A lot happened around the time l was 15. I had declared at the age of 4 that l wanted to be a school teacher when l grew up and all that changed was what age group l would teach. In Year 9 l studied a science subject, Food and Microbes and l felt like my life had meaning. I also did Home Economics and knew food was my thing – not so much the cooking of it, although l love to cook, but the health and nutrition of food and how it makes our bodies was enthralling.
In the fifteenth year l also realised l wanted to do something that made the world a better place. I contemplated becoming the first woman Prime Minister of Australia but that illusion was shattered studying politics at University. I didn’t have the makings of a politician.
In the deepest recesses of my heart l had a longing to work for the UN and help refugees or communities ravaged by famine. I figured l’d do this as a Home Eco teacher. During my teaching degree l studied a unit, Global Nutrition, taught by our head of department Dr Beverly Dixon. I’ll be honest and say l was so excited to enrol and anxiously awaited to learn from her because she had been in Africa working in the same circumstances my secret heart longed to do.
So it would come as no surprise when Dr Dixon shared a very real yet devastating story about charities pocketing the money. Individual child sponsorship isolating that child from not just their friends and community but often the family as one child received help but the family remained destitute. Remember this was in the 1980’s. There were no stories of sunshine and roses here. I felt shattered and disillusioned by the greed and deception that underlined something that should have been so pure. And to think of the people donating millions to causes that weren’t serving the very people they were intended to was just too sad for me. I gave up my dream to go serve those in need.
Over the years there was this little voice growing louder and louder. It wasn’t my cheer squad that’s for sure. Instead l would hear, ‘You haven’t done anything of value in your whole life. You’re such a disappointment. You’ve failed me.’ We all have an inner critic and this was mine. At moments of anguish l’d fill pages and pages in my journal about my 15 year olds heartache that l hadn’t made her happy but nothing really changed it.
One year l got really fired up and decided l’d quite being a Naturopath and go back to Uni, get a degree that would lead me to working in the UN. The same day I was accepted into Uni l got offered a publishing contract for my first book Making Sense of the Insensible. I wanted to keep my options open, so l took the publishing contract and deferred Uni.
I published my first book in July that year and turned 50 in December. By the following December l was packing my bags to travel to Jordan in the first week of January, l have this whole thing about packing early! In Jordan l was part of a team of three teaching a tapping process called Trauma Buster Technique to UNRWA workers, psychologists, counsellors and teachers who worked with Syrian, Palestinian, Chechen, Iraqi and Kuwaiti refugees.
My 15 year old self finally felt satisfied. She got off my back and there hasn’t been that voice judging me ever since. If someone had told me this would happen to me l would never have believed it. I would have been hopeful for one aspect of it, sure. But never in my wildest dreams did l see me teaching a healing modality to those l’d once hoped to work for.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Eighteen months later l was holding my first retreat in Ladakh where l got to witness first hand the living conditions of the Tibetan nuns. Being so passionate about women having to right to follow their dreams and live the life they truly feel called to live, the lack of resources hit me hard, as did the inequality between a nuns life and that of the monks. A mixture of frustration, passion and resolve blended in my tears as l knew between my Home Eco, English teaching and Naturopathic skills l could do something helpful.
I returned the following year with one of the ladies who attended the retreat to teach conversational English which was well received. I knew from my Global Nutrition studies that if l were to serve in the most purest of ways it had to be direct. No middle man. No charity to take the funds away or impose a Western worldview on them. I wanted to help with skills and training that would ensure that once l taught them about food preservation they could do it themselves. I wouldn’t be needed.
People rallied behind me because they too wanted every cent going directly to the people we were helping. Plus they loved the concept that it was empowering the nuns to sustain their lives long after we were all gone. Today l was able to find out what worked and what didn’t. There is no doubt the lack of refrigeration impacts on the life of the pickled foods. Adjustments are needed.
The nun in charge said that they enjoyed the flavours and liked having more variety in the diet over winter. They were now interested in cooking some vegetables in the jars, having seen what arrived after we had been there last year and exploring the drying of vegetables which we started doing today. They were very excited to use the jars for storing foods and we are hoping to increase the food available to them this winter. Next is to preserve some fruit and find out next year what they thought of that new experience. The nun said that she was very touched that we thought about their needs during winter and came from so far to help them because their own families don’t think of them in this way.
It got me thinking about how we get used to our circumstances and don’t think about our own in the same situation. Survival focuses our attention to the immediate, it becomes our normal. Everyone’s normal. When we don’t live in a specific set of circumstances we know of alternative realities. I think that’s why we need all types of people in our world. It keeps us aware. It keeps us open and growing. It feeds our global village.