If there is one thing about Australia I absolutely love, it’s the many enclaves found in major metropolitan cities. To a lesser extent they’re also found in country towns, but regardless of size or dominating ethnic group, each little pocket allows migrants to feel at home in this country for it is in an enclave that most find remnants of the lives they’ve left behind.
For an outsider, its like going on a holiday overseas without having to take your passport. When you want to leave, all you need to do is walk a couple of blocks in either direction, instead of getting on a plane. With that in mind, Janaki and I made plans to visit the African enclave of Moorooka in Brisbane’s South. We’ve been wanting to go since we had Eritrean food at Amanda’s school fete in June of this year.
One thing after another crept up for each of us but finally, we agreed two weeks ago that we’d go yesterday. As you may be aware from reading of yesterday’s home visit from Telstra, I almost had to reschedule. Fortunately, Jason the Telstra technician was efficient and I was able to keep my date with Janaki.
Janaki had gone to the trouble of asking her daughter’s carer at childcare, who’s African, where to go for lunch. She recommended a restaurant called “Made in Africa” specialising in Ethiopian cuisine. We went in and asked the waitress, who turned out to be Indian, to bring us the HOTTEST two items on the menu to share. She returned with a plate of stewed beef and stir-fry-like lamb framed with bits of salad. Neither of the meat dishes were hot by our standards, but tasty nonetheless.
We ate in typical African style, with our fingers, using the yeasty smelling bread as spoons. They didn’t have any traditional beverages so we washed it all down with water. After which we went wandering around, looking ever so slightly out of place for the area.
Shopkeepers were very friendly; one even offered to “do” Janaki’s hair, which she politely declined with the excuse that she might upset her husband with the change. I think that like me, she was unconvinced of their ability to do contemporary hairstyles; no braids, no fros, just regular cuts. We spotted a shop selling jeans soon after and thinking that I might be able to find a pair to cover my ample behind in this African enclave, sauntered in. Alas, I’m a little too short by African standards and they didn’t stock my size.
I asked to take a couple of photographs for this blog but most seemed uncomfortable with being captured on camera. None though, said no. So I took the few I could before we had tea and African donuts. The tea tasted like Earl Grey, but had a stronger Bergamot taste. The donuts were like regular donuts, except lighter and sugarless. Speaking to a Sudanese man having his tea in the shop, I learnt that they have these donuts even for breakfast!
“Actually, any time of the day is fine to have them,” he said, before asking me where I was from.
“Malaysia,” said I.
“Isn’t Malaysia a Muslim country?” he asked.
“It is, but I’m not a Muslim.” Given what some of these people had to go through to come here, I was wary about talking religion.
“But isn’t 99% of the population like Muslim?”
“Roughly 60%, but the rest is whatever they want to be. Malaysia is a moderate muslim country.” My emphasis was on the word moderate.
I didn’t know where he was going with this so I blurted out, “I’m actually Chinese.”
That stopped him in his tracks. Then what he said next floored me.
“But you don’t look like any Chinese person I’ve ever met.”
“How do you know?” I said, almost indignant at his claim.
“We have many Chinese in Africa. My teacher in school was a Chinese. You don’t look like a Chinese.”
Janaki shot me an amused why-do-you-bother-saying-you’re-Chinese look. I felt like the zebra that keeps insisting it’s a horse.
“Ok, fine, fine. You’ve got me there. I’ve Malay blood, but technically, I’m a Chinese.”
He seemed satisfied. Janaki and I left to check out one of their grocery stores to round out our African enclave experience. This store was packed with Fufu, made of cassava, yam or plantains, which Africans eat with most meals, dried fish, biltong, hair and more hair. It seemed like every second store we walked past on our way back to the car sold hair.
“What’s with all the hair?” I asked Janaki.
“It’s for their braids.”
“I thought all the hair on their heads were theirs.”
“Hair dressers wrap the clients hair around these add ons.”
How peculiar. But I suppose they think the same of people like me who only ever sports the one hairstyle too. Well, each to their own. Janaki and I enjoyed our outing to Moorooka so much that we’ve decided to bring the boys on our next trip.