It started a long time ago for me and has continued now that I travel with my family. I am a “buck the traditional” kind of woman (“maiden name” – ridiculous words… but I still have mine; quit “traditional” law the minute I became a lawyer; had one daughter and ended up with four daughters (happily); changed careers many times and probably will once more. So needless to say, it is not a huge surprise that my favourite cities are NOT Paris and London as I much prefer grittier Amsterdam. When choosing Spanish language schools in Guatemala, Quetzaltenango beat out perfect Antigua so it was not too shocking that as a family we preferred Lake Atitlan villages again over Antigua, the “jewel” of Guatemala. After visiting Mexico, Chris declared Patzcuaro over San Miguel de Allende, another “expat haven” which is “perfectly aesthetic” but less us, I guess. Hands down we loved Essaouria over Marrakech and Fez in Morocco, strangely for some but again that is how we roll. I do have to admit that I love Bangkok but not for its touristy temples or other “must see” items. I prefer to wander, explore, people watch and get lost. Phnom Penh is my idea of perfectly “imperfect” but that was years ago, and I fear that it might have changed; as most places do. And I know I am very odd… but Cape Town was not a favourite for me; it was beautiful but not me. I much preferred the wild scenery of Lesotho, Swaziland and parts of Kwazulu Natal. When I look at my pictures, I gravitate to the regular, to the gritty side of life. Maybe that is why I am so obsessed with India because it has both; perfect and imperfect; all at the same time. Soon two of our blended family may be headed to a new city (one that when we tell people, the response is usually… umm) so granted to say, it is no Paris, no Vienna, no Florence, no Singapore. But because it will most likely be “perfectly imperfect” , we are not worried, we will be content and of course, find things to love.
Does this get easier, I wonder?
I am living in Lesotho; unemployed and alone during the day in a UN compound surrounded by fencing and guards. When I walk outside the compound, either the freakishly scary dogs chase me or the UN drivers try to run me over. So I try to blend in, try to find a place to fit in but still it is hard.
I feel stuck between the expat community and the local one… not really in either.
To make matters more unsettling, it is viewed as “necessary” to have a maid. Now, I understand this and I value giving someone an opportunity to earn an income, but I am unemployed; hence at home a lot of the time.
What do I do when she comes to clean; sit and watch her? READ: awkward. I try different things; I leave, I pretend to be “busy”, I try to help but never do I feel comfortable. This much older woman is in my bathroom with running water and electricity scrubbing my clothes in the bathtub. Imagine how guilty I feel when I visit her at her home to see that she has none of the above; no running water, no electricity and no bathtub.
I felt so conflicted.
In the end, she is why I loved Lesotho. The fence between my compound and her was always present but little by little the divide lessened and I began to feel a bit more comfortable; gradually the cleaning was less about the cleaning and more about the sharing.
P.S. If you ever have the chance to visit South Africa, try to see Lesotho for its other worldly scenery, its people and the most fascinating thunder and lightning storms I have ever experienced. If you are a storm junkie, this is the country for you.