Saturday, 4 December 2010

Girmit :: Our Origins - shaping our futures, defining our lives.

My last post was a challenge to publish - in recognising White Ribbon Day (25 November) and acknowledging the prevalence of violence in my community I really did not want to dismiss the level of pride that exists within it as well (both a help and a hindrance).  Having grown up in New Zealand largely 'outside' my community for the start of my life, I had to work at acquainting myself with it. Information was not readily available and socialising was limited to my parents' circle of friends rather than a wider community network. This started to change post-1987 the first military coup and then the subsequent political upheaval that seems neverending.

My experience with the emerging community was not a happy one - all of a sudden I felt scrutinised by a group of people whom I had no relationship with who conversely felt it was their right or obligation to provide commentary on my choices - friends, clothes, boyfriends, school, university etc. I railed against the attention and look back now and wonder how my parents coped! They had given us according to some, too much freedom yet there was often extreme discipline in the home.  I think the "discipline" was probably a reaction to the horrible gossipy comments of a few weak-minded individuals.  The sad irony is that many who were quick judge or speak out eventually became parents of teenagers who led lives that were in far contrast to mine even though I was the "lippy, rude, stubbon, spoiled and rebellious brat" who openly did as she pleased!  The commentators fell silent when they realised their journey was just starting and their "little angels" provided many challenges to their way of thinking!

The isolation and the personal experience meant I turned my back on my culture for a long time - stopped speaking the language, attending social events etc. I grew up thankfully and began focussing on where we came from and learned a great deal from the geneaology project underway in my Dad's family. Its a history we could be proud of and one that the next generation is learning to celebrate.  Early Indo-Fijian migration to Fiji began with the Girmitya - those sent as indentured labour to support the sugar cane plantations of the Colonial Sugar Refinery. Between 14 May 1879 and 11 November 1916, 60,969 Indians are recorded as having arrived in Fiji under the indentured system. Next were a number of Indians from mercantile classes following the population and building businesses to support this new community.  A girmit was the period servitude - a "contract" for five years - often renewed, occasionally voluntarily otherwise with little or no choice as returning to India was beyond the reach for many.  Sir Arthur Gordon after success in Trinidad and Mauritius considered Indians an ideal labour source when he was stationed in Fiji as its first Governor. The Indian Diaspora was well underway by this time.

Today in New Zealand in particular where larger family groups have settled, great effort has been invested in teaching the next generation about who we are and what amazingly resiliant, proud and industrious people arrived in Fiji, made it their home and swore their allegiance to this amazing country.  The stories are incredible and the kids are really embracing our history. No longer do we stand behind subcontinental Indians being "kind of Indian" but certainly not considered as such. I am truly envious!  Earlier this year to mark the first arrivals, the Fiji Indian Association as it now regularly does, held  their annual celebrations.  I was overjoyed to receive photos of our youth performing a play based on the lives of the early Indian settlers in Fiji. More so because among them was my nephew.  I know I may have missed out but with this effort I know that our history will live on and be celebrated for years to come! There is also a German university study being carried out that includes interviews with Indo-Fijians based in Wellington (where I'm from) that I can't wait to read about.


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Sunday, 21 November 2010

Reflections: Confronting the Spectre of Domestic Violence

So as the end of 2010 nears and we comfortably recline in the achievements of the year, our community and society as a whole I was forced to pause when I read this post that was being circulated among my friends on Twitter. It's a great post and I recommend reading it. 

It made me stop and recall that earlier this year, in recognition of International Women's Day, I was sent a copy of a speech delivered by a member of my extended family.  Mum had sent it to me as she was more than well acquainted with my outspoken views on domestic violence, particularly within the Indo-Fijian community. I dug it out to have a read again this afternoon and recalled how affected I was by it when I first read it.

I am outspoken about this violence because I survived it, she survived it and many of the women around me were lucky enough to survive it. We don't talk about it though because despite the increasing opportunities to do so, it is not done in polite society. You sure as heck don't say out loud that you were beaten relentlessly for minor transgressions, or that you know that sustained striking to your head with plastic pipe will split open the skin.  In fact knowing that you made the startling discovery the blood is very warm as it leaks down your scalp and that it can actually dye your hair is destabilising just quietly. Having someone threaten to kill  you with startling regularity is also an undesirable experience you don't care to bring up at dinner parties. But it exists and I come from a community in which it is largely accepted that it happens. To lots of us. All the time. And unfortunately it followed us when we migrated to countries like Australia and New Zealand.   Even though we've left our rural backgrounds, drive european cars, give our children English names, have several letters after our names and live in a McMansion.

The author I will call "cousin" - she isn't by western standards, but I don't care to adopt those when referring to my familial connections. The speech itself is unsophisticated and lacked any publishing merit, it was however honest. Brutally honest.  The details of the actual violence are irrelevant, but it was the the deep fissures in left her psyche which truly struck a chord. Her circumstances meant that she could not fulfill the most important duty of caring for one's parents when they are ill or her ostracisation from polite company for being divorced.

When we talk about an Indo-Fijian woman's life we often use descriptions like "bahuth dhuk" which roughly translates to "great pain/suffering". That is code for things like: the mother-in-law was a complete hedonistic bitch, the in-laws joined the husband in beating her, humiliating her, locking her up, and threatening her life. Or the one that is never uttered out loud, the threat of spousal rape was always around her.  Even among those ready to voice our opinion, would not turn around and point a finger in the face of the perpetrator we actually know and say what we really want to say like "I know you f..g lay a hand on her and I want you to know that you shouldn't sleep too soundly at night cos' one day I will be brave enough to come and get you". Nup, not likely to happen in such a proud community. Or no your brother is not going to stand up for you because, well, that would be hypocritical because he slapped his wife before they joined you for dinner this evening. It is a confronting truth.

I knew as a child that paraquat was a commonly used poison in suicides.  It always seemed to be women that would self-administer this horrid stuff.  A first cousin's daughter hung herself. Stuck in a far-flung rural area after marrying at a young age she took her own life. I never did hear whether or not someone dealt with that bastard of a husband (or really in all honesty the young man who did not have any idea how to communicate with others nor adequately manage his frustrations).  I'm not talking about 1965 here. The girl was younger than me.  I really didn't need to know this stuff so early in life.

There is plenty of independent opinion and attention cast on the prevelance of violence in Indo-Fijian communities.  It's existence is not disputed and as generations pass through we have become better at acknowledging it but also that it happens in our own worlds (i.e. not just at someone else's house).  Fortunately in NZ due to the size of the community, appropriate support services have been made accessible to women of Indo-Fijian descent but there is still a long way to go.

So I read my cousin's speech with some pride. She is a woman in her 60s, she has lived in Fiji, Australia and New Zealand. She is divorced (a major stigma in 'her story') and living as a single woman in a society that pays no respect to single women.  She has found the time to educate herself, surround herself with friends and consequently found the words to tell her story.  She also became a volunteer at Shine.  I am so very very proud.


If you were in any way affected by the words in this post, please consider showing your support to White Ribbon Australia  by swearing an oath in recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 25 November.

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Saturday, 6 November 2010

Flo and her Lunar Lady Friend

No kids not a short story I'm writing at the moment, in fact I'm pondering the contents of this post as I tap away even now. Pity you can't witness the process of selecting a "suitable image" (because visual aids are awesome!)!  Why are we tied to the need to hide behind these ridiculous references??  I suspect my female friends already grasped the euphemism (aided gracefully by the accompanying awkwardness) and know what I'm about to discuss. Hang on to your hats fellas, you're about to go "no thanks"!!
Isn't that the kicker? Menstruation folks, menstruation. Conjurs up all sorts of mysterious imagery, and occasionally female empowerment but for me more often than not, its a few choice expletives over the painkillers and amount of cash chucked at the whole ordeal over the years.
It was a twitter discussion among the galpals that I caught the tail end of that got me thinking. Fortunately for me the delightful @HelenPerris had been gracious enough to give me the run down on the menstrual cup - something that had completely escaped me. They are by no means new, there's some chatter about them being around since the 70s - well 'whatever' I screech! Where the hell was that information when I was thrust packets of tampons and the latest and greatest in sanitary napkins to choose from the eh?
With the $AUD travelling as well as it has been I decided to not think too hard and ordered a Mooncup from the UK.  Their delivery times are slow but well within the timeframes they themselves have set.  I'll be honest  I was daunted. Thankfully it had arrived well in time for me to have a decent psychological build up!  My trepidation is a minor exagerration! It is really not as difficult as it sounds and there is plenty of material on the web to assist if panic sets in. I found insertion fairly trouble free, but was a little more challenged by removal. Technique ra ther than design seemed to be at fault and I had to be prepared for for a few 'accidents'. I did recall that learning to use tampons wasn't without its challenges and this was pretty similar.
On the whole, I am convinced. Overnight it was brilliant. Absolutely no leaks which I can never guarantee with mainstream sanitary products. The massive reduction in products used and disposed off in a single month confirmed for me the "green" impact it can have. I experienced some discomfort which was not onerous but just felt "odd" to begin with. I used a liner as well because I was yet to be convinced of its efficacy but on the whole I was convinced. The other opportunity of using this type of product was that I learned more about my cycle in that one month than I had in years. The volume guides printed on the side meant I could better guage how heavy my cycle was.  Next time a doctor tells me "its only a few teaspoons" I can shake the bugger by their stethescope and remind them the day of an untouchable medical profession are over.  I do support the arguments in favour of using a menstrual cup - they're pretty sound on the whole and I haven't sprouted mung beans, danced in fields of daisies or stopped styling my hair in the process.  Its about choice - I'm exercising mine.
So while it is not my intent to convince or educate on the subject, I did want to share my experience. There are a number of resources available online to answer any specific questions (and I am sure you have them!). There are also some crazies on YouTube who I have enjoyed watching too, cos' they're just mental!
Here's one video that does a fairly thorough job of evaluating all the different varieties available:

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Why dogs hate Halloween (and Humans)

And every year without fail I laugh!




Saturday, 30 October 2010

Consume-D: Enjoy Powerful Meetings with a R.E.A.S.O.N!

Enjoy Powerful Meetings with a R.E.A.S.O.N!

Written on 4:15 PM by Radhika Ram Tevita

I’ve recently been working on a large scale project which has meant spending a lot of time working in collaborative situations, attending meetings and running workshops. Working in a highly stressful and demanding environment means one of my biggest challenges is engaging people to bring their ‘best’ to the table, to give those meeting/workshops impact. There are so many competing demands on peoples’ time that getting them to show up at all some days feels like a triumph!

I have had some formal Six Sigma training in the last few weeks as well and the tutor, a bright and energetic woman on the very first day introduced us to a R.E.A.S.O.N for our training for the week. I loved it – it set up clear objectives and expectations at the outset. And she stuck to it. Isn’t that the key – consistency!?

I decided to prepare one of my own workshops using the same framework and I was pleasantly surprised by the results. In fact arguable the highest level of engagement I have had from an otherwise ‘prickly’ stakeholder group (I appreciate the exigencies of their roles).

Unfortunately my tutor did not reference the source of this philosophy and my online searches have been unsuccessful. So I apologise in advance for any unintended breaches of anyone’s intellectual property. That being said – the definitions provided below are my own. Give it a go and please come back and share what the results were like for you!

R Roles – define the roles of your participants and your own up front, even prior to your workshop/meeting. Need volunteers to be time keepers/ scribes? Ask! It changes the dynamic in the room from the outset and generates active engagement. Make time keeping fun (we use a clucking chicken toy to call ‘time’ – humorous and attention grabbing) - even the most stoic business person is forced to crack a smile when one of their own is enjoying calling "Time"!

E Expectations – state what they are - for that session or a complete program of work. Does the forum require preparation, an open mind, punctuality? (I stated this as an expectation and then handed the opportunity over to the group as to whether they wished to reprimand or determine a punishment for tardiness! It worked, particularly with a group that is not accustomed to apologising for being late ever!)

A Agenda – this is an easy one to prepare and issue but quite another to ensure that your agenda ‘gets a life’? Great opportunity to have your timekeeper involved (especially for activity-driven agenda items). The meeting organiser’s preparation should include being able to state what you want to achieve at each item and how long you want to spend doing it.

S Safety - Can not only include a mandatory notification of exits but also providing alternate contact numbers for emergencies, and requesting participants to divert their phones to assistants who are given the emergency contact number. Sometimes recognising that things crop up and permitting them in only certain circumstances can win the respect of your participants especially if even the self-designated "VIP" in the room has to follow the same guidelines!
O Operating Rules – An important step which alongside the “Expectations” sets up your forum for success. State categorically if no mobile phones are permitted, that punctuality is a requirement and actively make use of “parking lots” to collect any content that is deviates from the agenda.  Allowing discussions to digress is going to make you appear to be no longer in control of the forum and what 'corporate hijackers' love!

N Next steps – Before going into a session it can be useful to know what the decisions or outcomes of the forum are likely to lead to. If it means tasks will be assigned, further workshops will ensue or that failing to reach an agreement on the day will result in an alternative course of action or rework - say so! If you have been asked to get something done, don’t apologise for making those things happen.

Give it a go! I hope you find the framework as empowering as I did. It forced me to use better time management and planning for the event as well as improving the level of engagement for the participants.  I'm incorporating it into a few different working scenarios in the coming week to improve my preparation and instill some trust back into the process!

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Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Fresh coriander leaves? Yes you can store it...!

Coriander, once such a difficult herb to source in this part of the world, is a staple in the Indian/Asian/Middle Eastern diet.  It's zingy freshness can enhance the simplest of dishes and every part of it including the roots add flavour. Unfortunately it is a fairly fragile herb and has to be used fairly quickly after purchase.
We've tried and experimented with all sorts of ways to keep it fresher for longer in our household and with grocery shopping being an inconvenient chore you really want the coriander leaves to last just that much longer! 
The system that has worked well for me and meant there is green leaves for me to use for at least 7-10 days is the following:
- Thoroughly wash the bunches under the tap;
- Place in a salad spinner (like you use for lettuce leaves) and spin the leaves as dry as possible;
- Line an airtight container with thick absorbent paper towels;
- Cut off the roots of the bunches (wrap these in cling wrap and freeze - perfect for finely chopping for no-cook asian dipping sauces);
- Pack leaves in container;
- Top with a double layer of thick absorbent paper towels.

I've tried this with mint as well (the soft leaf variety) and have found it to work quite well.  The combination of keeping the leaves dry and away from oxygen add just that much longer to it's shelf life - and just long enough for me before getting the next bunch!

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Thursday, 30 September 2010

An Uncomfortable Truth Social Networking Fans!

The Living Will

Last night, John and I were sitting in the living room and I said to him:
“I never want to live in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine and fluids from a bottle.”
He got up, unplugged the computer, and threw out my wine.  


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Sunday, 29 August 2010

A Taste of the Pacific in Sydney's West

The Casula Powerhouse is alive with energy this afternoon.  The dance recitals taking place in the theatre created a buzz of of activity with young girls excited tearing around at speed in brightly coloured coloured costumes, while parents loaded with clothing, sipping on coffees from the cart that never seems to be quiet wait patiently for the dance rounds to finish.  An organised chaos is at work with tables for photos, merchandise and refreshment vouchers.  The smell of hairspray is overwhelming and ever present. We're getting a taste of what parenting in suburbia must be like!
All of this electricitiy seems like such a fitting tribute to the industrial origins of the venue - a sympathetically revamped building with exposed brickwork and steel beams. We're here to catch the penultimate day of the Body Pacifica exhibition. The exhibition opened with a three-day festival in June and now on its final weekend we got to view the exhibition in relative peace.
Hiding away from the craziness of dance competitions, the exhibit was a welcome relief. The space has a number of discrete display areas and we were able to take in the three main events during our visit:

  • Body Pacifica - The NRL Pacific Island Warriors Calendar project produced in conjunction with CPAC Pacific and Aboroginal Cultural Program;

  • Australian National Museum collection of Pacific artefacts;

  • Photographic Exhibit of the Reverand George Brown's missionary tour of the Pacific 1880s.
In silent reverie we wandered the halls and truly absorbed the magic of the objects and images in front of us.  At one stage I was adopted by a young lad who decided to hang out with me rather than play hide and seek with his brothers.  He told me his friend's father was continuing the art of Samoan ta'tau (tattooing) just up the road from him. I enjoyed his company as we discussed the various pieces.
A true stand out for me were the large tanoa (kava bowl) on display which was dwarfed compared to the one we had in our family that my grandfather was gifted during his travels (a treasured piece that unfortunately will only ever be passed through the male line :( ), and the body armour from Kiribati - which demonstrated incredible skill and craftsmanship and the photographs, at least of two which made me remark "they look like modern faces that time travelled".
We have enjoyed another event curated by Leo Tanoi also featuring the work of Greg Semu a couple of years and truly appreciate what these guys bring to not only the Sydney Pacific Island community but the community at large.  Latai Taumoepeau's sister is a personal friend and there is no shortage of talent in this family.  Pacific Island events are strictly regional here in Sydney and we often miss the accessibility we had in Auckland (and then again value the separation as we were both became fairly heavily involved with various ventures and initiatives).
All of this history, and history in the making made available to the public for free is the ultimate act of "community". I left truly grateful to all the agencies and individuals who made this possible.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Launch Beta and then Iterate

The following is an excerpt from a newsletter I received today from Robin Sharma (the author of The Leader who had no Title” and “The Monk who sold his Ferrari” ). I could not locate the following on his blog site so stress that this extract his entirely his own, and something I wanted to share with you because it really served as a timely reminder to me!

One of the world's best known software companies has a fascinating way of doing things: they launch a fairly good yet unperfected product (a "beta" product) and then they start the iteration/improvement process to clean up the bugs. Each new version (2.0/3.0 etc) is better than the previous one and eventually they grow closer to getting it to a place called Flawless. Fascinating way of doing things.

This approach allows the organization to be an intense hub of product releases - and to (sic) often be the first to market while their competitors quietly toil away in obscurity, hoping to reach perfection before they offer their software to the world. And it gives the company a valuable psychological advantage because they are constantly bringing value to those who keep them in business.

Yes, I completely agree with the arguments saying "but why send less than perfect products out to customers?" etc. Offering your stakeholders nothing less than your absolute best is a great way to build a "durable competitive advantage", to use Warren Buffet's words. But playing with the idea behind the approach is definitely a valuable exercise for anyone interested in leadership and exceptionalism. So, let me ask you, where do you hold back from releasing to the world because you are waiting to reach perfection versus send out beta - and then iterate (and fix the bugs)? Is it a new service that you know would help your clients? Is it that book you've always wanted to write? Is it a project that you are certain would change the game for your business?

Maybe the answer is to model Nike's old tag line and JDI: Just Do It. Just get it out. Just launch it. Just shout it out from the mountaintop. And then, start the process of making it an eventual masterpiece.

With a mixture of perfection and trepidation I find myself resisting taking risks with what I am good at because “it’s just not good enough”. The fear of rejection or actually experiencing rejection is often catastrophised to “I’m not good enough” (ever find yourself thinking that when you weren’t invited to that job interview for a role you knew you could do with your eyes closed?). Nothing ventured, nothing gained so am I am taking this on board to remind myself to take that LEAP!

You can subscribe to Robin Sharma’s newsletters here

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Monday, 23 August 2010

So that’s what they call ‘real’ vanilla?

What do to when the rest of the country is heading out to vote? Inspired by all the bake stalls that would await the punters and the added incentive of celebrating a friend’s birthday I thought it would be a great opportunity to finally try some of the lovely pure vanilla essence I bought in Port Douglas, from Vanilla Australia.

I was enjoying meeting the local merchants at the popular Sunday markets in Port Douglas (sugar cane juice, macadamia nuts abound) when I came across Russell Spanton and his bare table covered with only a few bottles of his vanilla essence left.

Russell is quite the character and we struck up a conversation about his business and he educated me on vanillin extraction. There is something wonderfully satisfying to talk listen to a person speak with passion about their produce. Russell and his wife from Glasgow, Mary, have dedicated the last nine years to growing organic and biodynamic vanilla.   Image courtesy of The Cairns Post

The beans were fine, dark and told of the riches of the vanilla beans that were being grown in the region. Russell discussed his encounters with the CSIRO and the reaction of local growers to their assessment of their vanilla:

 The CSIRO have said our product contains about four times the amount of vanilla than anyone else worldwide

Judging by the reaction of the pushy middle-aged Melbourne woman who shoved me aside to grab a couple of bottles while Russell and I were deep in chat, I figured it must be good. She didn’t bat an eye or slow for small talk (she may have also forgotten she wasn’t in Melbourne at the time!).

My brownie recipe calls for a generous helping of vanilla essence and if anything would test the quality of the vanilla this would. With such fine chocolate and quality butter included in this batch, a syrupy artificially sweetened essence would not be welcome. 

When you open the bottle the scent is immediately ‘clean’ by that I mean instead of the intense sugary smell you get from ordinary dark vanilla essence.  It is also much lighter in colour (no colouring) and you can see tiny black flecks confirming its real seedpod source.

I was told there were no stockists of Vanilla Australia’s essence in New South Wales and frankly given how delicious the brownies turned out I hope local stockists will investigate what a great product this would be on their shelves. Feel like grabbing some for yourself?


Vanilla Australia
+61 7 4099 3380
+61 438 764 103 (mobile)
Captain Cook Highway
Port Douglas
Nth Queensland, Australia

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Sunday, 15 August 2010

Navigating troubled teenage waters...the black dog

Closing off the last week posed some personal challenges for me and then as the Universe does, my father sent me a link to this clip. He wasn't privy to the conversation that I had with my mother the day before but somehow knew I needed to see this and acquaint myself with this exceptional human being, Nick Vujicic.

For obvious reasons Nick is remarkable, but for me this week not more so than for his ability to connect with teenagers - in a completely, open, non-judgemental, loving way that guides them to realise there is way out from the darkness they're trapped in.

This resonated with me because I learned that a family friend, 15 years old, attempted his life a couple of weeks ago... again. The news left me feeling winded and deeply saddened. those of you following my tweet stream may have caught this post ( Such a beautiful boy - kind, thoughtful, generous and the makings of a superb young man. His darkness stems from a period of bullying and parents ill prepared to deal with the emotional and mental toll of it. School counselling was not enough to address the fact that the black dog had paid a visit and was not planning on leaving any time soon.

I found myself realising that I shared his darkness at that age, and never ever took into account the impact of my feelings had on those beyond my immediate family. The aching I feel for this child today serves as a cruel reminder that had my own actions been borne out back then how many people beyond my world view (as narrow as it was) would have hurt as well. I couldn't appreciate or fathom that anyone would or could care. So I totally get what pushed this boy over the edge.

The tears on my cheeks are for this boy who doesn't appreciate how much he matters. The tears on my cheeks are for all of those who can't see how much they matter because this darkness is blinding, choking and all pervading. We still live in a society that ill prepares us to assist those that need us to care.

And in spite of all this - my deepest gratitude to Nick Vujicic for daring to care and demonstrating that the limits that we face are truly our own. Thank you for sharing so many lessons with me this week.

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