I was searching for a job before the “migration” dept knew that my employer had laid me off. I was given 2 months grace period to find a new job where the company would agree to sponsor me for an extension of my work visa.
When you’re in another country on a visa, at least in my experience, the minute your job ends, and your visa is invalid- no breaks. I was an illegal as of 12/31/92 I was living in an English speaking country on the other side of the world. I had given up the apartment I had rented for the last few years, sold all my furniture and was living in a small room behind a friend’s art gallery /coffee house. She and her boyfriend lived upstairs.
I placed a display ad in the Australian Financial Times with the headline “HELP, born on the wrong continent”, which the publication loved, and put on the inside left page right after the editorial. Unfortunately, the only response was from network marketing types and a couple of guys looking for a green card, willing to marry for the opportunity.
I don’t really remember how I found this organization, but know that I had my interview over wine at a hotel in the city with the CEO of a camping trade association, an older gent who was supposedly a former diplomat and well connected in government circles. They agreed to sponsor me, and I agreed to go work as a volunteer until such time as I was legal with the government, and my visa had been extended, or a new one approved. My former position came with a company car, and the new one, once my visa was approved, would also provide me with a car. In the mean time I was living in an arty section of the city just off Oxford Street, and it was an easy commute via bus to the train station, although I did have to change trains in a scary area in both directions from work.
The first day I worked, I thought I had gotten off the train at the wrong stop since I was in the middle of a residential area with a few shops on the opposite side of the tracks, and a milk bar (neighborhood market) on the corner. Stepping off the train, I looked again at the address, since it was supposed to be on the street where the station was, and walked back and forth looking for anything that looked remotely like a street sign to be sure.
I walked around the entire block, no street sign at either end or on the adjoining street. I learned later that sometimes there is only one sign on a street, and it could be at either end, so when you were going somewhere new, you counted the number of turns on the street map rather than look for names and hoped like hell that no alterations had been made since the street guide was printed. Nothing.
Finally I saw someone pull up in a white station wagon and wave to me, and it turned out that it was the CEO's assistant, and my new job was in an old house with a very small sign on the exterior. We walked up the weed strewn garden sidewalk to a door with a heavy duty security screen. She explained that we were in a borderline neighborhood and we always kept the door locked since it was hard to hear someone walking in from the back of the house, a rabbit warren of tiny enclosed spaces.
My office was a small room off the main hallway shared with another person, and appeared to have been a closet at one time. When I sat down in the chair in front of the computer, the doorway to the adjoining room was blocked. Interesting. In my last job I had an office about 10x12 with a glass front and no door, but this was a very intimate setting with no privacy. Fortunately I worked with 3 or 4 really nice women of varying ages, and a guy who was OK most of the time, although a little full of himself. Turns out the CEO was out a lot, so he didn’t normally figure into the day to day equation. We had a wonderful board of directors and I was considered a part of the team.
At lunch the first day I walked down to the corner on my side of the tracks, and got a hamburger and some “chips”- or French fries. I’d been living here long enough to know that the burgers would have beetroot, or beets on it, and the chips would be in a proportion more appropriate for a family of 6 than 1 person. If you can picture a paper lunch bag from my youth- in the 50s and 60s- stuffed to the brim with fried potato slices- that is what you could get for a song. That was the standard serving. They even sold “chip sandwiches” like a burger, but just French fries on a bun with mayo, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and maybe cheese and beetroot. The proprietor was very chatty and helpful, and I sat outside on a cement wall with the ants on their voyage to the water spigot and ate as much as I could in the time I had left of my meal break.
It was very hot and humid. January is the middle of summer down under and we were far away from the ocean or the harbor. Another new thing I learned when I moved here was that wearing “sunnies” were not optional; they were a necessary accessory because the sun was so intense. Talk about hole in the ozone layer. Sitting outside or even walking around at lunch was a challenge, because it was so hot, and there were no trees or shade on this street.
After a week or so, getting a better handle on my location, I walked the few blocks to the corner, and over the train overpass, making another left to the shopping area of Harris Park. I was still a smoker at this point, and this was long before the restrictive smoking laws appeared on the books in this country, so I found a local liquor store, bought some cigarettes and a few scratchies.
Each day at lunch I visited another shop, learning about all the things, and available services for sale I could find during my lunch hour within walking distance. After a week of exploring, I walked into a shop that sold wonderful sandwich rolls. They had meat of every sort- fresh roasted- lamb, beef, pork, chicken and they would slice it off the bone right in front of you, and you could add normal sandwich fixings if you liked, or ask them to add tabule and hummus in the flat bread wrapper. The owners were from Lebanon originally. My first roll from this shop was an experience I will never forget. The taste of the juicy freshly roasted lamb, and tabule and hummus – the minty, creamy, garlicky, earthy tastes perfectly complimenting each other. It makes me hungry just thinking about it. This became my latest food addiction in Sydney, and I probably went to that shop at least twice a week for my remaining year in Sydney before my visa contract expired.