In which Lourdes petitions for a lifeboat

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The date may be significant, or it may not. This morning, April 15, on the 102nd anniversary of the Titanic sinking, Lourdes Torres filed a civil suit against Doug Phillips, self-styled leader of the Christian patriarchy movement and the founder of the Christian Men And Boys Titanic Society. The Society, and Doug Phillips in particular, commemorated the sinking of the Titanic annually, praising the patriarchal Christian men who sacrificed their lives in favor of putting “women and children first.” Naturally, that’s not entirely true; the survival rate of first-class men aboard the Titanic was greater than the survival rate of third-class children. And perhaps this is significant, or perhaps it is not, but Lourdes Torres, the only daughter of an immigrant family, met Doug Phillips when she was 15, and shortly thereafter was invited up from her family’s mobile home to partake in Phillip’s far more lavish lifestyle, as a sort of unsalaried servant; she helped with household chores and childcare. She was rewarded with trips, gifts, pocket money, and the assurance from Doug Phillips that she was “part of the family.”

Lourdes’ complaint quotes Julie Ingersoll, noting that “In biblical patriarchy, the refrain of ‘women and children first’ hides an agenda whereby the women are ‘first’ only insofar as they keep their place which is subordinate to men . . . tragically, a biblical woman is also ‘first’ to take the blame for marital problems, ‘first’ to be excommunicated as part of church discipline, ‘first’ to serve her father and then her husband in his vision for dominion.” The complaint also points out that some other proponents of biblical patriarchy, namely Bill Gothard and Jack Schaap, “have stepped down or are incarcerated for crimes against children.”

In October 2007, 23-year-old Lourdes was invited to move in with the Phillips family. According to her complaint, shortly thereafter, she found the man who headed up the community she was part of, her spiritual authority figure and pseudo-employer, in her bedroom, sexually assaulting her. There was no penetration, so Phillips didn’t technically lie when years later he claimed that he hadn’t “known” Lourdes “in the Biblical sense.” Lourdes said she cried and asked him to stop, but he didn’t. This behavior continued over a period of some years, despite Lourdes’ repeated requests that it stop.

Phillip’s lawyer claims that all sexual activity (not that there was any, according to the lawyer) was consensual, and that Lourdes is out for some cash rewards. He says she’s given different accounts of what happened to different people.

And I say, so what? That’s normal. You don’t tell every person in the world the exact gory details about how your (pseudo) pastor/ (pseudo) employer assaulted you until you’re good and ready. Especially if that pastor/employer is a lawyer who excommunicates people on charges of gossip and threatens them with “slander” lawsuits to boot. As so what if she’s out for cash now? She put her education, her work and everything else on hold in order to serve Doug Phillips, often free of charge. The least he can do is make good on his promise to spare her a lifeboat before his ship is finished sinking.

The complaint does a good job of outlining how the community the Phillips presided over was a “total institution” where all outside influence and opportunity was barred. Lourdes relied on Phillips for sustenance, both physical and spiritual. As a result, Lourdes was technically incapable of consenting to sexual advances from Phillips. By her own admission, she did not verbally resist every time, and even says she loved him, but this in no way is an indication of consent; it merely highlights the extent of the abuse.

I first heard of Lourdes Torres in 2007, because she appeared in a film (shot before Lourdes moved in with the Phillips family) that my cousins produced and then sent us: The Return of the Daughters. I was so struck by her engaging personality and her desire to serve other people that I e-mailed my cousin and said, half-jokingly, “I noticed that Lourdes seemed a good, spunky, pretty and intelligent type of the San Antonio area, so I thought that I would write and recommend that you wed her posthaste. Not that I know anything about it.”

Remembering that confident and hopeful woman, I almost cried reading the complaint. Which is definitely the first time I’ve ever been so moved reading a legal document, and I’ve read a fair number. Despite the claims of conflicting stories and the fact that I really don’t know her at all, the complaint rings very true to me. If Lourdes was merely out to play the victim, as some posit, she could have claimed Phillips assaulted her when she was underage, because she was frequently in his home when she was underage. She could have claimed he did other sexual things to her, or that he threatened her, or any number of things. But she didn’t. She’s outlining a very specific and a very believable train of events, given everything we know about Doug Phillips, the nature of sociopaths, the nature of power and sexuality, and all the rest of it.

 

Sickness

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I lie in my hostel bunk, surrounded by butterflies. Lovely things, with bright-colored plumage, skimming through the air and landing on top of their impossibly large and complex backpacks, strung with hiking boots, towels, beach mats. Their limbs are long, well-shaped, tanned. They speak together of their adventures, and make plans for the day. I listen wordlessly from behind the tent I have constructed from a sarong. My muscles ache from dehydration. My mouth is dry. I pick at the edge of the sarong, and I know I am a different species here.

I still don’t know what I have. Something gastrointestinal — bacterial, viral, hopefully not something worse. I went to the pharmacist two days ago, and she gave me charcoal pills. They may have helped, but they didn’t seem to help much. Perhaps I didn’t take enough, or I took too many. I couldn’t read the instructions, so I erred on the conservative side.

I’ve tried eating yogurt with live probiotics, but I accidentally bought the kind with added fiber, designed to make you regular, if the drawing on the side is any indication. I looked for sports drinks, but there weren’t any, or at least there weren’t any that were obvious. Apparently sweet fruit juice is not a good idea. I haven’t yet resorted to making my own rehydration salts, although I keep thinking about them, and about how easy it is: water, sugar, salt, and yet diarrhea is still one of the leading causes of death in African children.

When I have gotten everything out of my system, I feel good enough to walk to the 7-Eleven. I find Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, coconut water and mineral water. I eat the corn flakes slowly and gulp the coconut water. Nature’s rehydration salts: you can survive on coconuts. I wish for some chamomile tea with lemon, and some salted, weak bone broth, and many things I have no access to here.

On the fifth day, I feel better. I’m hungry for a meal, so I find a restaurant with a plaque on the wall claiming it serves “clean food,” which is by no means a requirement here if my necessity-fueled investigation into the back corners of cheap restaurants is any indication. The silverware comes wrapped in a protective coating, which seems like a good sign since the table is sticky and humid. I order bottled water, which I drink straight from the bottle, and noodle soup with chicken. I eat the whole giant bowl of it, nearly moaning in pleasure. Nothing ill befalls me, so I try a leg of chicken from a street vendor next. I watch him grill it, which takes awhile, but it satisfies me that it’s done properly, and then he wraps it in a banana leaf and I can consume it without having to worry about the sanitation of any silverware.

It’s so good that I never want to stop eating it.

Couchsurfing Thailand

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I’m so charmed by Thailand that I’m seriously thinking about moving here. It’s a young and emerging market, and the expats who flock here from all over the world seem to be able to land decent jobs. Every one of them I talk to is enthusiastic about it. It’s so affordable! There’s so much to do! The people are so nice!

Indeed, the people are nice, quick to offer help and quick to smile. I’m standing waiting for a taxi to the airport when my rolling suitcase falls over, and the bellboy cracks up helplessly. “It’s sleeping,” he jokes, as if he’s never seen a bag topple.

I think about various business proposals for Thailand all the way to Ao Luek, over the course of one taxi ride, an airplane, a tourist bus and a local bus. I’m not actually sure that I’ll be able to stay in Ao Luek according to plan, but something’s going to work out — I’ll find a cheap hotel, if nothing else.

I’ve decided to try couchsurfing in Asia for the first time ever, and I’ve found hosts in Ao Leuk. I’m supposed to call or text once I get there. However, I’m not sure that my phone will work — and in fact, it does not. I go into a pharmacy and ask the clerk if there’s a public phone anywhere. She says no, but she offers to call on her own cell phone. Five minutes later, I’m riding in a car with W. and M., who were apparently out looking for me given that I’d estimated my arrival time a bit earlier. I’m quite happy to be taking a break from the tourist fast track, and here I am, about to experience Thailand as lived by regular middle-class Thai people.

And then I get to the house, which is all pretty clean and nice — a little crowded with all the amps and instruments — except for two things. The otherwise-tidy bathroom consists of a ceramic hole you pour water down to flush, and two earthenware jugs. The larger one is the shower: you pour water over yourself and it runs into a drain hidden behind the toilet. There is a sink, but it’s missing a drain pipe and a working faucet.

The kitchen, however, is what really gives me pause. It’s an outdoor kitchen, and that’s smart, except that the dirty dishes are sitting around in plastic tubs filled with lukewarm water as the flies swarm around them, landing on bits of stale food that have been dumped out into the barren yard beside them. Nothing insane, but that’s still the sink, and there’s also a hose for a faucet — cold water only, or whatever temperature it is when it comes out. Many things occur to me at once, and the foremost is: it would be rude to do anything other than jump in and accept this excellent hospitality.

So I sit down to wash the dishes with M. as W. begins to cook. There’s no hot water. We fill one tub with cool water from the plastic hose, and I squirt extra soap in, and then I fill a second tub with water to rinse the dishes, since M. is setting them on the ground, still a bit soapy, I’m sure. I try to make small talk, but I’m pretty busy watching out of the corner of my eye to see how hot the food W. is making gets, because he’s mincing up raw meat with his bare hands. I’m hoping it all reaches boiling point. As far as I can tell, it does. Also, he’s putting an alarming amount of chopped peppers in, which probably helps kill germs.

We eat around 8 p.m. with a group of mostly-expat English-teacher friends, and it’s all delicious. Spicy, though. Very spicy. My stomach begins to hurt. I decide I need to go lie down, and it’s at this point that W. and most of the English teachers decide to do a little band practice.

Here’s another thing about Thailand: the music is always cranked to an inordinately high volume. I noticed it on the dinner cruise I attended in Bangkok, when we had to shout to network — and that was in a business setting. In this setting, I’m in my own room with earplugs in and two pillows stuffed over my head, and I’m still worried I’m undergoing hearing loss. They play for maybe 20 minutes.

The next day, I delve into my boring food stash, and have instant oatmeal for breakfast after attempting to sterilize the dishes in the microwave. It’s too late, though — I feel ill every time I put food in my system, no matter what kind of food it is. I start researching my symptoms… E. Coli, maybe cholera? Hopefully not cholera.

It’s bad enough, however, that I’m seriously rethinking my plan to move to Thailand. Because apparently, I can only stand tourist-grade Thailand.

Dinner on the Chao Phraya River

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I’ve been to dinner cruises all over the place. Paris, Berlin — no, actually, in Berlin I fell asleep and literally missed the boat — Singapore, and now Bangkok. It’s amazing, really, how sort-of similar they all are. There’s usually less-than-amazing food and the lit-up skyline of the city’s most expensive architecture, and everyone taking photos of it. The one in Bangkok aboard the Grand Pearl came with entertainment, however, and that was new. A Filipino duo singing such Thai hits as “Empire State of Mind” by Alicia Keys and Jay-Z, backed up by a karaoke machine. Also traditional Thai dancing, which from what I was gathering consists mostly of hyperextending the finger joints and turning the feet out while wearing ornate costumes — oddly out of place when surrounded by a horde of camera lenses. The music was loud, the air was warm, and the whole thing was so touristy and jovial, I couldn’t help thinking that dinner cruises are like Disneyland for adults. Expensive, crowded, smarmy, but still pretty fun, if you’re into that kind of thing.

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Splurging in Bangkok

I’ve switched between various high-end and low-end accommodations around the world, and never have I been so relieved to switch to the high-end. In Bangkok, the difference between a well-ranked $20 hotel and a well-ranked $100 hotel is substantial. It’s not so much that you can travel on a shoestring here, although you can. It’s that you can eat out, get air-conditioned taxis, stay in a four-star hotel, order room service late at night, and still keep it to under $150 per day. It’s a place to splurge without going totally broke.

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I’m staying at the Millennium Hilton (like the Millennium Falcon, but less portable), and my room looks out over the river. From the hotel’s private pier, I get ferried gratis to points of interest. I go check out the pool, and it’s probably the nicest hotel pool I’ve ever seen. Or maybe I mean the most interesting. They’ve tried to turn it into a beach; there are sand outcroppings and the sunbathers sprawl with the skyscrapers in the background. I pick a hammock and sway in the breeze.

However, there was one thing I liked better about the cheap place with its dim, flickering light bulbs and less-than-impressive kitchen facilities. The hotel restaurant, Thai Smile, was actually great. It was better quality for the price and not at all crowded, and, I was sure, far more authentic. And I liked sitting outside in the shade by myself, rather than in the too-cold air conditioning with nasal voices to break the silence. Here in the Hilton, there are way too many tourists.

Bangkok protests escalate, then relinquish streets

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The Bangkok protests escalated this past week, and subsequently switched gears. I reported on the protests for the Spokesman-Review, and here are a few photos showing how mundane they looked most of the time. Near Lumpini Park, only a day after a gunman had shot at protestors and wounded one in the leg, people napped in the blocked-off streets and watched videos of a larger protest happening live outside Royal Thai Police headquarters.

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Security around Lumpini park was nonexistent following last Tuesday’s shooting, but the Ratchaprasong protestors, with their far more extensive network of tents and manpower, had erected a barrier and a checkpoint for bag searches. Most of the protestors there sold Thailand flag-themed goods, and some also napped. The streets in question had been shut off to traffic, hampering normal travel to certain areas. Taxi driver Thaneesak Thongsavet, who has been in the business for over ten years, has seen more congestion than normal and fewer customers coming to Bangkok since the protests started. “No good, no good,” he said of the protests, shaking his head. The blocked roads were cleared this weekend, with protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban noting that they “would like to return traffic lanes to our Bangkok brothers and sisters,” although the protestors will continue to call for the removal of the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and her government.

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Life on the roof

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There appears to be a man living on the roof of the building directly opposite my hotel window. I’m on the fourth floor, and I went to open the drapes in the nude only to discover someone facing me across the narrow alleyway. He didn’t see me, and I shut them quickly, peering through the folds to try to figure out why he was there. He had a tarp of netting with a table underneath, and three yoga mats, which he was carefully folding up.

In the evening, I spied to see if he was still there, and he sat at his table with a headlamp. Reading, from the looks of it. Between that and the yoga mats, I figured we probably had a lot in common, and the whole thing made me very curious.

Perhaps he does not live there. Maybe it’s just his private getaway, his yogic man cave. I keep checking back, spying between the curtains. Sometimes, there’s nobody. Sometimes, there’s someone sleeping on the table, napping in the heat of the day. A youngish male. I’m not sure if it’s the same person, actually. ImageIMG_6308Then I see the youngish male playing a game on the table with a little girl, while an older man folds up three yoga mats. So perhaps it’s something different, a communal play area made of tarp and vines and trash, serving a family or an entire building. Up high, it is breezy, and the humidity is tolerable. The exhaust from the streets dissipates to a large extent. There are birds, and sputtering motors, and yelling children, and noise echoes muted back from the maze of Bangkok’s city walls, its decaying concrete and oozing plaster. I open my sliding balcony door loudly, and the trio, only twenty feet away from me across the narrow gap of the alley, does not notice.

Haircut in pantomime

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I need a haircut. My hair has always been a source of trouble: fine, flyaway, limp, straight. I’ve been experimenting with different short haircuts in an attempt to make the most of it. I haven’t been thrilled with the results I’ve gotten locally in North Idaho, so I figure, time to be crazy and go international.

I try to download a photo of what I want on my phone, but the internet isn’t working, and I’m too impatient to try to sort it out with the front desk. I sit down and draw a picture instead. It’s a simple cut, an A-line. I stare at my drawing and decide that it will probably work. I walk down to where I got my massage, to a little hole-in-the-wall haircutting salon on a busy Bangkok street whose name I cannot read, venture in and show the coiffeuse my sketch. I mime haircutting. She nods, and mime-asks if I want a shampoo. I nod back.

The shampoo comes with a brief scalp and neck massage, which I am a big fan of. Then it’s time for my haircut. My haircutter shows me a photo from her iPad to see if it’s what I want. I shake my head, and draw a line across the photo to show that no, I want it short in the back. “Short,” I say, against the back of my head, and then, signaling towards my face, “long.” This is no doubt gibberish, but it’s more polite than grunting.

My coiffeuse whips out her scissors and starts snipping away. I watch her suspiciously in the mirror, and eye the length of the hair falling into my lap. So far, she seems to have understood me. She levels the back, layers it slightly, then angles down the front. I relax. She pauses to look at me, and I smile.

She dries my hair and then touches it up with texturizing scissors; then styles it with a round brush and touches it up again. She shows me the back with a mirror. I am very pleased. This is exactly what I was trying to ask for. Also, the bill is about $6. I hand her the money, and she bows to me, palms together. “Khap khun ka,” she says. I murmur it back in response, trying to get the intonation right: thank you [kind madam].

Sketch, and haircut after sleeping on it

I head back to my hotel and sleep on my hair, just to test it out. Here is the result, along with the sketch, at 5:30 in the morning.

A real Thai massage in Bangkok

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I land in Bangkok just after midnight, and by the time I get to my hotel it’s after 2. I figure this is great news for getting my sleep on track: to recoup from my 28 hours of travel and the impending jetlag, I plan to sleep, eat, and relax until I don’t want to anymore. So I pass out until 11 the next day.

ImageI’ve booked what is supposedly a two-star hotel, and I’m unsure what I should think of the result. The room itself seems clean-ish, although I can’t be positive due to the dinginess of the furniture. It is located on a one-way street tucked away in a maze of small local shops — most displaying long bolts of cloth, so I assume they are tailors. I wander around and inspect the hotel’s pool. That, at least, looks just like the photos online: long and clean and devoid of people.

The restaurant is also devoid of people when I have coconut curry seafood for lunch, sitting on a balcony with the breeze blowing in from the street. The food is delicious, but so spicy that it burns the roof of my mouth. I search in vain through my Thai phrasebook for next time, but “not too spicy, please,” is not to be found.

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And then I set out for my main goal for the day: the massage. I ask about one at reception, but there’s a slight problem. Of the two women on duty, one is a non-local who speaks very little Thai, and the other is a local who speaks no English. After ten minutes of confusion, I’m taken outside, pointed in one direction, and told to walk that way. So I do. Halfway down the street, I remember that I have no map and no address for the hotel. Also, I do not speak Thai. I figure that’s fine; I’ll just keep track of where I’m going. I walk in a straight line until I get to a busy street displaying various spa and salon signs. Then I wander until I find a door with the word “massage” on it, and the prices: 150 baht ($5) for 1 something, 250 ($8) for 2 something. I assume those are the prices per hour, and indeed they are when I walk in and ask. I peek around, and there are five local people sprawled across six low padded tables, getting prodded, stretched and slapped by four Thai women and one Thai man. The other clients are all lying in loose-fitting, modest clothing with their eyes closed as their limbs are manipulated. I look down at my summer dress and feel a moment of panic. However, my masseuse calmly hands me a pair of thin cotton pants and a shirt, and shows me to the bathroom.

This outfit is so enormous and shapeless that once I put it on I can’t help giggling at myself. The drawstring waistband wraps around my waist twice. I parade out in this ensemble, lie down and immediately wonder if I’ve made a mistake coming here. Again, I speak no Thai, and the tiny woman attending to me is making me think the locals must be extreme yoga devotees with rhino skin just to ensure the massages don’t dislocate their hips and/or mottle them with bruises. After ten minutes of torture I grimace. She asks in sign language if everything is Ok, and I reply in what I hope is a legible gesture that I’d like it a little softer, please. This actually seems to work. However, the damage has already been done, and later I discover that, indeed, my shins are mottled in blue.

The entire duration of my massage, the Thai masseuses chat with each other as their clients all pretend to be comatose. Twice, my masseuse answers her phone with one hand while she pokes me with the other. Casual massage, I keep thinking. This is how it’s so inexpensive. No frills at all, at least by Western standards.

When my hour is up, I leave, trying to figure out if I feel better or worse. I walk back to the hotel with no problems. Mission accomplished, I guess.

Ice climbing Copper Creek Falls

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This week, the temperatures dropped to below zero, freezing moving water and making ice climbing possible. I’d never been before, for a few different reasons — with the chill factor being topmost. But a few friends were heading out to Copper Creek Falls, only a few miles from where my parents live, and the elements had conspired to make things as pleasant as possible. The mercury was rising, the sun was out, and the set-up had minimal danger and effort involved. Plus there was going to be a fire.

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I am not normally a morning person, but I got up at 6:30 and found that I felt bizarrely excited to be making the trek north in the searingly bright sunlight. Perhaps it was the familiarity of the drive, of the scenery, the feel of homeward-boundness. I met up with my friends and we carpooled to the Canadian border, or just short of it. We hiked in to a small, shady enclave of rock and cascading ice formations. They set up a top rope and then it was my turn. I had heard horror stories of the “screamy pukies,” wherein ice climbers’ hands get so cold that re-thawing them induces extreme pain to the point of vomiting. So I stuffed hand warmers into a special slot in my mittens and cinched them up to make sure they didn’t fall off.

As it turned out, I had over-dressed for the climb itself, and my two hats kept sliding down into my eyes underneath my helmet. My two coats felt a bit unwieldy, though not as unwieldy as the sharp metal weighing off me in every direction. I was trying to climb the ice as I would a rock face, roughly speaking, with some rather delicate footwork, using the features that were already in the ice. However, ice climbing tends to lend itself to “thuggery,” according to my male climbing partners. In other words, bashing holds wherever you want them. But, you know, then you break all the best features.

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Now, the waterfall was not completely frozen. Under the layers of ice, it gurgled and flashed by, visible and audible. To be climbing a roaring, vertical stream of water in any form felt immeasurably odd. Parts of the ice dripped. By the time I had made it the 200 feet to the top, I was pretty well worked. So I sat by the fire in the sun, watching the top layer of the ice I stood on become slick with relative warmth. As the sun began to pierce the canyon we were in, we finished and packed up.

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