Friday, December 26, 2008

On the Townsville, Chapter Seven

Holiday Greetings!

Who's up for some news? It's Boxing Day and the cricket is on – God help us all – and while I'm trying to be a good sport and get into the holiday spirit, I can't sit through an entire day (or two or three or five) of this mind-numbing game. I've already finished my jigsaw puzzle, painted my toenails, washed the floor, done the laundry and sewn hems on two shirts. I'm out of excuses not to be sitting in front of the television, which happens to be where the internet plugs in, so it looks like it's time for an update...

***For those of you who skip the reading or who don't make it to the end, let me wish you lots of joy in this holiday season. Best of everything in 2009!***

Teachers' College

Done! Ha! Never again!


Interesting situation that I find myself in. I quit the restaurant, see, having had enough of crazy long shifts, angry staff, absentee management, total mayhem most of the time, and of course the constantly and excessively drunk customers. Done and done. And why not? I'll just pick up some office work, get some temp stuff until my papers come through and I can do some supply teaching – no problem.

Turns out, though, that in blue-collar army/mining towns like this, the only temporary work is in manual labour – other than some office work for government/army organizations, but then you need to be an Australian citizen. I thought it might actually be a good idea to get my construction site blue card and a pair of steel-toe boots, as doing some digging and hauling and lifting would make me strong and fit (and rich) – but even that fell through because you have to have your own transportation to get out to construction/farm/mine sites way out of Townsville, and my bicycle -- though excellent -- just won't cut it.

But no need to panic. First, I've found this guy who runs a construction company from home and needs office management help, such as typing up project bids and e-mails and letters to sub-contractors and anything else that needs to be done around the office.
He even lets me unleash my organization skills, including furniture re-arrangement – look out! Cash-in-hand, super casual (jean shorts, tank tops and bare feet tend to be my work uniform) and a nice family vibe, as I get to chat with his teacher wife and coo at their eight-week-old baby.

Second – and less satisfying but we all have to pay our bills, right? – is working for a promotions company, which I thought would be dressing up in ice cream costumes and handing out popsicles at the beach and that kind of thing. It's not. So far, in a series of increasingly inappropriate-for-me-and-everything-I-stand-for promo jobs, I've been:

1. The pork lady, setting up a stand in the supermarket to cook and hand out samples of "moisture-infused" pork;

2. The White Stag girl, standing in drive-thru bottle shops (oh yes, they have drive-thru alcohol stores), handing out samples of Toohey's latest low-carb beer to people in cars; and

3. The Beer Promo Chick, setting up kegs of Pure Blond Naked and serving it out to drunk soldiers at the local army base's end-of-year parties. (You can't see the high heels and cleavage hole, but it was hot!)

They were desperate for staff and super grateful that I showed up when I did, but I'm not exactly what they're looking for in a promo chick – which I should have figured out from their being called "Casting Couch" and having a web site full of pictures of girls in slutty costumes and coquettish (read: whorish) poses. As it happens, they're so disorganized that I was mostly left to my own devices for the first few weeks, just wearing more or less conservative black, depending on the venue. I chose to disregard the army base uniform of "high heels, short black shorts and baby tee," for example, opting to wear pants and a fitting top and let my sparkling personality make up for the rest.

I was a bit suspicious when I opened the bag for the first White Stag deal, surprised to discover that a ten-year-old child would be accompanying me on this beer promo and then realizing that, in fact, I was supposed to be wearing those tiny little munchkin-sized short shorts. I started to think that maybe this wasn't going to be the best job for me. Now I've seen the doll-sized one-piece Kahlua overalls and the bra-and-short-shorts standard "uniform" for anything pub-related and I think I'm going to look into a different line of work in the new year, though no one can take away the memories. Ah, Casting Couch.


Grade six was great. I was all stressed out about going back to pre-teens after having such fun with the littlies, but forget it – grade six is a fantastic age and I'm hoping against hope that one of the grade seven teachers gets sick in January so that I can have my class back for a few weeks.

I'm not such a great basketball coach, is the only thing. I mean, I'm a terrible basketball coach. But other than that, we did so many interesting things, had such good talks – about racism, relationships, community, travel, kindness, politics, xenophobia, "lie" vs. "lay" – you name it – did rich tasks and integrated activities, including everything from yoga and aerobics (for the mandatory half-hour of exercise a day) to folk singing and mock elections. Awesome.

They went a little wild for my birthday, decorating the classroom with balloons, bringing me gifts and chocolates (no complaints here), writing me cards... and then two days later it was my last day and they did it all over again, only with tears and promises and lots of hugs, even from the boys. What do you with all the overwhelming love that you feel for a group of kids? I went back to see the plays they performed for the parents and some of the shyest kids were up on stage, everyone so excited and nervous and the whole thing so dear – I could hardly stand to watch it, I was so choked up with it all. How could anybody not want to work with kids?!

As for the littlies, I kept going in when I could and got to witness some pretty excellent six-year-old moments, like funny little Leita saying to Clay, who had just let her use his ladybug eraser: "You're the greatest friend I've ever had." Or Harley, part of some in-joke that I was not in on: "Hello, Hannah. Or should I say, 'Lulu.'"

My favourite one all year, possibly ever: Georgia is a little girl who's having a pretty rough time of it all, generally quite bright but totally disengaged and can sit for an entire day and get nothing done, other than distracting everyone around her. I think she's super cute and was lucky to have a really good connection with her, as some kids just respond better to different teachers. (Greta wasn't a big fan of Georgia's, but she loved the kid that I would have paid money to remove from the class. Go figure.) Georgia just thought I was really great and always worked hard when I was there, getting completed-work stars for the first time all year.

Now: Peter, a funny-little-old-man-though-only-six, sees Georgia's sticker card, which suddenly has all these gold stars. He says: "Georgia, is that your sticker card? Are those all your stars? Wow, Georgia – you're only two stars away from a tuck shop voucher! Well done, Georgia! You must have really been working hard, to get all those stickers – that's just great! Good on ya, Georgia! You must be so pleased with yourself – well done!" With Georgia just standing there, beaming.

**And let's not forget the lesson in that: model positive behaviour and language with the children in your lives, because they really do pick it up and use it. And so earnestly!

They wrote me messages during a computer lesson and Greta e-mailed it to me. This was Georgia's:


And some of the other ones, just because it's funny to see how they write at that age (don't think they haven't been told – and told and told and told – about spaces between words!):


-Haloo mess tomes from Harley

-Deatomes tomsmarrychrtmasnadahaveahappynewyearfrombrysonn

Seriously, though – how could anyone not want to work with kids?

*You know how people say that baseball is too slow because a game can take up to three or four hours? The same cricket batter, this one guy, has been going for four hours – FOUR HOURS – and the game is not finished until every batter on both teams has had a go. Four hours! He's had a total of eight different people pitching to him so far! There is a morning tea break, a lunch break, an afternoon tea break, and then they come back tomorrow and keep going. They won't let it go longer than: five days. That's about 30 hours of game time. Even just having Mark try to and explain the rules makes me hostile, anxious, bored, aggressive and depressed. All at once. Am I just being close-minded or is this the single most absurdly ridiculous game on the planet? Who ARE these people?


So here's something that's a problem for me in Australia. I'm here because I love the tropics, right? I can accept that there are ants EVERYWHERE, in all the food, without exception. I can accept that there are giant flying cockroaches and that my fingers swell up and ache in the humidity. I can accept that there are huge and terrifying storms that cause major flooding and take out all the power for up to seven or eight hours, melting the ice cream and keeping the laundry perpetually moldy and damp – even though it isn't officially cyclone season yet. I can accept all the less-fantastic things because they're in exchange for water holes and beautiful beaches and a real return to nature, right?

So it's irritating that even nature is a bust. To wit: Mark and I drive out to Jourama, a water hole/creek that he remembers from a few years ago and wants to revisit. A beautiful day, perfect for a nature walk, a peaceful break from city sounds and smells. Can't wait.

We set off through the forest, which is probably pretty but who knows, since we're concentrating so hard on swatting away the monster flies – horse flies? deer flies? – that are taking chunks out of our skin.

We arrive at the first swimming spot, slow-motion tip-toe our way over the treacherously slippery rocks and, sweating profusely from the sun and the forest mugginess, jump into the water. It's just as cold as expected, knock-the-breath-out-of-you cold, delicious mountain-water-cold – but there are little crab things that are chomping away at our flesh and it's more stressful than it's worth.

When we try to warm up in the sun, though, we are so completely swarmed by the monster flies that we can't even take the time to dress or pack. In our dripping bathing suits and carrying clothes, shoes, cameras and sandwich bags, we slip and slide back over the rocks (which really are dangerous if you're distractedly running away from giant mutant flies) and scramble up through the forest until we escape the hub of the swarm – though by no means escaping the flies altogether.

We climb up to the look-out, gasping for breath in the humidity and the direct sun, and when we reach the end point, the big prize with the nice waterfall view, Mark turns to make a comment and I can't hear a word he's saying. He tries again, but he's too exhausted to raise his voice higher than the ear-splitting roar that is surrounding us. What is this noise? Well, it's crickets, cicadas, frogs, birds – any number of creatures, all sitting in the trees and making a hideous, overwhelming symphony of sound.

And as we stand there, panting, sweating, swatting the monster flies away from our itchy, red bodies, deaf to everything but the piercing car-alarm-like cacophany of the forest, we think: what are we doing here? This is hell. If we had to design hell, this is how we'd do it. If we wanted peace, we should have stayed in the apartment with the ceiling fan on; neighbours' squabbles and loud music have nothing on the misery of a nature walk.

We tried other water holes but the damn flies are relentless: either it's winter and it's too cold for ice swimming, or it's summer and you can't get near the water for the flies. You can't go near the beautiful beaches because there might be crocs and sharks and there are definitely stingers.

We went camping at this gorgeous waterfall on Christmas Eve and on the endless Christmas day hike down through the rain forest, we had warning after warning of the various poisonous plants to avoid (all of which are green and leafy, possibly with berries – thanks! That really narrows it down!) and how to be safe in croc country... It's hard to just enjoy the scenery around here.

I mean, it's beautiful - there are some beautiful places - but you don't really have access to most of it. Unfortunate, is all I'm saying.

(And when you do find a good one, like Crystal Creek, you take a picnic, you marvel at the beauty, you enjoy the clear, refreshingly cold water, you start to feel like things are maybe better than you thought, and then some dag-o, redneck, trashy, drunk hick, there with his group of dag-o, redneck, trashy, drunk friends, starts horking and/or stand-up peeing in the water and it's so gross that you can't even conceive of going back in and your "let's spend the day at Crystal Creek!" plan becomes "let's drive all the way to Crystal Creek, go in the water for eight minutes and then get the hell out before the yobbos' taunting turns into an attack." They go on and on about crocs here, but it's the locals you actually have to look out for.)


So there it is. The cricket game is going strong (looks to me like they're all standing around, but Mark informs me that there's a lot happening) but I might have to take a break to play with our beloved little neighbours' cat, Nugget, who is looking for someone to wrestle with. God bless Nugget.

Mark's parents gave him (and me, by extension – score!) a week in a hotel North of Cairns (= extremely tropical), so when we've had enough of nature day trips where we can't do anything, we'll have our choice of pools and general leisure activities. I can't wait. It's not like I've been very busy these past few weeks and particularly deserve a break, but it was pretty non-stop February through November, so I'm decided to be completely okay with just being pampered.

For all that I'm shut down on cold winters, I'm not a big fan of the tropical Christmas, at least not when they follow cold weather traditions. The Caribbean carnival thing was fine, because it was totally different from my sense of Christmas, but here, with their mall culture and fur coat Santa and "Let It Snow" and "Winter Wonderland" playing in the supermarket, it just makes me want to either go home or go very, very far from people. So I wish you all a very merry Christmas (or Boxing Day, since Christmas is over) and Happy New Year, and hope you're making the most of wherever you are and whomever you're with.


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