Over the years that we have been living in Malawi people have asked the question, “so where is home?” I have usually fudged the answer (don’t tell anyone), as every time I have come back to Australia I have always felt a bit more foreign. Technically, and unfortunately cynically the answer is in fact simple to answer. “Home is the place where they can’t deport you from and where you end up when others won’t have you”. This idea, although not new to me, was made concrete while on route to Australia when I saw an aged, haggard and fallen British 70’s rock icon, Garry Glitter, being refused entry to a string of Asian countries due to his criminal activities. Finally, after a brief tour of the orient he accepted the fact that he would only be granted entry into ‘the mother land,’ from where I doubt he will ever be able to leave.
In Amman, Jordan, when ‘home’ was just a hop, skip and a jump away I took a straw pole around the kitchen table on the 'home' question. For Wendy and the boys, home is Australia (they all answered unanimously), even Ben, who has really only lived in Australia vicariously through us. Sometimes I have heard him speak about Adelaide and Australia like he’s been living there for 30 years. Other times he’s speaks of it like someone who only just realised there is land beyond the Malawi border. I know that Adelaide is a great place and everyone wants to live there, but we are trying to tone down the boys rhetoric that Adelaide is not a country in its own right, nor is it a part of South Africa, Italy, the USA, London or China, well not at the moment anyway.
In reality home for all of them, (And for me as well I guess. I am just trying to play the role of the detached observer!) is not really about a location but where family is. We know that we have really great friends in Africa, but in Oz live the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. People whom they feel more than a filial connection and who themselves have a firm commitment to them. It is kind of strange really because that is a very African idea of home as well.
There are challenges coming ‘home’, when one has been away a while. Everything looks the same, but not everything is. I have found that in some situations I have fumbled in my reactions. Last week at the supermarket I had a ‘where am I moment’ with the guy on the cash register. After piling all of my groceries onto the conveyor-belt (is that what it's called?) I was left holding a bag of tomatoes, which just wouldn’t fit. So I just handed them to him. He looked at me, and I just looked at him. Then he asked what I wanted him to do with them. I froze, thinking perhaps I had should have weighed them all before going to the cash register like is done in Jordan, and Malawi. In the end it was not a trick question. He just wanted to know whether I wanted them packed separately to the other goods! I also needed help from him punching the correct buttons on the little card machine at the register so that I could pay for it all with my card. His comment toward the end of the whole transaction was telling and made me wonder whether if in fact I was home, “You’re new here aren’t you mate?” Oh, is it that obvious?
So now we are all in training to be real Ozies. Our goal is to blend in. At the moment I am trying to get the boys up to scratch with Oz-glish, which for those of you who have never been to Australia, it is a language with some similarities to English. As our family language consultant I have been working overtime to help the boys understand its complexities as it is quiet a difficult dialect, full of nuances for the unsuspecting. The other day Ben asked me what the radio announcer meant when he said “he would be appearing in person at the show this arvo.” “Oh”, I said knowingly, “he means later on today”. Again when a friend said to the boys on leaving our house “ooroo lads” they just stared at him blankly. Just as well I was there to explain, “oh he means see you later guys”. I am sure they will get the hang of it soon. 20 million Australians have so it can’t be that hard, can it?