Kuka and Jungle Love
"The first thing we revolutionaries lose is our wives. The last thing we lose is our lives. In between our women and our lives, we lose our freedom, our happiness, our means of living."
It was one of those wintery, but balmy (between Southern California rains), Saturdays on the beach at David and Michael’s blanket before the Beach Committee had dissolved that I was introduced to a woman from Honduras. Since my relationship with Katya had devolved into that miasma of just friends, I was available and David thought this dark goddess would do me good.
“Conveniently, Max,” David primed my expectations, “this woman is going to be leaving town in a few weeks. She’s coming over this afternoon and is interested in being shown a good time, you know.”
I watched her come across the sand, and stand above us with feet planted, giving me a once-over, as David proceeded with the formalities, “Kuka, this is the guy I’ve been telling you about. Max., this is Kuka. She’s leaving for Honduras in a few days.”
There was the usual chit-chat and laughter but Kuka had a serious demeanor about her. It was the way she talked about the Sandinista government of Nicaragua and the Contras, especially Eden Pastora, which was foreign to me. She was of mixed Afro/Miskito Indian decent. Her name, Kuka, spoke of her experience growing up on the border of the Rio Coco of Honduras, Bluefields of Nicaragua, and her native Miskito culture. She wore embroidered shirts emblazoned with wildly vibrating colors silk threads… … reds, greens, cerulean blues, contrasted by plain loose cotton shorts over the brown of her smooth skin. I sat in near rapture that any woman this beautiful and full of spirit was talking to me after Vacaville. Vacaville, where no one I hung out with cared about anything but getting, or staying, stoned.
Stoned, yes, Michael rolled a joint and passed it around. Each of us took a toke until it got to Kuka, she waved it off… passed it to me.
I was puzzled… “You don’t smoke?”
“No, I used to but my job is too demanding… I need a clear head.”
“What kind of work?”
“I’m a teacher. It isn’t so much what I do, but where I do it.”
I wanted to impress her for some entirely unknown reason. This simple gesture appealed to me and I felt a need to let her know that I had a serious side along with a rudimentary knowledge of world affairs. I tried to be as erudite as I could and I was slightly embarrassed at the sound of my own voice laying down my usual stoner rap, “I find it a paradox that a peaceful overthrow of the Government of the Shah in Iran and was replaced by a worse oppressive and horrible theocracy while the much more violent revolution in Nicaragua is more favorable to democracy.”
I find it a paradox, eh? I thought to myself; I never used words like this in Vacaville the past nine months or so... after the spill on my bike… but it was a good word… an intellectual word… meaning very little to me more than blah… blah… blah. I had her attention but her reaction wasn't at all what I’d thought it would be.
“You don’t get it do you,” she half accusingly snorted unladylike-like, “It’s damned near worse there with Ortega, and his Sandinista neighborhood watches, than when Samosa ran the place. I was there in Managua with my cousin, another Miskito, when the shit came down.”
“I don’t know anything about that kind of mosquitoes. That’s a name for Indians I suppose?”
“Yes, the Spaniards called us mosquitoes but that’s a name for a bug… a pest. We have always had the name, Miskito. I’ll spell it out for you, M – I – S - K - I - T - O.”
I learned to listen and asking questions was a way of letting her know I was doing just that. The truth was, since the concussion, I didn't give a rats-ass about Nicaraguan revolution or the Iranians either. Clinical depression is an entirely self-obsessed dysfunction. It has to be so, I suppose. I had a theory about depression being evolution’s way of equipping us in order to survive serious trauma… trauma like cracking one’s skull from ear to ear. The way out of depression is to care about something; a cause, or something greater than oneself. It is as though I had been waiting for something like that since I lost it all. The way into suicidal depression is to be presented with a greater cause, a calling, and then denying it.
Her deep brown eyes and a face framed by thick-wavy-jet-black hair, with lips, opening and closing, to a cadence of words about tragedy and failed expectations of the Miskito tribes on the Gulf Coast of Nicaragua, held my full attention. Then, breaking through the hypnosis of her eyes, I heard a familiar name.
“I was with my cousin in Managua when Edén Pastora took over Samosa’s palace in ‘78’. I met him in person after he returned from Cuba.”
“Pastora, Commander Zero? Wasn’t he a Contra?”
I had no idea what to think. My idea of the Contras was that they were all reactionaries… death squads… mercenaries, bought and paid for by the CIA. I’d read a little about the Sandinista’s and one of their military leaders, Commander Zero, (who had switched sides shortly after Samosa was ousted). Truthfully, I knew little of the inner workings, who’s in who’s out, of the mess in Central America except the President Ronald Reagan was for the Contras and Fidel Castro was an ally of Daniel Ortega.
“You Americans have this warped idea of what the Contras are.” She drew a rough map in the sand with her finger… “This is the North of Nicaragua… and this is the East Coast where the Miskito live. The Northern command is heavily armed and aided by the CIA but they mostly sit around smoking dope in Honduras… sending raids across the border to hit heavy targets: heavy targets like children in elementary schools.”
“The Miskitos are here,” circling the side of her map, “and many have fled to Honduras with Pastora or Bermudez. We are fiercely independent; the Spanish, the English, the Americans, Samosa, and now, the Sandinistas, have tried to co-opt, enlist, or erase, them from the Coast.” She slammed her fist down on the sand where I imagined people in grass skirts with spears scurrying into the forests to hide from Conquistadors. “But we are still here.”
The Iran/Contra Affair had been buzzing around the alternative press at that time… and, of course, anyone opposed to the Sandinista FSLN was considered to be the personification of evil. Among my liberal friends, myself included, there was a ready acceptance of leftist revolutionaries and, any contrary groups however slight the gradient distinction, were considered neo-fascists.
It made an impression on me too that Kuka didn’t mind sleeping with me in my VW van. She didn’t seem to mind at all, saying, “Sometimes we sleep on hammocks in the forest. This van is a luxury, you know.”
If I could have loved, I would have loved Kuka. I would have just as I would have, if I could have, loved anyone. I had to resign to not being able to love. To love was not an option as long as a crystalline pure hatred for Celeste, for her persistent refusal of any visitation with Ariel, bore my spirit. It was a hard realization that expressed itself first in Honduras.