Without the wind of a moving train blowing in my face, the heat of South East Asia takes over. My brow beads with sweat. I wipe it off. The sweat immediately returns. In my hands are two large bottles of beer. One is half empty. The other is half full. We walk off the train. Terry makes a beeline for the toilets.
“Hey! You pay!” the waitress hollers out the window at me. I wedge the bottles under my arms and reach for my wallet. I pay the waitress, tipping her forty baht. She blows me a kiss. As I am trying to put my wallet back in my pocket, one bottle slips from my arm. I reflexively try to catch it, releasing the other bottle in the process. Both bottles hit the ground. The half empty one shatters. The half full one remains intact. Chang sprays everywhere. Miraculously, I manage to avoid most of it. Only the lower part of my trousers receives a splashing. I look around. Embarrassed. No one seems to be looking at me. I step over the broken glass.
We stop at my place. I grab a toothbrush. I swallow some ibuprofen and chase it with half a litre of water. While driving to the train station, Terry insists on stopping for supplies. He buys beer. I buy bread. Terry lifts his can. “To Hua Hin,” he says, taking a long pull on the straw. I take a bite from a happy bun and wash it down with Chang.
We arrive at the train station. Terry buys tickets. I hand my beer to him and excuse myself. I enter the bathroom. My eyes are having a hard time focusing. The graffiti swirls in front of me. It is a good feeling. A happy bunny feeling.
Day 32. Thailand. I have been teaching for a few weeks. Terry invites me to dinner. The man who takes our order has a long, equine face and an overbite that looks like he has difficulty closing his mouth. We order steak and french fries. And beer.
Terry is in his mid fifties. He is thin, almost too thin. He has something of a predilection for colorful socks. Bright pinks. Bright yellows. Stripes of cerulean blue. His glasses frequently slide down to the end of his nose.
His real name is Robert. The first thing he did when he got here was change his name. He didn’t want to walk around all the time having people call him “Lobet”. He doesn’t seem to mind the fact that the local accent never fails to pronounce his new name as “Telly”.
Day 20. Friday. 2:15 PM. The first week of the term has ended. Exam results are not yet in, which means I have taught exactly zero classes. I have made few friends. I decide to get a drink with a colleague. His name is Mr Steak.
On my way to the bar I encounter some children. They don’t look at me. They goggle. Offhand murmurings of “azungu” ring in my ears like the low-pitched thrumming of an electrical generator. It is a constant, inescapable tinnitus that follows me everywhere. I try to ignore it. I fail.
The bar is conveniently located directly behind the church. Calling it a bar is a rather generous assessment, though. Even by the standards of the local bottle store, this place leaves something to be desired. It is a simple storefront; with a pair of large speakers on the bar and a steel cage in the back that appears to hold nothing but a few dozen boxes of Chibuku. Continue reading →
It has been three weeks. I have been back in Thyolo for less than 24 hours when I decide to go to a local football match. Elvis is the coach and his team is number one in their division.
I am nearly at the pitch when I cross paths with a young girl of about 14. She stops dead in her tracks and looks at me with equal parts fear and confusion. This is a common reaction and I respond by taking two quick steps in her direction. She jumps backwards, nearly spilling the pot of water balanced so expertly on her head. Her fear quickly turns to embarrassment when she sees the broad smile on my face. I am harmless, the smile says. She laughs and continues on her way, making sure to give me a very wide berth.