Saturday, 28 November 2020

Back Again

I was 24 when my world became a bit bigger. 

Although one can argue that big is not a word you use for a country like Gibraltar, a British territory in the southern tip of Spain with a population of 32,000, for a girl who grew up chasing chickens and jumping in muddy puddles with piglets (before they became roast dinners) in a farm and spent her childhood reading books about greener lands, a one-way ticket to any part of Europe would have meant an exciting new life.

Well, different, at least. 

Before I packed up two large suitcases for my great adventure, I was working toxic hours in my country's business capital of Makati, a city that never sleeps, churning out financial accounts that fuel the country's economy to earn measly crumbs enough only to pay my monthly rent on a shared bedroom in a shady part of the metropolis close enough to my workplace and livable enough to spend at most 6 hours each day to catch up on sleep.

Four years of bright lights and the big city and I was ready for a slower pace of life. Then Gibraltar called and I answered. 
The Gibraltar of 12 years ago felt like a little seaside town except even then people were driving BMWs and sailing off in pretty little boats to catch the sunset after a 7-hour work day. There was a single cinema, long replaced with a modern one, built in the 1960s that would take you back to the glorious old days of film appreciation. The busiest place was the Casemates Square, where within a few minutes of taking a seat, somebody you may or may not want to acknowledge would have found you. The Main Street, as it is aptly called, is the main shopping thoroughfare where you can spend a whole Saturday to explore, again and again. Because for a visa-holding national who couldn't cross the border to Spain, there was very little else to do. 

It took me a whole year to obtain a Schengen visa that would allow me to get to other parts of Europe but I have kept myself busy by going up and around the Rock, immersing in the local way of life and meeting the many lovely people who became my family away from home, establishing roots that have remained firmly grounded. 

I did not come here looking for love. But love is what finds you when you have plenty of free time to figure out yourself. And love whisked me away to face adult responsibilities and uncertainties I would have happily put off for a few more years. 

And so Gibraltar became that place we longed to go back to and relive our carefree youth. 

In the over ten years since we have said our vows, written in the Rock of Gibraltar and witnessed by people who became our family in a homely church at the end of Main Street, we have often been back. A few times for the occasional short visits, then four years ago to try our luck for what we thought would have been a permanent move that only lasted 18 months. This time it's for a very long holiday "while there is Covid". 

But Gibraltar is not the same place we have left behind over a decade ago. It has become a place that keeps on building, from the glass-fronted buildings of Ocean Village, the sleekly-built luxury apartments in Midtown and the three towers of King's Wharf by the quay to the highly anticipated Euro City that keeps rising each day. The friendly little airport that once greeted us warmly has become a sprawling and impressive structure welcoming its international visitors. A green space has been created on what used to be a car park, where children can run around (but not kick a ball!) with a tiny man-made lake filled with colourful fishes and turtles to keep little ones entertained. 

Gibraltar circa 2010
Gibraltar 2020

But many things have stayed the same, like the genuine fondness I am greeted with when I meet an old colleague or a church family member randomly on the street. Like coming home and finding that things have moved on without you but you are still welcome anyway. 

In the four months we have been back, we have slotted right back in that it felt like we have never left. Our social lives have resumed, with night outs ending at 2am (and for ladies' that does not involved a speck of alcohol!). Isaac has started school with friends he made from football, on Sundays he plays tennis with his 'first-ever-bestmate' Enzo whom he met when he was three months old and on Tuesdays he alternates Spanish lessons at home with his new friend Hector. Spain, despite its restrictions, is once again easily accessible for when we need a respite from the looming levanter that clouds some of our days. Covid, for all the damage is has done and is doing elsewhere, has been kind to us. 

Life is easy, like a never-ending holiday. Until reality calls us back.

The Originals, 2010

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