Ever since I can remember, I have shown little promise in the institution known as ‘saving’. As a child, occasions such as Easter would acutely reveal this fact. No sooner had the wonder that is known as ‘Cadbury Chocolate Button Egg’ been presented to me, I would immediately set about ripping it apart with no particular strategy in mind. I would then gorge myself until intoxicated. When I would finally recover from this reverie, I’d find my sister surgically removing one or maybe two pieces of an egg shell and then secreting the significant remains behind her perfectly dressed dolls. Occasionally, I’d find her checking on her booty, like a squirrel carefully tending to its acorn larder which much last all winter or else…
This attitude tormented me no end. Why on earth would you save stuff? For what possible reason other than to drive your younger crazy?
According to my mother, I’ve always been adept at sourcing funds for my immediate pleasures. When I was still in nappies – so the story goes – we were at a picnic and I kept disappearing and returning with sweets. On investigation, mum found that I had figured out that if I took empty Coke bottles to a food kiosk, someone would eventually notice me standing there and reward me with the greatest drug of all – sugar!
This aptitude for fuelling my addictions continued into later childhood and included charging my brother for ironing his shirts so I could buy a quarter of sherbet lemons or bon bons. Then I got my first job at the age of eleven picking eggs at a battery farm. Clearly, I would do anything for money. Since then, I’ve never really been out of employment and much of the time I’ve had more than one job to fuel my needs. Unsurprisingly, I moved on to greater addictions such as cigarettes and Dorothy Perkins. I never saved a thing.
So as you can see, I am not a saver. I’m an instant gratification-er. I am an addict who thinks only of her next fix. As the weekend approaches and being almost vice-less, I’m trying to figure out a way to make meringues in a makeshift saucepan oven and cereal bars from some old muesli and honey. Buying things when I visit Kigali tends to end in the same kind of ugly scenario as I’ve painted above (see Easter). Within 24 hours of my return to the forest, the stack of chocolate I planned to eke out over a week or two has disappeared. The wine? Gone. The fancy cheese? Gone. And I‘m left with a few onions, some tomatoes, and a distended stomach full of shame.
So it has surprised me more than anyone, to find that having quit smoking six months ago (on January 5th to be precise), I have actually stuck to it (bar the requisite one or two drunken fags at Frandy’s house of cigarette sin). Since giving up the demon weed, I have also noticed some level of saving – clearly not when it comes to major addictions such as chocolate, wine and cheese, but hey, I’m only just getting into this way of thinking!
As I write this, I have just eaten my very last Alpen Summer Fruits Bar. I bought a few packs of these in the UK in FEBRUARY! How on earth did I manage this? There are other examples too; there’s the tortilla wraps, rose harissa paste, silken firm tofu and bounteous bottles of balsamic glaze. Hardly touched. In fact, last weekend I conducted an audit to try and figure out how I was actually going to work my way through these in the nine weeks I have left in Rwanda. I felt I was unlikely to use a bottle of balsamic glaze for every two weeks or a jar of Marmite every 10 days, so Frandy struck lucky and I have revealed the sum excitement of my weekends…
In truth, I believe this story is a familiar one to other volunteers like myself and may have little to do with a new found restraint on my part (we live in hope). If we weren’t hoarders before, we sure as hell are now. And I haven’t even started on the subject of how many lotions and potions are weighing down my vegetable rack-come-beauty-shelving in my bedroom. And my first aid kit would give any ambulance a run for its money. Although, to be fair, I am short of a saline drip and defibrillator.
Now that I’m planning a five week backpacking trip for when I leave Rwanda, I find I’m being quite laissez-faire with such things and shall be simply packing a few plasters, Anthisan and some painkillers (did I mention that addiction? No? Another time). Because, in the main, that’s all I’ve needed in the 16 months I’ve been here.
It’s easy to forget how you were in the beginning (if you’re not used to living in a place without shopping malls, a postal system or wealth) where you suddenly feel you have no compass and anything that represents safety, security or survival is clung to. Looking back at newly-arrived-in Rwanda-me, I remember being delighted by the ‘finds’ of first aid stuff I made from the volunteer ‘communal box’ at the volunteer office. I hadn’t quite the brain to figure out that the reason they were there, was that the departing volunteers, just like me now, found no real use for a sterile pack of needles or an eye pad.
And I think of the suitcase loads of things I’ve asked friends to bring out to me ranging from shoes to a tent. Much of which have been little used (did I mention my Amazon shopping addiction? Which I have maintained even from afar?).
My Rwandan flatmate’s sister lives in Canada and she asked her to send some items from home. These were: dried cassava leaves (to make isombi), a packet of tea, a bag made from kitenge material, and a cassette tape of Rwandan music.