Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Back to Ngukurr

I had this feeling as I flew into Darwin an uneasy kind of anticipation that brought back all these memories of the times I have spent up here ( in Ngukurr )...

I remembered things like the day before the drive to Garma last year sitting up at the shop and one of the local mob suddenly getting angry with me for organising to swap cars ( to take a bigger safer one for river crossings) up to Garma... he was very angry and I was very exhausted and emotional and right there in the front of the shop ( hang out place for all the people and mangey dogs and concrete floors, red dust and padlocked diesel pumps) I started to cry and I just couldn't stop. I felt so overwhelmed and isolated and alone. Like I was working so hard for something that was impossible - that I didn't understand why he was angry, that i just couldn't cope with all the pressure and humbug to get it right, walk the political tightrope of managing resources where they are scarce... the logistics of organising complex conflicting tasks and always being or at least feeling responsible. I just couldn't hold back the tears and I tried to be reasonable and unemotional in my response of asking him to explain to me the problem .. but my tears confused him and he walked off.

Everyone there was watching me, some touching my shoulder and I filled the tank with diesel and got into the car and all the language workers ( my colleagues) got in the car too, and still I couldn't really stop crying. I drove home and just sat in my room (in the language centre) feeling my breath and trying desperately to just get it together, to just hang in there, just walk back out and explain ... and I was scared everyone would leave and I would be there alone.
But no-one left. My baba (sister) cleaned the kitchen and started to cook, the others made tea and sat and talked, the most senior drove off and when i came out half an hour later, he had brought the other man ( who had been angry) waiting there to talk to me. In my own place and on my own terms, with all the language mob silent but sitting almost surrounding us. And I explained how I was hurt and upset by his attack, and he apologised and explained the pressure he was under, we talked and my baba brought us all food. Then someone drove him home. And everyone just stayed there near me until late in the evening softly discussing this and that silently supporting me...and then wandered off. I wonder at the amazing diplomacy and grace with which it was acknowledged and managed...

I also remembered the next day driving out of Ngukurr on this massive drive, we had two jerry cans of fuel because there is a long stretch in North Arnhem of no fuel, actually there was really nothing, just the dirt road and all the bush, and the rain. As it was getting to evening I had been looking for somewhere to pull of the road for a while to fill up the tank, but all the sides of the road where too muddy and I thought we would get bogged. But it was getting dark so in the end I stopped in the middle of the road and with the car absolutely covered in mud climbed into the back and got the jerry can and funnel- and then realised I couldn't hold them both... so I was standing in the rain covered in mud in the tray of the car yelling to one of the old ladies to come and hold the funnel. They weren't happy!!, my ngayali (niece) came and held it and I accidently poured some diesel on her ( I didn't want it to get too much rain in it in my hurry) , and she got the giggles. and then so did I... and we stood there in the grey light in the middle of the road, in the middle of nowhere, covered in mud giggling and wobbling and trying to be as quick as we could- we didn't know how far it was to go, and even though I had to stop quite a few times and wash the mud off the headlights so we could see.. it was somehow lightened after that...
These funny moments!

And already getting into that tiny plane and flying across the endless open country to Ngukurr doesn't seem that strange. In fact, it seems ordinary... it did feel a bit like coming home- everything and everyone were so familiar... and people call out to me and say hello and wave. But it is hard not to feel shy. And hard not to feel strange that I am not working at the language centre. just wandering about talking to people.

2 Comments:

Blogger Catalin said...

Sophie,
Thanks for sharing those beautiful memories of yours.

I'd like to hear about how the research is going--what you're doing and how. Are people confused or upset about you not working at the language centre? Have you found a good way to explain the work you're doing?

Looking forward to your continued blogging!

11:45 am  
Anonymous bulanjdjan said...

Place and memory... Am having my own memory trips catalysed by being back in this place. So many are positive, but also some sensory throwbacks to really oppressive and unhappy times. Interestingly, I feel distanced from the unhappy ones and engulfed by the happy ones. it's as though I'm in a better place to 'be' in Katherine now, and 'know' how to maintain emotional health here better than I did before. It could all be to do with circumstance (i.e. visiting as opposed to living here, self-engaged activity as opposed to employed by and for another body), but part of me knows it is about the journey I've been on since leaving. Like what we were talking about at Pearl Beach about road-testing the updated model. And she handles really well...

2:05 pm  

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