Disconnected. A Memoir.

I pictured us living somewhere like this one day

Once upon a time we lived in a tiny one-bedroom flat no bigger than a postage stamp. It was was riddled with cockroaches and situated at the back of the Malla Hotel in Kathmandu. I had just turned 31 years old. Sam, my blue-eyed first born was 5 weeks old, and he screamed – constantly.

In a few short months we would be moved to Mugling on the Kathmandu to Pokhara Highway,  3 hours from Kathmandu (and the nearest doctor) and 45 minutes from the nearest phone,  but before that Dave, my husband, a geologist, would be diagnosed with hepatitis, conjunctivitis and anorexic dysentery and we would be repatriated briefly to England. It seemed like nirvana, for a few short months.

As a severely sleep-deprived breast feeding Mum, I was worried about Dave, neurotic about Sam not drinking a drop of the dodgy water in Nepal, and probably as a result of both, quite manic.

But the travel bug that had bitten in our twenties was still strong and we went back to Nepal for a life less ordinary. We thrived, we trekked, we drank local beer and Guiness when I could get hold of it, and Sam grew strong on mother’s milk.

Shortly afterwards the monsoon season arrived and things got tough again. Struggling to cope with the complexities of living life in a remote location with a baby was getting to me.  One day, in the foothills of the Himalayas as I was facing another trek in a landrover along a precipitous mountain route in search of a few basic supplies  I made a vow.

When I turned 40, we would be settled and done with the travelling life. Roots would be firmly planted in some green and pleasant land and we would be connected to a culture, a people and most definitely, a place. At the time, I imagined a cosy cottage with a rose arbour, in Devon perhaps. Or letting my dreams run crazy wild, a country manor like Hartland Abbey.

Hartland Abbey

How wrong I was. Because … just like in Robert Service’s poem, we are part of a race of people who don’t fit in and can’t stay still. We are like gypsies. We break the hearts of our nearest and dearest, roam the world and don’t know how to rest.

And while we didn’t exactly roam the world at will, we certainly didn’t know how to rest, because subsequently we lived in 14 different homes in 11 countries over a time span of 21 years.  All those interesting job offers for Dave taking us to Timbuktu and back were nearly always appealing, not only for the work, but because we were travelling the world, despite the ensuing angst and heartache they initiated not only in us but also friends and family; so maybe it was a curse of the gypsy blood after all.

It seems fitting that today in 2011 I pick up and peruse an old journal from November 1983, when I first visited Nepal as an idealistic 25 year old.

“Finishing the fourteen day Annapurna Sanctuary trek was at once an achievement, a relief and a disappointment. I’m going to miss my walking mates and the simplicity of putting one foot in front of the other, not to mention the heartbreakingly lovely scenery of the Himalayas.  I’m sitting at the Hungry Eye café in Pokhara gazing at Fish Tail Mountain reflected in the still waters of Phewa Lake.  I’m bombarded by children demanding, ‘one rupee, one pen’. An old woman of about 55 is sitting opposite me, and I strike up a conversation with her about travelling.”

(2011 – Note to self: Retain a sense of humour – 55 is not OLD – as I am now 53).

My journal states: “This old lady is a traveller and freelance photographer and has many tales to tell. I think she has an unsettled soul. I’m wondering if I’ll end up the same?  I remember reading something by Joseph Conrad in which he wrote something to the effect that when you return to Europe from the East, it’s a bit like going to heaven because it doesn’t really matter what happens to people once they’re there for they are safe from adventure and hazard.  Maybe I’ll always need adventure and hazard – like that old lady.”

Prophetic thoughts indeed because  now after a life of adventure and hazard and on the brink of a life change, nearly as old as that ‘old lady’ I met in Nepal, I’m settled in Australia and facing the drop over the cliff beyond the empty nest and needing to make sense of what has happened in all those years, during all those moves, through all those moments of madness, excitement and sorrow.

How did our children survive the constant upheavals? They were home-schooled (Home and Away – the Case for Home Schooling), and also attended schools on four different continents.

What was the thread which held us four together as a family? What did I do right and what did I do wrong? What was funny or sad or inspiring? What were the bigger issues happening around the world in which we became embroiled as bystanders? Maybe I’ll discover some philosophical truths and perhaps that way I can reconcile my own mistakes and put these feelings of rootlessness and disconnection to some socially acceptable or historical use, perhaps even be of some help to  modern day expats and travellers too?

Would I have changed our peripatetic course? No not a bit, it’s been like one long adventurous holiday … with a few added complications. And of course although it’s easy to paint a picture dappled with misgivings, I know that I’ve been very fortunate to have lived the life I’ve led, and I’m grateful to my hard working husband too.

You might also like: Moving on without the dogs

and Memoir, A Love Story

and an adventure climbing the volcano Mount Pinatubo : Adventure in the Philippines – Along the Pumice Trail

Shall I carry on? Do I have a story? Is anyone at all interested in coming along for the ride of this memoir?

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Comments

  1. gabrielle says:

    I think you deserve a medal!

  2. Johanna says:

    Bronze, silver or gold I wonder?!! But is it a story worth telling?

  3. I would certainly love to read the whole story – so please continue on dear Jo. You have a winning book here – such a fascinating and interesting life. Write on!

  4. Johanna says:

    Thank you for your encouragement Jill. Slowly I’m getting over the hump of inertia and self doubt.

  5. Kerrie says:

    Yes, please continue!!

  6. Johanna says:

    Thanks for your positive comment, Kerrie, and for taking the time to have a ‘squizz’ at Zigazag! I am going to put serious thought now to putting together a series of (hopefully) entertaining travel stories. I’d also love to hear more about your experiences in Nepal.

  7. I travel with you as many people who have come from different countries will.
    Making the ultimate desicion in many cases,to leave behind friends ,family, work, home, animals and culture.starting a new life for whatever reason ,adventure,it does take corage.
    So please continue as I love to travel with you.
    Love Maria

  8. Thanks for replying Maria, and I look forward to welcoming you along with me in further travel stories. I would love to hear how you relate to them and if they echo some of your own travel experiences or not.

  9. Ingrid says:

    Yes fantastic – it’s definately a story worth telling and very interesting how one’s perception of age alters with increasing years 🙂 … everyone can relate to that …

  10. Johanna says:

    Thanks for your positive comments Ingrid. Yes, the perception of age as we get older is quite odd when you consider the various distortions. Definitely something to write more about.

  11. Ingrid says:

    Jo, You are well advised to write this and all the other bits you have written including stories with romantic elements. And never mind people who say who would read that (romantic)stuff anyway … it just happens to be one of the largest selling genres in the world).
    Should I get on my soap box now or off?!

  12. Hi Ingrid, thanks for the thumbs up from the soap box! I will heed your timely advice 🙂

  13. I would love to hear more… it is a pity our daughters haven’t meet….. they have lived similar lives…. i love hearing about how people move around… it’s so much fun

  14. Thanks Julie-Anne, yes our daughters would have a lot in common. Moving around can be fun and is part of their culture but it’s not always easy and so it’s good to find like minds who can relate. Thanks for reading.

  15. Suzanne Fluhr says:

    To borrow and mangle a line from the film, “Field of Dreams”—-“If you write it, they will come.” If you were a journal keeper, then you have the raw material. Go for it — or I guess you could just go on another trip instead 😉

  16. Thanks Suzanne, it all comes down to commitment and courage in the end, and an unwavering belief that ‘people will come’. Really appreciate your encouragement.

  17. I just came across this blog of yours and read it again … it’s interesting that you wondered if you would ever put the “feelings of rootlessness and disconnection to some socially acceptable or historical use, perhaps even be of some help to modern day expats and travellers …?” I think you are now doing that in spades … keep going.

  18. Thank you Ingrid, much appreciated 🙂

  19. Yes I hope you do! I was so captivatd by what you wrote, I could have read a whole book of it. I am young and struggeling to find my way. I travelled last year, which is was my dream. But now that I am back at home it all feels meaningless and all I want to do is travel and Im very restless. Hearing your story would hive me sine perspective I think, maybe that final push, and as to how it was possible for you to live a nomadic lifestyle.

  20. Thank you Synne. I totally relate to your feelings … You are in no way alone, and reverse culture shock as a ‘bug’ is alive and well. It’s so hard to settle down if you’ve had an extended stint of enjoyable travel, but it’s not easy to leave again either. If I write the book I’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime please let me know if you want to ask any questions that I could help you with.

  21. Definitely. I want more.

  22. Love it! Very inspiring 🙂

  23. Thank you Sarah 🙂

  24. Great story! I’d love to read the whole book – no pressure 😉 x A

  25. Thank you Annabel! Ha Ha! No pressure indeed! Just the word is enough to get my head and heart racing! I wish I could be more like Kelly who wrote her book in 18 days (re the post on Lifestyle Fifty)

  26. Ha ha Jo, Love the 55 year “old” lady. How our perception of age changes lol.

  27. Oh, I know Jan. Perish the thought!

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