WASH

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She stands at the sink overlooking the rice fields as the panicle, packed with grain sweep in a cooler morning breeze. The sun starts to colour the sky.

It had been a long night for her.

Her youngest had twisted in pain, his arms wrapped across his stomach, his eyes as big as saucers brimming with tears begged her to make it stop. Yet another night of little sleep for the family as his cries perforated the night in between short moments of fitful sleep.

The number of sleepless nights were becoming too many. Her family could not survive much longer. Her husband could not continue to work long hours in the field with little sleep.

She spied the pamphlet on the floor. It was stained with mud that had been carried into the house on little feet as they had darted outside in the rain to go to the toilet. She hoped they went a distance from the house, but she could hardly reprimand given the amount of rain that fell last night. She will check that later.

For now, she just needed to recharge.

And think.

As her tea brews she can hear the thump of coconuts falling outside. Husband is picking a few for her to take into the market. She wipes the pamphlet and slowly turns it over in her hands, looking with envy at the picture of a woman standing outside a freshly finished brick building. She recalls what the man from SAMIC told them.

“We can offer you a loan to build an outside toilet and install a water filter to give you clean water as well. It would cost you about $30-50 US dollars a month to repay. It will be a declining loan. The money is offered under the WASH program, to help provide water and sanitation. You could be the first in your village.”

Could they earn enough from the sale of the coconuts and rice to repay this and keep the family? She could take the buggy and find rubbish to sell if they needed more money. Her eldest was nearly old enough to help too.

Her breath stops suddenly as she contemplates her children getting sicker. Too many in the district had died already from stomach complaints. They say it’s the bad water and no toilets that is doing it. They had no money for hospitals, yet it seemed only a matter of time before one of her brood fell too sick to recover.

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There is yelling from below as the chickens scatter. The cow is off its chain again. She puts her dreaming aside and heads downstairs to save the animals from her husband. The lack of sleep is showing itself already. Its going to be a long day. Not the day to try to talk about a new toilet.

 

6 weeks later:

It is so shiny! The water so clean you can see the bottom of the tub. There was even enough money to install a path so there will be no mud being tramped across the rugs inside.

She is now running late to market as the neighbours called in to view this new building, quiz  husband on the cost. Some even wanted to give it try, it has created quite an interest. The people from SAMIC have become quite busy now.

Her smile is one of relief. Her children are better, she sleeps at night. They all have renewed energy to face each day.

A small building can make a big difference to a family in Cambodia.DSC04329

She climbs on the bike beside her husband. Today she is making her first repayment at the SAMIC office. As her children run ahead on the path, with energy levels tripled she knows she has made the right decision.

Maybe she will ask her husband if she can learn to read soon. A better world awaits her and the children, with a little help. She nods at the Spirits as the bike weaves to market, her smile beaming in the midday sun.DSC04353

 

**Inspired by experiences while travelling in Cambodia with Good Return and Xplore.  If you wish to know more, especially the WASH program also see SAMIC.

All photos are my own

First Steps

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It took me some time to decide. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone every now and then but not sure this was for me. I had visions of being thrown in a foreign jail, not able to tell family and friends where I was. But maybe I just watched way too many movies.

The country had been a war zone in my lifetime. I have small recollections of learning about the events of the 1970s at school, even raising money to help the poor of the region.

But I said OK, lets do this!

YOLO …   (and I can feel my daughter rolling her eyes…50 year olds should not use YOLO she would be saying)

Off I go – to gain the fourth passport stamp of my life.

As the waters of Singapore came into view from the airplane window I contemplated the Australian bloodshed that had occurred decades before as World War 2 knocked on our door and annihilated the land now beneath me.

As a teenager I was fascinated by the World Wars. I watched countless TV series about prisoners in Changi Prisoner of War camp, of women who were captured by the Japanese in 1942 and of course Pearl Harbour and Gallipoli.

As the plane makes it final flight into the modern Singapore I’m taken back to a school assignment interview with a friend of my father who has been a prisoner in Changi and survived. He didn’t tell me much at the time and at 14 I was a little naïve to ask for the detail. As none of my family have a history of service in the wars, these were my only experiences of the bloody battles that ravaged southern Asia last century.

The city beneath me and modern airport, complete with indoor gardens was a stark contrast to what my imagination conjured of Singapore. I celebrated my first footsteps in Asia with a Singapore Sling – it seemed fitting and absolutely glorious after the eight-hour flight.

And then onto our destination, Cambodia.

My senses exploded as we exited the airport at Phomn Penh.

Lights from a herd of motorbikes galloped towards us, another line jostled beside trying to sneak past. The air was filled with a peal of horn blasts swirling in with the dust of the evening skyline.

The streets were a coalescent of old with new. A stooped woman slowly wipes the street dirt from a table covered in a plastic faded cloth, beckoning diners to take a seat while next door an elderly man sat on a broken chair minding bric-a-brac that covers every available corner of the shop in the hope a shopper sees a bargain or a necessity.

Youngsters kick an empty drink bottle dispersing other litter and discarded food across the street. A toddler wearing only baggy torn shorts watches, his face a flummox of his day with specks of food, tears and mucus staining his cheeks and running down his bare chest.

A car tries to reverse from an American clothing store, the security guard holding up traffic to allow the driver to enter the continual flow. A troupe of tuk tuks hang near a club, ready to barter for a ride in the hope of making a meagre wage from Saturday night tourists to finish early and maybe rest tomorrow.

Overhead I spy 3 storey buildings inclining on each other, seemingly built as an afterthought for family expansion. Spirit houses protect the occupants, the ornate gold coating catching the last of the sunlight, the fruit offerings keeping the spirits peaceful.

The streets are framed by a spaghetti of electrical wires looping around leaning poles and mixing with neon lights and dilapidated signage, a mix of local chirography and western advertising.

Our driver paints the political and social landscape for us as we bump and thrust through the city traffic. The herd continues to stream by, some laden with 3 or 4 passengers, even a baby slumped asleep over the handle bars. Others tow a small trailer packed with goods from vegetables, building materials to sorted rubbish. We learn there is a market for the rubbish – one person’s trash another’s treasure that can put food on the family table.

We hear the story of our driver’s family, a story we will hear retold by many we meet. The loss of family members in the 1970s, a country pillaged and ravaged through history, a people exploited with their spirit tattered yet unbroken.

Unfinished highways funded by other countries loom in the twilight, while displaced sleep in hovels in its shadows. Our car bounces along unloved roads and past the contrasting grandeur of others.

The grit of this city is smattering on us, our eyes seeing what our minds are not comprehending.

Our ears are hearing the chaos of existence yet our hearts will listen to the silence of oppression.

We steel ourselves for the days ahead. We step into the night, into the city.

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countryhorizons_bvmarketsroadsigntotownIt is normally a sleepy little village. Its 180 odd residents living a quiet life tucked under the shadows of the southern Liverpool Plains mountain ranges, at the very beginnings of the Mooki River that will weave its way across the plains to Gunnedah. The bustle of school traffic, children’s laughter in playground and the toll of the bell are the only sounds that would break the quiet air during the day.

I know at least one day of the year when the population of Blackville would more than triple.

I witnessed it last Sunday.

The annual Blackville Arts and Market Day.

The road from Curlewis to Blackville was picturesque as the remarkable realm of the Liverpool Plains shone in the morning sun. A carpet of green crops, fading yellow canola and fallowed black clay rolled out in front of us, a band of hazy blue of the mountain ranges bordered the panorama. Pockets of trees lined paddocks, cattle and sheep enjoyed their morning feed as, across the plains farming families finished their morning chores.

Blackville is not really on the way to somewhere or the way from anywhere. It is about a 40 minute drive from Quirindi to the north-west and Merriwa to the south, as the crow flies. I recall my dad used to refer to the Blackville area as “gods own country” – if there was a hint of rain in the skies Blackville seems to always get it.

We rounded the final bend and were greeted by ‘road closed’ signs just past the town signage. There are few places that can close off the main thoroughfare of town for markets. Blackville can, and did.

Smiling faces of the local committee greeted us, the hospitality of rural Australia evident in the air.

Welcome to Blackville.

The stall owners stood behind their wares, a sense of pride as they happily showcased their goods. From watercolour paintings, jewellery of many shapes and material, fashion, wood crafts, hand dyed scarves, straw bags, metal ornaments, clay homewares, photography, home furnishings, local produce from the plains and the tastiest honey I have had for some time. It was an exciting array of goodies.

The homemade lime and coconut cake was delectable with my morning coffee, enjoyed in the spring sun with a wisp of a breeze keeping the heat at bay. We watched younger ones tuck into fairy floss, washed down with a frozen cup of pure delight as a duet played gentle music to entertain.

Ahh this is how Sunday should be!

After our fill of tastes and a bag full of goodies we set off on a different route home. I am a bit like my father in that I try to never travel the same road twice on a road trip. We circled back to Spring Ridge and a pit stop at the local Royal Hotel. The residents of Spring Ridge wont go hungry while ever they have the burgers at the Royal!

One cant help but relax snuggled in this country.

Sunday road trip.

Family, spring, fresh air.

Living a dream.

 

 

Some great stalls that were there:

Food River Station – produce and gift ware profiling the great Liverpool Plains

Wattle Tree Love – lovely hand dyed scarves

Colourful bags and baskets

Buzz Honey – The best honey for a long time – Phone 0429 074 520

or head to the Blackville Arts and Markets Facebook page for more information.

The whale kingdom

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Malo le’ le’…again. I promised I would return and I did. I fell in love with the contagious smiles and welcoming embrace of the Kingdom of Tonga last year and I do believe I left a piece of my heart drifting gently through the cerulean waters of this island paradise.

A few weeks back I journeyed again to connect and renew, if only for a short time.

The capital city Nukualofa maybe a bit more bustling, the western influences maybe slowly creeping into its veins but once you voyage to one of the outer islands the slow-paced bustle is left far far behind and you are vortexed into a postcard. The waters, every shade of blue, turquoise and aqua are as deep as forever. The sun warmed our winter weary bodies as we were resuscitated by the dashes of island breeze that fluttered in the air.

A small boat ferried us to our island escape on Kapa, just a stone throw from the main island of Vava’u, where our host welcomed us with a warmth we had grown to expect from this Kingdom. One cannot help but just relax and fall into an island way of living, the clocks are few, the technology connections to the outside world intermittent, the call of the ocean mesmerising.

As a new day was heralded with a postcard sunrise we packed way too many belongings for a day on the water to search for the regal majesties of the ocean – the humpback whales. I am an ‘in case packer’ – I packed a large backpack for the day, in case we got wet, in case we needed some food, in case we needed an extra battery, in case the boat broke down and we necountryhorizons_tonga_reefresort_sunriseeded to spend a night on the water, in case, in case, in case. And of course, used very little of it!

On the whale tour boat (Beluga Diving) we met travellers from the across the globe, all with a similar wish.

The Japanese ladies were kitted with the iPhone in water proof pouches hung around the neck. If you ever wondered if these work – they do! We dived, we snorkelled, we were in and out of the boat and the iPhone survived brilliantly.

The Intense Italian was so concentrated and really dominated the personality of the boat. He was equipped with large DLSR cameras – one he spent more time keeping dry and free of salt spray than actually using, the other enclosed in a mammoth water proof case that took several people to lift back into boat each time.

And an Australian couple from Brisbane, Simon and Allison. Seasoned travellers who dive and snorkel regularly off the coast of the Queensland. It was good to have kin folk close by, even if I did feel a novice as this was the only second time I had worn snorkel gear.

Day One was a tad windy and the waters choppy. The calming island zephyr had decided to whip up enough to make the whales head to deeper, calmer waters. We spotted a few, jumped in to observe underwater when possible but the main act hadn’t read the script.

As we farewelled our whale-seeking-friends at the end of day, our skins parched by the island sun and wind we wished them safe travels, never believing we would see them again.

Until we met the boat the next day.

To our surprise and delight we were teamed again with the Japanese ladies and our Brisbane couple, small world sometimes. And I arrived with less ‘in case’ luggage – it was me, my snorkel gear and sunscreen today. I have to admit it was liberating.

The Intense Italian had been replaced by a young French Wanderer, travelling the world post doctorate before settling into the hum drum of mature living. Yes, a small amount of envy and a great amount of admiration for solo travelling women such as she.

What a magical day.

Within a short time of leaving shore we came across a mother and her new babe. Our Tongan guide was first in the water, establishing a relationship with her in a language that seems to cross between them in silence. We are just visitors to this timeless world of the Tongan people and their whales.

In groups of four we slid softly into the water and as quietly as possible swam close the mother and baby. I felt a bond to the resplendent mother of the blue ocean as she moved slowly, buoyed by the natural currents of the water. Her baby exuded an energy that all young seem to have as it ducked and weaved, from side to side, top to under. I could not help but relate to a time when my babes were young and rarely sat quietly in my lap!

As other travellers busily clicked their cameras and jockeyed to a position to make that ‘like-worthy’ shot I was happy to just be. The desire to capture for perpetuity can take away from just taking in the experience that is unfolding in front of you. I left that for others.

The serendipity of the moment hypnotised me. A lump rose in my throat, my mask fogged with tears unchecked, a soft choir of an ocean song echoed in my ears as I was suspended in the water magnetised and connected to this mother of the ocean. As our eyes met amongst the sunbeams dancing through the water I hope she could hear me say she was doing a great job with her babe and safe journey back to the cooler waters of the world.

And then is was over. We left the new family in peace, reminding ourselves we are purely observers to the main act and our time of theatre was over.

Malo. Thank you. My heart still stays, I will return again.

 

Footnotes and travel tips:

We stayed at the Reef Resort. I highly recommend this as a place to stay. It only has 5 cabins so only a few other guests at any one time. The Japanese coral gardens on your doorstep are wonderful to discover with snorkelling. Host, Herwig is very very helpful and a wonderful host. Hannes and Julia are top chefs – the food was amazing and they are always smiling and offering to help in any way.

Herwig booked our whale swim tours for us through Beluga Diving. Biggest tip is to book these well in advance of your travels. I did not realise this and nearly missed out! Book at least two days, preferable three. Cost is about 400TOP (= ~ 235 $AUS) per person per day.

We travelled to VaVau’ via Nukualofa but have since learnt that VaVau’ is an international airport and you can travel via Fiji. The flight times are a bit more reasonable via Fiji.

A Splash of European Cultcha

I have been travelling to Tamworth a bit this last week as someone very dear to me has been in hospital. Normally when I travel to Tamworth, an hour’s drive away the ‘to do’ list is long – appointments and grabbing things you cannot get in a smaller town. This week, when the patient was sleeping I took the opportunity to explore some of the places that pop up on my social feeds.

On this particular bleak winter afternoon I happened upon a treasure tucked just below the Botanic Gardens at the top of town. The tree lined street frames an energetic CBD and the glorious Peel River valley below, the traffic echoes are muffled by the melodies of the birds that make this area their home.

The entrance is simple and easy access. A large sliding door leads you into the Weswal Gallery. I felt like I had been transported into a little piece of European artistic sophistication – for Australian art!

I was warmly greeted by Sandra who exudes delight in the place she has created. And then she let me wander.

My eyes darted from ceramics to jewellery, from paintings to sculptures a liquorice allsort of colours, shapes, sizes, tastes. This invoked what would have to be the equivalent heady joy that children feel in a toy store – for art lovers.

In the exhibition area I wandered through the journeys of local artist James White, where my European tour continued. James presents splendid watercolours from his travels in his current collection of Postcards.  I traveled with him as I stepped along each wonderful piece.

In the shop there are so many imaginative pieces to choose from. If you are looking for a special gift this is the place to go, especially something Australian for oversees family and friends. Or, if you are like me and want to treat yourself you will find a treasure I am sure.

countryhorizons_weswal8062017What did I purchase? Well I fell in love with an unusual ceramic mug. I love the orange colouring. I am not sure whether to use as my water cup or for my morning latte? I may have to get another as I still cannot decide!

The passage through Europe was hungry work – lucky for me the Weswal Café is just next door. You HAVE to try one of the bagettes – baked fresh on site! The owners Isobel and Sandy Allan were wonderfully hospitable – Sandy even followed me out to the car to give me some delicious orange chocolate as a farewell treat.

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If you are looking for a place that is a little out of the way to meet up with friends or take a relaxing Sunday drive then a journey to the Weswal precinct is worth adding to your list – especially if you like a bit of ‘Cultcha’ .

A pilgrimage

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It was meant to be just a drive from point A to point B to share Christmas with the family. It had been one of those years that was best left behind and I was excited to spend time with special family members. Away from ghosts of the past.

Along the Newell Highway this drive took a turn. No longer was it just a means to travel the thousand odd kilometres across 3 states. It was my pilgrimage. One final trip with you across the land we treasured and admired its changing tides.

You would have been impressed with the miles and miles of golden paddocks. The grain now harvested and its gilded hue slightly fading as the stubble turns to earth. We would have both been intrigued with the individual wheat stacks across the Riverina as farmers were wrapping their wheat in plastic to store on farm. A clear sign of a very prosperous year.

My mind was taken back to driving the same road with you in the early ‘80s and how you wished you had travelled at night as the track was profoundly depressing with the ravages of drought – bare paddocks blowing in the summer winds, the sparse starving stock seeking water and feed to survive, the skies clear with little hope of saving rains.

I know you would have appreciated the difference now and noted the numbers of sheep, fresh off shears that roam the knee high pastures. I noticed. You had taught me to see.

We could have chuckled together at the farm mail boxes as we scooted down the Newell, many decorated for Christmas. You would have pointed to the water filling swampy low areas, now a wetland haven for multitudes of birds that chorus as we break for road works along the stretches damaged from the floods that now bring life to the region.

ch_forbeslagoon_duckpsDucks and turtles forage in the evening stillness as we stop for the night at Forbes. A few Willy Wagtails sing an evening lullaby in the fading light. A single tear trickles down my face as their song takes me back to the night not so long ago when the Willy Wagtails warbled a midnight melody calling in a sadness that settled as you took your last breaths. I knew I needed this pilgrimage to bid you farewell.

The story you told me on another trip a few years back springs to mind as we take the long stretch from Forbes to West Wyalong. I still find it hard to imagine how my grandfather Clem rode this same track on a horse in the 1920s. It seemed such a long expedition to buy another horse! I try to imagine the dusty tracks now replaced by sealed highways, the cleared cultivated land that would have been pristine and untouched, and the stars overhead as he rested his weary body and horse each night. I’m thankful you shared this piece of family history with me.

The West Wyalong truck stop is a welcome sight, not just for us but for many travellers on similar journeys to loved ones for the festive season. I strike up a conversation with a family eating their cereal in the carpark, the children’s hair still woolly and eyes still cloudy from the night sleep. In years past that was us. I have recollections of getting dressed in town parks, eating corn flakes from plastic cups as you and mum tried to get some miles in before we woke. Having had children of my own I appreciate how precious those quiet miles were.

You would have wandered around the busy carpark and struck up a few other yarns with fellow travellers. I only watched this time and envisaged the stories of voyagers along the Newell.

I smile at the football ovals in each town with the four posts at either end. I’m not sure you ever played Australian Rules in your time in the south of the state? As we continue through Narrandera I seemed to recall you did play ‘proper’ football games out this way as you sought some Rugby League comps in the heart of Australian Rules country. I guess you spent some time in these towns along the Murray River and Riverina district and probably broke some hearts as a young single graduate in this area.

Stories from you faded as I crossed the swiftly flowing Murray River and headed into Victoria. I continued on this pilgrimage with a heavy heart, knowing that you would have truly relished in the changing landscapes as we zoomed towards Melbourne.ch_readytosailps

I have no doubt you would have repeated the story of trying to drive in Melbourne with your mother-in-law and her strong opinions in the back seat and how you unexpectedly ended up on the steps of Parliament House. I think the roads are better now – or at least with technology we made it the port in plenty of time for our passage across Bass Strait, where we gathered to make new memories with one less seat at our table.

 

You can rest. Our land is in good hands.

“I wept because I was re-experiencing the enthusiasm of my childhood; I was once again a child, and nothing in the world could cause me harm.”
― Paulo CoelhoThe Pilgrimage

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Kingdom Moments

We do not remember days, we remember moments. (Cesare Pavese)

I recently travelled to Tonga as part of a joint group with Good Return and Xplore for Success. Twelve women, six days, a thousand memories.

I have already written about first impressions in Mālō e lelei and how I struggled to keep emotions in check during the magnificent Sunday church service. I hope many other memories from the experience will stay with me for a life time.

I know I will continue to support the work of SPBD and Good Return

I will continuethetravellers to be astonished at the work of South Pacific Business Development (SPBD) and the difference they are making to places such as Tonga. I observed the commitment of the staff at SPBD, their passion. They know they are helping making a difference and it shows. I am also thankful for the tolerance of the SPBD staff when 12 career women from Australia arrive on your doorstep full of energy and questions, you were all very patient, courteous and extremely helpful.

I know I will remember the day I visited Tongatapu.

While I enjoy the luxury of my home I hope I remember the experience of arriving in the poor area of Tongatapu and the realisation that I am seeing people’s homes, lying below sea level amidst salty swamplands,  their yards  awash with fetid waters that seep in from the surrounding seas. Images quickly take me back the overpowering putrescent smells that hung in the air as we visited homes and listened to the women tell their stories.

As I flick on a light switch I hope I will remember the tears that rolled down her cheeks as she told us that the loans had helped her put on electricity in her home. As I jump into my new car I hope I remember the many hours of work over five years of another to save to buy a car to take her children to school. As I continue to support my own children through their university I hope I remember the 23 year old making handicrafts and baking to earn an income for her own education with the desire of a better standard of life for her children.

I hope the feeling of vulnerability in seeing, smelling, feeling the effects of Climate Change with my own senses, not just reading about it in news grabs will remain with me, as well as the small glimmer of hope at the mangrove reclamation area – one day this land will improve. I know future news items will stir the feeling of helplessness as I looked out to sea and pictured what it would be like if a tsunami was to land on these shores and its people.

I know I will always remember the people I met in the short time I spent in Tonga.

I will always…always remember the joy in a Tongan smile, how it is contagious and welcoming.

I was privileged to see and feel the pride shown by the clients when they shared with us stories about their businesses. It was heartwarming to listen the stories of how the microloans being provided by SPBD and Good Return are improving their lives, from providing food for their families, clothing, education, electricity, even a car to take children to school. I was surprised to see the small entrepreneur spirit of many who use the intermittent internet to sell their wares across the world.

Many will hold a special place in my memoday1_visit_bakersries.

The bakers, the mother who passes on her recipes to her daughter by showing.

 

 

The seamstress who makes traditional clothing that Tongans still wear with pride to church and other special occasions.

 

The weavers who will sit for days to make masterpieces from pandanus grass, from floor mats to the traditional taʻovala. Or others that will make intricate pieces to form kie kie that many people still wear daily.

The fisherman wives, who will pray each day for their husband’s safe return from the seas and who will then work long hours packing the haul for market.

The farmer’s wife and daughter who work side by side the husband and father to harvest tapioca and yams to sell at market.

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When I close my eyes I can see the image of women drying and pounding the tapa from thin leaf to broad sheets to sell at market. I can hear the sound of the rhythmic whacking ringing in the village air during the midday hours.

 

I hope I will be able to remember…

being immersed into Tongan life. I am grateful tdance2o be invited into their homes, their church, their lives for a small glimpse of Tonga and its people. Their music mixed with the softness of the Tongan expression and laughter of its people still ring in my ears and flows through my soul.

 

I know I will return to Tonga

You have created a special place in my heart

 

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