For someone like me who has been in Australia for most of her life, it can sometimes be easy to forget about the things that bring a large number of people to these shores. When I came here, I was not forced to leave my previous home by war or upheaval. I came to start a new life of course, but it was not accompanied by anything greater than the usual sense of being separated from her parents that a newly married Indian woman might experience.
Now of course, the news is full of photos of asylum seekers and refugees on creaky boats trying to make the short trip between Indonesia and Australia undetected, there are waiting lists to Indonesia and back for humanitarian visas and even my own parents waited for seven years to get their permanent residence visas. For once you do get in, a world opens up that brings security, employment, peace, the best healthcare in the world and a hundred other benefits with it.
But yesterday at the shops, while we figured out how to get past the fifteen items or less rule at the self checkout aisle (it is easy, just stop after every 15 and pay for them before starting again), I noticed a group of about twelve young people, possibly in their twenties. They hadn’t bought much and yet they did not seem ready to leave. They each carried the free pencils and paper tape measures the store has for customers. Most noticeable of all was the fact that they came from at least four different places based on appearance alone; Africa, South east Asia, Afghanistan and Tibet or Mongolia. As I watched them move uncertainly as a group to the exit and back again, I realised they were part of a migrant education program, possibly being taught about shopping in Australia. I found myself thinking of the wonderful floor displays I had just seen minutes earlier and of the hundreds of Australian young people who cannot wait to start living away from their parents with things they have often grown up with; a childhood desk, a spare bed from the parents, an old dining table from the grandmother who might be giving her things away. I thought of how it feels like, to wake up each morning and not see a single familiar thing around you but not have to worry about being shot at or judged for your religion or your race. And just as I was getting very serious about the whole war and peace thing, I noticed the whole group move, very certain this time, to something to my left. I waited and wondered what it was that they were eventually buying. I did not have to wait too long; they soon appeared, each with a double scoop of soft serve in a cone, some covered in sprinkles, others with a Flake bar stuck on top jauntily.
At that moment, all that scholarly, grown up stuff about war and peace and boat people and population pressures on a rapidly drying continent flew right out of my head and I realised that what this country still offers to people who come here is this; the ability to have an ice cream when one feels like it, where one wants it and in the company of friends. No one bats an eye at the sight of men and women laughing at something or even nothing and most people do not mind if you wear a head scarf or if your head scarf slips a little to reveal a gorgeous head of curls. I am not saying that everything about this place is perfect, but for a good five minutes at IKEA yesterday, it seemed very close to heaven. It felt like home.