“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.”
Here I was. I was picked up at the airport in a limousine by a man in tailored black suit and driving gloves. I hadn’t slept, showered or eaten for almost 50 hours - the flight had been brutal. Dishevelled, dirty, broken, sweaty, poor and alone. The driver told me about the history of Australia. Now I can’t remember a word of what he told me apart from the tidbit that Brisbane was built where it was built to prevent the escape of convicts. He spoke irresponsibly with a forked tongue and was somehow redolent of a snake. I remember him being seven or eight feet tall. His pallid skin and sunken, yellow eyes were not congruous with the glorious sunshine shining outside. “The Australians have some cheek” thought I “to call this Winter.”
I remember the fear most. Those cold nights getting dressed out of a suitcase and tucked in to my single bed in the hostel feeling the cold tingle down my spine and the empty weight in my stomach. On my first day I got out of the oddly sinister limo at midday and had ate alone. I showered and got dressed out of my suitcase. I visited the empty campus. As I walked around I could feel something twinge inside me. I realised what it was - there was a rope that connected my solar plexus to Scotland and I had stretched it like an elastic band. It was trying to pull me home. I was determined to stay awake until nighttime and take the fight to jetlag. Jetlag laughed coldly at my bluster and sent me to sleep at four in the afternoon. I wakened at two in the morning feeling more tired than I ever had before. I was starving hungry and the elastic band threatened to tear me limb from limb. I wanted so badly to give in to the will of the tight elastic cord. If there had been a helicopter outside as I left that night I would have gotten on it and gone home. I was crying like a child lost in a supermarket. I would like to be able to tell you, dear reader, that I was saddened by having realised my own inconsequentialness in the world due to the scale I had experienced in travel. This, though, would be common bollocks. I was just a frightened wee boy again.
I was comforted by a security guard who shared his 2AM dinner with me and told me how his son was going to prison. He let me use his phone. I called home for reassurance and was given a cold hard lecture about opportunity and strength. I watched my cowardice dissipate into the cold, softly damp night like breath into vapour. I am truly thankful for having someone who will pick up the phone in the middle of the night and give me the raw, sore truth in a world of yeasayers and pussyfooting.
If there had been a helicopter, getting on it would have been a tremendous mistake. To all of those who are leaving one life for another I would offer the following words - the first week is tough. A strong force of nostalgia and comfort will attempt to tractor beam you back to your home. This is feebly called ‘homesickness’ but this does not capture the depth of the malady. Grim as it is though you, like me, will get through it. Just remember to pack senses of humour, adventure and direction, the phone number of someone who will tell you that giving up on this opportunity is not a open option and, perhaps most importantly, do NOT leave home without a trust in the essential goodness of massive, midnight security guards who are built like brick outhouses and have the table manners of a moose. And sunscreen. Sunscreen is important. Even in the middle of “winter”.
Life here crackles and fizzles at my fingertips, every day truly is a gift. I have learned what aspects of my old life I want to go home to and what new aspects of myself I want to nurture. I am becoming better acquainted with that painfully enigmatic and elusive character - my true self.