Life, death and gratitude: A year of gypsy living

I meant to write an anniversary post when I hit a year on the road, but mid January came and went before i realized it. The post is still a relevant one though, despite its tardiness.

2013 has been the best year of my life so far. I say this not only for the great parts of the journey, but the shitty bits too. I say this because through it all, it felt like I’d actually lived for the first time in my life, rather than just existing for no discernible reason. I’ve been to some incredible places, met great people who have become friends, fallen in love, worked on some exciting projects. Instead of wondering how amazing things seemed to happen to some people all the time, all those things were suddenly happening to me. And when opportunities came my way, for the first time ever, I was free to grab them and give them everything I had. 

A street dancer awaits his cue in Chinatown. Washington D.C, USA.
A street dancer awaits his cue in Chinatown. Washington D.C, USA.

There have been major downsides along the way. Aside from the multitude of mistakes and actions of pure stupidity, one of them is health: I’ve been sick 4 or 5 months out of the last 13, more than I have at any other point in my life. When bacteria and viruses were leaving me alone, I was spraining ankles, and lately, snapping the anterior cruciate ligament in my right knee clean in two, for which I underwent surgery three weeks ago. But none of that compares to losing my father at the end of October 2013. There is a permanent silence in the space reserved for all of the things I’d store to talk to him about, in my strange brain – and its thought processes and emotional circuitry – that belongs to him.

More than anything, 2013 taught me gratitude.

Brass band at Lumin8 Festival Anacostia, Washington D.C., U.S.A.
Brass band at Lumin8 Festival Anacostia, Washington D.C., U.S.A.

For the privileges I was born into, and continue to enjoy. Drinking water straight from the tap. Electricity, and the internet, which has opened up the world for me. A comfortable roof over my head. Nutrition. Excellent healthcare. An education. The ability to work for my money, which translates into financial and personal independence. To walk freely, and with confidence in the places I have lived. And the one that enables this itinerant life: because of the passport I hold, considerable freedom of travel.

It was a perspective shifter, realizing how hard it can be for some people to cross borders because of where they were born. The odds others overcome, sometimes on a daily basis, to get an education, where I spent the majority of my school life hating the fact that I had to be there. The way a lot of women don’t step out in public, confident of their right to be there among the men, the way I do.

A child gazes out over the city on Monumento ala Revolucion. Mexico City, Mexico.
A child gazes out over the city on Monumento ala Revolucion. Mexico City, Mexico.

I learnt, and am still learning, to look for the good bits in every situation, especially the bad ones. On a practical level, identifying the upsides helps to stave overwhelming panic; on an emotional level, this practice buoys my spirit.

So I am grateful. For the people around me – my mother, my sisters, nieces and nephews, friends near and far. That Dad didn’t suffer for too long, and that he and I had little left unsaid between us.  That my family had the support of so many people through this time, most of all Flemming, who came back to Singapore with me and met my entire family for the first time in that terrible situation. He has supported us through these months with an enviable humour and grace that belies the strength required.

2013 has been quite a year.

The Kasbah. Tangier, Morocco.
The Kasbah. Tangier, Morocco.



  1. Mark Olwick says:

    Proud of you, girl! Hoping you make it back to Seattle soon.


    1. Charlene says:

      Thanks Mark :) Planning on making it back North America before too long, and walking and walking because goddammit I better be walking normally again by then!

  2. Erin Wilson says:

    Here’s to the next best year of your life.
    To grace in the face of grief.
    To love in all it’s many guises.
    But especially to love that comes with kisses ;)
    To making friends, making images, and making images which become friends.
    To health.
    To gratitude.
    To joy, my friend.

    Much love…

    1. Charlene says:

      Right back at ya, mi amiga :)

  3. :) Here’s to living instead of existing, to living life, living it to the fullest, no regrets, and to live it now, not later (that things can happen and change very fast was something 2013 showed both in good and bad ways).

    And here’s to throwing hats and making magic, now and forever :)

    1. Charlene says:

      For altid!

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