You know when you’ve done something for the first time that you were nervous about doing, and then you wonder what you were ever nervous about? And then you wish you could go back and tell your nervous self how there’s no need to be nervous? That’s how I now feel about cycle touring. Just over a year ago, I completed a two-month adventure on my bike. On my own. And because it took me so long to build up the courage to do that, it’s time to share my story to encourage the courage in others.
Today, I am older than my mum. I have been approaching this particular anniversary of her death with a little trepidation. And since recently getting a taste for writing, I decided it was time to write some things about the long and winding road that is coming to terms with grief, especially when it comes to losing a parent.
Today, I am older than my mum. There. I said it again. Out loud. Phew. From now on, I will begin to look older than her in photos. Her image, frozen in time and burned into the photo bank in my brain will slowly become a little odd as I realise my face has become more creased than hers, my hair just that little more flecked with grey. The course I’ve been on to turn ever more into her image will now reverse. Family members will finally get an idea of what she may have looked like as she got older.
And there it is. The reason I do not regret my fine lines or first grey hairs. For growing old is a privilege denied many. I will embrace it and welcome it. For my mother never got to experience it, and I owe it to her to take it in my stride and be thankful that I have the opportunity to experience my mid and late 30s and beyond.
Writing this blog has become a place where I can share some thoughts on decisions I have made in my life (being tee-total), emotional journeys I have been on (to find body and face confidence) and experiences I have had (living in a refugee camp in the Sahara Desert) all of which may be of interest or use to people reading this. But now I’m taking it somewhere a little deeper (and scarier for me as a writer, publishing this), but hopefully it holds some advice for those in a similar place, who have lost someone they love.
I threw out my DBS guidelines the moment I got here: the children I teach all hug me goodbye and plant forceful kisses on my cheeks as they go. So I knew I would have to think differently about the relationship between children and teachers. And I’m starting to realise other things about this refugee childhood at the same time.
I’m here as an English teacher, but I have so much to learn. About how to teach in this context; and about how to survive this far out of my comfort zone.
Language was always going to be my biggest problem here on this Desert adventure. Though lots of people speak Spanish (the colonial language of Western Sahara) the language everyone speaks is Hassaniya, a particular Arabic dialect of which I knew a total of about three words before my arrival six weeks ago.
So if you think I’m persevering and showing my most resilient self whilst being here, imagine having lived in the Desert for 42 years, waiting to be able to return to your homeland. Every day here, I am reminded afresh of the perseverance and resilience of these incredibly warm and wonderful people. And every day I want to work harder to help the Saharawis achieve their dream of heading home.
I was brought up with a WWII mentality to everything. There was always a make do and mend, waste not want not and reuse and recycle mentality in my house. As I entered the twenty-first century, I knew that the values my grandmother had instilled in me through my childhood would be incredibly useful. For we need a war on waste and we need it to happen yesterday.
It’s been an intense few days here in my Saharawi family home. I knew before I arrived that one of my Saharawi sisters would be getting married three weeks into my stay here so I was excited to see all the customs and traditions and be blown away by the differences compared to our traditions at home.
So, after eighteen months spent thinking about embarking on it, nine months planning the adminstative details for it, and the last month panicking about the realities of it, here I am: LIVING IN THE SAHARA DESERT.