Saturday, April 5, 2008

Alice Springs, without friends

OK, now is the time for me to tell you my perspective of Alice Springs itself...

First off, check out this awesome sculpture. Guess what kind of store it was in front of?

Did you guess?

It's a second-hand shop... isn't that clever? Hahaha....

Anyhow... I have to admit that I didn't feel very safe at all in Alice Springs... Mostly because I would hear people talking about things that happened to them... for example, on the first night, two of the people that were in the other Heading Bush group said that they had a knife pulled on them for a cigarette. And three other girls said that as they were walking home, they saw someone being bashed with a board of some sort... it was stories like this that made me decide that this was one place I would NOT be walking home at night alone in!

Alice Springs was also the first place that I have been to where there were a lot of Aboriginals all around the city. These Aboriginals were not like the ones that we met on our Heading Bush tours, who were very friendly to us and seemed to be pretty happy... no, the ones in the city completely ignored me... it was strange. It was like the non-Aboriginals and the Aboriginals lived in different universes... we would go about our business, and they would go about their business, and the two universes never met. Even when I would try to be friendly and smile at people as they walked by, it was like they couldn't see me at all... I was completely invisible to them.

I was told that most of the violence that took place in the city of Alice was actually Aboriginal on Aboriginal violence, and that they just ignored the tourists, and I am sure that is true now, because of the way that I was completely ignored most of the time. I say most of the time, because there were a few times when I was smiled at or talked to, but it was rare enough that it was always a shock. I felt really guilty about the association I now had with the Aboriginals in Alice and violence, so I felt I should talk to someone who lived there about what they thought of the situation. Suzanne, the person who owned the hostel that I moved into (Alice's Secret) actually had a lot to say about the subject.

Suzanne has lived in Alice for about 6-7 years. She said that when she first came to Alice Springs, she was first shocked at the state of the Aboriginals... then she was saddened, then she felt numb. She said that she thought those were the 3 stages that people go through when they come to this city. She said that the Aboriginals did have a lot of problems in Alice, and that a great deal of them who lived in the city were homeless - and a lot of those who weren't homeless lived in terrible slums. She said that the reason that there is so much violence within the Aboriginals in Alice is because most of them that lived there were actually kicked out of their own tribes/communities for problem behavior... and they just came to Alice.

She said that some of the major problems facing a lot of Aboriginals who try to adapt to our western habits is that they end up developing diabetes or becoming obese, or become alcoholics, because they hadn't had sugar or alcohol in their diets for thousands of years, and suddenly they become introduced to it and it causes many problems. Now a lot of Aboriginal tribes/communities actually forbid alcohol completely because of the problems that it causes in their members (as can be seen in Alice Springs - and that video I watched in the art gallery of Adelaide makes more sense to me now... the grandmother was trying to protect her tribe from going down a bad road). She said that she knew that things needed to be fixed, and changed, but that no one knows how to fix or change things. She said that a lot of people think that the Aboriginals that have problems in Alice should go back to the desert where they were originally from, but after being accustomed to living in the city, they probably wouldn't be able to survive the harsh conditions of the desert.

It's actually a really sad situation. I am sure that people leave Alice Springs thinking that all Aboriginals are like the ones that they saw in the city, because they only know what they have seen... Even I find it hard to talk about this now because I don't want to give people the impression that I think less of all Aboriginal people because of what I saw in Alice... because that is not true. The Aboriginals were forced to give up their way of life when Australia became occupied by English settlers... they had lived on the land for thousands of years and then suddenly these white people come by and tell them they can't do it anymore. And then just in the last century (around the 1960's), thousands of Aboriginal children were stolen from their homes and brought into white homes, because the whites thought that they could help them become more 'westernized'. Now, just in the last couple of months, the new Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, apologized to the Aboriginals for this, and Suzanne said that after the apology, the Aboriginals living in Alice were on the street, crying...

And, I am not trying to come down hard on Australians either... I mean, we Americans too have done plenty of wrong... we did almost the same things to the Native Americans, and then the slavery days were horrible times as well. I'm just trying to see both sides of the story.

So there you go... I am trying to see this from two perspectives, the Aboriginal perspective, and the non-Aboriginal perspective. It is hard to have two cultures living simultaneously side-by-side without there being many conflicts...

Anyhow, on to other topics. My new hostel was really neat. Everything was painted in funky colors, there was a neat little pool and a cool little fish pond that used to be a jacuzzi.

Also, we had FREE breakfast every morning! And not fake free, like in Toddy's, where the 'free' breakfast you got there was 2 slices of bread and coffee or tea. No, this was good stuff, like cereal and Muesli and milk! It was like being at a friends house, not at a hostel. The people there were all very friendly and chatty.

The second night that I was there we had a barbecue as a goodbye to two of the long-term people who had stayed there, and this was actually the night where I had that chat with Suzanne. She was a cool lady, and an author! Unfortunately, she writes all her books in Dutch, so I can't read them... (her name is Suzanne Vissar... she said one day they may translate her books to English and I will be ready!) She was originally from Amsterdam, and then she moved to Nimbun where she adopted a child, but she decided to move when the child's drug-addict biological parents kept showing up and trying to get money. She didn't want the child to be exposed to that, so she decided to come to Alice (which she now loves). She speaks 6 languages (SIX!) French, German, Flemish, Dutch, English, and Japanese. She used to just work at the Alice's Secret hostel, but she recently bought it from the old owners and she was now slowly making improvements. How nice would it be to own a cozy little hostel, and meet all kinds of people from all over the world? And to be a writer while doing it! I need to take lessons from this woman.

I also talked to some of the other people from that hostel, who told me that Toddy's (where I last stayed) was actually known for being very dirty and having bedbugs every once in a while. Thank goodness we were staying in one of the newer rooms, because we didn't have a problem with that at all! (Oh, and I forgot to mention this... Toddy's apparently once had an alien visitor... according to 2 drunk guys who saw it in the middle of the night. Now on the map of Toddy's, they have a little green man in a spaceship with the words "Alien landed here!". Cute!)

And finally, there was this one guy staying at Alice's Secret that was kind of a mystery to me. He didn't talk, at all... BUT he seemed to be able to hear. When he talked, he would use all hand motions... like if he was talking about how he was walking somewhere, he would do the walking motion with his hands. It was great how he was always able to get his point across, but I was so curious as to why he couldn't talk... I just didn't want to ask anyone because I didn't want to be seen of as rude.

OK, I think this is enough of Alice Springs, especially since I am not even IN Alice anymore :) It was a unique city, the most unique of all of them I have been to so far, and I would definitely recommend people to experience it for themselves... but for me, it was now off to Cairns!


Dad said...

Love the "second hand" shop. My kind of humor.
Great report on the plight of the Aborigines. It does seem to mirror the past treatment of Black & Native Americans.
Enjoy Cairns.

stacy is amazing said...

She spoke "flemish"??? Is that a joke?

Lisah0822 said...

cool hand pic!!
good thing you don't smoke, huh? i guess cigs can kill you in more ways then just one!!!
off to read more

PMH said...

Thanks for your input on the Aborigies. Wery astute of you.

So Ace, why would Flemmish be a joke? You've never heard of it before? Guess you need to travel more.