Speaking of Charity

Charity-begins-at-home

The English word charity has a long and ambiguous history, depending on the source you refer to.  It stems from the 4th century when St Jerome translated the Christian bible from Greek to Latin.  He used “caritas” in place of “agape” which is referenced over 300 times in the Greek version and is said to mean “the highest form of love”.  There are Jewish, Islamic and other translations, all with similar meaning, about caring for or giving to, the poor.  The different cultural / religious connotations are interesting to note.  Christian implications of charity are said to include the virtue of wealth and the free will of the virtuous to give, or not.  Jewish charity, known as tzedakah, stresses an obligation of the wealthy to give, the right of the poor to receive, equal social status of both and an ultimate intention of wealth redistribution.  The Islamic equivalents are zakat (compulsory giving) and sadaqah (voluntary giving).  Buddha taught that all giving should be free from attachment to either the gift or the recipient, and that generosity leads to freedom.  All religious interpretations have humanitarian and spiritual implications.

The phrase “charity begins at home” also has a long and evolving history and is today, said to be one of the most frequently misused expressions in the English language.  The phrase was probably first coined by Sir Thomas Browne, in a literary work called Religio Medici, published in the 1600s.  The literal interpretation of his meaning is that being caring towards ourselves and those around us, sets the scene for being generous on a wider scale.  As with so many phrases and philosophies, it has become misconstrued, with many using it today as a warning against being too generous, particularly to people in far away places!  The inference seems to have become, that charity actually ends at home.

Yet in an unintentional way, charity actually does travel full circle and end up back at home.  An awesome example of this is the case of Julia Wise and Jeff Kaufman, a young Boston couple who have given away 40% of their pre-tax earnings every year since 2008.  They are putting into practice what various studies have shown – that high levels of giving actually enrich our lives.  One study concluded that donating to charity has a similar correlation with happiness, as a doubling of household income.  So giving to benefit others actually benefits the giver.

Not unlike the sense I often have here in Central Australia, living amongst a marginalised indigenous society, my first few months in Cambodia, surrounded by extreme and often shocking poverty, perturbed me.  Living in comfort alongside hunger and destitution challenged my sense of justice and equality.  Also my sense of self, as I came to a realisation of my excessively entitled life.  I slowly resolved this inner dilemma by learning to connect with people from vastly different worlds, and offering help where I was able to.  Not only did this alleviate a small amount of the suffering I witnessed, but it was personally fulfilling to see the difference I was able to make in others’ lives.  I feel honoured to have made this discovery and to have had the adventures of a lifetime along the way.  This all stemmed from my having the time to help a few people out in ways that most fortunate people never experience.

I’d already had many unusual adventures here in Central Australia, which were a prelude to what lay ahead for me in Cambodia.  I wondered how I would feel returning home.  It has been surprisingly easy, helped by returning to my furnished home, familiar workplace, welcomed by neighbours, colleagues and friends such that it felt as though I’d merely been away for a long weekend.  However, I feel like a different person courtesy of the soul searching about both myself and the world, visited upon me during my two years away.  This morning alone, I watched “news” of Justin Beiber posting selfies of his bare chest on Twitter, heard that Australians are the “world champions in taking Ecstasy”, seen morning TV presenters ziplining through treetops, riding rollercoasters and jumping out of aeroplanes, and watched snippets of the weekend’s live concerts across the country.  Taylor Swift in Sydney, Ed Sheeran in Brisbane, Sam Smith in Perth, with some tickets selling for up to $500pp.

Where once these “news” items would have interested and entertained me while seeming fairly normal, it all now seems incredibly self-indulgent.  That is not to say that I would not love to see Sam Smith in concert or enjoy various other luxuries, because I would and I do.  I’m going to have to buy some “rich world” shoes because I can’t get around in thongs at work or social functions any longer!  I’ve just spent an amount on my hairstyle which I know could feed a family for months.  The list of luxuries I am slowly surrendering to as I settle back into Australian life goes on.  But our rich world indulgences should be interspersed with charity towards those in need, both because we can and because it is a very healthy endeavour for us to engage in.

Thankfully I’m not alone in my epiphany about the rewards of giving.  There are many movements today, involved in encouraging and supporting people who wish to give.  One of my favourites is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  They use their money to do the most good for the most people and they often talk about what I know and try to impart in this blog: the fact that with so many people in the world existing on almost nothing, those of us in the “rich world” do not need to make big sacrifices in order to have a big impact on lives of the extremely poor.  To quote Bill Gates, people living in rich nations are in a unique position to make a real difference to the lives of the most impoverished people on the planet. Not only does our money go much further in the developing world than it does at home, but we also now have access to the technology and understanding to allow us to target our resources effectively.

If you are someone who argues that you shouldn’t give to charity because you can’t trust where your money will go, think again.  There are many organisations such as GiveWell and GivingWhatWeCan, devoted to evaluating and promoting the most effective charities.  Most reputable charities have their own websites and implement economic transparency so that donors know where their money will be spent.  Your money does not have to disappear into a black hole, and if you do a little bit of research, all available online, it probably won’t.

Strikingly inconsistent with the difference we can make in the “poor world”, it is estimated that last year Australians spent over $520 million on unwanted gifts.  It’s hard not to imagine the good that could come from such wasted money.  There are so many organisations offering a charitable alternative to this waste.  Check out Care Australia’s Gifts that will never go unloved or Plan International’s Breakfast at school for a year as two examples.  Even Mahboba’s Promise, an Australian-Afghani charity, are marketing Christmas Gifts That Will Change The World.  My own Go Fund Me is also still open, currently with only $100 not yet given away, at Help A Cambodian Family.

[A quick update on Paula for those wondering.  She remains in the USA with her mother, staying at a hotel covered by my friend Karen and under the watchful friendship of the local Cham community who embraced us all so readily.  Last week she was discharged from the care of the surgeon who cured her and recent photographs show a strong, healthy and beautiful, transformed young woman.  She remains in the care of a plastic surgeon and her healing wound now looks quite superficial.  She will probably return home in the next month to six weeks].

We in the “rich world” have inherited phenomenal advantages.  We are an entitled global minority.  By giving small amounts of time, attention or money to effective causes we can make a serious difference to some of the world’s poorest and most distressed people.  Charity does begin at home.  It also ends at home, but not in the commonly misinterpreted meaning of the proverb.  For the most selfish reasons charitable acts towards the needy, no matter where they might be, are a highly desirable venture.  Do it for Christmas!

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Universal Values and the Attention of Terror

We are all global citizens.

This morning the southern hemisphere woke to news of another terror attack in Paris.  Multiple attacks have taken place across the city.  A state of emergency has been declared and the country’s borders have closed.  A hundred people are currently being held hostage at a concert hall, fifteen are already dead at this one site, and over 100 are known to have died elsewhere.  It is horrific.

When these things happen in the wealthy world, headlines are made, news segments become all-day programs with constant updates, live footage, specialist analysis and political announcements from various leaders.  It makes for gripping news, as it should, and we are all horrified by the violence, fear and loss of life.  In fact, we can be so horrified that some of us are traumatised.  Before I turned on this morning’s news, I read an email from a friend in England saying that the family’s summer holiday in Spain was great, but marred slightly by the terror attacks in Tunisia just across the sea.

In the rich world we have resources and systems in place which protect us as much as is humanly possible.  I was in Paris a number of times earlier this year and the security presence at train stations and attractions such as the Eiffel Tower was very strong with armed police, armed soldiers and others heavily visible across the city.

It is the poor world, where most terror deaths occur, who have no such protections.  The 2014 Global Terrorism Index Report states that 82% of all terrorist attacks occurred in just five countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria).  90% of all terrorist attacks take place in countries with gross human rights violations.  I’m not even sure that attacks such as that instigated on protestors in Phnom Penh last year, fit the criteria required to be labelled as “terrorism”.  Yet innocent civilians were terrorised, so if they don’t fit whatever official criteria is required, to me such events, which command very little worldwide attention, certainly seem to be acts of terrorism.  I feel the same about the aerial attack on Kunduz Hospital in Afghanistan last month, by America, as with the hundreds of innocent civilians killed by American drones in places like Pakistan amid a policy of secrecy and justifications.

Unlike the Parisian victims, most victims of terror die without attention from western media outlets.  So when I hear President Barack Obama talk about “an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share“, I stand by his words but not by his actions, as a man who has been labelled “The Lethal President” for his targeted killing program.  One of many examples of innocent victims of this program is Pakistani grandmother Momina Bibi whose family spoke in Congress of their loss in 2013.

I stand by the people of Paris but I equally stand by the invisible and ignored victims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Syria and elsewhere, who deserve just as much spotlight as Paris is receiving at this time.
Terrorismhttp://www.visionofhumanity.org/#page/news/586

Keeping Up With The Chamericans

Paula was discharged from hospital late last week.  She remains in the US to be near the care she needs and because the surgeons don’t want to send her home to a place without running water until her wound, which may need further surgical intervention, is healed.  But she is healing and becoming stronger by the day.  She has normal physiology again and is absorbing nutrients for the first time in five years, which in turn means she is walking around and starting to “be” normal again.  I receive regular emails from one of the Cham people who sees her daily and will edit/paste this morning’s communication between us as the only way to articulate Paula’s experience.  When I returned to Cambodia a few weeks ago Chom asked me “what day did Paula arrive in America?”.  October 4th.  “That is her birthday then because it is the first day of her new life”.  I sponsor Paula’s brothers to English school and have promised Paula that I will sponsor her once she gets home ($4pp per month).  Chom is the intermediary for this and some other people I’m trying to maintain support for.  He has been sending messages about our little sponsorship program to keep me updated on everyone.

Yesterday I returned to my permanent position here in Alice Springs.  Things have changed yet everything has stayed the same.  Feeling as though I’d just taken a long weekend, I was happy to be back.  As happy as I can be if I cannot be in Cambodia, that is!  I had a small house re-warming on Saturday night and with a projector shining onto the wall of the shed, showed a few of my Cambodian photographs. I sent a message to Paula, who is easy to keep contact with while she remains in the USA with English speaking friends who have internet and email.  I told her that I’d shared her story with my friends who were all amazed.  The reply below radiates Paula’s elation.

Hello Helen,

Paula and her mom are doing well. They are very excited that I brought them to stay at my friends house, specifically Paula. I told them about your party, and they were more excited. She asked. ” what did Helen’s friends think about my story and the people in Cambodia”?

She said, When she goes back home, I will learn to speak English. She wants to express her feelings to you. She has a lot of things to say.

She wants to thank all the Drs who saved her life, Cate, Karen and specially you. She hope someday in the future, when she go back home, she wants to go help people with you. For the past month she learned a lot from you, the nurses in the US who help took care of her, and all the people who came to visit her.

All these people that she met change her life. She will work hard to find money and someday she wants to go Australia to visit you.

She asked me, next Friday can I bring her again,  and show her around the city. I said if you well enough, and I have time I will. She still cannot believe it that she and her mother are in the US.

She said, “I feel like this is a dream to me”. “if it is a dream I don’t want to wake up”.

I’m very emotional about her.

Yesterday, on our way back to the hotel, I stopped by at Safeway store to get a few things for them.  She asked me “please. …., I want to go in too”. I cannot believe it. You should see her face, how excited she was. It seems like a big deal for her. I forgot about a girl who was came from a small village in Cambodia. Since she is in US, she has not seen the outside. This is the first time in her life she actually in the American store. I have tears came out of my eyes. You should write a book about her story.  I am serious! You are going to make a lot of money. If you do, you can help a lot of people.

I should let you go now, have a great day at work.

Talk to you soon.

My reply, which vaguely expresses the elation that I feel for having been a part of this story:

Hi

It is very early here and I have to get ready for work.

But I read your email and it is so amazing to hear all of this about Paula.

I don’t know what to say.  I will be thinking about it all day, probably all week!

Thanks so much for looking after them SO well and for keeping in touch with me.  I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it.

Please tell Paula that my friends were really fascinated to hear the story about how her life has been saved and also to hear about Cambodia, how beautiful it is but how much suffering the people endure.  It is difficult from a country like Australia (and USA, as you know), for people who have never seen these things, to imagine it.  Just like Paula could never have imagined a shop like Safeway until she saw it.

THANK YOU!

Give Paula and her Mum a huge big hug from me.  I will be thinking about everything you told me and am so happy now.

Helen

My Version of Someone Else’s Story

I’ve avoided speaking much at all about this case because when I did initially mention it online, an internet troll accused me of siding with a criminal.  I have also been very aware of the victim’s family and did not want to add to their anguish in any way, nor the anguish that I saw in Gene’s family members as they grappled with the accusations against him.  With tonight’s 4 Corners program, that seems to have changed somewhat.

The way I became a foster carer at the end of 2006 was perhaps a little unusual, although given the cataclysmic circumstances that merely being in need of foster care must often originate from, perhaps not as unusual as I believed at the time.  Matthew was 9 years old when I met him in a town camp on the outskirts of Alice Springs.  He was a cute and cheeky kid.  Within two years his mother had been fatally wounded during a domestic assault perpetrated by her partner.  Less than a year after that, his father also died a violent death.  His older sister was 13yo at the time and after witnessing her father’s murder she moved to her 18yo boyfriend’s home, where she was also subjected to multiple episodes of domestic violence.

I soon became aware of the term “double orphans”.  The organisation charged with their care failed these double orphans miserably, in fact their negligence was surely criminal although few consequences were ever faced, except by two innocent children.  Mathew was placed with his sister, at her boyfriend’s family home in another, equally dysfunctional, town camp.  He (and she) should not have been there.  Unlike his sister he also did not want to be there and was regularly rejected by the family, whose children he fought with.  Effectively homeless at the age of 12yo, he turned up on my doorstep almost daily.  A protracted battle with bureaucracies and incompetent bureaucrats began and dominated my life for a number of years.

In brief, during the murder trial of their father, his older sister was summonsed as a witness and I found myself in the court room with her.  Her stepmother, probably disabled from alcoholism, saw me in the court and asked me to act as her support person also.  I reluctantly agreed.  She gave no evidence at all despite persistent questioning.  When court adjourned for lunch mid-questioning, the two accused who sat behind a partition divider, stood and were suddenly visible from the witness stand.  One of them made a threatening gesture to the witness.  When I tried to report it, I was stonewalled by their jail guard as well as a senior lawyer.  I told Stepmum that I could not stay after lunch as I had to return to work.  She, due back in court that afternoon, disappeared.  The following day the senior lawyer who I reported the intimidation to, amidst his rebuttals that I must have imagined it, rang me to ask what I had done with his witness!  I did not see her again for a number of years and she clearly did not contribute further (if at all) to the murder case.

Meanwhile, I found myself the primary carer of a young homeless boy while his social worker repeatedly told me to take him back to his sister.  He refused to believe me over many months as I insisted that Mathew’s sister should not be in this particular home, let alone her younger brother.  He also seemed disinterested in how or why Mathew found his way to me on an almost daily basis, it raised no red flags at all apparently.  The family of his sister’s boyfriend received carer money for Mathew, whilst encouraging him to stay with me instead.  Every fortnight he visited them and came home with $50 cash, which I saw as “bribery money” taken from the extra kitty they were receiving courtesy of the social worker’s negligence.  It was only many months later, when I finally comprehended that having the title “social worker” did not make a person competent in their role, that I reported the situation to his line manager.  Mathew was immediately placed in my official care that afternoon.

Around this time a cousin of the children appeared, telling me that the social worker had asked them to “tell Helen to back off because she is harrassing me”.  When they argued with him that he was not doing his job and they supported me, he informed them that “she has had other children in her care who have ended up living on the streets, is that really someone you want caring for him?”.  This seemed outlandish but when I asked if I could report it to his manager, they encouraged me to do so fiercely, saying that they wanted the opportunity to report him.  His manager visited me the following day to discuss the accusation, which he had, of course, vehemently denied.  I did not pursue it.  A very short time later, he made a phone call to my employer to report that I “had a client” living in my house.  Thankfully my employer knew the full story and refused to engage with him.  Again I reported him to his manager, and within days he appeared to no longer be employed at the organisation.

After about seven months playing foster mum, Mathew was finally placed back into the care of family in a remote community and he left my care.  We remain in touch and he is as troubled and in-trouble as I always predicted his formative years were guaranteeing for his early adult years.  I live in hope that, given his enormous potential, he may work something out for a peaceful and decent life.  It’s touch and go right now and he has limited decent role models, so my hopes are faint..

During my time knowing Mathew, I came to know many other indigenous people, all somehow connected to him.  The stories during 2006 to 2013 have been numerous, humorous, sad, bad, hilarious and nefarious.  Unimaginably funny, tragic, shocking and frustrating events seemed often, to monopolise my time and energy.  Perhaps the most extreme is the story of Mathew’s cousin Gene.  Their mothers were sisters and they call each other “brother”.  I first met Gene when he was about 14yo and visiting town from their very remote, interstate community.  He knew me as “Mathew’s mother” and on many occasions he stayed in my home with Mathew.  A quiet and withdrawn young man, I saw him very many times over about seven years.  His mother is a very colourful character who lives nomadically across a vast expanse of northern Australia and while I only ever saw Gene in “my” environment, I can confidently say that his upbringing was less than ideal.

In July or August of 2012, Gene knocked on my door one night.  He was alone and sober.  Guessing he was hungry I invited him in and fed him.  In reply to questioning it became apparent that he wanted to stay at my home and so I organised the outdoor bedroom for him on condition that in the morning he would have to leave with me when I was ready for work.  He agreed to this and in the morning, en route to work, I dropped him in town.  That night he appeared again.  For a number of weeks this became our daily routine and it was fine by me as long as he remained sober and left the house with me the next morning.  On one evening I let him in before noticing that he was more chatty than usual.  When I asked “are you drunk” he shook his head.  When I asked “are you stoned” he nodded.  I explained he could not stay, made him a toasted sandwich, and dropped him at his chosen location in the dry riverbed a little way from town.  As I drove away I felt torn by the injustice that I, a privileged westerner, could leave a stoned young man in a riverbed with homeless families, because I had the right to feel safe in my comfortable home.

One Saturday morning during this time, Gene walked with me into town.  He didn’t often have much to say but on this particular day he told me a story that while he was in Broome some time prior, one night he saw a dead body on the side of the road and rang the police.  I don’t remember the exact story now.  It seemed odd and when I asked how the person died, he mentioned seeing a car drive away from the scene.  A week or two later, Gene knocked on the door one night and instead of wanting to stay, announced that he was leaving town and had come to collect his bag from the back room.  We said goodbye and I have never seen him since except via video link a year or so later.

Within a week of Gene leaving town, Mathew’s sister rang me to say Gene had been arrested and taken to Perth on murder charges!  The story seemed to match that of the dead body he had spoken about to me.  In shock, I attended the local police station where my story about a wrongly charged murder accused raised a few eyebrows.  Nevertheless, a detective was called down and took my statement.  There was little else I could do.  Various other dramas were unfolding on a daily basis and Gene in prison was just another crazy situation that I had to accept.  On a weekday morning some weeks or months later, I must have had my programmed extra day off, I was in my red and black polka dot pyjamas, vacuuming the house.  A knock on the door revealed two men and a woman dressed in blue t-shirts and jeans, looking like Jehovah’s Witnesses.  They introduced themselves as Murder Squad and wanted to speak with me about Gene.  They also wanted to know where Mathew was, who Gene had also spoken about the incident to.

At the police station later that day I learned Gene had been interviewed in his remote community and revealed evidence which proved he had committed an unsolved murder of a young man in Broome in 2010.  The evidence was, according to the detective, infallible.  Gene had committed a violent murder!  He had suffered nightmares and this appeared to explain the strange circumstances, of him turning up on my doorstep every night whilst in Alice Springs.  It assured him a quiet and safe place to rest with his demons.  Or so it seemed?

Around this time I was contracted with Medecins Sans Frontieres and took two years leave from work, leaving town for training in Sydney before making my way to Cambodia.  In Cambodia I had to travel to Phnom Penh to give evidence via video link in a Perth court about what I knew of Gene, particularly his ability to comprehend English.  I was asked some unusual and surprising questions, such as how did I communicate with Gene when he was in my home (by the prosecution) and was I a qualified linguist (by the defence).  It was confusing at the time but I came to learn that there was a defence argument that Gene had been questioned in his community without a translator present, giving rise to the suggestion that his confession was inadmissible.  Gene was in the room during this hearing but we did not communicate.  The trial was due to continue at a later stage but I was never required to return for further questioning.  I believe he was later found guilty of manslaughter, after the murder charges were dropped.

Arriving back in town a few days ago, I walked past a location where I have often seen Gene visiting family and had a fleeting thought that now I am home, I could write him a letter, and what I would say, and who would read it to him.  Amazingly, tonight he featured briefly on ABC’s 4 Corners program.  The mother of his alleged victim is convinced that Gene, who is thought to suffer from Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, is innocent of the crime he was found guilty of committing.  The evidence, which she has been privy to, includes his inability to locate the scene of the crime, and some doubts that appear to have arisen relating to the way he was questioned and the confession he finally gave after nine  hours of questioning.  More on the case can be read here:
Expert Casts Doubt on Gene Gibson Murder Confession

It is a tragedy on so many levels and to my mind, highlights the failure in Australia to protect young people from the consequences of growing up in chaotic and detrimental circumstances.  There are so many reasons to protect young people, which are not just about the individual youth but also about society as a whole.  I want my community to be fair and just for everyone, not just those who happen to have been born “lucky”, into functional and healthy environments.

For more on the background story:
WA Police Stood Aside Over Arrest

Hello From The Other Side

Twickenham Stadium in London is the home of Rugby England. In the early hours of this morning (Australian time), 82,000 spectators watched from the stands at Twickenham as New Zealand’s All Blacks thrashed Australia’s Wallabies, 34 points to 17 in the Rugby World Cup. According to my research, the cheapest tickets to this game sold for around AU$700, and some for as much as AU$56,000. For a single ticket. At a live game of rugby.

Isn’t that astounding?

For my still-in-Cambodian-mode-brain, it is anyway.

One of the star All Blacks is 30 year old Sonny Bill Williams, a dual New Zealand – Samoan citizen who, interestingly, converted to Islam in 2008.  As the All Blacks celebrated their win with a lap of honour, a 14yo fan broke onto the pitch from the stands, apparently seeking autographs. Security immediately tackled him to the ground in front of Sonny Bill Williams, who admonished the security guard and dragged the boy back to his feet. Incredibly, he then draped his ribboned gold medal around the boy’s neck before walking him back to his mother in the stands! Williams has been quoted as saying “I kind of felt sorry for him. It will be a night that he remembers, hopefully”, “For a kid to have that will and take that risk, you deserve a medal. Enjoy bro” and “Better (for the medal) to be hanging around his neck than mine”.

Williams is becoming known for his off-field generosity, most recently offering his semi-final Rugby World tickets to Syrian refugees last week.  After the semi-final when his team won against South Africa’s Springbok team, he hugged and consoled a devastated opponent. Media reports are lauding him for his kindness and compassion with statements such as “Sonny Bill does it again”. One Twitter fan said “Always be yourself. Unless you can be Sonny Bill Williams. Then, always be Sonny Bill Williams”.  I concur!  His behaviour represents the epitome of good sportsmanship.  In 2011 he gave NZ$100,000 to the Christchurch earthquake appeal.  In 2012 he shaved his head in a fundraiser for Leukaemia and Blood Cancer NZ’s Shave for a Cure.

Sonny Bill showing his heart to Syrian refugees last week, and a young fan on Saturday 31 October.

Sonny Bill showing his heart to Syrian refugees last week, and a young fan on Saturday 31 October. Courtesy http://www.foxsports.com.au

Perhaps what makes him so “real” is the fact that as a young man he made a lot of widely publicised mistakes.  He has said that the things he did wrong in the past have helped mould him into the man he is today.  We could all learn a lesson there.  If Williams can be so generous to the people and causes he knows about, imagine the kindness and generosity he is capable of, if he were to connect with the poorer world where the need for his compassion and heart is greatest.  With Samoan connections he probably already gives to at least one third world country.  I hold great hopes for his future as a philanthropist!

Anyway, I’m back at home in Australia and things are so far going well.  After two years away it’s fun catching up with friends and neighbours, sorting out my long-suffering garden, and of course getting into some serious unpacking.  That is the biggest challenge.  Before pulling into the driveway at home I was full of plans to downsize entirely and have a huge garage sale, all proceeds to go to Cause Cambodia.

That plan is slowly dissolving into a threatened dream as I slowly realise how captive I am to western trappings!  I remain fully aware of the fact that most of the world can carry their bed around with them, and all of their belongings to boot, held against their body with a krama scarfe for the Cambodians I know.  Most Cambodians have no, or very little furniture.  I on the other hand have a house filled with untold seats and surfaces of all kinds.  I arrived in town lugging two large suitcases, one small suitcase and my rather sizeable handbag.  Greeting me were no less than seven boxes which had been posted, mainly by myself, to myself, from various locations around the globe in the past six months or so, as I took advantage of first world postal systems in Europe and America to offload things I felt I couldn’t discard.  Determined to learn how to travel light, I am never letting myself travel so extravagantly ever again, especially as many of the things I thought I “needed”, didn’t leave the safety of their suitcase.

Since arriving home, things which are not necessary for my survival and which I have not even missed in two years away, have started to creep inside the house, from the shed where they’ve been in storage for years.  How quickly we revert to old habits, regardless of all good intentions to change!  This coming from someone who once considered herself a minimalist.  I said this to a friend yesterday, who reminded me that I actually was a minimalist until I bought my own home in 2007.  Prior to that I once moved house in my pyjamas one Saturday morning, with everything I owned sitting on top of my bed which I wheeled down the road to the next rented room.  Things have changed somewhat since then and I feel ensnared by my not-so-minimalist existence.  But I hope that my aspirations towards minimalism and continuing to help Cambodia and East Timor, will help me to creep those sneaky belongings back out to the shed in preparation for a downsizing sale.

My hope for the world, is that more people aspire towards the heart of Sonny Bill Williams.  In that vain, the lessons of my last two years away will be wasted if I don’t remain connected to what I now consider to be “the real world”, where food in your stomach each and everyday is a priority endeavour.  Today I connected with Cambodia via Chom who was bringing his family home from their grandmother’s village.  They paid someone $2 to push the tuk tuk up a very long and steep incline which saved them from taking a very rough and slippery route home.  As I unpacked no less than four pink dresses all rather similar to each other, into my wardrobe, I wondered at why I need all these unnecessary clothes when people in the parallel universe of rural Cambodia have to push a tuk tuk uphill to earn their day’s food?  There seems no point whatsoever to me, to be a “have” and to keep it for myself, in boxes I don’t need to look at between one year and the next, or suitcases I cart around filled with unnecessary dead weight.

In short, I think noone got it more right than Nelson Mandela, when you thread three of his best quotes together into one sentiment:

abject poverty demeans us all and makes the freedom of us all less meaningful; while poverty persists there is no true freedom; the purpose of freedom is to create it for others.