March 2022, Issue 5 "It’s Not Really A Measure Of Mental Health To Be Well-Adjusted In A Society That’s Very Sick.”
- the TV Series, The OA
THE BANANA BREAD MAN IN BOLIVIA
By Harper Klay, Shonkinite Founder
7 minute read
Click on the video to listen to this sketch in the author's voice
In search of relief, I made an impulsive choice and purchased a one way ticket to Bolivia.
Relief from chronic head pressure dominated all of my choices. In La Paz, at 10,000 feet, I found that relief. By living in high altitudes, I could think, be active, live. My stay became indefinite due to an improved quality of life. Despite my stay’s appearance of permanence, I knew that it couldn’t last forever. Hints of a revolution signaled my time in the Andes may be interrupted. I thought, if I have to leave Bolivia, I better see Bolivia. The Amazon Rainforest was on the list.
I flew to Rurrenabaque on a Sunday, a rainforest tourist town that was a launch point to hire a guide, canoe, and explore. It was quiet, Sunday was a change out day, tourists that had completed a tour were departing, and tourists embarking on their adventures were arriving.
Walking the street in confidence was a man in a bush hat with a military macaw feather, a pet parrot on his shoulder, and an omnipotent air about him. He was white, tall, and lean with a grey beard, and definitely American. He wasn’t a tourist, he was selling banana bread and an assortment of baked muffins to the tourists. He also had a sign in Hebrew and in English honoring the Jews, and preparing for the second coming of Christ.
I bought the Banana Bread Man’s banana bread, granola bars, and cinnamon rolls. I wanted to know how and why (mostly WHY) this American man permanently lived here. And, I wanted the recipes.
At dawn we headed to the boats on the Beni River and there he was, the Banana Bread Man and his pet parrot, with fresh banana bread and muffins. He had the bakery market cornered. He knew where we were, when we were leaving, and what his customers, foreign backpackers from western countries, wanted.
For days, we explored the Beni River. I swam with pink dolphins, hunted anacondas, had a stare down with a caiman, covered myself in DEET to avoid the malaria mosquitos, and drank beer daily to ward off food poisoning. We went on night tours where our guide gave us a lecture on the dangers of red ants, then proceeded to sit on a log and was bit by one. A replacement guide arrived the following morning.
We slept in bungalows built over the river, and drank beer at make shift bars as the sun set. The orchestra of animals woke us at dawn, and as if a conductor had cued the baton, silenced as the sun rose. Even if you haven’t been in the rainforest, the soundscapes on any devices, or movies capture the sounds. The monkeys dominated the symphony.
After multiple days on the river we returned to Rurrenabaque, and with one more night in the rainforest, I invited myself to the Banana Bread Man’s house.
He lived in an expansive indoor-outdoor compound with ping pong tables, roomy extensions, and a restaurant booth. I watched this man’s children run and play and live in delight. His children had names like Josiah, Rachel, and Ruth, a nod to the Old Testament. His domineering tone and ultimate authority within his family reminded me of the father in Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible.
Ron, as I came to know him, was from Miami. He moved his family to the jungle to avoid the ‘Mark of the Beast’, a reference in the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. The most famous prophetic text in Revelation states that in the last days no man or woman will be able to buy sell or trade unless they are willing to receive "the mark" on their right hand or forehead.
I grew up with the Mark of the Beast referenced regularly. My mother repeated that statement often throughout my childhood. I heard reference that the mark would be a tattoo of 666 on my forehead and wrists, something we did not want. If we accepted the mark, we would die and miss the second coming of Christ.
I grew up with a mindset that we must tolerate suffering in the present because there was something wonderful coming in the future. We were all waiting for this second coming. If we were good, tolerated how bad things were now, and accepted Jesus as our Lord and personal Savior, we would be rewarded when Jesus came at an undetermined time in the future.
Along with the Bible, my mother’s required reading was Piercing the Darkness and this Present Darkness by Frank Peretti, Christian fiction she considered truth. I repeatedly heard about spiritual warfare, that Jews were God’s chosen people, and that everything would change and be better and different when Jesus came. In this way, my mother was able to rationalize her acceptance of the ever present abuse in our home. As my brother and I grew older, our defiance and coping styles manifested in different ways. We refused to attend church by the time we were teenagers.
Now in the Amazon rainforest, I listened to Ron repeat the same messages, advertise banana bread in both English and Hebrew to the Israeli backpackers, and profess the same absolutism. His slant on the subject was that technology was the mark, but even he had to have an email address. He raised his family in the jungle selling banana bread for cash only, no threat of a required mark there.
I tracked Ron’s existence via backpacker blogs and over time the blogs recounted changes in the stories he told the tourists. The dire warnings continued in the vein of good and evil and tied into Christian belief systems, but now it was the Roman Catholic Church that was Satanic with a New World Order designed to reduce the global population.
My mother’s beliefs have also changed in recent years, they continue to be within the Christian religion, but now Heaven is not something above us but rather a separate and distinct planet that we go to when we die here on Planet Earth.
It is through the similarities of Ron and my mother that I discovered that the story itself, or the absolute truth they believe matters less than the recognition that the stories they know to be true have to do with what they fear. Within their mental construct, their fear and belief protects them, and drives all of their life choices.
Whether living off grid in the Amazon or remaining in an abusive marriage, I practice acceptance of how other’s cope with life within their own mind.
Want to read more? Subscribe to our newsletter.