Returning home from poverty-stricken areas usually leads to disruptive and reflective emotional moments. I return to the comforts of my home with a sense of guilt about all I have and a general feeling of disdain for all of the waste and wealth that surrounds me. For a few days, things like lines in expensive coffee shops and huge platters of disregarded food leave me wondering why we waste so much when there are people with so little. Mixing these feelings with the exhaustion caused by navigating less developed areas makes for an interesting mix of feelings that I can best describe as unsettled. Then, sad to say, I get pulled back into my home comforts and life gets back to “normal” with just a few remnants of guilt and a returned focus on the busy world of home. It is not something I am proud of, but it happens.
Well, after leaving Nairobi, I did not go home, instead I flew to Melbourne, Australia which has been voted…”the most livable city in the world.” So, instead of my home city of Chicago taking the brunt of my ridicule for all things “first world,” I lobbed them onto this unsuspecting city.
Melbourne was hosting the Australian Open tennis competition during my stay, so hotels were expensive and hard to find. I stayed with a gracious AirBNB host named Louise who is an artist in the community. She lives across from the Royal Botanical Gardens and is just a short walk from the city center. Instead of appreciating the beautiful walk on my first morning, I missed the chaos of Africa. Crossing the street in Melbourne meant waiting for the light to change and crossing politely with all the others. I missed the excitement of crossing between people, cars, and animals while everyone struggled to share the road. Even when no one walked near me in Melbourne, I still intensely scanned my surroundings and held my bag tightly with the expectation of being robbed or attacked. Everyone seemed so civilized and to be honest, it made me cranky and bored during the first few hours of transitioning to these things.
I had heard that Australia would be expensive, but I was still sticker shocked by the prices of things. A cheap lunch ranged from $15-$20 and simple every day items like water and fruit cost at least 40% more than I would expect at home. Going to the movies cost almost $20 and don’t get me started on simple haircuts that started at $100. I wandered through the day watching money escape from my wallet with little to show for my purchases.
I went to bed that night wishing I had stayed in Africa longer and wondering how I would occupy my time here. Then, like often happens after a good night of sleep, I woke up, and saw the city differently because I made the mental transition. On day two, I appreciated the garden as I strolled through on my way to the city center. The free wifi everywhere and working infrastructure eased my day and seemed like less of a luxury than an obvious societal perk. The general anxiety of watching over my shoulder quickly faded and I was able to walk home alone late into the night. A cup of tea at Starbucks would be okay…right? This is a beautiful city…with a well developed culture…with infrastructure that works…and public art and architecture as beautiful as I have seen….and people who follow rules and basic community expectations…and organic everything, everywhere. I guess this is what we are all aspiring to…so instead of settling into an aversion with all they have, I decided to take in the opportunity and spent no more time in my first world transition. It is not gone forever…the Africa seed has been planted in my mind, but my journey must go on…thinking about today. The phrase in my mind is a bit Scarlet O’Hara. You know…something like…I will think about Africa later…after all, tomorrow is another day.
Two big things happened in Melbourne! I had to part ways with my favorite orange suitcase. If you read my blog post from last year called “In a Relationship,” you know that this was a serious break up for me as I loved that bag. Unfortunately, the wear and tear of bus rides has been brutal and the zipper is irreparably separately from the bag. Also, for future travel requirements, I needed to have a “carry on” bag only. Choosing a new bag was a big deal that I have likened to choosing a mate, so I have been doing research into the latest and greatest options and found the perfect style…a carry on bag with a detachable backpack that can be used for single trip outings. It is light, spacious, and comfortable… and hard to find. For two days, I searched at every luggage shop I passed and had no luck! I also wasn’t sure how I would dispose of the orange bag…a trip to a foreign dumpster seemed so callous after our years together. This is where my friend Tom saved the day.
A few months ago, Tom and I had lunch in New York and we realized that we would be on the same side of the globe at the same time of year. I have taught for almost twenty years and some of my favorite moments were shared with Tom who was not only the principal of Manning School, but also my partner in planning New Teacher Orientation and professional development for our schools. In all the time I worked with Tom, he was calm, fun, professional, caring, and dedicated…and a lovely friend who I admired and enjoyed. As we worked, we often dreamed of future travels, so our meeting seemed like the culmination of these dreams.
We agreed to meet in Melbourne after he and Dave spent a few weeks in Asia. I watched anxiously as Tom posted pictures on Instagram and couldn’t wait to meet up with them. I was also anxious to meet David. At first, I wondered if it would be weird for me to insinuate myself into their travel adventure, but from the minute we met on Friday morning for coffee, I knew that it would be a comfortable and good fit. I felt so happy to see Tom and spend time just hanging out and exploring the city together. We wandered into the Queen’s Market, shopped in the city center, enjoyed watching a big band and swing dancing on Australia Day, had a few good meals, and caught up on life and travels. It was so nice to be with them and enjoy their stories and company.
On Sunday, we rented a car and David was our chauffeur as we drove along the Great Ocean Road…a winding, cliffy coastline area with pure blue beaches. Tom was the official photographer and we both served as encouragers for David as he drove on the opposite side of the road. He was such a good driver…and we were all so relaxed as we stopped for town visits, food, a trampoline jump, and ice cream. This summer in January thing is really nice. It was nice to catch up, but also nice to be able to enjoy just hanging out and enjoying the quietness of being with someone familiar. There are some people who are great friends….and some people who are great travel companions… but it is rare to have people who are both…and in Melbourne, I felt like we found that special blend. I was sad to say goodbye to Tom and David, but hope we will meet again somewhere in this great big world!
Back to my suitcase hunt, well, Tom, David, and I met for coffee on our first morning at a place they found online, which happened to be right across from an outdoor shop that had luggage….the exact kind I wanted…and it was ON SALE!!! In the short moments I waited for them to arrive, I had picked out the new green bag that I have affectionately named Sweet Pea…I know naming it is odd…just move on, please. This in no ordinary suitcase. It has wheels and is a backpack. It is lighter than you can imagine and that detachable backpack is genius. I am in love! And, even better, Tom took my orange bag to carry his extra stuff home and instead of leaving it on the side of a foreign dumpster, I can imagine the old orange suitcase moving to glamorous New York and Tom can take care of its’ final days. A new suitcase relationship with no guilt about the one I left behind….just dreamy! I wish all my relationships ended so easily!
Next stop?? On a bus to Sydney now! I think it will be interesting….more to share about that later!