going for a walk
“Hoi Marion! Ik hoop dat je een prettige eerste werkdag hebt!” stond er op mijn telefoon. Zou hij dit echt sturen, of is het een automatisch bericht?
Na 25 jaar in het buitenland gewoond en gewerkt te hebben, ben ik terug in Nederland. Ik voel me net een kind, dat leert lopen. Toen ik vertrok, hadden we nog een ziekenfonds. Als ik dat als grappige opmerking bij een sollicitatiegesprek zeg, kijken jonge mensen me niet-begrijpend aan. O jee, ik ben oud geworden!
De wereld van werk zoeken en vinden is een totaal andere dan die ik verliet in 1995. Ik was gewend aan intake gesprekken op uitzendbureaus, waar de intercedent(e) mij graag wilde zien om kennis te maken en te bespreken wat voor werk het meest geschikt was voor mij. Nu wordt aangeraden vooral op de website te kijken en online te solliciteren of zelfs je simpel aan te melden voor een dienst.
Via een banen website (er zijn er tientallen, door de bomen het bos vinden - en geschikt werk - is een hele klus) kom ik terecht bij Youbahn. Ik stel me de naamzoek marketing brainstorm sessietje voor… Ze werken met een app, en het lijkt prachtig: je werkt bij opdrachtgevers wanneer je wilt, plant jezelf in, en bent in loondienst bij Youbahn. Dit klinkt veelbelovend en ook bekend in mijn oren: het ouderwetse uitzendbureau-model. Dus na enig geharrewar met het downloaden van de app (veel websites in Nederland werken niet perfect, er vallen veel steken: loze 404 links, bugs en ondownloadbare apps) ben ik gereed. Een vriendelijke dame van Youbahn belt nog even om te checken dat ik begrijp waar ik aan begin. Ja, ik geloof het wel. Ik ga werken. De volgende dag komt een wederom vriendelijke man van een ander, ingehuurd bedrijf, thuis langs met een scanner voor mijn paspoort. Om te verzekeren dat hij geen kwade bedoelingen heeft, wordt me een foto opgestuurd, met zijn naam, alsmede een GPS signaal waar hij zich exact bevindt, zodat hij op de minuut op tijd parkeert voor mijn flat. Zodra het paspoort gescand is, verschijnt mijn contract op het beeld van de scanner. Ik kan het nauwelijks lezen, maar wordt gevraagd om een digitale handtekening. “Pas wel op met het uurtarief he?” zegt de scan-man. “Ik zie het wel vaker, ze zetten een standaard uurtarief in het contract, maar dat moet aangepast worden.”
Nu is het een kwestie van ‘Open Diensten’ bekijken en klikken op wat leuk lijkt. Ik zie weinig. Inpakkers hebben ze nodig. En standbouwers, en veel afwassers. En heel veel gastvrouwen/heren, in verzorgingstehuizen. Het is niet geheel duidelijk wie er verzorgd worden, maar ik hoef niet schoon te maken, wel boterhammetjes smeren. Het levert rond de 10 euro netto per uur op, krap een euro boven het minimumloon. Het is op fietsafstand van mijn huis, dus ik klik op de eerstvolgende dienst, de volgende dag.
Als ik me meld bij de receptie, wordt ik vriendelijk, zelfs hartelijk, maar met verbazing begroet. Het blijkt een bejaardentehuis te zijn met veel demente patiënten. Ik loop wat zoekend rond. Beveiliging hebben ze hier niet. Later begrijp ik dat het een groter probleem is om de patiënten binnen te houden, dan indringers buiten.
In de ‘huiskamer’ waar ik dienst ga doen word ik dankbaar ontvangen door een vermoeid uitziende verzorgende, die in rap tempo opratelt wie er wat op de bammetjes krijgt en waar ik op moet letten met diabetes patiënten en mensen die niet zelf kunnen eten. De huiskamer ziet er best gezellig uit, met leuke meubels, boeken, spelletjes, een grote TV en een keuken met alles erop en eraan. De patiënten is een ander verhaal. Ik kijk rond en zie ongeveer zes mensen in enorme rolstoelen hangen. Sommigen hebben de kin op de borst hangen, anderen staren wat voor zich uit, en een enkeling heeft een ietwat heldere blik in de ogen. Ze dragen flodderige uitgelubberde kleding in onbestemde kleuren en dikke pantoffels. “Nou, je redt het wel he, fijn dat je er bent”, roept de verzorgende, voordat ze zich uit de voeten maakt. Haar dienst is voorbij. “Goedemiddag”, roep ik tegen de kamer. Gelukkig reageert mevrouw Kaat. Ze heeft pientere oogjes, maar ik weet dat dat niet zegt. Ik besluit een kopje thee te maken. In het handboek, wat me ook nog snel in de handen gedrukt werd, vind ik een overzicht van wie wat drinkt. Meneer van Eik zoetjes, hij is diabeet, mevrouw van Olst suiker in de thee, en mevrouw Takstra drinkt uit een speciale beker met een tuitje. Mevrouw Kaat wordt ongedurig en roept dat mevrouw Takstra een stom mens is. Ik geef haar snel een kopje thee, maar ze duwt het met kracht weg, een geluk dat het niet omvalt. Ik had voor de gezelligheid wat koekjes op tafel gezet, maar mevrouw van Olst heeft ze allemaal gepakt en verkruimeld op haar trui, een vreselijke zooi. Gelukkig redt Mevrouw Takstra het nog net om zelf de handvaten van het tuinbekertje vast te pakken en een slokje haar mond in te krijgen. Meneer van Eik roept opeens vanuit zijn rolstoel: “Wat ben ik die rotkop zat!” Ik kijk zijn richting uit en zie dat al de hele middag het gezicht van André Rieu op het tv scherm staat. Als het tijd is voor de boterhammen, word ik verzocht om het Onze Vader voor te dragen. Mijn ouders zouden trots op me zijn, hoewel een spiekbriefje wel nodig is. Dan mag Ik stukjes brood langzaam naar binnen werken bij mevrouw Takstra, en bij anderen zorgen dat als ze zelf smeren, het wel op het brood gebeurt en niet op tafel of kleding. Tussen 6 en 7 uur, na de avondboterham, komen de verzorgenden de mensen één voor één ophalen om ze naar bed te brengen. Het moet vroeg, er is personeelstekort, slechts 2 verzorgenden moeten 15 mensen naar bed brengen. Ik was wat af, ruim op, schrob de onderkant van de tafels (al die demente zenuwachtige vingertjes de hele dag), veeg de vloer en dan zit de dienst erop. Ik vind het onbegrijpelijk dat ik zonder sollicitatiegesprek, zonder enige check of ik geschikt ben, gewoon deze dienst kon kiezen en uitvoeren. Terwijl de opleiding voor verzorgende 18 maanden duurt! Ik zie op de app verder helemaal geen leuke andere baantjes, dus schrijf me in voor nog een dienst in dit oord, op de afdeling PG.
Ik ontdek dat PG staat voor Psychiatrische Geriatrie en verbaas me alweer dat ik daar, niet gehinderd door enige opleiding of ervaring, mag werken. Op deze afdeling verkeren ouderen die dement zijn, maar ook vaak ‘dwalend’, dus het is een gesloten afdeling. Deze mensen zijn lichamelijk fitter en veel socialer, met alle gevolgen aandien. Mevrouw Velzen denkt dat ze nog steeds verpleegkundige is, neemt van iedereen de pols, en doet mij even de schrik om het hart slaan, als ze beweert dat mevrouw Staal, die ligt te slapen, geen pols meer heeft, niet meer ademt en dus niet slaapt, maar waarschijnlijk dood is. Mevrouw Bok geniet van dwarsliggen. “Hoezo eten? Ik hoef toch niet nu te eten? Misschien wil ik wel niet met die mensen aan tafel!” Elk half uur vroeg ik even of ze al trek had. Ze verborg zich achter haar krant. “Nee hoor, dank U!” Mevrouw Juinen roept vanaf de eettafel: “Is het bedoeling dat we hier blijven wonen?” Ze zit hier al twee jaar. Later kan ik lachen om de situatie waar mevrouw Velzen de rollator van mevrouw Jansen heeft gestolen. Mevrouw Jansen is zelf niet dement, maar staat haar man bij die helaas wel is geveld door deze ziekte. Na enig geruk en getrek aan het vehikel, kunnen we hem toch teruggeven aan de rechtmatige eigenares. Mevrouw Staal wordt eindelijk wakker, maar als ze wakker is, ligt ze alleen maar gillend te huilen. Wat zou deze vrouw meegemaakt hebben in haar leven? De andere patiënten worden erg onrustig en ergeren zich ook. Er is weinig sympathie. Ik merk dat ik het wel aankan, rustig tegen mensen praten, even contact maken, en ontdek dat een hand even vastpakken, een kort één-op-één gesprekje, vaak al rustig maakt. Een vriendelijke dame zegt tegen mij: “Hoe heet je eigenlijk?” Ik vertel het en ze zegt dan: “Maar hoe weet je eigenlijk hoe ik heet?” Ik lieg dat er een stickertje op de achterkant van haar rolstoel zit, en vertel niet dat ik een iets beter geheugen heb dan zij. Ik leer dat het beter is om mee te praten met de patiënten, ook al is het onzin, in plaats van ze te corrigeren. Ik ga aan het eind van mijn dienst even bij de huiskamer kijken waar ik gisteren werkte. Vreemd genoeg moet ik bekennen dat ik me al een beetje gehecht voel aan de mensen daar. Mevrouw Kaat zit er rustig bij deze keer. Ze herkent me niet. Maar dat geeft niet, in dit werk geldt het moment. Als je iemands welzijn een moment kan verbeteren, dan is het goed. Want er is geen verleden of toekomst.
Het overheersende gevoel wat ik aan deze ervaring overhoud is ongeloof en triestigheid. En dat ik hier zomaar ingegooid ben. Ik heb veel bewondering voor het vaste personeel. Ze zijn lief voor de mensen, geduldig, en werken keihard. En het lijkt wel of het halve tehuis door vrijwilligers wordt gerund, er moet een enorm tekort zijn, en dat zie ik ook aan alle openstaande diensten op mijn werk-app voor dit en andere verzorgingstehuizen. Ik vrees dat dit in de toekomst alleen nog maar erger gaat worden.
"Wilderness inside me, wildness, unlocked on the Camino. What does that mean? In touch with your raw self. Symptoms: not caring about make-up, hair or clothes anymore, peeing by the side of the road; not thinking about anything to do with life back home, careers, bank accounts, bother, bother. And: truly connect to nature. Connect to people. Peeling the onion's layers of culture, taboos and busy-ness, to see your real self, to see the world around you, so you can think about your purpose on earth."
I wrote this about a year ago, not long after I had finished the Camino. Recently I re-entered what feels like an "alternate universe". It felt like walking through the wall at platform 9 3/4 in Harry Potter. I was back on the Camino, but this time as hospitalera in one of the famous Spanish albergues, the monastery at Roncesvalles. Pilgrims - sometimes literally - tumble off the Pyrenees, after their first stage of 27 kilometres, into this ancient small community, that has housed pilgrims since the 11th century. People behave differently on the Camino, they talk with anyone, in any language, are helpful, interested in anyone, whether it's a Korean who only uses Google Translate to communicate, or an old American woman with two pink suitcases and her knitting sticking out of her rucksack. I for one, turn into a devout Catholic in this universe. Every night we brought a notice to the priest, Don Valentin, listing all the nationalities that had arrived that day, it was always more than 20, from Iceland to Indonesia, to Costa Rica to Latvia and Slovakia. All countries are called out in the pilgrims blessing at the end of the evening mass.
Roncesvalles is not big, it has one giant albergue (217 beds), 2 hotels, 2 restaurants, a conference centre in the old stone albergue that was used in the movie The Way, and that's it. The monastery consists of a church, a chapel, a bone house (hundreds of skulls and bones of pilgrims who died here through the ages), an antique Library, and of course the living quarters of the 4 priests that still reside here. The church bells ring the hours and for mass and life seems simple and beautiful, high up in the foothills of the Pyrenees at 960m.
Don Valentin is keen to connect with the hospitaleros and treated us to a tour of the bell tower, the old Library and the ancient albergue building. He insisted on treating us to a glass of Patxaran, the local alcoholic elixir, and made us drink two, so we arrived quite tipsy at lunch, where wine was waiting and then back to work! Or perhaps he made us drink more so we wouldn't notice the mouldy blue muffins he offered to go with it....
But there is another side to this coin: the reality of the lives of pilgrims and hospitaleros.... I embarked on this two-week stint of 'helping out', because I wanted to try out what it was like to be in the albergue and not on the move every day. I have learnt a lot! First of all, I don't think I have ever worked a job with such long hours and no holidays! Early morning duty starts at 5.30am! At 6am all the doors need to be unlocked, and the pilgrims aroused from their slumber (which I did with Cat Stevens' Morning has broken). 8am, the last pair of boots has finally been strapped on, rucksacks checked, jackets zipped up. Last questions answered. My favourite LOL questions were "Where should I go from here?" answered with "Well, where do you want to go?" or "Can I buy a map to show me how to get to Zubiri?" Buen Camino! A quick look at the table of items left behind, in other words the weight that has been shed is always fun. Jars of peanutbutter, bags of coffee (there is coffee in Spain!), the knitting (yes, she left it behind!), make-up, neck cushions, lots of clothes, shoes, umbrellas, books, shampoo, tins of sardines (I would never leave that!), marijuana, you name it, they shed it. It's all part of liberating yourself from 'stuff' and get back to basics. After breakfast we clean 217 beds on 3 floors plus an annexe. Then coffee and some free time until 1pm, when it's time for lunch, and at 2pm the circus starts again, greeting new pilgrims. In two weeks our team of 8 have greeted and said farewell to 3083 pilgrims.
Our shift, in September, was super hard. Every day around 4pm we ran out of beds. And the pilgrims keep tumbling down the hill! We gently sit them down, let them take a breath and then break the bad news: there is no bed for you. But we'll call a taxi. Most of them comply willingly, like good sheep, and we hope the taxi drivers take them to a bed in the next villages. Sometimes there is real drama. No more beds, no more taxis, it's dark, and I am ashamed to say, that once we sent a couple from Slovakia out into the rain, when they had no idea where they were going to sleep. I still regret my lack of civil disobedience that night. Bad karma.
But there are so many stories, it's as if the good and the bad and the amazing are just vying for attention all the time. The story of Fabio and Julia! Julia left her wallet with everything in it, including her phone, on the wrong side of the Pyrenees. Fabio found it, phoned Julia's mother on her phone, and so we found Fabio in our albergue. The reunion can be seen here.
The sad story of Roberto.... Twenty years ago, when he was 18, he went on a cycling trip with his Dad in Argentina, his home country. His Dad became unwell, he was only 48, but he had a heart attack. Roberto carried his Dad, slung on his back, for 3 kilometres to the nearest house, where they discovered he had died. Twenty years later Roberto decided to cycle the Camino. On his first day, the famous crossing of the Pyrenees, he encounters an emergency: a man walking with his son, has become unwell, and has lost consciousness. Roberto tries to apply CPR, but it's too late, by the time the emergency services arrived, the man has died. Roberto continues on to the albergue, where I met him to hear his story and cry with him about this terrible coincidence. After that, he continued on his bike, because the albergue was full by the time he got there.
Beautiful things! I taught a yoga class every day, especially for tired pilgrims. It was about stretching, but I tried to keep it light, make them laugh, let them relax, and just enjoy being there. It gave me huge JOY to give back with yoga classes.
There was stress in the team too. The long hours and days (not one day off in 14 days) tired us out, the draughty corridors gave us all a cold, and simply the fact that eight strangers were suddenly together practically 24 hours a day was a challenge. Some people fell out, and I have come away, not always impressed with the Dutch way of dealing with matters. Being direct and open is one thing, but that is not an excuse to be just plain blunt and rude, accuse people without offering solutions, or blame people when some self-soul-searching was in order.
Afterwards I decided to walk the Camino for 2 days. It was good to be on the road again, I met loads of lovely people, but it was not the same. I had been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. I knew I could do it, although the walk from Zubiri to Pamplona totally exhausted me, due to the heat and me walking too fast. The Camino is no joke! Still, I feel I need a new horizon to walk into. The Via de la Plata is beckoning. Next year. And a renewed longing is kindled in me to run my own albergue. I don't ever again want to have to send a pilgrim away. "The Camino will provide" is the famous adagio and I will adhere to that.
PS. Hurray! I have just had confirmation that in October 2019 I will be living in Santiago de Compostela for 2 weeks, to work in the "Living room of the Low Lands" (Huiskamer der Lage Landen), welcoming pilgrims and listening to their stories. Inshallah.
I can't believe what I am looking at! Is Joe serious? I think so... Respect! Huge stakes point into the sky, with all kinds of ropes, planks and beams swaying gently between them at different heights. We huddle together as it dawns on us what we have to do: the high ropes course! People's faces show their apprehension, and there's lots of nervous laughter as we fumble with the helmets, and strap ourselves into the safety harnesses. Some freak out, and there's hugs and encouraging words. Let's do this!
Three levels. I let go of my ego and take level 2, not level 3. The first steps into the air, at about 6 metres above the ground feel like falling into the 'void' that Joe talks about in his meditations, that total letting go. I can do it! I know I'm safe, I just let go. The hard part is finding your feet on those bloody beams that move in all directions, especially so that I end up in the splits all the time! My arms get tired... my inner thighs complain... I persist. I'm thinking: "This is going to hurt tomorrow." Someone in front of me wants to go down, she panics, I talk her into continuing, and she does. No choice really, as there are no ladders to go down on. The last stretch is the worst - a kind workshop mate reaches out to pull me up to the platform. But I hiss at him: "No, I need to do this alone!" Oh my, what was that? The sheer determination in my own voice surprises me. And, with what feels like superhuman effort, I do it! Big hugs on the platform and then I am allowed to zip line down. Wheeee!
We are all elated, we've done it, we have overcome our fears, Cereza rules! Dave finishes level 2 and I am in awe. Judy does it too! We are all bonded now. When we get back to Portaventura, we keep the secret: no one must know what they're in for. In retrospect I feel this afternoon was the turning point in my week with Joe. When we gather the next morning at 6am for our 'walking meditation', I know I have surrendered to the idea of embracing the unknown, meditating, turning myself into a new person, tapping into my internal loving intelligence and fulfilling the destiny that I felt on the camino, of being in this world to help others.
I let go. I dance with the crowd, with joy and abandon (two weeks later both my knees are still hurting!), I talk to strangers, hug anyone who wants a hug, meditate and try to 'step out of the way' (this is hard work, believe me!), to become no-body, no-thing, no-where, in no-time. Saturday we are up at 3am, meditating at 4am. Until 8.30am! What happened to linear time!? Saturday night we party, thank goodness the band stops at 11.30pm, because Sunday morning at 3am we're up again, meditating at 4am. And we're still dancing! I wonder what the hotel staff are thinking of this bunch of crazy people... :) Where does all this energy come from? Sunday afternoon I step out of the bubble, and drag my suitcase to the train station. Yes I am tired now.
On the way to the airport, I realise with surprise that I have completely lost my anxiety of flying. Just like that. --- I meditate every day now, it's not a quick fix, it takes patience, determination and love. I meet my Cereza team mates every week online. We explore healing those in need, with our loving intentions. Oh and remember Dave, with the spastic hand and leg? After finishing level 2, he went back to the course and completed level 3. Hero! (Some names have been changed for privacy reasons.)
The continuing story of Zen Librarian at a meditation workshop..... So there I was, in Salou, tearing myself away from a gorgeous beach - I could meditate there all day! - to head to the Portaventura fun park, for the workshop registration. I like being punctual and apparently so did 850 other people. The queue snaked through the lobby of the building and the room was full of happy chatter. Amazingly, the chatter was still happy after 3 hours! Perhaps because a previous life saw me as an event manager, my mood had sunk to icy levels by now... WTF was going on? Finally the desks opened, and I am welcomed to my team, Cereza, and greeted by Don, the team leader. He hands me a badge, and some workshop goodies. "El Camino Real" is printed on the meditation blanket. You have to be kidding me! Who had just walked the real camino? And it didn't take a week in a fun park in Salou! At 6.30pm the first session finally starts with an introduction by the man himself: Joe Dispenza. He looked fit, about my age, energetic, a man on a mission, and he speaks for an hour about the week's program, and that was it. Over a home-cooked dinner - I didn't know it would be my last of the week - and a glass of vino tinto, my Camino friend pointed out a bit sourly that today counted as a whole day of the 7 day workshop. Hmmm.
The next morning, up at 5am, 6 am I'm reporting for duty! The small fiche I receive at the door says "INTUITIVE" on it. Why? Is that me? The room is full of people dancing to "I got a feeling" and other upbeat songs. Multi-coloured lights are flashing over the crowd. I am not a morning person and sit down. Joe appears on stage and dances along with the crowd for a minute and then we all calm down a bit. We start with a lecture. The theme is our relation with our environment. We are victims of our environment and use it as an excuse to feel bad; we often blame other people in our life for our own unhappiness: parents, colleagues, siblings, ex-spouses, etc. To help ourselves, we need to take responsibility for our own happiness and 'do the work', says Joe. The work is to "sit in your discomfort", and get yourself into the present moment so that you can get beyond yourself. And then we meditate, and I am finally in my comfort zone. With beautiful music Joe guides us into "the void" where I become no-body, no-thing, no-where in no time. Then comes the announcement that the Cereza team will be the first to embark on 'The Challenge'. Joe presents it as something quite serious. We are getting special early lunch privileges and are waved off by the whole congregation with loud music and lots of cheering on. I am not scared. I am pretty fit, and he won't do anything scary, the group is too big and diverse for this. I enjoy my lunch and get on the bus. The others are not so sure, like Judy, who has severe anxiety issues, and Dave, who broke several neck vertebrae in an accident and can't move his left leg and arm. The nervous anticipation makes it feel a bit like a school trip. We listen to a special meditation on the 20-minute journey. Joe's voice urges us to find calmness, believe in ourselves, and breathe... I still am not cottoning on to what this is all about, until we step off the bus. Then I finally get a reality check. OMG, this is a real challenge! TO BE CONTINUED
Four months ago now, I finished walking the Camino Francès in Santiago de Compostela. My post camino blues has slowly but steadily turned into a profoundly happy memory as I am stepping gingerly back onto the Camino of Life, whatever that may be at the moment. I still have to make a start with that epic photo album! Not long after I returned to Luxembourg I met up with a yoga friend, who was raving about a meditation teacher called Joe Dispenza. She had attended one of his workshops, and had experienced similar camaraderies and deep friendships that I spoke about in relation to the Camino, not to mention the life-changing meditations. She used the word 'bouleversée' - bowled over. The name Dispenza rang a bell... Hadn't I heard that name on the Camino? I checked with the Camino mate I walked with for 3 weeks and he asked with indignation if I had not opened the link he had sent me to join him at the Joe Dispenza introduction workshop he was going to attend next week. Oops... no, because the wording in the banner reeked of self-help and I am severely allergic to that. It didn't help that Camino friend returned from the introduction workshop claiming he was a 'divine creator' and had 'changed his energy completely'. Oo-er. But he also said he felt 'bouleversé'. There was that word again, bowled over.... "Come with me to the Advanced Workshop!", Camino friend said. And my yoga friend assured me "It has changed my life, you go!". And something else was pulling, something deeper, I could not put my finger on it. I was getting curious. Did I want to be bowled over? I read some reviews of the man and his work, which were difficult to find. I think he has a team that scours the internet day and night, but I found some damning rants against Dispenza, calling him a pseudo-scientist and worse. Finally I decided I needed to see this for myself, and to go in as a very critical participating observer. "Go in without expectations", said my yoga friend. "Yay, we are going to be supernatural geniuses!", chirped Camino friend.
I arrived in Barcelona, on a wintry, bright, Sunday afternoon and found that most of the passengers on the airport shuttle bus to Portaventura in Salou were workshop delegates. The atmosphere was buoyant, everybody was chatting, the air full of anticipation, and I met a few people from my 'team', Cereza. Salou was at its loveliest, deserted by the hordes of Dutch tourists that frequent this little town in Summer, and on Monday morning I was crying with happiness, walking onto the beach. Note to self: I love the Mediterranean, must come and live here. TO BE CONTINUED....
The idea of culture shock is not alien to me. I have arrived in so many new countries in my life, and experienced culture shock personally over and over again. I have also observed other newcomers suffering, and for a while I even conducted a culture shock workshop for new colleagues, because recognising the symptoms is half the remedy for culture shock. 'Reverse culture shock' is what happens when, after a few years, sometimes many years, you return to your country of origin, and have to get used again to a regular life, without all the fun and dance and interesting cultural experiences. Many people struggle to settle in again, miss the 'expat' lifestyle a lot, and find it hard to re-connect with old friends, whose lives are so vastly different.
But knowing about something does not mean you can totally avoid getting it. I haven't been away for years, my Camino was only about 6 weeks, but there you are. Was it me who said I couldn't understand people who did the same Camino twice? That for me it was ticking the box and I would never do it again? Now I can understand those who return again and again or even decide to live on the Camino. I miss it every day very sorely, and am longing to be back on the Camino, or a Camino de Santiago! I am in love with my old hiking boots, and wore them today on a 24 km walk and felt so happy in them, even though they have holes in them now.
I miss the simplicity of life. Don't mistake this for an easy life. But the daily Camino routines opened up time and headspace to connect with others. I wish I could hold on to that! Get up at 6.30am, wash my face and brush teeth, no make-up, just some sunscreen and who cares what my hair looks like. Roll up the sleeping bag liner, pack towel. The ease of not having to choose what I am going to wear! I am already wearing the t-shirt for the day, and the choice of trousers is the clean pair. Fill the water bottle. Boots waiting on a rack by the door, I step outside, breathe in crisp, clean air, rucksack snugly wrapped around me: Buen Camino! Enjoying sunrise after sunrise, every morning a few minutes later, always amazing, as the stars fade and the sky turns every shade of pink and red, in the East and the West, before the sun turns it that typical deep blue of Southern Europe. Looking for that most essential thing on the camino, a bar. I never thought I'd be longing for a dry croissant or tortilla sandwich to go with my café americano in the morning. (After trying to live like a vegetarian for 3 days on the Camino I had to let go of that, as I was overdosing on eggs.) And then walk again, follow the yellow arrows. Make sure feet are ok. Enjoy the sunshine and the beautiful land. So simple. I made friends quickly, sometimes within minutes, sharing our deepest thoughts about ourselves and life. With hours every day to talk, laugh, joke, and cry, one step at a time, just keep walking. Arriving, find a bed (and a socket for the phone charger!), spread my sleeping bag liner, and have that well earned hot shower. Then wash clothes, write diary (I sometimes had trouble remembering where I had started my walk that morning, let alone where I had been yesterday!), meet more people over a glass of vino tinto, or a cerveza con limon, enjoy a communal meal at the albergue, or tapas and another glass of wine, and then lights out at 10pm, sleep. The last night I spent in a pilgrims' albergue, I woke up in the middle of the night, and sat up in my bunkbed (I always slept in the top bed), listening to the other pilgrims around me breathing, feeling their warmth, and I knew already then I would miss this, the togetherness, day and night.
All this makes me a bit melancholy, back in Luxembourg.... which results in sometimes slightly odd behaviour. I drink only Spanish wine now, use Spanish olive oil, eat pan con tomate for breakfast, while breaking records on my Duolingo Learn Spanish app, and I am totally on top of all the news on the Catalunya independence issue. There are worse things than craving Spanish food and knowing about current affairs, but what about the fact that I am spending hours and hours on my online Camino photo album? That Messenger is mostly used to talk to Camino friends, who are all posting Camino pictures on Facebook, that we then all LIKE or even LOVE. That I find it hard to talk to others about the Camino, because I don't know where to start when asked how it was. How can I explain the power, the magic, the connection? I need to work on my reverse culture shock, also known as Post Camino Blues.
There are some things that make me feel better. I was shocked on coming home about the amount of 'stuff' in my house. I have already thrown away bin liners of clothes and shoes and other stuff. This feels good. It creates space, in my wardrobe and cupboards, and in my head. I am also eternally grateful to my Camino soulmates (yes you two, you know who you are) for sharing their own feelings post-Camino, and being there for me, when I am deep down, or too much up! Without them my culture shock would have been a lot lonelier. Seeing other Camino friends on Facebook made me realise we are all going through this same process and that helps me too. I go for walks. I walked in the north of Luxembourg today. It was not the Camino, but the autumn colours were beautiful, and I noticed I had got out of practice, my legs were hurting and tired after 24 km, and that would have been a normal day on the Camino! Walking brings back the peace and calm of the Camino inside me, and helps to think clearly and positively about where I want to go now. I have given myself until the end of this year to have fun! In the next few months I am planning to hang out with lots of friends in Europe. I call it my Ryanair Camino! :) After that I have promised myself to move on, be present, make this place a better world, make other people happy. And of course there are serious plans to walk another Camino and even to go live and work on the Camino. I think it is important to dream, and who knows, sometimes dreams can be realised. The time to do things is NOW.
(with thanks to Nadine from nadinewalks.com)
So that blog did not really work! As soon as I started walking and settled in to life on the Camino, I realised writing a blog from my phone was definitely going in the too-hard-basket. Instead I decided to use Facebook to post the occasional picture and insight about all the amazing things that the Camino Frances is. When I have organised all my photos I may post an album.
I walked for 33 days, including two rest days, and covered 800 kilometres. That's the physical challenge. It went well. The Camino gives you what you need, not what you want, is what people say. I got my personal challenges, and learnt a lot about myself, about humility, about connecting with unexpected people, and about love and friendship. Being outside, in nature almost all day, every day, and life stripped down to the essentials of walking, one step at a time, finding a place to sleep, eating and washing clothes, I was able to tap into an awareness that is always there, but gets overwhelmed and hides in the busy-ness, complications and noise of modern life. I connected to nature and the whole world around me in a way I had only read about in yoga literature like the Upanishads. Especially the walk across the giant plateau, La Meseta, was wonderful. And there was magic everywhere! The Camino has an energy, that perhaps has built up through millions of footsteps that have gone before, for thousands of years. I developed profound friendships with other pilgrims within days, and we are still in touch now. I hope we will stay friends forever, cherishing our shared experience. And we had so much fun! There is time to talk, to joke, to be crazy, and to have a wonderful glass of Spanish wine with tapas! The Spanish know how to live, and have been so kind to me during the whole journey! I don't know how often I have heard "Buen Camino!", and every time it sends a little positive energy into the world.
For now, I am happy to be back, and slowly readjusting to life outside the Camino. The challenge that the Camino teaches is to take the lessons learnt about connecting with people, opening your heart to others, exercising mutual respect and universal love, away from the Camino into life. So far, so good.
Last week I posted the above sentence without thinking too much, not realising it was more true than I realised at the time... When I was in Holland last week I bought a beautiful pair of hiking boots, sturdy, waterproof, they just needed some practice and a walk through the Dutch polders would do the job. I thought. 16 kilometres later I was limping through the Dutch meadows, cursing endless lanes with no chance of shortcuts unless you jump over 2 metres of water, with two huge blisters on my right foot! Couldn't use the boots for at least 3 days and got stuck with a lingering blister injury between my toes. Don't ask me how you get a blister there, no idea. But the Summer activities went on relentlessly, so off to a family gathering in Yorkshire, UK. Woke up in the middle of the first night there with a roaring toothache! The unhappy crown that had been niggling for about two years, decided to play up a week and a half before the Camino start! The kind dentist who was able to schedule me for an emergency visit, had good and bad news... a small cavity was filled quickly and expertly, but the real problem was a dying and infected tooth --> root canal treatment needed! But when? And where?! I had two days in the UK left, after that 5 days in Holland and then 3 days in Luxembourg until departure. In a panic I called my dentist in Luxembourg and was told he is going on holiday one day after I get back to Luxembourg next week. I have an appointment scheduled, and we shall see if I have to delay the start of the walk. In the meantime the antibiotics that the Yorkshire dentist gave me have kicked in like a dream. No more worries about toothache. Apparently you really don't need nerves in your teeth, what a bad joke in design that was then! And the medicines may fix the blisters as well, who knows? And so tomorrow all my ex-colleagues are going back to work, and what am I doing? Horse riding with my daughter, and the Dutch weather forecast predicts glorious summer weather! Counting my blessings and while the nerves are building up for all that's coming to me in the next months, let alone the dentist's verdict on Wednesday, this journey is an adventure so far, and dealing with it! Inshallah!
There's nothing like a 9-day yoga teacher training with David Swenson, to help you forget about the job you just quit and get rid of all the horror scenarios and anxieties about an impending Camino adventure. David is wise and funny, and studied for years with a very wise and funny man, Sri Pattabhi Jois, who taught Ashtanga yoga for about 70 years. Yoga students of mine may have heard me quote him: "Body not stiff. Mind stiff." David quoted him with: "too much mental". Jois has a totally down-to-earth approach to yoga and life: "Practice, practice, practice, and all will come to you." He didn't say it would all be good what was coming to you, but I was feeling a bit unmoored and needed some anchoring, which the practice provided. It was hard work, and I found 9 days of it a pretty daunting prospect, but by the 5th day my life had narrowed down so much, that I was happily living in Copenhagen, and reporting for duty every morning at 8.30am for another day of practice, teaching and learning. Without a worry about past or future, I was present. At the 7-11 shop where I picked up my morning coffee they knew my face. Did I say 7-11? My first 7-11 corner shop experience was in the tiny village of Pak Chong in Thailand, 1995. It was the only shop in town that vaguely looked western, and we loved going into it, despite knowing it was not western at all. Sticky sweet buns with green bean goo in them, yoghurt cups with durian flavour and other crappy snacks, not to mention the useless toiletries, like 5 different colours and sizes of paper tissues. Back to 2017, the 7-11 in Copenhagen: paleo sandwiches, raw food, smoothies, wonderful coffee, and yes they also had donuts and crisps, but only hand cooked. Copenhagen! Hipster capital! It makes Portland's reputation fade into insignificance. In Copenhagen the hipsters walk the talk! I saw more young men with babies in slings on their belly or their backs, carrying kids on a 'bakfiets', or in a sporty buggy, than women! Add to that Christiania, a tiny hippy free-state; cool design (everything in Denmark is design), and the fabulous cycling options: the Danes cycle exactly as frequently and everywhere as the Dutch. I managed to rent a bike, pay for it, locate the nearest one, find it, unlock it and be off. That's all ok, but... all of these things with just my phone! The Louisiana Museum, half an hour up the road from Copenhagen offered R&R in the sunshine by the sea. Fortunately, they had a retrospective of Marina Abramovic with hands-on experiences. Squeezing yourself past two naked people with about 40cm space between them may not be such a big deal for Danish and Dutch people (I bet the Americans and Brits freaked out about that one), but "The Artist is Present" activity was less popular. I was led to sit opposite someone, a stranger, and we looked into each other's eyes for about 10 minutes. No speaking. It was wonderful and calming, and the magic was that we were communicating, but did not know where we were from, or which language each of us spoke. Still I felt close to her. 'Too much mental', just be present. Look. Walk. One foot in front of the other.
I am not sure if I am in serious denial about undertaking this crazy walk, or whether I am correct, when I calmly tell people that if pilgrims in the Middle Ages could do this walk in sandals and a stick with knapsack over their shoulder, then surely I would not need to spend hundreds of euros on the right rucksack, walking sticks, water bottles, rain gear, merino t-shirts, wicked trousers (no not wicked cool, but wicked to absorb moisture) and glow in the dark laces, right? They didn't book their albergues ahead, did they? There is a nagging little doubt of daunt about this walk, which is perhaps what makes it all the more exciting. The Camino forum adds to the excitement, and not always in a positive way. A woman got flashed by a naked guy in a balaclava. Yikes! People die on the Camino. When I am in the right mood it is a wonderful philosophical idea, to walk The Way and allow life (and death) just to happen along it. When I freak out, I can not imagine ever walking calmly through a forest without looking over my shoulder every 20 metres... In many ways this will be an amazing challenge for me. A challenge to be fearless, but not reckless. A challenge to allow life to happen and take a chance, but not be flippant. Balance. So how am I going to respond when this balaclava guy jumps at me? Run? Laugh in his face? Ignore? Perhaps sit down and start meditating, remove myself from the scene. Or just stop thinking about these things and get on with life. Last four weeks at work, and it is very very easy. Tying up loose ends, preparing the handover, learning some new tech tools, and of course teaching my yoga class. I am already mentally saying farewell to this community, that for 5 years has been a comfortable yet often frustrating place to be, like an old pair of jeans, that wears thin in unacceptable places.... looking forward to a year without structure, but with freedom to be productive and engage in activities that are uplifting and rewarding.