(Published today in Business Standard)
My packing process has always been to stress out about it for two weeks beforehand while catching up on TV shows. At the eleventh hour I fling in clothes by the kilo rather than by usefulness, take the shoes I’m wearing, and tear around town buying supplies, finishing work, and saying goodbye to friends and family in the two hours before my cab leaves for the train station or the airport. It’s amazing how well one can get by at the beach with six sweaters and no underwear.
I’m getting better at organisation, but other issues have cropped up.
In 1999, I left home for three weeks carrying a small duffel bag and a knapsack. The bag contained t-shirts, a pair of jeans, a sweater, underwear, and a camera. The backpack contained my passport, tickets, wallet, and a book. I didn’t have a phone. I had never even heard of ‘travel insurance’. I just took off and had a great time. That’s how you travel at 27.
This week, as I surveyed my suitcase, I saw clothes for every climate known to man—even, possibly, for every man; and a vast sea of pills, interrupted only by the odd joint brace.
I have not been kind to my body recently. (For reasons of patient confidentiality I can’t get into the details, but I have this friend who drank too much, smoked too many cigarettes, had too many late nights, and stopped exercising completely for half a year.) I’m here—just barely—to tell you that in that dark alley of delinquency I ran into middle age, who turns out to be a violent, vindictive jerkface.
First, it broke my chest with an infection. Then it broke my tummy, both ways, so that first I was on stop-it-ups, and then on let-it-gos. Then it broke my eyes with a hat trick of styes that required three rounds of eyedrops, hot compresses and antibiotics, and one episode of corneal cell death. (“Relax,” said my ophthalmologist, “all I do all day is bring cells back.”) Somewhere in between came a vicious flu and a sprained ankle with crutches, crepe bandages, ice packs, and hot salted water.
As soon as I could walk, I began to heave myself around the park again, because my trip involves some trekking. So far, my fitness regimen has resulted in a sore back and an inflamed tendon. Then I bit down on a small stone in my food, and an ominous sensation shot all the way down through my jaw. A couple of days ago a seam in my track pants split during my morning walk, and the chafing created an angry, exquisitely painful welt on my inner thigh.
So packing isn’t what it used to be—it’s more like packing up. My bag includes anti-malaria pills, antacids and anti-emetics for the anti-malaria pills, mosquito repellent spray and patches, antihistamines, five kinds of antibiotic pills and creams, tummy meds, probiotics for the tummy meds, anti-spasmodic pills, muscular-skeletal painkillers, thyroid medication, muscle relaxant tablets and gel, fever meds, headache meds, antiseptic lotion, antibiotic eye drops, lubricating eye drops, crepe bandage, ankle sock, blister pads, band aids, gauze and surgical tape. Oh, and sunscreen. Ridiculous, right? On the other hand, I’m already using the gauze and surgical tape for the welt on my thigh. It was right there, amid my better-organised, already-bought packing items.
So this is how I’m going to the jungles of Rwanda—fat, wheezy, limping, swollen-eyed, raw-toothed, and sore all over, much like the UK after Brexit.
I can’t wait! The only thing that the thug in the alley hasn’t broken is my spirit. (Yet.)