October 23, 2013

Are there floods in heaven?

For the last month and a half I've been living in my friend's 250 sq ft house in a rural village. Whenever I leave the house, I talk to the kids on my street. I know all of the street cats by name:  Princess, Adopted, Ogi, Kabs, Jumper, Bagger, Stormy, and Kymie and I always take interest in the local street dogs: Maya, Marvin, Blackie, Whitie and ChoCho. I call my next door neighbor "Grandma." Keiya, the three year old girl who lives with her, let's me know the exciting news of the day: I have a candy, I have a doll house, I climbed a tree, and so it goes.

The neighborhood has two small restaurants within walking distance of home. You walk up and lift the lids off of the five pots to see what the options are for the day. They are usually pork stew, bean soup, squash and green beans, chicken curry, liver chunks and variations of the same. If you see what you like, you point, "one serving of this, one serving of that, no rice." There is no language barrier as the words flow easily. I stayed here for a few weeks in March, and now 6 weeks again in September and October, I feel fluent. I know all of the street vendors and look forward to their tapioca ball soup, sugared and grilled bananas on a stick, and fried fish cakes.

To get to the city, I jump into a motorcycle carriage, sit in fetal position and am driven over a flooded bridge. The driver reminds me to lift my bag from the floor so it doesn't get washed away in the current. I lift my feet so they are on the wall so as not to soak my shoes. The flood waters cover the floor of the motorcycle carriage and the underbelly of the motorcycle is fighting through the waters.

Next I take an SUV and squeeze into the trunk with three other people. It is incredible how we all fit inside. The two rows in the middle of the SUV have four people each where in the first world, you have two. Then there are two who sit in the passenger seat and surprisingly, just one guy in the drivers seat. The A/C is freezing, you get a cold from the one hour ride. Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber blast from the ample speakers. A few passengers sing along softly with the skill of a professional.

Next is a vehicle which you have to see to believe. The style is that of an American Army Humvie Jeep extended to be able to add more passengers. Just as in the SUV, two passengers mold their bodies into the space that fits one in the first world. Black smoke spews from the exhaust and surrounds the nostrils. The putt-putt of the engine is glorious and any car enthusiast would feel at home at the combustion sounds that are in no way hidden from the rider's ears.

The outside of the vehicle is painted with glorious graffiti paid for by the current operator who rents it by the day. He charges $.20-$.60 per ride depending on distance and payment is made by passing coins and bills through the 20 person crowd to a "conductor" who takes payment and gives change. When you are at your intended stop, you use a coin to loudly tap the metal skeleton of the vehicle to inform the driver to stop. He slows, you jump out, and the public transport vehicle puffs on in a billow of smoke.

After the motorcycle carriage, the SUV trunk, and the extended Army Jeep, you find yourself at one of the four supermalls in an enormous shopping and business park. The mall has a 30 restaurant food court with another 20 food stalls where every imaginable world cuisine can be yours for anywhere between $.50-$3.

The contrast is mind blowing from a motorcycle carriage powering through a flood where you have to put your feet on the wall to prevent yourself from being washed away, to a $50 billion supermall with a movie theater on the top floor and all of the retail therapy you would ever need. I meet a friend of a friend who asks where I just came from. When I respond, he is surprised at the distance and asks, "Did you take a taxi?" I just smile, let's go eat.

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