(this is annie)

My lunch with Andre

I was not even halfway to my destination when the clouds over the Caribbean swelled with rain. If I turned around, I could easily make it back home before the downpour. I decided to go forth anyway. I managed to park my bicycle right as the drops began to fall, and upon walking into the cafe, I felt like I was back in Northern California. There were chimes, woven goods, handmade necklaces, natural balms, and so forth. As I wrote in my journal, it was a woo-woo new agey place. It was also the only place in town to offer a varied vegetarian menu, which is why I was there.

The proprietor didn't look overly thrilled to have a guest to feed, but she cooked anyway. She made one hell of a mushroom omelet with eggs plucked from the chickens clucking just outside the screen door. I was eating when a man, maybe late 50s, walked up toward the building. He squinted at me through the screened-in windows, then stared as though he recognized me, then entered. The woman’s husband. He had a gentle but intense air about him.

While they talked, I kept eating my omelet and homemade bread. The woman had to leave for an appointment, so her husband took over and walked toward the table. “Ça va aujourd’hui?” he asked.

"J’vais bien," I responded. I don’t know how he knew that I spoke crappy French.

We began a discussion of Quebeçois vs French French, which somehow bled into me asking if he thought I really needed to take the oral antibiotics prescribed by the health clinic. "For a foot injury?" he said. "I wouldn’t, personally."

I agreed and explained how I was clumsy and accident-prone. And this turned into the kind of medical confessional favored mostly by the elderly. I told him about the broken foot and the lumpy breast.

He gave me another intense stare. "Were all of these on your left side?" he asked.

Yes. As was the slice-and-diced toe.

"Interesting," he said. A beat, a tentative glance, then: "Have you lost a man in your life recently?"

Cue the waterworks. I managed to refrain from full-blown sobbing, but I wasn't expecting the question, and so I held my breath and blinked back tears. I filled him in. Then he talked about the Mayan calendar and how the transformational leadup to 2012 is already happening. How we’re supposed to go to a higher spiritual plane. He said that those of us who haven't already started evolving are too late. "You're going to be happy," he said. “You just have to weather the storm first."

Outside, the rain had slowed to a drizzle. My eggs were gone. The wife was back. I paid and pedaled down muddy streets.

All of this happened a little over a week ago, during which time I also injured my left hand. I'm not one to go for mysticism, and I don’t believe that this guy has secret psychic powers or anything. I will say that I went in expecting nothing more than a late lunch and left with a lot to think about. Like I said before, it was a woo-woo new agey place.

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Jets to Belize

At the airport, I discovered that the departure fee I'd paid in cash last time was somehow included in my fare this time. So there I was, stuck with $70BZ and 90 minutes to kill. Might as well buy a "thanks for feeding the cats" gift for Sabrina, I thought. At Maya Endings, the souvenir shop, I picked up a few items, a book, and saved a little cash for Jet's Bar. As a woman of my word, I planned to try the rum punch.

Unfortunately Jet was nowhere to be found. On top of that, the rum punch costs $10BZ, but I had only $8 left. (Just haaaaaaaad to buy that copy of Colonialism and Resistance in Belize: Essays in Historical Sociology at the gift shop, didn't we?) You go to a place like Jet's for the experience, though, so I bought a water and made the best of it.

A few minutes later, Jet sidled up to me. "Meese?" he said. "Why do you not have my rum punch?" I explained that my appetite for the dry writings of O. Nigel Bolland was greater than my appetite for rum punch. Well, actually, I said that I'd spent my money.

"But you must try!" he said. "If you don't try it, you'll never believe it. And you won't believe it unless you try it."

He darted behind the bar and mixed me a drink. Hawaiian Punch may have been involved. Then he returned with a plastic cup and triumphantly set it in front of me. "I mix it nice and stiff for you," he said conspiratorially. Dude was not kidding.

I complimented him on the concoction — yes, best in Belize, I said.

"You have boyfriend?" he said, smiling.

No, I have cats. I decided not to talk about Milo's short legs because Jet could have interpreted it as a slight against his own stature.

"You have four-legged cat," he replied. "How about you take two-legged cat? I'll be your cat. Come live with you." I should again mention that he speaks very quietly, and I think it may be a trick to get women to lean closer to him — which affords a better view of the bosom. I had worn a scarf just to cover what cleavage I do have.

"Ah, but you're more expensive to feed than the four-legged cats," I said.

He laughed. Then he began drawing a picture for me and signed it ANNIE LOVE JET STAY SWEET. I thanked him.

He squinted at me. "You 'ave cam-er-a?" he asked. Yes.

"You take picture with me?" he said. Yes.

So he led me by the arm behind the bar, where countless other women have posed with him. (He has framed many of the pictures, which he calls his "babies.") A nice and interesting middle-aged concrete worker from southern Illinois took the picture. I think we got it on the first take, don't you?

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Brief candle

Last time I was in Belize, Louis and I were riding horses through a tiny village called San Jose Succotz. We clip-clopped past ramshackle houses with tin roofs, scared away chickens in the dusty road, and headed toward the jungle. It was quiet in Succotz until I heard music. Blink-182 was slipping out of an open window, and that moment made me understand how major-label music truly goes worldwide.

Last night, I treated Louis and his friend Caitlin (Caitlyn? Katelyn? Kaytelynne? etc?) to pizza. Then we went to Faya Wata, which is the happening bar in San Ignacio. I kind of hate it because THE JUKEBOX IS ALWAYS REALLY LOUD, I MEAN REALLY OBNOXIOUSLY LOUD. It pumps out top-40 stuff: Fergie, Linkin Park, and terrible techno along the lines of that "Y'all ready for this?" song that plays at sporting matches.

After finishing a game of pool (won, ahem, by yours truly) I decided to take off. Louis offered to walk me back to the hotel. Caitlin is 20, blonde, and built like a brick shithouse, and I did not think it was wise to have her wait in the bar by herself. "No, that's okay," I said. "I walk alone."

"Like the Green Day song," Louis said. We laughed. Music is a glue.

It's interesting to listen to Belize. On the islands, it's 95% reggae and 5% punta rock. Since there's only so much Bob Marley anyone can take -- for me, about 20 seconds -- there are plenty of other options. For instance, did you know that a reggae-lite version of "One More Night" exists? Or how about "Wonderwall" done up in bouncy reggae beats? Yep. In Belize City, I've heard mostly hip-hop and rap coming out of cars. The closer you get to the Guatemalan border, the more you hear bouncy songs with Spanish lyrics.

The other day, I was riding around the southern streets in the late morning. This is where the non-tourists live and work, and for the most part it's filled with clapboard houses on stilts. I was coasting toward a well-weathered house when a familiar strain came blaring out: And in the darkened underpass I thought Oh God, my chance has come at last...

I paused under the window until the chorus spoke of inextinguishable lights, then imagined an iconoclastic teenage Belizean rebelling against reggae and playing the universal music of adolescent and thirty-something mopesters everywhere. Who on this tropical island is into the Smiths, I wondered. How did he or she find out about them? It's not like the Smiths get a lot of media play these days. Were they handed down from an older sibling, found on a good radio show, read about and tracked down on CD like we used to do? Found on the internet? Maybe, but access is pricey, so maybe not.

I passed the house again a couple of times later to see what else might come out of the stereo -- would have plotzed if it had been Ride or something like that -- but there was only silence. During that morning, though, I felt a frisson of commonality. Just like when you're 17 and you see someone with a band t-shirt and you automatically want to be each other's friend because of music. It was a tiny sliver of this trip, but one of the brightest, too.

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Four Belizean transport things that you can't do in the U.S.
1. Ride in the bed of pickup trucks without getting ticketed. You see this all the time. People pile in the back and usually look like they're enjoying the wind whipping their hair. Betty would kill me if she knew this... but I've done it, too. Yesterday I rode a mile uphill in the back of these German/Costa Rican guys' Chevrolet, and when I trudged away from the jungle in a downpour, they let me hop in back again.* DON'T TELL BETTY.

2. Take a colectivo taxi. No matter what make or model a car is, if the license plate is green, it is a taxi. You flag the car down on the highway and squeeze in with any other passengers. You can go maybe six miles for $4 BZ unless you're a tourist, in which case you get charged a little extra. But, really, if you haggle over 50 cents US, you are an a-hole.

3. Hop on a refurbished school bus and head from one end of the country to the other for $10 BZ. (That's five bucks US.) Unfortunately, the bus stops every ten feet to let people on or off. I am exaggerating, but only a little. On the way from Belmopan to San Ignacio, one lady refused to deboard the bus with a group of people. She insisted that the driver take her approximately 20 feet down the road, which he did. This level of service means that it takes forever to get where you're going.

4. Use a golf cart as your primary mode of transportation. On carless Caye Caulker, this is the fastest way to move. I guess people must do this in Florida and other warm places with old people, but it's not the main way to get around.

* I couldn't help but remember the story I overheard a local tell the other day. Background: Spanish Lookout is a Mennonite colony not too far from San Ignacio. It's mostly known for farming, construction and what-have-you. Nothing too crazy, or so you'd think. Anyway, this guy** starts talking about how some Mennonites are helping traffic drugs up to Mexico; there was a big bust in which the fuzz found cocaine in coconuts. Last year some deal must have gone wrong and a Mennonite was found shot in the back of the head. Anyway, the drug trade is lucrative (duh) and so you've got a few people living l-a-r-g-e in buggy country.

While climbing Xunantunich, I'd run into the ride-giving guys. They were nice enough but something about the way they were quiet gave me an odd feeling. They were talking in a language that sounded vaguely German, but it wasn't German. Dutch? No. I asked and they told me it was a dialect of German called Plautdietsch. Oh, and they're from Spanish Lookout.

So while going downhill in the back of a new, slick, decked-out, expensive pickup, I thought, "This is one of the nicest trucks I've seen in the whole country. I bet it cost a lot." Then I did the math. Let's say that the truck cost (conservatively) $20,000 US. Double that for the 100% (!) Belizean duty fee and we're at $40,000 US. That is about 18 times the yearly income of the average Belizean.

As we reached the river -- my hop-out point -- I thought, "Golly, I hope I'm not hitching a ride with Mennonite drug smugglers." Maybe they were Mennonite oil barons?

**He just walked into the computer cafe as I was typing this up. Small world.

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Boyfriends and birds

In Belize, I have many boyfriends. It helps to have a boyfriend when you're traveling alone, because men like to say hello. Hey, Snow White in Belize City. Look at those red lips in Caye Caulker. My favorite: You like to read, huh? in Cayo. (At least this time, unlike last, I was not propositioned by a teenage boy. "Ay, mami," he'd said while cruising by on his bike. "Yes," I thought. "I'm old enough to be your mommy.")

In almost every conversation, a man asks where my husband is. No husband? Boyfriend, then? Yes, boyfriend, I say. Depending on who's asking, he's either waiting for me in the States or back at the guest house. Sometimes he is a scientist, other times he's an artist; these details shift for no reason at all. He is always possessive of me, though, and I can't be gone too long or he worries about where I am. Of course, no such gent exists -- and if he did, he would certainly not be the kind of stifling person I'd date -- but my "boyfriend" helps steer the conversation away from whether a drink can be purchased for me tonight.

(For what it's worth, the attention isn't about me. It would happen to any solo lady. I feel the need to say this so you don't think I'm egomaniacal.)

In San Ignacio, the lies became a little lighter because I roomed with two boys. Will had sat next to me on the plane down from Houston, and oddly enough, we ran into each other at the Belize Zoo. He, his friend Brian, and yours truly rode a very hot, very crowded bus to San Ignacio where most rooms were sold out. When we found a room with three beds for $100 BZ, we took it. So when this mildly sketchy guy kept hitting on me last night -- asking me three times if I was traveling with friends -- it was comforting to truthfully say that two guys were in my room upstairs.

And then, just as I told Mr. Can't-Take-a-Hint that it was strange that it was unlike my Belizean friend to be late, up walks Louis looking exactly the same. "Your hair is longer, Annie," he said. I don't know why this simple statement was so comforting, but it was. (FYI, he always calls me by my name, which is nice.) Louis had spent the day studying, I'd spent it spelunking, and we finished it with milkshakes. How wholesome, I joked, because it was.

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I think Oscar Wao left me some of his fuku, because this trip has been a bloody adventure. LITERALLY. Yesterday's snorkeling adventure involved many marine sightings, including the big excitement of the trip: a sea turtle. (Yes, it is possible to coo underwater.) Unfortunately, at the second snorkel stop, there were sharks and stingrays. They didn't make me nervous, but an angry moray eel did, and its snakelike appearance made me swim away a little less carefully than I had earlier in the day. Leg, meet coral. Leg, meet pain.

All of the travel-book warnings talk about how if left untreated, coral scrapes can become infected and then your leg swells up and they have to cut it off but you wind up dying anyway, all because you are scared of eels. But I decided to stop worrying and get on with life.

This smug satisfaction lasted for less than 24 hours. I decided to take a clothed swim. Clothed because, despite my freakish reapplication of sunblock yesterday, my back is the color of a lobster. (We saw lobsters while snorkeling, too.) It hurts and I'm too cheap to spend $13 US on aloe vera gel. Anyway, I was very careful while floating around the Caribbean. Didn't want to step on starfish (can they hurt you?) and so I'd look through the clear water before putting my feet anywhere.

Until, of course, the point at which I really should have been careful.

I crawled onto the concrete barrier that separated the sea from a little inlet, and oh, looky there, a mini angelfish or something similarly cute and bright! And oh my god, what was that? Pain! In staring at the fish, I'd forgotten that the concrete was jagged in places. I thought it was just a scratch, so I went back to fish-watching until I noticed that the water was getting cloudy. I moved my foot and a bright red blot of blood stained the sand. Shit shit shit. Blood everywhere! Oh god, sharks, they're going to come for me and someone else will get bitten and it will all be my fault! Etc.

I limped back to my lodging, dripping an impressive amount of blood all the way. Blood flowed over my flip-flop, leaving a little trail of blood behind me. "Did you step on a nail?" the proprietor asked. I don't know, I just bleed here. "You should get a tetanus shot if it was a nail," she said.

I bicycled to the store, where the clerk spoke only a few words of English, and I didn't know how to say "Do you have Neosporin?" in Chinese. (After scouring the entire store, I can report that they do not have Neosporin.) Cleaned the wound with alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, began thinking of the clerk's tetanus question, and went to the guest house's computer to IM Scott about whether he thinks I need to get a shot. He is the one who taught me how to properly clean a wound this past summer, and when I bleed, I think of him.

So. Off to the clinic. I'd like to pretend that I'm super cool and laid-back about this, but instead, each painful throb at the wound site is another sign that I'll need to be airlifted to the States. (Each word written here is another way to fill the time before the clinic closes, because guess who is terrified of a tetanus shot?)

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Annie meets another Jet

While I was waiting for my Pterodactyl Airlines flight to Caye Caulker, a tiny little old man came up to me. Or more accurately, he came up to my boobs. "Ellomeese," he said. Close talker, shrill Lynchian purr of a voice. "Wattis your nay-ayme?"

I told him.

"Ah, Annie! Mrzrll jetbarumrrrbunch!"

Oh Jesus. "Pardon me?" I said.

"Mrzrll jetbar rumbunch! Me! Bessin Belize," said The Man From Another Place.

It took a good minute to understand that this wee man was trying to get me to visit his airport bar. As a solo lady traveler, I felt it would be unwise to have rum punch before getting to my tropical destination. I am a lightweight and I imagined myself falling out of the puddle jumper. "I'll have some when I'm leaving to go to the States," I told my new friend.

He put his hand on my shoulder and leaned in. "Meesannie," he stage-whispered. "If you donut try, you donut have bessin Belize!"

Abruptly, he walked away, only to return a minute later with a Xeroxed magazine article. He'd autographed it for me: ANNIE LOVE JET. I sat down and read the story, which described our friend Jet and his bar. Apparently, Jet is notorious for accosting ladies in the airport and persuading them to try his rum punch. Or hot dogs; he has those, too.

"See? Famous! If you donut try..."

At this point, he leaned in to kiss my cheek. Oh hell no! I love a harmlessly lecherous old man as much as the next young lady, but I draw the line at first base. "My father was older than you," I blurted. I don't know why. It stopped the smooch.

"How old?" he asked.

"He would have been 79," I said.

"Ha!" Jet said. "I'm seventy-two."

All right then. Normally, random smoochy men raise my Take Back the Night hackles, but I couldn't help but smile at this character. So before I hop aboard my flight back to the States, I will head to the airport bar, order some rum punch, and remind Jet that my eyes are about a foot higher than where he's currently looking.

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Annie's on a vacation far away

...come around and talk it over. After 10 hours of traveling, I made it to Belize. One of the great things about returning to a favorite spot is that its scent is familiar. In my mind, Belize didn't have a smell, but it does. Kind of earthy, like leaves we don't have in the States.

Customs was odd. Nice guy asked me if I knew anybody in Belize. Yes, I said. Where? Benque Viejo. Did I bring any gifts? A book. Apparently you do not need to declare books, and from there I went to book a flight on Pterodactyl Airlines. Cash is king, delivering a 30% discount if you skip plastic. So I bought my ticket (which is actually just a Xeroxed form that the clerk scribbles on) and went through security.

When traveling, I try to bat Bambi lashes and charm people. This, I feel, should minimize any hassle. Unfortunately, there was a snag at the x-ray station. Belize also bows to the tyranny of the 3.4 ounce liquid rule, and the x-ray scanner guy said he'd need to examine my bag of liquids. "You can't take this through," he said when looking at my Target brand SPF 70. "It needs to be two ounces or less."

I silently called bullshit. Of the three sunblocks I packed (different ones for different needs!) the Target one had the girliest packaging, but the La Roche-Posay weighed in at 3.4 ounces compared to Target's 3.0. I'm just saying, this clearly had nothing to do with size. I suspect our guy liked the tulip on the Target tube.

"Are you sure?" I asked.

"Yes, no more than two ounces. You can't take it."

I pointed to the official Belizean airport security sign that clearly stated it was a 3.0, not 2.0 ounce limit. "All right, you can have it," the guy said sullenly. Why did he want my sunblock? I like to think he wanted to give it to a special ladyfriend. Still, it was my SPF 70, and those of you who know me understand my freakish heliophobia. A tiny part of me feels like a jackass for not letting the guy hork my sunblock, because it's expensive here, and... let the first-worlder guilt begin!

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In just over a week, I'll set the alarm for 2:30am and be on my way to Belize again. Last time, I didn't get to see everything that I wanted to see thanks to a tropical depression. (That's what you get when you travel during hurricane season.)

This time, I plan to snorkel and swim with nurse sharks. I hope, with the same greedy desire that children have in toy stores, to see a sea turtle or two. It is so wonderful to go somewhere and be close to animals you've encountered only in pages or behind glass windows.

As before, I am paranoid about being attacked by botflies and snakes, both of which are probably plotting against me with the help of their jellyfish colluders. Oh, and there's some sort of disease that you can get from swallowing snail-tainted river water. Need to watch out for that. Then there are the fire ants, some of which crawled up my pant leg and bit the back of my thighs about seven times; it took almost a year for the scars to fade. See, relaxing!

I haven't told Louis that I'm coming yet; part of me wants to surprise him by calling him from San Ignacio. "What are you doing for dinner tonight, Louis?" I could ask. But he works so much — and I mean really works because he's a rancher — that I imagine he's busy most of the time, and it would be more polite to give advance notice. Or maybe I will go help him herd goats again.

All of this is an elaborate setup to highlight the best thing I found today while researching the trip. The website for Crystal Belize is proudly garish, yet oddly charming in the innocently showy way that Belizean advertising favors. Were I to rent a car, I'd skip Avis and go with these guys all the way.

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Whenever I breathe out

I stayed at work late last night, mostly to avoid the crowded rush hour trains, but also because I knew I'd just go home and sit in bed. (Or on the couch. Same thing.) The thought of spending an hour traveling just to do that was exhausting (consider all the crutching it would require, the fear of hobbling home alone down dark streets). Tossing financial prudence to the side, I wedged myself into the back seat of a cab and sighed.

The driver wore a hearing aid and looked like a middle-aged version of Phil. It was like being carted around by the future of my past. He wasn't chatty, and I wasn't feeling talkative, either, so the silence worked. Instead, I rolled down the window and took in the mild evening breeze. The preceding day, Louis and I had been talking about the air quality in our respective countries. He said that he doesn't realize his lungs haven't expanded until he's in the rainforest, and then they're surprisingly fuller. You'd choke on our air, I said.

When the taxi finally pulled up to my house, I had a bit of difficulty removing my crutches from the back seat. The car behind me honked, which mildly irritated me, because I'm moving as fast as I can, buddy. I decided to let the driver pass, but he waved me forward. I gave the thank-you smile and swung myself past the front bumper.

"Hey Annie," the driver said as I passed. I squinted, recognized him and laughed. The honk hadn't been a "hurry it up, gimpy" honk, but a hello honk from Fake Paul Weller. A serendipitous meeting. While he parked the car, I looked up at the stars and hummed the Keyboard Cat song. We then went down the hill for a pre-birthday snack, took a few pictures, talked about lost loves, and successfully kept me away from a place I didn't feel like going home to right away.

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Belize City

I woke up early yesterday to take a bus to Belize City. "I'll see the sights," I thought. I didn't have any illusions about it being a gleaming, beautiful city or anything, but as soon as I disembarked from the bus, I wished I'd stayed in San Ignacio for those extra hours. The 10 blocks from the bus station to the swing bridge were long and sketchy, with me enduring random bike-by commments from lascivious teenage boys. "I'm twice your age," I wanted to tell them.) A soused old man tried to hit on me at the library; maybe he was intrigued by my choice of Pale Fire? I relay these things not because I think I'm hot stuff, but because the culture was so different in the city than it was in Cayo.

I'd hoped to go to the Museum of Belize, but it's closed on the weekends, so I wound up sitting by the sea and writing instead. And it's actually a good thing that I didn't go to Ambergris Caye after all; the more I read about it, and after seeing the awful tourist tchotchkes for sale in Belize City (beer cozies, etc.), I realized that I would probably be happier at the relatively low-key and unspoilde Caye Caulker. Next time.

Now I am back home, surrounded by laundry and sporting the closest thing to a tan that I've had in 15 years. Truthfully, I would rather be back in Central America, even with the mosquitoes and flooding and terrifying SNAKES that lurked unseen.

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The storm

The border crossing between Belize and Guatemala is simple and unimposing: The road ends, you park your car, then you walk into the Belize building, get stamped, then do the same in Guatemala. (Surprisingly, the Guatemalan facilities are more modern and upscale than those in Belize.) After crossing, we stopped at a food stand to exchange money and to grab a simple breakfast. I had beans and cheese and Gatorade; the mixture didn't sit well, but it didn't exactly upset me, either.

Today I was supposed to go to Ambergris Caye, a resort-y, touristy island. That plan changed thanks to a tropical storm that's forming, so I'm staying in San Ignacio instead. The odd thing is, I'm not disappointed at all. Part of that contentment is due to being able to spend more time with someone I've grown terribly fond of, but the remainder is just a genuine appreciation for the people here. They are uniformly friendly. This is the first trip I've taken that hasn't made me homesick for the cats. That seems silly, but it's progress.

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Excerpts from a posting

...in San Ignacio, Cayo, Belize. It's taped to the wall and it says GLOBAL "CRISIS" NEWS UPDATE SEPT/OCT 08. Here's the last graf:
"Watch the alternative news folks. Move fast & prepare. Rumor has it space brothers are coming 10/14/08? as many predict (see trendsresearch.com, worldnetdaily.com). In 2009 the USA will collapse & the world will go into a worse great depression. We must not depend on a system that is quickly failing. We must learn commual living with a new bartering system & become more self-sufficient in growing food, alternative energy, recycling & in making & trading our own products to survive! From my new book "New Earth Survival #2, Revelation for 2012." -- Rev. Joshua

Crazy type treatments + 2012 mention = wryly amusing to me.

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say hello

    it's anniet at gmail.


© 2009 avt

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