This story begins with a man and a woman, not in that sense!
The setting is a hostel common room, the large space had a feeling of a giant living room of yester years. The 1970’s wallpaper and the psychedelic carpet the only saving grace was the open fire that was peculiarly placed in the middle of the rectangular room.
His name was Agustin, from Argentina, he was 28 years old. I had sat down for breakfast on this particular morning, hoping for no social interaction before my morning coffee, Agustin however had a different idea.
Agustin wandered over and asked if the seat opposite me was taken knowing perfectly well that the seat was empty. In a room full of empty seats he had chosen my table to sit at so I pulled my unsociable head out of my ass and invited him to take a seat.
Agustin and I faced each other, although we were sharing a dormitory we had exchanged very few words.
I asked him about home and how long he had been on the road, he told me that he had only been in New Zealand for one month and that he was the eldest of three children (one boy two girls).
One the surface you’d be forgiven for thinking that Agustin and I had nothing in common other than our love for travel but you would be very wrong.
Firstly Agustin asked me about the English’s obsession with tea, I explained that it is not the actual substance of tea that is important but what tea stands for, the invitation of having a simple “cuppa” or “brew” can be interpreted as a request for ones company or in other words “I’ve missed you” “ I really need to talk” “it’s been ages since we’ve talked” “I just want you to know that I care” “I love you” and so on. Like life, it is not what is said but what is not said that tea signifies. Agustin responded by nodding he tells me that Mate (a South American caffeinated hot drink) also has the same meaning but he articulated it beautifully by saying it is not about the Mate, it is about who you drink the Mate with. To his delight I said “I could not of explained it better myself and my only language is English”.
He gets onto a more serious subject, why was I on the road? I explained that I was feeling lost about the choices I had made and that things had not turned out as I expected. I confessed that my first mistake was to expect anything, Agustin shrugged his shoulders and told me “expectations is normal Amy but yes it hurts when it goes wrong.” I open up saying that I was upset with my career choices, his response was ‘do you enjoy it?” “No” I said. Agustin acknowledges with a soft knowing glance.
I go further by explaining that it has taken me six months to finally be able to say out loud that I was unhappy, that I had spent twelve years in the health industry, thinking that because I am a kind and caring person I should go into this profession when actually it brings me no sense of wellbeing, happiness or lifestyle. I quickly injected into the conversation that I was good at my job, I enjoyed the people part of my work just not everything else, Agustin raises his hand to stop me, to stop me justifying my statement as if to say “it’s okay to be truthful, there’s no judgement here.” To my relief I could see that he was just listening not judging.
Agustin looked at me and said “Amy I envy you, you can say it out loud, I went to university for five years and during my third year I hated my studies but I thought it was just the third year. I started out wanting to be a mechanical engineer like my father and his brothers, my family have a business and I thought I should do this but now I am a mechanical engineer, I.” Agustin pauses, his shoulders hunched up almost to his ears, I do what I can to help by asking, “Do you like it?” He was looking down at his breakfast, lost in thought, “No Amy I don’t, I hate it, I should never have followed in my father’s footsteps, I thought I was doing the right thing but I was doing it because I didn’t know what else to do so I just followed what most men in my family have done. Now I am unsure on how to go forward, I don’t know where to start, for me this is the first time I have said this out loud, for me this is a very important conversation to have, other than a few friends no one else knows that this is how I feel.”
As Agustin said this statement I could see the tension leave him, his shoulders softened, like a big sigh of relief washed over him, he told me about his love of cooking and how he has family in Italy that he would like to visit, he said that he has no concept of time, like a true Latino he is always running late.
Before I knew it, it was lunchtime and Agustin offered to share his lunch with me (I had previously planned to go out for lunch but that was before I had a breakfast partner). I agreed on the pretense that I would do the washing up, explaining to Agustin that it was a rule in my house (Mum’s rule) that whoever cooks should not do the washing up.
Agustin smiles and says “we have the same rule in my house, I think it must be a mum thing.”
I looked at Agustin and I realised that in this moment in time we are equals. There are seven billion people on the planet and we have somehow managed to find ourselves in the same country, in the same hostel, at the same time, both of us navigating the uncertain seas of what to do next. I was the inexperienced sailor and Agustin the unknown coastline, providing me with reassurance that I am not alone and most importantly that it is okay not to know what to do next.
I suppose the moral of this story is a problem shared is a problem halved, it can be lonely trapped in your own head, thinking that this is YOUR problem and as it turned out with Agustin if you share your thoughts, you feel less lonely because someone else knows exactly where you are coming from.