Or at least I think she was a CIA agent. Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but it’s a good one so stop me very gently. With chocolate.
Wasn’t that a line in Heathers?
Anyway, so there I was, with the CIA agent. She told me she was a fabric expert and doll collector, and she and her husband owned a computer consulting company back in Alexandria, Virginia. And they weren’t the least bit like a married couple, but that’s neither here nor there. When they were in Asia they spoke German to one another, and when they were in Europe they spoke Thai, so nobody would know what they were saying.
Two wholesome Americans who just happened to be from Alexandria, Virginia and who just happened to speak several different languages, and who just happened to have spent six months on Bali for no particular reason.
So there we were in Ambon. Let me tell you about Ambon.
It’s an armpit. It’s the armpit of Satan’s smelly friend that even Satan can’t stand. The people are very nice, though. And they have a lot of handicrafts. Tons and tons of handicrafts. Oyster-shell bas-reliefs were very popular, set on red or black velvet and yes, there was an Elvis there although there tended to be more in the way of florals, koi, and Yangtse vistas, the Chinese market being the most prosperous. And there were wee tchochkes made of cloves. It’s the Spice Islands, right? Lots and lots of things made of cloves. Boxes. Pirate ship scale models. Castles. Unicorns. And you know what? Cloves are hideous to look at. Seriously, they look like the dried tonails of a poisonous lizard or something.
So there was a dearth of good souvenirs in Ambon. So, naturally, the CIA agent (female operative; or at least she seemed to operate just fine to the naked eye) and I decided to steal Alain’s Lonely Planet guidebook, for yea, even the CIA is useless in foreign territory without said Lonely Planet, and set off for Rinkamaya, which the Lonely Planet said was the best souvenir shop in town.
So we went. And, 45-minutes later we stood outside said Rinkamaya, which had streams of little girls in uniforms and big nuns in habits going in and out of the doors. The CIA agent and I looked at one another and we agreed, “This is a Catholic girls’ school.”
She was all for leaving, but I hadn’t braved a 45-minute, death-defying ride in a pedicab for nothing, and I’d be damned if I was going home with a fucking clove-stick Elvis, so in we went.
A tiny Indonesia nun was the first to see us. Her eyes got huge and she hissed, “Engerissss!” and made patting motions with her hands before disappearing entirely. The CIA agent took this to mean that firepower was imminent, and suggested we leave again. I resisted, faking more knowledge of Indonesian hand gestures than I actually had.
We stood there for about fifteen minutes while little girls ran in, laughed at us, and ran away again. Some of them came several times, and I am grateful to have brought such joy to the lives of some apparently entertainment-starved children.
Eventually, a huge nun materialized. Seriously, she was about the size of a Packard and about the same vintage; she’d been on Ambon since the Second World War, and she was “the” nun who spoke English, although with a heavy Dutch accent. She said, “You’re here for souvenirs. Come this way,” and proceeded to lead us through a maze of cubicles made of solid teak panels four feet across. We wound our way through there for so long even I, with all my Girl Guide and orienteering awards, couldn’t have picked North out of a catalog, but finally we ended up in the center, which was, as advertised, a souvenir shop.
I’ll have to tell you about the vampire later, time’s up at the Internet Cafe!