In memory of my friend San San, who always wanted to see the world

On Monday, just as we were coming back into Cuba from Mexico with shiny new visas ready for the next stage of our trip, I heard that my wonderful friend San San had died suddenly that morning. She had been sick for a couple of days, and then collapsed at home. She was 51 and it was totally unexpected.
Her death leaves an enormous hole for me, and it's impossible to imagine how her family feels, including her five fabulous children, Michelle, Daniel, Marian, Samuel and Richelle. Then there are her "adopted" children, like my sons Ben and Sam, their friend James, and Ben Gilbert, who called her "mum". Many, many others were touched by her enormous heart, her huge kindness, her enthusiasm for life, her optimism when things were hard, and the yummy food she always had ready for family, friends, and co-workers.
On the long trip back to New Zealand, I thought a lot about the woman most people call Mabel, but who we always knew as San San. Among other things, I thought about her love of life, even though hers was a tough one. Her father died of TB when she was young, she joined the (ultimately unsuccessful) student uprising against the Burmese military government, spent time fighting the regime in the jungle and then years in a refugee camp in Thailand. In New Zealand she faced all the frustrations of a new immigrant - language and cultural barriers, lack of money, difficulty in finding a job, struggles with bureaucracy to get what she needed, coping with a large family in a strange country. Quite apart from fiercely missing her mum, brother and other relatives in Burma.
She kept positive and optimistic throughout. 
But this is a travel blog, and as I'm writing this, I'm also thinking how much San San wanted to travel, to see the world, to take the sort of holidays most of us take for granted. And it was starting to look more of a possibility. Her life was going well - for the first time she had a steady job, promotion prospects; a bit of spare money. 
Our two families always spent Christmas together - we had a dream about meeting up for Christmas in Burma/Myanmar this year, where she could show us her country and introduce us to her family.
Maybe it wouldn't have happened this year, but it would have happened. And now it won't - or at least she won't be part of that trip. And that is really really sad.  So too is the fact she didn't have the opportunity to see the places she always wanted to see - Jordan, Europe, Asia, the rest of New Zealand. She never had time to fulfil her dream of just taking off and exploring. And that is impossibly unfair.
But reflecting on San San's death has also made this trip that my family are taking feel even more valuable. Travelling the world for nine months sometimes seems crazy, irresponsible, stupid. Things go wrong and you miss the stability and normality of home. In a country like Cuba, where simple things like buying a bus ticket, or finding butter in a store, are complicated, occasionally you wonder if it wouldn't be easier to be in a place with ubiquitous internet and stocked supermarkets.
You also wonder if you'll end up a poverty-stricked pensioner regretting having spent all your savings on frivolous - if fabulous - globetrotting.
I don't think that now. San San's death reinforces the many clichés about living life now, and seizing the day, and not putting things off, and never knowing what the future will bring. Sam and I have made the several thousand kilometres journey back to New Zealand for the funeral, but we will go back to Cuba to hopefully finish our journey. And I know that this trip is the right thing for us, and we need to put everything into making it something we will always remember.
For us. And now for San San.  
We'll miss you, lovely friend.