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Friday Photo: The Memory Tin

International Currency: My Life in Bank Notes

Ten Years’ Travel in Bank Notes

This photo is significant for me today as it’s my final day in the job which has taken me across the globe and back during the last five years, and the end of almost exactly ten years of living and working around the world. My little currency tin holds many memories in its Pesos, Gourdes, Shillings, Dollars (Namibian, Ecuadorian, American…), Euros, Bolivianos, Birr and Balboas. The notes have been handled, folded, flattened and passed on, some are held together with staples and practically illegible under layers of filth. Many have the distinct aroma of their country of origin, and all are tiny, weightless souvenirs of the places I acquired them, a kind of physical passport stamp. Some of these countries I lived in for up to three and a half years, others for just a week or two, but all of them stole a little piece of me in some way, and I was always sad to leave, even if the country and I hadn’t always seen eye to eye. In the absence of friends and family, you develop a relationship with your environment, and like any other friendship, there are highs and lows.

Many times during my travels I envied the holidaymakers surrounding me, who were able to lounge on the beach or go sightseeing in the cities while I was stuck behind a laptop, camera or notebook, cramming as much work in as I could. But honestly, I wouldn’t have traded places with them. Being able to live and work in so many places was a privilege, an eye-opener, and it gave me the rare opportunity to make genuine local friends. I was taken out by them, shown the secret sights, cooked for and taught exotic languages. They threw badly-kept surprise parties when I left, gave me sweet gifts, danced with me, played me local music, told me their secrets, took me to family weddings, and invited me back, for as long as I liked.

The truth is that when you first pack your bag and set off to make a life in a new country, you can never anticipate what you will find, what your day-to-day will be like, and how long you might be gone. A decade is an incomprehensible stretch of time… until you are reaching the end of it. You also can’t imagine how moving back home will one day seem much more scary than making that first leap into the unknown. I kept these itchy feet off the ground for a decade, but now I’m going to see if I can put them up for a bit. It’s time to (try to) be still.

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