I have a very high tolerance threshold when I travel. I can endure the unspeakable. I’ve certainly mastered the art of mute suffering. There’s one exception to this – coffee. Or lack thereof. Weirdly, for all the cultural currency that travel provides, many of my favourite memories involve nothing more than a coffee (or if legal, a beer) and reading one of the many newspapers or magazines I buy on my day of departure. They remain crumpled in my bag for the duration of the trip. I enjoy this pastime at home too, but it’s not quite the same. Either way, if I can’t start the day with a coffee and some reading, I get uncontrollably irritable. Emphasise irritable. Underline uncontrollably. At home I can more or less control this. I have a coffee machine. And I get the paper delivered. Thus, in the mornings I’m capable of achieving a non-sexual orgasm.
In Africa and the Middle East, however, this is beyond my control. I was in a desert settlement in the Sahara, Chinguetti, staying with a part-time nomad (sound travel wanker alarm bells, now). I anxiously knocked on his door with my coffee satchel and said, ‘boiling water?’ ‘Yes, my friend, wait’. He wanted to give me breakfast and coffee all at once. It’s too difficult to explain that coffee is best enjoyed with a book, rather than with food. ‘Ah, maybe now?’. He walked away.
All I ever need when abroad is the boiling water. I always have the coffee. So I never understand why they never let me access the tap. It was the same in Turkey, Iran, Lebanon. Everywhere. Just give me access to the fucking tap.
An hour passed. This is ridiculous. I want my coffee. I walked back over and lightly tapped on his door. ‘Ah yes my friend. Soon’. ‘But you have the tap in there, I can see it. Let me use it. Please.’
Another half hour passed and I was starting to see some weird stuff. I started giggling to myself. Uncontrollably. At nothing. Then I danced to the music in my head. Still giggling. Oh shit, I’m cracking up. I need coffee.
I marched back over. No tentative knocking this time. ‘Hey!!’. I banged very loudly on the door. I banged it so hard it came off. The nomads were all sat on the floor. They looked up in horror. ‘I wanna read my fucking book. And I can’t do that till I have a coffee. Give me the fucking boiling water. Give it to me!! Give it to me!!’. That’s when I walked into the room and started man handling the lean little nomad, shaking him quite intensely. The donkeys, observing the scene from outside, shuffled anxiously. The kids stood up and ran away. I then went to the tap and turned it on. I pointed to it. ‘See. Water, water. Now boil it. Boil it. You fucking cunt. Boil it!! Boil the fucking water!!’. I splashed it at all of them. I then descended into racism. ‘Ay! You speak the English?! You speak the English?! Ching Ching Chong. Watuh. Watuh’. The nomads had a horrified look on their faces, as if to say ‘oh dear. This man is not only stupid. He’s insane’. In my mind, it didn’t matter that I was being racist towards the Chinese, even tough I was in Africa. All the same to me. It’s white or it’s coloured. White power!
An hour later, after I’d unleashed terror on the entire village, storming through doors and demanding boiled water, the village elder caved and gave me boiling water. Before breakfast. I scurried back to my room, talking to myself in a way that reminded me of Gollum. I had my coffee and read 23 pages of Franzen. I felt very content. Aaaaah. That’s when remorse kicked in. ‘Shit, did I say ‘Ching chong?’. I walked around the village, bowing my head and profusely apologising to everyone. ‘I’m deeply sorry mam. I didn’t mean to sexually harass you. I’m not a misogynist. I just go a bit ‘cookoo cookoo’ without my coffee’. I handed out money. Hush money, pity money. They were all very understanding. They’re used to institutional racism, theft and rape from the west. From colonial times to UN peacekeepers. The IMF to the world bank. It’s all in the script. We fuck you. Profit from it. Then we give you money (foreign aid) to preserve the appearance of magnanimity. The generous uncle handing out gifts to the savages. Yesterday it was colonialism. Today it’s globalisation. Tomorrow it’s climate change. White man’s burden and all that. It’s our world. But you’re free to live in it. If you must.
Sorry, I went off on a bit of a tangent there. I’m back now. Anyway, I got my coffee in end. White man always gets his way. Same time tomorrow?