In 1991 I flew from the Spice Island’s administrative capitol to Ternate. I was the only westerner on the airplane. George Bush 1 had his troops on the frontier of Kuwait. Indonesia is 95% Muslim. Ternate was 100%. The hotel manager asked if I were American.
“I can’t tell a lie. I’m Irish.” on my mother’s side.
“Maybe tidak apa-apa.” He gave me a room next to the front desk.
“I want a room with a view.” The volcanic island of Tidore was across the bay. Its slope were covered with cloves. Their fragrance waffled on the tropical night air.
“Room with view apa-apa banyak.”
Apa-apa means trouble. Banyak much trouble. Maybe they had a lot of mosquitoes or something worse.
“Any Israelis here?” I liked Israelis, but a bunch of them had colonized a Dutch hotel on Biak. All six had been discharged from the IDF two weeks earlier. They had long hair the next day. The Indonesians thought they were dirty. I didn’t disagree.
“No Israeli, you only ‘mistah’.” The Dutch had insisted on the Indonesians calling all white men ‘mistah’.
“Then no apa-apa.”
Evening fell like a black cloak on the streets lit by 40-watt bulbs. I walked to the harbor for dinner. The eyes in the doorways were sullen. The TVs showed images of bombs. The war had started in Iraq. Mullahs called out for evening prayers. The faithful kneeled in the direction of Mecca, but not all. Some began to follow me. The quay was illuminated by the bright lights of restaurants. I stood before an offering of foods. None of them were familiar. One smelled good and everyone else in the restaurant was eating it. I ordered one plate with rice. More men stood glaring at me. I ate quick, but the dish was so good I ordered another to show I wasn’t scared to the gathering crowd of men, all of them with a clove cigarette dangling from their mouth. 20 became 30. 30 grew to 50. It was time to order the bill.
2 orders of danjing.
“Danjing?” I knew this word in Bahasa Indonesian.
“Yes, danjing?” The waitress said proud shew knew the word ‘yes’
“Yes, ‘dog’,” she said it loud enough for the mob to hear and they laughed realizing i had eaten ‘dog’ without knowing it. I smiled as the butt of joke should and said, “Irish eat dog.”
“George Bush eat dog.” A voice in the crowd shouted and the men laughed without humor.
“Walk, don’t run,” I told myself. Two cops were across the road. They turned their heads. I bought a loose cigarette from a tobacco shop and smoked the kretek butt slowly, while the mob tramped several feet behind me. Upon reaching the hotel the manager said, “Tidak apa-apa.”
“No problem.” I grabbed my room key and barricaded the doors, as the crowd chanted, “George Bush eat dog.”
After the police ordered the crowd to go home, I listened to the BBC on my world-band radio. The battle of all battles was a blow-out. Iraq was defeated on that front, but the odds of my victory was seriously in doubt, since I figured the odds were 5000-1. Worse than Custer, yet no one smashed down the door and in the morning when I ventured from the hotel, the faces on the street were smiling.
Several men gave me the thumbs up.
“Rambo #1. You # 1. You eat dog.”
And like that they switched sides, because everyone loves a winner and I liked dog enough to eat it twice.