Where my heart lives and beats

I’ve never been very good at geography or where I actually am at any given point in time. I’m the girl who points left when she means right and names directions in a more whimsical (as opposed to accurate) sense.

I had no idea where Armidale was when I first moved there for work. It never seemed important to find out the where more than the why or the what. And it was the same when I took a job in Nauru this year. I know that, right now, I am typing this on a little island somewhere in the Pacific – maybe halfway between Australia and Hawaii although, lord knows, I’ve been wrong about where I am before. More things seem more important than where I am – the progress of students, how my family and friends are travelling, what I’m writing.


Any new place is always an adventure, no matter.

I’m learning a new course, a new home, a new routine.

I’m learning how to sprout.

These last six weeks have been hectic with the learning, and it’s been eye-opening in so many ways because it challenges me to be adaptable, to not get into habits that might feel to precious to be broken. It challenges me to live without the things I thought I would struggle to be without – my little cat particularly – and in that I’ve had to find new ways to deal with any anxiety. And it teaches me to not give into excuses. I can’t exercise here in the same ways I did in Australia so I’ve adapted rather than stopped and am now becoming quite the expert in exercises you can do on a mat with a mini-band, and a skipping rope under the stairs of where I live.

These feel like important things.


But, the past few weeks, a friend has become seriously ill. It was a sudden thing, a shocking thing.

And all of a sudden where I am feels desperately to matter because I am so very far away. I have incredible friends who send me updates depending on which technology works best at which particular time. When she was undergoing her first operation, we decided to light candles together for her. The shop here was candle-free and so, in desperation, I sent a call out to Catholic friends who went to their churches and lit candles for my friend. And so, via Skype and Viber and email, we talk about how she’s going and what is happening, and what it means when the universe does something like this. What happens when the universe doesn’t seem to make any real sense because sudden and shocking illness shouldn’t happen to the people in your life. All the circular arguments you go through because terrible things happen to good people all the time and it becomes sometimes about how you make sure the people in your life know how special they are, that you make sure you never leave things unsaid.

You become a walking cliché trying to figure things out, but maybe that’s the point as well. Maybe the clichés are the words that help you get through the shock of something – they give you time to process properly (and sometimes slowly) and find the words you really want to say.

I don’t know, At the moment, I still feel like I’m clutching at clichés in a desperate hope that she’ll end up being OK.


But in all of this, I feel very far away.


I know that my being there wouldn’t make a difference in any real sense. It is just my sense of wanting to be able to help if needed, to help in any way I could. And here, a million miles away, all I can do is pray and ask people to light candles. It is something that feels both hopeful and hopeless at the same time. I tell myself that any positive energy sent her way can only be a good thing but still, I feel very far away.


In a time where we can potentially have access to anyone at any time through all sorts of social media, it feel sobering to sit here with much of that at my fingertips (depending on how the storms affect the internet of late) and it not feel quite enough. And while very much heightened with my friend’s illness, it feels important for everyone in my life. To enjoy every chance I’m with them, and to not lose touch when I am not. Where I live will change but potentially I will always be far away from different people in my life. The more we move around, the more people we have in different parts of the globe. I will always be closer to some than to others, although this is arguably the most remote I’ve been.


I may not know where I am in any kind of practical, physical sense but I know where my heart beats, and for whom, and that feels more important than any map.

I always brake for puppies

Almost two weeks ago, I stepped on the first of three planes with two suitcases and six laptops and started my journey to teach in Nauru.
I took a deep breath – a very deep breath – and stepped on the plane.

And then spent a significant part of the journey terrified of losing six laptops and being aware of all the luggage.

And now – almost two weeks later – here I am. Sitting in my little apartment, typing away in a dressing gown. All of which is not too dissimilar to what I was doing in Australia – minus a small cat who would be typing with me too and is now being loved by a friend and his dog and cat while I am here.

When I last wrote, I wondered about making new rhythms to my days. Then I had no idea of what Nauru would look like or what my life could look like. Pictures and other people’s stories aren’t always the same. They’re not always quite real. But now that I’m here, it’s a real world. Nauru is my real world now and it is all sorts of fascinating and challenging. This change is a good thing.

So, in moving overseas and starting new rhythms to my days, I have discovered a few things about myself:

I really will happily, willingly, without question pay extraordinary sums of money for fresh fruit and veggies if the alternative is to go without. The cashiers in the shop now laugh at me as I arrive with a basketful of veggies and a wallet full of cash.
If I run out of the peanut butter left in my fridge by a friend and discover that there is no peanut butter in the shops, my heart does break a little, and I begin to plot how more peanut butter might come into my life.
This is also the same with Kewpie mayonnaise, which people either worship or have never tried. A friend told me I should pack more but I had run out of space. Next time, I am packing more.
(The obsession with food is admittedly not at all a surprise or even a vaguely new discovery.)

I have also discovered the art of the List. Lists ground my life now. Lists for what to do in class. Lists for what needs to be done outside class. Lists for weekly reports. Lists of what I need to bring with me next time (mostly food-related if the earlier passages hadn’t hinted that). Lists of ideas for where I want some writing to go. My phone resembles little more than an electronic post-it note of reminders – some practical and pragmatic (‘Remember to finish slide 6’), others more ethereal where I struggle to remember what on earth I was thinking (‘She shouldn’t walk through the door’).

Yesterday though, as I was driving home from a meeting, I discovered that I will always brake for puppies. Not that that’s a surprise in itself – I am a sucker for strays, always have been. Dogs wander about the place all through the island but they tend to be deeply road sensible. This one, however, had found something in the middle of the road that needed to be sniffed and eaten without any disruption. So I braked to see what the dog was going to do so I could pass it without harm. I braked early and clearly, this wasn’t a screeching halt – these are hard to do anyway when no one drives more than 50k an hour. But the car behind me potentially did not feel the same way about braking for puppies and so overtook me, almost hitting the dog, which thankfully used its road sense to get out of the way. When I got home and told my cleaning lady, who is teaching me all about Nauruan culture, she laughed and said that I was “a very Australian girl”. Apparently, we brake for puppies.

When I was trying to imagine what living here would be like, I didn’t imagine some of this – I didn’t imagine being very Australian in a way that’s not so much recognized back home. But, as I find my way around this new home – and recognise my new rhythms and undertake adventures like going into different shops – remaining a sucker for strays feels deeply OK.