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Below find four short stories that will be updated periodically. If you are viewing on a mobile device you may need to scrool down through the stories.

Old man sitting on bench


© - MAURICE O' NEILL - May 2016

New Delhi train station is exactly as I remember. The entire human race without a bar of soap between them expanding like sponges as you're carried by their tide and deposited, perhaps with empty pockets, perhaps not, to a destination where you never intended to be. If you weren't so terrified it could be a pleasant experience. Of course, you could use a taxi, but New Delhi traffic is so mentally insane that even the Devil has abandoned them to their own devices preferring to collect corpses rather than court living souls. God bless his black, heathen, cancerous, weeping heart. So now you're on the roadside edge debating your thoughts. The filthy, creamy-brown curb was painted white when the President passed decades ago and neglected ever since. Six to eight street urchins touch your forearm gently with rehearsed practice. Their heads are tilted to one side, puttered lips and glassy eyes open wide in a professional pose of pity. They have no shoes on their feet, and their unloved, unkempt skin provides a breeding ground for lesions and cankers. They have glue personalities and will never leave. The resilience of street children is beyond the comprehension of any home dweller. Your options with the urchins are simple; donate to their demands or flee. So you adjourn from the sweltering heat and the pillars of stench that supports the overhead smog and seek the nearest food vendor, who fries his God-knows-what in rancid oils. His tasty offerings are literally to die for, but the children will disengage from you on his first rebuke. The hierarchies of commerce command authority the world over. The children gone, he is expectantly looking in your face to do business. The hustle of the crowd- ants in a sugar bowl milling around, but seldom touching. You and he are isolated to the moment. He will sell you everything, anything even his f…ing stall and throw in his two toothless daughters who don’t speak your language to sweeten the deal. You must imbibe it all with nonchalance, albeit calmly. The humidity is stifling, but you must maintain aplomb. Beads of sweat mingle with the exhaust fumes to cake you in dust. The noise is as relentless as the procession of traffic and pedestrians who churn up more dust to mingle with the smog. Everybody has somewhere to go for some reason, but the rhythm of their movement represents only mayhem to a tourist. Spiraling calibrated chaos whose structure no foreigner can unveil. The stallholder with his Sikh turban, wrinkled face and unkempt gray beard, is waiting expectantly for your business. His disdain is adding more wrinkles to a face that is already full. Now he is pointing to one thing or another. It all looks so deliciously deadly. Deep fried patties with fillings of unknown origin extracted from rancid oil with hands as foreign to soap as toilet roll. The urchins lurk nearly in the shade of a tree, and with birds eyes they monitor everything. Thirty rupees, there are fifty in a dollar, gets two unwanted yellow patties. To my right, I see space at the railway’s entry and decide to fill the space and try again. I just don't need the frantic racing swerving taxi ride to the hotel and then the billowing row over the fare where he meant $50 and the idiot foreigner thought 50 Rupees. I toss the patties to the children as I start to run. It’s one Caucasian’s solution to the New Delhi hustle. 23 March 2016, Taj Mahal, India (words 400) The opulence of nature trapped in the bones of white marble allow the Taj Mahal to stand majestically imposing over every soul venturing into the masterpiece of her shadow. On the first view, her symmetrical sensuality awakens dormant thoughts that hint of fragility, and as your eyes unashamedly caress her marble curves, your emotions revive some primeval residue of longing- as if you have been lost amid life's crusade and suddenly rediscovered your way. The Taj Mahal is inspiring. It imprints a smile on your face. The opal sky above entwines with the harmony of nature- cumulus clouds, white speckled blue with razor streaks of black waft on their endless journey from horizon to horizon. The lowered gardens- manicured pearls of interlacing turquoise pools reflect the perfection to cast the shadow of meekness on your soul. The Taj Mahal whispers succulently in the breeze, taunting your ears, your mind, demanding you raise your chin and behold her in absolute appreciation. Built by the Mongols and abandoned to nature her hard stone facade has conquered weather, thieves, chisels and time to become the secular jewel of India, commanding homage from all who lay eyes on her. Quite simply, she welcomes the ethos of all cultures with a benevolence that humbles all quarry. As if carved from the emotion of love the gracious bulbous dome sits perfectly decadent on a rectangular base between four subservient minarets of plain marble, which show their joints like scars of human wrongdoing. Intricate inlays of precious stones shroud her in a plethora of divinity, while black onyx script announces to scholars' eyes the finality of our being. Her message is a solemn one. It whispers to all that although collectively you can create a structure that personifies perfection- personally you may never achieve it, you may never hold onto it, nor may you enjoy the spoils of life beyond your designated time. The Taj Mahal stands alluringly majestic and so perfectly symmetrical on all sides that no matter where you stand she offers an emotional experience to any who listen. She says that whatever beauty you create in this life you will abandon in death. She will whisper to share freely the love in your heart, the riches in your coffers, and educate your children to embrace tolerance and respect. Only then will she will allow you to leave, not as you have come, but with a pumping heart that has experienced reverence.

An Irishman abroad.

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Human Nature

© - MAURICE O' NEILL - Feb, 2020

In the year 1958, Jack Murphy, a County Tipperary farmer, was in his prime, statuesque with the looks of the devil, and an eel in his britches he referred to as Congo. He tilled no less than one-hundred-and-three acres, and that same year Jack impregnated three ladies who filtered in slow succession through his abode seeking matrimony. Proud of these atrocities, and while boasting his exploits from the bar counter, one John Sullivan, seated near the swinging doors to the lounge, took righteous offense and let his thoughts be known. With some discomfort John raised himself from his three-legged stool, and with a crutch wedged into his oxter, balanced on his remaining leg, the former lost in the trenches of Belgium. “You have a dirty tongue in your head Murphy that affronts many. You might think to tie a knot in it, and perhaps your dick as well would be in order.” There was silence followed by an uproar from the congregation. Then cries of ‘Here. Here’ resounded off the oak panels and cracked two wine glasses. Only the sexually deprived preferred Jack Murphy’s words to Sullivan’s, and there was only one, the barman remained silent drawing from a keg of ale with a steady hand, least sediment rise and cloud the brew. “You hoppy bastard, Sullivan. Who asked for your opinion? Will you sit down for Christ’s sake before you fall down, you’re a feckin idiot.” Jack Murphy, forever aggressive, knew no measure of restraint and would have poleaxed Sullivan with a brutal knuckle-sandwich were it not for his disability. In lieu, he reverted to humiliation. “You’re more used to cattle than women, Sullivan. Will you for fecks-sake sit down now?” The crowd chuckled at this comment. They took keen interest in the proceedings, for even drunks know that when demons and angels go at it, entertainment is forthcoming. John Sullivan was known to all as the local ‘Government AI man’, who tended their cattle with artificial insemination to ensure a successful pregnancy and good strain of calf. Over the years his arm had extended up the asshole of every cow in the county. There wasn’t much other work for a limp-gimp in these parts, and Jack was pleased to have the work, and the pension that accompanied it. “Murphy”, Sullivan spoke loudly at the other man. “You’re a lecherous scab on humanity, deflowering young colleens with promises of marriage, land, children, and love. You bring disgrace on their families and boast of your exploits as if it is something noble and fine.” Once started Sullivan couldn’t restrain himself. The spit sprayed from his mouth. “You know Murphy I do believe that the best part of you must have dribbled down your mother’s legs. Certainly your brains at least. The church is where you should be, seeking forgiveness, not the pub contaminating decent folk trying to enjoy themselves.” Touched by the taste of seven earlier pints, John seated himself once more. He had said his piece and knew Jack Murphy would never strike him for fear the mob would rip off his limbs and club his head to a pulp with them. He even gambled that Murphy now regretted wearing his hob-nailed boots instead of his usual Wellingtons. This thought pleased Sullivan. Murphy was a menace to society. Every village had its bowsey. Unfortunately, Murphy’s statuesque looks were a sensual magnet of passion that tipped a woman’s heart from sensibility to the fiery throes of love, and the doom and humiliation it thereafter nurtured. If Jack Murphy weren’t such a scatter-brain, loud mouthed idiot, he would understand that he could pick the finest fruit from the tree, rather than rummage through the barrel with the rest of them. John Sullivan raised his eighth pint to his lips and allowed all such thoughts to slip away. This makes the first gallon tonight he reminded himself. At a gallon-and-a-half, he must take himself home, or face the howls of his vixen. Jack Murphy, his fury still volcanic and acidy stood at the bar staring at Sullivan. He was of the mind to move across the road to Flanagan’s and finish his evening there. He knew he couldn’t throttle Sullivan. The shame of it, beating a poor cripple, like stealing coins from the church plate, some injustices were irredeemable and best left to the tinkers. He turned his back on them all and faced the counter. Sighting himself in the mirror, he tipped his hat further back on his head so he might display more of his face. Old Michael behind the bar was busy pulling pints. Business was good tonight. He was as wrinkled as a used bedsheet, and recently a peppering of unsightly warts had appeared on his face and bald head. Murphy thought that it was a good thing Michael mostly faced the congregation and not the mirrors. His daughter, Magdalene, was a good looker though, with a mane of red hair so thick ravens could roost. He would enjoy flipping her tail in the air. She served the men occasionally when the bar was really busy. Otherwise, she kept herself to the lounge and only an occasional laugh would creep across the ceiling. Murphy wouldn’t mind her company in the least, but the false promise of land, dirt and hard work wouldn’t appeal to those of better means. He hoped she’d put in an appearance, eye-candy makes the pints flow sweeter. Sullivan was a bastard, he thought to himself. A worthless man from a worthless family who couldn’t support his own weight at a bar counter. He also knew there would be no mention of this discussion the next time he came to service his cattle. Like piss flows down the sewers, so to evaporates malice when sobriety returns. Raising his glass he muttered disagreeably to himself, “’Tis time for another one.” The words echoed up his nose convincing his mind that his judgement was sound. He indicted with a nod of his head for Michael to pull him another one.

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Nana Pilar

© - MAURICE O' NEILL - Dec. 2019

The Secret of Nana Pilar - inspired by the life of Nana Paul, San Nicolas, Philippines She never owned a pair of shoes for her entire life. Only for the banyo she had slippers of banana leaf that her mother fashioned, and used for this purpose only, they remained outside the banyo door. Years later, after the Spanish had left, the villagers of San Nicolas, always loose-tongued and malicious with gossip, thought her transition from poverty to modest wealth might entice her to start wearing shoes and modern clothes. But they were hopelessly wrong. Nana Pilar valued reverence more than possessions and wealth, which she concluded, was like fool’s gold for it gave the illusion of comfort, but neither purchased honesty nor friends. Nana Pilar lived a simple life, and the villagers never saw or suspected her many faces. She was more astute than a fox, her wiry frame stronger than most men, and her depth of thought a provocative weapon against any who opposed her intention. She was born in the summer of 1895 just before harvest. Their dwelling was a mud-walled, straw-roofed hut, where a curtain, its ends weighed by small pebbles served as a door and the window frame was a gaping hole so the cooking fire inside might breathe. It was a difficult birth that lasted nearly two days, and without the hands of a midwife, her mother endured in muted silence and willpower that her daughter should inherit. But her mother never spoke of such suffering to her. Once, approaching the market place they were stopped and chastised rather bluntly by an American Corporal. The year was 1911 and a dull day as the clouds overhead held the sun at bay. She responded simply to the man, “God bless your fertility, kind sir.” They say the brash corporal’s head turned the color of a tomato. He guffawed loudly in respect of her brazenness and continued on his path. Nana Pilar was by her mother's side as she always was. Seldom was one seen without the other. They whispered they behaved like sisters, not mother and daughter. As the soldier walked away her mother told her daughter that when touched by the worm of poverty its distaste lingers until your children start providing for you. Nana Pilar didn’t understand her words but was careful to remember them for sentences were clues to life. Her mother hated the Spanish for the death of her husband and she would resist American authority with the same vigor. Uneducated in the manner of universities, she understood well that all who levied authority while on foreign soil had little to offer and their departure would be no bad deed. Nana Pilar’s father died short of his thirty-sixth birthday. The clay floor of their house, often visited by rain and well walked upon was a lunarscape of divots, rather like a golf-ball that the Americans liked to wallop with odd-shaped sticks. It was one such divot that twisted the ankle of a Spanish soldier causing him to discharge his musket with fatal results. They were supposedly searching the house for weapons, but sacks of rice, satchels of jasmine and winter preserve were their true intent. Perhaps guilt-driven, the Spanish never harassed nor taxed her household after that. What can you demand when you placed the yoke of destitution upon a family’s head? To make ends meet her mother first sold the two fields that she alone with a young daughter was unable to till. The furniture followed, and sometime later the beds. Nana Pilar was eleven and remembers it like yesterday. Even the pungent scent of the fat bastard whose eyes fell lecherous upon her as he instructed his help to take the blankets as well. He was Filipino, but his eyes were two different colors, and his nose ran askew like something that didn’t know its proper place. Even his hair, she remembered was dull and refused to shine in the sunlight. After he had left the house her mother uttered that he was a half-caste, a creature of improper breeding doomed to linger without acceptance in all societies. So accosted his wealth was wasted for his hatred would eventually chew upon his reason until his nuisance to either society would provoke his untimely demise by foul deed. Then she said rather quietly as if speaking for her own ears, “We will get our beds back.” She drew Nana Pilar to her and hugging her close to her bosom told her not to worry. And at the tender age of nine, her mother warned her not to lie with a man unless she loved or understood her own value. Like all her mother's words, Nana Pilar heard, heeded and atoned for all her love for her father was transferred to her mother in its entirety. Pilar was a sensitive child beyond her years and graced with a maturity bestowed on few. Had not her narrow eyes added a razor sharpness to her features, her beauty would have consumed all eyes that fell upon her. Nana Pilar was unlike the other children of the San Nicolas district. Even the mayor recognized this and demanded her participation at all village events. Her slender frame was unusually tall and she moved with the elegance of a gazelle dancing through long grass. Her tiny eyes were brown like all others, but hers shone like jewels and held a person to court. When she was ten years old a landowner of wealth, recently widowed, sought her with a dowry few families could resist. Her mother understood the implication. True education is not found in books, but lies in the respect and a willingness to accept the hardship that honestly sometimes brings. Her mother understood that only from great can greatness grow. Children, properly coached, can accede their parents, forge a path of self-determination and therefore be comfortable in their thoughts.Nana Pilar was never a true beauty, but she was elegant, slim, with the slender fingers of one who could tend hair, and do it well. Times were hard after the death of her father. They had supplies enough, rice for two summers and onions in the rafters, their stems crimped over so they might hold firmness for months to come. The chickens that aged or became too lazy to lay would provide meat, but what use of meat if you had no plate from which to eat, no knife to cut, or spoon to place food in your mouth? Nana Pilar’s mother knew how to turn mud pliable. She knew what makes it bond, and how it could be fired, and even painted as was found on rich people’s tables. Every cup, saucer, and plate that she brought to her wedding in the form of a dowry was made by her father’s hand. And so she set to work. With a shovel, she burrowed into the bank that lay below the giant limestone formation that the Spanish, and now the Americans used for directions. She dug buckets full of dark mud that mixed with water and a sprinkle of lime juice, were kneaded into shape and sun-dried on banana leaves smeared with coconut oil. Only after this process could they be tempered for fire and last a hundred years. Nana Pilar watched her mother with diligence and indeed was besotted by the entire process. She pleaded with her mother to let her try. Nana Pilar watched her mother with a diligence that exceeded her seventeen years. She was besotted by the entire process of pottery making. It was as if something magnificent had fallen from the heavens into their yard. She could hardly believe her eyes. Her mother was creating plates and bowls out of the plain earth that she walked upon daily. Nana Pilar pleaded with her mother to be allowed to use the spinning machine, which they had set up in the yard, rather than tempt ill fate by taking wet mud into the home. The spinner was old and made entirely of mahogany wood, except for two buffalo leather thongs which connected the foot pedals to the spigots on the spindle so it might drive the platter. This spinning machine was at least seventy years old. Its varnish had faded in places, but true craftsmanship always bears testimony to the path of time. Pilar’s mother, Maria Clara Lustre Simpas was reluctant to allow her child wrestle such a dangerous machine. She might trap a finger or toe, or at best scatter mud wide and far to no purpose, except her own embarrassment. Maria Clara looked at her own efforts drying in the sun, two plates and two bowls. The plates were easy. A horizontal slide of hand, and then a stab of the fettling knifepoint into the table and allow the spin of the platter to form a perfect cut. But bowls required a meticulous precision of hand to rise them with walls of equal thickness and to rim them evenly at a perfect height. Her feeble attempt stared up at her. They were functional, but abysmal abortions without finesse. Her father would have chastised her for such vulgarity. She could hear and see him deep in her thought, ‘Daughter has the devil taken possession of your hands, for surely no offspring of mine could be so clumsy.’ Then he would press the flat of his foot on the bowls and instruct her to start again. Her father was a good man, brutal in his honesty, harsh with his love, stern with his justice, and proud of his pottery. He humiliated her more than once in front of their pottery factory workers. She would not wish the taste of such humiliation on her own daughter. Nana Pilar insisted with newfound defiance. Her mother understood it was the defiance of confused youth cresting into womanhood, a body blooming into the bleeds of the moon. She sensed the powers of reproduction were awakening within her daughter, those scents that could drive a man into his most primitive form. Yes, she thought to herself, the doors of lustful adventure were swinging open to Nana Pilar. Her mother understood the full implications and knew she was powerless to stop what nature had decreed. But, Maria Clara was not a woman easily defeated. Her plan for Nana Pilar was practical; sex like all power was just a currency to be bartered. If one controlled their assets with wisdom whilst others succumbed to their emotions, the outcome could be predicted. So, whether you challenge a man’s sexuality, or invoke it with an act of submission, either way you can achieve the outcome you seek. Men are so predictable. While the penis throbbed no blood reached the brain. With a man you only had to ensure that they were capable of paying the price you sought, for once aroused and within the scent of open legs and wetness, the bastards would promise that which they never owned and the whole world if you cared to believe them. She looked toward her daughter with kind eyes. “Be careful then child,” she told Pilar, “balance the weight of your feet softly and equally on the pedal, least the mud will strike you in the face, like the hand of a Spaniard seeking what is not his to take. And child, the Americans are little better, chewing gum and smiles with the eyes of snakes and indecent thoughts.” Nana Pilar leaped at the opportunity. As her mother molded a lump of moist clay on the platter’s nose, she was already climbing aboard. Pilar was approaching her seventeenth birthday. It was a day that neither mother nor daughter celebrated for it was the same day a Spanish musket ended her father and set them upon the road to poverty, a road which they found was without depth or remorse. Certainly, their cousins and relatives wanted to help, but these were desperate times and kind words fed none. When there is only one chicken leg amongst many the one holding gets nourished, the rest must gnaw on bones. None of this mattered to Nana Pilar. Different thoughts filled her mind this day. Her body was burning with a lusting she could only content by massaging herself in the darkness of night as her mother slept. It confused her, but she wouldn’t seek her mother’s counsel until she better understood what questions to ask. Towards the end, the Spanish looted even the buckles of the men’s belts to make buckshot. Food reserves were plundered without mercy and towards the very end Filipinos were treated like rats to be killed. On the departure of the last Spanish convey, racing out of San Nicolas for the coastline and fearing Americans on the main road, they detoured through a schoolyard and put to death thirty-seven children under their wheels, and maimed over two dozen more to a life of utter misery. It was the last blood the Spanish would spill in San Nicolas, the devil curse those bastards and put blight in their eyes. The villagers, already in treacherous conditions and facing the winter months with empty pantries hoped the Americans would be less brutal, yet deep in their beautiful hearts they knew the intentions of an occupier or liberator seldom served indigenous interests. They sucked breath, bowed heads, and rang church bells to welcome the approaching Americans. As before they yielded to a greater force in an effort to survive, for the understood history had conveniently forgotten that Jesus was brown-skinned, a bastard, and murdered young for the crime of honesty. Suffering was a part of life. One merely did what was necessary to survive. And here is where this story takes a radical shift. Nana Pilar’s mother, a woman who could have washed Jesus’s feet at the last supper and warned him of doom, but she wouldn’t, not because of love, or hate or some personal disquiet, but because she understood that greed can’t be controlled. When a fat cow munches a meadow into flatulence, it will topple its neighbor’s fence seeking more. It is worse with humans. Nana Pilar’s small stature had difficulty settling on the spinner machine made for her mother’s father. He was a man of the 5’ 7” who at the time stood inches above most others. Sliding forward and with some adjustment, she found the balls of her feet barely above the pedal’s spigots. But she persevered and soon the spindle turned the platter. It began slowly at first and gained speed. Her mother urged her not to hurry for the spin must equal the pull of hands levied upon the clay and such perfection came with years of practice. As if she hadn’t heard her mother, Pilar started to dance on the pedals, driving one down and then the other. The platter spun faster and faster, the mud must surely fly. “Slow down daughter. For the mercies of God slow down or your clay will reach Manila.” Maria Clara knew what was coming next and turned her back to the spinner and sighed deeply awaiting the splatter of mud. She was unaware that Nana Pilar was in perfect control, and charting her own destiny. Puberty had come at her like an explosion. Last night by her own hand she had reached the plateau of utopia and it was glorious for a short while, and then it ebbed away like ripples of sea on an outgoing tide. Nobody taught her to touch herself. Just like last night, she knew with uncanny certainty that the touching of clay held similar pleasures. She already felt the press of mud under her fingernails, it was climatic, a hot flush swept through her entire body as if a breeze of wind had swirled up in the yard and wrapped itself around her. Her feet tingled as her fingers enveloped into the depths of the mud and a vessel started to form. The potency of the mud spinning through her fingers sent quivers rippling through her stomach. Her head became dizzy. It was so glorious a feeling she closed her eyes a moment to relish this treasure of pleasure. Her hands held true and moved with a rhythmic will of their own. She imagined she was conducting an orchestra and was dizzy on the music, like a lady who sips too much wine. She opened her eyes to watch her hands follow their own nature. They moved with such enchanting grace. She could feel them teasing her, as they had in the dark of the previous night. It was incredible, better, a wildness consumed her, she wanted to scream. She extracted on the clay, manipulating it at the precise moment so fingers and clay should benefit most. She was guiding and steering the clay to the transformation of it end. Her mind and the clay were connected in a peaceful coexistence, yet dependant on each other. She felt the clay as something magical for her hands to reach into and mold into the beauty that lay hidden within. She was ecstatic and when the vessel was completed she stopped spinning. The residue of pleasure began to ebb, just as it had the previous night. She inhaled deeply and held her breath trying to stem the drain and prolong the moment. But she understood now the calling of her urges, the lure of the mud, the chalice of a woman’s body, the sensations of rippling pleasure, and most importantly the key that connecting them all was the vessel the mud wished to create. “I’m finished mother,” Nana Pilar said in a calm voice that seemed at odds with her earlier flurry of activity. Maria Clara never felt the strike of clay that she expected. She turned arout awaited her. To be continued after receiving 30 comments requesting more .....

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© - MAURICE O' NEILL - July 2004

It’s Sunday morning ten o’ clock. I’m in the office and allowing my fingers to ramble with my thoughts. Touch typing is certainly one of the more useful skills that I have acquired. It’s sort of incredible that I find myself back in Ethiopia after an absence of seventeen years. How time passes. Suddenly you realize that you are nearly fifty and not thirty anymore. That the dazzling multi fauceted zest, that playfulness that oozed from you along with those irresistible desires to explore has calmed, like the ripples of a pond after the stone has sunk. It has nothing to do with getting old. Its just maturity. That ability to see beyond the veneer and appreciate the quality of the overall construction. It is a slow process of deliberation where your thoughts poses questions beyond the sight of your eyes. Maturity is the counter balance to the impetuousness of youth. For example, last night after nine thirty, darkness was tight and there were few people about. It’s the perfect time for an untroubled walk. The heat has subsided; the roads are clear and no children to swing playfully from your arms. The only shop open was the butchers, his tatter of carcasses hanging on hooks, grimly tendons of red meat streaked with white lard. Seventeen years ago I was struck by the lack of hygiene, the brutality of the slaughter and the primitive debauchery of the cuts. I wondered did they honestly believe that all parts of the beast were equally succulent. But I justified this debauchery. Without boning knives of German steel and hacksaws with thirty teeth per inch how might they practice finesse of cut? Now I realize the reason he is open so late. A wet sack draped over a carcass can replace a cold room for one or two days - but no longer. All must be sold. I’m currently residing in a town called Awassa. To reach Awassa from the capital Addis Ababa you head south along the Rift Valley, passing through the military town of Debre Zeit before climbing for the greener pastures surrounding the town of Shashemene, where a community of Rastafarians still reside awaiting the resurrection of Emperor Haile Salassie. Twenty kilometres beyond Shashemene you find Lake Awassa and the town of Awassa, hugging, like a child, to her shore. Awassa is 275 kilometres south of Addis Ababa, which translates into a leisurely three and a half-hour drive by jeep. The town nestles between two elevations. Alamura Mountain stands imposing on its south-western end, while its little brother Tabor Hill stands attention to the town’s western flank. The town sits on a flat land area of 4000 hectares. It is noted for its lush foliage and huge trees where flocks of hornbills, eagles, vultures and macaws roost each evening and depart by daybreak. The town centre is quite small and easily navigated on foot. The estimated population is 75,000. Most follower Christianity or Islam, a couple of Rastafarians and one atheist. There is a splendid cathedral located in the town. The interior is a deluge of incredible frescos but photography is culturally sensitive. As a regional capital there is a University, a teachers training college and a nursing institute in addition to telecommunications, banks, a post office and a number of other services. There is also a cultural hall claiming one thousand and eighty-six seats and the major roads in the town are asphalt. The town proves a favourite transit stop for tourists travelling between Addis Ababa and Kenya. Common too many large African town the threat of HIV and malaria are present. It is wise to take malaria prophylactics and keep your dick in your pants. Water and ice cubes should always be considered suspect. Local dishes differ greatly from the European pallet. The main dish ‘Ingeria and Wat’ is like a sheet of sour tasting foam carpet underlay with a dollop of hot bean sauce in the centre. Tasty, but an acquired one. Liquidised seasonal fruit juices are absolutely delicious and virtually a meal on its own. Food is so cheap. A full course meal would never exceed four dollars. There are textile, ceramics, sisal, edible oil, tobacco processing and numerous furniture factories on the outskirts of the town. But it is the open air market off the town centre that attracts most attention for its motley of styles. The region is called South Nationalities Nations Peoples Region or abbreviated as SNNPR. A visit to the market explains why. The ethnic diversity and variance of cultures is amazing. You see it in the colour of skin from milky to coal. See the carriage, stride, sway and demeanour of the people lanky from the mountainside to rotund from the flatlands. Witness the amazing woven hair designs that must take hours of labour and are bound so tight to achieve the purpose that neither dirt nor water shall penetrate. Women in elaborately adorned dresses while other wear a simple box-cut brown cloth coated with rancid butter to weatherproof it. Complex charcoal and henna designs adorn faces, hands and feet. Drippings of exotic silver jewellery form necklaces with an occasional sparkle of polished brass, as the women sit on rugs or nylon sacks behind their small piles of vegetables, beans, homemade cheese and fruits that decorate the ground in a twirl of colour. This market occurs each Mondays and Thursdays and the narrow streets leading to the market square are clogged with donkeys and carry the pungent scent of their urine. There is also a daily fish market by the lakeside. The fishermen row their boats to the volcanic slabs that form the shoreline and will sell to whoever will buy. Often groups of small boy with cleaning knifes fillet the catch at the waters edge and the pelicans and Marabou storks battle for the scraps. Lake Awassa is 52 kilometres in circumference and is recharged by the Tikur Wuha River and rainfall. It has a high fluoride content and no reported cases of Bilharzia. The lake is rich in Telapia, Barbus and Catfish and is also an ornithological paradise. There are flocks of pelicans, Marabou storks, Egyptian geese and Malachite kingfishers to mention a few. African sea eagles, with their distinctive white heads, can be seen soaring over the water in search of fish. A small fleet of colourfully painted passenger boats are available for nominal rent. A tour to see the hippopotamuses costs 20 dollars and many oarsmen will entertain their passengers with soft traditional chants. The afternoon trip is recommended as sunset on the Lake is a moment of relished tranquillity. For a month or more I stayed in my boss’s house while he was on home leave. His house was interesting. A bunglow with three small bedrooms, a decent kitchen and a very fine large sitting room. The furniture was Ethiopian. The settee was special. Hand sculpted it looks brilliant; not exactly evil but darkest Africa if you know what I mean. Brilliantly uncomfortable as well. Some days a troop of monkeys passed through the garden. My bosses two dogs did not welcome but tolerated their visits which pilferaged their bowls. Carnivorous wide-eyed monkeys but friendly enough to snatch food from your hand. The dog’s bowls caused other problems. They attracted soldier ants and regularly knocked out the satellite television by default. The vultures, heavy and ugly, used the satellite dish as a roost while watching the dog’s bones in the garden. Unfortunately, the dish proves too sensitive for their combined weight. Also experienced a bat flying around the sitting room early one morning. Caught and released him, a very interesting animal. My hotel near the waterfront is basic. Killed two cockroaches in my bed and a further half dozen under my shoe. Close to the lake the bed is damp with humidity and appears to attract insects to nest. I’m moving to another hotel in the town proper. The nights in Awassa are boring. The town simply dies at nine o’ clock. You can actually witness the restaurants and bars empty. At eight-thirty gaggles of woman drift in clutches from the shadows of the streets as if carried on a sudden breeze. They hold hands and giggle and vanish. The men soon follow, less noisy more purposeful in their stride, like important key-holders on an errand. Without the luxury of a car our five day week makes the weekend a tolerated inconvenience. The town is small. To forage the sixty or so shops takes less than a day to find nothing worth buying. Never again shall I leave home without a laptop computer. Imagine in the evenings I could write a book –accelerate this letter – watch a DVD. Only two restaurants in Awassa were the food is safe for a foreigner to eat. I know their menus off by heart and the waiters know me by name. I’m Mister Tipper and they treat me like royalty – which is pleasant when not over-cooked like their vegetables There are two channels on the television, a crackling incoherent BBC world service and Movie Magic from South Africa. Films tend to be Parental Guidance or Family and are watched from boredom. The expatriate community in Awassa is quite small and hidden from public view. It is necessary to build a layer of formal introductions to nurture their friendship. I’m bored and I’m cannon fodder for the swarms of mosquitoes that drift from the lake. Wonder is it my white skin that attracts them? Perhaps I luminous to them? Must not forget to take my anti-malaria tablet tomorrow. Got excruciatingly sick in the stomach last week. An internal attack from Al Qaeda. One of my two restaurants poisoned me. Massive stomach cramps and an unhealthy relationship with the porcelain bowl. My stock of Imodium proved useless. Nothing to do but go to the clinic for a stool specimen. The man with milk-bottles for glasses and a soiled white-coat immediately diagnosed ameba. The speed of his analysis amazes me. It occurred to me that he would give the same diagnosis for a headache but when you’re sick you embrace any offered resolution. I paid him. I paid the doctor. I paid for the placebo of tablets and returned to my hotel and the porcelain bowl. Two days later I’m recovering and feeling more amenable to life. My thoughts extend to a bowl of chicken soup. Only one restaurant in town to eat in. I’m writing this in the office. I usually come in on Saturday and Sunday to use the computer and check my email. Outside the window and overhead about a hundred vultures circle on the hot currents. Just like in the Westerns. How effortless their glide, a macabre ritual of diminishing circles to a center of fatality. Guess another horse is dying somewhere close by. There is always a horse dying in Awassa. If the birds circle lower and disappear from view I will know the animal’s fate. Either way the creatures end is inevitable. Darkness carries the scent of death to maundering hyenas. Ethiopians treat their horses abysmally. Can’t understand their mentality unless a horse is cheaper to buy than the food it eats. They work the animal mercilessly pulling passenger carts, known locally as “garries”. When illness strikes the animal is abandoned on the outskirts of town. Unprotected it will not survive more than a day or two. Saw one which must have died late into the night as only it tail and rump succumbed to the hyenas. By midday the vultures had honed out its body till its torso resembled a barrel. By mid-afternoon the children were using it as a play house. The following morning there was nothing left. Incredible. It has been raining since seven o’ clock. It’s now approaching ten. A constant drizzle that somehow dries off before soaking your clothes. The month of August is winter in Ethiopia. Summer proper starts in January. It’s all to do with the equator and the tilt of the earth. It amuses me that so many people take off their shoes and carry them in their hand when it rains. Guess the shoe shine boys are going to have a miserable day. The rain carries with it the cold. I’m wearing my jacket and loathe taking it off. Normally a short sleeved shirt would suffice all year round. This month I have had the opportunity to practice my new found knowledge of Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy. The doctors here do not cover hypnotism during their studies and are fascinated with the subject. For me it is cracking good experience to hypnotize people who don’t have perfect English and treat you with a degree of suspicion. To circumvent the language I give an extensive lecture in simple English and then use movement patterns such as moving a finger to the corner of their eyes. I have relaxed a lot of Ethiopian doctors and converted some to the benefits of hypnotism for the right ailment. My tutor from Cork City would be proud of me. On a more serious note I can't believe the rampant havoc of HIV/AIDs. It is chocking the continent. If you see a really thin person a question mark immediately enters your head. You can’t help yourself. Working in the humanitarian environment obviously we encounter a disproportionate percentage. One of the office cleaners is stunningly, drop dead gorgeous with two children. She is one of those rare people whom you know by the expression on her face that she has always been a kind and gentle sort. Occasionally, if I arrive early in the morning I find her cleaning the office with her sister. Her sister tends to do most of the work as our cleaner suffers from lethargy, a byproduct of her illness. Her husband has already passed leaving her alone to complete the remainder of her sentence. It is very sad. The situation is quite hopeless. All as we can do is to keep her employed. They estimate that three percent of the population is infected. Perhaps it is true perhaps it is more. However it is beautiful the way society accepts this illness. There is no stigma, a gentle acceptance and the knowledge of fate. Nobody is ostracized or shunned. Compassion reigns funerals abound. The government in truth advertises widely but rampant poverty, no social security, less then 30% of the population enjoys electricity and children are the substance of pensions and you can see the uphill struggle. Last week our cleaner asked me to take her photograph. She had seen my digital camera on the desk. I printed it out on the computer in black and white and she was so pleased. I studied her looking at her own photograph and the sadness in her eyes spoke a multitude. Weekly I witness the weight being stripped off her. She vanishes before my eyes. I find myself asking why her. Her smile lights up life. You see plainly that she is without bitterness, devoid of malice and desperate to make her children secure. It’s not my problem but it touches me. The first harvest has failed miserably in all but two of the thirteen zones that our office covers. Rain fed crops, especially on the highlands with its rapid runoff, are always susceptible. The World Food Programme is already mobilizing reserves but the political shouting has not yet started. This delay guarantees that our efforts will be too late and hence insufficient. Sometimes this whole humanitarian agenda gets me down. Pockets of negativity manifest in my mind and I wonder are our strategies correct for this or any other country. Had the wildest thought while out walking the other day. Ethiopia has the second biggest heard of donkeys, after China. One placid animal was grazing as I passed and it suddenly occurred to me that my legs were easily three times the girt of its. In donkeys terms then I would have six legs. Then I considered the volume of weigh often strapped to a donkeys back and this conclusion was forthcoming; men are lazy, weak, inefficient and moody creatures. My digital camera is great. It costs nothing to take bad photographs. Look at them on the computer and press the delete button, brilliant. The locals, Awassianites, drink the water from the lake and eat the fish. This if fine except that the water has a high fluorine content which severely discolors their teeth. They get light yellow brownish stains in the center of their teeth that eventually spreads to total dominance. Hence, they seldom smile when being photographed. Sometimes I print out their photographs on our black and white printer. The results are interesting. It makes them less dark and me darker. They love it. They think it is hilarious that I become one of them. The office floor is soiled with bird droppings. The windows are never shut and have rusted open. Birds frequently fly in to hang up-side-down from the overhead fluorescent lights where they eat the dead flies. Very ingenious and I like to watch the sheen off their wings. Obviously birds like fried flies while we boys prefer French fries. And that’s how I find Ethiopia on my second twist of the coin. Nothing much has changed. A few new building and many now speak good English, especially the children. The townspeople of Awassa are friendly, courteous and accommodating but an evening stroll around the town will highlight the seriousness of rampant poverty and homelessness. They sleep in lines by the sides of the streets and when it rains those who have will pull a plastic sheet over themselves. Some of the disabilities encountered are truly disturbing. Cruel polio deformities that lay limbs wasted and twisted. Blindness by river flies and needless cataracts are so common that they often hold hands and follow the leader. Grotesque elephantiasis that hideously swells feet, hands or gentiles. They are among the hordes of professional beggars who congregate around churches. People here have the custom to give alms. They even drop a coin and take change. Often it is a struggle to rise above such sights and remain human. Yet, such sights must be mentally separated from the children who see a white face as something exotic and want to give you five in greeting. To refuse them might be a rebuke that could last a lifetime, while often the blaze of their smile is ample reward. To finish on a humorous note heard the following for a credible source. The local ladies who serve more than drinks in the bars have formed a common front to ward off a new threat. They have written a protest letter to the Town’s Governor complaining that female students from the University are indulging with their clients for free and thus threatening their livelihoods. I though about this and realized that all humanitarian organizations are freely dishing out the condoms. Universities are an obvious target. Hence if you give a carpenter tools he will cut wood. The Governor, I guess, is considering a suitable response. The rain has now stopped and within an hour the roads will be dry around the puddles. I can then go for a walk. It is my only luxury in Awassa. But first to my hotel to change.

An Irishman abroad.

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