Late at night, when the memories flood my mind and my heart, sometimes the only way I can deal with it is to drive, drive, drive under the full moon or go to the gym the instant it opens at 5 am and run on the treadmill until the anxiety subsides. Why do I feel this way? How do I account for it? Do I say that I was brushed by a luison?

And when the young Marines battle the demons invoked by smells, sounds, and images, what will they do? How will they account for it?

Just say they were brushed by a luison. Everyone will understand. And then, pray, pray, pray for them to get their souls back.

Posted by beyondutopia at 7:36 PM EST
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Tuesday, 18 May 2004
Alien Abductions & My Dog, Sammy
Topic: thinking about things
"And then I was subjected to..." crumpled face, stifled sobs, long silence, then words choked out. "The Anal Probe!!!" The audience gasped in response. It was the climactic moment they had been waiting for. Another daytime talk show. Another alien abduction testimonial. You would have thought those things would have died out a couple of years ago after psychiatrists started pointing out that many of the "recovered memories" from troubled individuals under hypnosis were not long-repressed memories at all. They were responses to suggestions made by the hypnotist.

I went to a therapist for a couple of years, but he never suggested hypnosis. He didn't suggest much at all, as far as I could tell, and so I eventually left. He was later drummed out of psychiatry for having requested nude photographs from his female patients. I don't remember that he ever asked me for such photographs, and I certainly never produced any for him. But, maybe I'm just not remembering it. Perhaps he really did have me under hypnotic suggestion.

Despite some ongoing skepticism on the part of non-believers, abduction / UFO sighting stories are more popular than ever. Peru leads the way, with hundreds of supposed UFO sightings every year. People in non-light-polluted countries such as Azerbaijan and Georgia report that UFOs, comets, and deviant stellar behavior are harbingers of doom, warnings to take heed, change one's wicked ways before it's too late.

Americans' experiences with the aliens are very personal. They can even involve the possibility of encountering one's soulmate. According to my favorite tabloid, at least two former First Ladies have had recurring love trysts with space aliens, variety Great Gray (the mild-mannered, harmless ones), who visit them from their spacecrafts.

Doesn't this set up some spousal jealousy in the White House? After all, there are more than a few individuals who believe that the world leaders are, in actuality, reptilian aliens disguised as humans. As opposed to the fairly passive yet intellectually curious Great Grays, the Reptilians are aggressive. They deliberately provoke strife between nations. Their goal is total global nuclear holocaust, which would leave behind lots of flesh ready to eat, and nice, warm radioactive sands for incubating Reptilian Alien eggs.

I'm not sure if I believe any of that. I do wonder, though. There are persistent rumors that the super-secret all-male Bohemian Society is comprised of Reptilian Aliens, who inhabit the bodies we know as world leaders. The Bohemian Society, which meets each summer in Sonoma County, California in a grove of Sequoiahs along the Russian River, is said to kick off its two weeks of male bonding with a bonfire ceremony to the Great Owl, Moloch, in which members burn effigies and don red KKK-type outfits. These are our world leaders? Marvelous.

That anal probe business is what catches my eye. It's the common thread that unites all the narratives. There are other ways aliens can invade and violate people. Why the anal probe? Why not the earwigs of Dune and Star Trek? Those little critters are scary. Dropped into the ear, they crawl into the ear canal, and promptly chew their way to the brain. I guess the problem with that is that you rarely live to tell the tale (!)

An alternative horror is the human botfly. I was considering a trip to Costa Rica until I remembered having read about the human Botfly in the Dangerous Insects book I bought for my son at the local natural history museum gift shop when he was 7 or 8. The botfly looks like a mosquito, except it's a fly. Its favorite place to bite appears to be the male scrotum. The mother botfly lays her eggs in the scrotal area of an unsuspecting tourist, and then flies off happy with the knowledge that her eggs have been laid in the most jealously guarded region of all of human anatomy. There the little eggs thrive. Human blood nourishes the larvae, which incubates for several weeks, growing to the size of a small chicken egg. This, according to all reports, causes "discomfort" in the unwilling "host." Finally, when it is time to give birth, the now inch-long worm-like creature, with a double-row of spines down its back, starts wriggling toward its birth canal, except there is no birth canal, just scrotum. According to all reports, this causes even more "discomfort." Birth in such circumstances is always by caesarian, accompanied by shrieks of horror, nausea, and shouts of "I'm not touching THAT!" and "Quick! I heard these things can jump up to 6 feet!"

Thankfully, human botfly experiences are rare, especially in comparison to alien abductions.

In attempt to make light of a situation that alarmed me, I joked with my son that he and his pet beagle, Sammy, must have been abducted by aliens at precisely the same time. I was saying this because my son had just described having had his core body temperature measured by a metal rectal thermal probe. He was severely dehydrated and had fallen unconscious from heat stroke during a training exercise with the Marines on a lava plain in Hawaii. As luck would have it, at precisely the same moment, 4,000 miles away in sunny central Oklahoma, a metal cylinder was being inserted up Sammy's rectum. No one thought Sammy was suffering from heat stroke. Instead, the veterinarian's assistant was collecting a stool sample to analyze for parasites. Thankfully, Michael and Sammy are both fine now. Sammy was parasite-free, but decidedly ungrateful for the knowledge. He runs and hides when he sees me holding anything even vaguely resembling a metal cylinder. After his ordeal, I felt sorry for the chubby little dog, so I fed him a full package of Bacon Beggin Strips. Ironically, Michael suggested I mail him a care package with his favorite snack items.

"Don't they have potato chips and cookies at the exchange on base?" I asked.

"It's not the same," he said. "I'll be back from the field next Thursday. Do you think it can be there by then?"

I looked up to the TV where another weeping man was describing his alien abduction experience. After a commercial break, the show ended with the announcer describing the gifts the guests would receive. One was a generous box of gourmet chocolates, fruits, and coffees.

Well, there's the pay-off. A hefty care package heals a lot of wounds, especially those inflicted in the name of scientific investigation or "health." I wonder if I'll be getting a box of chocolates for my birthday from my old therapist.

Posted by beyondutopia at 5:00 AM EDT
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Sunday, 25 April 2004
Mood:  hug me
Topic: thinking about things
The language of transcendence comes to me, not in words, but in stardust and magic. You may think of something a sparkling and light as a drink we pour ourselves on the first day of the year. Life is not an intemperate passion. Life is a set of steps we take, with our minds following quickly after - to make meaning, to give order, to see the way we need to progress toward an awakened self. I will celebrate. You think my face shows skepticism. What you see is hesitancy and respect. The joy is intense, the place I take myself to when I am feeling sad is peaceful and quiet.

Posted by beyondutopia at 12:42 AM EDT
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Saturday, 24 April 2004
Mood:  lyrical
Topic: thinking about things
There is magic in your life today. The poems you studied in school are ancient -- somewhere between a fairy tale and a story of eternal longing. Do the figures really exist? Beautiful young maidens float inches above the ground. Either that or they dance. Their arms and hands tell a story. Their eyes are mirrors. Their dance is pure metamorphosis - from flesh and blood into light, memory, and song. When you hear music today, you will be reminded of how the harmony unlocks your emotions in order to infuse power into your body and mind. The combination is powerful: logic and passion. You will recognize your own personal power in ways you never expected.

Posted by beyondutopia at 7:46 PM EDT
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Friday, 2 April 2004
getting started
Mood:  chillin'
Topic: thinking about things
This is a new blog -- set up just to ramble & contemplate future trends in online education ... a visionblog of sorts --


Posted by beyondutopia at 9:29 PM EST
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