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Claiming Your Margins

“I’m not a White woman. I’m a faded Black person”

– Jane Elliott

Sit with that.

Take a little longer.

“I’m not a White woman. I’m a faded Black person.
My people moved far away from the Equator, and that’s the only reason my skin is lighter. That’s all any White person is.”

Jane Elliott, is an anti-racism activist who says some powerful things. She’s right of course.

“We are one race”. As I say that I can feel my gut fighting ‘we are one race’. I want to interject and say we’re all different, that culture creatives diversity and there’s different languages and, there’s …. and there’s….and there’s…..

But she’s right again.

Underneath the thin little layers of pigment, we are all the same – muscle, fat, bone, organs etc.
Yes, I’m human, but again I want to say I’m different because of x,y and z.

So why is that? I’m asking myself this question too.
Why do I feel the need so strongly to assert my difference?

It all relates to how I am identified – not how I self-identify, but how others identify me.

Have you noticed that being Black is so important to Black people? Or being gay is so important to gay people or being Jewish is so important to Jewish people?

It’s not because they are proud.

It’s because they’ve fought.

They’ve fought to be who they are and there’s no way in hell, that is going to be taken from them.

And they are proud.
They’re proud because they’ve survived.

I believe that middle-aged white people, i.e. the Privileged, can struggle to define themselves.

Years ago, I was sitting in my car by a waterhole in far north Queensland, Australia. An Aboriginal man drove up with a car load of Japanese businessmen. He walked up to waterhole and spoke loudly in Language, before coming up to my window to explain that he’d just introduced himself to the Spirits and thanked them for allowing us all to be there.

“Where youse from?” he asked and just as I was politely answering that I was from Sydney, he butted in. “Oh that’s right, youse don’t know where you’re from”.

I was slightly affronted; I knew where I was from!

But I’d missed the point.
As a White woman I didn’t have Dreaming and beyond a handful of generations I don’t know where I came from. As an Aboriginal man, he has a lineage to that continent that goes back 60,000 years.

Privilege doesn’t question

With Privilege comes a lack of questioning because of a lack of threat and therefore, a lack of needing to define yourself, because you, are the accepted ‘norm’.

Someone once asked me to describe myself in 6 words. I surprised myself by saying without hesitation, ‘red-headed Australian lesbian’, before I had to think a little harder about the remaining three descriptors.

The red-headed Australian lesbian 🙂

In hindsight, red-headed, Australian, lesbian are the three things for which I’ve been discriminated. At various points in my life, I’ve been made to feel that they are problematic and they have attracted verbal abuse.

So now, without thinking, I claim them.

I claim them because they’ve been used against me.

I claim them because I’ve fought for them.

And I claim them because I’ve had to.

They are not simple descriptors. They have power. Without the discrimination, these identifiers would not have the same level of importance.

And the wonderful irony, is that the people who discriminate actually create completely the opposite effect they are after.

They abuse and mock to belittle and to make themselves feel bigger. But all they do is make us rise stronger.

The VERY thing that they see as our weakness, is what makes us the strongest.

And a recommendation before I go…..

Don’t ever piss off a drag queen. You’ll live to regret it.

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There’s Truth and then there’s TRUTH

Together

We know our truth.

Well at least we think we do.

Two people can have a conversation and come away with different ideas as to what it was about.

There’s a lot of new age, feel good stuff out there at the moment about knowing your truth.

Be true to yourself
You can only be responsible for your own truth
– Find your truth and you find yourself

These are all well and good, but what does that actually mean?

Last Friday, in my regular Barefoot Friday I talked about what it’s like to live with a neurodiverse spouse. Barefoot Friday is live illustration and conversation in which I cover a range of subjects around Identity, Belonging and Expat Life. 

With half an hour to spare before I started, I said to my wife, ‘what am I going to do for Barefoot Friday? Nothing is coming to me. I want to do something simple, but powerful’.

My wife replied,

‘I’m simple….’

‘And powerful’.

We often joke about her being simple, like the happy bouncy dog that can only focus on the ball you are about to throw. I appreciated her nudge towards our inside joke.

‘Why don’t you talk about what it’s like to live with a neurodiverse partner?’ she said.
She was right. This felt good.

Barefoot Friday’s illustration from 5 June 2020

It’s not something I could have talked about once. I didn’t understand it.

My truth was frustration, pain, hurt and confusion.

Ang’s diagnosis of Dyspraxia at aged 50 and our belief now that she’s also got Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Autistic tendencies created a space to talk.
It turns out her truth had been frustration, pain, hurt and confusion.

Ang is now 61, so we’ve had 11 years to learn, negotiate communication that works for both of us, and find ways that mean we get what we need. It’s like anything in a marriage. It takes a commitment to each other to make it work.

So, my truth turned out to be her truth too, but from a different angle.

Finding your truth

In reality…

I didn’t find my truth as the new-age tells me. I found my wife.

My wife didn’t find her truth. She’d known it for a long time. She finally felt understood.

In talking about neurodiversity, I received feedback from another neurodiverse listener who stressed the importance of talking about the positives of neurodiverse people, not just the struggles.  They are right. Neurodiverse people have amazing skills and that will be the subject this week, but it got me thinking about truths again.

It was my wife who suggested the subject matter and she was very happy with it, but someone with a similar experience holds a different truth. Even when we speak the same language this disconnect exists.

In the expat context, imagine too, the added complications of different languages and culture. It’s a wonder that anyone ever understands anyone else!

Dyspraxia is classified by the World Health Organisation as a disability. The benefit of this means that diagnosis opens avenues for funding, support services and further public recognition – all of which has been invaluable for my wife.

However, and I know this is going to sound like I’m speaking from a position of Privilege, non-neurodiverse privilege, the majority, the main-stream…. but I’m going to say it anyway.

And I am saying it, because THIS is my truth.

There is limited support for people who are married to people with dyspraxia. You can find information and services to help with bringing up autistic and ADD children and if your partner is autistic, but dyspraxia? Not so much.

At one point I even contacted the Dyspraxia Foundation to ask if they had resources, but they didn’t. Rightly so, their focus is on helping dyspraxic people, but I do wonder about partners. Are they also hidden voices as they navigate neurodiversity? Resources for non-neurodiverse people would certainly also benefit their neurodiverse spouses and relationships.

Have I just given myself another project?

Navigating neurodiversity in a marriage

Both my wife and I will openly admit that it’s been a challenge to negotiate, individually and together, but we’ve done it well and we continue to. We are an amazing team and I wouldn’t change anything.

Being dyspraxic is as much part of your identity as having brown hair. THIS is the reason I am talking about this issue. Diversity is about understanding, acceptance, embracing and celebrating.

Not allowing space for the full spectrum of people is nothing short of rejection. Who do you reject without realising it or without being honest with yourself, because you can’t cope with their difference?

Living with a neurodiverse spouse can be really challenging, but so can living with a feisty red-headed Australian. We are just who we are. Angie has opened my eyes to the world in ways that I would never have looked it. My wife’s approach to life has given me a lot to think about and loosened me up, inspired me and helped me in numerous ways….

but to find out about that, you’ll have to watch this week’s Barefoot Friday (Friday 2pm BST) on Facebook.

Cath x

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The cultural limitation of being old

Old hands

We all think someone else is old until we get there ourselves.

Then….

We massage our mind to try to be at ease with the number before looking to name a new distant number as ‘old’.

Is it any wonder though? At least in a large proportion of the West.


We erase the older generation from our lives.

And I don’t mean physically. It’s bigger than that.

It’s a deeply seated attitude where ‘old people’ are socially sandwiched between residential care and dying.

They become less than human.

When was the last time you saw an elderly person involved in a romantic storyline on TV?

When was the last time you saw an elderly couple in a film sex scene?

I can’t remember either.

It’s not because it’s not happening in real life.

In the UK, 54% of men and 31% of women over 70 report still being sexually active with a third stating ‘frequently’.

So, why is it that society pretends it’s not happening? Is it because it makes us (the society that values youth) uncomfortable?

I know that there’s the awkward thought of your parents having sex. I’m sure mine only had it twice…9 months before I was born and the same for my sibling.

Seriously though, in the expat community we often talk about how others box us in, especially with the ‘Where are you really from?’ question. Often, the enquirer doesn’t like our answer because it doesn’t fit their predetermined limitation of one’s identity.

The same applies to the elderly.

We place limitations on what we expect suitable behaviour and identity to be, but in doing so, we impose our own identity and attitudes. Apply it enough and at some point, the social pressure becomes a lived reality.

Last year, there was an incredibly good TV program in Australia called Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds. I think it is my most favourite program ever on TV.

This unique social experiment brought older retirement home residents together with pre-schoolers, to see if their contact and connections could help the residents to lead happier and healthier lives.

The children placed no limitations on residents and the results were remarkable.

It got me thinking.

When we place limitations on others, we also limit ourselves. We assert our own fears. We lower our standards. We close our minds.

I do not think that Josephine Smith felt limited.

Meet Mrs. Josephine Smith, aged 84, whose hobby is digging graves, says the caption to this National Library of Australia photo.

Josephine Smith

Woah! Stop right there!

84 and digging graves as a hobby?

I think I am in love with that woman.

She certainly does not look like a woman who would take well to being treated as old. She is a prime example of the power of seeing the elderly very much as active members of society.

They have a lot to offer if we allow ourselves to see them. I am not saying that to be seen, they need to be as active as Josephine Smith.

Rather, let us look beyond our own lens of limitation. Wipe your murky glasses to help you see differently. You might find that you do not even need to wear glasses and a new perspective will reveal itself.

The integrity of any society can be judged by how well it treats its youngest and oldest members.

– Brian Atuhaire

We have a lot to learn about how other cultures treat their elderly.

Mediterranean and Latin American cultures often all live under the one roof. I remember reading an article years ago that talked about the elderly living longer in cultures where they lived with family. The simple fact was that they were not isolated.

In South Korea, it is an honourable duty to care for one’s parents.  In India, the elderly are the head of the household and respected for their wisdom and sage advice to younger family members. In Vietnam, Japan, and China they also live with family as do many other cultures.

So where does leave us?

I look to Josephine Smith.

I’ve made a deal with a friend that we will go running together when we are 75. Who knows if we’ll even reach 75. It might be more of a crawl, but I know one thing for certain.

I’m aiming high and, in the meantime, I’m going to aim high for the elderly in my life.

I might even ask how good they are on the end of a shovel.

Josephine would be proud.

Cath x

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The Cultural Implications of Fatness

I’ve heard it my whole life.

The one with a ‘lovely smile’ and ‘pre-Raphaelite hair’. I’m the woman with ‘brightly coloured shirts’ or the woman with a ‘lovely complexion’. Sometimes I’m the one with a ‘curvy figure’. Occasionally I’m the ‘larger lady’. I’m never the ‘fat one’.

At least in my culture.

But I am fat.

It’s a fact. I have fat. The fat is reducing, but it’s still there.

Why is fatness such a sensitive subject in western cultures?

It’s been my identity as long as I can remember. Defined by others, which in turn imposes a valued definition and worth upon myself. I’ve always struggled with my weight.

See, even there I say ‘struggled’. That phrase comes naturally.

It implies that I should be thinner…..
or is that fatter?

If I was Jamaican, I’d be considered more physically attractive and in good health. However, I’d probably also be serving a jail sentence for being gay, so as they say in Britain, ‘swings and roundabouts’.

In Barbados, doctors report of diabetes patients worrying about becoming ‘less sexy’ to their spouse if they lose weight. A stark difference to my own Australian culture.

I remember being bullied all through school for being overweight.
There it is again, ‘over’weight. ‘Weight’, being the preferred size according to the name caller – the one who takes it upon themselves to decide my identity.

We all do it.

We all look at people and make decisions about who they are, based on our own cultural and social reference points.

What I love is when a cultural taboo like talking about fatness, is smashed together with another culture. Each person’s parameters are poles apart, but the collison creates cultural tensions within oneself.

In 1988 my family backpacked around China. I was 12.

Me, aged 12.

I returned in 2005 and again received the same question, “Why are you so fat?”

My brain always takes a few seconds to register.

Yes, she really did just ask, “Why are you so fat?
My first thought? Bitch!


But, when my brain has time to organise itself away from its cultural programming and natural reactions, I remember I’m in China.

I want to bark back, “Why are you so small?”

But I’m torn.

My own cultural limitations prevent me from asserting myself so freely.

I then want to say, “and why are you so rude?” but that is pointless too. It’s not rudeness. It’s cultural difference and it’s just smashed mine to pieces in the most non-violent game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.

In the two seconds that took up those thoughts, I’ve traversed thousands of years of history in both cultures. I’ve searched the depths of my soul, ethics, values and internal dialogue about self-worth. I’ve seen my life through another culture’s eyes, I’ve seen another culture through my eyes.

Not bad for two seconds eh?

This is how identity, belonging and expat life work.

Sometimes they are three distinct elements. Other times, you don’t know where one starts and the other begins.

I am pleased though to find out that I’m not alone in my experiences of discussing fatness in China. A friend told me about a friend of his who was kicked out of a taxi, because, “you’ll break my tyres!”.

If you want to travel or want to be an expat, you better develop a thick skin.

Maybe I should live in Africa.

In many African countries, being overweight implies richness, fertility and wealth. When living in west Africa, a friend of mine discovered that their cook was adding a lot of oil to their food to fatten her up. The explanation came that given her husband’s esteemed job, he was not being a good patron if his wife walked around thin. He would be seen to be not taking care of her and they would not be doing a good job of showing their status and wealth.

Fatness and fertility have often gone together. In Vienna, the Museum of Natural History is home to the Venus of Willendorf.

She was found in Austria and is believed to be a fertility symbol crafted between 30,000 and 25,000 BCE. I took great delight in drawing her when I visited and joked that it was me 25,000 years ago.

The fateful sketch!

But, I also feel the need to confess.
I don’t mean to brag, but…

My hair is way better.

I knew you’d agree.

To me, there’s a great irony about the Venus of Willendorf being at home in Vienna. I love Vienna, but never have I been looked up and down so much by well-to-do women. And they weren’t shy.

Four feet from me. Eyes start at my feet, look me up and down again and then dead in the eye. Terrifying.

It happened mostly at the people’s opera. A childhood friend of mine is a soprano soloist for the Vienna State Opera and it had been my dream to see her on stage. I realise that I wasn’t dressed to the standards shared by these women, but who cares?

MY mate was on stage. MY mate got the standing ovation.

And this is the thing.

This is all it’s about, any of this cultural stuff.

Know who you are
and
Know what’s important to you.

Get those two sorted and you’ll know your identity and where you belong.
The only place you need to belong is within yourself.

It can be one of the most hostile of places.
But it can also be the most satisfying and peaceful.

So, let’s:

*talk about fatness
*talk about all those things we struggle with about ourselves
*remove the taboos and we remove the isolation of sitting in silence
*remove the power in taunts
*remove the voice that tells us we are not enough, too much or too little.

*EXPLORE other cultures.
*LIVE fearlessly.
*JUMP INTO conversations and JUMP at the chance to be challenged.

It’s where the good stuff lies.

It’s where we grow.
It’s where we find ourselves.

Now, give me a second to find my car keys and I’ll see you there.

Cath x

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New Online Shop

This week I am proud to announce that I launched my new Drawn to a Story online shop!!

And I couldn’t be more proud.

This is big.

It’s been a dream of mine for three years.

So what was the dream?

To provide a range of products and gifts that help people feel seen and heard in their global lives.

Like any spectrum, there’s the full gamut of experiences in the global community. I refer to the shop being for people who ‘Struggle, Survive and Thrive in Expat Life, and for those who love them’.

As someone who’s moved through ‘Struggle’ (not so elegantly) into the more stable, but not easy ‘Survive’, and now very happily sitting in ‘Thrive’, I want to help.

I want to help people feel validated in their experiences.

I want to let them know they are not alone.

I want to offer them a sense of belonging.


So…. I now have an online shop.

WE, the expat community now have an online shop.

All the products are themed to expat life, third culture kids, global nomads. They speak our language and they hold up a mirror to us to see our lives reflected and celebrated.

The drawings come from my book, Living Elsewhere.
It’s been a real joy to use them to spread the love more widely.

One of the nicest things about creating something new is that you also get to establish your own ethos.

You get to choose to live your TRUTH every day.

This is mine.

It’s important to me to run Drawn to a Story with these values at its core.

Body Size

I am passionate about clothes being accessible. I want more equality within diversity. Here, each size within a clothing product is the same price.

Just Clothing

Gendered clothing reinforces sterotypes, social conditioning and limits personal expression. In my store, there are no genders. Clothes are just clothes.

Change for Good

I aspire to make positive change and create a better future together. Each year, I donate 3% of shop sales (in 2020 up to £200) to a charity of my choice.

Passionate about Products

When you buy a gift, you want it to be just perfect. If there are products you wish were in the shop, but aren’t, please let me know.

Dreams are not made by one person alone

Like the saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child‘, so too does it take a village to raise a shop.

I could not have achieved this without support.

Angie – My wife. My support in every way possible. This is the woman who encourages me to follow what feeds my heart and soul. She brings me cups of tea and coffee when I’m working, smiles at me when I’m stressed and is so incredibly thoughtful. On Sunday night, I worked all night to make sure the shop was ready to launch on Monday. She stayed up night too to support me, so I wasn’t doing it on my own. Isn’t that amazing? Thank you for everything!

Naomi Hattaway – From I am a Triangle.
Without Naomi, I would have a book and I wouldn’t have created Drawn to a Story. At one of my lowest points, I was desperately trying to find purpose amongst feeling lost. I had an idea to create a book of drawings about expat life. I mentioned it to Naomi and she said, “What a wonderful idea. Go for it.” Her immediate support gave me the push to leap forth. She kindly gave me feedback on every single draft cartoon, promoted my work and was constant support through the process.

Sundae Schneider-BeanIntercultural Strategist and Solution-oriented Coach
Not only is Sundae a dear friend, but working with her has revolutionised my work life. I hired Sundae to help me ‘go up a gear’ professionally. Through our coaching sessions, she helped me to realise my potential and develop strategies to move forward. Sundae had a wonderful way of getting to the nub of my struggles through a beautiful mixture of candidness and compassion. With Sundae’s help I’ve been able to imagine and create a future where I am living with purpose and fulfilling my dreams. Thank you.

Jerry JonesThe Culture Blend and Expat Up
In 2018, I met Jerry at the Families in Global Transition conference in The Hague. The night we met, we talked for four hours. It was a conversation that changed both our lives. We came back to FIGT the following year to present our story, Unlikely Connections: The Baptist and the Lesbian. Jerry helped me to realise that I had something to say and reminded of the importance of sharing your truth, because you never know who needs to hear it.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. You all mean the world to me.

All that is now left to say is, please take a look at the shop http://www.drawntoastory.com
I hope that you find products here that you love AND also products you want to give to the people that you love.

Cath x

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Vamping the van

I’m watching an ambulance. It’s just pulled up to a neighbour’s house.

The two paramedics put on their personal protection equipment (PPE) in the road whilst the carer at the house opens the door.

Coincidentally, two houses down, another carer arrives. She stops at the front gate to get dressed into her PPE – a plastic apron, gloves and mask. Only then does she enter the premises.

This scenario, which played out over 10 minutes is no doubt replicated countrywide and the world over at the moment. Ambulances are a reasonably regular visitor to that house, so a normal circumstance perhaps, but made extraordinary by a global pandemic.

Why extraordinary?
Because whilst the rest of us are learning to stay well at home, there’s a band of key workers learning to stay well whilst working.

Drawing out an extraordinary story
Three weeks ago I wrote a blog, What takes you to look at the world differently? in which I explore how we respond to remarkable encounters, especially ones that take you by surprise.

We need an outlet to process what we experience – a chat with friends? Writing in a journal or meditation perhaps?

At times like this I wonder about the medical and funeral staff. I wonder about how they process what they are experiencing. They are under no illusion about who they are or what they’re role is.

I know undertakers who refer to their clothing as ‘the black armour’ and others who come home, make a cup of tea and have a good cry in the bath.

We all find our way. As you’d expect, I process through illustration.

And so begins my next project…..

Vamping up the Van

This is my wife’s work van. It’s a bit problematic with a dodgy battery, a sticky lock at the back door, a fan that only blows on the windscreen and not on your face, until it’s summer when it decides to blow a year’s worth of dust into your eyes.

BUT!!!
It is also a fantastic blank canvas.
A big one too!

I’m dedicating the ‘van canvas’ to all the key workers who are working in difficult circumstances and allowing the rest of us to stay home and stay well.

This is the beginning of my thank you.
…and it’s incredible what’s already happened as a result.

I love the power of illustration. So much.

It all started with a heart for the National Health Service (NHS). The van is currently parked outside our house. Our 90 year old neighour who is cheekily good at flirting with me, came out to chat. He saw the heart with the NS [his own initials] and asked if it was for him. He wanted a photo together under it.

Cath-Brew_NHS-Thank-you-2

It ended as a rainbow thank you as is the vibe here right now. Rainbows fill front windows everywhere thanking the NHS and giving fun things for kids to spot when out walking. Several people walked past me and said, “OH I LIKE THAT!”

The key workers themselves started to appear. This side of the van facing the road, encouraged conversations with people walking past. Here we have the beginnings of a police officer, doctor, nurse, carer, funeral director and a firefighter.

vamping the van

As I coloured up the illustrations, more and more people stopped to talk to me.


A few cheeky comments like, you missed a bit! interspersed amongst the dominant –  a lot of positive words, That’s great.Keep up the good work! I love that! That’s so cool!!


Some folk came past several times to check my progress.

With my back facing the road, I heard a woman say, Oh wow, thank you. She sounded like a professional insider to me. I turned and said hello.

She pointed at the NHS heart and said, It means a lot. That hit me. It turned out that she’s a nurse on the COVID ward at our county hospital. She talked about the people they’d lost and told me that they receive a lot of verbal abuse.

Their administration have told them not to wear their uniforms in public.

What??!!!

She continued, It helps to know that people really do care.

Her comments winded me; the desperateness of the situation and the power of what a simple illustration can do.

As I got to the funeral director, I knew I wanted to model him on someone we know who is finding it hard at the moment.

Not being able to care for families with a hug, a warm touch of a hand on a shoulder or any other personal comfort, hits emotionally when they know how much of a difference it makes.

The picture brought tears to his eyes and he told me how much it helped. Remarkable things are happening.

As a result of my illustration, some people represented on the van have even made donations to Captain Tom’s 100th Birthday walk for the NHS.

THIS is the calibre of our key workers

Here, they all are so far….

They are by no means finished. I have a lot of van left to fill.

When the sun is shining again, I will continue with shop assistants, bus drivers, paramedics, cemetery/crematoria staff, priests, postal workers, physiotherapists in covid wards, hospital cleaners, bin collectors, delivery drivers and anyone else that comes to mind.

Please let me know of any other key workers you know of.

They all deserve our thanks.

Cath x

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Walking the Work

Okay, we’re told that if we have a location independent business we can work anywhere.

But how true is that?

In my time, I’ve said, Oh, but I need my desktop computer and I need to be in my office where all my stuff is.

On occasions I work from my laptop in coffee shops. I even once wrote a cemetery management plan in Sao Paolo airport.

But this is the work of apprentices.

Today, I’m testing it BIG time.

I’m writing to you as I walk through my local cemetery.

Welcome to St George’s…….

Here, my phone is my ‘computer’ and my ‘office’…. well, let me show you.

I’m not suggesting that we work in our leisure time. Space away from screens and our work is critical. Rather, I’m proposing that maybe we can work from anywhere.

Of course, it depends on the type of work you do, but how often do we stop ourselves before we’ve even tried something?

Typing this on my phone is not the quickest thing I’ve ever done, but I haven’t thought twice about not having my computer or all my stuff in my office.

And you know what?

It’s better.
It’s better because I’m feeding my soul.

Writing as I walk through a peaceful landacape is so much more enjoyable than sitting at my desk inside. It’s got me thinking about what else I can do to shake up in my day. What else could change that means I still deliver on work, but maximise the benefit to my soul?

Maximising Joy
As expats we’re very good at problem solving, developing strategies and adapting to change as our norm. I’m sure we’re evolving an expat gene somewhere in our DNA. If not, we should be. All that hard earned experience could be bottled up and sold for a fortune – especially in times of Covid19 quarantine and lockdown!
But I digress.

We tend to focus this incredible troubleshooting brain for life’s big decisions, but what if we shook things up and used it for daily improvement?

Little changes often have a much bigger impact than we first think they can. And when they accummulate, before you know it, a hell of a lot more in life has improved….. and far more than you could have ever imagined. It sneaks up on you.

Before anything sneaks up on me in this cemetery (it’s getting dark!), I’m heading home.

It’s now the next morning. 10.09am to be precise. Yesterday’s test had an impact. I’m in the garden sitting in the sun finishing off this blog. I’ve been here since 8.30am and I’m now wondering why I ever sit at my desk indoors if I don’t have to.

Why would you work anywhere else?

So often we defeat ourselves before we even try. There’s the vibrant spark of an idea, then that little voice starts telling us all the reasons why the idea won’t work.

Let’s thank them for their advice and for wanting to protect us, but say, No thanks, I’m going to try something different today.

​My something different came to life in the cemetery. That’s normal right?!

​I got to enjoy the dusk chorus of birds settling for the night. It unravelled into a morning’s work in the garden. The fluffy head of a dandelion made me smile – bringing forth childhood memories of fairies and making wishes by blowing the fluff into the wind. I saw sexy things between beetles. I’m sure there’s a joke in there about beetles banging, but that would be rude, so I won’t make that joke.

You see, this little decision to go up to the cemetery has brought me so much unexpected joy.

I’m not going to easily settle for my office again.

What about you?
What are you settling for which you know you can make better?

I have a hunch that you’re already thinking about some areas of your life that you’d like to change.
Why not set aside some time soon to manifest these dreams and ideas?

And to answer my initial question.
Yes, I think you can work anywhere with that location independent business. I know many who do. It’s about thinking creatively, making flexibility your friend and finding joy in day to day tasks.

I’ve now moved into the kitchen as coffee calls.

I know it may sound a little frivolous as I move around with my phone. I hear you saying, but that wouldn’t work with my business.

Is that really true?

You might need to be at a desk for some things, but there’s so much more to running a business. Planning, phone calls, strategising, emails, social media and marketing can all be done elsewhere.

And when I look at the photos above, I know where I’d rather be.

And so I challenge you, what’s the first thing you’re going change?

I’m excited to hear how you get on.
Let me know and we can celebrate your wins!

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The ignorance of being an expert

When you live abroad, you become an expert in your country.

You learn the culture intimately. You find the food you love. You soak up the nuances of social behaviours. You know it so well.

Right?

And once you’re ‘in the know’, there’s nothing more irritating to an expat than people at ‘home’  assuming that you’re the same as when you left. You’ve changed and learnt stuff. The more humble amongst us would not make the full claim, but we’ve learnt nearly enough to call ourselves an expert.

Right again?
You’re not going to like this, but my answer is ‘No’ and ‘No’ again.

Yep. Really.

Sorry.

Right about now, your head is filling with examples of where you know that you were/are at one with the culture.

There was that time wasn’t there, where you weren’t seen as the foreigner because the food stall holder laughed wholeheartedly at your joke? It was great wasn’t it? I’m still smiling.

I’m thinking of that moment too when the coffee waiter became our ‘friend’. We were really connecting. He wanted to show us around the next day too. It was A…MAZING.

I’m blending and I really ‘get’ this place and the people I meet.

No you’re not….And, I’m sorry, but you don’t.

Oh crap, she is joking about not being an expert, isn’t she?
Yeah, she must be. I sooo understand and love this other culture and its people.
Oh no, she really IS serious.

Why am I not an Expert?

In early February I wrote about my experiences with racism in Harlem, New York and discovering my own infallabilities.

This time only had the massive impact on me because I went from being an observer to a very brief participant.

When we live elsewhere, we so often remain the observer. We get glimpses into a life. If our heart and mind are open we hear it, but we know nothing of its layers.

When my parents told their cleaners that they were leaving Chile, one of the ladies looked at the other and said in Spanish, “Why do all the best ones leave?“. It wasn’t for mum and dad’s ego affect. It was in Spanish to her friend.

So, you imagine… What do the worst ones do?
Seven words that lead to another whole experience of life if you’re willing to ask.

We need to be full particpants, not to get a glimpse of another’s life, but to completely embody what that different life means. I don’t mean ‘participant’ in the sense of volunteering at a soup kitchen or helping out in a poor neighbourhood. I mean participant as someone who lives and breathes that life E.V.E.R.Y.  S.I.N.G.L.E   D.A.Y.

In Harlem, I experienced a miniscule snippet of ‘participant’, but I still had white skin and I still was able to walk away to my Privilege.

Recently with coronovirus, the rallying chat amongst postive-thinking people and those wanting to make the best of the situation, tends to focus on ‘we’re all in this together’.

We’re not.

We think we are (said the white woman), but others know we’re not.

In the USA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing masks made out of a hankerchief or bandana. Seems like a good idea when stocks of medical masks are low?

Aaron Thomas shares another view – a Black man with genuine concerns about risking his life if he wears anything other than an official protective mask.

This comment says more about the state of our world than the Coronovirus pandemic.

You need to live that tension and threat EVERY day to call yourself a participant.

… and you need to be a participant before you can call yourself an EXPERT.

Being an expert isn’t so attractive now is it?

Let’s shift to what we do know. Our own lives.

Experts of our own lives?

I know about being a white, red-headed Australian lesbian who lives in England. I am an expert in that and I write about identity and belonging in the context of expat life.

Well at least I thought I did.

Recently I heard an interview with the author Sara Collins, who talked about the pressure that writers of colour face to address Race in their work. People assume that she will always write about ‘Black issues’. She went on to comment about the double standard, “white people think they’re writing about humanity, but in fact they’re writing about white issues.” Sara Collins is not afforded the same luxury when writing about humanity. She is told she writes about Race.

Us ‘white experts’ assume liberties from our positions of comfort.

She’s right.
It’s that little thing again called Privilege.

We’re like that racing horse with blinkers covering the sides of our eyes; self imposed blinkers to make sure we don’t get frightened by the reality of our context (people of colour sharing their truths) as we head to the finish line to soak up the glory of winning (being seen as an expert on participants).

Does this blog make me one of those ‘experts’ on participants?
It’s highly likely. Unfortunately, yes, I believe it does.

It’s like I said in my piece about Harlem, I don’t have the answers, but I’m not going to do nothing either. Nothing is an easy option and that does not sit comfortably, especially when I hear the Coronovirus statistics coming out of America.

In Chicago 68% of people who have died are in the African-American community despite making up only 23% of the population. Socioeconomic inequality detemines that we are NOT all in this pandemic together.

And I want the Privileged amongst us to be aware of what our privilege means.

It’s a matter of life and death. 

So yes, maybe I am being that ‘expert on participants’.

In reality, I’m not a participant or an expert on anything other than being a 43 year old white, red-headed Australian lesbian who lives in England.

BUT…
I’ll also be damned if I know these inequalities exist and I stay silent.

I have much to learn.

I’m being public about my personal exploration, in the hope that you see yourself in my musings and explore your own internal dialogue.

I firmly believe that this is how we change the world.
LEARN, in order to GROW internally, so we can EMBODY WISDOM, which leads us to ACTION.

“    Wisdom tends to grow in proportion to one’s awareness of one’s ignorance.”
– Anthony de Mello

I want to find out that I am wholly and massively ignorant.

That would be a good day.

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What takes you to look at the world differently?

There’s something about taxis.
They feature remarkably frequently.

It was 2am and we’d just settled back into our taxi after stopping for a cup of sweet tea. We were travelling to Kipling Camp in northern India to see tigers.

The thick jungle-like vegetation made for a fairly monotonous journey that was, until a man walked out into the middle of the road. Our driver slowed down.

Rather than waiting for the window to be wound down, the man opened the front passenger door.

Something wasn’t right.

Our driver’s face told us all we needed to know – he was scared.

Dad managed to pull the door shut again and quickly reached around to us in the back and told us to lock the doors.

The driver was frozen with fear.
Dad was alert – more and more urgently telling him to drive and getting slightly more frantic each time he didn’t move. Finally, the driver seemed to be back in his body; his foot hit the accelerator and we roared off. We looked behind us.

In the dark, another 10 men walked into the middle of the road from the bushes.
Each was carrying a large machete.

Who knows what might have happened?
I don’t think they were expecting foreigners. The split second look of shock of the man’s face when he opened the door was enough of a delay to save us.

   You don’t look at the world the same way after that.

How can you?
From an early age my parents took us travelling. Where possible, time wise and financially, we spent holidays camping in the outback, learning to 4WD, learning to like your own company, learning to appreciate and respect the ancient Aboriginal culture that forms the foundation of Australia.

Me and a shingleback lizard

Another lizard. I see a theme….

And when more money and more time permitted, we backpacked overseas. I feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to grow up learning about the world through the eyes of the people we met on our travels.

You start to wonder how you fit into the world.

You question.

You think about your own community and lifestyle.
You cherish the experiences because they help you start to work out the meaning of your own identity.

Like the machete-men in India, these experiences stretch you unexpectedly, but they also bring compassion. What does it take in someone’s life for them to behave that way?

THE EVOLUTION OF EXPERIENCES
Another time in India our train was held up for several hours by bandits in the middle of the night, other passengers telling us to hide as we would be easy targets.

In Egypt I remember our taxi being stopped by the police. As foreigners, we were viewed as potential drug traffickers. The doors were forced open and the police started to pull the panelling off the doors as they searched for narcotics. As a 10 year old sitting in the back seat, I started to giggle – mainly through fear, but very quickly stopped when mum’s face showed me the seriousness of the situation. On not finding any drugs our taxi was permitted to continue.


It is these very situations that have made me look at the world differently. It’s opened my eyes to the fact that everyone has a story and everyone’s story is their own.

I love Egyptian taxis.
Indian trains are a must-have experience.

I’m sure the men that held up our train didn’t start out in life aiming to become a bandit. Similarly, no child is born with the desire to rob a taxi with a machete.

Life changes us. We adapt to our experiences and evolve by circumstance.

The common rebuttal I hear is, Yes, but we all have a choice.
My reply then as it is now? We don’t all start at the same point…

It’s easy to judge ‘choice’, when you have one.

QUESTIONS REVEAL PERSONAL CONTEXT
I spoke to a man in Syria, who said:

We recognise that governments are different to people. I assume you are here because you want to be. Please go home and tell all your family and friends, that we too want a democracy. We are not all terrorists. We want to live our lives and bring up our families like you do.
Damascus, Syria – the woman on the far left asked me if I liked Iraqi people.

How do you reply to that kind of comment?

How do you answer the woman also in Syria, who during the Iraq war asks you out of the blue, Do you like Iraqi people? or the woman in Vietnam who says, We are sick of people coming to look at us after the war.

How do you cope with the racist attitude of a couple in the Australia’s Northern Territory who are happy to give the man next to us a lift down the road, until they realise he’s Aboriginal?  You respond in the way you know how…

You tell stories and you create community

When we share stories, we create community. We strengthen our bond to others and we find out who we are.

Storytelling has bound communities together for millennia. As the oldest civilisation in the world, Aboriginal Australians have told stories through art, painting, dance, ceremony and Country for over 50,000 years. In 2016 science finally proved this longevity.

Aboriginal people have always known it.
How?
Because they told stories – in community – passed down through the generations.

In Indigenous communities, to witness another person’s growth and personal development is important. When we witness, it’s a public acknowledgment and celebration of their journey, their wounds and their achievements. It shifts in your body and mind.

This is why Ceremony is done in community.
It’s why we gather for celebrations, marriages and funerals.

Community is everything.
Without it, we separate from each other. We start to favour a mentality of ‘individuality over collectivism’. ‘Me’ wins over ‘you’ or ‘us’.

Community and a number of key individuals have changed my perspective. Whilst community is about a collection of people, a collection of people does not make community. The two are not the same. They shouldn’t be either.

Community is born out of a collective inclusivity. An individual is merely that. One person.

Both are enough to have changed my view of the world.

What about you?
What takes you to look at the world differently?

Cath x

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Sitting in the ‘free-from’ aisle

Just like the ‘free-from’ section in the supermarket, this blog is free from mentioning Coronovirus, other than that one time just back there…. 9 words back… and now, we’ve got another additional 8 words under our belts. See, we’re stepping away fast. You’ve almost forgotten I even said anything right? Phew!

By now, we have firmly taken up position in front of the ‘free-from’ section and depending on where you live in the world, you will have an wonderful range of free-from food (no gluten/dairy/wheat/soya etc) or maybe….. precisely, none? With any luck, ‘none’ is not a bad thing, but actually the best fresh produce available before you.

NONE OR NEW-ONE?
I’m fascinated with how ‘none’ is often equated with ‘less than’. Why is it that we see the world through that lens, when ‘none’ can also mean ‘nothing’, as in a clean slate, a chance to write the next chapter of your life?

Can you think of examples in your own life, where your ‘none’ or ‘free-from’ has actually enabled you to start something fresh? To completely craft a beautifully crisp blank page…..

Going without can be tough though.
Without, also means getting used to something new. It speaks of adaptation – whether you’re ready or not. It whispers, or more often than we care to acknowledge, knocks us off our feet, as we are confronted with a new scenario.

Adapting and Transition – expats and migrants are good at this stuff. It’s what we do.

How do you think you might cope in the following three scenarios as presented in my book Living Elsewhere?

NEW SCENARIO #1

No work? Yay! right?
Not really. Work provides us with routine, money, purpose, mental stimulation and lots more. Without it we can feel lost. If you have worked your whole life, suddenly not working may require you to discover new strategies to adjust.

NEW SCENARIO #2

Normal tasks become mental mind games and can make simple day to day activities completely nerve-wracking.

NEW SCENARIO #3

Sometimes it’s all too much and we get knocked off our feet.

From Without to Within

So if you haven’t got an expat/immigrant friend or family member to ask their advice, here’s some insights into how we go from a feeling of WITHOUT to being content WITHIN?

It’s all about developing strategies.

Whilst there are 272 million people living temporarily or permanently outside of the country of their citizenship,* I can only talk about one.

Me.

I want to be authentic and mine is the only experience I can vouch for. Here you are.

Strategies à la Cath Brew:

* Keep your own culture alive within your new environment
* Maintain friendships regardless of country borders
* Belong by being your authentic self
* Take belongings with you that are emotionally important. You will need them to bolster you on down days
* Try not to compare the place you came from with the new place. They are different and they’re meant to be
* Find ‘your tribe’ and establish a network of people who understand your challenges.
* Continue to practice your passions. If you’re not able to do them exactly as you’d hoped, find a way to do them from a different angle. * Feed the need creatively.
* Seek professional and medical help if you need it. I did and I did need it.

Where can I buy Living Elsewhere?
Get your copy from Amazon or The Book Depository.