I have lived in America for twelve years. My Beloved is American. My children bleed stars and stripes. I love this country. She has been very, very good to me and to my family. But I am a foreigner. The majority of the time, I forget this. And then I hear an accent, a song. I see a picture of a frangipani (plumeria) tree. My eyes tear, I breathe deeply. Scents and memories.
There is a schism that happens when you live between two worlds. One is your history, your genesis, your past. The other your reality, your present, your future.
I promised myself when I married my husband that I would not pine for home, or resent our choice when things got hard. I vowed to be present, to embrace my new country. I rarely associated with other Australians – most were here temporarily and as that was not to be my path, it felt painful. It is a promise I have largely kept.
With four small children, trips back are rare. I sit here on a plane five years from when I last made the10,000 mile trek to the other side of the world. The accents of the flight crew make me smile. They call everyone ‘love’ or ‘mate’. Of course they do. When I call you ‘darling’, or ‘sweetie’, or ‘love’ and we’ve just met, you’ll understand. The strains of “I Still Call Australia Home” have me weeping. It feels safe and familiar.
I’ve been spending days dreaming about food – how soon I can consume my first proper sausage roll and the biggest, juiciest prawns (shrimp) I can find. I have a list of lollies (candy) and biscuits (cookies and crackers) to stuff in every cranny of my suitcase. Comforts to hold on to when I return to the States.
But it’s more than food and smells and songs. It’s culture. It’s the fundamentals of ‘the way we do things around here.’ It took reading an essay by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman this week to remind me. He has been visiting Australia and New Zealand and comparing their political DNA with that of the USA. In Australia I am a moderate conservative. It’s only in America people think I am a socialist. Getting beyond labels and understanding context are key.
History and culture define societies and communities. I often write about finding the ways in which we are similar, as a framework for understanding the world. It is essential. I am realizing it is also critical to understand how we are different.
I’ve lived away from Australia almost longer than I lived in it. And home now is where my Beloved is. Where my children are. Where my professional life and wonderful community are. It is a very good life. Blessed. And yet I bleed stars too – the stars of the Southern Cross. And I ache to see her in the night sky this evening.
Have you ever felt caught between two worlds, two realities?