We Become Obsessed With Material Things

Travellers, we grasp on to objects and hope to understand a place through its tools. There is so much we don’t understand. So we choose a thing that can be held. Often, of course, we don’t hold it, the object. But we could.

The demystifying internet could tell us what-why each is. We would rather the question sit like an egg in our incubating hands. We feel a tap from inside every time we see the thing in the world.

The men’s long pinky fingernails.

The wood shavings in the apothecary.

The buckets in your bathroom, and no sink.

The fumigation equipment in your uncle’s bedroom.

The half litre ice cream container full of sky coloured toothpaste in your family’s kitchen.

The dye stained wings of pigeons.

The five foot baskets for sale.

Then, one day, there is the clear thrill of realization.

The long finger nail dips into anesthetic. It dabs the liquid onto the plucked belly of a rooster. He can go on slashing, tail feathers bouncing, to finish the fight without registering pain.

Your uncle is a health inspector. He inspects Casa de la Musica, the nightclub known for its live music. It costs 15 tourist dollars to get in, almost a month’s salary in your currency. But they usher him in for free, his feet move like water over the tiles, broad smile sweaty eyelids, while the band plays.

The baskets hold pigs. Hundreds of pounds of pork-still-pig are strapped to the back of motorbikes. The pigs are held like thumbs in finger traps that squeeze the body tighter as it tries to pull out. The hatching of the basket obscures the pig. The giveaway is the flesh meniscus that overflows out of the ovoid’s mouth. Three schmears of poop and three stem tails, kinked, flash by at 5o mph.

In our clear thrill, we feel that we are getting somewhere. Now we understand something of this place and of its people. We bring back the eggshells of our conceited hatchling, to pickle in memory formaldehyde. We hold it up to our friends and say ‘This is how it is there’, like early 1900s anthropologists, asserting ourselves as authorities we couldn’t be further from. Back to Britain with the answers, all the objects, stuffed into our pockets.