I bake, therefore I survive

One of the topics often discussed among Europeans here in Australia is bread.
It is just not the same as at home. And it is very expensive too, compared to what we are used to, which makes it harder to accept the quality. We miss heavy, crusty loafs full of seeds – and no, you do not get that in Australia, unless you live near an IKEA. Yes, that’s right: IKEA (and no, they do not make it from the remaining saw dust, like some people think). This packet was my savior for the five years we lived in Brisbane:

I just spent the weekend in Brisbane, arriving with hand luggage only, departing with a 17kg suitcase. Our survival is secured for a little while yet.

But unfortunately there is no IKEA in Cairns and no bakery either which make this type of bread. Luckily, when I was in Denmark my friend Nina gave me the recipe for cold risen bread, which substitutes nicely (though it is not dark enough, but I might be able to fix that myself). I thought I’d share the recipe with you, just in case your stomach needs some real love.

350 g of flour
15 g of yeast
350 ml of cold water
1 tsp of salt
1 tbsp of sugar
1 tbsp of oil
1 cup of oats/seeds/sawdust or whatever you like

Mix flour with yeast, salt, sugar and oats. Mix water with oil. Mix it all together – it should be like a thick, sticky porridge. Cover the bowl with cling film and stick in the fridge overnight. This step takes less than 5 minutes. The next morning you spoon the dough onto the plate (no mixing it, leave the air in) to create buns (I use two spoons for this) and leave for 10 min (that gives the oven time to warm up). Bake for 25 – 30 min at 200C. All done.

Look at the love in those! Sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, oats and all. Yum, yum, yum!


you are talking about me

From day one, I doubted if Twitter was a good place for me to be. Day four and I am involved in a massive argument. Because I’m wasting time on an idiot. This is how it started:

Tweet: University of Canberra journalist school passes ‘fail’ students http://bit.ly/IW7LAl
(enter article, insinuating foreigners cheat their way through the Australian education system). Another tweet commenting on this article:ok, now put your journalistic investigationing skills to work, on imported doctors v’s home grown

and then Signe got pissed off. I now know I should have just turned off Twitter. Instead I wrote and hence the argument began:

Signe: I’m from overseas, done my masters here, now my PhD. Do you want to challenge my ability?
Tweet: Good for you (oh the condescending nerve)
Signe: and, so far, good for Australia! Continue to make everyone believe foreigners are incompetent cheats and we leave

And on the argument goes. I have sent my last post on the matter, a condescending return of “Well, good for you” (I couldn’t help myself). But people, it hit a nerve! A really sensitive one, which I am fiercely annoyed with: the general discussion that educated foreigners are not qualified for Australian standards. It can be one of two things. Either our education back home is not good enough OR we cheated our way through uni, because we all know that people with a non-english language background buy exam results, have other people sit exams in their name and only make it through because we are a money machine for the university.

Well, I didn’t! And I don’t know anyone else who did! I and my fellow foreign students worked our arses off to learn your language and learn it well enough to write an Honours thesis that would qualify us to do a PhD. Between my Masters and PhD I worked 4 years paying taxes to your country with no right to claim anything. I am not covered by medicare and never have been. I am forced to pay for an insanely expensive medical insurance which gives me almost the same cover as medicare, but not entirely. If I don’t, I get kicked out of the country. I cannot get social welfare. If I had become unemployed while working, I would have been kicked out of the country. That is how a 457 visa (sponsorship) works. My Masters cost me $50.000 all together. Right down in your coffers. 

And then I get it (and you have no idea how many times I have heard this): “But we are not talking about you.” Because I am white. I am from Europe. I am not a doctor from India. Well pardon me for clearing this up: the only difference between me and the doctor from India is the colour of our skin. We have gone through the same visa application process, taken the same exams, applied the rules of the same system.

So when you talk about the cheating foreign students, you ARE talking about me. And I challenge you. Anyone who has lived the experience will. Push me, and I will challenge you further: then I will call the racism card.


The first major turn…

Yesterday I wrote about pathways of stories.
This Easter, Donna had me walking back to the first story that made a massive turn in my pathway: when the family moved to Greenport, Long Island. It was 1985, Ronald Reagan was president and I was 12 years old. I had had six months of English in school. I could count to ten and say “my name is Signe.” America was far away, a place we couldn’t phantom. We had to promise our friends to get an autograph from Michael Jackson if we met him. Solemnly.

Greenport became, what we in our family call, a “before and after” experience. A marker of time. Mom and dad travelled to China before living in America. I got my blue bicycle after we came back. I grew up in America, was a child on arrival and a teenager on return. Physically, I grew 32 cm in America. I’m the tallest person in our family, though my brother claims he is (we have measured it a dozen times). I blame America for that. Being tall.

I have so many stories to tell from America, my first real experience of being foreign. What it was like to sit in a classroom, understanding nothing. Discovering that everything was different. That it wasn’t just because I didn’t understand what they said; the rules were different, the meaning of social class, race, gender. So significant in America, so insignificant where I came from. I could no longer play with the boys. White children didn’t play with black children. You played with those who had the same GPA as yourself. If you were at the top, you hated those with the same GPA as yourself. I had never received a mark or grade for anything in my life*. We don’t believe in judging children in that way. In America you could fail year one.

America was significant. Donna posted pictures that make stories explode in my head. Stories I will have to revisit. Because in Donna’s pictures Greenport hasn’t changed. After 27 years, the Arcade looks like the day we left. In my mind I can walk straight in and find Michelle’s dad in the back left corner of the shop in the men’s clothing department. I can picture the lady at Colonial Drugs, in a dark blue dress with flowers and a sterile smell. My pink bedroom in Carpenter Street six-oh-eight (we said sixhundredandeight before we learned). Our phone number was 477 9498.

So much glue in a 12 year old brain. Because I had to learn. Fast. It was a major turn.

*we got our first grades from year 7; after we returned from America.

My arms are too short

I speak three languages every day – Danish, English and Italian. I’ve sort of gotten use to it, though the hard disk breaks down every now and then. Most days I don’t even think about it. I’ve written about how frustrating it can be, but sometimes it can be equally funny. The most fun comes from metaphors and general sayings.

I don’t know many non-English speakers that didn’t giggle over the phrase “when the shit hits the fan” the first time they heard it; the visual is amazing. Some phrases just do not make sense. Like “he’s sweating like a pig” – we discussed that one quite a bit in our household; pigs don’t sweat. We’ve changed it into “sweating like a running pig”.

By now, I am also quite adventured in the Italian sayings (one of my favorite is “He shat outside of the bucket” when someone does/says something stupid). But not always. Like this morning:

Me: I’m making porridge, do you want some?
Mr Husband: hmmrrrgghmm OK
Me (out of sympathy because he hates porridge): would you like a cafe latte with it?
Mr Husband: I don’t want to drink milky coffee with a milky breakfast
Me: but I make the porridge with water
Mr Husband: that’s because your arms are too short!

I will leave it to you, to guess what that is all about!

Flowers from home

I think I’ve said it before; the thing I miss the most from home is the change of seasons. Most leaves don’t fall off the trees here in Queensland, which is (still) quite weird for someone like me. So much so, that I’m pretty sure I would be the last person to spot a chemical attack from foreign powers: “aaahh the leaves are falling, how lovely”

As we are going towards fall I envy my countrymen the energy nature is currently throwing at them with the flowers of spring. I took these pictures in 2004 (and another 100 like them). Every now and then I indulge myself in their colour and energy. As I’m  a bit of a sook today, I’ve probably overindulged. But it helps, so there. Go tulips!



Life abroad on a heavier note…

I am having a bit of a down day – where living on the other side of earth suddenly seems like a questionable thing to do. After six years in Australia, I have the answers ready as to why I’m here, I’ve gone through this exercise enough times before. Unfortunately that does not make the feeling go away. Which really sucks. Reflecting on the feeling does make it better and for each time, the analysis gives me more insights to this journey. They are hard days though these days, where one is forced to reflect on self and choices and why and because…

This time I have arrived at following: it takes longer than 6 years to assimilate (integration is an illusion – last year’s epiphany). There are still many things in daily life I have to think about and reflect on. The brain is constantly running in comparisons ‘home – here – home – here’ and I have this feeling that the unconscious mind is working overtime, all the time. It’s exhausting.

Another thing I’ve discovered is that It also takes more than 6 years to integrate a second language. Some days English almost feels as a new mother tongue, other days it is one long uphill journey of translate-translate-translate. Some days are like today. This morning, the translator was broken. It has taken many hours to find the fault and get it working again.

I am pretty sure that I share this experience with other foreigners – the exhaustion. The days where you try to read something and have to look up half the words in the dictionary, where you just cannot stand another ad on TV for companies you have never heard of, where values you were not raised with and do not share are acclaimed as the universal truth, where all the groceries you want are not supplied in the supermarket (why does it have to be so hard to get salty licorice I ask, why don’t you get it?), where Australia seems everything but multi-cultural, but instead extremely mono-cultural and very hard to read.

I’ve learned one thing over the years: these are the days where you peel another layer of the onion. It may cost a tear, it may not. But in the long run it is absolutely worth it. This is a life where not many days were wasted and not many dreams left behind. There is a higher cost to travelling this road than most people acknowledge, but at the end of the day, I think it is still worth it.

Thank God there is chocolate in the fridge!