have found that in order to enjoy this tropical paradise of ours we need
to look at it with a fresh eye. A relationship with a country is like
being married. Every now and then you need to revive the excitement,
remember what made you want to live here anyway. Ok, so it's more like an
arranged marriage because most of us don't have a choice but still it
doesn't mean that we canít have a proper love affair with our country
rather than just inhabiting it.
you've lived here a while, the combination of the low fever of domesticity
and the ordinariness of everyday troubles make you sometimes angry,
sometimes indifferent, sometimes wary, but very rarely excited and happy
unless something unusual takes place. Additionally, when you think how
short our lives are - one spin and we're gone - you've got to make an
effort to make your country into your true love, your valentine again. As
tacky as it sounds, you are only truly alive when you are passionate about
your life and your country and the people you live with and are surrounded
can bring back the passion in several ways. One, you can go away, to some
cold place with impressive concrete buildings and landscaped parks, and
efficient clerks, until you are sick for the sight of the mid-afternoon
sun, cool shade and breeze playing havoc with rows of coconut trees. Until
you pine for the smell of the sea and fish, the sight of hot, sweet,
chocolate faces and the languor of a shop assistant saying "just
now" and making you wait 15 minutes to pay for a pair of shoes. So
you take the next BWIA flight home to your love.
you can fall very ill. Lie in a soporific torpor for weeks, with the
curtains drawn, and shut out the sounds and colours of the street. You lie
there feverish, burning hot, then cold, with the fan on, or swathed in a
blanket and shut your eyes for days, only dimly aware of the sounds and
colours of the streets. Then, emerge to convalesce to the rhythm of a
tropical day. Sip your morning tea in the green cool of the morning,
retire in the afternoon heat to your bedroom, flooded with yellow light,
and emerge into your garden when the shadows are long, and the air dusky,
and sit listening (sensuously dizzy from illness) to the noises of birds
and insects and cars on tar, until the orange sun has dipped into the sea.
you are quite well, and driving around again, you observe with pleasure
whitewashed earthen pot plants, and baby bougainvillea on the roadside.
You roll the glass down and gulp in the heavy warmth of the air, tinged
now with smoke. You stare at the hills thinking this is awful, but also
awed by the beauty of this orange fire on yellow hills.
You blink (for your eyes are still not used to the glare) at the
blue, green, peach, white yellow colours of buildings - at red and neon
signs. Your eyes follow the lines on a blue, spinning, murky green sea
frilled by a jagged line of frothy waves.
marvel at the landscape that no renaissance artist would have been able to
emulate. Gardens, roads and houses flanked with the brightest white,
purple, bougainvillea, at yellow blossoms and shades of green in trees, in
plants everywhere you look.
by now you must be saying but why this obsession with wanting to see the
place through the eyes of a tourist? We like it as it is. You know the
reasons well enough. Not to mention, itís boring to go through them
again, but for the record I must do it.
recent weeks, maybe months, I have been unable to eat breakfast, leaving
me hollow and weak all morning. The newspapers which are presumably a
reflection of this country, especially the daily tabloids, made me gag
over my toast almost everyday with the image of dead bodies in various
positions. They were drowned, shot, decapitated, run-over.
I'm as puzzled as you as to the precise purpose of these
photographs, and more than a little ashamed when a Canadian friend smugly
informed me that "these would never be published in Canada in daily
do they do except to reinforce our sense impotence as citizens of this
country? All it does is create a public gallery - whet our appetite for
the morbid, human meat, meaningless as the dogs on the highway, while
deadening our sensibilities to the horror of violent, or tragic death.
there is the whole tiresome round of life in the tropics everyday. Read
Naipaul and you find that much of the same was going on 20, 30, 40 years
ago. A taut rubberband tension between those who have and those who don't,
manifested in strikes and crime and corruption. As for the racists, they
"letter to the editor" that did at least give me a shout or two
of laughter was the one which said that this Government wanted to
reinforce the death penalty so that fewer Africans could vote in the next
elections! As far as I know violent crime is not restricted to any one
race in this country. The issue of whether you think capital punishment is
humane and a useful act is entirely different from this weird logic.
there was the "scoop" about the poor, young woman with
outlandish breasts which needed to be fully displayed at every
opportunity. Never mind her embarrassment, for aren't we helping her. We
too will extract a pound of her flesh, better to sell newspapers. What
better way to sell them than to arouse people's interest in the burlesque
and macabre. People don't want to think, they want to gape. Gaping sells.
Anyway, that's life in the tropics. There is simply no escape from the
dark side of life, if itís not in the newspapers, the tragedy is on the
streets, in the eyes of neglected children, unemployed men, single
mothers. It is in all the television channels you flick. Same thing,
crime, violence, sorrow, illness, inevitable old age, neglect, abuse.
was desperate for a way out. Unfortunately, I don't have the money to fly
off to Florence or walk the cobbled streets of Prague or mingle with the
throngs in Delhi, but I did have a third option. Itís called denial.
Here's how I did it. First, I stopped reading tabloid newspapers with dead
bodies on the cover. Then, I began watching the cooking channel,
specifically desert. So soothing, the whipping of eggs, the little red
flare as rum is poured over bananas and butter. Mounds of jams, and fresh
cream, and light flaky pastries tossed here and there, were balm to my
anytime any dark thoughts come over me, I look with some sort of religious
fervor to the hills. They are burning now, in the shape of an aeroplane,
terrible and beautiful orange red sending the smoke and charred cinders
into our eyes, and lungs. It's a distraction. So are these little children
of mine. When I worried with and about the world, I dealt with them with a
heavy heart, thinking how can I protect them from this?
Now, I become one of them. I roll on the ground and play leap-frog,
make up wild stories, get absorbed for hours with Lego. If they are mad,
they cry, if they are happy, they laugh. No subterfuge, no lies, no
covering up, no hypocrisy. Simplicity is such a great escape.
I concocted a delicious soup, or was it a stew?
First, I basted lamb in olive oil, garlic and oregano, added water
until the meat was tender, stirred in some lima beans. When it simmered
gently, I added a tin of creamed mushroom soup and, as a defiant act, a
huge chunk of butter and watched it spread and melt, golden across the
soup. I spent an hour stirring when stirring was not necessary.
In-between, I leapt about to a popular Indian film soundtrack, and
then when I felt lighter, switched to Beethoven, and when I felt wild, to
Edith Piaf. In-between I flew Lego planes around the kitchen with the
the colours of the bougainvillea are even brighter, as if a lensman
remembered to bring them into sharp focus. Biting into watermelon and paw
paw so sweet, as if someone had poured a gallon of sugar in it, I thought
nature has its compensations. Fruit is so sweet in the dry season. The
green hills are wounded and ashen, the poui trees are bare beauties, the
fires rage on. This is paradise. What? You say its belongs to fools?
Tough, I've just renewed my vows.