Does friendship suffer when you live thousands of miles away from friends you grew up with and who in part have made you who you are? With Internet at our fingertips, blogs, facebook, skype, you would think there wasn’t an issue. But my return trip to the UK and then arriving back in Bolivia seems to have again provoked the question in my mind.
Last year when I returned, I remember feeling a bit alienated and a sense of being out of my skin – no doubt in part because of reverse culture-shock. Fortunately that wasn’t the case this time. But I did still feel a sense of frustration of not being able to properly reconnect with friends and family and I guess even deepen existing relationships. I came away anxious that being in Bolivia was detrimental to the relationships that are important to me.
In some ways, it’s not surprising. I had just over a month to catch up
with people and to introduce my partner Juliette to my friends, family
and the country I was born in and have spent most of life in. As a
result I had enough time to remember and re-appreciate people close to
me, but not quite enough to let conversations unravel naturally or to
spend time together in a way that could create new bonds.
I ended up wondering if friendship was perhaps made up less of the big headline moments of our lives, but
more the shared experience of small moments. The accumulation of shared
experiences, a sedimentation of the day to day. I wondered if friendship like sand on a tidal estuary would slowly wash away with time.
The answer a few of my friends have given (thankfully) is "no". "Good friendships
last, and can always be picked up again," said one. Another said it was
about "mutual support and care" regardless of distance. Another said that "we have shared too much for it to be lost or be undone by a temporary absence." A few made the joking threat that just in case it was better to come home now.
I also thought that perhaps the problem was that people understandably couldn’t relate to my life in Bolivia. As living here has been my reality for more than two years and a very vivid, transformative one at that, I felt this gap of context would naturally create emotional distance. However on longer reflection, I realised that friends might want to but don’t need to understand or even know about Bolivia. But at the risk of sounding egotistical they do want to know about me. In that context, it became clear that the frustration I felt came from my inability to communicate why I was in Bolivia, and how it was changing me.
When people did ask me about Bolivia, I felt like I was sharing very random headlines. TV news snippets of Bolivia that didn’t capture the
complexities of life here and that didn’t explain how living here has had a profound effect on me. Fixing on the interesting, curious or inspiring in Bolivia also hid the themes that are universal and can connect more easily: falling in love, friendships, frustrations, life questions.
So at risk of becoming very individualist my resolution on my return is to make Bolivia more personal to my friends. Not just the country or its fascinating politics, culture, but how being here and the people I spend time with are shaping, changing and affecting me. In turn I hope to reengage more fully with the personal lives of my friends and family in the UK. This blog is obviously public and us British people don’t like to get too personal or touchy-feely but who knows maybe some of it will also contagiously infect this blog too…..