Exploring bridges: burning them, building them, and what it all means.

I literally took a trip down memory lane the other day. I was asked to drop a file off at a building across from where I lived when I first moved to the city. At first, the thought of going there filled me with absolute dread – it had been a really weird time in my life when I lived in a grim, box-sized room. I had been overwhelemed by the city, threatened to be swallowed whole by the dirt and the noise; overstimulated but also lonely. I was young, with no coping mechanisms in place – it is not a time I remember fondly.

I saw the pub on the corner, the familiar trees on either side of the road. I walked slowly down the street, expecting that feeling of dread to fill and suffocate me. What happened next was weird – it didn’t happen at all. The large Georgian building made me feel next to nothing. I was merely an observer, and it was merely a building. I realised I’d given it so much power in my mind, only to realise it was just bricks and concrete.

It seemed that perhaps without the shadowing of subjective memory, all these bad times that I hold in the back of my mind with near reverence were the same, just times. Would it be the same for some of the other periods in my life? The flat in Greece we were burgled in, the inner-city hospital that saw my first big loss? The school I struggled to fit into? Have I been carrying all these bad memories, cards tightly held against my chest, for nothing?

As a third culture kid (TCK), I’ve become used to leaving places and likely never going back, leaving people and likely never seeing them again. It’s my modus operandi, my protection; never looking back was something I thought was beneficial. The other day made me realise, however, that sometimes going back is good. Sometimes confronting the skeletons in your closet, or the places that saw your perceived worst, can be beneficial in order to truly move forward. Sometimes, on closer inspection, they don’t actually look like skeletons at all.

Jus Sanguinis and Soli: Traversing borders and privilege

I recently completed an IELTS English test for academic purposes, and it was an eye opening journey for me into the privilege I am afforded by being a white European. Disclaimer: I am neither a journalist, nor an expert in border control or privilege, I just really want to share my experience.

We sat the IELTS (International English Language Testing Service) exam in London. Passports that sat on candidates’ desks ranged from South Korea, to the Philippines, from India to Argentina. What struck me was the sheer scale of people wishing to complete an exam, with over 100 in our group and more on other days and at various other locations. The test questions were simple enough to a native or proficient speaker, however a lot of testing relied on the ability to understand a host of complex instructions. Let’s just say it was a pretty weird day. After discussing my favourite season and which city I thought was the most beautiful in the speaking test, similar to what I would have done in high school French, I reflected on the people surrounding me.

The IELTS test, ‘the world’s most popular English language test for higher education and global migration’, is one of the gate keepers of migration to many English-speaking countries such as New Zealand, the USA and Canada. These countries can also be desirable destinations for foreigners, as was shown by the commitment to a nearly 8 hour test process.

Maybe I’m looking too far into things, but I guess it felt different being a native speaker doing the test because I wanted to, because of potential opportunities. And others were too, but I wondered about where they were coming from, and their reasons for being there. Where were they intending on heading to after this test? Why were they leaving their countries of birth?

I am a white European. I have free movement across the EU and Schengen areas, I moved to the UK simply by boarding a flight and opening a bank account. I easily complete a quick ESTA form to visit Canada or the US. However, I am also a South African citizen with a South African passport. My family are South African, I know about their struggles with visas, embassies, and bureaucracy. I know my little green passport gets me into far fewer places than my red EU-member one, which delivers 165 countries  without a visa in comparison to 98. Brexit has already made me think about this issue, it’s brought it firmly close to home. An atmosphere of closedness, of closed-mindedness is in my view detrimental to any country. Especially for the UK, relatively successful in recent decades due to free travel and connections with the world.

I’m keeping my options open, particularly for academic opportunities. I have that luxury, that privilege to up and leave when I prefer a change of scenery. Open borders are currently a privilege, a luxury. For those with citizenship to a ‘powerful’ passport through jus sanguinis (blood right) or jus soli (birth right), this privilege is closely guarded. Borders are kept tightly closed to people with less powerful citizenship, only ‘desirable’  candidates need apply.

Looking back through history, powerful western nations time and again have taken from other countries and made them poorer. Colonialism and slavery clashed cultures with a heady power imbalance. Jamaicans thought themselves to be fully British subjects, and felt immense pride in fighting as part of Britain in WW2. Cut to now, where the Windrush scandal threatened to take the rights and dignity away from members of an entire generation.

On Instagram I’ve seen the hordes of influencers and wannabes travelling the world to tick off as many countries as possible or to get the ultimate photo. You have to be beautiful and relatively well off to see the world to cure your #wanderlust. However with conflict, climate change and economic difficulty causing more and more people to uproot and head abroad, perhaps we need to review our perception of travel and borders. Of course no country could have completely open borders, each country needs to evaluate what is best for its citizens. But we have to see that travel is not just a luxury, but a necessity for everyone.

Freedom to pursue opportunity; be they in western countries or if powerful economies were devolved to developing nations; should be every single person’s birth right, not just through luck of the draw.

New Years’ Eve: My Favourite Way to Celebrate

Even better than Christmas, or the summer solstice, New Year’s Eve (capitalising it to show it the respect it deserves) is my single most favourite time of the year. Why? Do I love making self-punishing ‘resolutions’, or drinking overpriced sparkling wine masquerading as champagne? Well, of course not. My love for this time of year goes way back to when I was a little kid.

My parents were business consultants, constantly evaluating processes and striving to improve them. Sometimes this resulted in an embarrassing moment trying to pick up a hire car, and sometimes it resulted in a series of reflections on the past year over a new years’ eve eve family dinner. I remember when I was ten, twelve, fourteen, they were generally only school-related. It’s strange and sometimes odd to reflect on your year as a kid, you have had no real bearing on what you participated in and therefore it’s tricky to make any real plans for the next year. My parents picked the summer holiday destination (Greece), I just went to school. Okay, I had received an A sometimes (sometimes!), and sometimes I got grounded. This New Years’ reflection ritual was boring and tedious for me then, and possibly even a bit cringe-y. Fast forward to adult life, I realised I had never really learned these skills of reflection, they were just assimilated from watching my parents. I’m definitely a culprit of having some seriously deep thoughts on any long train or plane journey, but New Years’ eve is the time to wallow in self-reflection and planning for the next twelve months. I’ve become the reflector I never thought I’d be!

I may seem biased because I made some major personal strides in 2018, and am excited to see where 2019 will take me. It can seem that New Years’ is to celebrate accomplishments, however this is not necessarily true and once the previous year has been reviewed and the emphasis moved towards plans for the next, there is the possibility of feeling less like a victim and feeling more in control. Even if just for one night.

I know, that even on the bad years, especially on the bad years, it was nice to have a ritual to separate ‘now’ me from ‘old’ me going through whatever it was. I know that some years may be good, some tedious, and some downright terrible, but no value can be placed on this point of rebirth and hope. True, though a lot of this excitement often dissipates on Jan 1st, whether due to alcohol or the novelty wearing off when actually being in the new year; it never detracts from the moment of pure anticipation the 31st brings. It’s one night to dress up and celebrate in any way (on the sofa or in a restaurant, alone or with friends) and be reborn.

New Year’s reflections should focus on the year just completed, and plans to do more of what worked or felt good in the next. No new gym memberships, or nicotine patches required. Did you like seeing a specific friend? Text them and make plans to do more! Did you enjoy how waking up 15 minutes earlier every day made you feel? Keep doing it, and maybe throw in some meditation or listening to a podcast! Did you like how you said no to something you did not want to do? Remember to bring that tool out again in the next year if you need it. It’s all about feeling good, and letting your New Years’ reflections be a beacon of light guiding you back to who you are when they are most needed in the next twelve months.

The Art of Simple have a fantastic set of New Year’s Reflection questions, that can either be answered in a journal, or cut out and pulled out of a bowl as a bit of a group exercise. I look forward to doing this particular set of questions with my SO tomorrow, and will definitely keep the answers to compare with this time next year. Give it a try!

Blending in and Belonging: a Third Culture Kid’s Story

I was born in urban Johannesburg, South Africa to Irish and South African parents. At the age of nine, the family relocated to suburban Athens, Greece. After a few years, we relocated to rural Ireland. I went from swimming pools to giant forests in my backyard with just a few years inbetween. The countries separate my developmental stages, child, pre-adolescent, adolescent, and young adult. Every move I sought to reinvent myself, but found myself mostly staying the same. The same, but indescribably different.

I have always been confused about where home is to me, I both resent and exploit the eccentricities of my upbringing. When in one of My Countries, I tell people I’m from The Other. I have always wanted to belong, blend in, wave to neighbours in the street. I also like to be the new girl, the blank slate, the one who makes small, silly blunders of colloquialism and translation. I am a walking naughties flick chick caricature.

Learning about bugs, or something

I have reached a point where I have stayed in the same city for seven years, and the same country for ten (gulp). I have itchy feet, wanderlust, and dream of foreign shores daily. Yet I am still here. Here but not here. Always I wonder: do I not belong because I don’t put down roots, or do I not put down roots because I feel I don’t belong? I’m not sure I’ll ever know the answer; and yet I remain untethered, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. I too am a Millenial, a member of Generation Rent, does that help me or hinder me?

Actual, barefoot me

I was born into Apartheid, was barely past a toddler when South Africa had her first black president. I have travelled deserts, walked barefoot without my feet touching shoes for days on end, and felt the feeling of nearly drowning many times in the Indian Ocean. I have seen wild fires ravaging parched land, ancient archaeological sites with marble smooth and shiny from millenia of footsteps. I have snowmobiled in Yellowstone, and skied in the shadow of Mount Olympus. I have made and lost more friends I can count; some great, some merely transient anyway.

How can I possibly tell anyone everything I have seen? Everything I know, everything I worry about? People who have stayed in the same city all their lives – with a back-catalogue of friends from playschool to present – how can I possibly compare, communicate? My language is Greek and English, art and Afrikaans, weather, music, starry nights and French and Spanish. I grew up bilingual but also learned foreign languages before both my parents. As a ten-year old my juice stall in a different alphabet, language and currency than what I was born into.

The final question, is can this void in me ever be filled? I plan holidays and I travel. When I travel, I travel incognito, with my local’s disguise. I dread someone finding out who I am – what I am – but what am I? What is it I live in fear of being discovered? A fake, a fraud? Or someone who knows ‘home is where you hang your hat’? Do I try and blend in, or do I open my messy self up for examination?

Do I tell them who I am?

A Self-Care Story

I read a great article by Brianna Wiest that really reflected and changed how I think about the pervasive ‘self care’ trend. Here are some of my thoughts:

I had a week off, alone, at home. Initially for myself I had planned sauna trips, gorgeous home-cooked meals, long baths, reading novels, and generally frolicking around like women laughing alone with salads. I was going to CARE for myself, love myself and feel great.

However, what I did this week ended up being way less cute and instagram-worthy. I trawled through the depths of my email inbox to deal with outstanding queries, delete old and unneeded emails (625 – ASOS I’m looking at you), and categorised emails that I needed to keep.

I was alone in the house for the longest time in years (a normal everyday reality for lots of people so no self-sympathy!) and it became apparent that I had to just sit in to the quiet. I booked dental appointments, did university coursework, and reflected on past conversations and situations. I repotted plants that were beyond pot-bound (bad mom!), and made plans to re-seal the bathtub (ok I’m behind schedule on that one). I reached out to people I hadn’t spoken to in a while, I also removed from social media those that do not do me any good.

That all sounds pretty normal, and not really noteworthy. But that is the point. I’ve learned that self-care is dealing with the shitty things that are at the top of your to-do list but the bottom of your priority list, and as Brianna Wiest said, it’s often ‘parenting yourself and making choices for your long-term wellness’.

 


Matcha

This resonates so much with me, because if we’re honest it’s easy enough to agree to a salt bath and have a macha latte and just feel grateful. However I guess the real work is dealing with the difficult stuff, being assertive and your own advocate, working to build a better future for yourself. Ignoring credit card debt, toxic people in life, renewal notices and moulding bath seals doesn’t make you feel better long-term because the weight of this cosmic to-do list still rests heavy in the back of your mind, and eventually they will surely catch up to you in bigger and badder ways.

I agree that self-care is owning up to and reflecting on past mistakes, and pushing yourself to do the best possible in any given situation. Sometimes it is a lie-in if that’s what you need, but sometimes it is getting up early for a dreaded gym workout because that may be what you need too. As Poorna Bell points out, it’s also knowing and respecting your own limitations. It’s being kind to yourself when you’ve scheduled to go out but really can’t face it, and I think a big one is knowing when you need some extra support (a cleaner, a friend, a therapist).


I also loved the idea of ‘building a life you don’t have to escape from’ from Brianna’s article. I think with all the great talk occurring about mental health these days, self-care (the REAL self-care) could be one piece in the puzzle of improving symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression. Putting yourself first, and truly sorting out controllable aspects of your life, really seem like a great recipe for calm to me.

It IS easier said than done, but that to me is the point. I feel that sifting through the crap, making the right choice even if it is the harder one, and putting yourself first at the end of the day really proves to yourself that you are worth it.

And yes, you are most definitely also worth a matcha latte and piece of cake after all that hard work.

Lazy Beach Days: Ibiza Weekend

June brought a long-awaited trip to Ibiza for the wedding of two friends. I arrived to our house at Vadella Pueblo past midnight on my own, my own husband having arrived earlier for the stag party. The 40minute taxi ride to the little bay where we were staying for the weekend, Cala Vadella (Vadella Cove), was stressful conducted in my half-Spanish. It included many dead ends and wrong turns, literally, not linguistically, as the driver spoke to me in fast Spanish. I went to bed after checking all the closets for hidden intruders by torchlight, glad to put the journey behind me.

Cala Vadella, Ibiza

I woke up to the steady hum of cicadas, alone in the silence of our whitewashsd house, and able to actually see it in the light of day. I pottered around, looking through each of the rooms in turn. When I had left my hunger long enough in the empty apartment, I prepared to venture out En Español.

Barely a breeze

Walking down the quiet street towards the beach of Cala Vadella, I marvelled at the Balearic houses sitting perfectly in place under a flaring hot sun – whitewashed with cactus-lined pools.

The view from our front door

The road to the bay veered sharply to the right at the edge of a cliff, then wound steeply downwards. Through a break in the trees the sapphire bay opened up dramatically in front of me, and though it may sound corny it did take my breath away.

Cala Vadella from above

My husband joined me, and we spent our first afternoon together on the sandy beach eating bocadillos de jamón at Vadella Beach Bar and drinking fabulously strong mojitos para llevar from Restaurante Cana Sofia.

Cala Vadella

Laziness and hunger took us from our beach loungers to Cana Sofia when the sun started setting, where we had a meal of freshly prepared tapas under the vines. We sipped on ice-cold rosé wine and watched people walking the beach beside us.

We returned to our balcony to sip a €4 bottle of local cava, listening to the steady hum of crickets and cicadas and talking long into the night.

A long evening on our balcony

The heat woke me before sunrise, I returned to my spot on the balcony from the previous night, and watched the sky turn from navy, through light blue, to spectacular pink.

Timelapse of the sunrise

 

The second day was our wedding anniversary. To celebrate we did what we do best, headed down to the beach to do it all again. I swam through the azure water, one of my favourite things to do, and had a run-in with a rogue jellyfish producing a nasty sting. I had no idea at the time that this sting would ‘re-appear’ weeks later as the venomous stingers were still in my arm. We had a fantastic stone-baked margarita pizza from Cana Sofia (again!) which was covered in fragrant basil leaves the size of my hand.

We went home in the late afternoon to freshen up for dinner, and I was desperate to see a famous Ibizan sunset as clouds obscured the one the night before. On our walk back in to town for dinner, we stopped at the cliff, in a deserted parking lot. The sunset was better than I had hoped for, the sky seemed to be set on fire, and it gave both our faces a golden glow as we looked around. We could hear music, and walked closer to the cliff’s edge to see a huge sound system set up in a small cave below, the bass so loud I could feel it in my chest. Only two people danced around, and it felt like we had crashed a secret party.

All above: that golden glow

 

We concluded the night with an enormous, and first ever, paella, followed by a beer on the beach. I can still taste the flavour, it was so rich and savoury.

Ibizan sunsets: plenty bang for your buck

The next, and final, day was the wedding day. We struggled to a achieve any semblance of ‘pretty’ in a heavy heat, but made it to the other side of the island in time regardless. Experimental Beach was a venue within Las Salinas nature park, a UNESCO world heritage eco-system area, and a large exporter of salt. I knew we were drawing near in the taxi when we passed salt ponds and piles. We were greeted at the venue with a citrus-crisp white sangria, and we had enough time to look around before the wedding got started.

The venue before the guests arrived

After a beautiful ceremony where two friends were promised to each other for life, we ate and drank in the glare of the setting sun, and danced for hours under a navy blue sky.

The venue from the beach

 

Ibiza was a surprise, it was somewhere I hadn’t really planned to go to due to its reputation for a wild party island. What I saw was completely different, our quiet bay was such a refuge from City life, the local food so spectacular. I found the locals on ‘our side’ of the island to be some of the most friendly I’d ever met. I loved the peace and being close to nature once again.

 

 

 

By Mairead Daly