I blog for Change…

As I attempt to orient the windy and often treacherous roads that encapsulate life, here are some of my thoughts on the successes, failures and ultimately the hope and positivity in which I strive for a better world. I also hope that I can use this blog as a platform to elevate the social justice issues that are somewhat forgotten in the modern discourse of staying silent on issues that challenge. Sx


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The Last Single Girl.

Singledom. What is it that makes this concept so blatantly uncomfortable, fear inducing and stigmatising for modern day adults? Of all of the concepts, the ideas and elements that I write about, this one in particular is the notion I seem to come back to the most. Beyond this, I simply can’t crack the mystification around the tag of being single that makes it justifiable to other people’s never ending input and commentary on someone else’s life.

I don’t mean to be rude, nor am I attempting to take a dig or point a deliberate EFF YOU to anyone (actually just typing that was slightly cathartic.. but still)… I promise you that is not my intent at all with publishing this piece. I am simply trying to get to the heart of an issue which places so much blame on single women of a certain age. Blame for not constantly looking for that metaphorical other person, blame for focusing ‘too heavily’ on a career and not trying enough to settle down. Blame for being too empowered, too successful or too nonchalant about kowtowing to a man’s expectations towards being properly wife material.

Could you ever imagine flipping this and saying it to a young man? I highly doubt it. The problem that we have in society today, and have had for eons in the past is that women, and young women in particular, are too easily judged against standards of a purported feminity, which is a perverted social construct to even begin with. Does it make me less of woman, less of a human being that finding someone and coupling up to simply conform to society’s norm around what is expected of me at this age is not my top priority?

During each and every conversation about my marital status I, like so many other single women in their 30’s, find a switch flipping in my brain. All of a sudden I’ve fallen down the slippery slope of justifying that ‘there just isn’t anyone I’m interested in right now’ or ‘I just don’t have time to date at the moment’. Interestingly enough, during these conversations no one ever asks me what it is that I actually want. As in, what I, as an individual being prefer, for my own life. They don’t ask me if I see myself being married or having children because apparently this is just what is universally expected of me. It is presented as if I have no choice in the matter, referred to as if they are no alternate pathways to success, happiness, existence or a life well lived. But I am here to remind you that there are; there are infinitely more options available for us all.

Surely if we are attune enough to understand that every person is different and unique in a way that allows them to dictate the direction for their own lives, then surely we can comprehend that should also apply to their marital status also. The term ‘marital status’ itself thus connotes to a pathway to inevitable marriage in which we have to benchmark ourselves against on either side. Can I instead rebrand it single status? Would it then mean the same thing?

I know that as human beings we are driven by hope. Perhaps the hope for some single women that their shining knight is out there waiting for them provides them with the impetus to keep fighting their way towards them each and every day. But what if some people are just not destined to meet ‘the one’? What if ‘the right person’ just isn’t out there for everyone? I understand that it’s an uncomfortable concept and a difficult pill to swallow but it’s the reality for many.

Going beyond that, some people and more importantly, some women, are actually okay with this concept. They are okay and even happy to be by themselves, to be living their own lives, to be building their own empires. They don’t feel the need to push themselves down a rabbit hole of a never ending search for ‘their other half’. They complete themselves and perhaps one day someone will come along; and maybe they will choose to open up their lives and their hearts to this person. But the thing to be made utterly clear here is that they are capable of living full, happy, successful lives on their own. They don’t need your pity or reassurance that the key to that occurring is someone who hasn’t come along yet.

Signing off as,

The Last Single Girl. Sx

 

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For the Love of Wanderlust – I left my Heart in Tokyo.

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Tokyo! From it’s ultra-efficient public transportation system (what a novel concept), to its fashionable, cool and effortlessly put together residents and the glitz, glamour and neon lights of the Shinjuku and Shibuya districts.. WOW!

I knew coming into this trip that it would be something special. It was to be my first attempt at solo travel in almost 10 years and it’s needless to say that my motivation for globetrotting and how I embark upon these ventures has changed considerably since my early 20’s.

The entirety of this trip represented the attempt to force myself out of a long dwelled in comfort zone. To be honest I wasn’t sure how I would feel travelling, eating and experiencing everything alone without any kind of buffer for a full week. In addition to this, I knew that not speaking the language would add to this discomfort and could represent a further isolating and terrifyingly lonely factor. But such is the nature of Japanese lifestyle, its people and the wonder of Tokyo that this element barely phased me.

I forced myself to do a few things which were uncharacteristically beyond my usual nature. One of these was taking myself out to the Park Hyatt Hotel on my first night, heading up to the 41st floor and having a drink, on my own. I sat myself next to a window with the most incredible view I have ever witnessed and forced myself to look up and around. I didn’t bow my head or hide myself behind my phone or a book. I met people’s eyes as they passed me in a defiant and assertive, gaze, silently stating yes I am here alone, but yes I have every right to be and in fact I am enjoying my own company as I sit here sipping on this wonderful cocktail against the backdrop of a stunning Tokyo skyline. Oddly enough that moment in my mind has come to represent somewhat of a revelation. As I watched the sun set on a sprawling metropolis, I took a deep exhale and realised that I didn’t have to wait for anyone else anymore. I didn’t have to put my hopes, my dreams and my aspirations on hold. I could explore, live and wander to my hearts content without needing to provide an explanation for why I was choosing this path or feel the need to explain lack of someone to embark on it with.

Another huge thing that I have been reminded of by the Japanese is the need for calm, patience and ease in which every small action one takes is dripping with composed and peaceful intent. I was lucky enough to witness a traditional tea ceremony and the more I watched this graceful tea master the calmer I felt. Every action she took, from lifting a container to putting down a whisk was measured and tranquil. I watched as she drew breath which each movement and focused vehemently on every single detail of the process. She took pleasure and pride in each act in which her attention to detail was only matched by the calmness of her nature.

I walked out realising that I had many lessons to learn from this encounter and from Japanese society as a whole. In the West we tend to get so carried away with the next thing that we rush through life often without giving interactions a second thought. We don’t offer ourselves the time to actually appreciate whatever it is that is in front of us and instead thoughtlessly move on to the next thing. Patience, gratitude, reflection, what important lessons to learn, even if a little late.

Lastly, I cannot compose a post about Tokyo without mentioning the fascinating, quirky and incredible fashion on display. For me personally, the ease and comfort in which I practice self expression has also changed extensively since my time in Tokyo. For its residents, especially in Harajuku and Shibuya, fashion is not just about clothing. It has a deeper meaning in which self expression and self confidence are individually tailored and uniquely wielded through dress. In a society in which precision, order and uniformity are mandatory, being able to play with the way one looks is an important expression of individuality. And boy, Tokyo did not disappoint! From Lolita style, to Goth, to old school 90s oversized get up and beyond… like dang! Special props to Laforet in Harajuku which has all of the above on display and offer (umm it also has a Sailor Moon outlet!). As put best by a Tokyo resident and resident fashion e-x-p-e-r-t “Nothing ever goes out of style in Tokyo, because style itself is subjective, it’s a matter of personality and individuality”.

I mean boom! The above quote is what I would use to describe Tokyo itself.. a fascinating metropolis which catches your eye through futuristic technology, flashy lighting and eye catching fashion. But which at the same time oozes old world charm through its many temples, cultural sites and downright suave.

I left my heart in Tokyo….

Sx

 


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Life of a Development Worker – I vow to tell their Stories…

IMG_2453SMC Reactivation MtgWelcomeThe other day someone asked me a question relating to why I do what I do for a vocation and asked me to dig a little deeper and explain my motivations for fighting against the injustices I do each and every day of my life. For those of you that know me, you’ll understand that I have been privileged enough to travel the world and visit some unique, desolate and remote regions during this time. I know that I offer tidbits about these people and encounters I have experienced; mainly through my writing. But I have come to understand that I don’t speak enough about these things in my everyday life. So in order to convey all of the things that lie within my heart and have driven me for all these years to do the work I do, I am going to tell you some stories. Some wonderfully uplifting, motivational and heart warming. While others are confronting, terrifying and traumatic beyond belief. Whilst these may cause discomfort and have some turning away or closing the browser, I believe them important to be told nonetheless.

I want to tell you a story about a young man from a village in Gorakhpur, Eastern Uttar Pradesh.

On making the visit to this young man’s home, we wound through dusty backstreets in which even myself someone who doesn’t struggle with mobility impairments was finding it difficult to simply stay upright with every step. It was explained that these areas were ones which had been allocated to the lower caste members of the Dalit group, also known as the Untouchables. This section of land is lower than surrounding areas and thus highly flood prone. The soil is much less arable which makes growing any kind of crop almost impossible. Thus reinforcing the reason as to why this area had been cordoned off for the lower caste within this community; the opportunities for growth and success are minimal.

When we finally made it to house we were visiting I was met by an affable young man, with the biggest and most genuine smile I have ever seen. This person, who I will refer to as Rohit* was explained to be the main participant of this project. He had been visually impaired since birth and as life had gone along he had lost his sight entirely. Rohit himself explained that being born into a lower caste family as a person with disability meant that most wrote off his existence and classified his potential as little to none. He himself did not value his being or believe that he had the prospective to offer the world anything, reinforcing the negative taboo and stigma associated with living with a disability in his community.

However as time went on, Rohit was approached by a local NGO and offered the opportunity to join a Self Help Group and later a Disabled Peoples Organisation. It was identified that he was a talented singer and musician and his membership of these groups grew in him a confidence to share his gift. At the time of meeting Rohit, a multitude of community members approached us wanting to share their stories of what a talented, committed and strong leader this young man had become through simply being supported to believe in himself.

As Rohit began to sing I found myself mesmerised in that moment. As I looked into the distance, with smoke wafting over from roasting corn on a nearby open flame led me to a near dream state. This young man was the unyielding example of perseverance, of fight, of belief and all in spite with crippling societal stigmas and entrenched barriers blocking his growth.

Now in the same breath, let me tell you another story. One also associated with poverty, with caste discrimination and oppression but also with ultimate distress.

In another visit I made that same year I came across a strong grassroots activist organisation in Ranchi, Jharkhand. When I met with the leader of this organisation I was immediate taken aback. She was a feisty, outspoken woman who conveyed a sense of sisterhood in merely her initial embrace. Whilst I felt the fight and drive instantaneously in this woman, at the same time I sensed a spirit of unease. At the time she explained that she was on her way to the district hospital to assist a young woman in giving birth.

The initial sensation you encounter upon hearing of such a case is usually one associated with hope, of light as a brand new human being enters this world. But this particular case was far from that and would become more and more distressing as the details were revealed.

I came to understand that the young woman about to give birth was not a young woman at all; at 14 years old she was actually a child herself. She was from one of the poorest households within a rural area of town and lived within a single parent household with her father. Let’s refer to this young woman as Sunita* who alongside being from a lower caste also had intellectual disabilities. It turns out no one even knew Sunita was pregnant until her 6th month in. She had been deliberately targeted with a sexual assault due to her family’s low socio-economic status and her belonging to the Dalit caste. Intersecting, or adding to this was the association that as a young woman with a disability she was a soft target who no one would believe anyway.

It gradually came to light that Sunita had become pregnant from being gang raped by 5 young men within her village. They were of a higher caste and had assumed that they would easily get away with their crime. Not just because Sunita was unable to convey the details of her abuse due to her speaking impediments, but also because they thought that no one would believe that anyone would want to rape her or have sex with her at all due to her disability. In addition to this the lead assailants father was a member of the police which meant even filing a complaint would have been near impossible.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that if this local activist entity hadn’t have been around, no justice would have been served in this case. Sunita would be just like one of so many women, and women with disabilities around the world subjected to heinous crimes simply by virtue of her gender and disability. Her case would most likely never have been heard because apparently society places no value on her life. She would have been just one of the statistics that indicate that women with disabilities are 2-3 times more likely to be subject to violence, and sexual violence at some point during their lives. Her story would have gone untold because the intersection of her family’s standing in society and her position as a young woman with a disability would have automatically disqualified her from being afforded to respect and any kind of justice.

Sunita’s case, even while being able to seek justice, have her assailants jailed and Government compensate her family is nowhere near a good ending. She will forever be traumatised by the events of that day. As will all of those who hear her story be haunted by the sheer injustice of it all.

I wanted to write this piece today not to dishearten or depress you. I wanted to compose it so that the stories of these resilient human beings who I have encountered don’t get lost in the chaos and absurdities of everyday life. I needed convey their truths because their voices, their experiences matter. I need to stand in solidarity with them and assure them that their lives are valued and that their strength is a beacon of hope for us all.

Sx

Ending note – Earlier this year I was sadly told of Rohit’s tragic passing. He left this world much too early but the impact of his existence during his short stint walking this earth will never be forgotten. Within just under 30 years of his life he served as activist for all of those who are marginalised. I know that he is now at peace looking down on us all and humming the sweet melodies of the songs he was so fond of with that hauntingly beautiful voice.

*Rohit & Sunita are not the real names of the people I encountered but instead pseudonyms to protect their identities


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In search of adventure…

I recently booked my tickets for some solo travel at the end of this month. It’s something that I have been meaning to do for a long time but at every instance in which I have gone to click that ‘book now’ button in the past, I have stopped short and been held back by that inevitable voice in my head which whispers ‘wait till you have a companion to go with’.

In addition to the awkward silence that comes along with telling people about the intention of travelling alone I have also had to battle the inner fear of what connotations I instil in peoples thinking when I report that I am about to embark on this trip, once again A.L.O.N.E.

To be honest I haven’t been quite feeling like myself lately and a series of knockbacks and flare ups in my professional life have had me questioning everything. All of sudden the ground that I stand upon doesn’t feel so firm. In one foul swoop my belief in my direction, my future and my ability to influence such for the better seems to have slipped. But in a way this has been a strange blessing in disguise. Now more than ever I have realised that I don’t actually care what people choose to believe about my existence and my choices. More importantly even than this, is the realisation that I can’t wait around for a better set of circumstances before I chase my dreams and live the life I have always imagined for myself.

Attempting to explain the symbolism of taking this upcoming trip alone is one which I have found quite challenging. The representation of something so deeply personal becomes oh so problematic when attempting to quantify this for someone else’s understanding. But the best I can do is state that for me, this voyage represents the embodiment of accepting the current set of circumstances which have made my existence so fluid in its form and being okay with its presence as such. It has meant assenting to the ambiguity of life and not chastising myself so much for not really understanding what is currently going on and therefore feeling somewhat powerless because of it.

Taking the step to embark on this adventure, and solo at that, equates to an inevitable exhale in which I can finally let go of other peoples expectations and do something for me. It is the inherent act of taking back control and stating that yes, perhaps this isn’t how I had imagined things, but I am making the best of what is in front of me.

What has struck me ever so poignantly during this whole ordeal, which I choose to rebrand as a life lesson is that sometimes all we can do at stages in our life is tread water. This action itself does not represent a lack of progress. Instead I choose to believe that it allows us with an opportunity to breathe, to reprioritise what is most important to us and to reconnect to the ones we love.

I now see clarity in the messaging that life is what happens in between our expectations. It’s the moments of beauty in which we admit to ourselves that the timing of most things coming into fruition are indeed out of our control; mainly that of finding love, of achieving success. But that personal growth can be embarked upon in spite of this. Joy can be found within those individual bouts of laughter. Love can be experienced in the eyes of those closest to us and adventure can be embarked upon with simply ourselves and hearts full of adventure in tow.

Sx


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But where is home..?

Over the weekend my parents, who have lived in this country since 1990, shared with me that they will be moving back to our motherland at the end of the year. Whilst I had been privy to conversations planning this metaphorical move for quite a while now the onset of its actuality still presented me with a slight shock. In attempting to explain the ramifications of this decision and my feelings around it all I’ve found it quite polarising determining on who it is that I am talking to.

When I reveal this decision to some of my friends who grew up in Colombo but have lived in Melbourne since university the reaction is a sound, well yes of course they are. They point out that the city is home and my parents are simply completing the journey back to their roots after being away for so long. Comparing this to the reaction of my Australian and non Sri Lankan friends, the response is usually one of bewilderment. The question being ‘but why are they leaving?’

As a first generation Australian it is a very nuanced circumstance that I find myself in. As the realisation seeps in that home for me is not home for my parents. This city to them is just a temporary pause prior to going back to the sanctuary of their homeland. They grew up in Colombo, a city whilst so close to my heart still remains in many ways quite foreign to me. I’ve always known that though my skin colour and identity represent an encompassing ‘Sri Lankan-ness’, living away from the country for 28 out of my 30 years of existence will always make me an outsider.

Throughout my life I have consistently tried to explain how I have never felt like I truly belong anywhere. Not quite completely Australian because of my skin colour and not quite fully Sri Lankan because of my time away. The reaction towards my parents impending move back to Sri Lanka falls somewhere within these blurry lines between a confused identity, homeland, culture and sense of self. All of this culminating in the question of what contributes to ones ‘home’?

Is home predetermined by where one spends their childhood? If that is the case, then Melbourne is and always will be home for me. What memories I have of life have been from the point since I migrated here and onwards. I remember nothing of the first 2 and half years of my existence and yet my Sri Lankan identity still remains strong. Or is it family? Is home wherever my family is and will be? I would tend to lean towards the latter because surely life is about the ones we love more than anything else. But I’m not ready to leave the city in which I have spent the majority of my lifetime. Hence I find myself in the chicken and egg conundrum of existence.

I suppose what I have to ultimately uncover is what part of my identity is linked with the notion of home; especially when one’s home is split between 2 very distant and distinctive locations. One which I can hear whispering in the wind urging me to return to my heartland and the other reminding me that it also has a firm holding on the person I am today and my inherent identity. But alas, such is the life of a first generation migrant.

Sx


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Unfair and Lovely.

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In recent times we have often heard of the importance around the need to include more diverse voices into the feminist movement. The entire premise of intersectionality points out that we cannot move the struggle forward without consideration of the voices already on the fringes; those of women of colour women with disabilities, from minority backgrounds and those who are identify as LGTQI. We understand that in the past there has not been enough room made for women whose varying identities have prevented them from being at the forefront of the movement.

In delving into this idea, more nuanced analyses arise in terms of discrimination based on geography and culture. More to the point, ideas on the concept of beauty and conformity to these standards are elements that also need to be considered. For me, I can only refer to my lived experience and my identity as a woman of colour. When I was younger I thought that the obsession of whiteness or lighter skin colour was one solely belonging to the South Asian identity, but I have later learnt that this concept is shared amongst most non-Caucasian societies.

Fairness… what a concept and where do I even start? I can begin with my own stories, my own memories and experiences. Like that time when I was told that I couldn’t go the beach prior to a wedding I was bridesmaid for because ‘think about the photos’. Or the time when my Mum and I were approached by a complete stranger on the streets of Colombo enquiring what brand of ‘Fair & Lovely’ we use to get our complexion to be so light. Or the constant denigration around ‘chi, you have gotten dark’.

For those of you not of the South Asian persuasion (A for alliteration there), Fair and Lovely is a skin bleaching product which according to BBC sells more produce in South Asia than individual bottles of Coca Cola. The notion of fairness as a sign of beauty, power and superiority is not one which is unknown within the developing world context. Whitewashing and the attempt to rid oneself of diversity has been around since the time of colonialism. However what brands like Fair & Lovely have done so toxically is to capture this mentality and inflate it twofold to also align rigid standards of beauty centering around the fairness of one’s skin.

Products associated with skin bleaching or ‘fairness creams’ as they are so aptly named promote the idea of a life changing ability of its produce. In India one such campaign focused on a darker skinned woman initially appearing sad, lonely and forlorn. Cut to then the post application status of her complexion changing immediately and this being associated with being hired for a job and getting married. The basic premise indicating that the fairness of her skin whilst being more aesthetically pleasing also affected her hire ability and her marriageability.

What this specific example is making reference to is there are nuanced oppressions and discrimination points even within those who are discriminated. Being a woman of colour in a developing context is challenge enough, but if you are a darker skinned woman you will face a similar oppression within your own community. The element of corrosiveness within this line of thinking reflects the deep seated nature of this belief in which self-worth and self-confidence seem to be linked to this scale of fairness. The underlying message being that if you are a woman, metaphorical capital in society values fairness over anything else.

Applying this line of thinking to ‘marriageability’ of women is even more troubling. I am sure we are all familiar with marriage ads which we see in newspapers; well if you are Indian and Sri Lankan you are. Let me set the scene for you, most ads where men are searching for wives begin with x incredible, successful man ‘seeking a fair, pretty woman’. Fairness being the most important selling point, of course.

There is a certain whiteness theory and colour complex at play here which is dooming entire generations of women to be judged against outdated and discriminatory standards of beauty. The knock on effects here have implications for judgment of her entire being and capability within this existence. Skin colour thereby being the most fundamental characteristic of a woman’s identity, valued and taken into consideration more than her education, professional status or intellectual ability.

In addition to this, the vast underrepresentation of women with dark skin in the media is fuelling the notion that beauty and worth is attached to fairness. I know for myself I am also guilty after spending extended time in the sun to mindlessly then turn around and ask my family ‘have I gotten dark’? The never ending social messaging engrained into my psyche making myself question my self-worth against a darker shade of brown. But from this point on I pledge to not perpetuate this insanity any more.

I also challenge you, especially if you are a woman of colour to attempt to challenge your own and your communities perception of associating fairness with beauty and worth. Let’s take the lead in obliterating this discriminatory and oppressive form of white washing which has seeped into our existence.

To the amazing:

Do yourself a favour and check these out. Sx

*Photos © of Pax Jones and the Unfair & Lovely Campaign


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The problem with incremental life goals..

I’ve been shifting through an odd space in my life currently in which questions about my direction and future have heightened. For some reason I feel less certain that all I have to do to achieve my dreams is continue to believe and consistently put in the hard work. I know I have somewhat preached on this platform about the need to not look around and compare one’s life with others but sometimes this seems utterly inevitable. Its effects are even more damning during the times when you can’t help but question everything.

We are told at a very young age that the act of planning things out is imperative to our future progress and growth. We set ourselves 5 and 10 year goals and then strive toward them with vigour based on that road map. But what happens when we get 5 years down the line and realise that we are nowhere near that goal and that our direction to get to this point has veered sharply away from where we envisioned ourselves all those years ago.

I want to play devil’s advocate in this piece today to challenge the traditional rhetoric. I know I do this quite consistently without calling it out so blatantly as I have today, but I think in this particular case it is of importance that I do.

Looking back at myself and who I was 5 years ago I barely recognise that human being. At the time I was in my mid 20s, living in Sydney and in the midst of verbally abusive and emotionally manipulative relationship which had robbed me of so many things. I was young, I didn’t quite know who I was but I felt obliged to plan out the next decade of my life irrespective of that. Looking back it now makes sense that the goals I set for myself were not based on my own aspirations; I didn’t yet know what they were. They were instead based of a generic and supposedly one size fits all 101 approach on ‘How to life’ per say.

Back then if you’d asked me where I would be in 5 or 10 years, I would’ve answered without batting an eye lid. I would have told you that I wanted to be working for the United Nations at Headquarters in New York, married and on my way towards starting a family. I would not have even attempted to question that because the background narrative had been playing in the back of my head on repeat for years. This is what you should do, who you should be.

Well cut to 5 years later and I am obviously not living in New York with my husband, pregnant or with kids and working for the UN. To be honest that version of existence when considered now, represents a slight nightmare in which I have zero aspirations to embark on.

In the traditional sense, if I were to judge myself on the progress towards this goal at this point in my life, I would have to record it as an utter failure and mark myself nowhere near this benchmark. But my point here is that the finish line has shifted in a way that makes this life goal now futile. What I wanted, or thought that I wanted for myself back then is completely different from my expectation of my life now and going forward. Although I was in my mid 20s and thought myself an expert on all things, I was still attempting to make the shift into actual adulthood. I hadn’t lived enough years to understand that wisdom takes time and that knowing who I was as a human being would be a life journey.

If you’re reading this thinking is she crazy telling people that setting incremental life goals is not necessary? Well the answer to that would probably be ahh yes. But actually that isn’t what I am saying at all. It is of course important to aspire to things, it’s imperative to be able to dream and have hope. But what I am attempting to highlight is that we often judge ourselves too harshly against a set of principles and standards that we have outgrown as our years within this existence have gone on.

The life I would have imagined for myself 5 years ago is nowhere near what I would envision 5 years into the future. Goals change, people come in and out of our lives who influence a shift in thinking. Maturity and growth sometimes occur in ways that sit outside of how we conceive they will unfold. So yes maybe I am far from where I thought I would be by now. But I have grown and changed during those years in ways I couldn’t have imagined. So who is to say that this progress is of any less significance from what I had imagined when setting those 5 and 10 year goals all those years ago?

Sx