Poverty and Opinions

I’ve been interested in health and wellness for as long as I can remember. My kids weren’t allowed lollies, I made them homemade fruit and nut thingies, my husband wasn’t allowed the skin on his chicken, those were that days of low fat and preferably the Pritikin diet. I studied both popular and natural health books and recipes long before the days of internet and so had a vast paper collection of many opinions, hints and guidelines. And, mostly, for the past 30-40 years I and my kids, and now my grand-kids have been fit and well. But, in the last year my body has taken it’s vengeance on all these ideas and gone off on it’s own path. I’ve been diagnosed with pericarditis, MS and melanoma all in a year. Now, with the aid of Google and books I’ve studied even harder and I’ve found that more ideas and opinions abound than I ever imagined! I am also a Chronic Disease nurse so it behoves me to know a thing or two.

I’ve learnt that the idea doing the current rounds (and it does have it’s basis in history as well) is the benefits of a low (very low) carbohydrate diet with healthy fats (the subject of what constitutes a healthy fat is a whole other sub-strata of opinions). The theory goes like this, carbohydrates, especially simple carbs, are broken down into sugars by the digestive system, insulin is released and turns a lot of that sugar into fat which is stored in the body’s fat cells. That’s the simple version, there are many books on the subject which give careful explanations of the process. What I’ve read so far, plus a phone consult (I’m still living and working in a remote part of Australia) with a dietitian in Tasmania and a naturopath in Queensland, makes sense to me and I’ve been eating like this for a month and have lost 5cms off my waist! Wonderful and I hope it continues.

But I also want to mention something in the book I’ve just finished reading (pictured), it explains the same theory of carbs=sugar=insulin=fat, but makes the observations that poor people the world over, according to his research, eat high carbohydrate diets because they’re cheap, easy and readily available. Foods made with white flour such as breads, pancakes, damper, scones, pasta etc. He then gives examples from American Indian tribes since the early 1900’s of overweight mothers and undernourished babies and children and bases the cause on high carb diets they’ve eaten since colonisation. I’ve seen this phenomena in many of Australia’s Indigenous, and people, in other low socio-economic situations,and  have wondered at the reasons for it.

He writes, “The coexistence of thin, stunted children, exhibiting the typical signs of chronic under-nutrition, with mothers who are themselves overweight…poses a challenge to our beliefs-our paradigm.If we believe that these mothers were overweight because they ate too much, and we know the children are thin and stunted because they’re not getting enough food, then we’re assuming that the mothers were consuming superfluous  calories that they could have given to their children to allow them to thrive. In other words, the mothers are willing to starve their children so they themselves can overeat. This goes against everything we know about maternal behaviour”.

Interesting theory and if it’s true, which it well might be, even though it turns accepted food theories, triangles and advice on their heads. Health professionals and most of us are going to have to think long and hard about our opinions and prejudices and the enormous inequities in our societies, not to mention whats best for our own, and our families health.

One last thing this writer incidentally mentions about the Sioux, one of the tribes studied, in South Dakota, is as follows…’These Sioux lived in shacks “unfit for occupancy, often 4-8 family members per room…15 families, with 32 children among them, lived chiefly on bread and coffee’. This was poverty almost beyond our imagination today.” The writer might be shocked to know that many of Australia’s Indigenous people still live in similar overcrowded accommodation and lived mainly on tea and damper.

An excellent resource is the film “That Sugar Film” and it’s accompanying book “That Sugar Book” by Australian actor, Damon Gameau, who gives carefully and humorously explained, health advice and an interesting story about his own 60 day experiment with “healthy” foods. And, who also continues to do positive work in Indigenous Australia.

 

 

Fragments

Do you enjoy fragments? I do. A glimpse of a strangers face, a remembered line of an old song, a whispered conversation on a bus, a delicious aroma teasing from someone else’s house, the middle of a movie you haven’t got time to watch till the end, a dream that vanishes on waking, a phrase you just have to copy down…

They arouse my curiosity and imagination more than any completed experience.

Australian writer Elizabeth Jolley, wrote fragments  on scraps of paper for years before she was first published in her fifties. She was too busy raising a family and working at an assortment of jobs to have enough time to write at length and at leisure. I was one of her many correspondents whom she  encouraged to write short notes about the weather, landscape, overheard conversations, because I too had a full life with little time. She was quoted in 1986 as saying: “If anybody had asked to see a work in progress it would have been lots of bits of paper with scribbles on.”

A fragment is defined as “an isolated or incomplete part”. But, although incomplete, it is at the same time complete in itself because it contains the potential of what it may become…a story, poem, song, healing memory, nourishing meal, something understood, a puzzle solved.

Fragments allow mystery into our lives and curiosity leads us on….

Surprises

My thought today is simply, that we can be surprised by beauty in unexpected places and what a delight that is!

I saw this drawing in a community hall in Yirrkala a few months ago and was drawn to the expressive movements of the women in dance and how well the art work was executed. When I asked if anyone knew the artist I was told it was a local worker, not someone who made their living from art. It’s not there now, maybe the artist wanted it back, or maybe a lucky person purchased it The day I saw it was a working day for me, driving around in the heat of midday  looking for patients in the community, the passionate dancing image twirled my mind into a place of joy for just a few moments.

Surprises like this give me reasons to smile and remember that days, especially working days, aren’t only filled with serious effort, there’s lightness as well if we’re open to it.

Stories

In an on-line version of Anchor Magazine I recently read an article called “Original Voices, teaching everyone to write”, by Pat Schneider, founder of Amherst Writers and Artists. She is a well known writing teacher who holds workshops that make writing an experience within the reach of anyone who picks up a pen or types at a computer.

She writes, “Every human has a story and every story is valuable. Most of us would agree to that. What might be more difficult for us to agree upon is this: all of us, speaking in our own original voices, achieve at times literary art. It may not be published, but the artistry is there”. Pat goes on to tell the story of a Vietnamese man who attended one of her workshops hoping to learn to write better in English, but each day he became more and more frustrated, until finally on the last day Pat asked him to write in the language he dreamt in, the language of his birth. He then wrote a flowing and moving account of his father, which he read back to the other participants in English. The point she makes from this is that we can all write our stories, despite any perceived lack in ourselves of education, language, or opportunity if we write in our own voice, of our own experiences. These things, so important in the dominant culture, are no guarantee of wisdom or insight. The sparks in a story that light up our interest come from the deep honesty of who we are and what we’ve experienced.

Last month in Gove, in the Northern Territory, where I live and work the Garma festival was held. Four days of Indigenous dance, song and various cultural workshops in the open air and heat of the North Australian bush.It was an enriching experience made possible by the generous sharing of local Aboriginal people teaching us aspects of their culture we could understand. Objective things we could listen to, the resonance of the didgeridoo, hands-on weaving, jewellery and spear making and the colourful visuals of their dancing. Stories were the one thing missing, there was no event or place we could participate in where we could listen or read stories of these ordinary Aboriginal people’s experiences. I wondered what Garma meant to the women teaching us to weave or to make shell necklaces. I wondered what they would have been thinking as they collected multitudes of tiny colourful shells in the months before or for those who would have collected the pandanus grasses for weaving and roots for dying. What did all that mean to them? How did these activities take them away from their families? And the older man who patiently taught the didgeridoo class under the grass-covered shelter, what did he think of young white men wanting to play his traditional instrument? Who can hold workshops for these people in remote communities so they can tell their stories in their own voice? How would they be accepted if they could?

Stories give us insight into other lives, other places and enable us to connect to a much wider world beyond our own thoughts and experiences.They help us develop an inclusive attitude to others different to ourselves. Connection to, and inclusion of, other people is what makes us mature human beings.

Lunch…

I still work in remote Australia. In a top right-hand corner of the Northern Territory. Like all far away places choices are limited. On the Gove Peninsula it’s luckier than most because there’s  Woolworth’s (and a hospital…no late night emergency call outs for the nurses who work here). Until recently, if I wanted lunch I had to make it everyday and bring it to work, eat it in the small clinic kitchen or try to find a quiet nook somewhere out of the summer heat. This year there’s a choice…an Op-Shop (Second-hand goods) has been opened in Yirrkala by an employment company to give the local women an opportunity to learn how to sort, arrange and display donated clothing and a variety of general goods. But best of all, on Wednesday and Thursday they open a cafe for lunchtime, and learn to cook, serve customers and plate food tastefully on local banana leaves. It’s a welcoming haven for customers, to the background of Gurrumul’s songs, we choose from the menu which includes baked filled potatoes (cheese and bacon), fried rice, fruit skewers, toasted sandwiches, local bush lime juice or brewed coffee. Prior to it’s opening there was no place, apart from the local art gallery, where the community, locals and those who travel to work here could mingle informally. It’s managed by the vibrant warm Ali, whose personality draws you imperceptibly towards, her just to see her smile. I enjoy browsing through donated books, DVDs and music and donating back. To say this old banana shed-turned occasional cafe, is a good thing for the community, is to understate the power of creativity, thought and effort to enhance the lives of others. My Thursday lunchtime baked potato and browse is the highlight of my week. Thank you Ali and the girls!

Beauty

Losses and griefs of all kinds fade a sense of beauty out of our lives. We  forget what we once appreciated and held dear, even what we love and who we are. During the past two weeks remote area nurses in Australia have grieved the murder of one of our colleagues. After the first few days of shocked incomprehension someone on our Facebook site encouraged us to post photos of things that captured our reasons for doing the hard work that we do. The beauty in those shared photos was varied, individual and ultimately uplifting…some were of landscapes and adventures, others were of new-born babies and healthy mothers.Many of us will always see beauty in the shape of a Royal Flying Doctor plane coming in to land after a long night of waiting. Beauty is as unique as a snowflake, it’s to be cherished and nurtured in our lives wherever we find it and however we define it.

I’ve had my share of losses and difficulties since I began this blog site. I had a desire to share my experiences and insights from my remote area life, but beauty quietly disappeared for a while and all I could see and sense around me was a dull, drab landscape. The gentle energy of beauty hid in the shadows from me…until the past few weeks, for all kinds of reasons, and none in particular…colours are appearing again and curiosity beckons me forward. Life is interesting and I’ve picked up my camera and wandered outside.

Grief (revisited after a year)

I haven’t written anything here since January 2015.My last post was titled simply, “Grief”, because even for me who loves words I could hardly find any. I wanted to pay tribute to all involved in the family tragedy in Cairns, because it involved Torres Strait islanders and I had grown fond of many local people I’d worked with on various islands over a two year period. Being a close knit community and family orientated I knew that terrible incident would shatter them.

I feel somehow hijacked by grief this past year. I’ve had a year of ill health, unexpected and sudden. I’ve learnt that it takes time to adjust to change. That we don’t do ourselves any favours when we set the bar too high with a list of shoulds and oughts in our minds. I started this blog in late 2013 expecting I’d post every week, expecting I would finish the book I was writing about my remote area nurse experiences, but life has presented me with surprises and now I need to lower the bar and do away with my list. I feel what I feel, I can only do so much in one day, life is what it is and so is grief. Grief has no rules it simply is.

Our remote area nurse community has been rocked the past few days with the news of the murder of one of our colleagues in the course of her work in Central Australia. I predicted that this tragedy would bring to the surface many stories of loss, fear and disrespect from other RANS and it has. I’m sure the outpouring of grief for Gayle will continue for a long time as will the sharing of each others stories. This death could have happened anywhere, in any remote community, at any time, but it is bringing up the important issues of safety, duty of care and respect. We are encouraging each other to remember what we love about our work as a defence against despair and being eaten up with anger. But grief is it’s own master and we each have to find our way to journey with it. My thoughts go out to us all, family, colleagues, community members, police, our families who worry about us and people not connected with remote health but who have heard the news and are saddened by it. May we find our strength close by in what we love.