Saturday, December 30, 2006

Detailed account of my Christmas on "the Other Side"

I arrived back in country early this morning and so far it is the longest day of my life (thanks to the International Date Line). :) I thought since now I have a slow internet connection again and have time to sit down and type out a few things, I thought I owed everyone a more detailed account of what Sydney was like and everything I got to do and experience. Sorry for the novel, but there's really no other way. Read it in intervals if you must... :)

Day 1 (21 and 22 of December)
So, on the plane ride to Sydney I ended up being on the same flight with a few familiar faces. Robin, another PC was flying to Melbourne, Alex, a current Australian volunteer was going home for a visit during Christmas, and one of my Year 11 students was on the plane. It turns out that thankfully the plane was pretty empty, so Alex ended up moving next to me. My student ended up in the same row across the aisle from me. No matter where you go, in Samoa you will always be known. The plane ride was extremely dry. Both Alex and I thought all of the moisture was being sucked from our bodies. I couldn't seem to put enough eye drops in and I wasn't even wearing my contacts. Especially coming from such a humid country, I have never experienced a dryness like that before. On the plane Alex and I passed the time watching tv shows on his computer and talking about Australia. He is from Melbourne and wanted Clair and me to head down for a few days and visit.

I had no trouble in customs. I had brought some cocoa samoa with me and thought that it would be a problem bringing it through, but I was waved without a second glance. Alex was randomized and Robin and I ended up waiting for him for awhile. Clair shared with me a funny story that when she returned home, she had to open her bag because she was carrying an ava bowl and a cockroach ran out. She was so freaked that her whole bag would be confiscated, but the customs man commented that they were universal and let he through like he sees that kind of thing every day.

Clair was there waiting for me like promised. It was so great to see her face. I didn't realize how much I missed her. It's funny because when Peace Corps say goodbye to each other they like to say, "See you on the other side." Well, I was seeing her on the other side. :) We walked out to her car and the first thing I did was try and get in the driver's seat. I had forgotten that they drive on the left side of the road. The whole time I visited Clair was great and drove us everywhere. It only took a little while to get used to it, but every now and then I saw a car coming on the right side and had a little panick in my heart that we were going to get hit. I had to phsyically stop myself from sucking in air or pressing the imaginary break on the passenger side of the car. :) The turnabouts were the hardest for me to orient myself to. At least I wasn't doing the driving. I think I might have wandered over to the other side a few times... I never really had a problem seeing all the huge buildings wiz past, but everything did seem large to me in comparison.

The first place we headed was to a beach. Coronulla I think is what it was called. It was great to walk around after sitting for so long. Clair and I had a chance to chat and catch up on a few things. We just walked along a boardwalk catching up on the latest faitala. I was a little shocked to see how people were dressed. After living in a relatively conservative country for the last year, it was hard to see people walking around in bikinis. I kept thinking how scandalous they were dressed. After the wind picked up and the temperature reached about 65 degrees (18 for those of you still on the other side) I decided I was cold and wanted to head somewhere. We walked to a nearby cafe and I had my first latte in a very long time. Carmel Machiatto. I forgot how much I love sitting in little cafes with friends sipping coffee and chatting. Eventually we decided to head back to Clair's parents place.

Her parents weren't expecting us to come home for dinner, so there wasn't any meal food in the house. Her mom did offer me grapes and I think I had a small faint. Grapes? Real grapes? And I can eat them? She had a bowl with grapes, cherries, plums, apricots and peaches. I felt like i was being spoiled. I could have sat there and eaten the whole bowl if Clair didn't insist we eat something "real." Now, before I came to Australia Clair asked me what the one thing I really wanted to eat was when I came. A HUGE deli sandwich will all the fixings and more. So we headed to Subway. In order to enter the Subway we had to walk through a grocery store. It overwhellmed me. I think it was just seeing so much stuff. There were so many choices my eyes couldn't focus on anything. To see 8 different brands of 8 different versions of orange juice was just more than I think my eyes could focus on or take in. Since Clair was also a volunteer in Samoa she understood this overload and quickly rushed me to the Subway. It took me awhile to decide what kind of sandwich I wanted. You mean I can have any type of meat I want? But I finally settled on something and thought the decision making process was over. I told the lady the type of sub I wanted and she asked what type of bread. What type of bread?! I looked at the unendless choices it seems and I think my brain froze because I really couldn't decide. It all looked good. I turned to Clair and asked her what i should get. She chose and I stuck with that decision. Toppings were easy: everything. I thought we were through again, but no! The lady behind the counter then asked me what type of dressing I wanted. Dressing? There were too many choices. Once again I couldn't decide. I looked over and Clair was being helped by the next person, so I looked at the choices again. I soon realized I could be looking at these choices forever and so I chose the one closest to me, Ranch. Sounded good. We paid for the sandwhiches and quickly hurried back to Clair's house. I was exhausted. After a nice long bath, I passed out.

Day 2 (23 of December)
Because the sun rises in Samoa change only by 1 hour throughout the year and because I have to get up around the same time everyday for school, I have for the most part woken up every day for the last year around 6am. This is 4am in Australia. Obviously no one was up yet and I could not for the life of me fall back asleep. So I got up and wandered around the house. Eventually the rest of the world woke up too and I decided I needed to stay up extra late a few nights in a row to compensate for the early waking. The first thing I noticed when I woke was how much my scalp itched. Because Samoa is so humid, my skin had gotten used to it. It was like my skin didn't seem to remember how to produce it's own oil. My entire body was dry. I couldn't seem to put enough lotion on. Even my lips got extremely chapped. They were cracked and peeling and bleeding even. No amount of chapstick seemed to do the trick (now that I am back, it's back to normal).

Today Clair and I headed into the city. She lives in a subburb outside of Sydney. We drove to a tram area and took the tram into the city. We walked all over. When we got out of the tram area we were smack dab in the middle of the mall. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I was interested in seeing all of the things that are for sale and that people buy. There was a store for everything. The first thing we did in the city was head up the tower to see the city from high up. It was great to see the layout of the city and to get an idea of where everything was.

Then we walked into the heart of town. The first thing I wanted to see was the Opera House. It was just as amazing to see as the pictures. It started raining right as we were arriving so the mass of people had cleared out a bit and we got to wander around relatively alone. We saw a wedding outside the Opera House, took lots of pictures and then started walking around the rest of the city. We ended up taking a boat out to Manly Beach, so I saw the city from the harbor. It was fun, but really cold (relatively). We walked up and down the beach and stopped to watch a Beach Volleyball competition. People were all dressed up in costume. The funniest one was guys in womens swim suits with bathing caps on. A little different than what I am used to seeing.

We stopped in a little Italian cafe and I ordered amazing food. I just kept thinking how great it was to be eating this tastey food. In fact, I thought that so much during the week that even though I might have been full I never wanted to stop eating since I wouldn't be eating it again for another year or so. I might have gained a few pounds on the trip but it was worth every bite!

We were in town the whole evening. We wanted to see the Harbor Bridge and Opera House lit up at night so we passed the evening by going to see a movie. The lights were great at night. I bet New Years eve would be fun to see in Sydney. This time I was so tired I passed out in the tram and the car ride home...

Day 3 (24 of December)
And yet I still managed to wake up before the rest of the world. In fact, I continued to struggle with this the whole trip. Even though the bed was nothing short of amazing and I managed to stay up late every night, I still could not for the life of me sleep in. Clair's dad referred to me as the girl that never sleeps. Christmas Eve morning Clair and I took a road trip down the coast. It was the coldest day yet and it was pouring rain. Her family kept telling me this never happened in Sydney, but I felt right at home with the rain and the cold weather. We drove down the coast and stopped in a little town called Stanwell and had tea in a cute little tea house that had just had its grand opening that day. In fact Clair and I were their first customers. They were great. The waitress offered to refill our pots of tea without extra charge, we had scones... it was fun.

We headed back and got ready for part 1 of 2 with the Fitzgerald family gatherings. Her whole entire family was there. 2 sisters and their respective others, their kids, her brother and his wife, their newborn baby. We had a light meal outside (once again I was bundled up) and then headed inside to open a few presents. One of her sisters couldn't join the family tomorrow so they openeded their presents and their kids presents. One of their girls (baby Lili) got glitter shoes, a new pink purse, fairy wings... and she pranced around in all of it the rest of the night. Clair and I watched a few episodes of the Sopranos and then most of the family headed to midnight mass since Clair's family is Catholic. The music was beautiful. I enjoyed sharing that with Clair's family.

Day 4 (Christmas Day)
It was a late rising for everyone but me since we were up so late with Mass. Everyone came over around 1pm and the first thing we did was sit down to eat. Clair's mom got the Christmas pudding down from the ceiling (to let it dry). There was so much food. Once again I couldn't seem to stop eating it. We had a lot of food and great wine. Then Clair's mom brought out the Christmas pudding. Her dad poured alcohol on it and they lit it on fire. The pudding was served with custard.

After dinner we started to open presents. I had brought a few for Clair and her family. Some Samoans Own chili sauce, Cocoa Samoa, coconut oil, earrings for the women in the family... things like that. But, I was not expecting presents for myself. I was so surprised when Clair's dad read off my name on a present from them! I ended up getting a few presents that evening; I felt so blessed. It really did make me feel like a part of the family. I loved it.

After the presents started the games. We started off with Trivial Pursuit. Clair and I were a team. One question we loved was about the Sopranos. Eventually we decided no one had won a piece of pie in awhile and we were for the most part all tied at 3 pieces each. So we called it a draw. Then we started a card game that Clair's sister in law knew. (What is the name of that game Clair?) We all agreed that whoever won would win, but not take home a silver cup that was given to the family as a Christmas present. Clair's sister in law won and her husband came in second. It was a very spirited game of cards and i had a blast. Eventually the evening started winding down around midnight and everyone headed home or got ready to stay the night.

Day 5 (26 of December)
For some insane reason I had decided and Clair had agreed that we needed to experience the rush of shopping madness that takes place on Boxing Day. So we left relatively early (not as early as I have been waking up) and headed back into the city. The main place we wanted to stop at was Meyer (like a Bon Marche or Meir and Frank in the states). I wanted some pants, a few tanks, and some gifts for PC back home. When we got to the store there were huge mobs outside. We managed to push our way to the front (thanks to having to push your way to the line to buy tickets at the boat to Savaii) and found out they were letting people into the store in small spurts. We waited not too long and managed to make it in. I can't remember ever seeing so many people in one place. Surpisingly I didn't feel too overwhellmed. Samoa has small personal spaces so I never felt claustrophobic. And I am used to waiting a long time for things in Samoa as well, so the long lines and waiting never really got to me. Overall I think we were crazy for heading in so early and it wasn't really worth the insanity, but it was an experience and it is fun to say you did it.

After the shopping we needed a much needed break and headed to Darling Harbor to chill for awhile. We sat and relaxed and then called another Aussie volunteer I knew from Samoa. He met up with us in China Town and we had some of the best food I had had in country yet. Once again I couldn't decided on anything at the restaurant. He ended up ordering for us. After lunch we walked around the entire city... and I mean entire city. John knew everything about the buildings and history of Sydney. Even Clair learned a few things. It wasnt too tiring and I felt the need to exercise after so much amazing food. I don't know, but I doubt there are parts of the city we didn't walk to... We finished the night up with a Korean meal. By the time we arrived back at Clair's house it was almost midnight.

Day 6 (27 of December)
And we got up about 4 hours later. During the course of the week, Clair and I decided that it would be fun to fly down to Melbourne for the day and visit a few friends. We had checked online earlier and flights were fairly cheap, but really booked. We had to book 2 different airlines there and back. Since our flight left today at 7am, we had to be up and out by 5am... Once again I was back at the airport and heading somewhere else. The plane was fairly packed, but we passed out for most of the ride. When we got to Melbourne we met up with Alex (the guy I sat next to on the plane). Him and his girlfriend Kat were there to hang out and chill with us for the day. We went to a fun little cafe for breakfast (couldn't seem to get enough while i was in the country). As always good food. Alex had some errands to run, so Kat took us on the trolley that circled the city. We were able to get a good perspective on the layout of the city and where we were. Melbourne reminded me a lot of a European city. Large streets with trees down the middle, a mix of new modern buildings with old ones next to them. Once again they tried to get me to decide what I wanted to do, but I really didn't know what I wanted. I told them to decide and i would walk and follow them everywhere.

After the trolley we crossed a massive park in the middle of the city and stopped by Alex's place to figure out where to go next. We had planned to meet up with another old Aussie Samoa volunteer later that day as well. We decided to head up the tower in the middle of the city and get a great birds eye view. After that we walked to the main square and met up with Nicole. Then the 5 of us went out for a light meal and wine and just caught up with each other. It is so much fun chatting with others that have gone through the same experience. We all understood where each one was coming from.

We ended up parting ways a little later than planned and Clair and I had to run to make the bus back to the airport. As it turned out, we read the schedule wrong and had a lot of time... better safe than sorry. By the time we made it home it was late.

Day 7 (28th of December)
Last full day in Australia. I tried to sleep in, didn't succeed and got up early and spent time online. Posting wonderful pictures. Clair and I left realtively early and drove out to the country to see the Blue Mountains. It took us awhile to get there and the day had heated up for the first time since I had been in country. It was hot when we arrived. We tried to smother ourselves in sunblock, but we still got fried. We walked around a bit, hiked down to the 3 sisters (rock formation) and just enjoyed getting a little exercise.

On the way back we stopped at a little National park at the base of the Blue Mountains. Earlier in the day Clair had asked an information desk guy where we could see wild kangaroos. Earlier in the trip I mentioned to Clair that I wanted to see kangaroos and koalas in the wild. She said kangaroos were fairly easy, but koalas would most likely be in a zoo. For most of the week I was in country, whenever we drove through undeveloped land I would joke about how I was watching for kangaroos and koalas. I would look into the tree tops for most of a card ride or search the fields for any sign of the kangaroos. At one point I thought I saw a kangaroo, but it was most likely a dirt pile. It was an outstanding joke between us (along with the pronounciation of batteries and mom/mum). Even in the city we joked about being on the lookout for the animals. So, she stopped and asked a guy where we could see some and he told us about the park. But he said to head there around dusk when they came out to eat and drink water. We saw them! A ton of them (kangaroos, not koalas). I took a ton of pictures and was happy.

That night as we were heading home, Clair's dad called and said we were having a BBQ at Clair's brother's house and to stop by the supermarket and pick up a few supplies... oh oh. I had to brave it sooner or later since I needed a few things. We walked in and I felt that overwhellming sense again. I just started to wander. I had a small idea of what I needed so Clair helped me in that general direction. One thing I needed was face wipes so I could still wash my face when the water is out on Savaii. I stopped and stared at the un-ending amount of choices. Which one to choose? I was probably there a good 10 minutes staring until I picked one up with a brand name that seemed most familiar. The longer I was there, the more used to it I became. I even picked up some bagels and cream cheese! Oh how i missed bagels.

We headed to the BBQ and it was great. Clair's dad had BBQ steak waiting for us. We watched them finish up a little yard work and then had the best last dinner in Australia. After dinner Clair and I tried to stay up and watch the Big Lebowski, but we both passed out.

Last Day (29 of December)
Believe it or not, I actually managed to sleep in this morning until about 6am. The first thing I did was take my last bath. Clair even hooked up this great spa bubbly thing in the bottom. We had a leisure morning, packing up and last minute indulges. I said goodby to her parents and then we headed into town.

I had some last minute shopping i still needed to do.We went straight to the mall and nothing phased me. We walked in and out of grocery stores (still a slight uneasiness) and I managed to get gifts for everyone promised one. Before the airport we stopped off for one last meal. I had a carmel bar, a plate of nachos and bought a few Krispy Kremes for the road. :)

While I was waiting in line in the airport to check in and Clair was parking the car, I had a funny experience. I was standing there and the people behind me were speaking in Samoa (naturally since the plane was going to Apia). I think I must have turned around and looked because then in Samoan I heard one mention the palagi that turned around. Then they started talking about my tatoo. One said they wondered if I got it in Samoa. I think I must have snickered because the other one asked me, "malamalama" (understand). I nodded and they were laughing. They thought it was so funny I could understand them. Turns out one of them actually lives in my village, but not near the school. Small world.

It was hard to say goodbye to Clair. I didn't want to leave all the fun and the niceties of living in a developed country. But, Samoa is my home (the good and the not so good parts) and it's where I belong. I promised her I would visit again (with Bryan this time), and that she had to come and visit me on our 30th birthdays (only 18 days apart). So, Clair, thanks for the fun and the friendship. I will miss you! It was great visiting with you on the other side and I will see you there again (no it's not like prison).

So, overall great vacation. I cannot wait to go back. Now I am back in Samoa and getting ready for the New Years festivities. I will continue to keep everyone updated a little more frequently I hope. Until next time...


At 3:21 PM, Anonymous Christi said...

What a great vacation! And I'm glad to hear you made it back okay.


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