The Laotian Bus Driver Part 2

It was an extraordinary night and it was about to get more extraordinary.

Marooned in the mountains of northern Laos thanks to a bus breaking down and the driver hitching a  ride into a large town and with the temperature plummeting, we huddled inside the bus and waited. The hours passed and then the driver appeared with a spare drive shaft and slid under the bus. The Laotians blissfully asleep, the tourists got out and looked under the bus, only half believing what they saw….

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The Slum Girl

 

I was on my way back to my hotel, when she ran up behind me, yelling.

It was a high pitched sound, bird like.

Before I knew it, she was standing in front of me and pointing at my camera.

It was a young girl wrapped in a blanket and all too obviously from a poor, lower caste family. She was sleeping on the streets, along with so many others……..

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Lest We Forget

 

 

I travelled the endless land

Flat horizon panning out to nowhere,

Vast swathes of land cleared of every tree and bush,

White man desert.

 

And arriving in a town I saw the monument

Like you see in every country town

Commemorating the generations of white men

Who fought in the two World Wars

And many other besides

South Africa, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq…

Bearing the same words like the other thousands of monuments

All over Australia

´Lest We Forget´.

 

Then

I saw the people who once lived out there

On the land, now a white man desert

Who now found themselves marooned

In another kind of white man desert: the modern life:

Suburbs, Mc mansions, shopping centres, SUV´s,

Commercialism, emptiness and glitz……

 

Saw them

Survivors going nowhere with nowhere to go

Bereft of a reason to live, the only country left to them

A haze of drink and drugs

Marooned in a land which no longer made sense.

 

´Lest we forget´.

The fallen, those first people

Driven from one desert to another

By invaders who remembered

Their own dead

Never mind the corpses under their feet.

 

No Reason

At first light there he was, that old man

Peanuts piled on his trolley

In preparation for the holiday to commemorate God

When street vendors could expect to make extra rupees

 Standing behind his tiny bicycle-wheeled trolley

With its iron scales and weights and a stack of paper bags made from old newspapers

The mound of peanuts before him

 

Promise of extra income for a man used to

Surviving on nothing.

 

Watched him that bent old man in his cotton kurta

Surveying his means of his survival at the start of the day

To commemorate God.

 

What was his story?

How had he ended up here?

He and the millions of others like him?

Every one of them had a story

None of which I would ever hear, separated as we were

By language

By place of birth

The difference between a temporary stay in a strange land

And a lifetime spent on the street.

 

In the evening when it was cooler

I saw him again

When I bought a bag of those peanuts

The street was noisy, crowded, a seething mass of faces and voices

Illuminated by the few street lights which still worked

 

He had been standing there twelve hours after I first saw him

That old street vendor.

 

The air was foul with fumes and smoke, like a low hanging mist,

As I handed over a few coins for a bag of peanuts,

Watched him carefully weighing up the peanuts on his scales – he was an honest man – 

I saw he and I, each of us standing on one of the iron dishes of the scales

and I tried to work out why those scales tipped

So crazily in my favour

 

Maybe he believed in karma, in God, in some kind of design

Behind it all.

Me, I saw nothing, no justice, no design, no intent,

No Reason

The Metamorphosis Part 2

 

Sometimes, sitting on the terrace of the Hotel Zamecek after a long walk, my enjoyment of that idyllic setting was disturbed by an image of Franz Kafka appearing before me.

Kafka sitting next to us in a chair, a blanket over him, looking at the forest, now and then a cough heard over the sound of the water.

Kafka suffered from TB and spent months in and out of various sanatoriums in Austria, his stays there funded by his father who owned a factory. He died from TB at the age of 40. Once, Europe was dotted with sanitoriums.

In the days before the invention of antibiotics and vaccines TB, amongst other illness, was a scourge. Today many of these former sanitoriums had been renovated and turned into hotels (Anya and I had stayed in a few of them).

I wondered if this wasn’t also the case with Hotel Zamecek and resolved to ask at the front desk about its past. 

 

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