Weird Things Happen at Home, Too.


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I often suffer from some pretty wicked reverse culture shock. Since Africa, I’ve been okay. Actually, I’ll rephrase that: I’ve been extremely happy. I’m not twitching with the urge to escape to parts unknown (which earned me some funny looks on buses, I can tell you), nor wallowing in sadness and torturing myself with thoughts of what might have been.

I’ve still got ideas and plans related to overly ambitious travel — but, for now, am content with telling other people’s stories, and simply filling the time with as much home-based excitement as possible.

Okay…what I’m about to tell you is a weird and personal story. It starts with, “Well — I didn’t have to wait long.”

When I came back to the city, I spent the first week sleeping on my friend’s floor. On a mattress, of course, in the company of a few peckish mosquitoes and sheet-saturating humidity. (I swear Australia wasn’t this sticky and unpleasant before I left).

Louis, the dear man allowing me to commandeer his carpet space (glass-peppered as a result of storms), has a housemate — a Russian export by the name of Johanahan (or Ivan — I’ve heard both). He’s from rural parts, with a somewhat reluctant capacity to inhale 98-proof vodka and a fondness for things that can poison you. (He’s obtaining his PhD in Toxicology, see). A gamer, it’s not unheard of for him to play using tokens that are actually shockingly red, extremely potent seeds. He keeps them on a tray in his room, like jelly beans or something. It’s insane.

Anyway. They were welcoming, and didn’t seem to mind I was creating an awkward bridge between them and their lounge room. They were quiet and considerate, concerned I would lose sleep (every minute a precious commodity in my life) — and, one evening, I settled into my springs covered in fabric, and buried my face into my pillow in attempt to combat just that.

All appeared normal, but for the unassuming white bucket in the corner.

Fast-forward a few nights. We have friends over, and we’re all crowded around the table, fiercely one-upping ourselves in Articulate and tentatively sipping at the near-pure Polish alcohol brought back from Japan.

I can’t remember how, but conversation was brought around to Johanahan. (Oh, right — I know exactly how it happened. He whipped us all by tossing back a double shot of the Polish vodka, before nonchalantly returning to his room to study). And Louis — dear soul that he is — casually mentions the snakes in the bucket.

Wait — what now?

It turns out, while I was sleeping (somewhat fitfully, but no less innocent and harmless), that contrite little bucket in the room housed a writhing handful of Brown snakes (snakes — plural, not snake — singular) that were as alive as though you’d collected them from the bush that very afternoon. And, I’d imagine, they couldn’t have been all too happy about it.

Let me briefly fill you in on some characteristics of Eastern Brown snakes.

Native to Australia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea, adult Eastern Browns are varied in colour, and reach an average length of 1.1-1.8 metres — the biggest clocking in at 2.4m. They’re semi-adaptable creatures, inhabiting areas that are dry and grassy or coastal, but shy away from overly wet places. They’re known to possess a simultaneously defensive and easily agitated temperament (always a winning combination in animals that are coloured so as to unknowingly and complacently tread on them), and — here’s the best part — their venom is considered the second-most toxic of any land-based snake in the world.

I’d like to say that again, very carefully, so as not to lose any emphasis: the second-most toxic of any land-based snake in the world.

To boot, they’re fast, prone to pick fights when startled — like many Australian snakes with liquid death in their fangs — and there were several coiled up in a mere plastic container just three or four metres from where I was so foolishly kipping.

They cause more deaths in Australia than any other snake. Recently, one was caught swimming between the flags at a New South Wales beach.

Let’s unpack more details regarding what Eastern Brown venom can do to human flesh and blood, shall we?

Well, for starters, should you be bitten — and apparently this is difficult to detect — you’ll experience dizziness and diarrhoea…which, to be fair, hardly sounds more dangerous than a trip to your local Chinese restaurant. But, it gets more serious. You might collapse, convulsing, and then become paralysed. Your kidneys will go on strike, and your heart might just promptly follow their lead. Should you fail to receive prompt medical attention (or get your first-aid skills a little mixed up), you will quite possibly die.

Note that I’m using you in my example to distance myself from my own potential death by blood coagulation and cardiac arrest. I guess I’m still a little disturbed that one of my dearest friends, trusting and occasionally absentminded being he is, casually forgot to tell me I was sharing a room with guests of the hostile and scaly variety, and then discussed it as though he were comparing onions at the supermarket.

I thought he and Johanahan were taking the piss, at first. Surely, no one could be this unceremonious, and I spent the next few weeks questioning them at random, in hopes of catching them off-guard and coaxing the truth. That there were no snakes — there were never any snakes.

But the story holds up, terrifyingly enough. I was finally forced to bury my face in my hands, and admit I was, in a sense, cheating death in my sleep, and my friends are, in fact, perfectly content to leave me in a room with venomous reptiles and trust I’ll come out victorious.

I mean, I guess that’s sort of humbling…maybe. Or my friends are supremely understated in their waning tolerance and hopeful disposal of me.

Anyway. I had a point to all of this — a philosophical one.

If you’ve just returned home, lost and confused about what to do next, lamenting the loss of thrill and spontaneity in your life…just know you’re never without a dose of adventure. You just have to seek it out, just like you do travelling; becoming chummy with a mildly insane, vodka-tossing toxicologist is always a good way to start, or even driving around Western Australia and coming across rural bushlands filled to the fucking brim with garden gnomes.

You can’t possibly know what you’ll find — and, there’s a good chance whatever it is will help you get over what you’ve supposedly left behind.

Just perhaps don’t stray too far from a hospital.

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