Monday was an important day for me. After trawling the internet for examples of good organizations in the hope of finding a project in Latin America with which to involve myself, I’d come across Fairmail, a non-profit that was based practically on my door step. Needless to say, they’re a fantastic organization and I was delighted when an email to them to try and organize a meeting to discuss working together was replied to by the Peruvian country manager, Renato. He set a meeting date for Monday at 10am, and I cheerfully agreed.
Monday arrived and I bounced from the spare bed at a friend’s house in Trujillo, ready to brush up my preparatory notes for the meeting and read some more of the inspiring book about social entrepreneurship that I had recently stumbled into on the bookshelf at my borrowed Huachaco pad. My mate bid me farewell to go out to a job, leaving me home alone to read, prepare and become lost in my thoughts. My head was buzzing with daydreams of social businesses by the time I slung my backpack on my back and strode out of the front door of the house in a fresh shirt with my laptop dangling purposefully by my side. I closed the front door behind me, and as I turned I realized my fatal error.
The front door to my friend’s house has an outer metal gate, a foreboding twelve foot high black iron structure with spikes sticking out of it from all directions, bordered by smooth featureless concrete wall of equal height. The Gate sends a strong message that the only way you will cross the threshold is by the permission of the person buzzing you through it. The person pressing the door release button on the other side of the front door, inside the house.
I was trapped between the locked front door and the outer gate, and I knew from past experience that there was no way to scale the gate or walls to the outside world. There was certainly no way back through the locked front door and I briefly marvelled at the architect’s talent in ensuring that anyone caught in my predicament without house keys would be stuck without mercy.
Hoping that one of the numerous house mates would be in, I tried hammering on the door, reaching a crooked arm through the gate to pound the buzzer and throwing pebbles at windows from within my temporary prison. No response. I tried to call my friend with my cell phone in the hope that they could return home to let me out, only to find that my battery was conveniently well and truly flat. After twenty minutes, my cries turned more desperate, attracting the attention of a neighbour. She approached the outer gate and eyed the trapped Gringo warily through the bars. I felt like a zoo exhibit, tricked into captivity by my own stupidity.
“Que paso?” She asked. In uptight burbling Spanish I flustered an explanation of my predicament. “Tienes el numero del telefono de la casa? Puedo llamar,” she offered. No, I didn’t have the number for the house, and there was no-one inside anyway.
The time was slipping away; the ten o’clock meeting time was already passed, still a quarter hour bus ride across town. The baleful stare of the neighbour upon me, I turned my attention to the lock of the gate, my nemesis. It goaded me, the black metal easily relenting when encouraged by the jolt of electricity from the buzzer. But there was no buzz to save me.
I bent down and examined the lock, reaching my fingers into the gap between the bolt casing and the housing on the gate in a last desperate attempt to see if there was space to slide a credit card up and force the bolt. Something clunked, the bolt shot back and the gate cheekily swung open to afford me an unimpeded view of the neighbour’s incredulous face. “Asegura la puerta cuando salgas,” she deadpanned. Make sure the gate is secure when you leave.
Feeling my cheeks starting to burn, I grabbed my bags from the floor where I’d tossed them in a hissy fit half an hour ago. Making sure the gate was firmly closed I accelerated away from the shaking head of the neighbour, already rehearsing the apology to Renato.
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