Excerpts – Far Away…

The following is an excerpt from chapter Turning Loose of Familiarity

…In 1971, the f light from Frankfurt to Sydney took twenty-six
hours, including landings in Athens, Greece, Karachi, Pakistan,
Bangkok, Thailand, and Singapore. It included two six hour days
and two six hour nights. At the end, I had lost my orientation
in time. But my fiancé was steadfast and helped me to calculate
out when to take the next pill.

After taking off from Singapore, excitement and anticipation
increased enough to feel my heart beat. Finally, after having
crossed open ocean, land came into view. We were both glued
to the window. Gradually the landscape turned a rusty red. It
stayed this way for at least three hours. There were no settlements
to be seen besides an occasional building. No roads could
be detected. This must be the famous outback, I thought. My
fiancé next to me was silent. I cannot remember comments
or statements he made. Years later he revealed that he had felt
‘worse by the minute’ and thought, Oh my word, what have I
done? The red desert seemed to go on forever.

But our moods changed quickly when the green coastal
area appeared. Sydney, with its high rise buildings, its famous
Harbor Bridge and the Opera House, could be made out when
approaching for landing. Now this we were ready for. Let’s land
and go into the middle of it! After having our passport formalities
completed we came to the Do you have anything to declare
area. The customs officer just waved us through. I was almost
disappointed (how little did I know about customs officers then).
Could he not see that I was about to take a giant step in my
life out into Sydney, Australia? After all, this was a matter of
monumental changes: I had changed from the northern to the
southern hemisphere of the Earth, from fall into spring, from
right-side to left-side traffic, from German to English language,
from familiar to unfamiliar environment, to perhaps even from
a secure to an insecure person, and for the time being from a
feeling of belonging to not belonging.

These, however, were all thoughts and expectations that had
churned in my mind and thus prepared me a little for the challenges
ahead. But the gradual realization that with the change
of the language I saw the emergence of a part of my fiancé’s
personality that I had not seen yet surprised me a lot.

He is a native English speaker! I stupidly thought. He sounds
firm and not as timid as he did in Germany. His speech is fluent
and not interspaced with silences for lack of words. He walks ahead
of me by way of taking charge. I have not seen him this way!
I watched him with amazement. It seemed as if the switch
from his humble command of the German language to his
mother tongue, albeit the Australian version of it, had given
way to a bit of metamorphosis. Perhaps the ‘chip on his shoulder’
stemming from his professor at the University in Berkeley,
California, had been a stopper to his otherwise liberal, gung-ho
attitude to linguistic matters. From my fiancé s joyful account of
his two-quarters of German taken early on as an undergraduate,
I learned that said professor had offered a trade-off. He promised
to upgrade his mark if, in turn, my fiancé promised not
to sign up for another German course. Thus, the past eighteen
months ‘in the field’ in Germany, I gathered, had been quite a
mixture of pleasure in defying the academic approach to language
studies and the endurance of all the faux pas resulting
out of a lack of vocabulary and grammatical errors. His spoken
German had improved considerably simply by listening and
talking, ignoring people’s laughter. His professor might have
been astounded. At the end, linguistic bravery is a formidable
tool to acquire a language.