My young travellers

My daughter and her boyfriend are leaving for Scandinavia tomorrow. They are typical of their generation in that they love travel and adventure. The more the better is their motto.  They have scrimped and saved for a year, booking Airbnbs months in advance and paying for smaller flights as they earned their money. As seasoned travellers, they are well-organised and have a knack for finding stunning places off the tourist track. Each of their days is accounted for, but they have left enough time to be immersed in nature wherever they go.

There are certainly similarities with how I used to travel in my twenties: bags packed at the last minute, doing things on the cheap, not worrying about getting sick or having an accident on the way. I comfort myself with the knowledge that they have mobile phones and that bank transfers are almost instantaneous. Today I gave them a last-minute present; four Apple Airtags in case their luggage gets lost. These are all advantages I could never have even dreamt of in the 1980s.

I was much less adventuresome than my two jetsetters. But then, I mostly travelled on my own. On my trips I tended to visit relatives, retraced places where I had lived as a child and met up with university friends who were on similar missions. I have mostly travelled to the same five countries time and again, apart from the occasional side trip to uncharted territories. What always drew me to a place were the people I knew there. I slept on friend’s futons on the floor and enjoyed their hospitality which I returned when they visited Australia. This pattern continued for five or six years. I still stay in touch with a handful of these friends and enjoy visiting them, whenever I can manage.

My daughter has gathered friends around the globe too. Like me, she is good at keeping in touch with them. Her friends are more mobile, but it has become much easier to connect with each other. In my twenties, I was sending weekly handwritten Aerograms and had to wait a week or longer for a reply. My happiest days were when a letter or two awaited me in the letterbox. I have kept most of these correspondences and they have become treasured mementos of the past. Technology sure has speeded up communication, but I miss the handwritten letters in the mail.

The young travellers have now departed to begin the first leg of their journey. I am left with my studio filled with their belongings and a much-loved dog to look after. I will miss the long evenings playing board games, the smell of new recipes emanating from the kitchen and the quick-witted repartee between us. Yes, I will miss them, but I am also grateful that they have this opportunity to travel.

Bon voyage and a safe return!

The graduation

My university days were spent walking from lecture halls to tutorials in the offices of academics, filled with chairs and beanbags, where small groups of students discussed ideas. We were challenged to think critically, pushed to do our best and always walked away with more questions to ponder.

I look back at these halcyon days and wonder what memories my daughter will have of her university life which, in part, was spent in a pandemic. She was lucky enough to have the first few years on campus before lockdowns entered our vocabulary. This gave her the freedom to explore subjects and courses before she found her true calling. She met students and lecturers, followed her heart, and eventually completed two degrees before embarking on her Honours year. Since Covid, however, she has had to attend lectures and tutorials on Zoom and has missed the face-to-face contact with her supervisor as well her fellow students.

I can’t imagine what that would be like for students who are just starting out at university and who have never known anything else but online learning. I do wonder whether there is a higher dropout rate since those social connections have been lost.

To her credit, my daughter persevered. She likes to finish what she has started, and I am amazed at her determination. Times have been tough, but she kept showing up and completing each assignment, even when she thought she had nothing left to give of herself.

Then there was the letdown. There have been no graduation ceremonies for the past two years, so instead of the Chancellor of the University, it was the postie who handed her the first two degrees. This year, finally, she could have her Honours Degree conferred at a graduation ceremony. It was done with all the medieval pomp and ceremony but with modern touches which included facemasks for all. Academics and graduands alike wore their regalia, including gowns, mortar boards or Tudor bonnets with hoods in the colours of their faculty. I loved watching the new graduates walk up in their academic dress, some with high heeled sparkling shoes, some in Doc Martens, while others wore their sneakers under the age-old attire. Then, as they tipped their hats, purple or pink hair made its appearance to reveal fashionable 21st century students under the ancient dress code. It made me smile to see them express their untamed individuality within the constraints of this formal occasion.

Then it was my daughter’s turn. I was so proud of her accomplishments as she made her way across the stage wearing her stepfather’s RM boots while thinking of her father whose heart would have swelled with pride. Sitting next to her boyfriend, my own heart felt ready to burst as we clapped enthusiastically the moment her name was called, and her achievements were listed.

She has done well. She has done very well. And so, I pray that the two wonderful men who graced our lives far too briefly, continue to guide, and nurture her along the way. As for me, I hope she stays true to herself and never stops listening to that wild call of her heart.

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