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Sands in Seychelles Today

Where’s the Clock Tower?

S. Hanks

Do you remember the days when town was a pleasant place to be? When a stroll through the streets offered a mix of restful respite and an exciting sense of potential adventure? When a fun day in Victoria was a regularly scheduled event anticipated with delight?

No?

Me, neither.

Before the big screen TV went up and began bombarding visitors with adverts, before the traffic patterns were altered by what had to be some schizophrenic crack addict compelled to add sort-of-one-way streets, squeeze in extra lanes and install traffic lights set to back up cars from Le Chantier to Anse Etoile, Victoria was a quaint, slow little town with streets that encouraged meandering and people content to meander.

Meandering was required in those days, as straight-ahead shopping was, for all intents and purposes, simply not possible. Finding required or desired items took time, quite a bit of luck, and no little local knowledge.

For example, if scrubbing against a concrete slab had worn the crotch out of every pair of knickers you owned (washing machines being rarer in those days), vital shopping info included the fact that the place that sold undergarments for ladies could be identified by a stack of car tyres on display at the door, and although moulouk and samosas were ubiquitous, cheese that came in anything other than a blue box required serious hunting that was most often unsuccessful.

Those in the know knew where to go, though, so the pace was easy and, aside from Saturday mornings in the market, the crowds were thin and friendly, unless, of course, some new or long-vanished item was suddenly on offer; occasions that could, and sometimes did, result in mayhem.

Today, however, Victoria is far different; all hustle and bustle with some hassle and wrestle involved in making one’s way down Market Street or joining a ridiculously long queue in some bank or office. Frustration builds as nerves fray and folks have other places they were supposed to be an hour ago.

One result of these changes has been an ever-growing outbreak of a syndrome that could be called, were it ever officially diagnosed, Town-Avoidance, the symptoms of which include fever-like sweats at the very thought of the Trois Oiseau roundabout, exhaustion resulting from lost sleep due to pre-planning possible routes and parking options, and interminable must-do lists mushrooming frighteningly as a consequence of putting off any trip to Victoria for as along as possible.

Sufferers hail from as near as Macabee and as far as Takamaka and range in age from just walking to sensibly intolerant of jostling, although there does seem to be some immunity for those between the ages of 12 and 20, especially during school holidays.

At this point there is neither treatment, nor cure for this affliction, so sufferers must either cope with the agony of town days or fall victim to depleted supplies, incomplete paperwork and rumors that the clock tower has been relocated.

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“Persistence. Perfection. Patience. Power. Prioritize your passion. It keeps you sane.” ~ Criss Jami, Killosophy

super_power_islandWatching the world from my veranda can provoke some convoluted contemplation; it’s big/small,  gorgeous/grotesque, unjust in the extreme, yet inherently fair in the grand scheme.

Birds fly, fish swim and the sea has rhythm, yet there is a Donald Trump and The Riders of the Purple Dildo (with 50 gallons of lube on hand … so to speak) in simultaneous existence and I find that mighty confusing some days.

Those are the days I have power: power to get myself out of bed, make coffee, sometimes even shower and dress as well as contemplate convolutedly. Oh … and juice. Those days I have juice.

Juice is vital. It connects me in ways nothing else can. Passion fruit juice connects me to my garden. Grape juice — that’s been sitting around for a while — tethers day to night almost flawlessly. And when current is current, electric juice connects me to the Internet … which connects me to balloon juice, which gives a handle to lunatics … which is funny. (I’m a fan of funny.)

I know some wonder what possible charm a computer screen could have when the view, the peace, the chirping birds as the only sound, are on offer. They ask how I can pull myself away from puffy, white clouds reflected from the surface of the perfect shade of blue that is the Indian Ocean and why I’m not sitting on the shore of said ocean all day, every day. Why would I even think of opening my laptop in such a paradise?

To these people I say two things:

1) Obviously you’ve never lived decades on a rock in the middle of nowhere thousands of miles from anything even close to the real world, and 2) A girl’s got to make a living.

I sit on Facebook for hours every day (Go ahead. Let the thought cross your mind with the sit/face thing if you must.), not because I find it stimulating (Yeah …  okay …go on.), although it often is, but because it’s my job.

Keeping up with friends, family and global events is surely a benefit, and hopping in and out of conversations, arguments, bombastic bullshit, freaky hallucinations, unsubstantiated claims and such keeps me sharp.

Access to information is vital, and thanks to today’s technology I can educate myself on things other than the tide table, the rapid growth of unwanted greenery and the painfully slow decomposition of granite.

My clients expect nothing less than total up-to-date-ness on travel trends, global economic fluctuations, flight interruptions, international conflicts, and sometimes something as obscure as the price of a cup of coffee in Sofia, Bulgaria.

To say I rely on electric juice is an understatement of understated, yet understandable, proportions, given that my livelihood, and no small part of my social life, can only happen when everything can be turned on, because when the power’s out, I can’t do shit.

I can and do write when my wifi squirrel dies, but having no idea when someone might get around to reviving the rodent has me checking battery levels as often as I insert a semi-colon. Outages going on for full days present a stack of work piled up to the virtual rafters, all needing immediate attention 5 hours ago. (That, btw, tends to delay me connecting with my grape juice, thereby sloshing day into night and pissing me off.)

The power was off all day yesterday … again … for something always referred to by the utility company as: Urgent maintenance on the overhead lines. (We apologize for the inconvenience … again … and appreciate your patience. Yeah … right.)

Ah … island life … in Africa; all juicy tales and the undiluted nectar of nature. Or is it sap?

“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.” ~ Emily Dickinson

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I have a lot of Christmases under my belt.

There were those when I was a kid and followed my mom’s tree-decorating dictates demanding tinsel was to be strung one … strand … at …a … time, then collected in the same fashion when the holiday finished, put away carefully, then stored for the next year. (I swear she was still using some 1958 tinsel in 2010!)

The years my first batch of children were little were at times fraught, but we always had a tree with gifts under it and Santa always did his midnight visit. We’d open gifts and such, then go to Grandma’s house for the feast that never varied. (Okay, once it varied; mom made orange jello-mold salad with carrots instead of green jello-mold salad with the alternating pineapple slice/cherry pattern we’d grown up with. She never heard the end of it … nor did she ever again try that sketchy menu change.)

When those kids were older, money was less an issue and the house was much bigger, so the tree was a sixteen-footer and decked to the halls. Gifts were more lavish and home was the gathering place for relatives from near and far. My brothers played basketball in my living room, the turkey was huge and the table could sit 25.

One Christmas found me in Australia with a family that wasn’t mine, but was still family and lovely. It was my first ‘Summer Christmas’ and a pool party was a novel idea in my mind that took a bit of adjusting to, but there were laughs and fun … and the fire to roast chestnuts was a barbecue. I had my first Pavlova that year and I heartily recommend that addition to the traditional meal no matter where you are.

Christmas in England encouraged every Dickensian fantasy I’d ever had, and my daughter’s decision to spend the holiday with me over the pond made it pretty perfect. We were introduced to crackers and crowns and the weather gave us a bit more perspective on poor old Bob Cratchit’s issues with coal.

By the time the holiday rolled around in Seychelles I was accustomed to the Beach Christmas concept and surrounded by friends. Christmas gatherings were huge affairs attended by people from many countries speaking often up to 10 languages, all bringing their own flavors in food, traditions and entertainment. One year we had Shetland Island folk songs played on mandolin and fiddle by an authentic Shetland Islander, and a fabulously funny game of euphemisms … another word for the male member, the sex act, etc. … which allowed submissions from any language.

Once Sam and Cj joined the family Christmas was again about kids.The tree went up, the house draped in various sorts of holiday tat, gifts went under the tree. We’d host a party Christmas eve, then trot up to Gay’s for what had become the traditional food Bacchanal with participation of people from all over the world. The last time this happened was 2 years ago and the festivities of the Eve and the Day included folks with roots in Seychelles, England, Kenya, South Africa, the USA, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Germany, Australia, Ireland, Italy, and probably a few I’m not recalling.

Last year I was back in England to celebrate with the kids in their home-from-home. To say there was a bittersweetness to it would be an understatement, but the ‘sweet’ was very and the ‘bitter’ was easily swallowed. To Cj’s disappointment, it didn’t snow, but it was cold enough to warrant extra coal on the fire. The circle of family had expanded wonderfully and embraced all.

Yes, so many Christmases under my belt.

This one, however …

For the first time in my life I am alone for Christmas. I have already watched the 1951 version (my fav) of “A Christmas Carol” AND “It’s a Wonderful Life” as tradition dictates, but must admit that big a dose of the ‘spirit’ didn’t help much.

Yeah, yeah … I know there are a load of songs on being alone for Christmas, but listening to any of them is not on my to-do list. I’m at loose ends, confounded, stuck between I-don’t-give-a-shit and bawling.

But I’m a grownup, FFS, fully aware that for millions of people this is just another day, and millions of others haven’t one-tenth-of-one-percent of what I have to be grateful and happy for.

Thanks to the age we live in, I will Skype with my kids on Christmas Day … a gift beyond measure! I can take a bottle of wine to the beach and toast the holiday, the ocean, the sky above me and the Earth beneath my feet … and be thankful. I can reflect on Christmas Past, ponder the years, remember those who are no longer reachable by technology, and I can set my focus for the positives.

And I will do all those things. But today, the day before Christmas Eve, I’m indulging in a bit of some whine in the sun. (Poor me. What a bummer. If wishes were horses I’d be elsewhere. Etc., etc., etc. ad nauseam.)

Wishing everyone a Happy Christmas filled with love and food and making merry. I will raise a glass to all with love and hope and to Christmas Yet To Come!

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Sunset feet

One of the things …

Having received requests to work my way toward the 50 things about Seychelles I sounded off about in a recent post, I’ve found time today … after scrubbing mold off kitchen walls, jettisoning a bunch of items I’d not bothered to look at in years, cleaning tenrec dens, picking up after poopy dogs and feeding the birds … to add another 10 to the list.

Since an election happens … again … in a couple of days, and since I’m sick to death of politics both here and abroad, it’s good to focus for a while on the weirdly mundane for a while.

So, here are some aspects of life for people in Seychelles that may seem a bit odd to inhabitants of other places, but are completely normal here …

12190030_10208223474013724_3256839163126993599_n1) We know our bananas. There are many varieties that grow here, and everyone can spot the difference between gabo, fig and San Jacques. We have big bananas, tiny bananas, sweet bananas and bananas for frying, yellow bananas, red bananas and green bananas. They are picked green, because we all know the aphorism:

Q:  How do you know when your      bananas are ready to be picked?          A:  They’re gone!

We have a bazillion uses for bananas. A regime (what a whole, huge bunch is called here) can contain anywhere from a dozen to a multitudinous slew of individual fruits attached, and all go ripe within days of each other. ‘No waste, no want’ being a dictate, putting all to good use is no small feat. From the usual banana bread to the more exotic katkat banann and banann ladob to cream pie to chips to ice cream topping, there are many options. A ripe regime inspires no little visiting, either, as we share out what we have, knowing full well it will come back to us bountifully in no time.

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Rhino beetles are cute!

 

2) We don’t mind critters. One cannot live in Seychelles for long without developing a tolerance, often even an affection for the small creatures who share our homes. Bugs and lizards are ubiquitous, so getting used to seeing them is a must. Skinks and geckos are quite entertaining, as is watching visitors go crazy at their presence.

I have been asked on occasion to write informational inserts for in-room packets for hotels because the panicked phrase, “There are BABY CROCODILES climbing the walls in my room!”, has been heard by those manning the night desk far too often.

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Awww … baby gecko!

I’m still no fan of big spiders and ants are a pain, but I’ve developed a fondness for rhinoceros beetles and stick insects and an appreciation for the skill of mason wasps.

3) We sometimes even share critters. My tenrecs love crunchy bugs and juicy worms, so I have been known to ask for donations from friends. Gay has a compost heap that is full of worms … which reminds me; I need to get up to her place and see if she has enough now to spare a dozen.

4) We organize our complaints. Service isn’t always what it should be, so after a spate of crappy Internet or an erratic electricity supply friends put their heads together and coordinate gripes.

5) We talk about death. Our own deaths, to be exact. Since most of us expats have little-to-no family, no next-of-kin, within a few thousand miles, planning for our eventual demise is just part of what friends do. Our out-of-country connections are shared, as well as the details on what we want done with our empty husks.

6) We obey the laws … sometimes. Seychelles has as many laws as anywhere, but some do seem to be more like suggestions. For example, it is illegal to park on double yellow lines, to overtake on a solid white line, to use a phone while driving, yet every shop along the road has cars and trucks parked on double yellows, any drive at the speed limit will have you passed in no-passing areas by dozens of cars, trucks and busses, and it seems every other driver has a phone stuck to his ear. It is also illegal to have tinted windows on a car. (Who was that? Don’t know … the windows were tinted.) Legislation was passed a few years ago banning building on mountaintops, but that apparently does not apply if you happen to own one of the United Arab Emirates.

7) We entertain other peoples’ visitors. No one visits Seychelles for a weekend; even a week is far too short a time for many. It takes a couple of days to get here from most places, so 10 days is routinely calculated as the minimum stay. That’s great, most of the time. Since this place is so very different, very few guests are up to getting out and about on their own. For working people, this can put quite a strain on their time. Then, of course, there are the difficult guests … grumpy parents, that weird uncle, the school friend you dropped who is just dying to see you again since you live so close to a beach. Sure, you could book them into a hotel, but you won’t.

No worries. Your friends here will pick up a lot of the slack, because we know you’ll be there for us when guests-from-hell send flight details and a long to-do-on-holiday list.

8) We are casual. Although I’m sure there are people here who own formalwear, and perhaps even dress to the nines from time-to-time, but for most in Seychelles dressing up is more a matter of putting on your best long trousers, preferably jeans. There was a private school headmaster who kicked off holy hell by insisting teachers not wear jeans to work, his days in England giving a bias that saw denim as too devil-may-care laid-back and loosey-goosey for an institution of learning. Little did he realize that most here would wear their ‘good’ jeans to have tea with the Queen.

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Sparky in her harness …

9) We leave empty and come back full. Going overseas is a big deal for anyone anywhere, but when traveling to big places from a small place it’s not just a holiday … it’s a shopping trip. Packing is easy, as our big suitcase contains only our smaller suitcases on the way out. And it’s not only ourselves we shop for. Nope. The suitcase within a suitcase within a suitcase is sure to have at least three lists of stuff to get for friends. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to have blood sugar monitoring sticks, batteries, print cartridges, flip flops, flea drops, tenrec halters, tequila, clothing, dog collars, a toilet seat and many, many other items delivered to me by friends returning from a vacation abroad. It’s a courtesy we acknowledge and value highly.

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We have great sky!

10) We look at the sky … a lot. Views here are big, wide and impressive, and unlike in more confined spaces we have a big chunk of sky over us. By day, we watch clouds move around and can see rain coming from miles away. By night, the distance between Seychelles and mega-cities allows the stars in the southern sky to shine and twinkle by the thousands. We know the season by the placement of Venus and are known to stay up all night for meteor showers. The moon in all its phases is as familiar as the 6 o’clock news is to those who live indoors most evenings, and an eclipse is an event bigger … and more entertaining … than the Superbowl.

So … that’s now 20 things about Seychelles, and many more have come to mind while putting these down. More to come. Don’t touch that dial. Film at 11.

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62006441If I felt more industrious this Sunday afternoon, I could easily list at least 50 things about this country that could come as revelations to newcomers and visitors, but it’s a lovely day and I’ve already put in time feeding birds, cleaning tenrec dens and picking up dog poop.

Funnily enough, the fact that people living here deal with such mundane things startles some who assume days on these lovely islands simply must be passed in sun-soaking, wallowing in the warm sea and strolling down sandy shores as birds sing and clouds drift overhead.

If only.

I’ve written before about the Disneyland mentality of some visitors and how annoying it can be when assumptions are made that we here are responsible for the weather and have nothing more important to do than make a holiday perfect, and new residents can be almost as exasperating in their giddiness at actually living in paradise.

“My toilet is broken. Do you know a plumber who’ll come out on a Sunday night?”

“I’ve been looking all over for authentic pork pies. Where can I find some?”

“The power’s gone out! What do I do?”

(The answers are, 1) No, 2) Yes. In England, 3) Hand wash the dishes … in the dark)

So … in an effort to help some stumble the Seychelles path (Watch out for potholes!) as they learn to negotiate their way around, here are 10 things to know about the country and the people who live here:

1) We don’t go to the beach nearly as much as you think. Often we choose to stay home, indoors, and do exciting things like laundry.

2) There are virtually no addresses. Although roads do have names, house numbers exist in only a very few areas, so if you are invited to visit someone’s home be prepared to take directions. You may want to write these down, as they’re complicated. For example: Turn left at the shop with half a mannequin by the door (a right turn will put you in the sea), drive up the road, pass the 5-to-10 guys sitting on a rock under a mango tree drinking, then look for a dirt track to the right just after the place where the road is white from squished breadfruit, etc.. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to be going along a trail of spilled paint … which is helpful.

3)  When we do decide some beach time should happen, choosing a beach is done by committee. Not just any beach will do, even though they are all lovely, so much consideration goes into the choice. Micro-climate has us calling people who live on the other side or up north or down south to check if it’s raining. If it’s rough on the east coast, perhaps it’s calm on the west. If we’re bringing kids, the shallow or inside-the-reef options are taken into account. If snorkeling is desired, we all have our fav spots. If it’s a Sunday and we don’t want our meditative communing with nature disturbed by picnickers with a generator hooked to fridge-sized speakers blasting crap music to distortion … well … we know where to avoid.

4)  We use the airport as a pee stop.

5)  We swap entertainment … books, movies, TV shows … so if you have any, share.

6)  We are annoyed when there are more than 10 people on a beach.

7)  We get really excited by new products. This isn’t quite as big a thing these days, so we hardly ever, now, call all our friends when we find mushrooms or nice cheese in a shop, nor do we tend (as much) to buy up the whole stock of whatever to share out or hoard. We do, however, continue to be right chuffed at discoveries of rare or never-to-have-been-available-in-Seychelles items, and given how much shopping we do when overseas, it’s a given that there are a lot of things that fit the category.

8)  We ALWAYS have candles.

9)  People are as recognized by the number plates on their cars as they are by their faces. Driving someone else’s car can introduce you to a whole load of people you’ve never seen before. (And it is amazing how many people you’ve never seen before on this tiny island.)

10) Mahé is 17 miles long … Praslin and La Digue even smaller … yet the idea of driving to the far end of the island takes almost as much contemplation and preparation as a plane ride of 12,000 miles. I live in the south and get to Beau Vallon (in the north), on average, once every 2 years or so. Friends in the north visit me about as often. Meeting up in town used to happen, but that was before Victoria became a traffic and parking nightmare and options outside that hellish perimeter were available.

So … that’s it for today. Hope it helps.

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As yet another power cut finds me with time, and no little sweat, on my hands, it occurs I actually have something to write about. (Yeah, yeah …)

Getting ready for a feed.

Getting ready for a feed.

While perspiration gets the better of me I’m watching adult fodies on the feeder teach their second clutch of chicks how to take advantage of the easy sustenance, the occasional myna bully notwithstanding. The dogs are flat out and panting. The cat has long since lost interest in the poor skink he tortured to death earlier. Even the plants have thrown in the towel, or the leaf, or whatever.

The only member of the household with any energy at all this early afternoon is Sparky, the tenrec. At the moment she’s scampering around behind me on the couch and trying to skootch her way up into my lap, a position not terribly comfortable for me when hunching over my Mac on the coffee table in front of me.

You see, tenrecs are pokey; not in the move-real-slow-and-slug-like pokey, but rather the ouch variety. They have quills. In fact they’re covered in short, sharp pointy hair-like structures meant to ward off the many animals that would enjoy making lunch out of them.

Unlike British hedgehogs, tenrecs cannot roll themselves into a ball for protection, so along with the pointy body armor comes a mouthful of tiny razors that can make hash of absurdly large centipedes and yank giant African Land Snails from their baby-shoe-sized shells.

Some scale on size.

Some scale on size.

The most fecund of all mammals, litters of tenrecs can number well into double digits, 32 little ones being the known max with 10 to 20 the norm. Mom leads them from the birthing nest into the wild very early and protocol dictates they follow her in single file, so it happens that those at the end of the line sometimes take a wrong turn and end up where they shouldn’t be, like in the mouth of a dog or cat or at the bottom of a ridge they have no chance of conquering. This would be the reason I’ve ended up raising 11 of them over the past few years.

The first that came to me was a little guy we called Riki. He was somewhere around two weeks old and very obviously not in a good place for a baby tenrec; along the side of the road trying like hell to scale a 12’ tall sheer wall of rock. Stopping the car to pick him up was a reflex action on my part, having no idea how I would care for this odd, spiky dudelette or if it was safe to handle one.

I had, of course, seen them in passing here and recalled a pair who lived at the Sacramento Zoo when I worked there, but those were kept in the Education Building and out of my sphere of knowledge.

Google being my go-to source, I went to and was surprised to find the top search results had nothing to to with caring for tenrecs and everything to do with cooking them. Although a recipe for wine sauce sounded nice, it was certainly not helpful under the circumstance. (Native to Madagascar, they were introduced into Seychelles by settlers from Reunion as a food source. They still eat them there and in Mauritius. In Seychelles, no.)

Further digging eventually led me to articles on basic care and feeding, as well as sites that sold tenrecs as exotic pets in the US, the UK and other lands far distant from all tenrec roots in the Indian Ocean. They were, however, helpful and informative and I was happy to learn that due to import restrictions and such tenrecs had been tested for just about every ailment known by and contagious to mankind. They neither get nor carry rabies, foot-and-mouth or leptospirosis, and although it wasn’t mentioned I quickly found out they’re not even popular with fleas.
Successful raising and eventual release of Riki was followed by the same for Rocky, Rinny, Tiny, Tango and a handful of others, some with me for short times, others longer, depending on how big they were when rescued and how adept they were are sorting things out for themselves. All were released in my garden, which may account for an increasing number of babies needing help right at my doorstep, but given the benefits of tenrec control on snails, centipedes and baby rats, it seems a fair trade.

Plus, each has been different in its own way and all have taught me more about their care. I’d syringe fed all at the beginning, so none were ever aggressive with me, but it was clear being handled stressed them and it never occurred to me that actually taming might happen, which was fine. They’re primitive creatures, one of the oldest mammals on the planet, and haven’t changed much at all since they shared the Earth with dinosaurs. Their evolution happening before there were humans, it made sense that my species would hold about as much significance for them as a column of sentient light would to me, just blending into the general scenery and only scary in cases of direct contact.

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Cozy time.

Then came Sparky.

It may have been the case that the dogs discovered a nest. When I glanced out the kitchen window and saw my dog, Flee, playing with something on the drive it seemed too small to be anything but a rhinoceros beetle or some other big bug, but I went for a look anyway. (I do like rhino beetles, so would have saved one of those, too.)

What it was, of course, was a baby tenrec about the size of my thumb, probably less than a week old, and, thankfully, not worse for the wear it had experienced as a squishy toy. Flee dropped her at my feet and I brought her inside for what was now the usual treatment.

I keep a small wire cage just for the purpose, so kitted it out in banana leaves and other browse and half a coconut husk as a den, then put the baby in, closed the door and let her recover from her ordeal. (You’ll note I’m referring to Sparky as ‘her’, but at the time I had no idea of the gender. Sparky actually started out as Spartacus, dubbed so by my son, Sam. He’s 12, so no surprise there.)

A few hours later, she took well to the syringe … I feed yogurt with a bit of egg yoke to start with and provide water … and continued to settle in nicely. I worried a bit because she seemed a bit less robust than others I’d raised, less skittish, so watched her for any signs of internal damage Flee have have caused.

She loves being petted.

She loves being petted.

All of the other tenrecs extended great effort in evading my hand when retrieving them from the cage for feeding. Most would rifle under the leaf letter, then climb the wire to monkey-bar along the top in brief panic as I wrestled them out, only settling when enclosed in my palm. Sparky didn’t do this. In fact, it was only about a week before I noticed her actually approaching me.

I must admit I went a bit Sally Field for a while … She likes me! She really likes me! … but it was a tremendous privilege to have this amazing little creature respond in ways even a puny human like me could interpret as a connection.

That was five months ago, and the connection continues. When I walk up to Sparky’s house now she wakes up, gives a big yawn, then waddles from her coconut husk, or wherever she’s been lounging, and greets me at the door. She wanders on to my open palm when the door opens and we cuddle on the couch for a while. She loves to be petted and scratched, so I dig my fingers into her quills and give her skin a good tickle, removing loose spines as I go, then stroke her soft underbelly as she closes her eyes and gets into the mood.

In the evenings she joins Pat and me on the couch for movie time and meanders back and forth between and behind us, occasionally pushing the cat out of the way to do so. Her nose perpetually sniffing the air, quills raised on the back of her head when she tries to climb up the back of the sofa and always grateful for a hand up.

She even likes the cat ... sort of.

She even likes the cat … sort of.

I don’t know if anyone else has ever enjoyed the honor of tenrec love, but would not be surprised to learn that Sparky is one of a kind.

She’s five months old now, growing as she should, and just as sweet and funny a critter as I could have imagined. I’m hoping this continues and, with a potential lifespan of 8+ years, that she’s with me for a long, long time.

(Sparky’s diet consists of just about everything, her favs being cherry yogurt and roast chicken. She also gets egg, liver, papaya, banana, fish and whatever else we have on hand. She also always has fresh water and a small dish of dirt that she enjoys. Minerals! She may be a bit spoiled, as she has no interest whatsoever in snails, but, then again, I’ve never cooked them in garlic for her.)

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I have had more on my mind lately than emoticows and would be posting many a blog on each of the various thoughts that catch my attention like jingling keys and the bits of shiny stuff I’d normally follow, BUT the bloody Internet connection here sucks balls this week so I’m stuck struggling even to send emails.

While I have a slight and fleeting chance of getting something up … in the blog sense, of course … I’m going to smoosh a bunch of stuff into one post with the hope it doesn’t end up like a peanut butter, pork chop and prune sandwich and is somewhat digestible.

Ah, yes! The joys of island life …

Aside from the distance, shit Internet, the difficulty of finding a ______(fill in the blank: plumber, electrician, gardener, carpenter, mason … whatever) who will know what they’re doing AND show up, water issues, bad parking, a propensity to blast crap music from fridge-sized speakers and the lack of Mexican restaurants, life here is pretty good.

We have the most beautiful beaches in the world, lovely mountains and forests, tropical weather, a relatively low crime rate, a postal service that works, clean streets, free education and health care, freedom of religion (and freedom not to have one), and some bloody well interesting people.

Almost no one comes to Seychelles casually. It’s too far from anywhere just to drop by and getting here takes no little effort. There were no people living here at all only about 300 years ago, so even the ancestors of early inhabitants would be considered newbies is most places.

Sure, we now get our share of the rich and famous … and royal … popping in for a week or two for holidays in paradise, but it takes an effort and a special sort of person to call Seychelles home for any length of time.

That being the case, I have had the great good fortune of meeting some very special people.

One comes to mind very much now with this week marking the death of Ernest Hemingway, the author of my favorite literary quote, “The road to hell is paved with unbought stuffed dogs” … and a lot of other great stuff … and the man I immediately think of whenever I hear crowds shouting for “Papa”. (How disappointed I’ve been to find it’s the pope they’re yearning for!)

I was a kid when he took his life, an action that put paid to the wonderfully succinct combos of words that grabbed and held and took me to bars I’d end up drinking in in later years, although not to the extent he took the pastime.

So, I never met the man, which is probably an okay thing since he wasn’t known for having a way with children:

… [he] once told his puking ten-year-old son, “I’ll fix you a Bloody Mary — you’ve just got a hangover.”

I have, however, met and count amongst my friends, Hemingway’s pilot. Okay, one of Hemingway’s bush pilots in Africa, but the only one to join Papa in two … count ’em TWO! … crashes, and both within 2 days.

On January 21, 1954, Ernest and Mary took off from Nairobi, with veteran pilot Roy Marsh at the controls. Taking off from Costermansville – today’s Bukavu – the tour was to continue to Entebbe via Murchison Falls.

“But then it happened,” recalls Emmanuel Eyenga, who has brought some guests in his boat to a point near the waterfall. A post with a sign on top it is jutting out of the water. Written on it is “P.B.M. 9026”.

“That was the registration number of the Cessna. It came down right here,” Eyenga says.

While approaching the falls, Marsh had overlooked a telegraph line at the lodge. The pilot managed to make an emergency landing, but the civilised world was far away.

Headlines like “Ernest Hemingway lost in deepest Africa” were splashed across newspapers and obituaries on Hemingway were already appearing in the US even as the search for him continued.

Then, as a passenger plane on a flight from Entebbe to Sudan changed course, the pilot looked down and saw the Cessna.

The trio were picked up by the SS Murchison which took them to Butiaba on Lake Albert. There, they ran into a pilot named Reginald Cartwright, who convinced Ernest, Mary and Roy to fly with him to Entebbe where the world’s press were waiting.

But Cartwright crashed the plane while taking off. Hemingway managed to escape the wreckage only by smashing a door open – with his skull.

Roy Marsh lives here in Seychelles. Now in his 90s, he’s still dashing, charming, witty and wonderful … and smells like the most delicious combination of beer and cookies, for some reason. (Well, the reason for the beer aura is pretty obvious.)

When I first met Roy some years ago he was still playing a few sets of squash every week and could be found in town most any day he was in the country, speeding around and socializing.

Slight and quiet, the man has stories that continue to amaze even on the third or fourth telling and writing about him has been a goal for me for a long time … any excuse to spend hours in the company of such a perfect manifestation of a sort of man that just doesn’t exist in today’s world in any number that can’t be counted on one hand.

It’s Roy who makes me wish the work talked about in this article had come along sooner, although I doubt he’d be lining up for it:

If Aubrey de Grey’s predictions are right, the first person who will live to see their 150th birthday has already been born. And the first person to live for 1,000 years could be less than 20 years younger.

For sure, Hemingway wouldn’t have been interested, an idea made clear by the fact that he took himself out of the game.

There are many theories put forward on why it was Papa topped himself 50 years ago … including injuries resulting from the second of those plane crashes he shared with my friend Roy … and a new one makes sense.

One old friend of his puts no little blame on the FBI and J Edgar Hoover’s propensity for making life a misery when he could.

Some have blamed growing depression over the realisation that the best days of his writing career had come to an end. Others said he was suffering from a personality disorder.

Now, however, Hemingway’s friend and collaborator over the last 13 years of his life has suggested another contributing factor, previously dismissed as a paranoid delusion of the Nobel prize-winning writer. It is that Hemingway was aware of his long surveillance by J Edgar Hoover’s FBI, who were suspicious of his links with Cuba, and that this may have helped push him to the brink.

Writing in the New York Times on the 50th anniversary of Hemingway’s death, AE Hotchner, author of Papa Hemingway and Hemingway and His World, said he believed that the FBI’s surveillance “substantially contributed to his anguish and his suicide”, adding that he had “regretfully misjudged” his friend’s fear of the organization.

That Papa had a good imagination is not a question, and what that can do when mixed with fear based on fact is not easy to live with.

No doubt Hemingway suffered from depression. Many writers do. This article in the Times explores the links tying depression, writers and suicide, including Papa, of course.

It is not surprising that these mood disorders seem most at home in the artistic mind. “The cognitive style of manic-depression overlaps with the creative temperament,” Ms. Jamison said. Researchers have found that in a mildly manic state, subjects think more quickly, fluidly and originally. In a depressed state, subjects are self-critical and obsessive, an ideal frame of mind for revision and editing. “When we think of creative writers,” Ms. Jamison said, “we think of boldness, sensitivity, restlessness, discontent; this is the manic-depressive temperament.”

William Styron, author of that cheerful little ditty,”Sophie’s Choice”, wrote about his battle with depression … a fight he never won, but that did not kill him … in Darkness Visible, one of the most helpful bits of writing I have ever been commanded to read.

This is not to say that one must be depressed to write, nor that all depressives can. Sunny dispositions can lead down primrose paths to libraries, but life’s hard edges and awareness of them … even hyper-awareness … does add grist to the mill and grit to the pulp.

Some might say the days of living large are over. My friend Roy might agree. Marty Beckerman seems to:

But we’ve become so afraid of death that we refuse to actually live. We’re scared of the sun because it might give us cancer; we’re scared of a well-marbled steak because it might raise our cholesterol; we’re scared of bullfighting—the only real sport—so we demean ourselves with yoga and Pilates and other such unholy abominations. The closest we come to genuine thrills, genuine danger, is watching IMAX 3-D superhero movies.

Hemingway, however, knew that death isn’t the worst thing in the world. “[C]owardice is worse, treachery is worse, and simple selfishness is worse,” he said. (Also: staying married to the same woman for more than five minutes.)

Perhaps our safety-padded commercial existence is why young people are increasingly drawn to his life and works. Our entire lives are planned out for us before infancy; deviating from the standard path—SAT > college > 24/7 job—is nearly impossible. (Hemingway didn’t bother with college, instead going straight into the trenches of WWI as a medic, proof that an English degree is truly worthless.)

Independence used to mean defining your own existence; now it means paying your own credit-card bill. Freedom used to mean an open road and uncharted waters; now it means choosing between BlackBerry or Droid data plans. Living on our own terms is a foreign concept, but Hemingway bent the world to his liking through sheer gusto, which is very different than the illusion of choice on sale at the Apple Store. Why speak the truth, consequences be damned, when a single impulsive tweet can cost you a career?

Would love to carry on with this for a while, but my Internet connection just might … right now … allow me to post, and I have to go out and unclog a pipe full of shit since the plumber didn’t show up.

Depressing? Well … not exactly a party, but it does give me something to write about.

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