San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Who’s Running the Joint?

Icame late to the realization that, contrary to what my daddy told me, women are the practical sex while men are just a bunch of squishy sentimentalists, at least where hospitality is concerned.

My first lesson came when we were running a seismic survey along the desolate northern shores of the Persian Gulf. Not a sign of life all day, but just as we were packing up for the night we spotted a few black goat-hair tents a couple of miles inland. In that godforsaken spot, where a leaking water tank could shorten your life to days, it was prudent to tell your neighbors hello, if you could find any.

So, before sundown we made for the tents in our half-track, but got out and walked the last half-mile so as not to upset the goats, which are both food and drink to these nomads. But as it turned out, there was only one goat, which meant these folks were down on their luck.

Even so, the Aghai welcomed us with open arms, point-blank refusing our proffered gifts and instead killing their last goat in the name of hospitality. Needless to say, the women in this strict Muslim community were kept well out of sight while the men sipped scalding tea and, after the feast, fell asleep around the fire.

Come morning, we were on our way early, our gifts having been once again refused. Nevertheless, we were just climbing back into our half-track when a dozen women came running after us, brazenly leaving their faces uncovered, demanding payment for expenses. So we paid, in gold rupees yet, and got away only when they had enough to buy fifty goats.

I would have thought this a one-off case, except the following month we were running a seismic line for Shell to the west of LakeMaracaibo, and accepted an invitation to visit the local Motilone Indians in their palm-leaf bohío. Once again we were royally entertained, though this time on suckling pig and plátanos, washed down with a villainous brand of chicha ladled out of a canoe.

Come morning and time to go, the cacique refused our gifts, explaining by gestures, since his Spanish was too awful for words, that hospitality was the one redeeming feature in an otherwise naughty world.

Sure enough, we were only a mile down the jungle trail when a veritable army of half-naked women came chasing after us, demanding payment for services rendered.

So we coughed up the rejected gifts, together with a whole sack of rice that took their fancy.

To confirm these findings, I took to gate crashing wedding receptions worldwide whenever the opportunity presented itself, and it was always the father of the bride who welcomed the hungry stranger, and the mother who came up afterward to ask what the hell I was doing at her party.

So, tell me: who gets the cigar for practicality in your house?


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