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Sunday, May 22, 2022

My monthly hello – May/June 2021

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my monthly hello – may/june 2021And so to…May/June. Just in time, really. At least it’s not July yet.
 
Well, I’ve been busy. The campaign forgets us our Australian pensions here in France, continues. In fact, it just recently all got quite exciting.
 
I’ve been spreading the word far and wide, including to a bunch of French Associations in Australia, whose details were on the Embassy site. Most of these did not reply (and many of them bounced back, thus demonstrating even embassies can be out-of-date), but one turned out to be the purview of the very lovely Serge Thomann, a recently elected Conseiller de L’étranger (representative for overseas – presumably for the Pacific area). He showed himself very keen to leap into the fray, since, after all, French people in Australia are also badly let down by the lack of a Social Security Agreement between our two countries.
 
This indicates another important fact, possibly to keep up my sleeve for another campaign in the future. French people continue to have the right to vote wherever they are, forever. Australians lose that right after 6 years which – and QED regarding not getting out pensions – makes us even more vulnerable than usual.
 
I have of course been writing off at hopefully irritatingly-frequent intervals to ministers in our government, apparently friendly government bods such as Senator Eric Abetz (known by one and all as Erica), members of Senate committees to do with foreign affairs and trade, and one that is actually about improving relations with France. Not many reply, though I have a good relationship with Labor MP Susan Templeman, the office of Shadow DSS Minister Linda Burney, and Erica’s staffer. These have, I understand, taken the trouble to walk down the corridor and make representations for us.
 
It’s of paramount importance that Labor is on the same page, of course. We do not want this to be a partisan issue at all, and in any case, Australian tories are a bit wobbly à ce moment, and an election sometime soon is not out of the question. My next missive will be addressed to both caucuses, in fact, and will point out that punishing people for where they live is not good policy, and neither is letting a situation continue that not only potentially destroys lives and families but also must stand as a barrier to good future relations between the countries. You’d think.
 
The Ministers themselves don’t reply to our letters. They get their departments to do so, who unhelpfully repeat the rules to us, having perhaps not noticed that we recited these rules to them ourselves in our efforts to demonstrate how ridiculous things are.
 
Very weirdly for me, we’ve also picked up a vice-president of a Liberal Party (tory) branch. He claims he is great friends with people like the Treasurer and others, and his branch apparently moved a motion to be sent to the government on our behalf, so that’s nice.
 
Anyway, after all this there was a sudden bit of excitement: PM Morrison, on his way back from the G7 series of photo-ops and trade announcements, would be dropping in to visit President Macron. Mustn’t panic!! So I quickly cobbled together a letter for the PM and slightly augmented a rather splendid letter for Macron and Castex, written for us by my good friend Brigitte (not the one married to M Macron of course), and found as many means as possible to ensure these would get to these people. Office managers, online email forms, embassies, and in Macron’s case also a priority-paid letter posted in Paris by a couple of our Australian Pensions in France members. Hopefully, there was no missing our point. Others in the meantime, also send emails and even one tweet.
 
Speaking of Brigitte Macron, one of our members had already written to her too!
 
Then the perfectly wonderful Serge Thomann told me that the French ambassador to Oz had come specially to Paris for this meeting, and stayed on to address a group of interested senators, for which he was briefed on important issues (such as ours) by…Serge! One of these senators is very specifically interested in the SSA issue, and we are awaiting a report about all the chatting as I write.
 
Persistence is, I sincerely hope, a blessed thing.
 
Speaking of which, we also had another piece of media publicity, this time in our major Australian newspapers, The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. Thanks this time go to my co-admin Peter O’Shea, who pestered expertly and got this done for us. Here it is: https://www.smh.com.au/world/europe/australians-in-france-stuck-without-pensions-call-for-help-20210618-p5821v.html?fbclid=IwAR3YqvSF2xuLgo9YUEq3JT1qumwzUov3POIiBodrCKWxhI-0CRskIo7qZ3I

Interestingly, while many comments are sympathetic, there is an inordinate number of people who think we should up end our lives rather than ask the government to be responsible for us as it is for every other pensioner. This is why we need a letter to all MPs, methinks.
 
Our members have written into the papers to show how our futures are being somewhat curtailed.
 
As a result of all of this publicity… another APIF member reports:
 
‘Whatever people are doing is starting to cut through.

One of the question on a new ABC quiz show called ‘Win the Week’ about news headlines during the past week was to the effect of

What are Australians stranded in France angry about missing out on?

The answer was: Pensions’
 
Fame at last!
 
All of this has meant that for some time I haven’t had much brain space left for things like my actual writing. Still, somewhere in all that I did ask friends and some actually paid beta readers (as in not professional editors) to look at the next opus to see how close it is to be ready to attract agents. This time around, I want an agent. I have a theory that someone who insists on 15% of my writer’s income must actually expect me to earn something worthwhile. That’s the theory anyway.
 
My thanks to everyone. I’ve been trawling through the ms now that the panic has gone out of the campaign, and have hacked hugely at the opening (this is my friend Mary’s fault). The day will shortly come when I will hit ‘send’ and duck. Twice. First ducking will be because agents might just continue to reject; second ducking might come if an American agent actually takes it up and an American publisher actually launches it. It is set in Vietnam in the 60s, after all. There are criticisms. Lucky I live here, hey!
 
Meantime, every couple of days I insist on more baby pics from home, as my first grandchild Jarvis burbles, is taken to the seaside, adorably hangs onto big adult fingers, and learns to smile.
 
For those interested, I have now had both jabs of Astra Zeneca and have no problem with it whatever. I also have a paper to state it’s so, and one of those squiggle things that can prove it technologically.
 
Our choirs are starting up, and we had a weekend in the country at a choir member’s rural pride and joy, with a castle nearby (over the river), having passed (via narrow winding roads) some truly wonderful passage. Somehow, despite meticulous directions from our hosts, we missed the tunnels we’d been promised and ended up slightly confused and facing the wrong way. But this was but a momentary glitch and, needless to say, we ended by eating and drinking and singing. Another member-couple has all the gear for karaoke and tend to stage song and comedy acts, including dressups, at the slightest excuse. Yes indeed. Then some of us trundled off to spend a night in a gite in the middle of nowhere, before bounding out of bed in 35C heat for a stroll around Albi, which has the most astounding cathedral. Scenes of souls awaiting heaven and hell, intricate stone and wood carving everywhere, every other inch painted by devoted medieval artists. Not to be missed, despite the heat.
 
And meanwhile…Marian is no longer Marian of Morocco, but is now Marian of Footscray (Melbourne)! As you all know, Marian’s been stuck in Morocco for…is it 18 months now? Sometimes in the desert (hoards of devoted local children, very loving neighbours, camels) and sometimes on the beach (fishermen, camels, donkeys, some goats). And happy enough to be there, what with her amour Youssef and her lack of much of an immune system, except that she found herself in a Moroccan with meningitis. What with being in a coma and all, and the weeks of recovery, the escape back to Oz was further delayed.
 
Here is her story in her own words.  It’s worth the read…
 
‘Back in the land of Oz. Phew…

Finally home after being prevented from boarding my flight last Friday due to a paperwork error on the part of the Gendarmes in Maroc. Crushing disappointment like the time ticked by while the police held me in Moroccan immigration looking for that piece of paper. When we got to departure time a cascade of tears accompanied my realization that my flight had gone. I was distraught given it had taken a good 14 months to get that flight thanks to Scotty’s caps, Morocco’s hard lockdown and illness that prevented me from travelling. Throughout the pandemic, Morocco has wisely blocked travel between themselves and many other countries severely limiting the options to leave.

About 10 police flapped around the office searching through folders full of paper but to no avail. It transpired that the Gendarmes in Smimou, the nearest town to where I was living, had failed to complete and forward the paperwork to say I was free to leave. I did have the paper given to me by the court I appeared in to “regularize” my immigration status.

Moroccan court officers told me that paper would allow me to leave the country. Not good enough. You see while some Australians whined about living in a police state because they have to wear a mask so they don’t kill mum, dad, and or grandma, I have been living in an actual police state. If you visit Morocco as a tourist you probably wouldn’t notice, but pretty much all activity by people in Morocco is surveilled one way or another. A plethora of police of various types keeps a tight watch on the citizenry and visitors. My stay in Morocco has been tracked by police and Gendarmes in the places I have stayed. When I moved, the ubiquitous police roadblocks track that movement. The Gendarmes in Smimou were the last ones responsible for me and they need to sign off that I’m good to leave the country.

They didn’t do it.

The border police asked me to ring the Gendarmes myself. I had no Moroccan phone at this point, no phone number for them and in any case, none of them spoke English had I reached them. Bizarre that I was expected to solve this administrative error, they released me hours after my flight had departed. The airport was nearly deserted. No way to find my luggage or to see the Emirates staff to look at rebooking.

Frantic calls to Emirates around the planet went unanswered as I was in a business hours no man’s land. It was Friday evening. Everyone from Australia to Europe to Africa was home for the weekend.

My sweetheart had been similarly unreachable. After dropping me at the airport he took off on the long drive for the desert. He was a good 5-6 hours drive away up in the Atlas mountains before I made contact on a borrowed phone.

Being of the male gender he felt it his duty to solve this disaster. He called his brother, a military officer, who called a senior officer in the Gendarmerie, who called the Gendarmerie in Smimou. They had no idea which paper they needed to complete.

Eventually, they worked it out between them. I was told that paperwork had been forwarded to the border police at the airport. In this case not really better late than never.
I found a nice hotel about 10 km from the airport. Way too deflated to care about my luggage and unable to find it anyway, I abandoned it to the black hole of Mohammed V airport. Thankfully I discovered a world of sympathy and kindness at the hotel as everyone from the check-in staff to the manager took an interest in my plight, offering various solutions for me, none of them useful.

Very few people understand the utter bastardry that is the “flight caps” system of quarantine allocation in Australia. A bespoke design that allows for free movement of the rich whilst simultaneously keeping the proletariat stranded where they are. Allowing airlines to effectively auction and price-gouge a very limited number of quarantine places during a Pandemic would have to be one of the cruellest government policies implemented by a very cruel government. One doesn’t need to be an economist to see that this is the most inept and unfair way to allocate quarantine places. Why don’t we have a straightforward queue like other countries? Ahh yes because it’s unseemly to make the rich queue.

The very kind manager of my hotel upgraded my room to a suite as they felt sorry for me.

They have a great restaurant so I devoured a delicious meal. Life wasn’t all bad.

After a sleepless night, I returned to the airport to see the police and find out if my paperwork had arrived. Not an easy task. Firstly only passengers are allowed to enter the airport. Lengthy explanations were required at every turn. I eventually found a kind policeman who made it his mission to search for my paperwork. Alas, it was not there. It was possibly coming from Smimou by donkey but had not arrived yet. I was told it may take a few days.

I had spoken to my contact at the Australian Embassy earlier that day. She had previously got me onto a special list of vulnerable people who needed an expeditious return to

Australia on account of my medical problems. There was a project within the Emirates airline to manage this but they were impossible to contact. They had to contact you. Did they know I didn’t get my flight? I had no way to tell.

It was a national holiday weekend in Morocco and it was difficult to track down my

Embassy contact but I did eventually find her enjoying her weekend. Fortunately, she snapped into action to help me. She couldn’t do much though as it was a weekend. She sent out some emails which hopefully got me priority booking with Emirates. She advised me to go to the airport office of the airline because at least they were working with access to the system.

After the disappointment with the police, I wasn’t optimistic about rebooking. Without that paperwork, I still couldn’t leave the country. It seemed like Morocco didn’t want to lose me. In the office, I was fortunate to find two very sympathetic and tenacious women who worked feverishly for two hours making multiple phone calls to track down that paperwork and to get special approval to put me on a flight. My covid19 PCR test had meanwhile expired so given the labs were all closed till Monday the soonest I could fly was Tuesday.

Hopefully, they would get approval to put me on a Tuesday flight. After herculean efforts, they too couldn’t locate that paperwork. I left the office frustrated but with a glimmer of hope at least.

I sat down in a quiet corner of the airport where I had wifi to contact my sweetheart. He was waiting in limbo not sure whether to continue his journey or return to Casablanca. I was really no closer to knowing how long I would be stuck without that piece of paper.

Suddenly a man appeared “Miss Marian?” he said. “We found your paperwork. It’s here at the airport” Alleluia!!!! The donkey must have arrived. The tenacity of those two Emirates workers paid off. I just needed to wait for official approval to get on Tuesday’s flight which I finally received the following day. Phew.

My sweetheart decided to come back to meet me even though I only had a few days to wait. There’s a silver lining to every cloud.
Welcome to the third world.

Now sitting in Sydney airport for 2 hours due to another admin error over an unaccompanied minor who is going to the same hotel. Welcome to Australia.’
 
You see what I mean. I’d love to quote her next posts, but most of them are about life in quarantine, with pictures of very dull food and the view from a hotel window. However… eventually Marian arrived at departure time, within tasting distance of home in Melbourne. When suddenly (and this is effectively two posts):
 
‘Expletive expletive expletive OMG I’m back in quarantine for another two weeks because I travelled through Sydney airport 2 days ago. I didn’t really want to see anyone, attend my many medical appointments, walk the dog, swim at the pool, cuddle my kids, go shopping, or streak naked down Bourke street. Anyway, it will do me good. I might even unpack my bags, dust my very dusty house, and weed my very weedy garden. Care packages gratefully accepted. 

Wearing a mask so I don’t infect you obviously.

Breaking news. I’ve been released from quarantine. They listened to my story, travelled straight from quarantine to the airport, 10-minute drive, I was masked, driver masked, open windows, genetic immune disorder, N95 tight well-fitting mask, sanitize, sanitize, sanitize, distance, distance, distance, blah blah blah. The health department released me from home quarantine. Shortest quarantine ever. Happy woman here.
Final update my post quarantine covid19 test is negative. Visit me. I’ve got the kettle on’
 
Not many countries are very prepared for this, are they!
 
And so Marian is home, plotting ways and means to transport the beautiful sweetheart Youssef to Footscray. This has to happen, I insist, for the sake of the newsletter.
 
I can’t guarantee this is all that’s happened, but I have to get this off before I have to call it the May/June/July newsletter!
 
Oh yes, mustn’t forget to remind anyone with someone’s birthday upcoming that my novel ‘What Empty Things Are These’ – universally well-reviewed – is still for sale from all online outlets, and can be ordered from any bookshop.