Each year on New Year’s Day, I sit and contemplate the year, and years, past, as well as the year ahead.
This year I do it in a campground, on the South coast of Western Australia, surrounded by my little family, old friends, and new temporary friends in a beautiful seaside setting, warmed by bright sunshine.
Everyone is wearing board shorts and surf shirts. Kids are circling on their bicycles, and men cook bacon and eggs on the communal barbecues that are provided in every park across Australia.
The sense of community among strangers is strong.
It’s a million miles away from the frigid New Year’s of “home” – both London and Texas – where we huddle up with friends and family and ring in the new year noisily at parties, or by staying up late to watch the fireworks then fall in bed, exhausted, at the conclusion of the holiday season.
This is my third Australian New Year, having celebrated backpacker style in Sydney way back in 2003 (?), and my last one to ring in 2012 in Perth – Austin’s first Australian New Year, and at age 9 months, it was a much quieter night to be sure!
I’ve still kept my Southern roots, and have hunted far and wide for black-eyed peas to bring luck in 2018. Even through 9 years in London, I’ve kept the tradition alive. They’ve been hard to source in Australia, and this year I’ve substituted with borlotti beans. Sure, they’re bigger, and won’t taste as nice, but they do have a nice defined “eye”, and that’s the lucky bit, right? With fires banned, I’m making them in a camp kitchen on a shared stove, much to the amusement of my fellow Aussie camp mates.
I suppose Australians are far too practical for silly nonsense like a pot of beans bringing luck, or some braised cabbage bringing wealth in the new year. As long as I was substituting the beans, I have opted for making cole slaw for the cabbage, and we will have a proper summer feast for lunch – just in time for Texas to ring in the new year.
As en expat for 9 years now, I’ve learned that it can be fantastic to try on and adopt the culture of your adopted home, but it’s just as important to maintain your roots – those little things that smell, taste and feel like home. It’s those things that help maintain your sense of self, that keep you grounded in who you are and where you’ve come from, when nobody around you understands. And it’s those things that help you realise just how far you’ve come. I have, and will forever continue the little traditions like black eyed peas and cabbage on New Year’s Day, or celebrating that most Texan of holidays, Cinco de Mayo, with a plate full of fajitas.
Austin woke up on the first morning of 2018 saying that he misses 2017 already. He rather liked it, and didn’t want to see it go. He’s always been a nostalgic little man – an old soul he’s been called more than a few times. I thought about 2017 myself. It was a good year.
I cherish all of the things that have gone right in the world — and of course the things that have gone wrong. They go hand in hand, you know: right and wrong, yen and yang, tragedy and opportunity.
We started the year with the inauguration of a new president in the US — one who is controversial to put it minimally. This inauguration stirred up emotions in a group of people who had, until this point, grumbled quietly: women. And not just any women. Strong women who had quiet simply had enough.
A new generation of women around the world came together to march for the same rights their mothers and aunts marched for a generation before – respect. Something it is evident this new world leader has none of for women, save his own daughter. It was envigorating to go out and march for something I believe so passionately about.
My professional career has been riddled with shock stories of horrid behaviour from male colleagues — and now that women are talking about it, I’ve heard stories that make me realise I’ve gotten off lightly. But its not the big ugly gestures and remarks that get under my skin – its the every day bias that is built into our systems of measurement, reward, and recognition that have to change. Things that men and women alike don’t recognise that they’re doing that continue to propel competitive white educated men forward, and leave women shaking their heads in disbelief. When the pay differential is 18 to 22% between women and men in my field, I have to speak up – not only for myself, but for the women who are coming up in the corporate world now. For that reason, I marched with millions of other women around the world to demonstrate that we aren’t going to just ‘relax and enjoy it’ any longer. (That’s a Clayton Wiliams reference for any of you non-Texans reading this. Read up on how he ruined an otherwise glittering political career with one badly considered joke.)
The year seemed to have gotten worse when terror attacks once again started reaching English soil – from a new breed of terrorist using different tactics to the IRA of the last generation, but with no different intent. But Britons and Londoners fought back, and in their typical resolve, have faced down the fear, and defiantly went about their daily lives, figuratively stepping over the bodies of the attackers as they go about their business. It made me proud to be a Londoner. I feel like after 9 years and a passport, I can call myself that with pride.
We lost our sweet Lily this year. At the age of 9, she lived longer with her condition than most others do. It was time for her to stop climbing the mountains she has fought to climb with remarkable strength and resilience for her whole life.
Her passing is sad, but also a blessing at the same time. It’s left a hole in the lives of our family, and especially my brother and sister in law, and my heart is heavy thinking about how difficult the “quiet” must be. Her passing brough family together from far flung corners of the globe in a way that we haven’t come together before. Nobody’s ‘visit’ was special – we were there to remember Lily, to be support for her grieving parents, and to love the thing that binds us all – being a family. It was pretty wonderful, really, in the most bittersweet of ways.
There was a lot of change in 2017, and probably the biggest change of all was the resolution we set for ourselves way back in January to take a year out and travel. In August, Austin and I set out for Norway on a Hurtigruten voyage that showed us fjords, northern lights, glaciers, eagles hunting, life with the Sami people where we drank reindeer broth, a feast with a Viking chieftain and his family, a trip through the arctic circle and standing at the far Eastern edge of the European continent. We fished for King Crab and ate them in a river camp at the Russian border. We went in search of snow, and finally found it, and we touched our toes in the Arctic Sea. All of this, while my friends and family back home were drowning in the floods of Hurricane Harvey, and they were constantly on our minds during this time.
At last, 9 months after we made our family resolution, on 30 September, we set out as a family for a year of travel, exploring, discovering, and shifting our perspectives of culture, people and lands.
Turkey was a brilliant surprise – beautiful, warm, welcoming and varied. From the blue waters of Antalya, to the epic tales of Ovid, played out on the landscape and archaeological sites around us. Natural wonders like the travertine falls of Pammukule, and human made memorials of Gallipoli, together with the grandeur of Istanbul made us question why we’d never been to Turkey before.
Nepal was a dream come true. Trekking in the Annapurnas felt worlds away from anything we had ever done before, made us feel small and insignificant among the enormity of the world, and taught us all lessons in perseverance and achievement.
The islands of the Andaman sea in Malaysia and Thailand were spectacularly beautiful, and felt as though we were truly on holiday. We bumped into friends on Langkawi and in Bangkok, made new friends on Koh Lanta, and met up with family in Bali. We stood in awe of the architecture of temples in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, soaked up the night market life in both, and chilled out in the most bohemian village on the planet – our new favourite place – Pai.
In Australia, we caught up with friends from all stages of Mark’s life, and some of our dear friends from London. We spent holidays with the family, and went exploring for nine days in a Land Cruiser turned camper van. It was the first time in over 20 years that Mark and his world travelling siblings have been together for Christmas, so there was no question of whether we’d be there to make Christmas complete.
We’ve enjoyed the generosity of strangers who have shared meals, campervans, travel advice, Uno games, and some much needed grandmotherly love. We’ve enjoyed the generosity of friends and family who have shared more than a few pints, favourite restaurants, “live like a local” advice, their holidays, and their homes with us.
At the beginning of 2017, we made our plan to escape, and the end of the year found us having done just that. But it also found us reconnecting with ourselves as a family, and with friends we’ve desperately missed.
The year ahead
2018 will bring more travel and new adventures, as well as some more big decisions.
Austin will soon be losing his first teeth. He currently has five “wobbly teeth” – all in the front— and its just a matter of time before they start to go. He couldn’t be more pleased. He’s felt as though his mouth were particularly deficient in that department, given he’s among the last of his friends to lose any teeth. I will miss that perfect little baby tooth smile, but I’m sure a mother’s love extends to the gangly tooth smile of a child with a mouth full of teeth that are too big for his head. Right mom?
He’s also fulfilling a dream of taking surf lessons in Australia, and will finally have the skills to match his sun bleached surfer locks and tanned skin.
Mark has finally shaved his beard, and I’m looking forward to convincing him to keep it that way!
We’ll continue our adventures in Asia, and head on to South America and the National Parks of the Western US in the new year. We’re still looking for travelling companions, so if you want to meet up somewhere in the world, just say the word, and we’re there!
Where, when and how will we end our trip, and what we do with ourselves afterwards are still big questions that we’re in no rush to answer, but will come in due course.
All in all, 2018 will be a continuation of the journey we started a year ago – phases of life don’t work on a calendar year, and for the moment, neither do we. And that’s just fine by us.