A Solo Thanksgiving

Well, for the first time in my thirty-one years, I am spending a Thanksgiving completely and totally alone.  I’ve spent many a holiday without family around, having lived so far away for so long, but this is the first time I haven’t had at least other American friends around to celebrate with as a make-shift family.  The people here don’t even know what Thanksgiving is, let alone want to celebrate with me.  Though Mate’s opinion of it when I tried to explain was that any holiday based on eating a lot of good food sounded like one worth celebrating.

I’m not going to lie and pretend that being alone today hasn’t been lonely.  My family and friends all around the world are celebrating together and I’m sitting in a really cold cabin (I haven’t figured out the whole lighting the fire thing yet), waiting for the water to boil so I can make macaroni and cheese, and having a very real (and very rare) case of American homesickness.  In any case, its time to be cliche and do the required “what I’m thankful for this year” list, so here goes:

  1. First, I’m thankful to be alive and that I am not still stuck in the bog I rode my horse into today.  That’s right, I took one of my three year old fillies, Rubi, out for a ride and managed to get us both stuck up to my waist in a very quick-sand like bog.  We were probably only stuck for all of 90 seconds, but getting free was a major ordeal for Rubi and took a lot out of both of us… definitely one of those moments where you’re thankful just to have survived.
  2. I’m thankful for the health of my menagerie.  This last week has been a real reminder of just how much I depend on my furry family to be there for me, and seeing Wasi and Syn so sick means that I’m extra appreciative for their recovery and the continued health of dogs and cats alike!
  3. I’m thankful for my amazing family, as always, and especially for their support and many “coming to the rescue” moments over the last four months.  I wish I was with them all now.
  4. I’m thankful for all of the incredible people that I have in my life.  From old friends who’ve put up with me since childhood, to my make-shift family back in England who have shown me what true friendship looks like, I don’t know what I would do without you all.  Moreover, I am so incredibly grateful to all the new friends I have made on this journey so far, people who have given me new perspectives, shared their cultures, embraced me even when I was a stranger, and who I will now be able to call friends for life.
  5. I’m incredibly thankful to have the opportunity to be on this journey, to have the adventure of a lifetime.  So many people would love the chance to travel like this and somehow here I am, living that dream.
  6. Finally, though I know I’ve done this in reverse order, the thing I am most thankful for this year is my cousin, Travis.  Ten months ago he literally came to my rescue because I couldn’t face my husband and the divorce alone.  Since then he has been my rock, my stability, my best friend.  He’s let me cry, let me vent, put up with my often irrational mood swings and bouts of depression, acted as my service human, given me space when I’ve needed it and a kick in the ass when it was called for.  He’s driven me crazy and let me drive him crazy, but never for a moment have I doubted his cousinly love.  Without him I don’t think I would have made it through the first six months in England after my husband abandoned me.  I definitely never would have made this trip.  So Travis, you’re what I’m most thankful for this year, have a lot of your dad’s rolls for me!
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Obstacles to Exploring

I’m on day two of being alone, and I woke up this morning knowing that if I didn’t create a routine that would get me out of bed every day, I was liable to just sit around and sink in to a depression over the next two weeks.  This is one of the main reasons I didn’t opt to travel alone in the first place: I know I am susceptible to regular and often severe bouts of depression, and I find that having someone around to feel responsible to helps me fight them off.  Luckily, I still have the animals to care for, and am responsible for the daily upkeep and exercise of the horses here at the farm, so it should be fairly easy to keep myself on track.

One of the things I’ve promised myself that I will do at least every other day is leave the farm and go out exploring.  This is challenging for me, and not just for the usual reasons of having anxiety and such.  I also don’t have access to WiFi or phone service once I leave the farm, which means getting lost is a very real concern.  Additionally, Assistance Dogs aren’t really a thing here, definitely not outside the major cities, so that means if I want to go inside anywhere, I have to go without Wasi.  I’ve been getting really good at going in to stores and shops without a dog, but always with Travis, so this is going to be a really big push outside my safe zone.

Despite these concerns racing around my head, after I finished my morning chores on the farm, I set off determinedly to check out some of the things in the local area.  I visited the churches in Kupres and Tomislavgrad since I am surprisingly fascinated by churches for a non-religious person.  Part of the reason is the architecture and history of these places for sure, but I think another big factor is the fact that for whatever reason, churches always feel safe to enter without a dog.  Both churches were beautiful, and sadly, both are new.  The church in Kupres was destroyed not once, but twice during the war.  The fact that this history is so recent, literally within my own lifetime, was heart wrenching to think about.

After the churches, I attempted to visit the ancient tombs that are scattered all over this area of BiH.  In one of the tombs, a perfectly intact mummy and his shroud were recovered from 3000 B.C.!  I plan to visit the museum that houses these artefacts at a later date, but for today, I just wanted to wander over the hills that had once housed them.  Except I didn’t do my research very well, and I forgot that out here in the countryside, many of the would-be tourist sites are not very well marked.  I found the road sign indicating the turn off for the tombs, but despite nearly 40 mins of driving down an unpaved road, I’m not actually sure that I ever managed to see the tombs themselves.  There were some rocky hills that looked different from the rest of the landscape, so I snapped some photos of those in case they were it.  I’ll have to ask Mate or Marko where I went wrong…  this is me as a solo traveler in a nutshell.

I may not (or may, to be determined) have found the tombs, but I did visit quite a few cemeteries along my route.  Like the churches, these sites serve as really poignant reminders of how recent the tragedy of war is here.  Kurpes was a major battle site of the war because of its important mid-way location for communications through the mountains.  The remnants of war are still visible everywhere, from houses bearing bullet holes, buildings blown to pieces, signs warning of mines, and into the eyes of Marko, boss two, who served on the front lines and still clearly carries the weight of what he saw.  There are memorials everywhere and I stopped and took a moment at each and every one that I saw because I think we owe it to peace not to forget.

I ended my first day of solo exploring by forcing myself to stop at a local restaurant and have a meal all by myself… not even Wasi for company.  I went for comfort food, pizza and French fries, and tried not to notice how crowded the completely empty restaurant started to get as I sat there.  I’m not sure I can remember the last time I ate a meal in public alone, and I definitely don’t know the last time I did so without a dog at my feet.  I managed to keep the anxiety attack at bay by focusing on editing some of the photos I’d taken of the day and scrolling through Facebook.  By the time I made it home, I was feeling both relived and proud of myself.  I made it through the day intact, without succumbing to the fears or anxiety that were pressing in on all sides.  I even enjoyed myself, enough that I’m already looking forward to my next mini solo adventure.  This time I think I’ll try planning a little more thoroughly, so that I know for sure if I make it to the site I’m trying to reach!