As it is quite some time since I have put my creative writing skills to use, I was tempted to begin this piece with, “Lá breá, brothallach, greine, Samhraidh a bhí ann…”. For those of you aren’t from Ireland, this opening or something along these lines, is probably how almost every 13 to 15 year old in Ireland began any school essay in Irish. Regardless of where the story might lead the protagonist, it always began as a beautiful, hot, sunny, Summer’s day. I suppose it was wishful thinking on our parts, as most of us had seldom seen a hot, sunny, Summer’s day, but we lived in hope and dreamed.
It was around this time in my youth, I also discovered I had a desire to travel. Foreign travel wasn’t really the norm for Irish families at that time, so I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to travel abroad at such a young age. In my early teens we took our first family holiday abroad, we went to the south of France, camping. Looking back now I see all the trials and tribulations my parents had to content with; from seasickness, getting lost in Belgium ( I kid you not), having our car broken into, passports and cameras stolen, to ending up in the hospital after my cousin had an altercation with a glass bottle in a supermarket check out line. But these were not the memories that stuck with me, I only remember the warmth of the sun and sea, the lavender and herb scented air and playing Petanque (bowling) in the village square with our new friends. I took my first solo adventure at the ripe old age of 13, when I travelled to Germany to visit my pen-pal, (please tell me you know what a pen-pal is!). I flew to Frankfurt on my own and spent a week in the Westerwald with the Petri’s, my host family. There I discovered the Beatles, Alan Parson’s Project, German youth culture and my first words of German, ‘ich habe Hunger’! When I think about it was probably very forward of me but I proudly used the phrase at every opportunity I could, needless to say I was very well fed. And every other Easter we went with the local athletic club to North London. I witnessed the buzz, excitement and bright lights of the big city; Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Covent Garden and the totally eye opening Carnaby Street, where I saw my first real punk rocker, complete with bright red cocks comb hair and metal spiked neck choker. The travel bug had bitten and I couldn’t get enough of it; the sights, the sounds, the smells and yes, even sometimes the tastes.
Having finished school, I moved, first to Cork and then to Dublin for College and subsequently work. Although I continued to travel during my annual holidays, I was eager for my next big step. It turned out to be more of a leap than a step. Since ever I could remember I wanted to go to Africa. My aunt, a nun with the Presentation Sisters, had spent almost 18 years ‘on the missions’ in what was then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Our family had a bi-monthly subscription to the ‘Africa’ magazine to support the work of the missions and I even won a Noogie Colouring Competition in one edition. Africa and the idea of it had always surrounded me. So when the opportunity presented itself, I took it and moved to Uganda to work in a Kampala mission hospital for over two years. Though supportive, all my poor parents could offer was ‘Why can’t you be like everyone else and move to Australia or America’, it was the 1980s after all, a time when many of my classmates, friends and neighbours were forced to leave Ireland to find work.
Whatever about passing through on holidays, living and working in a different country provides a whole new dimension to travel. Whether it is an English-speaking ‘Western’ country or a non English-speaking ‘developing’ country, the cross-cultural experience where ever it is found, challenges us all to a greater or lesser degree. How well can we put aside our cultural and personal bias and see a situation through someone else’s eyes and accept, however difficult or sometimes painful that may be, that things may be done differently here for a reason. For me that is the challenge I face every time I set foot on a plane to travel. That and to have as much fun and to experience as many new things as I possibly can.
Since then I have been greatly blessed, with numerous opportunities to travel and see so many parts of this planet we call home. I have experienced many different cultures, seen some amazing sights and pushed my boundaries to try new things; although I still draw the line at eating fish and the idea that I could somehow make my life more fulfilled if I were to throw myself off a height attached to a rubber band!! I have long considered writing about my experiences but didn’t either have the time or confidence to put my thoughts to paper, but with some encouragement from friends I have decided to take the plunge. I hope this blog will provide you a window to my world of travel. I hope to recount some of my past travel experiences and have you join me on some of my future adventures, if only virtually. I hope you enjoy it.
That’s all for now folks.