By Sophie Childs
There are books out there so moving, so insightful that reading them leaves a permanent mark on the soul. When I first read 'The Alchemist' by Paulo Coelho, I discovered such a book.
Sometimes things happen at the perfect moment and this gentle tale of Santiago, a shepherd boy looking for hidden treasure, gave me the courage to leave an unhappy marriage and soul crushing job. Santiago dreams of the pyramids and is told by a Gypsy woman that if he were to go to Egypt, he'd find untold treasure. Although at first he resists making the journey, omens kept appearing, pushing him towards his true path and eventually he took the brave step to leave his flock and travel the world.
Change is scary and it can be a daunting prospect to walk away when you have no idea where you're going to end up, especially when you're as heavily in debt as I was, but spurred on by the example of Santiago, I did. The signs had been there for a while that the conformist life my then husband wanted was not for me. Santiago had found what he was looking for by being brave enough to start searching and even if my quest wasn't as successful as his, I knew I had to try.
Within the space of eighteen months, my life as I'd known it - my job, my marriage, my home - had been completely erased and I'd found contentment, at least for a while.
Fast forward a few years and itchy feet had seen me move to New Zealand, a country so many view as paradise. The reality was anything but. My experiences there seem like something out of a nightmare, sometimes so incredible that if they hadn't happened to me, I wouldn't believe they could be true. Life as a migrant can be very isolating and people aren't always welcoming towards a newcomer to their country, no matter how much you try to fit in. The first year was far harder than I could have imagined - my oldest son was diagnosed with Asperger's and struggled to adjust. Hearing from friends who'd emigrated that the first two years were the hardest, I promised myself to give it more time, but life Down Under was harder with every passing day and I was desperately lonely.
I started weekly yoga classes and the couple of hours' escape it afforded me helped keep me sane, but all the meditation in the world couldn't change the reality of a poorer standard of living and six months' rain every year. My soul yearned to be where I belonged, but emigration is a huge upheaval and I had children to consider. Was it fair to take them back when everyone thinks that New Zealand is a great place to bring up kids?
One morning, I noticed the little green volume on my shelf. 'The Alchemist' was calling to me once more and as I reread it, the story worked its magic on me once again. It was time to recognise that New Zealand could never truly be home. I contemplated the moral of the story - Santiago had travelled the world in search of his treasure only to discover that what he'd been looking for was right back where he started all along. I knew what I had to do.
I took my children home and we've been happy ever since. My treasure might not be gold, but I find it in the green of the rolling hills, the water running through the stream in my garden, the simple act of breathing in the Welsh air. I could have saved myself so much pain by coming here first instead of New Zealand, but as Santiago is told, if I'd have done that, I would have missed out on so many adventures. Santiago realised that life is generous to those who follow their destiny and that's what I've been doing for years. It may have been hard at times, but it's also brought me fond memories, beautiful children and a wealth of riches money can't buy.