“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.”
– Jack Kerouac, On the Road
My husband and I live on the banks of the Brisbane River. Two years ago, more juiced up than teenage boys before a solo striptease, we travelled across the Indian Ocean, congratulating ourselves on having the balls to leave behind our home, our things and our people. Despite Brisbane’s giant bats, humidity and lack of Hugh Jackman, I immediately fell for the city’s wide open spaces, hundred-year-old weeping fig trees and inner-city harbours.
Of the Australian cities, Brisbane is the stoned cousin, urging you to rip off your bra, wear elasticated pants and make out with a beer. I have spent hours absorbing the sunshine, exercising my jaw muscles and, on the annual impulse glutes, writing and wining in its parks. When I’m not shooting the kayaks, rowboats and twilight joggers dirty looks, I am swooning over passing sailboats or a calorie-ridden morning market buy.
My South African hometown, Pretoria, has the same Jacaranda-lined streets during spring, down-to-earth folks and dozens of parks. It calls you to pull up a deck chair, unbutton your pants and light up a braai. But even though Pretoria felt like one big picnic on Xanax, my life was the opposite. If life is a highway, mine used to be the Autobahn. I would overtake anyone as I casually assembled an Ikea couch, did this year’s taxes and sipped a pina colada. I was an overachiever, and not just in terms of my calorific intake.
But once my wheels touched Australian soil, I was pedalling a tricycle up a rock face. Without a job and a social circle, I was compulsively throwing anything edible down my cakehole and trashing my apartment in frustration. But between roundhouse kicking armchairs, throwing back shots of Shiraz and staring down tubs of Ben & Jerry’s, the slowness and isolation brought about introspection, forcing me to redefine my identity. Achievement and ambition had kept me from living the journey – inhaling each moment, noticing the views and truly connecting with my fellow travellers.
Although I am no longer getting my Serena Williams on up a rock face, the unpaved road to here has had unexpected turns, detours and roadblocks. My journey down under has brought life changes – the end of major relationships, illness and unemployment – but it has been the most rewarding yet. I feel more gratitude for the ones I love, what I have instead of what I can win, and the road I am on, although I oftentimes thought there was none to travel on. Apart from the fact that I’m always right, being present in my life means I no longer feel the pressure to win. The hardest road turned out to have the most captivating views, and I’ll stand in awe at its vantage points, however long the road may last.