An Unexpected Return

Well, it finally happened. Over 14 months since packing up my life and heading to Europe, I’m back in Australia. Did I tell you that I was coming back to Australia? Sorry if you missed that bit. I’m back at my family’s home on the Sunshine Coast, in the bedroom I grew up in, surrounded by boxes, suitcases and an embarrassing visual reminder of my development from a curly-haired two year-old to a pimply teenager on the wall above my bed. For those of you playing at home you’d notice that I’ve cut my trip short by a few weeks; unfortunately last week my grandmother Josephine Watson passed away, so I decided to come home for the funeral and to be with the family. Everything’s happened pretty quickly and I’ve hardly been near the internet, so this is probably the easiest way to explain what’s happened in the past week.

And what a difference a week can make. It was just over seven days ago that I arrived in Tirana, Albania, for the final part of my summer travels. The plan was to make it to all the Balkan countries I hadn’t been to yet, as well as catch up with an old friend in Serbia before a final stint in Istanbul. But I’d been in Tirana for all of about eight hours when I got the call that every expat dreads – something’s wrong at home. Jo’s had a stroke, probably won’t make it through the night, could I get home in time for the funeral? The next twenty-four hours were a blur of getting back to Istanbul, packing my things and saying goodbye to the city I’d just called home for the better part of a year. Then the dreaded flight home. Somewhere over Kazakhstan I had the urge to throw up, and to their eternal credit the crew were very gracious when I only made it as far as their galley before Singapore Airline’s Chicken Biryani and complementary wine returned with great speed.

Tirana Pyramid

The one photo I took of Albania, Enver Hoxha’s bizarre communist pyramid.

I returned home to find a house bursting with every extended family member. There were cousins, aunts and uncles I hadn’t seen in years welcoming me home. Despite the jetlag we spent the evening getting drunk and reminiscing about family Christmases, including a particularly alcohol-fueled one involving raw eggs, straws and noses (don’t ask). Family deaths can be bittersweet things. I don’t really have the desire to write about the funeral, but it was as lovely as these things can be and the sheer amount of people who turned up was a testament to how much my grandmother was loved.

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Oh, and did I mention she was totally stunning when she was younger?

Not every kid gets to grow up in the same house as their grandmother, but when I was ten we renovated my grandparent’s old home and moved into the ground floor while Jo lived upstairs. So right up until I moved to Brisbane I had the privilege of seeing her almost every day. Not that you could often catch her, because she had more of a social life than I could ever have hoped for as a particularly awkward teenager. She swam sixty laps in the pool every day, played golf three times a week, went square dancing, played scrabble, mahjong, croquet, hosted a book club, went on cruises. The list goes on. Even right up to her death when her health was failing, she would still go walking with my mother every day.

When we were in primary school Jo (she refused to let us call her ‘grandmother’ or ‘nan’) would pick us up from school in her trusty blue Saab and take us home with the promise of Franklin’s No-Frills ice-cream if my brother and I didn’t fight. She taught me how to play piano on her hulking old 1970’s organ, and the sound of her playing the foxtrot on it would filter through the house every afternoon. We taught her how to use email, and she would dutifully write every step down in her notebook, only to be stopped in her tracks when we upgraded from Windows 98. When we would make the gruelling 24-hour car trips down to Melbourne for Christmas she would sit between my brother and I, more often than not acting as a buffer for our fighting. That she continued to drive with us even when flights got so cheap was a testament to her commitment to the family. Now that she’s gone the house is going to be much quieter, and she will be missed dearly. But I’m so glad I had the opportunity to be so close to her for so much of my life. Now please enjoy some embarrassing photos of my formative years, with Jo as graceful as ever.

Jo with me and my younger brother Alex just after his birth (third child: mum's hair)

Jo with me and my younger brother Alex just after his birth (third child: mum’s hair)

Keeping toddler me entertained.

Keeping toddler me entertained.

Alex's Grad Will

I don’t even know what was going on here.

My high school graduation where I apparently hadn't learnt how to open my eyes in photos yet.

My high school graduation where I apparently hadn’t learnt how to open my eyes in photos yet.

University graduation

University graduation

Not sure who was happier that I'd made it to 21.

Not sure who was happier that I’d made it to 21.

Anyway, now that things are a settling down a bit and it’s sinking in that I am actually back in Australia for the foreseeable future, I can start thinking about what’s next. Anyone who’s in Brisbane and wants to catch up, I’ll be around, so please do give me a call. As soon as I can rustle up enough cash, I’m planning on moving down to Melbourne where a masters degree awaits me at RMIT. I’ve also got a few blog posts about Georgia and Armenia to catch up on, as well as a ton of photos to develop, so don’t think that just because I’m home I can’t keep making you all jealous. Even though it hasn’t been under the best circumstances, it is good to be back.

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