Missing family in a foreign country

 

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A very old and outdated pic with the bros and sis. 

It has been more than three years since I have seen my family. Part of the reason for that is the isolation and the expense that comes living in rural Australia.

It’s also partly my fault given that my own mum wanted to see me before I flew from Brisbane to Peru. I thought it would make it harder seeing her before I left for South America.

I missed my family anyway. Not at first but as the weeks become months I find myself reflecting more on what has shaped my attitudes and values.

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Christmas photos are always weird when it comes to Aaron and I (I’m the one without the knife). 

I have barely spoken to my sister for a while but she made me a playlist for Christmas which I listen to often. And she said that I had always influenced her musical tastes with all the mix CDs I used to make her (think Christian rock metal like TFK and Stryper and Switchfoot, combined with Guitar Hero playlists, and songs used for TV shows. As the years went on these were more likely to be British rock lists. The Who’s Baba O’Riley would have made an appearance, as would have The Clash and The Wombats).

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Another old pic. This one is of my sister owning me at ice-skating. Go, Little Lion Girl! 

But her musical tastes have grown in the late teens and so I listen to her music she chose for me, and I’m proud to now be influenced by her. She stumbled onto a song that I listened to in one of my earliest memories in life. In my memory I’m in the bathtub in the last days of my parents’ relationship and the song ‘You Can Call Me Al’ is playing. I never could figure out the name of the song.

I read this and wonder how I relate to my experience living in Peru – besides recording the fact I miss my family in a foreign country. I suppose it comes back to language.

I exaggerate when I say that I haven’t seen any of my family in three years. Before I flew from Brisbane I saw my cousin Mekaela. It’s only when I hugged her that I realised it had been so long since I had seen her or anyone else. She reads my blog but that’s not why I say what I’m about to say. She’s an inspiration in that she’s independent, younger, has the same resources I do (not many) and has already traveled and worked overseas. She lived in Brazil a while and so was able to give me some advice while we drank expensive inner-city coffee.

“It will take three months living in a foreign country before you know basic Spanish. That may not seem like a long time but it will be,” she said.

It’s nearly the three month milestone and I wonder how many words I have learned. There’s not many. It’s enough to get me by awkwardly in an American style supermarket or the restaurants, as long as the conversation doesn’t deviate from the regular pattern.

“Hamburguesa Y papas fritas. Y Cafe Con Leche. Por Favor.”

“Nombre?”

“Que? Ah. Si. Burnzy. Gracias, Senora.”

“Gracias.”

But the other night leaving a restaurant something happened that deviated from the norm. The waitress chased me down the street to try to explain something about the two 5 soles coins I handed her. I asked if she wanted more money. “Mas Soles?”

“No. fsakldjfs winaosidnfds oiansdfsdf  ionasdf alns lkasdfask.”

“Ah. No comprende.”

“sisdifklfnds flkandfkldsfn oiandflkdsnf landfklsnnd.”

Luckily there was a Google translator handy so that eventually she could explain to me the coins I gave her were fake. I had spare coins fortunately. Yet the coins looked so convincing. “A foreigner giving fake coins is bad,” the waitress warned before she left.

I’ve wondered why it is that my cousin could learn so much in three months compared to me. And my Mum explained a possibility.

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A cousin, and my very beautiful and young mum hold fat-baby me. 

“Maybe it’s because she was on her own in a foreign country and didn’t have anyone to speak English with,” she said. “And you have housemates you speak English to all the time.”

And there’s truth to that.

…Some of it in Spanish

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Locals are shaking my hand and saying “Feliz cumpleaños.” I’m not quite sure what that means but given their smiles I think I might have done something right for a change.

This is a lie. I know what it means. It’s my birthday and I’m 28-years-old now. I used to dream of making it into the 27 club but I like living and I’m not famous. Still, I can cross one more thing off my bucket list. I managed to use the combination of ‘Lo Siento, Gringo idiota.’

I’m sorry, this Gringo is an idiot.

I ran out of money on my birthday so a  South African by the name of Adriaan and I hired a taxi to a hotel to take out some cash at the ATM. Our driver didn’t know any English but on the return trip back to mine I tried to make conversation. We sat in the front, silent, and it was awkward. I didn’t know what I could say.

Then I thought, ‘yes I could’. Como Estas (how are you?).

Saying this did a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing was the taxi driver started talking a lot. The bad thing was the taxi driver started talking a lot. Who would have thought people would talk when you asked them how they were? (come to think of it, when is the last time I’ve asked someone that in English?)

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The highway through Zorritos. A motorcab drives towards us.

I couldn’t understand him. No Comprende, I said. Lo Siento, I said. I don’t understand. I’m sorry. (That’s all I seem to say these days in Peru. Much like it was the time I was in my last relationship. But shhh).

He pointed at himself. “Peru!” he said.

It clicked. “I am Christopher from Australia!” I said.

“South Africa!” Adriaan said from the back.

“Ah! Australiano. South Africano.” Then the driver said a bunch of other stuff which didn’t help much. The South African at the back gave me his phone app translator but somehow I couldn’t get it to work and I kept holding it to the driver’s face. He kept nervously staring at the narrow road and the motocabs on it while at the same time checking the phone quickly.

I gave up. And then I said it.

“Lo Siento. Gringo idiota!”

There was silence. Then the taxi driver laughed loud. There was a sparkle in his eyes and when we arrived at the hotel, and paid the man, the driver shook my hand and said, Buenas Tardes, Christopher.” And even though I had paid him a lot more than we probably should have, there was a glow in my heart. The sort of glow that comes from teasing yourself to make the world a better place, probably.

Another point I wish to make is that I’m starting to wonder if this blog  should be called ‘awkward conversations with Burnzy (and some of them in Spanish!).

Nah, but seriously. If it was a cooking blog, I’d call it ‘Cooking with Burns’. (Get it? Because my last name is Burns and I suck at cooking). And if it was a dating/sex advice blog, it would be ‘a night in Burns.’ So, we’ll try out ‘awkward conversations with Burnzy (and a little more action please).