I’m a migrant that calls Australia home, but part of me still exists in my other home. I’m forever oscillating between alienation and acceptance.
Yesterday, my daughter asked me where I was planning to die. Don’t get me wrong, I am not sick and hope that the event of my demise will be some time in the future. But the question was there, and she was right to ask. Because the thing is, she and I (I in particular) are in-betweeners. By last count, there were a few hundred million of us, but there is a part of our story that is seldom told. So here we go. As you know, I migrated to Australia twelve years ago. I’ve got a life here now, with work and friends and bookcases and Pilates classes. All good. But on the other side of the world is my other life: my daughter, my granddaughter. Her name is Loek, she turns two in a few weeks and learns at least five new words every day. She teaches those to my husband, who is Australian, and according to her determined insistence, not a talent at pronouncing Dutch words. “Tijger,” she says. “Tiger,” he answers. “Nee,” she shakes her head: “Tijger.” Until he gets it right. Sort-of.
This language thing is the in-betweeners’ first issue. Especially if there are children involved. Loek doesn’t mind adding “go, go, go” or “home” to her vocabulary, but she is flat-out learning her own lingo, so two is a bit much. More so because she only sees opa once a year for a few weeks. And on Whatsapp on Fridays. Not enough to necessitate bi-lingualism. Nevertheless, they want to communicate. At the moment, because she is still small, playing non-verbal games is sufficient. Ish. Next year, when we come back, she will be three and language is going to be at the centre of her being. So it is up to my husband to learn Dutch… in Australia, where he doesn’t need it, doesn’t hear it spoken much, and where normal life takes over again. That takes some willpower and focus.
The other, more important problem, is distance. Physical distance. I know the cliché is that the world has become a tiny place, but believe me: it hasn’t. Not only is 24 hours on a plane still a long time (and an expensive necessity), it is particularly difficult when something happens. Over the weekend, my husband got a phone call from one of his sisters, telling him that his mother was in hospital with a suspected heart attack. In the event she was fine, but before we knew that, this “other side of the world” thing really felt like the other side of the world. The issue is, of course, that we are on the other side wherever we are. Here or there, we are always in-between. One foot in one life, one in another. And so there was that question: where do you want to die? I have been thinking about it ever since, and I don’t have an answer. What do you do, 258 million fellow-migrants? How do you manage to straddle the world? This oma could use some advice.