O dear, have I ever been in a place I didn’t want to be? Possibly while picnicking on yesterday’s cold parathas, heavy oily flannels of indigestible dough unwrapped from the car boot and three layers of foil on the third day of a monsoon storm in the wilds of Nagaland, North East India. Perhaps, on the same trip, when my youngest daughter fell, camera and all, off a slippery plank into the flood widened Brahmaputra, she dried and so did the camera, or the next day when the road disappeared, washed down the hillside just as we turned a corner. Other occasions; attempting to sleep surrounded by farting, snorting camels in an icy wind on the top of Erta Ale, the Ethiopian volcano, after crunching uncomfortable miles with a tiny dying torch up its slopes to reach the lava filled crater – no, that was just indescribably funny and the heaving, glowing crater lake, the greatest reward. Boiling over ruins in Rajasthan or Rhodes; overlong train journeys that are always too hot or too air-conditioned; hours of delays at Moscow airport when attempting even cheaper flights than usual courtesy of Aeroflot; at least they have seatbelts unlike some fear inducing South East Asian airlines in the not too distant past; the Chinese boy behind me throwing up on landing from another cheap flight to somewhere in China after eating stinking dried salt fish from a packet for the whole journey; O, and the loudly belligerent Russian across the aisle who drank 2 litres of vodka before takeoff, Aeroflot again one has to assume.
Insanity inducing anti-malarials, don’t take them; fleas and bedbugs, leaches in jungles – disgustingly fascinating; Delhi belly, Montezuma’s revenge, insect bites and infestations; actually very little of all that although I did get toxoplasmosis once from a cat in Washington DC. I have a friend who tried for years to catch intestinal parasites as a diet measure, even going so far, and this is a long time ago, as drinking the tap water in Phnom Penh, strictly forbidden by an aging French engineer who knew exactly where the ‘fresh’ water and sewage pipes combined – she never caught anything either although bed bugs seem to like her.
Do I just lack imagination for the horrors? But no, I can quite imagine them. I have seen children with malnutrition in Vietnam, or dying in wardfuls of haemorrhagic dengue fever, I have been in hateful prisons and soul destroying refugee camps as well as palaces. I might not want those people to be in that situation, I might wish it was not there to see but it is and I do not, not want to be there. I might not like what I see or even what I hear, the bigotry and the bile of acquaintances; the food, the camping or the insect life, the too adjacent lion’s roar may make me jump out of my skin; I might feel a prickly sickly distaste walking past the dog butchers in Saigon or the wild meat stalls in Laos, but I still want to be there. I want to be or to have been everywhere, as many places, people, great art and great ugliness, palaces, hovels, princes and paupers as possible to be seen before I die and if it is sometimes, briefly, a misery, so be it. The list is still long and all those delicious, mysterious, too hot, too cold (much worse), too wet and too totally unfriendly but just short of seriously irresponsibly dangerous places are just waiting to be seen, experienced and sometimes disliked but of none of them can I imagine I will I ever think that I don’t want to be there.