You merely look after it for the next generation”
The reason it struck me so was a conversation I had had in Maruranau just a week or two previous. I will try to set the scene. B and I are driving around the Deep South on the Quest of the Holy Sewing Project. We have had a hot and spine-frottingly uncomfortable morning. We stop in with Adrian the Headteacher’s parents, even though we have barely met them, just because we want a break from stiff and awkward conversations. Adrian’s dad welcomes us like old friends, seating us on sawn-off log stools. He sends a man up a tree to fetch coconuts. He climbs using a figure of eight loop of cloth twisted round his feet, which he jumps up the trunk. The machete tucked down his back doesn’t seem to bother him. He lowers a huge bunch of coconuts. Adrian’s dad slices the top off and passes them on to be drunk, one, two, three each. The young green coconuts have only a thin, eggwhite-soft meat. He hatchets them in half and we scrape that out with a spoon.
We sit chatting of Aishalton, the Deep South Games, education and home. He tells us he has been preparing the ground for a full year now to plant a whole new set of coconut palms. He digs a hole 3 foot square by three foot deep, and fills it with compost. Watering regularly through the dry months, he keeps compressing and composting, compressing and composting. He fences to prevent the pigs scoffing all the compost. The crucial decision comes around May, when he must judge whether the rainy season is really set in. Plant too early and the coconut palm will die from insufficient water. Too late and it will not have a chance to mature as it needs to before the next dry season kills it off altogether.
His house is built for impermanence: mud brick and wood and thatch. Why would he collect money? The nearest bank is 6 rough and expensive hours away. The Guyanese dollar is a soft currency and few would bank on its worth. What expensive possessions would survive here? Electrics quickly die from the damp. Jewellery seems rather pointless when one is constantly grubby and scruffy and clothes never get clean. If it’s mouldable, rustable, or has any problems coping with heat, water, insects or being stomped on, forget it.
So he plants these coconut palms as the legacy for his grandchildren. It’s simple but genius. Doesn’t need replanting every few years, doesn’t need tending, isn’t susceptible to any of the listed attritions, and gives food, drink, shelter and roofing. When it comes to the crunch, which is more use? Somehow Adrian’s dad and his coconut palms make absolute nonsense of Patek Philippe.