The People We Ignore

Across a Distant Sea

I apologize for the extreme delay in blog posts from me lately. I've been laboring away at assignments, tests, lectures, etc... But the end of the semester is in sight, therefore I hope to have more time to write. To kick off my blogging again, here is a travel narrative that I wrote over the summer for my travel writing class. It's about my experience in Australia. Enjoy

                                      Across a Distant Sea
There I was on a warm sunny day in October in a country I had called my home for the last ten months, about to leave this place in just a few short weeks. I sat in the grass, gazed out at the deep navy water, and questioned my existence in this place. Seasoned joggers dashing past me, exuberant tourists with cameras in hand anxiously capturing every moment while it lasted, young couples lounging in the grass dreaming of their futures, the introspective types journaling their thoughts. And then there was me; just a young American girl who found this place to be her home, now about to be stripped away from its soil for who knows how long. I peered to my left at the infamous Sydney Opera House, sat like a sponge and absorbed the magnificent sight as long as I could imagine. 
Back track eleven months. It was a gloomy December day in Arizona, raindrops pattered on my window as I sat in my bedroom staring blankly at the computer screen. Mom and Dad were downstairs; mom cooking a delicious spaghetti dinner and dad lounging on the couch watching “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Alone in my bedroom, my mind began to race and my emotions ran wild like an uncontrollable tornado rushing through my body. This was it. There was no going back. In a few short weeks, I would be boarding a plane destined for a far off land for the next year of my young adult life. I didn’t know whether to be excited, sad, scared, or angry. I think I had a rowdy mixture of them all.
Fast-forward a few short weeks. The time had come. The date was Thursday, January 17th and at 6:00pm, I was leaving on United Airlines Flight 839 where I would embark on a bittersweet adventure across a distant sea; studying for one year at Hillsong International Leadership College, a Christian church and Bible college tucked away in a suburb of Sydney called Baulkham Hills. As I sat in seat 27A for 16 hours I fought back the tears when finally the familiar voice came on the speaker. “Welcome to Sydney, ladies and gentlemen, where the local time is 8:00am. We’ve got clear skies and sun in store for us today. We thank you for flying with us and we hope you enjoy your stay in Sydney.” Oh my God, I thought. Here I go. After getting off the airplane, I grabbed my luggage from Carousel 3 and met my driver along with other nervous newbies, like myself, from Canada, Sweden, and the US. We traveled 45 minutes in a van, on the wrong side of the road, (if you want to be politically correct, say opposite) through the streets and motorways of Sydney to my new home, an average apartment complex tucked away in a residential neighborhood in Castle Hill, a community of 35,000 inhabitants. As I opened the annoyingly squeaky door to Apartment “36”, I was poorly welcomed by an empty and unfurnished dwelling. Before I could get one foot in the door, I was met by my new, rather cheery, housemate.
 “Hi, my name’s Miriam. I’m from Canada,” She said.
Shaking her hand I responded, “Hi I’m Tara, nice to meet you.” She showed me my room; an empty space with four white washed walls, two small windows, and a sliding mirror closet. I swiftly met my other housemate, Lydia, from Germany then was abandoned. The two had been there for a few days now, had already gotten past the initial fears and uncertainty, and clicked well with each other. They fit together like peanut butter and jelly and I was like the bread that was stuck unaccompanied on the outside. From then on, I would nervously await the arrival of my very own roommate, whom I will call nameless from nowhere, for now. There I was, left alone in a small bedroom in Castle Hill, Australia, thousands of miles away from my real home. Overwhelmed with sadness and my heart feeling as empty as the room I was standing in, tears slid slowly down my cheeks. “How could I be so sad, when I’m starting this incredible new journey? How could I be missing Mesa, Arizona, a barren desert land, when I’m in a beautiful place like Sydney, Australia? I was born for adventure like this!” I thought. But it was at that very moment that I felt the most alone, the most out of place, and the most insecure I’d ever been in my early life. There were no familiar faces or places and I didn’t even have a phone to call my parents to tell them I, barely, survived the 16-hour plane ride. I guess this was part of the adventure. This is what traveling is like. “You better get used to it,” I thought. On a twin-size mattress in my vacant room, I secretly cried myself to sleep that night, like an adolescent girl does when a boy she was “in love” with had ripped her heart in two.
Day two was easier, surprisingly. I met some people, purchased a pre-paid cell phone, and explored the surrounding area. Just around the corner was Castle Towers, a newly built mall complete with a local Aussie grocery store called Coles, several restaurants, a movie theatre, and countless clothing stores. I could get used to this. It was a place to keep me occupied when the sadness rushed through me. By day three, my once vacant room was furnished with a wooden bed-frame from Ikea and a matching side table where I placed a picture of my best friend and I. I also filled the shelf with the few books I was able to fit in my rather crammed suitcase. When you’re forced to stuff one years’ worth of life in just two suitcases, sacrifice of certain items is necessary. If only I could’ve fit my drum set in at least one luggage bag, my life would’ve been complete. By day four, my future roomie showed up. I had just gotten back from shopping for additional home goods when Miriam popped out of nowhere…as she does.
“Hey your roommate arrived. She’s out buying stuff for her room.”
Oh no, I thought.
“Great, thanks,”  I muttered as my heart quickly started beating more than I could handle. “What if this girl hates me? What if I hate her? What if she’s uptight? How am I going to get through this year with a crazy person?” Before I could put my absurd thoughts together, there she was.
“Hi…I’m Ruth. I’m from New York.”  She informed me.
“Oh hey, I’m Tara. I’m from Arizona,” a phrase I quickly became accustomed to those first few weeks.
This was a moment for the both of us that would tell what our experience of the next year was going to be like. We were either going to dislike each other and be miserable, or we could become best friends and tell all our secrets to each other. Fortunately, it became the latter. We were making small talk, trying to figure out if we could handle each other for the next year, in my - well actually now - our bedroom when somehow she lost control of the iced coffee she was drinking and it spilled in my laundry basket.
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry! She exclaimed.
“Come on, I only have a limited amount of clothes, why’d you do that you jerk!?” Okay no, actually my personality is more, well, polite. So it went more like, “Oh it’s totally okay! Don’t worry about it. These clothes are dirty anyways, it’s fine.” Well, that for sure broke the ice. It was an awkward, but hilarious beginning to a lifelong friendship.
11 months later. There I was again, at the Sydney airport, a place I had come to know quite well over the year, about to leave for “home” in a few, very short hours. My three best girlfriends that I had come to cherish that year were by my side, not ready to send me off for what would be my home for the rest of my life, as I knew it. We sat in the airport Starbucks, waiting until the last minute to send me through the security gates, hoping that the longer we pushed our time limit, the slower the clock would tick. A heavy cloud lingered above our heads as every memory of that year began to flood into my mind. I thought of the countless late nights when my roommate and I dragged ourselves up to Coles for groceries then walked the shopping cart home where we would hold it for a few days, an act that was probably illegal.  
Don’t worry; we eventually brought them back safe and sound. I thought of when we found a large Huntsman spider, an eight-eyed Australian native the size of a man’s fist, intruding on our property. Standing atop the couch screaming like little girls, we called over our rather tough male neighbours to exterminate the furry beast at once.  When thinking about when my roommates and I found mould growing directly behind our beds, I nearly hacked up my respiratory system. On a lighter note, I remembered being proud, like a sister, watching my roommate and close friend, Richelle, dance at a conference in front of an audience of 20,000. I reminisced on the numerous times I bussed alone to downtown Sydney to grab an Iced Tall Soy Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks and watched the Sydneysiders go about their business. Those were the times I could escape my crammed and, sometimes, emotionally draining home. Put four different girls in one apartment for a long period of time and you’re bound to experience a bit of drama. Anyways, lastly I thought of mine and Ruths’ Saturday morning ritual where we invited over our best buds and cooked up delicious pancakes. We sat around our ghetto table and chairs that we had found lounging outside a house earlier that year. In Australia, if anything is left out on the roadside, the items are free to be taken, like a garage sale but without the selling. There we sat every Saturday as the weeks leading to our departures became shorter and shorter, recalling the memories of the last year we’d spent together. First, total strangers, now best friends. There I was 11 months later, not alone this time, but overwhelmed with heartache because of the wounding separation that was about to happen. My eyes like floodgates tried to keep the tears contained, but they found a way out like uncontrollable floodwaters.
Present Day. I couldn’t have imagined a more fulfilling experience in Australia than I did that year in 2008. Australia was a place I had come to know well. It was a country dear to my heart and I had left, probably for the rest of my life. I learned that adventure happens among the daily life. I learned that home is where you make it. You can travel and come to love a place for life, but you’ll find yourself stuck between two separate homes. On my 16-hour flight back to the home I had called for 18 years, I tried to fight back the tears, but was unsuccessful. I was stuck between two worlds. It felt like a dream. But now, here I am, a better, stronger, and more adventurous person having lived a year in the Land Down Under. It is a place I will always cherish in my heart. A place I dream to visit again one day.