Safe arrivals

Cancer knocks your confidence in some very foundational way. Everyone’s journey with it is different and yet I’ve read that doctors and nurses report this phenomenon regularly.

I had breast cancer a few years ago and went through chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy with it. I’m now 3 and a half years clear of it thank goodness. Having cancer knocked my confidence in ways that I’m only just beginning to uncover, in the challenges of travelling that have been bigger challenges now than they would have been before.

I’ve been so exhausted for so long that my ability to plan (never very great anyway- no actually it was pretty good, I just found it exhausting always) has taken further knocks, and has made me reluctant to engage in any work or other life experience that would involve a need to plan much. In travelling, I’ve had to face both my weakness and lack of confidence in planning and to find the residual skill I do have and put it to work again and again and again. When I’ve been exhausted with it, I’ve had to still do it again. And as I’ve done it, I’ve been able to look back on the planning I just did and celebrate it for the way it paid off. This has been enormously confidence building.

I’ve also had to sleep on the same room as many men; those who I’ve never met before, those whose names I don’t know and whose language I don’t speak, and some who speak my language and whose names I have learnt. For me this is entirely new. And sounds dodgy but isn’t at all. There’s no idea on the night train that women might only feel safe sleeping in the same car as other women. Everyone is jumbled up together. I wonder whether there are many women travelling on their own in this way. Hard to tell as I’m in a compartment with only four beds but so far the only woman I have seen is a mum with daughter and her dad. And the beds have pretty much all been occupied most of the way I think.

Shortly after writing the above I just put my glasses on and turned round to inspect my fellow car occupants and found the guy on the opposite bunk leaning out of it quite a way, looking straight at me! I turned away, with my face to the wall again, and recalled historian Mary Beard’s account of her terrible experience of being raped on a night train, which I just read at the end of her little explosive book (a must read) Women and Power. In the dawning realisation that I was alone with this guy in the carriage, I reflected that it’d be pretty impossible for him to get across to my side (the benefit of having a hugely inaccessible upper bunk) and if he did I’d kick him to kingdom come, so on balance I’d be fine. In the middle of formulating these defence plans, the train stopped and two women and a baby girl arrived like a quiet trio of angels to the bunks downstairs. I greeted them and they apologised to me for putting the light on. In the grace of God, I hadn’t actually realised the other 2 guys had left, though I thought I heard one leave.

In the morning, after we’d all freshened up, I got chatting to the younger woman whose baby it was, checking what the next station would be. She confirmed it was Da Nang and said she and her mum were taking the little one all the way to Da Nang for the baby’s immunisation injections. I asked if they would stay over in Da Nang or whether they had to come straight back. She said they would come straight back. I guess they must have got on the train around 4 hours before we got to Da Nang. I said “That’s a long journey”, and was silently thankful they were getting off the same time as me! Of course when we arrived there were huge signs saying “Ga Da Nang” and the guard in our carriage came to our compartment to tell us all we had arrived. I guess he knew we were all due to get off there so I needn’t have worried.

Here’s my tiny and also immaculately turned out hostess Dzung, from my next homestay. Who did indeed pick me up from the station and drive me to the homestay on her motorbike. Oh my. That was a half an hour I’ll not forget easily!

She is a very good driver though, and didn’t honk her horn once. But she is also very petite. How do these Asian women manage to always look so immaculate even during and after driving through crazy traffic on motorbikes or walking up hundreds of steps?? I may never know.

Dzung had my room ready and waiting for me, so I had a shower and collapsed gratefully into bed for an hour’s kip before heading out on a PEDAL BIKE to explore. No more motorbikes for me!

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