When the plane is coming in to land in most cities, there isn’t a whole lot of beauty immediately visible to the eyes in the head of a craning neck, trying to see past the passenger hogging the window view. In my experience, one usually sees a mixture of brown and green – trees, dirt and such, as well as a lot of industrial-area type buildings. I have found that it’s only when the plane has touched down and the few moments of very intense braking have passed, when you can breathe a subtle sigh of relief that you survived this miraculous feat of engineering, that you can acknowledge the airport and consider again the place at which you have just arrived.
On a Saturday afternoon, my family and I landed in Perth, Western Australia. And, I knew immediately that my life had changed. Now, the clickedy-click of those three proper nouns onto this page inspire feelings of endearment and warmth, and even ownership. I’d like to be able to make a “before” comparison, but I think the only fitting word would be “apathetic.” Of course, this is a newfound realisation. Before leaving for our extended trip, that feeling was cloaked in the routine of daily life. And that’s not to say I lived a terribly boring and monotonous life before travelling; this would be wholly untrue. It’s just that this travel helped me locate a special key that I didn’t even realise I had misplaced.
There’s a feeling of safety that comes with living in western society that I now have a restored appreciation for. The smell of stability is intoxicating, the drive toward home from the airport on the smooth, well connected roads encouraging a sense of security that was missing during my time away. The knowledge that I could, if I so desired, stop any person anywhere and speak a language we would both understand, flooded my being with this sense of freedom that was absent in most of Europe. I have become familiar with a sense of certainty that settles when a person feels safe in a particular location. I didn’t endure unrest, either. I wasn’t living in a third world country, I did not encounter any war zones. My life was never under threat. Even so, I know that now I understand this feeling.
I also think I understand why people immigrate to Australia. If you live here as a natural consequence – i.e having being born here, how lucky you are. How lucky we are. Of all the places on this incredible planet, you landed here in “The Lucky Country.” And I know that not everybody feels this way upon returning to their country of origin. But me? I have a beautiful life. Many before me have felt the same, with oft-used phrases such as the one above embedded in our vernacular, and countless poets and writers having expressed what I too, am trying to describe.
Spending time away, seeing and experiencing how human behaviour and habits have shaped the rest of the world, living in opposition to how you would in your “normal” environment, morphs your psyche in ways that “staying put” never ever could. Travel is vital for growth of mind, yes, but actually relocating to a foreign place will change a person beyond expectation. Apart from the cultural challenges one is exposed to abroad, it’s trying to establish yourself that proves the hardest thing. Find somewhere to live and secure it for an extended period of time. Try to enrol your child at crèche, or school when you don’t already exist in any sort of system. Find yourself a source of income that will sustain you once you’re past your savings. Buy a car, officially own it. Create a network around yourself and your family, so that you have some support. Don’t be discouraged by the unnecessary and at times ridiculous red tape thrown at you by the government of the country you’re in. Do all of this using a foreign language that you are very familiar with, but not fluent in…not like a native.
Now, being back, I don’t want to go anywhere. I love my home. Stepping through the entrance foyer upon arrival and into the wide open living space lit by sunshine was pretty special. And it still is, four weeks later. Appreciating the high ceilings and saluting my army of orchids and ivies, it seemed that I was passing everything like I never had before. Like I was seeing all of it for the first time, with a renewed sense of vision. Marcel Proust echoed in my head – “The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” And it’s the littlest things, perhaps even the unremarkable things that piece together these feelings…my own set of clean linen on a bed that my body recognises. A washing machine and a clothes line and the ability to wash whenever I choose. A cooktop and an oven in the kitchen, and gas at the press of a button. All sorts of useful utensils and cooking apparatus. More clothing than I need, a supply of shoes on rotation. Fresh, clean water directly from the tap, filtered water directly from the fridge. The magpies chortling at 6am; the willie wagtails waggling on the lawn. The temperature, the breeze, the summer sun. And, to add to the loveliness, we actually see kangaroos morning and evening grazing on the green across from our house. None of these things even highlight the incredible physical beauty of Australia…we’d be here all day if I got started.
I could go on and on naming the things that are there at the end of my fingertips as I bask in the luxury of a first world life. I am so, so lucky to have been born in a country such as Australia. And for now, I have absolutely no desire to change up my living situation and experience divergence for quite a long time. I am comfortable at home, and something that being away taught me is that I am okay with admitting to that. I do believe that this sort of experience (or perhaps one with more exposure to disorder, if you’re not travelling with a two year old) is necessary for anybody living a life of opulence. Even if it is minimal scale comfort that you live in, throwing yourself in the deep end does a lot to help you realise the value of a good and easy life.