Friday, February 25, 2005

A Day in the Life

(February 21)
Backpacking means something different each day. But if you followed me around just yesterday, you’d get a better sense of it than any other day I’ve spent so far. (If you followed me around yesterday with a video camera shooting in 24P then we should talk.)

By cab, bus, and train I was making the trip from Hervey Bay, Australia to Christchurch, New Zealand. My watch beeped at 5:50am but I was already up. Jason, a tent mate on Fraser Island and roommate this night, had set his alarm an hour earlier and I was too worried about sleeping through my bus to really get back to sleep.

The bus left Hervey Bay for Brisbane and we cruised in the early morning down the lovely east coast. I was collecting my baggage at the Brisbane station when the girl across the row from me for the last four hours finally spoke. “That’s my bag.”

It was the same design as mine but in a woman’s size. Amy was traveling with Nabia, both were from the northeast U.S., and they had a couple hours to kill before their connecting service to Byron Bay. We chatted in the terminal on our way to storing our bags in the bus station lockers and there came that awkward moment where someone needs to make a move. “Well it was nice meeting you,” Amy or Nabia said.

“Yes it was nice meeting you,” I agreed. “Are you guys going to get
lunch or anything?”

So we headed into the city for lunch and I tried to be upfront about my limited Brisbane knowledge despite spending four days here. Finally we found a food court and then I bought a New Zealand guidebook. They had just been there and were happy to have an interested party to share their stories with. We walked back to the bus station and they gave me advice on where to go and what to do.

“Hey man,” came the voice from behind. It was Jason, whose alarm sounded an hour before mine but whose bus arrived almost two hours later. After the ladies left and I did some internet surfing, I called Jason’s cell from a payphone (a staggeringly expensive proposition) and just before the money ran out and the line went dead we arranged to meet.

We walked around town a bit, spent the best $.30 possible (on ice cream cones at Hungry Jacks), and sat in a public square to eavesdrop on a passionate street preacher. As the shadows got long we grabbed seats on the sidewalk and shared a quick jug of XXXX (the locally brewed beer). We finished just in time to catch the Aviator; movie tickets are AUS$14 (about $12) so you can’t complain back home.

We were walking out of the theater after the movie. “Hey,” came the voice from the side. It was Eric, a roommate my first night in Harvey Bay. He had just seen the Aviator too. That’s backpacking. It’s a small, small world.

I wished Jason and Eric well and headed to the bus station to catch the shuttle train to the airport. It had stopped running four hours earlier and I had to get a taxi. It cost AUS$25 (as a refresher my daily budget is about AUS$60), and it was worth every penny.

My diver was a Kurdish Iraqi. He’d snuck out through the Turkish border after the first Gulf War. He spent two weeks at the border before he made it through and in that time he saw a lot of countrymen with the same hopes shot dead for their efforts. He illegally hid out in Turkey for three years, rarely leaving the home of the man who hid him. He washed cars at his house. For three years.

Then he came to Australia somehow. That was six years ago. I think he’s the first Iraqi I’ve ever spoken to who was in the country up through the first Gulf War and I wanted to know what he thought. Saddam was very evil, he said, but the situation now was worse. In the future, he predicted, it would get much worse or stay the same. “Too many religions,” he said. “They can’t be one country, it will be a Civil
War. It’s stupid because they all believe in God, they all believe in Muhammad but still they hate eachother. Religion is bad.”

But are the Iraqis better off now than under Saddam? “People when they go to cafés or on the street they’re scared. They’re scarred to leave their homes. 100,000 (Iraqi civilians) have died just to get rid of one man. If they’re scarred because of Saddam or because of this, what difference is it?”

Could Iraqis have overthrown Saddam themselves? “No.”

But he saw the U.S. perspective as well, and thought it was all quite simple. “The U.S. has trouble with their economy so they need a war, a big war. This is the same with all countries, when they have problem with their economy they go to war. Hitler was the same.” (I'll soon post a quote I read recently from the 1930's that's related to this topic).

“But I feel very sad for the American soldiers who die. I feel very sad for the Iraqis who die. They all die for what? For politics and money. Its all politics and money.”

“What happened on 11 September was awful, but I think it was good for Bush because it let him start the war. I think the U.S. knew about [the attack] but wanted it to happen.”

This is a sentiment I’ve heard over and over again from people from all over the world, they truly believe the U.S. government allowed the 9/11 attack to happen. (P.S., plenty of people still say the same thing about Pearl Harbor).

But anyway we’d been parked on the curb at the international terminal for a while and I could tell he was ready for his next fare and we weren’t going to sort out the politics of the Iraqi war or the Trade Center attack in the next few moments. But at an airport in Australia an American and an Iraqi had a chance to learn something about what the other thought and that seemed like a really special thing.

“We just talk,”he said as I grabbed my bag and he pulled away.

That’s backpacking.


At 11:31 PM, Blogger Brook said...

FYI, in a crazy development Lara tells me she knows Amy and Nabia who I discribe meeting at the bus station in Brisbane in this entry. Small damn world.

At 5:18 AM, Blogger theonetheycallamy said...

it's true. lara does know me (it's amy). and i'm not stalking you - she gave me your blog address. so new zealand is good then? good.


Post a Comment

<< Home