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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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.

PaxJones2.png

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

 


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Do I ‘have my shit together’ or what?

Turning 30 for me has seemingly represented a juncture point in which I have stopped, reflected and assessed my ‘progress’ in life. What’s been different about this occasion however has been the level of anxiety and seemingly sheer underlying terror that has accompanied it. It seems beyond strange to me because my progress, or in my mind so called lack of it has not heightened in the days since I’ve been 30. So why has the focus all of a sudden blown so out of proportion?

I suppose there very much is a notion that is at play that perceivably comes with being a 30 year old human. The constant catchcry which seems to be playing on repeat in my brain is: ‘you should have your shit together by now’… then there are the inevitable feelings which come with this sentiment including guilt, sadness and ultimately derision. For me this plays out by attempting to measure myself against what in my head reflects ‘having my shit together’:

  • owns a property
  • is in a successful relationship
  • is working full time as a writer
  • is taken seriously by family members
  • no longer eats cereal for dinner

Well shit, I can actively tick… none of those boxes. So does that therefore mean that I don’t ‘have my shit together’ in even one iota of the term….? Is my life completely off the rails, in shambles and unworthy of the adulthood title that my sheer amount of years present on this earth therefore represent? I mean the short answer to this question is no.

I often have conversations with my friends in which when they identify this same sentiment within their own lives and I always have the ‘don’t be ridiculous’ speech on hand; and I mean it too! I so easily remind them that life is unique to all who endeavour upon it and that there is no generic and universal measuring standard for progress. I reaffirm to them that their journey is their own and that no amount of years under one’s belt assures you of any one outcome, unless it is right for you. I then go into the rhetoric of looking at me, into a glimpse of my own life in which I am a consummate professional, killing it in my vocation at day and then at times at night laying in the foetal position at home eating cookie dough for dinner.

So the question is why is it so easy to project this sentiment outwardly and yet not be able to do so in application to my own life, my own existence and my own path. Why is it that I can’t be that friend to myself who while offering advice and comfort is a constant reminder that progress is subjective? It seems that my worst enemy always appears to be me.

In identifying all of this I realise that it’s now time to tell this nagging, judgmental inner critic to pipe down once and for all. From this point on I vow to consistently remind it (and myself) that growth and progress are incremental. That success takes time and looks different to everyone. I will highlight that it always seems rosier from the outside looking in but everyone has their self doubt and their struggles even when confidence and self surety is what reads on their face.

So in saying all of this, to my inner critic and yours, if someone asks me the question of whether or not I ‘have my shit together’, I’ll remind them that the point of measurement for this is subjective anyway and even if I don’t, or feel like I don’t right now that’s ok.

Oh hey and one last thing to remember: “Just because you’re struggling right now, doesn’t mean you’re failing”. Nor is this an indication of the success that awaits you in your future.

Sx


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Well behaved women seldom make history..

From our earliest of days we are taught about a certain pattern to life in which we should subscribe to and that the urgency of achieving this gets more and more apparent as we age. For boys society tends to focus on exhibiting strength and perseverance through gritted teeth while building an empire in which the boundaries are non existent. The same however cannot be said for what we tend to indoctrinate girls with in a parallel line of messaging. While we may focus on education, the true point of success lies thereabouts in how well we can exude potential wife mode.

Growing up my immigrant parents toed the line between ‘make sure you educate yourself’ and ‘don’t become so educated that you alienate potential husbands’. When I was younger I held this close and thus in my teenage years veiled my intelligence and fell back on the “I’m just a girl” façade. Of course back then I didn’t really understand what the connotation of that statement and my behaviour meant. I didn’t even attempt to question why a teenage girl had to be conscious of demonstrating greater intelligence and wit than her potential suitor. Why, because it’s emasculating…? Go figure.

In considering this element further it makes no sense to me how a woman’s intellect or acumen could be a distancing force which repels the opposite sex. We have to ask ourselves why is it that society has engrained into us that smart women can be so in the workplace, but in the household they need to dumb themselves down and project servitude over intellect.

My Mum, bless her entirely, often says to me after a date… you didn’t lead with the feminist spiel did you?! She then follows that question up with a look of complete horror when I tell her that yes indeed I did. She tends to balk even more when I explain that first dates for me often are built upon the platform of discussions on activism, feminism and the development agenda. What’s crazy to me though isn’t that my first generation, conservative South Asian mother holds these views, I mean of course she does, that’s the world she grew up in. What terrifies me more than this is that little nagging voice in the back of my own head which quietly whispers… ‘don’t show him all your intellect up front.. make yourself vulnerable, twirl your hair a bit… laugh at his jokes’.

Where was it down the line that strength and wilfulness were disassociated with accepted forms of womanhood? And why is it that the notion of strength is only considered with elements in which we automatically link with masculinity? Is projecting my intellect, my knowledge and my wit really something that automatically emasculates a potential mate? I mean the same could not be said vice versa.. when was the last time you heard a woman walk away from a date and say ‘nah he was ultimately too much. Way too smart and funny for my liking. It made me feel insecure and question the very notion of myself as a result’… Yeah I’d say a confident: hardly ever!

In thinking about all of this I wonder where does someone fit within this whole set up who doesn’t conform to these ideals. Will I, in fact, be alone forever because I alienate every man I meet? I mean maybe that is the case (although I do not have that little faith in the opposite sex to believe that this is true in every prospective love interest); but if true, to be honest I couldn’t care less about. If I am indeed scaring away a man who is threatened by all the things that make me an empowered, educated, woke bae well then good riddance. Someone who could so easily bring into question their entire being as a result of someone else’s surety or success is not the type of man I would ever want in my life in the first place.

So for all of those who doubt it, and the haters who would rather I tone myself down to fit into a mould of so called accepted womanhood, I have two statements for you:

  1. Well behaved women seldom make history (&)
  2. I am and always will be a goddamn Boss, Bitch.

So never forget it.

End.

HOD

*Haus of Dizzy shout out. The epitome of hustle! Order her stuff at: https://hausofdizzy.com/

*also noting that I have a serious problem with the notion of what we determine to be ‘well-behaved’ and that we don’t measure men against these standards ever… but that is a rant for another day. Peace!