Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Grape Flavor Aid

Such evil deeds could religion prompt.
-Lucretius (96 BC - 55 BC)

I have just started reading Jon Krakauer's book, Under The Banner Of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, which delves into the murder of a woman and her 15 month old daughter by her Mormon Fundamentalist brothers-in-law. Both claimed they were just following God's orders. Krakauer's book goes beyond the crime to examine the origin of a religious belief system that would permit someone to kill innocent people in God's name. What Krakauer calls "faith-based violence," something practiced by religious zealots way before Osama bin Laden. We can talk about people like David Koresh, Shoko Asahara, and Jim Jones for example.

My first job as an Aircraft Dispatcher was with an airline called GuyAmerica, a one route, two airplane company. GuyAmerica was started by an Ex-Pan American Flight Engineer who bought Pan Am's New York to Georgetown, Guyana route and two used 707's after the collapse of that airline. As I heard the story he got the money from either the Guyana government or from men in the Guyana government. This was some years after the Jonestown Massacre.

When I interviewed for the job I asked about the Jonestown Massacre and was told never to mention it to anyone from Guyana. The government just want to forget about the whole thing. For a minute I thought I had blown the job by asking about it but at the end of the interview I was told I was hired.

GuyAmerica was so small it did not have any Interline Agreements with any other airlines. Interline Agreements are what allow airline employees from one airline to fly for free or at a discount on other airline's aircraft. GuyAmerica's only perk was that you could fly down to Georgetown and stay at the Pegasus Hotel where the flight crews were housed during their lay-overs. It was a pretty good deal; a long weekend in a sunny climate with free room and board.

One weekend I and some of the flight crew went to Sabroek Market a huge building, more like a roof with supports than a building, with no outside walls. We went to buy Demera sugar. You could buy it at ten cents a pound or for five cents a pound if you brought your own paper bag. This was my first trip to the market so I wandered around looking at all the things for sale; anything from clothes to food. As I walked down one row of vendors I came across a man sitting on the cement floor with a beat up cardboard box beside him. I stopped to look in the box and for a second was puzzled by what was there. The box was full of little packets of Flavor Aid. Grape Flavor Aid. Where did he get all these packets? They were not packaged in those display boxes like the ones at the grocery store, they were just loose in the cardboard box. Then I knew, they came from Jonestown. At the time of the massacre the news had said the people at Jonestown had been murdered by being forced to drink Kool-aid laced with Cyanide. But it wasn't Kool-aid, it was Flavor Aid. This guy had the packets to prove it. For a moment I was tempted to buy one. What a souvenir of my time in Guyana. But the idea creeped me out and I walked away. I'm still glad I did.

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