of My Life
Some stories from some unusual days of my life, with lessons learned ... click a story name to get there ...
Bombay Belly (????)
There was a long period in my life when I did a lot (seriously, a lot) of SCUBA diving. One year Jade and I went on holiday so that I could go diving in the Maldive Islands south of India. Before we went down to the Maldives we travelled in India, including Bombay (which changed its name to Mumbai in 1995) and Jaipur. Jaipur is a really amazing place - how often do you get to pull up at a traffic light in a taxi and there’s an elephant next to you? When we got back to Bombay we went out to the Ajanta Caves, which are hewn into granite rock on an island off Bombay. We went out on a small boat with only local people. Absolutely amazing art, carved deep into the side of a mountain. Back in Bombay we went to the Raj Hotel for pizza (not the national dish of India :-) and a drink. While we were eating a young Indian boy came up and asked if I would sign his autograph book. I happily signed, but I didn't have any idea why he would want my signature. Several more children came by, and I did the same thing several times. At some point I needed to take a leak, so I went down the corridor to the toilet. While I was at the urinal another boy came up and asked me to sign his autograph book. I had to slow him down a bit (because my hands were busy), but when I finished I signed his book. When I walked back up the corridor towards the dining area where Jade was waiting, I saw a poster on the wall that explained things … there was an Australian rock band in town and at that stage with my long hair I looked somewhat like the drummer - the kids wanted a rockstar’s autograph! There are several (now) adults in India who now have the autograph of a tourist (me) who was not a member of a rock band. Anyway, that's a diversion, the main tale is about going to the Maldives for SCUBA diving, and the complications that followed.
When we arrived in the Maldives capital Malé we saw a big sign before customs that said that alcohol was forbidden and that all alcohol had to be declared. We had no bottles with us, and went on in. We spent the night in a hotel in the city before we were going to fly out the next day on a seaplane to an island owned by Germans who were running the SCUBA operation. When we were in the hotel we realized that Jade had several dinkies of vodka in her bag which, according to the sign in the airport, would have resulted in seven years of jail. We very quickly bought some Coca-Cola and destroyed the evidence.
The German island was amazing. We stayed in a small cottage overlooking the beach, the food was wonderful, the diving was fantastic, and I had a really great time diving every morning before we relaxed every afternoon. As it was an island the water supply was limited, and there was a sign saying to not drink the water in the afternoon because they did purification of the water only in the morning. In the afternoon they provided bottled water, or typically we would go to the bar and have a drink. I guess somewhere towards the end of the trip I ignored the sign about not drinking the water in the afternoon. Nothing went wrong until we got back to Trivandrum in the south of India, from where we were going to fly up to Bombay and back to Australia. Even in Trivandrum I wasn't feeling too well, but we flew up to Bombay no worry. When we were in the Bombay airport waiting for the connection with Qantas to go back to Australia my stomach started to erupt. I spent a large amount of time in the toilet, with whatever I put in coming out the back end. I really wasn't in good condition, and I eventually collapsed in the toilet. A Singapore Airlines employee (I can’t remember his name now, but I did write a letter of recommendation for him later) came in and found me on the toilet floor. He picked me up and took me to the Singapore Airlines office where I lay on the couch while he went to find Jade. At that point an ambulance was called and I was taken off to the “best hospital in Bombay” hospital for treatment. Jade rode along in the front of the ambulance, and recalled it as "the most rickity ambulance whose wheels were about to go sideways". I was taken into a double room. The doctor came by and accused me of having Bombay belly, i.e, diarrhea from eating too much hot curry. I had to give a poo sample, and in the squat toilet I really couldn't balance - I poo’ed all over my hand as well as into the sample cup I had been given. It turned out that I had a bacterial infection in my stomach, from drinking the bad water in the Maldives. The doctors were very good. They gave Jade a prescription that she had to take down to the pharmacy to buy the drugs - nothing was provided on tic! I had an IV drip put in and was left to rest. The other bed of the double room was occupied by an Indian man who'd been working in the oil fields in the Andaman Islands, and he had malaria. I didn't know it, but I soon learned, that malaria really affects the brain - he was quite mad. His wife was also there but could not keep him from climbing out of bed and coming over to my bed where I was hooked up to the IV, and couldn't move. He had a little book of Post Its. He would keep telling me what was wrong with me, write “prescriptions” on Post Its, and stick them on my bed until the nurses came around and chased him back to his own bed. Eventually they took him away - he was too much to handle. They wouldn't give Jade a blanket or anything - she had to sleep on the wooden bench in the hospital room, getting bitten by mosquitos, while I slept peacefully on the bed under a mosquito net. Apparently the mad malaria man told Jade it looked like she needed a doctor! She was really stoic and did very well helping me.
Whatever the doctors did worked. In a day or two I had recovered, and was well enough to go back to Australia. At that point we had to pay the hospital bill. I was pretty scared because after all the travel we didn't have a lot of cash with us, and they would not take credit card payment. It turned out when the bill was delivered that it was about only AU$40 (Australian dollars)! Luckily I had a AU$50 tucked in the zip pocket of the motorcycle boots that I wore all the time those days. There was a nurse there from England who exchanged it into rupees, and we paid the bill. We then went back to the airport and got a flight back to Perth.
Wow, that was a bit of excitement … going into a top class Indian hospital (it might be considered kind of second or third world here), and being treated by excellent doctors. I learned a few things from that adventure: 1. Read the signs in hotels, and believe them, particularly if written by Germans. 2. Make sure that you always wear motorcycle boots with a $50 dollar bill tucked in the side pocket - you never know when you're going to need it. 3. Have a spouse or colleague or friend who's always going to be there to help you when you mess up.
Jamaican Alfie (2004)
I would like to tell you a story about a time I was in Jamaica. I had a job teaching at the Mona Institute of Applied Science (MIAS) in the University of the West Indies, run by Dr Howard Reid. My job was to teach Masters level computer science - I believe it was operating systems I taught that first year. I taught Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights, from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. The students were either employed in the local IT industry or school teachers, all of whom were hoping to improve their employment situation by completing a master's degree. As it was my first visit, MIAS arranged my accommodation at the Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston. On the first evening that I was there I asked the receptionist at the hotel where I could go to eat. She explained where there was a street about one block away where there were restaurants. I said "great" and set off to walk across through a back alley to get to the street. The woman was quite horrified, said that it was far too dangerous, and that she would call me a taxi to drive me around. Of course, being an overconfident South African I ignored her advice and set off to find something to eat.
The receptionist turned out to be right … in the back alley I was accosted by a short Jamaican man who put a knife against my side and asked me to give him some money. Again, being overconfident, instead of giving him money I asked him "why?". He said, "because I'm hungry". So I suggested "let's go eat", and surprisingly he agreed! We walked down the street to a jerk chicken barrel, where I had leg-an'-t’igh and a beer, while he had some form of chicken and a small carton of chocolate milk. After eating I went back to the hotel. The next night I did the same thing, and the man met me again. In order to be safe I bought us chicken again. This became a regular occurrence, and we became kind of friendly. I found out his name was Alfie. Each night Alfie would meet me, I'd buy him chicken and chocolate milk, and I was never harassed by the other characters hanging about in the back alley. I was his mark, and it must have been “honour between thieves”, because none of the other guys in the alley ever gave me any trouble.
The next year when I came back for another month I walked through the alley again … lo and behold there was Alfie. He shouted out "hi", and again we went off to the chicken barrel. I became really quite friendly with Alfie. One night we were sitting in the top of a car wash eating our chicken, and I asked him "why did you pull a knife on me?". He answered, "because I was hungry". I suggested, "next time you are hungry say ‘please can you buy me food’, rather than threatening to stab someone". He thought this was a great idea, and we laughed about it. After a couple more years of this I moved to staying a different hotel on Hope Road, and never saw Alfie again.
That experience did show me one thing: if you're confident, polite, friendly, and smile, you can often get away with things, and even make friends in what might seem to be a fairly difficult situation. I've taken advantage of that experience in my travels to many places where I had met many people. It is a useful way to approach strangers … with confidence, with friendly politeness, and with a smile. I've made many friends and survived many crazy situations. All thanks to Jamaican Alfie.
Senegal Willage (2010)
In 2010 I was a guest speaker at the LPAR-16 conference, held in Dakar, Senegal. Andrei Voronkov organized the conference, and the local organizer was Wally Faye. Wally was a Senegalese who worked for the government; he had the biggest smile you can imagine. One of the features of the LPAR conferences is an excursion to somewhere interesting. Wally decided that the LPAR-16 excursion would be to his village, or, as he liked to say, his “willage”. The village was out in the countryside - very rural. A bus took us out to the village, certainly not on a sealed road. At one point we were stuck in the sand and everyone had to get off to push the bus. When we arrived at the village all the locals were sitting in a big circle, drum groups were playing, a cow was cooking on the spit over an open fire, and there was a large quantity of beer in a tub of ice. One thing for sure it was real - there was no electricity, a primitive toilet, no running water, and no modern facilities. It was a perfect LPAR excursion! The local people were great fun; they made us welcome, and we all started drinking and eating. The locals spoke their local language and French, which made communication quite difficult for me (but many of the LPAR people spoke French). Luckily the school teacher was there; he spoke some English and introduced me to people. I found out from the teacher that the children started school only at the age of 12 because there was no teacher to teach early level schooling. That got me inspired ... I drew a map of Africa on the sand, and with a little help from some mothers and the teacher I had a circle of small kids learning the countries starting up in Morocco coming down through Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, etc. I’m sure I got some of the countries wrong, but the children were enjoying learning something and with a little help from the teacher and the mothers they understood what they were learning. At some point Andrei and I were dancing like crazy to the drums; we were really having a great time. About 10:00 pm Wally said it was time for everyone to go back to Dakar on the bus. I was having too much of a good time, and told Wally I didn't want to leave. Wally smiled and said “that's fine, you are welcome to stay”. I grabbed my little backpack off the bus and went back into the village area while the bus drove off. I was left with no local knowledge, no way to leave or contact the “outside world”, and nobody who could speak English. That suited me just fine! (I later found out that Wally had arranged for his wife, who was a striking woman, to make sure I was okay.) It took no time for the local men to get out their guitars and drums, and the music got going as we drank all the beer we could find in the big tub. Around 3:00am I guess I started to look tired, and Wally's wife took me into one of the huts and pointed at a bed for me to sleep on.
In the morning I got up and started wandering around, washed my face in the barrel of water that was being filled very slowly through a very thin pipe coming from a well some distance away, and headed out to visit the family compounds. Each compound typically had several goats, maybe a cow, some chickens, and a fence made from woven wood around everything. Everybody was very friendly, and I was repeatedly given food and water, or sometimes cow's milk. It was really quite a fun morning. Later on I played with the little children who didn’t attend school, until I was called in to have lunch with the adult ladies (I think the men were working in the city or in the fields). Lunch was held in a large open rondavel with seats around the edge. We ate leftover meat from the cow of the night before, fresh mangos, drank water, and I think I even managed to scrounge a beer. When everyone had finished eating I went around trying to be helpful, collecting the plates that had leftover bones, mango pips, mango skins, and other inedible bits, on them. I made my way over towards the garbage and washing up barrel, which produced much shouting from the ladies in the rondavel. One of them took the plates away from me and threw all the scraps onto the floor in the middle of the rondavel. One of the children was then dispatched to bring in goats. The goats quickly ate all the leftover scraps then licked all the plates clean. When the goats were done one of the ladies gave me the plates and gestured that I should now go to the water barrel to clean them off and leave them in the sun to dry. It was certainly a different way (well, for me) of getting the washing up done at the end of a meal.
Later in the afternoon I was pulled over to sit opposite the chief, who I had met the night before. Of course we had no real way to communicate - he did not speak English and I did not speak his language or French. Another chair was pulled up in front of the chief, and a young lady was called over to sit in front of me. The chief then started gesturing enthusiastically at the lady, pointing out her shape, and also making a gesture of using both hands to masturbate his apparently very large penis. I was quite confused. In the middle of his sales pitch Wally came back from his job in the city. He asked me “do you know what's going on here?”. I replied, “yes, I think the chief wants me to marry this lady”. Wally laughed and confirmed that was the idea. I told Wally to please tell the chief that I already had a wife. Wally really laughed at that, and explained that would not change things, because more than one wife was considered quite acceptable. Wally walked away and left me to my own devices, talking to the chief with hand gestures and drawings in the sand. The young lady did her best I guess, but I was not showing any interest; she got frustrated and stomped off, leaving me and the chief alone.
Later on Wally drove us (his wife, a friend, me) back to the city. We went to a fish market, and ended up eating at his house. I don't recall if I stayed at his house or if he took me back to the conference hotel much later that night. At some point I asked Wally what the chief was doing with the large double-handed masturbatory gestures on the imaginary large penis between his legs. Wally explained that the chief was trying to tell me that the young lady was very good at pounding maize, and would therefore make an excellent wife!
There's a lesson to be learned from this little adventure .. always take the different road, don't follow the masses home, stay and talk to the locals, have fun, don’t be scared interacting using drawings and smiles, try to help people and improve their lives - maybe the kids did learn some geography from me! The other thing you might learn is a new way to do the washing up after a meal, and you might even end up with a very useful second wife.
Times in Thailand (????)
Cycling in Cambodia (????)
Ni' Night in Jamaica (????)