Familiar and different

We feel like locals. Actually we don’t, but there is something to be said for finding yourself familiar with the route to town.

We have found, in no particular order of importance: a great beachside café, a butcher, a supermarket that stocks literally everything (except meat…hence the butcher), a Bunnings…well not really a branded Bunnings but a hardware shop that’s masquerading as one, a pharmacy, a vege market, a fabric shop and a dress maker.

I’ve realized I haven’t got enough clothes with me, not enough depth in the wardrobe. We popped into the New Zealand Embassy on Friday for choir practice for Anzac Day and I don’t think the rumpty dress and jandals will “do” for future visits.

So I found a neighbourhood dressmaker. She’s tiny, I’m not, we shared some jokes about the size of my chest…none of them in a language either of us understood apart from the widening of her eyes at the numbers on the tape measure and the international gesture for big boobs…you know the one you make with your hands out in front of you.

We’ve been going to language classes all week, from 8.30 til 12.30 and I can actually feel my brain stretching,expanding. It’s quite uncomfortable. Some days I wonder if my motorbike helmet will fit on my big head as we leave. We have a rotating threesome of teachers, Mana Marta, Maun Alex and Mana Nina. They each have different styles but patience in common. We’ve covered off greetings, introductions, time, asking questions and how not to ask to be suckled when you’re actually just wanting milk in your coffee. Most importantly we’ve learnt how to say “I don’t know…Hau la hatene” and also “can you speak more slowly, Ita bele koalia neineik ka?”

After class we come home and nap. It’s very hot in the middle of the day and most people avoid doing anything too strenuous. Mark starts work after Easter and 2 more weeks of language classes and by then I think we will both be ready for the routine.

At night we go to bed reasonably early and we lie in our room and listen to the family directly through the flimsy wall. It’s just a steady hum of kids and grownups, we’ve been warned to expect late night karaoke on special occasions. We feel connected and disconnected. It’s a strange sensation of both belonging, they know we are there, we know they are there, and separation, we won’t intrude. Our landlady comes into the house and takes away our rubbish, she turned the outside light on for us when we were away after dark on Friday night. I imagine this is what it’s like to be a teenage boy with an attentive mother. 

It’s not all embassy visits and naps. There’re reminders everywhere that life is tough. There’re the broken bottles imbedded in the wall that circles our compound, a makeshift razor wire barrier. A padlock on the gate for after dark. We took a wrong turn coming home the other evening and wound up in a street blocked off by a burnout car. People sat in the shadows and watched us while we turned around and headed back the way we came. 

Earlier in the night, we waited for our dinner in a beachside restaurant and I watched a very small boy playing in the sand. He squatted in the dark, popping stones and sand into a discarded plastic bottle and emptying it and filling it, while his dad threw out a line to catch a fish for dinner. We were fed and ready to leave, and they were still there, still casting out a line. You can’t guess the ages of the kids, malnutrition has made them small. His back pack was almost as big as him. He had trouble putting it on. 

I guess that feeling in my chest is my heart stretching, expanding. It’s quite uncomfortable.

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