Thursday, January 6, 2011

Epic Adventures Part I — Australia


So it’s been a wicked crazy 3 weeks, probably my busiest ever. Luckily, it was all in the name of fun in the sun! There’s lots I want to write about, so I’m dividing it into 2 postings (part 2, Namibia, is below).

Now, it’s normal for people on their placements to have family/friends visit them, and some others travel back to Canada for the holidays. But Part 1 of my adventure began with me jetting off to Melbourne, Australia. Why Australia, you ask? It actually wasn’t my original plan by any means; I actually had my heart set on going to my real motherland of the motherland, Eritrea. However, when I found out that flights to Eritrea have to go through GERMANY and cost 4 THOUSAND FREAKING DOLLARS, that plan was quickly shot down. And since my (African) parents didn’t seem to keen on coming to Bots, but were convinced I needed a “break from Africa” via either Canada or Australia (and they secretly wanted some family to see that I was alive and well), the choice to me was pretty clear. I’ve got tons of family in Australia that I haven’t seen in years, and I loved it the first time I went. So after a long-ass flight from Johannesburg to Melbourne (kudos to Virgin Australia for being super awesome), I finally made it Down Under.

From the second I entered my great-aunt’s house (where I spent most of my time), the Eritrean spirit hit me full force. Now I absolutely love my family, both in Canada and Australia (so don’t take offense), but I need to expose the East African way of life. When a guest comes over, you’re supposed to treat them with hospitality; offering food and drink when they come in, making sure they’re comfortable etc. But when said guest is a 21-year old girl whose been living in Africa on her own for 6 months and whose mother is worried sick about her, it goes into overdrive. There were zillions of questions, lots of fussing over me and LOTS of making me eat, even though I wasn’t very hungry. Most of the fussing stopped once I was able to articulate that I was doing just fine, but the food thing kept going for quite a few days. I later found out that my great-aunt back in Canada told her sister (my great-aunt in Australia) that they needed to feed me well, because I probably wasn’t eating well in Africa and would come to them skinny and starving. Needless to say, it’s quite the opposite; still, it was pretty funny. I got that glass of milk I was craving: it was delicious, but I realized that after about the fourth glass, I was probably overdoing it... plus, I don’t think my body is as tolerant of milk as it used to be. But better than that, I ate Eritrean food again! I know how to make some of the simple breakfast dishes, but you can’t find the ingredients you need in Bots. I think I completely underestimated how much I missed it; it’s sooooo freaking good. So it was nice to have a little bit of home again. And throughout my stay in Aussie, I had some of the best food I’ve had in ages.

My first few days in Melbourne were spent making the rounds to visit extended family I haven’t seen in a while (another Eritrean custom, plus I really wanted to see them again). It was so trippy to see people that I remembered as kids become these grown men and women. Mind you, I was 12 the last time around, so I’m sure I look different too. It was funny though—everywhere house I went, I would get these shrieks and be told I was told that I’ve become the spitting image of my mom; in fact, one of my great aunts called me “little Medina” (my mom’s name). I also met new members of the family; wives/husbands and kids who weren’t in the picture (or who I didn’t meet) 9 years ago. To be honest, my favourite part of my entire trip was being around family, which I think I completely undervalue at times. The one downside—everyone on this side of the world speaks Arabic, whereas in Canada we speak Tigre, one of the native Eritrean languages. They’re sort of similar and I can understand basic Arabic, but I was out of the loop a bit. Especially when people would speak to me directly in Arabic. My cousins would translate at times (and really, all of my aunts know English but don’t speak it to their kids), but I definitely picked up quite a bit in my short stay. It wasn’t too bad until I had this exchange with my 3-year old cousin:

Her: *Starts speaking in rapid Arabic*
Me: Oh, I don’t speak Arabic.
Her: *In an almost accusing tone* Why?
Me: Because my mommy didn’t teach me.
Her: Why?
Me: I don’t know! I’m sorry, okay?


Once I had seen pretty much everyone, I was free to explore Melbourne for a few days. Luckily, I had my favourite and wonderful cousins Mary-Kate and Ashley (okay, they’re actually named Sara and Sally), who so graciously took so much of their own time to act as my tour guides/publicists. The first place they took me was Footscray, which is pretty much Africa-town in Melbourne—tons of African shops, it’s where all the Africans go to get their hair and eyebrows done etc. Later, everyone was like “you took her to Footscray? Seriously??”. But still, it was a neat place and I got some cheap clothes. Then we went downtown (which they call “the city”) which I vaguely remembered, but I downplayed its awesomeness in my mind. I could definitely see myself living there. Melbourne is quite the city—it’s not really talked about as a place to visit, but it’s got a really cool vibe. It’s considered the fashion capital of Australia, which could not be more true. There are shopping centres EVERYWHERE, and everyone looks really funky and put together. Another thing Melbourne is known for is its food. Remember how I said there were shopping centres everywhere? Yeah, scratch that and replace it with restaurants. There are streets upon streets of just restaurants, and their patios are always completely full. My cousins told me that part of the culture in Melbourne is that people like to go out and eat every kind of good-quality food imaginable, and it isn’t that expensive either. And their city actually seems to be full and happening! I think Melbourne and Toronto have similar populations, but our downtown always looks empty, which isn’t the case in Melbourne. I saw all of the touristy sites—Melbourne Central Station, Federation Square (where Oprah visited on her Australian tour the week before I got there—my cousins went and saw her!), Southbank (on the river), the botanical gardens, all of the major shopping streets (let’s see if I remember... Bourke St, Elizabeth St, Swanston St, Flinders St Chapel St) etc. I also ate ridiculously well; Malaysian food, Afghani food, lots of chocolate and the list goes on. Sara and Sally also introduced me to their friends, who were all awesome. Eating out, Karaoke, birthday parties, 90s block parties, it was all super fun. I wasn’t in Melbourne long though—after a week, it was off to Sydney!

My cousins and I have a thing where we have to do a getaway every time we get together. Summer ’09 it was NYC (Brooklyn holla!) and this year it was between Sydney and the Gold Coast (where the Great Barrier Reef is) in Queensland. I would have loved either, but since my stupid cousins can’t swim, the Gold Coast was kind of pointless. Sydney was awesome, and I’d always wanted to go there. The weather was beautiful the entire time we were there, and we hit up all the touristy spots. The first day we went to Darling Harbour, which was gorgeous (all my pics are on facebook, I am computer illiterate and don’t know how to put them on here without it screwing up the format). Even though Sydney is a large metropolitan city, the water in the harbour is super blue and clean, which is pretty rare. There was lots of walking around the city, shopping (of course) and just soaking in the sights. The next day, we had the best pancakes EVER and went to the infamous Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House. The Opera house wasn’t as big as I thought it was, but it turns out it’s actually functional which I didn’t know (they have ballets there). And we wanted to climb the Harbour Bridge, but turns out it’s over 200 bucks. No thank you. Lots more walking around, chilling in Hyde Park (which became our afternoon tradition), and more shopping. Sydney was an odd place though. First of all, all we saw were Caucasians, Caucasian tourists, and Asian people. No black people, and no Muslims. I was like “in a city of almost 5 million, there must be more colour!”. Apparently the suburbs are like their own little communities, with their own stores and everything—so people don’t really venture out into the city much. I know there’s a large Lebanese community in Sydney, but I could probably count on one hand the number of Arabs I saw. It was weird. Second, the Sydney-ites (Sydney-ans? Whatever they’re called) definitely don’t hide their sexuality, because there are sex shops EVERYWHERE. Literally. In the posh areas, in the sketchy areas, in Chinatown, in the shopping district. You name it, there would probably be 5 shops on 1 street. You know when the liquor shop is called the “Lick Her Shop”, there is something a little off. A couple of fun nights out, and our short stay was over. Then it was back to Melbourne for a few days with the fam, Boxing Day shopping (Boxing Day in Canada is much better), a nice barbeque, and off to return to Africa.

Just a few random thoughts about Aussie:
1)It is SO WEIRD seeing Christmas being celebrated when the weather is so warm. The streets were all decorated, houses were tricked out... and yet people were wearing shorts.
2)There were some habits I’ve picked up in Africa that don’t really translate well to developed countries. Apparently, I now cross the street like a total incompetent. Here in Bots there are very few crosswalks, so you just cross whenever there are no cars around, even if the light is green. I was continuously doing that in Aussie, and getting yanked back and scolded. I’ve also become impatient about how long the FREAKING LIGHT TAKES TO CHANGE SOMETIMES. At least traffic in Australia and Bots goes in the same direction; I probably would have been killed otherwise. It was also weird to not have to watch for my belongings every second. My cousins called me paranoid, but I was always like “Where’s my bag? Where’s my money?” and kept looking over or feeling around until I could locate them. I could also carry a purse and put money all in one place without thinking about getting mugged! It took a while to register that my stuff would be just fine.
3)One of the funniest things to happen was right at the end when I was packing. My family said I should bring some food from Australia to Africa. I thought it would be a waste of space since I bought a lot of clothes. After a struggle, I ended up with 2 big jugs of pancake mix and maple syrup. And I’m talking like, milk jug size. 2 of them. And at first they wanted me to bring 6. My bag ended up being slightly overweight at the end.
4)As my cousin so eloquently put it, apparently I’ve become “less dopey” since I’ve gone to Africa. Score!

Just a couple of shoutouts and words of thanks to people in Aussie. Sara, Sally and the whole Saadeldin family; I know family’s supposed to take care of each other, but you guys went above and beyond to make sure I was well-fed and had a good time. I’ll never think of “What’s My Name” (or Rihanna in general), “Teach Me How to Dougie”, “All of the Lights” or any Salsa music without thinking of you Doublemint twins. Musa Musa, Abdulahi, Najat (I’m sure none of you are actually reading this), your hospitality was much appreciated. Big ups to Namarek, Reem, Amran, Qamar, Muki and a special SPECIAL thanks to Nawal, my new BFF ;) Forgive me if I didn’t put you down, but you guys are the best!

Aussie = almost success. The only downside was that I didn’t meet Oprah.

Namibian adventures down below!

No comments:

Post a Comment