Let me explain.
On my third stop on my working sabbatical, there was supposed to be a second phase after Santiago. I was slated to run the program in Lithuania which equated to another four months of work. But, seemingly overnight, things took a hard-left turn when the partners decided to cancel the summer program to do a wise and necessary re-boot instead of forcing it. While the end of sabbatical was looming on the horizon for September, it came screeching to the forefront. I was suddenly out of work, scheduled to fly to Europe the very next day to work remotely before the program launch in Lithuania. Instead, I now looks like I'll be taking the longest route home from Santiago: Sao Paulo, Ericeira, London, Halifax, and then Vancouver.
If asked to describe my time in Santiago in just one word, I would say ‘solitary’ without hesitation. I live on my own. I work from home because there is no office for us to congregate in plus many of the team work remotely. Not to mention that most the actual work is solitary so aside from a weekly meeting with my boss, and a flurry of emails, work doesn’t provide much connection. I don’t speak the local language so meeting people is hard. Moreover, because I am going to be in Santiago for two and a half months, it seemed like an uphill battle to make friends.
Last year, I was blessed to meet a group of great people who quickly went from strangers to friends I felt like I’d known for years. But with such a short time here, I knew I’d be in for another round of blubbering goodbyes and I just didn’t have the stomach for it again so soon.
The worst fate of a eulogy in my opinion? Waiting until the final act to realize that you are the heroine of this fairy tale. Enter the living eulogy.
I stumbled across an article about living eulogies early in 2017 when contemplating the deep and ominous topic of “What is my purpose?” Over the following months, I periodically jotted notes about what I hoped my eulogy might say but never did the hard work of actually writing it. Unsuspectingly, the little nudge I needed to put pen to paper was the grandma in the music video for Macklemore’s Glorious (my theme song for 2018) who when asked what she wants to do that day to celebrate her 100th birthday, responds, “Anything? God, I want to do it all.”
Realizing that the core of my Spanish – una cerveza, por favor – was decidedly not going to help me figure out where to catch the bus was a desperate moment. Not to mention the subsequent shame when I bashfully resorted to holding up my phone with the question to the window at the information desk, full-screen with an obnoxious blue background on Google Translate to announce my incompetence. All the while shrinking with the mild paranoia that everyone thinks I’m one of those pretentious tourists that believes everyone ought to speak English. Morever, confused about how I would have managed a decade ago in the pre-cell travel era.
One week in Chile filled with improvised sign language, smiling stupidly and dishonourable uses of Google Translate, and I registered for a week-long intensive Spanish class. There is no way I would survive three months in Chile with only the ability to order a beer in the local language.
Sitting in the Vancouver airport, I was full of nerves and butterflies – I was on the road again. Eighteen hours of travel later including a brutal red-eye where it’s impossible to get any decent amount of sleep, the dusty peaks of the South American backbone, the Andes, emerged.
Santiago is hot and loud as is typical for South American cities. The air is stagnant and you can hardly see the mountains that encircle the city. As I poured over the Lonely Planet in my Airbnb, I got occasional relief from the sweltering heat as the fan blew air across the rivers of sweat running down my arms. My body was currently acclimatized to a winter world of rain, hot cocoa and furnaces; but within hours, I’d transported it to a city the heat is so fierce that I’m convinced it’s where the devil lives.
My trip home to Vancouver was only meant to be a short-ish visit over the holidays. Three weeks tops so that my sabbatical wouldn’t lose momentum and I would avoid getting stuck in the quicksand of familiarity. I bubbled with excitement at the idea of giving my family and friends a big squeeze (sorry FaceTime you can't really compete with in-person hugs) but I didn't want not to stay so long that I became a regular fixture in my former life again. However, things didn’t exactly go as planned and a short visit stretched into six weeks.
For the first few weeks that I was home, the refrain on repeat in my head was “Get me outta here. Nothing has changed here. This is not my city anymore.” Vancouver no longer had it hooks in me the way it used too. After London, this city felt small, sleepy and unrefined. While I claimed to know Vancouver like the back of my hand, I had the surreal feeling of being lost in my own home town. The whole last year felt like a dream. Not to mention being back in my old bedroom created another a time warp sensation!
As I attempted to put words to the phenomena, I slowly came to describe this unsettling experience with a little help from C.S. Lewis. It is as if I spent the whole last year in Narnia, a wild and magical place, and now I was crouched in the dark recesses of a wooden wardrobe. People from the “grown up world” kept peeking their heads into the closet and asking “What are you doing in there, Andi?" and nudging me to come out. But with trepidation, I would rap lightly on the rear wall of the wardrobe, hoping that I could find my way back to Narnia if I believed fervently enough in its existence - just like Lucy in the classic tale. It was frustrating to know that it was there, just out of my reach, and there was no way to show everyone my Narnia.
I loved 2017. It was a year of adventure -- full of firsts, unexpected twists and turns and never ending ups and downs. The year rumbled with laughter, was sprinkled with creativity and warmed by friends and family. The happiest words I know are "I have enough."
I enter 2018 with a very full heart, a slightly emptier wallet, and much anticipation for the year ahead. Because there were some uncertainities regarding next gig in Chile over the holiday season, I felt like I stumbled into 2018 far less gracefully than I had expected. A stark contrast to how I approached 2017, the first year of my soul sabbatical.
But since it’s the reflective season, I started digging through past journals and to-do lists, taking stock of what has changed – and what hasn’t – as I thought about where I ended up at the end of the year and what I hoped would come next as 2018 unfolded. A little surprise emerged as I flipped through many the pages: I had a collection of post-it notes messages to myself that give a little glimpse into my learnings from 2017 to help me settle into 2018 with grit, grace and gratitude.
Some people have harboured years of closeted vocal desires by singing in the shower and warbling their way through karaoke duets. I am not that girl. Those who know me well have learnt that karaoke is my worst fear – it combines my dislikes of reading out loud and singing out loud. The reading aloud portion of my karaoke fear comes from the fact that I’m useless with lyrics. I still make up different choruses for sing-a-long classics like Sweet Caroline and Bohemian Rhapsody. With my luck, I’d discover that the lyrics “sweet dreams are made of cheese” are actually “sweet dreams are made of these” for the first time up on stage, microphone in hand... and after years of thinking “the Eurythmics just get me!” my disappointment with the real version would be palpable.
Technically speaking, I should love singing. You see, I am blessed with the prized “gift” of perfect pitch but sadly, I’ve always felt that I wasn’t gifted a vocal instrument to go along with it. To me, perfect pitch just means I am painfully aware of how off key I am. The last time I sang was probably in high school when I was in a few musicals – exclusively as a chorus girl because I could jitterbug and Charleston with the best. It’s probably unfair to judge my voice so harshly. After all, we would never judge a first-time figure skater as she attempted to execute a triple salchow. Our voices, like all muscles, require training and my singing voice gets a workout about as often as I go to the gym.
That said, for years mastering one single song for karaoke has been on my apoca-list (which is my list of things to do before the world ends). I’ve already determined it will be Carly Simon’s Your So Vain. While I own the power of my voice in many realms, I’ve been scared of its song. Sammy Davis Jr, one the singing greats, said, “you always have two choices: your commitment versus your fear” so this burgeoning songbird joined the flock at Hackney Harmony and became a treble maker.
While this year, there are no costumes parties to grace, Halloween still gives a chance to transition into a world that is quite different from our ordinary reality, to play a different character in the stories and myths we are writing about own lives. This time last year, I was at a very different point in the story: I was in the belly of a whale.
I’m pretty sure I learned everything I know about Englishmen while reading Pride and Prejudice in grade ten (and by "reading" I mean watching the BBC classic that lead every teenage girl in my class to have a massive crush on Mr Darcy).
I rounded out my education with a crazy cacophony of clichés. Bert from Mary Poppins taught me the best Englishmen men float when they laugh – and have terrible Cockney accents. Bridget Jones Diary showed how silly English men look fighting to especially when set against the backdrop of the classic pop tune It’s Raining Men. I learned what Englishmen consider funny from episodes of Monty Python (my favourite is the Ministry of Silly Walks). My edification would be incomplete without flipping through copies of Hello magazine at the grocery store checkout for juicy stories of Prince Harry and David Beckham.
With this as my baseline definition of Englishmen, what could go wrong? Perhaps I unwittingly expected my new flatmates to possess stereotypic quick wit, self-deprecating humour and posh accents while adorned in dinner jackets and wrapped in cloak of cigar smoke like the mythical English gentlemen that the media feeds us. However, the gentlemen of Upper Tollington Park Road are so much more.
You may have noticed that I glossed right over my trip to Prague with Meagan – the last stop on my summer tour before landing in London. At the time, writing about all the touristy things I saw didn’t hold enough weight to warrant writing about.
Type “Prague” into the search bar and images of colourful buildings, ornate architecture (with chopstick-like spires punctuating the skyline) and lush, green parks will pop up. It is a gorgeous, well-preserved medieval city coupled with a rich history, raucous nightlife (for those with more stamina than me!), and a hint of romance. While I could warn seasoned travellers how fantastically underwhelming the dancing figures are at the astronomical clock are or how crowded Charles Bridge can be mid-afternoon, this isn’t a travel blog per se and I didn’t feel like there was a story worth sharing. What could I add except a few touristy pictures of art and food?
But given a little patience, all things can turn into stories; and your patience has been rewarded.
It’s been said that serendipity favours the bold, brave or prepared but I’m here to tell you it also favours those who feast.
Denmark has it all. Seemingly endless array of toppings to fulfil your rye bread fantasies. White wind turbines peeking out over the horizon everywhere. Deluxe hotdogs. Peculiar shops and top designs. Beer and cocktails. Tivoli. Attractive men cycling in suits who clearly invented the fashion beard. The most amazing community centers. Snegels. And an extra-terrestrial language.
Recently, I’ve been talking a lot about how technology makes it so easy to stay in touch across great distances. Feeling so deeply connected to home while being on the other side of the world is one of the most unexpected experiences of the adventure so far. It's like that Adele song... Hello from the other side...
While I was traveling in Africa in 2007, 22-years-old and 5,000 miles away from home, I desperately wished I could easily communicate with my friends and family. But there were only three options: novel-length letters, emails written from internet cafes with patchy service or POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) which often felt like we're using a tin-can phone. Mostly, my parents would get brief emails every couple of weeks letting them know I’m still alive and had not yet been eaten by a lion. Just kidding – it's hippos you have to be afraid of. Periodically, I’d write a few longer notes describing my adventures but would have to hold my breath and keep my fingers crossed, hoping that the internet connection wouldn’t crap out before I pressed send causing everything I'd written to disappear into the ether. NOOOOOOO!!!!!!
The Oxford Dictionary defines hygge as “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or wellbeing” but I’m pretty sure most Danes would say it’s much more than that almost clinical definition.
I feel like I’ve been in limbo for a while now and it’s starting to wear me down and I just need to chat about it before I can jump into action.
Nice to meet you...
I'm Andi (hence the blog name). I'm a travel aficionado, passionate eater, tireless explorer of internet rabbit-holes, and amateur thinker. Join me as I give it all up (ok, that's a bit of an exaggeration) and go around the world on a mid-career "soul sabbatical" & year-of-learning to figure out what to be NEXT when I grow up. Won’t you grab a cup of chai and stay a while?
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