As a child, I loved my grandmother’s stories of the places that she’d been and the things that she’d done. As a result, I was bitten early by the wanderlust, and when that bug bites you, you live with the sting.
And following in my grandmother’s peripatetic footsteps, although I could never hope to fill her shoes, it’s been my fate, my great joy, and my immense good fortune to endlessly wander the less traveled paths on this marvelous planet. And to pay it forward, I consider myself obligated to do as my grandmother did, to bring back the tales of the things that I’ve seen and heard. And in that context, yes, I do remember saying that I would tell the tale of the crocodile and the tufela Panadol.
But first, my wandering today took me into town, where once again I was amazed by the endless beauty of the human form. It’s been raining the last few days, no surprise there. But only a light rain, not a gully-washer or a frog-strangler as happens frequently in the tropics. So the waterfront has been somewhat sleepy. but not deserted …
Didn’t matter to the taxi drivers, however, they were out in force lining the road for their Christmas party …
Regarding the human form, the Solomons is the only place I know of where you find black people with blonde hair … go figure. It’s not from Europeans. I’ve seen kids with skin so dark it almost hurts your eyes, and blonde hair. And I gotta say, it is lovely. Here’s a picture from the web …
Kinky blonde hair is awesome! What brought this to mind was a lovely couple of folks I saw walking down the street together, light and dark, a study in contrasts.
What a gorgeous smile, and her hair …
Other than that, though, my trip to town was a total bust and an abysmal failure. I was on a very simple mission, or so I thought. I only wanted to buy three things, so no problemo:
On the boat, we were down to the last roll of paper towels, half an onion (since consumed), and half a box of UHT milk. (You don’t see much UHT milk in the States but it is very common in developing countries. It’s ultra-heat-treated so it doesn’t need refrigeration, hence UHT.)
I went to four different Chinese shops. Onions? They’d heard of them, but yes, they didn’t have any.
UHT Milk? Blank faces. When I said “milk long bokis”, milk in a box, their faces lit up, and they said yes, they didn’t have any.
(Let me say in passing that in the Solomons and many other developing countries, if you say “You don’t have eggs in stock, do you”, they will say “Yes”, as in “Yes we don’t.” … and that’s not the only problem. The Islanders are generally unwilling to disappoint someone. So if you are walking and you say “Is the village nearby” they will say “Yes” because that’s what they think you want to hear. On the other hand, if you say “Is the village far away”, they will also say “Yes”. After years of dealing with this, my rule is to ask a three-part question as follows:
Is the village nearby, or is it far away, or you don’t know?
It’s important to give people the option to say “I don’t know”. If that’s not an explicit choice, they often won’t admit to not knowing. But again I see I’ve left the main road of my story to wander along a side trail … it’s easy to get lost in the Solos.)
But paper towels? No idea. Blank stares. I got shown all kinds of towels—hand towels, face towels, bath towels, dish towels, shop towels, baby towels, beach towels, I had no idea there were so many kinds … but towels made of paper? Foreign concept.
I came home emptyhanded and put Brooks and Dunn on the computer singing “Lost and Found” …
It’s kinda like lost and found in a border town
Askin’ ’bout a diamond ring
They just look at you like you lost your mind
Say they haven’t seen a thing …
I do love country music. It’s the only musical genre where they actually talk about adult stuff, like the following lyric about the truest love:
Well they say time takes its toll on your body
Makes a young woman’s brown hair turn gray.
Well, honey, I don’t care, I ain’t in love with your hair
And if it all fell out, well I’d love you anyway …
Or this one, about a lost love:
And now, I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain … but I’d have had to miss the dance.
Heck, just one line in a country song can say it all. Take this one for example:
I’m so miserable without you, it’s almost like you’re here …
Rock, folk, classical, country, rap, western, Delta blues, TexMex, bluegrass … I like almost all the genres, but outside of country music, it’s rare to find that kind of humorous and empathetic understanding of the travails, losses, and gains of our all-too-human lives.
So I’ve been recovering from my fruitless trip by prescribing myself a double dose of country music to be taken aurally, and by considering that things could be much worse. I mean, but for the fall of the dice I might have ended up being the poor bugger in the UK that I read about last night …
Someone seems to have misplaced the planet I grew up on, switched it out when I was asleep or something … what happened to “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?” It was drilled into us as a matter of pride and honor in my youth to not let what people said get under your skin … autre temps, autre moeurs, I guess, although I never expected to have to apply that to my own life.
Seeing that poor gentleman’s fate, however, you might understand why I’ve spent so many years hanging out in the less “civilized” parts of the globe … whatever he’s got, it just might be contagious …
But again I’ve wandered off the trail … so to return to my unsuccessful town trip, after twenty years spent living in the tropics, let me tell you the most important lesson I have learned.
… but first, as prologue to the lesson I learned, I need to explain that I can’t remember ever hearing my mom swear. The closest she’d come was if she truly didn’t care about something. She’d say “Well, I don’t give a rat’s patootie about that!”.
And the lesson I learned in twenty tropical years?
The Universe doesn’t give a rat’s patootie about what I think should happen next.
Truly. It doesn’t. Not even one measly rat’s worth of patootie. Who knew?
Well, certainly not me as a young man … but that’s not the whole lesson, because it turns out that you and I do have a choice in the matter. Oh, not a choice to make the universe do what I want it to do, that choice is off the table. The only choice we have is this:
The Universe will do what it does, and I can either dig it or whine about it.
So having failed miserably in my town trip, I could end up with depression and confidence issues and have to take time off for my anxiety … but instead, my choice is to put on Brooks and Dunn, turn up the volume to 11, dance around the wheelhouse in my bare feet, and take as much joy out of an unsuccessful venture as I do out of a successful venture. Because in truth, it was a wonderful trip to town, full of laughter and light, no milk, friendly folks, rain, no onions, blonde hair, unfriendly shopkeepers, no paper towels, celebrating taxi drivers with balloons, and good conversations with various and sundry … hey, what’s not to like?
… and the crocodile and tufela Panadol? Alas, I fear tonight’s tale has already run on too long for that, so the crocodile will have to wait for another day. However, good stories are like wine, they improve with age … and crocodiles don’t mind waiting, they’re a bunch of reptiles after all, what’s time to them?
Dusk here. Somewhere out in the mangroves, perhaps within eyesight, a crocodile is going to sleep .. but one of its eyes is still open, watching, patiently waiting. And while it waits, the warm rain continues to fall on saints, sinners, and crocodiles equally. An outboard skiff goes past the window. I wave, they smile and wave back, and the boat rocks gently with the wake … another tropical evening afloat.
Best to all, and regarding the story of the tufela Panadol, I promise to tell it after a while …
… crocodile …