Stateside With Rosalea Barker
I keep postponing writing about Diwali and Eid--Hindu and Muslim festivals celebrated at the same time a couple of weeks
ago. The gist of my musings is that, while a much publicised and failed attempt to have Indians and Pakistanis meet
peacefully at the demarkation line in Kashmir and pass on humanitarian aid to earthquake survivors was going on, in my
workplace a fasting Pakistani girl was creating beautiful henna tattoos on the hands of my Indian boss in celebration of
I have this Pollyannish hope that it is at the person-to-person level that political and religious tensions stand the
best chance of being resolved, but we all have experience of that not being the case. The same Indian boss--Fijian
Indian--was quick to point out to my fellow workmates when Vijay Singh was in town recently, that he wasn't allowed to
play golf on the course reserved for Australians and New Zealanders. Turning me into the scion of a racist nation in one
fell swoop. And I was in no position to argue really, knowing someone whose family refused to allow her to marry the
Fijian Indian labourer she fell in love with when he worked on their farm in the Sixties.
Being the only immigrant in our little workgroup of eight who is not in a position of authority--the three most senior
people are from Fiji, Argentina, and Central America--it seems to fall on my shoulders to bear the brunt of everyone's
disgruntlement about everything. I swear I am argued with for argument's sake, although it is equally possible that I
still haven't acculturated myself to the pointless politeness that passes for discussion here in the States. Making my
point strongly is mistaken for picking an argument.
My most vivid experience of a political divide in a workplace was when I worked as a dishwasher in a cafe beneath the
newly built tower in Sydney. It was an extremely confined and hot space, presided over by a Czechoslovakian chef whose
assistant was a White Russian cook. Both were middle-aged women, refugees from their respective countries, and they
hated what each other stood for with a passion.
Despite my characterisation of eucalypts as "Aussie-bastard Trees" and other sundry put-downs of my near-neighbours--who
would do me the same honour in return, no doubt--I don't know that I'd ever end up throwing a knife across a kitchen at
an Aussie co-worker. But all that might change in the next decade as China becomes the more dominant partner in the
Western Pacific, and the US--with whom Australia has well-and-truly thrown in its lot--exerts its considerable influence
to have the little kid on the block tag along.