New Endings

Today I am tired: dog-tired. Lately I’ve been burning the candle at both ends and the outcome is not pretty – bad skin, concentration span of a gnat (not intimately knowing their cognitive capabilities, I acknowledge this may be unfair to gnats) and the general feeling that I am clinging to my raft on the fast-flowing river of life by the tips of my fingers, with only moments to spare before I fall off and am pulled beneath the murky depths (that last bit was the hungover melodrama speaking, best to ignore it).

But today four things happened that snapped me out of the downward-spiralling torrrent of my own selfish emotions:

  1. I read the news from Calais, where fire is ravaging through the Jungle camp as I type this, and, at the very same time, unaccompanied minors are being sent back there to wait until they can be processed.
  2. I heard a piece of  news from England, which nearly made my heart burst with happiness and joy.
  3. I received my fourth book through the Facebook book exchange I signed up to a couple of weeks ago, which has gone some way towards restoring my faith in humanity.
  4. I watched this video by Prince Ea, which made me realise that those of us who are lucky enough to live in relative freedom are the masters of our own destiny. We can make as many excuses as we like for why we don’t put ourselves out there, but in the end all that will come of our procrastination is regret.

Too often we let our minds wander, thinking of all the paths we could go down but failing to take even the first step along one of them. Fear is a paralysing force, and a toxic one. So many of us stay in the trap our fearful minds have set for us, instead of facing our fear head on and saying, you know what? I’m not falling for this. Not again.

Collectively, as Sapiens (I urge you to read that, by the way, it will change your perspective on everything), we’re not doing that great a job of things: segregating ourselves by our countries of origin and religious beliefs, killing our planet, killing one another. But individually we can still make a difference. For all our faults, we humans have such capacity for kindness, for love, for hope. Even in the Jungle, where those awful fires are burning and people’s future is so uncertain, people are dancing. I’m sure those very people could teach the rest of us a lot about what it means to be happy, and how little we really need to find happiness, and peace in our hearts.

As Prince Ea says in his video, you cannot go back and make a new beginning. But you can start now, and make a brand new ending. It’s not too late to change ourselves, or to change the world. All it takes is courage: to feel our fear and do it anyway. I don’t know about you, but I plan to do exactly that.

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Jungle Nightmares

I’m been watching (for my sins) the first episode of the new series of I’m a Celebrity on ITV, and it’s reminding me of the first night I spent in the Borneo jungle in 2011. Whilst I (fortunately) wasn’t required to lie in a Perspex box full of scorpions or spiders on that particular trip, I did have a terrifying experience that will stay with me forever.

Picture the scene: It’s getting late in the day when a group of weary trekkers decide to pitch camp for the night. The location – on the side of a steep hill dense with undergrowth – is far from ideal, but as the light is fading fast there’s little choice. The group divides into smaller sub-groups who scout out viable locations to put up their hammocks. Some are more capable than others, and it quickly becomes clear the weaker members of the group require assistance from the stronger ones (well, one of the stronger ones and their much weaker tag-along love interest – it should probably be noted at this point the latter two are also members of the volunteer staff team).

With due care and diligence the hammocks are erected – all but the final two staff members’. By this point darkness has fallen and all the reasonable locations have been exhausted. After much searching the strong staff member helps the weaker one to put up her hammock, several metres away from the rest of the group in a secluded spot. Once up the girl refuses to test the hammock, confident it will provide adequate comfort for the night ahead. They re-join the group for dinner.

Sometime later the girl returns to her secluded hammock and prepares for bed. She brushes her teeth and changes into her pyjamas. As she pulls back the cover and jumps up into the hammock, however, she clearly sees a pair of eyes illuminated in the light of her head torch. Panicking, she turns the light off and rolls into the hammock, hastily lowering the flap. It is at this point she becomes acutely aware that her hammock is anything but level, and the realisation she will spend the remainder of the night clinging precariously to its side hits home.

At some point and by some miracle, she sleeps and does not fall out of the hammock. When she awakes, however, it is not morning but the middle of the night, and the reason for her having woken becomes clear – something is prowling around beneath the hammock, cracking twigs and stepping on leaves as it goes. The girl is terrified but stays silent, and eventually the noise begins to fade.

At length she sleeps again, but is this time woken by another noise, closer this time, like someone breathing. She lifts the flap of her hammock to find another female staff member’s face directly beside hers, staring without seeing, like a zombie. The girl stifles a scream and retreats into her shelter, offering up a prayer to keep her safe from the hell she has unwittingly entered.

It is not until she wakes in the daylight that she realises the second horror was a nightmare. The first, however, was very much real.

With hindsight a Perspex box of scorpions might have been more pleasant…