There I was again – standing on the train platform in Bedford, UK, at the godforsaken hour of 6.30am. Because of the rain there was a lot of traffic on my way to the train station, so it took me ages to find a car parking spot. Paying over £100 a month for a parking permit should really enable you to get a decent spot, but it didn’t. The train company helpfully put up a sign saying that if the car park was full, there was another train station 13 miles away. Really! That was their solution to a full car park!
Anyway, the platform on the train station was already packed and not being able to stand in the first line meant that I would struggle to get a seat for my 45 minute journey to London. So basically I paid £450 a month to stand for the entire train journey. Then came the fun part: trying to squeeze myself onto the Victoria line to get to work. I didn’t get into the first tube, or the second one, as there were just too many people during rush hour. As usual, when I did manage to board, the tube was incredibly hot. You would have thought that they had managed to put aircon in the carriages by now, but London seems to be years behind Russia, Malaysia or Thailand in this regard.
Meaning my face was going to be pressed against someone’s sweaty armpit for the next 20 minutes. And what was that woman with her massive pram and her two screaming babies thinking, taking a tube during rush hour and taking up all that precious space (I know, a controversial one…)? So finally, nearly two hours since leaving my house, I arrived at work. I have already had enough and it was only 8am.
This was my life for seven years. Day in, day out. Don’t get me wrong. I loved my government job in London. It was exciting, rewarding and I had awesome colleagues. But I couldn’t go on like this for the rest of my life. I envied people who could walk to work or who were able to go out for a drink or dinner in the evening without falling asleep in their plates. Usually by the time I got home, had a bite to eat, and watched some TV, before I passed out from pure exhaustion by 10pm. I always thought to myself that there must be more to life than that! Then, one day, things changed.
The government department where my husband worked was offering voluntary redundancies and as I was able to take a sabbatical, we sensed a golden opportunity. We decided to take a break from London and signed up for a 6 month voluntary placement in Cambodia. This step was by no means easy. I had already left behind my friends and family back home in Germany when I moved to England 8 years prior, but it was only an hour’s flight to Germany from England. A flight to Cambodia is over 12 hours with at least one transfer on top of that. We had built a nice little life in England. We had many friends, owned a little terraced house and Chris’ family of course all lived near us.
When we first started telling people about our plans to take a break, I don’t think they believed that we would actually go ahead with it. Why would anyone leave a comfortable life behind to live in a country where a third of the population lives below the poverty line? To many, people our age should start a family and not travel around the world. As we made things more concrete however, I was surprised by how many people actually supported us. A lot of people said that we are doing what many people only dream about and that we should go ahead. Hearing such encouragement really helped me staying sane actually.
Almost two years later we are still in Cambodia. After our voluntary placement we both found jobs in NGOs. I couldn’t be happier to have started a career in international development. It has always been my passion and back in the UK I was heavily involved with quite a few charities. Now I am doing what I always dreamed about doing – hands on charity work in the field.
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