Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Doing Nothing

Anyone who knows me can attest that I am not an intuitive relaxer. If I were a pharmaceutical, I would be in the stimulants rack, not with the sleeping pills. If I were a car, it would be a stressy conscientious Peugeot (B has the temperament of a Bentley, with the odd flash of Maserati). My animal is most decidedly not the sloth. In the drinks fridge I fear the family resemblance is less Copella and more Red Bull.

So take me out of my extremely busy natural habitat and put me down in the middle of the Guyanese savannah with nothing to do, and who can tell what will happen?

We have been in Lethem for a week, and have just found out that we will be here for another one. We have no role here, except as the kind of pesky house-guest who overstays their welcome and spends their time rubbing your nose in how busy they aren't, while you work twice as hard getting on with your life AND looking after them.

B- to the manner born...
Added to this, Lethem is possibly the most undiverting town I have ever seen. I don't mean the nastiest, not at all. That title hangs in the balance, at this point in my life, between two places: Milton Keynes, where I spent many a cold despairing hour waiting for a bus to my tutoring engagements and pondering how any town could be so built for convenience and yet so incredibly, soul-wrenchingly wretched; and ShiJiaZhuang in North Central China (have a go at saying it- "shrr-jeea-djuahng"- slowly through a mouthful of porridge, and see if you still feel so sunny about life), where I thanked God I was not getting off the train as it looked like the confluence of Dickens' bleakest cityscapes with the anti-Communist-propaganda photographs in my school history textbooks. No, Lethem is not nasty. It is simply barren of diversions. There is nothing to go and see- no town hall, no museum full of comic caricatures of Amerindian ways of life, no cinema, theatre, old church (or old building of any description)- and very little to do. The shops are innocent of anything most of you could possibly want, and even to us with our 40kg of life possessions, the fake tupperware is about the most exciting. There are very few restaurants and the waitress service is, judging by recent reports... errrr... bracing. There seems to be one bar. We might try it out if we ever get bored.

So what do I do instead? I look into my heart and I can honestly say that at this moment I am not bored at all. I don't know if that surprises you, but it astounds me. It is thrillingly out of character.
I watch the roosters with their furry breeches racing purposefully round the yard, necks extended racehorse-style. I swing in the hammock, paying heartfelt homage to the extraordinary view of the Kanuku mountains. I invest grateful attention in a cup of Maxwell House ground coffee that I would have rejected scornfully six weeks ago. I read wonderful battered novels with their covers missing that I would have ditto. I notice my foibles instead of hurtling past them or blaming them on busyness. I am gentler with them too, because I have the leisure to contextualise. I get up at 5:45 despite the empty day that yawns and stretches before me like a cat in the sun. I go for bike rides that remind me of China- deep sand skids, rough gravelly stretches, hat-compelling sunshine, pick-up trucks full of standing young men, swaying with the bumps and yelling cheery heckles that get carried off in the dust cloud.

Everything I do is a digression. Look at the meandering, unfocussed oxbow of a blog entry I've just wound round the back passages of your poor bewildered brain! But a digression from what? I've just read Albert Schweitzer's extraordinary "On the Edge of the Primeval Forest", an autobiography of his time in West Africa. He had a grand purpose; to cure the diseases of the Black Man. It's full of wonderful good sense- "in the tropics a man can do at most half of what he can manage in a temperate climate" alongside the ingrained racism of his time- "the negro is a child, and with children nothing can be done without the use of authority. We must, therefore, so arrange the circumstances of daily life that my natural authority can find expression". Schweitzer has been a bit of a hero of mine for a while, but I do not envy him his terrible clarity of purpose.

Who knows what will happen? It will be good to live each day as though life itself is more important than work. As though it is NOT my role to know, to judge, to direct, to manage. Schweitzer's goal was progression. Perhaps mine is digression.


  1. Laughed a lot at B as bentley/maserati - very accurate!

  2. Hi Sarah

    My brain has always been bewildered but it has never been a problem for me. As for others... well that another tale. Really nice to read your philasohical meanderings before the cats and I turn in! Its 1am now and just been out to find the years first Twin-Spot Quaker in the moth trap. (Quite excited) Poetry workshop in Huddersfield tomorrow. Workwise, its an all time slow start to the year. Plenty of work booked in for the summer, just need to get there! Looking forward to daily results of the rooster derby. I could run a book from over here! feathered breeches 2/1. Win x