Monday 24 January 2011

Postcards from another world

At night, the velvet darkness was alive with stars. We would sit out on the veranda, listen to the crickets singing, and look up into the sky. During the rainy season, frogs would add their voices, but more often than not, the only sound would be the whisper of the breeze, the buzz of the occasional mosquito and the distant grumble of the generator, giving us the nightly ration of electricity. I still dream about nights like that.

I was lucky enough to live in northern Nigeria as a child, and the experience profoundly influenced me. It was low-carbon living because it really had to be – it’s impossible to rose-tint the way the local people around us lived. They were small-scale subsistence farmers, cattle traders and shopkeepers. They didn't choose to live that way; they did it because they were poor.

By local standards, we were rich; though in comparison with people back home in England, our standard of living was basic. We had no televisions or videos, and even if we had had those things, we only had electricity for a set number of hours a day, powered by that erratic generator. There were limited public services and no telephones. Even the water supply was inconsistent, and I remember the scramble to fill the bath, the sinks, every conceivable pot and pan when we knew the water was about to be cut off again. We lived on local produce because, mostly, that was all that was available.

Yet, in so many ways, those were the richest years of my childhood. Without so many of the distractions we now take for granted, we read books, played games, roamed for hours on our bikes. We had a freedom that was so distinct from the frenetic and fast-paced 24-hour society that we have now.  I can't imagine any other kind of childhood, and a part of me wonders how I can give my own children a taste of that kind of life.

People tell me that a zero- or low-carbon lifestyle would be a disaster, all hair-shirts and miserable denial, and that people wouldn't enjoy it, just wouldn't go for it. And while I’m certainly not advocating the kind of poverty that the local people had to live with – poverty is not noble and it’s not good enough in the 21st Century - the memory of the low-impact lifestyle we had while we were living there tells me that we can be remarkably adaptable and optimistic when we need to be. We can do it and we can enjoy ourselves.

This week on the blog, our blogging community is showcasing a series of "postcards" from places we've visited or lived in; parts of the world that have taught us something about that physical and spiritual sustainability that is so crucial if we really want to change the way we live in our world.

We hope you enjoy them – feel free to comment and tell us about your own experiences.

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