Today involved leeches and burning the all-loving-heck out of my leg. It was a good day, though.
I had strange dreams all night and woke up in a strange place to sounds of motorbikes and chickens. Oh yeah, I’m in Malaysia today. I was in India last week. Tonight I’ll sleep on the ocean. Weird.
I slept through market time, but my host sister managed to convey that I was about to get a ride on the family motorcycle I had begged for the day before. I was ecstatic. I had never been on a motorcycle, though I’d always wanted to ride one. True, my first experience was driving through the Malaysian jungle with a backpack on my back, in pants that Mama Latipa made me wear, with Brahman cows by the side of the road, sitting behind a 15-year-old in a hijab– instead of he backstreets in Rome, behind a handsome Fabio, with gelato in my hands, while wearing an adorable sundress and leather jacket– but I was too happy to care.
My sister drove me to the restaurant for breakfast, then left to get Yadi. I was left with Mama Latipa busily serving a restaurant full of men. She let me help her make tea. She showed me how and then fussed at my attempts and kept adding sugar to the brew. She left me to “stretch” the tea. You do this by pouring in increasingly long stretches to cool the tea down. They did something similar with mint tea in Morocco. I spilled some, but she didn’t see.
I ate breakfast with an English speaking man. He discussed government subsidies on pilgrimages to Mecca for every Muslim citizen in Malaysia. He explained that our questions about religion were sensitive and not easily answered since Muslims were given such privileges by the government. His view was that the Brits, not Malays, had invited other religions in, so the Malays had the right to “take care of their own” as he put it. So interesting– especially in contrast to the other countries I’ve visited up to this point. For breakfast, we had egg dumpling type bread and curry sauce. Hard core. The man had us drink out of our saucers and said it was traditional for workers who were in a hurry to cool off their tea that way.
Who knows if he was playing with us?
In a tiny shop I found “Kentucky” brand fried chicken mix being sold next to fish that looked to have been unrefrigerated for at least 4 hours already. It gave me a bizarre feeling.
We went to see the character building adventure course all Malay children complete before a period of required community service. Then Mama demonstrated rubber tapping for everyone in the program and let me try. You had to go slowly so as to not “hurt” the tree. There were leeches that moved like fast inchworms and could jump onto your legs without you noticing. I helped a panicky girl pull one off. I don’t blame her. So gross. Another one was trying to bite through a guy’s sock.
We went back to the house, collected our stuff, and got another motorcycle ride to the restaurant. Mama had cooked up some banana curry—peel. After downing enough to please Mama, she gave me a tour of the village on the motorcycle. She drove me by the other homestay houses for my comparative pleasure and giggled gleefully when I faithfully insisted her house was the best. Everyone went back to the center, but she took me back to the restaurant to get my backpack.
She was rushing, the ever-present village men were observing and I was in a skirt. They drive on the left side of the road here, and, in my defense, I didn’t know there was a correct side of a motorcycle to get off. Really I have no excuse, but after an awkward dismount, I felt a stinging sensation on my leg and stumbled into the street as Mama Latipa yelled in Malay. I realized I had burned myself on the exhaust pipe. Pretty badly. I didn’t want to let on and have her explain to her friends at the center how the idiot American burned herself getting off of the motorcycle, so I carefully hid the spot from view. After all, my host sister started driving the thing at age 12. But it hurt badly and I was getting large blisters around an ugly brownish-red welt. She gave me a mug as a present and petted my leg during the closing remarks–then we said goodbye. I was sad to leave.
I got a bandage on the bus to cover the burn from grimy Penang and opted not to go to the clinic. I didn’t feel like being used as the next example at a preport listing of accidents, or like explaining how I ended up on a motorcycle since we aren’t supposed to operate one.
When we got back to Penang, Kelsey and I decided to walk to the mall for last minute shopping. It was only a few miles away and we didn’t mind the rain. We went through an area dubbed Little India and past lots of temples. We looked a fright, overnight bags, bandaged leg, nasty hair—but we were happy as clams. At the mall, we stocked up on stuff we can’t get easily on the ship like chocolate, ginger (for seasickness) granola and chewing gum. Then we hit McDonalds for real ice cream before walking back. Customs was a breeze. I will be studying all night or a Global Studies test in the morning.
Malaysia, I hate leaving you! You deserve so much more than a few days.