I’ve been fortunate. Already I have found a job, signed a contract, and am ready to start being a journalist again.
And yet I find myself, for the fourth time in a month, staying in yet another house, belonging to a friend or family member. I have to do this until I get paid. In an hour I’ll look at a nanny flat in the new town that I’ll call my home.
It’s a beautiful sunny place. It’s a stone’s throw away from the town I finished high school. Everyone including the electricians in the street will say “hello cobber” and even respond to your response. Automatically I wonder what they want from me. It’s a sign of the emotional defence I’ve had to put up in the 17 months abroad. The defense can go down now.
I start work in two days. Routine will begin, but for now I have no car and I wonder how I’m going to survive the basic needs for the next week while at the same time making a good impression at my new job.
I’ve survived on a lot of good will in almost a month, from friends and family. It made me wonder how I can get away with doing this again, travelling overseas and coming back with nothing. And with that thought I wondered about my options; credit cards, or a bank loan. From that thought and brief research it made me wonder about the feasibility of a car loan, and an interest rate, and the physical dynamics of it all.
There were these questions, and I never used to want to know the answers to them, but now I kind of feel helpless not knowing the answers. I look around and see everyone and wonder when they started looking old. When did everyone seem so distant? Did this happen when I was in Peru, or did this happen long before? Did I somehow get through my 20s not bothering to learn the practicalities?
And as I dig into these answers, Peru feels far off behind me. It’s only the people I met there that I miss.
I’ve been in Australia for a bit more than a week, and I have to admit it’s been a confronting experience. I suppose it’s up to me to try to put it into words as to why.
I landed in Brisbane Airport after more than 35 hours of travelling or being transient (12 hours in the Santiago Airport). I stayed at my friends’ place, and even there it all felt different. My friend Jon had married while I was away and he had moved out.
I couldn’t make decisions for days without questioning it. Everything was a mental haze. I didn’t really feel like speaking to anyone for long.
For 17 months I was surrounded by Spanish speakers and so instinctively I had to read body language. I had a theory that when I returned I would be overwhelmed by all the English spoken around me, and would be able to read body language extremely well.
That was partly true.
Instead I found in large places I didn’t notice the English spoken around me. It was all just noise and could have been any language.
And reading body language and tone was useful, but I could see quickly when people weren’t interested in what I was saying. Or could see they were not interested in what I was saying, but still cared about me.
I realised this too. I wanted to talk about Peru. They wanted to talk about their lives.
We all just wanted to talk about ourselves.
I bought a ticket to WA to see my family. My brother and his girlfriend recently built a house together. They have a proud Bengal cat. A job that’s only five minutes away in a recently built-up suburb. Big TV. There’s a hot water tap for the kitchen sink, and you get to flush the toilet paper. They let me stay at their place. I sleep on the couch. It’s extraordinarily comfortable.
Everything is spaced out and the houses have front and back yards. I can’t believe I miss the banana and strawberry sellers wheeling their carts on the roads, shouting, “fresas! platanos!” and annoying me while I’m trying to rest.
I made a joke that my brother had to drive his homeless brother somewhere. And then I realised it actually wasn’t a joke. For now I am homeless. I’m looking for work but my industry has changed a bit.
We went to the store the other day to buy food. And when we went through the auto check-out, I couldn’t find plastic bags.
“Oh, you have to buy them,” my brother said. Sometime recently the plastic bag was banned.
My mum, brother and I went to Rottnest Island to take selfies with Quokkas. I guess I wanted to show off to my Peruvian friends. The little marsupials were everywhere and have no fear of humans. We hired push bikes and cycled half the island, and this to me was the type of adventure that made me feel like I was still travelling in Peru.
As an economy teacher at a Peruvian high school I enjoyed showing the statistics for various countries, to my students. They had been taught their entire life that the United States was the greatest country in the world. They had been pushed to believe that if they wanted a great future they had to learn English so they could travel north for the business opportunities.
Australia didn’t factor into their business worldview too much, but only as a novelty. It has kangaroos (they were horrified when they learned I have eaten them). Some Peruvians might have known about the good surf. Some of the younger people knew about the famous actors (most recently Chris Hemsworth), while the older generation knew about the Bee Gees, and INXS, and Men At Work. Many didn’t know the Paul Hogan cliches, or the phrase ‘G’Day Mate’.
Australia places third in the Human Development Index, behind Norway and Switzerland. Its GDP is $1.2 Trillion. On average each person makes *$45,790 a year. It is the sixth biggest country in the world. It has a population of around 24.6 million people. People can reasonably expect to live until they are 82 years old.
These economic statistics showed me that Australia punched above average in many aspects, and I’m not quite sure how this is the case. Many Peruvians work extremely hard, and the country is full of resources, especially when it comes to minerals.
And yet Peru is 89th on the Human Development Index. People still live in extreme poverty. Internet connection and access is limited to almost half the population. The skilled workforce is lower, even if more Peruvians are working in comparison to Australians. People are more likely to be murdered in Peru than they are in Australia. Its GDP is a sixth of Australia’s ($211.4 Billion) and each person on average makes *$12,890 a year. In landmass Peru is around seven times smaller than Australian, yet has a higher population of **32 million. The population of both countries tend to flock to the urban areas of the coast.
Australia is a great place to live not because of its culture and its food, or even its climate. And it isn’t great because of the friendliness of its people. All these things are also offered in other countries, whether it’s in Peru, or in India, or Singapore.
Australia is a great place to live because of the privilege each resident has. We have choices and options to do things, besides work in our family’s corner store or farm for the rest of our lives. We have opportunities.
I was born in a family without much money, and by the time I reached my late teens I had no retail experience. My family was dysfunctional, and among many things, suffered abuse from the men that had treated acceptance to the family as a right, and not as a privilege.
And yet here I am, able to have the luxury of a working-holiday in Peru with the freedom and resources to see more in it than most of the residents. I finished a university education. If my government hadn’t allowed me to borrow money from its treasury it would not have been possible. I was able to become a journalist. And while a journalist I was able to live in a town where the average worker (the miner) could earn as much as the local mayor.
I grew into privilege. I have been given opportunity. It’s all because of the country I was born in. This is why Australia is a great place, and I do not want to take it for granted. Peru teaches me that with political instability, or bad policies, or even with corruption, it could be taken away overnight.
That’s not to say that Peru is a bad country. I’m making it sound like it is. Its economy and stability improves all the time, as does its fights against corruption. And soon it may be a country that can compete against Australia, because quite frankly, it has a hard working mentality used to earning far less, and is geographically less isolated. It showed nothing but compassion for the Venezuelans that sought a better life from the instability of their own country, and has already elected a head-of-state from Indigenous origin. Although it has not elected a woman, its current leader of its most powerful political party in the Congress is a woman (although is under house arrest for corruption charges. As for the Indigenous head-of-state, he also was charged with corruption).
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make fruit punch, pavlova, and beetroot on burgers for my international friends. Then I’m going to listen to Triple J’s Hottest 100 with my girlfriend.
*Currency values are not represented by the Australian dollar. They are represented by the PPP (Purchasing Power Parity), which basically assumes each currency is worth the same when comparing to other countries.
**I am uncertain that with the population count, we can include the numerous Venezuelans who have in recent years escaped their country to seek refugee status.
SOUTH African casa-amigo Adriaan and I arrived at Lima Interpol to see a crowd of Venezuelans mingled in front of the front walls. We could skip through the gate. I felt uncomfortable – as if I was benefiting from white privilege, but as it was made clear to me thatI was in a different part of the process and didn’t need to be in that line.
We entered an air-conditioned room with seats. The few people in there were either waiting by filling out forms or getting their fingerprints printed. Each of the housemates had a different process. The Canadian’s process seemed the most complicated. She is still in Lima. I wonder if we will ever get her back.
The South Africans seem to be really easy, so it seemed. But what complicated my process as an Australian was I had to pay my fee online to the Australian Federal Police. The Peruvian Interpol form gave me the link to pay (which wasn’t quite accurate).
I hadn’t paid the fee yet so I didn’t think I could continue the process, so I tried getting my passport back. They explained to me in Spanish (even though they couldn’t really understand) that I would have to wait for it. After a few attempts at trying to find someone who spoke English, and probably being a real nuisance, I managed to get an administrator from my workplace on Whatsapp to communicate with the officers.
I felt dumb as the officers made gestures at me to follow the process. I mistook one gesture to mean ‘sit down’ but it actually meant ‘follow me’. The officers colluded and said ‘Australiano’ a lot with smirks on their faces as each took turns taking me to each process. I thought these were friendly ‘hey, he is exotic’ smirks but the officers really weren’t interested at my attempts to flirt in terrible Spanish.
They took me to a room filled with dentists who told me to lay down. They checked my teeth in two seconds and told me to stand.
Then they all spoke to each other for ages as I stood uncertain. “You can go!” the chief dentist said. Then an officer grabbed my hands and gently pushed my fingers in ink and put them on two pieces of paper. He put the papers in two envelopes while I could clean my hands.
They let me leave within two hours. Adriaan and I walked to the nearby mall and celebrated in a restaurant next to a TGI Friday. We drank a bottle of refreshing Chica Morada just as my sister messaged from Australia.
“Good evening,” she said.
“Buenas tardes, hermana hermosa. Como estas?” I wrote, first checking with Adriaan that hermana did mean ‘sister’. Then I sent a selfie. “I am drinking Chica Morada. It is made of purple corn.”
“Very nice,” she wrote. “I am at work. Wish I was drinking purple corn.”
It must have been the dehydration and trying to sleep on an overnight bus, but for some reason I found this hilarious.
The process had not finished.
I still had to pay the Australian Federal Police $99 Aus dollars (245 soles and expensive for application standards). I tried paying online because I needed the receipt to continue the process, but because it’s a fingerprint application it needs to be sent by snail mail. I filled the printed documents and copied my identity papers, and then had to find the Peruvian equivalent of a post office. A friend helped me through the process but paying express post to Australia cost me 270 soles! Owch!
I ASKED a friend from Indiana, America, if she could interview me while I was affected by a bottle of red wine. Michaela was happy to oblige so last night we talked about the differences between America and Australia, life in Peru, the housemates, and what it’s like being a journalist.
I’m quite ashamed about some parts. Warning: bullshit overload.
M: Okay. This would be a lot easier if the interviewer was drunk too.
I tell myself that every day when I’m at work.
M:Let’s talk about your job then. Why did you want to become a journalist?
There was a girl I liked in high school and we were English rivals trying to compete with each other. She became a journalist but that’s not really why I ended up becoming a journalist. It was a coincidence.
I don’t know.
In Year 6 my English teacher was a very irate Irishman where his manner of teaching was yelling at everyone. He was a substitute teacher. Our actual Year 6 teacher got cancer so she had to take the rest of the year off, so this Irishman took us.
And during his many rants he said ‘you guys should be a journalist because my son or cousin or whatever, he does journalism and he makes $100,000 Aus a year’, which is a lot of money, and very high up in the food chain, but it planted a seed.
With that girl ending up being a journalist, when I was floating and drifting in a Bachelor of Arts, journalism just seemed to fit me. And it took a couple of years of being a journalist before I went ‘yeah, this is me’.
M: What do you like most about being a journalist, and what do you like least?
When I was living in a small town it stokes your ego a lot. It does. Because you’re living in a small town, a lot of people know your face and they need you to a point. You are a necessity in a way because you carry their message on to a lot of people. It does make a difference in people’s lives sometimes. When people in the community read stuff in the newspaper it becomes real to them. So ….it makes a difference in people’s lives. I don’t know if that makes sense.
But that’s the worst part as well because you’re that intermediate aspect, you’re the translator. Sometimes it’s good things but sometimes it’s bad things as well. You’re translating the emotions as well. And if you absorb emotion it can be a hellish thing.
If it’s a good emotion, which it rarely is, that’s nice, but if the person you’re translating from to the whole community is feeling pain, misery, loss, especially loss from death, you’re absorbing that entire emotion and carrying it onto the rest of the community. If the community doesn’t understand that emotion, you didn’t absorb that either.
I love my job. Well, I loved the job I used to have. It made me feel important. It made me feel good about what I did. But that’s another bad thing about the job, it didn’t leave much room for anything else.
M: Stereotypes now, if we wanted to switch to a lighter topic. I feel the majority of Americans think Australians are arseholes.
Ha! Well, we kind of are.
M: We make fun of your accents.
Australians have this weird perception everyone in the world loves them. When you travel the world a bit you realise that’s bullshit. It’s funny though, because we think Americans are arseholes too, but lazy minded arseholes. I know that sounds disrespectful….
M: No, be honest. Go for it.
Well, this is me talking, not any other Australian. Donald Trump becoming President for instance. Donald Trump isn’t the problem. Donald Trump is the symptom of it, he is the specific typical American every Australian sees.
M: I literally never thought about it like that, but it makes sense.
It’s horrible to hear. But he’s the stereotype of Americans.
M: Like racist? Sort of full of themselves? Okay.
I shouldn’t nod, it doesn’t match the recording, but yes.
M: I can see that.
It’s not a nice thing though.
M: Not really, but I see it.
But bearing in mind I’ve never been to America in my life.
M: And I’ve never been to Australia, so.
We’re arseholes, why would you come to Australia?
M: Australia is beautiful.
So I’ve been told. And America is beautiful. So I’ve been told.
M: You were talking about Gossip Girl. I feel like Hollywood kind of makes a little bit of a fake image of America. Everything you see on TV, it’s not really that dramatic. I don’t know how to explain it.
Can I try to?
With something like Gossip Girl you have an hour segment to create as much drama as you can. The problem is the real world doesn’t work like that. You’re trying to condense everything into as much as you can, and the problem is with something like Gossip Girl you’re talking about the one per cent privileged, the children of the wealthy-wealthy which is everything I’d like to think Australians are dead set against. I’d like to think so. We like to pretty much give the finger to anyone in that one per cent. I’d like to think that.
M: Why do you think it’s like that.
We’ve got something called the tall poppy syndrome where anyone that is above everybody else is quickly pulled down back into line. It’s a bad thing, it’s a good thing to a degree, but it’s a bad thing. Anyone with ambition or aspires to anything is quickly pulled back down into line.
M: You all see people as equals?
I don’t know what it’s like in America, but if you’re the only one that takes a taxi , your instinct is to take the passenger seat in the front. Is that anything like in America? You wouldn’t take the back if you can help it if you’re on your own. And you try to have a conversation with them, ‘how is your day going?’ because that driver is as equal as you are.
M: Okay, I think that’s a bit different in the US. I feel people take the back seat because they don’t want the conversation.
Where in Australia I feel obligated to take the front seat so we can have a conversation.
M: Is it the thing again where Australians are more friendly, more outgoing maybe?
I don’t know if we’re outgoing as such. It’s just nobody is better than anybody else. I’d like to think that. This might be a journalist speaking, but I’d like to think I can step into a room with the Prime Minister (Malcolm Turnbull. And sober-Chris while editing this has to admit I’m full of shit.) and have a genuine, down to earth conversation with him. Could you say the same thing about President Trump?
M: Absolutely not…So tell me about this legendary Australian animal, the Wazzaberry.
The Wazzabarry? I told a couple of South Africans about that ….I told them about the Wazzabarry because, I don’t know, I just wanted to brag about Australian bullshit.
M: If you told me a story about an animal like that I probably would believe you.
The Wazzabarry is essentially a creature of the desert that comes out when it rains. It’s kind of like the bilby. And it’s a very carnivorous beast. It’s one of nature’s miracles. Imagine it’s all foggy, misty, nighttime in the desert and there’s nobody around. It’s very beautiful. It’s like the great northern lights in its way, because the Wazzabarry has silk worms up its butt and it shines this bright light, it’s a mating call, and there’s a bunch of them that comes out every couple of years, and it’s beautiful, you know. I’ve seen it once.
It just makes you cry because of the lights that just shines out of its arsehole. It’s silkworms, or something. It’s like a mating call, like ‘take me, I’m yours.’ You know? Very unknown creature.
You Americans have to come to Australia some time to see something like that. It changes your life once you see it. Like, no going back.
Many Americans have died. It’s a travesty. We don’t really need to remind ourselves of that. It’s terrible.
M: Do they only attack Americans?
Yeah, they are pretty racist.
M: What do you think of Peru so far?
It’s brought out my demons.
M: Which demons?
Well, there’s Jasper. And Jeremy –
M: Oh no.
Ha ha ha. No. Fuck that.
There’s aspects of it that really tires and exhausts me, and I think I’m at the point where I’m trying to acclimatise and cling to the things that are Australian. I cling to Australian food and Australian experiences like certain shows on Netflix. And it exhausts me in a way. A week ago I really wanted to go back, and it’s the wrong feeling really. I’m a writer so it makes sense to stick to the experiences here.
It’s the unexpected things that are great. It’s the things you don’t anticipate. You walk down the street and see something like a traditional dance going on, and you walk down the street and it blows your mind, it’s amazing, you say ‘I’m in Peru’.
Sometimes you go to a restaurant and get a really delicious meal for a cheap price, and you think ‘I’m in Peru.’ You walk down the street and for one moment you gaze at a girl on the street. She has the most beautiful eyes, she wears the most beautiful dress, and for one single moment you lock eyes with her and you both smile. You don’t know each other’s languages but you walk past each other. You’re in Peru.
The gender can translate there.
M: Are you happy with your housemates?
In terms of what do I think of Amy and Nicola and Adriaan and guest appearance Michaela? Um…they teach me a lot without having to do too much to do so. They have their own perspective having lived in their own countries, each own challenges me in their own way, while I still feel comfortable in my own place.
I hope I didn’t sound too much like an arsehole, but if I did it’s still me anyway.
I’m starting to figure out that Australia has an unfounded reputation for dangerous animals that want to kill everybody. Whether I’m talking to a Peruvian or a South African I learn that people are afraid of our snakes and spiders.
Personally I think someone in our defence ministry realised that we could avoid being invaded if we exaggerate our dangers, but it makes us sound bad-ass when we downplay the dangers too, right? Whoever first exaggerated our animals was a crafty bugger, and undoubtedly one that used it to try and get laid. Because it’s so full of tripe. I’ve never once been bitten by a snake and the spiders are actually rather pleasant (how’s my downplay game? 😉 .
Today I had to do a presentation on Australia as a demonstration to students at a school I want to teach at. I was lucky compared to my friends. I had Year 9 students and they had an advanced ability in English. All I really needed to do was keep them interested and engage them in conversation.
But here’s what I learned about my own country from my students, judging from the questions they asked.
They wanted to know about our music, but they especially wanted to know about our dancing.
Well I don’t understand what national dances we actually have, but the students didn’t understand that. So I showed them the heel and toe. I panicked, okay! It’s the bush dance I remember in Primary School. “heel and toe, heel and toe, slide slide slide slide…..left hand clap, right hand clap, both hand clap, on your knees” and then you link arms with your partner and twirl around. (In Year 4 the girls had cooties so it was a horrible exercise, and in Year 6 I asked a girl out to graduation, and she said no (she ran away actually), but we danced during the heel and toe and as we clapped our knees she said ‘see, we got to dance anyway,’ Then I never thought I’d actually be dancing this miserable bush dance at Year 12 graduation, but I did, so there you go. There’s many memories).
I showed the students’ Tash Sultana’s Jungle and they loved that. They wanted to know if we had a traditional dress and the best I could do was show them Indigenous traditional dress, and by then I felt a little sad. I wasn’t sure what culture a whitie like me had that was actually special. Does that make sense?
I showed them a video of the Crocodile Hunter (Mr Steve Irwin himself) and the teacher knew he died in an accident so I had to tell them how (sting ray barb). And I felt a little sad when I told them the story and they could see that.
I taught them that Canberra was our capital city (they thought it was Sydney) and I even taught them how to pronounce it (they thought it was Can – Berra). Then as an extra favour to my nation I taught them to pronounce Melbourne (Mel-ben, not Mel – born).
We spoke about unusual animals they might not have heard about, including the bilby and the Quokka. I showed them the Quokka selfies online and they loved that.
“What about your snakes and spiders?” they asked.
“What about them? They aren’t dangerous. Everywhere has snakes and spiders.”
“But you have giant ones.”
That’s a bit rich, coming from students that live in the same country as the Amazon.
I feel they learned a bit but then they wanted to show me Peruvian music, and I almost fell for it but the teacher said my time was up (I was supposed to only have half an hour tops and I went double that time).
I’m not sure if I really taught that much, but they remembered basic geography. And I feel there was a connection with the students. They liked me but they were beginning to test my discipline by the end.
I’m writing this from a Starbucks. I had to order a flat white (I am an Aussie after all) and they spelled my name ‘Criss’ and that’s kind of cool because I was bored of my spelling anyway.
Last night while deciding on the next great adventure in Peru, I suddenly felt homesick.
I had my first drink of Milo in ages and it tasted like home. I think Milo is Australian but I could be wrong, and it doesn’t matter anyway who claims it. All I know is that I was caught by surprise by this feeling. I’ve never felt sick for home before because in reality, I am a nomad and I never saw myself as having one specific home.
It wasn’t one town I missed, it wasn’t Mount Isa. It was Australia I missed, and I don’t exactly know why. I don’t care about looking back, I want to focus on my Peru journey, but you have to admit it’s a little funny that I am regularly interested in what my Prime Minister’s Instagram story of the day is.
The strange thing is that in my travel experience, the further from Australia you are the more likely it is that you are going to see more Australians in a hostel or working in a bar. And they don’t really like running into each other. It gets old and fast. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it’s that Aussie men find an advantage in having that mystique, that drawl, and that’s taken away when others put on that exaggerated act. Other Aussies must fight that stereotype of being drunken bogans who cannot speak well and who bullshit a lot, and who think they are funny and really aren’t.
I never understood that dislike of running into other Australians, but after speaking to a few at a hostel recently, I was turned off by the “fucken hell” and “mate” from every sentence. It felt fake, but it also made me see that trait in myself.
It’s strange. I miss my country and I miss my land, but I’m not sure I miss the people who don’t have the current attachment to that.
Suddenly this afternoon…
One of the teachers I work with is Australian and she hates fidget spinners. Adriaan my South African friend and I snuck up behind her playing with the spinners and we made her turn around to look at us.
“You are fucking arseholes,” she drawled with a smile and with twinkling eyes the color of a Queensland sky. These were the exact words and tone I needed to hear. I missed this humour, and I walked away laughing.