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 …
Seated under the shade of a horse chestnut tree that has overlooked this scene for thousands of days, I reflect on how it would be if I actually took the time to notice and enjoy the simple things in every day.Image

Where on earth?

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 sanctuary of the Hotel Azalai Indépendance. This is the place where expats, mainly French & Belgian, 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.

Through my eyes

I have the enormous privilege of occasionally travelling with my husband as he does research for an international NGO. As a result, I appreciate and understand the importance of objectivity and gathering good data etc in order to present valid evidence, but as an emotional arty-farty type, I tend to be very subjective and reactive so the following accounts of our West Africa adventures are based purely on my personal observations and opinions and are not in any way endorsed by my husband!

Africa draws me in every time. Although a continent of many lands and different cultures, there’s something about the combination of red earth, dust, crazy traffic and the smiles that warm my heart and give me hope for the future of this amazing continent.

Accra, Ghana’s capital, is a sprawling city. You can see the signs of development in the many building sites across the city. There’s also the Accra Mall filled with western style stores. ( Not necessarily a good sign of development!) Arriving at our ‘ Grand Hotel’ where the brochure promises that we will be treated as ‘royal guests’, we are greeted by staff in brightly coloured traditional dress who effortlessly swing our heavy bags onto their shoulders and climb two flights of stairs to our room. Along the same street are similar grandiosely named restaurants and hotels, pertaining to royalty and all things majestic.

Along the dusty streets sprawl myriads of shops and stalls where owners stand plying their wares from dawn until dusk. They sell everything from fridges, stoves, couches, audio gear, clothes, pulpits and even coffins. Trading names include Blessed by God electrical enterprises; Glorious healing hair salon; hallelujah hardware …

A predominantly Christian country, there are church signs in abundance and giant billboards with pictures of animated men in suits advertising crusades and healing ministries.

And then there’s the food. My western palette is not used to banku, fufu and palava sauce, although I did at least try some – once!

For me, the highlight of our few days in Ghana was the visit to a Compassion project where we were apparently the first white visitors to actually visit on a Saturday when all the children were there. I am always humbled by the dedication and commitment of the staff and volunteers and of course it was a joy to be among the children.

Back to school

Today was a big day. After 10 years of doing other things, I survived my first day back in the classroom!

Anyone who knows me realizes that I love kids. That’s why I decided to study teaching at university, back in the day. Most of my teaching career was spent teaching either French or English to middle and senior school students with the odd 20 minute French lesson to years 3 and 4. When I left teaching 10 years ago, for what I thought was forever, it was to work for an international child development organisation. However, over the last three years, circumstances have changed and a few weeks ago I applied to become a casual teacher and head back to the classroom.

Having said that, when the call came asking me to spend the day team-teaching Year 1, it was indeed a shock to the system. To be honest I was still in bed when the phone rang! But, exactly 60 minutes later I was showered, dressed, caffeine-fuelled and ready to mark the roll!

The kids were great. I had a small group of eager young ladies who were more than happy to keep me accountable to the class routine and rules! I loved watching the children interact with each other as they worked out for themselves the answers to some of the questions surrounding the topic of Weather. It was fun to watch them solve problems and ask questions.

At ‘fruit break’ I was indispensable as a peeler of bananas and mandarins and at lunch time I switched roles from teacher to band-aid administrator, peace-negotiator and shoe-lace tier! In fact I lost count of the number of little boys who ran up and asked me most politely if I would tie their shoelaces.

As for the peace negotiations, well I reckon I could give Ban Ki-moon a run for his money, as I definitely managed to avert four potentially violent conflicts all in the space of 15 minutes!

After lunch we successfully negotiated a trip to the library and then finished the day at Junior School Assembly, with many parents in attendance, where I sat trying to subtly chastise three little munchkins who thought it would be a good idea to tackle each other on the floor as well as pick their noses and talk through the entire proceedings!

Having said all that, it was a good day. A day that served to remind me just how much I love kids and what a privilege it is to influence and speak into their lives in a positive way.

To my friends and colleagues who do this 5 days a week, you have my utmost admiration. It’s 8:45pm. I’m knackered and off to bed!





You have a granddaughter

It’s usually three little words that set a woman’s heart fluttering and turn her world upside down. In my case it’s four.

It’s not that I didn’t know it was going to happen. The signs were all there. Nine months of excitement and anticipation as my daughter-in-law’s bump grew bigger; placing my hands strategically to feel those tiny little kicks; visiting every baby store in town and attending baby showers; watching a guest room transform into a zoo animal-themed nursery…

Saturday 28th April at 8:45am Claudia Rosemary entered our world. My son called to say those four magic words: “You have a granddaughter”.

Now you might think I’m a little biased, but she really is perfect. She is so beautiful that she can have a room-full of family members totally transfixed, staring at her non-stop and commenting on every cute little face she pulls. She really has stolen our hearts.

It seems like only yesterday that I was equally captivated by her father, as he lay in a crib pulling those same faces. (Incidentally he was perfect too!) I remember my mother being just as excited and mesmerized by her first grandchild. She would have felt these same emotions that I feel now. I’m sad she’s no longer here to share this special time, but I’m happy that her memory lives on, not only in Claudia’s middle name, but also in the fact that my precious granddaughter chose to enter the world on the day that was her great grandmother’s birthday.

I am indeed a blessed Nonna. I can’t wait to watch Claudia grow and flourish with the help of her magnificent parents. She also just happens to have four amazing grandparents, a wonderful uncle and aunt as well as an abundance of extended family members and friends all over the world who have already fallen in love with her.


Wake Up Call

At home, my slumber is usually broken by the sound of an alarm clock or the coffee grinder in the kitchen as my husband prepares our morning brew. On the odd occasion, it’s an over-enthusiastic kookaburra or the rain pelting against our bedroom’s glass doors. This week, my sleep has been somewhat rudely interrupted by some very different sounds.

I’m staying on the 28th floor of a hotel in the Mangga Dua district of Jakarta, Indonesia. Around 4am, 2 hours before sunrise, while even the roosters are still sleeping, the speakers around the local mosque blare out the first of the five daily calls to prayer. If you listen really hard, you can hear the same call echoing all over the city.

Encouraged by the melodic tones of the Muezzin, the roosters start to crow, announcing that the day has well and truly begun. Now add the noise of motor cycles, buses and cars into the mix and the crescendo starts to build.

By the time the sun has fully risen, the cacophony has reached fever pitch with an added mix of rumbling trains, whistles, car and motor cycle horns, as well as the occasional screech of brakes and shouts from local vendors.

Welcome to morning in Jakarta!


I in 1.4 billion

There are 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty – one of the many statistics we’re bombarded with on a daily basis. In fact I’m such a words girl that as soon as I hear or see numbers, I chill out and they become almost meaningless. But last night I met 1 of the 1.4 billion. She wasn’t a statistic; her name was Rosa and she was trying to sell me a rose as the sun set over Manila bay.

Manila Bay is where the rich and the poor converge under a reddening sky to appreciate nature’s celebration of the day’s end. Luxury hotels and office blocks line one side of the multi-lane boulevard while the other side plays host to local joggers, tourists, ice-cream sellers, and touters of tacky souvenirs and fake pearls. It is also here, on sheets of plastic and cardboard, that Rosa makes her home. This is where Rosa and her five-month-old baby spend their days (and nights) trying to make ends meet.

So how did she end up here? Like everyone who ends up in a place like this, there is a story:

Rosa’s husband recently died, leaving her with four children and no income. Like so many from other parts of the Philippines, Rosa thought she’d have a better chance of finding a job in Manila. So leaving her three other children behind with her sister, she arrived here with her baby.

Unfortunately, Rosa has discovered that finding work with no vocational training is almost impossible. No proper job means no income. No income means no rent money. No rent money means no home … and so the cycle of extreme poverty continues. Rosa gives street-side massages during the day and tries to sell roses to tourists like me at night. She earns around 2 dollars a day. Not enough to pay rent; not enough for a return ticket home.

I tell her that I don’t want to buy a rose, but I would like to buy her a meal. I slip her a few pesos and feel a little taken aback when she begins to cry. The measly amount I have given her is more than she’s made all day.

We say goodbye and an hour later as we drive away, I see her standing under a street light, her baby asleep in her arms. She still has 5 roses in her hand – the same number she had when we met.

I’d love to say there is a happy ending to this story, but there’s not. I presume that Rosa is out there again tonight. It’s raining heavily as I type. It just doesn’t seem right…

A new kind of dog’s life

Did you know that last year we Aussies spent a little over $3.6 billion on our dogs? In comparison we donated $346 million to World Vision and $11 million to Breast Cancer Research.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a dog lover and the proud owner of a very controlling golden retriever. However, I’m sure if she finds out how some of her poochie mates are living in other parts of Australia she may just decide to leave home.

According to the magazine article I just read, Doggie Day Spas and Retreats are popping up all over the country.  At the most upmarket ones, your canine has the choice of the Disney or New York Suite complete with luxurious leather upholstery, dimmed lighting and mood music. Qualified dog nannies are on hand to care for your dog’s every whim, including vegan diets.

Organised themed puppy parties appear to be all the rage, so why not indulge your rottweiler by dressing him up in an elephant costume? (He won’t look nearly so scary to his friends!) And for the labrador who likes to party hard, not only can you buy him a pair of dark sunglasses, but you can even book him a doggie taxi for the ride home.

Maybe your pooch doesn’t like to party. Don’t worry, party-pooping poodles can stay home and relax in designer, jewel-encrusted collars, silk PJ’s and slippers.

But wait there’s more; the ultimate spa treatment for your dog: Doggy Detox as well as a manicure (nail polish provided),  bubble bath and massage using hand made organic spa  ingredients designed to calm, soothe, replenish and refresh …

If there weren’t over one billion PEOPLE still living in extreme poverty, then all this could seem really funny. Instead it makes me incredibly sad.

Don’t write me off!

I realised the other day that I have an irrational  fear of getting old. (You’re already old, some may say!)  So where does this fear come from?

Well, it’s not because of the increasing number of grey hairs or laughter lines (my euphemism

for wrinkles) or that my birthday cake gets bigger every year in order to accommodate the required number of candles! No, it goes much deeper than that. Continue reading

Blind Justice?

I understand that rules are rules, but sometimes there has just have to be exceptions. I recently came across two articles in a British newspaper that make exactly that point.

In Scotland, a blind man was issued a fine for 40 pounds by an unrelenting policeman, because he failed to pick up his guide dog’s poo from a piece of wasteland!

Now it may just be me, but isn’t there something wrong with that story? Continue reading

Real Books for Life

As I was browsing in my local Christian bookstore the other day, I began to feel a little overwhelmed at the sheer volume of books, DVDs, and audio books all supposedly designed to ‘help’ me become a better Christian and to live a ‘better’ Christian life; titles ranging from “Tree-pruning in the Spirit” to “Cast out demons while working out “! OK, so I exaggerate a little, but there really are an awful lot of suspect titles out there, not to mention the perfectly-coiffed, smiling men and women on the covers. Continue reading