“Give me my money,” the girl says. She is identical to all the other girls with her green primary school uniform and her close cropped hair. You have probably walked past her dozens of times. On other days she may even have greeted you in the exact same way. On other days you may have even returned the greeting with a smile and shrug.
On other, sunnier days.
“What?” You stop walking and look at her. Her legs are ashy. Her feet are shoeless. A thin crust of dried snot hovers just below her nostrils. On other days you would have kept walking. On other days you would not have said anything.
It took me a few days to notice that Mr Steak had disappeared from school.
“I have not seen our friend for a while,” I say to Mr Jerry in the elliptical vernacular that is common in this part of the world. He looks at me quizzically. “That one,” I say, motioning in the direction of Steak’s desk.
“Oh. He has gone to get a transcript,” Jerry says, “In Mzuzu.” Thyolo is in the South of Malawi. Mzuzu is in the North. Nothing unusual about the journey taking a few days.
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”.
It is 1:30. I am a few hundred meters from the school, but can already hear the music. I cross the dirt road and walk past the primary school. The thump…thump…thump in the distance is calling.
I arrive at the school. A classroom has been converted for the event. A speaker is turned outward to maximize the noise pollution. With each step the music becomes more potent. The noise penetrates my body. Deeper and deeper it goes. I feel it throbbing within me. Assaulting me with an aural wall of scrunching electronic bumps and bass.
Just outside the makeshift disco, the boom is deafening. Inside it’s not much better. When I walk in I find about ten children. All boys. All under the age of twelve. Half of them are shirtless. Most of them are shoeless. They bump and grind with imaginary partners. The deejays sit in front of an old CRT computer monitor. They fiddle with some dials. They look bored. It is something of a massive letdown. Continue reading →