It isn’t long since I finished writing the dissertation for my Masters degree. Just a month or so, actually. Since I was studying Creative Writing my dissertation took the form of a piece of creative work – in my case, extracts from a longer novella – and an essay commenting on that work in a critical sort of way. These past few days I’ve been reminded of the question that I posed through my creative written work – is it the people who make the place, or the place that makes the people? Or, as I said in my essay, does it really matter either way?
I have an apartment now in my new State-side home. The moving in process was not simple, let me tell you. My stress levels were high, and I will no doubt feel the effects of that when I go prematurely grey at the age of thirty. To be honest, I can already feel the effects in the form of some significantly tighter jeans after rather too much chocolate consumed for comfort’s sake. But my apartment complex has a gym, so there’s hope there at least…
We – I now have a new roommate keeping me company, who has also travelled across the pond to teach – had a bit of a manic day the day we moved. 10am that day (it was a Wednesday, in case you wanted specifics) was the check-out time when we had to be out of the hotel. At 9:55 we still hadn’t heard from the complex whether our apartment was ready to be moved into. It should have been a simple process. We applied, they do the checks, we move in. But, since we’re ‘aliens’ here, nothing seems to be simple. Checks took longer, bigger deposits were hinted at and so on. So, back to 9:55. We don’t know if we have a home to go to, but we might have. We don’t want to stay in the hotel any longer because a) it costs money we don’t have, and b) the dodgy electrics had already scarred us and the medical bills here are too high for that malarkey.
We bargained with the hotel and got ourselves two hours grace. Twelve thirty our new check out time. 12:15: yes, the apartment complex tells us, we can move in today. But then we encounter another problem. You see, between us we have six cases (and a few halves if you count the cabin bags too), plus innumerable bags full of classroom supplies, cutlery, bedding and everything else that we had been buying ready for our new home and classrooms. We needed a van to fit it all. We didn’t have a van.
The rest of the day went like this: take four trips in elevator to leave cases in hotel store room, take several trips to load car with carrier bags, drive to apartment complex to sign paperwork, drive round the city looking for banks to do money orders and the like, drive back to complex to pay deposits, drive to Walmart to pay power deposits, drive to other stores to buy things we don’t have but need (including baby wipes on account of having no hot water), drive back to apartment to drop car load off, drive to hotel to collect cases, drive to apartment complex to deliver cases, drive to food store to buy food, drive back to apartment, unpack one box, collapse on floor (where we will be sleeping).
Needless to say, it was a fun day!
But back to my original thought (yes, I did have one back there) about people and places. The first few days of living in our apartment, we could count on our hands the things we had. Cases, clothes, pillows and a duvet (or, as I’ll have to start calling it, a comforter). The list of things we didn’t have was far longer: no mattress, no bed frame, no sofa or chairs or table, no pots or pans, no lamps, just one plate, mug and bowl each. Money was also a thing we didn’t have a lot of, which made acquiring all those necessary things that bit more difficult.
This is where the people come in. I haven’t had time to explore much of my surroundings, so busy have my first few weeks been. All I’ve seen of the area has been glimpsed through a car window, although I am very familiar with the inside of numerous discount stores. I don’t really know much of this new place yet. But I have met a lot of its people.
First, the school admin worker who drove my roommate and I to our hotel when we were stuck, and lugged our cases around and offered us ice cream. Then, the church people who, on that first Sunday, gave me a welcome goody bag and offered me lifts (sorry, rides 😉) and handy man services and meals out. Next was the shop worker who, when she found out we were teachers, took the time to talk to us and tell us things we would not have guessed at or known if not from the mouth of a seasoned local. After that, there was the kind school principal who sent out emails to everyone he knew asking for furniture, and who then drove us round on a weekend to collect the furniture and carry it up two flights of stairs to our place. There was the lady, a friend from the principal’s church community, who invited us into her home and told us, ‘What do you want and I’ll see if I have it’.
There have been others too: the school colleague who loaned me a sewing machine and told me where to go to get teacher discount and coupons; the worker at the local gas station who, when I asked for quarters for the laundry room, gave me ten dollar’s worth so I would be sure to have enough; and the neighbours who helped us carry heavy cases up stairs at ten o’clock at night when we were too tired to manage it ourselves.
I may not have seen much of the city I’ll be calling home, but I have met its people. And if they’re anything to go by, I think I’m gonna like it here.