Tiana around the world

Tiana has written about her studies and travels in Copenhagen, Denmark, the Nazi death camps, The Czech Republic, Arizona, and Australia.

Where’s Waldo’s Girlfriend?

Field in Borden

Sometimes I forget that I’m in Australia. It’s the little things that remind me – stepping in a sand dune, stepping back and looking at the palm tree outside my house, stepping into the street and nearly dying from the traffic coming in the opposite direction. My mother always told me to look both ways before I cross the street, and now I know why – so I don’t die from utes barreling down the left side of the road at me. Even if I can hear a car coming it is hard for me to force my head to turn and check for it in the opposite direction.

But I’m stalling. I was supposed to tell you about my trip to Laverton, the (predominately) Aboriginal community. It’s hard for me to talk about. The Aboriginal people of Australia experience the exact same problems as the Native Americans – diabetes, alcoholism, domestic violence, un/under-employment, etc. Why is that? There are several reasons, but the most important one I think is poverty. Most of the communities are remote, so jobs are scarce. If you don’t have a job what do you do? You are more likely to be stressed out and fight with your spouse, drink, etc.

Since the same sort of problems exist everywhere, I got to thinking about what I could do about them. I decided that I could tell you. You should know. You are smart and resourceful. And there’s only so much any one person can do, but if we both try our darndest to stamp out poverty then we will be much more effective. You should know that just a few miles down the road from SMU there are children who are going to bed without dinner, because their parents can’t afford dinner. And because these children are hungry they will not be able to focus in school, which is one of many factors they have against them that will harm their chances of getting into college and getting a job that lifts them out of poverty. Maybe you have money to give to a food bank, or school breakfast program, maybe you can volunteer, or maybe you have neither, but will appreciate the next meal you consume a little more, and remember all the people who gave up a little of what they had to make your life a little better – family, teachers, friends.

You should also know that children everywhere are precious. They are resilient, and no matter what their circumstance they laugh and smile and make their own fun. The kids in Laverton called me “Wallie’s girlfriend,” because I wore red and white striped socks. When I protested they told me that I was indeed Waldo’s girlfriend, because I was Waldo, but a girl. They thought I was arguing because I didn’t know who Waldo is, so they brought be a copy of his book. After really looking at Waldo I have to agree with the children. I have funky glasses, a poor sense of fashion, and I part my brown hair to the side of my pasty face. I wonder if Waldo knows where Waldo is? And if he does, does he want to be found? That’s a little too deep for me. I wonder if Waldo will leave me for Carmen Sandiego… she would never wear hideous knee socks.

Unfortunately I do not have any photos to share with you of this trip, because it would have been culturally insensitive for me to take pictures of the Aboriginal people. But just in case you are curious I will tell you that they come in all shapes, sizes, and shades just like every other group on Earth. And well, you’ve seen pictures of me, so I’ve spared you.

Windmill in Borden

A trip to the country town of Borden was my next adventure. I went with other Curtin Volunteers to help run the Oz Opera that was performing there. Oz Opera is a traveling performance group that gives many people in remote communities their first exposure to opera. The opera is very adaptable setting up in every venue imaginable from basketball courts to aircraft hangers. In Borden they set up inside a hay barn for 600 patrons from surrounding farming communities. The town of Borden is so small that without the help of the 12 volunteers from Curtin half of the community would have had to work during the show. We did everything from shovel hay to serve food. It is very difficult by the way to keep hay off the ground of a hay barn. While I didn’t get to see the opera, I was proud to be a part of spreading the arts to people who would not get to enjoy them otherwise.

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Margaret River in Western Australia

Recently I went to Margaret River, one of the most touristy places in Western Australia. Due to the area’s popularity there has been a lot of disruption to the ecosystem. My job was to help the Curtin Volunteers with their sand dune restoration project. We all looked like giant peacocks as we passed brush down our human chain. We also planted a lot to help keep the sand intact and discourage tourists from making their own paths and further destroying the beach.

Our free time was completely filled with a tour of a few of the 90 wineries. A visit to the chocolate factory was a treat, but if you go there don’t expect Willy Wonka- you’ll get to watch one lady in chef’s hat and coat make bon bons behind a glass, and a handful of samples of the freshly made chocolate. Caving was my favorite part of the journey. With a bit of pleading and pitifulness we convinced a park ranger to let us tour the Giant’s cave one of the largest (1,886 ft. long) and deepest (282 ft.) caves in the area. Most of the cave has railing and ladders, but due to the need for funding a good part of it you spend rock climbing, which is dang scary in the dark. However, the ranger assured us that the most dangerous part of the journey was crossing the street to return to our vehicle.

The downside of the trip would be the pub. I’m just a little too Amish for bars. I don’t like loud noises or smoke. I fell asleep, which cued very buff drunk Australian man to ask me to dance. Not having finished my nap my brain did not have the energy to decline. I wouldn’t call the events that happened dancing though… I was in the air more than a figure skater… but much less graceful… think of a cave people swing dancing. After the song ended and my head stopped spinning I retreated to the corner. This did not work out however- de-wallflowered myself and every man in the place wanted to dance with me. Ladies take note — men prefer funny aerodynamic women to pretty ones.

See more photos.

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There’s a ‘roo in my ‘doo

Tiana’s Photos: Click a photo for larger version or to see more photos.
My favorite moment of my trip Perth to Exmouth and back was when a kangaroo at the Riverside Sanctuary brushed my hair. There is a photo of this in the link second one at the bottom. Granted it needed to be done, but I am not sure how effective tiny ‘roo paws are. That and he took samples along the way. I don’t think hair is part of a balanced diet for marsupials, but he seemed to enjoy it more than the food pellets I gave it… and I guess I have hair to spare.

At the Riverside Sanctuary I learned that I am afraid of ostriches and emus. This fear was confirmed at the Greenough Wildlife Park when I tried to feed them… if I hadn’t reacted so quickly I think I would have a hole in my hand. I was also worried that they would gouge my eyes out. In the future I think I will stick to feeding animals that are smaller than me.

Another creature that is not amongst my top ten friends is the snake. At the wildlife park, the ranger tried to convince me otherwise by placing one on my face. So that I could not remove my cold-blooded-blindfold the ranger placed an even larger snake in my hands. I guess I am more comfortable with snakes because of the experience, but I still prefer that they reside on the ground and not my head.

Animals that I don’t mind feeding are wild horses, which I encountered in the middle of nowhere. Dolphins are also friendly. I have never thought of dolphins as hunters, but at night they look more fierce than friendly when chasing after fish. The marine expert at Monkey Mia told us that dolphins are unable to look up, so in order to see you they have to turn their head. Neat. There is a photo on this link, the second page, third one at the top.

Ningaloo Reef is the largest fringing coral reef in Australia. There my group enjoyed a glass bottom boat cruise and snorkeling with manta rays, turtles, and a plethora of fish. I, of course, had my mask on improperly so salt water rushed up my nose on my first jump into the water.

Tiana with the Prince of Hutt River.

Aside from meeting wildlife, I also met the leader of a country. Prince Leonard the creator and leader of Principality of Hutt River Province, an Independent Sovereign state located inside but separate from Australia. In 1969 Leonard George Casley, a farmer got into a dispute with Australia over wheat quotas. This dispute led him to find a law that said he was not technically an Australian citizen because he was born before a certain year, which is what led to him founding his own country. Leonard is a humble dignitary, as he still works on his farm, and keeps things casual in dress and manner. He runs his own post office, has his own stamp for passports, created a currency adorned in his profile, and worships in his own chapel – the walls of which are covered in paintings of various Biblical scenes. My favorite moment with Leonard was when he spoke to me about weapons. He knew that I would be interested in his defense tactics because I am Texan, but told me not to talk to President Bush about it because Bush has enough to worry about.

Another trip highlight is the day I spent at shell beach, probably the longest shell beach in the world. The beach is entirely shells… I guess technically most beaches are since all sand is ground up shells, but this particular beach is still mostly shells in shell form.

Tiana in the Queen’s chair.

Sand boarding leaves something to be desired. It is not a smooth as you’d think it would be- the board gets caught in people’s footsteps, and forces the surfer to roll down the dune the majority of the time.

Over the break I spent a lot of time walking around the Pinnacles Dessert looking at limestone pillars that remind me of something out of a sci-fi movie. Another nature site that I enjoyed was the Shothole Canyon. My guide said that technically America’s Grand Canyon is not a canyon, but a gorge because of a technical definition. This may be true, but I know it is a canyon.

Termite poop aged hundreds of years is the last thing I remember seeing. One boy kicked it, and it kicked back. The mounds are so hard that they use them for runway material in Australia.

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Update from Down Under

Volunteering with kids

One of the most fantastic aspects of the SMU-in-Australia program is that it encourages community outreach. Aside from weekend trips like the one I took to Gnowangerup, I will be volunteering regularly at two schools. The first is an elementary school for disabled children ranging from 2 to 13 years old. The school takes the whole child into consideration delivering individualized programs that will help integrate them into the regular school system.

I help with the hydrotherapy (swimming) program, which is focused on improving the children’s overall competency levels including motor development, physical strength, spatial orientation, social participation and psychological well-being. I am excited to work in this program because one of my employment options when I return home is to do social work with disabled children. This school will be a fun way to familiarize myself with the daily struggles that children with special needs face as well as the advantages and disadvantages to different learning environments. In case you are worried about my questionable swimming abilities, well I was, too, but the pool is not deep enough to kill me … and the have floaties.

The other school is for refugee children. I will be helping teach the drumming and assisting with the arts and crafts. I saw a girl there with gray hair. She couldn’t have been 7, and imagine the stress that she must have endured to make even her follicles scream. The children, all from different countries, all refugees, had debates about the quality of their home countries as we strung necklaces for the school fair. Most of the kids agreed that their countries were bad and that Australia was better. It’s surreal for me to meet refugee children. I do so much work to help Sudan back home – I write letters, help host vigils, raise money – I read about all of the horrible things happening in Darfur,but when a child from there tells you about them you have to take note. It has been a lot easier to hypothesize about the people of Sudan from the safety of my computer chair, but working with the children is much more fulfilling.

Rottnest Island

Serving as a prison in 1838 and a site for shipwrecks throughout history Rottnest Island is now a hot spot for travelers in Australia. The beaches are beautiful, and the animals are out even in wintertime. Quokkas, marsupials that looks like the love child of a giant rat and a hamster, can be seen all over the island, especially at night. I think that they are kind of cute except when I think about the rat thing. The name Rottnest is Dutch for “rat nest” coined by Willem de Vlamingh, who also mistook them for rats.

Lizards are also easily spotted on the island. One surprised me when I was on the potty. You don’t think that a lizard would be frightening… but when you are taking care of business and something slimy and strange is darting toward you… well, let’s just say it was a good thing that I was on the toilet already.

Tree Top Walk

Yesterday I went to Denmark. No, not that Denmark, the one in Australia. I went over 250 miles away from my home and Perth to the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk. The Walpole-Nornalup National Park is a massive forest area. I’m assuming that the word giant in the title of this adventure refers to how you feel while on the walk. The rain did not stop me from pretending that I was almost as tall as the trees as I went on a walkway that was over a hundred feet tall. The emergency poncho that I sported stopped me from hearing any forest noises as it sounded like being inside a trash bag … and looking like you were eaten by a marshmallow doesn’t make the best pictures to send to your grandmother.

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Tuned in from Australia

My heart broke today.

It’s the television’s fault.

I’ve spent the better part of two weeks trying to convince my Aussie housemates how great America is because we’re not racist… and then TV ruined it for me. Some American show that I’ve never seen or heard of crushed my image and my spirits. One of the characters talked about their day at school and how they had to learn about “Native American culture and s—.” It then reduced my country’s indigenous people to make shift teepees and brightly colored feathers.

What can I expect? When I first arrived I was hopeful. I expected to change my housemates – to make them culturally sensitive – to show them how great America is, how great I am. But just like every other moment in my life that I had that attitude I wound up realizing how far America has to go – how much I need to grow.

– Tiana

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Planting trees in Gnowangerup

5 girls
4 days
3 varieties of trees
2 farms
1 good time

It was windy and I’ve always had poor balance, so using nature as my toilet wasn’t the most fun. Water usage in Western Australia is limited and hot water in the country is nonexistent. And at the end of each day I actually needed a shower. It was the first time in my life I saw actual dirt underneath my fingernails.

Tiana.png Aside from the farm-stay accommodations, Gnowangerup was fun. My arms of spaghetti are more like uncooked spaghetti after the 2,000 trees I planted. (The action photo shows me planting trees using a pulliputnik.)

After decreasing our eco-footprints we headed out to the local pub. Emma, our group leader, organized speed dating. The Australian countryside is predominately male, so organized conversation with a couple of cute Yanks was well received. My bachelor was toothless – Tony. He had more heart than teeth and at the end of our date asked me for another minute. Luckily I have a boyfriend. This news was received by automatically turning me into a man as Tony inquired how I felt about the barmaids’ knockers. After Tony realized I wasn’t going to answer his question he apologized, but his lewd comment made me more aware of how American culture holds language in higher esteem.

One trend I see globally is that country people are extremely courteous to guests. Maybe it’s all that fresh air? Maybe it’s because they have fewer people to be nicer to? Whatever the reason I love all the food.

– Tiana

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Kangaroos in Yanchep

Tiana%202.pngKangaroo poop is a larger version of rabbit poop – round and everywhere. It was so great to see the ‘roos. They are not everywhere, as I was made to believe, but their population is big enough to warrant clauses in car insurance that do not cover the hours that they are out.

Surfing, or my version of it, was challenging but great fun. My wetsuit did not fit me as tight as it should have and it swallowed a bunch of water and caused me to do the same. The surf school instructor kept special watch on me – I guess he knew I would be trouble. He asked me why I was trying to swim back to Texas as all the great waves are nearer to the shore.

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Briefly delayed in Dubai

“We cannot let you on the plane. Airport security has reason to believe that you aren’t who you say you are.” After an hour of interrogation and seven more of waiting at the Dubai airport, I was allowed to fly to Australia. After watching me get my luggage trolley caught in the walkway and witnessing me spill the contents of my purse all about gate 13, the Dubai security realized that I was only a threat to myself. I knew I shouldn’t have had my eyebrows waxed before having my passport photo taken. I may be a hobbit, but I am definitely a hobbit named Tiana.

But let’s backtrack. I enjoyed seeing Copenhagen through glasses not spotted by snow and the harbor free of ice. It was so nice to see happy Danes walking around the city center. I was worried that my friends had forgotten me, but as I entered the kollegium, they said, “Welcome home.” And it is my home, as is Texas, and now Australia.

Today we are leaving for Yanchep – the outback for orientation camp. Good times to follow.

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To Denmark and then Australia

Have you ever seen the “I Love Lucy” episode where Lucy tries to pass off 30 lbs of cheese as a baby so she does not have to pay extra on the plane? Then when she finds out that they charge for babies, she and Ethel eat the cheese. That’s about to be me. Well, not really, but I am about to have another adventure, and as usual I have more luggage than is allowed … and you can’t eat sweaters.

Today I leave for a week to Denmark and then I’m off to Australia for a semester. Returning to Denmark will be much like visiting an old friend. I still care for Denmark, we just have less in common now. Even though much of the magic and mystery of the country will be gone, it will be nice to see some of the amazing people I met while I was there … and visit them the Danish way – without an agenda or a time line.

Expect lots of entries from me as my OCD is challenged by laid-back Australian ways. As my patience muscle is strengthened, I also plan on transforming my Olive Oyl physique by trying to learn to swim and surf. Right now I can survive in water, but I look like a drowning rat. Lovely.

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