This time last year I decided to celebrate my 25th birthday with a job interview. It was for a promotion within my team, which I felt obliged rather than inclined to apply for and, rather unexpectedly, I got the job.
A year later I’m sitting in the persistent heat of Port-Au-Prince in the relatively temperate shade of a hammock-slung tree, discussing social media strategy with the director of a local orphanage.
Although it took a number of punishing life events for this change to come about, I feel the benefits of that change pertinently, not only in place, but in entire philosophy.
There’s something so powerfully brainwashing about the English school system, mirrored I’m sure by many education systems around the world. There was such a strong focus in my school on securing a prodigious place at university. This ladder was presented to us from a young age, each wrung a new set of qualifications, from GCSEs onwards, all with the ultimate goal of a rewarding life-long career.
But it’s only as I reach my 26th year that I’ve begun to question this ladder and the imagined future my school teachers laid out so effectively before me. Perhaps life isn’t about struggling up the hierarchy of a nine to five lifestyle, where tax increments and student loan repayments make salary increases largely negligible. Where managers have been promoted above their specialities and with no basic people skills end up being ineffective and highly miserable. Where you feel compelled to apply for a promotion within your team because it feels like the best next career move.
But maybe it’s okay to not be quite in the right place, or on the right path, or not know what on earth you’re doing.
I’m not saying I’m not grateful for the opportunity, and I was happy in the ten or so months I spent in the role. But moving forward, I’m going to have a very different approach to job offers. Whilst I want to spend some time in full-time employment and dedicating my skills to great charities in the UK, I also want time to myself: to explore, to learn new cultures, to revaluate – to breathe. What I never want to face again is the stagnation of staying in one place for too long.
Volunteering with Global Giving has been an incredible experience and although my months of travelling are only just beginning, I’m happy for the opportunity of these as well. All of these experiences and states of being seem necessary to me, from facing the daily commute in a settled London lifestyle to catching a ‘tap tap’ – Haiti’s very informal public transport system – for the first time.
This is how we end up travelling to my impromptu birthday celebration at a restaurant in Port-Au-Prince, piling into the back of an open-backed truck with a dozen or so others. The first truck is no match for the steep hills of the city’s rocky streets and it splutters and stalls pointlessly until we abandon it for another tap tap. The trucks, which drive around and collect people from the side of the road with no obvious system, get their names from how passengers signal when they want to disembark: by tapping loudly on the roof or sides.
True to Haiti’s idea of time, we wait a full hour and a half for food at the restaurant. Carlo, who’s the brains behind this excursion, rolls his eyes and looks at his friend. “This is Haiti,” they say, their stock response to the many frustrations of their country, and a catchphrase Elliott I quickly adopt and use at every appropriate opportunity for the rest of our stay.
It all finishes with a Haitian delicacy, a cake made of sweet potatoes which tastes rather like bread and butter pudding. I end up eating two of these as substitute for birthday cake before we speed home, thankfully in a car, and with Creole rap as our backing music.
Other highlights of the day included one jar of peanut butter and one large bar of dairy milk, courtesy of Elliott, who has finally got me figured out. I have also been carrying a card from Adam all this time, which I’m finally allowed to open. It explodes with silver confetti as I open it. I also hear reports that he’s gone to some lengths trying to deliver flowers to the Communitaire, including contacting some of its staff members. I’m extremely touched, but I have to remind him of the kind of place Haiti is, which he doesn’t seem to have fully understood. Flower vendors are in short supply.
Two years, two unorthodox birthdays, one complete change of lifestyle. I’m looking forward to an even more unconventional 27th.
I understand the jar of Peanut Butter as a birthday gift. I live in Viet Nam and there are some things that you just can’t get.
I asked for and received a can of baked beans for my birthday. I rode a half hour to the only German Bakery in Sai Gon, bought sourdough bread and took it all to my friend’s house (because they have a grill). I ate all of it in one sitting and I almost wept with happiness.
Yes! Exactly, I know the feeling. It’s all about peanut butter and good chocolate at the moment. I even asked my friend to bring some Earl Grey tea bags out when she came to visit me – very hard to find in Central America. Funny, the things you miss!