Do you have friends that end up in strange places? That send you e-mails from locations that make you scramble for the nearest world atlas, feeling like a grade-A ignoramus?
Yeah-me, too. For me, it's my friend MLW that tends to make me Wiki for my life in an effort (probably a completely useless one. Who am I trying to kid?) not to seem like an idiot.
She's in Aceh right now.
Not that I'm saying that I think you need this link. You probably all know the population of and major exports of this special territory at the northern tip of the island of Sumatra. You are probably capable of pronouncing and even spelling its full name correctly with no outside prompting. ( BTW: it's Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam)
Anyway, there's our dear friend wandering around in the Sumatran jungle and pretty much all I know about the place is what I've read in a Sherlock Holmes mystery: "It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared"
Quite ominous, you have to admit.
I worry for her, but from the two emails I have received, it is clear that she hasn't run into any fearsomely huge rats and that most of the problems that she does face can be dealt with using a large square of African cloth.
MLW, as a seasoned adventurer, has visited me twice here in Burkina and she quickly adapted to Burkina-style dress. But even after she left, she found that the cloth used for local wrap skirts are very, very versatile. Indeed, if the author of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy had known about pagnes, we never would have heard so much about towels. Imagine Ford Prefect announcing: "If you want to survive out here, you have to know where your pagne is!"
Here's what MLW has to say about the superiority of the pagne:
"Ode to a Pagne from Aceh."
After a week in Aceh, the blue and orange pagne (with the sort of atomic design) I bought in Ouaga has had more lives than 1000 cats. Some of its incarnations:
-- Lying under the thin blanket in a chilly bungalow near the Alas River, in the heart of the Acehnese rain forest, the pagne adds the perfect layer of warmth for the night.
-- Bumping on a minibus over the horrid Sumatran roads, the pagne is a needed cushion for the bum.
-- Philosophical question: if a tree falls in the forest, blocking the only road across the province,
taking down a live power line with it, how long does Mary Lynne sit on her pagne on the roadside waiting for the chain saw to arrive to cut the tree?
Answer: long enough to watch yet another, bigger tree fall and
block the road as well.
--The skies open as we stand on the side of the road at the hamlet of Ise Ise, and the pagne becomes a raincoat.
-- For the first time, the bendy bendy roads become too much, even with a double dose of motion sick pills. After throwing up out the window, a corner of the pagne cleans my face.
-- After a slippery, muddy trek through dense jungle of the Gunung Leuser wilderness area, we emerge to find two hilltop Gayo farmers, who of course provide us with rice from their hut (starved as I am, I just have a polite bite). The sun grows strong as the men sit and
smoke--Indonesian men giving Burkinabe men a run for their money in the sitting around department--and the pagne becomes a sunshade).
-- At the mountain stream, pagne is, of course, the perfect bathing sarong as the sun sets.
-- Emerge from the mountains to cosmopolitan (in comparison!) Banda Aceh. Sitting at the lovely night market eating rice and rendaang, I spill bandrek--a pink drink of warm spices--on my long sleeved shirt (a tropical climate, but sharia law...). Pagne to the mop-up rescue!