I’m not sure if I ever told you the night I met the Nigerians playing soccer for a Vietnamese team?
I’d spent the last two weeks poking around Vietnam from south to north and had now flown south again in an attempt to get back out the country. At least, I think that is what I was doing. If it was, it means I stalked a group of Singaporeans across three cities and two airplane flights – my memory is fuzzy on this.
Either way, it was my last night in the country. I had settled into a cheap little hotel and ventured out in the early evening to find something to eat. After making some wishy washy attempt at this (and I know it was because I can’t recall the meal and my memories of places are dictated by what I ate there), it was still early. I felt, although I was heartily sick of the bartering for any purchase, the traffic and the chaos, I should appreciate being where I might never be again.
I walked down some random side road because it looked more peaceful and went from chaos to the stillness of a street lined with industrial buildings that had shut down in the night. It was deathly quiet, eerie in a city that didn’t seem to sleep. The only people on it were four large black guys.
I walked faster.
This is not racism. I would have felt intimated regardless by their height in a country of short people. Also, they were clearly foreign and, quite frankly, a rarity where most tourists who were not oriental turned out to be from Australia and America and were usually paler skinned. Unusual people on quiet streets you don’t know make me nervous regardless of who they are.
Anyway, they started yelling, ‘Hey, Brasil’. I turn around. Twice. Like a ballerina. Realise they mean me. Oh. I am wearing a green shirt that says, ‘Brasil’.
Explain I am not from Brazil, I am South African because now, you see, they have surrounded me. I could not get away.
Oh, even better. We now all had to high five each other because, you see, we were all Africans. They basically dragged me to a bar where they said they were going to have a little get together and I should so join them. I figured at least this meant I was in a lit area with other people.
The leader was a large man, run to fat. They told me they had travelled to Vietnam to play soccer for a local team, in that way internationals travel to bulk up weaker local teams. I had no idea how the leader fitted in as he didn’t look capable of jogging, never mind sprinting down a field.
He had the owner of the bar lug out a crate of warm beer and cracked one open, offering it to me and telling me sadly how much he missed his wife. Even as a Vietnamese woman in a very short red dress with lots of red lipstick curled up under his arm. (I had my doubts about this woman as the Vietnamese are a modest race, with the women tying their hair back and wearing discreet long trousers and no make up for the most part.)
I drank my warm beer. I chatted. I was very careful to keep a close eye on my beer bottle.
I tried to make my escape.
The very young one with the dreadlocks – who might actually be a footballer – insisted he walk me home.
He was polite, he was very sweet, he kissed me on the cheek and said we should stay in touch.
He looked slightly homesick, slightly sad as he stood there, at the entrance to my hotel and said goodbye.
I wished we’d met under circumstances where I wasn’t afraid his friends were trying to harvest my organs.