As the sun set, it pulled every ray of light from every street and every tree and finally the sky, leaving only a thick blackness as dense as Ink. Lena, a Russian living in Indonesia who I knew from Cambodia adventured the Philippines with me, an American who lives in China. Our feet stumbled up onto invisible sidewalks as we lurked down the hidden streets.
“I can’t see,” I complained.
“Of course you can’t see, its night,” Lena explained, “it’s always dark at night.”
It was night, and nights were supposed to be dark. Somewhere in the back of my memory I remembered that detail about the world. That little fact had slipped from my life, more than a year living in China had convinced me that the color of night wasn’t black, but the ghostly orange of lamp light.
Sometimes when you hitchhike, people will pick you up and take you to their home, tonight was not one of those nights, tonight we were alone in the dark. Tonight we had no place to stay, but we still had options. If somehow we could find a stretch of clear ground that wasn’t part of the road, we could pitch a tent. Otherwise we could do what I have done in 21 countries around the world. Which is: go up to complete strangers, and ask them “Can I stay with you tonight?”
Little bulbs of light peered into the night. Shop windows, bakeries and street foods, convenience stores and porch lights. We found out way into a small village that grew bigger as we ventured its depths. We spoke about knocking on this door or that, but we finally gave up all those ideas only to approach a lone grandmother, in the dark, and say to her, “hello, we are foreigners, we don’t have a place to stay, can we stay with you?”
She nodded so gently, that it might have been the soft wind moving her head for her. “Why, you ken istey at dee community hall jus down dee rowd(You can stay at the community hall just down the road).
The community hall? Interesting, different, ahh why not? A few darkly lit faces sent us every which way through the night, but eventually we found the community hall.
“Do you think we could stay in the community hall, Lena asked two tiny teens. The girls giggled, one fleeing behind the other, concealing herself in the darkness. The other led us to the police station to ask for us there.
Surprise, confusion and a sharp smile ran over the faces of all the police. They didn’t say no, but they couldn’t say yes. “The captain is taking a bath” they informed us “he will tell you if you can stay after he finishes.”
As we waited for him to scrub up we joined the local police community, police cadets invited us to eat corn soup with them and the police officers took us to meet their prisoners, 2 cells of 8 each, all soft-spoken and smiling men. One of the officers even invited us home with him, to stay with him and his family. We accepted and by the time the police chief finally emerged, two meters tall and a meter wide, a sparkling clean giant, we had everything figured out.