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An invitation

Maps…They’re the best open invitation.

– Richard Glover

That’s quite a phrase isn’t it?

There’s a delectable sense of discovery and anticipation held within those few words.

Spoken by Richard Glover in his book, George Clooney’s Haircut and other cries for help, this phrase really struck me.

I guess it summed up everything I’ve always thought about maps.
Having trained as a landscape architect, much of my university life was spent designing and exploring the world through the aerial perspective.

For most people maps are for planning holidays, or the car trip discomfort.
I’m sure that many couples have nearly reached divorce because the chosen ‘navigator’ has misread the map or the vital road intersection happens to land on the map fold – the same fold that has now turned into a hole on the paper from repeated foldings.

Perhaps the introduction of GPSs has saved many a relationship?!

To me, there’s a beauty to maps.

As you trace your finger along the roads, you begin to imagine what each place looks like; the place names conjuring up images in your mind. Half the fun of planning a holiday or an overseas trip is in the preparation; pouring over a map before you leave.

In many Australian maps, place names offer insight into human hardships.

LAKE DISAPPOINTMENT
credit: Summerdrought

Mount Misery and Lake Disappointment so acutely describe the state that British explorers found themselves in hundreds of years ago. Yet, Anglo names do nothing to describe the massacres, traumas and desecration of the local indigenous people who called and still call these places home. Other names written out of history.

As artistic masterpieces, maps can be exquisitely detailed and take you on a journey through the creative mind of the artist.

Other maps allow you to explore communities that once lived.
Personally I really enjoy looking at the old parish maps.

Parish maps are beautifully simple with just a few lines making up the boundary of the cemetery and delineating the different denominations. Which denominations were the most revered and the most influential in the town is also evident. The ‘best’ denominations were those that could be accessed without having to venture through another denomination’s land.

The desire for street frontage still rules!

BOMBALA PARISH MAP

Then there’s simple mud maps, drawn quickly to help a friend find your house in the countryside.

‘Mud maps’ reveal much about the creator. In an attempt to help you find the destination, the creator includes prominent points of interest – defining locations to help you on your way.

But it’s not simply a map.

It’s a code that reveals more about the individual than we might realise.

I notice natural features; the trees, the rocks, watercourses as well as the absence of such soulful features. I love trees – everything about them. So for me, my mud map might describe the road turn-off by the enormous Eucalyptus that stands on the corner, the trunk that glows brightly at sunset.

Other people might instead, notice the new brick house on the same corner, its double garage and carport featuring prominently – something which passes me by.

And so in using someone else’s mud map, we follow their journey and gain an insight into their loves, their interests and their life.

We might not know it.
They might not know it either, but there’s a subtle insight into that person’s internal dialogue.

As Richard Glover says about maps, ‘they’re an open invitation’.

It’s an invitation to find out more.

Cath x

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Crossing the road in….

Crossing the road in any country plunges you right into the national psyche. As you take your life in your hands – and it flashes before your eyes – you wonder, is today a good day to die.

It’s bloomin terrifying.

  1. Brain engage.
  2. Look left, or is that right?
  3. A tentative step forward. Your foot hasn’t hit the ground yet and you realise that pedestrian crossings are also known as ‘completely meaningless’
  4. You jump back scared, only to bump into the person behind you, who looks at you as though you’re an idiot and walks calmly across the road avoiding the motorbikes, cars, buses and trucks that shave past.
  5. I’ve just shat myself. I’m still on the curb.

Such was day one in India, 1990

….and day 2

…and day 3.

You do get used to it though. Your flight or fight response takes a Valium and you eventually cross the road with ease….until the next country.

Testing the Theory

When I decided to settle in the UK, I had to take the ‘Life in Britain Test’.

As my wife jokes, “how many people in Wales put a red sock on their left foot on Wednesdays?”
Well, not quite, but we’d all benefit from some different questions.

Learn about the Royal family? Or… learn how not to die whilst crossing the road?
Tough choice every time.

I’m inclined to go with the Royals. Prince Harry is a red-head after all. We have a bond, you know? It goes deep. And he’s now also an expat, so….

But, needs must.

I pick ‘not dying whilst crossing the road’.

Based on my completion of the highly accredited course – ‘You’ve Shat Yourself to Suave Moves Across the Road in 30 Days’, I’m generously offering you some free top-tips, based on highly spurious generalisations and gross simplications.

Ready?

Me neither.

Cath’s Cleverly-Cunning TOP 5 TIPS

(also known as Cath’s stupidity)*

#TOP-TIP 1

Wear a brightly coloured shirt so that drivers can aim for you at speed before diverting at the last minute. This works particularly well in France. You’ll stand out better at a distance. It’s great too for testing your flight or fight response.

These long straight roads work wonders with target practice.

#TOP-TIP 2

Wear shoes that are slightly too big for you, so that you trip on a pothole and stagger inelegantly across the road, half-bent half-upright, hoping that half-upright wins the day. And then it doesn’t. This technique is particularly useful when you want to blend in and share a joke with the locals. Carrying luggage can make it even more effective.

He doesn’t know how well he’s about to blend in.

#TOP-TIP 3

A gormless look on your face is a superb way to slow the traffic before you even step out onto the road. If you’re lucky you’ll find 3-4 taxis stopping to see if you want a ride. It’s at this moment that you’ve got the best chance of getting across the road.

This isn’t failsafe though because your inept tourist-level language skills mean that you’ve accidentally said ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’ to the drivers. However, it’s also one of the best options because you’ll have an amazing chat to the driver when he reveals that he speaks your language perfectly – and you realise that you have much more personal growth ahead of you than you realised.

#TOP_TIP 4

This is an oldie, but a goodie and works every time. Just as you get near the other side of the road, step in an old pool of water whilst wearing sandles. Like really step in it deep and proper. That way, your parent will have to scoop you up quick as a flash and run you across the remaining distance to clean your feet thoroughly. You don’t want to risk catching bilharzia from contaminated water.

#TOP-TIP 5

Slightly different to #TOP-TIP 3, but equally useful – my best tip for crossing the road is to not cross one at all.

Stand by the side of the road and get into a stranger’s car when they slow down. You’ll discover it’s not an UBER after about 4 mins. You’ll freak out discreetly, but the real benefit comes when the driver starts talking and acting strangely. It’s still good though because you learn how to remain calm and after all, you’ll avoid having to walk to the airport and all the roads you’d have been forced to cross. Genius!

Who was this man and how on earth does one get into a complete stranger’s car???

And you thought crossing the road was easy.

I’m fast going off the Prince Harry option and will start advocating for ‘not dying whilst crossing the road’ to be included in every country’s entrance test.

You with me?

Cath x

*My disclaimer – Please do not try any of these tips! This is a satirical piece for the purposes of prooving I’ve survived my stupid actions 🙂

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To Speak Up or Not – can you live with yourself?

I wish I’d said something.

These were the words of a friend of mine when she witnessed someone being discriminated against.

A comforting friend might say, Ah well, next time you can…

I suspect that we honestly believe that we would say speak up next time, but when the moment comes, we are presented with a choice.

And the choice not to is easier.

I won’t today because I’m tired and just want to get home

I won’t today because the bloke that said the comment looks like he could crush me through a meat grinder.

I won’t today because I’ve just ducked into this shop for one thing. I’ve got to get back to work.

I won’t today because, well…. do I care enough?

I won’t today because I’m here for work and don’t want to make a scene.

These thoughts are common and normal. I know they are because I’ve thought them.

It’s hard to speak up.
But I always regret it when I don’t.

When I worked in Sydney I had to visit a maximum security prison to relocate a family of birds that had nested in the exercise yard of the prisoners who were severely mentally impaired. To this day I regret not saying anything about the prison officer whose language belittled and made fun of the prisoners.

Did I think, she knows her job and I know nothing about how hard this must be, so I won’t say anything?
Yes, I did.

BUT,

I also chose to ignore the uncomfortable body language and facial expressions of her colleague whose behaviour was completely the opposite – positive and open hearted.

Personal or External?

When it’s personal, it seems easier to speak up. When a colleague started talking about ‘drowning gingers at birth’ I had something to say. When I hear homophobic stuff I speak up. When I receive anti-Australian sentiments I will voice an opinion. I can do this without thinking because they all affront me personally.

I feel justified.
It throws that energy back at them so I don’t take it on board.

So why is it harder to do for others?

Because we have a choice.
We can choose to ignore.

Subtle versus Smack-in-your-face!

The recent Black Lives Matter campaign has highlighted how so much of racism is subtle.

As Patrick George says, “White people in England can be a bit smarter, they know exactly what they can’t say to be obviously racist, but they’ll do it more subtly. They’ll come for you in other ways.”

Evidently, this is also why large proportions of White people don’t think there’s a problem, because they don’t see it personally. As Patrick George explains, those who discriminate know they have to be careful about how they do it.

But what about when it is not so subtle? Does that still happen?

Can you remember the last time you witnessed racism openly and boldly?

I can. Several times, unfortunately.

It shocked me.
It shocked me because it showed that the racist felt safe to be racist.

They felt that they had support from the White people nearby.

No, this gentleman is next” said dad as he pointed to the Aboriginal man next to him.

Only then, did the White staff member choose to serve the Aboriginal man who’d been standing there waiting for several minutes – passed over every time a White person had walked up and ordered.

Again…. an Aboriginal man asked us for a lift in our car, but unfortunately 300kms in the opposite direction to our route. We found another family nearby to give him the lift. They were more than happy to until they saw he was Aboriginal. In front of him they screwed up their face, said No and shook their heads.

It’s abhorrent when you witness it.

It’s abhorrent when you realise that people have to change their behaviour to stay safe.

On remote Australian roads, everyone waves at oncoming traffic. It’s gives a sense of ‘we’re all out here together’.

Over many years I’ve noticed that Aboriginal people hold back until you wave first. Then with beaming smiles you get a friendly wave.

A few weeks ago I read about a couple in the USA; he’s Black, she’s White. When they go running, she always runs behind him, so it never looks like he’s chasing her.

Pardon me, but FUCK! How is that okay?

I know it’s easy to say there’s a lot to learn and there’s no easy fix. That’s true. And I also know that Australia, the USA, Africa…. they’re all different. The discriminations have cultural contexts and histories that give each country its own complexities.

But, we do have a lot to learn and by understanding cultures and people different from ourselves better, we can understand the impact of oppression and discrimination and how to change it.  

For example, do you know that in many Australian Aboriginal languages, there is no word for ‘thank you’ or ‘please’? The value of sharing and caring is such an important part of Aboriginal culture, its value is inherent. There’s no need for such words (from Clothing the Gap – an Aboriginal owned and led social enterprise)

In Resmaa Manakem’s book, My Grandmother’s Hands, he talks about the impact of genetic trauma and how bio chemical stress hormones influence what is passed down through generations. These traumas are living within Australia’s indigenous people. Equally, the traumas of slavery (which happened in Australia too) are in the bodies of People of Colour in the USA, the UK and other parts of the world.

Imagine the impact of colonisation on ‘sharing and caring’ people by ‘conquer and take’ people.

The damage starts instantly.
It’s now very old. These are old deep wounds.

We cannot ignore this when considering whether we choose to speak up today or tomorrow or we are regretting yesterday’s lack.

Let’s work to change the record
Let’s work to create new experiences that positively influence genetic trauma
Let’s be part of healing
Let’s make sure that subsequent generations are not dealing with this shit in 50 or 100 years.

You with me?

Cath

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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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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