Two skies, two oceans

Some days

I see the ocean’s blue

iridescent,

mirroring the sky

like there are two skies

looking deep into the universe

or each other.

Two black skies at night,

two moons, two sunrises,

two oceans.

 

Some days

I see nothing.

No colours, no movement,

no sun nor moon

changing the hues of the world.

One grey sky, one placid ocean.

My light is extinguished,

I forget what love feels like.

 

Today I see the colours

they do not change,

I do.

I feel how it’s all connected

sadness and joy

light and dark

I surrender to the understanding

that I am the person I always was

I ebb like the waves

or the changing sky.

Sometimes I am darkness

but always there is light within me.

 

When I am light

I remember that darkness,

like sadness or joy

or the two skies and their moons,

is just one half of a whole.

To extol

the existence of my inverse selves,

is to be complete.

 

 

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The Quarter-life Crisis: It’s Real

I’m 24 and I’m having a quarter life crisis.

It all began when I was a few months away from finishing my bachelors degree. With life beyond university in sight, I began to visualise what it would be like, and realised that everything would be different. At the time I was working part-time in a café, enjoying the fortnightly benefits of Centrelink, and fantasising about when I would be a famous journalist. But a café job isn’t a career, and turning fantasies into reality is something I’d never really done before. And just like that, my worries began to solidify.

I soon finished my degree, and, scared that a journalism degree wasn’t enough to pay the rent, did an intensive CELTA course to become an English teacher if all else failed. Then, with under $500 in my bank account, I bought a one-way ticket to India, sold all of my possessions, and bid my current life farewell without a backward glance. I was finally free from studying to pursue my true hobby: travel. Also, conveniently, it allowed me a few more months to ignore the real life choices I would have to eventually make.

Travelling in India was everything they say it is, but instead of finding myself I found my other half: the love of my life. We travelled together, looked after each other in sickness  and in health, and skipped the first year or two of normal relationship milestones in a few months. Even though we were in one of the cheapest countries in the world, there were times when we had to count our rupees. But we survived on rice and paneer butter masala, and eventually found ourselves sitting on a plane heading to my boyfriends home country: Palestine.

Thus far, I was deeply in the travellers mindset. Making each cent last was easier than thinking about how to make my own money (I had a content writing job in India for two weeks and got scammed, and for another writing job I was paid $6. Not exactly making millions.) When I arrived to Palestine (or Israel as you might call it) I had a whole new world to take in, including the language, culture, food, and my boyfriends infinite relatives. A few weeks later of practicing my Arabic, being stuffed full of hummus by my boyfriend’s mum, and taking in the politics of a modern-day apartheid, and here I am.

The novelty has began to wear off, as I feel like less of a foreigner and more like a toddler dressing up in adults clothing. I’m beginning to understand that now is the time in my life to prove that I can make something of myself. The thing is, up until the end of my degree, everything has been laid out for me. From primary school to high school to university, all that mattered was getting good grades. As if that’s what lands you a career (apparently, no-one gives a hoot about those HD’s I stayed up all night for). When I was a child, they made it sound like everything would work itself out. But now I’m dragging myself through the hangover of this euphemism.

In school, there are right and wrong ways to do things. But in life, there is no rule book. My friends, who range from early twenties to early thirties, are all at VERY different stages of life: some have children (accidental and planned), some have successful careers, some smoke weed and play video games all day, some are backpackers in exotic places, some have never left my hometown, some are married, some have never been in a relationship, some have been through a lot and some have been through nothing. Where’s the trend in this? Am I really meant to forge my own path, alone?

At first, I thought it was depression, but after Googling the symptoms of a mid-twenties crisis (confusion, anxiety, uncertainty) I am certain that anyone in my situation would feel the same way (yes, this is the way millennials figure things out). I don’t know what I’m doing with my life: living in the Middle East, trying to make a career for myself by sending stories I write to news agencies, and living off the money my parents put in my bank account. I’m a living paradox; neither an adult nor a child. Who could blame me for feeling a bit confused and sad?

I guess the good thing is that this will eventually pass, like puberty. I’m sure one day I’ll look back on these days and laugh (I can’t for the life of me figure out why I spent so much time worrying about pimples and the size of my breasts). Until then, I guess I’ll keep on fumbling in the dark until I figure it all out.

Occupier and the occupied

 

I’m a white female I’ve never had to question my national identity. You could call me privileged. I live in Australia, and have dual Australian and British citizenship. Although I come from a country with one of history’s most horrific annihilations of a people and culture, my family’s status as white Australians is firmly embedded in our identity – even though only a few generations ago we migrated to Australia from the United Kingdom, where 95% of my ancestry comes from. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to live in Palestine (or Israel, as most of the world calls it) that I really began to question my own national identity.

The issue of identity has been an ongoing struggle for Palestinians since the occupation of their land in 1948. I didn’t fully understand the Israel/Palestine conflict until I met my boyfriend and lived with his family in their village, which is one of few Arab villages in the area. Even so, Israeli settlements have been inching closer over the years, threatening to take over the Palestinian homes, land, and businesses, as the rest of the country has witnessed.

There are four groups of Palestinians: those who live in the 48 states (what others call Israel) who personally identify as Palestinian but have Israeli citizenship (like my boyfriend); those living in West Bank, which has a self-governing authority but doesn’t have the sovereignty of a formally recognised country; those living in Gaza, which is under the rule of Hamas (a Palestinian Islamic organisation) and is under direct Israeli occupation; and the Palestinians who are living abroad either as refugees or citizens of other countries. It was only when I moved to Palestine that I began to understand the consequences of the formation of Israel that are a part of daily life for Palestinians; constant reminders that the land, their land, is occupied.

But so is Australia. It’s easy to forget, since I was born with enough time since the massacres, forced displacement and destruction of culture to believe that the Australia I call home has always been the way it is now: a white Australia. My boyfriend regularly makes a Freudian slip and says that I come from Europe – “Australia,” I am quick to correct him. But when I think about it, I am unable to ignore the truth in his words. With a Scottish father and Australian mother (who’s family line comes from the UK), my DNA is almost entirely European. In fact, judging by my freckles, auburn hair and blue eyes, I can be certain that I have no Aboriginal ancestors down the line. But is being born in modern Australia enough to qualify me as being Australian? What does it mean to belong to a place?

I didn’t have to ask myself this question until I came to Palestine, because the conflict between the Indigenous Australians and the white settlers is hundreds of years older than the Israel/Palestine situation. In Australia, there are no separation walls, no soldiers, no bullets. But the fight is the same. In Australia the separation wall is invisible, snaking through society and dividing us without us realising. In Australia, the soldiers are the policemen who arrest and beat up young Aboriginals, when a warning would have been issued for anyone else. In Australia, the bullets are the lower levels of education and employment, the poorer health, the shorter life expectancies, the higher rates of mental health issues and suicide, the higher percentage of substance abuse, and the absurdly high numbers of child detention and incarceration. In the land that was once theirs, Indigenous Australians now only account for 3% of the population.

None of these problems would exist if my ancestors didn’t invade Australia. And the discrimination and identity crisis my boyfriend faces every day would not exist if Israel did not occupy Palestine. I don’t know if I can rightfully stand in solidarity with the Palestinians and Indigenous Australians when my present situation is thanks to a destruction of culture I benefit from, but didn’t witness. I can’t say if the world exists in contrasts of black and white, or shades of grey. What I see are the colours.

The author as the only woman in a restaurant full of men.

The reality of travelling in India as a woman

I have travelled to many countries as a solo female traveller. I’ve been in earthquakes, snowed in at an airport for three days, and followed by strangers. But the most challenging experience for me has been dealing with the men in India. I have never felt more vulnerable simply to be a woman, and a white woman at that. Every day my strength and patience are tested as Indian men do the things I despise as a woman, am appalled at as a feminist, and have never experienced personally until now. Here is my story of being a white woman in India.

I had been to India twice as a child, when I was 10 and 12. I have vague memories of those trips, but one always stood out. In the later trip, my parents and I were staying with a local family in a town called Navadeep. The family had a son, who was a few years older than me and took a liking to me. I was small, pale with freckles and had golden-brown hair. I remember him taking me up to their rooftop and asking me to sit on his lap. As a twelve-year old, I was completely naive to what sexuality was, and complied. Although nothing else happened, I wish I could go back in time to stop my younger self from unknowingly participating in this boy’s fantasies.

I came back to India 12 years later, as a 24 year old. Still small, pale and freckled, still the object of Indian men’s desires, but this time not a naive child. I had already travelled solo in Vietnam, Nepal and Scotland, as well as travelling to many other countries with friends and now ex boyfriends. My dad, who lived in Delhi for five years, told me that India was a very different story to the other countries in Asia. I took heed of his advice, and prepared my backpack, bought my tickets and set off to the land of spices and elephants. And stares.

Nothing could have prepared me for the stares. Wherever I go in India, men stare at me. Not a glance, like I am used to in Australia. The men here will continue staring at me until I am out of their sight, even if that means turning their heads like owls to look back at me. This doesn’t depend on the clothes I wear; most of the time I cover my shoulders and knees. But it doesn’t stop at staring.

Another intrusive behaviour Indian men have is to ask to take selfies with you. In Goa, when I would walk down the beach (in clothes), many Indian tourists would approach me, with their camera already facing me, and ask for a selfie. When I declined, they would get defensive and offended. When I asked why they wanted the photos, I never got a sufficient answer. I have a few ideas about what they do with the photos, and I don’t want to be any part of it. There were a few instances when the photo was taken without my permission, and one man even grabbed me and hugged me from behind while I struggled to get away from him. He and his friends laughed and took photos.

In another instance, my boyfriend and I were sitting in a restaurant booth when an Indian man sat across from me in our booth and proceeded to stare straight at me, grinning. I shook my head to decline whatever he wanted, and my boyfriend told him to leave. He didn’t leave, and continued to grin at me. We told him again and again to leave, as we were eating our dinner. After a few minutes, when my boyfriend was nearly ready to fight the man, a waiter came and told the man to leave. Even though I repeatedly told him to leave, he stayed. My consent meant nothing to him.

 

I have asked many of my Indian friends why Indian men exhibit sexist, intrusive behaviour and forms of harassment, and why this is accepted. And to be honest, none of the answers I have received are good enough. A few excuses include the fact that it is rare for these men to see white women, or they don’t see staring as something invasive and unwanted, or they are sexually frustrated because of the sex after marriage structure of their society.

I live in Australia, where women’s rights are at the forefront of social discourse. The standards of male behaviour in society are generally acceptable, and it is not common for me to feel unsafe because of men in Australia. Of course, when alcohol, solitude, and night are involved, it’s a different story, but this is the case everywhere. The general atmosphere of women’s safety and support in Australia is strong. To come from this environment to one where I am viewed as the lesser sex and an outlet for men’s desires is hard to reconcile. 

It seems like this behaviour is the consequence of a patriarchal, misogynist society that has normalised sexual harassment – even more so towards white or other coloured foreign women. This may be due to the effect the media has had on the collective male consciousness, wherein the sexualisation of women in the media has come to mean that foreign women are seen as objects for sex without the right to consent. This doesn’t have to involve physical touch – staring at a woman’s body without her permission, beyond the point of what is acceptable, after she has made it clear that she doesn’t want you to do so by not engaging with you, is a form of sexual harassment.

I’d like to kid myself into believing this isn’t the case. But I’m not a naive 12 year old anymore, and if this doesn’t speak for anything then the statistics of sexual harassment and rape in India do. Travelling in India is still a wonderful experience and shows you the beautiful – and ugly – sides of humanity. I travel to learn about the world, not to be comfortable. And India has definitely taught me some lessons.

 

How to live in India on a very tight budget

I came to India two months ago with no plans and almost no money in my bank account. Now, I’m living in a house with my boyfriend, with a comfortable lifestyle and almost no income. How do we do it? There are a number of ways we are able to survive without selling our souls to money.

  1. Make food at home 

Very quickly into my trip I noticed how much money I was spending on food. Even though it’s dirt cheap compared to prices at home, everything is relative over here. If you want to start saving money, you have to think of expenses relative to the costs in India. Sometimes, if you’re staying in a hostel, you won’t have the chance to cook in a kitchen. But if you do, make the most of it! Plus, it’s a great opportunity to practice your skills at making local food.

     2. Eat at local restaurants

In India, the prices for tourists inflate to twice or triple the local prices, even if you’re told you’re getting a good price. This goes for food too. When you’re travelling, do as the locals do! Eat the specialties of the area. Go to the small, local restaurants where you can see locals eating. It might not be as fancy as a tourist restaurant, but the food will be half the price and more delicious.

  1. Don’t drink alcohol

This point might not be a popular one, but it’s the truth. Alcohol is expensive, and if you make drinking it a regular habit, you’re going to spend a lot of money on it. If you’re a long term traveller who is serious about saving money, this will save you a considerable amount. If you’re really bent on drinking, go for spirits over beer or buy in bulk.

  1. Don’t stay in hostels

Although you may not be in the position to stay in one place for an extended period of time, I found that renting a house with my boyfriend for one month cut my accommodation costs dramatically. When I was staying in a hostel, I was paying 400 Rs per day for my own bed and a shared bathroom (and a roommate who snored). Now, my boyfriend and I are paying 250 Rs a day each for our house (15,000 Rs per month) which has a bathroom, kitchen, garden, living room, and best of all, privacy!

  1. Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to gain knowledge, meet people and save some money. There is a plethora of volunteering opportunities in India; just decide on your area of interest and go from there. Through volunteering you may be offered free meals throughout the day (like I was when I volunteered at an international primary school for a few weeks) or accommodation (like my boyfriend when he volunteered at a hostel), or both!

  1. Trade your skills

Money isn’t the only form of currency. Trading your skills is another brilliant way to exchange your time or services and get something in return. For example, a friend of mine is a master in remedial massage, another friend is a talented musician, and another is a woodcarver. All three trade their knowledge with other people and get something in return, and all they have to do is teach others the thing they love. Sounds good to me.

  1. Sell your skills

If you’ve got a skill that you can make money from, don’t be shy. Advertise yourself! You never know what other travellers might need. Web design, hair cutting, ukulele lessons, or even just busking on the street – give it a try, you have nothing to lose. Stick up some posters around town, advertise on your local community page, make friends and let them know what you offer. You might be surprised.

  1. Work online

Travelling is no longer an obstacle for reaching the internet. In India, the internet speeds are sometimes faster than Australia. Buy yourself a 4G SIM card, or use the Wifi at a cafe or your hostel. The internet is everywhere, and you can make good use of it. Whatever skills you have, use them. My boyfriend does computer programming for clients online, and I do freelance writing. If you can make money through blogging, Youtube tutorials, business online, anything, do it!

  1. Spend your money wisely

This one is pretty straightforward, but still worth mentioning. Spend your money on necessities and make it last. Don’t buy things that aren’t essential to your survival and comfort; for example, new clothes or touristy trinkets aren’t really going to make your life better, but if you want to start doing yoga, invest in a yoga mat. In order to survive, you need to be happy; don’t deprive yourself of all creature comforts, but make smart decisions.

  1. Choose the cheapest transport

If you’re living somewhere and need to rent a scooter or motorbike, it’s best to rent it for long term as this is always cheaper. If you’re travelling around, always get the local bus or ride in third class on the trains. It might not be as comfortable as the tourist transport (and you won’t get air-con), but you’ll save a lot of money and you’ll have a more authentic travelling experience.

  1. Make friends with the locals

Make friends everywhere you go, or engage in conversation with a stranger sitting next to you (if you feel safe to do so). You will be surprised at how much useful knowledge you will gain from being friends with the locals – they know all the tricks and corners to cut. As well as showing you ways to save money by acting like a local, you will also understand the culture and people around you more. Absorb yourself in the culture and ways of the people around you, and you will be rewarded in more ways than just saving money.

  1. Learn to haggle

This is so important in India. As I mentioned before, no matter what shopkeepers tell you, the first price they offer is always double the price they will settle on. I repeat: the first price you are offered is always double the price you can get. Learn to haggle. Watch others doing it, learn methods from your local friends. And don’t feel bad about haggling; this is how people do business in India, and if you end up compromising on a price, all you’re doing is losing money. It’s harsh, but true.

If you follow these twelve points, you should be able to survive anywhere in the world with very little money. Happy saving!

At sunset: six stories

sunset

[Read this as six connecting or independent paragraphs]

At this time of day, the shadows begin to grow. The sky loses its piercing blue and fades into a milky hue smudged with smog. In the distance, low hills line the horizon. Before them lie houses in the distance surrounded by seas of palm trees. And before these, the fields divided by low brick walls are charred black.

The farmers who live on this land were preceded by their ancestors, who tended these same fields with care. Their ancient methods of landcare have not gone unremembered, and in the dry season they remove the grass on these pieces of land by lighting the earth on fire. With flames licking up to their balconies, the farmers encourage these fires to eat anything in its way until all that is left on the land is charred and dead.

The pilgrimaging cow herds that amble through these fields on their daily searches for food pause along the way, pushing their noses into piles of discarded building materials or burnt bushes in hope of something edible. When they have proven unlucky and every member of the herd has moved on, the leader, protector, who stands behind them watching , head held high and crowned with horns, finally leaves too.

Honks and beeps can be heard echoing against the mountains as daily life continues in the town. Other noises can be heard more clearly out here too, like the clanking sound of glass bottles being transported in the same container, someone hammering steadily, the voice of the old mataji conversing with her neighbour over their compound walls, the call of a murder of crows that hover over some unseen prey, the high pitched tweet from other birds, the rumble or whine of a motorbike.

The seasons here are polar opposites. Now, in the dry season, shades of brown and dark green paint the landscape. Many trees are skeletal from fire or thirst. The streets are full of people on motorbikes, scooters, in cars, walking, shopping, eating, laughing, watching, in the night the lights turn on and there is music, dancing, dinner, the drum circle, talking, loving, sleeping. The nights are cool and the days are hot.

I imagine the wet season, with vibrant trees and a landscape bursting with green, rain quenching the land, the sky grey and fertile, the croaking of frogs, the silence of the night and the absence of beeping, honking, talking, eating, crowds of people, motorbikes, scooters and cars, the water gushing in rivulets through the fields as tiny green sprouts push through the soil. Cleansing, regrowth, renewal. Isn’t it humbling when humans are forced to retreat under the power of nature’s might?