By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 10/27/2020
Posted: 11/9/2009
Topics/Keywords: #Arizona #ChumorroPeople #Saipan #Slavery #Travel #VerdeHotSpring Page Views: 3266
I relate Ike's adventures as an accidental world tourist who stumbles on a legal slave trade.
Handmade drum

Michael and I and our friends, Eddie and Carl, were sitting around the fire at their campsite near Verde Hot Spring when we heard drumming from a distance. "That's Ike," Eddie remarked. "He drums all through camp…hopefully he won't be doing it all night."

"He drums?" I asked. "On what?"

"On anything," Carl explained. "But mostly on this drum he made himself."

"He'll be along pretty soon," Eddie predicted. "He makes the rounds of the campsites every evening about this time."

Sure enough, the sound of drumming became louder and more immediate, and then the drummer himself appeared in the light of the campfire. "Howdy, folks," he said.

Eddie introduced him to Michael and me as Ike, and he shook our hands. He was tall, about 6'4", and slim though it was hard to tell because of the bulletproof vest he seemed to be wearing. On the other hand, maybe it was a camper's vest, or a hiker's vest. Maybe those were pockets instead of Kevlar plates. It was hard to tell in the flickering light of the fire, especially since I could barely keep my eyes away from his full head of spiked black hair which he wore in a style younger than I suspected he was. From his shoulder hung a homemade drum, some sort of tribal design that I'd never seen before, which explained the drum's unusually deep and varied sound.

"How long are you staying?" Eddie asked Ike, meaning in days. This is a common question at the campground, where it's not unusual for people to remain a week despite the "official" sign that limits stays for five days. Eddie had told me of one family that remained in their broke-down camper for over six weeks.

"A couple of weeks, I guess," Ike said, chowing down on the slice of chocolate cake we had brought in honor of Eddie and Carl's fourth anniversary. "Pardon my manners," he added, crumbs rolling from his face. "I just had some pot and now I'm an eating machine!"

"It's great you can take so much time off work," I said. The long-stays here are usually either retired folks, or unemployed hippie types. Ike looked like neither. He was far too young to be retired, and too clean-cut to be a hippie. He looked more like an investment banker on holiday.

Nevertheless, he told us he was "between jobs." And, with nothing better to do with his time, enjoyed hanging out here at the hot spring although he planned soon to bring his jewelry to Sedona, hopefully to sell. "I make it from crystals I buy from eBay," he said. "Then I make jewelry of my own design. It sells well when I can find a good place for it. I used to live in Cleveland, but that's not really a hotbed of sales potential for crystal jewelry. So I'm hoping I'll have better luck in Sedona."

Although his conversation was light, he seemed to be in pain. We invited him to sit and he grimaced as he lowered himself onto the seat, then shifted position several times, grunting as he did so. Finally, I asked him about it.

"Is it that obvious?" he asked. "The pot seems to help less and less." I offered to look at his back. I'm not a medical professional but I sometimes have good luck doing energy healing on people and, given his interest in crystal jewelry, Sedona, and the use of a number of other metaphysically-associated words, I suspected he'd be open to the idea. And, in fact, he gave his permission. So he pulled up his vest a few inches and let me put my hands on his spine.

It was "flat", that is, his lower back did not curve inward as spines usually do. "How long has your back troubled you?" I asked.

"Since I was eleven," he answered promptly.

"Eleven? What, were you in a car accident or something?"

"No, I was working in a field with a wheelbarrow, trying to push it across a bunch of ruts. It was really way too much work for an eleven-year-old, but my uncle put me up for the summer and then made me do all this work, and because I didn't know any better, I did it. And my back has hurt ever since."

People's histories are written in their auras, that is, a glow of subtle light that surrounds each one of us. It's not hard to learn to see them (we all do, but most people simply ignore them or dismiss them as a trick of the light). And when you see them, it's not hard to read them. You've heard the phrase, "He wears his heart on his sleeve"? It's like that. I'm not snooping or mind-reading or anything intrusive like that. It's just that some people's histories are so brilliantly displayed in their auras that I can't ignore it any more than I can ignore their hair color or gender.

So, sensing his energy fields, but not wanting to sound like The Amazing Kreskin, I merely hinted, "It might go back farther than that."

"You mean, a previous lifetime? I've had that thought. But I haven't been able to figure out what I might have done, or been, to deserve this kind of pain. But I've tried chiropractic, and massage, and a lot of self-diagnosis, but nothing's ever gotten rid of it."

"Since you brought up the wheelbarrow," I said, carefully, "have you considered that some other life where you were involved with a wheelbarrow might be the source of your pain? I 'see' an Asian peasant pushing a wheelbarrow, a kind of old-fashioned, home-made one, through a field…and a landlord who forces him to work…and a daughter…" I hesitated.

"An Asian peasant? That's interesting…What?" Ike asked. "Tell me."

"Well…it would be better if you picked this stuff out for yourself…" But Ike continued to look expectantly at me, and it must have been hard to keep his head twisted around like that, since I was still behind him, trying to calm the energy hot spots that jagged over his lower spine. "I get that the landlord raped the daughter, and the peasant farmer kind of went ballistic over it but couldn't do anything. I'm not sure if you were the peasant, or the landlord, or even the daughter; but your back pain has the hallmarks of being unreleased guilt over some situation."

"An Asian peasant," he repeated. "Interesting."

I felt something hard protruding from his back a few inches from his spine. "What's that?" I asked bluntly.

"My hip," was the prompt response.

"What's it doing there?" I asked.

"I damaged it in a motorcycle accident with my brother in Thailand, two-and-a-half years ago."

"Thailand? In Asia. I see. —Sounds like it was serious?" I sympathized.

"I got off easier than my brother," he said. "He lost one arm and one foot, and because he was drinking and someone was killed and it was Thailand, he was arrested and almost wound up in jail for 20 years."

There was a brief, stunned silence as we tried to take in all the information contained in those two sentences. Finally, Eddie asked, "What were you doing in Thailand?"

"Are you ready for a story?" he asked. And because we were all sitting around a campfire we said we were.

"I didn't start out in Thailand," Ike began. "I joined the Marines when I was 17, and when I got out I decided to see the world. I went to the Virgin Islands, and Australia, and Tahiti, and then Saipan, an island in Micronesia. The problem in Saipan was that I couldn't get work. So I was trapped there.

"Micronesia is a commonwealth in union with the United States. But there's a native population called the Chamorro people, and they took me in. The Chamorro have no concept of the ownership of food. No one ever gets upset with someone for taking the last banana from a tree, because there is no 'last banana'. They used to be the entire population of the island, until World War II. Then Americans and other groups began moving in, but the Chamorro keep their part of the island, and they don't let just anyone in. But they let me in for some reason. So I was able to eat, and they sheltered me, and even showed me how to make their native drums.

"At first Saipan seemed like paradise. The places has gorgeous beaches and is very popular with tourists. In the Virgin Islands and Tahiti, I had always worked at hotels as a bartender or waiter and made good money. But on Saipan, those jobs are all taken and they don't hire Americans for them. Or rather, they would, if I accepted less money than it took me to buy food. I couldn't understand how the people they did hire could afford to work there. But that's why I was so hungry when the Chamorro took me in.

"Well, it turns out there's industry besides tourism on that island. Big textile factories. They make clothes, sheets, blankets, whatever. They make it out of imported cotton and synthetic yarn. The Chamorro don't do that work—why should they, when they know how to eat out of the sea and the jungle? But the government of the Mariana Islands, when they became a part of the United States, made a deal that made the laws of the United States regarding immigration and labor not apply to them. So they kidnap women from Japan (they tell them they are taking them to the United States for jobs, and charge them for it!) and then force them to work in the textile factories on Saipan by day, and prostitute them, mostly to Japanese tourists, by night. And whenever a US Congressman comes to Saipan, and goes home shouting how Saipan is a "Fucking miracle of commerce!" you can bet he's been sleeping with one enslaved textile worker or a dozen while he was there.

"And the hotel workers also work for slave wages, which is why I couldn't afford to work for them. They get exactly enough to pay for food and shelter, so they can never leave Saipan.

"Now, the Chamorro are very nice people but they like to fight. Especially for young Chamorro men, fighting is their entertainment. And I was young, and hey, I liked to fight. What I didn't realize was that, if I beat up a Chamorro—and it wasn't hard, I was 'way taller than any of them, and trained as a Marine—pretty soon his whole family would be out looking to beat me up.

"So I had to get out of there.

"And then I met a woman, a Japanese woman who was visiting on holiday. And she wanted to learn English. (Everyone in Japan wants to learn English.) So she talked her father into paying my way to Japan in exchange for lessons. And that's how I got off Saipan.

"Japan was a lot better than Saipan. And I liked the girl a lot. Her family was wealthy and had a lot of influential friends—one was the owner of the Cirque du Soleil! And because I was fluent in Japanese and English, and she was so well-connected in Japan, the man hired us to come to the United States with him every so often to assist in booking shows and dealing with venues.

"But then there was a problem. She was a Japanese citizen and it got to the point where she used up her visiting time and couldn't come into the United States any more. And I was limited to the amount of time I could stay in Japan. So we solved both problems at once: I married her. We then effectively had dual citizenship and could spend as much time in either country as we wanted. And we made a lot of money, which was cool.

"It worked out well for a couple of years. But then I discovered that Japanese high school girls are horny little minxes. And they love tall American men. Every afternoon I'd have two or three of them crawling all over me. Of course, my wife inevitably discovered I was fooling around. And even though we had not married for love, and even though what I was doing was not illegal in Japan—the age of consent is lower there—she still decided she didn't want to be married to an adulterer. So that was the end of that, and I moved to Thailand.

"Thailand was like Saipan, in that there's a whole class of slaves there. They are mostly Ukrainian girls. The Thais love tall, blonde, blue-eyed girls. And Ukrainians will do anything to get jobs in the United States. So it's the same story: A Ukrainian girl pays to travel to the United States, with a job supposedly waiting for her. And they stop in Thailand, which she is told is a passport requirement. Their passports are taken "for stamping" but never returned. And then she is trapped. The only way she can eat is to work as a prostitute, conveniently for the same men who brought her there. The girls are literally held prisoner in brothels, and the men who go there either know what's going on and like it, or if they complain are told it's an "act" some of the girls put on to titillate their customers.

"But I liked Thailand, and I talked my little brother into coming out to visit. We went for a motorcycle ride in the country. And yes, we'd had some drinks. He misjudged the time it would take to pass a truck, and hit the truck, which tore his bike apart at about 70 mph. He went flying, the truck ran over his arm and foot. And a piece from his bike came at me and broke my hip and knocked me off my bike.

"An ambulance took Frank to a hospital, but I was unconscious behind a tree and I guess they didn't count motorcycles, or his was so torn up they though he'd been riding mine. Whatever. When I came to, I hobbled back into town all cut up and bleeding, with (as it turns out) a broken hip. I tried to tough it out but after a couple of days I took myself to a hospital. It was a different one than they took Frank to. And I met this girl there, a nurse, and she wanted me to teach her English. (Everyone in Thailand wants to learn English.) So she hired me to do that.

"Meanwhile, they threw the book at Frank because it turns out a car that was following him got hit by pieces of his bike when it disintegrated and the passenger was killed. In the United States the absolute worse that would happen is a manslaughter charge and probably the company that made the motorcycle, and maybe the truck, would be sued. But in Thailand, you have to bribe the prosecutor to keep out of jail. And we didn't know that, until it was too late to do it without his losing face, which is very big over there.

"I went to the American embassy and the guy there said, "First thing is, have your parents mortgage their house." That was his advice!

"Meanwhile Frank was in agony, because he had phantom limb syndrome, where he feels the arm that was missing and it feels like it's burning up but it's not really there so there's nothing they can do to help.

"It all looked pretty hopeless. Then, one day, I was mentioning this to the nurse I was teaching English. And it turned out her uncle was the prosecutor's boss! So thanks to her intervention, Frank got off the hook but we were given 24 hours to leave Thailand. Our mom had to front the tickets, and when we got home she blamed me because I had invited Frank to Thailand in the first place.

"So, now," Ike concluded, "I'm back in the United States after all these years, my back is in constant pain, I walk with a limp, my mother has convinced my brother his missing arm and foot are my fault so I can't really go home, and besides I'm 42 and shouldn't be living with my parents anyway—especially after having made it on my own all over the world for 20 years. So I make jewelry, and live close to the land, and smoke pot when I can get it to ease the pain in my back."

There was silence for several minutes as we gazed at the sparks rising into the air from the campfire and digested Ike's story. I was sitting next to him and could see red and orange energy in his aura swirling around his hip and lower back. Red suggests unforgiveness; orange relates to sex.

"I want you to do an exercise," I suggested. "You don't have to do it now, but definitely do it tonight before you forget about it."

"Okay," Ike agreed, waiting to hear what it was he was agreeing to.

"Close your eyes, and imagine that you are an Asian peasant of a century or two ago. You are what we would call a sharecropper who farms land owned by a landowner, and he's cooked the books so you have to buy your seed and tools from him, and the money from selling your harvest is just enough to cover what you owe, so you are, in effect, a slave. And because he holds so much power over you, if he takes a fancy to your daughter there's nothing you can do but tell her to be brave and not embarrass the family when he comes for her."

Ike's eyes were closed. "It's not easy," he said.

"That's right," I agreed. "Because, Ike, you were also the landlord. In that lifetime, and in the one you just described, you observed injustice without ever identifying with the people who were being abused or doing anything to help them. I understand why; when being faced with unspeakable injustice sometimes the only way one can survive is to look the other way. But the guilt becomes a part of you. And guilt hurts. It's like Marley's chains in Dickens' A Christmas Carol."

Ike's shoulders sunk under the weight. "There wasn't anything I could do!" he said.

"You could tell people," I said. "How often have you told this story?"

He shook his head. "Not often," he admitted. "But people high up know about the slavery already. And who would listen to me?"

"But you've continued the pattern," I pointed out. "No matter what might have happened in a previous life, you still have a thing for younger girls and whether it's 'legal' and whether you think they are 'horny little minxes' or not, you were older and took advantage of them. At the soul level, none of us gets away with taking advantage of others. That's what karma is all about. It's not God or the Universe punishing you; it's you punishing you. That's why your soul contract allowed yourself to be injured at eleven years of age by a wheelbarrow, to remind you of what you came to atone for in this lifetime. And when decades passed and you still hadn't atoned, indeed, were still engaged in the same behavior, your deeper self had to take greater measures to get your attention and so led you to that motorcycle accident."

Ike was pale, even in the firelight. "Then what can I do? Am I doomed to bear this pain until I die?"

I shook my head. "No, not doomed. You just need to acknowledge what you're here for: Not to take advantage of others, but to atone for that by attempting to free others who are being taken advantage of. If you create the intention to do that, and follow through, I bet your back will pretty much heal itself."

There wasn't anything else for me to say, and Ike rose and thanked Michael (who had been working on Ike's back muscles while I did energy work) and me, then headed with his drum to his camp.

Eddie and Carl followed shortly after, Ike was having a "drum circle" in which participants from camp could come and bang on anything they could find as a meditative practice, something Ike had learned from his time with the Chamorro people. But I felt Ike needed some processing time without me there.

The next morning, Michael and I walked the mile to the hot spring and found Ike, who'd already been there for hours, ready to go. Since I didn't really expect to see him again, I walked with him partway to the riverbank to say goodbye.

"You aren't limping today," I observed.

"Last night, while I was drumming, I thought about what you said. I imagined myself as both the landlord and the peasant, and then I saw the balance. Because I wasn't just the landlord. I was the peasant too! I don't know if you can have two lifetimes at once, but that's how it seemed to me. And that's when I started crying. And I cried almost all night, mostly at the pointlessness of carrying this guilt for so long. And this morning—well, look."

Ike lifted up the vest that he always seemed to wear, and put my hand on his back. The lump I had felt the night before, his misplaced hip, had shifted at least two inches closer to where it should be.

"And what about going public about the slavery you encountered?" I asked.

Ike shifted his weight from one leg to the other. "I think that might be more your issue than mine," he said hesitantly. "I'm not really a writer or storyteller and I have no solutions and no audience. Maybe someday…but besides, in the scheme of balance, aren't all those slaves reincarnated slave owners?"

I nodded. "That's true, but it doesn't mean we should allow intolerable conditions to remain as they are. Someone should pass your observations on."

Ike smiled and patted me on the shoulder. "Then you do it," he said.

And so I have.

In researching after we got home, I found that the slavery Ike referenced is a real phenomenon and is, in fact, being addressed. Specifically, the working conditions on Saipan are deplorable and have been examined by Congress. Unfortunately, the slave labor allows businesses like Wal-Mart to sell clothing at very low prices, and Americans continue to buy there, thus supporting an economic system that exploits hundreds of thousands of human beings, even while it throws American communities that once made decent wages working with textiles into unemployment and poverty.

As Ike observed, we are all landlord and peasant both. It is our actions, here at home, that make slavery profitable around the world. Just because it doesn't happen here doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

Think of that the next time you decide to save $20 on a set of towels made in the USA by buying instead something that looks similar but was made by enslaved girls in some Asian country.