All too soon, the moment we had been equally dreading and anticipating arrived, as we boarded the plane in Brussels that would take us to Portugal, crossing our final time zone, completing our round the world in 340 days trip, and delivering us into the welcoming arms of the rest of the Ennis clan.
We were so excited to see the family, but I’d be lying if we didn’t both feel a little down about the end of the adventure.
Having said that, we are psyched to settle somewhere and start creating a life here in Portugal. Lauren starts school in 2 weeks, and I have a ‘to do list’ which is currently hovering around the 3-page mark.
Top of the list is finding a place to live in Lisbon, and resurrecting my work as a freelance international development consultant. I have had a year to think and am raring to go, keen to throw myself back into the intense and at times massively frustrating, but at times also incredibly rewarding world of development. I have rediscovered my desire to work for the good of people who haven’t had the benefits I have had in life, and I have been able to put the work into a broader context than when I was at the coal face in Mozambique. I won’t ever get as attached to a country again, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make a valuable contribution through my work.
The trip has been one hundred percent worthwhile. The chance to spend a whole year with my daughter is worth more than all the money in the world. Our relationship – already incredibly close – has deepened and grown.
The psychological benefits to me of a year away from what had become an immensely difficult situation in Mozambique have been enormous. I left depressed, cynical and feeling my work was pointless. I return with greater perspective and a new energy to tackle the challenges ahead.
Lauren has grown and matured beyond anything that would have been possible in a ‘normal’ year. She has of course learned a lot of geography – crossing time zones, different climates, altitudes and seasons, volcanoes, ice fields, glaciers, deserts, tectonic plates…. In history she has learned about the ancient Romans and Greeks, the Incas, colonization, Chinese dynasties, the opium wars, communism and the USSR… In politics we have discussed Syrian refugees in Greece, Democracy in Beijing, the Black Lives matter movement in America, the financial crisis in Iceland, discrimination in the Balkans, corruption in Bolivia, Brexit in Brussels. She learned so much natural history, from Penguins in Tierra de Fuego to the animals and their habits in the Galapagos. She could speak passable Spanish by the end of our months in Latin America. At various museums she learned about physics, space travel, evolution, engineering. We saw the impact of humans on nature, in Patagonia, in China, in Russia, in Peru.
More than any of the knowledge she has amassed though, she has developed as a person. She has had to show great resilience when things didn’t go to plan, whether it be accommodation not working out, delays in transport, getting lost in strange cities or coping with my being sick in the Andes. She has persevered when the volcano was hard to climb, the crowds on the metro too chaotic, the backpack too heavy, the food too spicy, the heat too oppressive. She has had to interact with people of all ages, backgrounds and languages, including making herself understood in China and Russia where neither of us had more than a few words.
I included her in budgeting decisions and route planning. She has learned how to navigate using a GPS and an old-fashioned paper map. She has had to entertain herself without tech, often for days on end. She has felt what it is like to be cut off from the internet, mobile phone signals and other people, and to be self-reliant. She has cooked, cleaned and washed clothes. She has been exposed to many different life options, showing her that you can take life and make it your own. She has had to make effort to remain connected to her friends and invest in her relationships with family and friends. She has learned to get stuck in and reach out to other kids when seeking playmates.
She has had to eat food she didn’t like, or even recognise. She has been exposed to seriously cold below zero temperatures and terrified herself being over confident in a blizzard. She has experienced the extreme heat and dryness of the desert, and learned how to pace herself.
She has developed into an expert snorkeler, learned some new dance techniques, and explained the offside rule to a bunch of guys in China.
She has learned to compromise, to adapt, to keep going when things aren’t exactly how you would like them to be. She has learned that sometimes, she doesn’t come first, that others, including her mother, sometimes need to take priority.
She has learned that some people look at things completely differently from us, and that that’s OK.
I could go on and on, but I have a life to put together here. I am so proud of Lauren, and so glad we did the trip – I wanted it to be a wonderful moment for both of us to enjoy life and learn about the world – it was that and so much more.
Thanks for reading, I hope some of the blog was entertaining or useful, and if you are ever wondering whether you should do something similar: do it.