I’m into letters lately. So here’s another for you, friends and family:
I felt like I was sitting in toy plane, bobbing around in a child’s hand as we fly into the outback yesterday. There were only nine of us on the aircraft. I sat in the back, breathing deeply, clutching my stomach and hoping that by focusing on the words of my podcast I wouldn’t feel every dip and bump and maybe I wouldn’t spew and make a great first impression with my new colleagues. (This wasn’t Formentera, so, I didn’t throw up.)
After that tumultuous start, I ended up here. Here, not being nauseous, but content with a good first day on the job. I’m writing to you from my frigidly air-conditioned living quarters, in room 157 in the last octagon at “camp.” This tiny trailer box with a bed and bathroom will be home for the next two weeks, until I have a week back off in Darwin then repeat the 2:1 schedule all over again.
And where am I? I’m on mining site on aboriginal land in the Northern Territory. Well, technically the mine and camp aren’t aboriginal owned. They’re owned by a corporation. But the land surrounding it is. I can’t wait to dish on more specifics after I stop working here, but for now, just know that it’s called “the mine” and “the camp.” The “town” surrounding the mining camp consists of a golf club, a sports club, a post office, grocery store, bank, school and a few houses, mostly owned by miners. It seems like a calm place to be living. “Yeah, everyone in town is pretty nice, most of the time,” said Gale, a woman I met in the mess hall today. We’re lucky – most mining sites don’t have any sort of civilization near them.
What am I doing here? According to my tough supervisor, I, along with an older, spunky Maori woman who loves to talk about when she’s going to the “watering hole” (a.k.a., the pub), are her new “jack of all trades,” helping her with anything from unloading trucks, moving things around, housekeeping, kitchen hands and anything else she deems appropriate. I don’t quite know how to do any of those jobs beyond the minimal experience I’ve had in Australia so far – my college degree didn’t really help me gain any trades. Thankfully, just like I found a friend in the housekeeper at the house I lived in in Ibiza, I’ve got another guardian angel – the Maori woman who loves her booze- here to show me the ropes. She’s worked for years on different camp sites around Australia. And while most of the time she runs into old colleagues from previous sites and speaks with others in a mining lingo I can’t understand, she always takes a step back and makes sure I’m up to speed and well informed.
And she’s respected by others. She’s already won the hearts of the male colleagues and goofs around like one of the boys. She and her way of interacting with others defies the expectations people in the outside world have. “Be careful out there,” a new friend in Darwin warned me, “I mean, I don’t know what miners are like but you should watch out.” And even my recruiter from Darwin told me to watch how short my shorts were because after all, “they are miners.” Maybe I’m speaking too soon, but I’ve been shocked at the lack of sexism. For one example, my supervisor is a woman – so are several others. The woman who trained a new group of employees today is the health and safety officer for several mine sites around the country.
The moment that prompted me to rethink my stereotypes of people here was when I mentioned that I was frustrated with not knowing typical “male” things, like what goes on in the hood (referred to here as a bonnet) of the car.
“I can’t wait until my little girl grows up and I can teach her all about cars,” said a man with a mullet and several missing teeth, “I want her to know all those things!” Then he added, “Yeah, I reckon girls should drive forklifts and that, too.”
Ladies and gentlemen, we are changing the world.
And this camp is already changing my English. Get ready for the new Yasmine. The bogan one. She’s coming out. Two weeks may seem short, but mate, it’s a long time. I’ve already been here 24 hours and I’m already speaking like a proper Aussie. And my vocab’s already full on. You’d think after six months of being in Australia I’d have picked it up. Yeah, nah. Nothing prepared me for this. “Yeah, my shirt’s buggered, I rocked up for the job today thinking it’d be cruisy but man, my supervisor’s a ripper and made me nervous so I stuffed it up and ruined it all so I’m just going to knock off now.” (<< massive exaggeration maybe, but not even really)
Catch you later, I got to go put some socks on because my feet are freezing from this aircon. And then watch Pizza because it’s one of the only interesting things on cable TV right now. And then kill all the tiny insects crawling on the wall next to my bed. So, right-o, got a lot of things to do before I go to bed.
Featured photo: Devil’s Marbels in the Red Center