This was the third consecutive Christmas that I spent aboard and more importantly in the heat. In 2013, I spent Christmas in Siem Reap with other fellow volunteers, in 2014, I spent Christmas in Encarnacion with friends and this year I would spend it in Brisbane with Denise and her family. Despite enjoying the sunshine, walks along the beach and the cold beers, Christmas for me, needs to be celebrated and spent in a cold climate.
This is the best time of year in London, the streets are packed with shoppers and tourists all marvelling at the festivities. The Christmas spirit is felt and spread with all the Christmas music and lights. The streets of London, all bright and beautiful, with endless displays of lights. It is also this time of year that soup kitchens pop up and services try and accommodate the less well off. I’ve missed London greatly over the last couple of years during this time for these reasons but also because I miss spending and celebrating it with family and friends. I miss the food, sure we never had a roast but we had Christmas meals and family time and that’s golden. I miss enjoying the Christmas markets and drinking mulled wine. Christmas is time to be grateful and a time that brings people together so I always struggle being so far away.
For many years in London I wanted to volunteer at a soup kitchen but for some reason or another, I never managed to. Whilst working at the women’s centre, I didn’t serve soup, I did however, help brightened Christmas for all the women that came to centre, two days before Christmas. We gave away Christmas food hampers, bags of food and Christmas presents which had been donated by the local community. It was wonderful, we had managed to help women with families, struggling at this time of year, by ensuring they had a great Christmas. I felt privileged to be supporting these women but also for all that I have achieved and have in my life. I felt warm and fuzzy inside during these days and it was a beautiful act of kindness and generosity from the local community. This is what I want to be involved in every year, no matter where I am, this is what I want to do because it made me so happy serving and supporting these women, who were so appreciative.
Christmas is a time of giving, giving what you can, sharing something and creating a special moment. I don’t necessarily remember always where I spent Christmas but I remember distinctly who I spent it with. I remember the wonderful conversations and the laughs we shared. I remember pondering about life and what it has in store for us next. I remember thinking about all the good times, all the great things we have in life and looking forward to all that is yet to come.
I spent Christmas in Brisbane with Denise and her family. I was lucky enough to be welcomed and part of an Australian Christmas. There was a beautiful tree, plenty of presents, lights, a roast and Christmas music. It was a wonderful, festive day and most had started drinking at ten in the morning because it was hot and hey that’s what they do here in Australia. I have never drunk so much so early on in a day in my life but a first time for everything. I felt a little like I was gate crashing, I felt a little out of place almost because technically I’m not family, not related to Denise and while she and her family are very welcoming, I was conscious I was an outsider.
This is something I struggle with because sometimes I feel overwhelmed by all the kindness. I feel very grateful that whilst I’m an outside, a backpacker, I’m still made to feel like an insider as if I am one of them. There was no drama about me joining a family Christmas and while for Denise and her family it may not be a big deal it was a big deal for me. It never seizes to amazes me how warm and welcoming people are. How they give and expect nothing in return. It again is something that I love so much as a backpacker, connecting and becoming part of a new family, community and culture. This sense of belongingness is something we all crave and long for and when and if we manage to find it as a backpacker then it really is gold dust.
To be blessed or lucky enough to have sense though is a real investment on our part as a backpacker. I appreciate that you get holiday makers, tourists, travellers, backpackers and wonderers. We travel and explore in our own way, some trying to cram everything in, others blitz travelling through cities. I know that I’m a wonderer, I’m in no great hurry to get around the world and see every city. No, I’ve learnt to be more patient and more appreciative of cities that are not touristic or the heart of a country. These are the cities to flock to, cities to explore and connect with locals. As these are the cities where locals are more fascinated that backpackers would even consider their city and care to explore it. This was the sense when I lived and worked in Encarnacion and it is a similar sense I have while living in Townsville. Australia has many great cities, beaches, islands and much more to explore compared to Townsville.
But as Christmas came round and we closed the office, I knew that this is where I wanted to be. Despite what others said, despite the heat and all the rest of it. I knew that this is where I belonged, to this city and to this centre. I choose living here and working as a women’s health counsellor in Townsville over anything else. I don’t believe in what ifs and I don’t spend time thinking about them. I believe and focus on the here and now and what I have right now is a great job, opportunity, team, city and beginning that will shape me and give me the chance to grow and give something back. I left London wanting and needing a sense of a belongingness and over the course of the last two years, I’ve been lucky enough to find this when I least expect it. So again, here I am getting attached to this town, to this centre, my new team and clients and I couldn’t be more grateful or happier. What an amazing Christmas gift to be blessed with as the year comes to an end.