So much has been written about Afghanistan, so many opinions expressed. I’m not going to add to them except to simply say the past week has been a dark and worrying one for many in and outside the country.
For anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of the lives of ordinary people there I recommend two recent memoirs and some films.
There are many excellent documentaries and films that give insight this complex country. The following is a few I’ve watched:
The Tillman Story
The road to Guantanamo
Taxi to the dark side
Hope House, the orphanage featured in the above book is run out of Sydney and is still able to get help through to Kabul and is also helping with emergency care for homeless families who’ve fled to Kabul. Please consider donating to them. The name is Mahboba’s Promise. Contact is https://mahbobaspromise.org, phone 0298871665 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The situation there can feel overwhelming but there are always ways to help. Let each of us continue to listen and do what we can for the future.
I’ve had one of those weeks. Short-staffed at work and not feeling the best. I’ve still managed to read and write a haiku a day.
Today I’m posting two old Japanese haiku by Chiyo-ni, a female poet. The sunrise photo is mine and near where I live but the violet photo is a borrowed image. I don’t think violets could survive the heat here in the Northern Territory but I like the truth expressed in this haiku.
The last haiku is a modern one and I love how it turns your thinking around and speaks from inside the image. My photo from a few weeks ago.
I’ve played around writing Haiku and other short poems for a few years now but not consistently or seriously learning how to write them well. Recently I thought I’d like to try and write Haiku better and match them with photos I take. There’s no Haiku society in the Northern Territory but I’ve found lots of info on-line from all over the world and many helpful books.
Im reading “Haiku in English: the first hundred years” and in the introduction by Billy Collins he explains the following: “…a Haiku must be very simple and free of poetic trickery and yet be airy and graceful…Haiku is both easy and impossible to define. One can merely use dictionary language to say that Haiku is a short poem, usually three lines that uses natural imagery to evoke a feeling or mood. But such flat definitions fall well short of accounting for Haiku’s mysterious power to cause in the readers consciousness a sudden shift, literally a new way of seeing. Part of this ability lies in the form’s brevity, which leaves no time to explain an experience; instead, the Haiku conveys an experience directly without commentary and with an immediacy not possible in longer poems”.
Below are three I’ve written this week with photos I’ve taken locally…enjoy!
Fasi suggested, many times in the years we’ve lived here, that he could boat me across to Gulunhara Island, commonly known as West Woody. For a picnic or a days peace to read, but I always declined. I couldnt imagine what it would be like, maybe hot sand and no shade? He offered again last Saturday and because the weather is mild this time of year I agreed to give it a try.
That night I cooked spiced banana loaf and boiled some eggs. Easy food to take. I packed my basket with journals and Vanessa Berry’s new book, “Gentle and Fierce”, phone charger and sunscreen, unaccountably (after so many years of refusing) looking forward to the short trip and a day to myself.
Awake at 5am we hooked up our dinghy to the old white land cruiser, packed water and other essentials (and non-essentials) and were at the boat ramp by 6. The early mornings fading full moon glimmered across the water as the men launched the boat. The scene was the palest pink monochrome, almost a wordless poem.
After twenty minutes of a smooth boat ride Fasi anchored in shallow clear water off the islands beach. The sand was covered in corals and pink and grey tiny cowrie shells. Plenty to collect for my friend in Queensland as I’d promised. The island is small, if it wasn’t for it’s rocky edges it would take less than half an hour to walk around.
Fasi and Nurul left to go fishing nearby. I found a white sandy area near large round rocks that invited shelter and solitude and set out a chair and my basket. To the sound of gentle waves and barely visible honeyeaters chirping in the bushes behind me. A whole day of bliss, like a dream. A day of turquoise-water dreaming.
I read and wrote and ate and paddled in the cool water. I filled a plastic black plant pot, washed up on the beach, with the pinkest shells I’ve ever seen. It was a delightful day. Sundays will never be the same. And, to think, I’d refused the gift of it for six years.
There’s a woman who lives in an iron-clad company house, on a red dirt track, at the upper edge of an Aboriginal community in North-East Arnhem land. She’s a nurse in a small doctor clinic a short walk from this house. In Summer she drives a car because going outside from the air-conditioner is like walking into a closed bathroom after a hot shower. Impossibly hot and steamy. It’s winter now and she chooses to walk. The sun is merely warm and the outside air faintly cool on her skin. She feels alive.
The first 100 metres is the red bauxite track covered in tiny marble-like balls, slippery underfoot.
She turns left onto the bitumen, 2,000-steps-to-work road, and the bush warm charcoal smell from last nights cultural burn greets her. It was a cold fire that slowly ate down the undergrowth, overnight, that would otherwise have prevented fresh new growth in the spring. A little further along the smell changes to the sweetness of eucalyptus leaves warming in the morning sun mixed with a profusion of wattle blossoms. Acacia auricululiformis or black wattle. Ubiquitous throughout the Northern Territory it needs smoke or heat from a fire to germinate its seeds. Its flower is paler and smaller than the silver-leafed Cootamundra wattle of her childhood further south.
One of the nurses she works with asked her if she was afraid of the dogs, walking alone without a stick? Dogs of varying degree of dingo heritage station themselves at the edges of the invisible boundaries of their owners homes, watchful but not menacing. She ignores them looking straight ahead and presents no threat to them.
A white sulphur-crested cockatoo screeches out a warning, or a greeting, to others in its flock from the highest branch of a gum tree. Maybe to share or to scare away others from eating the bunches of honey tasting flowers.
The woman approaches the left turn towards the clinic.
Sometimes I feel like a woman in a dream, wandering down this path to work. So far from my family and all I’ve ever known, and yet, by now, so familiar. So many paths to choose from and even on this short walk there are sandy side tracks leading to different destinations. I could take one to the right, amongst the trees and come out at the nearby bay. Sit and read all day. I could take the trodden down bush walk to the left, past the houses and end up at the blue house when the new-born puppies are and play all day with them. But I keep walking on the bitumen past houses and dogs until I reach the padlocked gate of the clinic. I rummage in my bag for the key and with that wake from the dream.
I started this blog several years ago with the idea that, while I was writing a remote area nurse memoir, I’d have a website with photos and articles to accompany it. That worked for a few years until life’s ups and downs took up a lot of time and energy (which it does so well!) and my posts became sporadic and into a few different topics.
I’ve been thinking about my lack of posts recently and about the topic of curiosity and where it leads and decided to pick up where I left off with a wider focus about curiosity. I completed the memoir a couple of years ago and the manuscript is sitting in the cupboard. I’m also curious as to why I begin things and dont finish them. My elderly mother said to me recently “you have so many abilities but you never finish anything”…hmm…I need to think about this.
The Australian Oxford dictionary defines curiosity as:-
An eager desire to know
A strange, rare or interesting object
Roget’s Thesaurus lists a range of explanations from searching and seeking to snooping and spying.
I like to think of curiosity as a quest, a thirst for life, opening up to what life presents. The opposite of being fearful and closed off and hesitant. I’m not too keen on the thought of flippant snooping or superficial spying. That has the feel of purposeless gossip that harms without informing, learning nothing.
So I’m going to try once again to post weekly about saying yes to life and following where it leads…
There’s a few turtle stories in Ben’s life. The one that I remember the clearest is when he was about 12 and had collected a number of small turtle shells from a dried up pond. The shells went under his bed until I noticed a smell coming from under there. On looking closer it was apparent the shells weren’t entirely clean and my advice to put them outside on an ants nest was turned into Ben spraying perfume on them and leaving them under his bed! He grew up into a keen fisherman with a through understanding of the sea and for some reason I equated sea turtles with him.
Ten days after Ben’s funeral I was staying with my daughter in Central Queensland. I was browsing in the self-help book section of the local Big W oping to find something to help me articulate my shock and grief. I turned around with that feeling that someone was looking at me. A book had been left open exactly at my eye level on a page about sea turtles. I looked straight into the face of a beautiful sea turtle and knew Ben’s presence instantly.
This was more comforting than any words. A felt presence.
The next day I returned to the same shopping centre for a massage. I hadn’t been there before so I was happy to be seen by any practitioner. I was asked what I wanted and I said I was particularly tense after my sons recent death and just wanted a relaxing massage. The woman introduced herself as Faith. A few minutes into the massage she said to me, “I dont know how it feels to lose a son but when my mother died two years after she lost my brother. They said it was a broken heart.”
I asked after another few minutes he had died here or overseas as the woman was African. “In South Africa”, she replied.
“Was it an expected or a violent death?”
“My brother was a policeman and he was shot and killed by thugs.”
I told her that Ben had been shot and killed by police.
She said that there will never be any justice where the police are involved. She told me not to focus on the details of what happened and why but to look after myself and my other kids and not to push my husband away.
I felt a presence again. I cant explain what it was but it was there and it saw me and knew the words I needed to hear at that time. Still many months later I remember those words and try to live by them.
Turtles and angels have more in common that you realise.
This is all I can say right now. Life is strange. It hasn’t worked out the way I thought it would when I was younger. Its much more unpredictable and mysterious. There are no formulas for understanding or achieving anything that will deliver a guaranteed outcome. I just read these words in a tiny book on joy…”Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you”…illustrated by the simplest flowers of all…daisies. And I’m wondering if this is true, if only it was as easy as this.
Ben, my eldest son, was a capable country boy. He had practical skills that were always needed by others, friends, family and employers. He was rarely bored. The only times I’ve ever seen him quiet and still was when he was near water, fishing mostly. His usual, fairly predictable self began to disappear last year and he became scattered and chaotic over many months. I attributed this change to prescription medication he was started on, and I still do. He had a month’s reprieve from all this when he came to stay with us in the Northern Territory and that prescription had run out. He was back to being the fishing and country boy we knew and loved. Calm and relaxed and enjoying being able to celebrate his 40th birthday on a camping trip with us.
That was September 2019. In November I volunteered to assist a Rohingya refugee being held in offshore detention for the past six years, to apply for Canadian immigration. A young man of 34, N, has a wife and 10 year old daughter still living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. He hasn’t seen them for 10 years. He has never seen his daughter, only in photos. We communicated on WhatsApp and shared stories and day to day happenings. I’ve loosely followed the news over the years about Australia’s offshore and onshore detention policies for refugees and felt they were unnecessarily harsh and wished our government was more humane and compassionate in it’s laws. But that’s as far as my thoughts about refugees went. Except, that I knew if I was ever in a position to help I would. N’s life in Bangladesh as a child refugee from Burma (now Myanmar) until being detained on the Pacific island of Nauru by the Australian government began to open my eyes to what countless refugees worldwide experience. I am only beginning to realise the despair, statelessness, trauma and displacement they experience. And I wonder what is hoped to be achieved by mandatory indefinite detention other than causing a form of torture.
On December 6th, N, asked me to be his mother. His parents had died soon after they fled from Burma when N was six years old. He barely remembered them. For him to have a mother again was something he’d barely hoped for. I happily agreed as I’d begun to care for him. I hoped to be able to visit him one day when he was free in Canada.
On December 8th 2019 Ben was killed, shot by Queensland police. I’d told N two days before that I had 2 two daughters and two sons but now I had three sons after agreeing to be his adopted mum. Life is strange. I gained a son and lost a son in two days. And I am still re-thinking what it means to be an Australian. To live in a country (and “believe” in it) that deems it lawful for a young man, father of four children, to be killed by law enforcement officers with no questions asked. And to detain others indefinitely when no crime has been committed.
In January 2020, N, was flown to Australia under the now defunct medivac legislation for medical treatment for which he is still waiting and detained in a motel in a coronavirus hotspot. I have been trying to get him approved for release into the community to live with my husband and I until his case for settlement is finalised. Australians returning from overseas and interstate have found being locked in a motel room for two weeks extremely challenging. Many young men in Melbourne, Brisbane and other places have been detained in motels known as alternative places of detention for month after long wearing, boring month. Many were flown here because of mental health problems.
Since N has arrived in Australia I’ve “met” other young men from all over the world. Tamil men from Sri Lanka, others from Iran, Iraq, Bangladesh and Pakistan. All with traumatic stories of survival, all in need of care and freedom. My life has broadened to include so many others as I’m learning to live with the loss of my firstborn son. Life is indeed strange.
Its been over a year since my last post. Life was chaotic and grief-filled last year. A young man close to our family shot and killed himself in March. Around the same time my eldest son was slipping into a mental health downward spiral. Months went by and nothing and no-one seemed to help him. I felt like I was watching powerlessly at the edges of his life until he was tragically shot and killed by Queensland police in December.
Since then I’ve read a lot of books about grief, trying to make sense of what had happened, and trying to understand how I felt and find a way to live a normal life again. Nothing feels normal after the death of your child, no matter how old that child is. Ben turned 40 last September. He has four children, siblings, parents and many friends who still dont feel normal. We are stunned, numb and moving mindlessly through each day from sunrise to sunset doing things needed to maintain our lives.
I’ve been reading a book this week called “The Gift of the Red Bird” by Paula D’arcy. Its about the spiritual journey of a woman who lost her husband and young daughter in a car accident when she was three months pregnant. A few years after the accident in her quest to find meaning in her life once more she spent three days and nights fasting on her own in a canyon wilderness. She writes that “During this time, when I experienced hunger, thirst, fear and beauty, a red bird became my constant companion. I know today that this bird was a Cardinal; at the time I was only able to identify him by his brilliant colour. It was startling to feel so much comfort and resonance with a tiny winged creature. On my second night in the wilderness there was a powerful thunder and lightning storm with strong winds from two tornadoes. As I huddled in an empty bunkhouse where I’d run to for slim shelter that night, I felt the full force of life and death and our human fragility. In the morning, having survived, I was anxious to hike back to the where I’d sat during the first two days to see if the bird had survived as well As I pushed open the door of the bunkhouse, there on the doorstep was the red bird, waiting for me. It was inconceivable to me that he knew where to find me, or that this very doorstep was mine. Since that moment, red birds have appeared continuously in my life. They seem to find me. I eventually wrote about the experience of those days spent alone in nature in my book ‘Gift of the Red Bird’. However, I am well aware that no words I can ever write will convey the power of that encounter…red birds are a sign to me of the miracle of life’s deepest connections as well as a sign of the mysterious elegance of being here”.
Its a thoughtful book about loss and human frailty and connections and mystery which doesn’t end with neat or trite answers. Towards the end of the book Paula writes “I am learning to listen (pay attention) to everything. Truth surprises me. It does not always come in the way I anticipate it will. I have found it in traditions different to my own and in people with the least bearing or stature. The hardest to admit is that I have often found truth in places (people/traditions) about whom I’ve had a lot of judgement. God is in everything. That knowledge alone, if grasped, is enough”.
Two mornings ago I was having a conversation on Messenger with a young man, a refugee from Afghanistan now detained in Indonesia for many years. He is a self-taught artist producing drawings and paintings you would expect from a Fine Arts graduate. Shavali Mahfar, lives in a small, shared room with basic equipment but creates images full of life, colour and hope. I’d sent him a photo of a Northern Territory blue wren for a morning greeting and he sent me back a perfectly drawn blue wren on a limb. I asked him if it was for sale but he said it had been sold. I asked him to let me know if he ever drew another bird. He said he had another….
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, a perfect drawing of the red bird, the cardinal in the book I was reading! How amazing and “co-incidental”, I suddenly felt connected to life and the profound mystery that it is. Like Paula I dont think words can adequately convey such experiences but it reminded me that comfort, connection and meaning haven’t disappeared from my life and this week God came to me in the form of a writer called Paula, an artist called Shavali and a bright red bird.