"If I want water, I go to the well,” the old man tells me. "If I want food, I throw a line in the water"—he points to the bay—"I catch fish. Or I go in the forest, I pick fruits from trees. The weather is warm. The water is clean. The nighttime is safe."
His clothing hung from his body, label-less and threadbare. His dark skin cracked, weathered and worn from exposure to the elements and to life. I doubt he had much if any savings, let alone a few pieces in his pocket.
But there he was, content.
He took a bowl of local drink, a sedative of sorts made from a plant root. It makes your mouth numb upon first drink. Tastes like soil, looks like muddy water. Its consumption is ritualistic and communal. It is a fine thing.
I had a few bowls too, while we sat in the dirt and grass taking in the evening. A squall came through, but none of us moved. The rain fell. We got wet. Some minutes later, the rain left. We dried off.
I cleaned dried droplets from the lenses of my glasses, Kame ManNen, made in Japan. My blue gingham Rapha shirt wicked quickly the wetness from my shoulders. My Macbook, iPad, iPod and two Blackberries stayed protected next to me, tucked into my Jack Spade oilcloth satchel.
It was hard not to be aware of it all. He wasn’t. He just looked on and talked, in and out of an English I had to focus on to understand. Then he asked me: "What do you think of the world?" At least, that’s what I thought he asked me.
So I said: "Well, we have to end apartheid for one. And slow down the nuclear arms race, stop terrorism and world hunger. We have to provide food and shelter for the homeless, and oppose racial discrimination and promote civil rights, while also promoting equal rights for women. We have to encourage a return to traditional moral values. Most importantly, we have to promote general social concern and less materialism in young people."
His expression revealed that my answer was not related to his actual inquiry. He approved just the same and said, “Good, good. Me too."
"Do you like Phil Collins?" I then asked. He nodded: "This singer? Yes, yes. I've been a big Genesis fan ever since the release of their 1980 album, Duke. Before that, I really didn't understand any of their work. Too artsy, too intellectual."
I smiled, because I only pretended that was his response. He actually said, "No, I like Michael Jackson."
But there I was, content.