vivid. Remarkable. Four-dimensional. Engrossing. If it’s true that a change is as good as a rest, I must now be the most relaxed person ever to grace their hammock.
The year has held many haunting moments. Standing in the moonlight outside Sand Creek’s termite-infested church, being bitten by ants, while the ladies sang “Silent Night” to me in Wapishana and I sang it for them in German, our voices soft and unreverberant in all that thick air. Chewing, disbelieving, on my first redolent taunting Bacchic spice mango. Sitting on the balcony at the presbytery, holding B’s hand and watching his heart leak out his eyes on that strange, wrong, incomprehensible day in March. Panning for gold in the meandering and rubble-strewn rivers of my students’ remarkable Literature papers. Listening to little Ashley’s brother Hank performing ‘Wind beneath my Wings’ on Teacher’s Day, hearing the sparseness of his breath, wondering if he will need heart surgery next year, hoping so much that he won’t. Opening my mouth at the music school to explain the lyrics of “And Can it Be” and hearing my father speak. The different burn of each of this year’s four deaths. Realising I was wrong. Realising I was right. Realising I was scared. Realising I was enough.
On a sillier note, here is an offering for the list-fetishists! I’ve included the good, the bad and the ugly, but each is memorable (!) or important in some way.
• I pitied a lizard (poor iguana, condemned to steaks for nicking the haricot beans)
• Rode a hundred miles (on unsurfaced road, without stopping) in the flatbed of a truck
• Ate an egg still hot from a chicken’s butt (cooked, I hasten to add)
• Killed lots of scorpions (I didn’t pity them at all!)
• Bought fourteen pairs of pinking shears
• Lived under a thatch
• Slept overnight in a hammock in various bizarre mud buildings
• Awoke from a nightmare of a cockroach in my armpit biting me- to find a cockroach in my armpit, biting me
• Sang and danced in the Amazonian rain
• Baked proper cake in a pan
• Threw bricks at cows (slobbery washing-mascerating gits)
• Taught music, giant stave and all
• Developed a profound and affectionate admiration for a sixty-eight year old nun
• Shared a latrine with three bats
• Fell in love with mosquito nets
• Got pulled into a Wapishana dance in public and didn’t completely disgrace myself
• Got gum disease from poor nutrition
• Got an article published in a Swedish journal (random, I know)
• Awoke to find myself being stung by a scorpion IN MY OWN BED. I’m sure that’s against the rules.
• Finally acquired the art of reading slowly! Me!
• Smelt pungently of powdered black pepper and cassava, for weeks on end
• Hated horses (WHY must they scream all night?)
• Started learning an Amerindian language
• Valued my Chinese fan at its true worth
• Had my computer pooed on deliberately by a gecko. MANY times.
• Had to present my Yellow Fever Certificate at a border
• Facilitated a whole-village plan for the future
• Found a live bird-eating spider in my house (the Broscombe Court promptly condemned it to death, with Mr Broscombe as executioner)
• Failed utterly to get bored of water spice mangoes
• Gazed my fill at an equatorial sky-full of stars
• Kept a blog (never say never)
• Had my shower hut squatted in by a stubborn small snake and had to shower in the laundry bucket in my house with all the shutters closed for privacy for a few days
• Killed my first snake (the day we left). Right back atcha!
• Set up Aishalton’s first school choir
• Machetéd a coconut open and drank the milk straight from it
• Lived in a malarial area (AND DIDN’T GET MALARIA HALLELOOOOOOOJAH!)
• Lost my irreplaceable friend and mother-in-law Sue
What strikes me as I write that is how creature-filled the year has been. I never realised before quite how unpopulated my life has always been by anyone except people. ‘Close to nature’ (a phrase redolent with eco-tourist mystique) smells, hurts and keeps you awake.
Has it been a ‘good’ year? Depends on your gauges. Valuable, certainly: I have gained so much- stamina, patience, exactitude. It has had some treasure moments. But I have lost some things I can’t afford too, most notably health and fitness, and a person very precious to me. A year like this tends to suffer from too much measurement. Taking stock can become a bit of a jostling stock-take when too many people join in! It’s sufficient to say that I am grateful for it, amused and bemused by how much there is still to learn. Next year I will laugh more, say ‘No’ more, fear less, pay more attention to our wellbeing. Thank you so much to everyone who has stayed with this journal: your comments were the thread that stitched the patchwork together. Without them there would be no cohering. Merry Christmas!