Thursday, 27 June 2013

Me and my giant cubby house

I spotted a quote the other day which I can't reference or quote properly because I didn't take notice of who said it. But it went along the lines of: it's easy for us to step down into poverty, when we always have our fallback of comfortable living waiting for us.

There are so many times where I have tried to work out what it must be for those who have next to nothing. Things like 40 hour famine or Live Below the Line, or visiting those out in the poorest areas of Cambodia. These things give me the tiniest of glimpses into their worlds. But the thing is that I know that is not where I will stay. Once that 40 hours is over, I will have a meal waiting. Once the challenge has finished, all of my comforts are right where they were before, waiting for me to pick them up once again.

Back here in Australia, the comforts of my world smack me in the face. Last weekend I visited my parents house and was looking up at my childhood cubby house. It was bigger and better quality than many, many houses that I've seen in Cambodia.

I've never viewed myself as wealthy. But there's no other way that I can describe my life in comparison to so many of those that I have met. There is no other way that I can comprehend the huge gap between my life, and the lives of many others.

I am rich in so many ways. I only hope that I will continue to recognise that.

Sunday, 2 June 2013


I remember so clearly one time during being at uni, when a carload of us girls were driving around the city one night. Having the kinds of conversations that only girls have, someone turned around to the rest of us and said to name our favourite part of our body. At first I sat there silently which worked, as my silence was forgotten amongst the chatter of girls sharing what they loved most about their bodies and why. But eventually my silence was noticed, so everyone turned to me and asked for my answer.

My eyes. Which held truth because I do like my gray / blue / chameleon eyes. But that wasn't why I chose it. It was my chosen body part, because it is the only part of the body that can’t be fat.

Now at the time of this I would have been average sized, if not a little underweight. I was far from fat. I was also struggling with an eating disorder and the body distortions which come along with that. But that distortion of who I was hadn’t started with the eating disorder. I have felt that since primary school and if I was to be honest, I still sometimes feel and think it today.

The person looking back at me in the mirror is fat.

Since moving to Cambodia I have hit my highest weight ever. The combination of large portion sizes here, and rice, rice, and more rice, have resulted in me growing some spare insulation. And whilst thankfully I have worked my way beyond the majority of my body image issues, that tiny voice still remains that whispers ‘fat’.

The crazy thing is that whilst I struggle with this, I live in a country where so many of those around me are actually struggling to find food each day to eat. Where here I am next door, complaining that all the food I eat is making me fat.

Distorted. My worldview. My thinking. My selfishness.

I don’t know what absolute desperation and starvation like that would be like. I do know what it’s like to always have food available, always have the opportunity to eat each meal. I don’t know the worry of trying to feed myself and my family. I do know the worry of my body image to the point that I starved myself because of it.

It’s time like these that I realise that my worlds are so different. My ‘Western’ world and then my ‘I live in Cambodia’ world. And they are so hard to reconcile. It’s easy to label one as good and one as bad. It’s easy to point and mock the one which seems worse. Yes there’s plenty that is bad about our Western worlds, yet there is also so much bad that I see in this world in which I now live.

I’m not sure how to get rid of this distortion. How to reconcile me and my body image issues versus the sight of the starving due to absolute lack. It sounds easy to just say to wake up, accept yourself, look around you and suck it up. But that would disregard the true struggle of body image, and not validate it for how real and difficult it can be. Yet over and over again I question how real or important it really is in light of the world that I witness now every day.

The answer is that I don’t know. I’m unsure how to reconcile it. But I am challenged by it. So maybe that’s enough for now. That the challenge will walk with me throughout each day.

Friday, 24 May 2013

How To Be Happy

This week I was in a conversation with a lawyer and a government official. They were chatting about level of happiness and how this differs depending on a persons economic standing. They chatted away in Khmer together and then when they’d come to a conclusion, they translated to me.

They said, for the poor, it is very easy to be happy. All they need is food and sleep, and they will be happy. They then said that for the middle class it is a little harder because they want more, so they want a good house and a good job also to be happy. And then for the rich, “Oh” they said, “it is very difficult for the rich to be happy. For they want the food and sleep and good job and good house, but they also want power and control and respect. Without all of those things they are not happy. So maybe, it is better to be poor. Maybe then we would be more happy.”

I sat there stunned. Here were two Khmer people doing fairly well in a country that is struggling with poverty. And yet here they were almost envious of the poor.

In none of my writing do I ever want to make poverty seem glamorous or something that’s not deadly, painful, and just plain hard. But I think we can all learn a lot from those who do live in poverty every day. I know that I learn a lot from those people. I question what I believe to be things I need. I question how much I buy in to commercialism. I look and examine myself.

Poverty is not something I seek after, as I have seen firsthand the absolute horror of what those in poverty live through. But maybe there are things in the mindset of the people in those situations that I could adopt. How could I become more appreciative of what I have, and less worried about what I don't? How could I be more content, no matter my circumstances? How could you?

Monday, 20 May 2013

Perspective... Again

Last weekend I was out in the province. Not a 'go to the province and stay in a hotel and swim in the pool the whole weekend' kind of trip. But a legit stay in a village, sleep on a mat, pee in a bush kind of trip. It was awesome. And humbling. And challenging.

We arrived in the village and quickly unpacked the truck before the giant storm that was rolling in hit. As soon as the truck was empty, we turn around and the back of it is full of kids, climbing in and playing... In the back of the truck... With nothing. They were having the best fun ever!

As the storm rolled in, half of us started cooking and half of us kept the kids entertained... Which of course I happily volunteered for. I pulled out my giant bubble wand and none could predict the entertainment that it brought those kids. Absolute sheer joy. The squealed and ran and laughed for what seemed like hours. And then the bubbles ran out. So we taught them dances and we sung and we stomped around in the mud until I couldn't see my white skin anymore under the dark mud. My heart was happy and full.

We then ate our fried rice that had been cooked over coals and fed the rest to the kids, who crowded around and fed their siblings and friends because we didn't have enough spoons for them all. For once, most of these kids would have gone to bed with a full belly.

Our beds were inside a local house, one with one wall with a big opening and the door left open at night. The twelve of us all slept in there with mats on the floor and mosquito nets above us. Sleeping local style. I must say it was one of the most uncomfortable nights sleeps I've ever had.

As I was laying there, I was challenged again. Here we were, sleeping in a house that was the size of my room in Cambodia. Which in no way even compares to what my room in Australia was. This house were the only things inside were our sleeping mats and mosquito nets and a couple of sets of clothes hanging up and one cooking pan. The possessions of a whole family. A whole family who lived in that tiny house. A whole family who every day is survival. I spent one night there, but I went to bed with a stomach full of food, a body that had at least been cleaned with baby wipes, and a overnight bag that contained more possessions than this one family had in their whole house.

I don't know how to reconcile these things when I'm challenged by them. I wonder if I ever will. I can have a small, brief experience of these people's lives, but in no way do I presume that I know what it's like. And in no way can I presume that my way of life is better, despite it seeming to be much easier.

So I came home. And I beyond appreciated my shower and my toilet and my bed. I loved that my fridge had food in it and I had a big bottle of clean water to drink. I initially appreciated everything. I was so grateful. Since being back part of the gratefulness and appreciation has gone, because it has become normal again. Showers and toilets are again the norm, as it a comfy bed and a cupboard full of clothing. But I don't want to forget that. I want to hold on to that gratefulness and let it continue to challenge me. I left a piece of my heart in that village and I don't want to forget that.

I took very few photos due to just wanting to be present with the kids, and also because my camera died a quick and untimely death. But here are a few:
The village.

Kids using our truck as a jungle gym

Cooking breakfast.
Spot the white chick. 

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Heartbreak and Hope

These past few weeks have been ones where I have felt my heart completed ripped out of my chest, torn into pieces, and shattered on the ground. And then jumped on a few times just when it attempted to start beating again.

Needless to say, these past few weeks have been a struggle.

I've often been asked how I deal with the amount of trauma and abuse that I see every single day. Honestly the answer is simply that sometimes I don't. Sometimes it gets the better of me and I lose hope. Sometimes I fall into a heap.

I've realised that there is a very fine line between healthily distancing myself from a case and being totally numb to it all. I am not a robot. Sometimes that would probably be easier, but then I wouldn't be able to feel the joy either.

I've also been learning a lot about parenting. That it's an intricate mix of incredible joy and heart-wrenching pain. It has made me realise how much heartbreak I've put my parents through over the years.

But somehow I take that all and keep going. Sometimes what it takes is just going and spending time with the beautiful girls in our home - not seeing them as their past, but watching them as they laugh and play and be kids. Sometimes just one girl walking up to me and saying "I love you like a sister" is all I need to gain perspective again. Sometimes I just need to step back and look at the big picture and see their lives as a whole - with experiences of trauma and abuse, but also filled with love and joy and now, safety.

They are survivors. And sometimes that fight to survive is an absolute struggle, but that is what they are. And I have the privilege of watching them thrive and grow and overcome. There is no greater privilege. In the end, wading through the mess with them is totally worth it.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

10 Reasons Why My Sister is Better Than Yours

My sister is one of the greatest people I know. And this is why:

1. We share the same fantastic genetics. Which means she is really really ridiculously good-looking.

2. She never judges when I buy a taxidermied baby crocodile that died of natural causes. Instead she enables me and goes and buys Charles a top hat.

3. She can make me laugh. Always. More than anyone else can.

4. She has a heart of gold and is so wise.

5. She forgave me for wanting to swap her when she was born because I liked the babies in the other room.

6. I guessed her engagement... And then didn't believe her when it was real...

 Two hours later... 

7. She loves onesies probably even more than I do!

8. We have conversations like these. All of the time.

9. I threatened to throw a rabid face-eating monkey at the fiance... Twice... And she still hasn't disowned me.

10. I make speeches that cause this face. And yet again, she still hasn't disowned me.

And I'm stopping at 10 but really I'm only just getting started. 
Moral of the story - Izy is awesome. And I love her. Best sister ever.