Full circle

IMGP8610 I’m getting ready to go to England. I cannot believe that when I step onto the plane on 22nd February it will be two weeks short of a year since the day I arrived in Buenos Aires. When I look back, I remember saying goodbye to my family as if it were yesterday: a big lunch in a restaurant in Derby; all of us trying to fight back our tears in the car park as I got into a friend’s car, leaving my little blue Fiat behind; me speeding back south towards my last afternoon of English tango and final goodbyes with friends. Equally I remember vividly my first day in Buenos Aires: the torrential rain; desperately trying to get my laptop to work with the WIFI in the hostel; the pain when I hit my head on the heavy glass door of a mobile phone shop after being told all kinds of incorrect information about the Argentine cellular phone system (mind you I remember how I tried to explain what I wanted with hand gestures and hastily drawn pictures, so it was unlikely that they understood a word of my requests). I remember returning to my tiny single room at the hostel, knowing not a soul in the city and thinking, ‘Oh my God Sal, what the hell have you done?’ I remember the terror of my first tango experiences: my first dances at Confiteria La Ideal; my first wobbly walks up and down in front of Ariel’s mirror; countless men telling me to relax on the dance floor between tangos; my first visit alone to La Glorieta when I took a taxi and it felt like miles because I hadn’t the confidence to use the subway and walk in the dark through Belgrano (one of the city’s most upmarket areas).

After that things become a bit hazy. It’s strange how some events stand out in the mind, and I guess they are the ones packed with emotion of any kind, and yet others run into each other like a gushing river and get lost in the past. I wanted to hold on to every memory, every new experience, but maybe in the end there have just been so many brilliant days that it is impossible for my mind to have taken photographs of every one. Thankfully I had my camera, and I used it. I have my pictures to remind me that the past year has been the greatest in my life so far. And I have my blog entries. What started out as a bit of a diary to let my family and friends know how I was doing, has turned into a wealth of information about Buenos Aires, tango in the city of tango dreams, and a chronicle of what it is really like to try to start a new life alone in a strange land.

Some things have worked out like a dream. In these, the universe has been moving with me, or I have been moving with it: I met  Gabriella my Spanish speaking partner in crime on day 2, and Carlos, my Argentine angel, after only a month; my flat purchase happened fast, with work yes, but really only minor hiccups; I found Ariel by chance and so I have never had to worry about searching for tango teachers; I have had enough money to stay and as time has passed I have made it last longer and longer. In truth all the troubles I have had have been of my own making, and have been fear based. I have seen how I can lose my confidence in the blink of an eye, how I can doubt my own decisions, how I can start thinking about what I miss, instead of enjoying what I have. I can convince myself that the world is coming to an end if I let my mind go there. Why is it so often easier to doubt than to believe?

There is no question that my scariest times have been when I have been ill, physically or mentally. Then I have felt most alone. Yesterday after having a blood test in the Medicus clinic, I passed out in the waiting room: 12 hours without food (as instructed), the heat, not liking blood tests full stop. I came round to see three white coats bending over me, hearing Spanish, and wondering whether I was in heaven or in Argentina… well I guess the truth was both! But I felt very unwell, unsure if I could make it in to a taxi, and I felt a million miles from security. I just wanted my mum to come and carry me to a nice cosy sofa somewhere and feed me McVities digestive biscuits and hot Ribena. But no, this is Argentina and for me there are no mums here, so I did manage to get in a taxi, and crawl into bed. Carlos ‘Nightingale’ appeared bearing food and love, and of course I recovered and lived to write another day.

There have been frustrating times as I have learned that Argentina is of course not England, and I am a foreigner here without long term residency or the precious DNI number: no Argentine bank account; the unsettling need to renew visas, leave the country, hope they let me back in; the delays over Carlos’ passport that meant changes to my plans and inevitably more money; the constantly rising prices that have put an end to all but buying necessities and paying bills; the hours spent queuing usually with a numbered ticket clasped in my hand; trying to speak to computer internet help desks in Spanish (in fact just living life every minute of every day in Spanish); the tiny and yet huge problem of obtaining change for buses, washing machines…

The greatest moments have been countless, but I am going to say that overall I can sum them up in one phrase, ‘el abrazo argentino’: if I put into one space all the Argentines who have helped me and welcomed me into their world, there would be a crowd; the anonymous Argentine tango embrace that feels as if I have known the man for all my life; the love in castellano whispered into my ear, and spoken to me every day by my Argentine lover; the arousing swirl of tango music that engulfs me when I hear it on the subway, drifting through the doors of tango salons, belted out through four bandoneons by Los Reyes del Tango; the warmth and support that I have been shown by the friends that I have met because of Argentine tango: through this blog, in tango shop shops, at Milonga tables; the heat of the Argentine summer sun caressing my body; Argentina.

And at this point I must slip in the latest greatest moment…

…the postman ringing the doorbell at 8.30 in the morning to announce that he had a passport to be signed for. YES! It arrived, after the original departure date, but in good time for Carlos to be sitting on a plane to London on 13th March. He will be joining me on my delayed journey after all. He will see how I used to live first hand. He will take many English women into his Argentine tango embrace. He will meet my family. He will have the chance to try his faltering English on us all. I hope that my country gives him the kind of welcome and warm love that his country has gifted me.

The changes in me since the day I arrived have been huge and I am fascinated to see how I am, who I am, when I return to England. I have mixed feelings about going back. On the one hand I long to see the people again, and live in my little apartment by the sea for a final six weeks. On the other hand I wonder how I will view my past life and my country from the outside looking in. I guess deep down if I am honest, my biggest fear of all is that I will love it all too much and that it will be hard to leave. Once you have things you love in two lands, do you ever feel truly settled in either one or the other? Can you ever really accept totally that you belong in either country? Do you ever truly know which place is your true home? Time will tell.

So I prepare myself. I get documents translated in order to apply for a longer term Argentine visa. I collect together the few things that I must take back. I write a letter for Carlos to show to the immigration officers in case he has any problems and can’t make himself understood. I start to make arrangements to see people I haven’t seen for a year. My family prepare themselves with Spanish CDs, and their biggest hugs. Tango friends email me to ask me when I will be back for a dance: Bramshaw Tango Tangk Milonga, Saturday 23rd February, if my plane lands on time! And hopefully the universe prepares itself to flow with me on my journey, and to help me achieve all the big things I need to get done while I am away. I am feeling ready to return, to face my land, my past life, and to deal with whatever emotions surface. The last weeks have been stormy in many ways, but the water feels calmer now and I am ready to swim into it and I know that I will stay afloat.

When I remarked to a friend the other day that many people I know have been struggling a bit since the new year, she told me that maybe things might shift for us all when the Chinese New Year comes on February 7th. Soon after that conversation, another friend in Buenos Aires sent me some research revealing the fact that British people are at their most miserable in their 44th year! For me perhaps they should have said 43, as the past year has brought so much joy into my life. But on 11th February I will be 45, and so if the research is right then everything should be on my side from then on in! Sometimes little pieces of information like this can throw a bit of positivity and strength into the mix, and I am not one to turn down any kind of helping hand. So I will take every bit of positive thinking on offer, and I will be packing it into my trusty brown and  flowery carry on bag (that came here with me from the UK and that I have used every single day since I set foot on Argentine soil) on February 22nd, and taking it with me to boost my courage as I go back to being a stranger in a familiar but strange land: my country of birth, England.

See pictures of my January 2008 in Argentina

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12 Responses

  1. Can’t wait to see you big sister – England awaits and doesn’t know what is about to hit it!

    Love to you, and Carlos – fantastic news that the passport has arrived and we will be able to meet him xxx

  2. Yay, he got his passport! Allllriiiightttt!!!! 🙂 That’s great news.

    When I read your blog and think of the things you’ve been through and the adventures you are experiencing, and when I think of your Mongolian friend and the Italian love of his life, I take it as a reminder from the Universe that we can do anything and everything we want, and that anything and everything always falls into place in just the right way. When things seem like they won’t work out, it’s funny how they always do isn’t it?

    Looking forward to meeting you!

    Besos

  3. How strange,

    you come back and I leave without being able to greet you in person. I am going back to my country after Southampton has become my home for a number of years. I am ready to start a new chapter of my life and yet I hate having to leave all the good friends and the good things I know here. And yes, I haven’t felt like I truly belong in a long, long time. This feeling is unsettling and sometimes I wish I had never experienced life anywhere else than my doorstep, but what it has given me in return is precious.

    Happy return, happy birthday on the 11th, and enjoy the Tango Tangk!

  4. Oh, Sally, you are leaving the same day I am leaving for BA. Sorry, I will miss you this time. Have a great time with your family in England. We will have another tanda at Ideal in November.

    Hugs from NY

  5. The passport! The passport! I am so excited for both of you!!!

    I want to read this post over and over again. What a whirlwind of love, fate, growth and renewal. Coming full circle in the best, most glorious way.

    You are my hero. I am beside myself just being so happy for you right now.

  6. It is good to hear you are coming home, from home.

    Let’s celebrate the journey as it is often more exhilarating than the destination.

    MilongaCat.

  7. Hey! I am glad about the passports and your positive balance after 1 year in Argentina !!! Have a good time in England and hope to meet you in London !
    Xxx

  8. Hi Sally
    Im still reading your posts even though Im now back in England. Im still rooting for you and hoping it all works out.

    Im booked to do the Tangk weekend in February so hopefully we will also meet on the dance floor (if your dance card isnt already fully taken that is) !

  9. Sally it was so great to meet you the other day. You are one rockin’ babe. 🙂 Hope to see you again soon before you take off to the UK!

  10. Hi Everyone who has commented and wished me luck for my trip to Inglaterra, and celebrated with me the arrival of the PASSPORT!
    Two weeks today I’ll be there. BLOODY HELL!
    Time is racing by now, and I am wondering how I will manage to fit everything in before I leave… but the great thing is that I am coming BACK! That means I don’t have to think… oh this is my last night at… oh this is my last coffee in… oh this is my last ‘Argentine’ tango embrace…
    I have it all to look forward to all over again!
    And now I feel excited about England too.
    The perfect combination.
    Whatever happens, I’ll be taking all your good wishes with me in my heart.
    Thank you.

    SC

  11. Happy Birthday!

  12. Looking forward to seeing you Sal and delighted you’re on the up now. What an incredible year you’ve had! You’ve been and I’ve no doubt will continue to be an inspiration to us and so many others out there.

    Loads of love always,

    Deb x

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