Nanyuki is a small impoverished town 50 kilometers north of Mt Kenya. The “matatu” ride there is full of jarring metal thuds and seatbelt-popping jerks, and takes about three hours from Nairobi. We pass mountains of red dirt and earthmoving machines, large cement blocks and workers constructing the new superhighway that will cut the journey time in half. Men with silt-filled crow’s feet stand sweating through tattered shirts in the early African sun. Shovels. Rebar. Bulldozers. Dirt.
The first beer I drank was a 40 oz of Old English purchased by a friend’s older brother from a small deli in Jamaica, Queens. My two friends and I received the large bottles on a street corner near my house, wrapped in brown paper packaging reeking of mystery and rebellion. The anticipation while waiting for the delivery drove us mad, and we greedily darted off into the night with our secret goods.
Laos is a raw so deep you see it in every transaction of the day. You see it in every conversation you have with every person in every corner of that raw pocket of the world. A young girl at the night market wearing a money belt stacked with U.S. Dollars, Laos Kip, and Thai Baht. Armed with a calculator and the charm of a seasoned insurance salesman, she greets every customer with seductive English.
4:30 am. Before sunrise, in the last shadows of night before the light begins to creep through the smoky haze that is spread over Luang Prabang, I hear the drums. I open my eyes and let them adjust to the darkness of our hotel room.
My hip is sore from the firm mattress but I feel rested, and after three days of waking before first light to the sound of the drums I am growing fond of this morning ceremony. Across the street at Wat Sene temple the drums are vibrating and the earth is listening.