Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Postcard from Qatar -

All Aboard
The tall man in his 30s, sitting on the aisle seat immediately in front of me, raises his voice belligerently toward the young Indonesian flight attendant. Apparently he doesn’t think his drink was served on time. The flight attendant kneels on the cabin floor and her hands together in front of her as though in prayer. I can see she is upset, she is trying to apologise, but he just keeps talking over her, her eyes now brimming with tears. She starts to move away and I touch her elbow and tell her “tidat apa apa”, don’t worry, you tried to serve, you can’t take responsibility for every bad tempered Bule[i]. Now she is crouching in the aisle beside me, says how she feels she has delivered bad service, her tears begin flowing and making dark spots on her bright red skirt. She is new to this work, she just can’t understand this man’s rudeness, she is trying to adjust to a new set of norms. The French man behind me hands her a tissue as she straightens and returns to the rear of the plane.
I chat with the attractive Indonesian women next to me. She is probably in her late twenties and has just been to visit a man in a small town in Wisconsin for 6 months. He is a machinist in a large factory. She met him on the internet, she hopes they will marry.
Next to her in the window seat of my row, there is another Indonesian woman, probably in her early thirties. She is using kerundung (the Muslim headscarf) and I am guessing she is one of several hundred “migrant workers” on this flight returning from “Arab Saudi”. The issue of migrant or “remittance” workers is something that interests and concerns me and I am trying to get time to figure out how I can engage with migrant workers in our ADPs so that some of the money they earn can help them to set up small businesses to provide ongoing support for themselves and their families after they return.
Through the woman next to me, I explain that I am involved in economic development work and would like to ask her some questions. She graciously agrees.
Her story is as follows. She went to Saudi Arabia as a migrant worker for two years but is returning after only four months. She explains she had to leave because her employer kept trying to rape her. She comes from a poor village in central Java and has three children. Her husband left her and now two of her children stay with her ex-husbands family and the third with her parents. She decided to find work overseas to earn money so that she could provide her children with an education and was expecting to be able to send back about USD$80 each month. To get a work placement overseas she registered with an Indonesian based Saudi employment agency. She didn’t receive any training before she left and was sent to a family in Saudi Arabia as a housekeeper. After several months she complained to the agency that the husband of her host family kept trying to rape her. They advised her to ask her employer for extra money and sleep with him. Rather than do that, she decided to come home to Indonesia. This means that for her 120 days work, away from her village, her children, everything familiar to her to a land which she didn’t not speak the language, she has only been paid USD $150. The balance was deducted by the agency to pay her original plane ticket. She seems resigned to things as they are and is looking forward to seeing her kids.
Because people smugglers only charge a month’s salary as opposed to 6 to 12 months charged by the “official agencies”, many migrant workers become “unofficial” which makes them even more vulnerable to potential abuse and exploitation. Impacts on the workers themselves can be life shattering. Men returning to villages with HIV and AIDS, naive village women who may have no rights or access to any outside help in a new country may be beaten by their hosts for failing to perform as expected or raped by household men. There are many stories of female workers returning with unwanted pregnancies and as a result, losing their husbands and becoming ostracised by their families. Money sent back by a married woman may be used to fund a second wife for her Muslim husband back in the village or to pay for celebrations, house extensions or assets that mostly need to be sold again, at a loss, within a few months of the migrant returning. Then the family is back to where it started and the migrant worker returns overseas again.
Throughout Asia issues surrounding migrant workers are not new. There are some 6 million Indonesian Migrant workers sending almost USD 10 billion home each year[ii]. It is Indonesia’s second largest source of foreign earnings, the number one earner in the Philippines and high in almost every Asian country. Governments are unwilling or unable to train workers in vocations or in their human rights or pass regulations to protect workers like the simple self sacrificing, brave village woman sitting on the plane next to me. She has the “life in all its fullness” clearly in mind for her children, and has been prepared to take almost unimaginable risks to “make that so” , we share the same aspiration and there must be something we can do together.
I remember a quote "In development work, we have learned more about how to measure poverty than how to reduce it. "[iii] But I think to myself but there is always something we can do.
I am flying on Qatar. Their logo is an Oryx , before now I had never heard of an Oryx, the magazine says it is a type of antelope but it looks like a goat to me. If you are starting an airline why would you pick an oversized goat for your logo? Which leads me reflect on flying Kangaroos.
I did have a real piece of luck on the previous Washington DC to Doha leg. I sat next to a Colonel who introduces himself to me as Dr. Bill. He is a member of the US Army and on his way to Doha to deliver lectures on emergency field medicine to military physicians working in Iraq. We become friends, talked philosophy, daughters, wars on Taliban, wars on poverty. When Dr. Bill retires he wants to work for an aid agency he thinks he could help introduce some US military systems thinking. I gave him my card and he gave me 6 tablets of Ambient . Now , Dr Bill explained to me each tablet has a half life of 3 hours so if you take a full tablet it will knock you out for 4 hours cold.
“The trick is” he says ,
“don’t take a tablet until you are about half an hour in the air and fairly sure the plane is not going to turn around and make an emergency landing. Because you won’t wake up and your friends will have to carry you off the plane. But after four hours you will wake up fresh as a daisy, no side effects, scouts honour.”
Now to a person in my position who at that point had not slept for 24 hours and still has many hours to travel and as one who doesn’t generally sleep on planes, Bill is a drug bearing gift from God. Unfortunately it is too late for me to take an Ambient on this leg, we only have 3 hours to go and I don’t have any friends to carry me off the plane to wake up somewhere in Doha.
After a 7 hour stopover in Doha ,we are onboard again for the 8 hour flight to Singapore. I wait for an hour to make sure we are not turning back and take just half a tablet.
I wake up 3 hours later after the most wonderful sleep, I can’t believe it. And I am full of life an bon ami that I go and sit beside a French women at the bulkhead . Her young son seems to have more arms than a Hindu deity and all of them in her breakfast. So I hold him while she eats and tell this delightful five month old boy about the wonders of the universe.
It turns out that the French woman’s husband is Indonesian and flies for Qatar but she doesn’t know anything about Oryx either.
The plane is getting ready to land and a woman’s voice makes an announcement which ends;
“and we hope you have a plentiful supply”
A plentiful supply of what?
I turn to the Chinese guy across the aisle from me, who has something to do with repairing electronic eyes on oil drilling equipment.
“What did she say?”
“She said we hope you had a freasant fright”
And I look around the small community of friends I have made during the flight and think that all in all it was a “freasant fright” partially made possible by the US Army.
[i] White person
[ii] Business in Asia Today - Sept 2, 2009
[iii] DR. MANUEL OROZCO Inter-American Dialogue Conference on Remittances and Millennium Development Goals, 2008

Some Feedback to Postcards

I began writing what I call ‘postcards’ for fun and to communicate with a few friends about some of my reflections as a result of my work in the field. My first postcards were written around August of 2008. And not long after that these short written slices of life began to be published through the intranet at World Vision Australia which is available to around 600 staff. It never really occurred to me that I was writing for more than my own amusement or to fill in time doing something creative (and safe) to while away hours in some dull hotel room in whatever far flung country where I happened to be. And it has been a surprise to me that these little vignettes are meaningful to others in the organisation and to cause a surprising number of people to reflect on their lives and work in ways that seem to be positive. And it makes me pause and wonder how generally casual I am with what I say, as well as my shallow understanding of what my gifts are. Of how important it is to acknowledged that everything we do has some impact somewhere and my own need to listen to others to help me understand my own giftedness and voice when I have been too busy or self focused to notice. What a responsibility we have to play a small role in the lives of one another, in helping us all become all we are called and have been gifted to be! So for the record I have copied in some of the feedback I have received. It never occurred to me to save peoples responses until now so below is some of the feedback I could find from the last few months.
I found it incredibly moving and also felt a sense of hopelessness for the people in the Wema region that Jock meets with. I wondered what/Who keeps Jock upbeat through all of these incredibly difficult and emotional issues?
I found the quote from Thomas Merton that Jock commented on helpful..... “Do not depend on the hope of results....you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself....You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people....In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything." Thank you Jock so much for sharing with me. It brings the work we do so much closer to home when we read your stories.

You do more work for the organisation in your missives than 10 of those 'expert' wankers do all year.
I have been enjoying reading your postcards. The stories and insights assist me in connecting to the field. I have encouraged my team to read them as well as it can be difficult to remember why we join this organisation after time. This type of information can help us not lose sight of the important things. Thanks
So good to read your postcard from Wema. These days I find it increasingly difficult to really stay connected to our work - being lost in the maze of phone calls and email civility. This morning your postcard with all your insight and sensitivity dragged me back to the kernel. The stark reality of our work.
Whether we make a difference or not ultimately is indeed as you say another matter. The fact that our hearts are in the right place when we are doing what we do - has to be a large part of it. Thanks for showing me your heart as you faithfully involve yourself in our work. Thanks for showing me that my heart had become full of weeds.
This was very powerful, I love the descriptions of the people - their character and dress, have you planned your first novel? Writing as colourful and evocative of life on the other side as this would be very popular. Your writing style reminds me of No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. It is a sobering reminder of what poverty really is on the ground - people desperately trying to maintain their dignity in the midst of hunger.
Just loved your postcard of life in Utsar. I used to find development dilemmas such as us wanting to develop independence with our community workers so we didn't pay them to plant trees to allay erosion. Then the government came along and paid them to plant trees - a good thing to plant trees - but then community dropped our scheme and even used to pull up plants so they could be paid to replace them.
Anyway, thanks for these postcards.

Just wanted to pass on a quick thanks to Jock for his published stories in weekly vision. Always a great laugh, and thoroughly enjoy reading about his latest journey's. Please pass on my appreciation if you can and encourage him to publish a book as it would be a best seller.

Loved your story from the field - the many truths and our role in that! Was great!

Loved the latest instalment on the hub! You should be a travel writer

Your postcards are gold. Thank you so much for these. They make me feel both there and connected, but also very much that I am not there - and thus sad. Maybe doing WV work, in this mostly vicarious way, from the computer back in the homeland is not all I should be doing? Anyway your postcards stir the passions for our work giving me 'yourworkjoy' envy..... probably wrong..... but your passion for your work is very contagious.... even when the roosters need their heads cut off..and more green flashes and sunsets please

It was really good to read your story on the web (once again!) - I loved the Merton quote - these are all issues I think we all grapple with all the time - and difficult to find answers to, but Merton quote does help, and I personally do think it's the walking alongside, and validating people in their experience and truths, as you say - good reminder while we're in the middle of the meta-evaluation which brings all the questions of 'results' to the forefront and makes you despair at times, thanks for your article,

Thanks for your postcard story from Kenya...I love the way you construct your story so that we can enter into the experience...& be humbled by it... I will share this with a number of key church people around the state...

Just love your postcard from Kupang airport. Been there and done that but probably got too used to it to notice all the little bits although one trip I do remember was with Enrico Guterrez, the notorious gangster from the E Timor massacres at independence time. As I sat in Kupang airport, I wondered who else was with him and which firearms he was carrying, given that it was unlikely anyone would have prevented him from taking them on board. And wondering what I would say if his seat was next to mine.
Great stuff.

You have once again written a piece that is entertaining, and engages the reader throughout: I'm a big fan of yours!

I hope it’s OK to cry when we read stories on the Hub
Thanks for once again reminding us all what it’s really all about

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Believing into Real.

Postcard from Flores
(Left; Flores kids on the beach at Maumere)

Belief in what is real takes all kinds of forms. I recently bought a new pair of glasses in Jakarta. The ones that I felt suited me best and gave me a new look, were some by Giorgio Armani. They cost about the same as they would have in Australia, but I needed them, my world increasingly out of focus. I proudly collected them a week later and I am now wearing some spec s that turn my head into a bill-board for Giorgio Armani. That Giorgio reputedly sniffed so much cocaine that he burned out his nasal passages and had to have a stainless steel plate inserted in his nose, didn’t diminish how special I felt for the first few days. I think it was about the fourth day that I was and working with an economic development committee in a slum community. One of the Ibu’s (women) came out the front of the room to write up something on the flip chart, and I noticed that she was wearing the same glassed as mine. She too had the silver Giorgio Armani emblazoned on each side of her glasses. Were they real, were they fake, did it matter that this humble woman was also sporting my precious designer look? Did she spend $400 at an optometrist or $5 down at the local market?
A few months ago, I also became the proud owner of a Rolex Submariner. I had wanted one since I was a teenager. Naturally, it has a Swiss movement, a shiny Oyster case with the little bubble in the glass to better see the date and the weight conveys strength, reliability and quality. The Balinese man who sold it to me swears that no one can tell the difference from the real timepiece, in fact he said he is not sure, it may even be real. That it was made in Korea and was $4000 cheaper than the original made it affordable, believe me, I didn’t put any Swiss watchmakers out of work. I wore it proudly for my four days in Bali between work assignments and spent time in restaurants looking admiringly at my wrist. But there is a problem. It is so realistic that I no longer feel comfortable wearing it. When working directly with people who are poor, it is one thing to wear a $50 watch, but quite another to wear one that is $4000. And what is the point of wearing such a watch if you have to explain to everyone you meet that it is a fake, whenever you look at the time?

I have been wrestling with the idea of what I believe in and my role in helping others to believe in things that are a lot more real than my Rolex. And I am struck that the value of something or someone has a lot to do with the belief we project and how we name it. I notice that I am much more productive and infinitely more creative when others believe in me. And I am astounded by the power of my belief in others. Some of this has to do with our use of words. For example I have begun to discipline myself to say “people who are poor” rather than “poor people” as I think this better conveys the belief that we are all people first and we share a common humanity rather than a portfolio of labels. It is like, we don’t say “cancer people”, as though their cancer defines them, we say “people who have cancer.”
I am travelling in a car to a remote town on the East Indonesian island of Flores, it is late, the other five passengers are asleep. I am sitting in the front seat and exhausted. I only returned from Africa the day before yesterday, that trip was 25 hours with no sleep. In Dubai I bought a new Canon 550D digital SLR camera, I think it was a good deal but I don’t really know, anything looks like a good deal when you are sleep deprived . So I am somewhere between excited by my new purchase and concerned that I have just put the equivalent of two years income for one of the people I am working for, on my credit card. I know from past experiences that sleep deprivation merged with a deep ingrained retail compulsion is a risky combination . Like when I bought some Bose ‘noise cancelling’ earphones and latter discovered from my credit card statement that they had cost me the equivalent of a small car; not of course that I need a small car when travelling in an aeroplane at 35,000 feet.

We flew 5 hours today and are now taking a 4 hour car trip to Larentuka in the east of Flores. It is just dark, we are on a narrow bitumen road that passes through small villages, there is no electricity, just the soft glow of a kerosene lamp here and there. On my lap the new Canon, in case we pass the shot of a lifetime, or because it makes me feel special,? A slight contraction of the heart, I am too tired to work it out. Around each curve our headlights reveal one surprise after another, a broken down truck, some rocks from a landslide, a section of road partially collapsed to the valley below, we swerve to miss a some brown skinned villagers walking in the middle of the road. The women wear beautiful locally woven ikat sarungs dyed in dusty earthen colours. The men have the sarungs draped around their shoulders like Indonesian Masai, have I been on the road too long? The radio is playing country and western music by a local band from Flores. Every so often one of the songs is in English. The chorus of one is “He drinks tequila and she talks dirty in Spanish” , this refrain goes over and over in and out of my half sleep, I see the Sphinx and the Pyramids and again the road as we swerve to miss another group of locals.
The hotel is uncharacteristically clean, we come through the doors into to a wide entrance hall and all the rooms open on to it. There are armchairs beside each door and there are half a dozen men relaxing with sweet tea smoking clove kretek cigarettes. The men look relaxed , do they know that their island fags are now being produced by the global Philip Morris and have twice the nicotine and three times the tar of a regular cigarette? Marlborough country. There are also mosquitoes, swarms of them. I have a little plug in anti-mosquito device, but there is no power, so I give one of the boys some money and he goes off to buy me some mosquito coils. There is no towel in the room. I ask the house boy but he thinks I want soap and I can’t make myself understood. I am so tired I give up. I take a bath in the mandi, throwing cold water over myself from a water tank in the bathroom and dry myself with the shirt I have worn all day. About 3am, something smacks my cheek, it has legs, and in a second I am standing on the bed, heart pounding not really knowing where I am, but knowing that something and I have had an unnatural connection. Fortunately the power is now on, and I see a cockroach the size of a cigarette lighter running for its life. Not fast enough though, my one litre bottle of water nails it to the floor and it is an ex-cockroach. At least I know what it was. It must have been running across the ceiling and lost it grip, landing inauspiciously on the cheek of the only white man in Larentuka. I go back to sleep wondering if God loves cockroaches.
Next day. My work this morning is work with twenty of our staff to help them come up with ideas on what they can do to help to increase the incomes of people in this ADP in eastern Flores. They have been working in the area for 10 years and generally household wealth has not increased. It’s not that these earnest young men and women don’t want to make a difference to peoples economic wellbeing, but it just seems that they don’t know how. And part of not knowing how is that they don’t share a belief that things can really change. They are often so preoccupied with all the problems, the powerlessness of villagers and our own systems that they seem almost confused as to their role. I ask them, one by one, “why are these people poor?” and they come up with a number of different answers, one says “because they are not educated” and I say, “ but I know uneducated people who are not poor” another says “because they are not motivated” and another says “because they are lazy” and I say “ but I know people who are not motivated and who are lazy but they are not poor” and then one says “because they don’t have enough money”. And as an economic development person, that is the answer I am looking for . Someone else says “but it is not in our Annual Operating Plan” and I say, “the people in your ADP cannot eat your AOP (Annual Operating Plan).“

There is a lot of malaria here and this morning I noticed some mosquito bites and so on the way to the ADP I bought some anti malaria tablets. So in the middle of this discussion, I have just remembered I have them and take a couple of bitter pills. It is a brand I don’t know and I have a reaction to some anti-malarials, I know I should have started a few days ago, but what to do, probably can’t do any harm and believing I am doing something, makes me feel better.

I am a very expedient user of Bible verses , I use them to make points I want to make, and I am not always sure that this is what God intended. But I believe this is my calling and I am trusting in a forgiving God.
So I quote some of Mathew 6 to the staff.
2"So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

I hear myself saying: “what you put in your reports it is the equivalent of being honoured by men, a good report is acknowledged and acclaimed, and that is acclaimed by World Vision and there is your reward. But I am also asking you to do some things that may not me in the plan or in the AOP, that you may not be able to put into your reports, that you may not be acknowledged for and no one may know except the people who you are helping. But if really we want to make a difference then you have to make a choice about what is really going to make a difference here and perhaps add some activities beyond what you are doing now.”
I am thinking about how difficult it is, how long, how invisible, this practice of community empowerment and it is no wonder that this is not in their AOPs, and not being measured how hard to keep this in focus. And I am looking at beautiful open faces and I have some sense of the demands on them, and I know they want to do some things differently and are torn, and I can’t say for sure that I have made any difference or that they can, but in this moment I absolutely believe in them and I know that there is nothing more important for any of us right now than this moment. There is a silence that it is not right to fill.

I am awestruck whenever I catch a glimpse of this power of positive belief to make the unseen Real, it is what sustains me in this work. When my African friend Peter decided he would do something about water in the Wema ADP none of us had any idea he could mobilise local people to dig over 90 dams, he infected each group with his belief that they could make a difference. Now we jokingly call him ‘the Minister for Water’ but before he believed he could do something, he was just another dirt poor farmer in ragged clothes. Peter’s belief is contagious and now I see him and some others like him inspiring and empowering our own ADP staff.

I remember the story of the Velveteen Rabbit and for a moment I wonder whether I should take the risk and tell them. I decide not to. Once in Timor I made the mistake of trying to tell the story of the “King with No Clothes” . The people I was addressing had absolutely no clue what I was talking about, and the more I talked the less sense the story made, from beginning to end. It is hard to answer sensible questions like “if the King was so gullible, why was he still the king?” . The Velveteen Rabbit is a children’s book about a stuffed toy rabbit who becomes a real rabbit because of the love a of child. Let me quote you a section: “Real isn’t how you are made, “ said the skin horse. “it’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with , but REALLY loves you, then you become Real. it doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. Generally by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been rubbed off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

I am musing about how what I believe in defines me as individual, whether that belief is in Rolexes, or Giorgio Armani glasses, ADP staff or African damn builders. And how what I believe in, is always a choice and if I want to make a Real difference, how often I may need to transcend the limitations of what I think of as ‘the facts’.
I wonder if sometimes I am more worried about a portrayal of what our donors or our experts will perceive as real, than the potential for my work to believe others into Real. To help others “become” . Not being sure what is Real and what is not, means that at times I can become cynical and focused on all the things that might not work and I risk missing the opportunities to believe in the miraculous and in truly awesome potential of untogether and broken individuals. Of course it is safer to try to systematise approaches than risk and believe in the power of people to do things in time frames that don’t fit funding agreements.

Talking of risk, I am checking in to the hotel in Surabaya, the attractive receptionist’s name is Risky. I use her name a couple of times. “Yes Risky, thankyou Risky”, “Risky can I have a room on an upper floor?”, “Thank you Risky”. Now it maybe a middle aged man thing, but I notice that I am much more interested in talking with in a young woman named Risky than I would be in say, an Agnes or a Mary. I was delighted to learn later, that in Javanese, Rizky means blessing or gift from God.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Postcard from Wema - How much?

How much?
For six years I went to Washington DC based Church of the Saviour and we had a retreat centre in the county about an hour away called Wellspring. There was a dam there and one of the pastors used to baptise people in the dam. I remember a friend of mine telling me that this paster would hold people under the water by their hair, long, until they struggled, and then bring them up and say in his Texan accent “How much did you want to breath? You have to want Jesus that much!”
We are meeting in a dirt floored church, miles from anywhere, no dams full of water here. We are within the ADP at Wema in Kenya’s Rift Valley. A skinny dog pauses briefly at the open doorway and looks in expectantly, then ambles off. The dog is starving, the ground is starved for rain and the people here are hungry. The rains did come in April but only for a month and it needed to rain for nearly three months. This means that without a miracle the crops will fail and most people here have already eaten last year’s maize stocks.
We have been talking for about 20 minutes. Mr Chepkuto the president of the Mbogoini Economic Empowerment Group has just given an update on the work the group has been doing to improve roads, plant trees, and dig water pans to harvest much needed rain, that is what they call it here, rain water harvesting ..... for when the rain finally comes. I know from previous meetings that Mr Chepkuto is a struggling farmer and has four children, he is more formal than most of the committee members, a wide smile but something in reserve and though he is president of the Mbogoini Economic Empowerment Group, when I look into his eyes there is a resignation as to how things are. I think he is an unlikely president, but how would I know what it will take. Today he is dressed in a cream double breasted suit that looks good from a distance, I wonder if it was his wedding suit. A sigh of his respect for the committee and the process that we are working through together, he looks substantial in his suit but look closely and you see he is very thin.
I have been coming to Wema every 3 months or so for the last 18 months and now can remember most of the names of the 35 committee members, and for many I know something about their lives. Leah is about 35 years old, she is a joyful singer and I mostly ask her to lead us in some songs at the start of each session, she is a farmer and has 5 children. James is a gentle man with compassion in his eyes, a primary school teacher he has four grown children. He is around 45, mostly wears a ragged sweater and suit coat and white tennis shoes. Harun is the chair of the Matarui committee and has four children , he is also a farmer. He has a quiet dignity and the respect of his committee,.
There is a small wooden table at the front of the church where I stand, and I have my thermos of green tea, I prepared at the hotel , I carry it with me everywhere, no matter where I am or the circumstances my thermos faithfully provides predictable consolation. The table has a nylon lace cover and a small vase with some plastic flowers in it. Often the pastor sits in on the meeting for the day. Today I didn’t ask Leah to start us off with songs to, there is a seriousness today and it didn’t feel right to start as we generally do.
I greet everyone individually, shaking hands, desperately trying to recall everyone’s name, of course they all remember me “How is it in Australia? Are the rains coming in Australia? Is there are drought there?”
I shake Mr Chepkuto’s hand and it is noticeably hot and I ask if he is sick, he says he is okay.
We begin as we always do. I remind them of our first meeting and then tell the groups history and achievements as I know them and they remind me of things I have left out , and nod and murmur at the important parts. It seems important that I validate how they have grown. I think that we are all amazed at what they have been able to achieve. We talk about the hopes and aspirations they have and how working together has given them hope and confidence that they do have power to make a difference. How Jack went to ask the government officer about what their commitment is to improving water supply, and how before “representing” the committee he would never have had the courage to go. How Peter recently went to the local government planning meeting and asked questions about the plans for road upgrades. Someone makes a joke and quoting Barrack Obama says “yes we can” and everyone nods and laughs approvingly. Then the various subcommittees give reports on what they have done. One subcommittee has bended volunteers together to dig 72 water pans, (small damns) another cleared the under growth from 70 km of roads, marshalling over 100 volunteers, they have stated three plant nurseries and are currently nurturing 11,000 seedlings which they will begin to distribute to the community when there is more water. They are lobbying the local council to grade the roads and have 12 km graded and a promise of nearly 60 km more. And now World Vision Australia as committed the funds necessary to employ a Business Facilitator to assist people in the community to gain better access to the networks, advice , markets finance and expertise that will help them to expand whatever enterprises they are engaged in. The people here come from two communities, one from each side of the ADP which is separated by an almost impassable rocky ridge. The two groups come from different tribal groups who normally would be opposed to each other. Their working together has been an important part of peace building since the post election violence early in 2008.
Mr Chepkuto is in the front row, he leans towards me and whispers that he is not feeling well. stands up and begins to walk down an isle between the timber plank wall and the rows of pews. I see him sway a little, catch his balance then collapse into a row of pews, a gut wrenching crash, pews domino like a wave and Mr Chepkuto ‘s twisted body has fallen amongst them at an impossible angle. We go to him, he is unconscious but breathing steadily and five men pick him up horizontally and lay him on three narrow plank benches that someone put side by side. One of the men unbuttons his shirt and loosens his pants. His skinny chest, now bare is shiny with sweat and he looks very small. He is out cold. Leah tells me, “he has dropped from hunger”. We call the ADP office which is about 15 minutes drive away and ask them to send the car so that he can be taken to the clinic. I look at this man so helpless, so without resources to take responsibility for himself and his family. Someone has removed his shoes, the soles of his socks have disintegrated, mostly holes, and I am struck that these are probably his only socks, and he wore them just for this meeting, to go with his suit. I know that he had to walk about 20 km this morning to pick up the Matatu[1] the ADP had arranged to bring the Mbogoini Committee across the ridge. Peter one of the committee has someone sit with Mr Chepkuto while we wait for the ADP Toyota and someone suggests we continue with the meeting and there is general a general murmur of agreement.
I am facilitating a discussion about the characteristics of a strong community groups and we are talking about how important transparency, good governance, clear policies and commitment. But suddenly this has become so very hard; I have to believe that hope is what will keep these people alive, what will keep them going and continuing to work together , to make better futures for themselves and their children. I fully believe that there is no sustainable alternative to self help and that wherever I come from I am a messenger who can help them see anew what they already know to be true.
Mr Chepkuto is still motionless on the benches at the back of the church.
I am the only one in the room who has eaten today, everyone else will eat only once....later. Most did not even take tea this morning, there is no milk now. No one I spoke to has had a meal since yesterday. I am talking, probing, leading, listening, but my mind is also running a parallel track. Which goes something like, how dare I sit here with my wealth, my idealism, my full stomach, my ticket out, my clean bathed skin and face moisturiser and masquerade as someone so worthy of respect. Yet these friends are so thankful that I come, they always make a sincere speech of gratitude, that I journey to them from my life of wealth and prosperity and I remember them and I come back to them and sit and talk with them .
The mystery is that these friends need someone, even from the other side of the world, to help validate the things they know in their hearts to be true and someone to believe in them. None of us know where this will lead, and none of us seems to have a better alternative. And I am thinking, how much do I really want to help these friends, where does professionalism stop and a relationship that transcends this begin, and in the business of hope and belief is one possible without the other?
The day after I drafted this piece a friend from World Vision sent me the following quote from Thomas Merton, and it seemed to fit very well.
"Do not depend on the hope of results....you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself....You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people....In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything".
A few weeks have passed and I am now back in Indonesia. I have been in many more meetings, some are sprung, others postponed, rescheduled, shortened or extended, by someone who has a special “meetings” power. We are all very important and we all have other meetings we must get too, no one “drops from hunger’, one or other of us generally has a stronger agenda than the others and there always seems to be at least one person who doesn’t want to be there and finds ways to make that known.
And I know from my meetings in Wema there is something important for me to learn about my participation in meetings and I am wrestling with that now. I think I need to practice being a bearer of hope, as that is something that seems mostly to be passed from one person to another, as also is despair. I think I need to be about building relationships, as we don’t know where the path of the meeting will end, but I do know we will be stronger together. I think how badly Mr Chepkuto wanted to be at that meeting, because the meeting really mattered to him and think that if I am in a meeting the meeting really does have to matter to me, personally. For Mr Chepkuto it was not that hunger will be solved soon in Wema , but it was a matter of personal urgency that we could work together. I think I need to find a way to have this sense of importance about all my meetings and to take personal responsibility for hope, relationships and urgency......like I would if my hair was on fire!
Post Script: Mr Chepkuto is apparently fine for now, at the clinic they put him on drip and the ADP Manager got him a meal and someone helped him get home. I have emailed our area development project for an update but haven’t heard back yet.
[1] A van with seating for around 12 passengers that forms the basis of the Kenyan transport system.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Gods Love

I am inspired again by this beautiful Poem by the 13th century Sufi poet Yunis Emre:

Gods Love
How strange I feel under the hand of this love.
I can’t see my hand under the hand of this love.

Once I was the crown of the universe.
Now I'm dirt to walk on, under the hand of this love.

Like a lonely nightingale I call.
Blood streams from my eyes, under the hand of this love.

My face, like an autumn leaf, will glow,
darken and die, under the hand of this love.

On the Final Day with my collar torn,
let me weep, under the hand of this love.

What can I do when I am so far from Union?
My back bent under the hand of this love.

Yunus you pray for Taptuk* so much.
Don’t ask " What shall I do?" under the hand of this love.

* Yunus spiritual teacher
From the book:
A Drop That Became The Sea ; Lyric Poems of Yunus Emre (a 13th Century Turkish Sufi), Published by Shambala Boston and London

What would you do?

I am currently in Hardoi, which is somewhere in northern India two hours from Lucknow in India, in spell check comes up as ‘hairdo’.
It has been around 43 degrees all week. We are meeting with farmers who are poor and to discuss their problems and aspirations. The room we have been using for our workshops, has no air-conditioning and the power is intermittent so often there are no fans. When the old fans are running the noise is so loud it is almost impossible to have a conversation, when they are off it is like a microwave. Fans on or off, everyone in drenched in sweat. Under these circumstances a of my Indian colleagues, brother Samuel goes in to “screen saver mode” staring into the middle distance, the occasional flutter of something across the screen but only comes back to life if addressed directly. I have some kind of stomach bacterial thing and so feel drained and achy.
We are staying at the Utsar Hotel which is apparently the best hotel in town. But the place is indescribably filthy, the stains of red pan spit on the walls, rubbish in the hallways, plates left around with scraps of food, broken equipment, empty whisky and beer bottles and mouldy fabric in corners. Grime on every surface.
It is 7.30pm Wednesday, thankfully the day is over, I am guessing it is still around 38 degrees. I am lying on my bed feeling ill, the power is off, and without lights it is pitch black, inside no fan and I can’t open the windows because of the mosquitoes. I go out into the passage. No one anywhere, no sounds that resemble, ‘we have to get the generator operating!’ There is only one passable restaurant in town named “Treat” and I go down to look for one of the three drivers we have hired for the week .. I think that anything is better than staying here, so I will go to dinner. The cars are there but the drivers are gone. I have one of my Indian colleagues call them by mobile, “They are taking their dinner sir, they will be here in this thing, 30 minutes only” . The power is still off. I decide to take a shower but find there is no water. I stand forlornly, naked and sweaty in the torch light wondering how my life has led me to this moment. At 9pm one of the drivers emerges and takes me into town.
When I return the power is back on, but I have resolved that I will check out tomorrow and for the next 10 days make the rather hazardous two hour journey each way from Lucknow, rather than spend a fourth night at the Utsar.
Thursday evening and we are heading back to Lucknow at around 6pm. Again a huge TATA truck is heading straight towards us on our side of the road. This time even my Indian colleague is indignant and says “ and he isn’t putting his headlamp on to warn us” . To warn us!! He is overtaking an oncoming truck and cares nothing that we are there and that unless we swerve off the road, we will, as my Peruvian colleague JJ says, “be toast”! Here size definitely matters, everything smaller gives way to you, and you give way to everything bigger. It seems that the protocol is that the driver does not look into the whites of the other drivers eyes, it is as though drivers are pretending that they don’t see each other and so don’t have to give way.
For this reason most accidents happen between vehicles of the same size, truck with truck, car with car etc, as both drivers are consciously looking elsewhere so that they don’t have to give way and then they crash head on. The road is lined with crashed trucks mostly head on. I think that they are like shipwrecks, on the side of the road, straddling the medium strips, some burned out, many tipped over on their sides, cargo spread across the road. Apparently the drivers take pan to stay awake and drink some kind of palm wine. One of my Indian colleagues says that the drivers even stop on the side of the road and climb the palms and drink straight from the sap and can become too intoxicated to get back to the ground. He is serious, but I know he doesn’t really know this is true.
We pass a small car that has hit a cow and then swerved into a tree, must have been recent as the cow still looks fresh in this searing heat, a little further on, a jeep that has had a head on with a bus, impossible that anyone survived in the Jeep which is now just twisted metal. Both vehicles have been left ,still in the middle of the road. Then a fully laden truck that has veered off the road and hit a tree. All look to have happened in the last few hours.
When we reach the hotel three of us decide to share an overpriced bottle of Indian white wine, it was warm so we asked if they could bring us a cold one. “ Yes sir, definitely sir, we have one it is cold already and we will bring”. Ten minutes later the same bottle comes back slightly cooler after 10 minutes in the freezer. We ordered the red wine. But I tell you the truth, the red wine has a slight after taste of cow dung but in spite of that is quite drinkable, and there is something organic and comforting about cow dung anyway. Now, the point is this, partial truths are not an isolated event, but the reality here ..........and when I think about, it so it the after taste of cow dung. But perhaps this is always the case everywhere just more obvious here, truth that is , not cow dung.
I have a moral dilemma for you. The Park Inn Hotel in Lucknow, where I am now staying, charges one hundred Rupees per day for wireless internet use. As I and my colleagues are here on and off for three weeks, we have tried to negotiate that is should be free as part of our package but without success. “That only is the policy sir”. Now the hotel doesn’t seem to change the password, so I can use it every day, further more it is the same password for everyone so one person can get it once and then the three of us can all use it. So on check-out should I tell them the days of use and pay every day ? Or should I pay once and treat it as a loop hole that doesn’t cost anyone anything? After all it is there, wirelessly doing its thing, whether I use it or not? The hotel does make a number of other charges that seem unreasonably, perhaps this provides some balance? Do I share the password with my colleagues when they ask me and leave it to their consciences as to whether they pay? Does the fact that I am working for people who are poor make a difference? Might it be possible that the hotel wants to maintain the policy be but is happy for us to take advantage because they believe it should really be free for us?
The question of what is true reaches an entirely different order of complexity in the field. Consider this:
My work in Hardoi, is to explore ways that small farmers can increase their incomes through growing peppermint and extracting the oil for what seems to be a buoyant pharmaceutical market. The peppermint farmers say that the best time to plant is March between their crops of wheat and rice. The Agricultural Research Institute says that peppermint should be planted in January and will overly deplete the soil if rice is grown after it. The farmers say that they get good results if they use the Russian made DAP fertiliser, but that there is locally made fake DAP on the market and they can’t tell the difference except when their crops fail. The government agency AGRO says that DAP is readily available from government suppliers but that farmers should use the government produced Bio organic fertiliser that is better and cheaper in the long run. The farmers say it works out at 4 times the price. The local Agricultural Research Institute says that it has the capacity to conduct 38,000 soil tests each year and to advise on how to balance the every decreasing soil fertility, they have a mobile van doing soil testing and are continually doing training on planting and crop rotation in the area, but that the farmers aren’t interested. The farmers say they have never seen or heard of an government services like this. They say takes three weeks to get a soil sample done. The Agricultural Research Institute says that soil samples take two to three days. They say what the soil needs is potash to replace the organic carbon in the soil but because there is no demand for potash then no one stocks it. The farmers say that there is no fixed price for the peppermint oil that they produce, but the middle men who collect the oil say there are market prices fixed by the buyers based on international prices. The farmers need fast cash provided by the middle men so that they can pay for the fertiliser and labourers to pick the crop, and what they need is to work cooperatively and to get access to credit. The Agricultural Research Institute says that in this area there were 200 registered collectives established with the support of the government to provide loans and fertilisers to farmers who are poor but that the farmers took the fertiliser and loans and didn’t repay the money and that all but four of the cooperatives went broke. The farmers say they have no access to credit. The regional manager of the Bank of India says that any farmer can get a loan of Rp 50,000 without collateral and that a every area has are recognised bank allocated to it and that as part of a government program the banks have no shortage of money or capacity to make these small loans. The Agricultural Research Institute experts say that the farmers are lethargic and have lost faith in themselves, and that a farmer on an acre of land can earn more money as a labourer at one hundred Rupees per day (around US$2) than it is possible to earn from that acre. And these inconsistencies go on and on. I have been trying to triangulate the information. This is a process when you take a piece of information and then try to validate it with at least two other sources and effectively keep going around the triangle until you achieve consistency. But this isn’t working, as all the information is consistently inconsistent. So what would you do?
Next Tuesday what I am going to do, is to try to get a selection of all these people in the same room and have a conversation. The difficulty is, that the farmers are dirt poor and often illiterate and lack confidence and the bankers and scientists have doctorates and tend to be opinionated. It seems there is not one truth but many. Like looking at a diamond. It is truly a diamond, but it is also truly different depending on which surface you view. And it perplexes me that I am supposed to be an expert with solutions, and I know there is one, I just can’t figure out what it is right now. But whatever emerges it will have to do with everyone recognising that they are part of the same diamond rather than accepting that their surface is all there is. And again I see how important World Visions role is in trying to be the facilitators of that process, and while we can’t take responsibility for the participants we can be there to guide and accompany people who want to take new steps.

Signs and Wonders

Saturday evening I decided go for Sex on the Beach. I searched the drinks menu and this was what caught my eye, live dangerously I think to myself. But they didn’t have ‘sex on the beach’ , whatever it is, so neither did I. On one of my World Music CDs there is a song from a husky voiced woman who whispers “sex on the beach” over and over again, it never crossed my mind she was singing about a drink. It just shows, you never stop learning,
I came to Lucknow in northern India a week ago, to work as part of a team trialling an approach to market development that we hope will lead to increased opportunities for people who are poor in two rural ADPs[1]. Last week was fairly intense, four days in a room without windows, intermittent electricity and dodgy air-conditioning. We are a team of 20 that includes our ADP staff as well as some local farmers. The two farmers who sit next to me are Hindus. We have devotions each morning, we sing Hymns in Hindi, I have leaned to ‘la la la’ in Hindi and devotions in Africa have given me a certain clapping confidence. Meanwhile these two simple farmers, in shabby clothes sit stony faced with arms crosses tight against their chests. Their demeanour makes me so uncomfortable that by the third day I have stopped “la la la” and clapping, in neighbourly solidarity.
I ask them how they are finding things,
“Very very empowerative” says the shorter one, and the other nods enthusiastically.
He then launches into a passionate speech about God with starts with a statement “God is One!” and after many more statements and enthusiastic nods ends up with a lilting “Isn’t it” .
I am not sure whether this is another statement or a question but before I can figure out an answer, he continues
“What is the nature of the self?”
I think this is a rhetorical question which he is going to answer, but he doesn’t, and I don’t , and the session starts so we smile and do some mutual nodding and focus back on the workshop. A little later we are talking again and It turns out that the shorter farmer next to me has a Masters degree in Agricultural Science and the other a Bachelors in Animal Husbandry. I go for a break to the toilet to adjust my stereotype-meter. I am followed by M.K. Samuel, one of my Indian World Vision colleagues who is originally from Tamil Nadu in Southern India. We are both heading for the toilet. The door is marked “ ULL”.
I say to him “Someone must have really needed a “P”.
“No”, he says, “ actually the letter, it has fallen.”
I look at Samuel, consider telling him it was a joke, but think better of it.
The bathroom is filthy from top to bottom and almost every attachment is broken in some way, it smells of urine and curry and disinfectant and pan. Someone spat a mouth full of red pan[2] into the wash basin and left it like a road accident.
It is Sunday morning. Three of my World Vision colleagues are Tamils and together they have organised a hire car that will take use to an English speaking Anglican service at 7.30 am. We are waiting for the hire car to arrive. It has been “only just coming, ten minutes more sir” for 30 minutes, the driver finally turns up but faced with two westerners and three Tamils and none of us speak Hindi, he decided it was all too much, said he was sick and called for another driver. So another 30 minutes and we have now been waiting an hour. The Tamils make many mobile phone calls and have conflicting ideas about where we should go and how to get there.
We sit in the hotel lobby, at least it is cool here. I read today’s ‘Times of India’ newspaper. In Jaipur a father has stabbed his teenage son to death because he wouldn’t turn off the television broadcast of the cricket when the father wanted to sleep. I read about how people build houses to sell but retain ownership of the rooves so that they can build a second story; and that a new soft drink named “Gau Jal” is being launched, translated it literally it means “cow water” and is made from cow urine. I wonder what I am doing here. I am wondering what business expertise can possibly add to a people can make a buck from owning other peoples rooves and persuading people to pay money to drink cows urine .
We end up at a Catholic Hindi service that is half way through.
We can’t understand a word as it is in Hindi, though we make out it is “relationships Sunday” when a whole lot of couples go to the front for prayer. The only Catholic is JJ, my WV Canadian colleague who is also Peruvian. I turn to JJ and say: “these Tamils couldn’t organise a chook raffle”
JJ is confused, he doesn’t understand “chook” or “raffle”. I explain. His face lights up.
“We do the same thing in Peru”, he says.
“We let a Coy (which is a Peruvian guinea pig) loose, and the house it runs to, wins.”
I ask him if that takes a lot of organisation, and he says no, all you need is a Guinea Pig.
It turns out they eat the Guinea Pig. JJ says they are delicious. JJ and I have less in common than I thought but we understand each other in our common view of the Tamils organisational capabilities.
Yesterday afternoon JJ and I went to the old market, “The Chowk”. I begin exploring down some narrow back alleys and as we go deeper and take a few turns, JJ becomes worried that we won’t find our way out, and mutters something about ‘crazy Australian’ in Peruvian Canadian accented English. The alley has narrowed to about a metre and on both sides of us, small jewellery factories and bed sized shops. Bright eyes shine out from the semi darkness, I wonder if direct sunshine ever touches these places. The eyes follow us as we pass, people who look like they spend their whole lives, working, having families and dying there, lives centred around holes in walls. We are adopted by two young boys who take it upon themselves to lead us through the maze of alleys. JJs confidence increases because of a 6 and an 8 year old. As we pass the eyes in walls, the boy says proudly “Australian” and people nod in that Indian way, as though they are taking pleasure in gently rattling a marble that has become loose in their brain.
Deep in the old city we enter a temple. It is dedicated to Hanuman the Hindu Monkey God, hero of the famous Ramayana story. The entrance is through the teeth of a huge Monkey Mouth. There in front of us is a life-sized wall relief of Hanuman, partly covered in cloth and the exposed parts painted World Vision orange with a mixture of lime and saffron. I guess they were using the colour first. The main shrine is to Kali who is known as the “Dark Mother”, fearful and ferocious, a destroyer with the heart of a mother. The whole run down temple is spooky. The doors to Kali’s actual shrine were locked closed and I am somewhat relieved. The older boy says, “the God, she is sleeping.” So we gladly left the sleeping God and returned to the alleys.
But back to this morning, we are finally in the Catholic Church and at the front is a five metre crucified Christ, pale and bloody. Like a religious version of the giant banana, ‘shock and awe’ is the phrase that springs to mind. I am thinking that this would scare the hell out of those kids we were with yesterday. It scares me! Around the walls are the stations of the cross. I notice something I have never noticed before. The stations start with a fully dressed Jesus being condemned by Pilot, and then as my eyes travel from station to station, I notice that Jesus progressively loses his clothes until he ends up near naked and bloody on the cross. It occurs to me that most of us actually do it the other way around, we come into the world naked and bloody and end up dead in fine clothes. I know there is a message here somewhere but it is too hot to focus and the charismatic hymns in Hindi are making me feel dizzy. The protestant Tamils have had enough and so we all leave. In the parking lot the Tamils have an air of people who have done the right thing and I am thinking about what new adventures this day holds, and our work in the villages next week.

[1] ADP is World Visions acronym for Area Development Project, and is a holistic commitment to a partticualr geographic area that typically lasts 12 to 15 years.
[2] Pan is chewed in much of Asia and is a mixture of Areca nut, lime and other additives such as spices or tobacco. Pan is a mild stimulant and reportedly has the same effect as a cup of coffee, it is red when chewed and spat out rather than swallowed.

All in Good Time

‘In Africa a thing is true at first light and a lie by noon and you have no more respect for it than for the lovely, perfect weed fringed lake you see across the sun baked salt plain. You have walked across that plain in the morning and you know that no such lake is there. But now it is there absolutely true, beautiful and believable.’ – Ernest Hemmingway
“In Jakarta, it is hot at first light, hotter by noon, and the one thing that is absolutely true is that no one actually knows what time it is, so while you know your clock is right, as you set it by the internet this morning, you also know that there is no set time that any event will start, or that anything will leave or arrive, as beautiful and believable as all commitments have been” - Jock
I only arrived from Africa Saturday and on Wednesday morning I was already on a flight to Surabaya in East Java. My work was to provide an induction for two new staff who will be working in Surabaya and Flores to help producers who are poor get better prices for their goods. The timing wasn’t ideal, but I had to hire them as soon as possible and so I had to orient them in to their roles , so what to do, this is really important work. A friend of mine once told me, a job is something you do for someone else, but work is what you do as an expression of who you are. So that really brings a new perspective to “work – life balance”, in this context, work and life are inseparable and so naturally in balance. But that is deep so early in this postcard.
It is now 7pm Friday and I am in a taxi on my way back to from Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta airport, completely spent . I think I am still jetlagged from the Africa trip, didn’t sleep well in the hotel and I spent most of the last three days presenting and Lerina translating into Bahasa Indonesian . Lerina works with me, and when Olivia and I leave ,will take over much of our work. She is Batak, which is a tribal group from Northern Sumatra. Bataks were Christianised by Dutch and German missionaries, tend to speak good English, and like to eat dogs and fruit bats. Apparently when roasted bat wings are crunchy and delicious. Lerina is fine with dog, but draws the line at bat.
The inductions I do for new staff are structured like a building project. I give a brief over view , like the architects plan, spend a lot of time on the foundations, put up a framework of the whole structure and then begin filling in the structure bit by bit. In the case of our work in community economic development, the foundation consists of long discussions about the circulation of power. How, when World Vision enters into a dialogue, all the community dynamics are changed and how we are not a neutral player, how we too have our own agendas, forged in our own structures, internal incentives and the messages given to donors. I am committed to making a big investment of time, over many months, in each person we hire and it all starts with a two day induction.
I often struggle with how to make the biggest impact with the time I have available, there are so many time traps. As part of facing this challenge, my team develops statements for each of the projects we are working on, so that we have some kind of anchor to help keep us focused. The statement for our economic development work in the Australian funded ADP in Surabaya is: "In 2009 we can help prevent 1400 children suffering malnutrition and stunting if we help increase the incomes of the 700 poorest families in Surabaya 2 ADP by Rp 15000 ($1.50) each day." I imagine myself on one side of a justice scale, and 1400 kids on the other and I think which is more important. This is something worth getting out of bed in the morning for , and sometimes being on a plane so tired, that you think your body might just stop or sitting with emails at 3am, because the melatonin tablets you took to sleep aren’t working and your internal clock is telling you it is 10am in the morning.
This focus helps us keep our bearings, it means that if we are in a meeting, if we are being given the run around by our internal bureaucracies’ then it is easier to get impatient , in a good way; we have no time to waste, we have work to do.
And I am thinking about this as my taxi becomes part of Jakarta’s Friday evening thickening traffic. I am wondering how much of what I discussed with the new staff may change their approaches or whether they will fall into the trap of trying to control the committees they will be working with, filling their time but not being effective.. I am wondering how long they will stay with us and what kind of return we may get on my investment of the last three days and all the days to come.
The taxi stops on the freeway; we have just hit the jam. The trip home may take another hour, but it could just as easily be another two. I am not sure what time I will get home, but the clocks in Indonesia all show different times so no one actually knows what time it is. The time I actually arrive home is something of an existential mystery. I find taxis are a good place to think, world outside, in all its complexity, and the delicious simplicity of the whole back seat of a cab, nowhere else to go or be, disconnected but part of things; alone with others.
I wonder at the mystery of all the blingie watches on all the wrists of tens of millions of Indonesian men all showing different times, personal times. Now this is a big thought, on the one hand the increments are relative but on the other, time is actually all any of us have, and yes it is actually very personal.
A police car is behind us impatient, lights flashing, siren wailing, somehow it makes me think we need to get out of the way, there is an urgency, but we are all stopped with nowhere to go. Even stopped in traffic we are, “we are racing headlong towards death” as a Tibetan Lama I once knew used to say. So whether in a taxi or doing an orientation or in the field or doing whatever our stuff is, how can we, any of us be sure that we are spending our time well. And I am thinking that it all comes back to our motivation. All we can do, is all we can do, and if we do that well then that must be enough, and the consequences? Well they will be known in time. I think we claim the moment, even if the moment didn’t start on time.
We start to move again, Plaza Semenggi on my left in big red neon letters tells me I have about 30 minutes until home, not bad time. I think of an email sent last week by one of our Business Facilitators, a lovely kind man, to an ADP manager whose wife who had been quite sick, “ I hope your wife will finish soon in sickness” and I am thinking she probably will , it is just a matter of timing.

Gifts of faith and other things

One thing that I learn again and again in Indonesia, is not to take anything for granted, not the day , not the plan, and especially not the sleep.
I arrived in Rote on Monday morning with Chris Rowlands, WVAs Access to Markets specialist. It is a long journey; Melbourne to Denpasar then a flight to Kupang in West Timor and a two hour morning ferry to the island of Rote. In this case a three day journey. And the journey is not guaranteed. Last year Olivia and I hung around in Kupang, hardly a jewel in the crown of Indonesia, for three days because the ferry could not run due to bad weather.
Rote is almost an island paradise, lovely beaches fringed with coconut palms, 100,000 friendly island people on 250 square km just one hours flight from Darwin. Most people on Rote live from the land or the sea, but they are poor beyond belief. It only rains two to three months each year and f in the dry season many people survive by drinking the sap of a palm they call it Sugar Water. According to Government statistics over 7000 children suffer from malnutrition and stunting. There is little water, little vocational education or training, and virtually no innovation or the application of new technology.
We are here to facilitate a workshop and maximise the effectiveness of our access to markets work here. Our team comprises Chris and I and three Indonesian Market Facilitators and Lerina, our project coordinator from Jakarta. Each of the Market Facilitators is located in a large city with the task of seeking tangible opportunities for poor producers in projects on the islands of Rote and Flores. During the week we aim to review our progress to date and brainstorm approaches to meet the current challenges and also those we expect will arise.
We spend Monday afternoon scoping out the weeks activities and coming up with a formidable list of operational concerns. These include; what if these staff are physically threatened because they are helping poor producers find ways around the existing mafia like monopolies ? And the lack of support our team sometimes feels from other World Vision staff who don’t understand a markets driven approach to development.
The capital is Ba’, a town of a couple of thousand people. The only hotel to stay in is called ‘The Grace’. It is run by a Chinese family who used to have a trucking business. It is rough but okay. I am told there is another hotel, but not to bother even going to look at it. It is hot, really hot. The hotel has air conditioners - the ones that are installed in windows - and they grumble away when the power is on. Five of us are staying at the Grace and after dinner every one retires early.
Next morning I sat with Chris over a breakfast of fried rice and our conversation went something like this:
“How did you sleep?” I asked
“Not well”
“Did you hear the rooster?”
“Did I? It wasn’t one, the roosters were like a train, I could hear them start at one end of the village and the crowing got louder as they got closer until they ended up with our rooster”
“I think the rooster was next to my room”
“No, he was next to mine.”
“When did he start?”
“About one thirty I think”
“ He crowed about every half an hour”
“No it was more like every 5 minutes”
“Did you hear when someone turned on the TV loud in reception”
“And then had a coughing fit”
“Yeh, about 4am”
“And the call to prayer from the mosque?”
“Yeh, about 4.30 am”
“And that Rooster!”

One of the hotel house boys walks past, “rooster!”, I said, “ayam jago” and I ran my finger across my throat several times. The boy disappeared at once. Chris tells me he thinks that my actions conveyed I had it in for the boy personally. Anyway, we didn’t see him again in the whole week were there.
But in the harsh heat and light of the day, memories of roosters, disappearing boys and early morning calls to prayer soon fade. We focus our workshop on discussion about how these three new Market Facilitators can increase incomes for producers who are poor. The room is stuffy and hot, there is no fan and we are all dripping with sweat. Every so often one of the facilitators gets “the thousand yard stare” and we stop for a short break.
It is around 6pm and we are back at the Grace. Chris and I negotiated room changes and now both have rooms on the second floor, further away from that rooster.....progress. The two of us are on the roof three levels up, with drinks. The sun is setting. It is big round and red and its redness reflects in the water in a line straight to us, as though we are the only two people in the world.
“Have you ever seen the green flash?”, I ask Chris “It happens just as the sun disappears beneath the horizon “
We watch together , red sun ball in the sky, in the sea and little by little, gone....
“Did you see it?” I ask as the last slither of sun disappears
“No, did you?”
“Have you ever seen it ?” Chris asks
“How do you know it’s real?”
“I read it in a book and I believe it is real.”
Chris nods, as a Christian he also understands about faith.
Lets watch tomorrow, I say, and Chris chuckles.

I sleep better that night .
The next day I am to facilitate a workshop with a newly established economic development committee from the ADP community. It has been arranged by the ADP and they want me to work with the committee on local economic empowerment. I like this work and think I am good at it. There are about ten ADP staff present, then the six of us and eleven members of the Economic Empowerment Committee. I get the sense that no one is quite sure why we are all in the room together. I work on faith, I believe that as poor as these men and women are, they can actually take more control of their own destinies and do things together that will improve their situations economically, but they also have to believe in themselves..
After around 3 hours of working with the group, I think we are done and they think we are done. I suggest some next steps to them and tell them that if they decide they want me to come again then they should invite me, and I will find a way to come. Lerina gives me a harsh sideways look, she knows I really don’t have time to come back for a follow up but I feel I must offer.
The Project Manager makes a short speech and tells the committee to report back to him, but in such a way that puts him in charge while making them responsible. He and I have already discussed this dynamic the day before and agreed he would not do this, but he can’t help himself. The people are so poor and will see him being in charge, as a better option than trusting themselves. So having wrestled for three hours to see intent and an emerging faith in the eyes of each member, that they are not powerless, the ADP manager has reversed that with one expedient sentence, and we are all back to where we started; wondering why we are in the room together. This is what I call “ 1000 moments of truth”, we have to be consistent in our actions in empowerment, one wrong message can potentially sweep all the others away..... in a breath.
After it is over I ask the ADP manager how he thinks it went. He says “Okay”. Interestingly okay seems to be part of every language on earth. Here I think it means good, but I am not sure.
It is the end of the day. Chris and I are sitting on a rock on a section of island beach. There is no one around except for a local spear fisherman. We have been watching him diving in the shoulder deep water at the edge of the reef about 300 meters away. The sun is setting and in the fading light he is now making his way back to shore, through knee deep water across the very uneven coral reef. We can’t quite make out how many fish he has on sling, but feel somehow involved in his catch. We have been watching him and talking about our fathers. The fishermen gets closer and is met by his son who must be six years old and has brought him some thongs, so that he walks the rest of the reef in more comfort. We can hear snippets of them sharing news, joking with each other. The little boy seems proud to be helping his dad. Again a beautiful sunset, pink and silver and God in the sky and water and everywhere around.
The sun sinks. “Did you see the green flash?” I ask Chris,
“No, did you?”
“No.” We get up and slowly make our way up the beach, flash or no flash, it has been a good day.

Ready or not.

I am sitting in the airport lounge at Kupang in West Timor waiting for the plane to Jakarta, we are already two hours late and the plane still hasn’t arrived.
I came to Kupang to conduct interviews for a Access to Markets specialist. This is a new position which will assist poor farmers and fishermen gain higher prices for their products on some of the islands to the east of Java. Two days travel for one day of interviews seems like a big investment but one I am hoping will lead the way in developed market focused approaches in some of our ADP communities. One of the applicants for the Market Facilitation role was named ‘Antonious Rape Within’. He didn’t arrive at the scheduled interview time, we phoned him to see if he was lost but it turned out he was 17 hours by ferry away on the island of Flores. I wonder out loud if his name is not a little odd, the staff here have serious looks and don’t think so.
Through the full length glass windows of the single story terminal building, I look out to the runway and across the runway to a wall of palm trees on the other side. The wind is wild, pushing them around, tormenting them, bending them, messing with their fronds. Bad hair day for palms. Then behind the palms, forested mountains somehow unfriendly with the storm approaching.
The clouds are rolling in from the south, bugger. Not the white puffy kind, this is the wet season. These clouds are the dark foreboding kind that bring thunder and lightning, howling winds that throw big things around and sheets of rain. At this time of year it doesn’t rain on you, it explodes a mayhem and you become very small in that storm and not separate from it.
I shouldn’t be here in the terminal now, if the plane had been on time I would have been in the air two hours ago and nearly back to Jakarta, instead of watching the storm build and mulling over a range of unpleasant options. Maybe the plane won’t be able to land, maybe it will land and won’t be able to take off and I will have to spend another night here. Maybe we will take off in the storm and.... another sharp crack of thunder.
I am thinking whatever happens this afternoon, this is my life and this is not a rehearsal, it is the real thing, the main act. My life is not actually separated into the parts I am ready for and the parts I am not. The countless hours I spend travelling, to ADPs in big white World Vision land cruisers or in taxis stuck still in acres of Jakarta traffic and even waiting in sad airports lounges like this one watching a storm unfold, are all more than just the “bridging” spaces between destinations. These times are also , part of my ‘main event’. This is not about doing office work on planes but about dignifying these slices of time altogether differently, paying more attention to them, folding them into the work of my life rather than thinking of them as inconveniences.
It is 3 pm and the light has gone grey yellow, a man sprints down the main runway, there is only the main runway. He running fast, but there is an exaggerated ‘Mr. Bean’ motion to his running against the wind. He is chasing a red and white golf umbrella that must have been torn from some boarding passengers hands and is now half floating half bouncing down the runway. I am sorry when he catches it. The rain has started , big drops and building, the mountain is gone in a grey mist of this approaching rain.
There is no flight call but the door attendant gave some invisible sign and somehow we all know and surge for the terminal door in a rag tag body, people pushing and manoeuvring, I am at least a head taller than everyone, and just allow myself to be pushed with the crowd. Through the door, are a few red and white golf umbrellas on the concrete, I grab one of the last for the 200 metre walk along the runway to the plane. It doesn’t help much , the rain has gone horizontal.
At the top of the portable boarding stairs the flight attendants are using small brooms to sweep the water out of the cabin door as the passengers are trying to board, and the rain is following them into the cabin, and the attendants are all smiles and legs and tight flight attendant skirts and tangled up with wet passengers, wet hand luggage, soggy boarding cards and there is stress and determination and relief all together .
I am in my seat, dripping wet from the thighs down. Good sign, the plane doesn’t have ashtrays, that means it was probably commissioned in the last 15 years.
The full force of storm is on us now, the plane is rocking and there are deep thumps and rumbles as the luggage is loaded below and the thunder rolls above.
We will fly over quite a bit of water on the way back to Jakarta. The attendant goes through the life jacket demonstration, and I pay a more attention today. “Firmly pull down on the straps on each side ....and when leaving the aircraft in Jakarta please do not take the life jackets with you ......., please leave them under the seat in case they are needed by passengers on the next flight.....thank you and enjoy your flight with Sriwijaya Air.”
Indonesia does not have a reputation for the world’s safest airlines. In fact all Indonesian Airlines are banned from landing in Europe and America. A couple of my World Vision colleagues were in a crash here in 2007. They survived with cuts and bruises but the plane burned and they lost their laptops and luggage and now have a lingering fear of flying. Which makes me think again that the travel is more than a bridging event, in terms of our lives, it may in fact be a very main event.
I tell the English mining engineer next to me, that I hear no one has ever survived a large jet aircraft crash at sea, and that instead of lifejackets, it may be more useful if there were Bibles and Korans under the seats! He doesn’t laugh. I try to turn on the overhead reading light , but it doesn’t work, and my arm rest is only half attached.
In the seat pocket in front of me I discover the official Sriwijaya “Invocation Card” in English and Bahasa Indonesia. In case you haven’t come across an invocation card before , it provides pre-prepared travelling prayers for Muslims, Protestants, Catholics, Hindus and Buddhists, the five faiths legally recognised in Indonesia. I am wondering whether these poorly translated prayers work just as well as grammatically correct ones, and whether making all the prayers to all the faiths might provide a broader protective coverage but on the other hand could work against me; or even that the collective prayers from all the passengers from all the faiths could all cancel each other out! We take off, the air-conditioning is set to “arctic”, I’m clutching the innovation card, fussing with the loose arm rest, and feeling happy we found a good person for the new Markets role, and I thinking that I might even take a little nap.

Postcard from Rwanda

Postcard from Rwanda
It is Sunday morning in Kigali and I will stay in the hotel, I might venture out if the pyramids were just down the road, but much of my life involves unexpected sights and today I am happy not to go looking for them. I should be working on a new proposal to fund a much needed project in Kenya, but instead, sitting with my computer at a little desk next to the open balcony door, in my tracksuit pants and bare feet, I am writing you a postcard.
I somehow messed up my flights. I am here a day earlier than I should be. I got to Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi yesterday and they showed me I was actually due to fly today. As I had checked out of the hotel and out of Nairobi in my mind, I changed my ticket and flew out anyway. But this morning I see that all my tickets are a day later than I had put in my itinerary. How do these things happen? I should have let my assistant Olivia arrange things, at least then I would have someone else to blame.....but on the other hand, Olivia probably wouldn’t have made these mistakes. I wonder if this is how the UN feels when it gets its timing wrong.
The hotel where I am staying is a small concrete block, everything is spotless concrete, much of it painted. It is basic but fine. As a former French colony everything has a vaguely French feel about it. The bar at the restaurant, the breakfast this morning of croissants, corned beef, tangy cheese and good strong coffee. Someone told me that where the French colonised, their legacy is good food, good music and beautiful women.
Last night I went down to the open air restaurant for dinner and sat with two volunteer aid workers, Michelle a 25 year old from Wisconsin and an older woman from Edinburgh. I didn’t catch her name but she looked like an ‘Elisabeth’. They are both social workers. Michelle tells me that she is in a very serious relationship and soon after she returns to Wisconsin midyear, is expecting to get married and have children. Elisabeth will return to her job in Edinburgh as a social worker with families fostering children. They are both on one year engagements to programs working with orphans here in Rwanda.
Two beautiful young Rwandan women sit down at the table next to us. They would have been little girls during the genocide. I have seen young women like them many times in Nairobi. They have come hoping that someone will buy them a drink or more. I am glad I am in the protective custody of the volunteers.
I tell the volunteers that this is my second visit to Rwanda and again, in spite of many offers from the office here, I am hoping to avoid going to the genocide museum. They are both emphatic that I must go, and see images of genocide, the pictures and movies of people hacked with machetes, dead children, the bones, the history of genocides through the ages. Michelle tells me that the first three times she went she sobbed uncontrollably. And the next time? Yes she cried then too. Elisabeth tells me that she has been three times and cried every time as well, and that I must go. I am trying to get my head around crying and devastating and good and hacked body images and must go.
A fifty something Robert Mugabe look- alike comes and sits with the beauty queens at the next table, he is wearing a shirt that makes him look a bit like a psychedelic pineapple.
“So tell me again, why should I go to the genocide memorial?” “Well it is so moving and you see how it was really all set up by Western powers through their colonialism.” Just what I need, more guilt. Maybe they are Roman Catholics. I think of Jesus, “let the dead bury the dead” and wonder whether he would go to the genocide memorial and the Dalia Lama who says simply; ‘my religion is kindness’. I am about to ask whether they think that going will help me to be a kinder person but am distracted as Robert Mugabe leaves with the two young women. I am trying desperately to reign in my imagination which, like some kind of wild horse pulling, is following the three out the entrance and into the night. Guilt is a powerful thing but maybe it transforms when you cry, a kind of unexpected synergy. Did you know that passion fruit pulp is very good poured over cooked brussel sprouts? More than the sum of its parts, you must try it.

A flat white with nothing to say

A flat white with nothing to say
The young man in West Timor who I have hired to drive me for the day, has asked me to pay the going rate, petrol and $3 for the day. “How often do you drive?” “Two or three times a week,” he says. “Are you married?” “Yes I have a wife and two childrens.” “What else do you do?” I ask. “I have a video game business.” It turns out he has a discarded play station and a monitor and he rents it for 10c per hour to school children. He doesn’t do much business and earns about $1.00 per day from renting the video game he has. It is not enough to live on but he and his family somehow survive, “What do you want to do?” “I am looking for a job” he says, “But there are not jobs.”
I meet a 23 year old young man who has been sponsored by an NGO in Capetown and just finished a small business course. He is showing me around his neighbourhood in the township. He lives in a three room shanty with 6 other family members. His girlfriend lives with her family and has just had his child. He needs to come up with around $1000 as the bride price (dowry ) for her family before they can marry. It used to be cattle but now in the slum, it is dollars. If he can’t raise the money, he can’t marry, if he can’t marry he can’t fulfil any of the responsibilities of fatherhood, including giving his new daughter his name, and presiding over the necessary rituals and initiations. I ask him what he wants to do and he tells me he would like to be School Principle. This is clearly an impossible dream, he has no teaching experience, he has no money to study. I nod. He tells me he has AIDS. I nod
I have just arrived in Nairobi, I feel a sense of home, I have been here 3 or 4 times a year for the last 3 years. Familiar faces at the hotel and they are all so gracious in their remembrance of me.
I arrived tired from Johannesburg, a quick wash and down to a dinner of grilled fish at the hotel restaurant. It cost about $20 which is outrageous, but the options are few for something quick and convenient, Nairobi is not a safe place to eat local in.
I am on my back to the hotel room and I see the back of one of the security man, he is huge and I immediately recognise him, it is Nicky. He is a Masai, almost 2 meter tall and strong. Actually he is one of the strongest men I have ever met. I had polio and compensation for the weakness in my legs has left me with a strong upper body and very strong arms and hands. Mostly if I want to, I can crush a hand in a handshake, but not Nicky, we have had a number of strength contests and it is close , but he always wins.
I ask him how he is, and he beams “I am well Mr Jock” and according to the custom I ask “ and how is your family?” And the smile leaves his face “ They are hungry he says, “there is a drought in the east, they are hungry, my children are hungry.”
I feel like a coffee in my room, but I am standing at the top of the stairs with Nicky and I have nothing to say. I nod. Unlike many of my colleagues at World Vision Australia I have the privilege of working directly with many many poor people in our ADP communities. And I know there is nothing I can say.
I find there is nothing to say a little too often. A few days ago I was in Capetown. I was with some other development workers and we went to a coffee house. I walked to the counter and without really thinking ,I asked for a long black, and I got a long silence and found myself looking at a very big black man. And I am thinking he may not know what I want when I say I want a long black. I am looking at his staring bloodshot eyes, I am looking at his ox like chest, and on it a name tag “Lovemore”. So what the hell , “Lovemore” i say, “I have changed my mind, how about a flat white?” He is looking at me like this white man is out of his mind. I end up ordering something called an Americano which turns out to be a long black.
I definitely need t learn my lines better.

Eunuchs, cooked snakes, pig racing and girls named Jealousy ;that’s my Indonesia.

Okay perhaps what I had said was a bit controversial. We had been talking about the differences in perception of tolerance in Australia and how this differs from the perception of tolerance in Indonesia. But for the National Director of a World Vision office in Asia to look me straight in the eyes and call me a eunuch did seem to be going a bit far. In these kind of situations things can slow down and I am thinking; yes from time to time I have felt a little emasculated at World Vision, but does he know that? Then back to the meeting, “Oh did you say “u n i q u e”, yes of course, thank you.”
Misunderstandings can be an exciting part of the territory here, and woe betide visitors who make too many assumptions.
Some misunderstandings are humorous.
The agent for my apartment in Jakarta is a Chinese entrepreneur named Jackson. He also lives in the same apartment complex that I do, along with nearly 7000 other families. There are 18 towers. One evening as I was walking through the central community area, I was greeted by Jackson and he introduced me to his fiancĂ© “Jealousy”. “Did you say your name is Jealousy?” “Yes” she said and nodded sweetly. The ensuing silence must have communicated something to Jackson, who with a grin from ear to ear said, “Yes Jealousy, same as the football team”. “Ah, Chea- o –sie so nice to meet you”
Some misunderstandings are perplexing.
I hadn’t been here long and was trying hard to get a sense of what people in one urban slum did to generate income. Through an interpreter several of the women told me that they sold snakes. And the conversation went something like this:
“What do you do with the snakes?”
“We cook them.”
“Then what do you do?”
“We sell them”
“Are cooked snakes popular?
“Very popular.”
“Do you have any snakes her you can show me, is it safe to see them”
Perplexed look, and in half a minute our host arrives back with an armful of cellophane wrapped home cooked snacks.
I take a sideways look at the interpreter , “How do you say snack?”, I ask a little too sharply.
How do you say the creature that slithers along the ground and has a poisonous bite?

It reminded my of my first visit to rural Cambodia. To the village chief: “ How do most people in this village make a living?”
“Pig racing.”
“In Australia we race horses and people gamble on them. Do people gamble on the pigs as well?”
“Yes everyone gamble on pig.”
Five minutes of circular questioning , I am trying to find out how the villagers make the income to gamble at the pig races. It turns out we are taking about pig raising not racing. It was really hot right , I didn’t have a hat.
But sometimes misunderstandings can create wider ripples.
The visiting donor all the way from North America, walking through a tidy North Jakarta slum asks, “ If these people are so darn poor why do they all have televisions?”
Fair enough question. We know that half of them are living on less than $1.50 a day. We know around a third of the children suffer from malnutrition, we know that in the ADP area around 22 kids a day over the next 12 months will drop out of school because their families can’t afford to keep them there. So why do you think so many of the very poor have televisions? For status?
As the cheapest form of entertainment available? Answers too late for the North American donor, but it seemed like a question we should know the answer too. So next opportunity we got, we asked about 20 people. It turns out television is the easiest way to keep the young children happy when the parents and grandparents are busy doing the best they can to make enough to survive.

And sometimes misunderstandings are messy.
One of our projects is on the Indonesian island of Rote, I visited there about a month ago. It is a bugger of a place to get to, you fly to Kupang the day before, then go to the ferry at 7 am the next morning arriving at Ba’a the capital around midday. So effectively one looses nearly four days just in travel on a return trip. During my last day last visit, I was asked whether I would like to meet more of the community members. I asked whether they were different from the producers I had met in the past? They said no. I asked whether it would be alright if I didn’t meet them as we had had a very long day.. Through an interpreter, the ADP manager said this would be fine.
But I found out just last week ,that this was a committee that the ADP staff, with no prior discussion with me, had put together to work on our Economic Development Pilot. It came up when the ADP Development Facilitator was visiting Jakarta mentioned that he was worried about the committee becoming impatient, to which I replied “what committee?” and we went from there.

One of the benefits of living in Jakarta is the plentiful supply of fresh seafood. Or so I thought, but this is a misunderstanding it would perhaps have been better not to know more about. Many of the community who make up the ADP community at Cilincing in north Jakarta are dependent on fishing and supplying the local Jakarta market with fish and prawns. They make a living by cultivating fish and prawns in ponds or going out with nets in small boats and fishing in traditional waters. Well it turns out that ponds are often so polluted that around half the prawns die. So they are switching to Milk Fish which resists the pollution better. Increasingly I am seeing Milk Fish on menus. And the fish from the ocean, must be safe, right? Wrong. It turns out that ice costs about $1 a block, but and because they need to buy through middle men , fishermen pay $3 a block for ice, plus it melts to water, which fishermen already have plenty of. The cost of ice is roughly equal to their average daily profit. So resourcefully they use Formaldehyde aka Formalin, this is a chemical that is used to preserve or embalm dead bodies, a litre of formalin costs only 75 cents, and it is convenient, reusable, highly toxic and causes cancer.

So for better and for worse all is not what it seems.

And just to close, Glenn Jimmy our World Vision Australia funded market analyst , has done some work on how we can make this local fishing industry more profitable and sustainable and this maybe us in promoting the use of a safe and effective extract from cabbages to preserve fish as an alternative to formalin. We will all be better off.