It’s funny when you look back on the road map of your life, how the twists and turns bring you to precisely this very moment.
Some are simply minor detours while others are main roads that you simply cannot avoid.
Ask yourself now, did you take the best roads?
How much of it was choice and how much of the journey seems predetermined?
The most important journey of my life began when I was ten years old when my parents,younger brother and I moved from Africa to Australia.
Before left our home in suburban Rhodesia (as it was back then -now Zimbabwe) I borrowed a book from the school library which had a stereotypical sketch of a lone Aboriginal man standing on a red sand dune with one leg pulled up, foot resting against his knee.
In his hand he held a spear and in the background were a few kangaroo’s and some spindly shrubs.
I remember looking at this picture and thinking “This is where we are going? To some desert with solemn looking black men holding spears?”
I don’t think I was impressed much by the idea, but what can you do when you’re ten?
Someone tried to make me feel better by telling me kids didn’t have to wear school uniforms in Australia, and that it was so hot that you could wear slops to school.
(That’s what we call “thongs”….which you may call “flip flops” which some Filipino people call “slippers”. Darn it….why can’t we come up with a universal name for these infernal pieces of rubber!)
So when we got to Australia I was rather disappointed because there were no spear wielding Aboriginals, no kangaroo’s hopping down the street and worst of all, we all had to wear school uniforms with proper closed in SHOES.
When we arrived we lived in the Endeavour Hostel, which was a settling place – a place where new immigrants would stay until people found jobs and suitable long term accommodation.
You could stay there for up to a year, and I’m not quite sure but we were there for what I think was close to that.
The hostel was a group of long buildings, each with at least three wings, and the small one or two roomed accommodations were kind of like dormitories with their own toilet cubicle.
There were communal shower blocks , communal laundries and a communal dining area for meals.
I can still remember the smell of the disinfectant they used in the shower blocks. I smelled something similar the other day and it immediately transported me back there…
It was there that I began to sprout breasts, believe it or not, at age ten.
I remember, because it was summer time and I was walking down the covered pathway to the dining area and I could feel the inside of my arms brushing up against the sides of my chest, and it felt weird.
Why was my chest all swollen like that? What were these lumps growing there?
I really had no clue, or only a vague clue, but the thing was, all the other ten year olds didn’t appear to be sprouting bumps on their chests so I felt really self conscious.
Thinking about it, this sprouting must have started even before we left Africa because I do recall a time standing in a bikini top after playing under the hose, in my next door neighbours kitchen and their “nanny”…(back then in Africa black people worked mostly menial jobs for white people and the women servants were called “nannies”) smiled and said something in her language and pressed my bumps with her palms.
I guess she was saying….”Oooh look at you little girl, you’re growing boobies.”
I remember flushing with embarrassment even though I didn’t understand what she’d said.
I spent my first summer in Australia (and perhaps the next too) wearing thick cardigans because I didn’t want anyone to notice my bumps.
But people did.
A friend of my mothers, Mrs Sharkey, a large, loud extroverted woman with a big heart, and equally big breasts, took me aside one day and matter of factly told me that it was time I got my first brassiere.
I remember that word sounding so “proper”….not a bra, a brassiere, dear.
I turned bright red at the mere mention of a brassiere.
No! This made the whole awkward situation of these dratted bumps even more real.
But, I was given my first brassiere and made to wear it, much to my dismay.
We were pretty much given free reign at the hostel, us kids, and it was a fantastic adventure each day as we all wandered around meeting new and different children from all corners of the globe.
It didn’t matter to us that we were all kinds of nationalities and skin colours, we were just kids, so our differences weren’t an issue.
Besides, we were our own tribe here….The hostel kids.
Somehow we got over the language barriers.
Out there in the real world, at school, WE were the outcasts.
The Aussies and the wogs.
If you had fair skin and could speak English, albeit with a funny accent, you were less of a wog, but technically speaking, if you came from another country you were still a wog.
Those with dark skin and limited English did not fare as well.
Kids are such snot faced brats.
I remember the injustice of the bullying that took place.
All because some kids looked and talked a little different.
At the hostel, we didn’t care. We just wanted to have fun, explore….
There were some sand hills out the back of the hostel which was a kind of dumping ground for peoples stuff.
Everyone could bring their “stuff” with them and it would be kept in storage until people at the hostel were ready to move into new accommodations.
I guess some people unloaded some of their things and dumped them there in the sand hills. Or maybe some of it came from surrounding suburbs. Just an out of the way place to dump rubbish.
Us kids used it as a playground and spend many hours ferreting for “treasure”.
Mostly it was discarded clothing and books….broken chairs. Nothing terribly exciting, but some of it we used to set up forts and cubby houses there in the hills.
Sometimes we thought we saw snakes there, and terrified each other with horrible tales of our new countries deadly venomous spiders and snakes.
I know we saw loads of redback spiders.
In the long grass near the sand hills, an older boy took me and another girl one day and played a “game”.
It was called….”Are you frigid?”
He lay me down in the grass and with his finger traced along my chest….ARE….the other side….YOU…..down my belly ….FRIG…..
And then I got up and ran away…
That game made me uncomfortable and I didn’t even know what frigid meant anyway.
The next level of the game, I believe, was to allow him to do that, underneath our clothing.
I don’t know if the other girl completed it…She was older than me by a few years.
I suspect perhaps she did.
I found a girl who could play guitar, so her and I would sit in the stairwells in the hostel and I would sing while she would play. These empty stairwells provided the most delicious reverb for our blossoming musical talents.
The song she knew best was Greensleeves.
Today whenever I hear an ice cream struck slowly cruising round suburban streets I am immediately taken back to those empty echoing stairwells.
We were soon discovered by Eduardo and his gang.
I don’t know what nationality he was? Spanish perhaps? He was a true “wog”. Dark skin, thick black hair, with a huge mouth full of big white teeth.
Eduardo had a thing for me.
He used to chase me everywhere calling me “Crazy Tracy”.
He cornered me and tried to kiss me once in one of those stairwells.
His big white teeth were a little too much for me to handle.
I think he turned into a bit of a thug in later years.
I once witnessed another spanish girl having her head dunked into a sink full of water by her father. She’d done something wrong. I observed this, perhaps with some astonishment, but never questioned it. Some families are just different, through ten year old eyes.
Being ten years old, for me, was all about fitting in.
Being accepted into this new world where kids were much tougher and meaner, where “bashings” really happened and people were targets if they really stood out in the crowd.
Where my “funny accent” was poked fun of and mimicked, but in a friendly way, mostly.
Where people always presumed that I had lived in a mud hut and kept pet monkeys and zebras.
“Why aren’t you black if you come from Africa?”
It was a whirlwind of events.
The move to a new country….Sprouting bumps, my parents separating, a devastating blow- our worlds were shattered.
New people, new adults coming into our lives, strangers supporting my mother who completely fell apart at the seams….Strangers buying me brassieres.
New school, new friends, new tribes to fit into….
Bittersweet I guess those memories are.
Did I even have time to think about what was going to be my future?
Of course, while my parents worlds were falling apart, I was for the most part oblivious as to what they were going through.
Being swept along, as you do when you’re ten. Confused and maybe a little bit frightened by all the changes. Angry, but swept along none the less, forced to go with the flow.
What else can you do?
We would go down to what we called “the wall”.
The wall was, well…..it was a WALL. A huge long high retaining wall, made of large concrete bricks that jutted out like mini stairs so you could easily climb it, which skirted some playing fields.
We would sit on the wall, me and my guitar playing friend, and I would sing in front of the other kids.
They would ask me if I wanted to be a famous singer when I grew up.
We all wanted to be madly rich and famous.
I also wanted to be a wildlife film maker. Zoologist perhaps.
Something to do with wild animals.
I missed Africa.
It was a different kind of “wild” in Australia.
Mostly, I just wanted to avoid Eduardo and his big white teeth.
This ramble was inspired by a post written by Anne Woodman.