I am a brother. It is something that does not take up much time, yet my brother is often in my thoughts. As children, our age shaped the roles we were given and seems to have shaped the men we have become.
He is older than me, and when I was young, he seemed so grown up. I looked to him for guidance and advice. Our home situation was somewhat less than conventional, so an unfair burden was placed on him that I never carried. He was expected to take care of me whereas I was just expected to be younger. He shouldered responsibility at an early age while I skipped through life, almost oblivious to the world around me.
My brother is fifty five years old now, and he has taken care of his wife and their sons. His family has grown up in a safe and loving environment that did not mirror our childhood existence. A stable home, where promises were kept and boundaries were maintained, has produced two happy confident young men. They have a home which is solid, built on love, respect and hard work.
I don't have a home and I have never really settled. I roam about the world, restlessly seeking things I'll probably never find. I would like to know how it feels to share my home and my life with someone. I am fifty and have never lived with a partner. I can only imagine the joys and woes of parenthood and have resigned myself to my solitary life. I have shirked life's responsibilities and I am still skipping. I never have everything I need and yet, thanks to the kindness of people around me, my scrapes are survived. I am still that boy who never has a clean tissue and always has untied laces.
On one level I have always wanted to be like my brother, but I am not. I am the younger son, and I was only ever expected to need looking after. He grew up to be a caretaker and I, perhaps not yet grown up, still take care when it is offered
A year ago, with the ink still drying on my autism diagnosis, I waved goodbye to the ugly face of blatant, corporate discrimination. Someone had decided I didn't fit and my professional life became a living hell. I was good at my job and wanted to continue there. I was assured that obtaining this diagnosis would ease the situation and protect me. It did not. After fighting and losing the battle to keep my job, I gave up. I gave up the round hole life I had been living.
I am no stranger to starting again. I have had to do it before. I was once a teacher, possibly a good one. However, I battled homophobia every day in the classrooms and the corridors of London. After a few incidents outside of school too, I decided I couldn't take any more. I lost that fight but preserved my sanity. Years before that, I lost my job in a local authority up north. My boss decided I didn't fit in. She made it clear that she could find no fault with my work. It was me that was a problem. I was a square peg.
I may lose jobs but I am not a loser. Life can be unkind because I am a gay man with cerebral palsy and Asperger's Syndrome. However hidden beneath the labels and the isms, I am just another human being. I may not fit in but that is because I no longer choose to. I am a lover of life and a seeker of happiness. I am a pacifist but will go bare knuckle to fight my corner.
That life I love is now the Asperger Path. Since I set off a year ago I have seen and done things I never thought I'd do. I am travelling very slowly and stopping to look at life along the way. I am exploring whatever I choose. Writing is one way I explore the world. It has become very important to me and I make time to write every day. My thoughts and my poetry will never change the universe, but they are changing my perception of the world and my place in it. It's my way of squaring the circle.
In Britain I was expected to be so much more than just a teacher. A social worker, counsellor, parent, friend, mentor, big brother and psychologist. A multitasking miracle worker who would whizz into a room and create a positive learning environment from whatever I found. With Pavlovian conditioning, I could change tack with every tolling bell, ploughing through a long day where breaks and lunch evaporated and needs were met, anticipated and dealt with. The gifted were stretched, the less motivated were encouraged and the hungry were fed. Sometimes even clean clothing was appropriated. I made a difference. London’s schools were challenging and dynamic, and not for the fainthearted.
Cambodia is no place for the fainthearted either. Grinding poverty, years of internal corruption, and searing heat bring their own challenges. However, like many foreigners work in elite, private settings with students who are relatively wealthy. The library has precious few books and the school feels under resourced but the parents all have big four wheel drive cars.
I set a task and my class of students do it. I have never taught students like this before. They are respectful and engaged, no matter what. Are we doing something creative and engaging right now. Not particularly. In fact, we are doing peer and self assessment of paragraph writing with a final draft to be produced by the end of the lesson. Deathly dull if you ask me, and I am theoretically a writer.
In addition to having no real classroom management issues, I am not expected to analyse or deep dive data. I do not produce reports or graphs highlighting student underachievement nor am I expected to contact parents and build home school relationships.
I come to class. I teach. I assess. I grade papers. I give feedback. However, this generation will be pivotal in the the changes that are need to happen in this country so I might be just a teacher but, like all teachers, I can still make a difference.
Blimey I nearly fell off the edge! The Asperger Path has been winding a route through some perilous peaks and spectacularly rugged ravines in the last month or two. Here I am on the other side. I am battered and bruised in places but, like any good traveller’s luggage, each scrape is a tale to add to my unfolding history.
I have been in Cambodia for about six months. I have made mistakes and compounded them by applying bad strategies. I have taken the wrong job in the wrong city and then the wrong job in the right city. I have been thrust into some rather awkward positions to expedite my extrication.
So here I am. Sweltering under the sun in Battambang. Currently I am working seven days a week but finally it’s the right job in the right city. The seven day weeks are just a blip. It is only for three weeks but I am looking forward to that day when I wake up and realise that I am not teaching. The workload, like the heat, will not be fatal. I have picked and chosen carefully and longer term life is looking rosy as I settle into undergraduate teaching.
The heat will not last forever. The rains will come and that is the next hurdle I face but my year here is already half over. My big reward will come when the rains subside. I will travel across this amazing country in the cooler months of winter. Then, as my visa nears expiry, I will choose a new country to explore.
Like Cambodia, the next country will no doubt be full of stops and starts as I awkwardly try to fit myself in to my new surroundings. I may be bruised and battered but my, what a path I am travelling down.
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.
The post started by asking when respect had disappeared. There has been an long exchange on the Siem Reap expats page of Facebook. An American has ranted about the noise of loudspeaker outside his room and the lack of respect in modern Khmer culture. I should have sympathy for him as not so long ago I was the victim of a Cambodian wedding’s speaker volume. However the exchange has brought much darker issues to the surface.
There is a man, a Swedish man, who is blaming the Cambodian people for the Khmer Rouge. He is coming to the defence of his American friend. Now I am not known for my pro USA leanings but I try not to blame any stray Americans who cross my path for the startling catalogue of dubious activity which that bastion of democracy has achieved. A people and their governments or regimes are not the same thing. Cambodia is not a perfect country and it has had a terrible recent history that will take years to recover from. I am lucky to be here and work as a teacher. I hope that the lives of the Cambodians I have met will continue to improve. Poverty and corruption are easy to find but so are happiness and laughter. Living abroad is a great gift and one that, when done through choice, is a gift that only the relatively privileged can afford.
Complaining about being disturbed by weddings, muttering about respect, and then randomly moving on to not wanting to be forced to get a work permit doesn’t sound like racism, that sounds like a petulant toddler who can’t have things just so. However hese two friends have shown, through their comments, that they regard themselves as intrinsically better than their hosts. Now, I don’t know what you think, but that does sound like rascism. These two men might be great people. I’ve never met them so I can this Facebook debacle is all I know of them and it has not parented them in a favourable light.
Living in a different culture is always a challenge. It brings both amazing rewards and unexpected problems. Being on the Asperger Path I know a lot about frustration and how cultural differences can put you off kilter. Dear reader, if I am ever racist or xenophobic while I write this travel blog please let me know. I hope that am respectful even in my most difficult moments.