November 2019 - Rector’s Ramblings

‘A kind of magic’ 

As I write, it is just over a fortnight since my return from a holiday spent in south-east Asia.  As part of that trip, Karen and I spent a remarkable three days in the Sumatran rainforest, trekking (climbing), camping and soaking up the sights and sounds of a hot and humid, bright and fascinating environment.   We were privileged to be in that exotic setting.  We were a bit brave: everyone else in our small party of visitors was between twenty and thirty years younger than us.   And we were well looked after by three hard-working and experienced local guides as we set off from Bukit Lawang into the national park.

It was a tremendous expedition.   It tested our endurance; even our sanity, at times; but rich images of flora and fauna will stick with us for the rest of our lives.   For all that we encountered, however, my personal memory will equally be of the friendly humour and graciousness of chief guide ‘Harry’; as memorable as the jungle setting itself.

Harry had a lovely teasing nature, and a mysterious twinkle in his eye. You could never entirely know if he was in earnest or was joking.  And my favourite experience of him, was his repeated inscrutable contention that ‘everything is possible in the jungle’!  It was a challenging assertion: inviting us to consider that, truly, we were now in a different world; and all our homely presumptions were worth holding onto a little more lightly now we had been transported somewhere special, and wildly different.

This favourite phrase came to his lips several times each day.  He used it when he was describing the animals close at hand: their strangeness, and the danger they brought; their habits and their peculiarities  - did you know that orangutans, of whom we saw 17, don’t like the rain just as much a humans dislike it, and will pick a huge leaf and parade it as an umbrella when the heavens open?    He talked of the sources of nourishment available to us in the rainforest, the surprising uses of the plants, and the deadly ants (which you could tell apart from the less frightening ones); and in truth there was so much that was unfamiliar and extraordinary for us that his playful words had a mystical authority about them: ‘everything is possible in the jungle’!    With a wry seriousness, Harry used his favourite phrase best of all when he showed us card tricks by torchlight as we sat on tarpaulins on the ground after supper.    He confounded us with the hidden trickery of numbers or by sleight of hand  - oh, so western!   How did you do that, Harry?   ‘Ah’, as if to explain, ‘… everything is possible in the jungle’.  We loved him, and knew our expedition would have been a far thinner exploit without Harry.

So, I’m left with this perception that there was a different realm of possibility in the jungle; that it was a place where, just maybe, different rules applied; different truths were self-evident; different values prevailed.    In this magical place, it did behove us all .. to think again.

It can be good, occasionally, to be unsettled.  Important things may be stirred in us.   

And company shared in adversity can be very special.

Andrew Doye, Rector

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