“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.
I want to leave Hua Hin. I want to go home. “What’s your rush, my boy?” Terry says, drinking another beer. The six-pack is down to one. The movie is over. Wayne Newton lives. Robert Davi dies. “Let’s all go to the beach,” Terry suggests. I want to refuse. But the light breakfast has only awakened my appetite. And it is lunchtime.
The three of us leave Will’s apartment. It seems friendlier in the daytime, when there are no shadows to peer into. When the darkness cannot conceal villains who will mug and rape and kill and rape me. There is even a pool. Some of the tiles are in the shape of a dolphin. A friendly dolphin. An elderly couple passes us on the way to the elevator. Will greets them. They smile. A friendly smile. Continue reading →
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”.
The music adds people. The people multiply into a crowd. The crowd divides into groups and subgroups. Students. Non-students. Boy childs. Girl childs. The curious. The bored. Mendazi merchants. Beggers.
Two students have been stationed at the door to stamp hands and collect the entrance fee. One is the boy with the jaunty hat and the “OH SHIT!” shirt. The other is a girl with pink jeans and sunglasses. Her shirt says “California”. Her cleavage agrees.
The lack of parental supervision reminds me of the film “Bugsy Malone”, in which a young Scott Baio and Jodie Foster played Prohibition era gangsters in a world without adults. As if to prove my point, a seven-year-old girl walks by wearing high heels. Continue reading →
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 →
Site visit ends. I wake up early on another chilly morning to catch a bus to Lilongwe. I tried to arrange a night in Blantyre with friends but the Overlords wouldn’t allow it. “We cannot justify you only traveling the short distance,” they say. I could think of a dozen justifications as to why I should travel to the city I will be living next to for two years and exploring, but I decide the time for testing the length of the leash is best left for a future date and a better cause.
Elvis has agreed to take me as far as the bus terminal. We catch our first minibus – going to Limbe. As we drive, a flock of birds flies in front of us. I hear a pathetic thunk as we hit one. The driver’s foot never leaves the accelerator. Continue reading →