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The Joys of Teaching

22 Jun

 

Me: “Bhut (brother) its not travel teaching unless theres walking involved!” (AND LOTS OF IT)

Isaac: “yea your right, bhuti. Maybe one day in the future it wil be car teaching!”

Probably one of my most fondest memories…walking all day in the middle of summer to meet old friends, acquaintances, and new faces to share with them ways of establishing a more healthy and unified community life. May I add-a great way to get in shape and lose any unwanted kg’s!

Sacrifice?

 

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11 things I learnt as an overseas volunteer:

20 Jun
  1. Stopping a meeting midway to go eat ice cream is perfectly normal.
  2. So is stopping to go and sing karaoke.
  3. The definition of being ‘professional’ is highly subjective.
  4. Work plan? What work plan?
  5. Many of my workmates were more technologically-literate than I was.
  6. It’s all about relationships and how you connect with others. Using a distant, formal, business-like manner won’t get you anywhere. Whereas, being warm and familiar will.
  7. Rubber-band or elastic-band time is the time that everyone abides by. Thus, a 9am start can mean 11am.
  8. Also, a 7.30am start is normal. Get used to it.
  9. You feel like a hypocrite compared to the local volunteers, who give up so much more than you do.
  10. You don’t make as big a difference as you thought you would initially. The complexities and dynamics of the world of aid and the development industry can quickly overcome any individual efforts.
  11. Letting loose at karaoke with a good bunch of friends is a great way to get over the fact that you’re not making that much of a difference.

the Reed Dance-Culture at its Finest

11 Jun

How many wives do you have? King Mswati III has about 14 or so. Impressive? Nahh. His old man had over 90!! Now that’s impressive (for some, at least). But don’t worry, King Mswati still has time to catch up, and he did so last year and probably is around about now!

Each year there is a cultural celebration in Swaziland where the King chooses a new wife. The event is called the Reed Dance. Maidens from all over the Kingdom arrive (by army truck loads) to one of the King’s residences. Here they stay for a week and partake of celebrations and activities. During this time they ALL go out and collect reeds from the rivers. These reeds are then presented to the King as a gift. In short, the King chooses a wife, or two or however he feels, in return. Last year the King had over 80 000 ‘maidens’ to choose from!!! The reason why I emphasise maiden is because I had seen the decay of promiscuity in Swaziland. A friend once said to me, “when living in the rural areas there’s nothing to do but have sex, there are no community activities, no sports, no tv etc, what else do you do for fun?”

Horizon-horizon full of maidens to choose from!

Interestingly, most of the girls I met (educated or not, from the city or rural areas) would have loved to be chosen as a wife and live the life of seclusion. Reason being they would have unlimited shopping funds, and their families would prosper. There were, however, some who had outlived this practice and disagreed with its degrading attitude towards women.

Seeing as I love immersing myself within any culture I come across, I boldly decided to dress myself with the traditional Swazi attire! By doing so, I was immediately transformed to a celebrity! A white guy dressed as a traditional Swazi=instant fame and attention. I even got interviewed for a local tv station covering the event. EVERYONE wanted a photo with ‘that white guy’. I even had a chat with one of the princes. I got so tongue tied that he abused me! I think I had offended him by dressing in his way.

traditional Swazi attire with animal skin around waist ('majobo')

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Perhaps the most amazing experience I had was capturing this awesome photo of the King as he walked by me. It was as if he stopped and posed for me while I took the shot.

I guess the main reason I captured such a shot was because the King was amused to see a white guy (apart from my cousin who I persuaded for so long) dressed like him!

Lucia

7 Jun

We never really know how lucky we have got it until we open our eyes and see other people’s stories. One of the moments that will never leave me is the afternoon I spent with Peru’s Challenge on a social house visit.

Her name is Lucia and she has four children. From the rural village of Puma Marca, she has overcome adversity and is a testimony of the successful work that Peru’s Challenge is doing in Cusco.

She ate infected pork meat which led to her developing a brain cyst. Despite her obvious deteriorating condition, she was unable to see a proper doctor due to monetary constraints which is an unfortunate commonality in Puma Marca. However, when she began to lose her motor abilities she went to see a local doctor but he missed the cyst because he did not have the adequate tools to see what was really wrong. Peru’s Challenge intervened and paid for a proper visit to a hospital because at that point, she could hardly walk or remember her children. That is when they found that she had a cyst. Peru’s Challenge scheduled her in for an operation at their cost. It cost them a few thousand but it was successful because after a week, she was able to move better and start constructing some coherence in her sentences. After two weeks, she was able to remember one of her children.

All the while, Peru’s Challenge faced opposition from the village because Lucia’s husband was depressed because they kept Lucia in the hospital for so long. He thought that they were taking her away. The women in the village gossiped about Peru’s Challenge, saying that they were doing Lucia wrong. However, Iris (the social worker) mediated and set the bar straight and told them of Lucia’s situation. She said that Peru’s Challenge was helping her and her family. It was necessary that they step in because Lucia was not receiving adequate care on her own. Unfortunately, she was discriminated against because she is a rural lady and the disparity between rural and city folk is still great. Without the support of Peru’s Challenge, she would not have received the care that she got.

After seeing the work that Peru’s Challenge did in Lucia, the village grew to respect the NGO greatly. Lucia is significantly improving. She can remember two more of her kids and her husband’s depression is getting better. Peru’s Challenge have also started teaching the family about hygiene and cleanliness in the house. They have built them rooms and a pig pen.

Remembering this story brings tears to my eyes because I saw her. I met Lucia and I saw the state of her house and her family. I felt her old hands grip mine as she looked into my eyes and smiled. She was real. I cannot take for granted the work that local NGO’s do because they are effective. I have so much love and respect for Jane and Selvy who are in the midst of people’s struggle and poverty, helping them in whatever way they can.

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The Thrill of Hearing Life Stories

6 Jun

I love this song. He sings with such an energy, power and excitement asking for stories about experience. I don’t know what Jonathan Boulet was thinking when he wrote it, but I think of all the people I have met, and want to meet. And the stories they have to tell.

While overseas, volunteering and living in India I met a man, Tashi, he was a Tibetan refugee, teaching English in Buddhist monastery and he wrote beautiful poetry. We met up to drink tea every now and then, he helped me plan classes. One day he said goodbye, and that I’d probably never see him again. He was beginning a walk across the Himalayas to Tibet that night. He trafficked information between the Tibetan Governments; in exile and in Tibet.

A close friend I met in India, Yanzom, was studying  12th grade at the hostel where I lived. She came from an isolated village in the mountains in North Eastern India, and had moved to attend school. She would often come into my room to sit and chat and read, we would often read the same books then talk about them. One day, talking about her family, she told me her mother had given birth to 12 children, 6 of whom had survived to this day due to malnutrition and lack of medical services. Now she aspires to be a doctor.

I was driving past a glacier with a friend, Delek, he pointed up the glacier and said, “My brother died there, he fell down a crevasse, he still lies at the bottom”. He’d never before mentioned having a brother.

On returning to Australia I became involved in the Tibetan community in Dee Why, Sydney. I met a man, Lobsang, who was once the Education Minister of Tibet, but was forced to leave by the Chinese Government. He now holds an (un) official role as a leader in the Tibetan community, and stacks the fridges in Coles, Dee Why.

I have also become involved with the EthnoSense blog and have the pleasure to not only read, but more so, meet up with my fellow bloggers to hear their amazing, inspirational stories, told by people who looked like any other stranger until we started talking.

There was a time when I did not think much about strangers. They were exactly that, strange to me. I had never thought about what stories a woman serving me in a supermarket or a boy next to me on the bus might have. I now relish in the opportunities to share stories, learning my greatest lessons from the experiences of “the little man”. It is greatly humbling to know that no one can be taken on face value.

In memory of a friend. A fellow lover of the Baha’i Faith. A humanitarian. A volunteer like us all.

4 Jun

His name was Mbuso Dlamini, pronounced em-bu-so.

He was one of my first friends I made in Swaziland. Each occasion I had with him, he was smiling and welcoming. He was a ‘home front pioneer’- he served as a human resource person within his own country, actively spreading the glad-tidings of the Revelation of Baha’u’llah, the Founder of the Baha’i Faith to his fellow men, and selflessly engaged in the spiritual, social and intellectual developments of his society. A true source of encouragement and inspiration to myself being an international pioneer.

Mbuso attempting a mid-air pose

He died at 23. The cause was never fully determined. But it was obvious, he was drugged by the evil workings of a family member by the help of a witch doctor with the use of mutti (as defined in my previous post ‘Outdated Practices-the Ugly Side’, a mixture of really whatever the witch doctor feels!).

I remember waking up to a heart-wrenching cry from my best friend, Isaac. He had just received a phone call informing him that Mbuso had died. Isaac was also a home front pioneer who lived with Mbuso engaging in the same community building activities.

What happened was Mbuso’s estranged uncle took him to see a witch doctor together. Naturally, Mbuso felt no harm in accompanying his uncle. There, Mbuso was told to drink some mutti with God knows what was added. The next couple days he went missing. On the third day he was confirmed dead. What friends and family of Mbuso believe is that the uncle was persuaded to believe that if he sacrificed his nephew (or any family member for that matter) he could get rich quick! One of many reasons people engage in harmful practices. A somewhat common practice, similar to albino body parts. He obviously had wrong intentions as he wasn’t to be seen after Mbuso’s sickness and consequent death. Had he cared, or did not know the mutti was poisonous he would have contacted his sister (Mbuso’smother) and offer condolences, let alone attend the funeral. Instead he fled back to South Africa to pursue his prize.

His funeral was the first I’ve ever attended. The lives he touched were evident in the faces of the friends and family in the room. He brought together people of diverse religions and backgrounds. His service to humanity was appreciated by all.

Isaac (L) and Mbuso (R) sharing the Baha'i Faith at a local store

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A sad, but common story. What I learnt was that family extends beyond blood. We were connected spiritually. We shared a deeper, more sincere, true and appreciable bond that I don’t even share with some blood related family members. It is because of this connection that I can travel anywhere in the world and have a family member, something I’ve experienced in Israel, Africa, America, all over Australia, even in Singapore.

I wish this small caption of his humble and inspiring life, for myself and many others in Swaziland, can be appreciated by you all-active agents of change engaged in the upliftment of mankind. His service to humanity resemble much of what we all have and continue to be part of.
As Baha’is we believe true life is the life of the soul. May his soul progress in the spiritual worlds of God.

Sensitivity lost

4 Jun

I was determined to wear it, they told me we were going to a wedding and I thought what a brilliant opportunity to wear this gift given to me, this might be the only time that I will be able to wear it.

It was only with the benefit of hindsight that I realised how much they didn’t want me to, just how inappropriate it was given the context, the background, their situation (of which I had no real appreciation), the relations.

I put my agenda first, after several weeks of tiptoeing and making sure I was doing things ‘right’ (or at least my interpretation of right… I had nearly gone full circle in terms of cultural sensitivity and cautiousness and maybe because I was so close to heading home, there was a sense that it didn’t matter – but of course it did.

Outdated Practices-the Ugly Side.

2 Jun

So the general feeling is that wherever we went, we felt that the people and place was the most amazing. We felt that the culture was incredible and wished ‘why couldn’t people back home be like this?’ The humility, hospitality, true compassion and care, love, generosity etc that was given to us and that was practiced commonly. I often marvelled at this and tried to find one fault. For the first three months I thought I was living in paradise and that this could be a utopian society!

However, as the months went by, I began to see the ugly side. I began to see the effects poverty has on peoples actions. I began to see the outdated, dangerous and inhumane side of widespread practiced traditions and culture. I saw the injustices caused by politics and those with power (in Africa, this means money). At one stage I was pulled over and fined for driving with an expired Australian driver’s license. They don’t even have expiry dates on licenses in Swaziland/South Africa, yet I was booked for not flying back to Australia and renewing my license and flying all the way back just to drive! Truth was the cops just wanted money from a ‘rich white guy’. I gave them an equivalent to $5.

The most shocking aspect that affected me the most was the outrageous cultural practices conducted on albinos. Some reports suggest there are about 150000 albinos living in Tanzania, North of Swaziland. Naturally, there are many living in Swaziland also. I was blessed to befriend an albino lady, Precious, who I got to spend some time with her and her family. As Africans are still very superstitious and cultural, they still hold the belief that body parts of albinos are useful for voodoo, or traditional African witchcraft. Sadly, this belief is still held by ‘educated’ people-ministers, police, teachers-essentially everyone from each end of the social and intellectual spectrum. If police cannot solve a crime, they commonly resort to witch doctors to provide mutti (mixture of herbs etc) used to ‘help’ the case!

witch doctor I visited who gave us mutti mixed in this bowl-ingredients included various herbs and a feather from a rare bird that he wanted us to catch in the wild! Instead we bought it from the local market.

Talk about backwards! Anyway, back to mistreatment of albinos-about a month before I left Swaziland, I read in the paper that two infant siblings had been decapitated and killed. Shocking? Not as much as the next caption I read a week later: that these kids’ graves were dug up so that the rest of their body parts can be taken and used for mutti of various kinds. I even read reports that many political leaders in Africa (yes elected leaders) still practice this and hold to the belief that albino body parts can bring prosperity and success.

Precious, Nogubekezele, myself and Gugu

learning guitar by my friend Xolani (the 'X' is pronounced with a 'click' !!!

Shame. Outdated cultural and traditional practices. Disregard for humanity.

My thoughts now are: did anyone else experience the ugly side of where you served?

Despite this all, the practices of the minority did not in any way tarnish the reputation and love and respect I still hold for the majority. What I believe is that tradition and culture are positives, but are only useful and relevant today if they contribute to the society we live in now. Outdated practices should be left behind so that humanity can ascend higher and achieve more purposeful realities.

We See Trash, They See Potential

1 Jun

I found that I was consistently amazed when I was in the Philippines. Whether it was by the strength and fortitude of the people I met or by the awful living conditions which I saw; every day my mind would be blown in some form or another.

This, right here, is one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in my life. It’s a Sprite bottle that has been painstakingly melted and bent into this gorgeous tree. I’m sure the symbolism is not lost on anyone here.

In the Western world, such trash is thrown away without a second of thought. In the slums of Manila, this trash can be the difference between getting to eat or going hungry. Women and children rummage through rubbish piles to get at these discarded bits and pieces. Then they sell them on the street. If they are particularly lucky, they will be given the assistance of an NGO which will provide the materials for them and allow them to work in a safe and clean environment. The NGO may also set up a shop or have the items shipped across the world to stores like Oxfam

I visited one of these NGO’s and was, once again, amazed by how beautiful and functional these items of trash were; by how ingenious the women were. The bag above was made from juice pouches. They also used these packets to make purses and covers for couches.

The girls at the Bahay Tuluyan centre made jewellery out of magazines. Really. Magazines.

I think of all of the stuff which I throw away … and I wonder. What could be made out of this trash? How many people could benefit from it? And I cannot even begin to answer that.

What more. could you want?

31 May

We all know the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words” and I think these photos of a local supermarket in Tamil Nadu say it all!

Good old consumerism eh?

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