Tag Archives: friendship

My Argentinian friend

1982.
The Falklands/Malvinas war is drawing the world’s attention. Argentina and the UK are fighting over some British overseas territories in the South Atlantic. The conflict only lasted ten weeks but had important consequences for my life as a primary school kid in Italy.

Silvana from Buenos Aires moved to Italy with her family and joined my school. She joined my class.
We became friends. Very good friends.
Afternoons went by with us playing in my garden, mixing Italian and Spanish while trying to communicate, making up new words and laughing about them.

Silvana and her family left a couple of years later, back to Argentina. I found their destination address on one of the removal boxes parked outside their flat after they had left, and wrote it down. A few weeks later I sent a long letter to my friend. And our friendship continued thanks to our many handwritten messages that crossed the oceans for years.
I promised Silvana that I’d visit her as soon as I turned 18. But I couldn’t keep the promise. Life takes funny turns. We eventually lost contact.

Then Mr Zuckerberg invented Facebook.
And I found my friend there.
She was still in Argentina while I had moved to the UK in the meanwhile.

Fast forward to 13 November 2015, the day I took the 4:30am ferry from Colonia del Sacramento (Uruguay) to Buenos Aires just to go and see my Argentinian friend for the day.
As I exit the ferry arrival area I see her. She looks at me…we cannot contain our excitement…it’s been 31 years but it feels like nothing has changed!

And here is us, as kids and now:

My friend Lan Anh

Lan Anh is 10 years old and her bicycle is too big for her.

Lan Anh has big brown eyes and a very cute smile. In her blue school uniform, she shouted “Hello!” to me as I rode my mountain bike past her. I smiled and asked her “What’s your name?”. She looked confused. “Me: Chiara. You?” I attempted. “Lan Anh!” she replied enthusiastically. “How are you?” I asked. “I am 10” she told me. Mmmm this is going to be a difficult conversation, I thought.

But Lan Anh wanted to talk and appeared very determined to try and use her limited English with me. It wasn’t easy for her, the effort was visible on her face. She would look at me and then away, frowning, every muscle tensed while she was concentrating.  I could feel how hard she was trying.
I asked her if she was going home to eat – sign and body language at hand this time – and she nodded. We kept cycling next to each other for a few minutes along the main road in Con Son town, then I turned to her and said “Bye Lan Anh, I am off”, and sped up. She pushed faster trying to catch up with me, while seemingly looking for something in her bag.

When she reached me, she handed me something: a little heart made of motherpearl shell! My heart melted.

“Thank you Lan Anh”. “You are welcome”.  And then she left.

There was only one road exiting Con Son town and I kept cycling a couple of hundred metres behind her, until she stopped again. When I caught up she had her English textbook open and was quickly flicking through the pages. Then she paused, looked at some pictures and asked me “Is you housewife?”. I giggled then tried to find a picture that could describe my job – the only options were pupil, teacher, housewife and policeman. No good. So I told her that I am a tourist, I am on holiday. She looked puzzled again.

In my pocket I had a small colourful bracelet that I had got in Saigon, so I pulled it out and gave it to her. She said thank you with the most beautiful smile!

We cycled next to each other for another few minutes then when the road split she turned left, looked at me once more and shouted “See you again!”.

Yes, see you again, my lovely Lan Anh.

Meet me at the pier

Pier 914 in Con Son Town, Con Dao, takes its name from the estimated number of prisoners who died during its construction. Another reminder of the sad history of this island.

This is where my friendship with Jo and Gez started. All thanks to a freshly caught mackerel and a Vietnamese phrasebook.
We somehow managed to have the mackerel delivered to a local restaurant, where it was then cooked in three different ways. The evening also involved riding a motorbike in three, in true Vietnamese style.

“Meet me at the pier after sunset” has become the refrain at the end of our evenings.

The pier after sunset
The pier after sunset

At the pier we sit with a couple of drinks and listen to the sound of the waves breaking against the rocks. There is no one else there. Only a fisherman or two when it gets crowded. Darkness surrounds us. It is very quiet.

Tonight Jo and Gez did not meet me at the pier. I waited and waited but they never arrived.
Maybe they were tired, maybe they wanted time to themselves.

I will go back to Pier 914 tomorrow after sunset.
Maybe I will see my friends again.