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Posts Tagged ‘people’

fatima

Fatima in the doorstep of her house in Chefchaouen

I met Fatima in the street near her house in Chefchaouen, Morocco. She invited me in for tea and suggested I marry her son.

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A strange medley of market stalls run along the outer wall of the famous jesuit ruins of San Ignacio Mini in Argentina. They are strung together by the cheap and cheerful wares they display and the desperate glint in the eyes of the vendors. Strolling by, each hawker greets you, entices you to touch their merchandise (as they know touch to be a forerunner to desire), desperate that you will pause with them before you realise that each table is lined with identical mass-produced tourist rubbish, the same colourful trash that tourists must inevitably carry home with them to gift to disappointed relatives or hide in forgotten drawers. If you fail to show sufficient interest they either glower at you (they may as well spit on your feet for the way it makes you feel) or apply the tireless nag-factor technique that children the world over have honed in the aisles of supermarkets and toy stores.

By the end of the consumer gauntlet you feel weary and spent, already dreading the return journey. You may consider walking off into the wild but are braced by the realisation that, no matter how far or in which direction you walk on this continent, you will surely have to run the gauntlet again before too long.

Plaza de Armas, San Ignacio Mini

I warily pay the 10 peso entrada and try not to notice the incredulous glares from the merchants at this definitive proof of wealth. It is here that the fence line, ashen and overgrown, leaps skyward before continuing its dance about the perimeter. Upon entering the grounds the sense of exit is overwhelming. The world of haggling and sweat, sustenance and toil, copulation and excretion stands glowering behind the wall, invisible from the inside; it seems possible that it never existed now that you have entered this eternal dream state. Time is an illusion. This is real. Even the smattering of tourists disappear into their own dimensions and I am left alone in mine. Here I am in a world of substance; there is a sense that nothing has really existed before, except this place. This is the only place that has ever existed and I am the only woman.

Walking across the grassy plazas my shoes melt away and the grass caresses my bare feet. I feel every blade. I am every blade. I am every brick. I am the breeze in the trees and the sun on my skin. I am the moss that slithers up the side of the fallen cathedral, the clouds floating across its gaping ceiling. I see the outline of the houses, only a handful of bricks high. They grow up from their skeletons and reach their former heights. Straw grows over them, forming rooves. I see people come and go, smiling at one another, working, embracing. I see an entire civilization laid before me. I smell the casserole bubbling away on the fire, the juicy steam curling out of a doorway and down the lane. My mouth is watering. I hear the cajoling crowd at a public meeting. I don’t know what they are saying but the trees are alive with cheers and jeers. Touching my fingers to the dank brickwork in a hidden corner, they come away bloody. I lick the salty juice of the ages and lay down on the grass to gaze into the eye of the Universe.

It’s all pretend, of course. I don’t see a thing. I only feel it, yearn for it, dream it into being. How can you know a thing about this place and these people if you haven’t lived with them, loved them, or paid for a tour? And who can afford to pay for a tour?

Ancient worlds spring up from the ruins of San Ignacio Mini in Argentina

I content myself with imagining their world and delight at the thought that one day, four hundred years ago, a young Jesuit priest had sat in this very spot and imagined our own world. Had he seen the tread marks of our rubber-soled shoes trampled through his village paths? Had he smelled the artificial orange fizz that I guzzled with my lunch? Had he hid his eyes from the mass-produced vendors selling “handicrafts” made by faceless strangers in a distant factory? Had he felt my breath on his neck, my hair on his chest, and fancied himself in love? At this thought I lose all interest in his world. Steeling myself to face my jurors, I pass once more through the festival of fabric and retire to my rooms.

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This post follows on from yesterday’s post (lessons 1 – 14 of 29 lessons i’ve learned so far) in celebration of my 29th birthday…

In my fifteenth year I learned that if you tell a boy your friend likes him, even if she really does and even if he likes her back and they then start dating, she might not talk to you again for a really long time.

I think of my grandpa every time I see an Hibiscus flower

In my sixteenth year I learned that old people sometimes know when they are going to die. My grandfather invited me to visit one weekend and spent the day sharing memories and giving me small gifts. He had a stroke a few days later and died the next week. I still miss that man, who taught me to play pool in the his billiards room; who let me get my curious little fingers into his amazing collection of antiques; who played hide and seek with me in his hibiscus gardens; and gave me “horsey rides” on his great, kauri knees.

In my seventeenth year I learned what it feels like to fall in love and give yourself completely to someone else, body and soul. I also learned that it hurts like a motherf#@ker to get tackled by a Tongan princess in a rugby match.

In my eighteenth year I learned how boring it is to be unemployed and that I needed an education to get a “good” job. I learned later in life that that’s pretty much bull, but still.

Catherine and Heathcliff share a dark, destructive love in Wuthering Heights

In my nineteenth year of life I learned, for the first time, how a great book can sweep you up completely. I was reading Wuthering Heights and got completely lost in that mad, brooding world, unable to sleep until I devoured each and every word.

In my twentieth year of life I learned that sometimes love ends. It just runs its course.

In my twenty-first year of life I learned that if you drink an entire 40oz. of vodka all by yourself while you’re camping out in the middle of nowhere you will do a lot of embarrassing things you’ll never remember and your boyfriend won’t sleep a wink because he will be watching you all night to make sure you don’t stop breathing.

In my twenty-second year of life I learned that I enjoy pottery but don’t have the patience to make anything good. (I made my mum an antipasto platter and caught her the next week using it as an ashtray. Nice one.)

In my twenty-third year of life I learned that it is actually possible to work four jobs at the same time, if you are a good scheduler.

In my twenty-fourth year of life I learned that if you believe in yourself and work hard enough you can get what you want.

In my twenty-fifth year of life I learned to be careful what you wish for because you might just get it. I looked around me and saw my future in the eyes of middle-managers. It was frightening. On a brighter note, I went on my first international adventure and learned instantly that I was destined to become a travel junky.

In Lack'ech: We are all one

In my twenty-sixth year of life I learned that we are all one. I also learned that if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other your legs can take you pretty much anywhere you’d care to go. Oh yeah, and I learned Spanish.

In my twenty-seventh year of life I learned that people who live on remote islands can have very strange attitudes about relationships. I also learned that children have an amazing capacity for love, forgiveness, and optimism.

In my twenty-eighth year of life I learned what it feels like to think you might die in a sweaty hostel room in Morocco while your fellow travellers smoke hashish, watch the Olympics on mute, and pay you no heed in an adjoining room. I also learned the magic of being alone in the mountains staring into eternity on a clear black night.

In my twenty-ninth year of life I learned that I am stronger than I thought. I saw death and destruction on a massive and personal scale, thought my heart would burst on several occasions, and survived a bout of malaria; but came through it smiling.

I wonder what I may learn in this, my thirtieth year of life. Perhaps not to waste people’s precious time with pointless lists about what I’ve learned? Sorry about that, I’m only twenty-nine.

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Today is my twenty-ninth birthday. That’s right people, I am now beginning my thirtieth year of life in this body. In honour of this momentous event I present you with a list (can you tell I like lists a lot?) of 29 lessons learned thus far.

The first year can be a bit full on for any child

In my first year of life I learned how to breathe and cry and get my parents attention. I also must have learned how to create some sort of logic out of all the sensory input my little brain was receiving. That’s pretty amazing; probably my greatest single accomplishment to date really.

In my second year I learned how to walk, talk, feed myself, and hold a crayon.

In my third year I learned how to ride a motorbike. My dad was driving it, but still.

In my fourth year I learned that if I wore my new red shoes I could run really, really fast.

In my fifth year I learned to share my parents because my little brother was born. I also started school and learnt that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be on my first day when, aged four and a half, my mum and the teacher literally had to carry me into the classroom kicking and screaming.

In my sixth year I learned that if I told a schoolyard bully that my big brother would beat him up he would stop picking on me.

In my seventh year I learned that it is both scary and quite exciting to move countries. I also learned that my friend Lily could dive off the banister outside our classroom without hurting herself if she landed with a stunt roll.

My undies were not as cool as these ones

In my eighth year I learned that it is not cool when your dad owns an emporium in which he sells orange underwear because if boys lift your skirt up (which they are prone to do at that age) and always see orange they will tell everyone you never change your undies and you will be shamed.

In my ninth year I learned that the teachers who get the best results are the ones that bribe kids into good behaviour with lollies and bottles of soda stream.

In my tenth year I learned how thrilling it was to travel the world solving mysteries. I can’t remember where in the world Carmen Santiago actually was, but it was fun trying to find her.

In my eleventh year I learned that some kids are bad. We had a boy in our class that used to scream at our teacher and call her “tits on a stick” before throwing his chair at her and storming out. I learned years later that sometimes bad kids grow up and die of drug overdoses when they are still very young. That wasn’t a nice lesson.

Am I really less talented than a cow???

In my twelfth year I learned that I had star potential when I played “Widow Swanky” in a version of Aladdin that our teacher had written for the class. I also learned about envy when everyone thought the kid that was dressed as a cow was a legend but nobody told me I had a good singing voice.
In my thirteenth year I learned about death. A friend’s older sister died suddenly of meningitis. The funeral was at the beach and they played Bryan Adam’s Everything I Do.

In my fourteenth year I learned that sometimes people get so sad that they choose to end their own lives. That’s what my brother did. In his car. In the mountains outside the city. He was missing for two days before they found him.

…This post is getting long (and a little depressing – sorry) so I think I will continue tomorrow with lessons 15 – 29.

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I travel a lot and, while travel is a favoured pastime, you only have to read a few of the blogs on wordpress to realise that we all have our own unique travel style.

My own travel style has changed over the years. When I started travelling in South America back in 2006 it was as a typical backpacker – bussing from attraction to attraction, staying in backpacker dorm rooms, reading my Footprint guide each night over dinner, and seeing the must see sights.

Valle de la Luna in Argentina was one of the most amazing places I ever visited; and almost tourist-free.

But as the months wore on it felt like something was missing from the experience. I got tired of only talking to other travellers and always in English. It seemed ridiculous to be so far from home and meeting the same people that were staying at the backpackers down the road from my house back home. It was also depressing how many longer-term travellers (myself included) were failing to master the local language. I wanted to meet real Argentineans, Peruvians, Brazilians, what have you; to get to know the latin cities from an insiders’ perspective. Then one day a friend emailed me the link for Couchsurfing and, after overcoming my initial doubts and giving it a try, I was hooked.

Soon, after months on the road, many box-checking sights (cathedrals, museums, ruins, and such) started to blur together. For a while I kept visiting these places out of a sense of duty and a fear of missing out but eventually my tourist budget was reserved for the must sees and my favoured activities became meandering through back streets and talking to strangers in plazas.

I met Ibrihim on the banks of the Seine, where he was living rough. He gave me a full-day tour of Paris

Once I started staying with locals and chatting with people in public places (bus stops, plazas, cafes) my notebook began filling up with inside tips about the best places to eat, the most beautiful spots, and where to find the dustiest, back-alley bookshops. Most of these tips were not in the guidebook, so I stopped referring to it except for emergencies. Eventually it became surplus to requirements and took up too much space and weight in my backpack so it was abandoned in a hostel.

Over the years my travel style has evolved, become more fluid. I try not to plan too much, look for out-of-the-way spots, and while I have still visited a lot of big sights – Iguazu Falls, the Bolivian Saltflats, Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu, the Alhambra, the TATE Modern, Antigua, etc. – I have come to realise that there is a lot more to see than you realise and that if you stick to the big stuff you may miss all the tiny details that give a place its personality.

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My friend Epa - living rough in Santa Ana, El Salvador

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Sun-strolling through the manicured universe of LA: grass so green and well-clipped it seems like a set, a pseudo version of nature; palm trees; oddballs; arid plants; traffic lolling in wide, trashless streets. The ocean a band of dull blue stretching from the shore to the horizon. Dust coloured beach split by the concrete expressway along which whizz rollerskating and bicycle riding ants (or so they seem from here). People power-walk through the park, listening to their ipods, stretch in leotards against pristine park benches or talk hip-fisted on wireless headsets. I have to ask – doesn’t anyone work in LA?

Everything seems new, everything fake, as if this city and all the people in it are acting out some massive play. Is it all here for my benefit? I like to think so.

(Why are the lampposts numbered?)

A man lights his pipe, sucks one, two, three puffs, and strolls on. A tall man behind a long lense snaps some towering palms. I crunch down on the small, organic Pacific Rose I just bought in the farmers market. The sun shines – people worship her or hide from her in the damp shade of the palms. Strolling past me waft multi-lingual vocalisations; people power by in walking shorts and bras, unashamedly underdressed in this human zoo; men meander in matching hats; middle-aged women walk their dogs, young women walk themselves; the smell of burning rubber (from where?); the burn of sun on skin (where is my sunblock?); the irony of a coldsore (wasn’t it just 3 days ago that I threw out the Zovirax?); shadow of bird skirts the grass at my feet; tickle of unseen creature on my exposed lower back (ants?); everybody is blond, taut, sweat-gleaned, in running shoes and skin-tight lycras…

continue reading rollerskating ants and hip-fisted cellphone suits >>

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