When I was young I never really knew what I wanted to be. I was a good all rounder academically so I was not encouraged to make any decisions. People told me I should keep my options open and not specialise to early. I never committed to anything and, as I have made my way through life, I never really have.
So here I am. At fifty I am still drifting through life and wondering what and where is next. I fell into teaching more than twenty years ago. It was more about escaping the drudgery of life at the town hall than finding a vocation. I now appear to happily richochet between the two, though teaching is my preferred choice.
My current incarnation, a teacher of English in Cambodia, is going rather well. I am enjoying the challenges and there are plenty of them. My current path has taken down some very new and different teaching avenues and might almost tempt me to stay a while. I have already been here six months and it’s starting to feel like home but then there are so many other countries and they are so close.
I am a restless soul. I roll and I drift and I don’t gather moss because I can’t keep still. Some researchers say that ADHD and Aspergers are closely linked. I don’t know if it’s true but certainly I can switch my focus from one thing to another fairly easily. It’s what I do best. After all I am a good all rounder. It seems a bit daft to settle down to something at this point. So I will continue along my rather chaotic Asperger Path, passport in hand, and no doubt find some activities that will divert my attention. The only deficit I can see is the judgmental way society labels and classifies its dazzling differences and distinct diversities.
I lead a very small life. I get up and go about my business and to most I am an unknown. I am a nameless stranger on the streets of a city whose language I cannot read or speak.
Yet, everyday I feel welcomed. When shopping, the generosity of a smile, when I struggle to communicate, calms me down. The old ladies of the market laugh at me but I can see the kindly twinkle in their eyes as I stumble through buying my vegetables. The toddlers, standing on the footplate of their parents’ scooter even shout hello as they go past. So I may be unknown but I’m not unnoticed. As a foreigner, a barang, I stand out. I am tall, even by British standards, so here in Cambodia I feel as if I’ve come down a bean stalk. I sail around the town on a big old fashioned bike, having eschewed the ubiquitous motorbike, gathering smiles.
In my small life, these seemingly meaningless interactions are anything but. Each one contributes to a sense of happiness. Here in Cambodia people are shy but they are not wary. Having come from Europe where the single adult male is shunned as potential stranger danger it is lovely to receive happy waves and carefree waves and hear parents encouraging their children to say hello.
I will never change the world and I have no aspiration to do so. Nor will many of the people I see every day. However, a cheery hello or an open smile can change someone’s day. I know this because the good people of Battambang share their small city and their kind, friendly nature with me, making my small life a happier one.
Living in Cambodia I see what life is like without a welfare state. It’s frightening for the poor and underprivileged. Money talks and poverty doesn’t really have a voice.
Here they barely have a state school system and even in that system the underpaid teachers often sell the information need to pass tests. Universal access to good quality education is key to providing good life chances and allowing all people to achieve their potential.
Here, getting sick is a privilege. There is no sick pay from work and the cost of a trip to the hospital is beyond the means of the average person. I am advised, as a foreigner, that if I get really ill to get a taxi to Bangkok. I have been raised in a country where I have never had to think how much a treatment would cost. I get free health services not just when I am ill but when I want to be more healthy.
Here the railway station is closed. There is no track and in truth there is no public transportation system of any kind . The roads are unsafe and there are high numbers of accidents. There is not much investment in public transport. The rich drive big cars and the poor don’t travel very much. When I was young everybody complained about National Rail. Now in Britain have to complain about private companies which we subsidise.
Here the postal service doesn’t really work. The price of electricity varies on where you live. People don’t have running water and sanitation in many homes outside of urban areas.
I am not criticising Cambodia. They have survived things I personally cannot imagine. This is a call to the people of Britain. Living here highlights the things that I have taken for granted. You have a choice to make on Thursday. Are you going to vote for a country that views education, health, transport and postal services as publicly owned parts of the nation’s infrastructure that are there for the good and benefit of all. Or are you going to head down a road of privatisation where money talks and poverty doesn’t have a voice.
I have chosen the path I walk through life. The multiple decisions that I have made all through my life have brought me to where I am now. I am happily living in Cambodia, some six thousand miles from where I was born and working as teacher. I may never return to England or I might fly home tomorrow. My life has no long term plans.
It has been an amazing life so far. I was a school dropout at seventeen. I left home and my studies suffered as a consequence. That decision, catastrophic as it seemed to my parents, had set the tone for my entire adult life. I have made decisions that have been hard for others to fathom. I have lived outside the box and more than once have come dangerously close to living in one. My life has always had a semi permanency as I have travelled through. I was told, at fourteen, that I was a dilettante and I would seem to have fulfilled this idea that I am a butterfly who may never truly settle.
Along the path I have acquired tools and strategies. I had to work hard in a variety dull jobs when I was young but I have learned a lot. I have returned to education many times. I may have dropped out of education once but over the years I have acquired a plethora of teaching qualifications and these enable me to live and work almost anywhere in the world. It’s hard to say what makes a good teacher but I hope I have something to offer.
I love teaching and I thrive on change and new challenges. So here I am on the path I have chosen, slowly travelling through my life one country at a time. Hopefully helping a few people along the way and earning money for food and a roof. It’s not everyone’s dream and I’m not sure it’s mine. It’s where my decisions took me and I am happy to be here, for now.
This chaos is my life. This wonderful, amazing life I am leading is just a sequence of disasters held together by a touch of bravado and good deal of hoping that everything will be all right. I have never had dreams or ambitions. There isn’t a someone I forgot to be. I am here and now and I’ve got my wits about me.
So I career, without a career plan, across jobs, countries and friends. My life is like bunting. Piece after piece, each little moment of beauty is separate and yet strung together hanging in the breeze for all to see.
Many of my colleagues in the spectrum disordered world have strong deep passions and life long obsessions. My obsession, if I have one, is with the new. I can’t bear to bored or stuck in a routine though ironically I create them. I hem myself in, experience a moment or two of safe, comfortable acceptance before I feel it. That irritating itch as if I am allergic to my own contentment.
I don’t have dreams. My life is lived in stark reality. I’m on my own and I have created the Asperger Path and this, this chaos, this is my life.