I was on the receiving end of a pleasant surprise recently, when Facebook proved its usefulness beyond people whinging about their colds, and Best Mate and I posting videos of daft cats on each other’s walls.
Back in the mists of time I spent my Gap Yah in an exceptionally deprived town in East Africa, teaching English, maths and science to a load of children who’d done nothing to warrant having my inexpertise thrust upon them.
The guy I went with and I were the only non-locals there, causing quite a stir for being a) white and b) just friends. Thankfully, towards the end of our stay, we were joined by a fellow mzungu who, being white and speaking fluent Swahili (rather than my not-quite-conversational-with-no-grasp-of-the-grammar style), managed to confuse the residents even further, which provided weeks of endless entertainment for all concerned.
When I left, we swapped email addresses and phone numbers and, for a while we managed to keep in touch. But then, as so often happens, life got in the way. But, a week or so ago, up cropped a message from the African Queen, asking how life is.
A few days’ worth of short exchanged messages have been enough to act as a reminder that it’s a few little decisions that can totally change the course of one’s life.
When I knew her, AQ was all get-up and go, frighteningly full of energy and ambition. Speaking five languages, she had great plans to travel the world as a translator. I was quite convinced she’d end up at the UN, heading up teams negotiating the finest details of massively controversial intra-national policy.
So when she told me that she’d met a guy just after getting back from Africa, fallen madly in love, got married and is now the stay-at-home mother of a one-year old, it took me by surprise. Judging by her reaction, the reply that I’m back from Edinburgh, living in the Home Counties and about to take on a slightly terrifying-sounding job at a rather bigger agency strikes her as equally alien.
As I suggested catching up over a drink (her domestic circumstances allowing, of course), it struck me that, even at the same age in life, people who once seemed to have more similarities than differences can suddenly take such divergent paths as to make each other’s lives seem utterly foreign.
Much as I might bemoan the fact that I have get out of bed at ungodly o’clock each morning and make the shag of a commute into Central London to do a job that sometimes causes more bags under the eyes and teeny tiny wrinkles than I think is strictly fair in someone of my age, I don’t know that – presented with the alternative – I’d have it any other way. Yes, at some point, I’d quite like to make the stereotypical (and, now, rather controversial) middle-class move of jacking it all in and spending my days doing Nice Things whilst the husband does the cash-earning. But for now, I’m quite happy to be spending my days rushing around like a mad thing, with the freedom to do as I please, without anyone else to think about.
Recently, the lovely Please Don’t Eat With Your Mouth Open left a comment on a post I’d written – I imagine she did so off the cuff, and rather flippantly, but her words have really resonated, and they stick with me now as I do things like contemplate my counterparts at home with their husbands and children: the grass isn’t greener – it’s just green.
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