Wednesday, October 05, 2005

My Right Foot

I’ve been having fits of nostalgia lately, looking back with great fondness at old trips and old loves and old hangouts. In part this is due to the season, because fall always makes me nostalgic; in part it’s just because dwelling on these is a lot more fun than grading, and the farther I fall behind, the more I like to bury my head in the sand of fantasy and memory. And since Rana was kind enough to humor my shameless bid for storytelling, I’ll share one of these memories before I go back to those pesky blue books.

Many, many years ago, in my braver and more foolish days, I spent a summer backpacking through Thailand with a friend. We took a train up to the north, and traveled by foot and canoe and elephant to a series of small villages where there had never been any substantial incursion of cars or electricity or white people. We ate simple meals of rice, fish, and fruit, slept in small bamboo huts, and spent the evenings listening to the village families singing by the river. It was remarkably calming to look out over the hills in the twilight and not be able to see a single road, building, or electric light as far as the horizon.

One day we arrived in a slightly larger village (with a paved road!) and it turned out that this village was on the border with Burma. There was no customs office, no passport checking, just a simple banner over the road, and dozens of little wizened Thai and Burmese villagers paid it absolutely no attention as they passed back and forth with their baskets and water buffalo, going about their daily routines. I couldn’t resist the temptation: surely it wouldn’t be wise to wander very far into Burma, but wouldn’t it be fun just to step across the border, to be able to say I was there? Who would mind?

As I tried to stroll nonchalantly down the road and blend in with the villagers (ha!), I looked out of the corner of my eye into the shadows at the side of the road. There, one on either side of the road, silent and immobile and nearly hidden in the brush, were two men with machine guns. Rats. They looked like statues, completely unconcerned about the flow of people crossing back and forth. But as I approached the magic invisible line that separated the two countries and began to take a step past the banner, one of them met my cautious glance, and with the faintest of smiles, merely shook his head “no.” Sorry, farang girl, you don’t want to go there. Disappointed but unsurprised, I turned to go back to the Thai side of the village, but not before my right foot had edged just across the line.

I have no passport stamp to prove it, but that’s the story of how my foot has been to one more country than the rest of me.

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