Day 18: Itecare
My Portuguese speaking skills are slowly coming along. I've mastered a few key phrases like 'uma ovo mishido por favor' ('scrambled eggs, please') which gets me by.
'Is today Wednesday?'
'No... it's Tuesday I think. No wait a sec, I remember it being Monday just a day or two ago.'
'Are you sure?'
I listened to Camila and Sam's conversation with amusement. I had lost all awareness of time or date so couldn't help them. It was mostly unintentional. Life just seemed to blur into one carefree day after another. The last time I saw them was in my Salvador hostel barely a week ago, as I was packing my bags on the way out to Itecare. I had jokingly invited them to come to Itecare, and less than a few days later, walked into my dorm room after a shower, only to find them unpacking their bags onto the remaining two beds.
'Salvador was cool, but it was so quiet it was a little depressing. So we thought we'd come and join you guys!' Camila explained, a little shyly, as if worried she and Sam had come across as stalkers.
I was happy they turned up, as personally, the more people in my travelling crew, the better.
'Do you want to head to the beach?' is the first question we'd ask each other in the morning. And from there, we then spontaneously decide what we want to do. Nowadays the most important decision in my life is deciding whether I want to go to the beach first, or have breakfast before the beach, or if I want to lie in a hammock before breakfast, or....
As Cam, Sam and I lazed on the beach, coconut juice in hand and nothing but the sound of palm trees swaying and the waves breaking to disturb us, I thought back to how much my life had changed in just the space of a year.
Barely over a year ago, I graduated from the comfortable bubble of university life and into the uncertain world of the worst recession in decades. 'Class of 2009 is the lost generation', one newspaper would scream.
'Job prospects at all time low' mourned another woefully, dampening my spirits as I frantically searched for a graduate job.
In order to give myself something to fill up both my free time and the CV, I did some bartending in Canary Wharf - London's financial district. While the country's bankers and financial types were widely berated for bringing the British economy to its knees, ballooning the national debt and crippling graduate job prospects, here it was surreal to see these same people recklessly pissing away thousands of pounds at a time on expensive wines and champagnes, seemingly without a care in the world. And there I was, serving them as they wined and dined, and firing off job apps once home with fevered desperation.
Most couldn't even be bothered to tip. It was demoralising.
The time I spent going through the painstakingly drawn out dance that is the corporate recruitment process felt endless. Completing psychometric tests, wooing interviewers with my work experience, and articulating with passion my desire to dedicate the next few decades of my life to client meetings, deadlines and PowerPoint presentations.
There were one or two moments where I despaired over how brutally selective graduate recruitent had become. At the final stage of one well-known company's recruitment process, the assessor sat us candidates down in a room and handed out multiple-choice answer sheets, along with an abstract reasoning question booklet. For this psychometric test, I was supposed to analyse the sequences of five shapes and predict what the sixth shape should be. Although I followed - but didn't personally agree with - the rationale behind these psychometric tests, I knew that essentially, it was just another hurdle employed by these firms to whittle down their pool of candidates further.
A few days later, the company phoned me up to tell me the outcome of my performance. My feedback was outstanding ('we've never had a candidate perform so well across all key areas') in all eight parts of the assessment process apart from one.
The abstract reasoning test.
And that - informed the HR lady with barely concealed glee - was enough to cost me an offer.
A bunch of squares, triangles and circles on a sheet of paper.
A test that - for numerous very suspicious reasons - I was sure I hadn't failed.
But how could I prove this without looking like just another disgruntled, unsuccessful candidate?
'Of course, you are welcome to reapply to us in six months' time,' she cattily purred down the phone.
I felt fury.
Two months later, I finally saw light at the end of the tunnel when I was made a few job offers. After signing the preferred contract, I quit my bartending job, flopped onto my bed and literally slept for two days straight. My body practically collapsed from the stress of the past few months and suddenly developed a cold, headache and a lot of lethargy. I was physically and mentally shattered.
Looking back, that period of my life was plagued with uncertainty. For the first time that I could ever remember, I couldn't reasonably see where I would be in the future. I didn't know if I would ever find a graduate job, or how long I would spend bartending to fill up the time. I didn't know if I would do a postgrad, or just fritter away aimlessly in a jobless limbo.
With a year left to go before my grad job started, I inadvertently had the gap year I had always secretly wanted. And so once I recovered my mental energy from the gruelling recruitment process, I set about planning my travels for my final year of unrestricted freedom...