All kinds of things are different when one spends time ‘outside’ i.e. away from home (see footnote). Here are five things that I have forgotten how to do because they somehow disappeared from my life for four months.
- Cooking. Five weeks in hotels and ‘tea houses’ precluded it. Three weeks as a house-guest or as a meal-guest negated the need for it. For the remaining five weeks it was either cheaper, socially convenient, or just more fun to eat out. My only contribution to my own cuisine was when I was too unwell in Kathmandu to eat out, or on two occasions in Oman when I helped prepare sandwiches for a picnic. But a major contributing factor to this seeming culinary neglect is that food shopping is frankly a tricky thing for a nervous westerner in the developing world. Apart from the confusing array of products on the shelves and the awkwardness of negotiating a sensible price at the markets, I quite frankly did not trust the safety of the meat on display: I feared for my lily-livered liver. Besides, the convenience of countless eateries of various quality made completely unnecessary the fight through traffic or the walk through heat and/or rain to the one trustworthy Bhat Bhateni Supermarket. Whilst the availability of clean food and water was never off my mind, personal food preparation could not have been further from it.
- Running. Or any planned exercise. Don’t get me wrong it was a pretty active sabbatical and I lost a stone in weight (which has mysteriously returned). I hiked for 2 weeks, I rode a bike for 10 days in two cities and I walked many long hours with or without a backpack visiting interesting places and local communities. But in this whole time I only once sought out exercise as a personal choice – and my reward on this one occasion was both wonderful and unforgettable as the sun rose over the Omani coastline on my final morning beach run, and swim.
- Routine. One of the joys of travel and leaving responsibilities behind is that you never know what the next day might bring. However as one looks back one can’t help wondering… would more daily routine or general structure have lead to clearler outcomes (books read, objectives met) or would it have stifled the ability to respond to daily opportunities? Who knows? What is certain is that it is difficult to get back to any kind of routine on my return.
- Shaving. It did happen from time to time. It happened once a week when I was shaving and once every three weeks (by Nepali cut-throat barber-cum-masseurs) when I wasn’t. Since my return what I have learned is that unless one goes for a cave-man beard, the twice-weekly process of trimming and tidying seems to take just as long as being clean shaven. However, having now settled on a four week, tidy-ish, scruff the options are clear: beard remain another week, or begone for the foreseeable future.
- Cricketing. To be precise, the playing of cricket (or any sport for that matter). Not that I was particularly proficient with either willow or leather prior to my sabbatical. But with the first game of my second full playing season coming up tomorrow I fear the worst. A summer of no sport apart from the armchair variety is hardly adequate preparation for a competitive return to T20 tomorrow evening and longer matches in the weeks to come. And I can’t remember when i last made use of my golf clubs.
Perhaps it is just as well that I kept my hand in at preaching, praying and (to an extent) pastoral visiting whilst away, because with regard to the topics above, it’s time once more to get my act together.
**** Footnote: ‘outside’. I have heard this term used in two ways in Nepal; both meaning ‘away from home’. It is applied to tourists, volunteers and foreign aid workers plus any others who are perceived as being ‘from outside’. ‘Outside’ is also the location of the ablutions in a Himalayan village – to the dispair of local health workers – as it never refers to a small outhouse nearby. Ideally, it is as far away from home as possible, which is exactly the aim of some of Nepal’s visitors in their decision to travel to Asia.