Thursday, March 03, 2011

My three lives of Guiding: The Nomadic Era [European Edition]

I hardly slept on the flight over to London. I was so excited. My plane was mostly empty and I had an entire row to myself. As in, the left, centre, and middle sections...three possible places to stretch out and sleep. Which I didn't.

When the place began its descent, I scrambled to the window on the left side and watched as the patchwork quilt country side slowly turned into a Metropolis. At the airport, a frazzled volunteer from South Korea, Ah Sook, was waiting for me. She was terrified she'd miss me even though she had a picture of me. She got to my gate over an hour before my place touched down, just so I couldn't squeeze past her.

She guided me down to the underground and we were off. I remember being in awe of my surroundings before the train dropped below ground. We stepped into the bright sunshine at Belsize Park and the first thing I noticed were the red brick buildings.

I don't remember the walk up the hill to Pax Lodge, but I do remember being greeted by all kinds of people. Just minutes after I made it to my room and closed my door to wash my face and unpack a few things, two girls knocked to see if I wanted to go RIGHT AWAY to Camden Town. I said no, but after that, I rarely said no to anything.

I made myself a promise that while I was having my once-in-a-lifetime experience I wouldn't say no to anything unless it was going to hurt me or someone else or was illegal or unethical.

It's a good promise to make. I went out when I probably should have been in bed. I spent a few dollars more than I probably should have to see some wonderful theatre and art. And it was worth it.

pax lodge pub night
I had no idea when I walked into Pax Lodge that July that it would be just shy of three years before I settled down at home again. I was only supposed to be gone for a year.

I liked being a House Assistant (HA). It was hard work, no doubt about it, but it was fun too. I met all kinds of wonderful people. Guests, other HAs, volunteers on the World Board. It was amazing.

HAs worked hard, but they also played hard too. Many nights after a long day in the kitchen or doing housekeeping duties we would head out to the local pub or the Hampstead Heath and have some fun. Or we'd have a party on the balcony (weather permitting) or in the corridor once winter came. Or we'd squish into the Deputy's lounge or sprawl around the conference room and watch movies. Working and living in such close proximity we became quick and fast friends.

Every month we had a change over of staff - anywhere from one to four people. While we always heartily welcomed new staff, we mourned the loss of our friends...a real emotional roller coaster.

I spent a wonderful, exciting, marvellous six months at Pax Lodge. I loved it. I was happy there. Sure, I missed my friends and family, but I was having a blast. When my six months were up, I packed myself off to Denmark to visit TeamHardCore, who was there on Rotary Exchange and then hopped on a train down to Switzerland to hang out with my aunt, uncle, and now two cousins in Switzerland for five weeks.

Because, just before Christmas, I found out I was going to Our Chalet. My dream was coming true!

chalet girls
I was there for three glorious months and met some of the most wonderful people ever. I kept my promise to myself and by the end of my time there, I skied a black run. I was never, ever, ever again going to downhill ski after a disastrous day on the mountain when I was 16, but my promise made me do it. And I loved it.

snow blading
My plane ticket was waiting for me in the Pax Lodge safe and in order to get it back, I had to go back to work there for four weeks. Okay, so not had, but I did go back for four weeks. They were short someone for one of the busiest months of the year, so I was happy to help out.

I boarded a plane on July 4th, returning home to Canada a different person. A person who had been bitten by the World Centre bug.

I went to Guide camp. I became a Guider leader. I got a real job. That paid well. That had benefits. That would become a career. And just before Christmas, I quit. So that at the beginning of January I could jump on a plane back to Pax Lodge for another year. This time in a paid position.

I had another wonderful year. I made so many friends. I did so many things. I travelled to so many places in Europe. I wanted to stay, but visa issues meant I had to go home. But I wasn't ready.

So I packed my stuff. Sadly waved goodbye to Pax Lodge. Got on a plane. Cried all the way home. And three weeks later I got on another plane and zoomed off to Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii for 13 weeks.

On my first day there, I met up with another Canadian who I met at Pax Lodge and two Australian who had been there at different times...they ended up working together on the same Guides Australia Committee!

pax lodge girls meet in sydney
I had a great time roaming across the bottom of Australia, visiting all my marvellous friends from my time away.

in canberra
My wonderful and amazing friend, Virginia, and I travelled up the east coast together and spent three days travelling through the outback to Uluru (Ayres Rock).

I was the maid of honour at a New Zealand wedding. My Pax Lodge friend from New Zealand married a boy scout from London who she met at Our Chalet. There's some Guiding connections for you!

nz wedding
By the time I got home, I was ready to be home. I missed my London life and home. I missed my wonderful friends. But I was ready for what ever was waiting for me next.

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