Lesson 2: life is too short

I find myself often thinking about all the people I have lost along the way. Sometimes it would be something small, like smelling the perfume they use to wear or just some dé ja vu of a moment we shared. 

I met one of my best friends in 2009 when we began attending the same college. It was strange how much we were alike and how much we had similar personality traits.  It was even stranger when we found out we shared the same birthday!

Over the years we quickly became like sisters, we used to have a standing coffee date every week and shared our difficulties and shortcomings without judgement. We both had this dream of traveling and we were both very ambitious. So in 2014 we both (on seperate occasions) decided to travel to America to come and work here. While living here I saw her twice, once in New York (where she worked) and once in Key West. We talked almost every week on the phone. She returned home in December 2014 and i stayed behind because my contract was for a year. 

On January 8 2015 I found out that she and her brother had both died in a plane crash. She had skyped with me the day before and we were talking about traveling together in Europe. The morning she died she sent me a snapchat of her flight, it was just quite devestating.

My heart broke into pieces and I just realised that life is too short to put off anything you wanted to do today for tomorrow. Buy yourself that pizza, shoes or trip to Europe. Because tomorrow you might be gone and never had the opportunity to do it. 

Everytime I travel now, I think of Tammy and all the places she wanted to travel to, and I carry her in my heart. She has tought me to be fearless and reach for my dream, she has tought me to live in the now. 

  Dedicated to Tammy! We lived part of our dream already and for that I am proud of you. I carry your heart, I carry it in my heart.

Lesson 1: no one has it figured out…

I thought it might be time to actually start writing about lessons that traveling has thought me. I suppose it is as much life lessons as it is traveling lessons.  

A few days ago I wrote a post about my sister and her struggle with quitting uni recently. Past couple of days it really has had her in a downword spiral. So I tried talking to her tonight and realised that she is yet to learn the most important lesson yet when it comes to your future…. You don’t have to know every step believe that you will find your way. 

I have traveled to several countries and no matter what the nationality, culture or language, one thing I can tell you for sure that is the same everywhere is that no one has it figured out. 

Yes, there might be the odd person or two who has a set path which they pursue but the reality is, that will change as well. Because we change all the time. 

I once read a quote which said that as we become older we become ourselves more clearly, and I find this to be so true. Things I used to hate when I was younger I can now tolerate. Some foods I like now more than ever. Some people I now get along with which I didn’t before.

We change. Our mindsets change. Our perspectives change. Therefore, no one has it figured out because as soon as we think we do, we change our mind about what ‘figured out’ means. And it is okay not to know what the future holds. 

We have this natural curiosity to know what happens next, but we often forget to embrace the ‘now’. 

Does it scare me? Yes. Do I often think about what happens next? Yes. At least at the end of the day I can comfort myself knowing that nobody has it figured out. We all just make the best of what we have and stumble forth to make an even better version of ourselves. 

Tourists Part 2

Along with the idiotic questions I get from tourists about where I live, I get even worse questions about where I am from. As a hotel standard, we all have the name of the place we are from on our name badges. This helps the guest connect with us better and also sometimes gives a guest a conversation topic when you have nothing to talk about.

 

And of course, for every country but Africa, Africa is a controversial topic. You would think that with this day and age and the technology at our fingertips people would be more informed, but you couldn’t be more wrong.

 

So, just for a little information. I grew up in South Africa and work and studied there before I decided to come and travel. I have lived in the United States now for 7 months. I have compiled a list of shocking questions which I was asked during my travels in the United States, working in a hotel and being a traveller in Europe.

 

Can I just start with stating: people are ignorant.

– Is your grandmother black? (no, but maybe I am lying about being from Africa)

– A guest pointing at my iPhone lying at the front desk when checking in – does your iPhone work in South Africa? (no sir, I just thought I would buy it so that I could have a phone in America)

– Do you speak African? (not fluently, but I can teach you if you like…)

– Do you celebrate Christmas? (yes, only at Christmas)

– Does animals roam the streets? (if you are in the Kruger park maybe)

– Do you live in huts? (No of course not, okay yes some maybe.)

– Guest comments – horrible what that Oscar Pistorius guy did. (if only he wasn’t an Olympic contender and then you wouldn’t even know what was going on…)

– Aren’t you afraid you might have Ebola? (yes, because I kissed someone who lived in West Africa.)

 

There are multiple other little dumb questions which I might have neglected to mention, but the above ones were just shocking, And it’s not only Americans that asked me these questions, but several other nationalities from all over the world.

 

I am not saying travel to South Africa, but please just watch a documentary or do some effort to be inquisitive about somewhere you don’t live (and no Blood Diamond doesn’t count.) The world would be a better place if we could just for one second consider that there is more to other countries than what is portrayed in the news.

 

Tourists Part 1

I find that guests quite often ask me some very strange and idiotic questions, and the past couple of days it has just been constant, which makes me wonder if people are actually educated or if they are just really ignorant?

 

It is normal for people to be inquisitive but I thought I would just share some of the questions that has been asked to me during these 7 months I have lived here because I am up to a point where I guess I can only laugh about it…

 

I can probably divide it into two categories of questions: where I live now & where I am from (this will be part 2 of my blog).

 

Where I live now:

As you have probably read by now, I live in the southern most part of the United States, Key West, Florida. For you that know geography, its only 90 miles from Cuba and close to the Bahamas and Caribbean. For you that don’t – it’s the bottom right corner of the United States. So just to give you a little bit of information – it is connected the mainland by a set of bridges the most famous of course the 7 mile bridge and lies completely at the end of all the Keys. It is summer year around and get as hot as 90 degrees and 90% humidity. The coldest it’s ever been is 51 degrees while I have lived here. Our sunsets and snorkel is very popular as well.

 

I have been asked the following questions (I was really awe-struck with some of these questions):

– Can you snorkel under the island? (uhm yeah, let me just lift up the island for you)

– How many sunsets will there be tonight? (I don’t know, maybe one like every night?)

– How far are you from the Golden Gate Bridge (try other side of the country…)

– What is the bathing suit policy? (does luxurious hotel brand say nude beach to you?)

– How long is the 7 mile bridge? (perhaps 5 miles?)

– Does the water go all the way around the island? (no it is just called an island, the definition is not correct!)

– Which beach is closest to the water? (well sir, let me think, all of them!)

– I am just so disappointed with my stay because it rained all the time, does it always rain? (what did you expect? that it wouldn’t rain on a tropical island?)


These are just some of the questions I can remember – I think there is a reason the saying “Don’t leave your brain at home” exists.

 

The hardest thing for me is that I actually had to answer all of these questions with a straight face and a polite answer that didn’t portray my opinion of their ignorance. At least they brighten up my day a little I guess!

Preoccupied.

This morning/night my day started with having to call 911 for a guest that was having a stroke. It’s common that you come across emergencies in the hospitality industry, but it was still a frightening experience for me and mind you also calling 911 in America for the first time.

 

Ever since then my mind has just been preoccupied. Have you ever read a book or watched a movie and then had to go back and re-read or re-watch a part because your mind was just scattered? I was driving past a traffic light and just as I got to the next intersection I wondered to myself if the light was actually green?

 

It happens because I over think everything. I must have somehow inherited some form of obsessive gene that lets me think a 1000 thoughts at once or analytical gene that makes me go over every situation and think, ‘how could I have handled it differently’? Is there an off button anywhere?

 

Personally, I think that’s my biggest flaw. I always doubt myself because I think I can do better.

Like I constantly doubt why I am here and if what I am pursuing is what I want to do. Sometimes I feel we just stumble forth into the path in front of us and just deal with it as it comes. But how do you stop worrying about the future and how do you tell your brain to be unoccupied? I think once we figure that out, we can certainly live more freely and take more chances. Something I yet cannot fully master…

 

There is a great quote that my best friend used to tell me which completely sums up my feelings : “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” – Michelangelo

Little Sister

So, my little sister messaged me this morning that she decided to quit college. How am I suppose to feel about this? Honestly I don’t know if I even have the right to be disappointed because every experience I have had thus far has only made me grow up more and be who I am. Maybe quitting is the right thing for her?

When we were younger my sister was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. In the beginning I used to think it was just a mind-set – get your mind out of the gutter and move on. But everyone is not the same and she certainly is not like me.

It became difficult for her to have friends and school was just such a hassle to the point where my mom pulled her out of school and started home schooling. This happened shortly after she tried to commit suicide and was put into an institution. I used to wonder what made her feel that way, what in her life was so much worse than mine? We had both grown up in the same household with loving parents and only opportunities, so why did she feel this way?

I listened to her cry herself to sleep at night and ask God to stop the pain, it made me sad that I couldn’t help her in any way. Everything I was saying was just ‘wrong’ and when I was giving my honest opinion she always took it up bad. After maybe two years of therapy, I was finally able to understand that nothing in particular made her feel this way. Everything that she was experiencing was 10 times worse than for me, it was like she got the HD version and I was only watching 480p.

When I was finally able to understand everything from her perspective (or to an extent anyway), I learned how to tiptoe around certain subjects and what the correct responses was to certain questions. In retrospect, she thought me almost everything I know about human behavior which has helped me a lot in the hospitality industry.

Anyway, so my mom and I worked together to help do all her school projects and all she had to do was write tests. This is practically how we got her through high school and she graduated with a B-average which was impressive for someone who didn’t even try. After school she stayed home for a year to figure out what she wanted to do. She tried doing an internship at a kindergarten but gave up because she was tired of trying.

When I went away for the second time (this time for a year to America) she felt that she was a failure and not achieving something. Everyone she knew was also studying so she felt a little bit out. Honestly, I think she wanted to study because she thought it would give her direction. But at the end of the day she was still unhappy and my mom was still doing her projects.

I honestly don’t know how my mother can have so much patience, because I would have left her on her own long ago. So, when she asked me today, “what do I think about her quitting?”. Honestly I am at a loss for words, because sometimes I feel like anything I say even the smallest word she really takes to heart.

I am just proud of her for trying after everything she has been through. I have also went and studied at a university after I received my first degree and after 2 months gave up as well. Looking back, I don’t regret it one bit because every single decision I made – if it was good or bad – lead me to this place and being able to live in a different country and travel.

Everything happens for a reason at the right time and place. This is what I live by. I hope that out of all these experiences my little sister will be able to understand that its okay to quit. As long as you know that you did it yourself (it wasn’t someone else’s decision) and that you did it on your own terms.

I certainly don’t know what her future holds for her or if she will be going back to study. I hope that she will at least find the motivation to start to work or find something that inspires her to work or do more than just sit around. My dream for her would just be to be self-sufficient and be able to work and live on her own.

Maybe someday she will be able to read this and understand that she thought me more about myself and life and that that in itself is and achievement.

Travelling is easy, staying is hard.

Over the last 3 years I have been privileged enough to have travelled to more or less 23 countries. I have completely, head-over-heels fallen in love with travelling, if it was free – you would probably never see me again!

 

The reason I think it’s so addictive is because you get to insert yourself into someone else’s shoes and just for a moment you get to experience what its like to see the world from their point of view. Whether it is drinking a Belgium beer, riding a gondola in Venice, scaling the wall in Dubrovnik or attending a food festival in France – it’s all new and makes you feel a part of something.

 

The beauty of it though, is that its all ‘moments’ that you share. When you actually have to move to another country and live and work there it’s completely different. I find myself often planning trips to travel to other states in America, just so that I can experience that ‘moment’ again.

 

I have always have the ability to adapt quickly to my circumstances but living in another country has been harder than expected. I struggle everyday to adapt to the American culture, to their values and point of view.

 

When I first arrived, the airline lost my luggage, the HR gave me the wrong apartment number and everything was very expensive and it was so extremely hot in Key West. After all the struggle and finally settling in to the right apartment and receiving my luggage I felt a little bit more content.

The first few days you kind of just find your way, purchase a lot of things that you think you need and then settle when you finally have a purpose and routine.

 

It’s not actually the small trivial stuff and settling in that’s the hard part, its adapting with the people. I am used to live in a city and here its more like a small town. The number of good friends I have, I can count on one hand and their values are similar to mine. Here everything is kind of different.

 

Friendship are more based on “what can you do for me” than actual companionship. At the end of the day I found that people who I have met and been friends with here for over 7 months will always do what benefit themselves more than think of me in the process. Don’t get me wrong you do find those rare gem’s that is worth it, but other than that friendship might just be one of the hardest things to achieve here and perhaps in life.

 

Out of all the people I know here, I think perhaps only 1 will reach out to me when I move back (and she’s not even from America). If anyone else reached out it would be rare. I am not being cynical but my experiences here with friends have just taught me to know better.

 

I think that once you are able to accept people and their habits and know what is ‘real’ and ‘not real’ only then will it be easier to live in a different place/country. Perhaps at the end of the day it does come down to being open to accept that sometimes the place you live in and people you know does not define you.

 

Living here in America has just opened my eyes and honestly it was much harder than I thought. Took me almost 3 months just to figure out the pace of life. Now that I have lived and worked abroad I must say, I prefer travelling and coming back home.

I am my own happiness.

Today I have decided it is time to finally put my experiences, thoughts and feelings to paper. I always admired authors for their ability and perseverance in bringing their stories to life and keeping my interest throughout. I never quite had the knack for writing and therefore I didn’t even think it would be possible to put my thoughts to paper. Now, with all this technology I think anything is possible and even if I suck at it at the end of the day it is something I am doing more for myself.

 

So, where do I start? Usually I would say the beginning, but tonight my thoughts are just too scattered for any real story telling. I guess the best thing is to kind of fill in the blanks as I go and just everyday talk a little bit of what is relevant and on my mind.

 

Tonight, I just keep thinking about the question “Am I happy?”. To some this might seem an easy  question to answer, but honestly I just can’t answer. I have lived in the USA for about 7 months now and I feel just as lonely as when I moved here. Who would have thought travelling can be so lonely?

 

I realise that I can make of it what I want and that it perhaps would be less lonely if I tried harder, don’t get me wrong – I do try, I have friends, I have fun and I discover. Still I feel like a stranger. I feel like I always have to adapt my culture and values to suit other’s, but would they do the same for me?

 

It bothers me that people don’t just say what they want and do as they say. Is it so bad to still believe in that old school charm that people are good and that not every one will disappoint you? The short answer is yes, because unfortunately at the end of the day all we want to do is connect with people and if that means changing or compromising who we are, we find ourselves happy to oblige sometimes.

 

Reflecting back on all my experiences here so far (also dealing with almost 150 guests everyday at the hotel front desk), I realise that really it is more of a mindset. I just shouldn’t give people my time that wouldn’t even waste a minute on me. I shouldn’t care too much about things that are not in my control. There will always be people who want to compete with you, don’t like you and people you will simply just bud heads with.

 

Maybe I am happy, not necessarily with the place I live, the people I know or the job I have, maybe I am happy with who I am becoming and the experiences that are defining my character right now. So tomorrow if someone asks me, ‘are you happy?’ – I will reply with “I am happy with what I have achieved and who I have become.’

 

Maybe at the end of this 12 month work exchange program I will be able to define my ‘own’ state of happiness. All I know for now is that if people cannot appreciate or support me at my worst, they certainly don’t deserve me at my best (this is perhaps one of the hardest lessons I have learned.)