In Australia, mid year was that difficuilt time, nothing special going on, a wintery greyness punctuated by days of cold, clear sunshine. But there was no event to be marked on the calendar, a time of the year which just slipped by every year, almost unnoticed while we waited for the holidays of summer and Christmas. But now, they are now infused with heightened emotions, they are months of endings and beginnings, because now they are the end of the school year. A time of celebration, infused with the sadness of farewells. The farewells of knowing you will never live in the same city as these dear friends again, never sharing an impromptu coffee and chat.
For us, like many expats, it is also a time of travel. Each July we head back to Australia for our annual pilgrimage. The heady excitement tempered by the tedium; the excitement of boarding planes and the jetlag, overflowing suitcases of treasures and the exhausted march through airports.
Crawling out of the plane after the 30 hour journey back to Australia, it’s easy to forget the simple pleasures of a trip home. Eyes burning, craving sleep, and begging the kids to just ‘hold it together’ till we collect keys for our holiday rental.
We arrived at our ‘place’ opposite the ocean, staring in wonder at the beauty of the sea, congratulating ourselves on finding such a wonderful place to stay. There is a sweet melancholy visiting the simple, clean beauty of Australia. The kids and I look to each other in silent recognition of what we have given up; the time to remember what our move to Ghana has given us is for another time.
Visiting Australia has elements of groundhog day. We know how lucky we are to have such wonderful friends, whose lives we slip back into, seamlessly. Indeed, it was only an hour after we arrived back that friends were knocking on our door, and we out, curing the jetlag, walking along the coast. A coast of clean white sand and waters muddied only by the swirl of sand, not by black plastic bags, old tubes of toothpaste and shoes. Then up onto the breakwall, which separates the harbour from the great blue Pacific, past the lighthouse and right to the end, where the sea spray whips your face, and there is nothing but water.
Those heightened emotions which carried us through the end of school, persist into the visit home. The excitement and simple sweet relief of being with old friends and family, reconnecting.
There is never enough time.
It starts out hectic and finishes crazy. Could we squeeze in just one more coffee? One more dinner? One more play date? Why don’t we just drop in and say hello? Say goodbye? The juggle of social lives, and precious time with grandparents and cousins, all crammed between the maintenance of life, visits to doctors, dentists, optometrists, solicitors. And then there is the schizophrenic shopping lists of laptop battery, trainers for the kids, Carmans museli bars, miso paste, tortillas, boots for Bill, underwear, rosemary plant, saffron, Wii Mario cart, phone chargers, Bluetooth speakers, those new little weetbix with fruit in them; these trips are a holiday with a sting in their tail, one part socializing, one part maintenance.
While we were away, my daughter bought a t-shirt which said:
“Home is where the internet connects automatically.”
A little cheesy perhaps, but also true. I stayed with some friends for a few days while the kids were visiting their grandparents. My phone picked up their wifi automatically, they gave me keys to their car and their house. I ate family dinners with them and helped their kids with their homework. We traded parenting successes and failures. And when the time came to say goodbye, there were no hugs or talk of another year to pass. Pretending we would see each other again tomorrow, we just said ‘bye, see you soon’.
There is never enough time.
Arriving back in Ghana brings mixed emotions, and each return is a little different from the last. In the beginning, the heat, the smell, the frustrations with just getting anything done was very real. It was all still so new, so foreign, and to be honest, so disappointing to be back. But as the years pass, the familiarity of life here, along with some major decisions about our live here (like moving to Accra to attend school, rather than live on a mine site in rural Ghana), have made the transition back to this home, so much easier. I look forward to reconnecting with friends, I look forward to the daily surprises of what we see everyday and the general unpredictability of life here. And while a little part of me mourns the ease of life in Australia, like the quaint way cars stop at pedestrian crossings unbidden, I have come to the realization that life is here now. It’s up to us how we react to it.
I have a friend here in Ghana who has spent the last 10 years of her life in West Africa. Her biography reads like an exotic West African travelogue, Ghana, Senegal, Mali and Ghana again. A seasoned expat, she divides us into 2 groups, those who complain and those who get on with making the best of it. And while I make plenty of jokes about self-medication through alcohol, I want to fall into the latter camp.
The return to school gives a sense of new beginnings, like a mid-year January with plans of exercise, motivation and goals for the new year. And after a 9 week extravaganza of holidaying and travelling, it brings a much needed return to routine. In those last few weeks of the school year I never thought I would crave the crushing routine that is school life. But as all parents know, kids, particularly younger ones, crave the familiar. And before we know it, they are settled in their new classes, reconnected with friends, the sporting teams have begun, the home readers come in the door, birthday party invitations start to arrive, and we are back….back to the routine. And those holiday memories are just that…memories. It’s easy for all of us, expats and non-expats alike, to lurch through the years, living holiday to holiday, craving the plane ride outta-here, but isn’t it better if we make the memories here and now? Making the best of it.
But after a morning filled with a three hour wait for the mechanic, 16 phone credit scratchies and 2756 keystrokes to recharge the internet and an exploding power point…pass me the wine will you?