I’m in this bizarre space where I’m flitting between pride, excitement, severe worry and sleepless nights. And we’re nowhere close to the time of The Event.
Last November, Keeley asked if she could go on exchange with school this year. “Sure!” says I, keen for her to spread her wings and experience the world in all its diverse glory, “Where do you want to go?”
“Somewhere warm,” says Keeley, who’s a cold-blooded creature like myself, “So I’m thinking maybe Fiji or… what about Colombia?”
Okay, Colombia is a bit left field, I didn’t expect that. Fiji I can understand, it’s close to Australia, she’s been there before and she likes it. England I’d expect, France definitely, possibly Canada, but Colombia? That's an interesting choice. Why Colombia?
“Don’t you remember?” she said, “My friend, Mariana, was on exchange from Colombia in Term 1. I really like her so maybe I could go there.”
I wasn’t entirely sure how to react to that. “Okay, so, liking someone from the country is one reason to decide to go there. I’m sure there are other reasons.”
I was a little hesitant about Colombia to be honest, but drug lords and the resulting media hype notwithstanding, I couldn’t think of any valid reason why Colombia was a bad choice. I mean, I’m sure most of the population of Colombia are law-abiding citizens who have nothing to do with any drug cartels nor are they involved with any other inhumane or illegal activity. Logic dictates that has to be the case, right? As an Australian with the majority of my family and many of my friends living on the other side of the world, I’m well used to people making vast assumptions about Australia and then coming to bizarre erroneous conclusions. “I’m never going to Australia,” says one niece, “There’s too many spiders and other creepy crawlies there. I might get bitten by something and die!” I mean, okay, yes, nine of the top ten most poisonous creatures in the world live here, and yes, 90% of the country is desert, and I’ll admit that a number of people get killed by Great White sharks every year, and yes, you do have to check under the toilet seat for red back spiders, and no, you can’t go into the very blue, warm and inviting waters round the entire top half of the country because of the jellyfish, stonefish, lionfish, sharks and crocodiles. But, you know, 25 million of us live here and most of us are okay. Darwin’s Law takes care of the stupid ones.
On top of that, as an Australian, I can’t point an accusing finger at any other country about their criminals, because here in Australia, we love our crims! We revere them, laud them, build statues to them and name landmarks after them. Every schoolkid in Australia learns all about Ned Kelly, for example. For any non-Aussies reading this, Ned Kelly was from a family of Irish immigrants. He and his brothers decided that stealing things from other people would make life a little easier for their family. Knowing that the authorities wouldn’t agree with them, not to mention the people they were stealing from, Ned came up with this great idea of sticking an iron bucket on his head to prevent himself from being shot in the inevitable final shoot-out with the police. He got caught (shot) and his final words before being hanged can be found on many a bogan’s car these days: “Such is life”.
Ned Kelly isn’t the only bushranger known to Australian schoolkids, by the way. Just to make sure anyone who isn’t from rural Victoria (Ned’s home) doesn’t feel left out, our Primary schoolchildren do projects on the most famous of the bushrangers from their local area, too (“bushranger” is an Australian euphemism for “19th century Australian criminal”). In Armidale, it’s a guy called Captain Thunderbolt, who has a road and various other landmarks named after him. In Perth, it was a guy called Moondyne Joe.
I come from a country whose main source of migrants for many years was criminals. While I may have understandable parental concerns about Keeley going to a place that I’ve never been to or experienced, I have zero moral grounds to object to the trip. I sighed. “Okay, yes, go for it.”
The original plan was for the Colombian student to come to Australia in Term 2 and for Keeley to visit Colombia in Term 3, however, the two girls got chatting and decided they didn’t want to wait that long. A couple of days before Christmas, they announced that they’d much prefer it if Isabella came over here in Term 1 and Keeley went to Colombia in Term 2. Isabella’s mum and I donned our capes and shiny shorts and went into full-on Supermum mode. Visas were gained, arrangements were made, flights were booked and before we could blink, it was time to go and pick Isa up from the airport.
Armidale airport. Not the Gold Coast airport, the one that's 20kms from our house. Armidale airport, the one that's 520kms from our house.
It slowly dawned on me that in all the rush to get everything sorted, I didn’t make it clear just how far away from school we live. Isabella’s mum knew Keeley was a boarder but she understandably assumed that we lived an hour or so from school, which would be the norm for most countries. But this is Australia, where there’s nothing for thousands of kilometres and it’s not unusual to drive for 6, 10 or 18 hours to get somewhere. So, Isabella was booked to fly into and out of Armidale and Expedia, being the kind of company that they are, wouldn’t allow any changes to be made to the flights. Gits.
The first weekend back at school involves a trip to the coast for the boarders. To meet new friends, help new students settle in, and allow everyone to catch up with their old friends after the summer holidays. It turns out that Isabella isn’t the only exchange student at TAS this term.
“Hi Mum! How are you?!!!” I know that when I get this kind of greeting in this tone of voice from Keeley, she has something to ask of me, something that I may not like very much, something that she’s very attached to getting and is prepared to put a lot of effort into ensuring that she gets it. Consequently, I was quite wary, even a little reserved in my response: “Yes, good. What is it? How’s the weekend going?”
“Oh, nothing, everything's great, really great!! We’re having an amazing time!! We’ve had so much fun!!!”
“Uh-huh.” I’m waiting for the punchline. I know it’s going to come, I’m just trying to figure out what it is. Whenever Keely puts that many exclamation marks into her sentences, I know that it’s likely to cost me a lot of money, a fair bit of time and probably hours of effort. Plus, there’s usually some persuading of her dad involved, too, because he’s generally reluctant to go along with these bright ideas of Keeley’s.
“You know how Isa is on exchange from Colombia?!!” she exclaimed, “Well, there’s another girl here from PERU!! Isn’t that AMAZING?!!”
I agreed, non-committally, that was pretty amazing that two girls from South America were both over on exchange at the same time. I was beginning to see where this might be heading and if it was going in that direction, John was not going to be happy at all.
“I know, right?!!! It’s so cool, isn’t it?!! But, it’s so sad because Peru (yes, Keeley did call her Peru) doesn’t have anyone to exchange with! The poor thing is coming over here and there’s no one to go and visit her! So, I was thinking…”
Oh, here we go, I thought to myself. I had a vague idea of where this was going, and I wasn’t going to ease it along the way.
There was a nervous little pause while Keeley cleared her throat before continuing, “So, I was thinking, right? Maybe, what if… I went to Peru as well as Colombia?!! Isn’t that a great idea?!! That means that I’ll have the same time in South America as Isa gets in Australia! It’s just split between two schools! And it’s not that far from Bogota to Lima, I can just hop on the plane!!! Wouldn’t that be cool?!!”
Right. So, my fifteen-year old daughter not only wants my blessing to go to Colombia, she now also wants to travel from Colombia to Peru. By herself. I need to start on the Valium right now so that I’m fully prepared and supported well before it comes time for her to leave on this Grand Voyage of hers, and I’m definitely going to need them before I run this past her father. I’ll need to be really chilled before I speak to him about this one.
The thing was, the three girls had it all planned before Keeley even got on the phone to me. I swear, that child should head for a career as a defence barrister or maybe even a politician. Why she isn’t on the school debating team, I don’t know but they’re missing out on an incredibly resourceful raconteur. After getting my rather vague and bemused semi-approval, they went in to see the lady at school who’s responsible for organising exchanges, and in her words in the email she sent to the schools in South America, “The three girls have certainly hatched a plan”. By Monday afternoon, the whole thing was organised: In mid-April, Keeley will go to Colombia for 5 or 6 weeks, then head over to Peru for another 5 weeks or so.
The only problem was, John still didn’t know anything about it.
I filled him in on the details about the student having no one to exchange with and Keeley wanting to “hop on the plane” to Lima instead of coming back here. John chuckled indulgently, “She’s got some cheek! I don’t know where she gets these ideas from, honestly! Peru. I ask you.” Then he stopped laughing and turned to me, “You haven’t told her she can, have you?”
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Hi! I’m Karen O’Connor, hormonally-challenged, menopausal writer, blogger, self-confessed sarcasm enthusiast, mother of 4, wife of 30 years, destroyer of souls... no, wait, that's just in the mornings...