JOHN O’DONAHOE, FIVE SHORT PIECES ON CONFUSION
I stopped to ask directions to the hospital from an old lady in Galway.
She looked at me and asked, ‘Are you ill?’ She had the deepest voice I ever heard.
I said, ‘No; do I look ill?’
She said, ‘Why are asking for the hospital if you are not ill?’
I said, ‘I got a friend that works there.’
‘You got to look after your health.’ she said. ‘If you have not got your health, what have you got?’
I agreed. ‘How do I get there?’
She said, ‘Can you see that set of traffic lights down there?’
I could not see them at first; they were a long way away.
‘I see them now; what do I do there?’
‘Ignore them;’ she said; ‘Ignore them?’
‘Entirely,’ she said.
I said I would ignore them.
‘You go right through them until you come to another set of traffic lights.’
‘Shall I ignore them?’ I said.
She looked at me as if I was mad. ‘You do not ignore them, you count them. You count them as number one.’
‘So the second set of traffic lights I count as number one.’
‘Right,’ she said. ‘you go right through them until you come to another set of traffic lights; you count them as number two.’
‘The third set of traffic lights I count as number two.’ I said.
‘Right;’ she said, ‘you go right through them and then you have passed it.’
I said, ‘Can I turn around and come back?’
‘You can come back if you want to,’ she said.
‘I do not mean back here.’ I said.. ‘OK; I think I got it; just to recap; you do not want me to count the first set of traffic lights.’
‘You can count them if you want,’ she said.
‘I thought you said not to count them.’
‘You can count them if you want to; but I would advise you to ignore them.’
‘I will ignore them,’ I said.
‘It is better to ignore them,’ she said.
‘I go right through them; next set of traffic lights I count as number one.’
‘Right,’ she said.
‘I go right through them; next set of traffic lights I count as number two.’
‘Right,’ she said.
‘I go right through them; and then..?’
‘You have passed it.’
‘Thank you,’ I said as I was walking back to my car.
She called after me, ‘two sets of traffic lights ignoring the first one.’
Did I find the hospital. No I did not.
A confusion of instincts
Chitwan National Park is a great place to see wildlife, if you know the right people. So you can understand our delight when we found an expert on rhinos who was going to show us some cross the river, out of the park after sunset to raid the farmers’ fields And for free. Backpackers like free
As about eight of us set off at sunset, the Expert told us to be very careful as rhinos can be very dangerous. He showed us a big scar he had on his side and back where he’d got bitten by a rhino. Yes rhinos bite. It looked like a shark bite. He was very lucky to be alive. He said he could have got away when the rhino charged but it was his duty to protect the tourist he was guiding. We all agreed he was very brave and felt safe in his company.
The light was fading fast. When we reached the river - which is about a quarter of a mile wide mostly dried riverbed, with a little stream running through the middle -the Expert saw two black shapes crossing. He told us it was a mother and calf. And that mothers can be very dangers when they are protecting there calves. So if anything happens we should run for the river bank as the rhino can’t go down a steep bank. And as we can’t outrun a rhino we should run in a zigzag - he showed us how by shaking his hips left to right. He then told us to stay where we were and he would go and have a closer look. When he though it was safe he would come back and get us.
We were standing around talking about India - backpackers never talk about the country there are in- when the Expert, wide-eyed, came running out of the scrub right through the middle of us shouting ‘Run, run’ and disappeared.
We just looked at each other and said, ‘What’s going on?’
Then we heard the angry snort of a rhino. We all ran for the river. After about twenty yards crossing the river, I remembered my training and turned back to the bank - I was the only one to do so. The rest were all zigzagging across the riverbed in all directions. I stood under the bank for about five minutes hoping the rhino wouldn’t come crashing down on top of me.
As they have very poor eyesight I never saw the rhino and when we all regrouped about ten minutes later neither had any of the others except the expert and he must have been halfway to Kathmandu by then.
As walked back along the road to our hotels we decided we’d enough rhinos for one night the Expert came out of a rice field and wanted know if we where all right.
‘If we were, it’s no thanks to you.’ I said
This shocked my fellow travellers who were pleased to see him (I thought I’d seen the last of him).
When he went I said ‘When the fool ran, he could have run in another direction and taken his bloody rhino after him. Why did have to run right through the middle of us?’
The rest of the way back to our hotels was walked in silence
A round at the barbers
After trekking I needed a hair cut. I found a very small barber shop in Kathmandu. I asked for a number two haircut and a shave. A number two haircut is one up from a shaved head that you see all these bald-headed guys walking around with today - ‘I’m not bald I just shaved my head’.
The shop was so narrow I said, ‘How do I get into the chair?’
The barber said ‘No problem’ and moved the chair sideways. (I took a seating position and he pushed the chair under me.) He then cut my hair on the right hand side of my head and went out the back. While he was gone I was looking at myself in the mirror. It was a strange sight, the right hand side really short and left side long and shaggy. It looked like two different people staring back at me.
I was trying to decide which one looked like me when a guy walked in from the street and ran his hand through my hair. I after grabbed his hand, then I recognised my barber.
‘How did you get there?’ I said.
He rolled his head in a peculiar way and said ‘I also got a back door.’ (Because he could not pass me as the shop was so narrow, when he’d finished the right hand side of my head he went out the back door down an alleyway and in the front door). Then he cut the left hand side of my head. When he was finished he went out the front door, up the alleyway and in the back door, got some soap and water and shaved the right side of my face. When he was finished that he went out the back door, down the alleyway, in the front door - no surprise this time I was expecting him - and shaved the left side of my face. When he was finished he went out the front door, up the alleyway and in the back door. In Nepal a haircut is followed by a head massage; this consisted of clapping his hands very loud about two inches above my head and banging the top of my head very fast with the side of his fist. When he started I had my mouth slightly open and I nearly lost my dentures. He then put his hands in a praying position, opened his fingers wide and banged the top and side of my head with the side of his hands. This does not do much good but it makes a very loud noise. When he was finished I lifted myself off the chair and the barber removed the chair sideways. I looked in the mirror and thought I looked about ten years younger. Feeling quite refreshed I thanked the barber kindly and left
I am in Nepal, just got back to Kathmandu from trekking - trekking is when you march up to the top of a hill and then march down again for no good reason; do that for about three weeks and then tell everyone what a great time you had - .where I got into an argument about an egg.
I asked for ‘Two fried eggs.’ So the man got two eggs. When he broke the first one it had two yokes so he put back the second egg.
I said ‘I want two eggs.’
He said, ‘That is two eggs.’
I pointed at the shell and said ‘You can’t get two eggs from one shell.’
So he called his wife. She looked in the pan and said ‘Two eggs.’
I pointed at one shell.
This annoyed the man and he threw the shell in the fire. So I said ‘I’m going to pay for only one egg.’
So after a lot of muttering he gave me my second/third egg.
When I left I paid for two eggs. He still thought I had cheated him and said something nasty in Nepali to my back when I was leaving
(Where do you stand in the great egg debate?)
I just crossed the Nepal-Indian border. I was talking to an Indian who was crossing at the same time, a fellow traveller. We had both been to the same national park in Nepal.
I asked him what he had been doing there.
He said, ‘I went there to study.’
I said, ‘That’s interesting and what animals did you see?’
He said, ‘A large animal with a big nose’.
I was so surprised with this answer I forgot to ask him what he was studying - I assumed it must have been a rhino; but another tourist thought it might have been an elephant; but I think he would have called that ‘a big animal with two tails.’
I hope you are having more sensible conversations where you are.