Tuesday, 31 August 2010

day 21: sleep

each day i've been adding a paragraph at the bottom of my posts listing groups or organisations people could support in relation to the topic i'd been covering. obviously this adds up to a big long list, and there's still more to come. i look back at these causes myself, and think how each one is worthy of my support. but of course it's not possible to support each and every one.

that's the thing with thinking about privilege. once you really set out to think about it, the problems are so varied and so many that it all seems overwhelming. and for our own peace of mind and the need to function effectively every day, we end up putting these things in the back of our minds. and i know the dangers of doing too much, because i've ended up feeling pretty burnt out over the last year or so. i guess the trick is to find that happy medium of doing enough but not too much, of caring but not caring so much that you become unable to function. i'd love to give you some advice as to how to find that happy medium, but i'm still looking! i'll let you know when i get there, if i ever get there.

the topic for today is dear to my heart: sleep. when i'm asked what my favourite activity is, i invariably answer "sleep". this isn't just out of laziness (though that may well play a part) but it's because i'm notoriously bad at sleeping, and the slightest thing will wake me up. i have trouble going to sleep & i have trouble staying asleep. a stretch of 4 hours sleeping without waking is an unusual occurrence for me.

in fact, to tell the truth, i can't remember the last time i woke up after a night of sleep and felt refreshed. many days i feel almost as tired as when i went to bed. other days, i feel much less tired, but just not fresh & ready to face the day. i'm almost always dragging myself out of bed.

still, i'm doing much better with sleep now than i've done in the past. i remember when i went through a period of many months when i was averaging 3-4 hours sleep a night, sometimes less and sometimes a little bit more. i'd lie awake most of the night in frustration, eyes wide open & thoughts scrambling around in my head at hundred miles an hour. i've tried herbal sleeping tablets, i've even had some more serious stuff for short periods, but have been managing without anything at all for some years now.

being without sleep just makes everything so much harder. concentrating at work becomes a struggle, and any work that requires complex problem-solving becomes almost impossible. relationships get strained because lack of sleep means a short fuse and quickness to irritation and anger. when i'm extremely tired, i'm less interested in being around people and having to make the effort to have a conversation when i'd much rather just not think at all. i remember days when i used to be so tired that i could hardly sit up straight at work, and every few minutes have to put my head down on the desk.

it would be fair to say that sleep and me have an uneasy relationship, but it is improving. i find going to bed late really helps. if i go to sleep early (say 10pm), i will almost definitely wake up around 2am and that will be about it for the night. reading myself to sleep also helps. i've also stopped all coffee and tea drinking, which seems to help.

sleep is such an essential part of our lives that sleep deprivation is one of the most effective torture techniques. it is also a tool of war, used in the iraqi invasion of 2002 and has also been used in gaza, with constant shelling ensuring that a significant portion of the population gets no rest. lack of sleep is also associated with various physical and mental illnesses.

so if you are one of those people who gets to sleep easily and who stays asleep all night and who wakes up feeling rested, that is a huge privilege. not only does it mean that you're not living in a war zone, but also that you're not living in a poor suburb with a train station or airport nearby, nor near noisy factories, bars or heavy traffic. you're unlikely to be living in a situation of overcrowding, nor suffering from ill health.

it's also likely that you have a roof over your head, a decent bed and enough blankets to keep you warm, or a fan/airconditioner to keep you cool in extreme heat. it's pretty likely that you aren't suffering from severe stress such as the death of someone close to you or a serious accident. it's unlikely that you're suffering from abuse or severe harassment. it is likely that you've had enough food during the day.

there are a couple of groups that support poor sleepers (i should probably get in touch with one of them, and i would if i wasn't so tired!). there is the narcolepsy support group, and the sleep apnoea association. this depression support group would probably also be helpful. as is the one advertised by john kirwan.

if you are a person who has trouble sleeping for any of the reasons i've mentioned above or others i haven't been able to think of, then my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Monday, 30 August 2010

day 20: mobility

twenty days gone! i can hardly believe the month has gone by so fast, with two-thirds now over. for muslims, the final 10 of days of ramadan have a higher spiritual significance which involves a greater emphasis on prayer. i'm hoping that i can manage to continue with my blogging, because there are still some important topics i'd like to cover.

just a quick community notice: some of you may have watched the "sunday" programme which covered the alleged selling of illegal drugs at the hamilton mosque. the programme itself was a fail for so many reasons, which i may cover another time. but in any case, the somali community in hamilton is organising a public meeting to respond to these allegations at 1.30pm on 3 sept, at the waikato migrant resource centre.

today's topic is mobility ie the ability to get from one place to another. it's something that we physically do ourselves or use other forms of transportation to achieve.

i really appreciate the ability to walk around myself, to be able to climb stairs, to be able jog and run. i've written several times, i'm sure, of having to deal with one of my daughters breaking a bone in her ankle a couple of years ago. it brought home to me the difficulties of life without mobility, and the inaccessibility of most nz homes.

mobility isn't just about going places, it's also about getting things done. while the internet has made life a lot easier for people who aren't able to be mobile - eg internet banking, shopping on line etc - there are still a lot of tasks that require mobility. simple things like cooking, cleaning, and bathing are made so much easier when you have full mobility.

driving is a key aspect of mobility. i'm really glad that my parents made sure i had my license by 17, and put the effort into ensuring i was a competent driver. being able to drive makes life so much easier, whether it's doing the shopping, getting the kids to school, visiting friends, going to the doctor, or any number of other things. at shama, we help women get their learner's license, and we know the isolation and difficulties caused by not being able to drive.

unfortunately, nz doesn't have wonderful public transport systems which makes it really difficult for those who can't drive. in fact, asia is much better in this regard, in the sense that you can generally get a rickshaw (aka tuktuk) at any street corner and hence get to the local markets or where ever you need to go locally. of course it means that you have to watch some poor soul lug you around, but on the other hand, if you don't use this mode of transport that same poor soul won't have money to feed his family (and no, i've never come across a female rickshaw driver, though i have come across some pitifully young boys). as i came up in the ethics post, moral judgements are rarely easy.

but back to public transport, because the system here is pretty poor, i'm really thankful that i have access to my own vehicle. it's a vehicle i don't have to share, so i can go where i want, when i want. i'm thankful that i can afford to maintain said vehicle, and can afford to fill it regularly with petrol. all of this represents a considerable amount of freedom and independence for me. i know i could and should make more of an effort with the public transport that is available, especially considering i have the personal mobility to do so. for me, time is the greatest barrier to taking advantage of public transport.

another aspect of mobility that is important to me is air travel. this is particularly a privilege, one that is entirely dependent on having the means to travel as well as the mobility. the countries that i have travelled to include australia (sydney, melbourne, adelaide, perth), malaysia (kuala lumpur, penang), singapore, thailand (bangkok), india (delhi, bombay, bangalore, jaipur, banaras & various villages), england (london, oxford, birmingham, canterbury), germany (braunschweig), france (paris, marseilles), turkey (istanbul), saudi arabia (mecca, medina, jeddah), united states (los angeles, honolulu), and canada (vancouver & saskatoon). i've also stopped over in transit (meaning i've never been beyond the airport) of tehran, brisbane & dubai.

that's quite a heap of places and a lot of wonderful experiences. i've seen the taj mahal, aya sofia & sultan ahmed mosque, the top kapi palace, the eiffel tower, the louvre, the opera house & darling harbour, freemantle, margaret river, the beautiful coral mosque at putra jaya & the shah alam mosque, the petronas towers, disney world in europe, buckingham palace, the tower of london, westminister abbey, and so much more. i was lucky to have parents that loved to travel, and i continued to travel after i left home. in my previous post about nature, i've mentioned the places i've visited in nz.

i think it's a huge privilege to have been to these places and experienced their culture, history, architecture, food and languages. there are still plenty of places i'd love to go, but i overseas travel of late has been to visit family rather than to visit places. and i know the former is much more important to me than the latter.

in terms of causes to support, there is the catwalk trust, and variety's mobility programme for kids. and of course there is ccs disability action.

for those who are hampered in their mobility in any way, and find this difficult to deal with, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

day 19: justice

this is another of those topics, though it doesn't appear so, that i'm thankful for in the negative sense ie i'm extremely thankful that i haven't had to interact with the justice system. i know that sounds like a pretty strange statement to make, so let me explain.

i'm extremely thankful that i've never been sued. a special and extremely heartfelt thanx goes to our predecessors who put in place the ACC system, which means that we have so much less litigation in this country, and yet people who have had accidents are supported. not all of them and not always very well, and the treatment of victims of sexual violence by ACC continues to be appalling. but in general, i much prefer the society we have than one where people live in fear of being sued.

i'm very happy to never had charges laid against me, and to have to go through the criminal justice system. i'm especially grateful for the fact that i've never been a suspect of a crime, so haven't had to sit through police interviews and have my private life and belongings rummaged through by the authorities as they seek to ascertain "the truth".

i am very glad that i haven't had to go to prison, nor even spend the night in a holding cell. i've never even been inside a prison, which means that none of my family or friends have been in prison either.

i'm even glad that i've been able to avoid police stations, other than to report burglaries for insurance purposes. in those cases, my interactions with the police have been positive, other times less so. but going into hamilton central police station isn't a fun experience, and i can only imagine what it must be like for people who have more serious issues to deal with.

i've never reported a serious crime, so haven't had to give evidence and face questioning in that regard from the police. i haven't had to go through a trial as the victim. the only time i've been in a court house, while in session, is when i had a summer job at the courts in hamilton, and they let me sit in on a case one morning just to see what it was like. i've been in the court of appeal when it was empty, and even climbed over the very high bench just so i could sit in the judge's chair. i'm seriously hoping that it wasn't caught on camera but really, i just couldn't resist the temptation! i've also had a tour of the district and high courts in hamilton, at said summer job, and yup, i sat on the judges chair then as well. what can i say, i have a warped mind & comments about delusions of grandeur will be allowed :) maybe i shouldn't mention here that i've also sat in the speaker's chair in parliament, the prime minister's seat - oops, too late!

i have had a couple of positive court experiences: going to see someone sworn in as a JP, and also being present when someone close to me was, well whatever you call that ceremony thing that lawyers do when they get admitted to the bar. those were really nice experiences.

but going back to being a victim interacting with the court process, i can only imagine what it's like to be grilled on the witness stand, to have to be in the same room as the defendant while that's happening, and to then possibly have to watch the defendant go free. like louise nicholas and so many others who have sought justice for sexual offences against themselves. that ms nicholas was not only able to survive her experience but went on to support other victims of rape & sexual violence is a tribute to her strength and courage.

i've never been called to be a witness in a trial of any kind. i think that this is a really good thing, because i can only imagine that it must be an extremely stressful thing to do. it is likely to mean that you have been witness to a crime, and it might be a quite horrific crime, so i'm thankful this hasn't happened to me. not only that, but i can't imagine that cross-examination is any fun at all, but then maybe i've watched too many legal dramas.

i've never even had to sit on a jury. i've been called for jury service many times, but my employers have always written to get me off it, except for one time. that one time, i went dutifully every morning, but was only called in to one trial. that trial was for some kind of sexual offence. however, i was challenged literally the second before i sat down, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. i can't imagine that experience would have been any fun either. which is not to say that i take jury service lightly - not at all. i consider it to be one of the highest civic duties, and am thankful for the many people who turn up and do their duty, some of them for pretty horrific cases that may take weeks. if i had to do it, i'd do it with good grace. i'm just thankful that i haven't yet had to.

in my career as an accountant, i could be sued for negligence or for giving the wrong advice. if i worked in auditing (which i did in the past but don't anymore), then i'd be at pretty high risk of being sued if i failed to pick up significant fraud or misstatement. professional liability insurance for accountants is extremely expensive, for auditors almost prohibitively so. this is why only the big firms do audits. because i'm an employee, my employer takes care of the professional liability insurance, and i can't be sued personally though my firm can. i am incredibly, extremely, deeply thankful that i have never been the cause of any legal action in my work as an accountant or auditor.

i'm grateful for the fact that i don't have to stress out about how i'm going to pay legal fees to defend myself. i'm really thankful that i've never had to go through the legal aid system, which i know something about having served on the legal aid review panel. i hate how the legal "aid" system is now actually a legal loan system, which is a barrier to justice in itself. if people know that they are going to be lumped with a huge loan, they are much less likely to seek justice. i also hate that you have to be extremely poor and have hardly any assets before you can even access legal aid.

on a related note, i hate that the justice system favours the rich, and a rich criminal will have access to much better legal representation than a poor person can ever hope for. this is one of the things that rankles me about the david bain case: the fact that he has received so much more access to justice than most nz'ers, because he was lucky enough to have a rich backer. it just highlights the inequality of our system. and i hate that sentences are harsher for poor people and people of colour.

if you have some spare time & money, you may wish to volunteer with victim support or rape prevention education. also useful is the prison fellowship. however, this looks like a christian-based organisation, so not sure how it works for followers of another or no religion. i'd also strongly recommend the howard league for penal reform, to strengthen the decent, humanitarian voices speaking out in the area of justice. i would have linked to the nz prisoners aid & rehabilitation society, except that this government killed an organisation of 51 years standing by cutting their funding.

for those of you who are having to interact with the justice system or the police, and are having to suffer in any way because of that, and for those who have been victims of crime, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

day 18: senses

one more thing about privilege is that we rarely notice we have it. we take so many of the everyday things in our lives so much for granted that we don't even stop to consider what life might be like without those things. or what the people who actually don't have them are going through every day. it's that lack of consciousness that is so often responsible for the cruelty which we mete out to others - most often thoughtless than malicious cruelty, but painful for those on the receiving end nonetheless.

so it's really our responsibility to raise our own level of awareness, to really spend time thinking about what it would be like to be without this, that or the other thing. it certainly isn't the responsibility of those who live without that particular aspect of privilege, because they are already suffering & don't need the burden of re-educating others as well.

today i wanted to consider the privilege that arises from the use of my 5 senses - sight, smell, sound, taste & touch. each gives my life depth, meaning and a range of experiences that enrich my existence. they work in harmony with each other, to make up the experiences of my life, and i'm thankful for each of them. however, i don't mean to say that anyone who doesn't have one or more of these senses can't have an extremely fulfilling life - more fulfilling than mine. i'm hoping i can write this post in a way that doesn't come across like that and sincerely apologise if i fail.

each of our senses is worth a post in itself, but since i have a lot of other things still to cover, i'm going to briefly run through all five of them here. but i'd encourage more reflection on each, both for myself and my readers, because every one of them is a wonder in itself.

let me start with sight, which allows me to appreciate colour and beauty, let's me see where i'm going and what i'm doing. my sight allows me to see my loved ones, to read books, watch movies and television. sight enables me to get full use from the internet, which also allows me to communicate with others. having full eyesight means i can drive a car, but i'll talk more about mobility another day.

smell has been both a positive and negative for me. the negative has been pretty brief though, and is mostly associated with pregnancy, a time when i could barely stand the smell of anything. not even perfume, which was frustrating because i loved perfumes until then and never left the house without a spray of one of the range of perfumes on my dressing table. after pregnancy, i the association of perfumes with nausea was so strong that i couldn't wear any for a long while. now i don't even have a dressing table, and haven't worn perfume in years.

but still, there are so many beautiful smells that i enjoy. fresh baking, and other yummy food smells. the smell of flowers, my favourite being jasmine closely followed by roses. the smell of newborn babies. even yucky smells have their purpose, warning us of dirt and therefore disease or some other danger.

hearing gives me so much pleasure. i'm much more selective in the music i listen to these days, and pretty much avoid pop music these days. but there are few things that satisfy the soul as a much as a beautiful piece of music, with moving or rousing lyrics. sound is also associated with speech and conversations, debate and discussion. it's one of our most important forms of communication, but made more powerful with the addition of sight. we communicate so much with body language & gestures when we speak, one informs the other.

and yet there is radio, which is sound without sight, and which is a very large part of my every day life. despite the wide range of media now available to us, i would hate to have a world without radio - which is why i enjoy being on the board that runs community radio hamilton.

the sweetest sound for me would definitely be the sound of children's laughter. i love to hear my own children laughing, but especially babies. i'm thinking about little ones around 8 months old who will find some little thing funny, and if you keep repeating that thing, they laugh every single time. it's a sound of pure joy and sweetest innocence. i can't think of any other sound that beats it.

taste is pretty much related to food, and i covered that here. taste involves both flavours and textures, and a whole range of sour, sweet & salty. i don't particularly cultivate taste like, for example, gourmands do but am still glad that i can appreciate a well-cooked meal and enjoy a range of tastes.

touch is one of the most under-rated of our senses i think. there is the ability to feel hot or cold, both of which are extremely important and potentially life-saving. there is the ability to feel pain, and i know someone who doesn't have that ability. for a child it is extremely dangerous, for an adult a little less so but still pretty risky. there is the ability to appreciate the smoothness of silk or marble, the richness of velvet, the crispness of cotton & linen, the freshness of water.

but most importantly, touch is one of the ways we express emotion and closeness to our fellow human beings. this is an integral part of our existence, and i recall a letter to the editor i read many, many years ago which was powerful enough to affect me to this day. i can't remember the exact wording, but it was by an elderly woman who wrote about the loss of touch that many people experience in their old age. usually, there is the death of a partner and much less interaction with other family members, which means that older people miss out on touching others. the way she wrote about how much she missed that physical human touch was really sad, and i don't think i've done justice to it at all here.

the sense of touch is the basis of our sexual experiences. many people live without that intimacy and suffer from the lack of it. those who are able to enjoy a fulfilling and respectful sexual relationship have much to be thankful for.

causes to support in this area are the foundation for the blind and deaf aotearoa. there's a whole range of support groups here. i'd also strongly recommend, if you have any elderly relations or friends, to take time to be with them and maybe give them a hug.

for those who struggle because they don't have the use of one or more of their senses, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Friday, 27 August 2010

day 17: disasters

tonight we had a little celebration at work to commemorate 10 years of my working there. i can't believe that 10 years has gone by so quickly. it's been a decade of some quite spectacular changes for me, and also some quite amazing experiences. 5 years ago i was sitting in the tvnz studio debating winston peters, three years before that i was wondering how i was going to get through each day. i've grown older with my children, i've travelled and i've been part of some wonderful organisations. 9 years ago, i started wearing the hijab. what i can say with confidence is that the last decade certainly hasn't been boring!

so, today's topic is one that i really couldn't find a one word summary for, mostly because it's to do with an absence of negatives. it sort of follows on from yesterday's topic, in which i marvelled at the beauty of nature. today i consider nature's fury, and am thankful that i am protected from it.

here in hamilton, we hardly ever have earthquakes. i can't even remember the last time we've had a tremor here. compare this to palmerston north & wellington, which would have the shakes at least every couple of months. i remember the first time i felt an earthquake when i lived in palmerston north. i was lying in bed, and i thought a car had slammed into the house. it hadn't occured to me that the ground could actually move like that.

we're extremely lucky that we haven't had to suffer the kind of awful earthquakes that have hit northern pakistan, china, iran and indonesia in recent years. we're lucky because, even when such earthquakes hit, they will have a much lesser impact because our building are designed with earthquakes in mind. i live in a country that is rich enough to be able to afford to have and enforce such standards for buildings.

because we don't live by the sea, we don't have to worry about tsunamis caused by earthquakes. i recall my reaction to a tsunami scare last year, which really brought home to me what it must have been like to live in indonesia, thailand, sri lanka or samoa when the big waves caused devastation in these countries.

we do live close to a river, but the waikato has never flooded in hamilton. i only ever remember it flooding up near huntly some years ago, otherwise it's a very tame river that gives us no problems but nourishes our land and provides us with our water supply. we never even have to fear the kind of floods that have hit pakistan, that regularly hit bangladesh and many other countries. even other parts of nz, particularly the east coast around gisborne suffer from floods which cause devastation but rarely death. we're safe even from that.

we have had drought in the waikato. we had a major one back in 2008, and the memory of that is so strong in my mind that i have never complained of rainy weather since then. nor can i ever agree with people who describe a rainy day as "terrible weather". rain is life. i still remember that awful tension in the air during the drought, which i fancifully think of as the stress of the plants thirsting for water. that might be silly, but i just seemed to feel it. i know the animals on the farms were definitely struggling, and there was absolutely no milk production in april & may of that year for any of my dairy farmer clients.

so i can only imagine how horrible it must be for areas that suffer drought for years on end. it's not just the lack of water but the resulting lack of food that causes devastation and stress, and eventually loss of life. our drought in the waikato was a survivable one, mainly because the dairy payout was a record $7.10 that year, so the farmers didn't suffer a loss of income. i know that other places aren't so lucky.

here in the waikato, we don't get devastating storms. we don't face the gale force winds that i've experienced in wellington, which literally blow you off your feet. we have had trees blown over and roofs blown off, but nothing that has led to loss of life or major damage. we don't get the tornados that plague parts of america. we've had thunderstorms, and i remember the spectacular one last year that saw 7,000 bolts of lightning in a couple of hours. i had to be driving through that, and i have rarely been so scared. but we all got home safe & sound, and nothing more than a few computers were damaged in the city that night.

we don't get hurricanes like the ones that devastate the pacific, the west indies, cuba and southern america. we've never had to suffer a situation like new orleans did in the aftermath of hurricane katrina.

it never snows in hamilton, so we never get stuck in our houses as a result of snow fall. the schools don't have to shut down and the roads don't ice over, making it treacherous to drive anywhere. of course this also means that we miss out on snow fights, snow sculptures & tobagganing. but as i mentioned yesterday, the snow is only about a 3 hour drive away if you're into that kind of thing.

we don't get extremes of temperature. 30 degrees celcius is an extremely hot day hear that has everyone complaining & turning on their fans. the humidity does actually make it very hot at lower temperatures, but we don't have to suffer the 40-50 degrees that you get in asia and the middle east. as to cold, it gets to about minus 2 degrees at its coldest, and then the dew freezes and we wake up to frost on the grass. but a frosty night will usually lead to a day time temperature of at least 12 degrees, so it's not too bad.

we've never suffered here from the raging forest fires that devastated new south wales recently. our forests can be at risk, but we've never had to face anything so devastating both to life, property & livelihood.

when it comes to natural disasters, i can't think of a much safer place to live than this one. i'm extremely grateful for this. despite the objections of an anonymous commenter yesterday, i'd strongly urge you to donate to pakistani flood victims, if you are able. oxfam is taking donations here, as is the red cross who have information here. if you're not able to do that, i'd certainly recommend volunteering with your local civil defence organisation, and also reading up the information on the ministry website about being prepared for emergencies.

for those who have suffered or are suffering as a result of a natural disaster, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

day 16: nature

i guess i had a burst of energy last night, and managed to get a bit more writing done. i also managed to put up this post at the hand mirror, mostly about how society reacts to things that don't conform to some kind of cultural norm. also i've updated yesterdays post to add women's refuge to the suggestions for positive action - duh, can't believe i forgot to do that yesterday. i guess i had too many thoughts running through my mind.

and to the anon that doesn't want to donate to pakistan, then don't. but please don't leave your nasty comments here, cos i'm not here to publicise your bigotry. it's really quite sad that this was the only response you had to all the issues i raised yesterday, but there you go. as i said in my first post, i don't believe in pity, but i'm seriously finding it hard to not feel sorry for you.

anyway, on to more positive things. today i'm focussing on natural beauty and the environment. i think all of us kiwis are just so lucky in that regard. we get to live in a beautiful, spacious country with spectacular scenery often within our cities and if not, then a short drive away.

i'm lucky to live a 5 minute walk away from the waikato river. we often go for walks down there in the summer. at one place when you're at the rivers edge, you can't see any of the houses and it's like you're not even in the city. it's tranquil, lush green and beautiful. there's a cliff on the opposite shore that adds interest, and some beautiful old trees.

if you walk towards the other direction, there's a lovely wooden walkway that's been constructed through the trees. in years gone by, i'd escape from the house with a book and go and sit by the river. it never failed to soothe a troubled mind, and an hour by the river would give me the strength to go back to face what ever was bothering me.

of course it's a pity that the river water is so polluted that it isn't safe to swim in. it breaks my heart to see that the natural beauty that is our heritage is not being protected as it should. at least environment waikato is taking the clean-up of lake taupo seriously, and that should have some flow-on effects. i also have hopes of the tanui settlement re the river bed, and am hopeful that this will also lead to some cleaning up of the river.

but even closer to home, i talked about my section and garden yesterday. i love the magnolias, the fuschias, the roses. and especially the bright magenta rhododendrons just outside my window. many of the sections in the neighbourhood are really lovely, especially one around the corner which has such a spectacular range of colours and is so beautifully laid out. i keep thinking that i want to knock on the door and thank the inhabitants for giving us this delight. i really should just do it.

i used to work in te awamutu some years ago, and i'd drive there from hamilton every day. it's such a beautiful drive, with some of the best kept farms you'll ever see. there's nothing like the rolling, velvety green hills of the waikato, some of the best dairying land in the country. i love that we have beaches to the east and west at not much more than an hour's drive away - raglan, waihi, mt maunganui. we have so many beautiful walks just out of the city, and of course the ecological island that is mt maungatautari.

we're also not too far away from the coromandel, lake taupo and the snowy peaks of mt ruapehu. there's also rotorua, little more than an hour away, with it's mud pools and beautiful lakes. seriously, i know that hamilton gets a bad rap from most of the country, but where else could you get such a variety of natural beauty in such a short distance?

a few years ago, i decided my girls should see more of the country of their birth, so we did a trip of the south island. i've seen it before, but it's stunning every time. from nelson to the glaciers, milford sound and queenstown, the mckenzie country and aorangi/mt cook, lake wanaka, the kapitit coast. every bit of it is wonderful.

the following year, we travelled up to the far north and had a look around pahia, russell, waitangi, kerikeri, katiai, cape reinga, dargaville, matauri bay. i really love this country, and it is a huge privilege to be here.

i remember quite some years back driving from perth to the margaret rive, in western australia. i just couldn't believe how brown the countryside was, with so few trees. looking at it with my kiwi eyes, i found it incredibly bleak. i've also done the drive from melbourne to adelaide, and again missed the lush greenery that we often take so much for granted here.

i love the seasons we have here. well, maybe not winter quite as much, but spring, summer & autumn, definitely. right now the spring blossoms are out, lining many of our hamilton streets. later it will be the summer flowers, then the yellow, reds and oranges of autumn. a 3 minute drive from my home will get me to the hamilton gardens, with its range of themed gardens. many summer evenings, we'll buy some subway and sit in the indian char bagh garden with the river on one side and the beautiful flowers on the other.

today i think of the people who live in places where there isn't much natural beauty to be found - whether it's the poorer neighbourhoods of a big city, an area suffering from lack of water or some other reason. i think of those people who are losing the natural beauty of their environment due to pollution or industrialisation, or maybe even oil spills.

if you'd like to support envirnomental causes, i'd strongly recommend the maungatautari trust, which i've linked to above. there's also greenpeace, the forest and bird people, the environmental defence society, and keep nz beautiful.

for those who aren't able to enjoy the beauty of nature in the way that most of us can in this country, my thoughts & prayers are with you.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

day 15: home

since i'm trying to catch up today, i'll dive straight into the topic, which is my privilege of having a home of my own. this is a huge privilege, because so much of the world's population don't have a home of their own. i'm thinking particularly of the people of pakistan who are suffering a huge humanitarian disaster because of the floods, and how many millions are now homeless because of this. there are those who lose their homes annually to flooding (particularly in bangladesh), but continue to rebuild their little huts in the same place because their is no other land available for them.

i'm lucky that i own my home. i don't have to worry about regular inspections, nor do i have a fear that a landlord may decide to sell the house thus forcing me to shift. i have had this home for over 10 years, and the research shows that the greater stability resulting from home ownership leads to better health and education outcomes for children (ok, im too lazy to find a link, but i've definitely seen it).

i'm incredibly lucky that my home is in a good neighbourhood, and i feel safe living here. i'm lucky that the only noise that bothers me is the constant traffic outside my window, particular in the morning & evening rushhours. i don't, for example, have to live close to an airport or a railway track where regular loud noise disturbs my sleep.

i'm extremely grateful that my neighbours don't bother me with excessive noise or any other form of harassment or nastiness. i'm not as friendly with my neighbours as i should be, but we all seem to prefer to mind our own business and get on with our lives without bothering anyone else.

i'm lucky that my home is close to and in the zone for good quality schools. this means that my children are also automatically privileged through no effort of their own. i'm also reasonably close to my work place - it never takes me more than 15 minutes to get to work, and sometimes less (the joys of not living in a big city - yay!). this means that i have more time for other things.

i really appreciate that i have a section and a garden, even though i do little to maintain them. i'm really very thankful for my gardener who does an excellent job, and keeps the place looking lovely.

i'm privileged because i have plenty of space in my home. i don't live in a situation of overcrowding, or having to cram my belongings into a small space. more space, in my case, usually means more mess but even so there's plenty of room to move about.

my home is my sanctuary. it's my place of rest, my castle or i often think of it more like a cave where i can hide from the world. somewhere where no-one can hurt me or disturb me. it's where i'm in charge and in control. i love coming home, whether it's from a trip out of town, or even an hour doing the grocery shopping. there's a feeling of intense peace & thankfulness i get as soon as i pull in the driveway, which i can't adequately describe.

i guess this is because home wasn't always like that for me. i remember the times, in years gone by, when i used to walk from home to work and my mood would lift the further away from home i got. and then in the evening i my heart would get heavier with every step i took towards home, to the extent that some days i would have tears in my eyes thinking of what it was i was going home to.

i remember the time when home was a place of extreme tension and stress, and when it felt like there was no place in the world that was truly mine and truly safe. i remember a time when my home wasn't mine at all because there were others who commandeered all the public living spaces, til i felt that i could hardly leave the bedroom - not from any physical restriction but just from the mental stress. i remember home being a place to escape from and not a place to long for.

i thank God those days are long behind me now, and think of all the people for whom home is a war zone, a battleground, a place where the strength is sapped and the ego crushed. i think of the people who feel helpless, with nowhere to turn, and trapped in their own homes. i think of those who are actually trapped through fear, lack of transport, lack of connections in the community, or pure physical restraint. home is not a happy place for so many people, and my heart goes out to them.

i suppose that one of the causes to support in this area is habitat for humanity, though i have heard of concerns from others that this organisation has a notion of the "deserving poor" underlying their work. as far as i'm concerned, i believe everyone has the right to a safe and healthy home regardless of whether we think they deserve one or not. i can't confirm if those concerns are true or not, so have included the link here. ETA: another place where you could donate your time and/or money is women's refuge.

to those who have no home, or have an inadequate home for whatever reason, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

day 14: communication

so two weeks gone, and i'm feeling pretty tired now. it's the middle period of ramadan that is the most difficult. the last ten days have a special significance, and usually there is a lot more time devoted to prayer. i can't believe the days have gone by so quickly, and also that i've managed to write almost every night. some days it has been a struggle and i'm not sure that i've managed to get across all things i have in my mind. today's post is a day late, but i've still called it day 14 in the hope that i'll get out another post for tonight.

today, i'm thinking about communication. it's the basis of our interactions with each other as human beings. it's the way we relate to each other, the way we form and maintain bonds.

communication has become so much easier in the modern age. the internet is a wonderful invention, which gives us email, chat, social networking and skype. instant contact with people all around the world, the ability to form groups and organise - i think it's all wonderful. i also totally love mobile phones & SMS.

now i'm going to do my senior citizen impression. i certainly remember, back in the day, when it took two and a half weeks for a letter to get from hamilton nz to a remote village in the ganges plains. there was no phone contact available, at all. when phone contact became available in some of the cities, few people would have a phone. and toll calls were so expensive - something like $3.00 per minute, and i'm talking 1980 dollars here so you can try to imagine what that would be in today's dollars.

so when we wanted to make a phone call, we'd ring the nearest neighbour with a phone, and ask them to send someone around to our friend or relative's home, to ensure that the person(s) we wanted to talk to would be ready by the phone in half an hours time. and we didn't waste our time with "hello, how are you, how's the family, how's the weather". no, we usually had all the main points written down prior to the call, and went through them as quickly as possible. oh, and the shouting! i bet every neighbour to 3 houses down could have heard our side of the conversation.

it's so much easier now. every villager in india has a mobile phone, and access is instant. if every home doesn't have a computer, then there will be an internet cafe around the next corner. i love digital cameras and video clips that can be sent across the continents to be enjoyed by friends and family on the other side of the world.

it's also much easier to organise meetings. meetings can be shorter because some of the discussion can happen via email. teleconferencing and videoconferencing are wonderful, and make it so much easier to organise at a national level. organisations that would have found it very to difficult to form, let alone function, can now proceed at much lower cost & effort. no need for expensive airfares for a group of people to get to one place.

but let's go back to basics. communication is often about speech and body language. being able to express how you feel and to be understood is a wonderful thing. often something we take for granted until we travel to a country where no-one speaks our language, and where gestures might not have meaning either.

communication is about public speaking. i enjoy public speaking myself, and have been inspired by many wonderful public speakers in the past. there's something about the spoken word, heard live, that can't be captured by the written word. the depth of emotion and humour that can be conveyed by intonation is totally missing on the written page.

but of course i'm a fan of the written word as well. as you can see from this latest series, i love to write. and i also love to read. i love my collection of books, many of which i go back to and re-read - i'm currently going through the complete sherlock homes, by sir arthur conan doyle, for no apparent reason other than i haven't read them for many years. i usually go through jane austen once every 3-4 years, and have had a few re-readings of the lord of the rings. there's something comfortable about going back through familiar stories, and finding something new in them each time.

these days, more of my reading is on the internet, with blogs & websites. i love to read informed debate and thoughtful analysis. i especially appreciate all those people who blog with little or no return, but who often provide independent voices on important issues - or at least voices that aren't driven solely by commercial considerations.

communication also involves media of tv, radio, newspapers and film. but i'm already running a day late with this post and media is a huge topic in itself. so i'll leave it there. but if there is a cause you wish to support around communication, i'd highly recommend reporters without borders.

to all the people who struggle with communication, or who don't have access to forms of communication because they can't afford a computer or an internet connection for example, for those who face barriers to open communication, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Monday, 23 August 2010

day 13: family

i've been writing about privilege & the things i'm grateful for over the past couple of weeks, and it would be easy to take the message from this that we shouldn't complain because we're so much better off than most of the world. at least a reasonable proportion of the people who are able to read this blog would be.

but that would be an incorrect message to take from this series of posts. yes, we should - no, i'd go even stronger than that and say we must - be grateful for what we have and work hard to ensure that others also have similar opportunities. but that doesn't mean that we should be silent about injustices or unfairness in our own lives. even the most privileged person may be subject to something that is manifestly unfair in one aspect of their lives. it's not right to suffer in silence, because to accept injustice is to promote oppression. if we allow ourselves to be oppressed, then we allow others to be oppressed.

i do accept that not everyone has the strength to fight back at all times in their lives, and sometimes the consequences of fighting back or even complaining can be pretty severe. people have to fight when they are ready and able. the point i'm making is that privilege in one area shouldn't lead to silence in another.

the topic for today is family. i've touched on some issues around family when i wrote about
birth. family can be quite a double-edged sword though, can't they? sometimes they drive you up the wall, but other times you know you never would have survived without them.

i never had any extended family around me while growing up. no-one even remotely close by. i think our nearest rellies, and they were pretty distant ones, were in malaysia. so i never had any meaningful contact with cousins, uncles, aunts, or grandparents until i was 12. this was the first time i went back to india, and that was quite an experience which was filled with culture shock & homesickness for nz.

but until i went back, i never fully realised what i'd been missing out on and how lonely an existence it is to be a migrant in a strange land. it's not like i was living in a land full of brown people who spoke urdu, which i can imagine what it must feel for white nz'ers travelling to aussie or uk ie everything is reasonably familiar, the people look the same and the language is pretty similar. but for brown people coming to a land peopled predominantly by white people who have a totally different culture, who don't understand or identify with your religion and traditions, yeah that's something else altogether.

family, and especially extended family, give you a sense of place and belonging. at least within the family, you are generally "normal" - the traditions, culture and religion are generally shared. i know that's not true for everyone, but it's true for a lot of people. it wasn't true for me. i may be indian-looking on the outside but i'm pretty kiwi on the inside, and cultural framework is so different from the one i found in india that i found i never could really belong to that place. and while i did develop strong emotional ties with my family, i don't think i could ever properly fit in. i didn't feel comfortable with that lifestyle, and love really doesn't conquer all.

because i mix mainly with migrants, i find a lot of people who face that similar isolation. though things are quite a lot easier now, nz being a much more multi-cultural place, and there being many more established communities for migrants to slot into. but the distance from family, the homesickness and longing for the familiar - familiar faces, familiar food, familiar sounds and languages - that's all pretty constant.

the hardest thing for migrants is when family members fall ill back in their country of origin. their parents may be dying, or a brother/sister has had a heart attack or a severe accident. and they are stuck here, far away in a little corner of the world, knowing by the time they make it back, their loved one will probably have passed on. that awful ache of knowing that you weren't there for the last precious moment, that you never had the chance to say goodbye, that's when you feel the distance most.

the funny thing is that people who have their extended family close around them are often busy feuding and falling out. they never seem to appreciate the value of what is close by. that's just human nature in a nutshell though.

as an adult, my close family are mostly overseas though i'm lucky to have my parents nearby. the isolation continues, and while friendships are precious, they aren't quite the same as family.

i'm thankful for the bonds i have with my family members, and the times we share together. i'm thankful for my children, and the love we share between us. i'm thankful that i'm able to keep in regular contact with family members, and to see them regularly even though it never feels like often enough.

i think about all the families that are torn apart, sometimes by circumstances beyond their control, other times by choice. i think of those who are estranged over and are unable to support each other. i think of the families who haven't been able to work together as a unit, who have been disfunctional and have struggled, whether due to poverty, abuse or some other reason. i think of our senior citizens who live in retirement villages and resthomes, many of whom don't get to see their family much at all.

action points for today: befriend a migrant family in your neighbourhood, welcome them to your home and see if you can't develop a bond of trust and mutual support, and find a way to include them in the local community. if you have family close by, appreciate them. if they are far away, try to keep in touch. if you're estranged from someone close to you, see if you can't take a first step towards reconciliation. if you have some spare time, perhaps you'd like to volunteer with refugee services to help a refugee family settle in nz.

if you are someone who is isolated from their family, or has suffered in some other way in relation to family, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

day 12: food

one of the joys of ramadan is not having to cook. and i don't mean it's because we don't eat during the day - we still have to cook dinner after all. no, it's because people are busy inviting each other for dinner. last time i had dinner at home was thursday night, and won't be eating at home til tuesday. i love it.

you may have guessed, the topic for today is food, that basic necessity of life. given that i hate cooking, it's a topic that's difficult for me to wax lyrical about. i see food as more of a utility than anything else ie necessary fuel for the body. i used to sometimes amuse myself by imagining a world where human beings didn't have stomachs, and therefore no hunger. the benefits would be immense - no need to use land for farming, so less fighting over land, no need to farm animals, no need to work as long because we would need much less of an income, much less sanitation and hygiene problems etc etc.

but unfortunately we do have stomachs that required constant feeding. so, i'm extremely lucky to live in a land where food is plentiful and there is a wide variety available. we can have a varied diet in all seasons. there are food stores close by - big chain supermarkets, dairies & small grocery stores, fruit & vege shops, bakeries and butchers. now that we have the internet, we can shop on line & have our food delivered.

not only that, but we have a wide range of restaurants, takeaways, and fast food places. we can sample cuisine from most places around the world - mongolian seems to have become a big thing in hamilton lately for some unknown reason.

the range of food is definitely a modern phenomena. i remember back in the early 70s, living in hamilton, when a "curry" was some gloopy yellow mess that was an insult to any authentic indian dish ever produced. we used to have to travel up to auckland just to get basics like turmeric, coriander powder, cumin seeds, cardamom etc. none of these exotic spices could be seen in our city. even in auckland, there were only two shops where you could get them. and try finding basmati rice anywhere. sheesh.

yup, it's all so much better now. you can visit the asian supermarkets, but you can even get a wider range of basic spices at the supermarket. and fresh dates, yum. at the fruit & vege shops, you can get okra, fresh chilli, mangoes, papaya and other fruits. nowhere near as nice as they are in asia, of course, but they are available. this was one of the things i loved most in kuala lumpur: the stalls that sold pieces of cut up fresh fruit in a plastic bag with a toothpick. you could have your choice of watermelon, rockmelon, honeydew melon, papaya, pineapple & mango - delicious and healthy.

but still, here we can have cherries & apricots, peaches & nectarines, kiwifruit & range of apples and pears. nothing to complain about, not at all. the issue in new zealand is not about the availability of food, but the affordability of healthy food. healthy eating still remains a class issue, because the healthiest choices turn out to be the most expensive ones. this seems silly in a country with an agriculture base, with plenty of food grown locally. but that's how it is.

when we first came to nz, the price of basic foods were controlled by the government (if i remember correctly). it used to be a huge deal if the price of butter went up a cent or if bread went up. food was incredibly cheap compared to what people earned. the whole milk-in-schools deal was before my time, but it's a pity that policy was cut, just like the healthy eating programme in schools put in place by the last government has been cut by this one.

not only do we have a variety of food, but also the ability to cook because of a wide range of applicances and a constant supply of energy - be it electricity or gas. almost every kitchen has a stove, oven, microwave oven, kettle, toaster. most will also have a decent food processor, sandwich maker. many will have crockpots, rice cookers and breadmakers. all to make food preparation easier and faster.

i compare this to life in an indian village, many years back. spices would have to be ground by hand, food cooked on a wood-fired stove. it all took longer, involved a lot more physical work, but somehow also tasted a lot better. probably was a lot healthier too.

i'm lucky that i can pretty much eat what i like. i don't have any major food allergies that i'm aware of. i don't have to avoid nuts, or dairy products, or eggs, or gluten. i know people who have to deal with these things, and what a struggle preparing a simple meal can be. even trying to buy bread can be a hassle.

i'm lucky that i've never had an eating disorder. i already know what it's like to feel guilty about making bad food choices, about eating too much of the wrong types of food , and about struggling with my weight. i think almost everyone living in the west has those experiences. but i'm thankful that all those negatives that are associated with food, particularly for women, haven't translated into something worse for me.

food builds community. so much of our socialising revolves around food - whether we invite people to our homes and cook for them, or we go out for a meal or even just a cup of coffee. food is the thing that brings us together, and that we all have in common. food helps to break down racial and ethnic barriers, as people become keen to learn about another culture because of a positive food experience. food can be the only reason a family sits in the same room at the same time, to share their experiences of the day.

here we live in the land of plenty, and i'm incredibly thankful for it. i think today of all the people who don't have enough to eat, who are dying because of a lack of food. i think of the people who have a very limited diet, with little or no variety simply because of the geography or the fact that they can't afford anything else. i think of those who don't have fuel to cook their food. i think of those for whom food provides negative and guilty experiences, and who struggle constantly with a thing so simple as eating - at least, it should be simple but often isn't. i think of those who don't have the ability to socialise by sharing food, because they just don't have enough to share.

because issues of food are related to issues of poverty, i'd recommend the same action points as i did back on
day 4. if you are a person who has any issues related to food or to the lack of it, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

day 11: sanitation

the thing with ramadan in many muslim countries, particularly the middle east, is that everything shuts down during the day & remains open for most of the night - or so i hear, i've never experienced it myself. often, businesses and offices are closed and people rest at home. this, to me, defeats the whole purpose of the exercise. one of the benefits of fasting is that it causes you to examine your privilege by sharing the experience of hunger and thirst. how can you effectively share that experience unless you go about your normal daily activities?

today's topic is pretty related to yesterday's one - i'm looking at sanitation and cleanliness. several of the links in yesterday's post about water also refer to sanitation, because the two are so clearly related. however, there are some issues around sanitation that don't relate directly to water, but do relate to poverty. so let's begin.

i'm lucky to live in a home where the toilets are inside and they flush. that's a huge privilege right there, and i've lived in situations where there was no toilet in the house and there was no flush. not nice. more than that, for some women it is extremely unsafe:

You need to go to the bathroom, but your landlord has not provided any toilet facilities for you or your neighbors. The nearest pit latrine, which is shared by more than 100 people, is almost half a mile away, and it takes 10 minutes to walk there. The last time you left your house to walk to the latrine at night, a gang of young men grabbed you and threatened to rape you, saying that no nice girl would be out on her own at that hour. You were lucky to escape when nearby residents heard your screams and came to see what was wrong.

There are no police posts in this slum; the closest police station is several miles away in a middle-class neighborhood. You know if those gang members come back for you, there is nowhere to turn for help. So you decide to use a “flying toilet” – a plastic bag that you use, then throw out into the open sewer that runs alongside the alley outside your house.

which raises the issue of sewers and drainage. i live in a city with an excellent sewerage system, so i don't ever have to worry about the sight or smell of open sewers. again, i've visited places that have open sewers, and again, it is definitely not nice. it's also very unhygenic.

i'm lucky to live in a city with an excellent refuse collection system. the streets are kept clean of rubbish, household rubbish is regularly taken away, so that everything around is clean and pleasant. and hygenic. because of this i'm protected from any number of diseases. i've visited places where there is absolutely no refuse collection system, and there are piles of rubbish in empty lots or in the street. these attract wild dogs, pigs and other animals, which adds to the whole disease and lack of hygiene thing. absolutely not nice.

i have access to a wide selection of soaps, shampoos, and household cleaning products. from toilet cleaner to glass cleaner to floor cleaner to mildew removal spray to carpet cleaner to oven cleaner. any thing you own, there will be a product designed to clean it. these products are readily available and generally affordable. if nothing else, a combination of budget bleach & dishwashing soap will clean up most things.

i also have access to mops, brooms, a vacuum cleaner, a dishwasher, scrubbing brushes, scourers, a washing machine, a dehumidifier. have i ever mentioned on this blog how much i love my dishwasher? i must have mentioned it, but if not: i totally love my dishwasher. all my appliances really. every labour-saving device ever invented, which means that i get more time to do stuff that i think is more important than housework. but more about that another day.

of course there is such a thing as too much cleanliness. purify your air and water too much and your body will start to lose its immunity to bacteria and disease. you're much more likely to get sick when you come across germs. so it's a bit of a balance but aren't we so lucky here to have the choice?

in terms of projects to support regarding sanitation, they would be pretty similar to those related to water. here's the UN water website again, which has some ideas. there's also wateraid. for all those who suffer from poor sanitation, who are afraid just to go to the toilet, who are susceptible to disease because of a lack of hygiene, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Friday, 20 August 2010

day 10: water

yesterday was open day at shama - can't believe another year has gone by. the organisation is in a vibrant phase. we've expanded the staff significantly this year, and have many more women accessing the centre's programmes. there's also an expanded range of programmes, from homework support for refugee children, dancing classes, a computers-in-homes project, a home gardening programme to the usual holiday programme, language classes, driving classes and sewing & craft classes.

the major increase has come in the area of social work. we hired a new part-time social worker in march, and her case load has increased from an average of 6 to, at the moment, 35 active cases. this level of growth is really difficult to manage, and funding is always a major issue. we need more staff, more money, more space. but despite all the pressures, it's nice to have a day like today, when we share our successes with the wider community and celebrate all the wonderful women who are associated with the centre.

today i'm going to spend some time thinking about water. it's one of the most basic and crucial of our needs. but it is so much more than a need - it something that beautifies and soothes. however, i'm going to focus on the former aspect today.

the first thing i'm thankful for is that i have access to abundant clean, running water. it is extremely rare for the water supply to be cut, in fact i can't even remember the last time that happened. however, i have had the experience of living for short periods of time without running water. in india, the water supply is variable depending on where you live. actually in the village (in the region where i was born) it is pretty reliable, because every house has a hand-operated water pump that pumps water out of the ground. they look a little like this:

the beauty of the hand-pump is that the water comes out cool in the summer and warm in the winter. however, the downside is that it comes out all muddy in the rainy season, which means you have to let it settle for a while before you can use it. however, the suppy is at least constant, and if you really need warm water for your bath, you can heat it up on the stove.

in cities, the water supply isn't so constant. i don't know what delhi is like now, but i remember a time when the water supply would shut off by 8am. so everyone would have to take their baths before then, and every home would have tanks for water storage which would have to be filled up every morning.

in another city i've stayed at frequently, the water supply was constant all day, but some days, without warning, it would shut off for a few hours or maybe all day. because this was not a very regular occurrence, we wouldn't be prepared when the water supply did stop. and let me tell you, it is a horrible thing to be in a hot & dusty country without water. drinking water wasn't a problem - there is plenty of bottled water to be bought. but not being able to shower or wash clothes felt really horrible. in fact, if i had to choose of having to do without electricity or do without running water for a day, i'd definitely choose the former.

so yes, i am extremely thankful to have a constant supply of water. and because i can't stand showering in cold water and hate having to wash greasy dishes with cold water, i'm extremely thankful that i have running hot water.

i can only imagine what it's like when water is not in constant supply within the house. many people in this world have to travel some distance to bring water to the house, and they can only bring what they can carry. this is often considered women's work, so the physical burden falls on them. it must be difficult to not be able to access hot water when living in a cold climate, or cool water when living with extreme heat.

dirty water is the cause of much disease and death.
here are some numbers:

...of the more than six billion people in the world today, over one billion have no access to improved drinking water...

And according to the U.N. children's agency UNICEF, polluted water and lack of basic sanitation claim the lives of over 1.5 million children every year, mostly from water-borne diseases....

"Many millions more have their development disrupted and their health undermined by diarrhoeal or water-related diseases."

this year, on world water day (22 march), a UN
report (huge pdf file, see website here) informed us that "more people die from polluted water every year than from all forms of violence".

i'm lucky to live in an area where the provision of water is not privatised. i pay a set amount with my annual rates, and that's it. i don't have to worry about issues like

Policies driven by institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have left little room for local decisions and instead have forced privatization of water on poor countries. These international finance institutions make loans contingent on privatization and increased cost recovery‚ which often requires charging high fees for water even for people living in extreme poverty. The results in numerous countries have been disastrous – less access to water for the poor, extremely high rates, and poor water quality....

you must really read the whole article, if you read nothing else today. i'm also lucky to live in a country where water is distributed fairly. we don't have to live in a situation like this.

if you're intersted in a charity related to water, this seems to be a pretty good one. i'd also recommend an event, no matter how small, for world water day next year - just to raise awareness of the issues.

today i think about all the people who suffer because they don't have access to clean, affordable, accessible and regular water supply. my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

day 9: politics

being aware of your privilege and taking care about making sure that you don't hurt or exclude others because of it, well that takes a bit of work. it means having to think about what you say or do, and to choose appropriate language or to modify behaviour. there is a section of society who thinks such effort is a waste of time, and one way they choose to express this or to deride the efforts of others is use of the phrase "PC nonsense" or its variant "PC gone mad".

by doing this, they hope to belittle the fact that other people try to be sensitive and empathetic, while trying to make themselves feel better about the fact that they just can't be bothered to do the same. they are trying to reframe a situation so that they, who have often just been cruel and unfeeling, are actually in the right while others who refrain from doing the same are somehow wrong. it's a strange form of orwellian doublethink, and i have to admire the mental gymnastics involved in taking such a position, even while i abhor the position itself. personally, i can't think of a person or group of persons who aren't worth the effort, even these people who can't seem to grasp the concept of privilege and how it impacts on their behaviour.

the topic for today is political freedom, and it's a huge one. i don't think i can do it full justice in one blog post so i'll just cover the main things that come to my mind.

i'm grateful to live in a country where we get to choose our elected representatives - for the most part. the exception being the sacking of the environment canterbury board and the cancelling of elections to that board, which is actually one of the greatest affronts to democracy in this country. but other than that, we get to choose our local and central government representatives, which means that when things get really bad, we have the power to change the government.

i'm also particularly grateful for our proportional system of voting for central government. while it has some drawbacks, it is a much fairer system that means my vote actually counts. back in the 80s & early 90s, my vote didn't count because i came under the electorate known as waikato, which was a safe national seat. no matter how i voted, a national MP would always represent that electorate. even so, i have never missed voting, because i regard it as one of my most important civic duties. given that so many people around the world don't get to choose, or who have to face violent riots or coercion to vote a certain way, i think it's unconsionable to not vote.

MMP has also been great in increasing the diversity of parliament, so that the make-up of MPs begin to more closely resemble the make-up of the country.

i'm lucky to live in a country where i'm pretty free to criticise the government. however, in the last year or so, that has become an increasingly risky thing to do. especially since hon paula bennett decided to publish personal details of two single mothers who dared to criticise her decision to scrap the training incentive allowance, resulting in significant personal harassment for those women. similarly, the young workers who have taken part in the CTU campaign, sharing their stories of unfair dismissal, are also being subject to intense scrutiny which would act as a deterrent for many other young people. also, by attacking the people involved, politicians and activists are attempting (sometimes quite successfully) to divert any public discourse from the actual issues that have been raised. that the media seems to focus on the personal attacks more than the issues only helps to silence opposition.

still, at least i am free to join an opposition political party, to organise and take part in political meetings, and to disseminate information that promotes particular policies or criticises the government. i can and have taken part in public demonstrations, and as yet haven't had any fear of state violence against me. quite different to what was experienced by protesters against the springbok tour of 1981.

i can write what i like on my blog, without censorship, and it is available to anyone who lives in a country that doesn't exercise censorship of the internet. i can discuss my criticisms of government policy without fear in any gathering i choose. i know that i won't be secreted away by some wing of the police or army, and held & tortured because i dared to express my views.

i can stand for office. i can form my own political party or movement, though i'm unlikely to be successful unless i have some serious money behind me. government of the people and by the people is getting to be increasingly difficult in western democracies. and small parties are finding it increasingly difficult to survive, even with a supportive MMP system.

i can take part in political campaigns, and donate money to any party i choose, without fear. i'd like to take a moment recognise and appreciate all those who spend their time and effort campaigning, whether it's the people who put up billboards or deliver leaflets, who voluteer for phone canvassing or door knocking, who organise events and meetings, debate and promote policies. it is this small army of volunteers who ensure that our democracy functions, and they do it for no reward other than the hope of a better society. they are often derided and written off as political junkies, but actually it's everyone else who doesn't get involved that is freeloading off the work of this group of people. imagine if they didn't do that work and take the time to ensure that successful campaigns happened? the end result would be that only the very rich could afford to advertise, they would get elected and would only implement the policies that benefitted their supporters. there would be no effective opposition, no effective representation for a large section of society and certainly poorer quality decisions being made.

with local body elections happening now, i actually think it is every citizen's duty to take part in a campaign and to be part of the process. if we were all politically active, which would have the side-on effect of ensuring we were all better informed, then our democratic system would be so much more robust. what i really hate is people who aren't going to vote in the local body elections because they don't know who the candidates are. who's responsibility is it to find out? yours, and if you're too lazy to do it, then you really have no right to complain when bob parker gives $17 million of ratepayer's money to a property developer, which you now have to pay for. or any other stupid policies that leave you poor, unhealthy, unemployed, uneducated etc etc.

i'd also like to appreciate those people who put themselves forward for election - the candidates. these are people who spend time and money, and are prepared to face the possbility of public humiliation if they lose and also to face increasingly intense scrutiny into their own private lives and the lives of their families. an appalling example of the latter was hon phil goff's daughter appearing in the news for a very un-newsworthy issue, simply in an attempt to embarrass and discredit him. a person's past history and every public pronouncement is scrutinised, and it can be an extremely harrowing experience. the fact that there are people who are willing to do this is, again, a huge benefit to us all.

though it's not perfect here (but then where is it perfect?), i know that i live in one of the most peaceful and least corrupt countries on the planet. i think of those people who brave the worst horrors when they are courageous enough to speak out against the leadership of their country. i think of people who have been silenced and live in fear and without freedom, like aung san suu kyi and the millions of others who haven't come to the world's attention.

if you wish to support political freedom, i'd suggest getting involved with amnesty international and human rights watch. i also think it's vitally important for every member of society to take the time to inform themselves about various policies and their implications for society as a whole. it is also important to learn as much as you can about political candidates and to question them critically, so that you are able to make informed choices. it is important to hold our representatives to account, not just when we vote but in between electoral cycles. we can do this by giving them direct feedback or through other forms of activism. being politically active is the duty of every citizen, but it is vital that action is based on sound knowledge and access to information. i'd also strongly recommend joining a political party that is closest to your own values - none will be a perfect match, but find one that is close then advocate within the party for it to be closer.

today i think of those who have been denied their political rights and freedoms in any way, or who have been persecuted because of their political beliefs and actions. my thoughts and prayers are with you.