Category Archives: Someone I Once Met

Someone I Once Met: A Net

 

Like what you catch a fish in – a net‘ …. this is what we used to tell our new American friends in Colorado. They found it difficult to wrap their tongues around her name, Annette. We’d say either that, or Americanize it by repeating it back to their confused ears without the t.

Meet, Annette (Nettie).

Back in 2010, almost a year before teaching America how to pronounce normal English names, and that South Africa was the name of our country rather than a general area, Annette and I were only kind of friends. Which is why I was taken aback when she said genuinely, that she was ‘in’ for a Colorado ski season. We called ourselves ‘doers’ after this decision.

Fast forward at least a year – our ski season was over, and we’d forever agonize over how epic it was by writing on each other’s walls. There were four of us and we probably annoyed a good amount of people with our private Colorado jokes and quotes displayed publicly on social media.

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I was always half impressed, half annoyed that while I skied to work everyday and she didn’t, her skiing skills were on par with mine. Its all in the guts. She had the guts.

Unfortunately, her gut gave way when somewhere along the way she contracted C-dificile, a painful bacterial stomach issue which if untreated, only gets worse and worse. Annette’s went untreated for about 6 months which I’ve put down to her a) never, ever complaining b) her tendency for FOMO c) (dumb) youth logic.

A few days before departure on our post-season spectacular train trip from San Francisco to the Canadian border, Annette was on the verge of pulling out. I shudder to think of how terrible of a friend I was to miss just how bad she must have been to even verbalize this thought. But just days after hitting rock bottom, and in hindsight – far from recovered, Nettie packed her bags waved goodbye to CO with me and flew to San Francisco to hit the tracks northwards. (This was all before I became brave enough to travel completely alone – I don’t know what I would have done if she hadn’t been able to come.)

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Together we became Ellie Goulding fans at an intimate show in Portland – just before she exploded into stardom. We witnessed Tinie Tempa perform to an embarrassingly small crowd in an almost empty club. We met people who inspired us. We acted questionably on long haul train journeys, couch surfed with friends, and almost never spoke about her pain. 27 year old me is appalled by how little I remember asking her how she felt. Was it me? Should she have simply complained more?! Lord knows the self-pity that would have emanated from me if put in her shoes.

To sum Annette up; she is the sober girl having the best time at the party. Only special people can do that. And Nettie is just that, very special to a lot of people 🙂

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6 years later and still the only thing I can really fault this woman on is her spelling 😉

 

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Someone I Once Met: Mr. Marijuana

Let me begin by excusing myself for allowing my wanderlust and creative writing to fall by the wayside. I also want to take my hat off to anyone who has ever worked full time and studied on the side. Or even better, anyone who has worked full time, raised a family and studied on the side. I have no family to raise and still I find it tough to find time for creative projects. So here’s to all you go getters doing all the things to better yourselves, altering priorities and giving things up. For a while.

So in today’s short little introduction to someone I once met I bring you Matt. Matt sprang to mind the other day when I was pondering my new and improved mindset regarding my stance on the legalization of marijuana. For those of you who are not yet aware, I recently decided to be more vocal about my position on the topic of legalizing pot. I’m all for it. I have many reasons and perhaps I’ll focus more on them in future posts.

I realized that the reason Matt holds a special place in my memory bank is because of marijuana. You see, once upon a time in 2013, I arrived in Barcelona for an extended vacation. I booked into a hostel and continued to stay there for a little over a month. At some point, my path crossed Matt’s.

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Barcelona is one of Europe’s biggest tourist attractions. Everyone comes to admire the works of Gaudi and the fantastically historic gothic architecture. What people don’t realize is that Barcelona is the new Amsterdam. One is able to buy marijuana over the counter so long as you’re a member of one of the many ‘clubs’ (Think ‘Amsterdam coffee shops’). The laws regarding pot are hugely relaxed in this area and as a result there exists an intriguing and ever-growing cannabis culture. For this reason, I beg any potential reader to understand that my, or anyone’s use of pot in Barcelona, is not an illegal activity.

(For a better understanding of Barcelona’s weed scene- I go into more detail here.)

Matt is a fan of weed. I realized this when I walked into our shared dormitory and was hit by a pungent, yet not offensive aroma. Matt, the culprit, had been puffing on the balcony. At some point during his stay we must have had a conversation about it and our respective stances on the plant, although my memory of it seems a bit fuzzy.

Since no-one’s hostel stay was as long as mine, Matt and co. came and went. I didn’t get to say goodbye, but under my pillow I found a small gift. Since he was flying out and since one can legally transfer the toxic liquid that is alcohol from one country to another but do no such thing with marijuana, He left me a little surprise.

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There was no accompanying note and there was no need for one. Matt had left me his pipe and left-over ‘stash’ as a parting gift. All I have is a faded memory of him, in and out the dorm room, and a strong appreciation for his simple gesture. I don’t have much more to say about Matt or our mutual experiences, it’s literally that small little anecdote. But I do think the fact that it has stayed with me regardless (the impression not the weed), speaks volumes for how much this subject means to me.

Marijuana/weed/pot/The Devil’s Lettuce is completely and utterly a symbol of peace and healing (and friendship), and so far from the demonized ‘drug’ we’re made to believe it is. If I think about it, I’m actually impressed by the power of propaganda- because that’s all it is. False information fed to the masses which we in turn lap up. But let me leave you with this; if you truly believe in the offensiveness of marijuana then you’re showing the same ignorance as Nazi lovers did when they blindly followed Hitler and his colossally unfounded bullshit. And I think Matt would agree. *Ends rant.

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Someone I Once Met: The Great Dane

I’ve always said: when travelling solo you are never really alone. Unless of course you head off the beaten track and away from anyone – traveler or otherwise. But my month long trip to Bolivia and Peru came with a certain amount of responsibility to stay out of trouble, or at least alive, for the sake of my concerned family.

That’s why on the very first stop of my trip, after a 24 hour bus trip to Chile’s Atacama desert, I alighted with bright eyes in the hope of finding a new friend ASAP. That person came in the form of a young, gay Dane with hair as white as a snow. Having arrived on the same bus with a relatively similar agenda, we sourced a cheap hostel and a Salt Flat tour to start the next day. Next stop – a three day jeep tour through Bolivia’s high altitude desert, complete with volcanoes, geysers, lakes of all colours and finally the star of the show- the Uyuni Salt Flats.

IMG_4454Cristian and I managed to share a jeep with two of the unfriendliest people to have walked this planet- French of course. The first two days and nights passed with relative ease; minimal effects from the high altitude, only one breakdown and constant wind.

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Early on the first day we passed through border control (in the middle of nowhere) between Chile and Bolivia. It was here that I realised Christian was special and gifted. I winced as he whizzed through passport control and I struggled to interpret my next mission – ‘you must complete your border crossing and visa process in the next town.’ You see, Christian’s Danish passport is also his stress free ticket around the world. It must have been my fascination with his wizardous passport that got me looking at it…. and then feeling a whole lot better about things when I realised he came from Middlefart.

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Christian and I were exceedingly eager for day three, the day we would reach the world’s largest salt flat and photograph the shit out of ourselves playing with perspective like thousands had done before us. In anticipation of being in front of the camera all day we had already decided what we’d wear . In an unfortunate turn of events, our cameras weren’t able charge that night.

We arrived at the salt flats at the crack of dawn with only a smattering of battery left on each of our cameras. I think Christian’s camera was completely broken if I remember correctly. Perhaps I was put off (and pissed off) by the battery situation, but I didn’t bring my A-game that day. I wasn’t able to come up with 100 fun and creative perspective photographs like I had imagined doing for so many months.

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On a lighter note, there had been a group of Hot Danish guys doing the same tour in a separate jeep. The tour follows a specific route and the list of things to see is limited. Thus, it would happen that mine and Christian’s paths would often cross with theirs. Christian came in handy as my eavesdropping translator-  who knew why or what I was so interested in hearing.

I am very thankful for having had Christian as my buddy over those three days. They were the first three days of my first solo journey in a very strange place. And he made the transition easy and fun. By the time we reached the town of Uyuni our adventure together was coming to an end. I had limited time which meant I had to crop a couple must-see’s from my itinerary.

IMG_4811But before the Great Dane was able to rid himself of me completely, he accompanied me to the building where I had been instructed to ‘complete the border crossing process’. To my absolute horror, the place was all locked up. It wasn’t even a weekend! Eventually someone pitched up, unlocked the doors and led us inside to a dingy room where he asked for three times the amount I knew I had to pay.

Luckily there isn’t much to do in the hell hole that is Uyuni. Its a pick up and drop off point for the tours so it see’s a lot of tourists – but believe me they’re only looking for the next ride out. So I guess there were worse things to do than sit in an internet cafe searching for proof of the amount I had to pay. Poor Christian was right alongside me doing the exact same.

Armed with our new ammunition, we went back to battle with the moron who was trying to rip me off. He wasn’t budging. I’d hardly made any cash teaching English in Chile for a year and I wasn’t about to pay it all to this opportunist. Then out of nowhere someone else showed up. He ruffled through some papers and found a list outlining the country categories and what their visa fees were. There was my South Africa, listed in group B. Not a country able to enter visa free but also not a country that pays an exorbitant price. FYI; Bolivia is one of the few places it doesn’t pay to travel on a US passport.

Thanks Christian- you’re the best! And I hope people have stopped pestering you on a daily basis about how you get your hair that way. Its natural people!

 

 

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Someone I Once Met: The Stalker

Looking back on this situation I shudder to think what could have happened. 

Over a year ago I was new to the town of Antibes, France, trying to land my first job onboard a luxury yacht. The yachting industry is saturated with twenty-somethings trying to edge their way into the world of being over paid for menial labour.

I was not the only newbie in town, in fact there were thousands of others prositiuting themselves on the docks, trying to make an impression or a contact that may somehow somewhere come in handy. You do whatever you can to get your foot in the door. They tell you not to tarnish your name at the local watering holes because no-one will want to hire you, although some have been lucky enough to score a job in exactly that way. The industry is slippery and unpredictable and landing a job is no exception.

In my first few weeks there was the Antibes Yacht Show where boats are more shiny than usual for people to come and pretend to buy them. At this particular event a certain tall individual of the male species locked eyes with me. He edged his way closer and when someone spilt a drink on my shoe he disappeared down to clean it off. Interesting tactic.

There was no turning back from there for this French man from Reunion Island. Over the next few days my friends and I got to know him and I tolerated his flirting and tried my best not to lead him on. Unfortunately he was probably well aware of my state of mind. During this time I, and others like me, saw the sky as the limit for things you’d do to get a job. He claimed to have dabbled in the industry, but not really but kind of. You hear what you want to hear I’ll tell you that much. He offered to drive me to Cannes one day to ‘introduce me to some people’. As the day wore on I lost hope in my contact as he was shrugged off by one person after the other just like the rest of us.

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Then he ran a red traffic light and next thing I know we were being pulled over. On top of that, he was driving with an expired license. Let me fill you in on all the things that were running through my mind at this point; ‘How on earth do I explain to the cops who I am to this person? Am even safe with him? Am I going to get deported? And finally- I can’t believe I’m going to the police station right now. And in separate cars to Thomas (that’s his name by the way). Could this situation get any worse?

Well actually yes it could. Waiting in the cop shop while my chauffeur was being questioned I called up my friend to find out how her day of dock walking was going. “It’s going really well actually. I got a job!”. I’m ashamed to admit the way I felt at that moment as rivers of jealousy ran through my body combined with disbelief that I was wasting precious time at the police station in the hope that some nobody would help me find a job.

The day didn’t really get any better. All I wanted to do was go home but he dragged me around town, first to his grandmother’s house so she could come and reclaim the car. Then she gave him money which he insisted on spending on me. Let just say that by the time I finally made it home I was one ring, a jar of honey, a jar of seaweed and frozen octopus richer.

He loved his granny

He loved his granny

In the days that followed his stalker tendencies really started to kick in. If there was anyone who couldn’t take a hint it was Thomas. I started by trying to ease him off gently and then resorted to completely ignoring his phone calls and texts. When he showed up to a night time get-together on the beach completely out of the blue and uninvited- that’s when I lost my temper.

I was finally free of Thomas except for the times I’d see him around town and I’d duck out the way.

But fast forward a couple of weeks to when I was still jobless and living in a different apartment. I told my story to someone I shared the flat with and this is where things started getting creepy. Her expression changed from entertained to intrigued when she began to realise that this all sounded terribly familiar.

The girl I was sharing a room with, she told me, had had the exact same experience. And when that girl got home and I asked her directly. It was official, we had both been overly admired and ruthlessly pursued by the same man from Reunion Island.

She didn’t necessarily find it as funny as I did, rather she felt quite annoyed that he had lead her to believe she was special while perusing someone else. As a result she told him what for in a not very nice way.

My favourite memory from all this? Shortly after my co-admiree lost it with Thomas he showed up at our doorstep (naturally he hadn’t been there before but being Thomas he knew where we lived). I watched on from my bedroom window, craning my neck to get a good view and trying not to fall out. I watched as he stood patiently waiting for one of us to show up – and I wasn’t going anywhere. When one of us finally arrived home he started his with his apology which of course came with a gift.

While she accepted his apology she was not keen on the apology jewellery he was trying to give to her. Eventually he forced it into her hands and walked away. If there was ever a man who didn’t understand ‘no’ it was this one. Poor girl, I had a great stifled chuckle at her expense that day. I was completely entertained.

The forgiving/open person in me saw something else in Thomas. I saw, after pushing through all the creep, a very lonely person with a kind heart. I know the picture I’ve painted of him here makes this hard to believe but the poor guy never appeared threatening. When he’d see my (male) friends out and about he’d offer them lifts or even just his company on their route home. Maybe they just do things differently on that little Island off the Island off the coast of Southern Africa.

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Someone I Once Met: Lord Krishna’s Dad

Once upon a time in India there was a Kiwi. His name was Nanda. Nanda was a kiwi of New Zealand descent rather than the fruit kind. Before stumbling across his acquaintance it was his better half who I met first- the lovely Lucy.

Nanda, according to his better half, was working on the road. The road as in the figurative road, the one he traveled around India on. Throughout his trip Nanda had cartoons to draw and deadlines to meet. As is the lifestyle of a freelance cartoonist for a popular surfing magazine.

Lucy had thought Nanda should be working harder. A tiff ensued. Lucy was seeking alone time and leaving Nanda ‘to it’ when we met.

Hours into knowing all about Nanda, there was still no face to the name. It was clear that despite the tiff she was still rather besotted with boy named after the mythical Lord Krishna’s father. Nanda was only the boy from her friendly banter at this point.

India is special. Often in a good way, but just as often in a bad way. There’s a lot of love going around and, supposedly, a lot of healing. But India also forces people into situations and conversations that would otherwise not have materialized until, ever. Toilet/stomach/illness related conversations in particular. On the plus side you’ll grow that much closer with your travel partner because of it.

It’s not uncommon to speak of these with virtual strangers. Nanda, (after finally meeting the myth, the legend) was, for some reason, the first and last person I spoke to about using a squat toilet. Make that a toilet-paper-less, toilet-less toilet. “But how exactly do you go about it?” I asked as if it were a conversation about something socially acceptable like doing the splits.

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“So you pull your pants down past your knees, or just take them off altogether. When you’re done, use the jug and water to wash yourself” he explained, half motioning what he was saying. “I don’t know about Lucy” (perhaps he thought it might differ depending on gender) “but I use my hand just to make sure.” I probably just nodded in response. There wasn’t much left to say- I’d been schooled.

The average person snaps a photo of something worth making a memory of. Nanda draws it. I’d have a hard time explaining his drawings with my words. Its better you take a look at them yourself. Find some here on his Instagram.

Nanda was raised a Hari Krishner, or at least in a way that would make a Hari Krishner proud. He has never eaten meat in his entire life. And despite being home schooled, he is more at ease in a social situation than you or me. His sense of humour is also something I’d have trouble describing. Perhaps return to his Instagram to get a whiff of it.

Thanks Nanda for sharing your Indian toilet wisdom with me. And thanks to you and your lovely Lucy for allowing us into your stumbled upon Mumbai apartment. The one that a random expat lent to you on a whim. It was luxurious and for a moment I forgot I was in India. I’m sorry for calling you a Hipster.

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Someone I Once Met: Roommates of 2012 – Year of the Chile

Depto once dieciseis, or ‘apartment eleven sixteen’, was my home for the whole of 2012. When I moved to Chile for a year of teaching English it was hard to imagine what life would be like. Now looking back, it’s hard to imagine what it would have been like if it hadn’t gone the way it did. If I hadn’t moved into 1116.

Today’s Someone I Once Met is about the people I lived with who became my family away from home and who I continue to learn from two years down the line.

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Looking down from 1116

A week after arriving on Chilean soil I had already been robbed of all my important possessions, including passport, phone and all my bank cards. Shortly thereafter I stood in front of the door to my new home, ringing the door bell, waiting for what seemed like forever for someone to answer. I had already hit rock bottom, it could only be up from here.

Finally a tall, handsome Frenchman opened the door. I had clearly woken him up at the ungodly hour of 1pm- I based this on his appearance and the time it took him to answer the door. Sam would become a brotherly figure, a guy who I loved in a platonic way and hated every now and again. Reasons varied from his French-ness to stubborn and bossy-ness.

Sam was a student and later an intern, an occasion that was important enough for a tailored suit. As you would imagine, he had a huge soft spot for cheese and wine and spoke with a strong French accent that could be detected in every language he spoke. The day I left we shed a tear and an embrace for the year that we had spent together and for the high likelihood of never seeing each other again. Luckily, my leaving overlapped with him meeting his future wife who I met briefly. Unfortunately, her understanding (or misunderstanding) of what our friendship was (and wasn’t) is the reason why Sam and I are no longer friends. Cest la vie, it was fun while it lasted.

Yannek, dear Yannek. My American brother of Swiss decent, fluent in French and Spanish. His ability to switch between three languages in one conversation always blew my mind. I always wished Yannek hadn’t left halfway through my stay in Chile. If there was ever an individual to have on your side it was him. Annoyingly politically correct and frustratingly positive about all the people around him, it didn’t take long to realise that Yannek was one of life’s special people.

An alliance with him meant a constant look on the lighter side of life. It also meant a good meal in your belly, albeit deep fried. While he knew how to cook up a storm, cleaning up seemed foreign to him. I suppose between being the master of languages, the resident chef and guitar maestro, there wasn’t much time left for cleaning.

Yanek and Sam in Southern Chile doing their 'Encyclopedia Brown'

Yannek and Sam in Southern Chile doing their ‘Encyclopedia Brown’

The third inhabitant of 1116 was Mariela of Costa Rica. She was the only native Spanish speaker in the house and spoke the most beautiful, fluent English. Her petite figure and perfect hair seemed to attract the French men, which annoyed her since she wasn’t particularly fond of them herself. If I remember correctly she actually made the French of all sexes weak at the knees.

But as was the nature of 1116, roommates came and went, equilibriums upset and dimensions changed. Soon Mariela and Yanek were gone and Sam and I remained as the original roomies.

I soon convinced my Chilean friend Jeimy to move in with us. 1116 was a far cry from the neat new apartment she had to leave behind. After one too many police-involved house parties, 1116 was all but collapsed. The walls needed painting, the couch needed throwing away and the carpets upstairs, well, they gave poor Jeimy a nasty rash.

I’d feel worse about having encouraged Jeimy to move in but she was in desperate need of removing herself from the apartment she’d shared with her previous boyfriend. I moved out of my room which was way to big for me and my lack of possessions and into the downstairs room big enough for a only bed. this suited me perfectly and simply took myself up to my old room that Jeimy had turned into an oasis. Decorating wasn’t her only talent- another area in which she excelled was eating for four and still maintaining her figure.

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Me, Jeimy, Desi and Sam

But hang on! I skipped the part between Mariela’s leaving and Jeimy’s arrival where the biggest Chilean in all the land moved in. Fernando was the one new arrival that we had no say in and moved in as a friend of the apartment’s manager. Fernando loved whiskey so much he would have had no problem drinking it in the place of morning tea. Unfortunately this is not socially acceptable nor is it healthy, especially for this poor dude who suffered from the worst alcohol induced gout. I remember him crippled at times, hobbling down the stairs in pain.

Almost as much as he loved whiskey, Fernando loved women. It isn’t completely uncommon in Chile to be outspoken about your feelings (read urges) about a woman. A good looking woman in Chile is, more often than not, made aware of what men around her are thinking. Anything from a grunt of approval to a whistle or a comment.

For some reason Fernando thought it ok to let me know whenever he saw someone who made him feel alive in his loins. Based on this fact, his having fathered a child years before, his relationship with a crazy woman, his love for strip clubs and his friend who carried around a gun, it took a while to warm to Fernando. But I learned to love him in my own way.

The final addition to 1116 was our very own Mexican chef, Désirée. Désirée arrived on our doorstep with all her energy and cooking knowledge about midway through my year in Chile. Not long after that she’d befriended every other Mexican exchange student- and that was the end of any peace and quiet for 1116. At any one time there were between 3 and 7 Mexicans eating quesadillas and speaking in slang in our apartment.

Four Mexicans

Four Mexicans

This was probably the best thing that could have happened to me and my Spanish language acquisition. Without the presence of Désirée and her entourage, my Spanish would not have been able to progress to the level it did. Even though most of the time I was too self conscious to utter much, the mere exposure to a daily dose of Mexico was priceless.

Thanks to Désirée I now have a humungous urge to visit Mexico. Thanks to her, my sneaking suspicion that all Mexican dishes are made from the same 3 ingredients was confirmed. And lastly, thank you Desi for filling up my room with balloons and sticky notes for my birthday after knowing me for just a few weeks.

Gracias a mi familia Chilena! Thank you to my Chilean family! I couldn’t imagine 2012 without you.

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Someone I Once Met: folks ’round India

Short stories of people I met once upon a time in India.

The only thing these people have in common is that I’ve met them all. Actually, some have met each other, but other than our paths crossing at some point on Indian soil, there’s nothing else linking everyone together. The three people I have chosen for the Indian Edition of Someone I Once Met all influenced me somehow, even if it was in the smallest way. A bond, a funny moment, a touching story.

Laura

The first person I met in India, besides the guy who picked me up from the airport, was a young lady by the name of Laura. Our first exchange of words was early in the morning, shortly after landing in Mumbai, when I climbed into bed next to her. This wasn’t a dorm or the sharing of a bed between two friends. This was a private room and a double bed shared between two strangers. The only thing we had in common at that point was that we both knew my brother, I from birth and her from their stint teaching in South Korea.

We didn’t know each other but knew we were arriving in the same strange and crazy land on the same day, so we did what anyone would do and booked a bed to share. I was hardly able to eke out the pleasantries before fading off to sleep . Later, we continued the sharing as we left our room together and let Mumbai unleash herself on us.

Two strangers became travel buddies and friends over the next few weeks, eventually sharing a love for photography and blogging rather than just knowing my brother. Find Laura’s blog here at Cherishing the Cherry Blossoms.

Jonty

Laura and I went to Goa where we met Jonty, an Indian fellow from Delhi. Since Goa is one of the few places in India where alcohol is easily accessible and consumed in abundance, it’s no wonder Jonty was never seen without a drink and cigarette in hand. It could have simply been because he was in Goa or, it was what my over-analytical brain saw as escapism.

Jonty had us all-ears when he told stories of being unfairly locked up in an Indian jail for months and the time when he followed his girlfriend to Russia where she unleashed a Russian mob on him. Tied and beaten up for days by angry Russian men, interspersed with bouts of oral pleasure performed by the same girl who had put him there. Unbelievable, literally. But those days were behind him, he couldn’t be trying to escape those still.

This time he was running away from his arranged marriage. Not ready to be tied to a girl he picked out from a bunch of photographs, he got on a train to where we would meet and befriend him, on a Goan beach. A place where he captivated us with his stories and where we taught him to swim.

Annie

Skip forward a couple of weeks and meet Annie. She looks every bit foreign until she opens her mouth and you’re hit with a wave of Australian. But who is this Aussie chick and why does she look so….. Tibetan? Well that’s easy, sort of. 30 or so years ago a young Tibetan women escaped her arranged marriage and fled to Australia. (notice the theme here).

Shortly after arriving she realised she was pregnant. The young, pregnant Tibetan woman miraculously found stability and love in the form of a young Tibetan man. Then something happened that westerners, like myself, struggle to understand. The Tibetan man, although committed and in love, refused to raise the baby as his own. And so, when Annie was born, she was given up for adoption and raised by an Australian family.

Years later, when Annie was a teenager, she met her biological mother, the man who wouldn’t raise her as his own, and her siblings- the children her mother went on to have. They are all friends today.

This bright and beautiful young lady took herself off to Dharamshala, the place she would have called home and the place I met her. Here Annie plans to get in touch with her roots and understand the community that would have been hers. She also calmly recites her story to interested folks like me as if she hadn’t explained it 100 times before.

One of Susie's biggest passions is doing what she can to work to toward's Tibet's freedom

One of Susie’s biggest passions is doing what she can to work to toward’s Tibet’s freedom

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Someone I Once Met: So what, I Manage a Brothel

Close your eyes and Sera-Jane sounds like just another Aussie chick. Open your eyes and you have what looks to me like the lead singer of 90’s band the 4 Non-Blondes with a ring through the middle of her nose and tattoos scattered around her body.

India_240When I laid eyes on her she had just acquired a new one in what must have been a shady beach tattoo hut in Palolem- one of Goa’s most visited beaches. It was on her shoulder and definitely didn’t stay wrapped up and out of the sun for whatever the recommended time was.

It wasn’t until the end of my stay in Palolem that I spoke to Sera and her friends and I might never have, had it not been for the scooter accident she’d recently suffered. Nothing like a few scrapes and bandages and talk of strong pain medication to get a conversation started.

 

Sera and her friend had come short somehow and went from on top to underneath the scooter to paying an exorbitant price in damages. The fee might have been exaggerated, but so is any hostage asking price- the scooter company were in possession of their passports. When one’s passport is at stake one generally puts away their bartering skills and does what they’re told.

But I digress, the fascinating thing about Sera is that she manages a brothel in Melbourne, Australia.  I recently read an autobiography of a sex-worker who went from working the streets to being an employee at various brothels around Melbourne. All to feed her heroin addiction. I was instantly curious, right in front of me sat a girl who was fully immersed in the fascinating world of prostitution which I had read about. A world which she insists there is no shame in.

Coming from a country where prostitution is illegal is probably a big contributing factor to why I find it so fascinating. Sex for money, across a majority of the board, is illegal and frowned upon. Never mind the idea that sexual intimacy is ‘supposed to be reserved for marriage or close relationships’.

It was during my conversation with Sera that the penny dropped and I realised that the thriving sex-industry in Australia could be a big reason why Australians are so sexually uninhibited. In all my travels I’ve met a great deal of Australians, guys and girls alike, who don’t put a lot of emphasis on the idea of sex- other than they like having a lot of it.

I compared what I’d read to Sera’s real life where she forms close bonds with the girls, half of which are locals and the other half just travelling through making a quick buck. I was familiar with the concept of regulars and falling in love, getting paid to connect verbally and charging prices you won’t believe for fetish sessions. Apparently golden showers are rather popular.

If there’s one thing in this life that I cherish its (the idea of) happiness in the workplace. Sera absolutely loves her job and is really happy to be considered part of the industry. She says the biggest and most continuous learning curve is how to remove judgment from your day to day life.

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Someone I Once Met: Chef on the Road

Thomas Zacharias is not a name you’d associate with someone born and bred in India. His lack of strong accent and head wobble are also deceptive.

I met Thomas in the small seaside town of San Sebastian, Spain, late last year. Our hostel stays overlapped by one night and its in the one hour I got to spend chatting to him that realized I was sitting with a very strong candidate for SIOM!

Thomas is head chef in one of India’s top restaurant’s The Olive Bar & Kitchen- once again- not very Indian. His specialty is European cuisine and it was on his 3 month culinary expedition that our paths crossed. Thomas blogged his way through Italy, France and Spain; eyeing out, helping out, getting ideas and basically just eating as much as he could. The hope was that his acquired knowledge would be priceless when it came time to open his very own restaurant.

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Our hostel in San Sebastian was very homely, and it was not unlikely that the long term stayers (sometimes also known as employees) would aggressively encourage you to stay on. I witnessed this happen to a few people, myself included, but it was the effort put into the request for Thomas to stay that really astounded me. People who had known Thomas for more than 24 hours knew it was in their best interests that he stay.

There was not much left of Thomas’s culinary trip- just a week or two dashing around Spain before finishing up in Barcelona and then heading home. And who was in Barcelona? You guessed it- me! Mine and Thomas’s paths crossed again, this time left a little less to chance. He settled on a well known Tapas bar and off we went- two travel and writing enthusiasts joined up in Barcelona ready to spoil our taste buds.

And as if I wasn’t already aware, I was reminded that when an establishment doesn’t offer visible prices, you the customer are going to pay pay pay. And 80 euros later, that’s what we did.

 

 

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Someone I Once Met: The Queen of le Plan de la Tour

This is a guest blog entry written by my father James Bourhill- published author, history buff and lover of all things French. Its no surprise then that this encounter inspired him to write a contributing post for ‘Someone I Once Met’.

PROVENCE FRANCE. In a provincial village, there is not much movement between noon and three. After one too many ‘demis’ in the shade of the Plane trees in the square, I made my way along the narrow main street in the heat of the day. The old men who usually sit on the bench at the corner were upstairs, resting after a busy morning of watching the world go by.

1236184_10151858558783810_1869603504_nOn another small bench, where only the women sit, I passed an old dear wearing a purple top and a bright smile. Her ‘bonjour’ was particularly friendly so I asked if we had perhaps met before. “Do you know how old I am?” was the first thing she said. “Ninety eight”. Now in the French language, that’s a big number and difficult to comprehend. Quatre vingt dix uit ans literally means four twenties, ten and and eight. I thought I had misunderstood, but I had not.

 As an amateur historian, I never miss an opportunity to question a person of this vintage about their life and times. “I suppose you were here during the war”, I said. “Both wars” she answered, “the 1914-1918 war and the 1939-1945 war.” Pointing to the lavender blue shutters behind her, she said, “I have lived here in this house all 98 years of my life”.

It requires a stretch of the imagination to picture the peaceful hills above Sainte Maxime and Saint Tropez as they were in August 1944. On what is known as the “Second D Day”, the Allies landed on the beaches and fanned out into the interior, assisted by the French resistance or the Maquis. The village of Plan de la Tour was one of the first to be liberated and Reine (her name literally means “Queen”) remembers the trucks and tanks rolling through the very same street where we now sat.

As if she was describing one of the many parades which mark the various festivals throughout the year, I could picture clearly the troops flirting with the girls as they plied them with food and drink. “They could not get enough of the little cups of coffee we handed to them” she remembered as if it was yesterday.

At the end of the street there is a little monument on which it is written “Ici tombé Charles Olivier” (here fell Charles Olivier).  I always imagined that he had been killed in a fire-fight with the Germans as the Maquis drove them out of the village. But Reine knew Charles Olivier personally and told me how he had been executed by the Germans as a parting shot because he had stolen a chicken.

The church bells signalled that it was 3.00 pm. More and more people appeared on the street, they all greeted Reine with bisous (kisses). Clearly, she was the grandmother to them all. A chef from the restaurant in the square made his way home at the end of his shift. He and his Australian wife, a former dancer from the Moulin Rouge, are new to the village but that is another story.

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