Finally we reach a village that enchants us momentarily. Decaying wooden houses have been built on high docks and the rooms are a meter above the ground. There’s nothing but two parallel sandy main streets. The whole village stares at us upon our arrival and once we enter the village elder’s quarters, half a hundred bewildered children gather behind his windows. From somewhere appears the village elder wrapped in a towel, and asks us to sit on the floor of the porch. We then begin with our usual speech.
We’ve come so far because we’d like to meet the forest people, we proudly say. The village elder studies the two white girls who so suddenly have appeared out of nowhere.
“From which organisation? Who sent you? How did you get here?”
- “Alone, hitch hiking, we try to explain them.”
The men are so confused, but still they bring out the area map.
So we sit there, five of us, around the map and try to find where the nomads are currently about. A few groups are on the shores of one creek, some more are on the shores a bit further away. Choose whichever you’d like to visit! Our hearts were crying of joy inside, but we kept our adrenaline hidden under cold faces. Its never a good idea to hooray before the night as an old Estonian saying goes and it all seemed to be going impossibly well, considering that just a few hours ago we didn’t have the slightest idea how to reach our goals. And now we are here having this trip planned for us.
How many days? Three nights? Okay.
Can you cross the river? You can. Okay.
Can you hike half a day? Yes? Okay.
Tomorrow morning we’ll start at 5. Okay? Okay.
It takes ten minutes to plan everything. It’s 3 pm and we’re exhausted. We’d like to wash, rest and celebrate our success. Now we’d only have to wait for the magic words “Would you like to go and wash yourselves?”.
But no one says those words. There’s only the awkward silence. There’s nothing we’d say and they seem to have nothing to add, too. Although the silence is so unpleasant, everybody seems to be waiting for something. We come up with random questions to stop the silence, but every answer is followed by silence again. “Tomorrow then?” – “Yes, tomorrow at 5.” We fidget. They keep quiet. “And it’s half a day away?” – “Yes, something like that, if you can hike. The road is tough.” The children behing the window are bored and they disappear one after another. Again the silence. About twenty minutes later I cannot bear it anymore. “Is it finished now or is there’s something you’d like to add?”.
The village elder looks at us and starts twirling, until he reaches the key word.
„See, it’s quite far away. You don’t know how to get there. Somebody has to come with you. Be absent from work… And you’d like to spend three nights there. See, it’s dangerous in the forest. Elephants and hippos… He also has to eat. Say, you’d cover it with 200 000 rupees a day… 800 000 all together.”
Sure. All our beautiful dreams a shredded. We have exactly 200 000 from the police and this is all we have until the end of the trip. But if we’ve come so far we cannot give up. And now it’s time for a real mental chess with the village people.
Everybody’s sitting in utter silence, we’ve revealed our striking secret – we don’t have so much to give. The five men on the floor are quiet for the first five minutes, the next five minutes they keep discussing. At the tenth minute the village elders says a sentence.
We listen to his sentence and think. We analyse what he’d meant with the sentence and where is he sailing with his thought. Which steps does he have in his sleeve and how we could respond to his steps. It’s a game where no mistakes are allowed. We take some time to think, mumble something. Marie finally says her sentence.
The men thus take a deep breath, the smoke goes into their lungs and then they slowly let it out from their throats. They’re not satisfied with Marie’s sharp move and they’re thinking how to improve their situation. They circle the pen above different places on the map and come up with a new solution.
No matter what move they make at the end, no matter how much cheaper they make their offer it’s still too expensive for us. But the air is getting more tense, having spent two hours playing chess both parties know that somebody has to lose. And it’s very probable that the two eager white girls, after they’ve hitch hiked through the forest, are very unlikely to step back.
No matter how humiliating the situation is, no matter how nerve tickling it is we let the things go their way. At one moment early in the evening a old man finds us a solution we could be satisfied with. The men stand up, they don’t say a word and leave us sitting on the terrace. We feel how the tense chess game has culminated into boredom and tiredness, and the friendly village people are ready to show their resentment towards us, just like in another Dogville.