Islamic terror ... Lanta style

Islamic terror ... Lanta style
My neighbour Hutyee Boat
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Saturday, May 21, 2011

No Regrets

Right now in my home town of Galway, there is a lovely video doing the rounds in which 50 people are approached by a camera crew on the street and asked what is their biggest regret in life.
It's quite poignant, too. One lad about my age regrets all his heavy drinking in the past while an older man regrets that he didn't marry his childhood sweetheart, who emigrated to Canada ... although he did manage to catch up with her, and finally marry her, after a gap of 50 years.
The sheer human warmth of these ordinary people on the narrow streets of the city shines through the video and it's striking to see how many of them are taken aback by the question.
Before I left Ireland, in January of last year, my biggest fear was that I would always regret not taking the chance to take a career break, get away, and travel the world.
I fretted and proctrastinated for months before deciding that, yes, I would leave the 'safe harbour' of Galway behind for a year. I worried about the house, the money, the career path, silly things that don't count.
My elderly parents were fearful, but otherwise nearly everyone I knew realised that it was a good thing for me. I had let the tragedies I experienced in my early 20s curtail my sense of adventure and it had taken an awful long time to regain it, to go out and explore.
I had fears about being too old to become a divemaster, about the cost of the year on the road, about the crime problems or my limited grasp of Spanish ahead of my trip to Central America.
And, guess what, all of my fears were unfounded.
I've read quite a few Buddhist books over the last few years and the one message I've taken from them is the importance of living in the here and now.
There is no point in dwelling on the tragedies or mistakes of the past, or worrying about the future. Life is for living in the here and now, right now, here today.
If people in my life left us too young, well that's way back in the past now and other people experience tragedies every day.
I'm just back in Galway after two weeks of glorious sunshine in the Basque Country and Switzerland, my first holiday since my gap year. It is pissing rain outside and I feel like going back into hibernation mode, as I remember how much the West of Ireland climate can drive me crazy at times.
It's easy to forget that the weather was actually glorious all through March and April.
And I have my health, a loving family, and good friends, and so what if it is grey and depressing outside?
That video got me thinking . . . there really is no point in having any regrets in life.
If any one of us wants to change, the power is within us.
I never really planned for what it would be like to come home to the same house and job, because I had spent so much time and energy planning my gap year.
But when we are old and immobile, if we make it that far, none of us are going to regret that we didn't watch more TV or spend more time in the office, working overtime.
It's a cliche, but life is for living and it's all about the people we engage with on the way through it. It should be an adventure, whether lived in Salthill or Sydney.
On a day like today, some of us can have a tendency to withdraw from the world as the rain lashes down outside.
But the rain will pass and the people we love and care about are only a phone call or a short drive away.
So that's the biggest lesson I learned in 2010. No regrets. Because there is no point in regretting anything.
Most of the people in the video regretted things they HADN'T done. And that says it all, really, when we should focus on the present and get out and ejoy life!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Over and out

The TD, who spoke less than five times through the whole duration of the last Irish parliament (or Dail), arrived at my parents' street this week to check out the locals' need for a new footpath.
Someone nearly died on a dangerous stretch of roadway, where I and my friends used to walk to school. So the politician turned up and offered to make a few calls.
Yes, my country is bankrupt, bailed out by the IMF because our bankers and politicians were so greedy or so stupid, and one of the guys who represents us in the national parliament wants to fix a bit of a road.
And that will 'buy' him votes? That's what it's all about?
Another local politician, who has no mandate from the people of my city, was co-opted into a position of privilege last year. And he, and others like him, use tax-payers' money to send out letters because there is an election on this month. Because they can.
The elderly parents, who gave 85 years between them to the service of the State, have had their pensions torn to shreds by the same Government and State. Because we need to pay off the bankers and the foreign bond-holders who have nothing to do with elderly West of Ireland people who bought their house 30-odd years ago.
The work-mate, younger than me, newly married and starting off in life, is down 800 euros a month and wondering if he can pay the mortgage any more. His other half worries that she may not hold onto her job.
The former work-mate, waiting anxiously every night for some good news over the phone, has found out within the last week that the health service she's laid her hopes on doesn't consider her, or anyone in her predicament, a priority. She has understandable rage, as everyone in the country waiting for a transplant has this week.
The old school-mate, who astounded Scottish medics when he battled bravely against a killer disease, was left waiting seven and a half hours in casualty after crashing his bicycle on one of our city's notorious pot-holed roads.
We have a health service that doesn't work and it cost me 275 euros to get an X-ray taken last week. And I'm one of the lucky ones who has private health cover.
Up in Mayo, farmers and fishermen in a small rural area have been terrorised by a multinational oil company who bought our off-shore gas rights for the lowest possible price. Only Cameroon sells off its assets for less than the Banana Republic.
And it was one of our wonderful West of Ireland politicians who sold off those rights when he was a Minister in the 1990s. He probably was distracted, he had a few footpaths to fix at the time.
I nearly cried last night as I watched 'The Pipe', a wonderful documentary about the savage treatment of the poor people of Rossport, Co. Mayo. To see the people of this rural community being arrested and humiliated for defending their land or their lobster pots made my blood boil.
The image of the little trawler up against the massive ship, escorted into the bay by our wonderful police service, will linger for a long time.
Arah, sure, it's good to be home.
I spent the last quarter of last year volunteering in Nicaragua and, the way things are going, foreign volunteers will be coming to help out my basket case of a country in a few years.
We had a chance and our greedy leaders blew it, along with their banker and developer buddies.
My gap year is over and it was wonderful, and now I'm back to work as a journalist through the biggest crisis this State has ever known.
The land which has always spat out its young people, under the iron fist of a foreign empire, has been betrayed by its own.
Interesting, if sad, times.
For me, 2010 was a wonderful year of growth and adventure, and I managed to get out of my 'comfort zone'. I needed it, and now I know that my future path is not set in stone or too predictable. Any of us can change.
But now everyone in Ireland needs to get out of their comfort zones.
We need to stop voting for the gobshites who think it's enough to make a few calls to fix our roads.
We need to stop voting for people with no vision, other than getting re-elected and looking after their friends.
We need to stop saying thanks to over-paid consultants after they blatantly rip us off with ridiculous prices when they present us with bills.
We need to show solidarity with people who have been terrorised in their Mayo homes.
We need to remember the value of community and friendship, after the madness of the Septic Tiger (thanks Hugo!) years. I learned in Nicaragua that material things or riches don't make us happy.
We need to tell the rotten, corrupt politicians what we really think of them instead of saying 'Arrah, it's grand, and wasn't his father a lovely man?'
We need to challenge bankers and bondholders who have no right to our pensions and taxes.
My gap year is over and I'm back home in interesting times.
Last night I was ashamed to be Irish when I watched what Shell and the State have done to the poor people of North Mayo.
We're a nation of cowards ... the whole West of Ireland should have been protesting when the Rossport 5 were sent to prison. In Ireland, the real criminals somehow don't end up in jail.
My gap year is over. Thanks for reading my blog.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Phenomenal reaction

Well, I am into my third week back at work, and as the tan fades I'm left to wonder what is the lasting legacy of my wonderful gap year.
I've been thrilled by the reaction I have received back in Galway, both to my full page article in last week's Connacht and City Tribune and my 15 minute interview about my experiences in Nicaragua on Galway Bay FM today.
It was also delightful to meet so many people over the Christmas holidays who told me they were inspired by, or at least enjoyed, this blog.
Last week, I wrote honestly about what it was like to leave Ireland and work among the poorest of the poor in Nicaragua.
While us volunteers went there to help the locals, to boost the education of their children, I guess the locals themselves taught us foreigners an awful lot about enjoying life. Or just enjoying the simpler things in life, such as quality time with friends and family, in the here and now.
The article in the Connacht Tribune has received a massive response, as I guess a lot of us Irish are re-evaluating our values now that the country is bankrupt and has lost its sovereignty.
People have no faith in the politicians, bloated bankers, and greedy developers who pushed this country back to the brink of the third world.
People are upset because there are no jobs for the young, who are emigrating in droves again.
People also have no faith in the Church, whose priests abused so many innocent children with impunity.
There is real anger and a spirit, or need, for change in the air, and I guess that's why so many people were moved by my article.
I went to Nicaragua to help out people who are desperately poor compared to the Irish, but left thinking that they (not us) have a greater appreciation for the important things in life.
The world is not fair and Ireland, like Nicaragua, has had a pretty messed up past.
But this is not a time for self-pity and I guess my growth as a person over the past year, thanks to all my wonderful experiences, has struck a chord with people around me who are also looking for change.
It's sad to be back working in a newspaper in which the main stories of the first few weeks of the year are about job losses and rotten politicians who are trying to cling onto power.
But I've been really happy to see that my few scribblings have struck a chord with so many people in my home town.
Perhaps more Galwegians will go abroad to volunteer, or at least realize that compared to Nicaraguans or Haitians that they still have a lot of good things in life.
We're all searching for answers in these troubled, messed-up times.
The answer didn't scream out to me during all my wonderful travels in 2010.
But travelling and volunteering has been a blast, the best time in my life.
And the legacy of that is that I am not going to allow myself to slip back into self-pity caused by the weather or the tragedies I experienced in my 20s, or anything else in the present or the distant past.
Life is for living right now, it really is so true.
Whether you are out walking the prom in Galway or cruising on a bus through Nicaragua, with reggaeton blasting on the stereo.
Thanks a million to everyone who has given me so much positive feedback since I began this blog on a Thai island back in March.
I don't know where this blog is going, as the gap year has finished after all. But it has been great to share my trials and tribulations with you guys and to get such a phenomenal reaction at the end of my adventure.
On local radio today, I realized suddenly the magnitude of what I'd achieved in 2010 as the presenter on Galway Bay FM, Keith Finnegan, praised my bravery for heading off into the unknown for a year.
I never thought I was brave, I just knew I needed a change.
And any of us can break out of a rut if we have the courage to follow our dreams.
Even in troubled times, such as Ireland and Nicaragua are experiencing right now.
It's been a blast.
So thanks, everybody, for the phenomenal reaction to the blog, Tribune article, and radio interview.
As for the future ... Who knows? The onus is on each and every one of us to live for today, because none of us knows what's around the corner.
The poorest of the poor, in the tin huts outside Granada, taught me that you don't need material things to make the most of life.
Yes, it's been a blast, the best year of my life. Even if I have returned to a land in 'crisis', most of us have our health, good families, and good friends.
And, just like Nicaragua, our troubled history should give us strength to face an uncertain future.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A lasting legacy?

The funny thing about my gap year is the fact that I never really planned for what it would be like to return home to my 'normal' life after all my adventures in Thailand, Malaysia, Spain, and Central America.
I spent so long planning the Divemaster course, Spanish lessons, and voluntary work, weighing up the magnitude of a full year away from home, that I put little thought into the dreaded return.
So, crash, bang, wallop ... suddenly it all came to an end and I found myself back in Galway during the coldest spell in memory, wondering what the hell I had let myself in for, with no car, my house rented out, and the 'delights' of a job I'd been so glad to leave behind 12 months ago on the horizon.
Hello, Galway. Brrr, it's cold!
It was good to see the family and friends, but I remembered how Irish people drink too much during a couple of sad encounters over the holidays. Not being all moralistic or anything, but Christmas at home can be a poignant or upsetting time for those who are not happy with their lives.
People drink too much, to try to forget, and then you see their nastier side when the drink doesn't suit them. I should know, I had enough horrible Christmases of my own after my little sister and my best friend both died around this time of year.
But that's way back in the past and time really does heal.
I know my parents were delighted to see me home, safe and sound, after 12 months of adventures far from their safe harbour.
It was great to go for a few beers with my closest buddies, to hear how they've been getting on with their lives. I do have incredible friends, even if I felt I was in a bit of a 'rut' here before I began my adventure.
The dreaded return to work conicided with an eclipse which made a wintry Galway morning even more depressing than usual ... the streets were deserted, it was dark, cold and windy, and I wanted to crawl back under the sheets or jump on the first plane to somewhere sunny.
A shiver of apprehension ran through me as I walked towards Market Street and the office I had left with so much expectation, hope, fear, and uncertainty 12 months before.
There is probably no more depressing day in the year than the first working day in January, especially for me after a full year of following my dreams. But given what has happened to the Irish economy, I kept reminding myself that I was lucky to have an interesting job to go back to.
And of course, once I walked through that door, the reality was nowhere near as bleak as I'd feared. If anything, I was delighted by the welcome of my colleagues over the first few days.
Ireland is in the throes of an economic crisis and the reviews of the year I'd missed could have plunged me into depression if I had let the radio reports and newspapers get to me.
But there also seems to be a genuine spirit of revolution in the air. People have finally tired of the sickening elite, including the Fianna Fail politicians, who have plunged the island into a mess, even if the sense of rebellion has come too late.
People look around and see the young emigrating again, pensioners and the low paid being punished for the crimes of over-paid greedy bankers, and wonder why did their uncles or grandfathers die fighting for this country.
In Nicaragua, the revolution means far more to the people, even if they are dirt poor.
And yet people in Ireland are re-evaluating their lives, wondering if they really needed all those apartments overseas or monstrous SUVs. They are beginning to remember that friends and family, health and happiness, are the most important things in life, and not the material things some went mad for during the Celtic Tiger years.
So the big question is whether there is any lasting legacy from my gap year? A Danish girl asked me that just before I left Nicaragua and I had no answer.
The truth is, I spent so much time planning 2010 I never really thought what 2011 would be like. I was a bit like a 'fat cat' banker, living life at 1,000 miles an hour without planning for what might lie ahead.
But I have had an amazing time and I am so full of gratitude that I was given, and took, the chance to sail away from my 'reality' for one year.
I don't think I will let myself feel I'm in a rut again. If I want to change my life, only I can change it and in 2010 I learned that there are wonderful people and opportunities out there in the big, bad world.
It is possible to leave wet and cold Ireland and dive every day in the tropical waters off Koh Lanta or help out the poorest of the poor in Nicaragua.
Trying to match a fulfilling life with paying the bills is perhaps the biggest dilemma for all of us.
I've learned to confront many of my fears, even if I probably still suffer from the lack of confidence which is the characteristic of many an Irish male. I was a different person when I was doing an amazingly rewarding job in Nicaragua and the challenge now is not to sink back into the cynical or self-pitying person who decided that Galway life was no fun some years ago.
Yes, I lost my sense of adventure prior to 2010 and it is amazing how some people wallow in misery while others live and love life to the full each day.
My land is in an economic mess at the moment and there is nothing to celebrate while people are losing their jobs and emigrating once again.
We're remembering our troubled history, which I was reminded of in Panama,where the desperate sacrificies of the 1850s Irish were conveniently forgotten back in their homeland.
During the Celtic Tiger years, nobody wanted to recall decades of forced emigration or how the Irish ended up down and out on the streets of London or New York. That script didn't fit in with the unsustainable frenzy or our new image of ourselves as 'sophisticated' Europeans with big property portfolios.
The 'nouveau riche' of Europe are poor again, but perhaps discovering the kind of values, the sheer fun, which made my time in Nicaragua so rewarding. Poor people seem to have more soul.
The Rubber Bandits confounded the D4 types with 'Horse Outside' because real Ireland's sense of fun and irreverence is in the housing estates of Limerick and a million miles from the likes of Ryan Turd and the late Gerry Ryan.
Getting away gave me a chance to review my home life from a distance and returning has challenged me to either take the changes I've experienced on board and build a happier life in Galway or to try out a whole new life, God knows where, in the longer-term.
I don't know where I will be in 12 months from now, but then again none of us really does.
All I know is that last year was the best of my life, that action can turn dreams into a new reality ... and for that I am hugely grateful, as well as for all the wonderful new friends I've made from all around the world.
The challenge now is to avoid slipping back into negativity and cynicism, to bring the wonderful experiences of the past year into whatever the future holds.
Feck it ... me horse is outside!