The Toothless Village
What if? Inspired by a true story told by a dear friend (7/2003)
“Mr. and Mrs. Rappaport… Mr. and Mrs. Rappaport… We’ll be landing in about twenty minutes. You’ll need to raise your seatbacks and tray tables.”
Robert and Ida Rappaport stirred from their sleep. Robert wearily thanked the flight attendant as he and his wife of over fifty years obeyed the airline’s rules.
Thirty minutes later, their plane parked on the tarmac, Robert and Ida turned to one another. They looked into each other’s eyes with the same twinkle of adventure and excitement as they had so many years before, the day they were married under the stars on a beach in Hawaii.
A short pause.
“Off on another adventure, huh?”
“All of life is an adventure with you, sweetheart. And I wouldn’t trade that – or you – for the world.”
The two octogenarians kissed and began gathering their carry-on bags. Moments later, they were slammed by the hot, sticky Peruvian air as they deplaned.
Robert and Ida Rappaport had lived a life overflowing with adventure. Both were free spirits, stuck in the sixties in terms of the way they saw the world and interacted with the people in their lives. Perhaps they didn’t say “cool” or “groovy” very much any more, but they continued to live their lives based on a “live and let live” philosophy ever since they met each other at a certain large concert in upstate New York.
They had traveled extensively – Africa, Europe, the Far East, even Antarctica. They’d never “done” South America, and were looking forward to a month-long trip throughout the South American continent. Their first top was Peru.
Robert waited by the baggage carousel while Ida rested on a nearby bench. While still in reasonably good health, Ida was beginning to slow a bit. Her heart and spirit were still willing – and always would be – but her body just wasn’t as able as it once was. So she rested while her husband got their bags.
The Rappaports’ days of traveling by backpack were over. These days, they paid a little extra money to have porters carry their bags whenever possible. And, although they still sought out remote areas, they did so on day trips or simple overnight trips from a comfortable hotel whenever possible.
After tips totaling a hundred pesos (about $2) and a two-hour, live chicken filled, bumpy bus ride through the countryside, Robert and Ida Rappaport had arrived at the Wachinicha Inn where they had reservations to stay for two nights. The bus must have been older than the Rappaports; at least that’s what Ida thought. The seat cushions had recently been replaced, but the shocks – if there even were any – had long since needed replacement. She’d never been happier stepping out of a moving vehicle.
The man at the front desk welcomed the two travelers. It was unusual to have foreigners as guests, especially ones so senior. Typically, the two guest rooms in the “Inn” went empty, although occasionally visitors from nearby villages would come and stay for a night or two. Javier, the Inn’s owner, charged 1000 pesos (about $10) a night for a room. This included a large breakfast with Javier, his wife Carlotta, and their seven children in the morning.
By the time the Rappaports were settled into their room, it was approaching 6:00 p.m. in Wachinicha. Given the time of year, there was another few hours of daylight, so the two decided to go for a short walk around the village.
The village consisted of eight huts, all bordering a dry dirt bed of a soccer field. The huts were all about the same size, about 300 square feet or so. All had just one story. Some had one large room; some had two smaller ones. All had walls of mud and ceilings of brush and bamboo.
Robert and Ida walked slowly, quietly, respectfully around the dirt road that circled the outside of the homes. Robert noticed the workmanship of the huts. They were made from the simplest of materials, but were clearly put together with great pride and care. Ida noticed the people. All smiled gently at the elderly couple that had come from so far away, and yet seemed strangely at peace in their new surroundings.
The travelers saw families huddled together, talking and laughing quietly, some inside their homes, some on their porches. The children, like all children of the world, radiated a joyous energy, the current from which the Rappaports could feel run along the hairs on their necks and arms. The women wore ornate gowns – deep reds, blues and greens imaginatively blended and swirled together. All were wearing shiny gold hoop earrings, far larger than was the style back in the States. The men wore simple black gowns that were as somber as the women’s gowns were colorful.
As they walked, smiling at the Wachinichans, Robert and Ida both noticed it at the same time: none of the adults had any teeth!
They made knowing eye contact, but said nothing and kept walking.
The elderly couple noticed a path that led away from the village up a small hill. They decided to follow it. They walked through the still forest, each taking in the breathtaking scenery. After about a mile, they came to a lone hut. The hut had the same construction and was about the same size as those in the village. The only difference was that this hut had dozens of beautiful cloths hanging on its walls, its roof, even on nearby rocks and trees.
They had come upon the shaman’s home.
The Rappaports were about to turn back when the shaman appeared from the darkness behind his doorway.
“Hello. I am Montemayor. Welcome to Wachinicha.”
Robert and Ida were surprised by how… how normal the man’s greeting had been.
“Hello. I’m Robert Rappaport. This is my wife, Ida.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you Robert and Ida Rappaport.”
“It is a great pleasure to meet you, too, Montemayor,” Ida replied graciously.
“What brings you to Peru? To Wachinicha?”
Robert thought for a moment, then answered. “We are explorers. We’ve been to many parts of the world, but never to South America and never to Peru. We have been told it is a magical place.”
“This is true. Wachinicha in particular is indeed a magical place.”
“Everyone seems so peaceful. So happy.”
“It is true. We have no strife here, no struggle, no sadness. Only peace and love and joy. We are eight families and yet we are one family, our village. We work together to build and repair our homes, to hunt and prepare our food, to gather and store our water. We raise our children together, as one extended family. All of our children are capable of reading and writing by the time they are five, and are fully functioning members of our village by the time they are ten. We are a village truly full of high and overflowing spirit.”
“May I ask, is there a particular reason why your village is so tightly knit, so at peace with itself?” Ida asked the question, but Robert may as well have.
“Well, the Nichahoo Water doesn’t hurt,” the shaman replied with a smile.
“Nichahoo Water. It is what we call the liquor that we distill from the leaves of the Nicha trees that surround our village. Nichahoo Water is very strong.”
Robert and Ida looked at each other and shared another knowing glance. The Nichahoo Water, if it was such strong liquor, must have been the reason that none of the adults had any teeth!
Robert and Ida talked awhile more with Montemayor, and then bid him good night. Elderly, and unfamiliar with the terrain, the two experienced travelers knew they only had a half an hour or so more before the sunset, and wanted to make sure they got back before dark.
The two love struck adventurers held hands as they walked back to the Inn. Javier, the innkeeper greeted them, flashing them a wide, toothless grin. From behind his desk, Javier pulled out a dark brown glass bottle and three short glasses. He tugged the mostly-eroded cork out of the bottle and poured an inch into each glass.
“Nichahoo Water?” Robert asked.
“But of course,” Javier winked.
“Welcome to Wachinicha, my newest friends.” Javier raised his glass. The Rappaports followed his lead. The three clinked their glasses, then downed the potent elixir.
Ida shot Robert a glance that said, “Whoa! That’s got some kick to it!” Both sat their empty glasses back down on the desk. They bid Javier goodnight and retired to their room.
After returning to their room, Robert and Ida got ready for bed for their first night in their new hometown. Once in bed, both looked through their window at the stars shining brightly in the clear dark sky and felt the magic of the place, felt inexplicably at home. The two seniors took out their dentures and were about to place them into their glasses of Fixodent when Robert suddenly laughed. Ida looked at her husband of so many years and knew – like she always did – what he was thinking.
Both simultaneously and ceremoniously threw their dentures into the trash. After all, they now lived in the Toothless Village.