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.
You have to love Diana Ross. Well, I guess you don’t have to but I do. She was with me at breakfast this morning and asked if I knew where I was going to. Hell no as Oprah Winfrey replied in the film version of The Color Purple. Luckily, not being black or southern, I did not receive a beating for my strident response. Diana just went on, almost as if she hadn’t heard, to ask if I liked the things that life is showing me. This time my answer was a life affirmating smile that wasn’t covered by hand but shared with the morning muesli.
I am starting to believe that life is a gift. Like all the other gifts and talents I possess, it benefits from a bit of practice and honing. I am just past fifty and feeling fabulous. I have created a life that, right now, plays a rather gentle hand. My skill sets and strengths have been carefully balanced with my, let’s call them, eccentricities, and life is being lived in a contented manner. I have a home far from home and I have found friends far from friends. There have been a few hairy moments over the years but my diploma from the school of hard knocks looks dusty in the bright sunshine of easy street.
Diana might be worried about my lack of destination but this life is easing on down the road. On my slow journey away from Oz I seem to have found myself a rather comfortable window seat. My name is not Dorothy and I will not surrender. I am somewhere, over my rainbow, living my spectrum disordered life one day at time.
Do I like the things that life is showing me? Hell, yes Diana! Hell yes.
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.
A streetcar named desire stopped in my town the other day. A stranger disembarked and before he got back on he got and the bell clanged to signal his departure he declared that I looked comfortable in my own skin. Such a lovely compliment, thrown as he sped away to elsewhere.
We had spent such a short time together but looking back, the conversation was deep and the humour dry and sparkling like a good champagne. Certainly I had felt easy in the to and fro of the friendly conversational joust in which neither of us were tilted from our seats. We were well matched.
I’ve never depended on the kindness of strangers but when you’re travelling alone a stranger’s takes can light up dark unknown skies. I thrive on meeting new people. The relationships are superficial even if the conversations are deep and the torturously subtle complexities and conventions of long term relationships are hazards that need not be traversed.
As I travel alone on the Asperger Path, I realise that my life has acquired an openness and sense of freedom that it had often lacked. I have neither the time nor the ability to set up bizarre rules and restrictions. My life, so often run around a set of self constructed, constrictive mantras, is now open to the four winds and whoever they blow my way.
I have made some unusual choices and I’m sure the odd eyebrow is raised in my honour. However I took the road less travelled so I grateful when the streetcar drops off a stranger and he walks a block or two with me. I don’t depend on their kindness but it is most welcome.
I met a man the other day who blew away the cobwebs that had gathered in forgotten corners of my mind. Through his conversation he gently reminded me of lost passions and interests that have lain, unvoiced, in the hinterland of my consciousness. He was travelling at light speed through South East Asia. However this cosmic hare paused for breath before zipping past me, the earth-bound sluggish tortoise.
We talked of things from home mostly. A trip back to the familiar which was less memory lane than a base touch with my own culture. The politics of the left and the left out was discussed over one too many beers and the world unable to righted was dispaired over. We shifted our focus to love and relationships and discovered much in common. We both believed in the openness and flexibility of love. Seemingly polar opposites, the more we discussed the broader out common ground became.
When he left I knew that I would never see him again. I wish he were a tortoise because I could have travelled and talked with him forever. How easy life would be but I don’t fall in love with tortoises. I fall in love with hares and so I wake up with spiders rebuilding their homes in forgotten corners.
I would be the first to admit I’m not the most flexible person. I like a bit of routine, structure and order. However friends who know me well, also know that I balance that, albeit precariously, with little random moments of spontaneity. So Cambodia can be quite a challenge for a man like me. Nothing works the way I would expect here. So when I apply my unique logic to the problem, solutions evaporate and frustration ensues. My life is seemingly lived on shifting sands. Everyday brings new challenges. Each challenge I survive teaches me more about myself and some of what I am learning isn’t pretty. I’m learning, slowly and painfully that problems can’t always be solved to my satisfaction. I’m learning that corruption is part of the way things work. I’m learning that smiles are part of life even when the chips are down. Are these small lessons that should have been learnt long ago? Perhaps but I’m a life long learner and a life long liver so I’m persevering. And when I see the problems others face here it’s good to remember all the amazing things I have. I am not rich but I have never seen such poverty. I have an education I can put to good use here. So perhaps I need to shrug my shoulders more. Perhaps I need to let things go a little more. Cambodia, I can teach your children but can I learn to live here. I guess there’s only one way to find out.