N Touch
Monday 24 June 2019
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Mango season

It’s mango season. The mangoes, too high to be picked, fall to the ground, squashed by tyres making their rounds in the yard. The fruit remain there, puréed and then dried in the stinging sun for days. One morning a bird came by to pick at one freshly masticated by a departing tyre. Some days, tired of the mess, I scoop and push them into the drain under the tree. They’ll disintegrate there, not without a stench of course. The drain is already full of whole, overripe fruit. No one bothers to pick them off the tree, I suppose. I can’t keep track.

This morning, just before sitting to write, I took my customary peek at the Northern Range through the bedroom window. It always encourages a deep breath, a deep breath because of the memories of running there with friends; a deep breath because the beauty of it never ceases to bring a smile; a deep breath because there’s satisfaction in the knowledge that despite the untidiness that surrounds us sometimes, one tilt of the head upwards, yields another sight that blurs that out. That sight encourages me to step away from the window and keep the memory inside. I shall step outside and perhaps clean it up, because I ask myself, "For whom am I doing this?"

My answer: "Myself. Not as a favour to fellow residents who probably wouldn’t even notice, but to myself. Because there is a sense of satisfaction that I won’t have to step outside to rotting fruit." Or perhaps I will change my attitude and feel happy that the birds already have puréed food.

Last week, at a film workshop held by the European Film Festival in collaboration with the University of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Kim Johnson, aside from his presentation on film as advocacy, made mention of an important point. It is that we have grown so accustomed to the ugliness that surrounds us and we don’t realise that the architectural ugliness seeps into our relationships. The audience laughed, perhaps at his invocation of the term "ugly" as a description of our architecture.

On a serious note, however, I tend to agree whole-heartedly. My own explorations of how architecture and the natural environment impact on people’s sense of loyalty to their land, found an echo here. But also, on the converse side (this is a chicken-and-egg story), I wonder how much our sense of self contributes to the creation and acceptance of "ugliness"? Which comes first, our sense of self or our surroundings or do they exist simultaneously?

I turn again to the mangoes in the yard. Do other tenants see them and are affected by them or am I the only one bothered by them? Why should I be, when I am but a temporary resident? Is it that our priorities do not align? Fix one area alone and leave the other chips to fall where they may, seems to be what everyone is saying. "Squashed mangoes strewn over a tiled yard is a trivial matter. In any case, no one else can see it except us."

But this is exactly the issue. I had grown up with the constant advice, "If you want to see what a person really is like, do not judge by the living room, judge by the state of the bedroom and their private toilet, the places where the guests don’t go."

I took this to heart and over time I came to understand that this idea is really about priorities. Making a bed, cleaning a room, perhaps some may argue, suggest a creative personality. Perhaps it is; perhaps it is about just not caring enough about the small things so that it manifests itself in the way we treat relationships and the way we treat the landscape – natural and man-made. It is also about how we treat ourselves.

As I think about how we define home, I come to the conclusion that home is an attitude as much as it is an idea, where, to put it simply, attitudes rest on feelings and ideas are about concepts and thought. And our attitudes and ideas differ. However, when home is a space in which we live as a community, a group of people working towards our own goals, how we manage our differences brings us to the issue of pooling the ideas and attitudes. While full agreement is utopian, there is always a point at which most will agree even if we all agree to care enough, because caring enough, nowadays, is a giant step.

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