We all live in our own worlds. The world of our town, our city, our home. We form judgments about other places from what we’ve heard or what we’ve seen on the news. Or perhaps we form an image of other cities from fragments of story that we have amplified, wrapped in our own fears and this becomes the “truth.”
I live in a country town. It’s largely white anglo with a Swiss -Italian heritage. A friend called the other day and invited me to spend a day with him in the most culturally diverse city in the state of Victoria, here in Oz. He’s lived and worked in Dandenong for a number of years. I jumped at the chance. It’s like going overseas but without the jet-lag and the expense. So on Sunday through the marvels of text messaging we meet up in the Afghan quarter of this amazing city. I remember Dandenong from 30 years ago. A rather grim place. Unemployment and crime. Not a place to go. My ignorance. But I’m always up for an adventure.
Let me back-track. “Greater Dandenong is a city spread over 129 square kilometres in Melbourne’s South East and about 35 kms. from the Melbourne CBD. Approximately 161,000 people live in Greater Dandenong. Its residents were born in 160 different birthplaces. 64% of the population were born overseas. Birthplaces include Vietnam, Cambodia, Sri lanka, India, Afghanistan, NZ and Britain. There are 2,000 asylum seekers living in this area.”
Verne has mapped out a day tour and even chosen the restaurant for lunch. This is fantastic. We start in the happy chaos of the market. A huge affair. Forget genteel farmers’ markets with ladies laden with organic kale in their wicker baskets and Birkenstocks on their feet. This is all out war. Haggling and frenzied. Mangoes are bought by the box. In fact most things seem to be bought by the box! Shopping trollies skittle the ankles and you duck as a man weaves past carrying boxes of fennel on his head. It’s a loud and happy place. We head to the fish and meat section. A chef once told me “”Fresh fish never smells.” This place has fresh fish glistening from a marble slab,varieties I have never cooked. Clean, sweet smelling and inviting.
Next we head to the Afghan quarter. People are smiling and friendly and welcome us into their store even though it’s pretty clear I’m there for the photographs not to buy a carpet or home decorator items, which are by the way gold and more gold and bling. The carpets are regal, intricate and silky to touch. There are hundreds on display and Sunday seems to be carpet shopping day here in the Afghan quarter. We head through food shops stacked high with breads and spices. Men collecting arm fulls of bread for their family lunch. The shops full of wares piled high, narrow alleys and at every corner a visual feast. It reminds me of the Moroccan souks. Everyone is warm and friendly with wide grins at this 70 year old Alice in Wonderland with wide eyes and an open mouth cavorting around their shops.
Then we check out the corporate scene and the public offices in the quiet dead area of town. Nice architecture. Functional space punctuated with little squares and trees and some street art. But no one is around although I’m sure its a bustling hub when council officers and social welfare agencies return on Monday.
Off to the Indian Precinct. Street art, shops alive with vibrant colour, laughter, chatter and mountains of rich embroidered sari’s. Standing in an Indian fashion store is like looking at the richest sunset on a hot summers’ evening. Cerise, lilac, vermillion, indigo, violet, pinks, meadow greens, turquoise and ochre. The colours come rushing at you in their daring vibrance. And as if the colour is not attention seeking enough there are sequins and beading and embroidery just to make sure you take notice. They are beautiful fabrics. Shop – keepers stop to chat. There’s time to create conversations here. Not a self- service check-out in sight!
In the heat of the day and after a wonderful tour of this great city it’s time for lunch in an Afghan restaurant. A chicken spicy soup followed by flat bread, salads, grilled lamb and chicken with a yoghurt sauce. Deeee- licious! Time to sit and chat and absorb the richness of experience. Time to share memories and make plans for future adventures into unknown territory in our own backyard.
After such a great day I vowed to look over the fence more often with an open mind and heart….. It’s an amazing world out there….
“We are meant to explore this world like children do, unhindered by fear, propelled by curiosity and a sense of discovery. Allow yourself to see the world through new eyes and there are amazing adventures here for you.” Laurel Bleadon Maffei.