Monday, 24 March 2014

Sun, Sea and Suits

[For twenty-plus years I travelled the world, helping companies make pharmaceuticals safely. Most of my trips were to Russia and the former Soviet Union countries. Occasionally, I got invited somewhere completely different.]

In the daylight, after a night when I didn’t get eaten alive by mosquitoes, as I’d expected to, things start to look a little better.  However, I still can’t get over the feeling: ‘wrong time, wrong place’.

We reached Mahe yesterday.  If I was on holiday, I’d be ecstatic.  This tropical island has exotic plants and birds, constantly high temperatures, wonderful fish both in the sea and on the barbecue  and a relaxed atmosphere.  Unfortunately, I’m on a business trip, complete with smart suit and laptop.  This is certainly not a typical business destination and frankly, I’m feeling outside my comfort zone.

There are no business hotels here.  My bungalow is a gentle stroll up the hill from the ocean.  At dead of night, when the birds and insects are quiet, I can hear waves breaking on the shore. 

My room is clean and functional.  I’d found it occupied by a small gecko that disappeared into the roof as soon as I arrived last night.  Rather worrying, that.  I’m much happier when I know where my room-mates are.  Pillows, towels and shelves are decorated with waxy orchid petals.  There is no wardrobe, just a small alcove for my clothes.  The bathroom is tiny, and I am sharing it with more wild-life including a giant beetle.  It’s a friendly co-existence so far, although as the newcomer, I’m treating the original occupants with respect. 

At six fifteen in the morning, I sit on the veranda, surrounded by trees and plants whose names I can only guess at.  I recognise the coconut palm, plus several plants I am used to seeing in pots at home, but that’s about it.  Birds fly around my head without fear.  The sun is rising and a gentle breeze blows which will keep the worst of the heat at bay.  Maybe things are not so bad after all.

For breakfast, we enjoy fresh paw-paw, coconut, banana and avocado.  Fascinating to think most of these were picked this morning from the surrounding trees. The other (human) residents of the property wear bikinis and trunks to the table. They smile at my formal attire and I feel their sympathy wash over me as I pick up my briefcase and head for the car.

Working in Seychelles is an interesting experience, with little or no formality.  Our host, a government minister, meets us in open-necked shirt and no jacket.  At lunchtime, we head for the Pirates Arms, described as the place to eat.  My colleagues look over-dressed in their suits and ties. 

After work, I take a long swim in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, surrounded by small silver fish seemingly fearless.  I walk the length of the beach with my companions, watching the sun go down before heading off for another wonderful fish supper.  My phone call from home, listing the day’s messages, is an intrusion.  I realise how quickly this idyll has won me over.

The next morning it is raining hard and the islanders are delighted. They are desperately short of water, although this seems hard to believe when one looks at the lush undergrowth.  These rainstorms are short-lived; no doubt we are in for another hot and sunny day.


  1. Can I hide in your suitcase next time you go? Sounds like a wonderful place.

    1. Join the queue Kay-Anne. You'd be amazed how many people offered to carry my bags (or stow away in them) when I went to Seychelles (and we also visited Mauritius on the same project). Far fewer offers to share my trips to Russia in the winter however!