On the plane I felt like an alien among the English. It was a shock to hear and understand every word of background voices (a loud group of beer-bellied men returning from some king of ‘bonding’ trip?) and I felt desperate to keep speaking castellano. Thank God the man sitting next to me was Argentine. The coffee was dishwater, and I tipped it down the toilet. I took a sleeping tablet and England arrived faster than I wanted it to: the trees have no leaves; I’m frozen solid; everyone I’ve seen looks winter white.
I feel like I am playing a video game: I drove a car for the first time in a year; I had to ask how the shower worked in my own apartment; I went into a chemist in a little market town near Southampton and asked for ‘the cheapest hair conditioner you’ve got’; I kept saying ‘Hola’ to people; I wanted to watch all the BBC channels and listen to the programme announcer again and again; I was like a child in Tesco Express… ‘Oh wow they have THOSE, and those, and THOSE!’. A few things are fun, fresh, engaging but I am mixed up, confused, a stranger in my own home. People say, ‘Oh you must have jet lag.’ But there is no jet lag. Argentina is only two hours behind the UK at the moment, but if is ‘oh too far’ away from me. And for now, so is my Argentine.
Yesterday I went to London. I drove. I always tell people in Argentina that I live, ‘una hora de Londres’. It took me three hours to drive there. The traffic was horrendous. I had forgotten what the M3 could be like: stop start for 30 miles. However London was a pleasant surprise: congestion charges mean that the roads in the city seemed quiet; the streets I walked, looked clean and pretty in the thin spring sunshine; the English architecture raised a little pride in my British heart. I was there to visit the Argentine Embassy to research my visa application. I found out that it will be more work than I thought: of course I can’t just hand over photocopies of vital documents, they want the originals or certified copies and they keep them… so certified copies I will have to get. It’s easy with the birth certificate, you can do it online. The divorce is trickier. I’ll phone the court today. Carlos has been left with the task of getting all the translations done. I got the required photos taken yesterday too, at Kodak Express in Camden High Street: 4cm by 4cm, 3/4 right profile on a light blue background! So slowly I am making progress.
I am now into my 5th day in England, and I am just starting to feel a little more connected. At first I honestly could have been on Mars, everything felt so strange. And the only people I wanted to talk to were people who have been to Argentina, who might really understand me. Even going to tango was an unfamiliar experience: much of the music was radically different to what I am used to (Pensalo bien was a joy to my ears); leg wraps and volcadas rule on the dance floor; I kept breaking away after each tango ready to chat for 30 seconds… no one does that here.
Last night I talked to Carlos and he told me that he is with me every second, and that I must make the most of every day: who knows when I will be back. He is right. There is no time to stay disconnected, to miss Argentina. For now I am here. I must celebrate England while I can, focus to get my life here in order, and enjoy the English while I have the chance. However I must be kind to myself too: it is a culture shock; it’s not a vacation because of all the chores I have to complete; things are much the same here, but I am different, and there are unexpected emotions to deal with. So, I will take my time. I will do what I feel is right for me. I will eat and try to put on some weight. I will get enough sleep. I will trust that everything is exactly as it is meant to be. After all I was terrified at one point that I would love England too much. At least at the moment my heart is telling me that actually, long term, Argentina is the right place for me to be. And to be honest, that is a huge relief.
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