Tuesday, 14 April 2015 21:15

Mary, Mary quite contrary...

An Austrian’s thirty years of travel adventures How 30 years and 11 countries later I found myself in Cyprus - coming via the US, the UK,  Southern France, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Austria, Egypt, Costa Rica, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Latvia. Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?, asks a nursery rhyme. I guess my garden did grow - in all corners of the world. In fact, I’ve lived in so many countries that frequently I need to look at my CV to remember where I was during a certain period of my life. It’s actually nice to write it down every now and then so I get to practice the ‘nutshell version’ for all those times when people ask me about my home country Austria, which is when I usually have to admit that I haven’t really lived there since I was 17.

‘When I grow up I’ll go to America’ - 4 years in North Carolina It goes a little bit like this: I’d been saying since primary school that when I grow up I’ll go to America. And so I did - no sooner had I finished secondary school, was I on a plane to North Carolina where I had gotten myself a job as a nanny. I made an excellent baby sitter, but living with a family was actually what I had wanted to get away from and so I moved in with some friends and for 4 very fun years lived the true life of a (poor) student, studying Art History, sharing apartments with fantastic people from around the globe - many of whom I am still friends with to this day.

Returning to Europe - England, Southern France, Belgium I don’t actually remember what exactly made me leave, but I believe I was getting tired of being that poor student, doing house cleaning, gardening, painting, dog sitting, house-sitting, babysitting jobs to make ends meet. I do remember that after a fare-well trip across the States on a Greyhound bus I ended up in London as a caretaker for a retired children’s book writer.

I made friends with the Irish people at the pub down the street; they lived on houseboats and yes, drank a lot. They used to joke that I’ve come to England to finally learn ‘proper’ English. Having mastered the English language - actually for quite a while after my time in London, people used to ask me if I was Irish - I moved on to work on my French.

I went to no less than the Cote-d’Azur - to be a house-sitter and household helper for a former German ambassador couple in St. Tropez. When they returned to Germany after a few months of summer holiday, I moved in with a countess. Oh the stories I could tell! Stories of limousines from Monaco, gardeners in tailcoats and of fancy lunches by the pool under citrus trees. A fantastic summer of sun tanning and bike riding and doing a bit of work. At the end of the summer one of my ‘French connections’ brought me to Belgium.

Probably because of my young age, I absolutely loved the year in Brussels . In fact what I loved the most was the nightlife - the African night life to be more precise. I lived near Brussel’s African neighborhood and have great memories of the music, the lively nightclubs, the cheerfulness... and stories of village chiefs offering to send cattle to my family in Austria to take me with them.

Off to Africa - 7 years in Burkina Faso   I decided I want to live in Africa. Besides my French still needed work. Somehow it seemed easier to start that big trip from the States and so I moved back there - this time to Colorado where a friend had moved. I stayed for another year, took some French courses at university, went back to the baby sitting and house cleaning and this time to sewing for a Japanese seamstress. I owe ‘Fumi’, a fantastically bubbly lady, the knowledge of opera I have today, because that’s what we listened to while rattling away on our machines, day in, day out, along with her humorous explanations of the ‘plots’.

Finally and under much laughter by the travel agents about the fact that I am flying to ‘Ouagadougou’ - capital of Burkina Faso - I was finally off to Africa. I had made arrangements with a Canadian agency to be a volunteer for a human rights organization for a year. I did not last the year with them, but I did stay in Africa for a wonderful seven years of my life, working as an English teacher for a non-governmental organization with offices all over the country. A book of its own is contained in this time.  Later on I worked as a teaching Assistant and then Assistant to the Director at an International school in the capital, enjoying African city life. A period of my life that  I will always consider one of the happiest of my life.

Back to the homeland - 4 years in Austria By then in my early thirties, I had to decide whether I’d stay in Africa for good and have a family with my African boyfriend of three years, or move on once more. And so I moved on. Back to Austria - for a ‘real job’, to ‘settle down’... or so I thought. I very happily worked in a hotel management position in a ski resort. Possibly the best job I ever held - hard work, but with all the perks one could possibly ask for. For four years I’d spend my daily lunch break (during our 6 annual working months) on the slopes literally outside the hotel door and enjoy four-star accommodation and food.

The travel bug bit yet again - a summer in Cairo After almost 4 years I decided that living in a remote ski resort, working 14 hours every day for half of the year and then being absolutely isolated in the summer months was not ‘it’ either, no matter how good the perks and the money were.

I decided I’d get myself an English teaching certification and start travelling again. I took my last summer at the hotel off and chose Cairo to do my Cambridge teaching course. Always having loved the ‘Arab world’, the music, the food, the language, I enjoyed every single minute there. Even though I spent 2 grueling months doing an intensive course to get certified. In the end I was asked to stay on for a few weeks to teach their summer courses. I have fantastic memories of my students there, of the food, of my photography walks through my neighborhood, of my attempts to apply the few words of Arabic I had learned in our ‘survival Arabic course’. Here too, much more than a paragraph is needed to do that period justice.

Anyway, I returned for one last winter season to the hotel, teaching certificate in my pocket and those proverbial ants in my pants.

From the slopes of Austria to the beaches of Costa Rica - 4 months in Costa Rica I decided I wanted to learn Spanish - Burkina Faso is a former French colony and my French was fluent so Spanish would to be be hard. And it wasn’t. I moved to Costa Rica where I participated in a language program living with a fantastic host lady who had me fluent in no time. The plan was to stay and I got myself a teaching job and a comfortable living situation. However, it was not meant to be. I got dengue fever - a really bad case that had me in intensive care and almost marked the end of my earthly days. It weakened me for months to come and left me with an understandable phobia of mosquitoes. I decided I’ll move to a place that’s too cold for those creatures.

Russia here I come - 4 months in Moscow I had been to Cuba and the whole concept of communism has always fascinated me. So... I went to visit a friend in her German summer house for a while to recover and to complete a self-study Russian course to then leave for an all arranged and well organized teaching job in Moscow.

I love the language, the culture, the music, the food... I had a fantastic time exploring Moscow and the ‘Russian soul’. Once again this period, albeit short, would fill a whole book with incredible stories involving teacher parties, weekend trips, underground adventures and yes, fair amounts of alcohol.  But... it was not meant to last (my liver is probably thankful). After several wonderfully adventurous months I got a message from Austria asking me to come back and help run the hotel for one more season in return for a very generous salary. As we know, money does talk and so I left my beloved Moscow to spend another 6 months in the Austrian mountains. 'Never step into the same river twice' comes to mind, but that is a different story.

From Austria to Mongolia - 4 months in Mongolia The only reasonable past time available in a ski-resort where most people are either your employees or your guests - apart from those skiing lunch breaks - to me was reading. I have considerably contributed to the income of several online bookshops during my time there. I read a lot - mostly non-fiction and travel books. And I read a lot about Mongolia... and so Mongolia it was.

Having made some nice travelling money, I booked myself into a volunteer program teaching English to high school students while living with a Mongolian host family. I still remember flying over the endless Mongolian Steppes, wondering if we’d ever land, thinking ‘Why on earth am I doing this?’. I loved my host family - actually a single mom living with her 6-year old daughter - but that was about the only thing I loved about that place. Mongolia - to go down in my books as the only country I really did not care for at all, and most importantly, the only country where I do not remember one single tasty meal.  My two months there seemed plenty.

From Mongolia to Kazakhstan via Beijing - 2 years in Kazakhstan I took the trans-Mongolian train to Beijing from where I then took a plane to Almaty, Kazakhstan. I had originally wanted to go to Uzbekistan for its incredible historical riches, but could not find a suitable teaching job there. But there was no reason to complain in Kazakhstan either. I started off living in the school’s cleaning lady’s living room for several weeks before I found a suitable apartment and enough teaching hours to pay for it. I spent two absolutely wonderful and very adventurous years in Almaty especially enjoying using my Russian which I was by then getting better. But when several of my closest friends left, I too felt it was time to move on. I’ll keep memories of those great friends, great food and many nights out at restaurants which invariable featured live music and dance floors.

From Kazakhstan where to? Detour to Damascus I was unsure about what to do with myself, but felt I wanted to return to the Arab world after my short but intense love affair with Cairo. I booked myself a flight to Damascus where I was offered a teaching job at the local British Council pretty much right away. But somehow I did not ‘click’ with the city the way I had with Cairo and decided not to stay. Looking back of course I feel I should have taken in the wonders of this city more, but off I was... to a place chosen based on the cheap flights there. I was in an internet cafe and when I saw a flight to Riga, Latvia pop up, I remember thinking ‘Well, they speak Russian there’, I’ll go and continue improving my Russian'.

Riga here I am - 2 years in Latvia Riga happened a bit differently as I hadn’t made any prior arrangements at all so I started off in a youth hostel (stories galore). But yet again, before long I had found a teaching job and a lovely apartment and ended up staying there for almost 2 years - loving the distinct seasons and the incredible beauty of the city. Unfortunately the economic situation became rather desperate after the state’s bankruptcy and when my lovely rented apartment was sold, I decided once again it was time to move on. One of my private students in Riga had been telling me about her business trips to Cyprus and so I started looking for jobs in marketing/education in Limassol, Cyprus. I went for a job interview, did not exactly love the country at first, but the job seemed interesting so I thought I’d give it a try.

Leaving Latvia for Cyprus In the early summer of 2010, I left Latvia for Austria to move to Limassol on August 1st. The initial job I had come for did not work out, but I found a teaching job almost next door to my gorgeous top-floor apartment, one of the continued highlights of living here. I started my Dinner Clubs in 2011 and still teach English. In April 2015 I became the Limassol correspondent for The Cyprus Weekly, a job that seems to 'suit me well' and so it looks like I’ll be around for a bit longer...  

Mary Anglberger

I’ve been travelling the world for over 20 years teaching English and am now taking time to follow my passion for photography and writing. I want to share all the things, events and people that have inspired and inspire me and spread those positive vibes all around.

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