Walking home in the dark from Indian food, I stopped at a street stall, hoping for some dessert and the vendor pointed to a few cans and I thought mm condensed milk: some naughty sweetness will happen soon!! And approached saying hello in the tongue of Myanmar. But when I got closer the pleasant folks sitting there under the tarp and frequently spitting on the ground, whose smiles were peppered with a few rotten and red teeth and red lips and red tongues belied that this was a betel nut stand. ‘Naughty,’ I let slip between my untrammeled lips.
‘Want to try?’ asked the toothless man, smiling.
‘of course.’ i replied.
a betel leaf. painted with white milky stuff. sprinkled with a few different tobaccos from India. A small handful of betel nut pieces, neatly and lithely rolled into a cheek-&-jowl-fitting packet.
the vendor gestured my part.
I obeyed. Then asked whether to spit or to swallow.
The former, he said.
I crossed my eyes and feigned passing out on the rickety planks. We laughed, and chatted.
then removed the packet to dissect the saliva and poison mix. Put it back in. The flavor was nice. The fear was I’d puke. That or like it a lot.
OK. I have done this, I said.
My 30th country. My first betel nut chew. I got up to pay.
No need, madame.
‘Thank you,’ I said ‘first one’s free?’ We laughed red.