Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I Was Tortured on Koh Tao

I went into a small shop, only one room, filled with shelves of bottles, jars, and tubs.  Some kind of apothecary, plus a small bamboo desk and two chairs, each the perch of a thai girl.  I was ordered to wait, shoeless, for 5 or 10 minutes, then one of the girls rose, went outside, and climbed in the cab of a black pick-up, Jamahkiri stenciled on the side.  The other girl tossed me in the back of the truck, my few belongings after me, and the truck sped off.  The sun beat down from a cloudless sky and sweat formed on my arms, legs, and my lip, ankle, the small of my back.  We paused at a gas station.  I was told to stay in the back. 3 minutes, 5 minutes passed.  We got no gas.  Nobody got in or out of the truck.  We drove off.
I began to climb out at the next stop, but the driver, a small Thai man, climbed out of the cab and shook his head.  He said, "Mai."  A woman, perhaps Chinese, got in the cab behind the driver and we drove again.  The pavement ended and the dirt road grew rough and rutted, then rocky.  We drove up and down, but slowly higher and higher up a mountain on the south side of the island.  I was thrown about the bed with every bump in the road, a collection of bumps. I flailed for handholds but found none and clung to the rollbar as best I could, watching for low limbs of the jungle overhead.  My bags flew about the bed unattended.
My muscles waned and the sweat on my forehead beaded and streamed.  We reached the peak and stopped again.  The driver ordered me out; I climbed over the wheel well and down to the dirt.  He pointed me to covered stone stairs.  I climbed slowly.Inside I was given water, and it was taken from me before I'd drank half.

My shoes were taken from me and I was pushed through a bead curtain onto a balcony of frail wood, high on a cliff face.  Between the slats beneath my feet I could see a plummeting death, and past the narrow railing lay open ocean.

I was made to strip off my clothes on this precipice, and made to shower, then given a narrow fabric cloth to wear.  Still dripping I was taken to a heavy wooden door and into a stone chamber, then pushed through another door into a black cave.  The cave was hot and steam filled my lungs.  I gasped for breath.  The heat and moisture weighed on me like bricks.  At the far end of the room was a tiny glass block and my eyes began to adjust to the meager light playing in the steam.  A massive boulder formed the roof and one side of the chamber.  A slab of stone seemed to be a bench on two other sides.  I sat down.  Instant agony. The stone was scalding.  I imagine I left a bit of burned thigh on the rock.  I could now see the steam billowing into the room (still more steam?) from directly beneath where I had sat down.

Now in the light I saw the chinese girl, in a sarong, sitting on the bench near the door.  I yearned to talk to her, to hear a friendly voice, to plan an escape from this mountain, but I felt only fear.  Was she like me?  Or was she one of my tormentors?  Bait to lure from me secrets I didn't know I kept?  Or perhaps a means to taunt me?  When I failed to greet her the door was cracked open and she was released.

I was alone.  Alone and hot and moist.  The air clung to me.  Imagine yourself plastered with boiled wet naps.  My eyelashes grew heavy with drops of water.  My body began to shrink as the heat melted both it and my soul.  I lay on the stone bench and tried to get beneath the stifling cloud, but it surrounded me.  My skin oozed moisture, in one direction of the other.  My lungs drowned fire.  The door opened and I was released.

My narrow cloth wrap was heavy with water and I held it around me as I followed this tormentor a few steps to a wooden palette.  On the wood lay a white cloth and she pointed my down to it. I lay down.

"On back, please."

I turned over and she began to coat my body, head to toe, in an oil, a shellac, perhaps a polyurethane. In Thai she called it, "Aloe Vera."  I turned over and she continued, leaving my side only long enough to get a second bucket. She seemed confused at the need for a second bucket.  And then she pulled the white cloth over me from both sides.  It was a shroud.  I was being mummified.  It grabbed my shellac coated skin and clung to me.  My feet stuck out the bottom.  She leaned in and said words that will haunt me forever,

"Twenty minute please."

What did this mean?  Did I have only 20 minutes to live?  Or worse, only 20 minute, not even a plural to cling to?  Or would this be my last 20 minutes of peace before the tormentor returned?

Ninety seconds later she returned and smeared something on my face.  She disappeared again. 

I lay immobile in my mummy's clothes.  I don't know how much time passed.  20 minute, perhaps.  But my shroud was pulled from me and I was pointed to a stone cubicle.  There I was made to shower again, hiding my nakedness from the open portal, and my tiny cloth decency was taken from me.  I was given only a tiny towel, and I did my best to cover myself before I was led away.

I lay on my back and she began to attack my face.  Pulling it and stretching it.  Pushing up on one cheek and down on the other.  Down on one cheek and up on the other.  She coated me with layer after layer of ointments and tidbits.  My face was stripped away.  This mistreatment continued for an hour.  An hour!  She placed weird leech things on my eyes and in the sucking blackness I heard her start a machine.  What a lawnmower would sound like if constructed only of recycled car tires.  The squealing, peeling sound of rubber raked against rubber as it was pulled to life.  She placed the machine's turning heat above my face and the ointments constricted and crushed my skin and muscle.  A bit like an Iron Maiden made with Liquid Nails (tm).  She pulled my face away and took the leeches from my eyes.

"Done here.  We go on."  I may have heard maniacal laughter.

The next room was the final stage of my undoing.  On my back.  On my stomach.  Sitting up.  I was beaten in every conceivable position.  She placed her feet inside my thigh and leaned away with my calf, pulling me apart.  Twisting.  And then more pummeling.  She put me in a headlock and then turned me around so I could ponder a mole on the small of my back.  And always back to the beating.  The beating.  An hour passed.  An hour and a half.

I realized I was not alone.  In another room other victims moaned for mercy.  I let out a whimper.  Suddenly she relented and allowed me to escape.  I hobbled from the room, knocking my head against the ceiling. I was shown to the precipice where I had left my belongings and, snatching them up, I ran for the door.  I bribed a woman at the exit 1580 baht and made my escape, to the back of the pick-up truck.  I huddled in the back as the truck bounced, careened down the "road" and was finally put out in the blackness of the jungle.  It was night.  Where was I?


All that aside, I am a bit stranded on Koh Tao.  A doctor here who doesn't speak a word of understandable english but writes it perfectly has put me on some unknown antibiotic.  My diving has been cut short as I try to recover from whatever has afflicted me -- headaches and one extremely large lump and a few other symptoms.  If it seems like this medicine is working then I'm going to try and make my way out of here tomorrow.

On the other hand, it isn't such a bad place to be stranded.  Here is a photo of my bungalow on Ao Tanote (a bay on the east side of the island):

My Bungalow on Koh Tao

And here is the view when I wake up in the middle of the night in my hammock:


Night View from the Hammock

And the road to Ao Tanote:


Road to Ao Tanote

Last but not least, most of my clothes didn't survive the orphanage experience, so here is what I look like in bungalow (in a shoddy self-portrait):


In the Bungalow


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