Dear Friends, and assorted fellow Earthlings, whomsoever you may be, alighting at this portal
Happy Christmas to you all. I hope you have a marvellous time this yuletide.
I also wish you all the very best by way of happiness and good fortune and prosperity for the coming year.
2007 has been a year of changes and for that reason has been somewhat unusual.
It started in the same way my previous five years had, with me living the life of an English Language teacher in Bratislava, Slovakia. I was living in a gorgeous, over-heated flat in central Bratislava with more space than I needed and a very comfortable chair, as well as a plant called Jessica. In January I stopped working for SAP, an enormous German computer company and instead focused on teaching Her Majesty’s tongue more randomly, mainly to bankers. Some banks gave me free coffee when I visited; others did not. I also began working at a High School where I taught English Literature to highly gifted students whom I hope are now doing well with their International Baccalaureates. I’d never worked in a school for children before. I’m not sure I shall ever again. That said, rambling on about Milton and Shakespeare was fun.
But after six years in this relatively obscure Central European country, invariably confused with Slovenia, one now becoming less and less obscure on account of Slovak immigration to Blighty, I really did begin to feel I should bail out, give it a break and go somewhere else. Formerly, when people asked me ‘Why have you stayed here so long. You must really love it!’ I’d change the subject and ask: ‘Why should I leave?'. I needed reasons to leave, not reasons to stay. I didn’t have such reasons. But now in early 2007 all this had changed. I began to feel I’d had enough – at least for now. I still have a business license in Slovakia (suspended for 3 years) so can easily return to the land of sheep’s cheese and unquantifiably majestic feminine beauty, if I want.
Overall my six years in Slovakia were great. Better than the six years that preceded them for sure. A long way better. I worked for seven different companies, including my own, lived in six different properties (properties sounds better than flats) and drank something like 5,000 pints of some of the best beer in the world (I’m guessing). I saw something like 90% of Slovakia’s major towns and villages, walked in the Tatras and explored Slovakia’s caves. My impression of the Slovak people overall is that they are courteous, kind, gentle and entirely unpretentious. I feel very happy that I imposed myself upon them for so long. Already I miss Bratislava and see it as a ‘home’ to which I'll always want to return.
In June I left Slovakia in a rush, planning to come back three weeks later to finish my packing. Eleven weeks later I still wasn’t back. I’d got unexpectedly waylaid in the Balkans. I’d gone to Greece and Albania on a brief trip which I thought might include a detour, maybe to Macedonia, possibly to Bulgaria at a stretch. As it happens I went also to Kosovo, and from Bulgaria down into Turkey, and through Syria all the way to Egypt. It cost a lot of this curious stuff called money we are encouraged to think is important, but it was definitely the best independent travelling experience I’ve ever had.
To read more check out http://www.lookoutsidetime.blogspot.com/ (though I haven’t finished yet).
While I was travelling the future was ‘an open book’ (as the cliché has it). I thought I might wage war on my savings and keep going for three years. But something sensible (though not necessarily wise) counselled caution in my mind. In my search for work I was lucky to be able to do all the humdrum bureaucracy on the road. I didn’t choose Kuwait. Kuwait chose me. I was slated to go to Saudi Arabia, but was wooed by an unsolicited job offer to work in a place less severe.
So here I am, in an entirely different world, back in the lands of Ishmael. It’s certainly different here. Largely speaking its different in all the ways you might suppose, The women are hard to see and there ain’t no booze, there’s lots of oil money and plenty of sand, the presence of religion is all-pervasive and the ‘cold’ winters aren’t cold.
So far I’m having a lot of fun, enjoying the simplicity of it all. Not doing much, it must be said, can bring its own advantages. The absence of stress is great.
On Wednesday I’m back in Britain for ten days, and am looking forward to experiencing reverse culture shock as the forcefield of the Middle East withdraws. It will be interesting to discover what that feels like.
All the best once again for your Christmas time of celebration and best wishes again for 2008.