New North
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New North

The Hidden Beauty of Vexing Accidents

When a bothersome incident involving a broken refrigerator and a big grocery shop leads to some interesting observations.

It was 4 am and the monitor light went on, and along with it a baby’s wails filled the room. It was Friday night, meaning it was Sid’s turn. I turned on the other side, while grumbling from my high horse for him to turn the volume down. She was right next door, I lamented, and we could hear her as is.

Sid shuffled out of our bedroom and went into the kitchen to make her bottle. The whole process of putting a kettle on, measuring the formula and getting it to her usually takes us a few minutes, 4–5 at most — even when you’re banging into things at that ungodly hour. But this was taking forever and I was getting impatient, desperate to seamlessly go back into an ‘uninterrupted’ 8 hour sleep stretch that most parents of young babies crave like crack.

A few more long minutes passed before Sid was at our bedside, pluging in the bottle warmer into our bedroom socket. The electricity had tripped in the kitchen, he said, and none of the lights or appliances were working in that area of the house.

Eventually, we realised it was the fridge that was causing the trip; and to stop the tripping, we had to turn off our fridge. We had taken a chance on a second-hand fridge and this was the time for everyone who warned us against it to flash dance to “I told you so”. Having done a big grocery shop just recently, we looked at each other bleary-eyed, all false promises on uninterrupted sleep out the window — what do we do now?

And as with most life distresses, this too came with its own set of lessons.

Plans are best looked forward to, yet somewhat fluid

My friend Ting was bringing her boyfriend Jonathan over to our home for couples night that night, and we were going to have pizza, play card games and drink wine. I had read a recipe for a Neapolitan Pizza off the back of pizza base packaging — it seemed simple and delicious — tomato sauce, olives, capers and anchovy fillets.

The salty fish was procured and I stacked half a pantry shelf with Passata. A bottle each of olives and capers were also hauled in, and I had even opened them for some early snacking on Thursday. A fudgy ice cream was carefully put away in the freezer to be pulled out for dessert.

But it was Saturday morning now and there was a funny smell emanating from our fridge. The olives certainly did not look like they’d survive another 8 hours. Couples Night might have to wait.

Build communities around you

Call it a silent imposter syndrome, a fear of rejection, or perhaps a happy cocktail of the two, this hasn’t come easy to me. It comes easier for me to retreat with books and hot porridge as I watch a chaotic world go by from my window, reflecting on my thoughts, memories, cooking up ideas and stories, most of which may never be.

But over time, as I have paid deeper attention to my mental health, I have understood that even for someone who has compelling streaks of introversion, communities are still sin qua non. Meaningful connections are important, and as horrifying as it is, the first step to gaining that in your life is walking over and just saying hello.

It has been a couple of years since I’ve moved countries and set up home in a foreign country. On more than one occasion, I’ve had to rely on strangers for a wide range of intimate life necessities — to explain new and complicated public transport systems, to understand slang, to brainstorm ideas of how to get a baby to stay asleep or to just to have someone to sit on the porch and have crack open a beer with. With my established network of friends and family thousands of miles away, it is delicate bonds formed with strangers that has given me a sense of belonging.

And while it may feel safer to live like an uninvested and at times un-showered hermit, you’re going to need people to call.

I started off by texting Ting.

“Ting, my fridge had stopped working overnight. Can I store a few things in your fridge until I get this sorted?”

Soon, I was at her home, chatting with Jonathon, gratefully lining the space she made in her fridge Tetris style with hummus, cheese and mushrooms. We decided then that its best Couple’s Night is postponed to another time, and Jonathon threatened to finish the fudgy ice cream while it was in storage.

Let people have your back

With produce expiration handled with deftness, I then called my landlord Samantha to ask her for the number for an electrician.

“An electrician won’t fix refrigerators,” she texted back almost immediately. “You’ll want to call a technician belonging to the fridge company.”

I thanked her as I began searching online for numbers

“If you have baby milk bottles that you need to keep cold, just buy ice from the service station and put it in the sink.” Came another text from her “.. camping style,” she said with a wink.

Of course! Why hadn’t I thought of that?

“Also, if you buy an Esky or a soft esky bag (insulated ice box/ bag), they’ll keep for longer. There’s a service station near Tooronga road. Good luck!”

People will help you in more ways than you anticipate, if you just let them. Closely linked to building and investing in communities, letting people may be just as tricky, but it helps to start with small, non-threatening steps.

The week I was back from a vacation to India, and severely homesick, I crossed my street to introduce yourself to Max and Coleen, the elderly couple in my street. Max looks a lot like my dad and both him and Coleen tend to a garden they’ve made from scratch on a barren patch on our our street.

In the park some days, I stop strangers and ask them if my daughter can pet their dog. This always opens people up, and sometimes I’ve walked away with a friend; like Rose, the silver haired lady who used to work in child care or 25 years and takes great pride in her carrot cake. One Sunday, home alone and a tad lonely after the baby’s bedtime, I texted to check if my neighbour Emily wanted to bring a drink to the building staircase that we shared. We ended up eating dinner together and sharing stories and photographs from back home, both of us somewhat homesick.

Small gestures add up and soon enough you build acquaintances and friends and entire circles of people that come to fill various little gaps in your life. You gain confidence in relying on people, in letting them help you out. It’s all interconnected, and one day you will find yourself in a backyard party with a small batch of people, taking about the big and little things that make up your life and theirs.

Clutter is a commonly overlooked miscreant

Later that evening, after the groceries were in safekeeping, Sid and I got into our sweats and began cleaning the fridge of everything else that did not need to be saved. Suspect containers were emptied, shelves scrubbed and lurking jars of unmentionables were thrown away. By the end of the evening, the deceased fridge was clean and ready to be collected by the recycle truck. What jars of stale pickles and stir fries in Tupperware from the week before can do to our clarity is often underestimated; the things they hide from plain sight is often undermined.

We sat on the wooden floors and let out a collective aah — we had done it. The new fridge would be deliverd in a day and the old one was cleared of gunk. We had survived this, even though we thought we couldn’t — as one often does. In a new city, with a little baby and on a long weekend, we had survived a fridge meltdown.

As with all exercise, once you’re done with it, you feel you’re life has changed drastically by the experience. You wonder what kept you from it, why up until then, you did everything in your power to avoid it.

And as it turns out, Ting and Jonathon did come home that evening. Ting got puff pastry for dessert, filled generously — some with fruit, some with peanut butter and Nuttela. We did play card games, eat Pizza and drink wine out on the balcony.

The fudgy ice cream could wait for another day.



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