In the interrogation notes of the police, Noel is said to have laughed as he confessed to shooting a man in the head. It’s hard to square that chilling portrait with the man who stands in front of me now on a street curb, hunched against the Irish winter, reciting a poem he wrote in jail about a time before the Troubles “filled with hopes and dreams and adventures.” For Noel, these tours are about telling a story of what happened here in an abnormal time. “It’s about telling people we weren’t all monsters, and letting them make up their minds.”
"When you’re young, you think you’ll always be young and life is beautiful and you don’t worry about the future,” Rafa said, echoing the melancholy of a Sergio Leone antihero. “When you’re my age, every part of your body hurts when you get roughed up. I enjoy my job, but I’ve started to worry."
There was no hurried pow-wow before they opened the show, no talk of what story would be performed, no ironing out of logistics. Instead, we lounged on the verandah of Abang Man's house eating keropok while discussing the virtues and foibles of the characters in the Ramayanic universe. The troupe members knew their repertoire so well they were ready to perform at a moment’s notice.
On Arturo Prat, the main street, a weathered banner hangs from a gutted old house. “Pisagua debe ser puerto”, it reads. Pisagua should be a port. But there is just one dock, and you can count the number of boats bobbing in the bay. I wondered if the dream still lived.
The last wave of boats was pushing southwards before the coming of the monsoon. Thousands of stateless Rohingya Muslims, fleeing from ethnic and religious persecution in Myanmar’s Buddhist-majority Rakhine State or untenable living conditions across the border in Bangladesh's refugee camps, were making their way across the Andaman Sea on rickety wooden boats in hope of safe refuge in Malaysia. Among them this sailing season was Muhammadul Hasson, 17 years old and still just a boy despite the life experiences that have conspired to make him less so.