This time last year, I was about to celebrate in the back woods of Quebec, in a couple of small chalets with a bunch of my closest friends. We drank champagne, and had a very good time. I was also, and I mean this in a more general sense, trying to stay content while being increasingly unable to silence the voice in my head that kept asking "is this all there is?" Funny, that, as I had just days before shipped off an email asking about a job over here, and was soon to hear back from my now-boss.
Anyhoo, flash forward a year, and here I am. Missing my family and friends, yes, always, but unable to imagine if I stayed put. I guess that's the thing about going, isn't it? You never know until you get there. It's been far from perfect: I felt I might die, many nights, from homesickness. I've been aggravated and defeated and annoyed and upset more times than I can count. And during my first weeks and months here I couldn't imagine a time when I would not use any excuse as a chance to leave. Getting over that, alone, not to sound smug, I think, has been one of the most important experiences of my life thus far. To quote Oprah, just to annoy my British friends, I was a-scared. And now I am not.
I thought to celebrate, I might write a list of what I like about living here, aside from the wickedly funny and accepting people, and the expanded world view, and the reminder that there is so, so much I will do not know, and a lot of time (hopefully!) left to try and get at it.
Here it is:
1) Ethiopia. Greek Islands. Czech Republic. In eight months.
3) Adapting to the ready supply of whole wheat pita bread, and the dodgy supply of other kinds. Grilled cheese in a pita, peanut-butter-and-banana in a pita, eggs in a pita, beans in a pita, vegetables... etc.
4) Realising that the sarcastic, elitist, liberal-leaning, screwy sense of humour I've relied on as part of my charm does not translate with those who speak English as a second language. And having to work harder.
5) Pomegranate seeds, by the bowlful. Ever try to get them out yourself? Let alone extracting enough to fill generously portioned plastic tubs? Exactly.
6) Taking my clothes to the laundry, and getting them back with everything - and I do mean everything - ironed.
7) The call to prayer, five times a day. Okay, I am exaggerating slightly. I mean, they've boosted the volume significantly since Ramadan, and you could already hear it everywhere. The part I love, though, is seeing all the men streaming to mosques, sometimes with their little boys, to pray. It's devotion, pure and simple.
8) Living in a hotel. Stockholm Sydrome has overtaken me, and I never want to leave.
9) Hanging around British people, who are hilarious, and also do not care about self help, North American movies, television, celebrities or pop culture. Or Oprah.
10) Getting a whole new life, without losing my old one.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.
From the August issue of Esquire magazine's The Life List: 175 Things A Man Should Do Before He Dies:
No. 27: Live outside the homeland.
If you never live in another country - that is, rent a flat, get a car, buy groceries, greet the same people every day, struggle with the intricacies of the native language for a period of more than a few weeks - then you don’t really have a right to comment on much except the price of gas. It used to be men joined the Navy to see the world; people went to college to study abroad. Now we huddle and cringe at the price of the euro. Grow a set and get out of the country for a while.
Happy New Year