God of Hunger by John Coutouvidis - HTML preview

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Armenis

 

Theo enjoyed talking and when at the Greek Club he talked with anyone not at the card tables. These were always busy in the evenings. An English MP on a visit to the Northern Province recounted how he was astounded by the amount of money changing hands in poker at the Greek Club in Arusha. The game was played with the fervour of a Sirtaki, Zorba’s dance to you and me.

The same fervour characterised conversation, It started determinedly controlled, point by dialectic point and built up gradually to a crescendo with all claiming to have scored the direct hit, rather like Masai warriors under the influence of kaloriti, the drug taken before a lion hunt. Crazy is a good word for it. As when Theo asked his cronies how best to become rich quickly.

‘Listen Theo, what you must do is go and talk to the Armenian. Armenis knows more about making money than anyone in town. Bulldass, returned Miniotis. No one is shrewder than Misha at making bucks; you cannot beat a Jew at his own game. Rubbish, said Sarikas. Go and talk to Horne. He is the richest Greek around here and he will put you right.’

The discussion raced ahead and climaxed with the quaint arithmetic doing the rounds in the Club whenever the subject of money came up: ‘One Greek is equal to two Jews; one Armenian is equal to two Greeks. Oppa!’

After a long pause, the clinching argument, for Theo, came from Miniotis: “I must concede that our Armenian is very clever. Late one night, after cards, we were discussing Socratic philosophy when he came in for a drink. I said to him: ‘Socrates tells us to live each day by practicing death. Would you agree?’

‘No. I would say “live each day practicing life”.’

And so Theo went, next morning, to see the Armenian.

He was not known by any other name. Just O Armenis. Not much was known about him. He was noted for his wealth and his way with women; kissing hands and that sort of thing. Some said he was a spy. A Communist Agent. FBI etc. But no one really knew more than that he lived alone in a castle built by an English eccentric on the slopes of the mountain and surrounded by huge lush gardens enveloped in an impenetrable wall along which armed guards patrolled with their dogs.

Theo knew Armenis well as they had often taken hunting trips together along the rift valley; Armenis trusted no one with a gun more than Theo. So when he arrived at the castle, the gates were automatically opened with calls from the guards of Jambo Bwana, Karibu. And welcome he was.

‘Ay Theo, where have you been? I’ve missed you. It’s time for another buffalo.’

‘I was in Dar for a while and I have come to ask your advice on how to become rich.’

Armenis cocked his head high and screeched in delight at the boy’s effrontery, which he admired. The two were like father and son ever since Theo had first hunted with Armenis soon after his expulsion from school in Kongwa. Theo was then fifteen and Armenis older than old man Kokopoulos by about ten years. Armenis had no family, at least not as far as it was known, in Tanganyika and he immediately took to the boy as a substitute son on a part time basis. And now was one of those times.

They walked into the enormous house and made for the library: “Sit and tell me.”

Theo recounted his stay in Dar-es-Salaam and conveyed his anxieties about the future, emphasizing his wish to act independently of others and of their plans. Armenis understood immediately.

‘At your age I felt exactly the same. Before they were killed by the Turks my parents had plans for me to join my cousins in America and, like them, to study medicine. I hated the idea of more academic study. I disliked school and wanted no more of books. I was ready to strike out on my own and when alone in the world, my life spared by a stay in Baku with my aunt, my mother’s sister, I took the opportunity to take care of myself. Or, rather, to see the world and some action! What a world it was! There was war everywhere. Everything was in chaos. How exciting! I understood very clearly that here was history in the making and wherever there was a fluid situation, there lay opportunities. And where better than further up the Caspian Sea into Russia. Reports from there were coming in of shortages of almost everything and of hunger.’

‘My aunt had inherited my grandfather’s caique, anchored at Baku. So, without her permission, and with a group of like-minded friends, we loaded her up with goats and set sail for the mouth of the Volga, to Astrakhan. For the Black Market. We made three such return trips, each time making a greater profit than the last. Then my aunt found out and we had to stop. But with the money we made we went into the Azeri country around us and bought animals, goats, and sheep, and brought them to the outskirts of town to fields that belonged to the father of one of the gang.’

‘The father was too old to care about our operation. And so we became goatherds and shepherds, caring for the animals day and night, taking it in turns, in pairs, to stay with them. We had dogs and we were armed. We did this for a little over a year and saw an increase in our flocks. Then came news of the Revolution. We followed events in the Empire very closely because our future was at stake. Even now I could tell you how things went, but that would take too long.’

‘The important thing for you to remember is that history, viewed from the Kremlin gives an early start to the Cold War; Stalin, in particular, wanted to retrieve territories that no Russian Czar would ever have voluntarily given up; territories that were taken from Russia whilst a great question mark hung over the future of the Revolution.’

‘So to in Turkey where an earlier revolution was still in its formative stages and where territorial adjustments at her expense were as much resented; the Turkey of Kemal Ataturk posed as great a problem to the victors as Lenin's Soviet Union. Resentment became a driving force of global politics early in the history of our century.’

‘Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, hoped to solve the Turkish question by encouraging Greek control in Anatolia. But as the Greek advance in exercise of their "Great Idea" gathered momentum, so the position of Ataturk strengthened. In 1919 he proclaimed the Turkish Republic and was busy in expanding outwards from Ankara. However Ataturk had many enemies; in addition to the Greek threat in the south the allies had occupied Istanbul in March 1920 and were co-operating with a puppet government established there.’

‘It was only with the Soviets that Ataturk could ally and this proved possible after Commissar Chicherin's arrival in Ankara when a joint Turko-Soviet Army smashed Armenian hopes for self-determination.’

‘The Ataturk-Chicherin relationship culminated in the Soviet-Turkish Alliance of 1921.

The ring was now securely held for a long and bloody bout.’

‘By the end of the first round the Greek advances faltered. I am not sure how your friends at the Greek club will take my views. But I think your tribe were made to look foolish.’

‘On the home front a plebiscite removed Prime Minister Venizelos from power and returned King Constantine to political pre-eminence. The King's known pro-German sympathies during the war were used by the French and Italians to extricate themselves from the morass in Anatolia and they announced the repudiation of their obligations towards Greece. The British government however made no such move - even when the Greeks suffered their first defeat in January 1921. It was then that France displayed an independent diplomacy. Having dropped the Greeks, she courted the Turks. An agreement came in October 1921.

‘The Soviets were unhappy about the Turko-French rapprochement. Intent on building up their own security area they reacted by sending a strong military mission to Ankara, which resulted in a new plan for joint action against the Greeks.’

‘By this time the Greeks were well and truly in the imperialist trap of their own making. Withdrawal was impossible; militarily the Greeks were surrounded and diplomatically Britain insisted on Greek perseverance. In their despair the Greeks advanced on Constantinople, thus provoking a fresh Turkish offensive which ended at Smyrna amidst the worst scenes of carnage from which your people escaped to this country.’

*

Theo, who was beginning to wish for some sort of diversion from the mass of information he was being fed lurched his upper body forward of the plump cushion into which it had sunk and said: “I am finding all this a lot to take in but do you have just mentioned something I know about. Do you know that we call it Ee Katastrophee? (The Catastrophe.)

“Yes, of course, my boy. This is your catastrophe. We had ours five years earlier, in 1915 when well over a million of us were destroyed by the Ottomans.”

Theo sat looking at the bookshelves behind the Armenian’s armchair when he said:

“What you do not state is that the Turks threw us into the sea. Those who were not slaughtered by sword or bullet, or raped to death, or burned alive in their houses took to boats in the harbour or jumped into the sea burning bright with flames reflected from the city. They made for the Allied ships anchored in the bay to seek help none would give. Those with the strength to clamber up the sides had their hands smashed by British and French sailors. Only the Americans showed some compassion. Surely in all the books you have, this terror is described?”

“Yes and no Theo. Five years before, in 1915 our catastrophe occurred but you will not find a book which tells you the full horror of what happened. All seem intent on not mentioning it. Certainly not the figures which are imprinted on our minds. And that is the point Theo. Let us keep our horrors only to ourselves. There is no point in bringing to the surface matters which will result in argument or worse. The past is the past. Let it be.”

“So is Misha wrong in telling me about the Holocaust?”

“To be told once is an education. To hear it over and over again is to witness an obsession. Some Jews are obsessed by the destruction of their people in the war. But Misha is not one of them. He told me of your visit to him. And I am so pleased he spoke to you. I know Misha of old and he would have told the Jewish horror story in its historical perspective. When he and I spoke of it he did not speak of Jewish blood as different from that of others. He spoke of it within the ocean of blood spilt during the war. Moreover we, he and I, agree that it is not healthy to keep repeating the story of the horror of the gas chambers with their millions of victims. That it happened no one should deny. It was absolutely dreadful. But too make such horror the foundation upon which the present is constructed is sad. And harmful. What you must realize Theo, is that history records horrors which affected every people, every nation. Few have been spared. Certainly not in the last hundred years. From the American Civil War to the present war in Vietnam, horror upon horror. But that we, you and me, are alive … that is everything. Forget the past as reason for hatred or, worse still, for vengeance. See it only as a source of knowledge in your thinking about the present. And of your future. And, sure, in that context the past has its relevance but it must not provide the dominant motive for life. Otherwise you will always be living with the dead. Live with the living Theo. Now let us get back to your education. Where were we?”

“With the Turks”

“Well done Theo. Bravo pedee moo.”

“Softer. Say it softly, Pethee mou.”

Pethee mou.”

“Bravo, Armeni.”

The Armenian continued: ‘Ataturk next turned his attention on Istanbul, as Constantinople was now being called. And also toward Mosul. Rich in oil, this vilayet was contested also by Iraq and the dispute gave the Soviet Union the opportunity to revive her former standing with Turkey by concluding with her a new Treaty of Friendship and Neutrality.’

‘This marked the beginning of a period of truce between the Great Powers over the Middle East. However, this was not to last. The future of Azerbaijan, where we were, was now contested. It was partitioned, with the northern half, including Baku, going to Russia, and the southern half, with its capital at Tabriz, remaining in Iran. When Soviet forces re-established control of Baku in 1920, they chose its opera house as the site for a gathering of Asian revolutionaries to promote revolution throughout the Islamic, and colonial worlds; trying to harness Islamic radicalism, the Bolshevik leader Zinoviev called for jihad against British colonialism.’

Recalling the Doctor’s lectures in Dar-es-Salaam, Theo asked, ‘Was this Zivnoviev a Muslim?’

‘Bravo Theo. You are on the ball. Good question. Good boy. Z-i-n-o-v-i-e-v was certainly not a Muslim. He was a leading communist who saw an opportunity to turn the millions of Muslim subjects of the British against their masters and offered leadership in the cause of Muslim freedom. Mussolini did the same. He set up a radio station at Bari to preach jihad to Muslim subjects of the British Empire. Crazy.’

‘Nothing much came of such appeals from the Baku congress, but it made my first fortune. The delegates had to eat and I had the meat. With the money I made, I left Azerbaijan for Persia with the Soviet delegation who adopted me as their quartermaster, so successful was I in Baku.’

‘Things in Persia went well for me at first, but in response to the entry of Soviet troops in 1921 a military coup produced an Iranian regime which was sympathetic to the West. So I switched sides and became a broker between the new regime and western oil companies. Very quickly I bought into their operations and the rest is history. Which repeated itself in Iraq. There, in return for a stake in Iraqi oil, the French and the USA recognised the British military occupation and supported her Mandate of Iraq; this agreement was confirmed at the San Remo conference in April, 1920.’

‘The response was a large-scale Iraqi uprising between June and October, 1920, which caused some 2,000 deaths. Peace was restored when Faysal was recognised as the king of Iraq in a British-controlled plebiscite in August 1921. I again acted as go-between in negotiations between the new regime and the oil companies, further adding to my fortune.’

Theo sat mesmerized listening to another version of the history he had heard spoken of in Dar-es-Salaam. He was pleased with himself for already knowing a little of what the Armenian was saying:

‘From Iraq, I turned my attention to Egypt. There, at the outbreak of war in 1914, the British declared a Protectorate over the state and purchased Egyptian loyalties with the promise of self-government upon the cessation of hostilities. In 1919, however, Britain's dismissal of Egyptian nationalists in Paris during the peace negotiations and their subsequent arrest by the British authorities led to demonstrations, riots and strikes in Cairo. Soon political violence - which included the assassination of British officials - spread to other cities and, via the railway workers, to the rural areas.’

‘These disturbances lasted until May. After a prolonged period of inquiry and diplomacy the British eventually recognised an independent Egyptian government in February 1922, but retained 'informal' imperial control over defence, finance and the Suez Canal and 'formal' control over the Sudan to the south. I took advantage of the prolonged crisis by buying up cotton, then at rock-bottom prices, and made my profit when the markets were restored with the return of order.’

‘With this profit, I then went into coffee in East Africa where I took advantage of the trouble which had, in the meanwhile, erupted in Kenya. Wage cuts, the introduction of the Kipande pass system and White settler attempts to use forced labour through increased peasant taxation caused large-scale demonstrations and strikes in Nairobi by workers and peasant-labourers in June, 1921.’

‘The discontent was harnessed by a friend of mine, Harry Thuku, a post-office telephonist, whose formation of the East African Association attracted the support of the Indian community of Nairobi and farm workers from the rural areas.’

‘Thuku's challenge to settler rights over land and monopoly of political power led to his arrest in March 1922; a move which stimulated the E.A.A. to organise a successful General Strike.’

‘This was broken by police-military action at substantial cost and considerable loss of life. I made my investments when, in 1923 the British government stipulated that a future Kenya would be an African, rather than a White settler, country. The news provoked sales of settler farms which I bought on the cheap to become one of the biggest landowners in Kenya; I still am. I only left Kenya because my contacts urged me to avoid the excesses of the Mau Mau rising.’

‘So Theo, in a very long winded way I have given you the history of my time and my road in life and my road to wealth. Tell me now. In one sentence or two what it is you have learnt from what I have said?”

“Okay. Let me think. Ya. Go for it. That’s it. Go for it.”

“Come on Theo. You can do better than that. Go for it is in there. But what I said is that if you want to make big money you should take advantage of history, by learning from it. You should be alert to rapid change that becomes a turning point in history. Buy in times of crisis. Obviously we are coming to such a point here. So what can you do to make your fortune when Tanganyika is taken over by the Africans? You are at the age now as I was then. So where should you head?’

Theo scratched his left ear which had been stung by a fly in the Greek club. Damn thing itched. And on top of that he now needed to think. But nothing came to him.

‘Come on Theo. Think of what is in the news: Vietnam?’

‘Yes, what …?’

‘What is happening there now?’

‘Some kind of trouble.”

‘Yes. But what is in the news today?

‘Shit’, thought Theo. He had not been at home for a long time where he would have heard the BBC World Service.

‘Please tell me.’

‘Oh Theo. If you were not such a good friend I would say let us leave this business and go and shoot. But because I value your company and think a lot about you and care about your future, I will be patient and explain things to you. Because I want you to become more than a good hunter …’

The Armenians voice trailed off as he gathered up his senses to give the boy a handle on things which mattered in the world.

‘There is talk, serious talk, in Washington that the change in administration will see an escalation which will change everything. This new American, Kennedy, has long thought that the US must increase its forces there.

Theo came to life. It was one thing to sit back and listen to the Armenian go on and on about his youth and the chances he took and the choices he made. Quite another to recognize that this man was really trying to help him achieve his ambition. Because he cared. For him. Theo. Just like the doctor in Dar-es-Salaam. It was so strange a notion to Theo that a grown up actually cared for him and for his future. So he put in some effort.

So he said: ‘Yes. Okay. What then? They will win and drive out the Communists.’

You think so? Why?’

‘Why? Because the Yanks have got most power. They have won wars because of it. If it was not for them both world wars would have resulted in defeat. And what about Korea?’

‘Precisely. The Americans eventually held the ground. Army against army they will always win. But in Vietnam they will be fighting guerrillas. A different type of war which they cannot win. They would have to colonise the countryside. This they will not do. Cannot do. So they will not prevail. No, the Americans will lose the war in Vietnam.

The Vietcong will win.

‘How come?

‘History my boy. History. But enough of it for now. Tomorrow is another day. You will be my guest. Let us now go into the dining room.”

*

As they sat and waited for the food to appear Armenis remarked: “Theo, I know you need a break. I thought we should have something to eat and then go up to the crater and see what we can find on mama von Trope’s land. And if not there, on Figenschou’s. Both owe me a favour so we can go and have a look. The boys will be glad of game; as will the dogs. Come, lets go.”

Both decided to follow up news, brought to the house during breakfast, that there were buffalo again raiding maize fields on Figenschou land.

They went to the house of Sven Figenschou, one of seven sons plus Duka the daughter who made up the large family of Norwegians living, in eight houses, on the foothills of Meru. Their’s was a large spread which included some of Africa’s best shooting on the slopes of Ngurdoto Crater; Ngorongoro in miniature.

*

Sven Figenschou, ‘Figgy’, was a great friend of Theo’s at Kongwa School. They would avoid the school part as much as possible and spent most of their days exploring the boundless country round and about on their bicycles. Miss Lamb would sometimes fix them up with a packed lunch. She was in charge of the school kitchen and understood the boys’ wish for freedom from the classroom better than most. She had recently arrived from ‘home’ where she had had a bad experience with the head of the secondary modern school where she taught domestic science. That is until he made a grab for her ample bosom on a tour of inspection of her store room. She took to sabotaging his every effort at managing the school, mainly by goading her classes into taking direct action; first boycotting extra-curricular activities and then cutting school altogether. The head eventually retired on grounds of ill-health and Miss Lamb was obliged to take a post overseas.

At Kongwa her breasts were admired at a safe distance by adoring boys of whom she liked best the rebels, the free spirits, the anarchists to be. Theo became her favourite and wherever he went Figgy went too and he went too far when missing dustbin lids were traced back to his room.

Heavy metal dustbin lids, essential against rifling hyenas, were like gold dust when Figgy invented the most effective dove trap in the entire history of dry places. First the dustbin lid was set into the earth and filled with water. Two metal rods were then driven into the ground at ten o’clock and at two o’clock relative too the lid. To the exposed ends of the rods, standing proud of the ground at precisely five and a half inches, the height of a dove’s neck when at rest on the ground, were attached strips of car tyre rubber; one strip per rod. The strips came to a point at the other side of the lid where they were each spliced onto a connecting piece of strong wire stretched over another metal peg sunk into the ground at six o’clock relative to the water filled dustbin lid. This was the business end of the trap. The peg here stood proud of the ground at an inch and a half. The tyre rubber bands joined by wire were stretched back over it at the highest tension possible and brought to rest against a wire already attached to the peg, brought over its tip and run back to a hide ten yards or so from the trap. Here the trapper hid and waited holding the wire taught and ready for action.

It took two days for the collared doves to settle around their new found source of water. An hour after daybreak, thorn trees all around would be grey with cooing birds. They would settle tightly packed around the rim of the dustbin lid to drink in batches of thirty or so. And thirty or so would be thwacked to death by a pull of the wire held in the hidden hand of the trapper. And as long as the lid was topped up with water another harvest of doves could be had just before twilight. Sixty or so each and every day yielding a feast of breast meat cooked on sticks around the glow of an evening fire. Anyone wanting to join in could do so on delivery of an iced coke to the trapper; prefects were exempt from this condition by dint of their authority not to report the barbeque to the Housemaster. Mr. Shuttleworth, however, would wait for the meat to be cooked before confiscating the lot whenever he was entertaining friends at sundowners.

When not killing birds for the pot, Figgy and Theo would trap parakeets on bird lines. These were sold on to Mr. Patel at the shops for ten cents a bird and he would supply casookoo fanciers up and down the central line (Dar-es-Salaam to Tabora via Dodoma at a shilling plus carriage.

The casookoos were often kept overnight in the boys’ room and one night a black mamba came for them. This snake, eight feet long at death, was dangerous when cornered by the boys returning from an open air film show: A short by the Moody Institute, usually about flowers opening, or one by Shell, either spraying locusts or Stirling Moss winning the Mille Miglia or Le Mans in a Jaguar, followed by some cowpoke movie which was always spoilt by the film burning when stink bugs gunged up the projector’s cogs at precisely the point where the good guy or bad guy was about to draw. Then everyone was told to get back to their houses and no loitering for pissing contests or any such delaying tactics.

They had just got off their bikes at Hut 2, Nightingale House, when all the lights went out. It was not an unusual occurrence for the ageing generator in town to ‘go down’. Anyway, they were about to go into their hut (a bungalow and therefore never called a dorm) when Figgy and Theo heard the parakeets flapping about and squawking in great alarm in the dark.

“There’s something after them. I bet it’s a keecheche (skunk)” said Theo.

“No way man”, replied Figgy. “I reckon its that black mamba that lives by the bogs. I nearly plugged it couple of days ago but it disappeared in the manyara hedge. Its him. I just know its him.”

“Shit. What do we do!”

“You turn your bike over and pedal like hell. Make sure the light goes right in. I will go and see. But first I will go and borrow Zak’s panga.” Figgy returned from the neighbouring hut with the machete and entered the illuminated doorway. To his left was a long mirror suspended opposite the door to the bathroom and as he crossed the threshold the mamba sprang up and lunged at his image in the mirror.

Figgy screamed with fright and sprung out of the hut.

“Shit Theo. That was close. He is in the bathroom. He maybe on his way out. But I cannot be sure. We’ll have to kill the bastard. Bring the bike closer and point the light into the bathroom.”

Figgy went back in when this was done and confronted the snake on the bathroom floor which was still wet from the prefect’s use before the film show. The mamba slithered about unable to get a good position for another lunge while Figgy hacked at its body. Dark red blood, almost black, oozed into the water and by the time the snake was dead this harsh smelling mixture of blood and water flowed back into their room. Then the lights came back on. What a sight! Casookoos clinging to curtains and clothes. Tar like blood all over the floor. And a huge black mamba, longer than bed and thick as a leg and a head the size of a foot and shining all over with light reflected off its scaly skin.

One scratch from its exposed fangs would have meant curtains. Figgy told Theo that an African had been attacked by a mamba on the farm and had died before the pick-up truck which had been sent for had arrived at the scene. “And guess what. The Af’s skin turned from black to light grey. Shit it was weird.”

No more parakeets were collected; the boys stuck to hunting doves whose colour ever more reminded Theo of venom.

*

Ngurdoto Crater was the property of an aristocratic German woman, Baroness von Trope, ‘mama’ Trope. And what a paradise she owned. An African Eden. All the fauna and much of the flora of Tanganyika packed into a verdant soup bowl with its lake in the centre. No one but the old lady hunted here. Not because it was her game reserve but because the old lady would bag any poacher who dared cross her sights.

Baroness von Trope was highly individualistic and a powerful and ruthless character, a woman turned into a man by the demands of a manless household in Tanganyika. Able to outshoot most men. Change tractor tyres. Strip engines. And sport rugby playing legs beneath khaki shorts. This was a woman to be nice too.

The sides of Ngurdoto, however, belonged, as has been stated, to the Figenschous and Sven would hunt these forests to his heart’s delight. Trouble was he had poor eyesight which meant that he always required a partner to see for him and point to the quarry at which Sven would fire hoping to hit. Misses were the norm. Woundings were common and kills rare. So hunting with Sven was a dangerous event. He always insisted on taking the first shot and would then allow companions to pick up the pieces or to follow the spoor.

Despite the team killing of the raiding buffalo, by the lights of Figi’s clapped out Peugeot pick-up, Armenis and Theo were glad to return to the castle unharmed. The perils of international history had nothing on a buffalo hunt in the dark led by a dim sighted lead gun.

It was not until the next day that Armenis continued with his lesson to Theo. Refreshed by the events of the night he could now take on the Second World War in Asia which is where the Armenian started.

“… When did the Second World War begin in Asia? Well it is not a simple question.’ … He trailed off again knowing full well that the boy would not be expected to know. So he continued:

‘I once had the privilege of putting this question to an eminent professor of history at Tokyo University. His answer was that the first local war, that of 1931, was for the region the start of the Second World War. Local history, Theo! Look always at local history. Because it may explain the grander picture and nothing is grander than the consequences of war in the Far East. That is where the new world is being born. Out of total chaos. In China and Japan.

Where almost unimaginable suffering occurred.

Casualty figures in China are not known accurately. Some say over one hundred million deaths! In Japan there were 2,000,000 war deaths; 80,000 civilians perished in the fire bomb raid on Tokyo on the 9th of March 1944.

“Theo, there is a nursery rhyme that you may know and which Churchill sang at the time:

"Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home, your house is on fire, and your children at home."

That is the true holocaust.

80,000 more perish in the Atomic strike on Hiroshima on the 6th of August 1945, and 35,000 perish in the Atomic strike on Nagasaki on 9th August 1945. The Japanese surrendered five days later. They finally got the message.

‘What message Theo? When you think of the Japanese what comes to your mind, Theo?’

The young man took his time to reply. He wanted to impress.

‘When I was a boy most of my toys were ‘Made in Japan’. Then I remember the old man cursing furiously when his radio packed in but being mightily impressed with the new one which came from there. And now most of the new trucks and pick-ups are Japanese.

In the Greek Club we laugh that the Englezi are finished now that Riddoch’s Motors has closed; no more Fords or Bedfords only Hondas.’

‘That’s the message. And the other country to watch is China.

I think she will enter Africa. Quite soon.’

Theo looked directly at Armenis.

“Why do you think that?”

‘Why do I think so? I will tell you … Let me find something. … Ah, here is the page I want to read to you. Mao, the leader in China today, stated in 1949:

‘The Chinese, who comprise one quarter of humanity, have begun to stand up. The Chinese have always been an industrious people. It is only in modern times that they have fallen behind, and this was due solely to the oppression and exploitation of foreign imperialism and the domestic reactionary government ... We have united ourselves and defeated both our foreign and domestic oppressors by means of the People's Liberation War and the people's great revolution, and we proclaim the establishment of the People's Republic of China. …. Our nation will never again be an insulted nation. We have stood up.’

‘Can you see what Mao is saying? China is determined to be a leading power and much depends on interpreting correctly China’s role in world affairs’

‘I think China is on the move. Again. People forget that Chinese sea-borne exploratory expeditions reached Northern Australia, India, East Africa, Have you ever been to Gedi near Mombassa?”

“Yes. We went there on the way to Malindi. I remember the Chinese plates, white and blue, pressed into the walls of ruined houses …”

“Well spotted. But there is more to Chinese travel: they were in the Iranian Gulf and the Red Sea and the South Atlantic and could have reached Europe. But since the fifteenth century China displayed no interest in this outside world. A world which treated China roughly. Knocking her down. But no more.’

‘China's emerging status as a major power should not be in doubt. Two years after his speech, two years after victory in China, Mao’s army took on the Americans and fought them to a standstill.’

‘Korea?’

‘Yes. What about Korea? You should know.’

Theo remained silent.

‘Good for business. The Korean War has made fortunes for the Greeks who were into sisal. War and revolution require rope. So dear Theo…plant sisal. It does not grow in China. Plant sisal and make your fortune and spend it on your party.

*

Theo left the Armenian’s castle his brain aching from its pounding from history. He went to find his cronies who would have made for the Club. He reported what he had been told by the oracle on the mountain and most took the piss.

“It will take ten years for you to establish sisal at Ndareda. And before you make a cent you have got to set up a factory to make the rope. Do you know how much that will cost? Not only that. Sisal is losing its appeal to something called nylon. You could end up bankaroot.”

They all laughed, including Theo. So how and where was he going to make his bucks?