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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.


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” http://www.sarahwilson.com.au/2011/06/ready-to-confront-your-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.

Complacency and apathy are our defence mechanisms

26 Jun

Above: The BBC news piece that caused a stir across the globe in 1985.

Beware: Diatribe below. Proceed with caution.

We, in the first world, choose not to care.

That way, when we hear about bad things happening in the world, we can still live our lives in comfort and enjoyment. By choosing not to care, we insure ourselves against disappointment, frustration, anger, and other uncomfortable feelings when things go wrong. So if we don’t care about immigration issues, if the sex slave trade sky rockets in Australia, we can successfully disengage and categorise it as someone else’s problem.

How do we so successfully achieve this state of uncaringness (I just invented that word)?

This is achieved by becoming complacent with the state of mayhem of the world, resulting in apathy, which paralyses us from taking steps to do anything about it. I’m not surprised by this. There are two key reasons I would like to point out as to why we, in particular the young people of the first world, are complacent and apathetic.

1. Aid doesn’t work. Giving money and volunteering in foreign countries doesn’t solve the world’s complex problems. Well, more accurately, aid hasn’t accomplished the transformations that many people hoped it would. Look at Africa, for example. I read an article while in university, that decades of aid has not lifted Africa out of poverty. It supports the structures that continue to entrench Africa in a cycle of poverty. I don’t know where that article is, but I’ve found a useful article written in 2009  I’ve also found a blog site that illuminates on the subject.

Above: A short glimpse at the “Dead Aid” in Africa issue in 2009.

The old marketing strategy of guilt-tripping people into giving aid money by broadcasting ads containing starving, sad-looking Africans on TV, especially during mealtimes – no longer works. Live Aid of the 1980s and Live 8 more recently, revived by Bono, as part of the “Make Poverty History” campaign has likewise not brought about transformative changes.

The makers of the Oscar-winning film, Slumdog Millionnaire, donated £500,000 to charities in India, prompting others to do likewise. The recent TV documentary mini-series, Go back to where you came from, has found a new type of story-telling which speaks to people and has ignited renewed dialogue on this global issue. The twittersphere and other online spheres continue to buzz about this issue. Despite these glimmers of hope that those in the first world are engaging in these issues, there is still the general population who have disengaged with these global issues.

The second key reason why we’ve become complacent and apathetic toward global issues is:

2. We have not been brought up to care about global issues.

I read a fantastic book by John Raulston Saul, called The Unconscious Civilization. It discusses how the institutions in society are geared toward encouraging passivity, mindless and continually increasing consumption and unconscious living.

One of the solutions that he poses to unconscious living is to take back our governments. This means that those of us who live in democracies need to become active democratic citizens in order for our government to truly represent us, instead of whingeing about and putting up with the government of the day.

Those of us in Australia who have gone through the formal educational institutions were never taught how to be democratic citizens, to express civic duties and responsibilities, and in turn, receive civic benefits. High school education is focused on ticking the boxes set out by the curriculum. University readies us to be worker bees.

In amongst all of that education, you don’t learn how to be a good citizen. To engage in community work, to protect and preserve the surrounding natural environment, to support the disadvantaged in the local area. We haven’t grown up being encouraged to do community work, like regenerating native bushland where it has come under attack by foreign species; or helping out at the local disability centre; or volunteering for the community fundraiser concert.

Thus, we don’t know how to be actively democratic.

If we grew up with a greater appreciation of civic duties we would be able to care and take greater ownership of our lives and our democratic nation. In turn, we would also care about and engage in global issues which concern each and every Australian. By actively engaging, we would have no need for defence mechanisms to protect us from feeling upset about Africans dying from treatable diseases. We would be OK with such feelings. We would also most likely take steps to engage with such issues.

Out of sight, out of mind?

25 Jun

My confusion has not been untangled and neatly filed away.

I can’t move on yet.

These people live and breathe in my land.

On the road to nowhere

For most the volunteer experience is both temporary and short. The volunteer pays for X weeks of cultural immersion and participation in a meaningful project. At the end of it they may travel further, continue on to other projects, but eventually they all return home. The friendships they make are real and important, but are also somewhat contractual – lives diverge and the memories live on. It’s easier that way.

One year ago today I arrived at the Curtin Immigration Detention Centre in WA. For two weeks I was literally thrown in the deep end. A team of 6 Uni students, we were plonked in the desert to establish ‘entertaining and educational’ programs at the newly re-opened detention facility. Our ‘clients’ were 300 Afghan male asylum seekers ranging from 18 to 80. Most of us had never met anyone from Afghanistan. During that fortnight I delighted in teaching yoga and Aussie slang to the somewhat bemused men and in return learning how to cook, speak and dance like a Hazara. Three days after returning to Sydney I contacted my manager begging to go back in the September Uni break. The thought of never seeing them again was actually distressing. By the time I returned, the camp had swollen to 750 men.

For the past year I have been in almost daily contact with people from Curtin. I have seen a handful of men receive their visas – their golden tickets to freedom – and start their new lives in Australia. I have also seen a great deal more languish in that hidden place. As one friend said to me “Our camp is growing but our hearts are shrinking”. The camp now houses over 1400 men from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Iran. The prominence of asylum seeker slander in mainstream media makes it awfully hard to feel any kind of hope for them. Having volunteered in India and Vietnam it is so easy to cast blame for basic human rights violations on corrupt governments and the cycle of poverty. But I cannot, and will never, understand the blatant and intentional punishment of such vulnerable and innocent people in Australia. The hypocrisy of it saddens me beyond belief.

The only comfort I can find is in the strength and resilience of those men. Upon reading this they would most likely tell me to stop being so weak! I just hope that they have enough energy to last them through until the end, until they get their freedom, until the real challenge begins…

If you haven’t already watched it, I can highly recommend the SBS show “Go Back to Where You Came From”. Truly riveting stuff.

The Semi-Frustrated Volunteer

20 Jun

Spending nine months in Africa stirred an array of emotions-many positive, many enlightening and many frustrating. In many respects I could easily express concepts and beliefs whilst volunteering than I could not normally here. The reason for this is that most people here don’t have time for certain matters. In Swaziland, as well as most of the places that the rest of us volunteered to, we could stop and genuinely chat with strangers, neighbours, villagers etc, for hours on end. People were welcoming as many of us have learnt. Because of this it allowed me to express and directly share my beliefs with others. It allowed us both to learn, develop and appreciate the harmony and consistency of our (wrongly perceived) different beliefs. I shared the principles of the Baha’i Faith with families, city-dwellers, rural people, Priests, Pastors, teachers-people of all walks of life. With the backdrop of community building and unfolding peace and unity this was easy to achieve. Here in Sydney in everyday life is another story. How can people not want such ideals? Because of many people’s reluctance to give time, I find it sometimes difficult to express my most cherished thoughts and beliefs. I am constantly let down at some peoples lack of concern, indifference, and biased opinions. Despite this, I happily welcome the challenge and strive to detach myself from such negativities-easier said than done!

On a humanitarian point of view, the level of poverty, widespread corruption and disease was not something I could express every day whilst in Swaziland-this I feel is easier to voice here in Sydney. There I was living amongst it. Friends and families who I stayed with or constantly engaged with were affected by both poverty and disease-HIV/AIDS. How do you express your feelings of anger, embarrassment of ‘Western’ countries’ lack of concern, the luck (as Carlos would put it) that I have without offending them? What frustrated me the most, and continues to do so, is my helplessness in the matter. How can I contribute to the betterment of these peoples’ lives? I have a money tin sitting in my room with no idea what to do with the collection? I know I want to donate it back to others, but it’s petty.

I’ve come to understand that the most effective way I can contribute to such injustices is to raise awareness of the situation our fellow human beings are living in. To help enlighten others. To help inspire others to make a difference. Imagine everyone arose to make a difference-the changes would be infinite! If only people were to understand the TRUE meaning of sacrifice-giving up something of lesser value for something of higher value, rather than the widespread belief of giving up something of higher value for something of lesser value. The purpose of sacrifice is to better others and not focus the attention on ourselves, right? If so, then the former definition of sacrifice obviously makes more sense.

under barbed-wire fencing to share with 'neighbours' (kilometre or so away) ways in which to improve community and individual life.

Living away from home, learning to be self dependent, crossing over, under and through barb-wired fences, walking for hours in the heat of the Africa sun, are but a few examples of how my friends in Swaziland sacrifice their time (lesser value) to create a more united and better society (higher value).

Only a few hills, meadows and valleys till our destination

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.

What makes a cultural experience a good one?

21 May

What makes a cultural experience a good one? I think good in this case means something like feeling part of a culture, being immersed in it or in other words: getting over your culture-shock, because you start seeing the culture that ‘shocked’ you as ‘normal’. To put the terminology right: I used culture-shock in this blog kind of as ‘not feeling at home’. A bit of that feeling you have when coming in a strange place and having no clue what is going on and what is considered as normal in that place.

I think managed to overcome my culture-shock in Guatemala, but not so much in Australia. In this blog I want to try to identify some of the factors that help to overcome a culture-shock by comparing these two experiences.

In Guatemala I felt like an outsider until I learned to speak the language and became able to interact with my host family and started to make local friends. From the moment I tried to communicate in Spanish I ate with locals, partied with locals and worked with locals on my project. As for Australia my local interaction is not that intense. I live with a bunch of internationals in the village and contact with Aussies is pretty much limited to some people I know from my classes. So one of the factors to overcome a culture-shock is the intensity (and duration) of contact with the locals. To increase this intensity you should speak the language, but more live with (and like) the locals.

A second factor I thought of is money. You need to be able to do something, travel around, party and meet people. The more locals you speak with, the better you will understand their culture and it’s internal differences. In Australia I happen to be chronically short of money and stay at home a lot to watch a movie and drink a beer from the liquor store. In Guatemala it was a bit like I had cash to burn. It’s relatively cheap for an European, so in three months I had seen every bar in Antigua, traveled around the whole country and talked with many different Guatemalans in many different places.

A third factor definitely is the openness of the foreign culture. Australia is one of those cultures that overuses technology: think about it, how much communication goes via Facebook alone already? Australia is also not a closed culture, people and friendly and willing to help, but it’s not comparable to Guatemala. I think it also helps to do something different than just tourism. It’s more likely that you get an understanding of a local culture by studying together or teaching school kids rather than asking somebody from STA-travel to show you an aboriginal site.

In Guatemala I learned what it was like to be a Guatemalan, in Australia I’m still an international hanging out with other people who don’t have a clue in what sort of country they’re actually living. Not that it really matters, my main reason for being here is to study, but the point to make is that whether you feel at home in a foreign country or not depends partly on the foreign culture and partly on what you do in that country and how much effort you put in to actually understand why you are ‘culture-shocked’

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