Tainted Chicken

1.

To the tune of “Tainted Love” I sat there drowsily, if not deliriously singing in the dark to myself. “Tainted Chicken oh oh oh oh Tainted Chicken.”

A fat sow wanders out of the jungle and up to the log I was sitting on. At any other time the site of a pig this large emerging from the bush would have been enough to send me scurrying but I was exhausted. Spent. My skin cold, perspiration beading in the humidity.

“Go away pig” I mutter as it nudges me with its large head and tries to access the pre-digested remnants of last nights dinner. I push its head, “pig please, go away.”

The fire in front of me now showing only one or two embers. I haven’t the energy to re-stoke it. I just sat there. A pathetic lump in the dark, depleted, being nudged by a pig.

2.

We had met Sam and Sarah at a hostel in Chiang Mai. We required two more to warrant a guide leading us on a hiking excursion through the jungle to the Burmese border. These poor unfortunates were the closest by. So I approached them, an enthusiastic exponent of the trek, promising an experience that would charge their dinner conversation for years to come.

As a first point of callwe stopped for supplies at a flyblown market where Sam and I found lizard for sale. Sam was tall and thin with a Southampton accent, a wicked laugh and a burning desire to join me in a lizard entrée that evening. After eventually concluding that the chuckling lady behind the wooden table was vending this lizard as a food option we made our purchase and gave it to our guide Sumate to add to our meal with the Karenni people that night.

Proud of our procurement, we imagined we would be the toast of the village. Bringing with us such a delicacy would surely see us accepted as honorary Karenni. The girls looked at us with a hearty derision. “You boys are going to be so sick tonight.” they echoed each other.

Sumate smiled and threw the lizard into the open woven basket he carried on his back. Right next to the cling film wrapped chicken.

3.

I must say I didn’t even give it a thought when we stopped at the waterfall. Maybe after hours of walking through the jungle pathways I was too concerned with diving under the coolness of the falling water. Maybe I naively trusted our guide or maybe I am just dumb as an ox. Either way, as I sat there in the darkness to the harmony of retching coming from the rest of my party I recalled distinctly seeing the chicken laying in the sun, next to our lizard on the top of Sumate’s basket.

Up hills, through bamboo jungle, with every foot fall, for eight hours our market chicken breast sweated with us in the Thai heat.

4.

It struck me first, then Sam. Both ends, the grip and release of stomach and bowel bending us over in exhaustive expulsion. The validation of the girl’s earlier warnings about our lizard delicacy and smug “I told you so’s” gave away to disquietude regarding the uncontrollable violence of our nauseation. We lurched and staggered between our mosquito net and a small wooden outhouse. A macabre game of tag. For about thirty minutes the girls could only watch on with worry.

Then as if their sympathy had forced their participation they joined the sick dance. No longer was one toilet enough, the boys forced to tumble through the light foliage of the jungle’s edge to semi concealment.

Eventually, when I had no more to give I retired to my log. Turning around only once in concern for my companions to see Sam crawling sans pants slowly towards his bedding trying in vain to avoid the repulsive patches that laid in wait for his hands and knees. I never turned around again for the rest of the night.

Instead I focussed my exhausted gaze to the fire pit, shivering, weakly singing in a catatonic state to myself  “Tainted Chicken oh oh oh oh Tainted Chicken.”

5.

Sumate walks over to me as the sun starts to peak through the tousled tops of the bamboo. I was still sitting there, alone on the log. The pig by now had returned to the bush in search of better company.

“Drink this, it will make you sick one more time or no more times. Then you will be better.” Sumate handed me the local brew.

“We have all been very sick all night Sumate.”

“Yes I know, every time people sick” he replied. “I take this trek for four years, every week or maybe two weeks. Every trip maybe 90% of people get sick.”

I did some lethargic math in my head and shook my head at the hundreds of tourists Sumate has poisoned. “Why do you think that is Sumate? Do you not think that chicken in glad wrap sweating on your back for 8 hours might be the cause?”

“No, not chicken, I think people are not used to their mosquito repellent.” I shake my head and walked away to drink my tea and throw up one last time.

Acacia’s Parents

Everyone has that one amazing story. The one you will retell at the next hostel. Sometimes you will hear it in the first ten minutes and sometimes you will have to dig deeper, because not everyone knows their amazing story. It depends more on the listener rather than the teller.

I was thinking back over my travels. Thinking about the countless travellers I had met. One stuck out in my mind. It was a brief encounter about 12 years ago.

I don’t think I ever knew her name. If I had to guess I thought it may have been Susan. She was another encounter on my journey. Another person to pass time with, to share an experience. It was at Acacia Camp in Kenya that I met her. I only knew her for twenty minutes, though I walked away with a great respect for her as one of the people who bravely seek out a new way to live.

I asked her what she was doing way out here?

“We are back here visiting” She said. “My husband and I actually started this camp many years ago now and named it after our first born girl Acacia.” Acacia circled her legs, she had dark caramel skin with beautiful blonde curls in her hair.

Susan was a white Canadian who moved to the Mara years before to study the lives of the Masaai people. At first she wasn’t accepted by the women of the community but after time she began integrating into their way of life. It was then that she met her husband David. At least I think his name was David. He spoke no English and she no Maasai but they began teaching each other and their relationship grew.

In love and married they eventually became pregnant. Susan did not want the baby to be born in Africa so she got on a plane back to Vancouver. Unfortunately she had to take an earlier flight than David and so David made his way to Nairobi airport and caught a flight on to Heathrow for his transfer to Toronto.

David joined our conversation, he was tall and very dark with a strong look and kind eyes. David added that he had his spear taken from him when he reached Heathrow. So in full Masaai blanket, looped earlobe holes, a club , limited English and an onward ticket to Toronto he roamed Heathrow looking for his next flight.

This was the first time David had been out of his country. Another traveller who recognized him as a Masaai rescued him and directed him to his gate, telling him to sit there and when all the other people get up around him, he should follow them.

“So what was the most amazing thing for him being in a western civilization?” I asked. Susan jumped in to answer.
“Well he was so captivated by the light switch, he used to stand there and switch it on and off”

I asked David what he was thinking at the time, he chuckled subtly “I was amazed at being able to turn the sun on and off”

“Maasai men are very proud and, as a woman, you cannot teach them anything unless they request you to” Susan continues. “We were in the hospital one time when I was heavily pregnant about to give birth. I asked him for a can of coke from the vending machine. He took the coins, went to the front of the machine, assessed the coin slot and the buttons. Put the coins in and hit the button and with a clunk the can of coke rattled to the tray below him. He cautiously opened the tray, took out the coke and handed it to me sitting in a wheelchair. David then bent down and looked into the flap, straightened and moved from one side of the machine to the other then tried looking behind the machine. Nodding his head he seemed pretty comfortable that he knew what was going on. Of course I dared not clarify. Any questions he may have had were his to ask.

A few days later we were driving and we went through a McDonalds drive through. We drive up to the little box and a voice came out, ‘may I take your order.’ At this David was shocked. He had understood that there was a guy in the coke machine handing out cans and while he thought it was a terrible job to be in the box with no windows he could not believe how small the man in the box was at the McDonalds drive through. He has had to learn quickly.”

My time with Susan and David was cut short and although I got to share the briefest snippet of their life, my time with them is one that will stay with me for years to come.

I understand David now works at a hardware store in Toronto.