Another Piece of my African Tale…..Lost in translation 

I’m one of those stupid people (yes, I said it) who will trust you until you prove yourself to be an absolute waste of oxygen… I’m pretty liberal with the amount of asshole like behaviour I will let you get away with before I draw the time, but once you have proved yourself to be an absolute dick, well then, it’s over. I won’t trust you any more. I don’t care who else forgives you, how much time passes or how many times you apologise. Pay your debts to society, turn over a new leaf or whatever but don’t expect me to come running around forgiving you to help alleviate your guilt. Fuck that. Life is short and I am busy trying to change the world.

As such, when Onesmas asked me to give a lecture on democracy (based on my degree in public policy/international relations) I told him “No.” I explained that I had come to AFrica to learn and to help, not to play stupid local political games…. apparently this was not the answer he was looking for. he then asked me if I would explain basic political science, just a “pol sci 101” talk for the men and women at the same pentecostal church where we were to meet the Lunenele Orphans. Eventually, I agreed to talk about how and why Shannon, Wil and I were in Africa and the role that I though Western interventions should be playing in poverty eradication and development.

Giving a lecture, in a field you are only vaguely experienced in, in a language you don’t speak, because you are concerned that you may end up homeless in a rural area of a developing country…. sure what could go wrong with this???

A problem I had was that I had no idea where to start – politics is a broad topic, it’s like telling someone ‘go talk to those people about history’. The history of what country, tradition, language, area? For how long? How in-depth? What topic? What standard? Eventually because I could see no way of getting out of it, I agreed to talk about democracy. When we got there, I realised that I couldn’t just give a lecture on democracy, how? Why? And who the hell was I to walk into the church of strangers, as a foreigner and lecture them on democracy? So in the end what I told them was more of a pep-talk about how no one was going to solve Kenya’s problems for Kenya. It was down to Kenyans to do it, here’s a copy of the speech I wrote up later that day, its not exactly the words I used, but it’s pretty close.

 Milembe Wosi (Greetings Every One)

You all call me a Muzungu (European/foreigner) and you’re right. I’m not from Kenya, I’m not even African. But still you are all looking at me asking me to solve all of your problems. I don’t even know what all of your problems are, I know some, but the rest I would have to guess. You M’Africa (Africans) know what Kenya needs.

William, Shannon and I don’t have money to hand out, but we do have hearts that want to understand the problems. We do care. We wish to communicate and co-operate with the people of Shikunga in order to help you to provide the future your children deserve.

Every child here has great potential, and it is they who with your help can change Kenya. There is no point in teaching them to rely upon foreign aid, as it is not sustainable We are here not to control your actions or to deal out instructions we are here to join with your community family and work with you under your instructions to help develop the potential of your children. Your children are the future.

 I summed up by telling people that Wil and I would be outside to answer any questions they may have had after mass, and that Shannon was shy and wouldn’t be making a speech. 

While I was talking Onesmas was translating my speech for the people in the church to understand. Now I at the time I couldn’t  speak Swahili well, but I knew a few words. I learned them from my Acholi friend back in 2002 I know that child is mototo and love is upendo. I had used these words in my speech and they weren’t translated. When I confronted Onesmas later he said ‘Oh, I just told them what I thought you should have said.’ I thought ‘Right. That’s it.’

 I know I must be depicting Kenya as an awful place that I didn’t like, but that’s not how it was, Kenya is obviously, rather mad… a land of mini buses licences to carry 12 people, but packed with 24 with additional people on the roof… oh and of course a chicken or two are usually on board as well. I remember the first time I rode on top of a bus on the way home the other day, it was such fun, quite liberating for someone who comes from a seat belt and safety obsessed nation. So there Sarah and I were riding on the top, much to the horror of the local women, (well men too) as women just do not ride on top of the matatu’s! (Actually forget that…sane people don’t ride on top of matatu’s!) Think about it though, you’ve got a small van with about 26 people in it, if the police pull it over the 15 excess passengers (it’s of course licensed to carry only 11) are arrested, it is 35 degrees and no one wears deodorant. As a white you are basically assured that you will never be arrested and so do you ride inside or ride on top? On top it is really dangerous but, the air is fresh, there is minimal live stock and you can always see where your stop is.  

In Kenya most of my mornings started off at about 5am with chai (tea) and bread with Jam. Initially I had to travel to the office everyday, now the office was in the town of Kakamega (an hour away from my village shikunga), which explains all the travelling on top of vehicles with chooks.

Days tended to end with me being dusty, tired and having jack of people yelling out ‘HEY MUZUNGO! Come on my Bodo-bodo!” (‘Hey white person, ride on my bicycle taxi thing-o’) It is fun, but sometimes I just wanted to walk.
Days end with Ugali (a mixture of maize flour and water cooked over the fire until it looks almost like mashed potatoes but much stiffer and can be taken with the hands to eat stew), greens and kuku (chicken – on good days) and a shower in a bucket by candlelight, as we have no power or plumbing.

It was really amazing in Kenya, half the time, it was the way I expected it to be, sometimes it wasn’t though… Having come straight off the plane into dramas with the organisation, finding yourself entirely isolated with the only people you know being corrupt thieves wasn’t exactly an ideal situation. I remember sometimes I would be walking up the dirt/mud track to the road (gravel track) and suddenly there would be a herd of cows walking towards me with a barefoot 8 year old boy wearing only a pair of shorts would be guiding them, stopping thieves from taking them, and making sure the calves didn’t take the mother cows milk or there’d be none left to sell, or I would be stumbling around through the banana trees in the dark and I would suddenly realise ‘Hey, I’m in AFRICA. I have always wanted to be, and now I am. Everyone back home has always said I would go, and now I have! I. Am. In. Africa.’

One time, early on in my stay in Kenya I saw a prison work gang in the city, they were dressed in the traditional striped black and white prisoners clothes that we seem to see only in movies and cartoons. The were working on a government maize field, and they were surrounded by machine gun bearing police officers. While this did not make me feel at all safe, it was a definite ‘I’m actually in Africa’ moment! 


 
 

 

 

 

back to Africa… another piece of me

The particularly energetic Pentecostal church we visited was in the same area as the Lunenele Self Help Group, who care for around 35 orphans. While I got busy wiping kids noses, washing sticky fingers (I know, I lack boundaries in every country I visit) and retelling the “In the Jungle One Day” story,” (if that story is not reciting itself in your head, you grew up in Australia in the 1990s), the chairman of the group began speaking. It was at about this time that Snow (yes, her real name), a two year old orphan who was becoming my new best friend, fell asleep on my knee, and I realised that these were HIV/AIDS orphans.

Picture1

This little boy was one of the orphans of Lunanele. He was too shy to tell me his name – but I remember Shannon, Will and I discussing how sad it was that this little boy he was “the sick kid” was being ostracised within the group – no one would play with him, or wash his face.

A LITTLE ON HIV/AIDS

In countries where AIDS has reached a crisis point, such as the African states of Kenya and South Africa, the disease has had serious effects on all areas of the nation including its economic and social development, national security and its ability to play a role in international security forces.[1] We in the western world however tend to hear about African conflicts, and African poverty, rather than AIDS – which even if cured today will still have killed more people than any other conflict in any other place on earth – EVER. AIDS, kills more people than terrorism, than wars, than king-hit punches in Kings Cross, than car accidents, child birth…. AIDS is dangerous, and in many ways silent. In July 2000, President Mbeki of South Africa gave a speech for the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban,[2] stating that he believed that ‘the world’s biggest killer and the greatest cause of ill health and suffering across the globe, including South Africa, is extreme poverty’.[3] This perception of HIV-AIDS as a disease that comes from poverty, is a common view held by many African leaders and scholars of Africa. The view does not however claim that people living in impoverished conditions are the only people infected by and suffering from the virus, nor does it claim that improved economic conditions would allow all the damage caused by HIV/AIDS to be mended.[4] As even the non-poor people in the badly effected countries, who are infected will in time, however find their resources are ebbed away by their infection and according to one scholar, Desmond, there is increasing evidence in urban communities of an emerging class of those recently impoverished by the epidemic.[5] Rather this view argues that a reduction of impoverished conditions, which are rampant in so many areas of the African continent, including improvements to the education and public health care systems may help stem the spread of the virus.[6]

AIDS impacts upon not just the health of individuals but also upon the health of nations. The reality facing Africa is that the suffering and death resulting from the virus is severely impinging on Africa’s ability to become a member of the first or even the second worlds.[7] The HIV/AIDS virus is eroding Africa’s human resources, which means that countries will loose out economically, the Kenyan economy for example could be left one-sixth smaller than it would be without a high HIV prevalence by the year 2015.[8]

Therefore, if the spread of the virus is stemmed, the affected nations stand a chance of rebuilding their economies, continuing with social development becoming more stable countries, which pose less threat to international security, and are less likely to be insecure at a nation level.[9]

….back to Lunenele….

The HIV/AIDS Virus played a devastating role in the community of Lunenele in the Western Province of Kenya, leaving in this small village 39 orphans, 7 widows and 5 widowers. All of whom would be left to starve while attempting to fend for themselves if it were not for the initiative of the community at large. In the year 2000 as a response to the huge number of deaths caused by the virus, the community decided something must be done to ensure the survival of the children, and to build for them a sustainable future. It was that year that the community set up the Lunenele Self Help Group which they designed to be an income generating project able to support the widows and orphans.

The projects included the establishment of a Posho (Maize) Mill, in which they grind the maize grown on their land by the widowers as a part of the agricultural programs they are also running.

The Mill was built in 2004 with the aid of a 150,000 Kenyan Shilling (approximately $300AU – this was the conversion in 2007… exchange rates have changed since I am sure) grant from the National AIDS Control Council. During the groups early years, they supported themselves through farming maize and vegetables also by keeping dairy cattle. Unfortunately the cattle were killed off by disease.

This initiative, more so than any of the others I had encountered thus far in Kenya appeared to be the most organised and most successful. The Chairman Michael Ngongokusiti attributes this success to the board of 25 people (5 men, 20 women) who meet every month to discuss, make and check up on the group’s policies and practices. The committee, he explained has subcommittees each of which is to attend to certain areas, a business committee, the report writing committee and the accounts committee which ensures that every cent is account for. The Lunenele Self Help Group’s books are well kept to ensure that there is no chance of a dishonest person manipulating the system, as all involved have on goal in mind – helping the orphans, widows, widowers and therefore allowing for a stable, secure and safe community.

In addition to the provision of food and shelter for the orphans the Lunenele Self Help Groups strives to provide the orphans with school uniforms. In Kenya primary school education is free, and by law, children are not required to wear uniforms. Most parents however, are not aware of this fact, and most school principals place pressure on families and communities to ensure children where the uniforms, which means that children without uniforms are discriminated against and marginalised. This pushes many people away from the education system.

In 2006 the Lunenele Self Help Group produced 1530kg of maize and 630kg of beans to be sold for profits and shared by the orphans and widows. I asked the chairman if that was enough food, and did it produce enough profits? He simply gestured around showing me the number of orphans suffering from malnutrition and kwashiorkor or famine oedema, before answering ‘It was all that we could produce.’

The Lunenele Posho Mill has been largely successful, but it could potentially be more so, with a more certain future, if they were able to improve some of their facilities. The mill has a packed mud floor which will not necessarily survive the coming rainy season, and so the board wish to raise enough funds to cement the floor to help ensure its survival. The members also hope that they will in time be able to open a refreshment stand/tea-room on site, a business which would provide employment and profits for the community.

When it came time to for us to leave the Posho Mill I was forced to part with my new best friend, Snow. It struck me as terrifically unfair that even when a whole community gives everything it has to support the children, these orphans still go to bed hungry and sick.

[1] Hawa, R. S., “Africa: Poverty and the AIDS virus” Third World Network: 2001 electronic version, http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/poverty.htm cited August 30, 2007

[2] O’Connor, Eileen and Hunter-Gualt, Charlayne, “Hundreds walk out on Mbeki at AIDS conference Hundreds walk out on Mbeki at AIDS conference” CNN News online version http://archives.cnn.com/2000/HEALTH/AIDS/07/10/aids.economics/index.html July 10, 2000 Cited August 30, 2007

[3] Hawa, R. S., 2001

[4] O’Connor, Eileen and Hunter-Gualt, Charlayne, “Hundreds walk out on Mbeki at AIDS conference Hundreds walk out on Mbeki at AIDS conference” CNN News online version http://archives.cnn.com/2000/HEALTH/AIDS/07/10/aids.economics/index.html July 10, 2000 Cited August 30, 2007

[5] Cohen, Desmond, “Poverty and HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa “ HIV and Development Programme Issues Paper No. 27 electonic version http://www.undp.org/hiv/publications/issues/english/issue27e.html cited  October  21st 2006

[6]Hawa, R. S., 2001

[7] Amoako, K. Y., Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Africa on The Impact of HIV/AIDS on Growth and Poverty Reduction in Africa in his address to the Development Studies Centre Dublin, Ireland 03 February 2004 electronic transcript http://www.uneca.org/eca_resources/Speeches/amoako/2004/020304speech_amoako.htm cited September 5th 2007

[8] Ibid

[9] Hunter, S., Who Cares? AIDS in Africa, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003 p.22

A third – and small – piece of me

The day we visited a Pentecostal Church, was also the day that Wil convinces a local man to let him borrow his bicycle and we decided that he should give me a ride on the back of it (the Boda-Boda boys could do it, and Wil could ride a push bike)…. What could go wrong with this plan?

A. LOT. The answer is A. LOT. Wil, although fluent in the art of riding a mzungu bike, had absolutely no hope in hell of successfully riding a 20kg iron bicycle from approximately the 1950s … with no gears, too tall for him, on a gravel road, with a fully grown Josie sitting on the back (Side saddle of course, after all, I am a lady)…. Oh, and did I mention that we had an audience of approximately one million (okay, 40) local adults and children running along beside us screaming “But Mzungu’s can’t ride bikes….!” Gotta hate it when they got that shit right.

After an excruciating five minutes of this misdirected adventure, Wil and I picked ourselves up off the gravel, gave the bike back and continued to walk as though nothing had happened…
  

Another piece of my story

If you have ever woken up at 2am to the sound of a beating drum telling you that a baby has died…then you will understand why my stories of life in the village are not always as romantic as the books one is accustomed to reading about sun-kissed plains of Africa… This happened so many times when I was in the village… you see when someone died the drum would beat, bam, bam, bam, evenly, slowly for 24 hours. It was like a shadow of days past before phones and vehicles – as the most effective way to spread the sombre news to the community. Lying in the dark, looking up at the roof of ones’ mud hut, you would start to focus on the slow beat, feeling its vibrations through your entire body like the throb of the villages broken heart at the loss of one more person…..

Death was everywhere when I was in Africa, and sadly with it came callousness in many cases – not from all people, but from the one person I was relying on for support both then, and for years after I left the village.  I am sure I will talk more about that later… but for now, let me talk a little about my experiences in the village…

Generally when I hear a story about Africa, it is of colours which are brighter and deeper, music that is more soulful, and community spirit which is more valuable than it is elsewhere in the world…. If you refer back to my first paragraph however you will see that this is not the direction that my story is going to take…. I met beautiful people, with beautiful souls who through the very act of being themselves, sharing love, life and of themselves made, and continue to make the world beautiful… some of you will recall my friend Moses, who has since passed away – he was one of these individuals…. Like every state and nation however, my experiences in Africa also have dark individuals, capable of anything to further their own goals… I will talk about them also….

Why Kenya? People ask me this all the time….

Well, in 2002 I started seeing a Sudanese man from the Acholi tribe of the South of Sudan. And while that relationship didn’t last beyond 2005, it did allow me to learn more about what these people had been forced to flee from. My Acholi friend had welcomed me into his family, and told me stories of Sudan and Kenya where he and his family had lived for some years before being able to come to Australia. It was from him that I learned exactly how hard it had been for women in Africa to be given a decent education, or indeed any education at all. I wanted to learn more first hand in Africa, but as Sudan was under fire, Kenya was the closest I could safely get.

During my Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Tasmania majoring in politics, I don’t think I wrote a single assignment which was not somehow tied to Africa and third world development. Out of interest I did an elective called African Politics and Globalisation (POL251), which required me to write an essay entitled How, if at all, could president Mbeki have said that “poverty causes AIDS”? While I had always known that AIDS was a huge problem facing Africa, it was something I had mostly associated with South Africa. As for the rest of Africa, I mostly put all their problems down to war, internal unrest, poor political leadership, and lack of education.

Until last year whenever somebody asked me what it was that I planned to do with my life I would tell them that I wanted to use my degree in politics to work at a governmental level, or with an NGO to help alleviate in Africa the problems brought on by poor education, poverty, bad governments and disease. While I had always know that I would go to Africa it was only in 2005 that I began to think seriously about it, about where and when I would go, and what I would do there. In 2006 I decided ‘Right, I’m going to Africa. I need to see in practice what I have been learning on paper if I am going to be any use to anyone at all when I graduate.’ I began to look into a number of volunteer organisations, and found maybe half a dozen which would send volunteers, who had yet to graduate, to Africa. I didn’t find any that would send me to either Sierra Leone or Sudan, the closest I could get to Sierra Leone was Ghana and the closest to Sudan was Kenya. I elected to go with an organisation called Involvement Volunteers International, mostly because they offered the biggest range of placement activities, in the most locations at the lowest cost to the volunteer. I volunteered to work in Kenya for six months, three months in Nairobi, and three months in a rural area.

Back to my village story…

So, here I am in a village in Kenya….I am waking up in the morning, it’s around 5am, and I’m looking up at a mosquito net, hearing the sounds of cows, goats, chickens and children outside. This is the normal time and way to wake of a morning when you are sleeping in a small village in rural Kenya.

I was assigned to the following two projects beginning in February 2007:

12 Weeks assisting an organisation that provides many services to the community. Duties can include teaching at local schools and teaching non-formal skills (such as carpentry, sewing and agriculture) to youth and unemployed adults, providing counselling, assisting at homeless shelters, home care for HIV/AIDS patients and providing hot meals and companionship for the elderly. Food and accommodation with a Host family is provided for a contribution of US$35 p/week.

12 Weeks assisting with an organisation that looks after orphans in a slum area of Nairobi. The organisation aims to give these disadvantaged children a chance to break their cycle of poverty by providing education and a caring environment. Volunteers are needed to teach standard classes; implement and run more creative lessons such as drama and art and organise sporting activities. The school turns into a shelter at night with children sleeping on the floor of the school. It is an emotionally draining placement and volunteers are needed to show the children love and help them regain confidence in their lives. Food and accommodation are provided for US$30 per week.

The very idea of being able to assist in these projects was inspiring. I was so excited. I immediately started fundraising, writing to churches, politicians, political parties, and other groups and clubs asking for donations to help me cover the costs of my accommodation in Kenya, and to buy first aid and school supplies to be used to help the orphans and villagers. I was met with generous support from various organisations and individuals in Hobart. Meanwhile I was working around 60 hours a week in three jobs (in two restaurants and a nursing home), and trying to sit my university exams. It was a busy and difficult time which I was sure would all be worthwhile.

So I fly to Kenya, throughout the course of the flights I had one glass of wine, 8 coffees (one from Starbucks in Malaysia made with Dutch Lady milk, which tasted AWFUL), read three trashy romance novels and then through them away in Malaysia, turned down one marriage proposal, from Nzari the Tanzanian business man (I told you yesterday I would remember his name eventually!!) who lives in Hong Kong, and had a phone number inflicted upon me (00974-5395530) by a dodgy customs official in Qatar. It was all okay though, as soon as we got within eye-shot of Kenya, I was leaning out (okay on) the window of the plane staring down in amazement at the vast African plains, the African trees that look like this:

I maintain I saw also some giraffes, though the Nzari insists that I didn’t… But hey, never ever spoil a great story or view from an aeroplane with the truth!… anyways as you know after a stupidly long bus ride I ended up in the village, where bats, goats and mosquitos provide the background soundtrack to everything I do.

Upon arrival to the village I met William Kwan a volunteer from Melbourne who gave me the basic breakdown of what was going on. ‘Right, so here’s MURUDEF, so I came here to work with patients, there aren’t many. There’s nothing in the school, and there’s nothing else either.’ I was rather jetlagged and really tired, so I listened and made non-committed sounds. MURUDEF stands for the Muma Rural Urban Development Foundation, which is run by a man called Onesmas Maassi. I wasn’t sure of what to make of this medical student from Melbourne who had several facial and neck piercings. I went to bed pretty early that night, determined to suss out everything else in the morning. So the next morning I woke up thinking okay, I live in a mud hut with no power, glass in windows, kitchen or bathroom… apparently plumbing isn’t essential!! None of which bothered me at all! A quick shower from a bucket worked for me, I was clean, my teeth were clean, I had some water, and while my feet were dirty, I was about to walk about 4km to catch a bus and it had been raining so even if they were clean, it wouldn’t have been a long term thing.

That day another volunteer, Sarah* took me to the clinic, which had basically nothing in it when we arrived and some basic first aid supplies when I left, curtesy of some donations from Mr Morgan of Morgan’s Pharmacy Hobart. The clinic was in theory (not in practice) running on the basis that care is offered at cost price. That is the doctor consultation fee is very low, about the cost of a meal in Kenya, and medicines can be bought by those who need them at cost price simply so those that are used can be replaced. Patients can pay for their medicine and/or consultation with either money or goods, ie. Chickens, bananas, beans, seeds, eggs – anything we can sell.

Later on my first day the Sarah also took me into the town of Kakamega so we could check our email, I still remember hearing a goat from inside the internet café! We also had lunch at the Silver Pot which was to become my regular eating spot, and visited the MURUDEF office where I met the most incompetent office worker in the world, Stanley. It’s important to note how incompetent he is, as he will feature later on in this story. Also, I am not being mean, the man was incompetent and lazy. Some people are unable to do things because they haven’t had the opportunity to learn, while other people are just straight out incompetent and lazy, this combination irks me.

Over my first few days in the village, I quickly realised that William had been right with his initial run-down of the situation. The placements we had volunteered for simply didn’t exist. In fact there was nothing that we could really be doing to help. In short we were filling in time, wondering why we had been sent there. By the end of my first week I was dirty, dusty, still tired from my flight and thinking ‘Everything here feels something like a disaster of a disappointment. I’m angry and sad and really, really angry. And I just want a hug!’

Our host family was Onesmas and his family, his wife, youngest son, Roger, Onesmas’s brother Livingston, his wife, his mother and another sister in law of his. Onesmas wanted (and still wants) to be a politician in the area, and once he discovered that I was a students of politics he began insisting that I help him with his political campaign. I told him that I had come to Kenya to learn, and wanted no part of local politics. As we had no official (or unofficial) work or tasks to do we, the volunteers, had been keeping ourselves busy trying to start some projects, trying for example, to start basic first aid education.

One of my tasks was cleaning up the MURUDEF computer, de-virusing it (which without anti-virus software, didn’t work), and basically organising it. In doing so we discovered a number of letters and emails that Onesmas had been sending and receiving from people in Australia. All of these letters/emails without exception were requests for money, or thank you notes addressed to people who had already sent money. I realise that this doesn’t sound at all sinister, unless you actually read the email/letters. Onesmas was writing to people saying:

“Please can you donate to us a laptop/microscope/money? We greatly need it in our support of the widows/it is very important for the clinic/it is required at the school…to access the MURUDEF account we must travel to Nairobi which is difficult and expensive, so please place the money into my personal account, the details are as follows…”

We also found letters thanking and individual in Melbourne for the donation of a microscope, which the letter said was being used in the Shikunga Clinic.

All of this would have been fine, if MURUDEF genuinely support widows, if the microscope had have gone to the clinic, and if the school required support. The microscope was sold, and Onesmas’s children board at an expensive school in Kakamega, which is an interesting since high school education isn’t free and Onesmas does not have a paying job. It is also interesting that several of the villagers told us that Onesmas had told them ‘Yes, I have wuzungu (plural for whites) coming here to give money.’ He told the nurse that he needed us there for our money. The average wage in our area is around 2,500 Kenyan shillings ($50) per month, we were each paying Onesmas 3000 shillings per week in board. At times there were four of us there with him. So imagine he was making 12,000 shillings per week at times, and still he and his family often didn’t provide meals for Shannon and I when we were staying with them.

We the volunteers were in a difficult position as we were told that our hosts would not be making money off having us stay with them. We were told that we would be provided with food and water – which we weren’t, and that any extra money would be used to support the projects we were working with. For 3000 bob per week you could buy 300 bunches of sugar bananas. You could buy 200 bottles of soft drink, you could buy 17 meals in an up market café, or 60 bowls of chips. In the village you could buy about 150 meals in restaurants. 3000 bob is a quarter of a years school fees for a secondary school student at a good school. Had our host not been in charge of the organisation we may have had someone to report him to, or complain to, we however had no one. Looking back, Onesmas was also very good at making sure we only met his relatives, in-laws etc, so we had no one to turn to.

Sarah had been scheduled to leave a week after I arrived in Kenya, she was to take the long bus ride to Nairobi and then she was going home to Australia. We agreed that I would go with her so far as Nairobi where I had a friend waiting who would let me come and stay with him for a few days while I found myself more work, in one of the orphanages or centres for street children. I had been asking Onesmas if there was any other volunteers coming to Shikunga, and he insisted each time that there wasn’t. A few days before Sarah and I had planned to leave Shannon a young, 17 year old, volunteer turned up. She is from the Gold Coast, but was joining us from the group placement she had been on in Uganda. I knew then that I couldn’t leave, there was no way in hell I was leaving a 17 year old by herself in the middle of the jungle!

When Shannon arrived she told us that she had just finished year 12 and planned to take a year off before joining the University in Queensland. She was interested in studying something in the medical field and had volunteered to come and work for 2 months with widows and orphans. She’s great with kids. So she was sent to the clinic where on a busy day they might have had on patient. On her first night in Shikunga Wil and I took her down to our hut which we called ‘The Australian Embassy’ and gave her the basic break down ‘Everything is corrupt. Your placement doesn’t exist. Onesmas is dodgy. If you are going to stay with him pay him your board weekly not in a lump sum. That way you can take off at any time you choose.’ It was such an awful thing to have to tell her. Kenya is a long way from Australia, and you have a dreadful lost feeling when you know that you have been cheated and there is nothing you could do about it.

The next morning Onesmas wanted us to go to a Pentecostal Church with him and talk to the parishioners about our projects. Now that was a joke in itself as Shannon had been there less than 36 hours so hadn’t known what we were doing, or not doing. Wil had been working on a health insurance program, which required villagers to pay the clinic about $5 every three months and receive free consultations during that time, the program may or may not have been a good idea, but that was a moot point as without strong leadership however it was never going to work – and Onesmas was not willing to take on a leadership position. He wanted to be the man to give everyone money to buy their votes, but would never be able to demand payments from someone as that might make him look ‘bad’ and cost him votes….

 

Pieces of Me

People seem to have this idea that I have lived a most exciting life – and I suppose in some ways that i true… I did pack up and leave for Germany when I was 17 to be a nanny about a week after a guy online who I didn’t know from a bar of soap offered me a job caring for his 3 kids. In my defense, this was before facebook was a thing, no one had a smart phone – hell my mobile had BUTTONS, and it was definitely before we were actually worried about online crazy people…. also I worked fulltime at Wendy’s the ice-cream shop, all my mates were already 18 and were going out clubbing without me, and I was bored…. So why wouldn’t I drop everything and fly halfway across the world to a country where I knew no one, and didn’t speak the language?

My sister used to laugh and tell me that I had “Africa Radar” which is to say if there was an African person, piece of clothing, statue, animal or food (Oh man, ESPECIALLY food… Ethiopian food, I am all over that!) I would have noticed from kilometres away… If there was an African movie, I had seen it, and African book, I had read it, and African music was generally playing on my stereo. The day before I left for Germany, I had met a Sudanese-Egyptian who immediately gave me his brother’s phone number saying “He lives in Munich, he will look after you.” … so naturally when I landed in a tiny, regional airport in Germany, the first person I met was a Somali man. He wrote me a couple of letters, and I still have his details somewhere…

The second person I met in Germany was an old German man called Wolfgang.

My first solo overseas adventure was from the start a complete stereotypical “Josie” adventure…..

The sharing of my German story will end here for now… but we may return to it later… Let us go to Africa now….

My journey to Africa began with an immigration agent in Doha, Qatar pulling me out of a line waiting for customs clearance, taking my passport, putting his phone number inside it, before passing it back to me without even opening it to the page containing my passport photo and details… He suggested I call him on my way back for a place to stay, (I didn’t). Shortly afterwards I was waiting to board a plane to Nairobi, once on board sat next to a Tanzanian guy, his name at this second escapes me, but he had dreads, and was wearing a black leather jacket… (I think he was involved in some sort of trafficking? Hindsight *sigh*), who I kissed just before we landed in Nairobi, and then never saw again… he too gave me his number, but calling a random Tanzanian, on a flight to Nairobi, when he was enroute to Uganda, just seemed a little off… besides, who seriously expects to find love on a plane to East Africa??

I don’t know how to describe the feeling of landing in the place where I had assumed that I was always meant to be. The Nairobi airport was dirty and dusty, and I was there for a whole 5 seconds before I saw men walking around with semi-automatic machine guns which terrified me and intrigued me at the same time. I could barely carry my backpack and hand luggage so I stacked a trolley up and started to look for my ride, a taxi driver called John (because that is enough information). Before I had taken two steps, I noticed two of these terrifying, yet slightly exciting, men with big guns searching through a Kenyan man’s suitcase. I was scared to walk passed in case I had missed the sign that said “show the big scary man with the gun your suitcase” plus I was carrying a whole lot of medications to use in a rural Kenyan clinic which I was not 100% certain were legal in Kenya…. I nervously approached a guard and asked if he needed to check my bags… he stopped, scanned me up and down, and looked at me as if to say “why would I need to see your bag? You’re a mzungu” (Mzungu is foreigner – but mostly used for white people… I got this look A LOT over the next few months) and then walked off without saying a word to me… My first African disaster (second if you include kissing the random Tanzanian on the plane) averted, I exchanged $200 US dollars into Kenyan Shillings and bravely walked out the doors into the intense African heat to find John, the stranger that I was going to trust to drive me around Nairobi, a city with one of the highest crime rates in the world.

Taxis in Australia are air conditioned, registered, have working door handles, and meter. Kenyan taxis… don’t. John’s taxi was somewhat limited. It was old, dirty and really hot inside. John expertly wove his way through the chaos that was the Nairobi Airport’s car park, paid the man with a AK47 100bob (about $2.00) to exit the car park and then proceeded to drive me to my accommodation. I was to spend the night with Wambui, a Kenyan lady, and her family before catching a 6am bus to Kakamega in Western Kenya. I will never forget that drive… we drove through what I have come to know as very normal Kenyan streets lined with Mama’s (women) selling Ndizi (bananas) boda-boda boys (young men driving bicycle ‘taxis’), men selling sticks of sugarcane to bare footed children, and even a man with an entire display rack of clothing attached to the back of his bicycle!

(I feel the need at this point to let you all know that I did not kiss the taxi driver, and I have never kissed anyone in possession of a AKA47).

When I was at uni I remember people talking about the ‘compounds’ they lived in Nairobi, and the other kids that lived there… I never really understood the concept until I arrived at Wambui’s house. A compound is a group of houses, or a line of houses, all the same, all owned by the same landlord, surrounded by a wall, guarded with a (usually Masaii) security guard. The houses share a yard, or a ‘court yard’ and depending on the level of affluence of the tenants, may have shared toilets and showers. Wambuis house was in a compound with maybe a dozen others, in this particular compound houses had their own bathrooms, Wambui had a toilet (with no toilet seat) and a shower, which apparently ran hot and cold water… I only managed to make the cold water work. Off her tiny crowded living room was a tiny kitchen, which I did not enter, and two tiny bedrooms, one which her brother slept in, and another that she shared with her sister. As I was a guest Wambui gave me her bed, and she slept on the couch.

Incidentally this is one of the things I love about Africans… if you have a guest in Australia, particularly an adult guest, you make sure they have their own bed, ideally a double bed, in their own room, and as much privacy as can be arranged. When I have stayed with Africans I have shared bedrooms with my friends, their parents, cousins, old Mamas, little kids. I’ve shared single beds with girls my age, with little kids and other people’s babies – I’ve sat topless on a bed breastfeeding while a woman and toddler I’ve only met once before have walked in just to chat (and I swear to see if white people – mzungu – really breastfeed!) and I’ve never felt more welcomed.

In Australian culture, if someone offers you a drink or something to eat it is polite to refuse initially.

Host: Would you like a coffee Josie?

Josie: Oh, no thanks, I’m okay.

Host: Are you sure? I’m just making one for myself.

Josie: Oh, well, in that case it would be lovely, thank you so much!

In Africa however, that is not the case. When someone offers you food or drink the correct answer is, ‘oh yes, thank you!’ In fact to say no is just plain rude, you are refusing a person’s hospitality, quite an insult. Further to that, if you turn down food the first time it is offered, it isn’t offered again. I learned that day one, meal one. I didn’t have dinner my first night in Kenya. Wambui offered me dinner, and I politely said “No thank you.” To my surprise no one offered twice. Having just flown from the other side of the world my internal clock was completely out of whack so at the time that was not a big deal until about 2am when I woke up starving. I had just had my first lesson in African Hospitality.

My first full day in Africa began at 4am with a cold shower and a quick breakfast of very sweet, very weak tea made with powdered milk and stale bread spread with vegemite. I was in Africa, sitting with Kenyan, drinking tea grown and made in Kenya by Indians, eating vegemite. I don’t think anyone can truly understand globalisation until that has happened.

I think my first morning in Nairobi, heading by matatu small 14 seated bus which carried no less than 22 passengers and several pieces of luggage (but little livestock in the big city) to the Easy Coach station to catch a proper bus the 220km from Nairobi to Kakamega, a journey that was to take me nine hours, was the first time in my life that I have felt really out of my depth. For a start, no one had told me where I was going, or why. I knew that I was going to go to my volunteer placement that day, and as a Westerner foolishly assumed that 220km by high way would take about 2.5 hours at a maximum, as such couldn’t imagine why on earth I would be needed at a bus station before 6am.

If you asked me to describe Nairobi that morning I would have told you Nairobi is a fast place and Nairobi is dirty. People are rushing, all the time, which in hindsight I find a little ironic as everyone in African seems to operate on ‘African Time’ which is a good few hours slower than wzungu time (white people’s time – mzungu is singular, wzungu is plural). People were jumping on and off the matatu the conductor was yelling, demanding money off passengers, who were grouchily haggling with him to negotiate the lowest possible fairs. Everything happened in a bit of a whirl for me that morning. Wambui negotiating my fare, locals on the bus glaring at me because my backpack took up too much space, Wambui yelling at the conductor when he tried to get me to pay my fair after she had already done so, us almost falling out of the bus once we got to Nairobi centre and we needed to fight our way through the crowds all the while avoiding huge puddles of stagnant water that seemed to be everywhere in the city, to get to the bus stage where I would board a bus to take me to Kakamega… a reasonable sized town in Western Kenya.

I distinctly remember the conversation I had with Wambui that morning, she told me not to talk to any one on the bus, and not to accept food or drink from anyone “even if they seem nice.” I didn’t as her at the time why it was that I shouldn’t take candy from strangers, as that lesson had been driven into my head when I was a kid anyways. (The other thing I remember from the station was the second scariest toilet in the world (the scariest toilet was in Mutaho Village, and I will explain it later…think “Slum Dog Millionaire”) I had mentally prepared myself for deep-drop toilets in the village, and eastern style public toilets… I hadn’t quite expected the dirtiest western style toilet in the world which is what I found at the bus station. As I was about to go on a nine hour bus trip however, my only option was to deal with it. So I did… I remember going back to sit with Wambui and she was looking at me funny and asked me ‘so the toilets are bad yeh?’ and I was thinking in my head this is really not the time to complain, further I don’t want her to call ahead to Kakamega and tell them that I wouldn’t last in the village… so I shrugged my shoulders and told her “public toilets in Australia aren’t very nice either.” It wasn’t a lie… it just wasn’t all that true either.

Naturally, as soon as I was out of sight of my supervising host Wambui (her name is pronounced “Wham-boo-ie” for all you wazungu reading) I lapsed a little in following her instructions…. so although I had promised Wambui that I wouldn’t accept food from strangers I decided that once I had befriended/been befriended by a 16 year old girl named Miriam on the bus, sharing lunch with her seemed like the polite thing to do. I had dodgy chocolate cream biscuits, she had dodgy custard and cream biscuits… we were best of friends. Miriam was travelling to Kakamega to stay with her Aunty for the school holidays. She was the first person I had ever seen open a glass Fanta bottle with her teeth, she also explained to me that one has to keep the glass soda bottles to get their money back. This was a lesson that I was born a generation too late to have learned in Australia. It was fun sharing this horrendously long bus journey with her, she was young enough to have only taken the journey once or twice, and I had never done it, so together we pointed excitedly at the Zebras we passed by. We saw incredibly ugly baboons (I swear I saw one that looked just like an exboyfriend of mine…not naming names of course! Hobart people, try and guess that one….) and even uglier baboons fighting with one another using broken glass bottles (please don’t litter in Kenya guys!) as well as giraffes, buffaloes and gazelles. The bus fare from Nairobi to Kakamega was about $16 Australian – which makes it the cheapest safari ever!

I arrived in Kakamega at around 4pm that afternoon, tired, grumpy and pretty sure that forgetting to write down Onesmas’s number was a big mistake… what if he forgot to come and collect me? Sitting in the Kakamega bus station, watching the clock on the wall I counted minutes…. Five, ten, twenty-five, forty… an hour later he arrived, picked up my pack and we walked to the matatu stage. We got on board, he paid my fare, and we were on our way to Shikunga Village. It was almost 6.30pm by the time we made it to the village, the sun was starting to set, I was jetlagged, hungry and really dirty. I swear there was no longer any dust on the road between Nairobi and Kakamega because I had carried it all with me… it was in my hair, on my face, I felt like I had dust under my skin. To make matters work, I knew that it would be some months before I would have access to a hot shower again.

I was 21… it was a long long long time ago… but this is a piece of my story…. a piece of me.

   

  

Telling Stories

It is odd that I feel the need to apologise for this but I am sorry I haven’t been writing much lately… well, not writing here anyways – thinking a lot about writing, and the things I would like to say, and the things I would like people to listen to. I have I guess been being a little self-indulgent lately, trying to find my purpose whilst eating copious amounts of apple and black berry crumble and double cream (don’t knock it till you try my homemade  crumble…. It is AMAZEBALLS.)

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I have said before that I love stories. I believe that everyone has a story, and that each and every story is precious and should be heard and cherished… sadly however I do not always feel this way about my own story – or perhaps closer to the truth… I don’t always know how to tell my own stories. The really good ones always appear to be best told over several glasses of red wine, through a spoken word event – of course, that is a very limited and specific way to share….

The other stories, well, if I don’t add wine, humour and just a pinch of sexual innuendo just hurt to damn much to share. But it is those stories which matter the most – the ones I could share and perhaps make people understand some of the difficulties and injustices that our community is routinely overlooking, and how this is hobbling Australia – and dare I say it, humankind – preventing us from achieving the great things we could.

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(this is an snapshot from my book “Reclaiming My Soul” available as ebook or through Create Space )

You probably notice I write a lot of poems, which according to a mate of mine give the impression than I (a) hate men, and (b) am far too intimidating to approach to discuss. These poems however are the only way I know of to tell my story, to tell about how I feel and how I hurt without stating point blank facts about discrimination, hurt or assault which make people feel uncomfortable and back away from me. The problem here being that firstly, people may relate to the sentiments expressed in my writing, but that doesn’t mean they understand the underlying cause of the problems about which I write. Which means of course, these issues will go unchecked and continue for future generations. A bigger problem is of course “why do I have to care about making people feel uncomfortable when I am telling stories which need to be told?”

 

(this is an snapshot from my book “Reclaiming My Soul” available as ebook or through Create Space )

Is that perhaps my greater purpose?

To be wildly unpopular but say some of the things that need saying?

Stay tuned to see if I actually have the balls to do it.

 

 

Self care and optimism 

Although traditionally I have thought of myself as somewhat of an optimist, believing change is possible, I admit that over the past few months my interactions with those around me, the global temperament which appears to value violence and revenge more than hope and development, and the general laziness of the western community when it comes to availing themselves of the opportunity to become educated have taken their role on my ability to, and willingness to engage on these topics. I tire of having the same conversations over and over with people who are too lazy or too self indulgent to look outside of their own comfortable little world to learn how the world works… Which, on the whole is not like me. I am generally happy to be a source of information especially on topics where the sharing of information assists others (be that in the promotion of their human rights, their protection or some other type of advocacy).
I don’t believe the world has gotten nastier of late, and I don’t think people have gotten more heartless….. I wonder if I have become fatigued? This is something I have been thinking about over the last few days….if I am in fact burnt out (which is a positive spin on Josie becoming too old and tired lol) can I bounce back and go back onto my path of positive information sharing?

When people ask me how they can help change the world, and about the things they can do to generate positive change I tell them the following:

(1) be kind. Always. It doesn’t matter who you are and who you interact with. It doesn’t matter what religion you are or aren’t – being nice is easy, costs nothing and generally makes the world better for our kids whether we understand politics, economics or social development or not.

  
(2) do not believe anything you hear on A Current Affairs or any other mainstream “infotainment” media outlet. Everyone report has an agenda. Our Government has an agenda (this is money and power related always and has nothing to do with a desire to keep us safe, it is all to do with keeping their bank accounts safe). Always look for the other side of a story, always apply common sense. Always.

(3) get educated. You live in Australia. We have libraries. We have Internet. We have experts. There is no excuse for people not to know the difference between a burqa and a hijab. There is no excuse for people to confuse a Sikh with a Muslim. There is no excuse for people to fail to understand that the international business deals we benefit from in Australia have a direct follow on affect on international conditions including war, refugee flows and human rights protections/violations (More cobalt for your phone anyone? Fresh from Congo, only cost the rape of two women and the lives of three children in the mines.)
  
(4) once you know what you are talking about and trying to achieve apply kindness to your existing skills and use them for the betterment of other people. Writers, teachers, mechanics, engineers, local council members, parents, priests, customer service representatives….anyone who works with people can spread a message which can change the world. Education changes everything at every level. Singers can sing of change and writers can write about it. Those with practical skills can use these to assist those who cannot assist themselves. We need doctors, mechanics, nurses, engineers in areas where there are none. Every parent in the world has the obligation and ability to educate their children and their children’s teachers and their children’s communities about creating a more just world. Fed, safe and happy people do not make bombs – anywhere. And we can start he education here.
  
(5) self care. Look after yourself – if you are burnt out, you can’t do what you need to do to change the world. Balance in life is important – we all need to laugh so we do not stop and cry…. Then we can change the world.

I intend to start the week taking my own advice. 

 
Self care takes many different forms….. My first ride on a merry go round (and the shocking age of 30) or simple enjoying extravagant chocolate on the plane.

  

Can you do the same?

Bomb the World to Pieces, You Can’t Bomb it into Peace

My mascara is made my Maybelline and it is awesome – I am complimented everyday on my long natural appearing eye lashes. Every morning as I apply it however I feel guilty as I am aware that Maybelline is owned by the Nestle company who not so many years ago sent sales representatives dressed as doctors in to developing countries to tell mothers that Nestle powdered baby milk (even if mixed with the available unsterile water supply) was better for their babies than breast milk. Vulnerable women believe doctors, and followed this advice – as a consequence, babies died. So every time I apply my eye makeup I am reminded that (a) the west had a lot to answer for and (b) little things I do daily may be negatively impacting on innocent people globally, (c) no one enjoying the comforts of the developed western world can say they are not connected in some way (even if it is simply the origins on their make-up) connected to the suffering of those in the developing world. Although I have never deliberately harmed another human intentionally but my actions, purchases and privileges have a direct connection (often financial and always in my/the western worlds’ favour) with hideous actions causing death, destruction and suffering overseas – hurting people I don’t know, who we don’t see.

I don’t want any anyone to be hurt – ever – it isn’t nice, it isn’t kind and it doesn’t fit into the world that I want my son to grow in. Driving to before school care this morning, my son Mandela hears on the news that over 100 people were killed in Paris over the weekend and he wants to know why. I tell him it is a very sad and evil thing that some people have done because they (the perpetrators) have made a very bad decision and this hurt people. I reason with myself – How else does one explain an act of terror to a seven year old?

Then again, like the commercial media – I could explain it like this:

“Muslims are bad and they want to kill all of us because they don’t like our freedom.”

Only Mandela has a prayer mat of his own, many Muslim friends and would absolutely never believe that a person would attack and kill based on race or religion. Mandela understands that Muslims and Christians follow the same God and that God tells us to be kind to one another (and to listen to Mummy). Mainstream knee jerk reactions to the dangerous Muslim other do not fly with my seven year old (and he believes in the tooth fairy) which should indicate to the rest of us that we need to look deeper for reasons, for answers and for solutions.

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You know, way back when Mohammad began to spread Islam first within his small community and then gradually more widely across the region he was he first person to officially condemn female infanticide, grant women child support rights, and the right to vote. Islam was based on the premise that we all belong to one God and peace was paramount. Islam encouraged its followers to work hard, in the face of adversity. This is called Jihad – which is simply a struggle to do what God has asked of us, against what is difficult, which could mean, if you are a single Mum, simply feeding and educating your children, if you are vain (like me) not focusing on the superficial, but looking deeper, for my Dad, Jihad is going to work 12+ hours every day for 30 years for minimal financial reward only to provide his ten children with greater opportunities than he had. One of the key teachings in the Quran is “whoever kills a soul – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely,” (Al-Quran 5:32).

Islam further teaches:

“Do not let your hatred of a people incite you to aggression,”(Al-Quran 5:2).

“And do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness,”(Al-Quran 5:8).

Quran 6:151 says, “and do not kill a soul that God has made sacrosanct,” prohibiting the harm on any individual. Bombs or any kind are prohibited, as is suicide. Nuclear and biological warfare also prohibited.

Historically Islamic Armies have been instructed “I instruct you in ten matters: Do not kill women, children, the old, or the infirm; do not cut down fruit-bearing trees; do not destroy any town . . . ” (Malik’s Muwatta’, “Kitab al-Jihad.”)

With this in mind, I am looking at Paris. I am looking at London. I am looking at New York. These attacks are at odds with the teachings of Islam. These attacks are indeed at odds with any teachings I have ever heard from any religious group or non-religious person – killing innocent people is abhorrent and to be condemned.

The above, is relatively easy to explain to people, including my seven year old. God tells us to be nice, but he gave us free will (choices I would say to Mandela) but sometimes people are evil and abuse their privilege of choice. Mandela then says “why?”

I could again – explain it like this:

“Muslims are bad and they want to kill all of us because they don’t like our freedom.”

But as Mandela is smarter than this, and even in his limited world experience he knows that we ought not bunch all people of the same religion or race or gender or any other real or perceived grouping together and judge them, I am forced to look for a better answer.

To do this let me take you back to when I was seven, which was during the “first” Iraq War in the early 1990s. I remember I was doing my primary school homework, and as I asked Mum if there were any other Wars in history other than the one that Grandpa Coen had been in (which was World War II), Mum told me about World War I which both of my great grandfathers had fought in, the Viet Nam War which Uncle Jack had fought in, and the Gulf War which was happening “at the minute” were her exact words. This was 23 years ago, however I still remember feeling shocked that there were STILL wars going on – have all the grown-ups gone mad? Why were they still fighting, and why didn’t I know about it? Was I safe? These were my questions.

So, somewhere in the Iraq there is a 30 year old who when he/she was seven must have asked her Mum, is there peace anywhere, and why was it not safe for him/her to go to school? I imagine the Mum would have answered as follows “Inshallah (God willing) the war will end soon. But people in the government are fighting over oil, because they can’t agree, and even though God tells us to be kind, sometimes people are evil and make bad choices.” 23 odd years later, this child is an adult who has grown in war affected turmoil inflicted upon them purely by the accident of their birth in a geo-politically inconvenient location – not because they are Asian, European or Africa, but because they were “there.” I imagine that this now 30 year old is wondering how and why they have never felt safe, and what they did to deserve it. After all, their Jihad is pretty simple: They go to work, they come home, they raise their kids and they are nice to their elderly neighbour. All of the things that God requires of them.

We may be able to come to an answer to this question however if we take a moment and remember that no one bombed Iraq to gain access to the Quran or anything else religiously based, we bombed the crap out of them, repeatedly, to get oil, and we in the West are not racist or discriminatory – we will steal oil from anyone, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jew…… We just want oil and money.

We did however need an excuse to do it… No one likes it when a political leaders says “Hey, for the purposes of financial gain, very little of which will be enjoyed by you, my electorate, I propose we declare an expensive and traumatic war on a country who poses no actual threat to us at this stage but who has oil we can use, sell and enjoy.” My son would cut that polly down in seconds – “Mr PM/President, that is not kind. We should share. Maybe we can send them Australian stuff, and they can send us oil.”

As the PM/President is not an idiot (although this is open to constant debate) he tells his electorate: “Islam and it’s followers are different to us, and can therefore not be trusted. We need to curb their growing strength by force, which will keep us safe and also ensure access to resources which will benefit out great nation.”

Western nations it seems are quick to forget that there are literally millions of people suffering and thousands dying every week just because they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time, and many of these people die for “causes” (when I say causes I am talking about in diamond mines, cobalt mines, as a result of US drones dropping bombs, or as a result of a sales campaign by Nestle) all of which profit the “West” not the “East.” Is it any wonder that there are a certain number of men and women, who are hurt and angry when they see their children and brothers and sisters suffering for no reason other than their birth place whilst the “West” swims in affluence funded by “Eastern” blood?

I am not condoning violence and I am not excusing it, but I am empathetic to the hurt and frustration an entire region may feel after living in fear for their lives for decades. When this suffering takes the form of a deprivation of education, we have angry, hurt and vulnerable people who, as we have seen even within Australia, are ripe for coercion.

We have young people who don’t have educations – because they were mining oil for the West, or hiding from bombs – and so they cannot read the Quran. Their religious knowledge is limited, and their prayers consist of “Dear God, please ease our suffering and make our children safe.” Does this sound familiar? Is this not what every parent in the world prays for?

Enter the evil leader with the agenda, who knowing that they can entice such a vulnerable individual into committing a heinous act of violence by convincing them that it is God’s requirement of them – even though the evil leader, and any well-educated individual is aware that it is in conflict to Islamic requirements. The evil leader is then aware that the general populous in the “West” will not question their motives, they will just blame “Islam” as a blanket scapegoat. Divide and rule tactics.

Western leaders are aware that under educated, vulnerable and starving populations are easy to manipulate into committing violence because they lack any other avenue to better their situations – and let us be honest…. if your child is hungry and you can’t help them, you might just go crazy enough to commit an act of violence. We have, as westerners, an option – we could keep people starving and on edge by bombing them as we have historically – which we are aware only ends in more violence.

Or we could – bomb the world with butter, bread and educational opportunity. Meet hostility with hope and understanding. Waking up to France bombing Syria – a nation already ravished by war where thousands of innocents are dying – this is not a solution, this will not end terrorism. This will kill people.

Western leaders are aware that educated, secure, and engaged populations live in peace. We are aware also that terrorist leaders would not be able to entice a well-educated, secure and open minded individual be they Muslim, Christian or atheist to harm another person. One might argue that these disengaged and vulnerable populations are not our responsibility to support as western governments/populations. Conversely, one might argue that when suffering, poverty and deprivation overseas is (a) caused as a result of enterprise or trade which we benefit from then it is our business.

One might further argue that when suffering, poverty and deprivation overseas is (b) results in civil unrest or attacks on western countries then it is our business.

One might go further still and argue that when suffering, poverty and deprivation overseas is (c) resulting in knee jerk reactive declarations of war involving multiple countries then it is our business.

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Now that we have concluded that:

  • those in developing countries are often struggling due to political and business deals which involve western profits;
  • that violence is not the answer;
  • that educated, well fed populations do not engage in senseless violence because they have too much to loose
  • that Islam does not cause or encourage terrorism – it is just bad people doing that
  • no happy and safe person ever blew themselves up.

I don’t want anyone reading this piece to think that I am victim blaming or that I don’t care about the victims of the tragic attacks which occurred in Paris last week – I do. I vomited and then cried when I heard the news report.

I am terrified of a terrorist attack which might harm innocent people including my loved ones. But, I am more afraid that the tragedy in Paris will lead to further tragedy elsewhere that women, children, babies, elderly, – innocent people – will die for the sins of a few evil men.

I am more afraid that we as westerners have again drawn distinction between a French death and a Somali, a Syrian or an Iraqi death and placed the value on France as higher.

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Perhaps we are targets in Australia – but that means that people are looking at us. If the world is watching us, can we not lead an example for the world?

We are aware that violence is not the answer – let us, as Australia try something else so our children can know a world where they aren’t scared of random acts of violence.

“You can bomb the world to pieces but you can’t bomb it into peace.” (Franti)

Bring Back Abyan

I was asked to speak at the Hobart “Bring Back Abyan” Rally yesterday…..

I am aware that we as intelligent people, understand the UN Refugee Convention, and Australia’s obligations towards vulnerable individuals such as Abyan* (Abyan’s name has been changed to protect her identity). I am aware also, that we as intelligent people understand basic laws relating to rape and sexual assault, and of the needs a woman who has undergone such an ordeal needs to have met. Our challenge as intelligent and compassionate Australian’s is to ensure that our leaders live up to these obligations and ensure the needs of this woman are met – and that Australia does not permit inaction on this issue set a precedent that violence against women is acceptable in Australia. My speech took the form of two letters to Mr Turnbull, MP – one from me, and one that Abyan may write in the future.

Good morning everyone, thank you for having me here today. I would like to start by acknowledging the original owners of this land and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

As a woman raising a son, I am absolutely furious at the example extended by our political leaders….. I hold hope that each generation of Australians we will improve in our compassion towards each other and humanity – however, when our PM is willing to brush aside the rape of a traumatised woman under the care and protection of Australia, what hope does a future generation of young men have of learning how to treat women?

As I cannot rely on our leaders to be a positive example to my son, I am using their incompetence as a means through which I can teach my son to participate in democracy when he is unhappy with the results of his vote. I have been teaching him that I believe that as citizens of a free and democratic nation we have an obligation to actively participate in guiding and shaping the future of our nation. We have also a responsibility to take responsibility for the government that we elected (regardless of how small a margin they may have scrapped into leadership with). As we have the right to vote for our government, based on the information they give us prior to elections, then we also have the responsibility – the obligation – to ensure that we firstly, ensure we have heard and understood all the information, and secondly, to hold our governments accountable for their actions and ensure they keep their promises. These responsibilities and obligations go both ways – our elected leaders are obligated to fulfil promises, and to represent the wants of the Australian people, locally, nationally and internationally. As such, it is with absolute rage that I watch our current leaders break promise after promise and fail to protect the innocent, while we sit by without taking action.

In response, I have drafted a letter to Mr Turnbull which I hope encompasses our feelings on the topic.

Dear Mr Prime Minister,

Rape is a very uncool word, Sorry about that. But if you didn’t use my tax dollars to employ rapists, then lie about it, then I wouldn’t need to talk about it with you.

I would like to apologise for the inconvenient nature of our protest today, I would like to apologise for the black mark the high rates of violence against women in Australia leaves on your reputation internationally – as a woman however, there isn’t much I can do to stop this violence against me, other than to raise my son to treat women with respect. This becomes increasingly difficult when my national leaders flat out refuse to do so.

Mr Turnbull, I am sorry that Australian’s will not accept you using your weak support of women by tacking on a white ribbon to distract us from your support of the rape and assault of a young woman under Australian care – yes, I said you are supporting the rape – because you sure as hell didn’t condemn it!

I’m sorry Mr Turnbull, I do get it – Politics are often about scape-goating – Hitler demonstrated this disgustingly well in World War II, he blamed the Jews for problems, and so his cause (however mislead!) gained a following.

Sadly, it seems, you our “leader” like this tactic. It appears that you, like the leaders before you to believe that it is more important for you to gain a political following by scapegoating asylum seekers in the same way – blaming them for our problems, and leading people to believe they are the risk to us than it is for you to protect us.

Sadly you don’t seem to believe that anyone will benefit from either helping victims, or by naming, blaming and shaming those paid by Australian tax payers who in the course of their work in detention commit daily abuse, misuse and rape women.

Not even the Australian women who are raped every day and now understand that the government of Australia does not take rape seriously. Thanks for that, Bruh.

Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and now Turnbull, blamed boat people, refugees, illegal immigrants…. Non-white, non-Christian folks, for Australia’s perceived insecurity and financial burdens. The fact that no economist or international law expert ever agreed that the greatest economic or security risk facing Australia was asylum seekers was not relevant. The perpetrator of our perceived risk was an alien – they looked and sounded different to us, and although they weren’t hurting anywhere near the number of people as the white guys who kill 2 women per week in Australia (with numbers rising) it suited various Australian political leaders to bring this “issue” into the public forum.

Far be it for us women to further tarnish your reputation as the PM of a developed and progressive nature Mr Turnbull, I am sorry that your political loyalties maybe inconvenienced by this but we EMPLOY (yes, I said it – you work for us) You. And we require you and all our leaders should be doing all you can to ensure the safety of women, men and children in Australia from ACTUAL RISKS.

All Australian’s should be outraged that so little is done to combat the real risk to Australian security – the risk that has killed two women every week this year, and sees tens of thousands of women raped every year. YES the stats ARE that high.

This is not a vague risk of terror, this is real terror. Terror which is being inflicted on Australians, by Australians, ever year. It is terror that follows you into your home, your work place, your school life, your mind…. and your subconscious after you escape it.

Violence against women is a risk to Australian security. The fact that violence against women has become so acceptable that we blatantly blame its victims is a real threat to Australia’s future.

This is not a refugee issue. This is a human issue. This is a woman’s issue.

This is a men’s issue. This is an issue which will handicap Australia into the future.

If Australia is ed by a man who thinks – or tells us through his actions and inactions that he thinks rape is OK. Violence against women is okay. – then what does this mean for our women? Our mums, our sisters, daughters and our sons who will one day be men???

I am sorry to ask the hard questions mr turnbull – but WTF. Don’t you want a better future? I sure as hell do.

It is bad enough that due to gender representation in the popular culture and the way women can be treated in the workplace regardless of their level of expertise may seem like minor issues to the men and women who have never called victim to them.

IT is bad enough that rape happens daily.

It is bad enough that women are judged by their bodies and not their brains, and that we are dismissed as annoying man hating feminists by well idiots when we point it out, but do we need our government sanctioning this mal-treatment of women?

Domestic violence, sexual assault, and any other form of violence towards women however should enrage each and every one of us – but does it?

This year in Australia two women have been murdered every week by a partner, husband, jilted x-boyfriend, father or other male. This is more per year than the total number of Australians who were killed in the war in Afghanistan between 2011-2014. Are we outraged? No. But we are concerned about men, women and children who seek asylum in Australia being a risk to us.

Surely, if men were being bitten by sharks at half this rate we would have drained the goddamn ocean by now!

And Mr Turnbull I am sorry that this is inconvenient for you to hear.

I apologise for the egg on your face when you realise the whole country knows your pledges to white ribbon day are nothing more than lip service, when you pin on your ribbon with one hand whilst condoning violence against women with the other.

I am sorry to every single woman in Australia today, yesterday and tomorrow for whom your actions and abhorrent treatment of Abyan have set the president that violence against women is okay.

In 2005 approximately 72,000 sexual assaults and rapes occurred in Australia, approximately 66,960 of these attacks were against women. Many of these rapes went unreported, but why? I can tell you it was not because women feel that they did not believe they were wronged, or because they could “cope” but rather because due to the sexualisation of women in the mainstream and a widespread belief that a woman is somehow to blame for rape due to her attire or behaviour prior to an attack. This leads to victims not reporting the assault either because they blame themselves, they fear the perpetrator, or worse fear everyone – they fear that no one would believe them and the would be dragged through the court system like a criminal, only to see their attacker walk free.

JUST LIKE YOU WANT TO DO TO ABYAN.

Mr Turnbull, I am sorry that it is necessary for us to have nationwide protests in order to let you know that ignoring a woman’s medical, emotional, psychological and physical needs after rape is not okay – because that, well that means Australia is not the country I thought I was.

Sincerely,

Josie.

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Dear Mr Turnbull

I’m sitting here, thinking about how you raped me
many years on and I am still reminding myself that it wasn’t my fault

I know I was a refugee, but you hurt me. I told you to stop – you didn’t listen to me.
It was all about you – fulfilling your need – I was nothing more than a tool, a means to an end. An object for you to use. I don’t know if you remember – but I do.

I remember every day, every cry of my baby – the one you made me keep. The one you wished to deport with me – this baby reminds me.

Every moment of silence becomes filled with my failure, my failure to protect myself,
to accurately judge your intention. My failure to report – no wait YOUR failure to accept my report, perhaps i wore the wrong dress – or followed the wrong religion.

Perhaps I was wrong to assume you would protect me – but you signed the Convention – you promised to protect me.

Maybe i shouldn’t have asked for help? Perhaps I should have died at home – perhaps you wanted me to die in Somalia? Like so many thousands before me – whose names you will never have to learn.

The bruises on my back, and  on my skin, a stench reminding me of what you took.
It was nothing, they told me, it didn’t happen – you don’t exist.

With no English – I had no one in whom to confide, would it have mattered if I were white? You would have cared if I were not a refugee?
In Australia harm matters when it happens to a football player – one who hurts his foot while drunk. It matters when an Australian man is punched out by his peers, but not a woman.

A judgement on my worth was made – where was my defense my lack of Australian-ness, my lack of manness – equaled lack of worth – even in Australia.

From Abyan

Guns are dangerous

If you cannot see the risks associated with the USAs complete lack of gun control, and if you feel the need to say that knives are just as big a risk to human life, then no, I am not going to argue with you individually, a you are clearly:

  • either not smart enough, 
  • or you don’t care enough about facts, 
  • Or you clearly don’t care enough about human life
  • You are definitely a part of a problem which ought to be legislated

More than that your idiotic arguments that “stabbing is popular in some Asian countries” or “with my gun I will protect yours family” piss on the graves and laugh in the faces of the greiving families and friends of the children who loose their lives in schools due to mass shootings in schools almost every week.

You show no respect to the 3 year old killed by his 6 year old brother just days ago.

This would NOT have happened if the gun wasn’t there. It is indefensible. You cannot argue in support of your “right” to have guns in the face of such tragedy. Everything you say is bullshit, because NO ONE NEEDS A GUN in their home. Guns don’t keep three year olds safe.

If you like guns cos your a weak small minded idiot who likes guns – own that. Admit you like guns.

I like chocolate. Too much. I eat it every day.I am owning that. Because there is no “justification” for my desire – however I also exercise and my like doesn’t kill people if I leave it unattended. The only reason you need a gun is evil intent, or a simple “want” – cut the bullshit and stop trying to justify it in rights and need, you don’t need guns for security. You just like them. Learn to like something that doesn’t kill people.