Wicked World Issue Three

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Welcome to Issue Three of Wicked World, the alternative travel digital magazine. In this new issue, we have brought together our most diverse range of travel articles yet. As well as a range of alternative travel articles and photo features, for the first time we have also included some travel related fiction. At one end of the story telling scale, is a traditional Moroccan folk tale, The Red Lantern, selected by Richard Hamilton. In a more contemporary vein, where the lines between fact and fiction blur, we are also showcasing The Death Kiss of a King Cobra Show by Jim Algie. At the reportage end of the travel writing spectrum, in Barbed Wire Scars, Marcello Di Cintio encounters desperate African migrants determined to make their way across the razor wired walls at Ceuta, in the hope of making it to the promised land of Europe. Equally contemporary, E T Laing investigates recent

CONTENTS 6 | Morocco & The Last Storytellers The Red Lantern 14 | Ethiopia Mursi Dreans 20 | Barbed Wire Scars Travels Across The Barricades 26 | Bangladesh A Savage Fundamentalism 30 | Kurdistan A Nation Emerges 38 | King Cobra Show The Death Kiss 42 | The World Through Graphic Novels Persepolis, Pyongyang and Palestine 46 | Gili Air A Feeding Frenzy 50 | Hemingway’s Peru The Old Man & the Sea WWW.WICKEDWORLD.NET Contact: tom@wickedworld.net or marco@wickedworld.net

Front Cover Inage by James Michael Dorsey

Back Cover , Iceland, Tom Coote Issue Three I Wicked World I 3

political upheavals in Bangladesh in A Savage Fundamentalism. Two articles that deal with some of the less comfortable aspects of the modern travel experience are Mursi Dreams - in which James Michael Dorsey, recalls a visit to the inaccessible and yet increasingly touristed South Omo region of Ethiopia - and Gili Air is a Feeding Frenzy by Taiwan based musician and writer, Joe Henley. Andrew Thompson’s The Old Man and the Sea takes on the travel writing form of a literary pilgrimage, as he retraces Ernest Hemingway’s footsteps in northern Peru, meeting up with some of the characters who spent time with the legendary writer in the 1950s. Further exploring the full range of travel writing styles, in The World through Graphic Novels: Persepolis, Pyongyang and Palestine, Tom Coote looks into some of the best travel related writing to have taken the form of the graphic novel. As Kurdistan in northern Iraq is becoming increasingly accessible to independent travellers, we have also included a more photography based travel feature in Kurdistan: A Nation Emerges. •

www.wickedworld.net If you feel like you have something worthwhile and relevant to contribute to the Wicked World project, or would simply like to know more, then feel free to contact either marco@ wickedworld.net or tom@wickedworld.net.

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CONTRIBUTORS JAMES MICHAEL DORSEY James Michael Dorsey is an explorer, author and photographer. He has travelled extensively and regularly contributes articles to wildlife and travel magazines from all over the world. His first book Tears, Fear and Adventure is available both as a paperback and an eBook via his web site at www.jamesdorsey.com. TOM COOTE

Tom Coote’s second travel book Voodoo, Slave’s and White Man’s Graves: West Africa and the End of Days has just been published. His first book Tearing up the Silk Road was published worldwide by Garnet Publishing in August, 2012. He has travelled independently in well over a hundred countries and regularly updates his site at www. tomcoote.net. JIM ALGIE

Jim Algie has been chronicling the wondrous and the wicked, the offbeat and downright peculiar, in Thailand, and other parts of Southeast Asia, since the early ’90s, for publications and book publishers around the whole weird and wild world. His books include the acclaimed nonfiction collection Bizarre Thailand: Tales of Crime, Sex and Black Magic (Marshall Cavendish 2010), the guidebook Travel Pack Thailand (Tuttle, 2012), and the upcoming collection of prize-grabbing short fiction The Phantom Lover and Other Thrilling Tales of Thailand (Tuttle, 2013).


Joe Henley is a freelance writer and editor based out of Taipei, Taiwan. His travels have taken him from the Americas to the Caribbean, northern Africa, and all over Asia. He contributes regularly to a column dedicated to the Taiwan music scene printed in the Taipei Times daily newspaper, and spends most of his time churning out articles for music and travel publications all over the world. When he’s not writing he growls, grunts and shrieks in metal and punk bands, and tours whenever he can afford to.

Traveller and The Times. He has an MA in African Studies from SOAS. KIT YENG CHAN

Kit Yeng Chan is a Malaysian tourist guide and freelance photographer. She has amply documented her overland trip from Singapore to Europe, and has recently worked with Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia and the Penang Monthly. Although she doesn’t fancy extreme metal too much, her work has been also featured on the cover of Cripple Bastards’ latest seven inch on Relapse records.

MARCELLO DI CINTIO Marcello Di Cintio is a Canadian writer. He won the 2012 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for his book Walls: Travels Along the Barricades. Walls was also nominated for the 2013 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction and the 2013 British Columbia Award for Non-Fiction. His previous books include Poets and Pahlevans: A Journey into the Heart of Iran and Harmattan: Wind Across West Africa.


RICHARD HAMILTON Richard Hamilton has worked for the BBC World Service as a broadcast journalist since 1998, including being a correspondent in Morocco, South Africa and Madagascar. He also reports for BBC TV, radio and online. While living in Morocco, he co-authored the Time Out Guide to Marrakech and has written throughout his career for magazines and newspapers such as Conde Nast


E T Laing works mainly in aid to developing countries and when it dawned on him that it had taken him to at least 70 countries it seemed a dereliction of duty not to write about them. The book Fakirs, Feluccas and Femmes Fatales – his second after a philosophical novel called An Amoral Philosopher – is travel reportage as a by-product of travel to work in countries that are mainly well off the tourist trail. Marco has a weekly column at Rolf Pott’s Vagabonding, has written about overland Asian travel and extreme music in Asia for a variety of international publications, and blogs at www. monkeyrockworld.com. Marco’s first pulp novel Nazi Goreng explores the underbelly of Malaysian international drug trade and displaced youth, and was published by Monsoon Books Singapore in October 2013. Issue Three I Wicked World I 5

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The Red Lantern For almost a thousand years, storytellers have gathered in the Jemma el Fna, the legendary square of Marrakesh, to recount ancient folktales and fables to rapt audiences.

Words & Storyteller Photos Richard Hamilton


hen I first arrived in Marrakech as the BBC’s correspondent in Morocco, in 2006, it felt more like 1006; it seemed to be somewhere that had not changed for a thousand years. Even today a strange cast of characters who would not look out of place in Scheherazade’s One Thousand and One Nights peoples the city. There are rich and poor, merchants and mad men, beggars and thieves, travellers and tarts, hustlers and holy men, dark-eyed beauties and disfigured cripples, and they all swirl around the giant plug hole that is the main square of Marrakech.


he Jemaa el Fna has been Marrakech’s marketplace, sacred space, cultural crucible, melting pot and meeting point for centuries. Looking down from one of the multi-tiered cafés, it looks like an intricate Moorish mosaic. Before the city was built, Marrakech started simply as an oasis in the desert, a watering hole for camels, until it became a crossroads at which travelling caravans could find food and shelter, and swap stories with fellow travellers. Some would be heading east on the pilgrimage to Mecca, others would be taking salt from Timbuktu to Europe and still others heading Issue Three I Wicked World I 7

deep into sub-Saharan Africa. Despite a few recent misguided incarnations, such as a car park and bus stop, the square has largely survived as a place of high and lowbrow entertainment ever since. Jemaa el Fna is thought to mean ‘Assembly of the Dead’ (although there are several other explanations as well), but it is one of the most

kebabs, seafood and salad, enticing tourists with cheeky phrases like, ‘lovely jubbly’. As night descends, the moon rises above the majestic Koutoubia mosque, smoke ascends from the stalls, the drums continue their slightly Satanic beat, the crowds thicken, and you feel you are being swept up in some sort of Dionysian ritual.

“There are rich and poor, merchants and mad men, beggars and thieves, travellers and tarts, hustlers and holy men, dark-eyed beauties and disfigured cripples, and they all swirl around the giant plug hole that is the main square of Marrakech.” truly alive places on earth. It is a throbbing mass of humanity that is constantly in flux, yet remains the same, a living testament to the Moroccan proverb that ‘everything is possible, but nothing is certain.’


ll human life is here. By day, you can be heckled by orange juice sellers, pestered by men with Barbary apes on their backs or women trying to squeeze tubes of henna onto your palms. If you escape their clutches and manage to slither past the snake charmers, the herbalists clad in blue Tuareg robes selling medicinal plants and aphrodisiacal powders, fortune tellers, fire eaters and scribes, you will probably be approached for a photo opportunity by a water carrier in his widebrimmed hat. The continual sound track to this incessant invasion of the senses is provided by Gnawa musicians, dressed in blue, wearing skull caps decorated with tassels and cowrie shells. If nothing else, you have to admire their stamina, as they constantly play reed pipes, bang drums and shake their krakeb, a type of castanet. The thumping beat can be heard for miles.


y night, the square transforms itself into the world’s biggest al fresco restaurant as hundreds of stall holders set up their fare of

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emaa el Fna is an open space for street performers. There are musicians, acrobats and actors who play out farces and mini-dramas, but it is not sophisticated theatre. There is a man who attaches two rubber flipflops to his ears, pretending to be a rabbit, while another shouts abuse at him and whacks him with a plastic stick. There are troubadours like Abdelhakim Khabzaoui, who has been performing his peculiar song and dance routine for more than 50 years. His nickname is ‘Il est jolie’ (‘He is pretty’). Beneath a pair of dark sunglasses, his nose scrunches, his lips pout and his mouth gurns. As crowds of young


ompeting with all this mayhem are the hlaykia, who have been reciting their tales here for perhaps 1,000 years – an unbroken oral tradition that is as ancient as the Atlas Mountains that tower above Marrakech. When I first heard about these old men who told stories amid the cacophony of the square, I was fascinated and intrigued, immediately wanting to find out more about these strange beings who seemed to have come from another time and space. Here, in the 21st century, were men who were passing on ancient knowledge, wisdom and entertainment in the most profound and yet simplest of ways. Like a ritual from our earliest ancestors sitting round a fire, a story would pass from the mouth of one person into the ear of another. There is no purer form of communication. The storyteller is a mobile library, a one-man cinema and an almost limitless audio book, all rolled into one. When I first encountered such a figure, with a crowd of young and old men gathered in a tight circle around him, I could tell his listeners were equally drawn to the storyteller; with mouths agape and eyes agog, they had been transported to a different world, taken out of their everyday lives.


n my first visit to the Jemaa el Fna, I was lucky enough to

“When I first heard about these old men who told stories amid the cacophony of the square, I was fascinated and intrigued, immediately wanting to find out more about these strange beings who seemed to have come from another time and space. “ Moroccans watch, sometimes bent double in convulsions of laughter, he sings, shakes a tambourine and makes vaguely homophobic jokes, all the time wiggling his hips to the accompaniment of a trio of elderly musicians.

meet Moulay Mohamed El Jabri. A bearded man with just two remaining teeth on his lower gum, he was sitting outside the Café de France in a faded grey djellaba, surrounded by devoted listeners. I asked Moulay Mohamed to tell me a story...

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The Red Lantern A story told by Moulay Mohamed El Jabri


long time ago, in Marrakech, there lived a poor, lowly, sweet seller called Kadour. He was not a very successful sweet seller, and with each passing day he lost money and became poorer. Finally, the time came when he could not even afford to buy the honey he needed to make his sweets. But he was too ashamed to take up begging.


shall leave Marrakech,’ he said to himself, ‘and cross the Atlas Mountains. Perhaps I shall have better luck in another place.’ Kadour set out on his journey, carrying the only thing he owned in the world. It was a small lantern, of the kind that they make in Marrakech, fashioned out of tin and red glass.


or many days, Kadour walked over the snowy passes of the Atlas Mountains, surviving on the hospitality of local Berber people. At last, he descended from the great mountain range and journeyed for several more days across a vast arid desert until he stumbled upon a lush green valley, where he spotted a great city with its minarets glinting from afar in the sunlight, which no fellow traveller had ever described.


adour approached the gates of the city with trepidation. There he came across some men who were talking in the market, and he broke into conversation with them. They were astonished to hear his strange dialect and to discover that he was a stranger, because no outsider had ever visited their city. They took the sweet seller to see the Pasha, who invited him in as a guest in his own house. It was the richest building 10 I Wicked World I Issue Three

Kadour had ever seen. Piles of precious stones lay casually on the carpetsof its chambers, and even the most humdrum object seemed to be made of gold.

nothing in his treasury but a lot of common gold, a ton or two of the usual rubies, a room full of the most ordinary emeralds, and some chests of diamonds that no one would look at twice. So how or three days, as required by could he give this stranger a fitting the Qur’an, the Pasha showered return for his present? The Pasha Kadour with great kindness and thought for a while before deciding hospitality. But after three of the the only thing to do was to give most amazing days of his life, the almost all that he had. So he gave time came for the sweet seller to Kadour twelve camel loads of leave. He was very troubled. He gold and jewels, and he trusted, could not leave such a kind host worthless as the present was, that without making him a present, and Kadour would accept it in the the only thing he had to give in spirit in which it was intended. So return was his little lantern made the Pasha arranged for the twelve of tin and red glass. Still, he hoped camels to be loaded with the gifts, the Pasha would see that this was and Kadour drove the creatures all he owned and accept the gift in back safely over the mountains to the spirit it was intended. So, before Marrakech. taking his leave, he plucked up all hen he came home, Kadour his courage and presented the decided that his sweetPasha with the little lantern. The selling days were over, so with his Pasha took the object in his hands new riches he bought himself a and looked confused. There was silence in the house. Kadour beautiful garden on the outskirts was worried that he had caused of Marrakech, where he planted an orchard of almond, orange offence, but then to his great amazement, the Pasha examined and lemon trees. The garden was scented with jasmine and echoed the little lantern with a look of wonder and delight. He could not to the sound of cool, running take his eyes off the object. Now, in water and the sweet voices of this city there was no glass. No one nightingales. In the middle of this garden, Kadour built a magnificent had ever heard of glass there. The mansion, where he lived as a rich houses had slits for windows and and very contented man. He was the people drank from metal cups. the envy of all the young unmarried To see the light of a candle shining through red glass was a miraculous women in Marrakech, and he chose the prettiest and most charming girl sight to the Pasha. he could find. ut grateful as he was for the ow, Kadour had a brother lantern, the Pasha also felt called Said, who was also a uncomfortable. For you cannot receive such a valuable gift without shopkeeper and who had grown prosperous while Kadour had giving something of great worth become poor. But instead of helping in return. He did not know how Kadour in his time of crisis, Said he could possibly give a present did not even acknowledge him as of equal value, because he had





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his brother. However, now that Kadour was wealthy, Said suddenly remembered the brotherly relationship. Said went to visit Kadour, who welcomed his sibling into his new home with generosity. Despite complimenting his brother on the new abode and dropping many hints, Said could not discover the source of these new riches. Eventually he lost patience and asked him straight out how he had amassed this wealth. Now, Kadour was a simple soul, who trusted everyone and never suffered from jealousy, so he told Said the whole story, from beginning to end. Why things had turned out the way they did was still a mystery to Kadour. He could not understand why the Pasha had given him such precious gifts. It had not occurred to him that the Pasha considered the lantern to be of such value. But since the Pasha had presented him with these gifts, he accepted what Allah had decreed and did not worry very much about it.


ut when Said heard this story, he was even more astonished than his brother had been, and began to obsess about it all day and night. ‘What happened to Kadour will surely happen to me,’ Said thought. ‘If they gave my brother all that wealth for a silly little red lantern, what will they give me in exchange for gifts of great price?’ So Said amassed all the merchandise he could think of. He sold his house, and with the money from the sale, he bought even more merchandise. He bought several mules and loaded them with the goods. The poor beasts strained

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and buckled under the weight. Said then set off over the mountains by the route that his brother had carefully described.

he had intended to give the Pasha. Of all his possessions, the only thing he had left was his watch, which was old, damaged and made of brass. But his brother had only ow, vicious bandits live in given a little red lantern, so Said those mountains, but as it thought he would try his luck. He happened, when Kadour walked took a deep breath and presented through them he had been the watch to the Pasha. Now, Said protected by his poverty, because was very lucky, because watches, there is no better shield against like glass, had never been heard of robbery than that. Coming back in that city. The Pasha stared at the with his camels laden with treasure, watch with a sense of wonder, as he had been protected by the will if he was gazing at the stars for the of Allah. But scarcely had Said first time, for he valued this watch travelled for more than a few days far more than all those mule-loads when robbers set upon him. They of merchandise which the robbers seized his mules and their precious had seized. In fact, he prized it so much that he had to rack his brains cargo, beat him brutally and left him for dead under an argan tree. to think of an adequate present to give in return: a treasure which When he regained consciousness, Said found himself as poor as his would not leave him in shame brother Kadour had once been. or debt to the stranger. He had, But his shame prevented him from of course, plenty of gold and jewels, but what were they worth, turning back into the treacherous bandit-ridden mountain passes, so compared with such a gift? he hurried on as fast as he could, until at last he came to the same he only treasure he had left lush valley as his brother had done that was fit to exchange for before him. the watch was the great gift that the previous stranger had given hen Said arrived in the city, him, the red lantern. So with deep he was taken to the Pasha’s regret, the Pasha ordered Kadour’s red glass lantern to be brought out house and treated as hospitably as his brother had been. Beautiful from a cabinet on a velvet cushion, where it had rested in the strongest female servants anointed his wounds with soothing medicinal vault in the whole treasury, and oils. Musicians played soft tunes presented it to Said. So with that lantern, Said set out again for that eased his troubled mind. Marrakech, and on this return He was seated on embroidered journey the robbers saw no reason cushions, fed the finest food to trouble him. • and looked after with enormous kindness. But when, after three days, the time came for Said to This is an extract from The Last leave, he bitterly regretted the loss Storytellers by Richard Hamilton of all the magnificent gifts which (I.B.Tauris, 2013).




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Words & Pictures By James Michael Dorsey



awoke in total darkness, gasping for air and wondering where I was. The heat and smoke were stifling but as I sat up and banged my head against the thatched curving wall I saw dying embers from the evening’s fire and remembered I was in the hut of a Mursi elder and asked myself, “What am I doing here?� Bertrand and I had arrived in the morning after a restless night in the bush and a previously aborted attempt to enter a different village that he decided was too dangerous due to the random gunfire and drunken singing that turned us in another direction. The gunmen of this village were not yet drunk upon our arrival and in fact had been slightly welcoming, totally out of character for them, when they heard Bertrand speaking their dialect. Suddenly they were as curious of us as we were of them and I prayed a silent thank you that I had hooked up with this formidable ex-legionnaire para. I found Bertrand in Addis Ababa, a happy expatriate from Paris who was earning a living by guiding people like me into the Omo valley of Southern Ethiopia to see one of the most isolated and unpredictable tribes on the planet. He was as tough as the landscape and welcomed unexpected adventures with an understated, bone dry sense of humor. Before entering their grass hutted encampment he had warned me to take off my watch and any jewelry including a wedding band, secure my wallet, hold onto my camera, and to stand my ground or be overpowered. But warnings can never really prepare you for an all- out assault.

The Mursi are semi-nomadic pastoralists who herd cattle in the summer and grow crops along the Omo River in the winter; they number less than 9,000. Known for being armed to the teeth and wild body painting, their main claim to fame is the large round clay lip inserts the women wear. They are a photographers dream and many of them are welcoming to the rare trekker who enters the Omo, but we have come to see a particular tribal band known for settling disputes with their rifles and their “in your face’ attitude. While it is common for tribal cultures to ask for money in exchange for taking their photo, this tiny band of entrepreneurs has raised the bar to a whole new level. Taking their photo is a blood sport.


hey do not just demand money for their photos, they push, scratch, kick, bite, and threaten with guns to get it. Bertrand assured me they would not turn overtly violent as long as we stayed calm and kept paying them, and in fact this behavior is exactly what we had come to observe. They would not accept a blanket price for photographing in their midst but insisted on bartering for each individual shot, holding up fingers to indicate dollars, their all- consuming pursuit. I had stuffed my pockets with small bills so as not to have to produce any large amount at a given time and as each Mursi agreed to a photo they would strike as martial a pose as possible, always holding their rifle. But there was more to it than that. They were just as aggressive with each other as to us, both the men and women pushing and yelling to be the first to be photographed and once done, retreating into their grass huts to emerge in a different

outlandish costume to repeat the Bertrand insisted we sleep inside as the smoke was a deliberate process. deterrent to the numerous Their muscular ebony bodies were leopards and puff adders that magnificent, painted all over with share the local valley. We slept white abstract designs that have inside as I listened to his tales of religious and social significance the Mursi. to them. Head gear ranged from bunches of dried corn to dead According to Bertrand this birds and seemed to include particular band do not spend anything over the top enough money on anything they deem to command a photographer’s frivolous such as housing, clothing, attention. The women were as or schools for their children. They aggressive as the men, pinching only buy necessary items such as me constantly and thrusting their AK47 assault rifles, ammunition, extended lips in front of my lens. and homemade local vodka. They As soon as a photo was taken, the pursue money for no other reason subject wanted nothing more to than having it, believing the do with us unless it was to pay for mere possession gives them face another photo and after the initial among neighboring tribes and fury of the first shoot, all of them identifying them in my eyes as seemed to lose interest, wandering the living epitome of capitalism. away to count their money that So what caused the evolution of the women collected in beautiful this tiny enclave of old spear and hand woven baskets decorated loin cloth Africa to the fanatical with porcupine quills. It was then, pursuit of the almighty dollar to and again, only for a price, that I the exclusion of all else? was allowed a peek inside one of the grass huts and was startled to Bertrand related it to the 1920’s find stacks of dollars, euros, and when the Ringling Brothers, francs, piled as though in a steel Barnum and Bailey Circus bank vault. brought two Mursi women with their oversized pizza lips and clay s the morning sun rose inserts to New York and put them to bake the valley most in their side show, most likely of the tribe retreated against their wishes. They were into their huts where a huge hit and put the tribe on the Bertrand assured me the men international map, calling them would commence drinking. We Ubangi’s for reasons now lost; were offered a hut for the evening an unfortunate name that is still probably on the grounds that erroneously applied to them. they knew we had more money The public was fascinated by to spend on photos. We mutually these strange looking people and agreed the experience was worth wanted to see more but there braving a night of drunken, were no roads into the Omo heavily armed gunmen who were until the mid 1960’s and by then after our cash, at least until they the tribe had attained mythical status known only to a handful of started shooting. intrepid trekkers. I wanted to sleep outside as the huts were like saunas, filled with Safaris to see the Ubangi with their smoke from the over present monstrous lips and automatic charcoal fires in a central pit. rifles were springing up and


they became the bush equivalent of rock stars, and just like many practitioners of the latter profession, the Mursi did not handle fame or fortune very well. Because of their sheer isolation, not only from the outside world but from neighboring tribes, their social skills were limited to their own inbred ways that usually clashed with those of their visitors.


hese strange white people from another world who arrived in unbelievable machines and carried metal devices that could only contain magic offered them valuable paper for their pictures and most of the Mursi understood this as an easy way to make a living, but there are always exceptions to the rule. Bertrand was one of those early visitors to the Omo and found this one roving band who equated the acceptance of money from outsiders as the transference of power to them. He claimed it akin to the ancient warrior ritual of eating a piece of your dead enemy to absorb his prowess. Bertrand believed it began with a tribal elder named Oligache who claimed he magically drew white people to him in order to take their essence, their money, and the more he got the more he

wanted, so over the years his tiny band became the “in your face” people we were now amongst. Our second day was a repeat of the first. I pushed and shoved with one hand while clicking the shutter with the other; got my photos and have the bruises, cuts and one permanent scar to show for it. I have told friends since then it was like trying to photograph in a school of feeding Piranhas. When I ran out of money the Mursi simply turned and walked away as though we were never there, to await their next cash cow. But this little band is an anomaly among the greater tribe who even have their own website now to promote tourism at www.mursi. org, sponsored by England’s Oxford University, and tours to see them are beginning to proliferate. Still, for those still up for a very physical confrontation, in the wilds of the Omo valley there is a single roving band of the most aggressive capitalists on the planet who would be the envy of any Wall Street trader and are a photographers wet dream. •

The first book by

James Michael Dorsey an explorer, award winning author, and photographer who has traveled extensively in 44 countries. His principle interest is documenting remote cultures in Africa and Asia.

Tears, Fear & Adventure is available on line from most major booksellers.

Barbed Wire S

Words & Ceuta Photo Marcello Di Cintio


effrey James was among the hundreds who stormed the Wall that night in 2005, but he didn’t make it over. Moroccan border police handcuffed him, beat him with their fists, and dumped him in the no man’s land between Morocco and Algeria’s northeastern frontier. James slipped back into Morocco through the porous border and trekked nearly a hundred kilometres along a wellbeaten migrant trail. He dodged the bandits who prowled the route for black men to rob and made it to the railway. James stowed away on a cargo train bound for Fès. From there he took a bus to Tangier, then walked to the migrant camps outside Ceuta, and returned to the Wall. He assured me the camps still exist, regardless of what the Moroccan border policeman told me. James was caught at the Wall again, dumped again, and returned again. The arrests could not lessen his desire to reach the other side. Twenty times he made the same journey from fence to detention, to the border and back. When he told me this, he grinned like a rebellious teenager.


effrey James and his African comrades are willing to gamble on Europe. “We are black. We take risks,” he explained. For him, each night in the forest outside

Each night, African migrants make an assau at Ceuta, determined to break into the prom

Ceuta meant another assault on the Wall. Sometimes he and his fellow climbers were caught and exiled over the Algerian border. Sometimes they were just chased away. Other times they were beaten. The smooth raised gashes on his arms journal these nightly trials; these are the barbed wire’s brutal accounting. They reminded me of the ceremonial cross-hatches and patterned slashes I’d seen on the faces of men from Africa. Those scars marked a boy’s rite of passage to manhood. James’s barbed wire scars marked a new ritual and a different kind of passage.


espite his wounds and trials, things could have been much worse for James. About a week after the mass assault on Ceuta’s fence in 2005, another group of Africans stormed the Wall at Melilla, Ceuta’s sister enclave a few kilometres east along the shoreline. The Moroccan border police captured fifteen men, loaded them into trucks, and drove south into the Western Sahara across the berm. The soldiers gave each man two bottles of water, tinned sardines, and some bread. They pointed to a line of stones that marked a narrow path through the minefield. “Walk straight,” they said. “Do not step left or right.” And then they drove away.

“The smooth raised gashes on his arms journal these nightly trials; these are the barbed wire’s brutal accounting” 20 I Wicked World I Issue Three


he Africans, like Malainin and Salek, walked nervously across the minefield, each stepping into the footprints of the man in front of him. But unlike the Saharawis, the Africans were not desert men. Their bodies knew nothing of the dry scorch of the Sahara. Their eyes had never before felt the sting of blowing sand. Once past the mines, they wandered for days until their food and water ran out, then they drank their own urine. Some men withered and died. A Polisario patrol rescued those who survived and drove them to Bir Lehlou or Tifariti in the Saharawi Free Zone, where they discovered that dozens of migrants had been discarded the same way.


ult on the razor wired wall mised land of Europe

A warehouse in Tifariti was home for forty Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans caught at the Wall. The Moroccan authorities deny this happens, but the desert is littered with the testimony of Moroccanlabelled sardine tins.

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t the end of 2007, James spent a full month camping with other African migrants in the forest outside Ceuta. They slept beneath the trees, ate food they either begged for or stole, and watched for Moroccan soldiers. Finally, in December, James made it over the Wall. “I put on blue jeans because they are thick. And gloves,” James told me. Then he put on every shirt he could find. He wrapped his hands in rags and ran to the Wall with five friends. The razor wire at the base of the first fence snagged his outer shirt. He slipped out of it and kept climbing. James lost three shirts before he made it over. They hung on the Wall like shredded flags.

newly arrived a receipt that allows them entry into CETI. The centre provides food, housing, and some medical care. Residents play soccer or volleyball on the beach to pass the time. Some, like James, beg for money in the plazas. But mostly they wait to be either deported home or granted temporary visas to mainland Spain, the “Peninsula” as it is called here, on the other side of the sea. Those who make it to the Peninsula find whatever jobs they can — domestic workers, custodians, trinket salesmen — and send money back to their families. When their visa runs out, they disappear into legal limbo. This is their dream.


met Jeffrey James at the Plaza de los Reyes in central Ceuta when he asked me for money. I mentioned that his name sounded as if it belonged to a cowboy, and he said it was a “good English name.” James said he was from Sudan. He stood tall and thin and told me he had witnessed his two younger sisters being raped and murdered by rebels. James lived in CETI, the Short Stay Detention Centre on the outskirts of Ceuta and not far from the Wall. He had been there for five months and was waiting for his visa application to be processed. He was relieved to be in Ceuta. Although this Spanish outpost is not the Europe he yearns for, at least he can walk freely here, and he says the people are kind.


undreds of migrants get past the Wall into Ceuta each year. Some, like James, take their chances climbing the barrier itself, but most cross the border hidden in or under vehicles or on overloaded boats. Once over the border, they go directly to a police station to register themselves on Spanish soil. The registration grants them an official status and Spanish authorities cannot legally deport them back to the other side of the Wall. The police issue the

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“The refugees in Ceuta may not have homes or passports or jobs, but each has a cellphone and an email account. Every flaw in the immigration machine disseminates instantly through virtual space”


ames was trying to learn Spanish. CETI offered language classes, but the words were not holding. “I think a lot. I think too many things,” he said as his knees bounced and his voice stuttered. “I cannot put anything in my fucking brain right now.” “Do you miss anything about Sudan?” I asked. He shook his head.


he refugees in Ceuta may not have homes or passports or jobs, but each has a cellphone and an email account. Every flaw in the immigration machine disseminates instantly through virtual space. Strategies are constantly devised and revised. Weaknesses exploited. Loopholes identified and leapt through. The migrant networks are intricate, sophisticated, and invisible. That Europe aims to stop these travellers with barbed wire fences is a foolish irony. Contemporary migrants are hardly barbarians at the gates.


he migrants know the currency is a good lie. They don ethnicities, nationalities, and religions as needed, then shed them like thick shirts on barbed wire. Everyone discards their passports and documents before they arrive in Ceuta. Identity needs to be pliable. Since Spanish authorities will not send migrants back into wars or disaster zones, many claim to be from Iraq or Darfur. When cyclones ravaged Bangladesh, a large number of south Asians arriving in Ceuta alleged to be Bangladeshi. Spain signed a repatriation agreement with Nigeria that allows Spanish authorities to send Nigerians home. The Nigerians know this, so most claim to be from somewhere else. Migrants lie about being tortured. They lie about going over the Wall; the dangerous feat inspires both awe and sympathy in officials. They even lie about their sexual orientation. Days after one Nigerian was granted asylum because his homosexuality put him at risk of persecution in his home country, dozens of Africans showed up at CETI claiming to be gay. I wondered how much of Jeffrey James’s story was true. Perhaps none of it. • This is an extract from Walls: Travels Along the Barricades by Marcello Do Cintio, published by Union Books.

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nlike beleaguered Egypt, Bangladesh – the world’s eighth most populous country - has had little trouble with Islamic fundamentalism so far. Surprisingly for a country where the people are highly religious Bangladesh opted to become a secular state in 1971 after winning independence from West Pakistan - perhaps to please India who came to their rescue against Pakistan’s army. And in the last general election in 2008 Bangladesh’s fundamentalist party, which is called Jamaat and believes in Sharia law, won only five of the three hundred seats in Parliament. But travelling in Bangladesh last month some alarm bells were sounding . At the end of July we, as foreigners, had been warned not to go near Dhaka’s High Court, where Jamaat was demonstrating. The court had just banned the party from standing in the next elections on the grounds that it was antidemocratic and violated the country’s secular constitution, calling for “the rule of Allah” – the rallying cry emblazoned on their banners as they marched past on the streets. But this was unlikely to have been the real reason for the court decision: it was that although Jamaat has few votes it might join forces with opposition parties in the upcoming elections to unseat the government. The troubles had started in March this year, when a Ghulam Azam, a former leader of Jamaat, was convicted of sixty one war crimes, including murder and torture, committed forty two years ago, and sentenced to ninety years in jail. And then another four leaders were sentenced to death for similar crimes. In response Jamaat held “hartals” (strikes)

and violent protests across the country, with sixty deaths.


ut Jamaat will not find it easy to win the hearts of the public in Bangladesh, for a reason that has been a festering sore for over forty years. It is that their leaders in 1971 had been collaborators with Pakistan in what became Bangladesh’s war of independence. Their motives were byzantine, but they boiled down to winning power by filling the gap they expected to be left after East Pakistan’s main party, the Awami League, was crushed by Pakistan. So Jamaat set up vigilante groups, and one of them memorably led Pakistani soldiers to the dormitories at Dhaka University to identify the students that favoured independence and watched while hundreds were shot. The young women students were then dragged off to the army barracks, and the war went on to beheadings, systematic rape and executions of intellectuals. A Pakistani officer who had become ashamed of his army later wrote – readers might prefer to leave the rest of this sentence unread if they wish to retain an optimistic view of humanity about how a battalion of troops made Bangladeshi children drink water until they were full, then used them as target practice as they tried to run away. Three million Bangladeshis were reportedly killed.


he atrocities were not only on the Pakistani side. I had been in West Pakistan during the war and vividly recall one evening when a ship had slipped silently into the entrance to the port of Karachi just after



Laing † Illustrated by Kit Yeng Chan

Bangladesh – the world’s eighth most populous country - has had little trouble with Islamic fundamentalism so far...

dark and dropped anchor in midstream. Everyone in Karachi seemed to know about it, and the atmosphere was combustible. It was rumoured that there were six hundred mutilated bodies on board - West Pakistanis massacred in East Pakistan in the first weeks of the war. If the rumour proved true, the vengeance would be terrible. The next morning the ship had gone. I was never sure whether the rumour about its cargo was true, but by coincidence I was travelling with an elderly member of the Karachi port staff on my visit to Bangladesh, and I asked him about it. “Yes, it was true,” he said quietly. During our stay, my Pakistani colleague was a conduit for the bitterness that remained. Often addressed in Bengali, he had to interrupt to say that he did not understand. “Oh … Then where are you from?” “Pakistan”, he would reply, always quietly. It rarely got a warm reaction, although only one questioner turned aggressive. “Are you a Muslim?” he challenged. “Yes.” The assurance was accepted grudgingly. It was a tiny reminder of the feelings that could resurface if Bangladesh ever again became a nation divided by politics or religion .


he day before we left we sat in one of Dhaka’s two hour traffic jams watching Jamaat demonstrators pass by. The driver was dismissive. “Their minds are … conditioned … in their schools,” he said. “You mean brainwashed? In the Madrassas?” “Yes”, he was pleased I had understood. “... and they get

foreign funds, like the Taliban.” On August 1st Jamaat called another hartal - a general strike that would disrupt transport on the last day of Eid. But it was relatively ineffective, with only 40 injured and one killed. The immediate danger is probably not great: it is that political parties

could offer Jamaat some power in a coalition. But the danger in the longer term might be greater: it is that the older tainted leaders will die, some in the execution chamber and some in their beds, and leave the party to a younger and less tainted generation inspired by the Arab spring. •

kurdistan A nation emerges

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ince it gained autonomy from Iraq in 2004, Kurdistan has made spectacular strides forward in all areas. The most remarkable achievement has been a high level of security and stability; not a single coalition soldier has been killed in the region in the wake of the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. This had laid the foundation for sustained development: the economy has grown massively, a more accountable and effective political system has developed and across society there is a renewed spirit of enterprise towards improving the condition of the country.


he southern parts of the geographic region known as Kurdistan were included in the modern Iraqi state at its founding in the 1920s. For most of the time since then, Kurds have been chafing at, or openly rebelling against, central rule in Baghdad.

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he Kurdish movement in Iraq has rarely, if ever, pushed for full independence, at least not openly. It is true to say that may Kurds continue to say that selfdetermination is a ‘natural’ right. But they are ultimately a pragmatic people who are keenly aware of

“The most remarkable achievement has been a high level of security and stability; not a single coalition soldier has been killed in the region in the wake of the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.” their geopolitical surroundings. Kurds have therefore tended to concentrate on gaining as much autonomy as possible from a succession of reluctant, often hostile, Arab-led regimes in Baghdad.


t was not until the aftermath of Saddam’s disastrous invasion of Kuwait, that’s self rule became a reality, albeit a harsh one.


lthough independent travellers are still fairly rare, Kurdistan is working hard to promote tourism. A number of tour organisers are now promoting expensive guided trips to the region but increasing numbers are travelling independently through Kurdistan on the way from Turkey to Iran. There is little tourist infrastructure outside of the capital, Erbil, but no visa is required for many Western nationalities, and the spectacular scenery, ancient cities and friendly locals, look set to attract increasing numbers of adventurous backpackers. • Images and introduction taken from Kurdistan: A Nation Emerges by Jonathan Fryer and Others (Stacey Internayional). Previous: Lake Dokan; Top: The Dali; Right: Yezedi Man; Following Pages: Acre.

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The Death Kiss of a King Cobra Show By Jim Algie

This excerpt is from the first story, long listed for the Bram Stoker Award, in a new collection of prize-winning short fiction, The Phantom Lover and Other Thrilling Tales of Thailand.

I would like to introduce to you our snake-handler, Yai, or ‘Mister Big’ as we call him.” To the tune of a techno track shredding the speakers, Yai ran across the snake pit, did a few cartwheels, a back flip and a headstand, leapt back on his feet, punched the air and, all the while, never stopped smiling. His nimbleness and playful demeanor erased a decade from his thirty-five years. The music faded out, the crowd gave him a smattering of applause and he grinned and yelled. “Welcome and thank you everybody. Thank you for coming to my funeral…” he paused to let the joke sink in before waving it off and laughing. Using a wooden stick with a metal hook on one end, he reached into the cage, pulled out a jumping snake, and put it down in the middle of the circular pit. The metre-long serpent, which had black, red and brown scales, twisted across the floor. Yai put the stick down and

38 I Wicked World I Issue Three

walked towards it. Immediately, the snake leapt at him. He veered back as it nipped at his crotch. Yai made a funny face and grabbed his crotch with both hands. He looked over at the older women in the bleachers and smiled. “Sorry, ladies, but my little dragon is snake food now.” But the dumb hags didn’t even get the joke. That was the trouble with these white foreigners; they were so boring and serious all the time. Even on holiday they rarely seemed to relax. The next segment of the show was much more dangerous, so he tied his headband a little tighter until he could feel his pulse throbbing in his forehead. Then he wiped his eyebrows, remembering how a bead of sweat had dripped in his eye, distracting him long enough for a Siamese cobra to bite his thumb. In the center of the pit, three banded kraits with glossy black skins and yellow bands around them, coiled in circles. All three of the venomous serpents were around two-metres long. In order to smell him, they flicked their tongues out in his direction. Yai looked over at the Marines; they weren’t talking now; nobody in the crowd was. Satisfied that he had their complete attention, he got down on his knees and crept towards one of the banded kraits. Slowly opening his fingers, Yai moved his right hand toward the right side of the snake’s head. Immediately, it stopped moving – a sure sign that it was ready to attack. Using his right hand as a decoy, he moved his left towards the other side of the snake. Sweat ran down his back and tickled his spine as he moved his hand closer and closer to it. With a loud groan, he snatched it up by its head and held the writhing serpent in the air. The crowd applauded. Then he snatched up another one in his left hand and transferred it to his mouth. He had to bite down on the snake’s head just hard enough so that it couldn’t get loose, but not so hard as to bite its head off and

poison himself. Both of the banded kraits were furiously whiplashing their tails from side to side as he knelt down again. Hot sweat ran down the crack of his ass, and the sound of his heart thumping was louder than the murmurs of the audience. As he knelt down and stared at the serpent’s yellow eyes and black pupils, Yai whispered, “I’m not going to hurt you, my little friend. Not going to hurt you. Not going to…” and snatched up the last snake by its neck. The audience applauded. Yai stepped out of the snake pit and stood at the foot of the bleachers, holding up a banded krait in each hand, the other one caught in his teeth. Flashbulbs went off and made

show, he pried the jaws of a small Siamese cobra open with a pair of tweezers and put a microscope slide between them. He carried the snake around so that the crowd could snap photos and get close-ups of its jaws and the pool of yellowish venom on the slide. Then, holding the head in his hand and the tail up in the air, Yai and the announcer showed the crowd how to tell if the snake was male or female. The announcer rubbed its belly, near the tail, and two little penises – each no bigger than a clitoris – popped out on either side. When the two of them approached the side of the bleachers where the three sailors sat, Yai conceded that he should give them

As he knelt down and stared at the serpent’s yellow eyes and black pupils, Yai whispered, “I’m not going to hurt you, my little friend. Not going to hurt you. Not going to…” and snatched up the last snake by its neck. him blink. Now that he was closer to them, Yai could see that one of the Americans was the same guy who’d strangled him in that python grip last night. When he saw the snake-handler staring at him, the sailor held up an empty beer can in a huge fist and crumpled it. The threat, and the sudden flashback of last night with the sailor gloating over his loss of face and the “chickens” laughing, made Yai’s lower jaw tremble, his fists clench and, for a few frightening seconds, he thought he was going to bite the snake’s head off and crush the other two skulls in his hands. During the next segment of the

one last chance. They had all been drunk last night. He’d been in the wrong too. After the snake’s twin penises popped out, he looked in their direction and smiled. “You have two?” The older one with an alcoholic’s pitted complexion, a pug nose and bloodshot eyes (the man who had assaulted him the night before) sneered, “No, but mine is a helluva lot bigger.” “Oh my god, you have four,” said the snake-handler with a laugh. A couple of the other jarheads laughed, too, but the older guy spat, “Fuck off, ya lil faggot,” reminding him of the cobras that spit venom Issue Three I Wicked World I 39

into the eyes of their prey. Now this was too much. The reincarnation of a water buffalo had humiliated him last night and now again in front of a crowd of forty people. So Yai figured he had every right to make the sailor lose face, too. As he knelt down beside the cage with the biggest king cobra in it, he picked up a piece of rope, whirled around and threw it in their direction. It landed right in the older guy’s lap. He screamed and leapt to his feet, knocking the piece of rope to the ground and kicking it away. “No snake,” Yai yelled to the crowd, “only rope. He is no big man. He no Arnold Schwarzenegger. Him afraid too much. ” A few people laughed.

was at stake. And what else did a poor man from the boondocks have but that? With the wooden stick he brought out the biggest king cobra: a five-metre-long, black-and-grey monster as thick as the Marine’s flexed bicep. As soon as he dropped it on the carpeted floor of the pit it moved away from him in a rapid series of S’s. This male was fresh from the jungle on Phuket. Yai had only done two previous shows with him. “The king cobra is the world’s most poisonous snake,” said the announcer over a whistle of feedback through the PA. “One bite from this snake has enough venom to kill a thousand rabbits.”

But the sailor started screaming insults at him, most of which he didn’t understand, and it took all three of his friends to hold him back from jumping into the snake pit. Finally, after about two minutes of more threats, his friends got him to sit down and shut up. None of the Thai staff were going to kick him out and nobody in the crowd was going to stand up to him. But if Yai stopped the show and slunk off now, the American would win the battle. His face would be broken into a thousand pieces. He couldn’t just walk away. His dignity

The audience gasped when the serpent raised its hood and reared up into the striking position – a metre off the ground – while hissing and flicking its forked tongue in Yai’s direction. A little girl in the audience sobbed, “Daddy, don’t let the ugly snake kill him.” As fast as a Thai kick-boxer, the king cobra lunged at him. Yai veered back, quivering with fear. He took a quick look over at the bleachers to see that the sailor with the bloodshot eyes was now sitting by himself in the front row, just above the snake

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pit. What would this drunken idiot do next? Jump into the pit and attack him? In a dramatic baritone the announcer said, “Ladies and gentlemen, our special attraction, what you wait your whole life to see: ‘The Death Kiss of a King Cobra Show.’” Yai bent down so that his head was at the same height as the serpent’s. Only two metres separated them. In order to distract it, he stuck out his left hand in front of the cobra’s face, while he slowly crept around to his right. His only real advantage was that snakes have very poor eyesight. But his concentration was blown; he couldn’t stop thinking about the sailor. His fear of the man jumping into the pit and getting both of them killed was so strong that he kept sneaking peeks to make sure he was still sitting in the bleachers. Except for the flicking of its tongue, the snake was still now and facing towards his left hand. Now he got down on his knees. Closer he crept, trying to bring his knees down softly so the snake would not feel the vibrations. Now his face was only six inches above the cobra’s head, so he could see the white chevron on its hood. Yai held his breath and puckered his lips, lowering his face inch by inch, when another snake leapt at him. He turned towards it and lashed out with his right arm – and that’s when the king cobra sunk both of its fangs into his nose. Yai screamed and clutched his nose, feeling the blood spurt from the wounds and roll down his fingers in hot scarlet streams. As the cobra raised itself up to strike again, Yai rolled to his right and saw the piece of rope he’d thrown at the sailor lying on the ground beside him. •

Jim Algie


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The World through

Graphic Novels Persepolis, Pyongyang and Palestine S I

ome of the best travel writing of the 21st century has taken the form of the graphic novel.

t wasn’t really until 1986, when Art Spiegelman’s Maus was published - a tale inspired by Speigelman’s Holocaust surviving father, in which Nazis are depicted as Cats, and Jews as mice - that graphic novels first began to be taken seriously as a medium for depicting historical and non-fiction events. This hugely successful work of art went on to win a Pulitzer Prize.


s graphic novels became increasingly popular as a medium for communicating often complex political, philosophical, psychological, and even scientific, ideas and issues, the form was inevitably adapted to a new kind of travel writing. Authors such as Joe Sacco (Palestine, Footnotes in Gaza, The Fixer: A Story from Sarajevo) and Guy Delisle (Pyongyang: A Journey into North Korea, Burma Chronicle, Jesrusalem: Chronicle from the Holy City) used comic strips to communicate a level of complexity and ambiguity that could not be imparted through text alone. Difficult and uncomfortable subject matter, that might otherwise have alienated casual readers, could be broached in

a deceptively simple form that lured readers into worlds beyond their comfort zone.


erhaps the most successful graphic novelist to have dealt with harsh historical and political realities from an autobiographical perspective is Marjane Satrapi, author of the hugely successful Persepolis (also made into a major animated film). Persepolis succeeded in introducing a mass audience to the horrors of Iran’s recent history, through a deftly constructed collage of text and images that dealt with both the personal and political, with a style, subtlety and accessibility, which could never have been achieved through any other medium.


raphic novels require readers to ‘read’ in a different way. They are required to fill in the gaps between panels, and absorb both text and images simultaneously. Such ‘readings’ facilitate the absorption of multi-dimensional, multi-faceted and multi-model narratives that many might imagine to be more ‘poetic’. It has been argued that this form of communication more closely mirrors the shape of our thoughts. As text alone came to be seen as the only valid medium for serious thoughts

Words Tom Coote Issue Three I Wicked World I43

and ideas, and the possibilities of a more primal visual language were obscured, it may well be that we lost touch with something communicable that is fundamentally human.


n many ways it has been comics and graphic novels lack of mainstream credibility that has given them their greatest power. In much the same way that court jesters in medieval Europe, puppetry in the former Soviet Union, or animation in the modern West, have been able to communicate uncomfortable realities that might otherwise have been censored, so graphic novels have been allowed to say the unsayable. If Joe Sacco had been a conventional journalist, rather than a graphic novelist, it seems unlikely that

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Israel would have permitted him the same level of access to the people of Palestine. I also doubt if Guy Delisle would have been able to communicate quite as candidly about North Korea - a country he would continue to work in as an animator - if he had relied upon the written word alone. As you might expect, the irreverent and irrepressible Persepolis was banned in Iran. More surprisingly, it was also removed from all classrooms in the school district of Chicago - “due to powerful images of torture in the book” - but not before it had been approved for use in thousands of schools throughout the USA. It seems unlikely that such a book would have been permitted to reach such a readership, in the first place, had it not have been a graphic novel. •

Issue Three I Wicked World I45

Gili Air is a Feeding Frenzy


he devil, reggae. God help any genre of music once the white man gets his filthy colonial paws on it. Griming it up with his un-hip stench of flailing cultural irrelevance. The place is Gili Air, a tiny piece of land surrounded by white sun blasted dead or dying coral a five-minute boat ride from the Indonesian island of Lombok. I’ve just seen a blond-haired blue-

eyed German of the whitest stock imaginable cock his fingers awkwardly in that frat boy commandeered surfer gesture and utter a Marley-esque “Ya mon” from the back of a cidimol. Reggae pounds from a beach front bar for a crew of wannabe rastas while tightly-rolled spliffs the width of a

By Joe Henley thumb and length of a forefinger make Island View, has a first-time offender the lunchtime rounds, doled out from friend doing six years on Lombok for behind the bar at the Island View. distribution. Caught with weed on Gili Air...caught by who? There is no his is Indonesia, land of the cop shop in the island’s small central mammoth prison sentence village. And the police from Lombok, and home of the Australian well, as long as the dreadlock and tie heroin mule lynch squad. dye brigade have their fun on those So what are detestable hipster types three little spits of hedonism known and hippie movement holdouts doing as the Gilis—Gili Air, Gili Trawangan, passing joints in sight of Allah and all and Gili Meno—they don’t much care.


his immortal fury toward intoxicants natural or otherwise? Well, the police don’t come round here much, if at all. The locals say they have an understanding. Caught with weed on Lombok, straight to a prison the likes of which you or I would probably never want to see. Abu, the bartender at the

And so in the past couple of years, the sharks have come to feed on Gili Air, tearing it up and apart. But don’t worry, my road-jaded brothers and sisters. This is no weepy bleeding heart lament for the corruption of pristine local culture, or a holier-than-thou lambasting of the

trampling half-naked horde of pasty sunburned flesh causing the natives undue strain upon pure eyes. When people get a whiff of a few bank notes on the breeze more often than not the first ones to throw homegrown customs and traditions on the fire to send up a smoke signal for almighty investment are the locals themselves.


ili Air is eating itself alive in an orgy of unchecked waterfront construction. An army of shiny silver hammers swinging atop bamboo lattices in the impossibly sweltering daylight hours. Land prices up 700 percent in two years, according to some. A few guest houses near the harbor in 2010 have metastasized into a growth that has spread nearly around the entire circumference. That sand path around the outside plied by the horse-drawn cidimols, taking tourists around for five times the local price, slowly being dug up. Bricked here, paved there. Richard, a Taiwanese, has lived here for 13 years. Opened up his own guest house long before the rush. He used to rise early, 5 a.m., go for a run along the sand, or sea kayaking. Now, the thrill is gone for him. Just a business, another day at the office. If there was once something special about Gili Air, something new and exciting, it’s gone now. Just another stop on the banana pancake trail. They don’t get it, he says. “They don’t understand that people come here because there is no road.” “You want shrooms, braddah?” The harvest starts early every morning. The push, too. Psylocibinrich mushrooms grow wild all over Gili Air. Stooped old men and women head for the few patches of cow pasture as the sun comes up to pluck the foultasting spores fresh off the cow pies. Come evening they’ll be blended into strong shakes and thrown atop magic pizzas. Every waiter, hanger on, and beach bum now a part-time

pusher and tour guide to the center of the mind. It’s only nature, though. I mean, a product of nature. Weed, mushrooms—harmless, really, the latter only harmful if you take too much and start envisioning your significant other or travel mate as some insidious spawn of Satan and become obsessed by a sudden compulsion to tear his or her still-beating heart from their chest and fry it up with some shallots. The marijuana isn’t homegrown, though. It gets shipped in from Sumatra. The money for investment, largely Javanese. Outsiders taking their piece. Disinterested in the cost. The locals, some too poor to have an interest or opinion, others too busy tearing down ramshackle hovels and building modest but new houses. That nefarious other, is it? Yes, and infuriatingly no. Speaking of which, a new outside force has reared its ugly head on G.A. Tiny little pills of merriment and electric skin vibrations—ecstasy. That too comes in from Java, by boat, and has birthed a new species on the island, walking dead droolers, brains burnt to oblivion. Souls sucked out by little miracles of modern pharmacopoeia. Teenagers of no mind, personality or thought save the want of more. Buy, buy, buy and be merry. A red-bearded tourist emerges from the trees, eyes bloodshot. T-shirt emblazoned with a Technicolor astronaut riding a unicorn across the stars.


he shallow blue water. Escape. Beautiful crystal ignorance of the blight in an alien world. Dive in. Sea urchin clusters in bizzare formations. One like an upside down cross. Swaying carpet of green sea grass. Glass bottom boats cart around disinterested sunbathers killing time before the big beach party down at Lucky’s. On the bottom, a carpet of bones. Bright white coral corpses

like hollowed-out carpals. Killed by construction. Ripped from the sea floor, dried, burned to ash, and mixed with cement as a supposed strengthening agent. Along the shore restaurants sell fresh fish. Meanwhile it’s confided that any significant amount of fish hasn’t been seen around the island in at least two months. Reality and illusion collide and the skies let loose a solid wall of rain, dimming the shallow underwater plain to an opaque shade of dull brown muck. See you at Lucky’s tonight. The bartender, 16 years old. Like Abu at Island View G.A. Born and bred. Mixes up a mean margarita. He grooves along to some chillstep in the early evening as the night’s first beach party patrons emerge from the forested path and settle into beach chairs, having a few early ones to get into the proper frame of mind. This is the place to be tonight. The other guest houses and bars will find their tables largely empty. Everyone’s gone to Lucky’s to dance in the sand. To smoke grass and trip on mushrooms till dawn. And so it goes. Saturday night bleeds into Sunday morning in a blaze of booze and pills. Come 5 a.m. the chillstep has long been replaced by bass busting jungle and house. The thumping rhythm mixes with the Imam’s call to morning prayer in the village a short distance away. Bleary-eyed party worshipers make their way back to welcoming beds to sleep the day away and fondle the sheets with tingling fingertips.


he village faithful go about their day, a quiet one as the tourist horde sleeps and lounges off their hangovers and depleted serotonin supply. Beach boys scan for a target, a particular sort of prey. Female, middle-aged, alone. They’ll spy her having a solitary drink, going for a dip in the water by herself, and sidle up casually baring

bright white teeth and dark brown skin taught against lean, muscular frame. Entreat the lone lass to go for a meal. Hand feed the attentionstarved soul, treat her like a queen day after day. Later comes the casual pitch. An investment opportunity. Land. A diving business. A shop. But none of this will actually come off in the end. No, in the end what Gili Air will have is another frantic running from bar to bar, guest house to guest house, looking for the silver-tongued con who found his way to her wallet through the heart. Sobbing and cursing. She came to the frenzy, and was herself fed upon. Another new breed for Gili Air, another strategy cum vocation. The long con. And the payoff is big. In the end, they all go away, the women. Back to some lily corner of Britain to loathe the day they could be so stupid. Just another quiet Sunday after the Saturday night roar.


econd call to prayer now on this Sunday. A foreign hotel owner seethes on the island’s south side. Tells me of his earplug order during the time of Ramadan. “Every religion thinks it’s the best, but the Muslims are the worst. They pray five times a day, but they think others are trash. What do they pray for? For their neighbor’s shop to burn down? Praying doesn’t make you holy.” The inevitable conflict that comes when cultures clash and familiarity breeds vile, ignorant contempt. Gili Air is a feeding frenzy, terrible and destructive. Eating itself alive day after apathetic day in pursuit of the poison paper that will bury anything this place might have been once. Head over to Casa Mio for a final word with Richard, the Taiwanese. Can the coral be saved? “No,” he says, “it’s too late.” •

“Tearing up the Silk Road is a book that deftly avoids romanticising the Silk Road and instead gives a realistic, sometimes harsh, appraisal of the countries passed through. Travellers too, will appreciate the intense focus on the nuts and bolts of travelling through the region ... It’s Coote’s account of the ideological battle between the East and the West in the region that adds depth to the book. He notes that the real clash is between the few who have much and the masses demanding more.” Wanderlust Magazine “ The author writes with a wonderful depth and precision so as to engross you in his journey, providing adventure with a unique and revealing perspective for life along the silk road.” Bare Essentials Magazine “If you’ve ever had the urge to chuck in your day job, step outside your comfort zone and strap yourself in for a rugged cultural journey, this is for you.” Get Lost Magazine “ An entertaining read that will inspire greater interest in the region.”

Open Central Asia Magazine

Out now through Garnet Publishing


The Old Man and the Sea

Hemingway in Peru

50 I Wicked World I Issue Three

Words & Photos Andrew Thompson Issue Three I Wicked World I 51


rnest Hemingway

went to Cabo Blanco, a small headland town in northern Peru, in 1953 to advise on the filming of The Old Man and the Sea, the film adaptation of his famous novella. Hemingway stayed in the quarters of a restaurant in the beach town for a month. When they weren’t filming he fished the waters for marlin and drank heavily.


part from Cabo Blanco, I had been to every Hemingway venue in the world. And there are a lot. I visited the house he was born at in Oak Park, Chicago, saw his house and his fishing boat, Pilar, in Havana, went to the battlefields where he was a World War I ambulance driver in Italy, as well as his hunting grounds in Kenya, and his house in Key West, a town where I drank almost as heavily as he had in the 1930s. I’ve followed his footsteps around the bullrings of Spain, drunk to excess in the bars he frequented in the Latin quarter of Paris, and went to his grave in Ketchum, Idaho, placing a full bottle of beer on the headstone to accompany the many other libations that were already present.


n addition to ticking the final box of my Hemingway world tour, there was another reason that Cabo Blanco stood out. There was a bartender there who had actually waited on the great man in the Fifties. Pablo Cordova was his name.


eru was a hell of a trek from England, and Cabo Blanco was easily the most remote and least tourist-ridden of all of Hemingway’s haunts. I can’t imagine more than a handful of tourists have ever been there, in fact. Unless you know of Cordova, there’s no reason to go. The town was just one dirt road by the beach with a few houses, a shop and a solitary restaurant. 52 I Wicked World I Issue Three


t was only 30 kilometres from the tourist resort of Manorca, but it took nearly three hours to get to, the bus driving off-road through the desert. I then had to hitch a ride from a nearby town down to Cabo Blanco. I found the restaurant where Hemingway stayed and as I walked in I saw the sole bartender. He was a very old man. His face was hatched with deep weary lines and the back of his neck was creased, burnt brown from the sun. It had to be Pablo Cordova.

“Hemingway constantly fought with the producers of the film, as well as the lead man Spencer Tracy, as to how his masterpiece should be portrayed. When he didn’t get his way, which was most days, he stormed off to the bar and sat alone for hours, being served by Pablo.”

at them, and, not wanting to play to his sweet spot, I asked if they were taken in the local area. He spoke no English except for the word ‘yeah’ so that didn’t get us far. I asked if that was the famous writer Hemingway. He said it was and pointed to himself in one of the Hemingway pictures. Pablo was twenty-two at the time. He said Hemingway was a ‘gran hombre’, could speak a little Spanish, and was one of the biggest drinkers he’d ever seen. ‘Muchas bebidas,’ he kept repeating. He then produced two newspaper articles about him and Hemingway, which confirmed that I was in fact in the presence of a legend.


ablo is now 83, has one blue and one brown eye (a condition afflicting Alexander the Great and David Bowie), although his blue eye looked fused over and more like a rabbit with mixamitoses, probably from years of exposure to the sun and salt water. But he is alert and his smile exudes a cunning intelligence.


n old woman, who I assumed to be his wife, took various photos of me with Pablo as we had a few beers together and spoke of the famous writer and what he had done at Cabo Blanco. Apart from being drunk for most of the day (Pablo said that Hemingway liked he restaurant overlooked the to start drinking well before noon water, innumerable fishing and would demand to be served boats and, of course, the ubiquitous at any time), he fished long hours stray South American dogs in their and managed to catch a 700 pound hundreds. The place was clean and marlin, a sizeable fish, but well well lighted and the glare from under his own personal record. He the bright white beach meant that confirmed the rumours I’d heard sunglasses were a necessity even at that Hemingway constantly fought an inside table. I had a superb fillet with the producers of the film, as of sword fish and a few cold beers. well as the lead man Spencer Tracy, The other tables were filled with old as to how his masterpiece should local men and I heard them calling be portrayed. When he didn’t get the waiter Pablo. There were black his way, which was most days, he and white photos on the walls and stormed off to the bar and sat alone some were of Hemingway. Pablo for hours, being served by Pablo. saw me looking


Issue Three I Wicked World I 53


few beers turned into ten as Pablo regaled me with stories of Hemingway’s drinking and loud and brash manner. ‘He yelled a lot, but he was always good to me,’ Pablo said. ‘And he gave me a large tip when he left.’ ‘But he should have,’ Pablo went on to say. ‘I got no sleep for the month he was here.’


he ringleader looked suddenly sheepish and began apologising profusely. The last ten minutes of the trip were held in awkward silence.

‘Ernesto,’ I replied. ‘Ernesto Hemingway?’ he said. ‘El escritor?’ ‘Exactamente,’ I said, and leapt off the back of the truck.



e made it to the bus station and I paid the driver a few coins through the broken back window, before throwing a 50 cent fter three hours together and sole coin to the ringleader. with great ceremony, Pablo and ‘Por su asiento,’ I said, for your I said our goodbyes. It was hard to seat. The coin hit him on the chest leave. and then landed in his lap. He looked furious until he realised ut then it was time to get what it was, then beamed a big back to Manorca. I had to smile and gave me the double hitch another ride out of town. thumbs up. It was the equivalent of A woman on the street told me I about 10 pence. could wait an hour for a taxi, or ‘Como te llamas?’ he said. jump in with a group of fishermen who were leaving immediately. Half drunk, I made the second rash transportation decision of my tour and jumped on the back of a rusty old truck. There was nowhere to sit so I stood on the tail gate. One of the fishermen got up and sat on a bucket and I took his seat. It was ridiculously cramped. There were ten of us in a very small space. I was making myself as small as possible so as to not touch the men as they’d just come back from fishing, were covered in blood and guts and there were buckets full of fish. The stench was mind-blowing. I asked in Spanish what they’d been fishing for and they said it was tuna. Despite this Spanish exchange, they started talking about me. The ringleader, who had got up to sit on the bucket, commented on my bright boardshorts – they were a standard green floral number. ‘Es muy timido,’ another man said. ‘Well if he doesn’t like it,’ the ringleader returned in Spanish. ‘He can walk.’




here was a lot of laughing at this remark as the men glared at me. ‘Entiendo lo que dice,’ I said, meaning, ‘I understand what you’re saying.’

54 I Wicked World I Issue Three

could see the fishermen mumbling to each other with perplexed expressions as the truck rattled away.


headed back to my hotel. It had been a good day. Walking past the dusty corner of a windy street, I looked at the receipt from my lunch. Pablo had put all the beers we’d both had on my tab. For everything South America gives, it exacts a price in return. •

Issue Three I Wicked World I 55

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