Fast and furious. Wild. Soon the river is to be dammed.  Opportunities to ride its rollercoaster flow fewer and fewer.

‘Welcome aboard!’

I step from the jetty only to miss gaining a foothold.  Falling splat, the inflated craft cushions the impact.  My nostrils inhale the smell of rubber.

From above, a decidedly bristly voice booms.  ‘Heaven help me! And may the lord, the holy mother and all the saints preserved spare me!’

Oh dear! I think. Not a good start.

Clambering to my feet, I utter ‘Ooopsi!’

The guide’s eyes narrow their focus.  ‘You!’

‘Yes?’

Flinging one of his arms, he points to a spot starboard equidistant between bow and stern.  ‘Sit there where I can keep an eye on you.’

‘Aye, aye sir!’

I feel his steely gaze bore into me as I sit.  Possibly he too noticed my response with its well-projected, bright and breezy vocal tone sounded at odds with his own.

I observe my travel companions.  They cheerfully obey the commander of the craft as he drills us.  We learn of the fickle ways of the river and how to effectively deploy manoeuvres for keeping craft and crew safe.  Soon we are functioning as a cohesive unit, each with designated duties.

Training complete, we paddle from the relative calm of the docking area.  The craft gathers speed as the fast-flowing current takes hold.  Up ahead, I see the beginning of white water turbulence.

Okay this is it! Ready or not, here we come!

The guide begins to bellow instructions.  I relay his orders. Silently, the others take immediate action.  Smoothly the craft traverses the first bumpy section.

The river’s flow slows as it meanders its way around a wide, sandy outcrop.  In response, the craft also slows.

One of the crew, Charlie, shows his jubilance by jumping into the water, fully clothed.  When his face emerges, he lets out an almighty ‘Woohoo! That was fantastic!’

The guide’s facial features thaw into a broad smile.  Standing, he pushes one person then another followed by two more into the water.

I wonder when I’m next. But that shove fails to materialize.  For some reason, one other person as well as myself remain onboard. Left alone. I sense the guide giving us both a wide berth.

An earlier experience is my excuse for not joining the others in the water. On that occasion, the mountain creek had looked so enticing. And I was so hot and sweaty from bushwalking.  The prospect of cooling down inviting.  Anticipation fuelled my hurried eagerness as I stripped down to my underwear.  Without hesitation, I dived in.  But that utter cold!  It sucked the very breath from my lungs.

Peering into this river it has that same look of chill.

‘Enough now. Time to move on.’  The guide offers a helping hand to those overboard.  ‘Fresh?’ he asks one as they come aboard.

‘Brrrrr! Looking forward to the sun warming me up. Worth it though.’

But all too soon, just like a tumultuous rollercoaster theme ride, it is over.  After helping load the four-wheel drive, we head off to the change rooms.

Fumbling from numb fingers, I finally change into my swimmers.  Most of my fellow travellers are already nicely settled.  Following their example, I lower myself into the toasty thermal pool.

Ah! That’s so good.

Chilled limbs eagerly absorb the warmth.  Busy luxuriating, general conversation is subdued.  Our guide enters the room, exuberant.

‘Can’t stay.’ he says. ‘I’ve already spoken to the barman. When you’re finished here, the first round of drinks are on me!’

We collectively responded with a ‘Woohoo!’

‘Today, I had the best time,’ he continues. ‘Not like before.’

Disgust flashes across his face. ‘For months now, group after group nothing more than namby-pamby no-hopers. I’d given up hope of ever again enjoying the thrill of the river.’

His demeanour changes from dour to glowing.  ‘And then you lot turned up. Blew me away you did. Like a well-oiled machine with everyone pitching in and doing their bit.’

His focus zeros in on me.

‘And you! What a delightful surprise you turned out to be. Didn’t matter what I said, you relayed it as clear as a bell to the others.  And above the roar of the river too. I swear, it was like listening to a loud echo.  And I’m sure that if I had burped or farted, you would’ve found a way of amplifying that as well!’

A ripple of laughter runs through the group.

‘I hear you mate,’ says Charlie. ‘When she first joined the group, quiet as a mouse she was. Wasn’t long though before she was as noisy as the rest of us.’

‘That I believe,’ says our guide. ‘Reckon that deserves a nickname.’  He pauses momentarily. ‘I know!  Henceforth, you are to be known as “Lady Bellows”’.

‘To Lady Bellows!’ the others cheer.

‘One more thing before I go.  I’d like to invite the entire team to join me white-water rafting the Marshyandi River.  It’s located in Nepal.  Technically, it’s rated as one of the challenging in the world. The ride of a lifetime! Think about it. Charlie has my contact details. Anyway, all the best for the rest of your travels. Cheerio!’

Wow! Such a nice compliment.

And then it dawns on me. Mission accomplished.

A few weeks ago I was a thoroughly fed-up teenager.  The carping so relentless.  ‘Oh! You must really like that dress,’ my boyfriend’s mother would say. Or, ‘you should do something with your hair’, ‘you should make more of an effort to fit in,’ ‘you should be more feminine,’ even, ‘you can be quite pretty, when you make an effort.’

Deciding to test the value of that view, I had boarded a flight out of the country. To be in a foreign place for a month. To decide once and for all whether people could like me just the way I am.

And now, three weeks into my four-week stay, I have my answer.

I am enough.  In an environment where I am interacting with like-minded souls, my idiosyncrasies endear not alienate.  And the dismantling of the barriers to my self-assurance and confidence enable me access to my strengths.

Away from the familiar, I am given a gift.  The gift of balanced view.

Copyright Jo 2012

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