Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Reviewing ‘A Year in Green Tea and Tuk-Tuks’ by Rory Spowers

Why would you give up your job as a BBC journalist and go with your wife and young kids to Sri Lanka to establish a tea garden? The answer forms the focus of this book. English born ecological writer and researcher, Rory Spowers had an itch to live a more ecologically sustainable lifestyle and he explains how this aspiration was nurtured and how his green gifts were honed to the point that he could oversee a building development, set out gardens and orchards, implement appropriate irrigation systems and install solar energy panels.

The book begins grippingly with celebrations on Christmas Day 2004 when Rory says to Yvette, “moving to Sri Lanka has been the best decision that we have ever made.” Only a few hours later the Asian Tsunami surges like a vast wall, devastating the country, killing 217,000 people and leaving five million people homeless. A Year in Green Tea and Tuk-Tuks is an interesting read because it lifts the veil on life in Sri Lanka and it offers an eye-witness account of the massive work of reconstruction.

This book is the diary of a risk-taking family and, like good journals it gives an honest account not only of things done but of reactions, deep feelings and the rollercoaster of emotions.

The volume throbs with ecological and almost evangelical fervor as Spowers spreads a message that is as green as its cover. Instead of pontificating about what is wrong with the high human use and wastage of earth’s resources, Rory and his family roll up their sleeves, inspired by the words of Buckminister Fuller who said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” (p31)

The mood of the book is a hopeful one, not only hope for the local project but hope for the planet. Rory is down-to-earth, realistic and confessional—someone who tells it warts and all. It is too early to say whether the Spower’s project, ‘Samakanda’ (meaning ‘Peaceful Hill’), is a success story, as the Sri Lankan environment is vulnerable as well as beautiful and buying property, establishing buildings and doing business in this country is as tricky and as demoralizing as facing the spin bowling of Muttiah Muralitharan.

Like making tea, this book needed to have more time to draw. The diary approach helps the author to be frank but it makes the book overly detailed, thus clouding the bigger issues. Sometimes the chronological entry style does not work as the writer flits back in time or wants to say things that relate to another period.

Structurally, the book is a hotchpotch. At the three quarter mark the diary ends with an afterword and then the book putters along like a Tuk-Tuk as the author gives twelve essays on basic environmentalism or what Spowers calls ‘bio-versity’. These essays are succinct and thus the book acquires potential as an environmental primer.

With the glossary, index and pointers to web site resources, all that is needed is for the author to give his pages a serious pruning, add some group discussion questions and A Year in Green Tea and Tuk-Tuks could become a valuable book for people wanting to make a difference in their small corner.

Rory Spowers, A Year in Green Tea and Tuk-Tuks, (St. Ives, Great Britain: HarperElement, 2007). This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 56.00.

Geoff Pound

Image: Front Cover of A Year in Green Tea and Tuk-Tuks.