Here’s an update from some partners in South East Asia.
“Is our new house made of rubbish?” my daughter asked on our first night in our current place (a month ago now). In New Zealand we might use the kinder term “100% recycled materials”, but a child makes no such distinctions.
At first it was what you might call a “handyman’s dream” (and a mosquito’s)! I’m no handyman, but we spent a fair bit of time with fly-screen, plywood, pipes, fabric and nails and have ended up with a place that serves us well. Although it looks like a shack outside, inside it’s our personal palace! Here are some features that make our neighbours say “wow!”:A plywood ceiling to intercept heat and carcinogenic dust falling from the recycled asbestos-cement roofing. A private toilet (we share a septic tank with our neighbours) and private water supply (we pump from groundwater – which smells of sulphur… hmm…) Most neighbours use the open canal for number twos, and around a dozen families would usually share a water point for washing. Everyone buys drinking/cooking water in polycarbonate bottles – the kind you see at the office water cooler. A layer of concrete between the ground and our “carpet” of recycled advertising banners. It makes a much less lumpy floor than most, and keeps out worms and rats. A few large persistent ants were still able to penetrate (it’s pretty low-spec concrete!) but we’ve since beaten them back. A back door and three windows for light and breeze. As well as being more pleasant, it helps reduce TB transmission between the kids playing inside. (Active TB has a prevalence of around 300 per 100 000 people here. That’s 30 times more than NZ). It doesn’t leak (yet). It’s SPACIOUS. At around 22m² for a family of four, that’s nearly twice the standard shack.
If you like, read that list again and spare a thought for our neighbours – most have none of these features.
Lions and Tigers and Magic
Moving into the ‘slum-proper’, it didn’t take long to feel more involved with day-to-day life “in-amongst-it”. A bunch of teenagers often sleep (or just talk all night) on the front porch of our neighbour’s corner-store. On our third night while in bed we heard the growling and jumping sounds of a mad dog right outside: the teenagers presumably having fun with the poor animal. Considered unclean in Islam, dogs are rare here, so we asked about it next morning. “It wasn’t a dog” they said. “It was a tiger!” Apparently the spirit of a tiger (or maybe a wolf) had entered one of the boys, which happens from time to time. We’re still not sure what to do with that information!
“Has that happened to you?” we asked the store owner. “It wouldn’t happen to me – I focus my mind on God.” He is certainly one of the more diligent pray-ers we know of. Even so, it turns out he was sick the whole of last year and sold his house in the village to pay for a magic doctor to remove (magically) a cursed yellow nail in his lung, which seemed to do the trick.
None of that is as strange as the entertainment put on as part of a wedding on the field a couple of weeks back. The party was an expensive affair that ran from dawn until past midnight, pounding our house with over-amplified music. It also featured a mid-day parade of colourful kids and the bride sitting on winged beasts held aloft on the shoulders of long-suffering dancers, and a late-night clown show.
But the afternoon matinee was a series of hypnosis attractions, whereby, at its climax, lion-spirits were called on to enter the performers: who then pounced each other in lion-battles, drank from muddy puddles on the ground, and set upon an unsuspecting live chicken with their teeth: blood and feathers flying – a kind of Marilyn-Manson-meets-David-Copperfield show. “Is that allowed?” I asked, thinking about Islam’s food laws. Apparently it’s okay if it’s for entertainment. Our daughter’s friends told her to watch out: they might bite. I told her it was just a show (I hoped).