29 January 2013

A lot of kids

So someone asks me today if I am the new lecturer with 'a lot of kids'. I suspected I might be, but I said: A lot? What qualifies as a lot? Two is certainly not a lot; three can't bump me up into that category. A lot of children. My best friend in jr high school had something like 12 or 13 siblings. That was a lot of kids: they drove around in a small white RV to accommodate everyone. I can still count the number of my children on one hand, with some fingers to spare.

Rhythm and shake

It's hard to believe that we've been here for a month, but that's what the calender tells me.
We live between two mosques and when the call to prayer goes out, both of them compete with each other, mournful drones that fall in and out of harmony. At sundown, when the kids are getting ready for bed, I have begun to notice it every day. Allau akbar, Allah is great: I hear this, but I'm not sure if they're actually calling this out, or if it's just what I think I should hear. The kids splash around in the large plastic tub while the rest of the city, the Muslim majority, worships.

I love the call to prayer: I loved it in Istanbul, I love it here. I love how you stop and look up, and how it reminds you of the day cut into sections. Now it's the morning. Now it's noon. Now it's bedtime. The house we have is old and doesn't have any air-conditioning, so we have to keep everything open to encourage the breeze through. The outside air permeates everything in a way that it never did in Milton Keynes or the States. Here you don't seal yourself inside: you open everything up to let the outside in. You turn on the lights coming home and there are four or five geckos on your wall and you think, 'Please stay and eat all the insects.' I walked into the kitchen as I was writing this, and when I turned on the light, I heard something fall into the sink. I looked and there was a gecko: buggy, terrified eyes looking up at me as if to say, 'You just scared the shit out of me, man.'

Yoko and I were talking about inviting people out to visit. I said of one person, 'Do you think they could handle it?' and Yoko, after thinking for a moment, said, 'Do they like to camp?' Yes, it's sort of like camping in a lot of ways, but with the Internet and running water 95% of the time. And toilets. But the sense that the boundary between outside and inside, like when you camp, is less defined. You have to go outside to get to the toilet. The washing machine is outside. I don't think this is a common experience in all of KL, particularly in the newer, more built-up parts, but we aren't living there. Here, everything is older and more porous. Holes in the ceiling, the tattered seatbelt in the cab. Well worn, well used.

The weather for the last month has also had a strange predictable rhythm to it. The morning is normally clear and bright: I can walk to the station to catch my bus without breaking too much of a sweat. The midday is hot, and you find yourself avoiding going outside. Then around 3 or 4 it rains, and by 6 or 7 it's cleared up. This is generalising—over-generalising—but it feels that way.

We, all five of us, got caught in a downpour today, walking home from the market. The girls laughed and laughed, loving every minute of it. They have been amazing to watch: so open and willing to try whatever comes their way. Eat anything, talk to anyone. They stand at the gate of the house and call out to the neighbours as they walk by, 'Salamat pagi! Where are you going?'

At some point in the last month, we reached the tipping point where Kajang and our little house went from where we were staying to where we are living. We stopped talking about what we should or might do and started talking about what we are doing and what we are going to do. It feels good though: feels like we might actually make it off the ground here.

24 January 2013

Death may come invisible

On Yoko's birthday last week, we got word that the Kawada family dog died the night before. He had been sick for a while, so it wasn't a surprise. And he died quietly—Yoko's dad held him as his heart slowly stopped, his breathing laboured, they said, but not in any pain. Vita--my father-in-law called him Vita because it means 'life' and the dog before him had been killed by a car suddenly. Vita was a good dog and a good friend to my father-in-law.

The girls were already struggling to understand death, and Vita's passing did not help clear anything up for them. Naomi cried and cried even though she had only ever seen Vita when she was a baby. Mei kept asking question, But how did he die? How were you holding him when he died? Mei kept asking that question again and again, Grandpa, were you holding him when he died? Grandpa, but how were you holding him?  I told her to stop, thinking the questions weren't making things any better, but Grandpa patiently answered, showing Mei how he had held Vita.
In my stylistics class, I teach a bit of a Murakami short story that highlights the trouble of translating literature. The girls don't call Yoko's dad 'Grandpa' in Japanese; they use a much more affectionate term that is hard get right in English. You can't translate honourifics or pet names: they either sound silly or awkward in the target language when they're neither in the source language. Without the right word, though, I can't write the story accurately in English, I can only approximate. The story sounds different in Japanese; Mei sounds different in Japanese. 
Technology afforded the chance to see Vita before they buried him. We huddled around the computer while Grandpa pulled back the blanket and there was Vita, dead. I told my famed older brother about it via chat, explaining it terms of Japanese culture:
me: Anyway, they kept the dog's body in the house for a couple of days before they could bury it, so they could show it to people, including the girls.
Which is really important for the Japanese: to see the dead.
Beau: Yeah
me: But not in the way that the Americans do.
The Americans clean bodies up when they die, right?
Beau: Oh man
me: Oh, it looks like she's just sleeping, it's okay.
Beau: makeup
me: Right.
Beau: put them in suits
me: No, the Japanese, God bless them are like, This is a dead body. This person is dead.
Take their clothes off, put them under a blanket. Anyway.
The dog was dead.
Very, very dead.
My family had dogs for a long time, but we rarely had them until they died. I always remember giving them away, but none of them ever died until our last dog, Mariah. I was in Japan when it happened, but I remember how hard it was on my dad and how strange it was to be away. Grandma died while I was away. My grandpa will die too, I imagine, while I'm away.

The girls kept asking and asking about death and I could overhear them talking about it with each other. Mei, do you want to die? Do you want to go to heaven? I made a mistake and joked about it with Naomi, I said, You've already died, you're in heaven already. See? There's nothing to worry about. Naomi suspected this wasn't right, but Mei, talking to Grandpa, kept asking if Vita had gone to heaven, and after she was told that he had, she started talking about how Vita would be here soon in Malaysia and she could play with him. I've failed as a parent, I thought: I've confused my kids on one of the most basic questions of existence.

Naomi cried and cried. I cried a bit too when they pulled the blanket back, although I quickly recovered and no one noticed. Yoko and my father-in-law, who I just call Dad (it's not weird in Japanese), were crying too. Being separated from family is hardest at times like these. They had a funeral on Saturday, nothing too serious of course, but Vita was a part of the family and in an ideal world we would have been there.

Naomi and Mei kept asking, Why? How? Why? Sweethearts, it's complicated, I wanted to say, but instead hugged both of them and answered the questions whenever there was actually an answer. I don't know how you teach your children to cope with death without lying to them. At least when you're three and five, you can solve all problems with love and yes, daddy will keep you safe for now. We can all believe that for now, even if it's not exactly true.

23 January 2013

At the gate

ings that you might be afraid of, having one of your children snatched out of your driveway by a man on a motorbike is about the worst thing, I think. I have been thinking about this because our well-meaning neighbours who surround us–old women with dark, beautiful skin and strong hands that clasp your forearm tightly–keep warning us. They take your jewellery, they come into your house and take your gold. Everyone's gate is locked: the richer you are, the higher the gates around your house are (the metaphor scholar in me jumps up and down). Yoko tells me of two men she saw on a motorbike, riding by, looking. It's not safe here; nothing is safe.

Do not be afraid, the good book says, and for as much as I have discarded a majority of the good book, I treasure that bit of it, a kind of Jefffersonian approach to the sacred. I have talked about this move in terms of faith and trust. I always preface my comments with, I'm not religious, but—and then I go on to talk passionately about faith. Faith, for me, means letting go of worry and concern about what one can't control. The good book suggests we give that up to a belief in god, which I'm happy for you to do, if that's your thing. For me? Well, for me it's more complex.

My antidote to the fear of someone snatching our child was to, of course, search 'kidnapping in Malaysia' and discover that, actually, this never happens. Moreover, there is a famous case now, splashed all over the tabloids, of a boy gone missing. Horrifying, really, until you read the story: the mother had left him in the car while she shopped, and he got bored and wandered off. The tabloid offered advice to parents about avoiding kidnapping, like Don't leave your children in the car alone and Don't give your kid some money to play in the arcade while you shop. I looked at Yoko after reading this and had a chance to use one of my favourite Japanese phrases: 当たり前 A-ta-ri-ma-e. Of course: in Japanese, it's a metaphor–right in front of you.

The neighbourhood women who clasp my forearm and warn me about things--mosquitoes, men on motorbikes, the gate in our back garden, our lack of curtains on all our windows--have been nothing but kind to us, bringing food and doting on the girls and offering help. Do this, don't do that, how much are you paying for your house. Our girls call out to them in the morning, practising their Malay: Selmat Pagi! And the old women respond with smiles and more offers to help: Call us if you need to go to Tesco, my brother will take you.

I don't like feeling helpless, but we are often helpless here. One of the women flags down the old Chinese guy who delivers gas for the stove and talks him into giving us a small canister. He has mercy on you. I loved the way she phrased that: I knew instantly that she was a Christian, the woman occupying the house with the painting of blue-eyed Jesus that you can see through the open door. Mercy. He hoisted the gas tank from his truck and carefully placed it beside our stove: we now have means to cook. Yes, this is mercy: take my RM 75.

We do take the warnings seriously though, as much as we can. We try to tell the girls to be careful, to not stay too close to the gate. To beware of strangers, even ones that seem kind. But they forget immediately, their little hearts wide open like their mother's. They're changing though: day by day. Their skin is getting darker. Each day it seems we become more accustomed to our little house on Jalan Minang 3, even though it's only been ten or eleven days. Kids, they say, are so adaptable: it's just me that can't make sense of anything that happens here. I say have faith and that it means whatever it means to me. I'm not quite sure, but then again, I'm not sure that even the most devout Muslim or Christian or whoever really knows. We do our best: that's the most we can ever do, hey? For now, we are surrounded on three sides by caring neighbours and if that's not enough, I'm not sure what is.

22 January 2013

Piece by piece

Something happened to this blog in the last six months: it's become very narrative. I think I finally realised that I don't have much I want to say to you, but I have a lot I would like to tell you. I crossed the road into Taman Sri Minang yesterday, on my way home. There were no cars on the road, and as I looked up, I could see palm trees and the mountains in the distance, slowly disappearing in the perfect warmth that comes here between 6 and 7 in the evening. I stopped for a moment and thought, Yes, this story is coming together, piece-by-piece.
When I was a kid, we used to visit the Minnesota Zoo, in the suburbs of Minneapolis. In one of buildings, you opened the doors and had to push through these hanging sheets of heavy plastic before feeling the oppressive weight of humid air come down on you suddenly. I was remembering this today because a bird that lives outside of our house here also lived behind that plastic in Minnesota. It sings contently in the morning, reminding me that I've woken up on the other side of the world, in a housing development that used to be the jungle people keep saying. This sounds melodramatic to me, but I suppose it's true. We are living on the edge of the jungle.

Today in the jungle, we took the girls (Mei and Naomi) to get their school uniforms and register them for kindergarten. Naomi will go from 8 until 2:30 and Mei will just go for the morning. They all seemed confident enough as they tried on their school uniforms in the office, and I reluctantly shelled out another laughably small amount of money for a private, tri-lingual Montessori kindergarten with a staff to student ratio of 1 to 12. Still, I resented it: resented having to pay for school; resented my contract for covering some parts of their education, but not others; resented again having to make another series of decisions. Yoko was happy—happy with the school, which is safe and clean and full of smiling, tri-lingual children who gaped at us as we walked up and down the staircase.

After this, the kids resettled back at home eating watermelon, and I left to sit at the bus stop and wait for the orange Nottingham campus shuttle bus, which never came. Yes, another giant metaphor, I thought, as taxis honked and flashed their lights at me: Fat white man, waiting for bus?! Surely not! Where you go I take you. The bus has a published schedule, but from my experience, unless you pick it up at the station, you can never really know when it might show. Had it already come? Should I wait longer? After a half hour, I grew frustrated and resentful. I gave up, got a haircut and tried to kill two hours while I waited for the next bus because, apparently, the bus runs every hour, except for 11:00.

In Japan, I always had the same same experience when I saw another foreigner I didn't know walking down the street, Christ, they look out of place. Not always fat, but always big: a friend of mine in the UK described being in Japan for the first time as feeling like a walking wardrobe. You notice this about others, but never really notice it about yourself most of the time. That is, until you see another pathetic, fat white guy in crocs, or someone points out that you too, believe it or not, are also a fat white guy. It comes at the oddest times: walking to the bus a couple of smiling hawkers on the road wave me down, He says you look like a football player. Immediately, I wondered: The Fridge or Cristiano Ronaldo? I trudged on, smiling as politely as I could, but feeling heavy and foreign and awkward.

Still, piece by piece. My name cards came today; Dr Stephen Pihlaja printed unironically under the Nottingham logo. The sofa comes on Thursday, but I think until we have a shelf in the bathroom to put our things, life here will feel unnecessarily arduous. It's a matter of slowly acquiring everything you need to make things acceptable. Once my visa comes, I can get a bank account. And then I can get a car. Piece by piece. Then maybe I can stop eating constantly, start exercising regularly, feel more confident. I suspect I'll feel it a bit when I stand in front of students again, or when this book proposal I'm working on gets accepted and I have a contract. But I suspect the moment I feel it too much, I will get restless and we will be moving again. Maybe Sweden. Maybe Germany. I'm sure there are birds everywhere to awaken my sleeping memories.

19 January 2013

Yes, yes, can, can

We are moved into our house now on Jalan Minang 3. Taman Sri Minang, the little area that we live in, is quiet with a pack of wild dogs hanging out by the main road sometimes. The house is right across from a park and everyone seems kind enough. We are a bit isolated, but an expensive cab will take us anywhere we please. I say expensive, but it's expensive in the way that things are expensive in developing countries, after you have gone through a time-space warp of moving to the developing world. I quote the price to you in USD or GBP and you would say to me, You're mad. But I'm making RM, Malaysian Ringgit, and so it matters. I'm not a tourist, goddammit, I live here.

You remember that scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, when Depp's in that dust race and his beer is filled with sand and he has no idea what is happening with the actual race, but he does know that it's still going on? I feel like that right now. Nothing has stopped; nothing has changed. The race is going on, whether I'm showing up or not.

Or another description of our life here so far: in the catalogue—the furniture catalogue, the house catalogue, the car catalogue, whatever—everything looks nice, and cheap too! So cheap. Shockingly cheap. But then you take whatever it is home, start using it, and it falls apart, scratches, breaks. It's clearly cheap, shockingly cheap.

But the thing I came for was the job and it looks to be what I had wanted and expected. This endeavour of the university is certainly something exciting to be a part of, but it is easy to get your eye off of the prize, I think. In academia, recruiting students, building programmes, making a successful department—these things are only useful for the school you are working for. Once you leave, try to get a job somewhere else, you need publications, publications, publications. Research is all that matters. So in the immediate concern, you can feel like you should or can do whatever it is that is set in front of you (and do it well, so goddamn well!), that article you have been ignoring, or that book proposal, or whatever—that's what you need to be working on. This is the struggle of an academic.

Perhaps, I won't forget this. Perhaps I will.

Things not working: the water stops when it rains too hard. The bus I ride to work squeaks and bends and shudders up and down the road. Everything is on the verge of breaking down here, even the nice things, the new things. The new things are the worst, really. This toilet is plastic and it doesn't flush solid waste. Who do you complain to?

People speak English, for the most part, but in a way that can be very frustrating—Can, can, can. Yes. Yes. Yes. Can. You stop asking questions after a while. Yoko was asking a cashier at Giant (the supermarket) what had happened to the non-sweentened soy milk. It was here two days ago. You could see in the eyes of the cashier that the goal was to get the conversation over with, full stop. That was the goal. Suddenly I am that foreigner that I hate so much in Japan--the one that gets frustrated by the people who can't speak English, but hasn't taken the time to learn Japanese. 

The race goes on. Today to get a desk and some shelving. Tomorrow to get food. Monday to get back to work. This and that--taking it all step by tiny step. At least we are going forward for the moment. At least that.   

15 January 2013

Time in the wilderness

Sorry for neglecting this. I am supposed to be marking, but the site I need to access to mark is hanging right now and I have a meeting here in the real world in a couple of minutes.

What can I say: we are in the wilderness for a while. Sunday I went one whole day without being able to check my e-mail. Imagine that. The Internet will come on Friday. I will be done marking in a week I hope. And then I can be fully, completely committed to my work, here in the real world, in Malaysia.

The cliff notes version: we moved in on Saturday, but don't have much of what we need. We need a car because we can't get anywhere, but at least the water is running again. The water had stopped running in a monsoon downpour that I was caught in, small umbrella against the tidal wave of hell.

We have no money, but spirits are high, at least for now. So many things to do. So many things to say. I will update when the Internet comes, I promise. Sooner rather than later.

01 January 2013

Blessings and Curses

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall have peace.

The first couple of days in Kajang, outside of Kuala Lumpur, are slipping away, as they do when you are jet-lagged, and everyone is sick.  This is a long post, but some narratives are longer than others.

The end in the UK was like the end in Japan: rushed,terribly, terribly rushed until a vehicle that we didn’t control took us away: in Japan it was a boat, in the UK it was a taxi. The last day, the Friday, one of Yoko’s friends was over to help clean and help with the kids, but by 2:30, we hadn’t made the progress I thought we needed to. I was uneasy, but more patient than I would normally be because of the presence of another person. Yoko, we have two and half hours, only. Things swung into gear, we stuffed the bags and got them right to the weight limit,expecting to have to throw things out at the airport. I had been so strict about it all: 150 kilograms. That’s what the tickets say, what the website says, what the woman on the phone said. Still, we stuffed things in the bags.

Yoko said it felt like a countdown. The new tenants came an hour before we left, watching us runaround madly: could they help with anything? Yes. No, sorry, no, we just haveto—we have to—Yoko did you get the, thing over... Immediacy taking over. Go,go, go.

Yoko’s true friends, Japanese women whom I had met in passing over the last four years, came to help all along the way. For me, saying goodbye to the UK was saying goodbye to my thesis which, although it ended very well, was bitter and hard almost every step of the way. For Yoko, saying goodbye meant leaving some of her closest, best friends, women who cooked and cleaned for us as we left. Women who had watched our kids when we needed someone. Real friends: people you never want to leave.

And then it was ten minutes: the taxi was here. A middle-aged frustrated Englishman, the kind that I've decided drive taxis in that country. Which bags to take. All of them. They all have to go. And he was frustrated. Our landlord’s wife showed up: she and her husband have meant the world to us. The girls call them ‘Big Mummy’ and ‘Big Daddy’ in Japanese.
The day before we had gone to visit Carl, our landlord,at their house. Yoko ran off with his wife, Yuko (also, you might guess, Japanese) and the kids to the kitchen. And I sat in the lounge with Carl. I had only seen him twice since his diagnosis with a terminal illness in October; I tried awkwardly to maintain a normal conversation, but Carl, you can tell, has gotten very good at talking with people who are uncomfortable. He told me all about Malaysia: You must go to Malaka. How do you tell people that you love, that you love them. We said goodbye, not wanting it to be a real goodbye: never a real goodbye. I kept saying, We will be back to England by the end of 2013. Don’t worry. Nobody worry, nobody cry—finally feeling the physical impulse to cry and fighting it back.
Then everyone was out of the house. We were hugging, saying goodbye, putting seats in the car, putting kids in the car. And then the doors shut and we pulled away. We took Child’s Way out of Milton Keynes, the same way we had come in four years ago. Everything went from a rush of movement to complete silence, broken only by the complaining of the taxi driver (You picked the worst time to travel, mate) and the kids questions. I texted people to say goodbye and looking up at the M1 and then the M25 and then the M4, waiting for the traffic which never slowed us down.

At the airport, we got everything on trolleys,and I pushed one, and Yoko pushed one, and Naomi pushed the stroller. We made our way slowly to the ticket counter. They waved us through. I unloaded all of my bags on the conveyor belt.
Could I take the stroller to the gate?
Yeah, yeah, no problem.
He didn’t want to weigh it? He was supposed to weigh it. I waited.
Okay, the guy said, is that all? You have, what eight?
Yeah, I said and paused. Can we send more through?
Yeah, yeah, he said, you’re way under the limit.
We stuffed the bags with coats, sent another one through.
Okay, he said, have a good flight.
And that was it. I had been telling people again and again that moving is like pushing all your stuff through a keyhole. You compact everything on one side and on the other it can expand and expand, but you have to push it all through. And the ticket counter for me was the keyhole. We got it through, I said to Yoko. The door is open now, she said. No, no, I said, the door stays shut. Anyone who wants to come through must push through the keyhole. You can’t just walk through.

We had a problem at the x-ray machine with Mei’s coconut cream. Mei, if you ever doubt your mother’s love for you, this memory: Mom scooping coconut cream from a large 500 container into two 100ml flight approved bottles with a coffee mixing stick while an asshole TSA (British equivalent) agent tells your mother  that she doesn’t want to be condescending, but you can get this sort of thing at the pharmacy. No, you could see Yoko’s eyes say, I have searched and searched and searched for this cream.I ordered it online and had it shipped specifically to our house in time for the trip. My daughter is suffering: I will take on you and this whole goddamn system if I have to. Mei’s skin is burningand this is the only thing that helps her.

People who suffer the inconvenience of travelling joyfully and with abundance of heart are blessed, as far as I’m concern. The Muslim businessman next to us on the flight to Dubai, who offered his chocolate bar to Naomi and me, is blessed. Who, when kicked, smiled and told us again and again that it was okay. Who offered to (and did) carry one of our car seats up the flight bridge to concourse at Dubai while Mei screamed and screamed, her skin burning with the stress. That man, whoever he is, is blessed.

The fat, faded tribal tattoo’d asshole who reclined into the baby car seat and then sent dirty stares at Yoko when she tried to get past is cursed. He and his faded tattoo’d partner, all their scowls for my little family, are cursed. He actually said to me at one point, I’m trying to sleep here, when Mia cried. He is cursed beyond any clever retort, or blunt, fuck you, I held back.  Jesus, if he can teach us anything, teaches us to turn the other cheek.

The Japanese flight attendant who met us at the back of the plane and took Mei up to the second deck of the plane where the first class section was (as a secret) and then took a Polaroid picture with her is blessed.She gave the girls chocolate and talked to Yoko for almost a half hour. She is blessed.

Yoko, of course, is blessed more than anyone. We were late getting to Dubai. Mei was screaming as we got off and so was Mia.The idea had been that we would have a break in Dubai to run around, but we were about to miss our plane. They herded everyone together who was due for the flight to KL. We were rushed to another part of the airport, rushed through another security scan, rushed through another ticketing gate and carolled intoa space that wasn’t big enough for all of us to wait for thirty minutes. We had no seats. Yoko was holding Mia, Mei was in a stroller that they had from the airport, and Naomi was eating M&M’s sitting on the floor. Let’s never move again, I said to Yoko, trying to be light, but she responded, Don’t say that to me now, and walked to sit down with Mia.

When we arrived in KL, my feet were so swollen that I couldn’tget my shoes back on my feet. Instead of forcing them, I went sock-footed: loaded up everything like a pack mule again, and we headed out. My carrying of our possessions was comically pathetic to people who gave it a second look. I had in my arms one carseat with our coats and a backpack on it. And then another car seat,inverted on top of it. I had my Saddleback bag in backpack mode, and tied to it, a large reusable Waitross grocery bag full of food. And then I had a nappy bag, slung over my shoulder, or not, depending on how many kids were crying and whether Yoko was having to carry Mei or Mia. A young guy in London actually commented to me, That looks hard. So many clever retorts now: at the time, I just smiled tiredly.

We got to immigration at KL. I had my letter allowing me to enter the country; there was no question. Although we were late, the luggage was just arrivind and I put it all on three carts. There was supposed to be a man with a sign. I was pushing two heavily weighted carts, and another blessed man took one from me, I’ll push this: where are you going. His wife and children were embarrassed, but I was again incredibly thankful. Thank you.

And there was the line of people holding signs with names. Oriental Chrystal Hotel. Dr Stephen.
Hi, I said, I’m Stephen.
Dr. Stephen, yes, thank you, yes, please. Leave your luggage, please, the car is outside. Is this your’s too, Dr. Stephen, yes,please, to the car, please, we will take care of it, Dr. Stephen.
We stepped into the midnight air of Kuala Lumpur. Mei laughed, It’s like jumping in hot water. We sat in the car, the bags were put in another car. And we were whisked away. Dr. Stephen, there is water for you and straws for the children. Dr. Stephen, how was the flight. We will be therein about an hour, Dr. Stephen, please relax.

Blessings and curses: It’s 12:30 and everyone is sleeping. I looked at houses today and saw the one that I think we will get. The one I imagined us in the best. Yes, we will work quite well in this country: we will be quite happy because we will choose to be quite happy. And our children will be happy because their parents are happy. And they will suffer injustice and frustration with joy because they see their parents do. And because we will point out to them when others do it. I believe the Muslim next to me is happy because he cares for those around him, and I believe that fat, tattoo’d asshole in front of us is miserable because he cares more about trying to sleep for five hours on a plane than he does about an 18-month old. I don’t need to bless or curse either of them: their reward is their own life. The fat, faded tribal tattoo’dman is now miserable at whatever foreign destination he was being dragged to.The Muslim businessman is resting quietly, sleeping now in Dubai, I imagine. Slowly and patiently getting rich.

I am neither blessed nor cursed: I have dragged my family around the world and all of them have been sick for some part of this trip. But as Naomi and I shared ridiculously cheap street food tonight in an open-air food court in Kajang, the rush of Southeast Asia around us, I thought, yes, it’sall worth it. Naomi says in English, Daddy,you know, I like Malaysia.

The call to prayer, the thing I had been waiting for all these months, is where I will stop for now. On Sunday, in the early afternoon,we were standing by the rooftop swimming pool. I heard it, shushed the children and went to the edge of the roof, listening to the song ring out over the city.What is that daddy? Naomi asked. The church, I say, They’re going to pray.Blessings and curses: for now, we are very, very blessed. 

The future

2013. I'm going to kill. KILL.