A few weeks ago, more than two and a half years since being in New Caledonia, a milestone occurred. One of my children was invited to a birthday party from a local kid. It was a modest affair with his lovely friend Felix and his parents were very nice. Even better for us, they spoke English, so conversation was easy and enjoyable.
The sad part is that we are at the tail end of our stay in New Caledonia. We expect to leave in only a couple of months as my husband's contract comes to an end.
As we get closer I feel more sadness and even a little panicky. It's been a challenging and unique period of our lives. We have been transformed from sheltered, myopic city-dwellers, our lives orbited by a cycle of long work hours, reality TV, local news and supermarket wars. We've become more aware of world politics, the reality of life on a south Pacific island, finding friendship, trying new things.
I've learnt to not be alarmed when a complete stranger picks up your baby and kisses and plays with them. We're confident that our kids are getting a good education at the local school, even though the infrastructure and technology is far less than in the average Australian primary school. I cherish the fact that Jack is greeted each morning by his friends with kisses or, as was the case yesterday, with nose rubs by his best friend.
I miss the aisles of fresh vegetables in Australian supermarkets, decadent with more that one variety of potato and with green vegetables luxuriating on beds of ice. Ice! But then, having only a simple selection of fruit and vegetables does make life easier. At least, dinner planning. The only fresh leafy vegetable in my local supermarket this morning was lettuce. So it's salad tonight. No poring over glossy foodie mags or trawling Pinterest for dinner inspiration for me tonight.
But we do have the luxury of local prawn farms. I can buy a kilo of frozen local prawns at my local supermarket (with the fresh lettuce) any day of the week for about A$25. The price is on par with Australia and the food miles less than a Melbourne market.
I've learnt to appreciate the struggle that visitors and migrants to Australia have when learning and understanding English. One of the reasons I find it hard to learn French here is that people speak so quickly and use a lot of vernacular. In turn, those local who speak English with me say I do the same. It's a hard lesson learnt and a habit difficult to break.
We've learnt to appreciate French wine. Why wouldn't you when it's cheap and sold in the supermarket? But the local beer......well, we do miss Aussie beer. But you drink what's available. And 'Number One' is stupidly easy to order.
But there's no returning to the navel-gazing people we once were. Being an international tourist doesn't do it. I did that. And I still didn't get it. But I do now. About how occupying all of my preoccuations to whether we need pay TV, or what haircut I should have, at getting the cheapest petrol, whether to buy a Thermomix.
The only pay TV available to me is mostly in French, I haven't cut my hair in 6 months, petrol prices are regulated here and I don't have enough storage for a Thermomix. But I do care that there is only a couple of orthotists in all of New Caledonia, that the world heritage-listed reef here is being rapidly destroyed (a fact ignored by most of the world) and that incest is prevalent in indigenous tribes here, as it is in Australia.
So our next venture, whatever it is, we be an ADventure. We will make it so. By our new outlook on life, our approach to the local community and our understanding of the opportunities life holds, no matter where we live.