12 September 2010

Ten Things That Make Me Happy

My job often takes me out to remote communities for a week at a time. Sometimes this is an uplifting experience; a chance to get away from the bustle of the big smoke and to spend time with people with a fresh and reinvigorating outlook on the world. A chance to live a more straightforward life, if only for a week.

I dutifully arrived at the airport on Monday morning at half past ungodly in the morning, ready for my flight out to Maningrida. I found out I had actually been booked on the afternoon flight, contrary to what I had been told, so I taxied back home and sat around for half a day waiting for my flight. I finally made it to Maningrida at three, just in time for the branch office to close. So much for Monday’s program.

The council workers generously offered to drive me out to my accommodation for the week. Most of the places I have stayed in at remote communities have been simple, but comfortable. I had heard nice things about he guesthouse in Maningrida, so I thought I’d be in for a nice week.

Nope, the guest house was booked out. I was in the temporary accommodation out the other end next to the airstrip. When I say ‘accommodation’, I actually mean plastic box in the sun, reminiscent of the emergency dongers they bought in for my friends at college that time when Edale block burned down. Except not as spacious. And the air conditioner didn’t work properly.

I wandered into the common kitchen area to find a mean looking lady reading a That’s Life magazine as if it were a copy of War and Peace. She told me she was a nurse with an Ear, Nose and Throat team that had come out with the intervention. I told her I was a trainer with the Traditional Credit Union.

ENT Nurse: So what kind of skills do you train them in? Cooking, cleaning, gardening, that kind of thing?
Gw2Rs: … ? … No, we’re a credit union. I train them to operate as tellers in the bank.
ENT Nurse: Are you here with the intervention too?
Gw2Rs: No, I’m here with the credit union.

She sniffed at me and went back to her magazine. I went back to beating the microwave with a saucepan until it turned on.

We had a new starter at Maningrida, so the next morning I took her over to the West Arnhem Shire Council office to get her a letter from the council identifying her, so we could order a copy of her birth certificate, so the police could run a police check, so we could sign her up officially. A lot of people in remote communities don’t have passports or driving licences, so they get ID from the shire councillors.

Gw2Rs: Could we please get a letter of identification for Anita (not her real name)?
WASC lady: Does she have any ID?
Gw2Rs: No, that’s why we’re here. She needs a letter to get some ID.
WASC lady: I’ll need to see some ID before I can issue a letter.
Gw2Rs: …
WASC lady: Otherwise how am I supposed to know who she is?

Eventually we convinced the extremely helpful shire receptionist to issue the letter by producing Anita’s medicare card. For our American friends who might be new to this concept (That’s another thing. My blog has four public followers and, with the emigration of my sister and K.Kim, they’re all women in North America. How did that happen?), a medicare card has neither the owner’s photo, nor address; simply a government issued number. Apparently that did the trick.

Finally that afternoon we sat down to complete the training program. Of course, the computer crashed. I negotiated with our extremely friendly IT staff back in Darwin (370km away) to fix it. So much for Tuesday’s program.

On Wednesday we finally got some work done. My trainee was pretty good at the computer stuff once we finally got the damned thing working and managed to balance up at the end of the day without any trouble. Things were finally looking up.

On Wednesday night I was attacked by a pack of wild dogs.

Yep. For the sake of dramatic emphasis I decided that sentence deserved its own paragraph. Furthermore it’s true. Whilst walking around the block after enjoying a meal of dim sims and chicken … somethings from the delightful local takeaway I was accosted by an unfriendly band of local canines, possibly due to being an unfamiliar person on their territory, or possibly to the lingering aroma of inadequately processed meat. I felt more alive than I have for months as I stared down my aggressors with cold composure reminiscent of Mick Dundee and Charlie the buffalo and then, with all the dignity and masculinity I could muster, turned tail and ran for my life, with the noisy assailants in hot pursuit.

And there’s another thing. What kind of backwards looking takeaway shuts at four in the afternoon? And furthermore, if you’re going to shut at four in the afternoon, and if I come looking for a punnet of fried rice at a quarter to four only to find the front door locked, then … Blegh! That’s right, I said blegh! So much for… pathos.

So by Friday afternoon you can imagine I was more than ready to board my plane, leave this backwards town of nasty dogs and stupid West Arnhem Shire Councils and make my way back to civilisation. And when by ‘civilisation’ I’m referring to Darwin, you might begin to suspect there’s a problem.

Our plane broke down.

The air hostess (Is she still an air hostess if she’s standing on the ground looking disgruntled?) informed us that the plane had a flat battery. And apparently that’s not the sort of thing you can fix with jumper cables. They had to fly a replacement out for us from Darwin.

The Centrelink contingent in town, who were keen to return for the weekend, rang up their bosses in Darwin who magnanimously arranged to fly out a charter just for them. We gave them all a clap as they climbed aboard a private plane and took off to beat us home by about an hour. That was the fastest I’ve ever seen Centrelink arrange anything, and I suppose they felt there was a really good reason they couldn’t hire a bigger one to pick up the rest of us. We all got on the regular replacement plane and I finally got home at around ten o’clock that evening to find my housemate had once again fallen asleep in front of the television, which was still at full volume.

And somehow, in my absence, the freaking Labor party got back into government. Like my week wasn’t palm-to-the-face inducing enough as it was.

Oh yes, it’s been a while since I had a really good whinge. It’s somehow depressingly theraputic, whether that makes sense or not. Either way I feel better for it. All I need now is to run into a drunk Englishwoman. Or a communist.

I really don’t look good in watermelon pink business shirts.

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Garry with 2 Rs
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