Saturday 21 July 2012

Slash, and burn

I was just doing some coarse gardening, hacking down giant canna lilies with a machete (using my right arm! Still can't salute Hitler, but it's much improved nonetheless, thanks to John at Pure Physio cheerfully hurting me for half an hour on Tuesdays. Thanks for asking, by the way). It wasn't a major project, but I've been doing so much sitting on the sofa for the last six weeks, writing stories, that it was a bit of a shock to the system and I was sort of regretting having started when I remembered Mauritius.

Being driven around that interesting and lovely island, we spent much of the time hemmed in by sugar-cane plantations, the canes up to 5 metres high. It seems to be a year-round crop, so it was at all stages of growth, including being topped by fluffy white flowers, as well as being harvested. By hand. By women. With machetes. What a hard job! In that humid heat, dressed modestly - and practically, against the sun and insects (but fortunately not snakes) - in hats, long sleeves and skirts, with thick rubber gloves. They must have been so hot, hacking away at those tough canes, much harder than the soft stalks I was slicing off.

And then I remembered the other women we saw, at the salt works, dressed in sacking capes with two 20 kilogram baskets of salt on their heads, filing along the narrow paths between the evaporation ponds. Horrible job - it made the ladies we saw thigh-deep in a river doing their laundry look to be having fun, in comparison. And how about the woman I saw in India, shaping fresh cow-manure patties with her bare hands to dry in the sun for fuel? That's a smell she could never wash off, I bet. And the stocky old lady herding alpacas in the dry and empty hinterland of Peru, all alone, all day, mechanically spinning as she followed them; and the young women crouched behind stalls in dimly-lit market places in Cusco, trying to sell exactly the same goods as everyone else...

I don't want to make them into some trite object lesson - they're earning honest livings, after all - but it is too easy to forget how cushy my life is; so I was pleased today to remember those women, and respect them.

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