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Potato People

A lesson I never seem to learn:  Headphones are ESSENTIAL for all public transport journeys. No matter where you are in the world, there will always be someone with boogers rattling round in their nasal cavities like socks in a tumble dryer. There will always be the equivalent of an 80-year-old man shouting at his newspaper in Russian, spitting on his fingers before he turns each page, muttering to himself as he snaps his briefcase open shut open shut, slurping on chocolate bars so loudly you can hear his dentures rattle, all without a break for four hundred freaking kilometres!

So, after all that we got back to Latvia this morning, and now I keep thinking about potatoes. Yesterday we were on yet another bus scooting around the south-east corner of Lithuania, just me and Rhi and a driver with gigantic shoulders and a slightly nutty guide. We hadn't wanted to do any evil touristy day tours as such, but it was the easiest thing for this particular location. The problem is that by mid-September there are sweet bugger all tourists left in Lithuania, so you have nowhere to hide. You must pay attention to every story, you must nod and express awe at every Ancient Fishing Tool in every museum.

Anyway, back to the potatoes. This area of the country was all about agriculture. But it was also extremely poor. Our bright shiny bus whizzed past locals hunched over potato crops, headscarves shielding them from the relentless sun. Others attacked the earth with crumbly tools, some drove carts, the horses ambling slowly on dusty lanes. I spotted just one solitary tractor all day, two puffs of black smoke hanging awkwardly in the sky.

The guide caught me looking and said, "This is very poor part of Lithuania. They have to work very hard."

"Yes…"

"So would you like us to take you somewhere nice for lunch?"

She asked us a lot about our lives, asked us what it was like in Australia, asked us how we could be so young and afford to travel so far. She asked us if we were rich. What do you say to that? I could have said how we had scrimped and saved to come here, but how ridiculous would that have sounded with the potato people right there? I felt apologetic and guilty and cranky all at the same time.

At one stage the guide got the driver to stop the bus. She skipped across the road and pulled some strange wildflower out of the ground. She crushed the little brown pods in her hand so a tiny seed was revealed.

"What you call these in English?"

"I've honestly haven't seen them before."

"Yes, you must! Children eat them."

"Umm… I guess we haven't got them in Australia."

"Ha!" she smiled, "There is nothing you have not got in Australia."

Last night back in our dodgy hotel I flicked on BBC World to see if things were okay in Australia. There was a story on suicide, and how Lithuania had the highest rate in the world. 30 people every week in a country of just 3.7 million.

I know a lot of you people out there have travelled a lot, and wonder anyone feels this same bewildered frustration about the world that I am struggling with right now. I've been away from Britain for nearly two weeks now and feel like I have learned so much about this Baltic chunk of the planet, about its complicated history and politics. It's nice to build this tiny awareness and understanding of a place you barely thought of before.

But at the same time, you're in a complete vacuum when you travel. You are so wrapped up in your cushy travellers world, absorbing new places and experiences, that you can start losing perspective. You can fall out of touch with what's happening elsewhere. When I heard about the Jakarta bombing I just felt this sinking, horrible feeling of being so far away from everyone. Then I thought of how it's been almost 18 months since we left Australia, how out of touch I am with the issues of the upcoming election. I even started worrying about family and friends and if I have done enough to stay in touch with them and make sure they know they're missed.

None of this makes any sense and no doubt sounds like a pile of wank. I am just confused and homesick, for Scotland and Australia.

Sometimes I just lay awake at night, squinting at the ceiling and feeling so excited about life, dizzy with this appetite for the world, feeling ever more alive and aware since I left home. But sometimes I think I am just as ignorant and indulgent as ever, and in danger of disappearing up my own arse.

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About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m an author, copywriter and old school blogger. I love telling stories about life and helping my clients to tell theirs. Find out more about me and how we can work together.


12 thoughts on “Potato People

  1. When you dream about something long enough to make it come true, there’s just going to be some free fall afterwards…it helps to get enough sleep

    and remember you’re not responsible for the world; just your place in it.

    “tell me where is whimsy bread? In the heart, or in the head?”

  2. I had similar feelings in Prague (and to a lesser extent Budapest) which sound positively affluent beside Lithuania.

    Traveller-space is weird, especially coming home to Australia (during an election) – but only as a traveller who’s going back to the UK again.

    It’s the sense of dislocation that sets in after a while, isn’t it? There are places where things feel familiar and “normal”, but they’re not necessarily the places you have roots.

    It can be frustrating … but you’re right, it can also sound rather self indulgent to those who would say: “How hard can it be having your life of travel?”

    Anyway, empathies at the muddlement and momentary frustration.

  3. Hi, I love the journal!
    I just clicked on “The funeral business” from 2001 (linked on the left) and found a plethora of people desperately seeking info on opening funeral homes!!?

  4. I don’t think you’ve ever been ignorant OR indulgent. But a place like Lithuania could probably make most people feel spoiled and ashamed. Funny how just being born in the wrong (or right) place can determine your whole life. Travelling IS sad. But then again, if it makes you better appreciate what you’ve got, and maybe stirs you to help out a bit where you can, then it’s all for the best.

    Yeah, that’s crap. It’s just that I have nothing to say but I haven’t commented in ages, you’ll think I don’t love you any more!

  5. It’s a feeling most travellers get.

    I’ve been working in Bahrain for 18mths and am saddened to see the conditions that the migrant workers face. Earning around AU$200 / mth for construction work, living in domitories, toiling in 50°C heat and 90% humidity during the summer months, and treated with disdain by the local community. They do it all with a smile on their face. It only helps a tiny bit knowing that they are better off working here to support their families back home.

  6. I felt a bit like that in Romania. It’s the guilty part of feeling like a tourist gawping at somebody else’s reality when your cosy Western life and their struggling to make ends meet are suddenly contrasted. It wasn’t too bad in Bucharest but when we went out of the city it became obvious. It was made a wee bit worse by the fact that we were staying in the Marriot which tends to remove you from reality (but not in a pleasant way) at the best of times. I also felt bad about feeling bad and thought about how patrionising a bleating Scotsman must sound to your average Romanian. Monkey’s right though, you’re too smart to be ignorant and indulgent! Travel on dude!

  7. thanks kindly people!

    the whimsy bread is in the cupboard right next to the frivolity juice.

    i would like some whimsy bread… with bacon on it. and HP sauce.

    monkey – but i will ALWAYS love you!

    and dr. g too!

  8. um, comis for the feelings. is hard, et al…

    esp. when i came here to distract you with info from oz, about an upcoming show on the ABC all about big things in australia! oh lookey there is even a webpage.

    there’s ya frivolity juice!

  9. There’s nothing like a whimsey bread and Vegimite sandwich I always say. (ok…well maybe not always…)

    thanks for the smack upside the head.

  10. Hee! The description of the not-so-niceness of public transportation cracked me up. I love all your traveling stories, because I love traveling. (I actually just found out that my best friend and I might be going to Paris and Germany for a week or so in a few summers, along with members of our respective French and German classes. And I almost self-combusted from the excitement of it all.)

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