Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Taking the Temperature

Confined to bed, out of reading matter, bored with crosswords, I read back over last year’s blog. The freshness of everything is as astonishing to me now as the smells and sounds were then. I cannot imagine noticing those vapours, those occurences, those stimuli now. They are the stuff of life.

I smell like everyone else. I remember in China being told that foreigners smell milky (the scrunkle in the nose suggested ‘sour-milky’). Now my pillow is pestilential, my hammock fetid. A combination of diet, handwashed clothes and sweat makes us all equal (a peppery, cupboardy, purple-green smell), as well as encouraging us not to sit or stand too close. When I arrived I never thought to analyse why people here don’t hug much...

The sounds I no longer hear are flocks of parrots screeching and fighting through the mango trees, the mid-volume lesson content of other teachers over the half-walls, the silent vowels at the end of Wapishana words that must nevertheless be shaped correctly. The fat cowpat that splats in the night no longer wakes me, though the screaming midnight horses still shape my nightmares.

And my CARELESSNESS! Imagine putting my hand on a surface without looking first! Imagine putting on a shoe without shaking first, and then looking! Imagine not checking the shower mug before plunging it into the water! Or wrapping a towel around myself without looking closely at it! Imagine standing outside my house in flipflops, without socks, in the red ants’ kingdom! B leapt a mile the other night, when in the middle of dinner a plummeting lizard landed squarely in his lap (they often fall from the roof in the throes of passion), but neither of us jump at all any more if they don’t actually land ON us. I think I remember actually crying the first time a lizard pooed on me in my hammock. Over-reaction. Now I just curse lightly.

I can tell the difference between 22 and 23 degrees without looking at the thermometer. Our temperature range in the shade is 10 degrees altogether, maximum, all year round, (this month only 5) so you become more attuned to the small differences. The humidity is a greater factor in how the heat feels than the actual temperature- humid days here feel moody, as though they have a persistent low fever.

Reading about those people I first met last year is so strange, now. I talk about them as if they aren’t quite real. Ivy is Ivy, not An Amerindian Archetype. The Sisters, wonderful as always, nevertheless have their foibles. Ashley remains my sunshine, but primary school is tracing the first frowns of impending womanhood on her face. She wants to be whiter, now. I hope that’s not my influence.

There are people who remember so vividly the self-important joy of young adulthood that they will always make great youth workers. There are people who retain so clearly the eureka moment of gaining new understanding that they will always make great teachers. I am the opposite of these. For facts I have a good memory, but I am a complete amnesiac of states. I slough off all my past incarnations so thoroughly that I cannot ever reclothe myself in them again. When I remember myself four years old, it is a pedantic, over-educated, justice-obsessed traveller looking out through those eyes at the stolen toy or the syrup on toast or the piano. I am an anachronism inside my own head.

Daily life weaves a fabric around us that becomes a second skin. Like skin, we tend to ignore it unless it lets us down. I am grateful to feel so acculturated, but I must simultaneously admit to missing the exoticism, the gorgeous novelty of it all. But the vital stuff of life is not adventure but le pain quotidien, the daily cassava bread.


  1. I imagine we don't very often have the chance to read over a previous year of our lives. A very interesting thing to do. I really agree with you: the daily stuff is actual reality. xxx

  2. Your writing style has developed over time as well. I wonder whether you noticed that.