On reaching 30: A birthday monologue

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Back in early high school of the early noughties, when I liked Playstation 1 and Wheatus, there’s one moment I recall in between bland vacant times of no meaning. My teacher’s aid was having a bad day. She was turning 30. “I’m old,” she said, miserably. She was cool, someone allocated to keep an eye on me given that I was on the educational radar – the one to watch out for, a sign of troubling behaviour. She lent me her Playstation games, like Spyro and Crash Bandicoot: Warped.

I turned 30 today, and I’ve been struggling for weeks to write something that was a combination of humble-bragging of my past and a declaration of my positive future. It’s 6pm and I haven’t had a shower, and I’m having dinner with my colleagues in 55 minutes. There’s not a lot of time to write something, if I want it published on my birthday.

I’m tired. I just returned from Perth, where I visited my family for a few days. My mum drove me back to the airport and on the way we stopped at Grilled for burgers. And I told her how I feel that it hasn’t been the same since I returned from South America seven months ago, that everyone around me is starting to look old, even my younger brothers.

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An earlier birthday. Judging from my pimples, somewhere in the early 20s

She gave me the look. The one where her lips are pursed, her eyebrows are raised, and is considering an “mmmm”. And she said, “well you’re not a kid anymore. You’re an adult. When you were in your 20s you could pretend to be, sort of. But you’re not.” And I had to absorb that for a moment, because in my heart I’ve thought I have the best of both mindsets, where I have experience in my profession, but am young. I guess I felt that everything I was doing was training me, preparing me, building me for something else in the future, when I was in my prime, when I’d have it all figured out and controlled.

Since I came back from Peru, I haven’t felt that. I’ve felt that where I am now is who I am. And I’ve felt a bit flat over it, as I see that I’m still not having much of a social life, where I’m still struggling with work at times and balancing the feelings of inadequacy that comes with it, with the occasional sense of pride that I know exactly what I’m doing. And I’ve felt that everyone else my age, and younger, have established themselves, have their voices too, and are prepared for this world that constantly is being branded as more frightening and dangerous, in its various forms.

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Possibly my 13th? 

As I continued eating my burger, I carried on with my rant to mum. “You know what the population is? 8 million. Sorry. I meant 8 billion. It wasn’t that long ago, maybe when I was in high school in 2006, when we were told it was 6 billion.”

In that time that has been another 2 billion people who now exist, who soon will indirectly compete with me for resources, food, and are part of a collection of experiences that I won’t be able to relate to.

“Haven’t you ever felt the same?” I asked mum, who would by my count be 48. She shrugged, as if she either hadn’t thought of it, or had long ago taken such a thing for granted.

While the population itself doesn’t directly impact why I’m 30, or the significance of it, I am saying there is a lot that can change in three decades, and even in 15 years.

Such as myself.

I was fostered for three years when I was 10, and I left home when I was 15. It was only the other week that I realised the odds of going to university and completing a degree was low if you were fostered, and when I look back to the kids I knew then, I know that I have accomplished much. People over the years have said I’m hard on myself.

I’ve had to be.

I guess what I’ve done though, in the meantime, ever since my Beenleigh Centrelink careers adviser helped me apply for university, is avoid stability. It’s only since Peru that I’ve even taken out a bond, and rented on my own. I kept a job in Mount Isa for more than three years, and I told myself I would serve that time, but I questioned it every six months.

I’ve always wanted the chance to escape, or have a choice to do so, without feeling bad about it. And I can still do that. Being 30 doesn’t change that. Reaching 30 doesn’t really mean anything. It’s a milestone year. And milestones help us to reflect on what we did and what we want to do.

 

That’s where I should wrap it. And I will. Today I didn’t do much. I tried out cricket powder in my breakfast cereal. I signed my rental lease for another six months. I bought an expensive pair of jeans from a store that offered me a 20 per cent discount because it was my birthday, only I didn’t see it until after I made the purchase. I bought Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and tried watching it. It’s not a good movie.

And really. That’s it. And I’m about to go out for dinner. And I’m okay with that. But I’ll have a birthday party in two weeks. It won’t be tonight, because I work tomorrow.

Letters from the chicos

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FRIENDS of mine drove from Brisbane. They brought up a box of stuff that I left behind before I flew to Peru, or in transit from Peru to my new home. And so what I had were memories from the times before, and exhibits of Peru.

There’s a framed cartoon the colleagues of my last job had made for me, from a cartoonist. It’s among the best work I’d seen him do, and in it I’m riding a llama with a box of beer and a bag of English books. I’ve owned it for almost two years, and for the first time, I get to hang it on my own wall.

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There’s a box of letters from my students. Before I left I asked them to write what they learned from me. And I’m glad I did. And then, I’ve kept some of the drawings they did for projects; such as Tupac Amaru II, the last neo-Inca (not the rapper!), and the comics we did of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Some of the letters I’ve pinned up behind my desk, and I’ve had them there two days. Sometimes I look up and I read them during the day, and they make me smile. I’m in a good mood, and I remember the kids I care about, a world away, and I know I made a difference, in my little ways. It’s great that what I did before has found a small connection in what I’m doing now. There’s balance.

Here are some of the pictures, and letters.

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“Sir, I’m gonna miss you. I think that the majority of the school, because you’re special, your accent is so interesting.  I hope happiness for you and enjoy all your trips and travels…one time in a meeting you told us how was your child life and we appreciate it. Thanks to give us a second chance.”

“Australians are so different from Peruvians. Also I learned that Mr Burns is a good boxer.”

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“For problems you tried a many times to help and appreciate that a lot and well it’s time to say “bye”. I guess well if someday I go to Australia and call you for give me a tour. Well, bye cowpoke.”

“Thanks Mrs for teach us about Peruvian presidents…(and) Wu Wo Tu (World War II). When you say it sounds like that. I really hate the times that you say ‘sit properly or ‘why are you talking’ but despite that you are a really good teacher. Thanks.”

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“We learned so much with you as as teacher, we probably doesn’t learn with other teacher like we learned with you, with your dictation and your funny way of talk, and now we know what is happening in the world.

“You are the best teacher of History, Geography, and Economy in English.”

“I really hope that you will be OK and I liked so much your class, I learned a lot of things about politics and also I practice my English because the first day that I knew you I didn’t understand what you were talking, but then yes, and my English, it’s better thank you.”

“I learned that if you find interesting news you are going to memorise it faster.”

In this year I learn a lot of things, but I think that learn to respect others, was the most important. In my opinion the school is our second home, so I can say that you were a great parent.”

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I’ll miss you too.

Un momento, dos momento

 

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Some great moments don’t need to be mentioned. The photos speak for themselves. 

It’s a sudden awakening. There are howls and whistles and screams and cracks and yelps from fireworks. My bunk mate Andy below me shouts and we get out and rush to the third-floor balcony to check what is going on.

In the day I would look out from the bottom of a valley – seeing buildings and streets clinging to the steep hills overlooking us. At 12.01 Christmas morning a roar of fireworks are being lit from these streets up into the night, all layered together with cracks of greens and reds and blues. Each street of Peruvians seem to compete against each other for the main attention.

It is the most glorious thing I have seen. I am frightened but laughing and reaching for my phone to Facebook Live this moment. Our street is included as a cluster of neighbours light up their rockets which pass above our faces. Andy and I roar expletives and between the ‘holy fuck’s and ‘Feliz Navidad’s I am laughing, and laughing, and laughing, and it is a moment, by this hill in the night, bright and explosive and loud, I will not forget. Within eight minutes I had the best Christmas of my life – and there was nobody but strangers to witness it with.

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The view from the balcony during the day. 

The show is slowing down 10 minutes later and Andy and I rush to see if the plaza on the other side of the building might have better fireworks. We run out the front door. The group of neighbours see us as they are lighting fireworks. They shout something with the word ‘gringo’ in it and a rocket hits alarmingly close to me. It’s most likely ‘get the gringos!’ and Andy and I keep jogging up the street.

Earlier that day in the plaza I watched an incredible dance. A brass band walks up the closed street guarded by frustrated police officers holding batons and riot shields. These police officers have been watching the Christmas Eve shoppers all day and I swear by the end a few of them want to take a swing at someone, just to have some fun, just to vent their frustrations at the rudeness.

The dancers take their graceful steps. Most of the dancers look like the ‘Big Bad Banksia Men’, but in the likely event you don’t know Australian fairy tales, I must avoid metaphor and describe them properly.

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The plaza. 

There’s 20 dancers in black masks which have red lips and grotesque blue eyes. One of them has an unlit cigarette in his mouth. They wear wide brown sombreros and heavy boots, and they clutch folded whips. There are two dressed in clown masks and they hold some boom-shaka-lakas (okay, I’m making up a word but it’s appropriate) which make grinding noises as they wave them around to scare away the pressing crowds who want the closest angle to take videos and photographs with their cameras. Some of the mothers are even using their children as cute hostages to get in closer. That doesn’t stop the threatening clowns from holding back the circle. The clowns have no mercy. You know why? Because they are clowns.

Arm in arm with the biggest and ugliest mask is a beautiful woman with icy eyes and a rosy smirk (who can resist such a woman?). And they proudly lead the dance with casual struts. A boy who can’t be more than seven-years-old is dressed completely in a white cow costume and he dances too, and closes in on the main couple. They are a cute family there, in that main street, in front of the plaza and the fountain and the glorious church.

And as they dance to the trumpets the sun shines on a spot on one of the mountains tipped with snow high beyond us. And this moment also is glorious.

Nobody can possibly be so lucky to have two amazing moments in the day.

I am.

Some of us seem to think sex or even alcohol is the answer to replace hurt or unwanted memories. Maybe so. I happen to love both, and tried both, but they tend to be an expression of my mood. They don’t exactly create happiness if I don’t already have it.

The trick is to find another way, and maybe at long last I’ve figured it out. The trick with coming to Peru or overcoming pain in life might not have anything to do with finding yourself as it is to be more of yourself.

I’m not talking about being ‘more’; ‘more healthy’, ‘more athletic’, ‘more sexy’, ‘more wealthy’, ‘more knowledgeable’, ‘more desirable’, (more superficial). I know, I know, this is all a familiar tangent of the self-righteous, and I’m sorry about that.

But what I’m talking about is having more moments like the fireworks in Huaraz on Christmas morning. The majestic moments that burn in your brain you can’t ever forget, so that they become you. Those moments where you remember laughing, the ones which weaken everything else that came before it.