Honey ants on a chip packet

9 Apr

A friend put this photo on her facebook profile the other day (don’t worry, I asked her for permission to use it!).  For me, it epitomises my initial impressions of Yuendumu, an Indigenous community 300km Northwest of Alice Springs.  Yuendumu shocked me – I had been to majority-world countries, I had seen malnourished and diseased children, and I had waded through streets full of rubbish – but I had never done these things in my own country.  A country, furthermore, that has one of the highest standards of living, lowest maternal mortality rates, and best educational oppurtunities in the world.  Except for Yuendumu of course,  and other Indigneous communities like it.

Experiencing extreme culture shock in one’s own country is a nasty, insidious experience.  Many people can’t cope with it, and this is one of the (many) reasons there is such a high turnover of staff in community organisations.  We prepare ourselves when we travel overseas, we breath deeply and vow to help, we look at it straight on, knowing that acknowledging this poverty and inhumanity is all we can give people.  And then (most of us) go home.

Yuendumu, and any other majority-world place in our own country, does not allow us to do that.  It sticks with us, under our skin, in our nostrils.  The air and dust and dirt stay inside us, and the names and faces of the people waltz through our heads.  It has been more than four years since I lived and worked in Yuendumu.  And then Shaurita’s photo pops up on my newsfeed, and the juxtaposition of culture and modernity, of majority-world poverty and 21st century iphones, of honey ants and a chip packet, draws me back into my culture shock.

And I am home.

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One Response to “Honey ants on a chip packet”

  1. whitepageblank April 29, 2011 at 8:20 pm #

    You were in Yuendumu? no way!

    I have spent a fair while working in Hermannsburg and Areyonga (Ntaria and Utju)!

    I remember when I first returned from Ntaria, the plane ride home was one of the scariest experiences of my life. I had spent 3 months in Ntaria, only going into Alice Springs for about 1 hour every 2 weeks for food, because as Im sure you know (and we should probably talk about on this blog) the food available in supermarkets in remote communities in Central Aus is ridiculously expensive and horribly bad quality.

    But I remember the plane ride home vividly. As we flew back over Sydney, and I saw all the houses and built up buildings so close together. As I swooped over the highways and city streets. As we glided over residential pools and excessive excuses of money spent and wasted on luxuries for personal use…I wanted to turn the plane around

    I was so scared to be back in a society like this. I had grown old in Ntaria and was an old man flying into a different universe. I so craved the taste of dry open red dirt flung against my lips and flies against my eyes.

    I never felt like that before. In all the places I had travelled, I had never been so ashamed to return home.

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