Tuesday, August 19, 2008

South America – one year later…

There’s a well-known aphorism that suggests that ‘you don't know where you're going until you know where you've been’ and I have a tendency to use date markers to look back at where I was at a specific time of year 1 or more years back. A year ago, give or take a few hours, I walked out of the apartment in West Ham, London where I was staying with some friends with everything I was bringing with me to South America (2 bags). I remember sitting on the Tube not able to comprehend exactly what I was about to do, but that I was doing it anyway. It was a bit of a surreal feeling knowing that in less than 36 hours I was going to be on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in a country where I don’t speak the language and where I have no (or very little) idea regarding what I was going to do. Since then I’ve seen about 15 towns/cities in 4 countries and managed to learn another language in the process – see the entry called ‘The journey so far (a summary)…’ for more details. I’ve met many people who have seen more places, but my journey has been mostly unplanned.

More significant than the geographical journey I’ve been on – but perhaps not quite as obvious – is the metaphorical ‘journey’ I’ve been on and everything I have learned along the way. I have mentioned some of this in previous entries, but there is simply way too much to put it in this blog. I guess I’m just thinking about the fact that on 20 August 2007 I wouldn’t have predicted most of what has happened over the past year and chances are there’s quite a bit I wouldn’t have chosen in advance if I had the option. But that’s life, isn’t it? No I’m not going to get overly-philosophical, I’m just reflecting on the nation that this realisation is not limited to unplanned wonderings on a foreign continent but they are instead a part of life. I guess I have just had the opportunity to learn these lessons in a different (and perhaps more extreme) setting.

Anyway, that’s all from me for now… The journey (geographical and metaphorical) continues…

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Life on the Rio de la Plata...

So I’m settling into some kind of routine (albeit only for the next while) here in Buenos Aires at the moment – Argentina’s capital situated on the Rio Plata or Silver River. Quite honestly, the routine I’m talking about is nothing like anything I expected to be living at this point, but it is turning out to be a good experience so far.

So what am I doing? I’m living and working in a hostel in the San Telmo area of Buenos Aires. The agreement that I have is that I work in the hostel’s restaurant for a certain number of hours per week and in exchange I get to live here for free. San Telmo is a popular part of the city due to its historical charm, although there are a few buildings that almost border on old and ugly. But, the combination of the cafes, hostels, weekend market and the cultural importance to the city means that it remains popular with the young and the old, the locals and the tourists. In addition to this arrangement I am also teaching English – something I have not done before. I am teaching in 2 companies at the moment where some of the people in middle management are trying to develop their English due to their international dealings. Both of these jobs are brand new experiences and I’m starting to enjoy what they both have to offer.

Other than that I’m not doing much these days. I spend time blogging and chatting to friends online, as well as trying not to spend any money (something I don’t have much of these days). As I believe I mentioned in an earlier entry I’m still thinking of going to New Zealand although it seems it’s going to take some time to arrange a few things. In any case, that is my routine for now and although as recently as 2 weeks ago I was ready to throw in the towel I’m going to stick it out to see how things develop.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Simply BUSTED!

I just witnessed an interesting sequence of events unfold in front of my eyes as I sat here at the hostel minding my own business and it’s not something you see everyday. Since coming to Buenos Aires I have met at least 6 travellers (that I know of) who have had their pockets picked, bags stolen or something similar. Cameras, passports, cash, wallets and other things have been lost so what I just witnessed was a bit of a change.

I’m sitting in the bar-restaurant on the ground floor of the hostel where I am staying at the moment and I just witnessed a foiled-robbery attempt and subsequent arrest. While sitting here there was a bit of a commotion and I saw one of the staff point at two people before running out the front door only to return with a police officer who was patrolling this street. A young couple were then questioned and searched (their persons as well as the bags they were carrying). I figured that someone thought they didn’t belong here and that they looked suspicious, but for some reason I thought it may have been a misunderstanding or something. In the end the story was revealed that they somehow walked into the hostel, went into a room where someone was relaxing (this person assumed that the couple were also staying in the dorm room) and walked out with 2 backpacks of clothes and other belongings.

To be honest I wasn’t paying that much attention at times (I know that I get lost in my own world at times), but soon after that a few more officers turned up handcuffed them and shuffled them into a couple of cars outside. I guess it was a bit of a surreal experience to se all this unfolding just a few meters away from me and even now I have some mixed feelings. Don’t misunderstand, I think crime sucks and I have had things stolen from me. But, while I’m not excusing crime there’s a part of me that looks at the world around me and I can’t ignore the poverty-causing (and other) factors that encourage crime. But that’s a topic for another time…

Floating on a Breeze...

“I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it's both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.”

This line from the film “Forrest Gump” combined with the image of the feather floating on a breeze at the end of the film was on my mind earlier today. I was reflecting on my current situation, as I have been doing quite a bit lately, and I came to realise how seemingly random life can be at times.

Sometimes this thought rises to the surface when I take a closer look at where I am at the moment, but in actual fact this kind of realisation has happened to me time and time again since leaving South Africa. When sitting in a coffee shop near Piccadilly Circus or just walking down the road here in Buenos Aires I would sometimes realise how far removed I am from just about everything that has been familiar to me. This can be an exciting sensation but it can also be daunting, especially when the “breeze” seems to be blowing a bit stronger than it usually does.

On a few occasions in this blog I have made mention of some the reasons for my leaving South Africa and how this journey has been directed by my relationship with Yahweh (that’s one of God’s names in the bible). So I would have to say that in a way I agree with Forrest in that life sometimes feels really random like I’m floating on the wind, yet my faith tells me that the wind is more Yahweh’s breath and he is the one blowing me along. There are days where this seems an obvious and simple idea and there are times when it’s a bit more difficult to hold onto the idea that he is the source of the breeze. I would say that this is one of those times at the moment, where seeing beyond the apparent randomness of the breeze is easier said than done. But, that’s life. Isn’t it?

Friday, August 1, 2008

The journey so far (summary)...

A few people I have spoken to at times were unsure as to where I am, where I’ve been, what I’ve done and related issues. So I thought I’d give you a quick summary of the places I’ve been since leaving home, as well as some highlights…

England (March 2006 to August 2007):
I spent most of my time in London where I lived and worked. I visited the south coast including the Isle of Wight and spent some time with a South African friend in Liverpool. I visited a few other smaller places, but not as many as I could have.

Peru (August 2007 to April 2008):
I spent most of my time in Cusco where I learned Spanish and worked in a travellers club. I also managed to see the capital Lima, Arequipa, Puno on Lake Titicaca and the highlights of the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Bolivia (November 2007):
While I was based in Cusco I took a short trip (partially work-related) to Bolivia. I didn’t have too much time, but I managed to see Copacabana (not the one in the Barry Manilow song), the Island of the Sun on Lake Titicaca, and (one of the capitals) La Paz.

Chile (April to June 20008):
I travelled to Santiago and stopped off in Arica, on the north coast, en route. I spent all my time in the capital, although I would have liked to have seen a bit more of the country (including the coast) but that’s how things turned out.

Argentina (June 2008 to present):
So far I have spent most of my time in the federal capital, Buenos Aires. I spent a few days in Rosario and if possible I may see a bit more of the country before I depart (whenever that may be).

Anyway, so that’s a summarised version of the trip so far. At the moment I’ve been away from South Africa for around 2 years 5 months and it seems there’s a chance I may not be back (even for a visit) any time soon. But who knows where I may end up next… Watch this space for more…

Just want to escape…

So I’ve been rethinking this whole “homesick” thing that I mentioned in my last entry and it could be that what I interpreted as feeling homesick could be something altogether. I’m sure I’m not the only one, but sometimes when thing don’t go as I had hoped or planned sometimes all I want to do is “get away”. Whether that means getting out of town for a bit or just getting away from the day-to-day routine, sometimes an escape (even if just temporary) is what we want. This isn’t always possible, but I think sometimes it’s what we crave.

So what does this have to do with the feeling of being “homesick” that I mentioned? Well, things have not turned out as I had hoped or planned here in Buenos Aires (actually in South America at times) so on and off for a while now I have felt the desire to get off this continent. Due to various factors (especially financial ones) I don’t have (m)any options in terms of where I can go from here, so the idea of returning to South Africa seemed quite appealing at times. Realistically though it’s the idea of South Africa and the idea of getting away from “here” where things haven’t turned out as I had hoped that is appealing. But I know that if I go “there” (wherever it may be), once I arrive there it becomes my “here”. I hope you followed that.

So in the end there is at least a part of me that is glad I gave Buenos Aires another shot and that my circumstances turned around a bit. I’m not doing what I thought I’d be doing or what (I thought) I wanted but I’m still standing. Virtually all the students didn’t turn up for the first English lesson I as supposed to teach (a scheduling mix-up) and my first night working at this hostel was a quite one so I’ve had a chance to ease my way into both jobs. Anyway, that’s all from me for now… I’m going to hit the sack soon…