Thursday, May 25, 2006

time and seasons

Another week has slipped by already without a posting... sometimes I feel like I live in some kind of wierd timewarp where the weeks whizz by but time still goes slowly. It feels like months and months since YF Camp but it's only about 5 weeks ago - it doesn't seem possible that everything that has gone on since could have possibly squeezed into so 'little' time.

It's not so much the things I've done as the conversations I've had, the time spent with people - in person, by email, on the phone, by text or letter... working through issues in their lives and mine. Having seen some of the processing of things going on it hardly seems credible that so much could be achieved over so short a time frame. Yet some of these things have taken their time to come to the surface, sometimes many years. A case perhaps of everything having it's season - I know that the various 'lightbulb moments' that have come along for me just couldn't have happened any sooner - it needed a certain combination of events and journeying emotionally and/or spiritually first.

I got an unexpected email the other day from an ex-colleague inviting me to a party - Edinburgh is a long way to go for the evening from here so I had to say no. But in replying I commented on how much the understanding I gained of the social and political issues of the Pacific region whilst working for an international development organisation with him has stood me in good stead for understanding many of the issues far more prominent in the news here than in Britain, and issues within this country connected to the Pacific immigrant population.

This job draws on all manner of my varied 'career history', ok I'll put that more accurately - 'job history', career implies a certain amount of continuity! From the practical multi-tasking household organisation (and endless laundry) of residential care work, through bookkeeping, Quaker administration work and unsurprisingly wardening of another Meeting House. On the less practical day to day side it also draws on my experience in Quaker outreach, oversight, youthwork, Young Friends organisation and networking. With the next Summer Gathering starting to appear closer in our diaries large event organisation is even coming in (albeit with a somewhat smaller international participation - just Richard so far! Ruth, how's your saving going?!). Again perhaps a matter of the right time to put all these skills into use in the one place, it needed all the other experience to come first.

When I first got the 'leading' to come here to the Triennial back in 2002 I'd never left Europe, long haul flights to me meant 4 hours to Crete and my international travel experiences had all been organised by someone else. The prospect of independant travel and being at an event with non-english speakers was daunting to say the least. Then I got the opportunity to travel first to Belgium and Hungary on an ordinary international flight, not a package holiday and had to cope with being the one who did speak some of the language (extremely rusty French and German) rather than relying on someone else all the time. Hungary was also a re-introduction to international Quaker events and to being in a totally different unfamiliar culture. I'd been eased into Greece through touristy stuff - but rather bizarrely and perhaps worryingly my trip to Hungary also meant that the Wellington suburban trains were oddly familiar when I got here, them having come second hand from there! In turn those trips prepared me for an unexpected trip to Guatemala with work; a much longer flight, my first jet lag, and an introduction to poverty on a level I'd never seen before, the experience of being the only tall white female - for all my dark colouring, and being stared at by children for being different. Also my first experience of being totally on my own abroad and managing to go shopping in a language I didn't speak and with an unfamiliar currency.

So by the time my 3 week trip to Auckland had grown into 3 months travelling which in the end included Aotearoa and Australia (nice and easy, they drive on the right side - ie the left and they speak English, after a fashion... ) but also Thailand, the refugee camps along the Burmese border and a village of displaced people 10km into Burma where I was extremely glad of the experiences that had helped me build up to it. The conditions in Burma were appauling there's no two ways about it, but at least I could ask sensible questions about what I was seeing based on my Guatemalan experience and understand more rather than being dumbstruck by the enormity of the uphill battle for an existance these people were facing.

I don't think I would have got anything like as much out of my travels without the build up, I probably wouldn't even have considered 3 months travelling 'alone'. Ok so I was more often than not with F/friends or family at each destination but it was up to me to get there and arrange it all. At YF Camp I got asked advice from someone about travelling who was planning their OE (Overseas Experience - Gap Year to us Brits!), they had assumed because I was living 'overseas' I must have done lots of travelling - they were a bit taken aback when I pointed out that as most of my travelling had been here I probably wasn't the best person to ask! There has always been a part of me that wished I had gone inter-railing in my early 20's as many of my peers did, or done Bunac camps or something, but it had never felt like the right time or circumstances. I used to think I'd missed my opportunity to take time out and travel, but life has proved otherwise. It was just a matter of waiting until the right time.

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