Salsa and Salsa

We had been student teaching in Venezuela for three weeks. Linda and some of the other teachers at our school, Campo Alegre, decided to take us to the beach. We grabbed our suits and climbed into Linda’s car and took the highway through the long tunnels down to the Caribbean Sea.
Kristy and I had been in Iowa snowstorms a month before. Now we were basking in the sun on white sand. Too young to know the benefits of wearing a hat, I enjoyed three hours of vitamin D. The next day, when my face was beet red, I considered my earlier refusal to wear Linda’s extra hat.
Kristy’s face was pink, and her Swedish shoulders were tanned from the day before. Mine were burnt to a crisp. I couldn’t wear a bra because the straps hurt too much. My face hurt, my head hurt. Even my ears were sunburned.
“Just stay home today,” my supervising teacher said when I called her.
Staying home today turned into four days as I watched my face go from red to brown to purple to green. Water blisters formed everywhere. I had cooked the skin right off my face.
Kristy’s pink face turned tan. It made sense. Her luggage had arrived from Iowa. Mine had not. Her fifth grade supervising teacher loved her. My first grade teacher, Donna, not so much. The first day mine left me alone in the classroom, the principal came by with a new student and parent.
“Boys and girls, we have a new student!” I said.
A kid climbed up onto his chair and clapped. Soon the others followed.
Principal — horrified. Parent — horrified. Me — horrified. New student – delighted, but a little scared.
My afternoon supervising teacher, Berta Suarez, was the energizer bunny flitting around the room, helping all first graders with their workbook pages. Later I got my own workbook when she decided I was remedial in mi español.
But I knew enough Spanish to get Christy and me to the beach again after my face healed up. That’s where she met Marcos and his friend, Raul.
Marcos was cute, Raul, not so much. Marcos invited us to our first Venezuelan night club. I reluctantly agreed to come along to keep Raul company. There was no chemistry between us, plus I had my tall b-ball guy back home.
My roomie and I went back to our apartment to change, and the guys picked us up later that evening. Christy flirted, laughed, and touched Marcos’ arm in the front seat. It was going to be a long night.
When we got to the nightclub, it was nothing like the bars in Ames, Iowa. The place played loud salsa music, which was okay, but it was pitch black, not okay. The host led us to our booth/room with a flashlight.
Back then a person couldn’t buy a drink in a bar in Venezuela, but if you brought your own bottle, you could buy the ice and mixes. I have no idea how any of this was accomplished in total darkness, but somehow it was, and a rum drink was handed to me. Raul and I sat in silence while we listened to lively foreplay across the table.
How many babies had been born nine months after a date at this bar? Was I going to have to endure the auditory delights of such an event? Was Raul going to reach over in the dark at some point and make a pass? Or was he as horrified as I was? I couldn’t tell by his face since I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see my own hand in front of mine.
The waiter came around every so often with his beam of light to freshen our drinks, refill the spicy nuts, and bring more salsa and strips of toasted bread. I sat there thinking, I hope these guys aren’t murderers because no one would find the bodies until daylight.
I reminded Kristy that we had to get up and teach the next day and convinced her to let the guys take us home.
I never saw Raul again, but I did learn to love salsa music.

Couldda Wouldda Shouldda
If I would’ve let Raul move in a little closer, we might’ve discovered that looks don’t matter in the dark. We would’ve started dating, and I would’ve stayed in Caracas to be with him. Now I would be fighting in the streets with the other protesters as we would stand in long lines for food and watch our new president turn our government into a dictatorship.

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