Hi! I am a travelling spouse!

I recently discovered this label in Manila and it mostly fits perfectly. On a bad day, though, it can make me feel horribly dependent and I begin to wonder who I am when I am not labeled ‘wife’ or ‘mother’. Five years ago I was yet again faced with that interminable, unavoidable travelling spouse dilemma. ‘What now?’

The yellow brick road had directed us back to Oz after 15 years away. We had chosen schools for the children and a house. We had unpacked a 40’ container, set up bank accounts, internet connections and our filing cabinet. My husband had started work. The kids were all at school. I finally had time on my hands, and it was time to get a job. But after years of traipsing the world through many countries that didn’t want foreign women in their work force, my examples of paid employment seemed horribly thin on the ground. As I tried to write an impressive and solid CV, none of it seemed to add up to much. My confidence was rapidly wilting. I crawled under the quilt and disappeared from sight for 2 days, drank endless mugs of tea and bemoaned my fate as an unemployable housewife.

Then, out of the blue, an old friend rang to see how I was getting on.

‘What am I going to do?’ I wailed from the depths of the duvet.

“Have you thought of studying’ she asked me.

‘Yeeeees, but what?’ I whined, querulously.

The answer made me clamber out from under the quilt with ears on stalks. A Masters degree in Gastronomy! Really?  Where could I sign up?

Now before you jump to conclusions, I will pre-empt a few common misconceptions. Firstly, I was not about to grab a telescope and become a stars-gazer. Nor was I a doctor wanting to specialize in stomach surgery. And I was certainly not aiming to become the next Nigella Lawson. I like eating, not cooking!

Gastronomy is an academic course that studies the business of food. My old alma mater provided a three year on-line course  that opened wide the gateway on the-world-according-to-foodies and showed me how Australian food culture had evolved in the two decades we had been away. We studied food history and the rise of TV cooking shows, we examined myriad international food writers, both fiction and non-fiction, and debated topical food related issues such as the effects of globalization on regional food growers. In the process,  it somehow validated a lifetime of disparate experiences and an eclectic employment history.It also, and most joyously, provided the perfect excuse for eating out a lot!  And it might just give me an entré into journalism, something I had always hankered after.

With students from  all over the world, coordinating different time zones for on-line tutorials was often problematic. But when it did work , it connected me to a lot of new cyberspace mates with a common interest in all things food-related.  The first two years were brilliant: academically challenging, intellectually stimulating and enormously confidence building.

The final year proved the highest hurdle to overcome: deciding on a topic, constructing a thesis, months of research, months of writing. My husband and children were endlessly patient with my regular breakdowns over deadlines, lack of direction and misdirections. I am pleased to say that I made it through, and my graduation was one of the proudest moments in my life. And just after graduation we moved to Manila.

So that signpost I came across while hibernating under my quilt may not have glittered like a disco ball, but it led to opportunities I could never have imagined! I have met so many fascinating people and learned so many amazing new things over the past 5 years. I have enjoyed numerous food and wine festivals, attended three Australian Gastronomic Symposiums and even  presented papers. The most recent conference was in Canberra earlier this year. The organizers asked for papers on, amongst other things, the effects of colonization on aboriginal foodways.  I spun this round to look at the effects of colonization on Filipino foodways.  Six months of research on Filipino food history gave me a fascinating insight into the culture, history and eating habits of my new host country. It even stirred up some interest from local food writers!

So I not only rediscovered my confidence, I located my pen and now I can’t put it down, having thought that part of me had long since been submerged and most probably drowned in the distractions of motherhood. I can’t promise you it’s any good, but it’s liberating, and I am loving it.

Sometimes life seems to get tangled up; plans go awry, and you feel like you’ve lost the plot. And then you find the page again and there is a wonderful clarity. All that has gone before makes retrospective sense –it validates that ticket you bought way back at the end of High School. It may not have been for the route you were planning to take at 18, but life is like that. Plan too heavily and it’s bound to go pear-shaped. But at half past 44, I have found a certain peace accepting where life has brought me. It has made me who I am and led me here. And it will presumably point the way to the next big adventure… because life is the journey, not the destination. Cheers!

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One Response to Signposts

  1. Lyndsdey says:

    I love reading your work Alexandra – and what is more thrilling, is that I am the “old” friend that rang you that day!

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