It’s almost a year since I relocated to Canberra, and even though I’ve become conditioned to many of the everyday lifestyle quirks of living in Australia, this land and people never cease to amaze me.
For the first few months, I engaged in what I can only call aggressive exploration. I wasn’t violent, but I pushed myself to go out, meet people, make friends, and get involved in community activities. I even had a strict rule not to stay indoors during the weekend. As a remote employee, since I worked from home quite a lot during the week, I’d tease myself to go out even if I had no place to go.
Thanks to all that self-possessed desire to belong and become part of Canberra, I made some excellent friends. People who now text me and call me and want to meet up to know how things are with me. It’s wonderful. To be surrounded by people who care enough to spend time listening about my life choices. It’s not always easy to find that in a new, unfamiliar society, and I’m lucky to have that.
And yet, as I approach my first anniversary of arriving here, I’m baffled at the number of things and behaviours that are still so foreign to me.
Like joining a singing club, for instance. One of my friends introduced me to a sea shanty group. I’d never contemplated the idea before: a group of people—government staff, interview scribes, private consultants, business people, retirees, teachers, high-schoolers, and anyone from any walk of life—coming together after work on a Monday night to sing about pirates, the ocean, and seafaring.
I knew nothing about any of it. Aside from the short ferry rides during my travels, I’d never sailed in my life. Yet, there I was at the shanty club, one with the wall, unsure of what to do, why I was there, too nervous, and downright doubtful.
Oh, and did I say shanty club meets at a bar?
I don’t hang out at bars. I’ve never hung out at bars in India. Heck, there wasn’t even a bar where I used to live.
The good thing, however, was that the group was warm and welcoming. It also helped that my first time at the shanty club was in winter, and it was way more fun lounging by the fire and singing (shouting) at the top of my voice than being outdoors. That might’ve even encouraged me to stay the full two hours instead of running away at half time.
We sang about being in South Australia, travelling to England and back, drinking in Aussie pubs, and drowning in rum. It was so much laughter and belly-aching joy. I stuck with my friend because I knew no one else in the room, but as the weeks rolled on, I started recognising regulars, and they, me.
Now, almost a year later, I’m so comfortable with shanty club that I look forward to it. I smile at the bar staff as I walk in, the usuals wave when I arrive, and we indulge in small talk—something unimaginable in the past.
And I have a hell of a time, every time.
The toughest thing about migrating to a new land is navigating negativity without it affecting your sanity. Often, by allowing yourself to have new experiences, you find people and activities you’ll enjoy and cherish. Shanty was one of those things for me.