Daily Archives: February 24, 2010

Randy Ford Author- THE SMUGGLER, A Snapshot of History 2nd Installment

      When all else failed humor seemed effective.   To him it was worth the risk of making a fool of himself.   What was acceptable depended on the social setting and applied to how Mr. Flint treated his hosts.   He seized on the Kelabit’s general geniality.   He proceeded on and was genial himself.   In comparison with his wife, he was cheerful.   That came directly from his many years of experience in the field and his knowledge of natives.   Whether his assumptions were correct or not, there was no one who could help him around.

       Mrs. Flint wouldn’t allow Mr. Flint to forget that she was an educated woman, who enjoyed music, dancing, and could speak two or three European languages, while he was not at all cultured.   She always played on his emotions and claimed he tricked her into coming to Borneo.   According to her, he lied about what she would have to face.   Nothing in her mind supplanted her hatred of the heat and the clamminess she could only escape at night.   She didn’t even appreciate tropical fruits, the mangoes, the mangosteens, and a fruit called soursop.

       She would’ve preferred living in Aden, Ceylon, Penang, or Singapore, places where she wouldn’t have had to bathe in a river and where people wouldn’t spy on her so much.   Away from the world she knew and loved as a child (and also far from the royal gardens, peacocks, flowers and perfumes of her imagination), she was forced to live in primitive places.

       Still the Kelabit weren’t totally primitive.   No description did justice to their singing with fine mandolins.   See them in the moonlight singing until after midnight.   Hear their stories and their secrets.   In spite of all of the beauty, Mrs. Flint’s mind was set.

       No one was given so much attention and disliked it as much as she did.   No one could show so much disdain and at the same time had so many admirers.   While appearing so helpless, no one hated help more.   Born into the aristocracy, she got angry with her husband for not understanding that.

       How could she be faulted for missing her friends in Moscow, or England where she met her husband?   Or why she couldn’t reconcile the loss of so much time?   Or why she missed Christmas and Easter, the Russian spring and painted eggshells?   She couldn’t forget the seaside dacha where she lived as a youth.   She yearned for London and wanted to return to Paris.   So, after loving London and Paris, she made the biggest mistake of her life.

      Some mistakes seemed right at the time, but with hindsight were obviously mistakes.   She soon wished she had never met Mr. Flint.   With all of her heart, she wished she had said no, and especially after he mentioned the idea of going into government service.

       As a government officer, Mr. Flint had to be a jack-of-all trades: a policeman, Chief of Public Works, Land Revenue Officer, magistrate, accountant, treasurer, and sometimes coroner; but the prestige of the job hardly matched the magnitude of his sacrifices.   This brave man thrived on a change of scenery and loved adventure.   So he jumped at the chance, when he got a shot at Foreign Service.

       As a young man in England, he concentrated on cricket and polo.   He seemed more interest in ponies than a career.   But though he seemed to lack ambition, he turned into an able administrator.   Except for Brunei and Sandakan, he could count on being shifted to almost every station.   Consequently, he trekked through much of the jungle interior, where the practice of head hunting had not been totally curtailed.

       Thus adapting to an illogical and tortuous landscape, to snakes, leeches, and parasites, to the jungle, the cliffs, and the crevasses, he felt at home where few white men rarely went.   At home in the small and remote villages, he was always honored with the best floor space.

        Mr. Flint had a great respect for native peoples.   That was something he passed on to his son. In fact, Crockett became widely known for his kinship with the natives, something he easily established and continued to cultivate through his trade in petrol, blue jeans and tee shirts, Guinness Stout and cheap parangs.

       After so many years of service, and regardless of his wife’s feelings, Mr. Flint couldn’t imagine living in England.   He loved the wilds, and life away from them would’ve seemed unfulfilling to him.   Wherever he went, he was accepted.   He signed on for the duration and, subsequently, would be buried on the island, in a small cemetery set aside for British civil servants.

       Mr. Flint was a great gentleman, a dedicated public servant, a loyal subject of the Crown, and a credit to the human race.   He was one of many Englishmen overseas, united by regulations and policy, men who helped the Crown maintain its valued empire.

       The geography here defied description and included the never faltering spirit of the falcon, the otter, and the rhinoceros.   For Westerners, this spirit was hard to comprehend.   Spirits were everywhere, and everything was a sign, such as the cry of the hornbill and even a falling rock.   Was it necessary to understand it?   Was it necessary to have clarity? ”  The wild waters tremble lest the river turn to stone.  ” Moving under such influences, the Kelabit rarely worried about the outside world.   They gain strength from an unspecific pantheon of spirits.   They believed that as long as they were generous, the spirits wouldn’t disturb the peace.

       Before the war, the Kelabit knew Mr. Flint and thought he was a very generous man.   From a small monthly allowance, he purchased the salt, tobacco, beads, and so on that he gave them.   Out of necessity they also gave him gifts.   Such exchanges pleased them greatly and helped placed them at ease, whereupon the Englishman had to accept the chickens, the rice, and the eggs (and perhaps a sword, a battle headdress, sun hats, or maybe a mat) that they gave him.   To refuse anything would’ve been an unfortunate and unnecessary insult.   In order for the colonial to do his job, he had to anticipate what the native would like, which called for great skill, because different people and whole tribes had different expectations.   A mistake could’ve meant disaster.   Nothing in England prepared him, but he soon found that even people who weren’t advanced liked hair-lotion and scented-soap.

       Hoping that the men in the big planes didn’t really care about them, the Kelabit often waved at the Japanese, while Natasha Flint considered that very unsafe.   From the air, the jungle canopy gave only the faintest hint of human activity.   The Japs believed that this green hell was the last places on earth where they would find Europeans.   Given that assumption, searching the jungle was considered unnecessary.   The Japanese could no longer afford to waste valuable men and time subjugating a few backward tribes, when they had to concentrate on a growing headache.

       For the first time during the occupation, the Japanese had to protect themselves and recover from American air attacks.   Also, around this time, the tempo of life around the long houses quickened, as the “Z” Special Unit, made up of Australians, dropped into the island’s interior.   This would be rightfully noted, along with many Japanese errors, as what eventually change the course of the war.   The Japanese showed utter contempt toward the inland people, but were the first to later appreciate this mistake.

       Had she been in her native Russia, and as part of the great Soviet experiment, Natasha would’ve had her baby in a clean maternity ward and without anesthesia.   Regardless where she lived, either in Georgia or Moscow, she would’ve given her son a proper named by naming him after one of her papa’s relatives.   And for all of her effort, she would’ve won a Motherhood Glory medal.

       Had she not left Moscow, she would’ve been, as part of the Great Patriotic War effort, working in a factory, and having a baby would’ve earned her a grant and a monthly bonus.   The Soviet State had a great interest in a woman’s drive to have more babies, and before Soviet children could ever leave the nursery, they had to learn how to do useful things with their toys.

      Randy Ford

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Randy Ford Author- THE SMUGGLER, Snapshots of History 1st Installment

                                                               THE SMUGGLER

                                                                 by

                                                                 Randy Ford

       It was one of the most isolated places on earth, one of the least known, so isolated that the symbols of the modern and the primitive worlds in a practical sense merged in the sound of a single mechanical device: an unreliable six-horse-power generator.   The loud, weird voices of cicadas, the sound of macaque monkeys crashing through trees, and the soaring whoops of gibbons were some of the expected sounds of this upland region, but not a generator.   For the vast majority of the people here, the put-put of the one-cylinder engine implied civilization and falsely in this cases the existence of a medical doctor.

       Generally only Europeans had generators, and most natives expected white people to have medicine.   Out-stations also would have other amenities, a list that included western comforts and luxuries, with the larger of these little colonies boasting tennis courts and water systems designed to raise the level of hygiene. As a matter of fact, one might even expect to find white women.

       By 1944, the Greater Co-prosperity regime of the Japanese had clearly gone back on its promises.   That year, after hiding for three years among the Kelabit of Borneo, the Flints gave birth to their only son and hoped, if it became necessary, they could get even further away.

       When they heard and saw the first wave of Zeros, and knew what it meant, they fled their home and the luxury of a bathroom, a study, and a sitting room.   Thus the life they had known was stolen from them.   Depressed, Crockett’s mother became an emotional wreck.   To add to her misery, she kept aborting pregnancies.   Even her vanity gave way under the stress.   On the other hand, courage, pluck, and a Scottish sense of resourcefulness sustained her husband.

       Besides the few things she could carry, she brought with her dreams, which only took her so far.   Even with cards, dancing, and reading, she never liked living on Borneo.   She felt more isolated than her husband did.   Few Western women of rank and fashion stayed on the island.   Those with an adventurous heart sided with Crockett’s dad.   He enjoyed hearing the Kelabit sing “you have his head! I am so happy,” while Mrs. Flint hated it.

       This Russian lady took special delight in her anger.   She survived by becoming as combative and loudmouth as she could.   She couldn’t control herself.   She might’ve had the situation not been so extreme.   Why couldn’t she have seen the wild splendor of the Tamabo range and relied on a heroic notion to relieve her depression?   Maybe, though stuck in the middle of a jungle, with the right attitude, she still could’ve climbed to the mountaintop.

       Her original ideas about Borneo came from old pictures of the old days, when English officials dressed in white uniforms and spiked helmets.   From diaries of the period, she read about music and dancing and bungalows the English built with true shingles, true gables, and true blinds.   With the rustle of silk and silken draperies, bright rooms brought inside some of the color of the flowers of the garden.   In that world, white women, except for servants, only associated with datus’ wives, other whites, and hosted garden parties.

       She saw herself retaining a butler, dressed in a white jacket and yellow-and-black sarong and a maid brought from England, who the same as her mistress disliked living so far away from home.   Their parties were large and given in a proper manner, with meals and table arrangements that were much prettier than those in England.   The right remark given at the right moment lightened the heart or thawed the ice.   “Makan! la….Minum! la….Janga malu!   (Eat. Drink. Don’t be ashamed!)  ” Never mind the correct pronunciation.   Etiquette was required.   Knowing when to leave the room and husbands and friends to their claret and cigars was essential.

       But what she found, or the life she led on Borneo, even when she had her own home with a cook-house and a boy to do the cooking, was, after all, nothing like she’d imagined.   Irritations, such as the lack of privacy (since natives saw nothing wrong with peeping into their windows) got to her.   This led to them keeping their shutter shut tight and to her seeming unfriendly.   She wasn’t into hunting or walking and never joined her husband on hunting trips.   She never learned how to shoot green pigeon or snipe.

      A land with no proper seasons was unfairly compared with the neatness and order of England.   Natasha always felt insecure in houses with nipa roofs and that swayed in high wind.   She complained about the backwardness of Borneo.   She recast her feelings in a mold created by her prejudices and felt that way from when she first stepped off the boat.   Bathing in a river made her feel violated.   The futility of modesty made her angry.

       Where her husband served, there was always considerable discomfort.   Because of heavy rain, the rivers were always flooding, and the trails were nearly impassable.   Without sympathy from her mate, she had to endure air much the same as steam from a hot bath and water that made her sick.   They were always tortured by bitters and greeted by mangy dogs.   Getting from place to place seemed to Natasha an exercise of futility.   But the greatest discouragement came from the isolation, magnified by her woe, which overshadowed the beauty of the place.   Even subtle contrasts made her feel bad.

      The natives of the interior thought Natasha came from a mouse deer, a very stupid animal; and the silly little things she did amused them.   Mimicry was a favorite pastime.   That drove her crazy.   The men would laugh and cry, while the women often laughed so hard that they fell, beating the floor with their feet, while Natasha was expected to mask her revulsion.   The famous female mouse deer had badly infected feet and had to ask for help.

       “And at last the male mouse deer came with his wife on his back,

       A sad man with a heavy burden, a burden which he wished he had thrown off.”

       Crockett’s father continued to mask his own feelings.   He’d give a measured response or retire behind a curtain of silence.   Rather than fight, he’d flee.   Natasha’s discontentment grew daily.   Eventually she realized that she never really loved her husband. I  t all came from his coldness. His correctness irritated her.   His duties, as related to her, were clearly spelled out by a code of conduct.   Concerning most issues, the Church of England taught one thing and the Russian Orthodox another.   The couple never agreed on basic principles and never communicated with each other.

       Sitting, as she approached her due date, in a Kelabit long house with no privacy, her depression grew more acute.   All around her were people who thought they lived in Shangri-La.   And her poor husband, in the midst of constant chatter, never heard her say she wanted to kill herself.   Wouldn’t that have baffled him?   Then having the conceit of a government officer, he couldn’t have taken much more.   In any event, out of necessity, he didn’t show his true feelings and improvised when he didn’t know what else to do or say.

      Randy Ford

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