I shook my head. My cousin Jeanette tugged at her bangs and sat back in her armchair. We were far from the hills of Turkey now, snuggled in my aunt’s home in deepest, darkest Norfolk.
“But, I do have the internet. There’s a great little USB device I can use in Turkey. As long as my computer’s charged I can connect pretty much anywhere.”
Jeanette grinned. “Internet in a tent? That’s hilarious.” Then she picked up her coffee cup. “But I could never live like that, I mean no electricity. It’s great, I love hearing about it, but I’d never do it.”
From the distant place her eyes went, I gauged she was imagining the implications of my life in all its powerless waterless glory. And from the look on her face the implications weren’t good.
My 94 year-old gran was huddled in the leather sofa next to us, ears straining to follow the conversation. She screwed up her brow on her beautiful (and yes my gran is still beautiful) face.
“Did you say you have internet in your tent?” She said. Gran’s eyes – eyes that have seen the birth of television, world wars, the Berlin wall go up and then down, and the techno-revolution – wrinkled in disbelief. She crossed one leg daintily over the other and folded her hands in her lap. “Well, I never did!” She said. “I couldn’t fathom it even in a house. But a tent!” From the way her face had crumpled we gathered she was caught somewhere between amazement and dismay. “Ooh,” she shuddered, “It’s all beyond me.”
We all laughed. The light was already dying in the room, so my aunt reached over and flicked on the lamp. The hedgerow outside faded out of sight. Suddenly Jeanette pulled herself upright. Her eyes widened like a pair of licorice allsorts. She opened her mouth.
“Oh my God!” We all turned in her direction. She was staring at me, appalled. “You mean you can’t use HAIR STRAIGHTENERS?”
Back in the Carrefour tent on the dry summer hills of a Turkish village, I woke up. The sun had just crawled over the first mountain peak. From my bed I could see the slopes bathed in the rosy glow of fresh morning. The birds were chirping in such a state of excitement, it was infectious. I had no alarm clock wrecking my slumber, no job to get up for. It was still not even six am. Yet I sprang out of that bed like a hare with a pin in its backside. I didn’t want to miss those early morning hours. They are sublime.
As life goes by I realise just how gifted humans are. We are adaptable beyond belief. Yesterday’s inconceivable nightmare becomes tomorrow’s reality. And all realities have their pros and cons. I was without power which had its limitations. But a new life was unfolding. And the fact was I loved it.
I’d been on the land about three months now, and something of a routine had emerged. As soon as I had stepped out of my tent, I stretched, and walked about my domain. It was the beginning of July, and those early hours were pleasantly cool. The plants gleamed as the first rays of sunlight hit them and everything on the land began rushing about its business before the heat of the day set in. There were no rough man-made noises. No cars, no machines. Instead I was wandering within a symphony composed by nature. It made me feel happy and alive.
After my walk I would do some yoga, followed by a bit of meditation. Next I’d prepare myself a nice, big Turkish breakfast; eggs, salad, olives, cheese, bread, honey, fried peppers and potatoes, all washed down with a pot of coffee. The day would by now have rolled on. The land would be buckling up for some serious sun. As I swung in the hammock, I would look about my campsite and wonder what today’s project would be. Should I start the tool shed? Or paint some stones to sell? When it got too hot I would drive to the sea for a swim. Thus my days unwound.
I have to be honest, I wasn’t missing hair straighteners. Nor television. The view from my land was so inspiring and the wildlife so varied I felt constantly entertained. I was also locked into a pyramid of need in which electricity was the least of my worries. Water was always my number one headache. However, there was one issue related to power that changed my life. Night time. Without power you’re well and truly in the dark. True, there are torches, and candles, but it’s still difficult to cook, read or have any sort of nightlife without decent lighting.
Thus very quickly my days morphed into new shapes. I switched from late nights and leisurely awakenings, to early rises and early sleeps. Unwittingly I fell into what Chinese medicine would call the ideal sleep cycle. Our bodies are designed to wake up with the sun. Our internal organs rest and clean themselves in the dark hours. When we don’t respect this natural rhythm, we get sick or depressed or both. By July I could feel the difference. The lack of electricity had inadvertently done me an enormous favour.
Now 18 months later it pays for me to remember this. Because there has been a revolution on my land. Last week I installed solar power. It’s incredible. For the first time in nearly two years I have light, I have sound, I have a jig-saw. And most importantly I have a computer that I don’t need to run up the hill to my neighbour every day to charge. This is all fantastic. But before I rush to buy speakers, or begin a 12 hour electric sanding campaign, I’m pausing a little. I can hear the noise of the wind rushing through the great pines, a robin is twittering in one of the olive trees, the plants are rocking in the air, waving to me to get off my computer and touch them. When I pull back from my laptop screen I see from my window the mountains cascading into Alakir bay. The creases in their slopes dance as the sun moves over the sky. It’s never the same dance. Blink and you’ve missed it.
Yes I need to remember this. It pays to go slow. From one day to the next I’ve gone from zero power to being inundated with electricity. But I have learned something very important these past two years. And it’s nothing to do with survival. What I’ve learned is that convenience doesn’t necessarily make you happy. And that life is much more than just being comfortable.