When I visit my sister, I am shocked to realize that she is happy there despite her fights – The Irish Times

“Every cucumber I’ve ever eaten came from under one of those,” my brother-in-law said, picking up at the airport at the end of my visit.

“truly?” I asked, thinking, perhaps for the first time, about cucumbers (where did they come from, what were their hopes and dreams). I wondered if they, like bananas, grow upside down in bunches.

There was no time to ask. I waved goodbye at the small airport, and waited in the hot lobby for my late flight.

Kilometer after kilometer of plastic blinds stretched over the dusty ground. From my sister’s home in a small Andalusian village high above the coast, it unfolds like a huge bed sheet to a giant unable to control.

The ups and downs of the region, southwest of Almeria in southern Spain, where I was visiting my sister, seemed to be between towering tourist development along the coast or inland terrain covered in plastic from greenhouses. Plastic blinds won, and now thousands of hectares of them extend over the dusty ground, producing millions of tons of market garden products.

Kilometer after kilometer of covered landscape can be seen, from mountains to sea. From my sister’s house in a small Andalusian village high above the undeveloped coast, it unfolds like a huge bed sheet to a giant uncontrollable.

Some immigrants in my sister’s village hate plastic mainly for aesthetic or environmental reasons. I read, though, that much of the water used to irrigate crops is seawater, designed to remove salt. I also learned that plastics crack in intense sunlight and will need to be replaced unless a more sustainable alternative is found.

There is a humanitarian issue as well, with many migrant greenhouse workers reportedly facing difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions.

This oddly unrecognizable, friendly little town is a place to live slowly and methodically buying bread from the bread cart and fish from the fish cart, both driving up the main hill in the morning and stopping in the square

Sitting in the only pub in town, under a fake pepper tree, most immigrants talk not about regional economic infrastructure but about more everyday matters, the everyday realities of life in a two-horse and two-horse town. It is a place where, every morning, two large, handsome guard dogs lead stuttering foals and their mares to the plaza to drink from the old stone basin, before guiding them back to the sanctuary.

The small group of arrivals, like the rest of the community, live a life dwarfed by the size of the landscape, the white heat weight of the narrow streets, the black bark of the well-spaced olive trees, the scorching brown mountains and the enormous purple shadows that fall upon them as the sun sets.

My sister was sick. I had come to see her after a long separation due to Covid. After three years of unsatisfying phone calls and Zoom calls, I got really hot but also realized she was very happy in this place despite the personal battles she was having.

This oddly unrecognizable, friendly little town is a place to live slowly and methodically buying bread from the bread cart and fish from the fish cart, both driving up the main hill in the morning and stopping in the square. It’s a place to sit and watch the precarious foals dip their heads into the cool well water, and drink coffee in the accompanying silence, to feel the mighty earth cascade away under your flimsy slipper. Sitting in the welcoming shadow, I wondered if I could live like this permanently.

I pulled out my passport, queued at the desk, and thought of the tender foals scurrying across the town square to dip their heads in the fresh and cold water, and braced myself for my return to town.

My flight finally materialized, soaring over polythene and the blue Chinese sea, I landed a few hours later in a flood that washed the runway at Dublin Airport clean.

We emerged from the plane in a long, grueling queue to navigate the dark tarmac, budget passengers looking tired. Almost everyone had a lot of bags. Some had infants roaring. Families squabbled over hard-shell suitcases. People with sunglasses on their heads rushed into the bathrooms.

I watched a woman about my age swing through forgetful lanes that roll like filthy tape between the gate and baggage reclaim. She was traveling alone, discreetly strapped to a large, oversized suitcase, and wearing distressing skinny jeans and shiny, high-heeled nude shoes. Bringing up the butt, I was able to see where the treacherous shoes were digging in, creating raw, sore spots on her heels.

She wondered why she was so upset, what visions of herself she had been holding on to. What fantasy of access was playing in her imagination that made the trip worth the pain? I was hoping someone would be waiting for her to whip her off her damaged feet.

I pulled out my passport, queued at the desk, thought of the tender foals scurrying across the town square to dip their heads in the fresh and cold water, and braced myself for my return to town.