Friday, April 29, 2011

POMMIE POMP & CEREMONY




Whether you’re a Royalist, Monarchist, raving Republican or couldn’t give a toss either way, it was pretty nigh impossible to avoid focusing on the royal wedding today, though how it was dubbed the wedding of the century has me stumped. I mean, an awful lot of people are going to get married in the space of a hundred years, and I imagine a few others would like to share the limelight.

But as they say, there’ll always be an England, and in true teddibly British style, the Royals turned on the pomp and ceremony to show all of us out in the colonies just how it’s done. And all credit to them, they certainly did it in style, giving the British public something to celebrate and smile about for a change.

Listening to the ABC while in the car, early in the morning London time, it was fascinating to hear how many people had actually travelled from overseas specifically to be part of the crowd for what they felt was a once in a lifetime experience. Bit over the top I thought, but judging by the interviews in the crowd the whole event seemed to galvanise the wee poor common people into just getting out and having fun together.

Reminded me a bit of what Sydney was like during the 2000 Olympics. Somehow the normal barriers between people disappear, and total strangers talk to each other freely simply by being caught up in the event. Street parties galore were held in conjunction with the event, even the tellers at my bank were sporting their ‘jools’ and tiaras and crowns to mark the occasion. There’s something to be said for letting our hair down and celebrating a little, leaving the confines of our own four walls to engage with each other. Who knows, given the right impetus it could even be the start of creating new connections within a community.

And as far as the wedding itself, Kate looked beautiful, lovely dress, radiant smile. I think maybe William would’ve felt more comfortable flying his helicopter than being the centre of attention, as those same shy downcast eyes so reminiscent of his mother seemed to indicate, but he pulled it off with grace and much attentiveness to his new bride. I wish them well and trust they’ll be left alone enough to have some sort of semblance of a normal life.

Tiaraless, dressed in my old trackies and ugg boots, I toasted them with a braised cucumber and tomato toasted sandwich, my variation on the royal garden party staple, and a cup of herbal tea, sorry not Earl Grey.

Thanks ABC and Southern Cross TV for the pics courtesy of the BBC.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

BATTLEFIELDS BIG AND SMALL

The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena, but the small clearing of each heart. Yann Martel – Life of Pi

Have had this quote on my fridge for several years, a constant reminder that even in the light of huge conflicts being waged around the world, we all still have to face inner battles on a daily basis in order to face the world with any sort of integrity.

Prior to the presidential election in Nigeria on April 16 three nationally recognised youth leaders appeared on Nigerian television praising the country’s young people for their exemplary conduct during the parliamentary elections the previous week. One we know of who is part of the national youth monitoring team for the elections appealed to young people to not get caught up in any potential violent activity which might be instigated by politicians intent on their own agenda rather than working towards cohesion and progress within Nigeria.

With high hopes for a positive outcome from the election, everything turned on its head within two days as incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan’s main rival Mohammadu Buhari rejected the outcome of the election. In almost no time at all violence erupted, with the political animosity taking on a religious dimension, as Muslim supporters of Buhari went on a rampage burning cars, buildings, churches and pursuing Christian supporters of Goodluck Jonathan in what they declared a holy war.

In the midst of all this our friend who has a deep love for his people and seeks to build community in villages and towns and care for those who are marginalized, was in a dire situation. In the three days and nights it took before troops arrived to restore peace, he and other Christians feared for their lives as young people were sought out and killed. Despite his experience in community and youth work he found his core values challenged, a very confronting experience for him. I’ll let him tell it in his own words.

During that period I was very annoyed, I was filled with hatred and vengeance, I had wanted to kill any Moslem on sight. I kept asking the question: what wrong did we do? Is it a crime to be a Christian in a secular state like Nigeria? The innocent people that were killed what was their crime?

But I asked myself the tough question: what will Christ want me to do? He wants me to be a peacemaker. He was innocent but was declared guilty and sentenced to death. I have put the past incidents behind me. I have come to look at this from the perspective that this trouble was caused by people who don’t want Nigeria as a country to move forward. I have forgiven them personally and have looked at what steps to take towards reconciliation and National healing.

It will take a long time for things to return to normal…I don’t know what I am feeling right now but we’ve got to be strong. Please pray for us as we look at ways to bring lasting peace, reconciliation, and development in Nigeria.

To see gains in community work go backwards, to see the Cholera Relief Effort come to a grinding halt after the recent cholera outbreak, to see relationships and networks fractured, would make it easy for many to throw up their hands and walk away and leave the mess to someone else. But our mate is not giving up. The community looks to him for leadership, and despite his feelings of inadequacy in the light of the riots and the task ahead of bringing healing and a lasting peace, he is not backing away.

To confront the dilemma of choosing to care for those who only days before had you literally in their sights, is no small thing. I can only wonder what my choice would be if my life was threatened. Finding the right response in such a situation is to embark on a minefield, no pun intended, but to deal with the myriad conflicting emotions and values and overpowering survival instinct, having to make decisions with little or no warning, I’m certainly not one who’s going to judge the actions of another under such duress.

Most of us will never have to make such a decision, but wherever we confront situations where our values are challenged, where injustice is staring us right in the face, how are we going to respond? How am I going to respond? I can wax lyrical about what I think I might do, but unless I’ve really done the work on the inside that gives me a solid foundation from which to live, the positive outcomes I would like to see happen out there, in the public arena, will never happen.

Would I be able to put self interest aside and reply with a resounding “yes” to the tough questions like our mate in Nigeria faces? Confronting to say the least.

Friday, April 15, 2011

THE MULTICULTURAL CHOOKYARD





In the light of the relentless incidences of racial, ethnic and religious tension and persecution around the globe, I had to smile the other day when I dropped off my food scraps to my friend’s chooks. No sooner had the peelings hit the ground and the chooks were foraging, what should stroll up and join them for breakfast, in broad daylight no less, but a female possum.

I made a rather stern suggestion that she get lost, only to discover she is actually blind and pregnant and has been hanging round for months gleaning what she can from the pickings delivered by friends and neighbours. The chooks appear to tolerate her presence quite well, and don’t seem the least perturbed at sharing either their home or their food.

Presumably without the presence of a developed brain which can reason and calculate all manner of other clever things, here were two very disparate species content to live side by side, sharing space and resources without feeling the need to dominate or drive the other away. We humans on the other hand, with so much resource and knowledge and reasoning power, seem hell bent on erecting barriers, excluding what is unknown and therefore a supposed threat, challenging those who don’t see eye to eye with us, and avoiding those who look different, dress different, talk different, smell different, worship different, and whatever else it might be that prevents us seeing beyond what for us is an obstacle.

True, the possum was blind, but she was still very aware she was on someone else’s turf, and no doubt thankful for permission to stay without fear of eviction. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt us to be blind once in a while to the differences we see in others, and given the chance to rub shoulders a little more closely with those we feel awkward with or threatened by, we might actually discover in the process that real people are involved here, and that the awkwardness and suspicion they may also feel can be overcome and have a positive outcome.

And not just tolerance of each other, but a better understanding and a willingness to be open to something and someone outside our normal sphere of what is comfortable.

To steal a line from Elvis, we can’t go on together with suspicious minds. And another from the Bible, where the way a nation and its people treat their widows, orphans and aliens is the measure by which they are judged. It doesn't take much to extrapolate that into the current equivalent of widows, single parents, homeless kids, neglected kids, refugees, victims of every persuasion.

If a few chooks can take a blind pregnant possum under their wing, then surely we're capable of the same.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

OUT OF THE ASHES - PART 2

Oh how I love the “specials” table at Birchalls in Launceston, my most frequented destination when I’m running low on reading material. I picked up another gem recently, I am Fifteen and I Do not want to Die by Christine Arnothy. Born in Hungary in 1930, this first novel by Arnothy chronicles her experiences as a fifteen year old during the siege of Budapest in the dying months of the Second World War, and the journey over the ensuing years to find freedom and a new life.

With Budapest occupied by the Germans, and with Russian soldiers encircling the city, the resulting barrage from both sides left the city in ruins and tens of thousands dead. Retreating to the basement of their apartment building, Christine spent several months with her family in what had been the coal scullery, while other occupants of the building created space for themselves in the dark, cramped conditions, hoping and praying that their makeshift haven would stay intact as the bombs rained down, taking out several apartments above them.

I often struggle to read biographies and autobiographies, and even memoirs can be a bit dry, but Arnothy’s account of those turbulent years in her life is written with such poignancy that you have no difficulty seeing through her eyes the horror and brutality of war, as well as a young girl’s dreams for a future where such despair and destruction can be replaced with hope.

Thrust into living together in the basement, the residents find they have to rely on each other for their survival, and surrounded by this mixture of people Christine finds solace in writing, recording her observations of how each react to their privations and destitute circumstances. Managing to escape Budapest with her parents, Christine spends the next three years in rural Hungary, then despite the war having ended, they finally take the arduous journey into Austria as refugees, crossing frontiers with no identity papers, risking detention and deportation.

Christine’s dream destination is France, having long harboured a love of France and what she imagines life there would be like. Succeeding in 1949 to leave Vienna, her dreams are dashed as she spends the next years in virtual poverty in Paris, scratching out a living while dreaming of being a writer, finding eventual refuge with her young husband and newly born daughter in Belgium.

The publication of I am Fifteen and I Do not want to Die when she was just twenty four years old thrust her into the limelight, earning her accolades worldwide for what was regarded a masterpiece of war literature. Sponsored by the French daily newspaper Le Parisien Libere, she was awarded Le Grand Prix Verite in 1956 (The Grand Prize for Truth).

What amazed me throughout was her belief that there was more to her life than the tragic events of war. Not to be defined by it or overcome by fear, danger, deprivation, starvation, and the stark reminder of the images of war in her dreams and memories, the little flame of hope that a future beckoned always flickered, however small.

With my thoughts recently concentrating on the numerous natural disasters occurring both here in Australia and overseas, I have the utmost admiration for those who have had to literally pick themselves up out of the ashes and ruins of what was once their life, to forge a whole new one.

Where do you go for help? Where does one’s identity go when faced with such an overwhelming task? There are those who are so traumatised they cannot face even the simplest task, and that is quite understandable, whereas others seem to be able to just roll up their sleeves and get on with it. Undoubtedly, even for them there’s a lot more going on under the surface than they might let on. Disasters can bring out both the best and worst in people, so to see others not touched by tragedy going out of their way to help those affected make a new start and get some sort of normality back into their life, keeps that faint light of hope burning.

Christine’s flight from Hungary to what her family believed would be a life of freedom and safety has its present day sequel. In no matter what corner of the globe, every violent conflict produces its share of refugees, ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances. As if that experience isn’t traumatic enough, they then often have to battle for years before being able to reclaim their lives and start a new life in a foreign country where unfortunately many feel isolated and unwanted.

Like the tee shirt says, How far would you go to save your child’s life?

I know I don’t want to be the one to snuff out someone else’s flickering candle.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

OUT OF THE ASHES





It never ceases to amaze me how Nature’s restorative powers following a devastating bushfire defy what we think could be possible. My recent trip to the mainland showed me how, two years down the track from the Black Saturday fires in Victoria, the bush has regenerated and is once more lush and green.

Living in the Yarra Valley, my husband’s family have had their fair share of run ins with bushfires over the years, with a battle royal being waged by my brothers in law back in 1983 to save the family home as they were surrounded in the Ash Wednesday fires, and more recently in early 2009 with the Black Saturday fires.

Trips were constantly made back and forth in four locations in the Yarra and Latrobe Valleys as my brothers and sisters in law evacuated one day, returned the next, keeping vigil as the wind changed and doing it all again several times over. While all this was going on, my niece and her family were entrenched at their place in the Dandenong Ranges doing the same thing. All came through with houses intact but not without their share of dramas.

The family wedding I made the trip to the mainland for was held on one such property. My sister in law and her then partner were part way through construction of their new house on a beautiful bush property, and it was obvious as the fires approached they were right in the firing line. The crucial decision to stay and fight or go had to be made quickly. With all the man hours invested in the planning and construction, and with the framework completed, they decided to stay and protect what they’d built.

What followed is something I would never want to experience, and as for those who have endured the dramatic and often traumatic onslaught of any natural disaster, there is no way to understand the experience unless you’ve lived through it. Photos they emailed me after the event showed a totally blackened landscape, with the lone untouched skeleton of their house frame still standing just metres from what had been a wall of fire. Such was the heat, even the dirt was pulverized into black dust, and as everyone else in the immediate area had already evacuated, not a building from their block onwards escaped.

The enormity of the event is still evident, with dead trees throughout the bush standing sentinel like black statues. Even two years down the track the scars both to the landscape and those who live there will still take more time to fade, but to see what can rise out of the ashes, the regeneration which softens the brutality of what the fire consumed, is nothing short of a miracle.