A Travellerspoint blog

Shelter

Traveling in developing countries you think often about houses, about shelter. How feeble they can be, how flexible that term, "shelter." Even in Penang we had to keep the beds to one side of the room because in a heavy rain the water would fly through the vents just below the ceiling--no more than diamond-shaped holes spaced regularly in the thin wall. In Uganda we once slept in huts that seemed to be made of nothing more elaborate than thick grass. Miraculously they had electricity--a dim bulb that cast such a pallor over everything that darkness seemed preferable. We had to stoop going in, and the door closed imperfectly. Outside we were surrounded by savannah--shoulder-high grass perfect for a stalking lion--and what a thrill it was. Ishasha. We were alone. At night the close sound of chewing. Hippopotamus, or some such. Lavender lightning flashing soundlessly every three seconds. It went on for hours. The place was uncomfortable, maybe dirty. Our skin was afraid to touch itself. Now it's beautiful in my mind. Shelter at its most fundamental.

Houses in the U.S. seem impossibly difficult to construct. Even a remodeling requires the involvement of half a dozen sub-professions. In other countries, in other times, perhaps a house could be built by the labor of one or two men, using material mostly collected from nearby land. If you happened upon such a structure in the middle of its construction, you could imagine how it was started, how it progressed each step of the way. And you would think, This, too, is a house? This simple thing? It would seem both improbable and magical, like a child's fortress suddenly turned real, or like living in a treehouse.

A house is a trap, too. Wanting one, owning one. Nesting. You give up so much not even realizing it. But it is also something beautiful. I won't deny it--a beautiful trap.

Posted by chschen 17:00 Archived in Malaysia

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