…and all I got was shot in the face with a paintball.
Seriously, there’s much more, but this was the most bizarre retreat I’ve been on. Fun, and with awesome people, but bizarre.
Postscript: Wednesday, September 14
I suppose I should explain what this is all about. My trip to Mexico was meant to help the local program office there transition to a full-fledged WRI office, something that’s been in the works for months now. Along with this transition we’ve been working on updating the brand for that program. We’ve been going in circles over this for a year, as the original brand was not well received by the country offices and visually it was imbalanced.
My job is to intermediary between the D.C. office and the Mexico office, who are spearheading this rebranding exercise on behalf of the other country offices. We were negotiating my travel dates for months, dependent on the external agency’s schedule and our own approval schedule, so what was originally meant for August dragged out into September, and into my teaching schedule. Here is where having class once on Wednesday really screwed me. I booked flights leaving early on Thursday and returning on Tuesday, attempting to get there and back with as much time in country as possible.
What I was not aware of, and was not made clear to me, was what we were actually to be doing on the days I was here. I hoped for two solid days of work and workshops, where the staff could pick my brain as much as possible to help the transition. I hoped to meet the branding agency, so that the voices on the phone were more than voices. And I hoped to shoot video of programs in country so that we’d have new footage to work with.
When I got to the hotel on Thursday, I found out they were all leaving the office to play paintball and do a team-building day. I debated on whether or not to join them, as I didn’t pack any paintball-ready clothes to wear and knew my boss was expecting, um, work to be happening.
Because the trip was coming in the middle of a lot of projects, I got comfortable in the hotel and worked from 3 until about 10, stopping to talk to the girls and go find some dinner. Ultimately, after talking it through with Jen, I decided to go with them and play, bringing a camera and a healthy sense of adventure.
I got to the office at 9 on the nose and met the whole team with a dopey-sounding, “Hola! I’m Bill from D.C.!” I dropped off my camera bag (better for something to happen to it in the office than in my hotel room) and followed everyone outside to the bus, where we boarded for the trip north.
The venue was up in the hills outside the main city between a petting zoo and a cement block factory. We got off the bus and sat in plastic chairs while a nice man explained what we were going to do in Spanish. Then we split up into teams and did some warmup tasks: practicing with a paintball gun, solving a jigsaw puzzle as a team, stacking cans as a dexterity test, and trust falls. Yes, my first trust fall was in a field in Mexico.
Then we suited up for our adventure. The first team to suit simply wore a vest protector and helmets, but our team, who followed them, all collectively saw the wisdom in wearing coveralls, the vest, and a helmet. I got worried when all the teams put their vests on the same way, but smarter heads suggested one team flip them so that black was on the outside. Thus, we were the Manos Negros, or Black Hands. I was a little alarmed to find that our scratched facemasks were only semi-opaque and did not cover the neck. Having played paintball before, where the groom got shot in the Adam’s apple two days before his wedding, I knew this could be dangerous.
The referees went over the rules, the details of which went over my head, but I was already familiar with the basics. They then led us to the field, where multiple obstacles in varying formations separated the two sides, including a hollow wooden helicopter, a downed plane, and a pseudo-storefront. My new friend Miguel, who had been conferring with me on gear selection, explained our team’s strategy to me (shoot the other team) and we scoped out our side of the field to see where the best areas of fire were. We found that every depression held ankle-deep mud, and hoped it wasn’t runoff from the petting zoo.
The game itself was fun. I’ve enjoyed paintball in the past, and even though my gun looked and shot like it had been run over with our tour bus, I took out two of the other team’s players. Most of my time was spent ducking behind obstacles as everyone yelled in Spanish around me; it’s disorienting to be playing a team sport and not be able to communicate with anyone. In hindsight I should have asked Miguel what left, right, forward and back were in Spanish, but I would have forgotten that in two minutes anyway.
Somebody worked up our right side and finally got me on the shoulder and back, so I raised my gun and walked off. Our team lost by two players in the end, but we played a full 10 minutes and I only had about 15 balls left.
Several of our team limped off the field with paintball injuries; two men had been shot in the neck enough to draw blood, one woman was hit on the top of her head, and several others had circular bruises. We recharged our guns, refilled the ammunition, got some water, and then regrouped against another team. The second game was much like the first; this time I took out three of the other team’s players before getting shot square in the center of my mask.
After we returned all of our rental gear we walked up to the roof of the building, which was set up as a patio, and watched as different teams did presentations about WRI’s projects. The idea was for each team to research and develop a 10-minute explanation of the project so that they could familiarize the rest of the office as to what WRI does. They all did an excellent job, and even though my Spanish is weak I knew and could follow almost all of what they were presenting.
After this, we scarfed down some food, then hopped on the bus and headed back. There is a reason the transport program was founded in Mexico 11 years ago; it took us about 45 minutes to crawl back to the office through the traffic.
Once we were there the group invited me to stay for drinks and karaoke, so I popped a the Mexican equivalent of a 40 of Leon and got on their wireless network to call home. We gathered on the roof of the building which overlooks Coyoacan plaza, a beautiful outdoor park, and talked about the day and our experience. In the park, people laughed and played, music from the market and the smell of fried dough wafted up to us, and we enjoyed a cool breeze as the sun set.
I drifted in and out of conversations in English with different groups of people and enjoyed myself listening to them talk in rapid-fire Spanish, picking out words and phrases here and there. It was surprising to me that by the end of the day it was a lot more familiar and I could pick out sentences and phrases that made sense. When I felt myself flagging at about 9:30, I called for an Uber and headed back to the hotel, tired and peckish, and found that the smell of the petting zoo was coming with me.