I have a serious problem with missing flights. Even though The One can make me get to the airport on time, I can still manage not to get on the plane. One theory could be that because I’ve flown a lot, I’m lackadaisical. But I think it’s more serious than that. Firstly I think I might have a pathological fear of waiting at the gate, and secondly, in this case, missing the flight rather obtusely expressed the fact that I didn’t want to go.
I’m off to Sydney for work. My Portuguese neighbours see it as the sad but necessary eventuality of a peasant’s life, where one member of the family leaves the bosom to find work in the New World. I find their point of view comforting. Far better than the grim admission that something has gone terribly wrong with the status quo, with Portugal and with my whole entire life which has led to this drastic upheaval and my new identity as an economic refugee.
No, The One isn’t coming too. No, I don’t know how long I’ll be away. No, I don’t have a job lined up yet.
Lest we forget this is the plight of hundreds of thousands of people across the world today. Only most of them are prevented by immigration laws that discriminate against people leaving home to just to improve their lot. To compare mine with theirs just makes me look greedy. All I want is to be free from worry, not from hunger. Boatloads of people are drowning off the coast of Australia because of the extremes they are forced to take to feed their families. And I complain about economy class.
Indeed with one last brave flash of the credit card I made it out alive, reassured in my physical fitness as I made the 22km sprint from one end of Heathrow to the other in half the advertised time. I am now privy to the lesser known fact that gate 43a at Lisbon is actually located in the Algarve somewhere. I know that the people at the Vueling desk are helpful and the British Airways not. Sensible shoes and a backpack is my advice to anyone susceptible to flight tardiness. These simple props can stop a big problem from becoming a catastrophe. And watching a lot of action movies the day before you fly so you can channel some stunt girl energy and attitude – better to look like you are an undercover ag chasing bad guys than a teary middle-aged tragic who just fucked up final call by hanging around the MAC counter too long.
Don’t expect me to talk up Sydney like it’s a joyride. It could be raining money here (of course it’s not raining anything. It’s winter and 22 degrees and gorgeously sunny) and I’d still be miserable because where I want to be is at home, curled up with The One.
There are some amusements, I admit. The biggest of which is choking on the extraordinary cost of things, for instance. Coffee $4.50. So, a coffee, cake and loaf of bread? That’ll be $16.00. I was looking forward to eating some quality beef and lamb but at $45 a kilo I think I’ll become a vegetarian. And let’s not talk about wine, which I have most definitely given up.
Of course what I am here for are the higher wages. Minimum wage is about $21/hr and the average wage is around $1200 a week. That’s (at least) four times higher than in Portugal. So it’s no wonder then the coffee cups are lined with gold.
On other visits I’ve felt like the dark side to all this affluence was apparent in how stressed out everyone was, but this time I’m impressed by the friendliness of the place. Everyone is polite, cheery and overtly respectful of your personal space (which I’ve always thought of as a uniquely Australian character, given the vastness of this land).
I am delighted to be surrounded by noodles and bok choy. To have ten cuisines of the world clustered together on the same street corner and to hear a different language being spoken at every cafe table. Sydney is multiculturalism at its best.
Still, the noise and traffic and technology have my head spinning. I’m awkward in the unfamiliarity of urban life. I can’t work an ipad, I struggle to figure out the train ticket machines. I’m a country bumpkin, so messy and unstylish. I’m a fish out of water.
So no matter how intoxicating Sydney might become, I know I’ll always be on the lookout for nice flights to Portugal. As they say, home is where the heart is.
In the meantime, I’ll settle into being Aunty Emsy-Poo-Poo again. And a daughter, and the youngest sister. Family. And old friends. Again, I should feel blessed that this is the refuge for this refugee. Imagine being unwelcome?