In my last post I wrote about the river of “what ifs” going through my head about my upcoming trip. After writing it, I thought back on the worst things that have ever happened to me in my life. All of them have happened at home. The worst things that have happened to me while traveling? Well, they’ve didn’t turn out so bad in the end.
For instance, I accidentally wound up in a brothel in Dubai.
But the story starts in “the other DUB city,” Dublin, where I was working for Oxfam Great Britain on contract for the summer.
Everyone thinks Ireland would be a great place to live, and that’s what I had expected. But I hated it.
This was at the height of the inflationary period they called the Celtic Tiger—right before the Great Recession hit—and everything was colossally expensive.
I stayed in a 12-bed dorm in the Four Courts Hostel until I could find a flat. The other 11 beds were occupied by immigrants from Poland and the Czech Republic who were almost out of money and facing the prospect of going back home as failures. One woman was so depressed she stayed in bed all day with the blanket pulled over her head; I never actually saw her. The only good thing about The Four Courts was the talking elevator that announced, “Turd Floor” in an Irish accent when it reached our floor.
I could go to the Oxfam Ireland office to work, but they didn’t really have space for me, so I worked out of the hostel dining hall while everyone else was out hustling during the day—except for the woman under the covers.
The streets were full of drunks, Irish and otherwise. Lots of Brits and Dutch and Germans came to Dublin for their stag parties. One morning I literally stepped over a drunken man vomiting in the gutter. I don’t know how they afforded it, because a pint of unremarkable beer in a pub cost $8. And maybe because Ireland’s economy was roaring, it seemed like the Irish were over being friendly to travelers. The only friendly overture I had from an Irish person in my first few weeks was a shopkeeper telling me to “Have yourself some crack, now!” That freaked me out until I realized he meant craic—which means “a good time” in Gaelic.
I had pictured myself working away in a cozy pub and making all sorts of new Irish friends, but I was bored and lonely.
In the UK and Ireland, it is much more common for people to share a flat or a house than it is in the US. Having roommates is not just for young or poor people. I would go to look at a flat and there would be a dozen desperate potential renters crowded around the front door. When the landlord deigned to let us in, we would find a dingy, dirty, little hole with a bedroom featuring a sagging twin bed and a window looking out on a brick wall. The rent for that bedroom and sharing everything else with two or three strangers was $500 a month each, easy.
Every night I climbed up to my top bunk and hunched over with my head against the moldy ceiling to read, hoping this would be my last night at the Four Courts. Oh, did I mention I had broken my collar bone in a bike accident in Oxford a week before, and my arm was in a sling?
Everyone used a website called Gumtree to look for flats and jobs and probably to sell their bodies to pay rent. I arranged to meet a potential landlord in a pub rather than go to his house alone. It was love at first sight, for him. Eddie was a good 10 years younger than me and at least a foot taller. His teeth were brown from smoking and crooked from not being an American. I wasn’t attracted to him and I knew it would be a bad idea to move in to the room he had for rent, but I agreed to come and see the place the next day.
To be continued …