04 February 2017

with the appropriate soundtrack

 After lunch, in a brief moment of mental derangement I decided that I was fit enough to walk down to the river and back. So while R ran after me, cursing under his breath, I marched on until exhaustion caught up with me and forced me to sit on a low wall by the cemetery until I had recovered for the slow crawl back home. There, in the cold damp February drizzle, nostalgia joined us with memories of our tropical past.

This is the view to the west across the Indian Ocean after slowly driving upwards on seemingly endless and very narrow hairpin bends through the rain forest. Further on and up, through ever deeper forest, there is a small tea plantation, a deserted Capuchin mission and then the road starts to dip down towards the east, the harbour and the airport.
It is late afternoon, definitely a Saturday or Sunday, on weekdays we would not have had the time to go for such a long drive after work and before sunset at 6pm. I think this picture was taken in November 1988, because sometime before xmas that year, this car caught fire and quickly burnt down to a pile of stinking rubble. The school holidays had started and R was driving three little girls, S and her two Swedish friends, to one of the beaches on the west coast for the day. They got out in time, laughing and singing, all unharmed.

I was working that day and soon after this happened - miles away - one of the government drivers, who considered the air conditioned office as their lounge, quietly walked up to my desk and waited for me to look up and
ask him what's the matter before he explained, very politely, that everybody except the nice white expat car was fine. And when I looked up and around the office in disbelief, I realised that everybody had known for a while, that in fact, this was the reason for all the annoying whispering earlier that had made me so nervous (I was new at the job and under constant observation). And while I sat there, at a loss and quite shocked, every one of 'my staff', one after the other, walked up to me, shook my hand, and Jude and Pascal, the magical twins, told me that they would take care of it. And they did. They always did.
These two watched over me, they spoiled me, they drove me nuts, they danced and sang during work, we hated each other and we loved each other. Some mornings, I would find my desk decorated with fresh bougainvillea and heaped with pink mangoes, while they both carefully explained why today, a small amount of money may be missing - temporarily of course - from the petty cash. Things always worked out in the end.

I never drove that car, it was too dodgy for my nerves, too many tricks to get it started, too neglected by too many previous owners who would pass it on like gold dust after their two-year expat stint. Then of course, the roads made me nervous for a long time, miles and miles of steep bends, sheer drops and no hard shoulders, thick forest and then the rain, almost daily, torrents, steaming floods. 
The car we got after that was even more dangerous but soon I had gone native and wild and could drive those hairpin bends with my eyes closed.

The twins are both grandfathers by now.


Colette said...

I always enjoy reading about your time in paradise. Reading about your daring escape to the river made me smile. A couple of weeks ago it would have been out of the question.

Zhoen said...

How surreal memory can be, outside of our main comfort zones.

Hattie said...

I really enjoyed reading about your tropical adventures. I'm glad you could get out and exercise. Wish I could get out for a walk too, but have to take it very easy for a few days.

Roderick Robinson said...

Two things, the least important first.

The car's a Mini made in Britain, ingeniously designed, tiny yet capable of accommodating four people, economical, fun to drive (in the right places), cheap, classless (in the UK at least), sold in millions.

Yet in the end a marketing disaster. The car was poorly engineered with the electricals exposed to the rain (in Britain!); users here improvised by putting a plastic bag round the electrical coil. For complicated reasons the purchase price had to be kept low with the result that profits on each sale were minuscule, inhibiting development. When a doomed attempt was made to sell the Mini in the USA users drove it at its maximum speed hour after hour on motorways and the engine, a pre-war design barely developed, couldn't stand it. On downhill stretches speeds were even higher than the car's maximum and car's tiny wheels rotated much faster than they were ever designed for. With predictable results

BMW bought the company, continued to manufacture in the UK, completely redesigned the car (including making it bigger) and it now sells profitably.

It's only my opinion but I'd say the fire was probably pre-ordained.

Second. The twins may never have been called servants but from what you say that seems to have been their function. These days only a tiny proportion of people in developed countries have the temperament to co-exist with servants. My wife and I, for instance, leave the house and go to a café when our cleaning lady arrives for her weekly two-hour stint. Swedes, embedded with a sense of equality, find it especially difficult.

The Crown, a TV drama series centred on our royal family (which, against all my left-wing instincts, I found fascinatingly scripted and well-made) shows how it's done. You treat servants as unthinking and unfeeling robots, carrying on intense and intimate coversations with your peers in their presence, as if only their function existed not their person. Not many of us can contrive that sense of detachment. I'm guessing but this may explain the roots of your love-hate relationship.

Sabine said...

You are complete correct re the mini. The road conditions were such that it was driven more or less only in second gear up and down innumerable hairpin bends - the roads are excellent but the terrain is not meant for driving such a car on them. Also the avaliable petrol was at times of questionable quality - all of which did contribute to the mini's sad end, no doubt.
Our follow-up car was an equally ancient mini moke, excellently suitable for driving in the tropics as long as we remembered to cover it during the daily downpours. The breaks and wipers were dodgy but it outlasted us - and the uncountable previous owners - by 15 years!
As for the twins - they were supposedly my apprentices but they were much much more and certainly never servants. Apart from being smart and interested in absolute anything they kept me sane. My brief was to uncover money laundering in semi state industry financed by the world bank under the cover of training staff in the basics of admin, stock taking and book keeping. Let's just say it was interesting. The twins and I remain in touch. All these social media gadgets come to good use here.
The turmoil we encountered with people who wanted to be our servants as in The Crown, I have described elsewhere in this blog. Follow the tab 'paradise'.

Ms. Moon said...

Wow, Sabine! The comments are as interesting as the post because they fill it- especially as to your duties in Paradise. I had no idea. For some reason I thought you were just there being a hippie or something. And now I know...

Sabine said...

Ah Mary, we were hippies, still are. But we were absolutely broke, there was no way to survive in the 1980s in Ireland apart from working for pennies on building sites and unemployment benefits. My man had been teaching in Africa before we met, so when he was offered a teaching post in this tiny country, we grabbed the chance. Initially, I had no work permit until a representative from the world bank chatted me up on the beach (!) one day. The pay was shit BTW. I uncovered a mesmerizing amount of double book keeping involving managers and government officials, one of them is now the president of this country. They attempted to wine and dine me while I stayed impartial and well, nothing came of it. I had a great time in paradise.

Anonymous said...

I love this post and the comments. Such an interesting history in a faraway part of the world. You are a wild woman, taking that walk. I bet it helped in so many ways! Take care there, my fellow hippie friend!

Elizabeth said...

So interesting! I love your writing -- keep spinning those memories into stories. We want more!