Sanni’s in Australia: Reunited after 15 months
As of two days ago, Sanni has lived in Australia for two months. He mentioned recently feeling as though the haze had begun to lift from his eyes, the reality that he was with me again finally seeping in. It’s surreal for me too.
I left Cambodia in December 2010, and with it left the inspiration to write about our biracial relationship. Leaving him behind, in the country that had been our home and our hell, while I attempted to build us a foundation was easily the hardest challenge I’ve ever met. Melbourne, Australia. The only city I could bear to live in because, at its minimum, it has cultural diversification and acceptance, art, music and a vibrancy other Australian cities lack.
The first few months saw me move around a lot. First, back to my parents in Brisbane, where I visited for only a few weeks, before moving to my sister’s who lives too far from Melbourne for me to get work. And then finally, two months after my return, into a long-stay backpackers hostel.
To some degree, I expected the reverse culture shock that I was going to face. I was profoundly depressed when I left Cambodia because of how culturally exhausted that country made me and accumulative daily difficulties Sanni & I faced. What I didn’t expect was the prejudice, judgement and criticism I would receive from my siblings and father. Nothing hurts worse than knowing your father is against your relationship because of his narrow view of the world and innate racism. No one believed that Sanni was in love with me for me, the person I am, not the country and opportunities I could present to him. Every day I met with some form of criticism against the quality of man he is, and every day I had to shut my mind away and believe in the love we share.
Once living in Melbourne, I had the challenge of finding work. When I found out I couldn’t work in my chosen profession as an English teacher (in Australia you need a Certificate IV in Training & Assessment to train/ teach if you don’t have a teaching qualification) I returned to my prior experience in office administration. It’s certainly not what I wanted to do and for a long time mentally fought against the passionless work I did for my recruitment agencies. I took a temporary contract for a university that finally provided me with sufficient stability to move out of the hostel and into a share-house and reasoned that I could change jobs when I had enough saved.
It also afforded me the opportunity to fly back to Cambodia to visit my Puppy again and lodge his prospective partner visa application. It had been seven months since I left.
I’ll never forget submitting his documents to the Australian Embassy; how cold the experience was. At the allotted appointment time, we arrived into an unadorned, white-walled waiting room. It had a glass window with a small slot to feed papers under and to the right side a small interview room with the same type of window. We sat until called. We thought we were to be interviewed, instead we were called to the glass window in view of everyone else waiting. After little pleasantries, it was down to business. We attempted to feed the folder, at least 2 inches thick, through the document slot, but the Cambodian receptionist sharply responded, “paper only, no plastic.” I was shocked at how rude she was and couldn’t stop my hands as they began to shake removing the documents from their neatly ordered plastic sleeves. She flipped through some of the pages, ticking a form as she went and then without looking up, requested the fee.
Blood drained from my face as she announced it was $400 more than we thought. “Yes,” she said, still not looking at us, “it went up in June.” Sanni & I exchanged a look of fear. We fortunately had the correct amount to pay, not that we could explain to her that it was the last of my holiday money. I had $100 to last another seven days. By now I was shaking tremendously, trying not to get emotional, as Sanni held my hand reassuring me with its tight grip. The last thing she told us as she stamped the receipt was not to expect to hear anything for a minimum of twelve months. Again, Sanni & I exchanged a look of concern. Again, the immigration website stated something different. She didn’t care, we were just another couple, “that’s what the expected time is now, you’ll have to wait like everyone else.”
We left the embassy in a daze. Both of us too shocked to feel any kind of excitement for the phenomenal step we’d just embarked upon. We were finally signifying that we would spend the rest of our lives together and yet, we couldn’t think of how we would survive another year apart or how Sanni would survive another year in Cambodia.
I returned to Australia only to find that the battle was only just beginning again. After finding out I would have to move again I then lost my contract job because the project ended. I was fortunate to move into a temporary abode with relative ease and eventually found ad hoc temporary administration work while still providing for Sanni in whatever menial way possible. It was an emotionally draining, financially suffocating time. I felt like a clown, juggling multiple responsibilities, all the while trying to maintain a level of calm assurance that when Sanni was with me again I would be able to achieve anything; nothing would seem so hard again.
In October, things began to improve. I found a recognised training organisation that offered scholarships with government funding so I could study online for the training certificate required to teach English. I finally felt like I was making moves in the right direction for my career. In November, I started a new temporary administration contract and with it started the new year by moving into a new home. “The last move until Sanni arrives,” I told myself. Not that I knew when that would be. I began to yet again build the lost savings and try to create the foundation I’d returned to Australia to make for us.
In February, Sanni was offered the opportunity to trial for a club in Nairobi, Kenya. It was a gamble he wanted to take. Unbeknownst to both of us, Nairobi’s conditions were worse than Cambodia’s. Everything was more expensive and the football opportunities less. He didn’t get the trial he’d been promised, continually told lies by the club management. Sanni’s disappointment and anger quickly turned into despair and depression. He just wanted to do something, anything, to provide a better life for himself while waiting for the visa application outcome.
Back home, I struggled with hearing of his poor living conditions, sleeping on the floor of a friends apartment, barely enough food to eat and no money to stretch further than the bare minimum for survival. It was exhausting just trying to keep him motivated to train, while also motivating myself to keep working in my brain-dead job and studying. There was still seven months to wait.
Determined not to return to Cambodia, we talked about opportunities in other African countries, each time faced with the same reality of Nairobi. Nothing was a given, everything a gamble. It is the nature of professional football, especially when you’re African. We decided he should wait out the time in Nairobi and make the best with what opportunities might present themselves.
Around the same time, I had a chance conversation with a girlfriend who was also going through the same visa process with her prospective partner. I told her of our twelve month waiting period, trying to sound hopeful, when her face contorted. “Are you sure of that?” she asked. “Well yes,” I replied, “why?” She told me how she had researched through all the conflicting immigration information to find that it was twelve months just to be assigned a case officer and then however many months to reach a decision. I was gob-smacked.
When Sanni made the move to Nairobi we had also transferred his case to the Australian visa processing centre there. Like the Cambodian equivalent, their website gave a conflicting processing time. Unlike the twelve months we’d been quoted, it stated only ten months. Just what was the truth? I needed a definite answer. I asked Sanni to call the Nairobi office. I hadn’t really expected to get an answer but I hoped for a confirmation his file was received. Sanni told me he’d had a great conversation in which they joked about the similarities between her name & mine, but reiterated that they couldn’t confirm anything. I was frustrated with the Australian Immigration’s continued inconsistencies.
And then, two weeks later, late on a Tuesday evening, I received an email. It changed the fate of our lives forever with the opening words,‘Regarding the recent transfer of your file to the Nairobi office, I am pleased to advise the visa has been granted today.’
Home alone, in a big empty house, I screamed and jumped up and down, doing a little jiggy-dance before shock set in and I started to cry. I rang Sanni, who, unable to see me, worried for what was wrong. I tried to laugh and say I was okay but the words would not escape my throat, too constricted with excitement. After many deep breaths, I finally expressed the news. He remained in happy-shock for some time, unable to process how dramatically his life would change, and then the smile I couldn’t see escaped into laughter and the same leap for joy jumped from his body.
On March 7th, 15 months after we were separated, he landed in Melbourne.