So tell me folks, does this picture fascinate you? Make you want to stare at it for hours? No? Me neither. Out of all the pictures I took and the wonderful people I met on my trip to the US this must be one of the LEAST fascinating. It is, however, stuck on my digital photo frame in the kitchen right now, and I’ve been staring at it for the better part of the day, if only because the power switch is hidden behind a rather large and heavy chair, and I’ve been too busy (lazy) to move it.
I thought I might blog about being stuck, about how we end up in these thought pathways that we don’t know how to get off, because our own heads are too big and heavy and we’re too busy (lazy) to move them, but then I realised that…well…I’m really tired. And all of a sudden the picture wasn’t about being stuck any more, but about those very first, very earliest memories of my first ever day in a foreign country.
I couldn’t get over how not-foreign everything looked. The airport was like the ones I’m used to (okay, about a zillion times bigger), and African-American people didn’t look like African-Australian people (now that was an interesting observation. Possibly because the African-Australians in Tasmania are, for the most, very recent migrants or refugees, and are still much more African than they are Australian. This manifests itself in lots of very subtle ways, but it was still noticeable).
There weren’t any other Australians, but it was easy to ignore that at first. You just kind of presume they’re somewhere else, maybe in another room, that where you are just happens to have a really large amount of American visitors. It took me a good few days to get over the amazing “co-incidence” that EVERYBODY I met was American. Wow. Really? You too? The fact that I stayed with Australians (*waves HELLO to Theresa!! I’m imagining you picking the kids from school!!*) helped propagate that myth in my mind. But I digress.
The man who took me to Theresa’s house was Lebanese, and that didn’t help either, because I automatically presumed he was Lebanese-Australian and driving a taxi in Melbourne, not Lebanese-American and driving one in LA. LA looked like Melbourne. I’ve said that before, and I may say it forever. My very first thought of being in a foreign country was how like home it was*. We talked about Lebanon and how he misses his family, and his teenage kids and what they’re doing in school, and his wife who’s a nurse, and he pointed out his house to me, a double-story place with a little balcony overlooking the freeway, all of which he would return to after he dropped me at Theresa’s house, the last run on his graveyard shift. I took photos out the window, just because. This was one of them.
He stopped at the mall and bought me a coffee at Starbucks, which felt equally Melbourne-like, which I commented to him, except for the fact that we don’t have Starbucks any more because they pulled them all out. He told another man, an American man, who laughed a little and said “Australians are smarter than Americans then”. And with that I knew the truth: I hadn’t left Australia at all. The reason I was so groggy was because I’d been drugged and driven around Melbourne for fourteen hours.
Well…not really. After all, I had a stamp in my passport finally. And everybody drove on the wrong side of the road, and there were vegetables on everyone’s front porch. I got it. Eventually.
It’s been good to remember that day, to remember my taxi driver and the man at Starbucks. I don’t feel like the picture is about “stuck” at all any more. It’s about memory.
I’ll fix the photo frame. But I might, just randomly, pause it again in a couple of days, and allow another memory to overtake me. Nothing better, when you’re stuck at home, to be stuck in your mind in a foreign country.
*All that changed the day I landed in the Mid-West. The Mid-West is like being on TV. THAT was when I discovered what culture shock felt like.