The Year As I Know It

Twenty Fifteen.

The year of ‘getting things done’.

I say that every year, as if each year will be significantly different to the last. What a whirlwind this year has been so far. Life changes and meanders from the path so easily.

I am here now. At the beginning of the rest of my life, as they say. This year has seen me making choices, one at a time. The choice to stay in Melbourne; to recognize and explore my dreams; to go back to study; to rely on the government for my livelihood. And most importantly, to start a small business.

I have always been, and will always be, a dreamer. Millions of ideas swirl through my mind on a daily basis fighting to be noticed, many of them relegated to the ‘too hard’ or ‘not yet’ basket. Many of these have always been the same – business ideas that have evolved and digressed over the years. One of these dreams was about a café. The café was The Ware-house, a sisters’ ode to a family name. I sketched out plans for this café when I was still in high school, took notes about the open mike nights and book readings that would be held on a nightly basis. The seed grew. Soon the idea turned to retail. Craft With a Conscience was the name. A collective of womens’ groups around the world that were already making things, joined by local artists collaborating to bring beautiful things to Melbourne. Dear John, 11:11, and The Goat and The Well came next. More ideas that loosely combined the preceding ones. An evolving story.

Which brings me here. To where I am right now. Here I stand, a registered business name and partner in tow. Ready to face the world and what it brings us. “But what do you do?” we hear on a nearly daily basis. Lots. We do lots.

Think about the dreams that you once had. Think about the things that you were once passionate about. Art, literature, music. I want to inspire. Just as I am inspired. A retail shop that is getting away from me but still clinging onto the idea of good business and ethical consumerism. A space that is like a café but not a café – a space that calls for people to create, listen, feel. And room to do what I want. Time to create. Time to read. Time to live.

I, perhaps naively, believe we can have it all. What ‘all’ is, I’m unsure but I believe anything is possible. I’m living a dream. There are days that I have to pinch myself to ask, is this reality? Is this really happening? Am I really polishing 60kg weights in a personal gym in order to supplement my non-existent business income? Life is strange.

Advertisements

Side-Stepping

Another Friday night spent at home finding solace in the comfort of close company. Rain pattering outside on the tin roof of the 2m x 2m box I call my bed-room, I sit content after an evening of reminiscing, good food, great company and a typical ‘feel-good’ indie movie that leaves you feeling more sad than good. More empty and wanting more than full.

It’s been a long time since I wrote on here. Over a month to be more or less precise. That’s a lot of coffee and business dates, a lot of walks and conversations, a lot of stress and anticipation.

I’ve gone back to school. Again. Fourth time lucky.

This time I’m trying my luck with small business. Always on the look out for something worthwhile, I want a legacy. Of sorts. I’m wandering through life more or less alone and I feel like I want a legacy. While the friends around me get married and have children, I’m left stranded on my side of the street with a handful of degrees and a pocketful of desire, my heart tucked neatly in the cuff of my shirt. Like a game from an eighties Atari, I duck and weave and yet can’t cross the road, always blocked by one thing or another. Sidestepping.

I’m creating my own path. Joining the other ambitious and fed-up wanderers of society, we want to walk against the norm. We want to make our own marks.

A series of fortunate events has led me to where I stand now. My sister calls me lucky. I call it meticulous planning by my early teenage or 20-something year old self that wrote endless journal entries about exactly where I find myself right now. I have become what I wanted to become. Yes I still have moments of doubt and fear, uncontrollable fear, but I have made the bed that I lie in right now. This is what I wanted.

I am incredibly privileged. My government, as bad as I think it is, is paying me to study. Is paying me in my first year of business. While I lie awake at night and let fear creep into my existence I am receiving a small safety net from the government. A safety net that allows me to pay my rent regardless of the profit or losses my business makes. And here I am ashamed to want money, feeling guilty to want to run a profitable business. Wanting to give it all back. To whom? The poor? The needy?

I find myself consistently thinking about how our business can profit society. Can channel funds to charity and causes. Am I reinforcing the problem? Rather than punishing myself in the process is there a way we can conduct business for ourselves without exploiting others? Is that the answer to profiting society – a business run well that uses its money wisely, not giving it away, but spending it in the most effective way.

I want to be less of a contradiction. I want to hold my head up high and know that I am making the right choices and being the most ethical person I can be. I want a lot of things in life.

Tomorrow I will focus.

Baby steps.

Wisdom from the cult of Lululemon

There are a lot of things I’ve been doing since arriving back in Australia. Still ‘unemployed’, I am beginning to resent the very word ‘employment’. As if three little syllables give a sense of value to any human being and that anyone outside the formal restriction of ‘work’ is unproductive, ‘unemployable’, or downright lazy. Am I not worthy because I am not currently earning money? How much ‘value’ is determined by financial means?

Whilst part of me enjoys living on the outskirts of society, the other part is completely worn down from all the badgering questions like: What are you going to do now? Why haven’t you got a job yet? And my favourite: Are you even applying for jobs? Contrary to belief, I am looking for paid work. I am also not wallowing in my unemployment and am instead filling my days with unpaid work.

I resent the fact that society thinks I am being unproductive purely based on my net worth. The truth as I see it, is that I am being more productive in my unemployment than I was when I was earning a good paycheck as a public servant. Whilst my day there was broken into sections of ‘work’ and sections of killing time, these days I spend my time learning new skills; helping out family; and volunteering my time for work back in India. It’s actually quite hard to find time to do much else, and without a TV or functioning internet, I’m learning a lot about filling my time with little projects.

Focusing on my efforts helping out my father, in the last 8 weeks I was fortunate enough to partake in his Cardio Rehab sessions. Terrible as circumstances were, he having to be there because of three significant cardiac events, I was able to be a fly in the wall of his sessions and get a taste of life as a 70+ geriatric.

There were many characters in the stage-play of Caulfield Cardio Rehab. The fast-paced lawyer who considered his heart attack as non-event and was back at work the next day; the Indian man who thought crying was a woman’s job and that men shouldn’t be depressed about mortality; the Israeli woman who had uprooted her life to be in Melbourne only to stress herself towards cardiac irresponsibility; the Vietnam Vet who had suffered years of post-traumatic stress disorder and obesity; the man in the wheelchair who considered his health the be the best it had been in years, despite the triple by-pass, purely because the medical system had finally realized after 4 years that his heart was the problem; and not to forget my own father, the youngest of the group, who had had 7 mini strokes and 3 pharmaceutical-induced cardiac events in the past year. I was the mere bystander, the ‘youth of today’ represent. Sitting silently in the corner, I was privy to discussions about stress management and alcoholism, rants about today’s drug abuse and medical system, and complaints about food marketing and preservatives. It was an interesting experience in growing old and witnessing the trials and tribulations of an aging community.

However, through all the lessons about nutrition and lifestyle management, there was one story that will stick with me for years to come. His name was Frank, a discerning old man who entered the group much later than my father. His cardiac event was different to the rest of the group. Like the others, he had been experiencing chest pain and difficulty to breathe. However he was going through all the symptoms at the same time as his 9-year dog. Their prognosis was grim and Frank made the decision to euthanize his only friend. He told the group that he had recently bought a caravan with the intention of travelling around Australia with his dog. Now, living with a severe heart condition, his doctor advised him to stay within 40 minutes of Melbourne – just in case. He talked about his wife who he had often discussed the benefits of euthanasia with and who, having made no ‘Advanced Care Plan’, was diagnosed with a terminal brain disease that resulted in her spending 20 years attached to life support as a metaphorical vegetable before she was finally put out of her misery by natural causes. And finally he talked about going home everyday and shutting his door behind him so that he was alone, with nothing in the world but the walls around him.

There were a few similar stories, chapters about an older generation of men and women living alone. All reflecting back on their lives and wondering if this was all there was. Reassuring my father that at least he has family surrounding him, I’m brought back to my own circumstance and that of those around me. Like the badgering surrounding my employment, so too is the badgering about my single status. Just recently a family friend gave me a lecture about the importance of finding a significant other before suggesting the wonders of the internet. Content in my life as it is right now, I sit outside the confines of social normalcy. Like a social black sheep the productivity in my unemployment makes me too busy for a one-on-one relationship, and too busy to share my day-to-day life with anyone else. Does this make me the epitome of the hedonistic product of today’s society? A social pariah that is actually the product of society itself? Or maybe, in the words of Lululemon, “Living in the moment could be the meaning of life”.

Tears for Fears

There’s something to be said when you come back to your own country and have a series of minor anxiety attacks driven by the ‘freedom’ of its society. Drunk, testosterone fuelled boys hooting with their mates as they terrorize the train stations. Girls wearing tiny tight clothes, more skin visible that not, pre-drinks in their hands as they touch up their lip gloss and readjust their underwear. Streets littered with suspicious, beer soaked stains in the concrete, seedy characters loitering nearby.

In India I was met with fear based on empty streets and silent whisperings in dirty, pothole ridden streets. Here the fear is driven by the idea that ‘anything is possible’. While in Udaipur I was protected by the thin invisible layer of “foreigner”, here I am just another woman. Just another sexualized victim of the society that preaches gender equality whilst hiding behind the guise of freedom and under a blanket of ignorance. Who’s freedom, I ask? Freedom to dress as we want and act any way we feel? Freedom to drink as we want within the confines of social acceptance? Freedom to comment on anyone else and to harass men and women with silent looks and judgment?

Just as I am free to speak my voice against the extra large shirt, no pants look, so too are the opposite sex free to speak their voice and place judgment. We are all actors in the game of free speech, and rightly so. I am just biding time in the storm of my own internal dilemma.

Whilst previously I have come back to my home country fearless and confident, now I find myself feeling vulnerable and guarded. In India I was taken aback by the conservatism of both men and women, the conservatism that seemed to go against my standards of free speech and gender equality. However, now I am home I have begun to question my own reasoning. How much is enough? The sexualisation of men and women in society is incomprehensible. Sex is a commodity, as are men and women. Our body’s are molded and shaped, both figuratively and physically, through products intended to make ourselves feel good about ourselves. Shampoo to gloss and coat our hair into silky waves that fall across our backs. Pieces of elastic that we pull onto our bodies, suctioning our layers of adipose tissue to give ourselves flawlessly flat stomachs. Men and women sold the idea of desire, beauty, and love through everything from 24-hour gyms to the more discrete but widely available sex industry. I feel afraid because where in India it was implied and hidden, here in Australia it is glaringly obvious. It is not India, but Australia that I feel like a piece of meat up for the picking. And of course all this is before we consider the male testosterone and alcohol factor.

Yesterday was a fine example. The Melbourne Cup. A once highly regarded, elitist and pseudo-classy event, the Melbourne Cup is a glorified horserace. A Race that Stops the Nation, *read: excuse to get plastered in the morning and spend an exorbitant amount of money. Every year there surfaces a collection of photos the next day of the filth that are society. Piles of rubbish and food littered across the race grounds; photos of inebriated girls passed out on the grass with their two hundred dollar dresses over their heads and their heels in their hands; men in suits dancing on tables whilst swinging bottles of sparkling over their heads and if we’re lucky captured holding them as a phallus; and of course the dead racehorse from the day before as a reminder of what horse-racing actually is.

In the original words of Roland Orzabal of Tears for Fears, “It’s a very, very mad world”.

Re-entry

No one can ever quite prepare you for what it really means to ‘re-enter’ the country you’ve grown up in. Of course I’m talking from a ‘Westernised’ point of view of someone that has re-entered his or her ‘Western’ country after living abroad but at least I’m making the context clear. Having never experienced it myself, I used to scoff at people when they talked of culture shock and reverse culture shock. The feelings of isolation that come with the transition, of feeling lost and misunderstood. I would discuss it with the volunteers we hosted in Udaipur and talk about how to be prepared for the emotions upon return. Without previously experiencing it myself, I never knew what it would feel like to be overcome with emotion to the edge of tears for no apparent reason.

It doesn’t help that my sister’s car, one that she so kindly offered me to drive for the meantime, has no radio so I am forced to listen to my own thoughts whenever I’m alone. Hurtling down the freeway at 100km an hour, my heart beats rapidly to the point of anxiety. I find it hard to stay in my own lane as the road races beneath my wheels, trying hard to stop myself from banging my hand down on the horn to warn the other cars that I’m there. I see rags in emergency lane and instantly think they are people napping like the so many on the side of the roads in India. Again, this brings me to the edge of breaking point. I feel like pulling the car over to get it together but instead get lost in my own thoughts and start thinking about the freeway as a metaphor for my own life. Slowly, day-by-day, getting in the car is easier as I remind myself there are road rules to keep people in line, that the silence is ‘normal’.

Heading into the city for the first time was nothing if not depressing. Hundreds if not thousands of people wearing business suits, rushing from street to street and filling the cafes at lunchtime. Everyone on a schedule, everyone working like lemmings. My stomach twists into a knot as I’m forced to think of my own future, my own career choices. Anxious I have to eventually re-enter the workforce. I think about my unemployment as if it is an old friend. Someone I enjoy having around even if I know that they are bad for me. I fantasise about living off the grid and enjoying my life how I want to but then am shocked into being when responsibility comes knocking.

And it has definitely come knocking. One week after arriving back in the country, after already taking my father to a couple of doctor’s appointments, he has another heart attack. Re-admitted into hospital, it is the first time in his year of health issues I am privy to the family responsibility. Even then I live in my fantasy world and move into a new home. I am scared by my own ignorance to his condition and my lack of ability to handle emergency, ever grateful my sister is around to be the saviour.

Despite this all, despite my seemingly despondent manner, I am happy. I am comforted in my surrounding and I am comforted that the universe will provide. I am grounded by my naivety despite the obvious contradictions. I preach to my friends everyday about joining me in the part-time revolution, a revolution to enjoy life doing things we actually want to do whilst earning enough money to get by and make do. A revolution I have yet to be a part of due to my own lack of any employment. I preach about making choices to effect happiness and about not letting the ‘man get you down’. I want everyone to join me in my naivety so that we can all stop being taken advantage of. I want to be able to live the life I want without conforming to the societal pressures placed on us: the pressure of full-time work, mortgages and debt; the pressure of ‘settling down’ in one permanent spot. I want my fantasy to become a reality and I am optimistic I can make it work.

The habits of the desert

I guess I do live one of those unconventional lifestyles that people talk about. As I’m sitting in the Singapore Airport stressfully hoping that the bottle of water I bought in the Delhi airport and hurriedly threw in my checked luggage doesn’t explode in transit, I am forced to think back at the last 20 months of my life.

Two weeks ago in a weekend road trip through the Araveli Mountains and beyond, we stopped at temples and ashrams visiting healers along the way. One night I found myself fighting back sleep as I was taken to a late-night meeting with a robust and outspoken saint at the Ashram. Finding out what was my specialty he quickly pulled up his shirt and grabbed my hand to feel the cysts in his back before sitting back down and showing me home videos on his iphone 5 of himself dancing awkwardly in Chinese parks. The next day we sat with him again, this time we were on the floor at his feet while he nonchalantly blessed those that came to visit. It was a bizarre display of blended traditions seeing a ‘saint’ so easily immersed in the latest technology and seamlessly keeping face in his religious duties.

The destination and purpose of our road trip was the Thar Desert in Rajasthan for a couple of health camps. There, tucked away in the sparse desert we sat in the cool confines of the stone house specially built for the burn of the Rajasthan heat, we discussed the health concerns in the area and were presented with cases I had never before seen in Udaipur. Not only the cases but the houses and the people themselves, were also glaringly different to Udaipur. It felt like I was in a scene akin to a documentary presenting Arab nomads. This was only heightened when the men started pulling out their dried opium to show us what was the cause of their addiction. One man was 20 days sober when he came to us complaining of muscle and joint pain, pain that had obviously been numbed previously by a 250gm daily habit, 30 years in the making. He was currently on a government rehab program in an effort to come clean.

What surprised me in all of this was the money. The same man would spend 500 rupees a day yet looked like he had nothing else to his name. The truth was he was a moneylender so he had obviously worked things in his favor. Further in the mix, hidden away behind the thin brightly colored veils, women dripping in gold gathered to share their stories and health concerns. Life savings were hung from their noses and ears weighing them down behind the security of their modesty. All the gold in their houses clearly did nothing for the incredible anemia they presented with. Deeply pitted fingernails, fatigue and pale skin were only a few of the symptoms they displayed. Of course, with a diet lacking in fresh fruit and vegetables and protein, how could they be getting the nutrition they needed.

Upon the request of some of my fellow colleagues, we were fed a meal of rice and boiled mung beans as the women sat around hiding smiles and chatting to each other about the foreigners and our strange eating habits. It was like we were sizing up each other up through the language barrier, obviously awed by the each other but unable to express our feelings. The women and their beauty, the men and their nonchalance and the children and their obvious wonder, India you will never fail to amaze me. Your draw will one day see me back.

A Consequence of Migration

Of course I have been wanting to write for a while but life has been getting in the way. I wanted to write about my 7-day trip down south in which we travelled around 4000km across three states; spent 140 hours on trains, buses, jeeps and autos; ate my weight in an assortment of train food; turned down an offer of opium during a train conversation; educated young Indians about the NGO sector; battled through appropriating the village trainees to culture shock and using western facilities; took the same village trainees to the zoo and watched their amazement as they saw a giraffe for the first time; and other amazing first-time experiences. Today however, I want to write about disability.

A couple of weeks ago I was training in our field office when a mentally dis-abled man came to visit. I would say he was around his 40s with the social and mental capacity of around 10. He quietly walked in to the office, handed the doctor a piece of paper requesting some herbs of some sort and sat down to wait. One of my colleagues handed him a plate of food that he took with a simple nod. Of course, filled with curiosity, I had to ask his story.

In India, labour migration across state borders is a common and increasing trend. Individuals and whole families will move for work, setting up make-shift houses along the highways, bridges and construction sites they work in. They move, they work, they move again. Around the early 80s the same trend was happening around our field office. The government was building a new road and bridge and so families from across the country shifted to the area for work. They set up their houses, moved into the community and worked for a measly few dollars. Like all migratory workers, once the job was finished they moved on leaving what they didn’t need behind. In this case, a little boy was abandoned by his family. The community started to notice the boy moving around the village sitting outside houses as if waiting for someone to pick him up. They started taking him in a feeding him whatever they were having for dinner or lunch. He would never ask for or expect the food yet in every case he would quietly accept the gesture. With his own family long gone, it is almost as if the community adopted this boy and raised him as their own.

This story has a happy ending. However when I heard it, I can’t begin to explain the utter sadness it left in my heart. A whole community gathering together to help a little boy in need is fantastic, but how can you escape the reality that his whole family left him to his own devices. I’m not going to point fingers because I have never been in the situation or known anyone in the same position. I can try and understand how hard it must be to care for a high needs child, one that may be seen as unable to fully function in society and therefore never contribute to the family livelihood. All this especially in a country where male children and the premise of supporting the family is so important. I’m sure this is not a single incident. That the same thing happens across the country and the globe on a daily basis. It doesn’t make it right. My only solace is the promise to myself that I would never do the same. 

Dog eat dog world

There are some images that are ingrained in our minds as much as we’d like to forget them. Even through the action of trying to forget them we only seem to place more emphasis on what we saw. When we do forget, we find ourselves thinking back to that moment and recollecting, once again, the very thing we wanted to forget in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle.

Yesterday I was leaving the office only to see what I thought was one of those images. A dead puppy lying in the middle of the road, dark red blood seeping into the concrete. I hid my eyes to try and forget, my mind consumed with questions such as, “who cleans up the road kill in India?” and, “was that the yelping I heard just moments before?”. It isn’t the first time I’ve seen this happen. In fact it was only the other day I was thinking that I had successfully escaped Puppy Season without coming across the collateral damage.

I asked my work colleagues that very question, “Who cleans up the road kill in India”? Nobody had an answer for me, nobody seemed to know. As if the roads clean themselves, one colleague speculated that they cleaned the streets in the morning – “at least in the city,” she said.

 The image of a dead puppy is something so devastating because puppies, in their very nature, seem so innocent and helpless. Just like the puppies I’ve raised in the past, all they want to do is play, sleep and eat. A sense of unashamed joyfulness in their very being, they are helpless to the cruelties of life around them and not caught up in the politics of human nature that put ourselves in danger.

But, that is not the image ingrained in my mind. As I left the office for a second time that day, I couldn’t help but glance back in the hope that the body had been moved. It had not. Rather, the answer to my question was right in front of me. Nature, it would seem, would clean nature. There, where the body lay, another even smaller puppy was having a feast. Eating the flesh off its very kin, my mind has been flipped on the innocence of animals. I no longer know what to think. My whole life I have defended animals as sentient beings like you and I. Perhaps naively, I’ve looked into their eyes and seen personality and character. Maybe in the end, dogs are just dogs. Street dogs are just street dogs. Scavenging for their survival they will eat what they can get in an dog eat dog world.

Hooked

For six days of the week I work hard in a grassroots NGO, creating and managing projects that concentrate on improving the livelihoods of some of the most marginalized people in Udaipur. I am surrounded by humble colleagues, by dedicated staff that are committed to the cause despite the measly paychecks. For so long I have complained about being disillusioned by the whole sector. By being disillusioned by the expat lifestyle and contradictions that come with living the good life whilst working towards improving others’.

The terrible secret is, I love it.

A couple of weekends ago I went to Delhi for a friend’s wedding. I stayed in one of the best hotels for free, treated myself to room service, tacos and sushi buffets, happily downed vodka like it was water, soaked myself in a steam-room and Jacuzzi, binged on trashy cable TV and spent hours upon hours lying in a bathrobe in bed. And I loved every minute.

Of course I would never tell my work colleagues what I really was doing in Delhi. Never admit that I spent more than their monthly wage on a weekend of shopping and coffee. Just like I would never admit what I really do on my one day off. Sundays usually consisting of a lot of food and hookah, and more recently hanging out at one of the most beautiful pools in Udaipur being fed alcohol and food by my friend, the owner – for free. My life is a contradiction. 

I live a lifestyle in India I would never dream of in Melbourne. Hanging out at hotels and restaurants, cruising between one beautiful location to the next. Discussing the frustrations of work with friends in the same boat as myself whilst sipping on a latte that costs 2/3 of a day’s minimum wage. I know what I’m doing is ‘wrong’. That there is a little part inside me that turns darker with each little sip of delicious caffeine I drink. I am the problem that I so easily critique. And yet, I can’t stop. 

Despite it all, despite the internal battle I face every day I know that I want to continue the path I am walking. I know that where I am right now and what I am doing right now is where I should be. As I peruse the endless job sites I still continue to check that little box that says ‘Community & Development Sector’. Despite it all, I’m hooked. 

Iron-Plated Heart of Gold

Don’t get me wrong, I like little kids as much as the next person. However for some reason, and I’m not quite sure why, I have a particular intolerance for little kids begging me for money. It’s funny. So many people are drawn to development because of ‘the children’. Regardless of which shade – brown yellow, black, or white – so many foreigners plaster their facebook profiles and online presence with photos of themselves ‘volunteering’ or ‘being a local’ with the kids (or elderly, or sick, or ‘less fortunate’). In fact, there seems to be a creepy, hedonistic kick people get out of their ‘cultural acceptance’ or the perception of themselves as saints or missionaries. Take for example Humanitarians of Tinder, an entire blog devoted to pulling fun at these profiles and the idea that: the darker, the better. I know children are the future. I believe all children should have the right to live with dignity, to feel safe, to have a childhood and a good education, and to have the opportunity live their lives the same. I do not believe children should be exploited for the pure fact that they are children and I feel the very act of begging perpetuates this. Therefore, I like to think my intolerance is grounded in reason and logic.

So many people discuss the difficulty of being in a middle to lower-income country as seeing the face of poverty manifest itself in pint-sized children. The vast inhumanity and inequality of it all. I get it, I do. It is a terrible, terrible pattern of today’s society that places people in the position of abject poverty and it’s something that may take generations and generations to break the cycle. There is a particular spot in Udaipur in which there is always, without a doubt, a barrage of children ready to harass and follow anyone who may have a few rupees. Working in groups, they are completely relentless yet happy enough to go on playing when they see you are uninterested. The important part to note is that it doesn’t matter what time it is, day or night they are there, not at school and preferring, if not being forced into, begging for money instead.

Today as we were driving back from the field we stopped along a busy stretch of highway for water. Within seconds an older woman was there hand outstretched, child in the other. As I said, I am particularly intolerant, so the lady probably had more of a chance of getting anything before she held up her grandchild basically thrusting her into the open window. I am not completely cold-hearted, but I do understand the psychology of pulling at the heartstrings and why would anyone ever stop using this tactic when it works so well? 

I repeat, I am not completely cold-hearted. Rather, I see myself with an iron-plated, heart of gold. A willingness and drive to ‘help marginalized communities’ and ‘do good’, with a hard and critical exterior to get through first. I guess it’s not always that hard to break, I’m usually just protected from street beggars. Take for example the immense sadness and injustice when I see the old men at the train stations carrying loads meant for lorries on their bare backs. Earning a pittance, these men work hard, literally breaking their backs for the sake of a few dollars. Remembering again the same feeling I had in Vancouver when my sister and I happened upon a 24-hr Dennys on our ride home after a night out. Joining the parade of alcohol fueled youths, we sat at our booth to order our grilled-cheese and fries only to be served by an elderly Chinese man working the graveyard shift. He smiled over-enthusiastically to take our order as my heart bled thinking about what work he did during the day and if he was proud of earning minimum wage.

It is strange how we can prioritize need in such a systematic way. The other day a lady who had faced so much adversity this year, came to seek help because she had been told that possibly a foreigner may help her if she asked through Jagran’s network. Facing several sudden deaths in her family, a mother-in-law with dementia, a husband with terminal cancer, and two children to support in high school, her situation is not pretty. She has sold everything she owns to pay for medical bills and is now forced to stay home instead of be the teacher she is to give her husband the care he needs. Her children in Grades 9 and 11 may be forced to change from their private school to the government school however she is hesitant to take them out because they are at the top of their classes right now. What she needs is 50,000 rupees per child to pay for annual school fees however 1 lakh rupees is no small feat. Amounting to AUD $1780.73, I am asked if I know anyone to help them out. I discuss scholarship and NGOs but unfortunately I doubt their need will be seen as ‘needy’ in regards to private education. And so, how must we define need? Many of her family and friends will not help because they say she should switch her kids out of the private school into a government school with lower standards albeit lower fees. In the face of ‘need’, the uneducated children begging on the street during school hours with their clothes in rags are seen with more pity than the family trying to give their children the best possible chance of success. My iron-clad, golden heart is trapped. Somewhere between logic and emotion, it is constrained yet cracking, confused yet grounded.