– Some reflections on our first six weeks in the Top End
No, the croc’s name is not Darwin. 🙂 But more about that, later.
Living in Australia has been great so far, and we are really enjoying Darwin. There are many modern conveniences here and many familiar stores, brands and restaurants. Since we’ve seen McDonald’s restaurants in every country we have ever visited, it was no surprise that McDonald’s is here, too. Burger King has been here since 1971, but ended up
changing the name to Hungry Jack’s because (I heard) the Burger King name was a bit offensive to the Aussies. It’s not our favorite, but we LOVE the mango smoothies they serve there. There are LOTS of Subway restaurants here, too. If I had to name the most popular fast food, it would have to be French fries – “chips” here. They come with almost everything!
But of all the options above as well as good local fare, guess which one the missionaries all love best? Yep! Kentucky Fried Chicken! They even get KFC as a reward for keeping their flats clean for a three month period, and if that doesn’t tell you how much they like it, nothing will!
The only thing that we were missing here was a good Mexican restaurant, until the first one we know of opened just last week. It’s called Guymon and Gomez, and is only 5 minutes away from our flat. And we like it! How lucky is that?!
On the retail shopping side (which we did a fair amount of when we first came), there are Target stores here, although they’re quite different from the ones at home. Woolworth’s is here, too, but instead of being a drug store is a huge grocery store chain with the nickname of “Woolies.” Most grocery stores here are in mall-type settings, and it’s totally OK to take your grocery cart with you all over the mall, even into other stores. And even better, the escalators are built like ramps instead of stairs, and grocery carts (trolleys, here) lock onto them magnetically. Trolleys also have swivel wheels on both front and back, allowing you to easily move them sideways, too. And speaking of grocery stores, I’m not sure if it’s because of the heat or because of the wet season rains (or both), but even many stand-alone grocery stores have a lot of covered parking, which is so nice.
The regular retail side of Woolworth’s is called Big W, but one of my favorite stores here has turned out to be K -Mart! It’s totally different than K Mart was in the U.S. I find it fun because it often has outlandishly cheap pricing on household goods, which is great for missionary flats, since everything you buy you are going to leave behind in a matter of months. As an example, I bought soap dispensers and water glasses for our bathrooms for $2 each – an incredible price here in Australia. K Mart also carries small appliances, clothing, electronics and the types of things you’d typically see in Walmart at home.
Our first few weeks in Darwin were spent getting our flat put together, getting to know our way around a bit, getting to know the other missionaries and learning more about the work we would be doing. We attended a couple of ESL – English as a Second Language – classes that the other senior couple here, the Farrers, teach. They have a group of young Japanese mothers they have been teaching for about a year, and I was impressed with how well they now understand and speak English, now. An Australian who dropped in, however, thought it was really funny that they all now spoke English with an American accent. 🙂
Three of the first six weeks we ended up being somewhat home-bound with a sick (recovering) missionary staying in our flat during the day so his two companions could go out and work. I had volunteered us for that assignment because until then, one companion had to stay with him while the other paired up with elders in a different area, causing their own area to suffer. Elder Gaastra from New Zealand was a good house guest, and helped us learn a few things about Australia, the mission, and how to manage our scaled-down little telephones. While he was with us, he slept in our spare bedroom, studied and worked on gaining back some of the 30 pounds he had lost while being sick. He was a hard-working elder and district leader, even while sick!
For a while there, I’ll admit that I felt like I had come on this mission just to cook! Elder Gaastra would be dropped off by his companions right after their morning study, and they would pick him up at the end of their day. He had breakfast before coming, but we fed him three more meals before he left each day. In the picture above, he and his companions are at our flat using our laptops and notebook computer on their preparation day to write emails home.
Most of the furniture for our flat had already been picked out by the Farrers and assembled before we came, other than the mattress we bought the 2nd day we were here and brought home with our little trailer, and our 2 three-drawer study desks. The desks were a challenge to assemble, but we teamed up on them and got them done. Much of the furniture here is sold in cartons and has to be assembled.
It sped things up considerably (and probably saved some money) that we had purchased so much ahead of time in Adelaide, but I was pleasantly surprised that shopping was so good here in the Darwin area. The Casuarina Mall in Darwin is quite impressive, for example. I’m curious to see how groceries and the selection of other goods are affected during the wet season, though, when I understand trucks can’t always get through. I really enjoy shopping here – possibly because I seldom have time to do much of it! And, it’s always a bit of an adventure.
Cooking on an electric stove top and baking in a very different type of oven has required some adjusting, but I’m getting the hang of it. I’ve been used to cooking on a gas range, but natural gas lines are not run to the homes here (with no need for heating, why would they?). Those that really want gas ranges have to have propane tanks installed outside their homes. We also have an up-scale oven (I think) that although small, takes 25 minutes to pre-heat. My baked goods are getting better, but I haven’t completely mastered using our oven yet – but I will!
This blog wouldn’t be complete without at least mentioning that we had our first “hands on” experience with a crocodile a few weeks ago. Our zone went to Crocodylus Park, and I snapped this picture of Elder Buckner holding this young reptile. First, note the proportionately powerful tail: no wonder they travel so far and well in water! Second, note the fact that this small croc’s mouth is taped shut – for a reason. Even at this size, they can easily chomp off a man’s finger! Cute, huh?
We have been really impressed with the elders in our zone, as well as with our pair of sisters who have acquired the nickname, “The Pistols of Darwin.” After our first district meeting, I was eager for the next one! It was absolutely excellent. Sometimes it’s hard to believe many of them are fresh out of high school, with a few only in their early to mid 20’s.
The weather here in the Darwin area has most often been in the low to high 90’s during the hottest part of the day, with humidity anywhere from the mid 30% to high 90% range. It is hot, but has been easier to adjust to than I thought it would be. After all, we live in the tropics! I must admit that air conditioned flats, cars, buildings and churches make it much easier. We’ve done fine, though, even when outdoors for entire afternoons. You just get used to it. And carry a little washcloth with us to mop our brow when needed – honestly! We are still looking forward to what we hear are the most amazing lightening storms in the world, but in the meantime are enjoying some beautiful sunsets whenever we can.
Our zone had the first convert baptism since we’ve been here in mid-September. It has been fascinating to see this young man transform in the weeks since I first met him. He doesn’t even look like the same person. And he not only looks and acts different, but he continues
to gain confidence and seems noticeably happier as time goes by. There is no mistaking that the gospel has visibly changed his life – even one of his friends commented that he doesn’t seem like the same person. After I saw him today, I just had to take a look at his picture on the baptism program I did for him. It didn’t even look like the same person. He’s a living and breathing example of how the Gospel of Jesus Christ can transform lives, and lifts those that learn to love Him! And it’s not just the converts whose lives are changed; it is all of us who seek to better our lives by learning and following His example, and practicing the principles He taught.
And may your life become a little brighter, too, by following the Light of Christ!