In March 2003 My wife and I went to live on a small island in the Indian Ocean. We stayed there for a year of tropical delights and frustrations. As a break from fiction – and to help maintain my sanity in the midst of a strange culture – I wrote a series of emails to folks at home…
—– Original Message —–
To: Undisclosed Recipients
Sent: Saturday, June 21, 2003 9:56 AM
Subject: Confessions of a failed hunter gatherer
Dear weight watchers,
One of the many side benefits of living in paradise is the ease with which
you can shed unwanted blubber.
I dream of setting up one of those ‘health spas’ here in Victoria for those
unfortunate souls whose lifestyles have resulted in enforced corpulence.
I’ll build this castle of leanness at the top of the mountain that overlooks
Victoria. Arriving ‘guests’, having paid in advance for their four week
‘Adipose Tissue Annihilation Program’ will be shown to their rooms where
they will find a state-of-the-art, fully equipped kitchen and adjoining
bedroom with no air conditioning.
The rules will be simple:
Each guest will be issued with a fair, daily quota of rupees with which to
purchase food. They must locate the shops and market, buy the food, return
to the castle and cook it themselves. Spies will be posted around town to
prevent instances of ‘eating out’, ‘pie sneaking’ and illegal use of local
transport facilities. Transgressors will be deported from the Seychelles
immediately, forfeiting the full fee for the course.
I guarantee they’ll lose weight just thinking about it. By the time they’ve
struggled up and down to the town and tried to work out what is edible and
how to eat it, they’ll be super skinny and super fit.
I speak from experience.
Looking back at some photos from before we left, I realised with some alarm,
that I was becoming a ‘bit of a bloater’. I sweated away several pounds
within the first few days while I adjusted to the heat. The clients at my
imagined spa will be able to do the same and get a tan into the bargain.
Even after three months, I still make a complete mess of the shopping from
time to time. I have a favourite trader, who has his own small farm on the
other side of the island. I can never be totally sure if he’s pleased that I
buy from him or not…
…”How much for the avocado?”
“That big one there.”
“Sorry, m’sieu, that is a golden apple.”
“Oh. But it’s green.”
“It is not yet ripe.”
He leans down and struggles to heave a huge fruit out
from under the stall.
“This is an avocado.”
“Bloody hell, are you sure?”
He places the green medicine ball next to all his other fruit and veg. The
stall creaks under the weight of it.
“Seychelles avocados are very big, m’sieu.”
He straightens up again, pushing a kink out of his back. There’s no way I’ll
be able to carry the thing. Besides, you can only eat so much guacamole.
“I think I’ll leave it for the moment.”
Then, of course, I feel guilty. I’ve got to buy something after hassling the
bloke like this. I survey the goods, showing my practiced street-wise look.
I’m not going to get ripped off. I notice a familiar a yellow fruit.
“Is this a lemon?”
“No, that is a passion fruit.”
“Right. Obviously. So what’s this? An orange?”
“No, m’sieu, that’s a lemon.”
“But it’s orange.”
“Yes. It is ripe.”
Unlike the golden apple. When it comes to fresh produce in the Seychelles,
there are no rules. I have a bit of look around but I’m losing my
confidence. A small knot of onlookers is gathering.
“What are these?”
The trader laughs.
“Have you never seen a banana before?”
“Of course I have, but the bananas around here can be a little confusing.”
“No, m’sieu, a banana is a banana.”
The farmer and I have come to know each other over the few moments we spend
in mutual misunderstanding each Saturday morning. He likes to sell me fruit
and veg I’ve never eaten before. It’s fair, I suppose – that’s all there is.
“Got any potatoes?”
“Pull the other one, m’sieu. I would like you try something a little
I notice a bit of nudging going on in the growing throng. He pulls out a
green oblong. I recognise it immediately.
“No thanks, I’ve already bought my cucumbers.”
I show him my bag.
“I’m sorry to tell you that you have not bought any cucumbers yet, m’sieu.”
I look at the green oblongs in my bag
“They look like cucumbers.”
“I am sorry, no.”
“Well, what the hell are they, then?”
“They are melons.”
Dare I ask what manner of melon is that shape? I think not. I look at his
cucumber. It seems a good size and relatively healthy. Plus, it’s an easy
option because we finally seem to be on common compost.
“OK, I’ll have two of your cucumbers, please.”
“I do not sell cucumbers, m’sieu.”
Now, lots of the people in the crowded market, who have come to watch the
daft ginger man do his shopping, attempt to suppress their laughter and fail
loudly. I turn a particularly foreign shade of red.
“Well, what’s that thing, then?”
“It is a loofah.”
I’m certain he’s made a mistake now but I dare not call his bluff. Could be
the last vegetable he ever lets me buy.
He fishes around under his stall and pulls out a bathing implement, used in
the west for washing and exfoliating the skin.
“It is a loofah, m’sieu. This is a young one and this is a dried one.”
“You don’t expect me to eat a loofah, do you?”
“Why not? They are lovely stir fried with a little pork and some ginger and
garlic. You must try it.”
“Fine, I’ll take it.”
“What else would you like?”
“God knows. Anything that will keep us from starving.”
“Oh, that will never happen, m’sieu. No one starves in the Seychelles. There
is food everywhere.”
I look around the market and it’s true, I am surrounded by food. The problem
is, I haven’t got a clue what any of it is…
…As you can see, the people attending my planned health spa will lose
weight the way gambler’s lose money. The irony of it is that it will be
hunger that drives them to it.
I will subsequently be able to invest in the first Burger King franchise in
the Seychelles. In it, I will eat a hamburger every lunchtime until my
family is able recognise me again. Then I can come home.
Our very boniest regards to you all,