Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Staying connected

Visitors here will know that I'm an early riser, and the first thing I do -- after coffee and sunrise -- is post a musing. You will also have noted that a few times since I arrived on the island the posts have appeared late in the day. This is a small island, in an unwealthy country, and my connection to cyberspace is not always ready and waiting. If anything goes amiss during the evening or night, it's not likely to be fixed until someone arrives at work the next morning.

Other utilities are equally dicey. One memorable day last week, the internet, telephone, water and electricity all went out separately during the same 24-hour period.

I'm not complaining. That's why we are here. And things are infinitely better than when we first arrived nearly 20 years ago. What attracted us to this place was precisely its tenuous hold on modernity. Here were a cheerful people not yet caught up in the rat race, who still preferred an extra hour of leisure to an extra hundred bucks, who knew how to relax, make do, improvise, grow a cabbage, sip their coffee and watch the sunrise. When the electricity went off, well, you just stopped what you were doing and waited till it came back on. If the water slowed to a dribble, you probably didn't need that shower anyway. If there was no fresh milk at the market, you opened a packet of Parmalat and waited till the weekly mail boat arrived.

I don't want to sound like a happy-go-lucky Robinson Crusoe, or a condescending affluent American. I am grateful for the privilege of being here, and I am glad to see the island catching up with the times, especially as we get older and less resilient. But I know too that something is being lost, not least because of the homogenizing influence of American cable television. The kids at the high school are losing the gracious courtesy that used to astonish us when we picked them up along the road. They didn't have cell phones, but they had impeccable manners.