60. Settling In Australia – Journal Entry 19th Nov 1980

My dear M,

We are delighted with your good news. I am so excited I cannot settle down to my siesta.

We would love to have you here, there are jobs, but let us be cautious and say that the two of you should not find it difficult to earn a living.

However, we should take a long view of your life here and try to work out what might be best.

My own preference would be to advise you to stay in Queensland with us for one or two years until you become reasonably “Aussiefied”. I think your mum would be happier with that arrangement, no?

With R’s Bachelor of Commerce, a three-year external course on computing should make him highly competitive; within a year he would be viable. Without knowing too much, even now he should be able to get a nine to five job in some business without any difficulty.

I envisage both of you doing some study for a few years. Courses are free at tertiary institutions, but books and transport would be at your own expense.

If you would enjoy living thirty-five miles away from your place of work, be close to the sea on the weekends and holidays, lead a very quiet life, work hard for the next three years, then we would suggest you stay with us until you find your feet.

Now about what to bring, I find it hard to recommend anything. You need very little by way of household goods and only the most precious and personal possessions. Maybe sheets and towels to last three to five years? Shirts are about $20 to $30 each; maybe R already has a few suits? He could do with a few smart trousers I suppose. Menswear, for most business purposes, is casual; it is too hot otherwise, except only a couple of months a year.

Again you would need enough office clothes to last a few years. There are plenty of second-hand clothes shops that only charge a couple of dollars for clothes.

To explain: Johnny and I believe in making do with what we can get locally without hankering for foreign or “back home” goods. However, it is so good to have silk saris and gold jewellery to wear on special occasions.

Most masalas, Indian bedspreads, clothes and chappals are available in Australia; a little expensive in some cases, but not excessively so.

You might like bringing things like stainless steel cooking gear, plates and tumblers, enough say to entertain six to eight people. Stainless steel utensils are associated with hospitals here!

I enjoy occasionally setting a table for friends using banana leaves or stainless steel plates with tumblers to match – they seem to get a thrill out of it!

Bring a dosai skillet, cooking spoon, dhal masher or anything uniquely Indian for your own use – even an idli pot if you wish.

After discussing all of this with Johnny, his view is to get on without delay to one of the big cities (where the head offices are) if you are career-minded and want to get on in the world. Please don’t get the idea that we don’t want you to stay with us, we would like you to, but as Johnny suggests, it might not be a clever thing to do now.

There are such places as migrants’ hostels where you stay until you are able to set up on your own. I shall find out details about the migrant hostels in Brisbane or Sydney for you; we stayed in one.

I find it difficult to advise you on where to live without knowing your philosophy or aim in life. The weather should be the least of your worries when choosing a capital city. Melbourne is said to have the worst weather and is extremely changeable, even in one day. Sydney is colder than Brisbane and both are delightful in summer although Brisbane can be very hot. Don’t get me wrong, our northern winters are like a hot summers day in England or New Zealand! I like our mild winter here.

While I am delighted for you, I feel sad for those you will leave behind. You could well suffer from culture shock – the smells, sounds and gestures are all different. Now we love Australia and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Brisbane and Sydney are both good places to live in. Brisbane is more “rural” or should I say like a large thriving country town. Sydney is a lot colder, but don’t bring any woollens, there are plenty around.

Gran has left it to us to advise you she is very happy for you.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series and based on the journals of my mother.
  • These posts are meant to be read in sequence and the Preamble post marks the beginning of the journal series. Refer to Archived on the Home page and scroll through to the bottom.

56. Letter From A Year Ago – Journal Entry 16th Jun 1979

I’m sitting outside the student cafeteria, trying to stay cool under a big umbrella. Today we have a minor test in preliminary maths, a course run by Johnny, which I started at the beginning of the year. With approximately one hour to go, I decided to reply to your letter. I’m reading an excellent book by Zimmer called Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilisation, however, I found it difficult to concentrate on.

The campus here is really beautiful as tertiary institution campuses go. A landscape expert was hired and within a couple of years, the garden improved out of sight. Large rocks, huge lumps of driftwood and two or three bleached tree trunks are arranged attractively with trees and flowering shrubs grouped in hillocks. Mind you, winter here is mild – about 15 degrees Celsius in the morning – and the gardens are so colourful, just about anything will grow in winter if you take the trouble to tend the plants, even daffodils.

To get back to the campus and the people milling around, I just like being in a learning environment. I suppose having stopped school so early could account for it. I could be an eternal student if circumstances would allow it. We shall see.

The course I’m doing is something designed for adults, it prepares one for entry to a maths degree or just for the pleasure of doing mathematics. It’s an excellent course that was designed in England with great results. Johnny introduced it here for the first time this year and three lecturers have put many hours of work into developing it for Australians. There are great notes and tapes to accompany the texts. The drop-out rate, however, among part-timers has been high as they just found it too hard. So that will be something for the Maths Department to think about.

In the course of my letters, I’ll try to convey the flavour of life here, though we’re rather prejudiced. We think life in Queensland is really “beaut” if you’re independent, handy and make your own life instead of hankering after the pleasures of a big city. One feels isolated here, one is isolated, but as long as there is mobility, trips south to catch up on news, new things, say once a year, life in Central Queensland can be very good. Sydney we loved, an unusual city with its ferries, gardens and swimming pools; Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide I don’t know and look forward to visiting them sometime in the future.

To get off the subject of Australia, I was wondering if you could look out for old recipe books on Indian cooking from the second-hand book stalls or friends. I have Veerasami’s cookbook. I don’t particularly want the latest books, unless you think them worth having. Ask Aunty Nora too, she may be able to pick up something.

Also I wonder if R would mind giving me recipes that the hotel uses – the kormas and biriyanis seem hard to reproduce here – actually any recipes of Indian cooking as I’m deeply interested. Last year I ran a course on basic Indian cooking and could have run a couple more this year if I hadn’t started this course.

I am also very interested in kolams. Aunty Nora sent me some pamphlets years ago and Jaya drew some kolams for me. If you are able to dig up information on them and any stories on Indian food, I’d be grateful.

The Travels of Marco Polo is useful to give you an idea of what life must have been long ago and yet one asks, has anything changed? Nilakanta Sastri’s History of South India gives one a glimmer. I deeply regret not learning much about Indian life and culture, especially when I am asked about certain customs and taboos. When we first came here we were dismayed at the barrenness of culture when compared to India and Southeast Asia. The streets here are empty, no drums are heard, there is very rarely a procession and the markets are missing…

When we returned from the Philippines, I appreciated the privacy, the having to “do for oneself”, the way of life, the freedom to take whatever job one wanted without worrying about loss of status. Mind you there are some silly people around but then you get them everywhere.

Blast it, the more I think about it, the more I’m attracted to going back to India to explore a few things, just to revel in its crowds, flower bazaars, trains, silks, dances and music… above all Kathakali, whole nights of Kathakali.

Gran keeps trying the local lotteries (it’s seven years since she left India) she’d like to go back for a visit, mainly to see the family.

Got to go.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • Found this draft letter from 1979 amongst notes and journals on loose-leaf papers dated 1980, so I have added this to the journal series with some of my mother’s hand-drawn kolams.
  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series and based on the journals of my mother.
  • These posts are meant to be read in sequence and the Preamble post marks the beginning of the journal series. Refer to Archived on the Home page.

53. Our Christmas Traditions – Journal Entry 5th Aug 1980

Dear Nora, You, Mary or any of the family are very welcome to come here and take potluck with us. Mum, of course, would be delighted. My only concern is that we would not be in a position to give you as good a time as we would like. Out here in the country, things are on a small scale and fairly quiet. I myself will be tied up with studies until mid-November and I agree with you, Christmas is for children and family. Your children should have their parents with them at the one and only major festival of the year. I will tell you about Christmas festivities in Australia, in a little while. I don’t know how long you intend to spend here, however, a possible program could be:

  • Stay in Singapore with the aunt for a few days
  • Call into Melbourne (before or after staying with us) and check if it will cost extra, as travel from Emu Park to Melbourne is expensive
  • Stay with us, preferably after mid-November so I can drive you around. On the other hand, I am free half the week (most weeks) so if mid-November is not convenient, come when you can.

About the export business, I can’t give you an answer straight away. I will have to make enquiries. There are already many Indian goods on sale here and it will be a matter of getting the right combinations, contacts, etc. There are also import licences to worry about here, however, I will find out what I can and let you know.

Christmas here seems to be very much a family celebration. Friends without families  set up a round of dinners, parties and picnics. Christmas also falls in the middle of summer, usually the wet season from Christmas Day, and all the shops are decorated and Christmas music played in lifts and stores from the 1st November. There are dances held at hotels (called pubs here) and a certain amount of entertainment between families takes place.

Over the years we have formed a pattern which we follow. For weeks before Christmas Day, the family wrap mysterious parcels for different members of the family and hang them or place them under the Christmas tree. There is a pile under the tree and everyone, with the occasional prodding and feeling, tries to guess what are in the parcels. Some wrap parcels to themselves with tags saying “Secret Admirer” or “Anonymous”. The kids find these activities exciting and in fact, they generate the excitement, but Johnny and I are not encouraged to put our packages out until the last minute.

At midnight on Christmas Eve, we beat our big gong to mark the occasion, have drinks, eat cakes and sit around while each person opens a package in turn. There is much oohing, aahing, thanking and saying, “It is just what I wanted!”

Once all the presents have been opened, people slip off to bed.

Christmas1980
Karen in lounge room | Christmas Eve 1980

Breakfast is a special one with bacon and eggs. Lunch is often cold prawns, mayonnaise, salads and bread. Dinner would be the special meal with a roast bird, vegetables, potatoes or whatever. We gave up making Christmas pudding for dessert as by the end of the dinner we were so stuffed and the pudding so rich that we would end up feeling rather sick. I think we have fruit salad now. Last Christmas we had roast turkey although usually it would be duck or goose. However, turkey was so delicious that we decided to have it every Christmas. The problem here is that festive food is available throughout the year and turkey and ham do not seem special anymore. We have now restricted ourselves to only having turkey at Christmas.

That is usually how we celebrate Christmas. Recently I realised that there are not many rituals and festivals in our lives and it is good to have some. We also celebrate birthdays with an extra special dinner chosen by the birthday person.

About things from India, we don’t need anything really. We can get almost everything we wish here. Over the years we’ve managed with what is available locally. Just come, use your money for travel, however, if you are visiting the aunt in Singapore, you may need to take a few gifts.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series and based on the journals of my mother.
  • These posts are meant to be read in sequence and the Preamble post marks the beginning of the journal series. Refer to Archived on the Home page.
  • The Gallery of photos is now on a menu option for ease of viewing.

Memories of Kathmandu in 1968, Special Interview With My Mother’s Best Friend – 25th Jul 2018

In a fortunate turn of events, I was able to track down my mother’s best friend Cynthia. My mother, Marcello, Gareth and I spent time with Cynthia in 1968 when we  stayed in Kathmandu, Nepal, prior to moving to Australia in 1969. Cynthia has since adopted the name Kami and resides on Bowen Island in British Columbia, Canada.

When did you and mum first meet?

I was working at the British Council there at that time and was living in this old palace called Thamel Lodge,  in a little round house with a thatched roof. Your mum, you and Marcello, came to live in one of the little apartments. The house was quite primitive, for a London girl like me, with a mud floor. I had problems keeping it clean, although I had been roughing it for months on the road and had lived in a few rather bizarre places. Somehow, we swapped homes – your mum and you two kids lived in the little round house and I lived in the apartment. She knew how to look after and clean the mud floor.

CynthiaMum
Cynthia with Marcello, Gita and Karen in Kathmandu, Nepal 1968

What sort of person was she, with you?

We bonded straight away and we were great friends. She was very open and very knowledgeable and I immediately looked up to her as this rather special being. I had been working in Thailand, learning about other cultures, and started to have a fascination with India, although Nepal and India are very different. So she was like my teacher or mentor even though she was only two years older than me. Gita already had four children and I hadn’t even married or had a child. She seemed to be well-educated, she read a lot and knew a great deal about poetry and literature. I got her a bit of work at the British Council as she had worked for them as a secretary before, in India.

What was Kathmandu like at that time?

It was full of temples with very devout Hindus practicing there. People would go to the temples everyday and put flowers all over town on the deities. One was a Shiva lingam, you know what a lingam is, and they would worship it. Gita was there right at the influx of the hippy era, I was there at the beginning of that and it was extraordinary. There was nowhere at the time to buy western clothes so you had to wear traditional dress like the kurta and salwar kameez. We had all been travellers when we arrived in Kathmandu, so our clothes might have looked a bit worn. Many of the early hippies were just free-spirited people who were studying the Asian art, culture, religion and customs but later the term was associated with drugs.

What kinds of things do you remember doing together?

I was working every weekday so we would catch up on the weekends. I don’t think she had much money at the time so I would come over and have dinner with Gita and you kids quite a lot. There was a nice man from Calcutta, a Mr Bose who was working in Kathmandu and missed his family, so he ‘adopted’ us, your mum and I and you and Marcello, and then Gareth. We would all go out for picnics. One thing I remember was going to a jazz concert with American guitarist Charlie Byrd at the National Stadium in Kathmandu, and when the band (who were angry about their disastrous concert) were leaving in their hired limousine, I asked for a ride home for us as Gita was pregnant with Gareth at the time. There wasn’t a lot of mixing in those early east-meets-west days in Kathmandu and although Nepalese men showed interest in me, I actually only had one Tibetan boyfriend. It was quite difficult to have Nepalese women friends at that time unless you met them through their work. Your family and I discovered Kathmandu together.

I know you supported mum at Gareth’s birth, can you tell me about it?

Well, I was very excited as I had never been that close to anyone who was pregnant before and when I left home most of my friends weren’t married or having children. She went into labour in the night and we had to walk to the Bir Hospital because after dark there were no rickshaws or taxis. There were no telephones either so we couldn’t call anyone and anyway we didn’t know anyone with a car. Along the way, whenever she had a contraction, Gita sat down on the footpath. I was quite worried because I didn’t know how long it was going to take or whether I would have to help with the birth on the way. We finally got to the hospital and it was a bit of a shambles there.

Was it a difficult birth?

No, not really, we were met at the Bir Hospital by a nurse and I don’t think we were even signed in. She said to me, “Are you a nurse?” because I was going to go with Gita as support.

I said, “No.” I didn’t want to lie because I had never been at a birth before, didn’t know what to expect and I thought I might faint or something! The nurse told me that I could go and lie on a bench in the corridor. There were patients lying on the ground on mattresses because there weren’t enough wards. Of course I couldn’t sleep and I could hear the sound of rats scuttling around on the ground. I was thinking, Oh my God, these people are on the ground, at least I’m up on a bench, it was like a nightmare. I don’t know if Gareth wants to hear this… The nurse eventually came and got me, nothing had been cleaned up, I saw the afterbirth in a bucket, it was a pretty bloody place. I was so happy to see Gita with a healthy baby!

How long did she stay there and how did she get home?

She stayed in the hospital, in a bed, overnight. I brought flowers but there was nowhere to put them. They eventually found a tin can. I came to pick her up soon after and we got a rickshaw home.

CynthiaGarethBaby
Cynthia holding Gareth, Kathmandu 1968

Did you help mum with the baby and with looking after us?

Not really, because I was working all day but we did hire a woman to help with the housework. In those days it was expected that foreigners would provide employment for local workers. In those days you didn’t have throwaway diapers (we used to call them nappies in England) and so they had to be boiled and washed everyday.

Marcello asked if you remembered the time when I was electrocuted? He literally saved my life.

No, I think it might have happened when I was away because I left for Japan. You stayed on some months after I left and when I came back you were gone, to Australia.

How did you meet your husband Minoru at that time?

Gita wanted to learn Aikido, the Japanese martial art, from Minoru the Japanese instructor.  Because he only taught men and boys, she wanted me to go with her.  That is when he really started getting friendly with me. Then Gita decided she wanted to learn Shiatsu massage, which he was also offering mainly to the foreign community.  So he came back to your little round house and used me to practice on. That’s when one thing lead to another and we ended up together.

Did we attend your wedding to Minoru in Kathmandu?

Yes, it was a very traditional Nepalese-Hindu wedding with a Brahmin priest and held in an old palace called Bagh Durbar. The wedding was all arranged by members of the Nepalese Royal Family as Minoru had been living with them at the time. They had tried to marry him off to a Nepalese woman but he was with me so they checked me out to see if I was suitable. They were happy that I had a good job at the British Council, so they deemed me suitable. I remember Gita saying, the Bagh Durbar palace, with its many rooms, was like something out of a Kafka story. Anyway, I had a red sari for my wedding dress. Recently I found out that there was a huge protest to save Bagh Durbar, so I wrote to say that this heritage building should be saved and also that I was married there. They found my picture on Facebook and posted it, with some of my words on top, on their Facebook page.

 

Cynthia-Wedding (1)
Minoru and Cynthia, Nepalese Wedding at Bagh Durbar, an old palace in Kathmandu Nepal in 1968

 

Cynthia Wedding (1)
Cynthia and Minoru wed Nepali Style in Bagh Durbar under supervision of Brigadier General Sushil Shumsher Rana, brother of the former Queen Mother of Nepal.

 

MinoruCynthia-JapaneseWedding (1)
Minoru and Cynthia also wed in traditional Japanese style at Hotel Takanawa, Tokyo, January 1969, four months after their Nepalese wedding

Where did you have your child Anna?

I was staying in Japan with my husband and he, and his family, wanted me to have the baby there, but it was very difficult for foreign women in Japan at the time. I remember reading an anthropology book which said that Japanese women are not permitted to cry out during childbirth! I thought, Oh my God that sounds primitive, so I went back to England to my family and had the baby. I realised also that I had made a terrible mistake and it was getting hard for me to cope with the expectations of me in my relationship with Minoru. I wanted to go back to my own country without all those restrictions. I did visit Kathmandu in March 1969 on the way back to England, but you had all gone.

CynthiaAnna
Cynthia with Anna 2 weeks old, England 1969

Did mum stay in the one area the whole time?

As well as the little round house, Gita rented a room above a shop around the Buddhist Stupa of Boudhanath, where many of the Tibetans had settled. It’s a little out of town and I think it was mostly used at weekends. I remember staying there once or twice.  It was very quiet, apart from the Tibetans walking around the stupa, turning their prayer wheels and reciting the prayer Om Mani Padme Hum.  Now it’s overcrowded and not very nice.

Mum left India in difficult circumstances, leaving behind two children, did she ever talk about it?

Actually she didn’t talk much about it but she had told me that she had run away from your dad and that she was worried he would track her down as she had you and Marcello. She told me about Johnny and that she was going to move to Australia with him. Maybe she didn’t want to talk to me about leaving your brother and sister behind. There was so much happening at the time we were just dealing with what was happening then and there. Johnny would send letters to her through me.

Was there anything else you remember about mum?

When I was pregnant and leaving for Japan, Gita gave me a piece of fabric that came from an Art Colony in India and wanted me to make something special with it. So I had a maternity dress made – it was only just big enough. It was a bit short but it was ok to wear in England. I lent it to many people but insisted they give it back to me. Which they did. Now I use it for patches and my patched gardening shirt is on display in the Bowen Island Heritage Museum at the moment. I’ve also patched a pair of pants with it, so Gita lives on!

Can you tell me about how you came to change your name to Kami?

After I moved to Canada, I felt that Cynthia sounded too English a name – I didn’t feel like a Cynthia anymore. I had lived the better part of five years in Nepal and it had changed me. In Canada I was learning dance with an African and I mentioned I wanted to change my name. He suggested a very long name, Oledapo Kemi Funimolaya, and I adapted Kemi to Kami. I’m still Cynthia on all my official documents, so when I travel, I’m Cynthia, but everyone on Bowen Island knows me as Kami.

How did you feel when I contacted you, after all these years?

I was in a state of shock. I couldn’t believe it at first, that you had found me was miraculous in a way. When I looked at your photo in Facebook when you sent me the message, having only seen you as a little five year old girl with dark hair to now with grey hair, it took me a while to work out what it was about. I was in shock that day, and going to a reading a friend was doing for a book she had published. I was telling everybody, Oh my God something big happened. Then when you told me Gita had passed away I had what I could only be described as a delayed grieving – it was terribly sad. I had already grieved the fact that I was never going to reconnect with Gita after trying for years unsuccessfully to track her and your family down. I had lost her once already.

How did you and mum lose touch with each other?

If she was still alive and we had reconnected, I have a feeling we would have just carried on our friendship where we left off. She had such a different life to me. I lived alone for much of my life since Anna left home. I admired the fact that Gita had this big love. I had moved around quite a bit and tried for so many years to track her down. I searched and searched. I feel like there have been all these little messages since I lost touch with Gita. She gave me the Haiku book translated by R.H. Blyth when I got together with Minoru and then I found one at the Bowen Island annual book sale this year.

I believe you are writing memoir at the moment. Can you tell me about it?

Oh, it must be the slowest memoir in the world! I had been thinking about it for thirty years and I sometimes stall when I am working on it. It starts with me travelling overland from London to Kathmandu in August 1966, going through sixteen countries, how it was arriving in Kathmandu when there were very few foreigners living there and how extraordinary it was then. After that we were ‘thrown out’ after our four month visa expired which we had already extended for a month. Most of the travellers were asked to leave if they weren’t staying in the big hotels because we were renting in people’s homes. That was before the term “hippy” came up and they were still using the term “beatnik”. You couldn’t renew your visa unless you could produce a lot of money, were staying in one of the hotels or came with an organisation. There were a lot of NGOs there at that time.

Have you done any other writing lately?

I recently wrote a 750 word piece called The Tokyo Letters, for a flash non-fiction competition for a magazine in Mexico, about connecting with you. It came about when you sent me copies of the aerogrammes that I had sent to your mum, back when I was in Tokyo. I was reminded about what a horrible time if was for me and that Gita was the only person I could write to about it.

Kami-Anna
Kami with her daughter Anna in Edmonton, Canada in 2018

 

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • This special interview forms part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series
  • My mother’s early journal entries contain draft letters she wrote to Cynthia (Kami) and all photos here have been included by permission.
  • I have continued to use my mother’s pen name Gita in this transcript.
  • A photo gallery, for the early part of the Journal Series, has now been added to the home page here.

45. Hospital Flashback – Journal Entry 7th Jan 1980

It has been raining for the past forty-eight hours; well almost. The Australorp chooks are drenched. The wind is strong. As usual, the front verandah is a bit wet, with fine rain blowing onto the books and papers. The louvres can’t be tightly shut. Also, water is seeping down the walls of the verandah. A good day for tidying the house and cutting bottles for tumblers.

The family went to the Kavlon Theatre last night to see two Terence Hill/Bud Spencer movies. Too much slapstick, with baddies and goodies smashing stores and hitting each other with bottles. Boring to us but the others seemed to have enjoyed them. The cinema was packed.

Today I should like to get the following done:

  1. Pay the bills
  2. Type the letter to Marcie
  3. Do some algebra
  4. Finish networks to get onto SEARCH
  5. Cook some curries

List of items for Canberra:

  • Jeans 2 or 3
  • Tops 2 or 3
  • Skirt, black embroidered + blue
  • 2 saris and blouses
  • 1 cardigan
  • Swimsuit?
  • Lungi
  • Toothbrush, hairbrush
  • Toe-rings
  • Notepad, pencils
  • Algebra?
  • Handbag

What to look for in Canberra:

  • Outline of Social Anthropology Studies
  • Bibliography on Aboriginal studies; esp urban
  • Spices
  • Granite pestle and mortar for Gran
  • Turkish delight
  • Present for Monika

Muchlater

17th Jul 1979

A lovely new biro and a new pad. Ward 13, Room E, just after a meal of Shephard’s pie made of mince and large chunks of meat. Wish I’d bought a bottle of chilli sauce. The noise of the crockery being washed is deafening, such loud crashes and the domestic aid handles them with a stern face and tight lips. I sat next to a short square woman in a blue chenille dressing gown. Her mouth is misshapen. Most likely it is a mild paralysis or stroke. Her specs are as thick as old-fashioned soda water bottles. Perhaps my tastes have changed since last here and now I’m more choosy or more observant. The tea tastes grey and weak, the bread tastes grey and dry, and even the potato and lentil soup tastes grey. This is food produced in vast quantities with no care or love. The pie was fairly tasty though. One patient was on a special diet and was given her pudding first instead of the main course. She plastered it with Worcestershire sauce before she realised it was custard and not scrambled egg.

Back in the ward. I’ve got a bed near a window and Rocky is slowly putting on its lights.

Funny type of conversation going on. There are three people, each determined to tell the others the story of her life. One woman had a particularly hard life with seven kids from five pregnancies: one has had a kidney out, two attend opportunity school, one has a hearing aid and two were in an accident recently.

I’m going to do some sums, this is very boring.

At the dinner table, most of the women claimed to like Kamahl.

19th Jul 1979

Yesterday was an exceptionally long day. We were asked to wash in Phisohex at noon and get dressed in ‘theatre clothes’. These were a grey cotton top, open at the back, and the most awkward crumpled grey cotton tie-on underpants. At two, the woman of the seven pregnancies was taken away for a full hysterectomy. At 3:15 pm it was my turn, fortunately for a very minor operation.

A jolly young bearded man wheeled the trolley into the ward and said, “Who’s next?”
I echoed, “Who’s next?”
He pointed dramatically at me, paused and said loudly, “YOU.”
So I said, “Surely not.”
“You’re Gita aren’t you..?”
He smiled. “Then it’s you.”
He went into his litany in a sing-song voice, “Any nail polish? Wooden leg, false eyelashes, teeth, glass eye, jewellery?”
“Oh well, we have the genuine article,” he concluded and asked me to hop on the stretcher.

I climbed on and was taken to a nurse and to get my medical file. Some slight delay as the nurse has lost a patient. Besides, I haven’t been given an injection to keep me quiet and I’m glad of it. We proceeded to move out of the nurse’s room and towards the lift where the wardsman trotted out his next stock joke: “This lift is not working, so I’m going to have to take you down the stairs.”

We went through the door leading to the operating theatre. There is a very long narrow white corridor in front of me as we glide through. Men stood in front of some of the doors, white-gowned and capped. The women were in purple. The light was strange, almost disco-like without the flashes. Everything had a T.V. science fiction look about it – a Dr Who feeling – except these people could have been baddies. The timid could have very well wrecked their nervous system. What price must one pay to cure one’s ills, especially minor ones? A large white-clad attendant dwarfed the wardsman and me.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series
  • These posts are meant to be read in sequence and the Preamble post marks the beginning of the journal series. Refer to Archived on the Home page.
  • A map of where we lived and a family tree are also at the bottom of the Home page, click here.
  • The hospital visit was written in the journal after the 7th Jan 1980 entry and has been included here as a flashback.

21. Philippines Snapshot – Journal Entry 2nd May 1971

Muchlater[Our family stayed in Sydney for another year and then spent two years in the Philippines. Unfortunately, there are no journals for this period so I have included the few letters my mother sent from the Philippines. Martial law was introduced to the Philippines by President Marcos in September 1972. This prompted us to return to Emu Park in 1973.]

2nd May 1971

Yes, we’d be delighted to have Mark. Leave him with us for as long as you like. A holiday in the Philippines and the countryside would do him a world of good. Manila is a pleasant city and the countryside in Luzon is magnificent. We haven’t had the chance to visit any of the other islands. The best thing is the people, diverse, very able and friendly in a person to person fashion.

We’ll send him back to you speaking Tagalog.

7th May 1971

So we are here in the Pilipinas. Magandang umaga po = Good morning Sir or Madam.

What have I to report? Nothing very much really. So terribly ordinary – like ordering furniture, looking for kapok and buying fish and coffee beans. We went out to a Welcome to the Philippines Dinner last night and it was all wrong, discreet and rich. I felt sad although the view was good. An 11th floor Sydney view without water and two nice bits of meat spoilt with too much food beforehand. I drank lemon and soda, longing for a cigarette.

We have a fish pond in the tiny garden and we have stocked it with fish. Lost all the guppies because they swam away forever through the outlet pipe. Bought more – very expensive. Anyway, a stupid price for a guppy. Especially guppies given to disappearing down the drain.

Was it hot when we arrived! Man was it hot. Port Moresby was an adventure. A slow roast at 325F. This machine [IBM electric typewriter] sticks at a certain place and all the keys are different for each golf ball and I have a chart which I don’t look at and so get things wrong. My reflexes are all wrong too, I press to get a semi-colon on golf ball courier 72 and I get an N with a curl on top of it. I ask you, how does one disguise an N with a curl on top of it to look like a semi-colon? Life is very difficult.

We have one maid and seem to have difficulty getting another. That’s because Johnny would like a mature woman who is able to cook Pilipino foods. These golf balls are the end and I feel so hungry, it is 1.30pm and I’m waiting for Johnny to return.

We have a betel leaf creeper in the garden and alas and alack, poetic justice and whatnot, I burnt my mouth trying out a betel-nut-lime chew. The lime being wot you whitewash catacombs with.

Can I think of nothing else but food? Yennyway, the place we are in is good. It’s going to rain presently and so things will cool off. Got to type a long paper for Johnny now – wish me luck. I will be at it all weekend if this letter is any guide. So bye for now. Maybe I shall have something worthwhile to say tomorrow.

15th May 1971

So wot to report. I’m sitting in the kanteen of the Philippine Women’s University drinking black instankoffee, facing a notice which says:

PLEASE REPORT
DISCOURTEOUS PERSONNEL
TO THE MANAGEMENT (Establishment?)
IMMEDIATELY

This reminds me of a super one I’d been saving for you. On a noticeboard somewhere I read:

UNAUTHORISED PERSONS
DON’T READ THIS

Alas, nothing below the arrow.

Which brings to mind (though I fail to see the connection) of hundreds of wooden carvings for sale of a fist with the middle finger (extra long) sticking straight up. Wot significance? Dare I ask? Whom?

People here are great. Mostly smiling and bursting into song now and then.

There’s this market filled with 2” by 2” shops (I exaggerate very little) selling ready-made dresses. Thousands and thousands of 2’ by 2’ shops and everyone (der women) wears dresses, she said sadly burning herself with the instakoffee.

Why yam I drinking koffee at the kanteen of the Phil. Women’s Univ.? Because I am waiting for a 9am to strike so that I can present myself for the dance course I am attending.

We’re being taught by der famous Bayanihan dancers. Them dat goes round the world many times. They are good. We’re a mixed class – mainly school teachers and young kids. Every Saturday the Bayanihan dancers put on a show and this Saturday, tomorrow, we will go to see them.

It is now Saturday and I’ve returned from the dance performances and am copying out what I wrote in my notebook to you. We have learnt three dances so far. Jota Canitena, Pandanggo and the well-known Tinikling. There are no fs and vs in Tagalog by the way and c comes out as k; pity me, am I not mixed up already?

There seems to be a natural grace about everybody and the students don’t look awkward learning the dances. I feel like a bluddy giraffe.

The first dance I can only just do, the second needs practice because we’re supposed to balance a glass, with burning candle inside, on our head and a glass (mit said candle) on the back of each hand and dance and smile and look graceful.

17th June 1971

Thank you very much for your letter. It came as a great relief to me because I was worried. I had visions of the three of you in a Nepalese jail gnawing on dry powroti.

You could keep up your reading at least can’t you? When Anna is asleep? I should be the last one to ask that question – I would like to do so many things but what happens? I get side-tracked and end up doing very little. Are we not frail?

It is good to be in Manila but it will be better when we get out of to the Provinces – when we can speak Pilipino. We are here initially for another year, but would like to stay on for another year.

Let me know when you know your short-term and long-term plans. Maybe.

Oh hell, are we not all insecure? That is, most of us don’t have very much money, don’t know where we’re going etc. etc. and all that. This is not much help is it? But above all, don’t worry, it is killing, I know.

The kids are fine, the moves upset them a little initially and then they make friends and enjoy themselves till the next move. Gareth is three now and talks and talks.

I’m using an IBM electric typewriter and when I change the golf ball type I don’t know where everything is and get the queerest things when I want a question mark or say a simple comma.

I had better stop and post this to you soon. Give Anna a big kiss for me, maybe I’ll see you someday. Give my regards to Minoru.

Use the Australian address, it is much quicker.

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