Love makes the world go around, that’s what Bob Merrill told us when he wrote the lyrics for the musical Carnival in 1961. Love. What a funny little word. Mingled with a plethora of definitions are two that appealed: ‘wholehearted liking for something’ and ‘a score of nothing’.
So? the student of English asks wonderingly, de love match, dat means a marriage made in de heaven, or on de court of tennis, no?
Well, yes, answers the young teacher, but it’s all about the context.
Not only is the word a strange one, so to are the feelings it represents. As my mother-in-law, a wonderful Lancashire lass, was fond of saying, there’s naught so queer as folk when she read of the impending marriage of unlikely couples.
A headline a couple of days ago has prompted me to meddle in love, “Thai wife arrested for murder of British husband”. The image of a younger attractive woman and a pallid, paunchy aging man sprang to mind. Further reading proved me right – well I’m not sure about the descriptors but the ages were spot on. He, the dead husband, was 68 and very ill, with a 38 year old wife itching to hurry the dying process along. I don’t know the amounts involved – but it takes a great deal less cash to live comfortably in Hua Hin,Thailand than it does in Worthing, England or Pensacola, USA. The lover in the wings was no doubt impatient too, as was her brother purported to be the man who swung the club.
Delving into the sometimes murky realms of love took me to a website called Retire on 550 a month. I learned Chiang Mai in northern Thailand is purportedly home to 18,000 retirees. I got the impression mostly men. The website tickled the edges of immigration, flipped through safety and healthcare, guaranteed a glorious climate and then the zinger, you can live here and communicate in English and not have to learn how to speak Thai.
I struggled with the concept that anyone would wish to spend to spend the last ten or twenty years of life surrounded by a babel of sounds. On further reading I understood. Attractive, attentive and caring Thai women make for great companions, girlfriends and wives are the main reason foreigners have selected Thailand as a retirement destination. And just to prove it, as I scrolled to the bottom of the page there were Tidilat, 19, Kwan 20 and Lin 24 looking alluringly out from the glowing screen. But one does wonder whether some small part of a mouldering lothario’s brain makes him wonder why young women suddenly find him so attractive. In essence an arranged marriage if both parties are honest. Love love. A language that knows no tongue.
And that’s the kernel. If both parties are willing. During our four years in Thailand we came face-to-face with the sex trade when our amah’s niece found her way to our home. She was fourteen and had been sold by her father to a Bangkok brothel. She’d had no say in how she would live her life. Not love of any kind for her. Though that story had a happy ending.
Jump a few countries and head up to Kunduz province in Northern Afganistan. Under draconian Taliban control, love turns from an empty circle to a round stone. A young couple accused of adultery, their hands tied behind their backs, were in mid-August stoned to death in Mullah Quli by a hundred or so mostly Taliban insurgents.
Originally a tribal punishment mentioned in the Old Testament, it is not prescribed in the Koran and some of the most ardent campaigners against stoning are Muslims. Countries which still condone stoning, like Somalia, Iran, Sudan and Afghanistan appear to do it more as a way to control their peoples rather than through any religious tenet. Love all.
Houston, the bit of America I call home, is known as a major stop on the human trafficking route up from Central and South America. All slave trade is unforgivable but the sex slave trade is surely one of the most evil. Young women, some little more than girls, promised a life of freedom and riches in what still amounts to the New World for many, are set up unknowingly in whorehouses to pay their way. Harsher penalties are being touted, aimed not at the end users but at the gangs trafficking the women promised the world, but who just end up with lecherous men intent on early release. There is no early release for the girls.
It is a worldwide issue, this love that knows no language.
The student’s hand raises again, Teacher, maybe we talk sex, not love.
He has a point but sex doesn’t sound right in the song. It’s a funny little word, love.