Smoking With The Chief
Like a warm hug sending shivers down my spine, the sickly sweet smoke meanders through my lungs exploding into millions of tiny smiley faces raging through my bloodstream. Laying on my side on a grass mat covering the dirt floor of the Chief’s hut, I saw the flame from the kerosene torch reflected in his eyes. Rolling onto my back, my lungs released a long, thick stream of opium smoke, billowing slowly out the ramshackle thatched ceiling like the clouds in front of a slow moving cold front. Our eyes met as he reached over to take the old piece of bamboo from my hand. My head nodded slowly as he held the pipe over the flame, burning the residue off to make it ready for another hit. Outside I could hear the sound of children laughing and wondered where the others had gone.
The Chiefs village was located in the Golden Triangle, a triangular sliver of Northern Thailand located between Laos and what was then known as Burma. Reachable only by foot, it was situated at the end of a grueling daylong uphill trek from Chaing Mai. Surrounded by steep terraces heavily cultivated with opium poppies, the Chiefs village was a group of small weather beaten huts standing in sharp contrast to the surrounding greenery. Beautiful to look at, the opium bloom produces a ball shaped bulb which is it’s prized fruit. When the surface of the bulb is cut, it weeps a black, sticky, tar like substance that is scraped off and harvested as what we know as opium. It was no coincidence that I was lying on a grass mat on the dirt floor of the Chiefs hut. Being that I was hanging with the Chief, there was no shortage of the black, sticky, tar like substance.
You can hear her in your ears and feel her in your bones. When you first meet her she may make you sick but she will always keep you coming back for more. The day I arrived in the village I wondered why you had to lie down when you smoked with the Chief. It’s a simple thing really. When you smoke with the Chief, gravity becomes a huge part of your day. It’s like a space walk in reverse. When you smoke with the Chief you say “Uncle” to gravity. So when you lay on your side with the torch between you and the drug addicted elder, when you tilt the bamboo pipe ever so slightly to capture the flame and bubble the tar, the line between where you end and the pipe begins will blur, you will meet the floor like a sunday bride, and when you see the toothless grin on the dirty face of the Chief, you will know you are already there. Your journey has ended where it began. It saves you the falling when you lay down to smoke with the Chief.
©mordechai zoltan 2010