Categories
Contents

Borderless January, 2022

Painting by Sohana Manzoor

Editorial

Elephants & Laughter… Click here to read.

Interviews

Keith Lyons introduces us to Kenny Peavy, an author, adventurer, educator and wilderness first-aider who has travelled far and wide and wishes everyone could connect with the natural world right outside their door. Click here to read.

In Rhys Hughes Unbounded, Hughes, an author and adventurer, tells us about his inclination for comedies. Click here to read

Translations

Professor Fakrul Alam translates If Life were Eternal by Jibananada Das from Bengali. Click here to read.

Ratnottama Sengupta translates Bengali poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt’s Bijoya Doushami. Click here to read.

Korean poet Ihlwha Choi translates his own poem, Sometimes Losing is Winning, from Korean. Click here to read.

On This Auspicious Day is a translation of a Tagore’s song, Aaji Shubhodine Pitaar Bhabone, from Bengali by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Rhys Hughes, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Anasuya Bhar, Jay Nicholls, Anuradha Vijayakrishnan, Vernon Daim, Mathangi Sunderrajan, William Miller, Syam Sudhakar, Mike Smith, Pramod Rastogi, Ivan Peledov, Subzar Ahmed, Michael R Burch

Nature’s Musings

In Best Friends, Penny Wilkes takes us for a photographic treat. Click here to read.

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

In Making Something of Nothing…, Rhys Hughes explores sources of inspirations with a dollop of humour. Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

Wooing Children to School

Munaj Gul writes of how volunteers are engaged in wooing children from poverty stricken backgrounds to school in Turbat, Balochistan. Click here to read.

Historical Accuracy

Ravibala Shenoy ponders over various interpretations of the past in media and through social media. Click here to read.

The Ocean & Me

Meredith Stephens writes of her sailing adventures in South Australia. Click here to read.

Crotons

Kavya RK finds her fascination for plants flourish in the pandemic. Click here to read.

The Great Freeze

P Ravi Shankar trots through winters in different parts of the globe. Click here to read.

Two Birds

Ratnottama Sengupta muses as she translates a Tagore’s song. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In The New Year’s Boon, Devraj Singh gives a glimpse into the projection of a new normal created by God. Click here to read.

Essays

Dramatising an Evolving Consciousness: Theatre with Nithari’s Children

Sanjay Kumar gives us a glimpse of how theatre has been used to transcend trauma and create bridges. Click here to read.

Potable Water Crisis & the Sunderbans

Camellia Biswas, a visitor to Sunderbans during the cyclone Alia, turns environmentalist and writes about the potable water issue faced by locals. Click here to read.

The Malodorous Mountain: A Contemporary Folklore

Sayantan Sur looks into environmental hazards due to shoddy garbage disposal. Click here to read.

Where Sands Drift Back in Time…

Shernaz Wadia explores Western Australia. Click here to read.

The Observant Immigrant

In The Changing Faces of the Family, Candice Louisa Daquin explores the trends in what is seen as a family now. Click here to read.

Bhaskar’s Corner

In Fakir Mohan: A Tribute, Bhaskar Parichha introduces us to Fakir Mohan Senapati, the writer he considers the greatest in Odia literature. Click here to read.

Stories

Folklore from Balochistan: The Pearl

Balochi folktales woven into a story and reinvented by Fazal Baloch highlighting the wisdom of a woman. Click here to read.

The American Wonder

Steve Ogah takes us to a village in Nigeria. Click here to read.

The Boy

Neilay Khasnabish shares a story on migrant labours with a twist. Click here to read.

Stranger than Fiction

Sushant Thapa writes of real life in Nepal, which at times is stranger than fiction. Click here to read.

The Solace

Candice Louisa Daquin takes us on a poignant story of longing. Click here to read.

The Doll

Sohana Manzoor tells a story around the awakening of a young woman. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

An excerpt from Shazi Zaman’s Akbar: A Novel of History detailing his interactions with Surdas and Braj. Click here to read.

Excerpts from A Glimpse Into My Country, An Anthology of International Short Stories edited by Andrée Roby & Dr Sangita Swechcha. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Meenakshi Malhotra reviews Somdatta Mandal’s translation of A Bengali Lady in England by Krishnabhabini Das (1885). Click here to read.

Gracy Samjetsabam reviews Anuradha Kumar’s The Hottest Summer in Years. Click here to read.

Rakhi Dalal reviews Selma Carvalho’s Sisterhood of Swans. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Amit Ranjan’s John Lang; Wanderer of Hindoostan; Slanderer in Hindoostanee; Lawyer for the Ranee. Click here to read.

Categories
Editorial

Elephants & Laughter

Run, Painting by Sybil Pretious

Ideally, I would love to start the New Year with laughter and happiness! Then perhaps, the whole year would be dotted with humour …

Laughter clubs often practice laughing for health benefits. I know the pandemic makes both guffawing outdoors or in a group hard but think of the funniest possible thing and, perhaps, you will start laughing. For me what works other than children’s and monkeys’ antics, are my trips to the dentist, especially the trip where I wondered on the fringe benefits of ‘laughing gas’ (as given in the PG Wodehouse novel of the same name), only to be informed that it was used exclusively for young children. For me, an adult, there was only — you have guessed it — the jab that numbs your lip function to lubber. I discovered if I could make light of a dentist drilling by learning from Harry Potter (the spell to get rid of the terrifying boggart, who took the shape of the thing you feared most, was to imagine the funniest thing, focus on the humour in it, and shout ‘Riddikulus’ with a wand pointed at the creature in the form of your worst nightmare), then I could pretty much get rid of most fears.

The other thing I have been wondering for sometime is can one write an editorial that is humorous when the content is serious? I would have wanted to ask that question to many, including Ruskin Bond, who continues as one of my idols. I would love to touch hearts with the humour and the sensitivity that flavours his writing. It is tough to convey a complex thought with the simplicity and elegance of a writer who can be read and understood easily. I think we have a few of them around and I interviewed one. You all probably know him well— Rhys Hughes. I have given the reasons for the interview in lieu of Mr Bond, who continues a distant star beyond the horizon of online interviews. We discussed humour and its role in literature, leaving out completely in the cold, the fictional Mr Bond who answers to the names of James and 007 and has made entertaining films, which can be seen as serious or non-serious.

Hughes has of course, given some writerly advice not just in the interview but in ‘Making Something of Nothing’ – pretty much the advice that God had probably been given when he asked an unspecified friend on how to create the universe and multiple realities. Hughes has also added to our galaxy of poets where Michael Burch, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Anasuya Bhar, Vernon Daim, William Miller, Pramod Rastogi, Mike Smith, Jay Nicholls and many more continue to sparkle. Taking up the theme of God’s creations, Devraj Singh Kalsi has added to more humour with a dream of divine intervention to make the ‘New Normal’ in 2022 – a plan for this year. Will it ever be real?

Another major issue in this world currently is climate change. In keeping with the need for acceptance of this reality, Keith Lyons introduced us to a nature lover, author and adventurer Kenny Peavy, who loved the fictional adventurer called Indiana Jones and has been working towards living in harmony with nature. He moved to Indonesia from America and is trying to raise awareness. You can find much, though not elephants, in the interview that encompasses the story of a man who cycled across a continent on a bike made of bamboo. However, you can find some writing on a king who acquired the skill to ride and tame elephants in our book excerpt from Shazi Zaman’s Akbar: A Novel of History. The excerpt does not showcase his elephant taming skills as did the Bollywood blockbuster Jodha Akbar but is focussed on bringing out the syncretism in the Mughal monarch’s outlook which made him seek out exponents of other religions. Sangita Swechcha’s and Andrée Roby’s anthology, A Glimpse Into My Country, with excerpts of short stories from Nepal and Zimbabwe, like Kenny Peavy, cycle across multiple borders as does our fiction. We feature stories from within and without the continent with Fazal Baloch recombining a couple of folklores from Balochistan to a single tale. Fiction from young writers highlight compassion and a varied perspective. Steve Ogah has a story from Nigeria which almost rings with overtones of Alex Haley’s Roots. Sohana Manzoor has given us a poignant narrative with an inspiring twist at the end, an absolute antithesis of the humorous one she rolled out for us last month. Candice Louisa Daquin has also given us an exceptional short fiction along with her column where she discusses the changing face of families in the current context.

While Daquin’s focus is mainly towards the West, we have an essay from Sanjay Kumar on families that live in the greyer zones of big cities, children from an outcropping called Nithari in Delhi, where they or theirs suffered neglect, abuse, carnage and cannibalism in their formative years.  Introducing the impacted children, Kumar explains how they transcended the wounds that lacerated their lives. This piece is a precursor to a column called ‘Children of Nithari’. Starting February, the abuse victims will give us a story a month which will be translated by young volunteers from pandies’, an activist theatre group founded by Kumar, and published in Borderless. Another article from Balochistan reflects on the lack of literacy and efforts to bring children into the folds of schooling. Pakistan ranked 99th out of 132 countries on the literacy survey in 2021. We are privileged to be the voice of the unheard.

Two essays that ring of concerns raised in the Kenny Peavy interview are to do with climate crisis in the Sunderbans and waste disposal in Delhi. Both of these are written by researchers who are working on these issues.

We have travel pieces from Australia – one is a sailing adventure by Meredith Stephens and the other is about a trip to the Sand Dunes of Western Australia by Shernaz Wadia. Ravi Shankar has also taken us through winters from the Everest to New York with his globe-trotting non-fiction. Penny Wilkes takes us on a flight of creativity with beautiful photography.

We have a stellar layout of translations. Professor Fakrul Alam translated another poem by Jibananada Das and Borderless is honoured to publish it to the world for the first time. We have a translation from Korea and another of a Brahmo hymn, Aji Shubho Dine, by Tagore, which is sung often during festivals. The icing in our Tagore section in this issue is Ratnottama Sengupta’s translation of the Kobiguru’s ‘Two Birds’ (Khanchar Pakhi Chhilo) along with a musing which reflects on the perspectives of the two contemporaries, Tagore and Saratchandra. She has also translated a well-known Bengali poet, Michael Madhusudan Dutt. Dutt wrote just before the advent of Tagore and had an interesting past which has been vividly depicted by Sunil Gangopadhyay in Those Days (Sei Somoy in Bengali), a novel that has been translated by Aruna Chakravarti. Bhaskar Parichha has given us a tribute on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Fakir Mohan Senapati, who, he claims, has the same standing in Odia literature as Tagore in Bengali or Premchand in Hindi.

Parichha has also reviewed Amit Ranjan’s John Lang; Wanderer of Hindoostan; Slanderer in Hindoostanee; Lawyer for the Ranee. It looks like an interesting read where an immigrant Australian came supported Rani of Jhansi in India. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Selma Carvalho’s Sisterhood of Swans, again a story of migrants and their lives. The theme seems to echo among the books that have been reviewed this time, including Gracy Samjetsabam’s take on Anuradha Kumar’s The Hottest Summer in Years, a story about a German immigrant to India in the twentieth century. Meenakshi Malhotra’s review of Somdatta Mandal’s translation of A Bengali Lady in England by Krishnabhabini Das (1885) highlights the views of a traveller rather than an immigrant as the lady did return home after a ten-year sojourn in Britain. As Meenakshi contends, “The process of travel offers opportunities for emancipation where exposure to other cultures offers her a way of viewing and of gaining a perspective on her own experiences and that of her sisters in India. Krishnabhabini constantly refers to her Indian sisters and bemoans their sorry state and ignorance when she sees how active British women were in their families and societies…”

I was supposed to try my hand at a humorous editorial, but I realise that is tough when the ground is small. For humour, we need rolling acres where we can etch out each detail till it cannot be milked further for laughter. But I promise you I will keep trying to please the readers till one evolves to write like Ruskin Bond.

I would like to thank my fabulous team who even if not actively contributing to content are always at hand to advise and help. I would especially want to thank both Sohana Manzoor and Sybil for their fantastic artwork, which is as wonderful as their writings. I would like to give heartfelt thanks to all the contributors who have made this journal possible and each reader who comes back to our journal for more every month. Some of the pieces remain unmentioned adding to the mystery of the content, just like, Christmas gifts which need to be unwrapped and continue a reality even in January in some parts of the world – the Russians celebrate on January 7th and the Spaniards extend their festivities to January 6th.

Do take a look at this month’s edition for not just the stories mentioned here but for more.

I wish you all a wonderful New Year filled with laughter.

Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless Journal

Categories
Musings Travel

The Ocean & Me

Meredith Stephens writes of her sailing adventures in South Australia

The international borders are finally opening, but we still hesitate to embark on overseas or even interstate travel. The travel ban has afforded us the opportunity to explore our home state of South Australia, which until now we have largely ignored. After so long remaining here in this drawn-out pandemic, and the constant uncertainty about changing travel requirements, we lack the courage to venture abroad again.

Just as well, because after our local hiking adventures to Eyre Peninsula and Yorke Peninsula, Alex announces that next we will be sailing to Kangaroo Island. We will stay at Brian and Rochelle’s shack on Emu Bay. Alex drives Verity and me down the Fleurieu Peninsula, south of Adelaide, until we reach Carrickalinga Beach. Alex has taught me how to hike, and now he wants to share his excitement about sailing. He spends time on the long drive to Carrickalinga testing me on my sailing vocabulary. I have learnt words such as ‘headsail’, ‘mainsail’ and ‘jennika’. (Well, I thought it was ‘jennika’, but Alex tells me it is ‘jenniker’.) Meanwhile we pass through the sleepy towns of Myponga and Yankalilla, each boasting country bakeries with an array of doughnuts, buns and pasties which I try to put out of my mind. We successfully navigate these towns without stopping and I make do by simply remembering the array of treats at a sumptuous cafe in Moonta from our last trip.

Photo Courtesy: Meredith Stephens

“Just wait a little longer,” Alex entreats me. Brian and Rochelle will have some really healthy food for us at their shack.

Brian and Rochelle are waiting for us at Carrickalinga with sparkling smiles and generous hugs. We maneuver ourselves and our luggage into the dinghy and head out to the boat. It’s moored in deeper water, and I have to scramble out of the dingy and onto the boat all the while making sure my laptop does not drop into the ocean depths. I clamber in and place the laptop inside the boat where it can’t get wet. Then I move outside to position myself at the bow where I sit with Brian and Rochelle. Alex is at the helm.

Photo Courtesy: Meredith Stephens

The others had busied themselves unfurling the sails but Alex tells me that my job is simply to look for dolphins. Before long five of them are approaching the front of the boat. They proudly swim in between the two hulls, gracefully easing themselves in perfect arcs in and out of the water to catch a breath. One turns her head around, her body at an angle, so we can make eye contact.

Photo Courtesy: Meredith Stephens

Once away from the shore and leaving the buffer of the hills, the wind picks up and Alex proudly announces that we are sailing at 16 knots. Carrickalinga has receded.

Photo Courtesy: Meredith Stephens

I sit at the bow for hours, trying to hide from the punishing Australian sun, wrapping my hair around my neck. It’s too choppy to risk walking along the side of the boat to retrieve my cotton scarf. Water splashes on my legs but I dare not move.

As the hours pass Emu Bay looms into view. We spot the bright yellow ball on the ocean surface which signals the mooring below. Alex directs the boat toward the ball while Brian extends a long pole towards it and hooks it up. He then drags it on the boat and tethers it to a cleat.

When alighting the boat onto the dinghy I will have to make sure once again my laptop does not drop into the ocean. Alex detaches the dinghy and loads our provisions onto the front end. Then he pulls the motor cord repeatedly but it does not start. Brian and Alex confer but the motor refuses to be coaxed back to life. The sun is retreating. I can see Brian and Rochelle’s shack on the coast tantalizingly close.

“Shall we paddle in?” I suggest.

“It’s a bit choppy,” explains Alex. “We could wait until the waters are calmer tomorrow morning. We could sleep on the boat.”

I yearn for a bed on dry land, but there are five of us and I have to consider what the others might want. We all seem to be concerned about imposing on the others. Verity comes up with a solution.

“Let’s have a secret ballot,” she suggests.

Verity tears up some paper into five pieces. We each write down our preference, “boat” or “shore”. I write “shore”. Rochelle seems to be taking a long time writing down her preference. Verity collects the pieces of paper and spreads them on the table. Two say “shore” and two say “boat”. The remaining one says “I don’t mind sleeping on either the boat or going to shore.” It’s evenly split. Meanwhile sunset continues to approach, the wind is picking up and the water starts to look foreboding. Could we safely put four adults and their luggage into a dinghy? Verity seems to have read my mind.

“I think Meredith wants to go ashore,” she announces.

“That’s our decision then,” confirms Alex. “We will paddle to shore in the dinghy.”

Alex asks Rochelle and me to hop into the dinghy. He places our laptops and phones in a waterproof bag. Brian enters next and Alex detaches the dinghy from the boat. Then we maneuver the dinghy close enough for Alex to slide in. Meanwhile, Verity kayaks to shore.

We each have a paddle, Rochelle and I on the left of the dinghy and Alex and Brian on the right. Alex identifies the safest place on the cove to reach land.

“Girls paddle harder,” he urges. “Meredith, you’ve got the paddle the wrong way around.”

I look down. Typically visually unobservant, I look down at my paddle and turn it around.

We labour, pulling the paddles more firmly and deeply, until we reach the rocks. We disembark and pick up our luggage. I gingerly tread over the craggy rocks in my sandals.

“Where’s the shack?” I ask Brian.

Brian points ever upwards. I follow the direction in which he is pointing and drag myself up in my wet sandals while carrying as many bags as I can. Finally we see the house on top of the hill, and gratefully allow Brian to usher us in. Brian immediately pours us some tonic water decorated with a slice of dried orange.

Photo Courtesy: Meredith Stephens

After nibbling on some nuts, cheese, hummus and crackers, Brian appears with home-made lentil burgers that he has revived from the freezer, topped with smashed avocado and haloumi. We devour these greedily as reward for our long sail and trek up the hill with luggage.

Photo Courtesy: Meredith Stephens

 I find myself enjoying a spacious bed with clean sheets. Sleep is as delicious and pleasurable as a drink when I am thirsty, or a longed-for meal when I am hungry. I savour these moments of the comfort of the bed and suddenly it appears to be morning.

The sunshine forces its way into my bedroom. The silence of the corner of this remote island is punctuated by the lively tones of Alex, Verity, Brian and Rochelle’s voices. How could they have recovered so quickly? Despite the sunshine penetrating my closed lids, I persist in a somnolence which is just as delicious as the evening before.

Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist in Japan. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Blue Nib, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ MagazineReading in a Foreign Languageand in chapters in anthologies published by Demeter Press, Canada.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Contents

Borderless December 2021

Editorial

Towards a Brave New World… Click here to read.

Interviews

In Bridge over Troubled Waters, academic Sanjay Kumar tells us about Pandies, an activist theatre group founded by him that educates, bridging gaps between the divides of University educated and the less fortunate who people slums or terror zones. Click here to read.

In Lessons Old and New from a Stray Japanese Cat, Keith Lyons talks with the author of The Cat with Three Passports, CJ Fentiman who likes the anonymity loaned by resettling in new places & enjoys creating a space for herself away from her birthplace. Click here to read.

Translations

Poetry by Jibananda

Translated from Bengali by Fakrul Alam, two poem by the late Jibananda Das. Click here to read.

Shorter Poems of Akbar Barakzai

Translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch, five shorter poems by Akbar Barakzai. Click here to read.

Long Continuous Battle

Written and translated from Korean by Ihlwha Choi. Click here to read.

Colour the World

Rangiye Diye Jao, a song by Tagore, transcreated by Ratnottama Sengupta. Click here to read.

Rakhamaninov’s Sonata

A short story by Sherzod Artikov, translated from Uzbeki by Nigora Mukhammad. Click here to read.

Robert Burns & Tagore in Harmony

A transcreation of Tagore’s song, Purano Sei Diner Kotha, based on Robert Burn’s poem associated with new year’s revelries by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Michael R Burch, Dibyajyoti Sarma, Anasuya Bhar, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Sambhu Nath Banerjee, Michael Brockley, Malachi Edwin Vethamani, George Freek, Mitra Samal, William Miller, Harsimran Kaur, Jay Nicholls, Sangeeta Sharma, Rhys Hughes

Nature’s Musings

In Lewie, the Leaf, Penny Wilkes explores the last vestiges of autumn with her camera and a touching story. Click here to read.

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

In Trouser Hermits, Rhys Hughes muses over men’s attire and the lack of them. Click here to read.

Musings/ Slices from Life

Kungfu Panda & Matrimony

Alpana gives a glimpse into her own marital experiences through the lockdown. Click here to read.

How I Transitioned from a Desk Worker to a Rugged Trail Hiker at Age Sixty

Meredith Stephens shares the impact of the pandemic on her life choices. Click here to read.

A Tale of Two Houses

P Ravi Shankar travels back to the Kerala of his childhood. Click here to read.

The Voice that Sings Hope through Suffering…

Rakibul Hasan Khan pays a tribute with a twist to a recently deceased Bangladeshi writer, Hasan Azizul Huq. Click here to read.

Canada: A Live Canvas

Sunil Sharma reflects on the colours of the fall in Canada. Click here to read.

To Infinity & Beyond!

Candice Louisa Daquin explores the magic of space travel. Click here to read.

Joy Bangla: Memories of 1971

Ratnottama Sengupta recaptures a time when as a teenager she witnessed a war that was fought to retain a language and culture. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In Statue Without Stature, Devraj Singh Kalsi muses on erecting a bust with a dollop of humour. Click here to read.

Stories

Flash Fiction: In Search of a New Home

Marzia Rahman shares a short narrative about refugees. Click here to read.

Floating Free

Lakshmi Kannan travels with a humming bird to her past. Click here to read.

Driving with Murad

Sohana Manzoor unfolds her experiences while learning to drive with a dash of humour. Click here to read.

Dinner with Bo Stamford in Hong Kong

Steve Davidson has a ghostly encounter in Hong Kong. Click here to read.

The Literary Fictionist

In Walls, Sunil Sharma peers into fallacies and divides. Click here to read.

Essays

What’s Novel in a Genre?

Indrasish Banerjee explores why we need a genre in this novel-based essay. Click here to read.

Of Palaces and Restorations

Rupali Gupta Mukherjee visits a restored palace in the heartland of Bengal. Click here to read.

The Incongruity of “Perfect” Poems

Rakibul Hasan Khan discusses Bangladeshi poet Sofiul Azam’s poetry from a post colonial perspective. Click here to read.

The Birth of Bangladesh & the University of Dhaka

Professor Fakrul Alam takes us through the three Partitions of Bengal which ultimately led to the creation of Bangladesh, with focus on the role of Dhaka University. Click here to read.

The Observant Migrant

In When is a mental illness not a mental illness?, Candice Lousia Daquin provides us with a re-look into what is often judged as a psychiatric issue. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

Somdatta Mandal’s translation of A Bengali Lady in England by Krishnabhabini Das (1885). Click here to read.

Suzanne Kamata’s The Baseball Widow. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Aruna Chakravarti reviews Devika Khanna Narula’s Beyond the Veil. Click here to read.

Rakhi Dalal reviews Anirudh Kala’s Two and a Half Rivers. Click here to read.

Keith Lyons reviews CJ Fentiman’s The Cat with Three Passports: What a Japanese cat taught me about an old culture and new beginnings. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews BP Pande’s In the Service of Free India –Memoirs of a Civil Servant. Click here to read.

Categories
Slices from Life Travel

How I Transitioned from a Desk Worker to a Rugged Trail Hiker at Age Sixty

Meredith Stephens shares how the pandemic impacted her life choices, with photographs and narration of her adventures

When I worked in Japan I prided myself on my routine of only exercising when incorporating physical movement into my daily routine. I would cycle to and from work, and between buildings on the university campus. This was easy unless there was a storm. Then I would cycle attempting to hold my umbrella, but to no avail. It wasn’t just that cycling with an umbrella was illegal. It was also that my umbrella would turn inside out in the gale and the spokes would break.

When there was a typhoon we were forbidden to go to campus, but I took no notice. Rather than cycling to work I walked. I would run between each building block hoping not to be swept into the air, and when I left the campus to walk home along the riverbank, I would hope that the wind would not pick me up and fling me into the river.

Every day at work I would walk up and down the stairs instead of taking the lift. This was natural given that university policy frowned upon using the lift unless you had to go beyond the third floor. I developed strong calf muscles from climbing the stairs, and strong biceps from carrying books up and down the stairs. I secretly looked down on those who drove to work and then spent their evenings at the gym.

I returned to Australia to visit family just before the pandemic started. Soon after my arrival the Australian government warned its citizens, ‘Do not travel’. I followed this advice and continued working remotely. My return coincided with that of my friend Alex who resided as an expat in the UK. He too decided to follow the advice of the government travel ban. Every now and then Alex invited me to go hiking with him and his daughter Verity. I keenly accepted, since I was so proud of my fitness and strength.

Alex and I began with regular seven kilometre beach walks. The terrain was flat, and I proudly maintained the same pace as him. Then Alex invited me to hike with him in the Innes National Park on the tip of the boot-shaped Yorke Peninsula in South Australia.

I had as much stamina as Alex and I was determined not to lag behind, but there were numerous distractions. We were walking along rugged coastline on the south of the peninsula overlooking Wedge Island when a pair of roos caught my attention. The buck was overlooking the cliff, and the doe, who was beneath, was bathing herself in the warm sand, with her joey’s legs poking out of her pouch. In the glare, I fumbled to see the image on my phone’s camera in order to snap a photograph.

Next the bright yellow wildflowers rising from the succulents demanded my attention as I gazed at the grainy sand and rocks before me.

When I looked up I noticed a gap widening between Alex, Verity, and me.

“Why are you so far behind? Goodness Gracious!” Alex exclaimed.

I tried to explain myself but my voice was carried away in the wind.

I hastily caught up with Alex and Verity, and we completed the walk. Alex announced that our next walk would be along a trail of ruins in the deserted township of Inneston, a few kilometres inland. Now part of a National Park, Inneston had formerly been a gypsum mining town. The township featured a long-abandoned cricket ground, restored houses, and ruins of houses and a bakery. Abandoned farm machinery and mining equipment, long since left to rust, dotted the trail.

Alex informed me that the Inneston hike was seven kilometres and I bravely assured him that I could take it in my stride. The former railway track where gypsum had been transported had been transformed into a hiking trail.

Because I had lagged so far behind on the coastline walk, Alex now insisted I walk in front. I continued to stride confidently, safe in my position as trail leader. Alex monitored the number of kilometres we had covered on My Tracks on his phone. I felt like we had covered five kilometres but when I asked him he said that we had only covered three. Then when I felt we had covered ten kilometres we had only covered seven. On the return journey I could sense Alex’s strides growing closer behind me, and then Verity’s strides growing closer behind him.

“Hurry up!” insisted Alex.

I couldn’t reply. I was so proud of my stamina and endurance. Alex sensed my silence,

“Are you okay? I guess if you combine all of today’s walks we would have walked seventeen kilometres in total.”

I could feel my face burning and eyes swelling. I took a deep breath to calm myself, but couldn’t help blurting out.

“You go ahead. I don’t mind taking the rear.”

As we covered the remaining few kilometres to the carpark I started lagging further and further behind. I took less interest in the ruins and restored houses. When we arrived back at the car I gratefully heaved myself into the passenger seat and let Alex drive us back to our lodgings. On the way Alex stopped to look at the historic jetty in Stenhouse Bay but I did not budge from the passenger seat when invited to join him.

The next morning we resumed our hiking, and I was back in form, climbing up and down sandy dunes to the beach. It’s not so much that I was shorter than Alex or Verity, or even slower, but rather that I got distracted by the purple, yellow and white wildflowers, and the families of roos. Admittedly, I did start to lose stamina after hiking the first few kilometres while trying to hide from the intense Australian sunshine and stopping the legions of flies from entering my mouth.

After the Yorke Peninsula trip, Alex announced that our next hike would be on Kangaroo Island, which lies between the South Australian mainland and the Southern Ocean. No doubt, I will continue to be mesmerised by nature, not least because the kangaroos are smaller over there and have thick chocolate fur, with darker colouring on the tips of their ears, limbs and tails. I might even spot an endangered glossy-black cockatoo, or a seal. Despite these distractions, I am confident that I will keep up. Unless, of course, I stop to take some photographs along the way.

Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist in Japan. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Blue Nib, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ MagazineReading in a Foreign Languageand in chapters in anthologies published by Demeter Press, Canada.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Travel

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

I should like to rise and go
Where the golden apples grow;—
Where below another sky
Parrot islands anchored lie...

-- Travel, RL Stevenson (1850-1894)

December is often a time when we look forward to a vacation and travel. Through the pandemic ravaged years, moving out of the house itself had become a challenge. Now as the world opens up slowly (hopefully the Omicron variant of the virus will be more benign), travel stretches its limbs to awaken to a new day with new trends and rules. Borderless invites you to savour of writing that takes you around the world with backpackers, travellers, hikers, sailors and pirates — fantastical, imaginary or real planned ones in a post-pandemic world. Enjoy!

Poetry

In the Honduran Dusk

Lorraine Caputo takes us on a visit to a small Garífuna village on Honduras’ Caribbean coast. Click here to read.

The Voyages of Caracatus Gibbon

Rhys Hughes time travels back to the first century voyaging vicariously with his imagination and a Welsh king who resisted Roman invasion. Click here to read.

Pirate Blacktarn gets Lost

Have you ever got lost while traveling like Pirate Blacktarn? Who can help the pirate find his way… Narrated by Jay Nicholls, click here to read.

Classics

Travel & Holidays: Humour from Rabindranath

Do you enjoy babysitting nieces, nephews on trips and have you ever traveled with ‘hundreds of pieces of luggage, a few coolies, five women and only one man’? Tagore did. Somdatta Mandal translates hilarious writings from young Tagore on travel. Click here to read.

The Witch

Travel through Bengal with Shorodhoni, a woman dubbed a ‘Daini’ or witch, in her quest to find a home in Aruna Chakravarti’s translation of Tarasankar Bandhopadhyay’s poignant story. Click here to read.

Gliding down the Silk Road

“Stories that tell us about human lives and human emotions highlight one simple thing: Humans are the same everywhere.” That is what Ratnottama Sengupta concludes as she vicariously travels through the famed route from the past. Click here to read.

Around the World

Antarctica

Click here to read Keith Lyon’s travels in Antarctica and savour the photographs he clicked.

Adventures of a Backpacking Granny

Sybil Pretious takes you on her adventures that start at sixty years of age with photographs and narration.

St Petersburg, Russia

Click here to read.

Mount Kiliminjaro

Click here to read.

Lake Baikal in Siberia

Click here to read.

Baoying, Rural China

Click here to read.

Volcanic Lake Toba. Photo Courtesy: Sybil Pretious

Philippines, Volcanoes & More

Click here to read.

Indonesia

Click here to read

Myanmar

Click here to read John Herlihy’s exhilaration with Myanmar in a pre-pandemic world in four-parts.

Australia

Click here to read Meredith Stephens’ sailing experiences between Adelaide and Kangaroo island.

Pandemic Diaries

Click here to read how Sunil Sharma moved continents, pausing in Maldives to find a new home in Canada.

Categories
Slices from Life

Moving from the Podium to the Helm

By Meredith Stephens

For many years my preferred pastimes had been reading, writing, drinking coffee and avoiding exercise. Admittedly, I did cycle to and from work and between my office and classrooms and I had a weight routine that consisted of carrying books up and down stairs. I was proud of having built my exercise routine into my daily movements rather than having to go out of my way to get fit.

It was February and the Japanese winter was dragging on. My office faced north, and it was already dark even though it was early evening. I had a sudden desire to return to Australia earlier than planned to catch the end of the summer and be reunited with my adult children, Emilia and Annika. I made a quick call to the office to let them know of my plans, and then logged on to the airlines and brought my flight forward a week. Little did I know I would continue in Australia not only that summer but also the following summer.

I found myself arriving in Adelaide shortly before the outbreak of a global pandemic and the closing of international borders. I landed bedraggled after my eighteen-hour journey. I descended the escalators to the carousel and waited for my baggage. A short wiry man was staring at me from the other side of the carousel. I averted my gaze, but he walked towards me and stood squarely in front of me. I met his eyes and stared at him for thirty seconds. Gradually, I saw the face of the teenager he once was.

“Are you Alec?” I probed.

I hadn’t seen Alec for twenty years or so since my undergraduate days. His piercing pale blue eyes were unchanged, but his mop of shoulder-length dark curly hair had turned grey and was now neatly trimmed.

“Yes, Meredith,” he acknowledged.

He told me that he had just returned from the UK where he worked as a merchant banker, and that he escaped the northern winter each year to the sail in the Australian summer. We exchanged news about our life events over the past twenty years. I looked up and noticed the other passengers had vanished, and there were only two suitcases moving around on the carousel.

“Let’s catch up again while you are here. Can I have your number?” Alec asked.

I gave him my number and exited the terminal. The sunlight was blinding, and I pushed my suitcases to the kerb and waited until my daughter Emilia drove past to pick me up.

A few days later, Alec sent me an email inviting me to a cafe in Norwood. He picked me up in his dark green Nissan Pathfinder and drove us there.

“I used to have a crush on you at university,” he confided as we exited the car and walked towards the cafe. I was taken aback. Alec had always been so focused on his studies and I could not imagine that he would ever have been interested in anything other than academic topics. I continued feeling stunned by this admission and looked away. I had always admired his quick questioning mind, not to mention his dark curly hair and pale blue eyes, but I said nothing.

Since leaving university Alec had taken up sailing, and he even preferred the sea to the land. He invited me, Emilia, and Annika to sail with him and his sister Verity to Kangaroo Island, south of Adelaide. We eagerly accepted, and soon we found ourselves on his boat heading to the island. Emilia and Annika position themselves at the front of the boat.

Alec liked to keep his use of diesel on the boat to a minimum. Once out at sea, he set the sails and turned off the engine. I was not sure how to help him with the sails, but I did my best to loosen the rope in the winch as he called out instructions to me above the sound of the wind.

Alec had carefully planned the menus for the trip. Because of the panic-buying of milk in the supermarket, there was no cow milk left and he had bought goat milk. He made an espresso coffee for me. I had never had coffee with goat milk before but it was tasty.

Emilia and Annika remained at the front of the boat, and soon Alec summoned his voice to penetrate through the wind to pronounce ‘Dolphins!’ Soon the girls spotted a school of dolphins accompanying us at the front of the boat.

As we sailed along the north coast of Kangaroo Island we passed Smith Bay. Alec informed me that there was a plan to develop a port there. He mentioned that pine forests had been established twenty years ago even though there was no way of getting the wood off the island. The proposed port would provide a means of exporting wood chips. Alec was opposed to this plan because of the threat to the local marine ecosystem, not to mention the dolphins.

We continued west to Dashwood Bay where we anchored for the night. I slumbered peacefully in my cabin as it gently rocked from side to side. Alec had promised to take Emilia and Annika to snorkel with dolphins in the bay. In the morning I was woken by the light penetrating through the cabin window. Alec ushered Verity, Emilia, and Annika on to the dinghy, and took them to the shore.

I remained on board, content to enjoy snorkeling vicariously. I did not miss out, because as I sat at the stern the surface of the water was broken by splashes when dolphins passed by. Finally, the party returned and Alec set sail for the mainland. We farewelled a landscape devoid of human activity apart from a single homestead and a single car parked on the beach.

Alec and I shared the helm for a while but he was feeling tired from the morning snorkeling so I took over. I didn’t expect it would be so cold in the middle of summer, and my left hand slowly became numb. I scanned the horizon for small fishing boats which may not have satellite systems to notify them of our presence. I imagined being distracted for a moment and colliding with one of them. Alec noticed how tense I was and relieved me of my duty. I returned to my cabin and enjoyed the bouncing motion as we crossed the waves of Investigator Strait at a ninety-degree angle on our beam.

It took a pandemic to force me away from my lifestyle of cycling to work and ascending and descending stairs many times a day carrying books. Border closures led to a sequence of events in which I found myself sailing for the first time in my life. I caught the look of wonder in Annika’s eyes and thought we might be dreaming. I closed my eyes and imagined myself once again working in Japan. However, when I opened my eyes we were still on the boat. The pandemic had brought about a revolution in my lifestyle, but one of the few continuities was that my pastimes continued to be reading, writing, and drinking coffee. Even if it was with goat milk.

Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist in Japan. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Blue Nib, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ MagazineReading in a Foreign Languageand in chapters in anthologies published by Demeter Press, Canada.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Musings

No Longer Smug in South Australia

Meredith Stephens gives a first person account of how the pandemic free South Australia is faring balancing fears

Not only does Australia feel geographically isolated, South Australia feels isolated within Australia. Thanks to this isolation we somehow feel immune to the pandemic and enjoy months of zero cases. We look at the evening news aghast as cases soar in Europe and America. Finally, our neighbouring state Victoria gets the numbers under control, and travel between the states becomes possible. Alex has been looking forward to the borders with Tasmania opening so he can sail there from Adelaide and circumnavigate the island. First, he will sail to the historic town of Robe in the south-east of the state, and from there he will sail to Tasmania, weather permitting. He enjoys the extensive preparation, ordering a new inflatable life raft, a new dinghy, a new chart plotter, and installing a wind turbine. He has the standing rigging replaced too.

I want to sail with Alex but can’t because I’m teaching online. I wouldn’t be able to readily access the internet at sea due to the slow satellite connection. I ask Alex to prepare one of his T-shirts for me to take to bed in his absence. He wears the same T-shirt for several days in order to permeate it with his scent.

Suddenly there is news of a six-day lockdown. We have been spared lockdowns to date as we have smugly watched television news of excruciating lockdowns elsewhere. We have until midnight to attend to immediate business. The Chief Medical Officer appears on television and tells us we must decide where we will stay for the next six days. I opt to stay with my ailing mother and take Alex’s T-shirt with me to comfort myself.

I part from Alex and dutifully head to my mother’s home. After making her dinner and cups of tea, I accompany her to her bed, and make sure she takes her medicines. I heat her wheat bags to place behind her neck and on her toes. I watch some television to distract myself, and then exchange texts with Alex. Next, I have to face the night away from him. I don his T-shirt and hope his scent will soothe me to sleep, but it’s no substitute. I wake up with pain throbbing in my right temple and shooting up the right side of my neck. I touch my temple and feel the familiar dilated vein.

I must teach two classes online. I want to cancel because of my migraine, but if I do so I must make up the classes, so I persist with the lessons. The bright light of the screen pierces my eyes, but I find relief when I usher the students into breakout rooms and lie down for five minutes each time they interact with one another.

I search the house for pain relief. I beg Mum for some of her prescribed opiate tablets. She only has two left and permits me to have a quarter of one which she has cut out with the tablet cutter. Then the pain intensifies. I cannot find any aspirin but manage to find some Panadol from an expired blister pack. This gives me no relief. I am not sure I could get a doctor’s appointment at such short notice. Going to the emergency room would be counterproductive during a pandemic. I resolve to go to my daughter’s house. I know that she has two left-over prescribed opiate tablets. I determine to make the long drive despite the injunction not to leave the house. I go into Mum’s room to explain, but she is sleeping. So I leave a note on her bedside table. I leave my laptop there because I will be back in the evening.

I venture onto the deserted main roads. Will I be stopped and questioned by the police? After twenty minutes of driving, I see ten police cars on the opposite side of the main road, stopping drivers. I resolve not to take that route when I return to Mum’s. When I arrive at my daughter’s house, there is a text from Mum:

“Where are you? Are you okay? I am worried about you. I heard you leave.”

“I left a note by your bedside table. Didn’t you see it?”

“No. I missed it.”

“I’ll come back tonight.”

“No, Darling. I’ll be okay for the night. It’s too dangerous for you to drive in your condition.”

“Okay then. I’ll pop back tomorrow morning in time to Zoom my classes.”

Then my sister Rebecca texts me and asks after Mum. I explain that I have had to leave her in search of pain relief. I continue that I am worried about having left the house, but then my other sister Jemima forwards me a government message from social media saying that you may leave the house to care for an infirm relative or friend. Now I can consider my daughter’s house to be my base, and my trip to Mum’s to be legitimate. Rebecca and Jemima offer to take turns to stay with Mum until I recover.

I retrieve one of the prescribed opiate tablets at my daughter’s house, but the pain persists until the morning. I telephone the local clinic and make a telehealth appointment. The doctor calls me back at the appointed time and texts me a script.

Alex texts me asking how I am, and I send him the government message indicating that movement to care for someone who is unwell is legitimate. He offers to visit me and pick up the medicine on the way. My daughter shows me how to forward the script to him on my phone. Alex receives it and promises to come. I absorb his resonant voice, gentle tone, and the calm in his measured and carefully articulated speech. The tension eases and somehow, I find myself explaining to him that I am finally without pain.

Alex arrives at my door with my prescription tablets, but by now the pain has subsided. Knowing that I have left my laptop at Mum’s, he has brought me one of his. Not only that, he has brought South Australian yellowfish tuna which we can eat as sashimi, oysters, and some salmon. We sit down together while he explains to me how to use the Chromebook laptop, but rather than fixing my eyes on the screen I fix them on him, and once again imbibe his scent. We enjoy each other’s company for an hour before Alex has to return home.

Then my daughter informs us that the lockdown has been shortened. It appears that there was a misunderstanding during one of the contact tracing interviews and that the lockdown period will be reduced to three days. Travel within the state will be permitted.

Alex is relieved that at least he will not have to forego sailing, even though the circumnavigation of Tasmania will have to wait. Instead, he will sail into Spencer Gulf, within the state. The ocean is beckoning him, and he is grateful that he can now heed her call. The months of planning equipment, meals, and reading material will have paid off; he can resume his position at the helm, catch fish and squid for his meals, make use of his instinctive sense of wind direction, and be free to move or to stay according to whim, without a single care for COVID.

Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist in Japan. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Blue Nib, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ MagazineReading in a Foreign Languageand in chapters in anthologies entitled What’s Cooking Mom? Narratives about Food and Family, The Migrant Maternal: “Birthing” New Lives Abroad, and Twenty-First Century Friendshipall published by Demeter Press, Canada.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Musings

When your Child Becomes a Vegan

By Meredith Stephens

“Stop cooking meat! I can smell it all the way up here,” my younger daughter Annika upbraided me from her upstairs bedroom.

I had made a rare purchase of mincemeat as part of a packet of ingredients to be assembled for the evening meal. Choices were so limited when you had a vegan in the family. I had almost given up buying meat and chicken, but persisted in buying eggs, fish and dairy. Eventually I found words to describe myself which I could use to feel virtuous, such as a ‘pescatarian’ – a fish eating vegetarian, and ‘flexitarian’ – a vegetarian when it was convenient. Annika didn’t mind if I made vegetarian dishes, but wouldn’t partake unless they were vegan.

“It’s okay for you to be vegan,” I retorted. “But you don’t have to impose your values on the rest of us. You don’t always conform to my values either.”                                                                                                                                                        

“Like what?” she asked.

“I’m not getting into that now. It’s okay for you not to eat meat but you can’t force the rest of us to give it up too,” I repeated.

I descended the stairs to the kitchen and took in the unusual smell of cooking meat, which has been absent from our kitchen for a couple of years. Then I bravely assembled the meal, spreading out the wrap, adding the mince mixture and topping it off with some tzatziki (a Greek yogurt sauce. I folded the wrap and sat down to eat it with my trusted Labrador Tia in front of me. Tia fixed her eyes on me unwaveringly and pricked up her ears. It was my habit to share all my meals and snacks with her.

When we had bought her at the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) I had asked the vet whether it was okay to give her human food. He asked whether I meant sharing my toast with her in the morning. When I nodded he affirmed, “Of course!” From that moment I considered myself to have official approval to share any healthy food with Tia. If I were eating an apple, I would bite off one bit for her and one for me. When I was making a salad, I would hygienically feed her lettuce leaves, tomato tops, or slices of cucumber. (I do confess to feeding her occasional crumbs from my chocolate cake when no-one was looking.) The day that Annika scolded me for cooking meat, Tia was even more excited than usual. She was anticipating that I would share the mincemeat with her. I started to ingest the meat, but the smell put me off, so I passed most of it off to Tia. Needless to say, she was delighted. However, she didn’t savour it, but rather gulped it down quickly without leaving time to enjoy it.

Annika had always shown a sensitivity to the feelings of animals, even rodents. When we first moved into our house we would sometimes see a sudden movement as a mouse darted between the sofa and the fireplace. It was embarrassing to have a well-to-do guest suddenly ask you, “Was that a mouse?”

I wasn’t sure how to get rid of mice without killing them, and tried sonic deterrents which you could plug into an electric socket. Once Annika spotted a mouse in the house. She thought it was a native mouse, a marsupial, because its forelegs were shorter than its hind legs. She could even see the mouse’s heart beating through its chest as it trembled. Then she felt sorry for it and left it alone. After that I asked my husband to deal with the mice, and didn’t ask any more questions. The mice disappeared.

Until Annika became a vegan I had disassociated meat from animals. The packets of neatly wrapped meat in the supermarkets had nothing to do with the animals that you passed on farms in drives through the country. One day Annika drew a connection between Tia and meat, asking if I would eat Tia. From then on I could associate meat with living animals. The meat shelves in the supermarket became distasteful and I had to look the other way as I passed.

A friend has a business selling kangaroo meat overseas. She made a post on social media explaining why kangaroo meat is better than meat from farms; kangaroos are game, and they are not killed in the abbatoirs. I hesitated over the ‘like’ button as I read this. I was convinced by her argument but reluctant to agree with the notion of killing Australia’s national symbol, featured in our Coat of Arms and decorating the tail of the national carrier.

A kangaroo in the countryside

I work overseas and return to Australia every holiday. My pleasure in Australia’s fauna and flora is enhanced because of my long absences. When I return I am delighted to spot kangaroos in the countryside, possums in tree hollows, and koalas sleeping in trees in the neighbourhood.

Possum

A koala on a tree

Every morning is a visual and auditory feast. I spot rainbow lorikeets on the balcony, and cockatoos feeding on neighbouring lawns.

Cockatoos on the neighbour’s lawn

I listen to families of kookaburras cackling, and magpies serenading me. I am enjoying the fauna more than ever, and I can understand Annika’s feelings for them.

Not only that, times of global turmoil when movement is restricted are ideal for slowing down and appreciating nature. As Alain de Botton says on his homepage, “You normally have to be bashed about a bit by life to see the point of daffodils, sunsets and uneventful nice days.” In these tumultuous and uncertain times there is an exquisite pleasure to be had in communing with animals and birds. Now I can find the time to still myself for long enough to enjoy watching the sulphur-crested cockatoos squawking as they land on the lawn to peck for their dinner.

Nevertheless, my dietary resolutions are more due to the impact of the younger generation than the enhanced appreciation of wildlife afforded by the time for reflection in the lockdown. I will probably remain a pescatarian, or even a flexitarian. I won’t become a vegan and I will respect the choices of my friends and family to eat whatever they want. However, I do understand the younger generation’s commitment to veganism, and am prepared to admit that older is not necessarily wiser.

Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist in Japan. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Blue Nib, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ MagazineReading in a Foreign Languageand in chapters in anthologies entitled What’s Cooking Mom? Narratives about Food and Family, The Migrant Maternal: “Birthing” New Lives Abroad, and Twenty-First Century Friendshipall published by Demeter Press, Canada.

Categories
Musings

Distant Worlds Converging on Screens during the Global Pandemic

By Meredith Stephens

Adelaide is half an hour ahead of Japan, and today while in lockdown in Adelaide I keep an eye on the clock so I can join a meeting over 7000 kilometres away in Japan. Ten years ago this would have been a scene in a science fiction novel (at least for me), but now I just have to click a link and I can participate in meeting in a distant place and in a different language. Until now my worlds of Australia and Japan have been hermetically sealed. It has been impossible to be simultaneously present in both, but this crisis has brought them together for the first time. I can sit in front of the screen and attend a meeting in Japan, with the comforting presence of my ageing Labrador snoozing at my feet in Adelaide.

Until now my worlds have been separated by distance, language, culture, friends, acquaintances, food, pets, seasons, flora and fauna. Despite these innumerable differences we share one important commonality — the time zone. Adelaide shares its longitude with Japan and is only thirty minutes ahead in the Australian winter, and ninety minutes ahead in the Australian summer. Few have shared my two worlds other than family, a few friends, and a few students. When I go to check in at the airport in Adelaide the ground staff have never heard of the Japanese city where I live. I am the sole person regularly making this particular commute. I rarely tire of having parallel lives in locations which don’t intersect. My work is in Japan, and when I am there, I commute to the workplace, visit the shops and go to the doctor by bicycle. In spring I can enjoy plum blossoms, cherry blossoms, azaleas, irises and hydrangeas. What’s more, nothing rivals the stark beauty and symbolism of Japanese gardens.

I have Japanese friends, so I can enjoy daily conversations in their beautiful language. I can exchange emails in a language which is flexible enough that it can be written both horizontally or vertically. I also have English-speaking friends, mainly Americans and Canadians. It’s very exciting to make North American friends from such distant places as Arkansas, South Carolina, Philadelphia, New York and Spokane in the US, and Quebec, Ontario and Vancouver in Canada. I could never hope to meet such friends in Adelaide, which is in the southern hemisphere and faces the Southern Ocean. So my world has expanded not just because I am in Japan but also because of my ex-patriate friends.

In Adelaide my world is characterized by immediate and extended family, my doggie, and native birds with distinctive birdsong that you will not hear anywhere else. It is always a great pleasure to arrive in Adelaide back from Japan and be woken early in the morning to a family of cackling kookaburras, magpies, and lorikeets.

In the older suburbs, the spaces between houses are wide enough that you can forget that you have neighbours and imagine you are living in the country. Japan has taught me to be alert to seasonal change, and has enhanced my enjoyment of the Australian spring, when I can enjoy golden wattle, bottle brushes, eucalyptus flowers, jacaranda and roses.

It’s gratifying to participate in two different cultures and landscapes as I commute between Japan and Australia. However, each side is pulling my allegiance in a different direction. My colleagues in Japan think that I take off to Australia too often, and my family in Australia tell me it is time to come home. Each side seems to be unaware of how important the other side is to me. I feel guilty that I cannot please both parties, but I can give up neither. I hope the decision will be taken out of my hands. There is a word in Japanese to indicate the struggle between two children when they fight for a toy and neither will let go- toriai – and I feel like that toy which is being pulled in two directions.

It has taken a global pandemic for these two worlds to converge. Protecting people’s health has led to Australia’s international and state borders being closed. International flights have been cancelled. My lifestyle of commuting to Japan has come to an abrupt halt. Social distancing has been imposed. Shops, other than supermarkets and pharmacies, are closed. Most medical appointments are now by telehealth. Meanwhile my employer has entreated me to return to Japan and I feel guilty for refusing, but I am frightened of both the trip and being marooned in a country where I have no family.

A hurried solution to this has been online participation in meetings. This has been facilitated because of sharing a common time zone. If I were in America or Europe I might find myself participating in meetings during the night. My hitherto mutually irreconcilable worlds are finally converging. I have been able to click on a link and hear the familiar voices of Japanese-speaking colleagues from the comfort of my Adelaide sofa, with my faithful doggie at my feet. Never has participation in a meeting been so pleasurable. I can listen to my sweet Labrador’s regular deep breathing, progressing to gentle snoring as she rests, oblivious to this international communication. When I rest my eyes on the computer screen during the meeting I see the familiar Japanese writing, and watch the movement of the mouse as the moderator indicates the progression of the agenda. Meanwhile the intense Australian sunshine forces its way through the slats in the blinds. For the first time I might be able to hear kookaburras competing for my attention during a meeting which is being held in Japan. The hermetic seal between these two worlds over 7000 kilometres apart has been punctured, and I feel a sense of relief that the familiar voices of Japanese colleagues can reach me not only in the southern hemisphere, but also on the southern coast of this Antipodean continent.

Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist in Japan. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Blue Nib, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ MagazineReading in a Foreign Language, and in chapters in anthologies entitled What’s Cooking Mom? Narratives about Food and Family, The Migrant Maternal: “Birthing” New Lives Abroad, and Twenty-First Century Friendship, all published by Demeter Press, Canada.