Back in August, the weekend before I left to come to Mexico I was in Edinburgh. I had a fun time there which was only partly ruined by the weather (wet and miserable on the Friday and colder than December in Queretaro on the Saturday) and Janeane Garofolo's abysmal stand-up in the one show we all paid to see. Being back in Edinburgh made me reflective - as it always does - of how my life has changed (a bit) since I was a student, so I was in a pensive mood as I boarded the Megabus to return on the Sunday night. Not only was I thinking about Edinburgh and my friends there, but I was extremely apprehensive as I considered that a week later I would be teaching English classes in Mexico.
Waiting in the queue for the bus I got chatting to a South African guy. We ended up sitting next to each other on the bus and he told me a bit of his story. He was flying to S Africa the next day, returning home after a year spent abroad in Canada and Scotland. I looked on this as a piece of cosmic coincidence that I should meet a guy returning home after a year just as I was about to leave home for a year. We chatted for some hours on the bus and two comments he made to me have stuck in my mind as very meaningful. (Also, at least one comment he made has stuck in my mind as complete garbage - no, the Incas weren't aliens).
Above all, the one thing I took away from that conversation was this observation: [reproduced here - in the novelstic convention - as if I could remember every word he said]
"The thing is, yah, it's not like the olden days when people went away from home and didn't see or speak to any of the family or old friends for years. Nowadays it's so easy to communicate with people, yah."
He had a point. It immediately made me think back to some stories I had heard in the museum on Ellis Island in New York. (Very loyal readers of James's America may recall that i spent a good three hours there when I visited Lisa in NYC back in September 2008). A hundred years ago men used to leave the old country, leaving behind parents, siblings, wives, children to go and spend perhaps 3 years working in the states until they could pay for their families to come over. Some of them even had to live in Pittsburgh. If they were lucky they could communicate every couple of months or so by mail. They didn't have phones, email, sms, msn, facebook, facebook chat, or even facebook lite. For a solid 2-5 years if not forever. How could I be afraid to hop accross the global village for a paltry 12 months or so?
Whatever his name was, that S African gave me a boost of confidence before coming here, and his observation has completely borne out for me. I haven't felt homesick at all since moving here and I remain aware that a) it's so easy to stay in constant contact with home that I am effectively not far away at all and b) a year isnt that long.
This has mulled around in my mind a bit lately as it is the festive season. As an expat living in a (relatively) new city, I looked on Christmas this year as a bit of a nuisance. Nice to have the time off work but I would inevitably end up feeling slightly lonely away from my family on the one day of the year (in the post family-holiday era) that we would definitely all spend together.
True to form, my dreams began to take place in London with a bit more regularity by mid-December, and on one occasion (must have been after a very vivid dream) I actually woke up thinking: "Where am I? Oh yeah, God, I'm at home in Mexico. Why the hell did I decide to come here again?" It was a very fleeting moment but one that has stayed with me and amused me since.
In the end, I had a really fun Christmas. I spent Christmas Eve (Noche Buena - the night Mexicans celebrate) with my colleague Lety and her extended family just outside the city of Queretaro. I had a great time and was full of cheer (not to mention rum, wine, cider, tequila) by the time I went to bed that night at 5am. On Christmas Day I lazed around, eating off my hangover and chatted to my family in London standing on the terraced roof of my house in the 22 degree sun.
So, reflecting on the smallness of the world, I have just remembered that, what with the time-difference, the fifth day of Australia v Pakistan began an hour ago in Melbourne and I had better log on to watch it now before Pakistan lose any more wickets, and before I head out for a game of pool in a couple of hours. By the time I come back, England should be romping to victory in Durban against --- South Africa. I wonder if old whatshisname from the Megabus will be watching?
Hasta la proxima!