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Archive for the tag “quotes from life”

No cows were harmed in the production of this blog: Week 15: Blogging for survival

Knee deep in the smoky water of the Ganges they sieve through the earthly remains of every body cremated here. There are teams of six, working in shifts around the clock. Scooping, sieving, flushing, scouring. Their job is to collect the jewelery of the dead. It belongs to the owner of the Ghat. It is the work of the untouchables. Except they don’t exist. Anymore. They say.  

Our jeep hurtles along a dusty outback track. Attempts are being made to seal sections of these roads. By hand. It is women who do the bulk of this work. The dry horizon is dotted with saris in every colour. Labouring in 45 degree heat with baskets of rubble on their heads. Their job is to pave the way of the future. The future that belongs to all people. Because the caste system doesn’t exist anymore. They say.

Returning from a night of feasting, our guide insists on stopping for a Jaipur delicacy at a road side stall. Our tuk tuk pulls over and he jumps out. I move to follow him and see that next to the stall is a small child, naked, sleeping. She is vulnerable and unprotected. His foot lands precariously close to her tiny form. I recoil, hiding in the shadowy darkness. Wrapping my sadness and indignation around me. Because this doesn’t happen where I come from. Anymore. They say.

I’m in the modest kitchen of the Gurdwara Sikh temple in New Delhi. Volunteers move around me. Stirring, chopping, mixing, rolling, serving, washing, measuring. Working. Without clamour, a mountain of food is being prepared and served. It is aromatic and nutritious. I ask how many are fed here on a daily basis. 20,000. Per day. I ask again. I cannot comprehend the arithmetic of this generosity. Because this doesn’t happen where I come from. If 20,000 people needed feeding in one day we would declare a state of National emergency.

And then I’m striking a deal for a beautifully embroidered kurta. It’s a well choreographed dance. He sets an astronomically high price and I say ‘I got two for less than that elsewhere’. He asks me where. I name another Indian city. He says ‘it’s different here’. ‘Not so much’ I say. ‘People are still people. Everyone is still trying to get by’. We move out of the temporal momentarily. ‘Ah yes’, he says, and nods his head. ‘But it’s not really about the money is it’? And he eyeballs me. ‘It’s about the dignity of the exchange’. And I nod my head and say, ‘yes, it is different here’.

And I’m losing my place in the dance. Because like Marion Milner says “Everything that one thinks one understands has to be understood over and over again, in its different aspects, each time with the same new shock of discovery.”

And I’m shocked. That doesn’t happen where I come from.

The Very Australian Women’s Leadership heist

What was that guy’s name? The great train robber who hid somewhere in South America for years on end and had the whole world on alert for sightings of him? Ah yes, Ronald Biggs. Well I have found his contemporary counterpart. Jonathan Littlest*. The difference is that Jonathan Littlest doesn’t think he has anything to hide. Actually quite the opposite. Jonathan Littlest has stuff to tell us. More importantly Jonathan Littlest has stuff to tell us women.

We read the smoozy flyer, the testimonials, and the quotes from inspirational women. Yes we wanted to be part of that; we want some respite from the often thankless, challenging and relentless work of managing our human service agencies. We want it so bad that we will pay $2000 from our tiny training budgets to get it. Hooray, two days professional development with other women. What could go wrong?

Well just about everything.

Firstly we walked up to the wrong registration booth. I don’t know about you but I don’t think I look like a complete social misfit. I wear clothes. I brush my hair. Mostly. Anyway the woman at the desk lifted her somnolent eyes heavenward and let out an audible sigh and said ‘this is for tax accountants, are you in the right place?’ Well! Doesn’t matter that I wasn’t in the right place. How rude. I could have worked for the Australian Tax Office for all she knew.

I was a bit surprised when I did find the right place. For the whopping big registration fee I was expecting the Palace of Versailles. But no.  A grey windowless room with no heat and jugs of ice water. Maybe it’s thematic. Making us feel right at home. In the gulag.

To complete the scene, every single woman had come dressed in black. Did I miss the bit on the invite that said prison garb required? These women already know stuff mate, they know not to stand out in a workplace in case some tosser like you notices them and decides to give them a few tips about how to get ahead in a man’s world. Thanks for the heads up though. We all know which organisation has a neon sign flashing above it that reads ‘only fuckwits need apply’.

So Jonathan treated a room full of leaders to his homily on good parenting. Well his good parenting. On what he wanted written on his tombstone and on cutting edge research from 2007. And if we weren’t that au fait with how to do research we could ‘Google’ it. Goodie. His tip for championing women in the workplace? Get men talking to men. Better still!

The Jonathons of the world come from a privileged place. Self assured enough to walk into a room of women, insult them and expect a round of applause. And yes Jonathan, the personal is political. So that special place in hell that Madeline Albright said was reserved for women who didn’t help other women? There is room for one man. One Little one.

*Name changed to protect the women who work with him.

Signs of life

As I drove out of my town this morning I saw a sign on the main street, some hometown prophet had chalked, ‘It doesn’t matter what you believe, what matters is how you behave’. We have started telling each other things. Although it’s not talking exactly, more like proclaiming. These proclamations take a variety of forms. Sandwich boards adorn the doorsteps of restaurants, real estate agents, even private homes. Many, it seems, would like to tell us something.

I guess I’m wondering just how to take this thrust of roadside soliloquies, coming at me relentlessly as I attempt to go peacefully from A to B. I buy books, or borrow them, or even steal them from hospital lending libraries. I turn on the radio. I sign into the internet. I answer the phone or not. I engage in conversation. Verbs for choice. Verbs for permission. Verbs for consent. I didn’t agree to have your homily to optimism, your take on the war of the sexes, or your Pollyanna platitudes distract me as I try to do a U turn. Thanks.  

Maybe, however, I have mistaken the intention of these proclamations. Perhaps they are a middle class form of literary exhibitionism. ‘We know stuff’ they might be saying. And we are going to let you know that we know we know stuff. Maybe? Or perhaps they are a goodwill gesture, like the Olympics, so everyone will drop their guard and not run as fast as they know they can. Perhaps then it is a speed moderating device, having drivers career to a snail’s pace so that they can catch the last two words of that epic saying about why men are the same as mobile phones. Who knows?

I am confounded for a rational explanation. Or any understanding of why, now, we have chosen not to speak in direct and intimate terms to the people who comprise our world. Hello, how are you? Could be a useful opening gambit. Again maybe it is because those who comprise our worlds are now faceless, far flung, amorphous or maybe they aren’t there. Perhaps we speak volumes to the air that once held the shape of real people we knew or hoped to know.

I have a picture in my head. Me stopping. Pulling over in my car and walking to the sign. Upon reading the content of the daily epistle on life I will pull out my chalk. Underneath I will write, ‘It doesn’t matter what you believe, what matters is how you behave’.


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