EAT. SWEAT. PLAY.

It’s been a while since I’ve been this excited and hyped up about writing a blog post, this was inspired by my German friend Sarah who asked me why this book is brilliant, the best thing since sliced pan and I want to write an essay to explain… Therefore I commence the first blog on an item and not a place by the accidental backpacker. Now you would think it would be a profound book on travel or finding yourself or growth but it is a book about something much much more important than that. Is is a book on equality, gender equality in sport, which has been a topic of 2017 with feminism being declared the word of 2017. I could go off on some serious tangents here but I will stick to the plan….a simple book review of a life-changing book.

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It came wrapped in golden paper, I weighted it in my hands saying thanks to Billy (Mam’s boyfriend). My mind is racing. I could tell it was a book but buying me books never ever works out. Everyone knows I am a bookworm with bookcases overflowing with books. To find a book that I am interested in and have not read would be a rare occurrence. It has happened twice before. A next door neighbour gave me the third Harry Potter book just as I was reading the second. As a teen Mam gave me Eragon for Christmas which admittedly I would have never bought myself a book about dragons but turns out to be one of the most read book in my library, literally falling apart now. I was sucked in, the lady at Easons certainly gave a good recommendation. This time though at age 25 I did not expect there to an engaging book especially not one of the most important books I’d ever read. There wasn’t a whole lot on the back and I read some praise  stating it should be on the school curriculum which I thought was an odd thing to say.

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I wasn’t seen much for the next two days and had to go for frequent jogs in the Christmas cold to expend the insane energy building up from reading this book. How did he know that this book is written for me eventually I (who has been doing sport since I was like 7 years old, obsessing over different sports at different times more recently rowing, gaelic football and dragonboating) hoped to write something on that very topic. By and large it was filled with ideas and questions that had tormented me for years, all articulated so well and backed up by real life. It held more gold than the wrapping paper. In fact only a week later I started it again this time more slowly to savour it. I underlined quotes which stood out a mile, pure honest truth screaming off the pages. It deserves to be read by every man, woman and child.

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“Maybe exercise and sport can be something we do for ourselves. For fun! For Happiness! For clear thinking! Because physical activity should be something integral to our being alive. And it is the essential part that really concerns us here, not the bit about how many millimetres it might shave off your inside thigh measurements.” – Anna Kessel, Eat Sweat Play: How Sport Can Change Our Lives.

The perfect articulation of the facts of sport and gender perception is thrilling and honest. You can feel the authors emotions and yours becoming one. I see it all the time working in the outdoors and working in sports coaching. The boys play to enjoy it, to score goals, to feel great, to strut about stating how awesome they are. The girls well as soon as they hit twelve it is about how they can change they image for the better with it. So now as mainstream adult women exercise (not necessarily even sport) to lose weight, tone up, look better blah blah for who like. Whereas the men go and play their five aside soccer and still enjoy scoring goals. Of course they are the odd ones which I would count myself among who do sport to enjoy it, to accomplish something, to clear your head but even then at the back of your head weight is an thing, a very welcomed side effect of playing sport is looking better for it.  In the park, women grab a coffee, men kick a ball. On the pitches at my local college I used to have a puck in the AstroTurf to clear my head and catch up with a friend in fresh air. After a few evenings I noticed besides the girlfriend or two I’d bring there would be no girls. Plenty of lads, hitting balls, kicking a football, play cricket. This was free sport, fun, quantifiable namely PLAY. Very different there jogging ex amount of km to lose ex amount of calories. Very different to ex amount of resistant classes to achieve ex amount of inches lost. This idea was so well articulated in Anna Kessel’s book that I honestly can’t read it before going to bed before I want to scream it from the rooftops, rip the women out of cafes and restaurants, and reintroduce them to the concept of play being an activity loosely based on sport. When you were seven years old and you were an unstoppable Indian tribal leader chasing down girls and boys alike waving sticks and howling to the high heavens. Legs pumping and arms driving, the sweat and dirt on your face made you only more fearsome!! Who cares what you look like. You are fast and loud and free to rule the world.

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“The mainstream media perpetuates the notion that women should focus entirely on a static image of a perfect body as the end goal. There are no messages about the process, the active body, how it makes us feel in that moment.” – Anna Kessel, Eat Sweat Play: How Sport Can Change Our Lives.

“Surely we want to get to a point where women can be strong and powerful and not sexy. Or only sexy when they feel like it, not as a requirement to getting media coverage or being valued.” – Anna Kessel, Eat Sweat Play: How Sport Can Change Our Lives.

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“The real problem here is a massive elephant in the room: our own culture. Our social values, our media – so influential on impressionable young girls – that have been allowed, for millenia, to send out this powerful, alienating message about girls and sport: that sport is unfeminine, that sport makes you sweaty and muscular, that sport is swearing and violence, that sport is ugliness in a world where women’s sole priority, value and focus should be beauty and becoming an object of desire.” – Anna Kessel, Eat Sweat Play: How Sport Can Change Our Lives.

I could quote the book forever so instead I literally continuously recommend it. One friend even took my copy to India with her and others volunteering with her read it and were additionally inspired to get back to enjoying sport. It challenges every concept that has been sold to us. It commends the absolute heroes who are leading the way and yet the media asks them about their wardrobe choice or their husbands even their children. These are kick-ass dedicated elite athletes who deserve so much better and EQUAL to the male athletes. There are so many unbelievable female athlete who are blazing trials and whom I could go on about forever, Serena and Venus Williams, Katie Taylor, Sinead Jennings, Sonia O’Sullivan, Annalise Murphy, Cora Staunton, Fionnula McCormack, Valerie Mulcahy, US Soccer team who called out the wage discrimination….and so on… I could talk about womens’ sport forever. (BTW I love Andy Murray, what a champion, his one-liners to journalists made me yell in joy).

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In my own experience I have run outdoor camps for kids aged 6-9 or thereabouts. So a lovely age you would think before any of this comes into play, before they become teenagers. But the last two summers especially I have been shocked to see girls point blank refusing to play tag, stuck-in-the-mud or another warm up games. One said “its for boys only”, I nearly exploded. Another morning  I got “Well see we don’t want to get all muddy and sweaty like the boys do.” “But you’re putting on a wet-suit and jumping into the sea/lake in an hour?” “Ya so, we can keep clean until then.” 8 years old! I could not believe it! I made a point of compulsory games doing everything in my power getting them involved and spending most of the day running around chasing them. It worked. A different week then I noticed (unusually in the outdoors as us women instructors can be a rarity) I was working with a couple of young girl instructors. They sat down as I played our warm up games, some kids joined them too.  “Do you want to join in?” They laughed, “Haha you’re mad out Jess running around like loon.” “Why don’t you join in, it is fun?” “No I don’t want to get my work T-shirt all smelly. You know how they get really smelly” (They do). “You are joking me.” I was furious but I controlled it somewhat into a lecture on being a role model for these kids who have so few female sporty/outdoor role models as it is. Clear as day there were five kids sitting out with her. She joined in somewhat,an improvement. But it tested me. One of many things missing in outdoor work is this emphasis on physical activity and perception of play. I honestly don’t think I can do it as my summer job anymore. Wetsuits are refusing to fit Irish kids these days anyway.

I would often share these anecdotal stories and often get similar ones in return. Sometimes though I don’t and there are times when you know someone has absolutely no awareness of this topic and the life long effects it has on our entire population.

Its funny I hear quite often in the pub Irish people ask Mam well is she married yet…. eventually she started replying with a sigh yes married to rowing. Because yes there is more to life than marriage, kids and mortgage. Yes it can be anything you want it to be. Screw the status quo and expectations. Be the best version of yourself. What is wrong with doing what your good at or doing what you’re not good at and enjoying it all the same. In my experience women train better, learn better and have ten times the obstacles male athletes do. Clear as day I remember fighting fights on trying to understand why the men get the good boat when they could be lazier. I was soooo angry I could never win. Why…why are the boats bought for men, designed for men, cut holes in our beautiful hips. Why are there limited female coaches??? Honestly that’s a whole other post..

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EAT. SWEAT. PLAY. The three things women are told not to do. Well it is about time, I not only challenge you to do this but I challenge you to read this book by Anna Kessel and then pass it on to every man, women and child. And if they’re not readers fear not they can listen to it on Audible.  This could be the most life-changing book you’ll ever encounter. I challenge you to get all children to PLAY to get SWEATY regardless of gender. I challenge you to ditch the coffee with the girlfriends and buy a ball for five euro and kick it back and forth or any other physical activity that is fun. I challenge you to believe in yourself. To believe in your body’s ability to anything you damn well tell it to do. I challenge you to try a new sport, find a new sport, there is a sport for everyone and then bring a friend, and another. I challenge you to do it because you enjoy it. I challenge you to break the status quo, to be different, to go against the grain. I challenge you to not count calories the next time you go running, I challenge you to fill your lungs, feel the pain, savour the pain and enjoy that you did that!!!! I m going for a jog in Berlin right now… Thank you Anna Kessel for articulating so many things which I could not.

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(I wonder did Billy (Thanks so much Billy) realise he had bought me a book that would put word on every outraged sport inequality thought I’ve ever had starting from aged 13 – why do the boys get the good oars and the good boat when they come last and we win medals? Ten years later -many rowing clubs have yet to answer this…)

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Limerick Junction

I stated after coming home from travelling in a very emotional blog post that after so much travelling that Ireland in fact could be the strangest place of all. (Always wanted to quote myself). (A small aside actually, a couple typos or mis-use of words in previous posts have been pointed out to me but I’m not really going to edit them as for me that is not what blogging is about, that’s what college essays are about for sure, but I like to think I’m using a poetic licence and that it is interesting rather then everyone writing the same way or with the same style and so waht yuo dno’t need them to be speled rigth to raed them… – maybe I should put this in my about page too- except no one actually ever reads that..)

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Back to Ireland, it takes a different perspective to see things unique and interesting about your own country. It takes curiosity, amazement and finally motivation to then take those musing to a laptop or journal and articulate it. This piece is describing a place mentioned in my previous post “That’s my seat”. Limerick Junction.

There are many strange things about Limerick Junction beginning with the popular table quiz question..Which county is Limerick Junction in? Tipperary. (As opposed to Limerick for non-natives). It was originally named Tipperary junction in 1848 when it was built. It serves to connect Limerick, Waterford, Cork, and Dublin lines. As the saying in Ireland goes “All  good roads lead to Dublin” so too it seems does the rail. Limerick junction is important as a link to the entire rail network and yet for years trains had to reverse into it. It’s complex layout, signal system etc has apparently earned it a unique place in railway lore. It does look like four platforms dropped in the middle of the countryside but in fact a hamlet has grown alongside it to include of course a pub, an integral part of Irish society. You can even get the weather forecast for Limerick Junction. ( Which is never needed as light rain is a guarantee) The layout though is so complex you can check out the three paragraphs on it on wiki. Train stuff isn’t a hobby of mine believe it or not. Suffice to say 48 trains pass there a day…

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In 2016 someone stole a pair of railway gates from Limerick Junction. It just attracts mystical occurrences. It is hard to explain why I’m writing about it. It just seems so impractical and therefore sooo Irish. Waiting in cold wind at Limerick Junction in the dark in a scary place where I have found myself. Standing there as the bright train to cork pulls out and you’re left waiting for another train hoping it will come. No buildings in sight I calculate the miles I’d have to cycle home. As the rain drives in and with no coverage on your phone it feels like the most isolated place in Ireland. Welcome to Ghoul Lumnigh.

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That’s My Seat…

The weekly train journey from Dublin to Limerick every Friday after 17:00 has become one of the challenges of attending college. It could be a study itself – the political climate  including conflict vs peace negotiations.

Generally there are three types of passengers leaving Dublin on a Friday evening. 1: People (like me) who have booked seats. Politely informing people ‘That’s my seat.’ until eventually having to swear on the bible that that is your seat sometimes having to search for floor space instead or worse taking refuge at the carriage door praying that everyone gets off in Kildare. 2: The walk-ons. These people buy tickets right before the train time and have the cheek to sit down in any seat they want. 3: People who are pissed at other people sitting in their booked seat and so take someone else seat because obviously in Ireland the systems goes out the window as soon as names aren’t displayed above the seats. (They are secretly saying Hail Marys that the name display does start working halfway through the journey.)

Graph illustrating 15 weeks of train travel
Graph illustrating 15 weeks of train travel

The above graph shows reactions and moods over a 15 week period. How different events affected the commuting experience and tested patience levels. Key events are times when after cycling through the rain with no spare clothes left and someone takes your seat, refuses to move and I ended up sitting on the wet, cold floor. Another event causing patience to take a nose dive when on the train up to Dublin at lunch time one of the many many drunks that stereo-typically fill Irish trains, he stands beside me as I proof read a ten page essay I was proud of and spills half a can of linden village cider on it. “Oh sorry, my love, so sorry, can I buy you a drink?” Public transport with the addition of a bar seems to mean you should be drinking. Another time they ran of a vodka and a fight ensued between two brothers who must have drank it all in the first place. The other unbelievable incident which tested me was after losing my ticket during a Limerick junction stressed transfer I had to buy another ticket for the trip back meaning I had two seats and both bike racks booked for the journey home. Yet after much conflict and failed negotiations I found myself, soaking wet, freezing cold leaning against the wall in everyone way at every stop, bike illegally parked up. I couldn’t even get floor space to sit down. Luckily I have been enjoying a 6 week break from the journey to recover back to full patience for round two.

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Then you have the cyclists. Those humans that are mental enough to be cycling around Dublin in the first place. For the Cork train they are pretty chill people, usually about 6 a week who know there is room for about ten bikes in the front storage carriage – although stress levels are tested when having to change at Limerick Junction (more on this mystical place later) and the full length of the platform has to be sprinted with bike in hand.

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The cyclists for the Limerick train are another breed altogether. They can be observed glued to the departures board waiting for platform numbers to show. The ensuing sprint is viscous with the ticket ready for the barrier, nothing left to chance, they maneuver under major pressure through the mass of power walkers, eyes scanning the crowd for competition. Knowing they have booked one or even the two bike spots on this train does nothing to ease the mind but in fact leads to an aggressive sense of righteousness. After blasting through the ticket barrier, sacrificing their legs to the bangs of the pedals, the crowd thins out as the bike is steered toward the last carriage an extra stretch of the legs is needed to maintain the lead, the calves are burning. Desperate to see if the race has indeed been won. Sweat drips at the last hurdle of heaving the bike into the carriage. Relief or devastation follows. At this point the luggage can be moved off the bike racks (Irish people persist in putting their bags on what is a clearly labelled bike rack) or they can announce to the carriage that someone must move their bike out of the full rack because in fact one of those two bike spots were booked. Or the best scenario of all they can move the strangers bike  to the empty inside rack and put theirs in hoping the other person won’t be getting off soon.

If they lost the race then polite assertions ensue of bookings secured and basic human rights. Eventually, sitting down the high of adrenaline of victory of both getting a bike rack and a seat!! A rarity! It soon wears off as the sweat becomes damp wet clothing as the guilt descends watching the conductor throwing someone else and their bike off the train. “It’s not your fault, it is the system.” their mantra to work through this guilt as they towel off the sweat, the heart rate comes back to normal and the leg bruises are the only visible reminders of battles fought and won……until the next Friday….

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Climbing Scotland

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Caringorms

Majestic mountain peaks surrounding a town is not a common sight but seeing them covered in snow was quite a novelty. Walking through Aviemore you would catch glimpses of these giants between buildings. Surrounded by thick Scottish accents dressed in the best outdoor gear known to humans. You stop looking at the people and notice their North Face down jacket instead.

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To see it was an eventful mountaineering trip to the Cairngorms in Scotland would be an understatement. ULOPC succeeded yet again in introducing people to the extreme and created brand new memories for everyone.

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Weather Station

After a couple days of ‘winter mountaineering training’ I had hurt my knee and taken a rest day. Chilling out reading books by the fire drinking tea on the most comfy couches was a mini holiday in itself.

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Mountain Shelter

After the chilled rest day I joined the group of twenty to do a crag about half an hour away. This was due to the fact that there was no snow or ice left on the mountains. It was raining softly as they say meaning the rocks would be slippy. We warmed up with a ten minute hike through the forest, although I had been questioning myself I then discovered the rest day had been the right call as my knee flared up with pain.

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When we got to the crag two top ropes (ropes hanging from the top) were set up. I hopped on one and found it too slippy to trust myself to make the first move. With the pressure of twenty people watching I soon untied and wandered around for a while watching others climb. I’ve a very weird relationship with rock-climbing. Some days I absolutely love climbing and feel on top of the world when I finish a route or make a difficult move. In all other sports I want to be the best, the fittest, the strongest and come first. But in climbing I just want to enjoy it and challenge myself. Sometimes though that doesn’t fit together and I ended up annoyed at myself and just watching others climb. My intense fear of heights also tends to get in the way.

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Ed had set up a long abseil and encouraged me to try it. It was on a vertical wall higher than I’m used to with a slight overhang which may have been in my head. I froze about five feet down it. A sudden fear of swinging off to the side overtook me completely. So while people from below shouted encouragement my muscle had cramped up convincing me I was going to die. I could vividly imagine the pain of my bones breaking. Eventually I gave in and had to leave go, flinching expecting severe pain. But of course nothing happened and I just hung there like a crazy fool. I got hit by such a rush of adrenaline from ‘surviving’ that I laughed the whole way down kicking off the wall. I was still on a high as I headed over to second a route for Eoghan who is probably an ideal climbing buddy for me as he is so chill and yet encouraging.

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So seconding means that I have Eoghan on a rope from the ground and as he climbs he places gear in cracks as safety points and treads the rope through them. But if you fall when you are leading you can potentially take a big fall and hurt yourself or your gear can pop out if you haven’t placed it precisely. This is where the fear factor comes in. Your safety rely s on the confidence that you have placed your gear correctly. Trad climbing (as this is called) was eloquently summed up Owen Michele (Unfortunately there are three Eoghans on this trip leading to many confusing matters) anyway he said trad climbing was bizarre because on one hand it was physical and daring with a need for confidence and on the other it is logical problem solving as you figure out the best place or best gear to put in for protection and the best way to set up an anchor when you get to the top. It is an unlikely combination.

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I enjoyed seconding a route for Eoghan, this means after I had belayed from the bottom I climb along picking up gear while secured on a rope from the top. Just before we were about to leave I decided to lead the same route, the difficulty was easy but it was a bit higher and longer than I was used to. Most of the guys had headed home in the mini-bus and there was just a handful of us left. You could hear the distance jingling of gear as the climbers walked down the hill. Then peace ascended, no longer was there people roaring and shouting egging each other on. It was a blissful change accompanied by a wonderful sunset. It was brilliant to have this moment just to focus on the climbing, looking at placing the gear piece by piece. Focusing on each move and completely in the moment high above the valley. The sun was finally set just as we trundled off down the hill with ropes slung over our shoulders.

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The setting sun oranger than usual for Ireland,

Lights up clouds across the darkening sky,

Climbing rope on your harness you must tie,

The cropping rocks casting long shadows,

Until they are jagged limestone silhouettes,

The low tones of the Atlantic smashing rocks,

You put on your climbing shoes with no socks,

The sharp sound of seagulls calling,

You put on your helmet in case of rocks falling,

The deep breaths of climbers fear,

Tourists driving rentals from far and near,

Giggles of success when you reach the top,

The sun has set but no way are we going to stop.

September 2016 Ballyryan

by Jessica O’Keeffe

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Ballyryan

The Moment. 7/01/16-09/02/17

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The moment occurred unexpectantly causing me to think back upon it for days, weeks even months later.

It found me pacing in a dilapidated hall located in the mountains of Northern Myanmar. I was surrounded by a crowded circle of over fifty children, teenagers, adults and monks. They stared at me in earnest with hungry silence filling the filthy hall. The dust was clogging my nostrils. Not a chair in sight they hunched on their knees. Coming from Shan villages of the surrounding mountains they were some of the poorest of poor. Hunger of many forms was evident on their faces and in their all too serious eyes. I walk slowly in circles trying to teach English, to be as friendly to them as I can be and gradually I get comfortable nearly confident.

Finally one of older looking men raises his hand. I beckoned to welcome his question. He stands up. I pause uncertainly. “Am, yes?” He squared his shoulders and puffed out his chest. With a very conscious effort I held my body language of palm open and up hopefully approachable. I tried not to flinch under the intensity of his powerful stare. He stared in silence for too long. No one moved.

“You have seen my village. I am twenty-three years old. My English is so good now that I teach it. Now. How do I get a career? How do I become a real teacher? How do I study in college in Thailand? How do I get a visa? Tell me what you think I should do.”

His deep brown eyes pierced my soul. My mind raced through possible answers not wanting to give him a vague impossible one, nothing really came to mind. The others were looking up at him with evident respect. I didn’t have an answer. Was he part of one of the tribes that weren’t even recognized as humans by this state. I couldn’t remember. His eyes didn’t leave mine as I stumbled across an average and disappointing answer.

“I really don’t know how. I do know you should continue to work hard. You should keep asking that question until you find the answer and do not lose hope.”

The words even felt empty. He bowed his head. “Thank you.” He sat down. I took a deep breath which rattled out feeling anxious but not really sure why.

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I continued playing questions and answers with the students. Every now and the I found my eyes catching his. The long four hours were finally up and a queue was formed. One by one every single student shakes my sweaty dusty hand saying sincere thank yous and beaming with happiness as I praised them trying to remember their odd sounding names. I felt amazing after the experience. But as I journeyed back to Hsipaw then the 12 hours on to Yangon the back of my mind whirred. I felt very emotional. I cried a few times. I couldn’t write anything down as there didn’t seem to be a tangible feeling. I found myself comparing my chip on my shoulder of circumstances preventing me from getting ym degree to this boy who probably wasn’t even seen as a human in his own country. I thought of his obstacles and tried to come up with a better answer for him. I found I was deeply upset. The silence those fifty humans had was not obedience it was a hunger, a thirst for knowledge and education anything to give them a better shot at life. The difference compared to the utter lack of interest by most kids in the Western world was astounding. Education is this rare gift, actually only given to a few. With only two weeks of travelling left I had thought I had done all my learning. Turns out that this perhaps was the most incredible eyeopening moment of it all. Surely if he somehow believes he can overcome his obstacles well then surely I can believe in overcoming mine.

 

Over a year later which feel likes centuries of hard work and pain. I stare in disbelief and overriding relief. I honestly thought the email was just another telling me to add something else to my application. It has only been three days. I don’t understand. After so many avenues explored. After over five years. After so many meetings and false hopes. After so many loan rejections. Here I am reading an acceptance letter, back into third level education. So many times when I nearly gave up, when I didn’t feel good enough rejection after ejection in many forms. I just read this story of ‘The Moment.’ which I had handwritten and stuck to my wall. I remember that feeling of guilty gratitude of being born in the Western world.

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Finland

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The Islands of Finland

The familiar feeling hit me as soon as the plane began it’s taxi. The feeling of solitude and peace as you disconnect the cables that hold you to the life of place you just left. I try push away the feeling of frustration that the most irritating part of today’s journey across Europe was the bus in Ireland from Limerick to Dublin. It took five hours, like are you actually having a laugh. Between Spanish tourists demanding their money back and a “pure Dub” aka lunatic running across the car park with his arms flapping signalling the bus to the airport was about to finally pull in. (which we could all clearly see) (We – the hundred or so people stranded at the red cow roundabout, only in Ireland.) The driver then packs everyone’s luggage aboard only to realise for the second time today he didn’t have enough seats in his bus. “Tis unheard of so it tis. I dunno whats going on!” The tourists gawk in shock as he makes them find their luggage and get off, all of which takes another half hour. I can hear the clock ticking as my flight’s gate open and begin to close. I was fully aware of the fact this is the first flight I have ever gotten paid for by someone who’s not me.

I am off to represent Ireland as a water sports coach as part of the European “Get Wet – Be active” project. Final destination: Finland. Somehow watching the madness descend on stressed tourists and late bus drivers helps me settle into my aura of calm travel mode – a place where I haven’t been for a few months. I calmly walk into the airport 25 minutes before my flight. I could literally feel a switch flicker where the only that exists now is my travel plans and me. I just look after myself and my needs only. Accepting that if I had missed my flight it was completely out of my control as I had left home six hours before the flight time. Beyond ridiculous. So I just calmly smiled back at the flight attendant as he checked me blurting in panic “ Your gate closes in 15 minutes and its on the other side of the terminal.” This is why I always travel in flip flips or runners. I smile widely, it was a brief smile as I saw the twenty minute line through security. I go left, to the left line always as most people subconsciously get drawn to the right hand side queue. I only have carry on so its heavy plus my laptop bag, I struggle to eat my yogurt with a plastic spoon as I line up. Sincerely hoping the yogurt split down my chest isn’t seen as liquid explosives. “Jaysus, tis yourself! Jessica.” I turn around, a load of rowers on their way to Rotterdam for the Worlds that weekend. I rudely try to explain why I literally don’t have time to talk to these poor people whom I haven’t seen in three years. Handing my yogurt carton to the security guard I hurry through. Then I tie my bags on tight and music up loud, I run like it’s about to pour rain.

Luckily good ole Norwegian air can be relied on to be delayed ensuring that I just made it on board. My reflexes firing after running haphazardly through so many people, I took some deliberate deep breaths. The feeling of freedom as we line up on the runway overtook me, my travel playlist blaring in my ears. As we hit take off speed a tired smile spread across my face with the excitement of the unknown. I count 19 roundabouts out the window before we hit the Irish clouds looking down as the last of the summer sun shines. The severe exhaustion of working a full outdoor summer season and coaching took over and I slept soundly until Norway. (Honestly I never sleep on flights.)

Oslo airport welcomed me back like an old comforting friend. I only had one layover there (9hrs) but it felt like a home. I enjoyed the same psycho expensive pizza slice and drink, I sat in the same spot using the same socket to charge my phone, just for music though I was practicing disconnecting. (Yes it is a conscious effort for me these days.) I started to fall asleep on and off. Head falling sharply on pizza plate kinda sleepy. I gave in and tied my bags to me, spreading out on the chairs. I casually checked in and hoped on my flight to Helsinki feeling great about myself.

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Helsinki (Octopus made from plastic found in the ocean.)

I arrived into Helsinki at mid night completed wired from a bag and a half of haribos! I used my couple of researched Finnish words to ask for a receipt from the taxi. (How exciting! I am moving up in the world claiming expenses!) There was absolutely no need though as he had better English than me. I checked into my hotel super excited by all the facilities – I could fit in both yoga and supping before my first meeting thing, maybe even time to explore around via a jog. I enjoyed a shower and sat my alarm to have the usual six hours sleep. I sank into the white comfy bed and conked.

Some weird noises stir me. Someone else’s ringtone.

Banging.

Ringing.

Banging.

I wake up with a start. Silence but for the drone of the air-con giving me a longing for actual hot countries, why is there even air-con in Fin… BBRRRRINNG! The harsh ring had me jumping up looking for the fire alarm. I see it – a phone – well of course there is a phone in a hotel room. I answer it on autopilot. “Jessica?!” A relieved sounding deep voice questioned. “Am, yes.” “Hi, It’s Marco, we emailed and I was going to meet you this morning? But I thought you must have already gone into the city.” “Ah, no.” “Well let’s meet at one in the lobby instead.” “Yes.” I hang up relieved and not fully awake. I check my watch and nearly throw up, it is ten minutes to one!!!! In the day!!!! What!!!! SHITE!!!!! Panic rises sharply in my chest. Anyone who knows me knows I am literally nearly always on time. I cannot stand being late, for anything, it goes against my basic principles of respect. Now I am a total of FIVE HOURS LATE!!! How does someone sleep in for five hours!!! Representing my country as a development coach and everything. I felt like I had committed a cardinal sin. Will people think I’m too egotistical for missing an intro meeting? I get dressed and I am out the door determined in under two minutes. What an earth happened the four alarms I had set?? Who sleeps in this long?? OMG!! Were those bangs in my dreams actual knocking at the door? Can I actually just go back to bed?

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Marco and I.

Turns out Marco is a chill Portuguese and his sport is surfing. Nothing intense was happening I had not heard on the phone but it was just an invite to lunch and he wasn’t even around this morning in the end as his flight was delayed by ten hours.

Finland turned out to be AWE-INSPIRING! We got so much done in just a few days. From Finnish saunas to National Parks, it mostly didn’t feel like work in the slightest. Learning about how sport is developed in other European countries was insanely interesting. Having a conversation with Finnish people asking about gender equality in sport, it seemed like a foreign concept to them, why wouldn’t it be equal. They looked at me like I was in a panda suit! Asking how they deal with two sporting clubs fighting over athletes – they again stared at me – but surely clubs all work together you can only get fitter, faster and stronger. No kidding.

On the flight home I found everything was too overwhelming to take in from the few days. Unbelievable. Feeling very educated, proud and grateful, I smiled to myself for the next week 🙂

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A sporting Institute dropped in the centre of the National Park

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The Summer of Salmons

It takes six months or up to a year to settle back to Ireland.” I very nearly laughed out loud but controlled myself out of politeness anyway after all this man had left for twenty years I had barely left for three. Why would it take me that long to settle back to my home. I grew up here for Godsake. The only difference was I mostly didn’t want to be “settling” here. I should be in Australia following the perfect life plan and career all the way to the top. So I pretend I am just passing through here, getting some funds kinda similar to locking yourself away in an orange factory.

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The four month mark had appeared slower than Christmas when you’re five years old. It seemed like it was a different decade a different era during which I had travelled. It didn’t exist anymore. The slog of work and the slog of trying so hard at life in so many ways it was getting old and tired fast. Hills got steeper and obstacles taller. So It came to the start of May where I made a couple of decisive changes in my life. I changed my main job inside in a gym to working back in outdoor sports. I dropped two of my part time jobs and kept the one I enjoyed the most. I moved out of home in with an outdoorsy girl whom I’d thought I would get along with. The rest of the house would be filled with outdoorsy, adventurous, fun, mental humans too. The first week I moved in there was three house parties in the one week, I thought I would die of exhaustion and happiness. I would finish coaching or work and be dying to get back to the house and people…that feeling still hasn’t worn off. Mad craic. Then there is the house itself – there isn’t a spare inch of wall. Literally everytime you sit down you see something new. We have absolutely no need for a TV. It is a surfers/hippies/backpackers/outdoors haven.

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Tessa and Eoghan

Suddenly the six month mark popped up at the end of one busy week and I barely had time to mark the occasion. Somehow the balance of adventuring, work, career, saving for college, and getting fit had beautifully combined to make this amazing life. Literally the only problem I was having was not having enough hours in the day or days in the week and I exhausted myself. I travelled to different parts of Ireland with new sports such as rock climbing and hiking. I would catch myself wondering how maybe I have managed to combine the excitement of travel and adventure with being ‘settled.’

I remember getting my new hiking boots and being super excited. I was literally dying to show all my housemates like a five year old. On a normal day my head would just brush the ceiling coming down the stairs. I was waiting patiently walking around in my boots when I heard someone was home and in the kitchen. I jumped up and ran downstairs, next thing I know I m flat on my back on the stairs with a head exploding of pain and a realization that my boots just made me that bit too tall. I sat on the stairs for twenty minutes or so wondering about why I was acting like a five year old trying to show off her new toys.

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My first lead

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We had the kind of house I’ve dreamed of – where everyone and anyone was more than welcome and would drop by for a cuppa (or a can). You’d meet people from all walks of life without even leaving the house, it nearly felt like travelling. A perfect example being three SUPers whom we meet at work on Lough Derg. They were supping the length of the Shannon in training for their quest of SUPing the length of the Ganges, India to create awareness of plastic pollution in the river and all rivers. We of course invited them to crash at ours as they were passing through. So in the middle of the night they appeared out of the bushes at Parteen tailrace laden down with all sorts of gear. How they got through Ardnacrusha powerhouse is another story. We (the household and SUPers) had great chats till all hours of the night while devouring my attempt at chocolate brownies ( I had forgotten the flour somehow). I just love how no one blinks an eye at people being in the house, it creates an amazing atmosphere. Last week there was nine humans and a dog. IT never gets boring.

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SUPers

I never want it to never change but summer is ending and so it must luckily we will be starting our next chapter again in a new place but there was something very special about this summer. Somedays I didn’t even notice I was in Ireland or feel like I was settling for second best. Most days I actually felt on top of the world again. Thanks Tess, Siobhan, Claud and Eoghan.

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The Burren
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The Salmon Family

Coming Home – Bangkok-Oslo-Amsterdam- Limerick

Taking a chainsaw to the jar of nutella. Using a hair dryer to finally dry out your clothes. These are harsh realities of coming home after three years. It was not at all what I expected there is no way to prepare…..

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My journey home began with my last few days back in Bangkok, the hub for cheap flights. I stayed at the same homely hostel I always did. The Siam Journey Guesthouse. There is always a familiar face there for me and if not, the welcoming vibe is the same. It’s a beautiful sanctuary from the epic madness that is Bangkok. After a lovely three days, busy actually with loose ends to tie up, last chance to eat certain foods and buy certain things. I finally got flags to sow on to my backpack. Suddenly I was catching the train for the last time to the airport for under a dollar. It was six am. I didn’t sleep that night as I was so hyper I suddenly was overcome by the emotion of being finished of having achieved all my little goals and more. I felt so proud of travelling Asia alone. I was jogging the streets at two am trying to get rid of the excess energy. I thought that moment then and there jogging the familiar streets of such a big city, the feeling I felt, a powerful one, I think it must be that special feeling you get from travelling solo, from being just you in many little pockets of the world and using every skill possible to survive and thrive. I honestly felt on top of the world!

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Finally in Europe – Oslo

My flight was BKK to Oslo in Norway and then on to Amsterdam. Long story short it got delayed by a day and a half. I was devastated as it was cutting short the few days I had planned with my Aunt and Uncle whom I had not seen in so long. I got put up in a fancy hotel with 300 grumpy Norwegians who spoke their language to me non-stop and then failed to understand why an Irish girl is flying Bangkok to Norway. I was finally so tired of travelling I spent an hour in the bath singing and crying to myself. Honestly they were such a strange bunch of Norwegians. Eventually it was 4am in an empty airport the next day and I was sharing a bottle of Vodka with a crazy drunk Norweigan while our flight got delayed for the third time. We got on and I slept the whole way. I spent a day stuck in minus twenty degrees in Oslo airport without a jumper to keep me warm, running up and down escalators, paying twenty dollars for a slice of pizza. Finally a short flight to Amsterdam.

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Minus 20, wearing all the warm clothes I had!

I had great fun in Amsterdam being reunited however briefly with Herman and Elaine, we swapped travel stories very late into the night well early morning. I caught a train to Utreacht to climb the Dom Church with my friend Talin who I met in the Philippines. It was brilliant catching up and been shown around. Next I met Britta a good friend from Koh Tao. We did random stuff such as the Bodies exhibition which now stays in Amsterdam and is turned into the Happiness Project. We mostly chatted. The next day we met in Haarlem joined by Britta’s sister Guya we went for a crazy freezing swim in the North Sea in January. A wave came in washing some of our dry clothes while we screamed trying to put them on and people stared in horror. We warmed up at a beach-side restaurant. Next we explored some forest which was full of wild curious deer. That night I met Bex whom I dived the Great Barrier Reef with, she is from the UK but now living in Amsterdam. We ended up having a bit of a mad night out before my final flight home to Ireland in the AM.

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Utreacht
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With Herman and Elaine

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I was so busy and tired and very nearly missed my flight that the realization home was near didn’t hit until the Irish pilot addressed us on the plane. Being suddenly surrounded by Irish accents was soooo odd. Of course most of them being Cork accents didn’t help. I landed feeling tired, hungover and slightly excited. I wanted to tell everyone about where I had been, what I had done and who I had met. I want to share my new opinions I had formed on varied topics. I wanted to go out and party with old friends every weekend for a while, so many people had promised nights out now that I was quite the social bunny there was nothing to hold me back. But very quickly I realised extremely few people actually gave a shit and the majority of your ‘friends’…well two and a half years is a long time. Luckily I still have a few left. I told myself how hard it would be going from travelling to normal life and then from Australia normal life back to Irish. I must have thought I was somewhat prepared but no way, it has been hellish! I read my travel journals many nights when I can’t sleep, the entries from over 200 people I met, well often it is the only thing that keeps me moving. I read the letter I wrote to myself of keeping the person I’ve grown into. An optimist. I felt pride like I really had conquered the world, I felt that no one could break that bubble. Invincible.

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Flight number 36 since leaving home 2 and a half years ago

To go from travelling the world alone in the most insane ways back to your childhood bedroom and your childhood town, well there are no words. To go from being surrounded by like minded open people to being an absolute alien…no words. To go from eating cuisine of any and every nature to eating potatoes…no words. I’ve had to wear a raincoat everyday. The butter doesn’t melt when you leave it out. Grand is the word used for everything. Serious traffic is when you are delayed five minutes. You hug your cup of tea rather than hold it. Barrys or Lyons? An Earl what??? There is silence most early mornings, the absence of birds and animal noises is harsh as is the winter weather. Heating in cars and buses instead of aircon. 62 days of rain and 5 complete dry days so far.

As I write this I am home eight weeks, I thought I’d struggle for work my memories of recession still fresh but driving my car, going off exploring Ireland every weekend surrounded by old friends. I planned to keep having adventures, to be surrounded by people. Reality was the loss of my no claims bonus and over 3000 euro insurance to get driving on Irish roads. Instead of filling my life with sports and adventures, I work four jobs and cycle between them in the pissing rain. I love working nights because there seems to be nothing else to do. All my plans and goals are lost in the grey clouds and continuous rain. I can’t bare social media, I am stuck here trying to get enough years resident to get a third level education. The horrific side effect of being an accidental backpacker of not actually planning it means I am now not ‘ordinarily resident’ in my ‘own’ country. I mean I’m Irish right? Wrong. I have to stay here another three years without leaving, but if I‘m not a resident then where am I resident of??? It is cheaper to study in Europe where they happily accept I am a citizen of the EU. Being Irish was so obviously part of my identity and suddenly its not. Suddenly Ireland seems to be the country where I have the least rights or supports. Our politicians calling the expats #HOMETOWORK are full of fucking shit, how dare they fill the internet with false promises. Every obstacle under the sun is against us, car insurance, health, loans, sports, student loans or support… Ireland will be waiting a very long time before people come home for that. Most people who came home have committed serious fraud to get things such as car insurance. It is a whole lot more than reality hitting. The reverse culture shock is beyond anything you could think. The shock that you might not like your home town because it doesn’t feel like at home and you don’t feel like you. The feeling that Ireland doesn’t really want you here. Well that is the hardest thing of all. Drawing on whatever strength and energy I have left after seeing and experiencing everything I have I keep trying until it feels right. I keep waiting for the brief hours when the sun shines and people brighten up.

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Home

When you have been travelling whether you realize it or not you make it your mission to learn as much as possible about each country. You become enthralled. It is the main topic with other travelers. Every conversation is educational. You get hounded by questions about your country. Questions you have never even thought about. Customs you have never wondered about. So you learn – you figure out why your country is the way it is. Often I could be sharing a shake with someone and they ask the seemly simple question of why is there a North and South part of Ireland? Oh boy… It is when you get home two and a half years later you really look around. Suddenly you can compare your country to ten others on many levels – the richness of culture, the attitude of the locals, the food, the music, the climate, the outlook even the clothes. You are home but slowly and surely a realization dawns on you – that actually you are perhaps in the strangest country of all.

Thanks

The accidental backpacker xxxxx

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