Andrew E. Hall wanders off the beaten path and onto paths that won’t be beaten. Do you really know who you are?
A ubiquitous identity question that some people answer without thinking about terribly much, except Southern Californians; who then presume you have several spare hours to listen to their entire life stories.
Once, during such an encounter at a notorious inn in Ubud I experimented with punching myself in the head to find out which was more torturous . . .
“Where you from?” is like “How’re things?” “How are you?” or “Wassup?”
People expect succinct responses such as “Okay,” “All good,” “Well, thanks,” or in the case of your average hipster, “Dope”.
What they don’t expect is: “I’ve just been diagnosed with antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis, so watch out if I sneeze or cough”.
SoCal re-joiner: “My great grandfather came from Earp in San Bernardino County and he had tuberculosis for 20 years and he used to trap beavers and make hats and . . .”
You’d be amazed how difficult it is to knock yourself unconscious.
In these dark days of reinvigorated ultra-nationalism, unless you are speaking with someone from the village/town/city of your birth DO NOT answer the “Where you from?” question with Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Somalia, Syria or Yemen.
Lest you be leapt upon, shackled, and detained . . . if not worse.
You are all simply illegal “economic migrants” who want to take jobs and livelihoods away from the “good folk” of (insert your own bright, shiny, wealthy, “tolerant” western democracy in this space).
And please, please forget that, in most cases, the conflicts that you are fleeing were confected by the fiscally irresponsible, neo-colonialist, pseudo-ideologues who are building walls and concentration camps designed to keep you out.
Your identities are indelibly stamped with “terrorist”, while the captains of the arms industries (we’re not talking prosthetics here) and their economic and political backers are graced with the epithets of “citizen” and “employer” and “patriot”.
Apologies to Angela Merkel – you rock! Sorry, too, to the Greek and Italian people: your profound humanity for refugees and asylum-seekers condemned to uncertain escapes on deadly seagoing craft is truly humbling.
National identities are shrinking into a peculiar deluded certainty.
Brexit; the Golden Guttersnipe’s grandiose North American ghetto; “Australia First!”
Marin Le Penn – and the Francophile über-nationalist movement – whose vainglory required (because the French popular majority wasn’t duped) that she relinquish the presidency of her National Front Party and run as an independent fascist French presidential candidate.
Best of luck to newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron and the people of France.
The Scots want to stay in the European Union and secede from the United Kingdom (read, England). I hope they do; they’ve already got a wall to keep the senile Sassenachs’ soporific somnambulance out – built by the minions of Roman emperor Hadrian about 1900 years ago.
And they’ve got bagpipes – a most fearsome weapon against anyone who would try to breach the barrier.
One I quite like, “Make America Great Britain Again” is a bit cheeky.
But, then again, the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants from Britain were the ones who enslaved African nations and exported their peoples to America and other imperial backwaters because: “It’s all about commerce and living the life that God intended for us, isn’t it old chap . . .”
To be honest, Britain isn’t really that “Great” these days. A bit frayed at the edges and desperate in its revisionist rhetoric, as personified by world-class wanker Nigel Farage, his loopy lackey Boris Johnson, and latterly, prime minister Theresa May.
What we have in almost every case of democratic degradation is a hostile takeover by the doppelgangers of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and the ghastly wraith of Ayn Rand.
It is all very well if you are a wealthy British citizen of Pakistani, Indian, Sikh ethnicity but for fuck’s sake don’t be a poor one because you are immediately suspect, and probably cheat at cricket.
On the plus side of the ledger, though, part of the national identity in the UK, Scandinavian countries, Canada and Australia and some European nations is a national health safety net accessible to all.
My niece and her boyfriend recently returned home to Australia, after travelling for some months in the USA, with a salutary tale that is both timely and frightening for the elderly, the ill, and those who cannot spend up to half of their income on insurance, now that US Congressional Republicans rejoice about repealing the most humanitarian health care legislation in America’s history.
The Jazz-man has dodgy tonsils and ended up in hospital there unable to speak or swallow. The medical staff scanned him a bit, bunged him on an antibiotic drip, looked after him in an entirely appropriate fashion, and upon discharging him after less than 24 hours in the facility, presented him with a bill for US$15,000!
That is a one, a five, a comma and three zeroes for those of you who question my numeracy and keyboard skills.
Lucky they had travel insurance. And lucky the insurance company in Australia is considering honouring Jazz-man’s claim.
I suggested my niece frame the bill. And look at it every time she considers voting in a federal election in which slashing funding of the Medicare system is mentioned by sycophants of the upwardly mobile.
A more gentle US identity is inscribed on a plaque inside the pedestal upon which the Statue of Liberty stands: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
The much-missed Lou Reed rewrote Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, New Colossus, slightly in Dirty Boulevard: “Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor I’ll piss on them, that’s what the Statue of Bigotry says . . .”
A sentiment echoed with smug enthusiasm, as a mantra, by far right governments in London’s Westminster and Australia’s capital, Canberra.
Indeed, in case you are one of those who would like to emigrate to Australia, I feel obliged to warn you that the par less pillock of a prime minister and his jailer-in-chief immigration minister have concocted a new test for you – the Australian Values Test.
With the luck of the Irish, I have purloined most of the answers you need to provide that will promote you to the next level of extreme vetting:
I am a hypocrite
I favour a fawning subservience to The Market and its corporatist hegemony
I can rewrite history, including my own
I will happily reject my cultural heritage and report anyone who looks suspicious
The poor are an unbearable burden on honest taxpayers and should be consigned to the purgatory they so richly deserve
I have unbridled enthusiasm for eating charred sausages in White Bread with tomato sauce (that would be “ketchup” for you Septics)
A one-size-fits-all identity and nationality . . .
Where you from?
Are you draped in a flag?
Is it liberating?
At this point, with your permission, it might be pertinent to relate a personal story.
I was adopted by my mother (a school teacher) and father (a geologist and mining engineer) at the age of 10 days in the early 1960s in Western Australia. A fact that I was availed of in my earliest memories – not that I understood the concept at the time.
I do remember numerous references to the notion of “love”, which grew into a comprehension of the nature of love, and its borderless, blood-tie-less implications – not without a complex calculus as happens in any human relationship project.
My early years were spent with a motley crew of nationalities in Australian outback mining towns; with the people of Australia’s First Peoples – who at that time were not recognised as citizens of a country in which they laid rightful claim to an unbroken 60,000-year lineage. That recognition came when I was nearly seven.
I was pretty feral and colourblind.
We bounced around a lot – as was the lot of families in the mining industry in those days.
Ended up in England for a while . . . and then (for the longest period in “family home” terms while my sister and I were growing up) Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Through the convolutions of cosmic connection and synchronicity I ended up spending considerable time – and remain the youngest foreigner to do so – with the Bedouin of the Asir district near the Yemen border. Cared for by the son of the last Palestinian mayor of Jerusalem and his German wife.
The Bedouin adopted me (again!) as their son, their brother. My name was Ibn Tony – the son of my father. And when my mother came to visit she was known as “Um Andrew” – the mother of Andrew . . . which really pissed her off because she was brought up to exist in her own right.
There were Sheikh Ali, Sheikh Zaid, Muhammad and his son Salem, the women Wathha, Northha, and the younger Bakhita and Noosha. Crazy Darfr and old Gublan.
My other family.
They were fierce, fiercely loyal, gentle and protective.
I was maybe 15.
I spoke their language and remember (some years later), while sitting under an infinite star-filled desert sky outside the camel-hair tent-home of whichever family was hosting the communal evening feast, trying to explain the moon – because it appeared massive on that evening – landing of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
Their only comment was, “laish?” . . . “why?”
“ ?? ???? ”– “I don’t know”, says I, not quite knowing how to try to explain a dick-measuring contest between the USA and USSR.
After finishing my final school exams in Australia I headed straight back to the desert in Saudi and, at 17, started my first real job, on a drilling rig with a mining exploration company; in the heart of the country roamed by my desert people.
I stayed with them for a number of years, off and on, while exploring the Middle East with its extraordinary histories and cultures, and wonderful, welcoming peoples – in times when those peoples were untroubled by the horrors that awaited them in the decades to come.
The UK and Europe and on and on; I was a citizen of the world.
The Skinheads of the National Front infected the streets of London and we jeered them from behind police barriers as they marched and saluted through Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly. The emptiness of their grotesquely twisted rhetoric revealed in the only thing they really had to offer: wanton violence.
My first brush with the darkness of extreme nationalism was not to be my last.
After being scattered across the globe my little family – the four of us – reunited back in Australia. We all had many stories to tell and I decided that a career with the Fourth Estate – story-telling with intent – was a good way to fight back against the kind of bully I had encountered in England.
Indeed bombastic bullies of all stripes.
Worked well for a while until the corporate bullies who owned the Fourth Estate (and still do) began dismantling it brick by brick in the 1990s.
Time to hit the road again.
Bali was supposed to be a stopover with some think-music.
It turned into 18 years of crazy cool, with requisite forays and fascinations throughout the region.
Eighteen years in a village not far from where you sit . . . nothing on the island is; it’s just that the traffic’s crap.
More brothers and sisters gained and lost.
And an increasing subsuming of the unique Balinese identity (that I have been blessed to witness for more than 30 years) into an insidious commercialism that risks making it a pale parody of itself; existing only as an entertainment brand for the edification of those enamored of the selfie culture.
In concert with a growing religious nationalism, exemplified by the events surrounding the decision to incarcerate a former Jakarta governor, it is gut wrenching to ponder the possibility of the Republic retreating into an isolationist bubble run by ranters . . . who would promulgate a breeding programme for the ilk of the Bali bombers.
I’m back in Australia as we speak – sustained by the words that have always been my friends. And the music and mateship and love, which is as comforting as it gets in a world that is spinning on a wonky axis.
My little loving family has shrunk because we have a man down in a field.
But we have some young’uns who keep us on our toes, and the requisite familial extensions who are categorised by terms like aunty, uncle, cousin, niece, nephew, that are spoken with the same gravitas and affection by those who are genetically similar and those who are not.
If you meet me on the road of life you can use the full extent of my first name or its contractions: Andy, Drew, Roo. I even answer to Jackson and Tiger, but that’s a war story as yet untold.
Some Balinese people call me Macan.
It doesn’t really matter, I know who I am.
Beware, though, if you are moved to ask me, “where you from?” because I might well be inclined to channel my inner Californian.
* In memory of my father, H.I.E. (Tony) Hall – with every crystalline clink in a tumbler of spanking single malt, vivid memories return of us sitting on our tree stumps swapping yarns.