I love watching people, and if you’re lucky to be an expat or a traveler in foreign countries you get to watch lots of fun, eccentric or weird people. However, sometimes these people are not the locals but your fellow expats.
Below is a story of what I witnessed one lazy day hanging out at the pool in Accra, Ghana, West Africa.
It’s a hot tropical Sunday morn and after attending to some e-mails and reading the Washington Post online (all is misery in the world), my mate and I are going stir-crazy in the house. Off to the Shangri-La Hotel for some pool time and a bit of relaxation after a week of toil.
We settle ourselves at a tree-trunk-slab table under one of the thatch roofs and order a fruit punch. A blue-and-orange lizard skitters up a tree trunk, clearly not lacking in energy. Me, I’m limp as an old rag. Tropical heat and I are not a good match, so it’s a lucky thing I can just hang out at the pool rather than having to do, say, brain surgery.
On a lounger nearby a distinguished gentleman with gray hair and glasses and a not-so-distinguished tiny swimsuit, is reading a pink paper. Ever seen a pink newspaper? It’s not a pretty sight. And no, it is not an Italian or French publication of dubious journalistic repute; it’s the British Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal’s rival cousin. I wonder who the reader is, this distinguished man in his tiny swimsuit showing off the family jewels. A British banker? A Dutch diplomat? A Belgian businessman? He looks lonely, sitting there by himself. Maybe he’s a consultant staying at the hotel while his wife back home is shoveling snow. I don’t know this of course, but I’m a writer and I make things up for a living.
Anyway, no newspaper for me, pink or otherwise. I need escape from the tragedies and tribulations of the world, so I’m reading a historical romance (although normally I don’t do historical fiction, but in foreign lands you read what you can get your hands on). The cover features a guy wearing tights and a girl with three arms. No, I’m not making that up. Click on this link and you’ll see. It’s called Castles in the Air, written by Christina Dodd and it’s probably a collector’s item. You’re not going to find this edition anymore. In its embarrassment, the publisher reprinted the book with a new cover with a heroine with only two arms. Too bad. Think what a woman could do with three arms! But I digress.
As I sip my fruit punch, I do some more discreet scanning of the surroundings for possible interesting people and events.
A young Italian mother in a sexy black bikini is organizing her two children, sending one off into the pool, the other off to the adjoining tennis court with a handsome Ghanaian instructor for a lesson. She settles herself on a lounger with a glossy fashion magazine.
My man and I go for a swim to cool off and then have a relaxing read. Well, we try.
From the tennis court to our right comes the crying of the Italian boy, seven or eight years old. Clutching the chicken-wire fencing surrounding the court, he wails like a tortured prisoner begging for freedom. In response, his mother gives him a lecture in musical Italian on the necessity of learning to play tennis to assure him a place in the proper social circles. How else is he ever going to become the Italian ambassador to the United Nations and help bring about world peace?
Okay, this I made up. As you know, I don’t speak Italian, but I’m sure she said something like that, because the ragazzo is not at all impressed. In fact, he wails louder, and in a fury flings his racchetta across the court and starts punching his instructor in the stomach. The man laughs as the puny fists make contact with the wall of steel muscles.
Ignoring this heart-warming scene, Mamma simply turns away and continues reading her fashion magazine, stretched out in all her slender beauty on the lounger. I admire people with such a serene disposition, don’t you?
I go for another swim. Two Dutch women are in the water as well, one holding forth in a typical no-nonsense voice about her relationships with other people, confidently passing judgment on their actions, their behavior, their mental acuity.
I learn that her friends Pieter and Tina got a divorce after Pieter found himself paying credit card bills from a resort hotel in the Caribbean where Tina had gone to spend quality time with her boy friend. But Tina deserved a little fun, really, because Pieter was a cross dresser and never wanted to go on vacation and he was neglecting her and wearing her underwear. And the bastard absconded with her antique clock, the one that belonged to her grandmother, so Tina is heartbroken about that and . . .
You’re thinking I’m making this up too, don’t you? Sadly, you’re wrong. Dutch being my mother tongue, I understand every little tragic detail of this heart-wrenching story and all this suffering chases me right out of the water. I simply can’t bear to hear more. Life is a vale of tears, I’m sure you agree, but I came to the pool to find refuge for just a short time and I deserve it.
As I settle myself on the lounger once again I notice that the gray-haired gentleman in his tiny swimsuit has found himself some company: A beautiful young Ghanaian woman with glamor make-up and an artfully created hairdo. She’s featuring a round bottom in a red micro skirt, a voluptuous bosom in a tight top, pretty feet in stiletto heels and a face with a bored expression. I don’t think she’s here to go swimming, but I might be wrong.
So much for my fellow expats and their shenanigans. Back to my book – the hero in tights, romance, true love. It’s fiction.
* * *
Do you love people watching? Have you ever come across memorable characters or scenes in your travels? Or in your own neighborhood? Do share your tales!