Tag Archives: culture

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.

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Glimpses of Unadulterated Beauty

27 Jun


I watched as her cracked hands skilfully weaved the rainbow rug. She smiled a toothless smile as she absently delighted in this menial, repetitive task.

I heard their squeals as they chased the chickens back in the coop. “Amiga, amiga mira mira!”

I realised that every pound of his hammer on the foundation of the classroom was breathed with purpose.

I saw her carry her baby brother on her nine year old back as she gathered her family’s meal.

A patch of sky reflected in the puddle of the ground.

I stopped.

Like a torrent of water gushing over my head, it all made sense.

They delight in the little things.

With an enchanting simplicity, their joy captivated me and marked my life forever.

Sebastian, Inequality and Good People

23 Jun

On Thursday February 3, I went on my first and only house visit to Pumamarca in the Cusco region. That afternoon I met a fourteen year old boy, Sebastian, who possessed the kindest and purest heart that I have ever met. He has suffered a lot in his life and is heavily malnourished due to poverty. His mother is a severe alcoholic, who in her states of delirium sells the family’s only source of revenue such as a cow for S./5 (approx. $1.80). Sebastian is then forced to go into town to buy another one for 50x the price with money that they do not have. His father is currently in hospital as a result of being hit in the head by a bull. He has younger brothers that he has to look after as well as the livestock. Despite all this and then some, he is hopeful that things can better for him and his family and he still clings onto his dreams. He has a bright personality and humble heart. As we were speaking to his mum, we heard him up the mountain while herding the bulls, singing joyfully. Meeting Sebastian and this house visit remains to this day the best day of my life.

The lives of people in poverty are so far removed from the minds of us in the western world. Sure, we can empathise because it is not fair that people should suffer and an indignant anger is a natural response but what of it if nothing were practically implemented? We should be compelled to care more and be moved to DO something greater then our feelings and emotions dictate otherwise we are wafting to and fro in a haze of emptiness. That’s why I love Peru’s Challenge, because they are practical and are respected in the Cusco region. The work that they undertake has a goal of sustainability which is crucial in development yet the concept of sustainability is often made redundant in favour of instantaneous change which is ephemeral. Change can be immediately tangible but it’s success is in its longevity and sustainability. Empowering local communities, families and individuals is the best way to implement change and aid.

Another hurdle that the natives of Quilla Huata and Pumamarca must face is the discrimination between rural and city folk. There is still a great disparity between those from the city and the indigenous people and this inequality makes it difficult to complete an education as most of the secondary schools are situated in the cities, which makes it almost impossible for the children from Quilla Huata and Pumamarca to attend as the costs of transport is so high. Often times, families favour their children to make handicrafts to sell to tourists instead of completing their education. Or the children would be working on the things they should sell in class therefore their attention and efforts are divided. I heard of one story where a bright young boy in Pumamarca was aspiring to be a politician in Peru and had the intelligence and charisma to go far, however his family demanded that he stay home and care for the livestock. I have no doubt that these unfortunate occurrences are common.

Despite these negative realities, I have seen for myself that the future of Quilla Huata and Pumamarca is bright because people are starting to understand how important education and community is. Furthermore, the children and families are eager to learn and give back to the community. I can name a plethora of stories that I heard about the community members going out of their way in their strengths and efforts to give back to each other and Peru’s Challenge. One story that has stuck with me is when a family’s house was completely ruined and unlivable due to flooding. Peru’s Challenge intervened and built a new house for the family who was already undergoing extreme domestic hardship. As a result of Peru’s Challenge’s benevolence, Christian, a fourteen year old boy contributes his strength to building classrooms, walls and other people’s houses. He shows up on the work site ardent and committed to help those who are less fortunate. For someone so young to understand pure generosity completely blows my mind and challenges me to live better and kinder.

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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.

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.

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