Sunday, June 05, 2011

Side. Bright. Looking for it.

The tea cup-sized Maltese terrier on the counter next to us was a cute - albeit brief - distraction from looking at the crowd of people waiting impatiently for their turn to be buzzed in through the glass doors.

The dog's owner was busy with an issue of her own, her orange leather jacket matching both her skin and the long, diamante-studded cowboy boots she wore.

Once let inside, the room everyone wanted to get into was dim and plain; a river of tangled electrical cords and double adaptors on the scarred vinyl floor between the high counter and the computers.

LC and I stood there uncertainly. "Parles vous Anglais?"
"A leetle beet," he smiled.
My eyes filled up with tears - not for the first time that day. This time however it was with gratitude, so I guess it was a first.

My husband started again. "My wife had her wallet stolen about an hour ago....."

It's been a hell of a week. Culture shock, exhaustion and uncaring bureaucratic restrictions have all kicked in, reminding me very clearly what an ungainly and quite literally foreign person I am in such a place, just as I thought it would. What I didn't take into account was my real - not theoretically imagined - reaction to it.

Or Sapphire's. The past few days have seen a stranger inhabit the body of the child that I thought I knew. This person is furiously angry and uncooperative and has said hateful things. On paper we all know that this is classic lashing out due to a lack of power and an understandable build-up of resentment and fear. And yet to be part of it shreds me inside and LC is just as stricken.

Saying 'sorry' a few hours later seems to be her modus operandi and it is hard for me to accept this when I'm still hurting and raw. "I feel frightened," I whispered to LC, "because I feel that my daughter is gone." What is happening to us?

At lunch when I'm too fatigued to be the grown up and let things slide and she is sulking angrily, I announce that I'm going for a walk and will meet them at the hotel later. My handbag is slung over my chest with the zips close to my body and under my hands. I can't help the way I look but I can try to not make things too easy.

The walk soothes me a bit. The sun is shining on my burnt neck and both locals and tourists are in abundance. Eating, shopping, strolling and posing for photos. The tourist centre is in the enormous post office but contains about three brochures. I give in to the thoughts that I'm ashamed of: For the so-called Home of the UN, why is nothing in English?!

With a brochure in hand but not likely to be deciphered I cross the lake and admire a medieval clock tower. Several people are also taking photos of it and I join them. The cobbled alley is bursting with people and outdoor restaurants - how do they afford the prices? what sort of jobs do these people have? where the hell do they all live? - and note with amusement that one of the busiest shops is Uggs Australia.

I take a deep breath and slow down. I know we'll get through this. I know that Sapphire is struggling with many more worries than me. How could she not be afraid of starting high school, let alone one in a new country? How can she not feel anxious as she joins us in our search for accommodation when we get frequently disoriented in the streets? How can she not feel lonely, stuck with just her parents when her friends are on facebook eight hours and half a world away?

Things'll get better with every day that passes. First a home; then a school place. Then French lessons.

Now though, a hat or my nose will burst open like an overripe tomato and make me the first skin cancer candidate of Switzerland.

H&M is across the road so I'll pop in there for a look around and....

Oh no. My bag is wide open. My wallet is gone.


Plastic Mancunian said...

Bonjour Kath,

Oh no! That's terrible. I've been robbed abroad - in China - but I wouldn't have expected something like that to have happened in Geneva.

I hope you manage to sort it out.



Elephant's Child said...

Aaaargh. That is truly awful. And to be missing home and pooch and the daughter you knew must hurt like hell. I hope they all return quickly. Including the wallet. Hugs

nuttynoton said...

Kath, you all seem to be going through a torrid time, I hope that the mountain that seems to be in front of you is slowly climbed so then you all are settled and try and enjoy your time there!

Jilly said...

Yet despite all this you are still able to write such a great story!! All our love and good wishes from down under. Did you lose much - money, passport, etc?? xxx

Pandora Behr said...

I've got a response to your email coming, but I've send over some protection spells - and a lot of etherial hugs. We all forget how teething troubls can be so bloody painful. I have a full expectation that things are going to get a hell of a lot better very shortly. Hugsxx

Anonymous said...

Damn! Things sound more than stained at the moment. Hugs your way that as each step is mastered, you all begin to enjoy your adventure xx

franzy said...

Bright side: You're living in SWITZERLAND. I've been there. It's pretty much like Narnia, but without the snow queen. Mele and I still plan to live there one day. One of us better get cracking on that meterological degree though.

As soon as you can, grab Sapphire, jump a train and head for a lake. Look at cottages. Greenery. I don't care how many things get stolen - I'm STILL mad with jealousy!

Anonymous said...

Switzerland is not known as being an exciting country. I hope you didn't think that you would have nothing to write about once your were there. I expect he who took you all to this godforsaken country may be feeling a little guilty and needs some reassurance too. Women's work, never done.

Cat J B said...

Oh Kath, that sucks! All of it! Virtual hugs from over here in freezing Melbourne.
Thanks for your kind words and support too, they mean a huge amount :)

Hannah said...

So sorry, Kath. Sometimes it feels like the world is trying to see just how much we can cope with at any one time. Keep breathing, keep remembering that Sapphire loves you as much as you love her, that the anxiety will lessen, and that whoever stole your wallet is going to ket karma-poop in a sandwich in the near future.

River said...

Oh No!! NO NO NO!!!
Is all your ID in the wallet?
I hope these things can be found or replaced very quickly.

You've raised a very good point there. "For the so-called home of the UN why is nothing in English?"
I'm gob-smacked. NOTHING in English?
Is there an Australian or British Embassy you can turn to for help?

And why are you not wearing sunscreen? 24/7?

Please extend my sympathies and hugs to Sapphire. I'm sure things will settle at least a little bit for her once you have a home and can get a more normal routine in place.
Do you have a French/English dictionary to help with translations?

River said...

Just read Ann O'Dyne's comment. Hooray for expat communities!
Find it toot sweet!!

And I'm not at all surprised tat Uggs Australia is doing so well. Imagine how warm those uggies will be on snowbound tootsies.

Lidian said...

So, so sorry to hear all this. What a time you're having! Ugh...Hugs to you from Canada and I hope that things get bettervery soon

xxx Lidian

Kay said...

I'm sorry the Welcome Lady was less than welcoming but Kath, can I put you in touch with an ex-pat friend in Germany? She's a Sydneysider but has done the ex-pat thing several times now....before Germany she was in Egypt. Would it help to talk to someone who has BTDT??

Baino said...

Kath you know that I had my camera, passport and ID stolen in Florence not 2 feet away from where Clare was sitting, be careful, it aint Australia where you can leave your car unlocked and your hand bag in the front seat while you go and buy a bottle. Also I was Sapphire's age when we came 12,000 miles to a god forsaken, too hot, country which hated 'whingeing poms' and spent six weeks in a hotel in St Kilda until we got permanent lodgings, 9 primary schools and 4 high schools - I turned out alright? (OK scratch that) she'll be fine, Franglish and Deustchlish are a snap. And there's chocolate . . Oh my God, such chocolate.

iODyne said...

just swinging through to reassure you that we are just as close as always so do not get homesick.
The sixth week is the worst and if you know that in advance, you will get through it.

Unknown said...

Hope things get better for you soon. Sending my love your way. Catherine and Angus

Maxine Beneba Clarke said...

I was mugged in QVB in Sydney one workday lunchtime years ago. I still remember how devastated and taken advantage of it made me feel. Hope your travels brighten up x

Red Nomad OZ said...

Bummer. Hope things are better now a few days have passed. Maybe some Swiss chocolate would help??

Helen said...

Oh, no, what a thing to happen. But unfortunately these things do. (Beware of preposessing young things who want to show you sketches on a bit sketch pad in a public place - that's how I lost a wallet in Indonesia.)

Helen said...

Sapphire, love (I assume you've sniffed your mum's blog out long since): We know why you're acting out and 21st century parents are very understanding about it, but there's a price for you: you *will* feel bad about this in later decades. And the memory will last for a long time. Put your big girl panties on for just a few weeks, for your mum, before you lose it next time. Trust me on this, OK?

Letters said...

Beware of thieves! I wish you good luck.

Jackie K said...

Hi Kath,
I've just read this and it was so moving. Those first weeks in a new country are so hard and isolating, and to have your wallet stolen too is just the pits. That happened to me in Greece in a country I knew well and it still made me feel like crap! As a kid I remember trying to fit in at school in America and struggling, and yes, being mad at my parents. But it also made us as a family very close - we "only" had each other. Very difficult time for you all but there will be fun and wonder too. Hope things are getting better.

Unknown said...

Oh, you're SOOOO funny! I'm loving your updates. You're so far away. We miss you.

Lucky you're still here. On the blog, I mean. Geography has a funny way of making us feel like we're far apart.

But you're just here.


Unknown said...

Now, I don't want to sound all insensitive, because I didn't mention it in my first comment. But I'm so sorry about your wallet.

Gosh, I'm such a goof. Bloody fantastic welcome to a new country, hey? xx