I live a double life.
Rick and I live on the eastern seaboard of Australia, a kilometre or two from the vast Pacific Ocean, for nine months of the year. Then we travel to the western coast of Canada, on the other side of that same massive ocean, for the other three months. With all that water in between, it’s perhaps not surprising how little these two worlds cross over.
Though I’m not one to point fingers, this lack of cross-over is mostly the fault of the northerners, who seem somewhat unwilling to cross the equator. There’s a general perception in North America that Australia is on the other side of the earth and you can only get there by kayak. Australians have a different view. More Aussie friends than I can count—all my housemates, fellow FLAFFers, many neighbours, friends from Garden Club, community choir and yoga classes—have done the long-haul flight to Vancouver and from there explored this amazing part of the country. I know more Aussies who’ve done the cruise to Alaska than I do Canadians.
So it’s been poignant having housemates Michael and Judy here, bridging the gap in my double life. Judy especially was intent on observing how our Canadian background shapes us—and other Canadians. Her experience of the climate, the vegetation and the people was visceral. She’s the one who cried at the spectacle of Lake Louise, and who was fighting back tears as she hefted her cases out of the boot to head into the airport, away from a holiday she’d clearly loved.
Last week Michael joined me on the blog, and this time Judy will. In her own voice:
Here in Western Canada I am left without words by this type of beauty, a flat-lander in a world of mountains, mountains and mountains, water as far as the eye can see, bustin’-out-all-over gardens and dense, huge trees and forests. The Nature gods here play on a larger scale and their energy lands in my body so differently, I can feel them. Here you see what abundant water fosters, and my mind’s eye maps this onto the landscapes I know, mostly shaped by scarce water.
Now on Vancouver Island, we are in Medd-Engstrom territory, the place of double cousins. Double-what? I can hardly get my head around this idea. [Editor’s note: People’s eyes glaze over when I try to explain to them about my 10 double cousins. If you’d like to challenge yourself, read the * footnote at the end of this post.] As one who migrated from India at the age of one, I never met my grandparents and grew up with no access to aunts, uncles and cousins. (Now all my aunts and uncles have died, and several cousins as well, and I am finally making one of those Australian trips to meet all the cousins I can, some for the first time.) So in all this cousinity, I see fertile vibrant family at work, people who really know each other, grew up together, know where the others come from. I envy it. I wonder if they, like me, sometimes want something different from what they have.
There is a very ready wholehearted welcome for us here. That may be partly the Canadian way, and partly generous inclusion because we are Heather and Rick’s Australian family. Most generous of all is Joyce who has readily given over her sunroom each evening to our sleeping quarters and warmly accepted a considerable population increase in her house for the nine days of our visit to Vancouver Island. For days at a time we have sat on her patio meaning to do more but mostly transfixed by the view, unable to do much but gaze and gaze, with some pretence of reading. It was quite the setting to get over our jetlag.
I’m finding there is still much to learn about each other, becoming apparent in being with Heather and Rick, on their home turf, seeing them with their families. Even when we have shared so much, helped each other through challenges over the years, being family for one another, made home together, some things don’t land until you are with people on their home-turf.
Another discovery is learning that while our family histories are all different, every family has its history of disturbance, loss, mixed origins, secrets on which elders could not be drawn, and puzzlements about people who came and went inexplicably, of whom little if any trace can be now be found. These days we have amazing internet resources, access to global libraries, DNA testing if we want to go that far, and can unravel a quite a bit more for ourselves. So I am here in Canada, reading Heather’s Uncle Ronald’s autobiography which points to Medd family mysteries while I pause in my own search for understanding about my own family which is taking me across the US, to the UK and through South India. There has to be a story there, don’t you think?
I am willing to bet that, proportionally speaking, Australians do more world travel than other nationals. New Zealanders are probably up there with us. It’s not that we are especially wealthy, more that we are a curious lot in both senses of the word. We have learned that far-flung family and offshore friends are reluctant to come to us, though we dearly wish they would. It’s costly and a long way to go, but to stay connected, to understand the cultures and circumstances we arise from and the people that took us Down Under in the first place, we make a point of putting time and money aside to come across the equator.
Many of us are not even first generation Australians, but it is home. We travel and marvel and relish the differences and samenesses we encounter. It takes some effort to get going and get back so we also tend to make an event of it once we embark, and cover a lot of ground.
Michael and Judy will indeed cover a lot of ground on this trip, and if they soak it all up as they were doing on this first leg, they’ll have many a story to tell.
I recently read about a man who had a family in one suburb of a city, and another on the other side of town. Imagine the two separate lives he leads! Imagine having a different partner, with correspondingly different influences and interests. In one life you’re a hiking, biking naturalist; in the other you play bridge and take the kids to science museums. You could practically double your fun in life, if you could avoid the stress of trying to keep them separate. Well, Rick and I get to do that and are moreover very encouraging of getting the two lives to cross.
Many thanks to Michael and Judy for demonstrating the tremendous rewards in taking the cross-cultural approach—and also for your contribution to this blog.
* Double cousins arise when two siblings of one family mate with two siblings of another family. The resulting children are related to each other through both of their parents and are thus doubly related. Double first cousins share both sets of grandparents and have twice the degree of consanguinity of ordinary first cousins.
E.g. your dad’s brother marries your mom’s sister. Their child is your double cousin. [Source: wiki]