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  • isabellamonga1997

Hahndorf, a South Australia's German village

Dear reader,

the first story I want to tell you is set in South Australia, 2018.

There was a little village there, not far away from Adelaide, South Australia's main city. For a European young woman, then used to Aussie's way of living, the idea of seeing a bit of the world she has known for her whole life was tantalizing. I can't recall anymore who firstly told me about Hahndorf, but certainly its assonance with names I've often heard as a child moved something in my heart.

I had been missing for almost five months by then: when you live on the other side of the globe, mundane matters soften your memories and feelings towards the place you are from. Somehow, you start to forget. Maybe because thinking of your mom and dad walking with you in the Alpine Austrian border is a painful memory.

I was free that day, I remember. I decided to take the first bus from Tarntanyangga, and crossed what conquerors called Mount Osmond, I plunged into Mount Lofty's verdant and lush vegetation.

The sky was grey. Headphones in my ear, I was looking outside bus 864's window, admiring the astonishing similarity of that nature with my hometown's one. As the bus was going up hill, emotions and memories long sealed in my heart started flushing out again. My sister and I walking along in a five hours hike towards the Swiss-Austrian-Italian border: she was teaching me how to ask in German for some ham and cheese bread, and water too; my brother, at the time only 9 years old, crying because he was tired to walk in those beautiful mountains that we call home; my father, showing us how to read a map.

The bus stopped in front of Saint Paul's Lutheran Church, which I admired for some little minutes. I could resist no more, therefore I walked towards the centre of the village, in almost religious silence. How weird it was to see buildings decorated with German wooden crafts, and the inside of the shops had German recalls too. Some places where more traditional than others, some felt like imitations. Conscious that I was walking in what has been mainly transformed in a touristic amenity of the present times, I learnt that the place is Australia's oldest surviving German settlement, since when those 38 families came to the country in 1838.

That territory is, of course, much older than that, as its history dates 2400 years back, when Peramangk people lived in what at the time was Bukartilla, and no colonists where on sight yet. I strolled around here and there, stopping at collectible shops, little gardens and yards filled with all things antiques.

A cute little building, of black bricks and cream colours, was selling ice cream and Belgian waffles. Not far from there, the Borchers Blacksmith Shop brought me 148 years back, and I could see Carl Borchers shoeing horses and repairing farm implements. The clangor of metal against metal, the heat of his forge, the sweat on his face suddenly became alive in my eyes as a magical, shared memory.

The weather changed, and some sun came out to light a little fairy garden. I admired flowers of many colors, and though about mom. She likes to pick them up from fields, and in my home country I did that too at times, making small bunches and letting them drain upside down in my room. Suddenly, my thoughts got interrupted by the sound of a guitar. A shaggy and dirty man was in the shadow of a wall, sitting on the ground, singing alone. His voice was quite in tune, but I couldn't understand what he was saying. He was singing in English, but the lyrics made no sense. I noticed his dark, dirty t-shirt, his long salt and pepper beard, his oily hair. My sight moved down a bit, my eyes met his, and he smiled. He didn't stop moving his fingers on the cords, producing a moving melody, while his sweet, kind eyes invited me to get closer. I sat in front of him. I wanted to know him.

"What are you singing about?" I asked.

"A song I wrote myself," he answered.

But when I investigated on the subject of it, he couldn't tell. He was smelly, but I didn't want to move any further: I had to know more.

"Who are you? Where do you come from?" I asked.

"My father had a German ancestry, but he was Korean," he told me. I think he said Korean.

"I had a sister. I had a wife and children, but we had a discussion," I think he said a discussion, or he did something that made them unhappy.

"We don't talk anymore. My family left me and they don't want to talk to me anymore".

I wondered, how do they know where is he now? He has no money, nor means of communication. And he seems quite confused, too. How can he ever reconnect, or be found again? Facing the reality of a homeless person, who suddenly becomes a no one, a man with no name that people would rather avoid, was shocking. It was like looking at a lost child, forever lost in a land of no one. I looked around me, with disenchantment. I also became invisible from the eyes of the people walking past.

"How did you get on the streets?" I asked.

His answer was as confused as his songs, and I didn't understand what he meant. But he added, "I sing every day, I play my guitar and I'm happy".

He started playing and singing, and I let him be. I just sat there, enjoying that moment. I wondered what my mom might have thought of that: me, approaching a homeless, sitting next to him and chatting. She, in fact, doesn't know this story, because otherwise she would have been scared, or unhappy I got myself in what she might consider a risky situation. Time passed by. The sun made the shade of the wall move a bit further, the birds were singing along. I think we talked of something else, but I can't remember what that was. He was stopping from time to time to start singing his nonsense songs, and I remained silent, listening.

It was time to go. The man looked at me: his eyes were smiling again, but thinking about my mom made me realize I did something unusual, and I felt a bit intimidated. Although, he appeared peaceful, while I was getting back up.

"What's your name?" I asked, hesitant.

His gaze brightened with awareness: for a second, he was not confused anymore.

"Neumann Kim," he said.

But his sight then blurred again, and as his consciousness was slipping away, he added: "but it doesn't matter, because you will forget it. And you will forget about me, too. Everyone does, everyone..." and started singing, louder.

"Neumann Kim, I promise I will never forget your name, nor who you are," I said.

I asked him if I could take a picture, and he agreed. I thanked him, and I left. Since then, I kept my promise. I will never forget him.

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