Friday, September 25, 2009

Blood Red Dawn

Wednesday morning 23rd of September 2009 will be remembered for a long time in Sydney. It was the day we woke up to blood in the sky and dust in our mouths. Can't make out the first photo? It was what I saw at 6.15 or so that morning. For contrast, the second photo was taken around the same time on Saturday (this) morning. Still strange, other worldly, but with the red leached out. The third photo was taken around three hours later this morning. You can see a horizon, the other side of Botany Bay. You can even see a container ship approaching the docks on the far right if you look hard. The sky is once again blue-ish.

Another dust storm today. I could not remember a dust storm in Sydney, though I did spend more than ten years out of the country. The papers vindicated my memories: although weather bureau records show that dust storms have swept Sydney before, in 1994 I was out of the country; in '68 I don't know what I was doing, but I don't remember it; in '57 I was too young to remember anything and in '42 I wasn't even a twinkle in my father's eye.

The dust which blew over Sydney was estimated to weigh one quarter of the weight of Uluru, that Australian icon situated in the centre of the continent. The origin of the dust which still blankets Sydney was the area around the salt lakes of South Australia (about 1,500 kilometres away) and northern NSW. (These areas have been in drought for eight years.) A couple of weeks ago, scientists were studying this very dust on the snow of Mt Hutt in New Zealand.

Sometime this week I will take a photo at the same time of day as the first and second above to demonstrate the difference between what I see every morning and what I saw on Wednesday.
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Thursday, September 10, 2009

All Bonny Once

The evening class & I
(No women in the class. They weren't allowed out at night.)

A year or two ago, I got an email which I thought came from a sister-in-law, inviting me to join Facebook so that I could see her photos. I did this, setting up my own profile. I then found out that she didn't have any photos uploaded and that the email was automatically generated from Facebook itself. Before this, the only thing I knew about Facebook was that it wasn't "cool" any more (to young people), because the Prime Minister at the time, John Howard, had a profile--and he definitely wasn't cool.

I uploaded a few photos and nothing happened for over a year, except that a few ex-colleagues with Facebook accounts and also living in Sydney, contacted me asking to be my friend. And then I got a friend request from someone whose name I didn't know and whose message showed that he was not a native English speaker. I responded, asking him--I had encountered the name before in my years of teaching English, among my Arabic speaking students, and recognised it as a male name--why he wanted to be my friend, when we didn't know each other. And he responded by asking me a few pointed questions about my life: wasn't I the woman who taught in Cairo at the I.L.I., and then went to Hawai'i. . .? etc. Yes, that was me. But who was he?

The messages went slowly back and forth between us through Facebook and when he sent a photo, I realised that he had been one of my students in Egypt. He had changed his name somewhat when he emigrated from that country. We had become friends while I was in Egypt. We snailmailed each other for a while after my time in Cairo, but had somehow lost touch over the years. He said he visited me in Hawai'i but I have no memory of that. (Why is perhaps not salient here, but it's not the first time I haven't remembered something that a friend/acquaintance swears is true. Is this part of the human experience or am I getting Old Timer's disease?)

This contact brought back old memories and sent me trawling through my photo drawers. I looked and wept at the time gone and friends lost. And not only friends lost, but selves: the daughter, the traveller, the young woman, the backpacker, the partier, the expat, the dancer, the student, the girlfriend . . . "All changed, changed utterly".

And yet, inside I feel the same. The mirror brings me back with a start. What happened to that young woman? I look at myself now and think how bonny I was. At the time I did not think so. But in the comparison to the woman of many summers who now inhabits this space, I was Helen of Troy. And we were all bonny once.
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