“When you reach the end of what you should know, you will be at the beginning of what you should sense.” “Sand and Foam” – Kahlil Gibran
The new day broke. The sounds of the birds began to pierce through the morning air, lilting and playful, welcoming the new day. I, on the other hand was in a tangled mess on my bed. I must have moved an awful lot in my sleep, for the sheets were ripped off the mattress and had coiled their way around my legs and torso. I rolled my head to check on Sam. He was still happily snoozing away. “Better get myself sorted.” I straightened out the sheets and started pottering around the room as quietly as possible. Fully clothed, I eased the door open, then shut, then walked to my usual morning smoking spot by the river. Rooney the puppy greeted me with his ever-playful grin and resumed his favourite past-time with me; gnawing on my toes.
My headspace had shifted a bit. It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep can do for a person. There was still a lingering darkness hanging over my head, but somehow, the events of the past few days didn’t appear anywhere near as traumatic as they felt yesterday. The thought of jumping into the fast flowing amazon river no longer crossed my mind. I felt a strange sense of calm coming over me. I tried not to let my mind wander back to that haunted place. I thought of my mother and how much I missed her. She had been so worried about me. When she found out that I wouldn’t be able to contact her the whole time I was in the jungle, she panicked. It took a lot to reassure her. I had put that dear woman through so much in my lifetime, and I resolved that when… or IF I returned at all, I would dedicate the rest of my life to making her proud and happy of me. The times she had picked me up from the police station, nervously went to my school to see either the principal or the teachers about my bad behaviour, or the countless times she had sent me to the hospital because I’d done some new mischief to myself, I thought of all of these times and told myself that I could no longer bear to put her through that pain and misery.
My thoughts shifted to my father. He’d been gone ten years already, but was still a very big part of my life. Snatched from me three weeks before I turned 21, he was. Taken too soon by a lifetime of stress, anger, and sadness. I still dreamed of him all the time. Vivid intense dreams as if he had never left. I never really got to say goodbye to him properly. I was still very lost, but I was glad at least that we had patched things up slightly before he departed this world. During my mid teens, our communications with each other were either hostile, or not at all. By the time I turned 20, things were a bit better, but I still felt this heavy sadness that he didn’t even get to see me become a man.
Dad had had a tough life. His parents escaped China in the early 1900’s to go to Borneo. The poverty drove so many of them to go to distant lands where life was harsh, brutal, and largely uncertain. Dad was born in Sarawak; one of nine children. He got his first pair of sandals when he was about ten years old. The family worked together to build a successful sawmill. My grandmother cooked 3 meals for more than 40 people on a daily basis, extended family and all. From dirt poor beginnings, my father and his family worked hard to become one of the most prominent business families in the whole region, but that was not without its sacrifices. They used anger and fear as primary motivators. They knew no other way. They were incapable of saying “I love you” to one another. They showed their love through hard work and a fierce loyalty to the family unit. Dad was already a huge improvement on the rest of them. He had his affectionate moments. He actually had a huge heart, but it was imprisoned by his frightful and sometimes violent temper. As I recalled my father’s upbringing, I felt tears welling in my eyes. For so many years I raged against him; angry at him for not understanding me. Well, I didn’t do a very good job of understanding him either. I missed him. Lots. Wherever he was, I then resolved to stop pissing him off in his afterlife and finally make him proud of me. “Yes, that’s a must. No more fucking around, Dan.”
Bored with my toes, Rooney moved onto chewing on my slippers. I leaned over to ruffle his abundant fluff. “I miss my dogs.” I had two dogs waiting for me back home. The oldest one was already 3, a quarter of the way through his natural life. I began thinking of the impermanence of life. Fleeting moments of joy, sadness, love, hate… it was all so transient. I stared out dreamily at the fast flowing river, thinking what a suitable analogy it was for life. One second it’s there, and the next… gone. “I suppose the only thing we really can do in life is to just live in the moment. Make peace with it. Enjoy it. Hell, that’s the only thing that seems to make sense in this fucked up world.” At that moment I was joined by some of the others, and we sat and talked, and enjoyed that moment that we shared together in the amazon, thousands of miles away from home.
I was getting closer to some of the people there. I spent my day far more socially engaged than I was the day before. I suppose I could feel a bit of a lightness growing in me. People kept saying that I was looking better. I personally didn’t see it, but hey, if so many people were saying it, then I guess there must have been some truth to it. I certainly wasn’t a happy chappy when I first arrived, that’s for sure. I was a ball of chaotic energy. Something about me felt calmer. I got to know my fellow travellers a bit better. There really were people from all walks of life here, from many different parts of the globe. There was Slavko, a big tall Serbian man with a very gentle way about him; the true meaning of the term, gentle giant. From the moment I saw him I could feel his strength, yet he had a calm manner. Turns out he was a top criminal lawyer back home. There was Adrienne, a Black female doctor from America, whom I loved spending time with. She had such a sweet disposition. Always cheerful and bubbly and positive. There was Samer, the Lebanese BM volunteer, who walked away from a lucrative, high paying job in the middle East because he had simply had enough, and knew that this was what he wanted out of life. As I opened up myself more and more, the more their stories fascinated me. I was enthralled by the sheer diversity of the people here. I’ve always been fascinated by interesting people, always eager to learn of their stories, and it seemed like here, I was in the best place for it.
The day went by normally. I was treated to a rare sight. I got to see Rooney the pup playing with Pedro the parrot. Rooney playfully lunged at Pedro, except the wily old bird was having none of it, and would hastily retreat a few steps before sticking a menacing clawed foot out at Rooney, daring him to come further. Watching the two scuttle around had me in hysterics. I also got to spend some time walking around with my camera. I hadn’t taken half as many photos as I would have liked to, so I decided to make up for it by doing the rounds with my hefty SLR in tow. The amazon reminded me a lot of home, actually. Of course, there were differences, but there were also a lot of similarities. I couldn’t help but think that there must be something like Ayahuasca back home, only that the knowledge of it had died out so much ever since the first Christian missionaries started filling native minds with their self-righteous garbage. My afternoon was pleasant and restful. I needed something calming after what I had been through the last few nights.
But as the dreaded hour approached, my nerves started to rise again. I began feeling that sensation. All I needed to do was to merely think about it and I could feel the tugging of that vortex once more, beckoning me down into that maddening world of unliving. Negative thoughts started to creep their way back in. In a flash I was transported back to Malaysia, stuck in situations I didn’t want to be in. The stupid dinners and parties where everyone lied to each other, festooning themselves with accoutrements of wealth and success just to impress people they didn’t even like in the first place. Where conversations were not really conversations, but just endless rounds of seeing whose ego would win out over the other. The mindless drinking and chauvinism; supposedly grown men beating their metaphoric chests proclaiming dominance over both men and women. The women who would sidle up to you and pretend to be concerned friends, but in reality, they’d just be baiting you to spill some dirt on yourself so they could run and tell the whole town to make themselves feel important. Fuck I was tired of it all. Tired beyond belief. That was not what I wanted to go back to.
In a rare moment, I summoned Papa’tua, the spirit that was watching over the whole ceremony space. “Papa’tua,” I called, “If you’re listening, please give me strength. Show me what I need to do to start over. I don’t know what to do anymore… Please don’t put me through hell anymore, there’s only so much I can take, and I’ve already had enough. Please…” As I spoke to him I could feel an uplifting. I felt a glimmer of hope grow inside me. “Feed that hope, Dan.” I said to myself. “Don’t let it die. Don’t.”
Dedicated to the memory of my father; a man whose heart was as pure as the brightest flame. You are always my hero, papa.