As promised, dear friends, I now bring you the second installment of: "Wazis & Tazis." Next time, I think we'll finally get around to explaining what in the world underwater hockey is all about... I'll just let the suspense stay with you for a few more days.
So here is the story of our journey's beginnings to Tasmania--Tazi, for short. Our trip began with a motley crew of characters:
- Huub, a 20-something Dutch physio student with deadpan humor, a wicked technique to crack your first rib (didn't know that could crack, did you?), and a kindness that made all the underwater hockey girls swoon at his feet. My tummy is also happy to report that he and Nod are amazing cooking partners, and have been making Thai food together several times a week since we've been back from Tasmania. Yum.
- Dani is a pretty blonde Australian physio student who goes kangaroo hunting on weekends and who thrills us with stories of near brushes with poisonous spiders and snakes on her property west of Sydney. I should clarify--she doesn't find these stories thrilling ("Don't you have spiders in America, too?" she asks, confused why we keep checking in our shoes for Huntsmen spiders. Because spiders in America aren't the size of our face, that's why.) She also plays the full-contact sport of horseback polocross in her free time. Yes, horses and people charging into one another with lacrosse nets ("Heaps of people die playing polocross," she informs us matter of factly). Not to be messed with. We also have to give Dani credit for introducing us to Australia's greatest gift yet: Tim Tam cookies. We plan to eat at least one box in every flavor so that we can accurately report back as to which type is the very most delicious of them all.
- Nod's boss, who we'll refer to here as the "Fearless Leader." The Fearless Leader is a masterful physio and flew us all to Tasmania for free to assist him at the underwater hockey competition, so we have to give him props. But the Fearless Leader also has a number of quirks, like his penchant for Australian square dancing, or the way he breeds pythons at his house. He also has an inexhaustible supply of dirty jokes that he is quick to tell staff and patients alike. Most of his jokes revolve around copulation or bodily functions somehow, but blondes, chiropractors, and neurosurgeons are all also fair game for his one-liners. Unfortunately (fortunately?) I don't think any are probably fit for print here, but suffice it to say that my inner feminist and guardian-of-all-things-that-should-remain-politically-correct-and-dignified was ready to burn a few bras after the week was done. And those were only for the jokes that we understood through his accent--there was one about spoons and forks that we never did quite catch the punchline to, though we had an idea of where that was one was headed. All the same, most of the time was spent in good fun--all of us sharing a bottle of wine together after a day of work, playing cards on the deck of the boat, barbecuing french toast for what we affectionately called "brekkie on the deckie."
- Nod was part of the team to provide physio support, and he swiftly struck up a deep and abiding bromance with Huub--a bromance further cemented this weekend when we had Huub over for a sleepover at our new house, complete with a Thai dinner, Wii tennis, and an afternoon of bowling. In fact, all four of us all formed a tight bond during this week of round-the-clock company on the boat and poolside. Nod, Huub, and Dani would regularly stay up until 1 in the morning teaching each other newer and better ways to crack each other's backs or hips. We tried to show off the best of our American slang ("That's cray cray," we'd say. "Dude, this will melt your face.") They feigned a polite interest, but mostly they just thought it was funny that we said "gotcha" so often in conversation and that we ate peanut butter on everything.
- My job in Tasmania was to provide general support--running errands, keeping patients' paperwork straight, getting more supplies, making sure all the physios had what they needed. The Fearless Leader had also assumed that I, as the resident dutiful wife aboard the ship, would also be the resident cook, laundry girl, and dishwasher. The dishes and laundry I didn't mind so much--after all, I was basically getting a free vacation for a week in Tasmania, and my Arabic research skills couldn't be put to much use at an underwater hockey competition. Folding the team's underwear wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but I wasn't one to shy away from a challenge. But my complete disinterest in cooking anything more complex than ramen meant that I lasted all of 6 minutes in the boat's kitchen before I turned in my apron, leaving a pile of misshapen vegetables and burned onions in my wake. Instead, I got to apply my carefully cultivated research assistant skills to the task, tabulating our achievements for the week. For example: over the course of five days, the team completed 363 treatments, averaging 72.6 per day. It's not really my work to take credit for, but I do feel pretty proud of our team (Official Slogans, emblazoned on our polos and hats: "Power of the Pelvis." "No problems, Only Solutions." "Physiotherapy Survivor.") Oh, we looked really good. And by the look on the patient's face, you know we did good, too.
But now I'm getting ahead of myself. The trip began not in Tasmania, but the night before our flight from Sydney. We were all on the same early morning flight, and the airport is virtually next door to the Fearless Leader's home. Rather than try to meet at the airport in the morning, we were all invited to stay in his home the night before so that we could leave together shortly after dawn. So we shuffled into the Fearless Leader's house and spread out on sleeping bags, couches, and air mattresses on the living room floor, already feeling a bit like we were on a strange kind of Scout trip.
Before we went to sleep, we were treated to a short tour of the house. Here was the bathroom, here was the home office, and here was the cage with two 3-foot pythons. Oh, did he mention they would eventually grow to 3 meters? They love to eat frozen mice, but later they'll eat whole rabbits. Interesting how they will reflexively strike at any movement in front of them, even if they're asleep. No, they don't bite their prey, they crush it to death. Ha, be careful if you ever put them around your shoulders! They'll start curling around your neck. We hope to breed them someday, but they would just eat each other if you put them in the same cage right now. Lovely, aren't they?
One of his family members emerged just then and locked eyes with Dani. "Dani, you aren't afraid of snakes, are you?" We all shuddered and kept our toes safely tucked inside our sleeping bags all night, hoping and praying no one in the family would think pythons loose in the house would be a hilarious practical joke. Luckily, we all emerged in the morning with fingers and toes intact.
We left at dawn for a two hour flight down to the southern Australian island of Tasmania. Tasmania is green, mountainous, gorgeous. Little fairy penguins and enormous seals play in the waters off the shoreline. Whales migrate nearby during the spring shortly after they give birth to calves (meaning: baby whales in the water. Sadly, they were all gone by the time we arrived). Tasmania, we also learned, is, um, roughly shaped like a lady's nether region (cue: more jokes). Only 600,000 people live on the entire island, half of them in the main city of Hobart. (Another fact: the humble Hobart recently made the Lonely Planet's list of cities to see in 2013. Which sort of makes us Hobart hipsters...you know, we went there before it was cool. Right? Does that count?) Hobart was absolutely charming--hip small businesses that somehow were neither quaint nor gentrified, local without being rustic, modern without looking out of place. All of these ringed the gorgeous harbor and Derwent river, which Nod has posted some really beautiful pictures of. The city also felt really peaceful and clean away from the bustle of Sydney. Rocking the sleep on board the Odalisque... we were sad to leave at the end of the week, for sure.
More on Tasmania: Tasmania was one of the main sites where Britain sent convicts to do forced labor for the empire (apparently they used to offload their unwanted poor on the American colonies, and only switched to Australia after the U.S. declared independence). We didn't have time to take much of a peek at the old penal colonies, but as our landlord Ms. A. says, "You can really feel the spirits of the convicts around you in Tasmania. That is, if you're into that sort of thing." I'm not entirely sure if I'm necessarily into feeling spirits of prisoner ghosts. But since so much of the island is preserved into national parks and uninhabited, it's not hard to look around at the mountains, wilderness, and oceans that surround you and imagine how desolate it must have felt to prisoners arriving from London. On a day off, we borrowed a car and drove halfway across the island to a beach in a state park. There were no other people, no buildings in sight, no sounds except the waves, and nothing on the horizon but jagged rocks. We felt like we had reached the end of the earth.
More pressing than ancient history: Tasmania was devastated this summer by horrific wildfires that burned up houses and hillsides, destroying 200 houses and leaving scores of people homeless. Even now, new fires are starting that need to be put out again. Hobart escaped the worst, though it has had fires in the past. As we drove through the island, the destruction stared back at us. Trees, charred black. Leaves curled up red from a nearby blaze. A tottering chimney, all that was left of a home. Tents pitched on the lawn of a local church, homeless families eating meals on the picnic benches. Small patches of vibrant green, wet and sore in the middle of so many ashes: a home, saved.
It was humbling, to see all of this, to have been spared it ourselves. And still more disasters: while we admired the beautiful sunsets in Hobart, torrential rains flooded Queensland and parts of New South Wales back on the Australian mainland. We watched the news as families scrambled to their roofs, everyone caught off guard at how quickly the waters rose. This week the waters have receded, leaving mud a meter deep running through the streets and houses. Again, we say our prayers.