A Desert Love Song #2

Something strange happened last night.  It is similar to what happened during the earthquakes where I didn’t react quite the way I expected to.  It 20140807_174210may be linked to a kind of new post earthquake perspective…what my guru mum would call having a cosmic perspective.  I got the letter from the BH Regional Art Gallery telling me that my Desert Walking Gown had unfortunately not been selected as a finalist for the 2015 Outback Open Art Prize.

I didn’t cry. This is weird. I felt very disappointed but, and maybe at 54 this shows progress, I didn’t go straight to what Pema Chodron describes as the storyline. I just stood quietly for a little while and felt disappointed, really felt it; noticed the feeling in my body without fighting it, and then noticed that I couldn’t actually make myself feel disappointed for any longer.  The20140808_172013 stronger feeling was one of accomplishment and joy and happiness.  The fact that it wasn’t selected didn’t make it feel like any less of a love song.  And my darling husband is so excited about the challenge of transporting it 1100km. He loves a good transportation challenge and I am always sure to give him plenty!

The other thing that helped was looking at the list of finalists. Omygoodness! There are some very talented artists there and for 20140809_085837anyone in the area when the Exhibition is on (July to August/ September), it will be one to savour!!!!

I have some music playing on random as I type and serendipitously, a WOMAD discovery that has been on high rotation post earthquake is playing. Wrap your ears around The Gloaming….

PS darling Ana, is it OK to use your gorgeous photos for this post?

A Desert Love Song

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Photo from mgnsw.org.au

The year I arrived in Broken Hill Janine Mackintosh of Kangaroo Island won the Outback Art Prize which is held annually at my beloved Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery.  Her work, Droughts and Flooding Rains, was a mandala composed of stitched twigs. It was one of my favourites as well as the one the judge selected.

Rick Ball

Photograph from rick ball.com.au

Each year artists are invited to submit work in any media which reflects the spirit and diversity of the Australian Outback. Finalists are selected for the exhibition by a committee and three prizewinners are selected by a visiting judge. In 2012 my lovely friend Rick Ball won with his powerful work The Land-Broken Hill and Darling River. Ian Tully’s prize winning entry Personal Mobile Broadband Satellite Receiver in 2013 was

From guild house.org.au

From guild house.org.au

controversial and I would have bought elements of Liz Butler’s Lines of Demarcation in 2014 but couldn’t as it is an acquisitive prize and the work is now owned in its entirety by the Gallery.

In less than 12 months of outback living I was enthralled by the spirit and diversity of the place. Long regular walks in the bush, picnics in creek beds, visits to Mutawintji were all sewing the seeds of my own response to the desert.

In late 2014 we knew we would be leaving the Hill, and I knew that it was now orDSCN1078 never.  The piece that had been gestating for over two years, loitering in notebooks, littering the house with its potential accumulations, had to be made.  And so, over seven months, the Desert Walking Gown emerged. And that meant making hundreds of paper thin polymer gum leaves and stitching them onto a cape by hand.  It meant making and collecting countless bones and pods.  It 88663747000E6C573meant gratefully accepting the offering of a dead emu who no longer needed all her feathers.

It felt like a ritual.  It felt like a reflection on my time here, discovering the beauty and harshness of this country, responding to the depth and dignity of the-19746920664B712B76 landscape.  Learning to love a place that wasn’t Nepal.  As my labour became more intense over the past  last weeks, it has felt more special.

I don’t know whether my Desert Walking Gown has been accepted for the -8316649256D301D7Exhibition. I will be euphoric if it is selected. (And, if I am honest, disappointed if it isn’t) But it has been a wonderful experience making it. It has felt very vulnerable, very congruent, very authentic.  I can’t sing. This is my love song to the outback.

Firsts and Lasts

The Broken Hill lasts are starting.  With only a month remaining here in this town I have grown to love, I am experiencing the This is the last time I will…. phase.  DSCN1493Sunday was my last class as a resident teacher and it has to be said that I have been spoiled here.  I reckon that my students on Broken Hill are up there with the best. They are so enthusiastic, committed, encouraging, brave(!) and patient.  We have lots of fun, lots of laughs and I am constantly inspired by what they make.

I try to make my classes enjoyable for those who like to learn a technique AND forDSCN1488 those who would just love to finish something. And preferable wear it! And underneath it all is my passionate conviction that each and every one of us is creative. Each class member receives a little card with a hand written message about creativity (selected by the universe!) and we share these at the start.  So often, people have said that a message was spot on for them.  (Read what gorgeous Deb said about her message from Neil Gaiman* here).

DSCN1476Last week we had a bloke come to the Fantastic Fold class (with Lamingtons!) and he produced a very fetching snake, cufflinks, a brooch to be and a room full of admirers.  The rest of us made bracelets, cuffDSCN1472 bangles and a wide array of beads.

My regulars wanted to learn how to make little figures like some of my Ladies of Colour and that was what we did yesterday. It was the first time I had taught these to this group.  To any group!  They produced gorgeous girls of colour, verve and chutzpah, just like them! Because it was my last class here for a while we finished with champers and nibbles.  Thanks to the ever patient Ian for kicking us off and so faithfully letting me in so I didn’t ever have to set off alarms.  (I have DSCN1486done this in the past and consequently have a wee phobia about.)

These Broken Hill polymeristas have so much drive, talent and a sense of fun so I do hope that they continue with their addiction. I sense they will!

*Neil Gaiman’s words about mistakes are some of my favourites. At least one person gets them each class:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying newDSCN1495 things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

DSCN1490So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

 

The one about the girl on the rock

Yesterday, Knows-a-thing-or-two-Wendy suggested a walk in the bush. As often Sign Nine Milehappens when Knows-a-thing-or-two-Wendy makes a suggestion, there was resistance. To-Do-Wendy pointed out all the other things that were more pressing. Couldn’t-be-bothered Wendy…couldn’t be bothered. Earthquake-survivor-Wendy (she’s a new one) had concerns about the possibility of the earth moving out there without anyone knowing where she was. But Knows-a-thing-or-two Wendy played her trump card.  There is something out there just for you she said.

At that, Needing-Found-Objects-for-the-latest-creation Wendy laced up everyone’sNine Mile 1 runners and said Let’s go.

It’s been a month since I was in Nepal running out of buildings. I ran from the Samunnat building at least 6 times over 3 days and lost count of how many times we ran from Kopila’s house. We slept on the ground. I slept in hearing aids!

The overwhelming sense for me was there is absolutely NOTHING I can do. Yes, I Nine Mile Rockcould run from the building (and I do know there’s some debate about the wisdom of this but I wasn’t going to risk being crushed) but even that didn’t guarantee I would not be knocked out by debris or swallowed up by cracks that we feared would appear in our safe haven paddy. We could do nothing except try to balance, hold one another and wait for the earth to stop pitching. And we did this several times.

The first earthquake was unexpected. With all the aftershocks there was fear plus the effects of lack of sleep and sustained hyper vigilance.  We had a cup of water on the table, watching for any signs that we needed to down tools and run. Some watched the endlessly repeated images of collapsing buildings or grieving families. Others circulated the rumours, the horrible, horrible rumours of the next massive quake…it will be at 7.00, or be centred at Ilam or will measure over 9 on the Richter scale.

There’s nothing like a good rumour to add to the tension.

I became the sour faced Yes, there may well be another one but we don’t know when girl. Like that helped.

I feel fragile. Arriving home before the second spate of earthquakes I felt guilty.Roos Events are BE* or AE*. I note the time elapsed since the earthquake. Friends report that I startle easily and I flinch at rumbling trucks or certain musical beats. I don’t sleep well and it still occurs to me that an earthquake might happen while I’m in the shower.  I reflected on all this as I walked in the ancient, scrubby country I’ve grown to love. Every now and then I’d wander up a rough roo track searching for the something I knew I’d find. Eventually, the sun broke through glowering clouds and I sat on a rock and thought I’m going to cry. But I didn’t.

Instead, I did find something…a sense of peace about how I am now. I know it is not normal normal. But two well-timed emails from others who’d had a similar experience (one far worse!) helped me to see that it is normal considering what’s happened.   I know things will improve. They already are. I slept better last night. Maybe soon I’ll get back to emails…..

*Before the Earthquake/ After the Earthquake

 

Full moon rising

Last night, lying under my mosquito net and an energetic overhead fan, I watched as a beautiful The Danu Sherpa and Higgins familiespurnima, full moon rose outside my window.  I reflected on the fact that it is just under 40 years since my first trip to this country when I travelled as a teenager trekking with my adventurous parents and sister. In astonishing flared jeans.  I’d really just wanted to go to Norah Head again to swim!

Instead, we trekked from Pokhara because at that stage there was no road beyond it, and I fell in love with this place. I came back to Australia, read weighty Nepali anthropological tomes by Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf and determined to live here one day.  Which I did eventually and still do…albeit intermittently.

It is now the very small hours of the morning on May 4.  In a few hours I will begin my journey back to broken Kathmandu and, all things being equal, home.  The new normal. Yesterday, I farewelled the incredible ladies with whose lives mine has become so intertwined.  We cried, we laughed, weOur lovely Sherpanis planned. We discussed the marvel of having a husband (in my case!) who cooks and cleans and encourages from afar. Aphle pakaune!  We discussed hot flushes, recipes, internal organs, and looked at videos of mero natini, Zoe.  We ate sweets and we talked about courage, about doing things even when you are scared. About being open, awake and strong and we talked again about a quote by Frank L. Baum my mum sent me earlier in the week:

All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces            danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.

So, in these wee small hours, nothing profound, just deep joy to be alive.

 

Nepalis aren’t just sitting and waiting

I lived in Nepal for nearly four years and continue to visit for months each year. I’ve been here in eastern Nepal through the earthquakes and the initial response. This part of the country has not been devastated but people have been extremely scared and very saddened by what has happened elsewhere. We have mostly had an internet connection and have been able to follow the coverage from Australia and around the world. And I must say, it has concerned me. I almost felt physically ill when I read about Hugh Sheridan and a film crew flying over for the celebrity reunion. And I am concerned about the message people are getting. Australians could be forgiven for thinking that Nepalis are sitting hopelessly, waiting for international aid to save them under a government that is corrupt and obstructive. This is not true.

At one level Nepal was not prepared for the earthquake, but at another level, Nepalis are very well prepared. As another Australian in Nepal, Steve, wrote to me:

The Nepali people are resourceful people… They normally live with a poor electricity supply… They live with an overwhelmed mobile phone system and intermittent internet – they are used to gas shortages, bus strikes, monsoon rains, bad roads, noisy streets and hard beds. They don’t ‘tolerate’ these things, they simply live like this. Before there was any earthquake to make things bad – they already lived like this. They live like this and rarely complain, rarely get angry. The water supply dries up regularly, the drains block regularly, the monsoon stretches everyone in every direction. But this is all normal for them. Sharing a bed is not rare. Sleeping on the floor is common. Making do, when things don’t work out is normal daily living. There is nowhere in the world that I have been that is better prepared for an earthquake than Nepal.

Let me tell you what has been really happening in eastern Nepal.

Very poor people are being very generous. Where I work, women overcoming poverty and violence are donating everything they can. Their cooperative is donating thousands of rupees. Instead of getting frustrated about international donations of food and supplies getting stuck at the airport due to Customs processing, people are doing it themselves. Within days, my Nepali bhai Binod and friends had collected money, contacted locals on the ground, found out what was required, bought it and delivered it. 250 tents went to Gorkha. Food parcels and blankets to Kavre. Tomorrow, he and friends are travelling on a truck loaded with family food parcels. Not impractical things but 25kg bags of rice, sugar, salt, oil, chura (beaten rice) and biscuits. Their food parcels are what the locals want and know how to use. Not tuna fish and mayonnaise. The trucks and relief vehicles will go to the track heads, as far as they can. They are being met by locals, often part of JCI or Rotary groups, who then take them, on foot if necessary, to where they need to go. Targeted locations. People know they were sent and know they are coming. The people in unaffected areas buy the stuff and the people in affected areas tell them what they want. Then they deliver.

These stories are happening all over Nepal.

Any of us who have lived here know that Nepalis are extremely resourceful people. The scale of this disaster is huge and shattering. But the problems are not unknown here and the country has been through this before. They are not solely dependent on foreign governments and international aid organisations to bail them out. They don’t need unorganised volunteers and foreign media taking up seats on helicopters and using precious time and resources. They don’t need rescue and aid efforts that are driven by what outsiders want to supply rather than what they need. These things are delivered best by using existing networks and the considerable local knowledge of local people. I have seen how Nepalis can mobilise and work things out in a crisis – and that is what many Nepalis are doing right now.

Earthquake links

People may like to read this great article about lessons learnt after Haiti and here is one suggestion from an organisation Mal and I are consistently impressed by and trust.

We are still safe here in Birtamod. I grieve for Nepal but have a sense that while devastating, it could have been much worse.  The trip home may be…um…interesting. And when I am in Broken Hill again, forgive me if it takes a while to realise I don’t have to run from the room at the 6.45 blasts.

Earthquake

This is a very sad and hard post to write and I am writing it in case people are checking in here to see that I am OK and that my darling friends and family over here are safe. First of all, yes we are. We were terribly frightened here in the east and can only begin to imagine how much more terrifying it must have been closer to the epicentre. We experienced two major quakes which caused power poles to sway and we all ran out of the building where we were working. Some of the ladies here must have supersonic quake detectors and we were out of that building faster than you can imagine. At the first mere rumble, which could have been a bike going past, two or three shouted Earthquake to the rest of us and we were downstairs and out.  With the people from all the houses around us, we watched and waited. People texting and messaging to see what was happening and where the epicentre was.

It felt like being on a ship in really rough seas and seemed to go on for a long time but obviously was shorter than it felt! We returned to work after the first quake but after the second one, every one was too jumpy and nervous so we all went home to watch the tragedy unfold.  People wanted to be with their families if anything else happened.

Last night, we put off going to bed in a way.  Some watched the news in horror. Kopila and I tried to busy ourselves with things that needed to be done, orders to write up, talks to prepare, anything to put off going to bed and waiting. We kept reading the Samunnat Facebook page and all the messages of love and support. Cried. We all slept downstairs, piling into two rooms. And this morning, there was that initial sense of Was that a nightmare? and then the horrible reality that in this country I love so much, there is so much loss of life and destruction. The death toll is 1500 and rising and magnificent history crumbled and lost.

I must confess that I am glad I am not heading to Kathmandu immediately.  In both the office building and the home here, we have an open field opposite and are not surrounded by high buildings. We will work today. Government offices will be shut for three days but the thought of sitting around fearfully waiting, as one of our supporters on email aptly described it, is too awful. We will keep going and just hope that recovery can be underway soon.

Thank you everyone for caring.

My Big Fat Nepali Wedding

In the past year, I’ve been to three weddings. Two were for for my darling girls and two took place within three weeks. The contrast between these latest two, one in Beautiful girlsAustralia and one in Nepal, was huge.  My daughters’ weddings were relatively small, joyful events which were times of celebration and connection. I was often asked how I was coping with the stress of being mother of the bride and I had to answer truthfully. There was none. No stress.  These girls were their usual delightful selves throughout the whole process. I think they had taken to heart their father’s oft repeated observation that sometimes the length of a marriage is inversely proportional to theShwarm elaborateness of wedding preparations.

Also, they had managed to find delightful blokes to marry without me having to arrange it! In Nepal, the majority of marriages are still most definitely arranged. There is a degree to which a young person can vet a parent’s choice but, especially if you are a woman, too many knock backs and you are in trouble.  And if you are a woman whose engagement is broken (for whatever reason)…well, there go your prospects for marriage.  It was good that this was not the Tikkacase in Australia 31 or so years ago.

A Nepali wedding is a horse of a different colour entirely.  Some observations:

1. Three days of a wedding is verging on too much of a good thing. And I only went in the afternoon/ evenings.

2. The women really know how to dress for a wedding. It was  feast of colour and spangles. Magnificent.  And, for all shapes and sizes and ages, saris truly have to be among the most flattering garments on this earth.

3. A Nepali wedding car is a joy to see. Real flowers and led by a group of joyously dancing female relatives

4. For a significantly deaf woman with limited Nepali language skills, 400 guests in a marquee with loud music was a big noisycar challenging communication setting. Best to just dance.

5. Dancing in pre monsoonal Nepal is akin to Bikram yoga.  Except that you may be wearing a sari or velvet and jewel encrusted fabric.

6. An Australian woman of a certain age dancing enthusiastically at a Nepali wedding brings great joy to many. One small sweaty action can bring mirth and delight and result in more dancing invitations than age and temperature allowed.  (Bring on those Canberra Bollywood dancing classes!!)

7. Many of the rituals centre around welcoming the new daughter in law into the matrimonial home. She is required to serve the large extended family a meal and then has ceremonial introductions to the storerooms, the kitchen equipment (like the grinding stone) and the family mandir (temple) where her regular worship will ensure the sustained good fortune of the family.  To a considerable extent, much of her happiness depends not on her husband (who may head off to Kuwait as a labourer although not in this case) but her mother in law.

8. It was a joy and privilege to be a part of all these weddings but especially the ones at home! And clearly, I am wildly biased!

PS I haven’t got good enough connection to upload my little video to You Tube but will do soon!!

 

Happy New Year 2072

Tuesday was New Year’s Day and we, like most of Nepal it seemed, decided to go Dharanto Bhedetar, a ridge town north of my old home town of Dharan.  We drove but everyone else was on motorbikes. Most of them on the one bike.

We went to Hotel Arun Valley which used to be one ofSelfie stick  few hotels and lodges on the ridge but is now one of many. In November, you can get views of Kanchendzonga and Makalu (even a glimpse of Everest on a good day) but we went to Selfie 2enjoy the food and get views of several thousand motorbikes.  IT was also an excellent place for my darling hosts to take a few (hundred?) selfies with their new selfie stick.

After snacks we had lunch. Some of us thought the snacks were lunch and goodNYD food golly, you’d think we’d have had that one sorted by now but the snacks seemed so…extensive. Anyway, we ate our lunch and our snacks and then headed up the road to Namje which used to be a tiny little ridge town further up a very poor road.  Now it is a rapidly growing ridge town up a slightly better road. The attraction there was the atma basne gau.  The place where the spirit rests.  A beautiful place Laliguransof Nepal’s national flower, the laligurans (rhododendron).  It was also the place of many people attempting to walk up a path in ridiculously high shoes.

Two more highlights were coming home via Dharan whereMushrooms we lived for four years and going to my beloved veggie line.  We bought mushrooms, chillies, saag and limes.  Here was one place where not too much had changed.  The other was swinging into the Gurkha Department with several Chilliesthousand others.  I bought some tonic (unavailable in Birtamod) to go with my Blue Riband gin. As it turned out, by the time we reached home I rather needed the drink.

To you all, Happy New Year and may 2072 bring health, happiness and joy.