It’s done. I’m in England. Brighton to be exact. Having climbed on a plane to Dubai and then Heathrow, the ever-suffering, ever-loving Neil collected me at the arrivals gate. Sort of. I had jumped on this plane with no real thought about what would happen when I got to London other than ‘Neil will fetch me’. So, when I got out the gate I thought to myself ‘Oh God. What if there’s been some freak accident and he isn’t there.’ I stood and waited for half an hour and when I was about to use the one pound coin my mother hand passed to me at the airport to try call him, I saw his anxious face looking for his lost naïf. I was relieved, to say the least.
I was promptly and unexpectedly presented with a SIM card already loaded with unlimited internet and a bunch of minutes and texts. And an Oyster card. Already loaded with my travel money for the week. I was overwhelmed by his generosity, his thoughtfulness and lack of sleep and tried not to weep at the thought that I had a friend who I could rely on to pick me up and sort my life out for me. And it was only the beginning.
While we caught up with our usual torrent of news he bought me yoghurt and coffee, something that rather unusually brought almost-tears to my tired eyes. Feelings abound. And when I tried to pay him back he started explaining about the ex-pat pay it forward culture. I didn’t take it too seriously until my repeated offers to pay my way were refused by Neil, Cara, Matt and a host of others. I was tour guided through London and bought drinks, bus tickets, lunch, breakfast, deposits on accommodation. I was given a job in the bar that Neil (and at some point Matt) worked at, in exchange for my own cleanly bedded, warm and comfortable room upstairs. I was invited to gatherings of friends of friends. I woke up and someone would tell me what was in store for me for the day. And all of them explained that they were doing for me what others had done for them when they were fresh off the boat. I’ve never come across anything like it and I wouldn’t have survived the transition without them. Certainly, this was not the trauma of moving abroad that I had expected.
Of course I took Neil out for breakfast and drinks. Brought him home pastries and chocolate when he was working at the bar. Gave him his two bags of Ricoffee stashed in my luggage. But nothing equivalent to what he had done (and continues to do) for me. Eventually, after he saved my soy-bacon upon my recent arrival in Brighton, I promised to name my next cat after him (I would have offered a first born, but it seems unlikely I could ever return the favour in such a manner). The ex-pat community looks after their own. No doubtsie-aboutsie. I just hope that some overwhelmed traveller from my past arrives, so that I can pay it forward to them. Lord knows I owe someone something.
So, to wrap it up (I know ya’ll are getting bored of my gushing Neil-glorification), I have had a mostly lovely first ten days in England thanks to my fellow s’africans. I let other people take care of me and run my life, cared less about my future (something I will post more on soon), and generally just let things happen as they do. It’s been magic.