Wednesday, 19 August 2009

A second bite at the luxury cherry

I remember in Georgetown considering what ‘luxury’ meant, and how relative a concept it is.

But now I’m wondering why I need to tally so slavishly. Is recollection of the luxuries that I cannot currently enjoy enhancing or impoverishing my life? Someone regaled me with a lovely detail about Paul Martin (the rugged teddy bear of Belem in January) the other day. In his normal life in Karasabai, Paul lives in conditions rather like ours, except for the hundreds of miles from village to village that he walks every year. When Paul is in Georgetown, apparently he really enjoys ice cream. He accepts it with alacrity and eats it with quiet relish. I can just see it- the springing up from the table, the healthy dollop, the happy grin and the attentive chomp. But the rest of the time, Paul does not consider ice cream. It does not enter his mind. He does not remark on its absence, or greet it with “Wow! I haven’t had ice cream for...”. You can hear the rue in my voice, can’t you?! I’m a shocking recaller, myself.

And there’s another confession to make. Reading this blog, it is painfully clear that I boast of my deprivations as a consolation for enduring them! As if this were not the life I have chosen. As if life were one of those muscular competitive board games that leave entire families flushed and swearing under their breath at Christmas. I compare too much. Today is what it is. My problem is that I want to have my cake, eat it, have some left over, share it with friends, bake another one, eat the lot and then move on to doughnuts. I’m allergic to being envied, so I paint with the true but unflattering brushes of one of those lumpy Flemish realists.

Do you think that taking things for granted is a blessing or a waste? I have realised that the concept of luxury has a symbiotic relationship with taking things for granted. But I suspect it’s over-simplistic to say that once you take something for granted it’s no longer a luxury. I luxuriate in taking for granted my husband’s love for me, whereas, years ago, I worried about not being able to assume it. Now I value it more, not less. But for me, I think luxury should only exist in the positive- the “isn’t it wonderful?” without the “if only”. Maybe taking things for granted is security, and luxury is joy, and you need both in balance.

So in the spirit of Paul Martin, instead of wallowing in luxuries past, I am going to tell you about the luxuries of life here, now, and unbalance the books.
The smell of a lime straight off the tree. It fades after about 20 seconds, making its peppery green cedarwoodiness all the more precious.
The quality of evening light here, and the happy laziness it has the power to bestow on almost everyone (except footballers and chickens).
Watching the audience’s faces at the village community centre as they whoop and guffaw at unintelligible Wapishana skits or songs.
The taste of a cup of Lavazza when you know it’s non-renewable; my personal fossil fuel.
Waking up to my husband’s face every morning, and falling asleep to it every night- it makes me very aware that I have travelled far too much over the last seven years. (It’s ironic that people think we’re ‘travelling’ here, when the truth is that I haven’t been this static since my schooldays).
Free fruit, especially mangoes, starfruit, bananas, five-fingers, papaya, sour oranges and limes. I’ve discovered an eighth type of mango here- the turpentine. The distinct odour of turps is slightly off-putting, but it tastes quite like the water spice. A bit fibrous but juicy, peachy-sweet and delicious.
Ingenuity leading to deliciousness in a kitchen against comically long odds.
The magic mosquito net. Kristen the Peace Corps volunteer said to me the other day that she can’t imagine coping without it. I think we are both slightly embarrassed by our love affair with our nets. The cloudy white Aladdin tent- I feel safe in there, and it’s more than the barrier against biting insects. It’s the bubble, the submarine, the child’s proprietorial claim-staking in the wendy house.
5:45am. It’s a fantastic time of day. We’ve never really met before, and I guess I’ve always assumed we wouldn’t be friends if we did.
Time – to gaze out at the mango trees, to notice every small wildflower growing by the track, to try to describe a person adequately in all their vivid eclectic uniqueness, and to see my own foibles through the unique concatenation of mirrors life has granted me.


  1. As Gerry would say, 'living in the present moment'

  2. Luxury is clearly contextual. You can't have ice cream, so you have found alternative luxuries. Looking at your list, I guess that even if ice cream were available it would not be sufficiently luxurious to make the grade.

    Do we envy you? I guess yes and no. You are enduring hardships that are sometimes entertaining to read about but are hard to truly imagine from our cosy lives in the UK. And you are making the most of your situation so that 5.45am becomes a luxury for you. Perhaps we envy your ability to achieve that. But we are not surprised by it. :o)