Sheila Quairney

I’m not Donald Trump’s greatest fan. But indirectly, thanks to him, my life has literally turned upside down in the past two years – and here’s why.

I’m from the UK originally. I was born in London and lived most of my adult life in the North of England, close to Sheffield – until I went on holiday to Albania in June 2018.

Albania is not the most popular tourist destination, but it is different. It has a reputation for lawlessness, maybe because it was a closed country for many decades. But it’s also renowned for its hospitality, history and beautiful mountain scenery.

So why Albania? Well, that’s where Mr Trump comes in.

I was happily semi retired, teaching yoga on a part time basis and adjusting to having lots more time on my hands after leaving a busy full time job in 2016. I was living next to open countryside, woods, fields and hills, with a handsome but demanding rescue cat, Rosie, for company. I had a close group of friends, was secretary of the local Choral Society and enjoyed walks, theatre trips and meals out – pretty much like life in Melbourne!

I had decided to go on a holiday on my own for the first time, and had paid a deposit on a trip to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. This was April 2018, when the Donald suddenly decided to bomb Syria, and then move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Suddenly the world seemed a little more dangerous, and the situation in my intended holiday destination more volatile. Who knew what Donald would do next? (Nothing as it happened, and the tension did fizzle out, but it wasn’t a very appealing holiday location any more).

So a week before my full holiday payment was due, and four weeks before I was due to leave, I decided to cancel the trip and look for somewhere else….and a trip to Albania popped up on my radar. It was a country I’d always been interested in, having taken many trips to the neighbouring countries of Croatia and Greece. It seemed to be a mysterious, scenic but little known place and therefore off the beaten track. All appealing reasons to go on an escorted tour! I rang the holiday company, Pegasus, and got the last place on the 16 person trip, bought the only available guide book (Bradt) and off I went.

Being new to the world of escorted tours, I’d assumed that all the group members would be from the UK. In fact, I met most of them at the airport but there were a few gaps in the numbers, who turned out to be people who’d travelled from elsewhere.

We assembled in the lobby of the hotel at teatime and sallied forth for a guided walk round the small but colourful capital city, Tirana. The guide asked us at the first stop if there were any questions. As I opened my mouth to speak, one of the group who I hadn’t met en route asked him “Why is this street named after George Bush?” My first reaction was: that’s the question I was going to ask. My second reaction was: he’s Australian!

Fast forward two years and I’m now happily living in Port Melbourne with that selfsame Aussie, Brian.

Ironically, he had also changed his holiday plans at the last moment, having been booked to go to Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – a trip we then booked together for this year but have had to cancel. So maybe fate was working in our favour….

After several subsequent joint trips to and from the UK and Canada, where my son George lives, I sold my house and my car in the UK last June. I packed the remains of my worldly goods onto two pallets for shipping and said my au revoirs to friends and family. A friend took Rosie the cat (in case anyone was worried about her fate!). And I then flew off to my new life in Australia with Brian  – quite a big step at the grand age of 65.

We’ve bought a house together and there’s now just  the minor matter of waiting for a temporary, then a permanent visa. There’s currently about 90,000 people waiting around 2 years for a partner visa. After 15 months in the queue, I reckon I may be at about number 35,000, but I try not to think about it! Ever the optimist, I’ve invested in a ten year Australian Drivers’ Licence as a sign of my faith in a happy future.

It’s a bit worrying that I can’t leave the country to visit my family until who knows when, as I wouldn’t be allowed back in because I’m not a permanent resident – yet. But hopefully life will return to normal in due course, whatever that looks like. Or maybe I’ll get my full visa sooner than that.

Meanwhile, I’m immersing myself in Victorian life, singing, walking, volunteering with the State Library (when they’re open again) and of course Zooming. Discovering U3A and all its amazing courses and tutors has been a real plus – I was vaguely aware of it in the UK but never investigated its potential. And, very importantly, there may be a successor to Rosie in due course – I’m working on it!

So thank you to two former US Presidents for bringing Brian and me together….it may well be the best thing that either of you will ever have done:-)

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