I woke to the sound of the bus as it slowed to pull into the gas station. I had fallen asleep for a few minutes during the ten hour bus ride from Prague to Warsaw. It wasn’t really sleep so much as that floating space in between being awake and sleeping. When your eyes are resting, and to some extent your mind is quiet because it is too tried to think, but still, you are not asleep, you are not resting, you’re just floating. I slipped in and out of this sleep/wake phase for nearly the entire trip. I’ve done this bus ride before back in November and in December, but both times I had taken the overnight bus, and the darkness had allowed me to easily fall into the necessary sleep that I needed to be able to fully function for the following days. This was my first time traveling the full ten hours during the waking hours. I was going to be very tired for the upcoming week. I could feel it.
I’ve found the the favorite part of my journeys have been the actual physical process of transportation. I don’t know why; when for many people this is the most exhausting part. It is in the decision making process, the planning part, where I think most people find joy, and where I have the most stress. I fill with anxiety over the what-ifs of the process, as if there is just too much on the internet to sift through, and I am not capable of doing it. I find it confounding that I can not seem to do the simplest part of the journey which is to plan ahead. I wonder how a person can carry so much worry, so much anxiety and still manage to cross the ocean and visit other places. I often think I am doing it all wrong. As if there is some kind of rule book to this whole life thing and I never got the book and I especially didn’t read the chapter, “The Accidental Vagabond: How to travel the world and not worry about it.”
“What do you do in your real life?” Asked a man on the bus who was sitting beside me. I paused a second in my response and then shrugged. “This.” I said.
I was on my way to Poland to a place called Zawidowice, three hours outside of Warsaw. I was volunteering with a program called Angloville. I had done it before in November. It is an English immersion program where Polish participants pay to stay a week in an isolated spa or hotel with native English speakers in order to converse for nearly ten hours a day all in english. It is a really interesting program and you can meet some very interesting people and it also does help to improve their english skills, but all this interesting was not my main motivation for signing up again. I did enjoy the program the last time, and I made some friends with the Polish participants, all of whom were adults with adult lives and serious careers and families, but, this time my motivation was about finding shelter.
I’d been living in Prague for nearly a year- give or take a few excursions to other countries for volunteer work or paid work. My time there was coming to an end. My work visa expired, and now I am back to the allotted 90 day tourist visa. Originally, I had intended to return to Portland in August in order to get prepared to move back to China, but I couldn’t find a flight back to the states that I could afford so I had to wait until I was able to find a price within my meager range. My return date is set for September 22nd, but my visa was up at the very end of July which put me in a bit of a predicament. I had no place to live, no visa to legally find work, and I had to make what little money I had made stretch for almost another two months. In my fantasies I took this time to just back-pack and travel around, but in truth I was worried that I didn’t have the money to actually do this, not with the cost of travel, and accommodations being so high at the height of summer. I had a friend that was letting me share his room, but I knew his generosity would become strained, and that eventually I would outwear my welcome so I needed to find a way to have shelter and food, but to spend as little money as possible while having these necessary things. Angloville is a volunteer program, but if you are the “teacher”, but they put you up in a room and they feed you. They feed you quite well. I eat far better while I am at Angloville than I do on my own. I decided to sign up for two weeks meaning two programs.
My visits to Warsaw have been brief. I have a moment to check into a hostel, then wander around the city, but in a state of ignorance, not knowing what I am looking at or where I am going. This time I had even less time to visit. I just checked in; met up with a friend of a friend; had a couple of beers; went back to the hostel, went to sleep, and then was woken by the other travelers who were leaving early. I got up. I grabbed my pack. I checked out. Lastly, I searched for the bus that would take me to the Angloville site. There were another three hours on the bus to go.
Although, I have done this before it won’t be the same because it is the people who create the environment whether they know it or not. The Polish participants will be taking a break from their lives to work on their english, their motivations ranging from the need to speak english for work, to improving for school or for personal growth. The English coaches come in different groups of intentions: Twenty-somethings on break from school or extending their travels their last summer freedoms before entering the work market. One or two people in the 30’s to 40’s range the rare group that is difficult to find because they are already in the work market or the family world, and the retired mostly former teachers. These are only the surface groupings, but over the course of six days the individual lives are exposed and then suddenly we say good-bye and return to the separate seas from where we came. Most of us will never cross paths again, but we will always remember each other because we communicated. Really communicated- and this for me is the beauty of traveling. It is difficult to allow fear to create a hate in your heart for a nation when you have communicated with a person from that place. When people speak of war against a place- you no longer think of some unknown place from far away, you see the face and the smile of that person you sat across from at the table; the one who you shared bread and the one with who you communicated.
I grew up comparing my life to others. “Oh their life is so much more interesting than mine.” Comparison only breeds envy and envy breeds discontent and discontent equals a pretty low perception of life. After awhile you can no longer see what is special or unique about yourself you can only focus on what others do and how they do it better than you. This comparing (that I have no idea where it came from) has sometimes attached itself to my life abroad; Facebook doesn’t help. Everyone’s life looks amazing on Facebook. This is something I’m working on this comparison crap. It is not healthy, and it’s ridiculous. Where it comes in is when I think my travels are not exciting enough or I don’t have anything interesting or worth writing down on this here blog. Ridiculous. This must change. There is no need for an exciting story there are plenty of exciting stories out there. My stories are mostly about the people I meet, passing and greeting strangers in deep and thoughtful ways and then like the tide we pull apart and I find myself on another shore, or mixed in the silt of the ocean floor or in the belly of a seal. In many ways it is a very normal life. It feels like my daily life, but at times I am in a new country. Perhaps that is why I like the actual travel part and not the planning because it reminds me that I am going somewhere that I am indeed traveling which is not a daily activity. There’s no comparison to explain all the unique moments I have with people because every moment is different and this is enough. All this is enough, I’m grateful to have this much.
I’m curious as too how different this Angloville will be compared to the last. The only proper what to make a comparison. Will I make a good a close friend or will a do a lot of reading on my down time. Either is okay. I will find out very, very soon- as soon as the bus arrives.