Halfway around the world
I am halfway home. In Hong Kong Airport, awaiting flight to Melbourne. Leaving Rome was strange, I never quite got it into my head that I was about to get on a long-haul flight. I lingered for ages in the departure hall, and ended up being the second-last person to board the flight. Disapproving glances as I beamed at everyone at the gate.
I felt a surge of something like surprise when I saw the television in the back of the seat. That’s right, I thought. I am going to Australia – you get a TV for that kind of flight. It took a moment to sink in.
This whole trip has been everything I wanted it to be. Everything I needed it to be. Paris nurtured me and got me breathing again. Seeing my friends there, meeting their friends, slowing down and sleeping and drinking wine and tea and hot chocolate, and eating fresh bread and pain au chocolat… wandering the streets without really knowing where I was going. All perfect and exactly what I needed.
Armenia was inspiring. Music as a powerful way of reconnecting with friends again, and of sharing with people. This theme continued in Bosnia, where I also started to get a sense of who I am when I am away from home, the way that I engage with people, the things I contribute and what other people give me. I had big emotional swings in Mostar: the huge rush of just seeing the city again, of seeing the restored Old Bridge and remembering the shape of the city; a sense of sadness then, at the things that did not seem to have changed so much; and then starting to look beyond these, to see what has changed for people, the difference that stability can bring, even if that is still often mixed with frustration. Again, seeing old friends was the focus and was definitely worth the journey. And Christmas in Sarajevo with K and his family was a definite, moving, humbling highlight. They made me so welcome.
Then, I was no longer with old friends but travelling with a new friend, and that was tremendous fun. I am not sure I have travelled with anyone (apart from my mum or other family) for that long before. It was great. And we saw lots and took ourselves to new places and made spontaneous and impulsive decisions and all the things that you want yourself to do when you are away.
I have been really stimulated by the challenge of using my language skills and improving these. I get such a buzz out of being able to have even the most rudimentary conversations with people in their own language. I spoke four languages other than English on this trip – French, Russian, Bosnian (Serbo-Croatian), and Italian. I prepared for each one, listening most diligently to the relevant language lab recordings I had acquired prior to departure, before entering each country. My greatest linguistic satisfactions were with Bosnian/Croatian and Italian, as I improved so quickly with these two in particular. I was surprised by how much Bosnian came back to me in the time that I was there. By the time I was in Dubrovnik many people commented on it, and asked why it was I could speak their language as much as I could. And in Italian, well… it was the language I automatically used in every interaction. I found myself thinking in the last two days about doing things in Melbourne, like taking my coat to be drycleaned, or resetting my membership at the pool, and mentally going over how I would appraoch these interactions in Italian, what I would say, etc. Then it would occur to me that I would be able to do these in English. I also bought the final Harry Potter book in translation while I was in Naples, and have been reading that slowly ever since. All good for my language skills.
And even the length of the holiday was right. While I am sad to leave the travelling mode, in many way I am looking forward to home. I am looking forward to being back in my flat and seeing my family and friends and finding out what everyone has been up to, as it feels I have been away for ages. I’m looking forward to wearing some different clothes and beng able to finally unpack my big bag, and I am looking forward to a couple of months of summer. I love the winter in many ways, but the Fitzroy Pool beckons for my morning swims, Carlton Gardens for my runs, my bicycle for my general commuting and transport, the Vic Market for groceries, coffee, crossword and good company.
So I am coming home feeling pretty refreshed, I guess. I don’t yet feel like going back to work, but I know I’ll be happy once I am there – there is lots to get stuck into. I’ll also be able to resume my Masters reading, and I am looking forward to that. 2008 is the year of Masters. It will be my main focus and ambition.