I know what you’re thinking. What’s hard about being on a four and a half month long honeymoon travelling around South America? Cry me a river. It’s definitely easier and more fun than slugging out day to day life in the UK or Germany or Guadeloupe (whoever has been reading the blog from Guadeloupe thanks so much, I hope you’re enjoying it).
To some extent you’d be right, it’s been a really cool couple of months, and we realise that we’re very priveleged to be in this situation, whch is probably unrealistic for most newly married couples. But, life being life, there are still tough parts. Some would have been the case at home anyway, some are exacerbated by being here, and some are probably unique to doing something like this. So here we are, in increasing order of ‘hardness’.
8 – Bus journeys
Travelling around South America involves a lot of long distance bus travel, unless you’re some kind of ‘Fancy Dan’ who can afford to fly everywhere. The quality, and comfort, of buses varies drastically. Certainly in Peru & Bolivia, most of them were pretty budget affairs, held together by sticky tape and superglue. Some of the journeys can also be pretty stressful and risky (see Death Road). Any border crossing on a bus has involved about 3 hours of standing around waiting, sometimes in the middle of the night. One bus to La Paz started leaking during a vicious rainstorm, and I was dripped on quite forcefully for about an hour. It was a bit like Chinese water torture.
Being trapped on these monsters for anything from 3 to 25 hours, has often been enough to put us at each other’s throats. It has never seemed to be particularly conducive to conversation or sleep or anything productive, and as a result, by the time we arrive at our destination one or both of us has been in a foul mood that can take hours to snap out of. Its probably easier for me as I can normally read on bus journeys, whereas it makes Evie feel ill. I think it’s something we’ve improved on as we’ve gone on, though this might just be because in Argentina the buses are much nicer.
7 – No work to do
A weird one. Probably most people at home woud love this, and I probably will when work (hopefully) starts again on our return. But I do miss having something productive to put my hands to. It’s by far the longest period, for either of us, that hasn’t been taken up by school or university or actual work. And we both kind of miss it. In the Bible, work is portrayed as a good part of human life. Adam & Eve are given work to do in the garden of Eden. Yes, work after the Fall is cursed to be tiresome and a struggle, but it’s still a good and necessary part of human life. There are clear benefits for us in taking some time away from work to do what we’re doing, but we are kind of looking forward to getting back to it (which reminds me, any job offers email firstname.lastname@example.org)
6 – Illness
Neither of us has been badly ill, and we’ve been lucky to avoid anything serious. Evie had a stomach upset, probably caused by ingesting too much Amazon river water. I had a sore throat for a bit but then it became not sore anymore. There’ve been a couple of colds. But even being afflicted by, in the grand scheme of things, fairly minor ailments, it’s all too often led to arguments, bad moods and resentment. The one who’s ill is uncomfortable, less patient and more likely to react badly to stuff. The one who isn’t ill is frustrated that the other one is grumpy and miserable, and so finds it harder to look after them as they should. Ibuprofen can be a lifesaver (not literally). The tablets are 3 times stronger here than in the UK, but don’t have a sugar coating which is a shame.
Evie would like readers to understand that stomach upsets are much, much worse when you’re on a 3 hour, bumpy boat trip with no working toilet. Enough said.
5 – Constantly on the move
We’ve stayed overnight in 35 different rooms/buses in the last 60 days. It’s pretty exhausting almost constantly being on the move from place to place, having to unpack and repack on an almost daily basis. You might just start to feel settled in a place, then you have to leave. Arriving in a new place means hauling around all of our stuff until we can find a cheap enough hostel, which sometimes takes ages. We’re also generally pretty tired after a rubbish bus journey. Tempers fray and bad things are said.
4 – Having different tastes
We’re very different people who like different things. This definitely isn’t all bad, and has it’s advantages, but often it feels tough. I’d prefer to eat in £4 per meal Chinese restaurants, Evie wouldn’t. Evie likes a clothes-and-shoe-free-floor in our bedroom, I do not. My favourite activities will generally all involve some kind of physical challenge/adrenaline rush, hers won’t. Evie sees a shower as taking 5 minutes, in an ideal world for me it would be 30 mins plus (if/when there’s hot water). We often would prefer to be doing quite different things. Compromise is a word that has had to find it’s way into our everyday vocabulary. It’s a big shift from essentially before being a free agent, and doing what you want to do, when you want to do it.
Of course, this isn’t completely unexpected. We’ve been aware of our differences for a long time, ever since Evie told me she didn’t know how many balls were bowled in an over (6). But the reality is harder than the theory. It goes against lots of our instincts to purposefully supress our desires to try and further somebody elses.
3 – Away from church
Church is a massive part of both of our lives. I’ll delve more into why in a separate post, but after 4 years at St Ebbe’s in Oxford, to basically stop meeting regularly with Christians we know and love and trust has been difficult. The few times we have been to a church (not including the tedious trudges around Roman Catholic cathedrals to see all the candles and grimace at the icons dotted around) the services have been completely in Spanish, and so very difficult for me to take anything in whatsoever. Why such a big deal? Meeting together with a group of local Christians, is an explicit command in the Bible (Hebrews 10:24-25). It’s also assumed throughout the New Testament that Christians who want to stand firm in their faith, to love their brothers and sisters, and to do the work that Jesus has called them to, will go to church. Not to just add an obligation to a weekly schedule, but because it’s a good and helpful thing for Christians to do. Why?
First, because it’s a chance to learn from God’s word. To see what God, through the Bible, has to say to me, today. This isn’t the time to go into a theology of word ministry, but we believe that when the Bible is preached, God, through his Holy Spirit, speaks to and works among his people. Second, because it’s a time to meet with other Christians. To encourage, to rebuke, to pray together, to strengthen and support each other. Not being a part of a church community for the last few months has definitely been a big cost. I’d also say that visiting friends, or friends of friends, who are missionaries over here, and spending time with the church families they’re serving/supporting, has been one of the biggest joys.
2 – Away from friends and family
It’s time for the bombshell. We really do miss you all. At least all of you we’ve actually met before (it’s hard to miss somebody you’ve never met, but we’re grateful you’re reading the blog anyway). Evie’s probably felt this more than me, but we’ve both at times felt lonely, and like we’re missing out on time with friends and family back home. We’ve ranked from 1 to 1000 how much we miss every person we know, scroll down now to see where (and if) you feature on the list!
Unfortunately this idea was vetoed. Sorry.
Just being away for a few months has highlighted how painful it would be to up sticks and move a long way away from home permanently. I think it also doesn’t help that to a great extent the relationships we’ve built while away have been pretty transient. You get to know someone fairly well over a 3 day Salt Flats tour, but then you move on to a new place and know you’re unlikely to ever see them again. Social media may have it’s many, many downsides, but for being away from home for a long period of time, it’s an absolute Godsend. Not least because it means you’re able to read this. It’s free to video call our parents, we can keep up with what’s going on in hundreds of peoples lives, and I can follow the Ashes on TMS (not strictly Social Media but undeniably beautiful).
On this thought, we do massively appreciate being in touch with people and hearing your news, don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want to!
1 – Being selfish
Definitely the thing that has made marriage, travelling, and everything else so much worse. Hardly a revolutionary idea, and definitely not unexpected. You could basically call it being sinful, having our own interests at heart rather than God’s (or our spouse’s. Often in marriage it’s the same thing). But I think I get a very clear picture of the fallenness of human nature from seeing how my behaviour directly affects the person I love most in the world. It’s definitely magnified when I spend all of my time with her in generally pretty small bedrooms. Whereas before, with lots of decisions, I could just choose do to whatever I wanted (sleeping rough in in Athens during winter, leaving 20 dirty bowls in my bedroom, spending a day in bed watching old episodes of ‘Would I Lie To You’), acting in this kind of way now would have consequences for Evie.
It’s very easy to say that I’ll put my own interests before hers, it’s astronomically harder to actually do it. I wouldn’t be able to do it for someone who always loves me perfectly and always gives me the benefit of the doubt. Evie by her own admission is definitely not that person. It is, in truth, a constant battle to love her, just as it is for her to love me. To get something of the mindset, read Romans 7:18-20, which is a bit of a tongue twister. ‘For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.’
I think the words seem unusually applicable in this situation, but in reality they’re true of any Christian who is battling any sin. And that’s kind of the point. All things are broken, very much including marriage, because of something that’s inherent to humans. Even when we want to behave in a certain good way, there’s something that stops us. It should be a lost cause, an endless battle against imperfection and impurity, causing great unhappiness to basically everyone. And that’s the picture the Bible paints of our selfish natures. It just doesn’t stop there. A bit later in Romans 7, Paul says the following ‘What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!’
We’re both very grateful that this is true for us too. We won’t stop being selfish, and loving each other imperfectly in this life (though progress should definitely be seen), but we have been delivered eternally by someone who wasn’t. This grace is a massive motivation to keep going (lots of marriage seems to be loving someone when they don’t deserve it), but also makes it OK when we don’t do it perfectly, because there’s a better marriage waiting.