Inspirational Immigrant Women – meet Laura

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This will be my 2nd last story that I’m sharing in my series on Inspirational Immigrant Women – Life your Way.

Laura was one of the first ladies who send through her story.  She flew over from Melbourne for her photo session and also decided to bring her daughter along for a mini holiday in Perth.  She is such a kind and soft person with a warm and inviting smile.  Thank you Laura for taking the time to come and share your story with everyone.  You are a strong person!

New Beginnings – Immigration to Oz

“OMG”, what am I doing? A silver tear trickle down my cheek and drip on the collar of my shirt. A tiny hand in mine, holding on very tight as the plane’s engines build up momentum and tackle the runway then my ten year old asks “are you ok ma?”

The moment is gone. Lift off. The plane makes a wide circle over the goldfields of Johannesburg as if bidding goodbye to South Africa before heading off to the unknown, to a new future, a new country, a new beginning.

26 hours flying, 9 hours into the future, we miss 9 hours in space. 9 hours we never lived, 9 hours of non-existence. Sleep eludes me as time glides by while the big silver bird carry the load, 80kg worldly possessions, me and my three children. The lights flicker on and we are descending to land at Melbourne International airport. Touch down just after midnight on 13 February 2003. We have arrived. The new country embraces us when the doors at customs open and we walk out onto unfamiliar territory.

I guess we were kind of a funny looking bundle, me with the red shirt (so that the strangers that are coming to meet us can recognise me). My eldest, 17 years old, with a wooden clock (fumigated and certificate in the hand – no pests), safely clutched in her hands, her only keepsake from the world we have left behind, my son, 16 years old, angry and in a very bad mood due to lack of sleep and no cigarette for the past 26 hours, trying to negotiate the bulky luggage, and then my youngest, 10 years old with all these stuffed 101 Dalmatian puppies obtained during the flight. Each a blanket draped over our shoulders as we do not even know how the house will look that we will be staying in.

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We turn right outside the doors. Panic! Nobody insight! Somebody calls my name in pure Afrikaans, and we swing around. We were supposed to have turned left outside the doors. We meet-and-greet the total strangers and then we are bundled into the two waiting cars and taken a short 10 minute drive down the road to the motel for a very welcome bath, bed and sleep!

The wake-up call came at 11am. I am so surprised that I did manage to fall asleep. Now refreshed and ready for the next leg of our journey. We are going HOME, to a dot on a map, a name without any meaning – Casterton.

It is the day before Valentine’s Day and a bright red love-heart lollypop becomes a keepsake that will melt in the heat that is still to come so unexpectedly, but this I do not know yet. A $5.00 shopping spree for each of the children raises an eyebrow from my new boss. Little yells of excitement, squeals and shining eyes, wide smiles while I am trying to concentrate on the voice over the phone as we are connecting a phone, signing up to Medicare and I struggle to pronounce my new address as the words lay thick in my mouth.

4 Hours later and we stop on top of a little hill, just before 6pm, safely nestled between the hills is our new home. We have arrived and Casterton open its arms for us, the new nurse and her three children. At the front door is a basket with a bunch of lavender, a note book and pens, shoe polish, a few Aussie treats and a “welcome home” card from someone who knew we were arriving today.

Rebirth if you want to call it that as everything is new, so strange yet so familiar. The money, the words and the lifestyle, places, sights and sounds, a total new learning curve.

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So how did this all start you may ask. And my story is a tale to be told. No human could orchestrate the roll of events the way they did play out.

It started with a divorce then the sudden death of my mother. Originally we are heading to America for two years but then as I was approaching my entry exam September 11 happened and all recruitment were cancelled. My children were devastated, maybe more annoyed as they have already told all the school friends we were going away. A small inheritance and a drive-by impulsive turn-off to a free seminar late one night after my shift had me signing the contract, paid the deposit and I wake my children up with the next words: “we are still going away” “where too?” ”To Australia” “where is that?” and my answer honest and true, “I do not know, but I have a map and a DVD of the Great Ocean Road”. And so it all began.

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We had time. Slowly we started to change our lives. We moved into the one bedroom unit that belonged to my mother and rented the big house out. Liesbet, our housekeeper, was only to clean the unit once a week, we were to do our own washing, cleaning and cooking. No lies here, it was very testing at times. In July 2002 my children had a garage sale, and what we did not sell I gave to the church, left some things under the tree outside. Heart wrenching decisions, had to put my half blind and deaf doggy-friend of 13 years to sleep. I resigned and we packed the Ventertjie with what we still could not say goodbye too. We drove the 9 hours to Durban. I had holiday accommodation booked for one week, one month’s pay in my pocket and that is it. Within 3 days I had a job, the girls were enrolled in school (my son chose to rather work at the local SPUR as a waiter), and I found long term accommodation in Amansimtoti. When I look back, that was maybe something I did unconsciously to test myself more than anything else. If I could do it in my own country I sure as hell can do it somewhere else! Why Durban? Well they do speak English more so than in Mpumalanga.

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By now the passports were in place, the medicals were done and all the paperwork sent off. Or so I thought. Suddenly I had to sit the IELTS test. Amazingly they had a cancellation in Durban, so I did not even had to go back to Johannesburg for that. The only day I bought a newspaper an advertisement, 5cm by 3cm big, caught my eye. A migration agent in Melbourne is advertising for a registered nurse to work in a small country town in aged care. That is exactly what I have been looking for! I could hardly send an email independently, so my older daughter had to help me but we sent my CV over. Within 24 hours I received a phone call in the middle of the night. Pure Afrikaans. Paul rang to offer me a job, and surprisingly, he used to live in Durban. A few days later I had a formal interview in the early hours of the morning and I always joke and say I had my pyjamas on during my interview. It was done. The moment I could proof I had a two year work contract on the table my visa was approved.

Once again we packed our little Ventertjie and took the road back to Secunda. Final preparations were done from my friend’s house. We packed and re-packed and it was so hard to know what to take. I thought to have a towel, sheet, pillowcase and a blanket each. For some very bizarre reason I packed my ice crusher in the “to keep box”! Photo albums were reduced to only 4 – one for each of us. Our whole life in 4 albums. That is the saddest part I think, as I did not know that with time my financial position would be better and I would be able to get things over so I actually destroyed many memories. But you do what you think is best at that moment.

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Final goodbyes, the children’s father came to say goodbye (we are divorced), my dad gave me a R4000.00 (that ended up paying for the excess weight). I had the passports and traveller’s cheque’s strapped to my waist. The children huddled close to me. I was so scared and so nervous but did not dare show it. The biggest comfort I had was the fact that I knew I had a job for the first two years. Nothing else mattered. I had my children and we were together.

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My first shopping experience in Casterton took most of the morning as I had to look twice at everything, one shelve at a time. The packaging is different. I could not even figure out what coffee to buy, what dishwashing liquid and ended up asking a stranger what she would recommend. But I had this trolley full of groceries and could not believe how far my few dollars stretched. Everything felt so cheap. At that stage you had R5.00 for every $1.00. Some products were strange and new. The ladies at the shops were very helpful and I am sure they had a little chuckle as I could not pronounce some words and kept on referring to “what is that or how do you say that, how do you cook that?”

The first three months were the hardest as every word that was said or heard had to be translated and processed. Trying to find my own feet at work, my children were left to fend for themselves. I was very concerned about my son, how he would adjust. The girls I knew would be fine. And one precious night when I got home after my shift and my son came to meet me at the car, he put his arm around my shoulders and said: “mom did you see how bright are the stars?” and that night I knew we are all going to be alright! And we were/are.

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It did not mean that everything went smooth. Our first invitation for “tea” turned out very different as I made the children eat something before setting off to my new boss, arriving there the table was laden with food, my poor children. Under my breath I whispered to them “just shut up and eat!”. We did not know that “tea” means dinner. Just like any family we had our moments, even having to attend a police child protection service as my youngest could not tell her teacher where I was. So they reported me for abandoning my children. The fact was that I was attending a conference in Warrnambool, not an easy word for a young child to get her tongue around. And the time my son was asked by the police where he comes from, while walking late at night in the street. He very smoothly answered “from South Africa”, but I doubt that was what the police meant when they asked the question.

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My first Christmas in Australia was at a stranger’s house, we called it an orphanage Christmas as everybody that had nobody brought a plate to share. Just as we settled in nicely and we were all sure of our place on earth life threw us another curve ball. My youngest (then 13years old) became very unwell shortly after becoming citizens in August 2005. She was diagnosed with ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia) and we once again just packed-up and move, closer to Melbourne and the Royal Children’s Hospital. We chose to live in Geelong. But even in that regards we were looked after as we had access to the best medical services and safe blood. Am I grateful to be living in Australia? A very big YES!

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Now in our 13th year in Australia my eldest has degrees for Editing and publishing as well as Library Sciences.

My son is a diesel mechanic, married and the proud daddy of my two beautiful grandsons.

My youngest is a qualified swim teacher and living life.

Me myself, I have been working for the ARCBS (Australian Red Cross Blood Services) since 2007 and love my life.

 

Laura Luus

 

Other stories in this series:

Sonya

Anke

Natasha

Desiree