A fractal life

Troo Adventure nominated me for an award and in return I would post answers to a Q&A about me. I tried and failed. My “me” is a fractal mess and no linear story will tell the tale. Many thanks to Troo Adventure and I love her travel blog! So instead, I will tell a fractal story.

Picture this. A 17 year old Holden (Australian car) bouncing along a dusty track in the Australian Outback. We haven’t seen another car for a whole day. We passed one homestead. This is it, we are totally in the back of beyond and it feels great for four young dutch men who come from a country where there isn’t a single square inch that hasn’t been exploited by man.



There, look on the right!

On our right a wheel overtakes us. Our car makes a funny noise and my sun beaten brain slowly makes the connection. Shit indeed. We are 4 hours from the nearest house. Scrub desert all around us.

Stranded. A fine mess we got ourselves into.

Do you remember when we lost that wheel?

Ha ha, that was hilarious! I still can’t believe that old lady happened to drive by and drove us all the way to her friend who happened to have a car wreck of same type in his yard. And how she drove us all the way back to our car again with the spare parts!

Yeah. So what’s up these days?

Usual stuff. My kids are adolescent, I don’t recommend it. At least I’m free from that last job. Let all the staff go and sold the furniture. Lawyers all over the place giving me a hard time. Still, I learned a lot from that.

My best friend, I’ll call him Rain, sat next to me opposite the wood stove in this extremely cosy shack near Amsterdam central station. We met at university when we studied electronic engineering back in 1983. When we graduated we only had one dream: to travel.

I packed off to Switzerland and worked at CERN for a few years while Rain drove to South Africa – from Amsterdam. Career was very low on our list of passions and  after a couple years I quit and we travelled to Australia. There we met up with two other friends and “did” the entire east coast, from Melbourne to Cook Town.

When cash ran out, we got jobs. Rain worked for a communications firm and myself I got a job as a staff writer for a technology magazine. It was the worst paid job I have ever had but I absolutely loved the writing!

Henk, you there?

I looked up from the fire. Rain put another beer in front of me. I nod.

I can’t get my head around it – so much has happened since we had a fall out over that stupid car when we worked in Sydney. We each went our way. Rain went back to travelling in Africa and then the Americas. Myself I tried to get a job in the UK to be with my girlfriend but I bumped into some cultural differences.

So we went to Holland. And then we went to France. Back to Holland, then Switzerland. Then we went to the UK. Then we went back to France again. Each time we quit our jobs, sold our house, car and said goodbye to our friends.

Where next?

Rain is swirling his beer around the glass as he asks me that question.

I’m not sure. Perhaps we’ll stay in France or perhaps we’ll go elsewhere. I got a loose job offer in Abu Dhabi. It’s a nice place.  I know this Sheikh who wants me to develop international business. His palace is amazing. And his cars!

I’ll come with you. Rain smiles. We can both make a million and go back to travelling. Backpack and all!

Marianne wants to go to the south of France. We both love it there. I could do some consulting from some cute Provencal house. I could finally grow bougainvillea in the garden and sit under my own palm tree.

Microprofessor, says Rain.

I laugh. It’s code language for “get a life”. Going back to a ski holiday he had proposed and I turned down to buy a computer instead. He had a great time. I didn’t.

When I started out, I was a passionate engineer. I loved everything to do with electronics and IT. I designed stuff for factories and laboratories. Working at CERN I was right in the middle of all the action.

Do you remember Tim? Doris asks. The guy at my party last weekend?

Oh him, the quiet guy. Yes.

He has developed a really cool system. He calls it the World Wide Web. I think it will be a success.

OK, I’ll have a look. Sure.

I had a look. It was really boring, his World Wide Web. An ASCII browser that downloaded papers on nuclear physics from other labs. Yawn. Good old anonymous FTP was much better. Forget the World Wide Web.

Forget the World Wide Web.

If I really cared about success and wealth I would have that line chiselled on my grave as my epitaph. I stood at the cradle of the biggest technological development of my generation, I lifted the baby, had a good look and put her back without kissing her forehead.

I did other cool things. Got a second degree in maths in order to be taken seriously by the physicists at CERN where I designed parts for accelerators. They didn’t care. Only degrees from Oxford and the like really mattered and only then, if you got them age 23 or so. Academic snobbishness. Who needs that.

I quit.

Perhaps that should go onto that stone. I love leaving.

Back to the UK to join a web firm at the height of the internet bubble. My, did we have fun! Unlimited budgets. Customers were begging us to work for them. Until the bubble burst. But by then I had already left. There isn’t much fun in working in London when you have to negotiate an overcrowded transport system and to do 12 hour days.

12 hour days. Who needs them? My 1 year old daughter had just enough words to ask me in the morning if I would eat dinner with her. Yes darling, daddy will try really hard.

Daddy was a liar. Bad daddy.

My little girl and her older brother were very special. Like many couples, Marianne and I wanted kids. Nature had other plans. That truth became clear when our last fertility doctor told us in all earnestness that our IVF treatment was a partial success. Although we did not get pregnant, he had got more experience and this would help other couples. Please pay on your way out. End of that road.

But we weren’t born with the travel gene for nothing. A million sheets of signed, stamped, translated, stamped, translated and signed documents later, we had adopted a boy from Vietnam and a few years later, a little girl.

A million documents, what does it mean? It doesn’t tell the story of poverty. Of mothers who can’t keep their children because they will all starve together. The love and courage it took for them to give up a child and offer it a good life elsewhere. It doesn’t tell the story of the deep pain the mother and child feel as they separate. It doesn’t tell the story of the adoptive parents who have their own painful past.

But you can imagine the story of a family brought together like this. Perhaps I will tell it one day. It is a love story.

Last weekend I hardly slept. The association that I created with a friend 10 years ago had its annual bingo evening and we worked through the night to get everything in place and clear it all afterwards. 400 bingo addicts came to win. Some did. Some didn’t.

But we raised 10’000 euros towards a school we are building in Vietnam. It’s our fourth school. We also built three hospices. We fund the vocational education for 100 girls and we have built homes for 500 street children in Saigon.

I don’t say this with pride although I am proud. This country trusted me with two of its children and now I can do something to give back.

Acts of love.

Life is travel or is travel life? Everything we undertake is like a journey. Our relationships, our jobs, our personal projects. We start them not knowing where it will take us.

We lose a wheel or we lose a job. Someone shows up and gives us a hand. We find the love of our lives only to lose another to the cruelty of nature. Life can come down on us like a ton of bricks but somehow, with the strength of daisies, we push the bricks away and start again.

So what is this blog about?

None of the above. It is about the other side of life. Not the factual tale of experience but about the experience itself. Because nomatter how unlucky we get, nothing stops us from doing what my friends and myself did when we lost that wheel in the desert.

We laughed! We posed by the wheel taking funny pictures. It didn’t matter.

And we lived to tell the tale.


6 thoughts on “A fractal life

  1. That’s OK. I can read French. I just looked at the site and I am impressed. You’ve managed to do a lot in ten years.
    I think it’s really special that you wanted to ‘give something back’ in this way. Perhaps you should be proud. 🙂

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