It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Ride Your Camel That Counts.

KB2 Karen Barnett on camel, Cairo, Egypt Photo Julene
My mother in Cairo, Egypt. 1963

I don’t remember what words my mother said to me when I was growing up but I remember what she represented.

In her early 20’s, she was determined to earn some money and take off to see the world as soon as she could. Yes there was the nice farmer her girlfriends thought was very suitable for a husband but she had imagined a bigger life, one full of adventure.

One where she’d wake up one morning in Tootles, her VW van, with her girlfriend to find that the nice grassy patch they’d parked on belonged to an irate Swedish farmer who had a very unfriendly gun. And where she’d turn up in a remote village in Italy with a phone number of her friend’s mother’s cousin’s aunty and couldn’t find a phone to call her on but after talking to the local butcher found her way there anyway. Where she’d be alone at the captain of the ship’s table because her girlfriend was dancing with an officer but she didn’t care. She had a nice olive from her martini to admire.

Then, after she’d had some high times on the high seas, she might consider a husband. But even once she had found a good one, a really good one, she wouldn’t rush into babies like everyone else. She wanted to build up a solid foundation of a relationship before she hit that rollercoaster. These were all the wise lessons my Mother passed down to me through stories over photo albums and cups of tea.

She never told me what to do but passed on her spirit and determination to be herself, to break away from expectations and do things her way.

We didn’t venture overseas when I was a child but I grew up believing I would travel the world too one day, simply because she did.

Of course, being my mother’s daughter I had to do it my way and turned everything upside down. A ‘training marriage’, as my friend Nina likes to call them, snuck in before the travelling but I always knew deep down, even when I was messing up, that I would get through it because Mum told me I could. She didn’t try to fix my problems but she filled me with a confidence that I could fix them myself. Somehow. Eventually.

These are the best gifts a mother can pass on. The unwavering firm belief that no matter what that rascal camel does: spit, stomp on your toes, run off with your wallet, you will be OK and figure out what to do. Because you always do.

Mum gave me the kind of love that builds armies: fierce and strong and loyal. She gave me hope, and showed me what trust and kindness is. She gave me a desire to find my own camel and ride it my way.

I only hope I can do half as good a job as her.


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