I have been at my loneliest whilst sat on an exquisite beach in Mexico and I have been at my happiest soaked to the skin in the monsoon rains in India.
The turquoise Caribbean sea lapped against the hot white sand and emerald green humming birds darted around the manicured grounds of the five star gated complex. I lay on a sunbed gently toasting in the sun whilst a waiter brought me iced cocktails and my biggest decision of the day was whether to lie on the beach or stay next to the pool. I knew that I was privileged to be able to holiday at such an amazing place and it had become the norm, but I was hungry to see what lay beyond the gates and to meet the real people of Mexico. An organised coach trip to Chichen Itza passing through towns and villages offered tantalising glimpses of people going about their day to day business and after exploring the ruins I wandered among the small stalls set up under the trees by local people. This was more like it – I spoke no Spanish yet I felt comfortable here among the people who were trying to attract tourists to their handicraft stalls. I wandered around intending to buy a couple of small things which cost pence from a a group of ladies who proudly showed off a small baby to me, but I was persuaded to move on. That evening, as we sat in a hotel restaurant eating food that the stall holders could only dream of, I was angry for allowing myself to be dissuaded from buying a couple of lace hankies, and years of unhappy experiences crowded into my mind. Sat on the beach the next day, I couldn’t stop the tears as I realised that despite being in such a beautiful place, I was deeply unhappy.
It was on that holiday in Mexico that I started to seriously question the path that my life was taking. In October 2008 I decided that things couldn’t continue as they were and I really began to question the status quo.
One year later, in August 2010, I was in India during the monsoon season. On my second day in Delhi I was riding in a tuk-tuk with three other people – strangers to me at that point – when flash floods engulfed the city streets. Our driver ploughed on into the floodwater, oblivious to the fact that it was now well over the sill and was lapping around our hips on the back seat. I have to admit to being a little scared at that point as, with our bags raised above our heads, and smoke belching out of the submerged exhaust, the machine coughed and then stopped. Assuring us that he would manage to re-start the machine and refusing all offers of help with a push, he indicated that we should get to some higher ground. We gingerly stepped out and waded through thigh-deep water to take some shelter in a shop doorway. Joining a group of cheerful Indian ladies with their sodden saris trailing in the water I tried to ignore the obvious chunks of sewerage which were floating past (thankfully at that stage I was oblivious to the dysentery that would soon follow). We moaned about the rain and worried about how we would ever find our way back to the hotel because the unpronounceable street name had been washed clean from the paper on which it had been written. The ladies giggled as men waded out to push the tuk-tuk up a slope and then like men the world over, gathered around scratching their heads and offered mechanical advice, totally unfazed by their soaked clothes and the water lapping around their knees. The women explained to us that whilst the floods would cause many deaths (that year was particularly bad), the monsoon rains brought very welcome relief from the sapping summer heat and it irrigated the parched land. The monsoon season was to be celebrated, because the consequences should it ever fail were unimaginable.
I stepped out from under the shelter and raised my face to the deluge, allowing the warm water to wash over me, imitating the little children who were playing around us. Marooned in the shabby backstreets of Delhi, surrounded by water and sewerage, the jewel-bright colours of the women’s silk saris reminded me of the humming birds in Mexico. I was with nobody who I knew, yet I was not lonely. I was truly happy and like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis I felt reborn. I had taken control of my life, and as my own identity blossomed I decided that I liked the person that I was becoming and I couldn’t wait to see what I was capable of achieving next.