Monday 16 October 2023

1987 Travel Journal: Purple Shirt and Miss South Carolina

    The most memorable event of the day came when the bus was forced to a stop at an army checkpoint.  A soldier got onto the bus with his automatic rifle (every soldier I have seen in Guatemala carries one).  Facing the passengers, he declared that everyone had to get off of the bus, so everyone did.  

    As we stood outside the bus, he started to collect everyone’s passports and papers.  The soldiers were not very thorough, they overlooked me, so I got his attention and volunteered my passport to him.  As I handed it to the soldier, the girlfriend of the purple-shirted South Carolinian, said in that most grating of accents, “I heard sometimes they don’t give the passports back.”

    This seemed a bit ridiculous to me for a soldier in this kind of situation with so many passengers standing on the side of the road, to do, but I didn’t say anything.  The officer walked away with the big handful of papers and passports to a large tent.  Then all of the males were hand-searched.  A soldier turned us around, wedged his foot between my feet, and proceeded to frisk me.  He found nothing, not even the pocket knife I had in my pocket.  

    He proceeded to search all of the other male passengers in this way, which took quite a long time.  At first I found the whole episode interesting, but after a while I became bored and eager to get back onto the bus.  The soldier with the passports returned and passed them back, and as we received ours, we were then allowed to re-board the bus, relieved that the experience was over, or was it?

    I noticed that Miss South Carolina was still outside.  She said she didn’t get her passport back.  The officer didn’t know where it was, and so Purple Shirt climbed back off of the bus to rescue his damsel in distress.  The soldiers didn’t know what to do.  They were clearly puzzled.  The girl demanded her passport back, and Purple Shirt pulled out his US passport, showing it to the soldiers, trying to explain to them that her’s looked similar.

    The soldiers were very flummoxed by this novel situation, and the head officer, re-boarded the bus, and demanded everyone get back off again to be re-searched.  Miss South Carolina who was being questioned, couldn’t remember who she had given the passport to.

    “Just a soldier.” She explained.  

    “Before or after, Purple Shirt?” The soldier asked.

    The girl didn’t that remember that either.  The rest of the passengers were all beginning to mill around, discussing the situation in small groups.  No one knew what to do.

    Purple Shirt got back on the bus to see if he could find a copy of Miss South Carolina’s birth certificate in his pack and as he rooted around in the backpack, guess what?  He found Miss South Carolina’s passport— She had never turned it in!

    The soldiers all rolled their eyes, as did I, and all of the Guatemalan men and women standing around outside the bus.  The soldier playing the official role, walked toward Miss South Carolina with a stern look on his face.  I felt tension beginning to arise.  He reached into the breast pocket of his uniform and pulled out a pencil, he stood very close to Miss South Carolina, and then affectionately, conked the brain-dead girl on the head with the eraser-end of his pencil, in mock punishment.

    This drama having been concluded, everyone piled back onto the bus, and the bus once again resumed its weaving back and forth from one side of the dusty jungle road to the other, toward Belize.  The only change was that a new “Most Embarrassing Moment” had been established in the life of a South Carolina Miss.

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