Travelling thoughts


Just recently as I was gazing out the window of a plane at 35,000 feet, mesmerised by the snow-capped peaks below, it dawned on me how different my husband and I are in our attitude to travel. Now in his defence, he does have to travel a lot more than I do and often has to meet work deadlines en route, but all things considered, we do take a very different approach to travel and he acts the same whether travelling for business or pleasure.

It begins at the airport as soon as we step inside the terminal. My husband, who is not usually one to rush, suddenly changes into a possessed man on a mission, which means that everything has to be done at triple the speed, including check in, clearing immigration, getting to the gate, and especially boarding the plane, lest we miss out on that prime overhead bin space. I end up doing a half skip and run in an attempt to keep up with him, my carry on bag zig-zagging all over the place and my handbag slipping off my shoulder as I see the back of his head disappear around yet another corner. The same procedure occurs in reverse at the destination. It’s imperative we get off the plane in record-breaking time, clear customs, pick up our bags and exit the terminal before the person in row 45 has exited the plane.

I love to sit at the window and watch the cotton-wool fluffiness of the clouds; the tiny ships like small dots in the vast expanse of ocean; the patchwork quilt of dry brown desert interrupted by blocks of verdant lushness; the reflection of the sun on the metal of the aeroplane. I can spend hours lost in the thoughts each scene evokes.

Then turning away from the window there are the faces of the others travelling to the same destination; a compendium of life’s stories compounded into one small space for this particular moment in time, yet barely a story shared.

When we travel these days we have become so disconnected from the actual journey and from those who are journeying with us. Our eyes are focussed on screens which seem to capture our attention so much more than even the pages of a book.

I remember a time when it was considered impolite not to engage in conversation with the person next to you. Now we just sit in suspended animation with plugs in our ears, engrossed in whatever Hollywood has determined we must see, or else we frantically type emails so they are ready to send as soon as the inflight wi-fi is turned on, so we can meet our deadlines. We are contactable even at 30,000 feet and I don’t know if that’s a good thing …

As I type, my husband has just left on yet another trans-Pacific flight. I can guarantee that the minute he got on the plane— that’s after sprinting through the procedures outlined above— his noise-cancelling headphones would have been out of his bag and stuck into his ears, as he simultaneously scrolled through the list of new-release movies. He would have been ready to roll even before the flight safety announcements were over. He may or may not have acknowledged the person seated next to him.

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Picture this

Last weekend my younger son took me on a scenic flight over Newcastle and Lake Macquarie. Once up in the air he asked if I’d like to have a go at flying the plane and explained a few things so that I could hold the plane steady as he snapped a couple of photos. The whole episode lasted less than 60 seconds after which I was more than ready to hand the joystick back into his capable hands while I gazed out of the window at familiar landmarks.

That evening he sent the photo of me ‘flying’ the plane. The more I looked at it the more I thought about how photos can be so deceptive and so with that in mind I decided to post it on social media, with a cutesy caption, as a kind of experiment to see what reaction it got. I was overwhelmed that so many thought I was really having flying lessons. I guess I should feel flattered that people assumed I could do something like that.

The photograph I posted shows a very determined, focused and relaxed middle-aged woman in control of a light aircraft. What that picture doesn’t show is my son persuading and coaxing me to actually get on the plane just 10 minutes earlier. It doesn’t show the risk-averse woman who is still scared of flying, especially in small planes. It doesn’t show the woman who is riddled with self-doubt, anxiety and insecurity, who struggles in large groups and sometimes just wants to run and hide from the world. Yet the photo is of me and I’m flying a plane.

I’m not looking for sympathy, pity or even compliments. I’m simply telling the truth which a single photograph can’t. So often I look at photos on Facebook and Instagram and feel that other people’s lives are so much more glamorous and exciting than mine. Their families are all so functional and together; their designer homes never have a dirty dish in the imported kitchen sinks; their fashionable clothes and hair are always perfect; there’s never a bead of sweat on the gym-toned bodies posing for post-workout selfies; there are tables groaning under the weight of gourmet chef- inspired dinners on a nightly basis, yet never a baked bean in sight.

It’s so easy to forget that these individual photos do not tell the whole story of other people’s lives – they are simply snapshots. Even gym-toned bodies experience anxiety and depression, gourmet cooks have dysfunctional families, people living in designer homes suffer divorce and death and on it goes…

I’m not suggesting we stop posting  pictures of  having a great time or celebrating life’s  wonderful moments. In fact I have even stopped apologising in advance for the photo spam of my beautiful grandkids and my overseas travel. What I am suggesting is that we should never  judge or make assumptions about the reality of other people’s lives based on the photos we see..

As for the photo of me flying a plane, I will save it as a memory of a moment that was both fun and terrifying at the same time!

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The proud parent of the pilot

I’m sitting drinking my freshly-stewed (sorry, brewed) coffee, well at least it’s less stewed than it will be for the other passengers, because I’ve been served first. Feeling privileged!

I’m on the first flight of the morning from Newcastle to Melbourne and at the wheel, (ok, it’s not actually a wheel, but let’s not get too technical) is my first-born son.

Yes, I’m putting my life in his hands at 35,000 feet above terra firma. It’s an odd, but good feeling. Of course this isn’t the first time that he’s flown me. I’ve done several short flights in Cessnas and the like, but during those flights I didn’t take the time to reflect and ponder, I was too busy praying and wetting myself simultaneously!

I know my son does this piloting thing all the time now and to him it’s second nature to be in charge of a speeding metal can hurtling through the clouds, but to unscientific me, who fails to grasp even the basic laws of physics, I am just amazed that he knows how to fly this thing, and land it safely.

We make our descent into Melbourne and he makes the announcement from the cockpit regarding our ETA, weather conditions etc. He even thanks us for choosing to fly his airline – what a well-brought up boy! Believe it or not I find my eyes filling with tears and the man on the aisle gives me a strange look. These are tears of joy and pride. In takes everything within me not to turn and tell everyone around me that it’s my boy who’s flying the plane!

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No great expectations

I’ve seen a lot of my granddaughter over the last few days and there’s nothing better for the soul than watching her find constant joy and surprises in the mundane rhythms of life.

She smiles when it rains; she is struck with awe each time the moon rises and she ‘wows’ at the stars and laughs at rainbows. The same cycle on repeat and the same sense of surprise again and again and again!

In her play world, little plastic people and animals come to life and perform extraordinary feats as she coaxes them on with her high-pitched chatter.

For Claudia, each new day is filled with joy, wonder and surprises. She has no expectations to rob her of experiencing the wonder of each day. Without that barrier of expectation she is free to be surprised and filled with wonder.

Walls of expectation kill relationships and prevent us from experiencing joy and capturing the wonder of the moment.

“Instead of filling with expectations, the joy-filled expect nothing and are filled.” Ann Voskamp

You have a lot to teach your Nonna, young Claudia. Long may it continue!

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Multi-story thinking

I recently listened to Nigerian author Ngozi Adichie talk about the inherent dangers of the single story. By failing to understand and appreciate multiple stories, the single story can end up shaping how we view people, nations and entire continents; our assumptions and opinions skewed by our ignorance and judgements.

For the last two weeks I’ve been travelling – one week at a resort in Mexico, frequented mostly by Americans, and now in Colorado. As a result I’m ashamed to say that I’ve been guilty of casting all Americans into a single story stereotype. That story reads something like this: Americans are loud and overly confident; they talk too much; they are culturally insensitive and disinterested in what goes on beyond the borders of the USA. They are consumed by super-sized consumerism.

In my defence, I may have heard one too many single story-tellers in the last two weeks, but it would be wrong of me to judge all North Americans because of a single story, stereotypical few.

In fact, I have had the pleasure of spending time with some wonderfully innovative and intelligent people who are interested in learning and understanding more of the world; folks whose diverse and multi-faceted stories will help shape the future narratives of generations to come.

Please don’t think I’m being judgemental about Americans, because I know that as soon as I board the plane back to Australia and hear a typical Aussie accent, I will have to remind myself that it takes more than a single story to truly understand the diversity of us Aussies as well.

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Of Blood and Blogs

Ernest Hemingway once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Well if that’s the case, Mr Hemmingway, I have been sitting at my laptop for weeks while my blood coagulates. I’ve been well and truly bogged down with bloggers block – sounds more alliterative than writer’s block.

Now don’t get me wrong, ask anyone who knows me well and they’ll tell you that I’m never short of an opinion and am happy to wax eloquently on numerous topics, but when it comes to committing my thoughts and feelings to the written word, well it’s all been a bit scary, really. Putting my words out there in the public arena fills me with all sorts of emotions. It’s as if my writing is somehow going to unearth this deeply buried Pandora’s Box which, once opened, will expose to the world the hidden and murky depths of my very soul.  All quite amusing really considering that only nine people actually follow my blog.

Over recent weeks I’ve just completed a creative writing course where I even ventured to share some of my writing with the class. Believe it or not there were no serious repercussions or violent backlashes, no opening of that infamous box. There were even one or two positive words of encouragement.

So here goes, I’m back in the blogosphere …

And Mr Hemmingway, if you have any tips for removing blood stains from a laptop I’d be much obliged.

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Hope in Haiti

I’m sitting by a log fire in the foyer of my hotel on a freezing cold, Colorado autumn day. A hot, spiced-latte is slowly thawing out my frozen body after I foolishly decided to take a walk wearing only a T shirt and thin jacket. When will I learn this is not Australia!

It’s just over two weeks now since I was in Haiti and it’s taken me a bit of time to process some of what I experienced. Although just a short flight from the USA, Haiti could be on a different planet when compared to how people live here.

Having read Paul Farmer’s book on Haiti post earthquake, I arrived in Port-au-Prince expecting to see fallen buildings and rubble all over the city. Sure, I saw one or two pancaked buildings, still untouched since that fateful day in 2010, as well as a fair amount of rubble piled up here and there. What I didn’t expect was the amount of new buildings that have been constructed in the last 12 -18 months as well as the hundreds of buildings still under construction. The Royal Palace, the nation’s symbol, so badly damaged in the quake and left in ruins for so long, has finally been demolished. International chains are building 4 and 5 star hotels. There is a building frenzy going on and to the outsider it could appear that life has returned to normal, whatever that looked like before.

However, you don’t have to look too far as you drive through the streets of Delmas, Carrefour, and even the more affluent Petionville to see flimsy, weathered US AID- provided tents clustered tightly together forming large makeshift communities of people still homeless since the quake. The International Organization for Migration reports that the number of displaced people still living in these camps three and half years after the disaster is around 320,000, possibly more.

Poor sanitation and a lack of clean water make these makeshift camps a breeding ground for diseases, including cholera. With poor lighting and unsecured tents, as well as a lack of effective law enforcement, Haitian women and children are especially vulnerable to rape and other forms of violence. Living in these desperate conditions means higher rates of crime and substance abuse.

Yet Haiti is not hopeless, I found hope everywhere I looked — hope in the smiles of the kids, even those living in tent cities; hope in the staff of the child development centres as they nurture and educate the children in their care towards a future free from the shackles of extreme poverty; hope in the passionate and determined men and women of Compassion Haiti who in spite of so much personal loss of family, friends and homes in 2010, were still as committed and faithful to working as tireless advocates for the children of Haiti.

More to come …


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A meadow in Oxford

Summer blue sky
Wispy clouds chased by gentle cooling breezes
Verdant riverbanks, dense and luscious
Geese feasting greedily on lunchtime leftovers
Murky waters gently flowing downstream, swirled up by passing punts and barges
A mother duck leading her ducklings in a row
Crowded tourist boats
Cameras frantically snapping the city of history behind me – freezing the moment for posterity
Children playing
Lovers embracing
The sound of birds, boats, laughter and diverse tongues
A moment to relax, refresh, reflect, renew …
Sitting under the shade of a horse chestnut tree that has overlooked this scene for thousands of days, I am thinking that every day should be enjoyed this simply.Image
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Doing it tough


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Burkina Faso is ranked 9th lowest in the Human Development Index. With a population of just over 15.8 million, the average age of its citizens is 17.

Unlike neighbouring Ghana, there are no cocoa or oil exports. Recent deposits of gold have been found, but they are unlikely to change daily life for the vast majority of Burkinabés.

Here the landscape is dry and harsh. During the rainy season it’s possible for subsistence farmers to grow crops and raise livestock, but when the dry season hits, there is no water to irrigate the crops and the average person living in the country is too poor to afford the costs involved of obtaining water from deep beneath the ground.

Flying in to Ouagadougou airport, all you can see for miles around is scrub and very red earth. Everything you touch has a fine coating of red soil. It begins to coat your throat after a few days. Life here is tough. You get the impression that for the vast majority every day is a struggle to survive.

On exiting the airport, hawkers try to sell you SIM cards and cheap souvenirs as well as offer to exchange US dollars. I feel embarrassed as we are whisked away through the chaos into the hotel van. We are afforded a 5 minute glimpse of the real Ouagadougou before pulling into the sanctity of the Hotel Azalai Indépendance. This is the place where expats, mainly French, gather by the pool on a hot Sunday afternoon, enjoying the benefits of a cooling swim and a few beers. If it wasn’t for the anachronism of cell phones and free wifi, I could easily believe I was back in the days of Colonialism. I am, however, very grateful for the French influence on the bakeries. The bread and croissants are as good as in Parisian restaurants. The poor Ghanaians have been left a legacy of British cuisine at its worst!

As soon as we leave the tranquility of our little oasis, we enter the chaos of cars, trucks, scooters, bikes and the occasional donkey and cart. Exhaust fumes, heat, dust and sweat can be overpowering as we try to navigate along the side of the road without being hit, in search of Burkinabé fabric.

Outside of the city, it seems to get even hotter and we follow the sealed road, which eventually leads to the Ghanian border, for about an hour. As soon as we pull off the main road we hit the dirt and create plumes of red dust which swirl behind our comfortable, air conditioned landcruiser.

Waiting to meet us at the village are men, women and children from not just this village, but from neighbouring ones too. Some have walked for many kilometres. A few of the children smile and wave, while others cower in fear as this is their first encounter with a white face!

We sit in the small village church, the men on one side, the women and children on the other. What is unusual about this meeting is that the church is filled not just with Christians, but there are Muslims, including the village chief, along with Animists and others. They are coming together in unity as part of a pilot community development program facilitated by the church. It seems to be having an amazing impact on this village and beyond. Many of the men and women testify that their lives are beginning to change as a result of working together and sharing ideas and resources to create food security and income generation. They are dreaming big and hopefully these gorgeous kids, many of whom are tied to their mothers’ backs, will grow up to complete their schooling; to become business owners; to be self sufficient.

Small steps of progress are being made, but life is still tough. I need to remember this place when I get back home. I need to be more grateful for what I have and be willing to share more.

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