It was really too short a time to have spent at home.
I spent three and a half weeks back in Australia in February, and for the first time in about five months I actually felt like myself, like there was more to my personality than aching sadness.
I landed in Sydney in the morning, and spent the day wandering around the city and generally revelling in the fact that I wasn’t wearing a coat, wasn’t being rained on or blown sideways by the wind. I was also struck by a few things that had faded in my memory of home:
1. Australia is ridiculously beautiful.
I have been aware of how living in an arguably ugly concrete and brick city, with a distinct lack of nature to break up the monotony of the buildings, has had a detrimental effect on my lifestyle and mood. Walking around the harbour, gardens and day tripping to the beach was like being fed the most flavoursome Italian meal after living on a diet of unflavoured rice. Trees! Flowers! Water! Birds! Space! The loveliest places I’ve been in Europe can’t compare with an even average Australian landscape.
2. Australians don’t like wearing shirts.
While walking from Bronte beach to Bondi, I realised that I’d ignored the dress code. Or lack thereof. I was supposed to be wearing a Lorna Jane sports bra, not a t-shirt. Though seeing as I’m also lacking the apparently mandatory wash-board abs and deep tan, my choice of outfit was probably a blessing for those around me. However, I was more than happy to take advantage of the near nakedness of all the surf and fitness guys as they ran past me. Keep up the good work, boys.
3. Australians have a very strange accent.
We also use very strange slang. Some of this I’m ok with, but I bluntly refuse to say “sozzles” instead of sorry, and I think replacing awkward with “awks” makes it sound like the conversation is being hijacked by aggressive creatures from Middle Earth.
4. The sun is really hot, and I get sunburnt really, really quickly.
Photographic evidence will not be supplied.
While I was appreciating and enjoying this, there was admittedly an internal conflict going on. Having been away and spending the last year and a half adapting to a new country, new environment and new people, meant for the first few days I saw my home country through somewhat removed eyes. It was simultaneously interesting and sad to feel a bit like an outsider in my own country. I also had the constant urge to share my observations and experiences with friends (and The Ex) back in the Netherlands. Particularly in the case of the latter, it was upsetting to realise how much I had wanted to show him Australia, and how much I regretted that I never would.
Thank goodness for friends who took me out for the most delicious Thai I have ever eaten, and who willingly went drinking at a hipster bar, and did not judge me for the enthusiasm with which I rediscovered Rekorderlig cider.
I spent the next little while in my home town with my parents, being cooked for and looked after while a chest infection had my lungs trying as hard as they could to become external organs. I then travelled up to Brisbane, timing my visit perfectly with with that of a tropical cyclone. Well done me. In both these places I caught up with some of the people I like best on the planet, and it was these friends who made such a difference to how I feel, and gave me a sense of renewal. I have absolutely no adequate way to express my gratitude to them for continually reaching out to me over the last few months, and for taking the time and effort (and in certain cases expense!) to see me while I was home.
It feels somehow ungrateful to the wonderful friends I have in The Hague who have definitely had to put up with far more from me, but there’s a level of ease and acceptance with my friends from home that, even though I didn’t realise, I was in desperate need of. While talking with my Australian friends, I realised that it felt so comfortable and easy, because I didn’t feel the need to be analysing and assessing myself in the situation. In The Hague, I am continually questioning myself in this different social and cultural context. I’m always asking myself whether it’s fair to have a particular reaction or make a particular judgement on a person or situation, as we all come from such different backgrounds and cultures. I feel it’s my personal responsibility to step back and analyse whether my feelings and thoughts are justified, or whether I’m just having an “Australian moment”. And it’s exhausting.
There’s a lyric from one of my favourite songs “And I’ve been ripping off my skin/ To see what’s on the inside/ To see what’s going on”. That is what is has felt like for the last few months. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing, I’ve learnt so much about myself. But to be doing that is incredibly tiring. Back home, I felt I could say exactly what I thought, what I felt, without having to worry about how I came across or whether my meaning might get lost in translation. It was also so refreshing to know that in regards to issues I’ve been having with a few people over here, my Australian friends are totally on my side. There was no need to edit out my vindictiveness for fear of offending mutual friends. My friends back home have never met the people over here, and can therefore accept whatever I have to say without having to worry about the broader social implications of whether my perspective is fair or reasonable. They’re on my team, and that feels pretty damn awesome.
I spent the last few days of my time in Oz with The Wasp, M.D and the Brother-in-Law in Alice Springs, otherwise known as the middle of the desert. If the beauty of the east coast and country is impressive, the raw vitality of the Red Centre is something else entirely. It’s like God had a primary colour phase when designing it: red earth, blue sky, yellow sun. My sister and I spent our days swimming in various pools around town, and taking a trip out into the bush where we awkwardly floated on noodles in swimming holes, ate kangaroo and crocodile and watched the sunrise light up Mt Sonder. All the while, the Brother-in-Law had to work. Though he did manage to join us after work at their local pub, where we drank the world’s most delicious cider. Thank you New Zealand.
I’m not going to lie, in the days immediately preceding my return to the Netherlands, my inner monologue was a constant repeat of “Don’t make me go back, I don’t want to go back”. But a meeting with some singers who had studied in in The Hague a while back reminded me that I left Australia precisely because it can’t offer me what I need and want in my education and career. But that lovely, rational fact didn’t make getting on the plane any less difficult.
And how has my first two weeks back in reality been? Check back later for the next thrilling instalment in the the life of B!