Archive | July, 2011

Reflections and frowns

21 Jul

I realise my volunteering experience has three stages to it.

1. I am doing a wonderful thing (self aggrandisement?), how important this is and my ability to ‘give back’. Good stuff. Taking advantage of my ability to partake in such a program. Bonus life points.

2. This is a joke! Anyone with a hand to hold a pen could be doing this job – I am useless, is it just about the program fee for the organisation? Surely not, I’m more valuable that that?! Withdrawal. Denial. Let down.

3. This experience is mine, my work partner is like a private travel guide/translator, it is not about the work, but the culture, the people, the experience. I suddenly feel bad for having such a good set up over there, but that’s the only way I can come to terms with it.
Break away from the tight framework that we started with, enjoy hours on buses often for 20 minutes of work, watch India roll by, know that I have discovered and redefined a precious part of the world and of myself.

The Power of Reflection

9 Jul

When reflecting on our volunteer experiences, there is always something that stands out amongst our memories. They may be an encounter, an event that taught us a lesson in life, or even a chance experience. For me, however, it was something as simple as hearing the melodies of people’s voices. Singing in a pastime activity for Swazis and Africans in general.

By sharing stories, experiences, triumphs, learnings, and personal journeys, whilst being an overseas volunteer has allowed me to revisit my most cherished memories that would otherwise be locked away. It has allowed me to relive my successes, challenges and reflect and learn more from my retelling. Such a power that lies in reflecting, and indeed can be adapted to learn from all life’s experiences.

Generation (Hard) Y(akka)

7 Jul

When I applied for the overseas volunteering opportunity, I was struggling to find employment as a recent double-degree graduate. I completed my studies at the end of 2008. Just after the GFC unleashed itself on the world.

It’s tough being a Gen Y graduate. There are more university graduates in the jobmarket than ever before. Competition is fierce. It was particularly so after the GFC. No one was hiring.

An article written by a member of Gen Y, or, as I would call it, Gen Hard Yakka, struck me. I’ve reproduced some of it below:

Young people have simply never known what proper job security is. We are so acutely aware of how difficult it is to find a job that when we eventually get one, we work incredibly hard to protect it and remain wary of how fleeting it may be.

We entered the workforce when a job was a rare privilege.

Some of us work with the fear of being fired and accept that as legitimate because, well, that’s just the way things are these days. If you’re not the best at your job then employers are entitled to get someone who is.

This attitude shocks baby boomers who entered the workforce before unionism went out of fashion along with bell-bottomed jeans. To baby boomers, the casualisation of the workforce is a one-fingered salute to workers’ rights. To generation Y, it is an entirely acceptable and pragmatic reality of our uncertain financial times.

Influenced by an endless conveyor belt of strikes and memories of glorious unionists during the 1960s and ’70s, boomers have always believed their job is their right and no one would dare sack them for having a few off days and a sickie or two. They never experienced the distress of being a qualified, ambitious, industrious graduate desperately looking for a job in a threadbare market.

Generation Y aren’t just harder-working and more enjoyable to work with because they’re young and fresh. We have an appreciation for a job that our parents [baby boomers] simply don’t.”

I agree in large part with the above views. I hope this post didn’t come across as a huge whinge, especially as I feel very privileged to have steady and interesting employment right now.

I’m merely pointing out, as this young lady has, that a young university-educated person in Australia has a precarious short-term future.

University graduates in Vietnam have better prospects of gaining employment (corresponding to their profession) than in Australia. The competition is far too high in Australia.

However, new occupations are emerging, such as social media analysts and consultants, which did not exist 30 or even 10 years ago.

Hopefully, positions in the developing labour market will be filled with bright young minds which will bring about transformations of existing structures, systems and the status quo.

a sanitised depiction

7 Jul

Merely watching the first 2 minutes of Luke Nguyen’s show persuades the viewer of the beauty of Vietnam.

I wish I could be as laid back and relaxed as Luke Nguyen is in Vietnam.

His exuberance, enthusiasm and the way he fully embraces and expresses his love for Vietnam seems genuine and is very believable. It’s probably because he is genuine. However, despite him jumping right into local food culture, the show depicts quite a sanitised version of Vietnam. Even the introductory montage (around 2 minutes into the above youtube video) has a pearly white glow.

Whereas, when one is aware and confronted by the social and political climate in Vietnam, it’s difficult to let go, relax and be enchanted by ‘charming’ Vietnam. It is difficult to be creative in your work and be proactive and positive in your outlook every day.

A friend recommended a recently published book to me. Vietnam, Rising Dragon, explores the complex and fascinating period in which Vietnam is developing in, and goes beyond the deceptive tourism campaign. I read the excerpt and was sold.

It is exactly the book I need to read upon returning to Australia after being living and volunteering in Vietnam for a year. It will undoubtedly help me make sense of what I experienced.

In Vietnam, whenever I found the answer to one question, ten more would pop up in my head. This book will help me find the answers that have been floating in my head ever since.

Maybe then, I could return to Vietnam and be as laid back as Luke Nguyen.

When Words Fail

5 Jul

Sometimes words aren’t enough. Sometimes, they are too much. Lately I’ve been finding it hard to get the balance right. So. I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.

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Need and Greed

5 Jul

The line between need and greed is often very thin and difficult to distinguish.  It may be somewhat obvious for the average Australian when considering a sizeable purchase.  Do I need a new phone or new car?  Or can I survive with my current one?  Taking this many steps further, you could ask the “Do I need?” question on every single one of your daily decisions, big or small.  If you took this to the extreme, you may end up living in a cave eating berries.

Let me attack this from another angle.  I discussed in the previous article about the theft of the video camera, and whether this was driven by need or greed.  I have also wondered about this from other observations.  Metal security grills on houses in remote villages in the middle of the Pacific or in Africa seem a little unnecessary.  Surely crime doesn’t exist in such remote locations.  But I can guarantee these people wouldn’t have spent the money on security grills if it wasn’t necessary.

Another example shocked me when I was travelling through Kenya.  Travel in Kenya on buses means lots of stops, and whenever you stop, there is no shortage of people trying to sell you something through the window.  This is great, as it ensures you are never hungry on a bus, as it is mostly food being sold.  However, I was in a minibus one time and the driver slowed down enough to buy some oranges.  By slow down, I mean he didn’t stop, he kept driving at a slow pace so the women selling the oranges had to run along beside the car to make the sale through the window.  Just as the money was changing hands another woman barges in trying to out-sell the other lady, nearly resulting in both ladies tripping themselves up and tumbling along the edge of the road.  With a bit of jostling the first women kept her feet and completed the sale.  This was some intense competition between the two women (who probably live in the same village) and I wonder whether it was need or greed.  The need maybe between dinner and no dinner for her family or it may have been some meat for dinner versus another night of beans and rice.  The difference between need and greed is far too hard for me to tell and not for me to judge, regardless.

My current conclusion is the difference between need and greed is a personal decision and can be only judged by the individual.  This type of moral decision is ingrained in you from your upbringing. You alone are responsible for deciding what you need and what is greed.

Puma fact:

5) Pumas are just like all other cats, they like nothing better than having a snooze in a sunny spot.  It may last 15 minutes or it may take an hour.  Either way you need to be ready to go when he is.


5 Jul

A memorable  part of being an overseas volunteer is enjoying the nature and gifts of the country where serving. In my case, this meant the renowned African wildlife.  Witnessing the magic of animals being in their own natural environment, rather than being confined in a torturous zoo for the public’s amusement gave a feeling of freedom and an acknowledgement that I was entering ‘their territory’ and playing by ‘their rules’. I was shown this by being charged by a fully grown African elephant! Probably one of the most scariest moments of my life!

Moments before being charged...I was driving!!

Still leaves me speechless

Something that also got my heart pumping was my personal encounter with lion cubs. The feeling of being up close and personal with my favourite animal was breathtaking! Feelings of nerves and excitement were expressed by shivering from head to toe. I could have spent all day here being at one with one of the most feared animals.

Just as personal was the crocodile that migrated to the dam in the back yard of my uncle’s farm. My cousin and I named him Steve. He was shy and would need encouraging to come out and play.

These experiences and encounters till this day remain a highlight in my overseas experiences. A must for all. The majestic views that a painter will envy, and a photographer sigh for in vain, the freedom of the wildlife and abundance of flora, untouched natural beauty stretching up to 350 km North to South (at Kruger National Park, South Africa), are but a few reasons what makes Africa unique.

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10 words

4 Jul

The volunteer organisation in Australia wanted us to do 10 weekly words, 10 words about anything – the work, health, emotions, whatever. I thought this was a great idea because I knew I’d be writing anyway, just no with any structure.

By the end of the first week, I was: “hardened, weakened, sorting, welcomed, consumed, disgusted, delighted, appreciative, adapting, energised”.

It developed into: “active, new friends, busy, spontaneous, self righteous, purge, frustrated, fulfilled, air, consumer”

And concluded with: “solid, future, grateful, unrealistic, excited, sound, wings, ongoing, reality, peace”.

It was a quick snapshot of the week, an insight into what might have been going on inside as well. But funnily enough as it went on  I started to resent having to do it! In hindsight I’m glad I had to do it, it kind of pinpoints how I was digesting things (in all senses of the word), and allows me to unblur the 12 or so weeks we were there and better understand the things that happened and how I responded.



The place for “us” and “them”

1 Jul

I begun reading Sarah Wilson’s article in the Sunday Life with my usual assumptions, the leggy size 8 with a Colgate grin has her own photo taking up more space on the page than her writing itself. This week’s article is titled, “This week I … confront my own racism”, I begun reading what I thought to be the “anti racist” realization of a superficial Sydneyite. The text is framed around the categorisation of us and them. Our culture and that of the other. The article concludes with a statement that we should view “those people” with a sense of inclusion, to allow them to be one of us. A statement relying on binary thinking, lacking an acknowledgement of the limitations of forcing segregation.

This idea of us and them worries me, thinking about the group I fall into, the same as Sarah Wilson?! And Pauline Hanson!!

I liked to think while I was teaching in India I was being included, actually I was being included.

However after reading the Reed Dance-Culture at its Finest ,  I remembered the photo below.

I keep it for comedy value. I look ridiculous. But the local women did not. The traditional costume was fitting in every way and they could wear it with a sense of pride for the culture it represents, that they are upholding. But I was foreign, not one of them. I learned through this picture that I have a respect for what I am not, but I do not have a respect for exclusion based on generalisations. I’d never have felt the warmth and inclusion from local people if I had lived my time trying to be one of them. See photo above for how “foregin” I’d have felt for 6 months.

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