Tag Archives: Sydney Opera House

Mysterious ways

Religion on the whole, doesn’t really blow my skirt up. Very little of it makes sense to me. The do good, be good bits do. But it’s not hard to work that stuff out on your own, is it?

It’s easy to write off folks with a faith because… well, there’s evolution for starters… but really, I think because there are so many freaking religious nut jobs out there. Ranging from those who live in pretty green countries who are warring with their neighbors, through to racist grandmothers who go to church every Sunday, and the pedophiliac priests who don’t think my gay friends have a right to be married.

Having said that – I have met some wonderfully smart, incredibly articulate, well travelled, open-minded and completely inspirational people who are religious.

I don’t think I had ever met a nun, before I was invited to have dinner with ACDC’s Aunty Ivy. She totally fits my definition of cool. She is interesting. And interested. She’s quietly spoken by nature, but you can see how rowdy she’d get at Rabbitoh’s game. She’s got a gentle spirit but I don’t think you’d be wise to be messin with anyone she loves. She struck me as someone who likes her creature comforts but she’d also happily sleep on a dirt floor in an African country to do volunteer work with kids in need. I just loved all the contradictions. I don’t know why, but it never occurred to me that you could be a nun and like a tinny or two.

A couple of years ago, I met this bloke at a party full of fitness freaks. Short and ruddy with an unruly beard and a gruff voice – his name was Graham Long and he was the larrikin pastor of a well-known chapel in Sydney’s red light district, a place called The Wayside. Their ethos is giving people a hand up not a handout. They provide a range of services to people who have fallen, well… by the wayside. Everything from showers, to referrals for health and home agencies, advocacy, and I love this: “a judgment free space for those just looking for a chat, a coffee or a quiet place to think.” God only knows, we all need that. I remember him (Graham, not God) saying to me that he came home “at the end of every day completely spent, but completely energized” by what he did for work. And that he didn’t really consider it a job. He’d do it even if they didn’t pay him.

A few weeks later, I was reading an article about a woman who was coordinating a singles / charity event. I really liked the idea of mixing the two. Fail to meet the right bloke? That’s okay. You still get to feel good about yourself, because you’re doing something for someone else. She said, “I don’t have a job. I have a life I love.”

Both of these things have been rattling around in my head for a long time.

I suppose you could say I’ve done some interesting stuff for work. I’ve been the voiceover in upscale department stores. I’ve sold everything from ice creams, to ‘sexy giftware’, to cars. I was the production manager on a low budget film shoot. I did a short stint in the medical imaging field. I once wore a bunny suit (man, those things Smell. Bad.) I was the graphic designer of an independent newspaper. I worked in the engineering industry for a while (loved those boys. They swore like sailors and introduced me to French champagne). I worked for a wee while at one of London’s top ad agencies as a proofreader. I waited tables (that only lasted 4 hours). I have hosted trivia nights and been the MC at weddings (although i did the latter for love). And most recently, I was one of the Marketing Managers for one of Australia’s most famous icons (the pointy white building on Sydney Harbour).

I’ve spent a bit of time over the past year thinking, what would make me feel like the pastor or the social entrepreneur? What do I want be when I grow up?

Things that kept popping up time and time again: writing, teaching and / or training, having my own consultancy…  I also harbored romantic notions of owning  an old-school pub and spending my days listening to old sea dogs swill stories around inside their schooners.

So, when I decided to take some time out this year to travel – I also decided I would work towards effecting change in this part of my life… To that end, I found myself signing up for a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Certification.

It has been a particularly intense month. I haven’t done any formal study (apart from a few professional development courses) for a decade, so it was a complete shock to the system. I don’t know what planet I was on – but I really did think I was just going to swan on in to our pretty lil Spanish colonial school for a few hours of class, maybe do a bit of homework in the gorgeous garden with its statues and water fountain…  and then breeze through a couple of prac lessons. I mean – there couldn’t be that much to teaching English. Surely.

On day one, our teacher told us to not make plans for the last two weekends before the course ended. And now i know why. We’ve basically squeezed a uni semester’s worth of work into 150 hours. We’ve had 6 hours of practical teaching which has necessitated hours of lesson planning, prior. We’ve had reading almost every night for anywhere between 1-2 hours. So I’ve seen the inside of the classroom, the computer lab, my text books, and my eyelids. And very little of Antigua.

We had to study grammar. And then we had to study how to teach grammar. And then we had to teach grammar.

In the 70s, grammar wasn’t on the Australian curriculum. So it was just as well, from a very early age – I had taken a personal if not rather peculiar interest in the way our language was constructed. I read a dictionary like a normal book. Like from front to back. I was editing the high school newspaper at age 13. I took a 2 day intensive course on grammar at Sydney University. Of my own free will. (nerd.)

A native speaker simply acquires knowledge of grammar through common usage. We don’t need to understand it. I intrinsically understand what goes where and when. I just suck at knowing what it’s called and knowing why we use it. And i wouldn’t be all that bothered, except you do kinda need to know this stuff if you’re going to teach English to others. And you need to be prepared that some of your students will know more about grammar than you do.

I still don’t remember what past perfect progressive is.

Anyway, I was absolutely fine with it all until I had started having The Meltdown, which began on Wednesday night. All the feedback I was hearing (& I should make the distinction between hearing and receiving) was so damn ‘constructive’ – I was wondering if I was in the wrong place. Maybe i wasn’t cut out to be a teacher after all.

My good friend Andrea prompted me to recall how it felt to start any new job. I don’t know about you, but I always end those first few weeks in a new job, thinking maybe I’d rather just work in a record store.

The Meltdown bubbled and boiled for two days. Apparently The Meltdown is not uncommon among TEFLers. One of our classmates dropped out. Another got quite ill. My stress just manifested through my leaky eyeballs.

Then at the end of my last prac lesson on Friday – my students made an announcement (in English) saying they wanted to host a party for me to say thank you. Then they laid out a little spread of home-made Guatemalan food in the garden. And sung me happy birthday. (My birthday’s not until November.) And well, that just sent me right over the edge. There were tears. Of gratitude. And i admit, of relief. But mostly of gratitude. These people have so little and yet were being so generous towards me. I was just lost for words.

For the last few days, I had been of the mindset that I wouldn’t actually pursue any teaching jobs. Because I felt like I sucked at it. And because grammar could go fuck itself.

But then last night we had a wee graduation party at our school. And of course, as fate would have it – a lady who had taken the course with our teacher in Feb and who was now teaching in Costa Rica had come up to Guatemala for her border run. She had walked past the school earlier that day, swung in to say hi and ended up at our party.

We talked, and she told me she had gone through EXACTLY the same thing. She said it was entirely different, once you were out in the field. She said it was far more relaxed than she ever imagined. And all the students wanted was to practice their English and to have a laugh. And then she said this: She didn’t feel like it was really work, she had so much fun everyday.

And I was reminded of the social entrepreneur and the pastor. Maybe God does work in mysterious ways.

Advertisements

Islands in the stream

I met my hotel neighbors the next day, Jessica and Andy – two friends from the States, both teachers. Adventurous spirits with amicable demeanors. Jess was on a 5 week vacation, while Andy was also taking a sabbatical. We shared some laughs and a meal that night. As it turned out, they were also going to take the Raggamuffin sailing trip on Friday.

In the meantime – Nathan, who I’d met when he was interning with the Opera House had been in touch and was talking about linking up.

The trip was a 3 day island hopping tour all the way down to Placencia  with a crew of local reggae-loving lads. The tour would include various snorkeling stops and camping on remote cayes in the Caribbean.

There were 18 of us boarding a 50 foot yacht. It seemed really small for how many we were.

There was a Dutch couple. I had dived the Blue Hole with Peter: he was a little eccentric but completely likable & Lariesa, who was just a doll.
Kelly – a smart, sassy, well-travelled Canadian, who I took a real liking to, and her gorgeous Mexican beau, Santiago. Then there was Jess and Andy; me and Nathan – who had made it at the eleventh hour!

Also on the boat were a pair of Italian doctors on their honeymoon, who mostly kept to themselves. 5 private school boys on their gap year / bromance holiday, who were carrying with them a satellite phone and GPS system (maybe they had plans to go to the Antarctic after the Caribbean. Dunno.) Another pair of English lads, who played a lot of chess. And a rather uptight Irish girl who told me she didn’t like reggae and insisted I didn’t get any sand in the tent we were sharing. (Umm. Hello. We’re on a freaking island, love. Jesus wept.)

I had two Firsts that day: as I was boarding – the Captain asked me if I fancied a foursome. I just laughed. I was starting to realize that Belizean men will have a crack at anything that is female and remotely single. They’ve got a Beavis & Butthead sense of humor, are very cheeky, can handle a heckle back, and are in essence – absolutely harmless.

My second First for the day was at the initial snorkeling stop. Everyone was faffing about, so I jumped in and was half-way around the little round reef, when I saw a big flash of grey-white sea-animal swimming, maybe 5 meters away from me. A manatee! I screamed out to the others who were on the boat still.

I had hoped to see one, but didn’t think it was actually going to happen.
I’m normally a lot more respectful, but i got a little crazy curious and finned fast & furiously to get a closer look. I think I was scaring her a little, as she started speeding up and away. She had a bulbous body shaped a bit like a seal but around 2-3 times the size. She had a small whale-like tail, that reminded me of a mermaid. I didn’t catch a look at her face. I suddenly realized what I was doing and stopped pursuing her, and watched her glide gracefully off into the distance. I was absolutely thrilled as sightings of these strange creatures are quite rare. I petulantly wanted more.

We stopped that night an island called Rendezvous Caye (northern) but not before picking up a random who was out in the middle of nowhere on this big fuck-off boat with a bunch of chairs on it. Quite strange. He was wearing a bright orange life jacket and boardies. He was very happy to see us. He came with us to the island, opened the toilets for us, and took on the role of our security guard for the evening. Pirates, maybe?

Rendezvous was tiny. As in you could walk around it in 15 minutes tiny.  There was a jetty, two palapas, maybe a dozen coconut trees and that was it. Population: zero. We were all so thrilled to get there. There was a lot of squealing from us girls, and backslapping from the boys. I think we all felt like proper pioneers!

We set up our tents while the crew did their thing. Another snorkel and we were called for dinner, a simple but delicious meal of ceviche and jerk chicken with the omnipresent rice & beans. The fruity rum punch flowed, we all got rather pissed quickly and ended up falling into our beds before 10.

The crew of the boat were a real highlight for me:
Raf was our relaxed Captain, who was clearly very knowledgeable about the entire area we covered in our trip and had done this dozens of times before. He ran a pretty tight operation, all things considered. He told me at the end of the trip, he didn’t usually socialize as much as he had done with us.

There was Shane, who sported a massive smile on his dial, had the ohccent yah mohn, and loved a smoke but I’m not altogether confident he abided by the other laws of the Rastafarian religion though.

Jacob was my favorite. 24 and covered in an array of tatts including a couple of distinct ones on his biceps: Fuck U Haters; and Trust No Bitch. But he was a real example of never judge a hook by its cover. He nicknamed me Vegemite and we developed a playful brother-sister relationship, tormenting the shit out of one another the whole time.

He gave me a compliment which made me swell with pride when he told me I could skin dive better than some men he knew and that I could potentially become a good spear fisherwoman. He gave me a gun at one point, and told me to go out on my own – but I didn’t find a single fish. They must have known i was coming. There’s a part of me that quite likes the idea of catching my own dinner. I blame my Dad for that. He raised me a bit of a tomboy. Albeit one who likes getting a pedicure.

Our second day was much the same: sailing, sunning ourselves & snorkeling. That night we set up camp at a place called Tobacco Caye. This place had a lot more infrastructure. Enough for the 20 residents and a few visitors anyway. A couple of simple cabanas, a store, 2 bars, and a dive shop.

5 of us took the opportunity to dive with Eric, a quietly spoken man who showed us one of the most unvisited parts of the Reef. Sadly it wasn’t as fishy as I had hoped… There are a lot of lion fish down these parts… They’re an introduced species, who eat a lot of the local fish, but they have no natural predators of their own, down here. They mature within a 6 week period and are causing a lot of exponential damage to the Reef. We also saw a lot of pollution caused mostly by fertilizers. Algae is spreading, so visibility wasn’t so great. Having said that, I’ve never seen such lush underwater vegetation.

Afterwards, tired of the sickly sweet rum punch, we consumed many many Belekins at one of the bars close to our campsite and enjoyed another great dinner (curry shrimp) prepared by our trusty crew.

We later went and watched a Garifunan drumming session at the other bar, and danced with the locals under the light of a full moon. I shook what my mama gave me, while Nathan shook the maracas. The English lads let loose as well, busting out a few moves on the deck.

I laughed my arse off with the unassuming Jess who I diagnosed with a form of sex turrets: She would just very suddenly yell out something completely inappropriate as a response to anything that could be misinterpreted. Case in point: Eric was trying to describe the size of something (it was “Big.” “And Black.”) And Jess’ loud response was “What?” “A donkey dick?” The thing that got to me was she just didn’t seem the type. I loved the juxtaposition. I was doubled over, clutching my belly and crying with laughter. Meanwhile, I think Eric was a bit confused. I still have no idea what he was trying to describe.

I woke up the next day with an absolutely shocking hangover. I drank some water and immediately felt like throwing up. I stood up and immediately felt like throwing up. I sat down and immediately felt like throwing up. The wind was quite literally making my head hurt. The gorgeous Dutch girl gave me some ibroprofun. I tried eating breakfast and immediately felt like throwing up. This. Was. Not. Good. I had to get on a boat, for goodness sake. I went and saw the Captain and got some seasickness tablets. I went for a swim. About an hour later I stopped feeling like I would throw up. I spent the whole day out on the deck in the partial shade, snoozing and being quite unsociable.

We eventually arrived at Placencia (which I kept wanting to call Placenta) mid afternoon. We were all a wee bit weary and keen for a shower and a comfy bed with AC.

Peter, Lareisa, Jess, Andy, Santi, Kelly and Nathan and I all scored rooms at a nice hotel on the beach with a bunch of hammocks under a palapa. We spent the next day chilling out, chatting and planning the next legs of our individual trips. Well, they planned. I got as far as deciding between Honduras, Gautemala and Costa Rica.

On Tuesday, we said our goodbyes and went out separate ways. I missed the first Hokey Pokey Water Taxi because I had got chatting to some dude who had spent 7 years in jail for a murder he said he didn’t commit. I bought a book of his poetry. I ended up getting the midday boat. I was the only gringo in this dinky tinny of a thing that I kept thinking was going to sink. We motored up Mango Creek at breakneck speed with me beaming all the way.

I made my way to Sherl’s Diner where an old John Wayne western was on the telly. I ordered the pork stew and waited for the chicken bus to the Belmopan, Belize’s capital.

The bus took us through lush green rolling hills, spotted with shacks and houses in varying shades of pastel and varying degrees of dilapidation. The cute little kids with their cornrow hair stared at me the whole time on the bus. I amused myself by trying to get a smile out of them by pulling funny faces.

I picked up a connecting bus into San Ignacio which arrived just before dusk.

Wed 17 August