My first group of guests were a family from Ballarat, come to Melbourne so that their 4 year old could have dental surgery. Opening the door to any group of strangers and welcoming them into your house can be a confronting experience, especially so when they're from a cultural group you've not had much contact with.
My fears were soon dispelled, the grandmother, aunt and child all being interested in the house, happy to have such an open, safe space. Coffee was made and a happy dance performed at the sight of ginormous teddy bear, a new addition to the house this year.
The grandmother was the obviously the matriarch of the family. She was originally from Alice Springs, a Southern Arrente woman she was proud to tell me, speaking or understanding four languages. She was happy to talk about being an Arrente woman, caring for two of her grandsons in Ballarat, whilst still keeping in contact with her people in and around Alice Springs. She was quite interested in our book collection, picking out books of interest to read. One book in particular got her attention, a book about the Aboriginal experiences in South Australia since 1836. When I glanced over her shoulder to see what she was looking at, I found it really hard going. Stories about poison being mixed into food parcels, photos of young men in prison and atom bombs being tested at Maralinga... but these were stories about her people, and she calmly kept turning the pages. Just as we were getting ready for dinner, an excited shout out - she had found a photo of a group of soldiers which included her father and her cousin.
We were happy to send the family back to Ballarat the next day, the little boy minus some teeth, and new family photos for her collection. I too, was left feeling enriched from the conversations I'd had, from the innocent delight in the little boy at play, and the gift of having been able to provide hospitality to people who had travelled to a strange city.
I found that as I was the person first to welcome this family into our home, they felt most comfortable sharing stories with me and looked to me as first avenue for information, no matter how many other residents were around. Being able to offer hospitality quickly builds bridges and starts the beginnings of relationships. These can be simple acts such as a smile as you greet them at the door, putting on the kettle or pointing out where the food for breakfast is kept. Already this big life decision to be part of IHH is bringing me great rewards. I look forward to the experiences to come.