Monthly Archives: August 2013

Run for your life (Syria)

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It is mind boggling to think that Syria is smaller than Victoria but has a population roughly the same as Australia. Over one hundred thousand people have died there in the current conflict. Almost two million are running for their lives.

The President’s name is Bashar al-Assad, who looks like this:

assad

 

He and his father before him have held power in Syria for over 40 years.

Oh, and Syria is here:

syria

 

So the civil war began about two years ago when disorganised, undertrained and disconnected groups of militia got armed and fired up. There are different theories as to what started it. Sections of Syrian people have been angry at the government for ages, but it turned nasty when a group of children were jailed for anti-government graffiti. Some were killed in custody. Protests against this and the failure of the government to bring economic reform to the people of Syria spread across the country. In April 2011, protesters were shot at by the Syrian Army and this blew things up even more. These disparate groups of insurgents pulled together and formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) a few months later. Heaps of soldiers from the Syrian Army defected to the FSA. This was in part because they were given orders to fire at civilian protesters and refused. Some were shot by their own army for refusing orders.

The FSA states that its goal is to remove Assad from power and protect demonstrating civilians. But it has also been accused of  getting into bed with extremist Jihadist Muslims who have bolstered their ranks and their arsenal. The FSA has also been accused of war crimes such as kidnappings and the torture and execution of people it says are aligned with or working for the government.

So what are the crimes of the Assad regime? In order to clear FSA held areas of civilians, the regime has bombed, massacred, bulldozed and ballistic missiled them out.  Indiscriminate air strikes have killed thousands. Underground detention and torture chambers. It is now thought that it was probably the Assad government that directly or indirectly ordered the gassing of well over 1000 people a week or so ago. Including babies. Displacing the population means the FSA might have won the area, but they end up losing the people. Hence, we have a massive refugee situation. About 2 million of them. A massive one million in 2013 alone and 75% of them are women and children.

I don’t understand all the intricacies of civil war. It seems that this is, of course very complicated and that there is evil on both sides and freedom seekers in there somewhere. I am sorry that this is a very elementary piece of writing. Such a short explanation cannot possibly do justice to all the issues here. I fervently hope it does not trivialise them. I don’t know the history dating back decades. I never thought much about Syria until the past couple of years. But I do think about this girl. Quite a bit.

SYRIA-CONFLICT

 

She, gasping for breath, panted I’m alive, I’m alive over and over. In shock that she survived the chemical attack. How will she ever recover from that day?

I’m ashamed that we will never welcome her here in Australia with warm, open arms. We will never welcome her or any member of her family. There are two million refugees running for their lives and some of them will find their way onto leaky boats headed for our unwelcoming shores.

A woman presses against the wire gate. Two small children cling to her chador, and she is alternately begging and demanding from the G4S guard. Finally, someone pulls her inside, the children like limpets. She’s taken to an office where veiled women interview her. She arrived three days ago with four children under 12, she has no husband, she has no extended family, and here she begins to weep. They are alone; the children press against her like bookends, and she says she is also six months pregnant and doesn’t want to have her baby here, in the white desert. She draws a deep breath, angrily wipes her eyes and whispers: “I am humiliated.” 

http://www.unrefugees.org.au/media/1421950/long%20day%20journey%20into%20night%20by%20aa%20gill.pdf

After all of that trauma, after the journey from hell, running for her life from a hell that used to be her home, she and her children cannot hope for a safe place here with us.

Turning away refugees is like the war on drugs. It’s pointless. There will be drugs. Deal with it, educate people, manage it as safely as you can. Boats won’t stop. Malevolent regimes will not stop. Refugees won’t stop. Come on Australia, can’t we do better than this? Aren’t we smarter than this? What gives us the right, why is it OUR country? Just because of an accident of birth? Goodness, we are SO lucky to be born here, it’s embarrassing. Think back Queenslanders to the dreadful floods of the past few years. Imagine if your rich neighbour on a hill, high and dry, said to you after your house was washed away, that no, you cannot come to me for help. Go and figure it out for yourself. Just imagine that.

References

http://www.news.com.au/world-news/simple-points-to-help-you-understand-the-syria-conflict/story-fndir2ev-1226705155146

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bashar_al-Assad

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Syrian_Army

http://www.understandingwar.org/report/assad-regime

http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/syria.php

http://www.hrw.org/reports/2013/04/10/death-skies

http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/07/03/syria-torture-centers-revealed

A beginner’s guide: How to wear spots with stripes

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Because let’s face it, I AM a beginner. Never have I EVER given fashion advice to anyone. Not least of all because I normally dress like this for work…

Women's The Diva Boot-Cut Jeans - Acadia

 

…this on the weekend…

Women's The Diva Boot-Cut Jeans - Acadia

 

…and this for going out…

Paraguay_costume

 

But I wanted to spread my blogging wings and so fashion advice it is. Spots and stripes. I must admit, initially, I could not imagine any parallel universe where this could work. I think the first piece of advice is that you really have to think about it. Really. It can go so very wrong. And this pretty much rules me out from the get go, because I can’t give more than 90 seconds worth of planning to my daily work wardrobe. It is time wasted in the morning when I could be attending to more pleasurable duties such as wiping porridge off the walls.

Secondly, I think you need to really choose your pieces carefully. This is no time for a Supre ensemble that looked good on the mannequin while you were high on Bieber and Chupa Chups. You need quality, you need heels, you need class. Again, I’m out. My workwear needs to be adaptable to any situation. I need to kick a footy around in it, catch flying chairs in it, visit juvy in it, paint, garden and play in the sand pit in it. Heels only get done once a year when my birthday falls on a workday. And if I turned up in spots and stripes, the boys would relentlessly take the piss.

My third piece of advice is the same advice I give for medical questions, geographic questions, historical questions and pretty much everything else. Google it stupid. Do some research and look at what works for others. And if you are spending any amount of time at all Googling how to wear spots with stripes, slap yourself in the face and do something useful with your time. There are starving children in Africa didn’t you know??

Finally, there is one, enduring piece of fashion advice that can never fail. Coco Chanel said it. I say it. Take a look in the mirror. Take something off. My advice would be either the spots or the stripes. Have a really good look and ask yourself, do I look stupid? If the answer is yes, the take it all off and start again.

 

Vegemite is not the same overseas

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Pretty much the only time I eat Vegemite is when I am not in Australia. Certainly the only time I wave an Australian flag is when I am not in Australia. The only time I ever think a tattoo of the Southern Cross is a good idea is when I am not in Australia. I don’t celebrate our national day when in Australia. We are in an election campaign in Australia right now and when I hear we live in the greatest country in the world, I cringe. But when I’m overseas, I’m all over Australia Day, and I do think Australia is the best country on offer (or at least among the best).

I wonder what Americans would think of this attitude to my (lack of) national pride? I’ve seen in US election campaigns that it is polling kamikaze to suggest that The US of A is anything but the best. I look at wildly patriotic countries, especially South American ones during football competitions and I just can never imagine the same heated passion taking over our lazy-ass population. I remember my first trip to North America and thinking how weird it was that all the houses had flags out front.

Sadly, all things patriotic, at least when at home, have taken on new meaning since the mid-late nineties, when Pauline Hanson burst onto the federal political scene with her One Nation party and this very well known image of her draped in our national flag.  She and her party peddled half-baked, divisive policies that awoke the sleeping beast of xenophobia in this country. Just don’t ask her what that word means. The infamous Cronulla Riots in Sydney further sullied the image of wearing our national flag when, for a shameful week or so in 2005, national pride was used as an excuse to brutalise random strangers, destroy property and assault emergency service workers. Now, at least for me, the flag has become a symbol of an underbelly of racism that festers here in our best country on earth.

PH

I don’t celebrate our national day because it is the worst day to celebrate our birth as a nation. Australia Day is a celebration of the arrival of the British on our shores and their subsequent proclaimation of soverignty over an already populated country. Invasion, most would call that these days. I would love to celebrate Australia Day, just not on that day. I am, actually, a very proud Australian, off shore and on. I love lots of things about us. Our -isms, our humour, the attitude. I love the love of being outside that we have. I love the incredible beauty of our place. I love that we have snow, desert and rainforest all in one place. I love that Europeans freak out that you can drive for six days in Australia and still be in the same country. I love that we have the deadliest animals on earth here, and the cutest. Sometimes I even have a bit of Vegemite on toast.

I am moving on

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red right hand Arch Feb 2012

I thought I would wind up Passing Phase when the twins got themselves toilet trained. Having a house full of people personally responsible for their own excrement has been my mental line in the sand for many things. We’ll be able to go out without the children’s section of a department store on our backs, whole days out, less laundry, no nappies, camping even! But the time has come and it has come in lengths ahead of the twins being nappy free. I need to write about stuff other than parenting. I need to move on.

But I’ve fallen in love with Passing Phase. I really have. Writing just gives me something I can’t find anywhere else. So PP stays, but the brief will change. My new Facebook page here (please go and like it!!) will hopefully bring new readers, criticism, praise and disagreement. I am still waiting for my first troll. My writing focus will be opinion, fiction and maybe a bit of parenting.

The whole point is to build readers. I’ve got an important story to tell and when the time is right, I want to tell it loud and clear. I also want to build an audience who is interested is joining the discussion about disadvantage, education and the profound junction at which the two meet.

Join me. We’ll have fun. Or at least, an argument 😉

A Christian, a Mormon and an Atheist walk into a bar…

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This week on ABC612 we asked the question, what if you are an Atheist parent and your kid turns out to be a fundamentalist Christian? Or the other way around? Good times.

Listen here.

And just because….

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Lost Together

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skeletons and scary stuff Arch July 2012

 

Please note that the following is a fictional reflection on a news story that has appeared in the media in Australia in recent weeks.

She had four children. She was young. She had a long history with bad men, painful relationships, loneliness. She was dirt desperate poor, had been all her life. No job, no education, no back up plan. Her kids were really all she had. Her kids were her purpose, her possessions. It was all she knew. She didn’t really have a lot of say in it anyway. She got fucked. She got pregnant. The first time was against her will at the age of 13. The next one just happened and after that it just seemed like the thing to do. After the birth of one child or another, who really knew, she sunk into a black hole so deep she lost all feeling. Even pain didn’t hurt anymore. Even the backhand of her drunken boyfriend didn’t hurt anymore. She lived a robotic cycle of motherwork and housework. As the months passed, things slipped out of her control. The house got messy, then dirty, then squalid. She noticed, but was catatonic with hopelessness. That she did notice made it so much worse. Made her feel that every inch of her was a failure. Things were just so hard. She woke up tired every morning. Not just bone tired but that kind of tired when simply speaking scrambles your mind. The emptiness she felt overwhelmed her and, given her lack of words, she could not explain it to herself or anyone else. So she fell silent.

The kids slipped away from her too. They went to school dirty, then hungry, then not at all. At least, not that she noticed. Her friends used to describe her as kind and sweet, a beautiful soul. Then she got pregnant again. With twins. Suddenly, there was a moment of sunshine. Hope. This was a miracle, something people wish upon stars for, and she, undeserving she, was chosen. Her friends gathered and said, this is what they needed, this will really give her something to live for, bring them together, put a smile on her face, she was born to be a mother. And it did. Just for a little while. Indeed she did smile. She loved them, of course she did, like any other mother.

But there was an unrelentingness to baby twins that she was in no way prepared for. They took turns in feeding and crying through the night in such a way as to leave her stretches of rest no longer than thirty minutes at a time. The stress of waiting for the sound of the next cry left her unable to sleep even in those moments of sheer exhaustion. The black dog momentarily kennelled came back bigger and angrier than ever. The sadness dried up her milk and she felt a failure once again. She struggled to afford the formula so she watered it down and cut back a bottle or two per day. Another shameful failure. Her children begged her to play, to smile, to cuddle the babies. But again, her words were gone, I’ll be better tomorrow, she thought, and seven days slipped by like one.

She had one single thing that was only hers and no one elses. One place she could be someone else and not her pathetic self. She had nothing that was fun, nothing nice, no joy. So it was easy to tell herself she deserved this one skerrick of something close to enjoyment, even if it was just a stupid internet game. In that world she had an escape, a different name. She could invent whatever past she wanted. She felt, not free from her desperation, but at least separated from it, when she played. But when she stopped, she fell back into hell.

Her friends gathered without her and whispered but did not dare say anything. They worried. But they thought, once the babies sleep through the night, she’ll be right. They didn’t notice, but it had been months since anyone saw or heard from her. Just give her time, they whispered, she’s got her hands full, they said. You don’t tell anyone how to raise their kids, they nodded.

While her friends whispered and gathered and worried, she tried. She was desperate to be a good mother, but incapable, utterly paralysed. Every time she failed, which was hundreds of times a day, she hated herself more deeply, more completely, more ferociously. The shame kept her away from her friends, her children, her boyfriend. The babies screamed day and night, cracking her already broken mind. If she ignored them long enough they would quieten and she would convince herself that they were just sleeping and that she’d check them in half an hour, after a little sleep. Just a little sleep. She knew she should probably feed them again, but she was so afraid that if she woke them she would never hear silence again. This is how days disappeared into nowhere. Months and months of soon, later, tomorrow piled up toward catastrophe.

She woke from a heavy nap one black afternoon with a sick jolt of panic. It was a rare moment of sharp rational pain. She realised she could not remember when she last fed the babies. She realised that it was probably weeks since she had taken them out of their room, and her breathing started to come fast and shallow. The house was silent. The smell of the house reached her as her senses woke up, joining her in panicky clarity. She knew before she walked into the room. She knew before she lifted the blanket and saw their quiet, open eyes. And when she saw, her already broken mind left her completely.

Somewhere in the days before this unspeakable moment, the two little babies had slipped away from the fear of abandonment, the pain of hunger and the life altering injury of constantly wanting to be cuddled. Had they lived, they would never have recovered from the hole left by those missing cuddles. They lay side by side, as they were from the very moment their lives began. When it came time to go, they held hands and went together.

She is the mother and will be visciously tried, judged and hung before a word is spoken in the courts. She is the mother and was supposed to protect them. She will stand trial for their murder, every horrible detail printed, and the father will be a side story. The father that failed those babies too. The friends that failed her will shake their heads and cry. The system that failed her will hope their mistakes are not played out in the media the way her failings will be. She will think of it every moment for the rest of her life and every time she does she will die again until there is nothing left of her.