Sunday, August 21, 2005


Wamut and me and our new boss had a meeting yesterday to discuss ways to make out job kind of 'sustainable' and not so exhausting. It was a very interesting conversation really, we spoke for nearly two hours. We didnt really come up with any solutions, but I felt it came through very strongly that Wamut and I really love the work we are doing and the people we work with. And I thought to myself that that is a good thing. I sincerely hope that there are lots of people in the world that can say the same. It is so strange to have 'professional ' relationships in a way. As though you dont need to care for some people, that you 'choose' the people that you care about and love, rather than extending the same care and respect (openly) to all the people you interaction with on a daily basis. Working in Ngukurr is a different system because there is a kinship system, whereby each person is born into a web of family that includes, theoretically, all other people, it means people have ot be much more responsible and put a good deal of effort into maintaining harmonious family (social) relationships. which I suppose is very taxing on us working there because we feel at the end of the day we should be able to leave our job at the office and have some 'free time' or alot our time and attention to different things during the day. Like from nine to five you wear the clothing talk the talk and play the role of a linguist or a fruit picker or whatever you are employed as. After work you become a social being, hang out with friends, change clothes, manner of speaking, place etc., you might later go home and have to be a parent, a lover, a cook, or whatever your relationship to the people around you expects. Of course through all of this you are still yourself and doing things in your way, but there is some fairly large amount of standardisation. You could say to family or friends, not now I am working, or to work collegues: not now I am having a break. we are so used to this framework of interaction in the world, maybe we can forget it is not the only way to do things.
In Ngukurr living and working in the same place ( I live in the Ngukurr Language Centre) is kind of a metaphor for the fact that you and your work, social relationships everything is happening all the time, and you are equally fair game to demands of 'family obligation' as you might be to your boss to do work.

A lot of things just seem to need a shifting in perspective of time and then you dont feel so stressed out, driving people around, waiting at the shop for fifteen minutes, going to the clinic etc. etc. seems to eat of your whole day. But only if you think of it in that way. You could think of it as building strong social relationships and fulfilling your obligation as a community memeber rather than pursuing your 'own goals' ( ie of working at the langauge centre!) all the time. Of course many people do often come and work on projects here,, and I suppose that is another reason why it is essential to be supporting what the community wants done rather than just trying to do something you yourself are interested in.

Wamut and i were also talking about how people here really look after you when you lose it, and yell or cry or show some outward releflection of an inward state, but that you have to reach that point before anyoone will notice , and wamut said an interesting thing that I have been thinking about, he said maybe everyone's lives are always very stressful everyday, much the same as you , many people are coping with difficult things, and that is why noone reacts when you are just a bit tired or annoyed. Because everyone feels the same all the time!! Something like that anyway. I certainly think that it is true that everyone here deals with a much higher amount of stress in their lives. In coping with illness, death and birth in the family, as well as social problems like drunkness and petrol sniffing. These affect everyones daily lives more than I think I can know. For example, no less than three of the four people who work here most days have heart disease and have had or may have to have open heart surgery at some point. I would say most of the people I work with are chronically ill with diabetes, TB, heart problems etc. AND they have to cope with the rest of their family often also being sick.

The Old Lady , R's mami who i said was sick a few weeks ago, passed away, R had urged me to go and visit her ( she is a very old lady) but I didnt ( everyone is always sick arent they?) and then she died. It makes me feel sad that I didnt visit her, and sorry that I didnt listen to R. You really need to listen to hear things around here. People dont shout it in your face, or tear their hair out, R just suggested it to me and when I was too busy she left it at that. But if I had ben going at a slower pace and listened I would have realised she has never asked me to visit the old lady before and it must be important.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

North East Arnhem Photos

This is the Yilila or Red Flag mob from Numbulwar, and the Yellow Flag mob maybe from Maningrida (??), who performed at Garma, and the sea just across the sea from Papua New Guinea. the photos were taken by a friend we made in Garma, and I have more I will send you if you are interested, just send me an email or leave a comment..

Existential anxiety?

Somehow today in the midst of finding everything very difficult, I had a lovely day. I think because I have realised that trying to live in two cultures at once is very exhausting and since I am here should try relax into the way things are done around here. Like doing things when you feel like it rather than when the time announces to you that it time to get up, and when to have lunch and when to stop work. So I slept until I felt like getting up and just generally did things when I felt like doing them. It could have been this new attitude, but more likely it was that the car was being serviced so no-one humbugged me to drive anywhere and once we were all at work we were stuck there. It was great! we all did some work for once, all together and felt really quite productive. Main baba R wasn't around as her mother ( minbala mami det olgaman J) was sick and she had to look after her. Sometimes I feel so much love for R when I get a glimpse of the huge amount of compassion and devotion she has to her family, though she can be quite abrasive if something is in her way (!!).

When the mechanic bought the car back everyone was too inolved in doing work to even ask me to go anywhere, and I had to hassle everyone to get to the (council) office before it closed ( to get the mail which comes on Tuesdays). There was a letter for me from my sister with photos of her twin girls and beautiful son, and I felt so elated and filled with joy to look at them. It still makes me smile now when I think of them, ( I cant overstate how wonderful it is to receive letters..hinthint).

When I finally came home I fell asleep face first on my bed ( it has been so hot here the last few days.. and i have run out of real drinkable water, so I have to buy it ( no wamut I wont drink from the tap!). I woke up about two hours later and drank a litre and a half of water that I bought. And i feel wonderful.

Amazingly a group of travelling musicians came and played in Ngukurr out under the stars ( in fact under the church sign which reads 'Jisas im laibala') and everone lit big bonfires and listened to the peaceul meditative music of indian sitar and tabla and other instruments I cant name ( because I dont know the name of). It was beautiful joyful energy, I sat with mami F who wrapped her sheet around me to keep me warm..and N and J who loved it as well.

But really I am having a hard time and lonely and tired most of the time... It is those moments when you feel loved though that are so momentous that stay with me for the whole day.
Also the Liquor Commission haave made a decision regarding Ngukurr residents wanting it to be a dry ( alcohol free) zone in favour of the residents, (!!yaay) as opposed to the drunks and some white ( munanga) people who wanted to be able to have permits to bring alcohol in. I am hope this is the beginning of some social change in regards to alcohol abuse which unfortunately seems to be around alot, as is petrol sniffing, more than I have ever seen it before,zombies in the middle of the day with their nose in a container numbing their brains, pobala.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


I knew as I left that I was walking the fine line between fearlessness and idiocy. This is partly because I was already exhasuted and just about to leave for a very big trip, and secondly because it was a very very long drive to do in one day on questionable roads. But we did it, me and three old ladies took the bait of free entry to this big indigenous cultural fesitval in Gove ( north east arnhem) and drove the 1100k's to get there, across the rivers and all the bumpy dusty corrogated roads, which incidently weren't that dusty because it had *rained* which is unheard of at this time of the year, and instead there was mud everywhere. when I say we drove, I mean that I drove and the other three gave me moral support and food.

It was worth it though. We camped under the stars and there was an incredible vista out to the sea, and bunggul (corroboree) dancing and performance every after noon and big inspiring speeches, by big important people about unity and the future for Australia accepting and embracing its multiculturalism etc etc... really I suppose it was the 'vibe of the thing' that made it good, though it was well populated by Important White People ( manily from Canberra), there was at least some gesture of real communication and connection between the different groups there.
There were some fantastic honest ( indigenous) films too ,and every second film had family ( or references tofamily) of the people I was travelling with so at times it was very emotional ( lots of deaths and issues relating to the strugges of life) , and I think all of us cried openly at least once on the trip...

On the last evening I lay next to the camp fire and looked at the incredible stars in the sky and I could hear Yothu Yindi playing songs , live, not far away ( I was psyching myself up for the drive home) and hear the people around me sleep. I felt very peaceful. And when I went into the tent my mami F put blankets over me and i fell into a deep peaceful sleep.

The drive home was slightly more eventful than necessary. One of the river crossings the water came right up to the bonnet and though we got through ok, the poor old engine had sucked some water into the diesel, so had a a couple of hundred k's of worrying feeling in the car. I was relieved when we made it to a community ( though they informed us the nearest mechanic was still 150k's away). A carpenter looked at the car and declared there was someting wrong with it ( which I had already actually realised), he let some air and diesel out of the engine and showed me how to do it. He said, if the car stop just keep emptying this. I was a bit concerned I must admit but we made it safely to the next civilisation and when the tank emptied of diesel we refilled it with a nonwatered fuel and drove home.

It was lovely to be home, and I feel so close to my travelling companions now , though I must say we all drove each other mad at times), it was a new level of intimacy sleeping and eating together and being surrounded by strangers for four days. It felt like one of those trips that were momentous but you couldnt really tell at the time. I have a feeling it was the beginning of many things.

Monday, August 01, 2005

busy day....???

I have just been reading through wamut ( main san)'s blog, that munanga linguist who has been doing this same job since last November.... and it is strange you know, today was a public holiday and yet *still* I find myself either exhausted or unable to sleep ( which I might, add in case you don't know, is very unusual for me!). I was wondering if wamut had the similar stressed out-but- dont really - know-why feeling. It really does seem you could spend the whole day doing 'things' that dont seem to propel you forward to a goal. Like for example enjoying the space and having some time off, really is something I cant wait to do during the week and then after the weekend i start to feel a bit strange if I havent heard from anyone for half a day, I start thinking, where is everyone??? why no humbug??? . And then some one calls or drops in, and I think, jeez why cant I just have one day without any one humbuggin me ( and feel tired immidiately), but you know what, I feel lonely when every one goes home!! I think the main thing is being able to relax. relax even when I cant understand or anticipate what is going on.... And try not to feel to protective of my space and time...I suppose to recognise the kind of interaction as reciprocal.

This on going saga about a close study space to here continued today. A local employee for the 'centre' came around ( on a public holiday) and took back the keys to the study space that langauge centre had been sharing, and then as she looked around the verandah ( of our very small underfunded, pobala, language centre) and took two nice plastic chairs that she said were hers ( that is, they belonged in the centre next door). They probably were. But I felt some what deflated when she left... everything feels like such a political jungle. even plastic chairs are loaded with overtones of one group in the community trying to rip off another, when if fact we have very similar goals, on one hand it is hard not to sigh and accept that this is just the way it is.... but I know this kind of little drama will continue on, wearing people out rather than inspiring. And it is worth while trying to reach some sort of agreement, some friendly agreement so we can work together. You know I actually do think that this is what everyone wants, people just dont want to feel overlooked or unimportant and so assert their authority. So I try and remember that getting your way is all about being patient and diplomatic and making do with what plastic chairs you have.

I can feel the workload building up on me now school has started and I am trying to not get overwhelmed with the, wait, seven languages ( including Kriol) this language centre is trying to manage!! Lucky we have a pretty dedicated team here... it would be hard to prioritise one langauge over another....

I find the easiest way to relax is to do something predictable and familiar. Like read a book I have already read four times, or go for a walk along a path I have been down many times before... it makes me feel very human in a vulnerable way. Like a little creature seeking comfort in familiar habitat!
Maybe this is why it is so hard for adults to learn a second or third langauge because they have already formed a comfortable habitat and can't immerse themselves in a new one without holding onto some familiar things, and so cant ever completely immerse themselvesin a new culture ( which is proabaly what it takes to *really* learn another language right through). maybe. maybe thats wy it would be easier to learn French or German than one of the languages from here, because even though this is Australia it is a very different culture to what I am used to and I would probably find it easier to feel 'at home' in France or Germany- but then again, maybe that is over simplifying things.... you know?