Connection

A couple of months ago, I moved to Phnom Penh, Cambodia and felt again that great rush of excitement as any new chapter reveals itself. This excitement hasn’t dissipated – it’s been an incredible experience so far. But it’s also been accompanied by a sense of real isolation from friends and family.

I am living alone for the first time in about 6 years. My friends are constantly posting photos of their lives in places that are not Phnom Penh. And for the first time, I’m starting to see really big changes happening within my immediate family – new members are being ‘recruited’ or born, homes are changing and we are all ageing. It’s provoked in me some existential questionings – if I’m feeling isolated, am I where I am supposed to be? Am I making the right life choices? Would I be better off abandoning my love of life abroad to return to my Australian roots? (i.e. What am I doing with my life?!?)

Last week I visited Germany for a close friend’s wedding. It was also a chance to rendezvous with Brighton-based Michaelle in Munich. We took a morning walk through the city. We sat at a cafe and over a spritz, we talked. We really talked. She listened and I talked. I talked and she listened. We talked about our relationships, our work, our families, our fears and our ever evolving philosophical ponderings. We could have continued just talking for hours, if I didn’t have to catch a flight.

Having returned to Cambodia, the fears I felt have started to ease and not because anything has actually changed, but because it felt so good to talk, to feel listened to and to feel understood by someone so close, someone who could relate. I felt real connection. ‘One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and be understood,’ said Senaca. And so I question whether the source of our fears might sometimes stem not solely from our problems themselves, but largely from the fact that we feel our problems go unknown to others, that they are un-shareable, and therefore that we are not understood, that we are alone.

It was a blessing then to see Michaelle in Munich, a reminder of the depth of our own friendship and how incredibly important friendship is. It was also a personal reminder that it’s so important invest time in the great friends and family I have regardless of the geographical distances between us, because feeling understood, feeling connected, feeling loved is so undeniably fundamental to feeling well.

Quality friendship helps ameliorate those seemingly un-shareable fears and it replaces them with perspective – nothing is more important, in my opinion, than the good we bring into the lives of the people around us and that starts just by listening. So for getting up at 3am to catch a flight into Munich, ‘just’ so we could talk, thanks Tauson.

Reunited over spritz in Munich

Reunited over spritz in Munich

Glimpses

Being far away from family and friends is hard. Particularly hard is the fact that many can’t relate to the life that you live, despite long emails, phone calls and endless Skype sessions. So I wanted to show them instead, show you, what life is like in this beautiful part of the world.

Very timely, I found this app that pastes together video clips, one second per day (if you remember to take one clip each day that is). Below is the result and glimpses of my life in March and April, until I slowly but surely started to forget taking videos.  You will see some Rwanda, South Africa, Burundi and Uganda, and although that sounds a bit wild for “every day life” during only two months, that’s exactly what those two months offered. Many of the best moments were of course not captured on film, but on the other hand, this app allows you to appreciate the small moments, the ones likely to be forgotten – a drive, a dog, an afternoon by a lake.

I hope you see this and make one of your own – what a fantastic way to share life with those who are far away.

Fear Versus Simple Acts of Kindness

Walking through downtown Santa Cruz today, a man approached me and asked for 25 cents. Before I could process his request, I had turned away the begging hands instinctively. As I walked on, I wondered why I didn’t give him that small amount of money. I turned back to find him, but he was gone.

Later on, I was sitting at a café when a homeless man passed by. He was filthy, smelt terrible and was loaded with bags. He also appeared to be blind. Despite his long white cane, he was headed directly toward a lamppost. I could have run to him to ensure he didn’t crash needlessly into this obstruction, but I sat in silence, hoping that somehow he would naturally swerve at the last moment. He didn’t. He walked right into the post. He cursed it, found he way around it and meandered on. I wondered why I had been unwilling to help.

I’d agreed to talk about fear in response to Jennie’s “Fear No More” post and her excellent advice for overcoming its unfavourable effects. But as I sat at this café, I felt stumped. Nothing came and I walked home feeling disappointed in myself. As I walked, I thought again about these two characters I saw. One needed only 25 cents, the other needed saving from a lamppost. I didn’t help these men because I was afraid. My responses to their predicaments were based not on a logical assessment of risk, but on uncalculated, kneejerk reaction: it was fear of getting too close to somebody I didn’t know and was unsure if I could trust.

We often talk about overcoming fear in the context of important life experiences or major decisions. But we are also so often blind to the small fears that commonly influence our daily interactions with those around us and inhibit simple acts of kindness. (And somehow those small acts are often not so small at all – they can be most meaningful.) Fear is natural and serves an important evolutionary function. But fear is arguably also at the heart of our prejudices, our aggressions, our conflicts and even our ability to ignore the obvious needs – or defend the rights – of those around us.

This is not to suggest we should abandon our fears. Fear is necessary and helps provide important guidance to our decision-making processes. But perhaps we should try to abandon the type of more cowardice fear that underlies the careful distances we keep from others in need of our support. There is an important question then, particularly for females who I would suggest often juggle the natural desire to nurture with a fear of vulnerability: how do we know when to trust our instinctive fears and when to brush them aside in favour of being kind?

While our needs might be different, there is not one person on this earth who does not need something every single day. We rely on each other to service those needs, or in other words, our livelihoods are completely dependent on the actions of others, no matter who we are. With this in mind, perhaps it doesn’t necessarily matter who it is we feel able to help so long as we do and so long as we do not let fear blind us to the broad spectrum of needs we have, including the needs of those we don’t know.

While I trust that somebody else found it in their heart to lend 25 cents to this passing man, I hope that my blind homeless friend (who probably had a shining bump on his forehead and wouldn’t consider me a friend at all had he been able to see the situation through my eyes!) has somewhere comfortable to sleep tonight and that there is someone far more fearless than I to take care of him.

Thoughts on Nomadic Friendship III

I’m drinking a glass of wine. I’m in bed. I’m in Santa Cruz, California and I’m alone. I’m here for two months working on a film project. After this, it’s off to Spain for a wedding and then Bangkok to see friends. And after that? Not a clue. This really is, as Michaelle says, a nomadic existence and while the idea of living without a permanent address is not for everyone – my mother is a prime example – the experience of living a modern day nomadic lifestyle can also be extremely rewarding. Continue reading

I Call Bullshit: Stereotypes in Relationships

I date a lot, and, as a woman, I am pretty sensitive to the stereotypes men attribute to women regarding their behaviour in relationships. You see it time and time again, it pops up on the front page of my yahoo account almost daily (yes I still have a yahoo account), it is on the cover of magazines, in blogs, etc etc. You know what I am talking about – ’10 Dating Mistakes Most Women Make’ and ‘Behaviour That Frustrates Men’. They might as well read, “Hey you, with the vagina, stop screwing everything up or you will be alone forever”.

Continue reading

Thoughts on Nomadic Friendship II

“You’re never alone,” Rachel wrote to me last night. She didn’t need to say it, because I already knew. The first thing I do when I wake up every morning is to check my FB messages. I know there will be something there waiting for me, normally there is a little red notification saying “99+”, which means I have more than 99 messages from Rachel and Michaelle. It’s an ongoing conversation about life, love, happiness and friendship – it makes me laugh and cry and always offers much needed perspectives.

I never expected to have friendship like this  – never knew it was even possible. Although we all live different lives and rarely see each other, we have more in common than most. We all understand the pressures of having a nomadic lifestyle, rarely seeing family or old friends from home, and we are extremely similar in our concerns, challenges, needs and wants. We have become family and it’s an inexplicable feeling knowing that we will have this for life, “until we’re so old we don’t recognise each other”, as Michaelle put it this morning.

Our friendship is thriving on a distance, because we have so much to share from our different daily lives. Rachel riding motorbikes and meeting famous people in California, Michaelle spending all her time with refugees in Bangkok, and me doing god-knows-what (but having lots of fun doing so) in Rwanda.

I wouldn’t trade it for the world and it has change my perspective on life completely. Friendship is everything and every day it makes me a better person.

 

Thoughts on Nomadic Friendship

One of the most frustrating things in the world about your best friends living in 4 corners of the universe is that you never have any idea when you will see them again. With me in Bangkok working on my PhD research, Rachel in San Francisco working on a film, and Jennie in Africa working for a development organization, jet setting around the globe for a coffee and/or a glass of wine just seems a bit unrealistic. For this reason, most of our in-person interactions are not planned, but totally and completely random.

When I moved from Nepal to the UK in September 2012, I stopped by Bangkok on my way out and on my last day, I had a final coffee with Rachel. After coffee, both still hung over from my going away party the night before, Rachel and I walked towards the train platform to say our final goodbyes. A bit teary-eyed and with a hug, I said goodbye and turned to walk away. A few steps later, I turned back around and said, “You know, this is fun in some ways. I have no idea what country I will see you in next.”

Rachel responded, “I can’t wait to find out.”

I continued on my way, smiling to myself; in just a few words, she promised that we would always be friends.

Fast forward: April 2013. I am finalizing my plans to move back to Bangkok, Jennie has moved to Rwanda, but Rachel is still there and I can’t wait to get back. I see Rachel on Skype and type, “Hey, I will be in Bangkok in July!”

She responds, “I just quit my job at the UN and am moving to America to travel across the country on an electric scooter.”

“When did you quit?”

“Five minutes ago.”

I was shocked, I mean, shocked, but I have never been one to discourage an adventure, so I say “that is amazing, when do you get to America?”

She says, “We leave from Charleston, SC on July 4th.”

Shock turned to amazement; I was going to be there then!!! My sister and mother wanted to take a road trip during my summer holiday. It was incredible, we were going to see each other in a place neither of us had ever been before.

A chance encounter

A chance encounter

I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to see her face that day and it really got me thinking about friendship. Time and space are absolutely, 100% irrelevant when it comes to love and true friendship. Sure, with today’s technology you can see someone 10,000 miles away with video chat and send your thoughts in an instant via a Facebook message. This all keeps us feeling connected, but this is not what I am talking about.

I am talking about love. I am not sure how it works or why it works the way it does, but I did not have to see Rachel every day. I did not have to know what she had for breakfast. Love is constant and irrelevant of the minutes and hours that pass. Over my many years living abroad I have come to understand this concept. With my closest friends and my sisters, the instant I see them, even if we haven’t talked in a year (which sadly happens often), after a hug and a squeeze we are on the same page, as if I knew what they had for breakfast every day for the last 365 days.

People often ask me if I ever get lonely, moving from country to country, city to city. I always tell them no, and they never believe me. I would not believe me either. It is proven to me time and time again, love is constant and everywhere, and I just can’t feel lonely knowing that and knowing that my friends will pop up in all corners of the universe, when I least expect.