When trying to think of a title for this post, I was mind-blasted by this song from Sesame Street. When I went to grab the video to share, I was delighted to find this version, starring David instead of Bob (who usually sung it), and starring a male librarian and female plumber. Seems things were a bit more progressive on the ‘Street then than they are now (don’t even get me started on baby-voiced characters and dopey girl fairy-things).
Our first trip to UQ campus was on a Sunday, weeks before the students and faculty returned. We spotted more turtles in the lake than people on the sidewalks that day. As we entered the main quad, I noticed a woman walking.
She had teak-colorer skin speckled with dark freckles across her nose and cheeks, thin silver dreadlocks, and wore a light blue linen dress. She looked so much like a friend back home, I did a double take- which, of course, she noticed. I fumbled out a “Hi, how ya doin’?” before peddling away.
On our way back through, we saw her again. This time, she was walking with another woman. She flagged us down and asked where our accent was from. When I told her, she clapped her hands and did a little hop. She told us that she is from Chicago, but moved here on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship (!) fifteen years before. She gave me her card and told me to contact her soon.
Like an overeager suitor, I agonised over how long to give it before reaching out. It was a little over a week- mostly because I temporarily lost track of where I put her information (found it in with my sporks- don’t ask- I have no idea). I emailed her some basic info about how we came to be here and asked about possible connections we may have through Rotary.
She called me a few days later. Turns out she works in Trans-Cultural Mental Health and is nearing the end of her PhD program at another nearby university. We talked for a long time that first day. She shared that she seeks out other Americans because even after nearly two decades, she still gets lonely and homesick here. She offered some helpful hints and things she still finds surprising. We arranged a weekly call time to stay in touch and, hopefully soon, set up some in-person coffee dates.
We’ve spoken a few times now- sharing our experiences, challenges with coursework and professional life, and building a friendship. I am so grateful for Deb’s honey voice. I am so happy that she stopped us that day, and that I overcame my awkwardness to reach out to her.
On days that it’s my turn to walk Xabien to school, I stop to say hello to Wally. Wally always blinks at me like he is surprised that anyone noticed him there. Wally is the type of person that most people might not notice.
He is small and elderly, with a tattoo on his forearm that has gone muddy with age- a blue blob that was a ship, or a dancing lady, or something that was important to him when he was a youth shipped overseas in the armed forces. He has a hopeful smile and eyes surrounded with white lashes. His teeth are tiny.
Wally sits at the bus stop near the shopping plaza with exactly four plastic bags full of fruit and crackers and tins of flavoured tuna cocktail. I am always happy to see him.
The first time I waved at him, he looked behind himself to make sure it was him I was greeting. We escalated to “hello” and, later, comments on the weather. One day, Wally was accompanied at the bench by another older man. We said hello, as usual, and as I walked away I heard some grumbling about my tattoos from other-guy. Then, I heard Wally say, “You hush. That’s a nice girl, that.” I pretended not to hear any of it.
Yesterday, I took the leap to ask Wally his name. We laughed that it was about time we were properly introduced. Today, I stopped to ask how he was doing.
He told me that he likes to get out to the shops early, to beat the heat. It’s hard, he said- his wife’s been gone for a few years, and she used to do all the shopping. He always thought it was a simple task. Today he got himself a Turkish Delight candy bar as a special treat just for making it through the chore. I told him that it seemed a great way to drive the blues away. He agreed, and added that sharing the fancy tuna fish with his cat while they read the newspaper together was another. His bus came and he said he’ll see me tomorrow. Maybe I’ll bring him a Cherry Ripe.
Mahesha and Naveen
We would pass them occasionally on the way back home. The bright broad brim of Nabil’s hat announced that he attended O’s school. It was particularly noticeable because most of the other students live the opposite way down the hill. Ours were the only two bobbing blue heads this side of the railway bridge.
They approached at the school one afternoon. Mahesha presents a cat-like combination of shyness and extroversion. Naveen has her smile and dips behind her skirts, more to get my attention than to hide from it. This is his first year at school, and she hasn’t met many of the parents yet.
We spent some time talking and discovered that they moved to Brisbane from Sri Lanka eight years ago, when her husband attended UQ. She likes it here, but says that sometimes it gets lonely. Her mother recently moved in to help out with their two month old daughter.
She told us that they see us walking home, and would like to walk with us. But Naveen complains about it hurting his legs too much, so they take the bus instead. The hope is that seeing O, the “big kid,” do it everyday will inspire him to give it a try. We ask every day, and Naveen consistently defers. So we walk and they ride, and we often end up at the bus stop at the same time. We have at least the last few blocks home together.
Gabe and Dave
Before our internet was set up at the house, Brian and I spent a lot of time at the library trying to keep up with emails and other dispatches from home. *Well- we still spend a lot of time there, actually- it’s nice, and they have air conditioning*
One day, I noticed scored the rare seat at an actual table. This never happens- it’s quite a bustling, small library. I happened to sit next to Gabe and Dave.
Gabe promptly started blowing raspberries at me. Dave told me that Gabe would like to say “hello” and showed me the iPad he used to communicate. Gabe reached over and pressed the icon again. The computer said “hello.” I said hello back to Gabe and introduced myself. There was a flurry of tablet-tapping, and Dave translated it for me, “We are checking emails right now. You can email me if you like.” I said I would love to do that someday.
I saw Gabe and Dave again this morning, while waiting for the nail salon to open up. Gabe swerved his walker over to me and we chatted for a few minutes. He told me that I needed to get a sparkly colour. So I did.
I am endlessly fascinated with the people I see and meet at the Southbank swimming area. There are your to-be-expected “beach” people: ridiculously fit surfer type guys that are constantly emerging from the water like a cologne ad (seriously- how do they ever get in there if they are always walking out, shoving carelessly damp hair from their eyes?), tan and shapely girls lolling about on towels pretending not to enjoy all the attention their tiny bathing suits attract, confused and frustrated parents lugging about diaper bags and trying to chase down maverick toddlers who are made extra slippery by ten layers of sunscreen, and the ever present scowlers- people who seem to go there just to cast scornful glares on the people who dare to go out and enjoy themselves. I generally see them as a collective- more a backdrop to my own entertainment than individuals in their own right.
There are a few people, though, whose images got lodged in my brain. I find myself wondering about them, hoping to see them again.
Two women in long jeans and beautiful silk hijab kicked off their sandals and dangled their perfect pedicures over the edge. A boy and a girl clambered over them and cannonballed into the water. They paddled around a bit before making their way back to the women. The younger woman scooted closer to the edge of the pool, her denim-clad legs in up to the knees now, so that the children could each ride her feet while she kicked them up and down. They were giggling and shouting in Arabic. The other woman threw back her head and slapped her friend on the back. In an instant, the younger woman was in the water, having given in to her children’s urging to join them. She waded around for a few minutes before turning and diving under the water. As she passed me, she twisted her body around to come to the surface face-up. Her expression was beatific. She was still there, playing in the water in her long jeans, when we left an hour later.
Another mother led her children to the edge of the water, but did not get in herself. Her children were both nervous, chattering in their makeshift swimsuits of neon-coloured stockings that hung loose from their narrow hips and bunched around their ankles. Mom pointed at the pool and told them not to be afraid but, no, she would not come in with them. They moved incrementally into the water, squealing first that it was cold, then warm, then arguing with one another over how cold or warm it was. Eventually, they were in up to their bellies. Mom sat down next to me and said “This is their first time. We don’t have any pools where we come from. It’s quite exciting.” She dangled her fingertips in the water and shuddered.
A man with white-blond hair and a giant iron cross tattoo carried two equally blond little girls on his shoulders into the deepest part of the pool (which is not very deep). They jumped off and splashed around screaming “Daddy help!” until he retrieved them, and drug them along the top of the water back to the ramp end. When they got there, he told the girls to be gentle and not bother Mommy, because she was tired and needed to rest. He then got out and walked over to a woman leaning against a baby carriage in the shade. He took the fussing newborn and carried her ever-so-gently into the water, kissing and nuzzling her brown cheeks until she quieted. The older sisters came up, each giving the baby pats and smooches. Dad told them to be careful not to get water on her face, as he ran his fingers through her full head of curly, black hair.
Three teenagers, two boys and a girl, clambered into the water. They were loud and obnoxious, as teens left on their own tend to be. The girl wore her ankle-length dress into the water despite the fact, pointed out by her friends, that she had a bathing suit on underneath. They teased each other about a wasp floating dead in the water, until I scooped it out and threw it up into the rocks. Which was, perhaps, a mistake- as then their attentions turned to me. It is never comfortable to be in the spotlight of a teen-group gaze. “Oi! Mad tats!” shouted the redhead, ogling me. The girl asked how many tattoos I had, and I responded that I’m not really sure- I don’t count them individually anymore. Her eyes boggled “Hey! How you talk! Are you American or something?” I nodded and she yelled, “An American! That’s MAD! Completely mad, mates! We met an American! I knew coming to the city would be an adventure.” The redhead asked me if I was married and, not to be discouraged, said “I would double-marry you! I don’t mind sharing. tell your husband, okay?” Later, I did. Brian seemed less enthusiastic about the prospect than the teenagers did.