Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mike's Story, Part 10: Burundanga

By Jenna Orkin

   Mike had burned his bridges in haste; now he was repenting in sorrow.  With the exception of phone-calls to FTW colleagues, he was reduced to approximately one conversation a week in English.  To save money and avoid explaining his status as asylum-seeker to inquiring strangers, he cooked his meals on an electric burner in his hotel room.  At night, the car horns honked incessantly.

Not only that, but he'd learned that Chavez had made statements implying he wasn't sure that an actual plane had hit the Pentagon.

   Mike had tried to warn the government against adopting this widely-touted but easily refuted conspiracy theory (as opposed to conspiracy fact.)  Over 130 eye-witnesses had confirmed that what they saw was a plane rather than a missile.  To focus on a debatable theory is to draw the attention away from actual smoking guns.

He'd had it; he was throwing in the towel.  One night, with a "Fuck it," attitude he went out for a drink.

   And then things started going sideways.

   The following excerpt is from a confidential email Mike wrote on 9-26-2006 to a few colleagues:

                      I could not sit alone in the room one more night with Spanish TV.
                       I went to a night club and had a few drinks. I was soon approached by two women. What happened after that is both a blur and a mystery. There’s no doubt I got intoxicated but I suspect that something was put in my drink. At about 6 AM the next morning I came to in my hotel room. All of my pocket cash was gone and there were a number of credit card receipts strewn around. I have no idea how much was run on the credit cards that night.
                       Remember that current tensions between Venezuela and the US are very high. I am obviously a “gringo” in a city where fleecing gringos is something of a pastime. Because of the intense pain and other symptoms I believe that something was put in my drink. Maybe a “roofie”. They are here too I’m told.
                       I don’t know if I got laid or not. For all that I certainly hope so.
                       There are those in Ashland who know (as do all of the pre-Ashland FTW staff) that I spent 21 years in AA and resumed normal drinking in March of 2004. The uninformed backyard gossip, the ignorant, and those who achieve superiority by taking other people’s inventory, will quickly assert that I am just an alcoholic who went out, went into a blackout and is now trying to make excuses.
                       But Ken, Carolyn, Mike, Stan and Jamey have all seen me drink moderately, without cravings or any aberrant behavior for more than two years. There are people who leave AA and do resume normal alcoholic consumption.
                       However, it is largely because of what I learned in AA that I am writing this 10th Step. I have never stopped practicing AA’s steps or the deep spiritual program I acquired through 21 years of intense work.”

   We later learned that Mike's symptoms were consistent with the ingestion of burundanga, "an extract of the brugmansia plant containing high levels of the psychoactive chemical scopolamine."  While not impairing some cognitive functions, (Mike retained a dim memory of going to the ATM and withdrawing money, then doing it again until his account was depleted,) the drug does seem to remove "free will," whatever that philosophical enigma might be.

   The lapse was to have what the British call "knock on" or ripple effects.

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