Lost Couple of the Week: Monna and DamienLost Boys, Lost Girl of the Week — By Amanda P on September 29, 2008 at 8:14 pm
The old adage “out of sight, out of mind” might ring true for some friends, but not teachers Monna McDiarmid and Damien Pitter. These two Canadians realized that while thousands of miles might have separated them, their common love of travel could actually unite them in the end. Here, one half of the Lost Couple of the Week shares how she and her guy fell for the nomadic life in Colombia and Mexico…before falling for one another.
For the Love of Travel
I had just finished my Bachelor of Education when a small private school in Colombia hired me-over the phone-to teach English Literature. It was a classic teacher meets world story; I needed a job and I wanted to travel. I had never imagined a place like Cali, Colombia. There, the temperature hovered at 32 degrees C (89 degrees F), always. The palm trees reached the stars. Even the five year olds danced better than I did.
On the high road to Tierra Dentro-where other buses had gone over the cliff-I got frostbite where my earrings were. On a chiva bus I sat beside a man holding a chicken. Cali was surreal like Gabriel Garcia Marquez novels. I didn’t know how lost I would need to get before learning that my Canadian way of seeing and doing things was not the only way. Cali was a fantastic education for an educator.
Back in Canada, I pursued graduate work and met Damien who was learning to make films. We became friends.
Then we both got lost, but separately: Damien grew up with some privilege in a loving Canadian home. A path laid out for him, with all the tools to get there. There was work involved, but it wasn’t going to be a hard life. Except that he didn’t know if he believed in the place it was all leading to. So Damien got lost. He taught in Pereira, Colombia, a land of contrasts. Green rainforests beside towers of landfill, a woman with her burlap bag, praying on the church step, feeling too dirty to enter. He recalls, “It was an experience of contrasts too, negotiating that first cultural clash, but I’ve never enjoyed everyday life more.”
Damien and I found each other again, in Mexico. When Damien went to Colombia, I moved to Monterrey, Mexico, where I taught English and became a High School Counselor. After three years, Damien joined me Monterrey and we got lost together. We followed Neruda to Chile and drove across the story of America, from Monterrey to Ottawa and back. We still miss Mexico, still dream about Oaxacan mole, the falling-down beauty of Real de Catorce, Zihuatenejo’s simplicity, and open fields of Joshua trees.
Currently, we work at a small international school in Barcelona, Spain. I love Europe and the way Europeans live. Fruit and vegetable markets. Pastry shops. The hard-won love of local merchants in Catalunya.
Most of the time we lead pretty regular teaching lives but we’ve used our long weekends and holidays to continue losing, and finding, ourselves. We’ve loved the food in Florence, the buskers in Dublin, our train companion in Budapest, the Paris in Paris, and the history, holy history, of Rome. We’ve learned some things about power and privilege, about kindness and simplicity, about risk and safety, about magic and faith, about food and love and our love for food. We’ve learned a little history and a lot about beauty. We teach and write and take photographs; I blog at Teacher Meets World, and we share a little photo blog, 14 Lenses, with some of our former colleagues and students who have dispersed around the world.
In all of our travels, perhaps we’ve loved this best: Valparaiso, Chile is a brokedown palace of color that huddles up on its hill-haunches as though the Pacific were a bonfire. On Christmas Eve, the streets were empty, the windows unshuttered. Walking through the hills, we caught glimpses of extended family dinners and decorated warmth. Bells sounded midnight and children flooded the streets, each with a new toy, a bicycle, a ball, and with joy… simple and palpable as whipped cream on hot chocolate.
-Monna writes about daily life in her adopted city of Barcelona at Teacher Meets World. Her past homes include Colombia and Mexico. She say that her Spanish “ought to be much better than it is.”