Baluchistan, 1970. Home to the Pashtuns whose territory lies in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. Very wild men with long beards, all armed and all addicted to tea, or chai. Extremely strong, overly sugared – basically a liquid dessert. The chai maker sat cross-legged behind his kettle, firelight flickering over his leathery face. He eyed me as though I were a creature of fable; he had never seen a European in the flesh before. “American?,” he asked. “No, German.” His eyes lit up. “Beckenbauer,” he yelled ecstatically. “Bec-ken-bau-er!” I got my tea for free.
Southern India, 1982. A sacred mountain. A tiny temple near the top run by a young Brahman woman, Sushila, who had a nine-year-old son, a transistor radio and a good dozen chickens for occasional sacrifice to the goddess Kali. She wore rings in her nose, chalked intricate white mandalas onto the clay every day, and spoke little English. Still, I learned that she was 29 fingers old and that the three villages in her valley were the only world she knew. My announcement that I was German had no effect on her, but her son went crazy, shouting “Rum-me-nig-ge.”
Amazonia, 1992. After two weeks traveling in the rain forest with some gold seekers, I had grown accustomed to the darkness, the jaguars, crocodiles and snakes – but not to the Yanomani, who still hunted with poisonous darts, and insisted on calling me Lothar, once they knew where I was from. “Lo-thar Mat-thä-us!”
Our columnist, Helge Timmerberg, an irrepressible globetrotter since 1969, writes travel books and contributes monthly to our magazine.