How are we shaped by the place where we live?

I was looking for this post, which I wrote for Ecotone's July 1 group blogging assignment, and found that it had vanished from my blog - ?! - so I am repeating it here. When I first wrote it and tried to link to it there was something wrong with the permalink. Skip it if it looks familiar.

The people at Ecotone: Writing About Place decided to write today about 'How are we defined and shaped by the place where we live?' If anyone would like to write on this topic, they are welcome to add a link to the Ecotone site. The page for this topic is here. I began to write about this, and then wondered whether I could really say anything at all. It's just a beginning.

The first thing about this place is that it is in the tropics. It is hot here, all year round. We are fortunate to be able to run the air-conditioners every single day of the year. (That may not always be possible - India relies on imported oil, and the price of electricity has been soaring.) The vast majority of the people here cannot shut their windows and turn on the air-conditioner - they wait for the sea-breeze to set in and give them some relief. In America I loved to walk. Here, I stand at the window looking out.

The second thing is water: this place is always on the border between having just enough and not enough water. It is dependent on the two annual monsoons, which sometimes fail. The groundwater resources have been severely strained by over-use. Here on the edge of the sea, as fresh groundwater is depleted, sea-water is beginning to push in. Our well water is more brackish every year. Some of the plants in the garden are well-adapted to brackish water; the more delicate ones have died or are dying. The preciousness of water is always on my mind. I worry about it, try not to waste it. When I visit America, I see water gushing out of taps, left open while people chat. I see people drinking tap water directly, without boiling it first! I've forgotten these luxuries. (Even as I write this I'm worried, because no water has come through the city pipes into our underground tank for the last two days. I'm afraid we'll have to start buying water by the truckload again. That water is pumped out of suburban wells. The quality is uncertain, the water is expensive, the trucks tear up the city roads.)

To these most elemental facts, add human beings. There are so many of them. Too many for the land or the sea to support, and yet, somehow, they scrape by. They are adapted. I'm like one of the fancy plants which are dying out of our garden. I am expensively watered, fed and temperature-controlled. I am always aware of this.

In the morning I looked out the window at a bougainvillea in brilliant bloom by the gate. I went out with my camera to photograph it. The street was empty except for a knife sharpener, who carried his grinding apparatus and called out the name of his trade. As he passed me he said, "Grinding?" I shook my head. I recently read that this trade is dying out as better knives have become cheaply available. I looked at him through the filter of the article. He walked in the sun, his green plaid lungi tucked up around his knees, the heavy wooden stand containing the grinder and a few knives for sale on his shoulder. I photographed the bougainvillea and went back inside, through the garden to the big house.

No comments: