No Man’s Land

カテゴリー Essays




“Fuck man what happened?”

“Fishermen on the beach got me with a machete on the arm. Not too bad though, I managed to run off..”

The American was the second guy in a week with a story like this. Driving the jeep across Tanzania I had heard a similar story from a local white man, the guy with the bandage on the head, the guy who needed me to drive his vehicle because of those weak spells. The lead pipe had fractured his skull two weeks earlier and the motive had been the same as the fishermen in Dar Es Salaam, the capital of this wobbly nation. Dough. Bread. Money..

Both guys had given me vicarious experiences in a manner of speaking. I had never gotten a driving license but who gives a shit in the Mikumi national park driving through elephants and giraffes, literally.

“You know the worst thing can happen to you out here boy?”

Shifting gears on the old landrover with a deep crunch I humoured Mr. Leadskull who was at least twice as old as my fledgling 20 years.

“What is it that beats a lead pipe on your noggin leaving you for dead in the bush then man?”

” Hitting an elephant at night with the jeep boy so sharpen the fuck up after I go to sleep Ok! ”

From my current vantage point in this twelve foot square cell in Itungi I reminisced on the last few days. The American had spoken French to me in the English speaking Zambian embassy at Dar Es Salaam because he was super paranoid. Black regimes would lock you up for any excuse to get back at your imperial bloody whiteness. You could tell he had been on the road a long time. He practised weird exercises in the morning uttering the creepiest of sounds. Turns out he was a devotee of Rajneesh and they were tantric meditations.

Il faut d’etre tres prudent en Malawi tu sais.” I had thought it was Tanzania I had to be very careful in, not Malawi.

Funny how it was him who the fishermen had ganged up on and how I had slept all night alone on the same beach. There is nothing quite so rewarding as a night on the beach, I mean sleeping directly on the sand with a thin blanket over you for the odd mosquito, totally alone and with absolutely no clue what will happen next. All I knew was that somehow, in some inconceivable way I would cover thousands of miles and end up in Cape Town. Something always turns up. Any fisherman looking at me would quickly surmise there was nothing to steal. The American, on the other hand, looked like he was always trying to hide something..et voila, out come the fucking machetes.

The black hating Mr. Leadskull too was an easy target. He had a jeep and the clearly unmistakable  vibe of a colonial arsehole i.e. we are the bosses here you monkeys so do as I say. If I had been black I might well have welded the aforementioned pipe to his thick skull after cracking it. I think this was what protected me most all through Africa. I loved the people in a nieve, almost reverential way. They were tough and pure and beautifully simple in their ancient ways. Later I would be warned several times by the accursed white South Africans never ever to set foot alone in the black-only homeland of Transkei …as I was departing for that very place. They would surely murder me. Absolute poppycock! A thief only sees a man’s pockets ..

I was definitely not happy with these Malawi cops though..

I demand to call the British consulate! I demand you give me food! I am a British subject!! ” The cops grinned at me with the rare delight of locking up one of the bastards that had made their lives so miserable. The paranoid American had been right. My luck had run out. Now that they had my passport and my little back pack they literally had me by the short and curlies. Nobody in the jail would speak to me. I could be in here for ages and nobody would ever know. Who knew I was here? That giraffe back in Tanzania would remember me perhaps. He had gotten caught in my headlights and was galloping at full speed in front of the land rover. To his left was a three foot high wire fence. To his right the vast open spaces leading to the Ulluguru mountains. Terrified too badly to change course he just ran on for at least five minutes. Then he had made a serious decision. It was to jump the fence. He would never forget me and yes I am absolutely sure animals have memories. Not much help to me now though..

When a twelve foot tall beast jumps a three foot fence with those short and stubby legs it shows you what the will to live does to an animal, or to a man. As he crashed into the savannah on the other side of the fence I watched in absolute delight as he immediately stood up and raced into the darkness. “Fuck you human..”

Itungi is a small village on the shores of what used to be called Lake Nyasa following the previous name of Malawi which was Nyasaland. I had been able to free draw maps of Africa by the age of 12 because I knew I would become a traveler. It had been colonized by my own people the Scots, even worse by those Calvinistic and anal retentive Christians with sour faces and shrivelled souls. That explained the arrest, or rather the demand to drop my trousers at the border. But we will get to that..

I had been in jail before. Or at least a padded cell in a jail, in a small town in Holland. That was where I had taken an exceptionally powerful tab of yellow sunshine, the most potent LSD of the age. The Dutch police were decidedly friendly since they knew exactly what kind of state I was in when I stopped their police car on the road demanding to go to Paris immediately. I had partially lost my memory on returning to Earth but finally remembered where I had been the day before and retrieved the all important passport. They then escorted me to the nearest ferry in a police car, stamped my passport with a never come back kind of stamp and summarily deported me to the UK.

This was to about be my second deportation now, here in this super conservative and deadly impoverished nation called now Malawi. Mal means what in French again? Oh yeah, bad

But before they threw me out of Malawi they had wanted to have a little fun no doubt. Just a little. No food. No conversation the first 24 hours. No reason given for swooping down on me as I innocently walked along the shores of the lake wondering how to score some food. Two plains clothes guys had simply shoved me into a car and dumped me in this cell. Maybe it was the flare trousers..

You cannot enter Malawi wearing those. Ladies cannot come in with skirts above their knees and men are forbidden to wear flared trousers. We do not want hippies in our country. You must take them off now and change into something more sedate. The President of our nation will be in our nearest town today and we cannot have the likes of you spoiling his visit.”

They were not just flared trousers. They were pink too..

After arguing about the absurd law and telling them I had only the one pair so would they prefer I walk into town in my knickers they finally relented. Perhaps it was the brazen announcement that I was British and they had better not fuck with me. My people had representatives you see. I could be just as colonial as the next arsehole when times demanded it so I played my little imperial card. Little did I surmise that such arrogance would toss me into a cell and show me who is who down here in darkest Africa. A few days in the slammer would surely cool me off..

So I was easy to spot walking along the lakeside with my pink flared trousers. And yes the President really was in town. When they finally offered me an explanation for the arrest on the day of my deportation to Zambia it was that all unsightly people had been arrested and cleared off the streets. All the bums, beggars and hippies in other words. Malawi was safe and clean and Christian and just lovely. We do not have those sorts here you see Mr. President..

By the third day they were taking me out to the local market to feed me the same meal every time. Beans. A couple of days later the police escort came to take me to the border with Zambia at Chisenga.

This is how it looked when we got out of the jeep after a long and bumpy ride with two armed police next to me. And this is where we get to the title of this essay. You see the Malawi entry point at the border was about 500 yards away from the Zambian passport control, a small building in the distance. The police had taken me in to the office and explained the reason for my expulsion. The cigarette moved in the big man’s mouth as he grunted,

Well if you don’t want him we certainly don’t want him!

The reader might perhaps be aware that Zambia, formally called British Rhodesia, was a huge and prosperous nation compared to this shitty little neighbour called Malawi..thus the disdain. As if WE would let in a bum like this if even you are throwing him out.

It was at this point that I made a massive existential discovery in my young life. A discovery that has continually fueled my optimism and sense of reality. Surely this had been what St. Francis had figured out and indeed all of the Indian mystics and saints I had devoured the teachings of on this road. The only thing in my pack of value was a huge book I had picked up at the post office in Dar Es Salaam. It was that masterly work of esoteric brilliance by P.D. Ouspensky, the one about Georges Ivanovitch Gurdjieff’s teachings of the Fourth Way. It was entitled simply, In Search of the Miraculous. By the age of twenty I knew perfectly well that freedom is a state of mind and has absolutely nothing to do with the circumstances this dust world produces around us.

So here I was with Mr. Fucking Powerful smoking his cigarette and telling the poor Malawi police to take me back. And there they were saying they couldn’t and there was five hundred yards that belonged to nobody at all right outside the door.

No worries gentlemen “, I announced. ” I will remain in no man’s land out there for as long as it takes to make an informed decision on my case. I am deeply sorry for the trouble I have caused both your countries. ”

With that I stepped outside and entered that place of freedom that only a man who has nothing can ever truly understand..