Democracy is when you keep the people in the loop. Not some people but an entire country.
Democracy is not just voting.
Democracy died today.
Now for the land grabs, Hinduisation and further homogenisation of a vast, deep and diverse mass.
But Krishna, she will be born. Maybe she already is.
The charioteer will paint a new universe
Where wars are not about killing your own and winning
Democracy died today
She will rise. From death only will come new life.
I have never written so many posts so soon one after the other but here I am. My last post Musings On Suburbia on Saturday night and now this one. Nothing in particular. Just doing some work and listening to the podcast Moon Landing Memories on Spotify. A friend of mine sent me some other links on Apple Podcast commemorating 50 years of the landing but I have not yet listened to them. I am not an Apple consumer and only use my Mac Book if I am editing audio or video. Which is not much these days. I writing more than filming. Lots of still photography. Especially travel photography. Not fancy landscape but mundane things that take my fancy. They are all on this blog on the the right side bar. Via Flickr. I have quite a few others that I have not yet uploaded.
Anyway. The point is that I am writing more than I have in a long time. Looking at my old scripts, writing one-pagers, putting pen to paper. I am even attempting an experimental piece for theatre. Now this post.
I lived in Hobsonville for almost a year when I moved to Aotearoa in Decmber 2001. It was a small suburb with Whenuapai airport and army homes towards the north and Massey towards the south. Westgate was a collection of Countdown, The Warehouse, some cafés, Burger King and Event Cinemas. A gaming pub. I sat my driving test at the Automobile Association there. It was hard to get to Westgate from where my sister’s house. You needed a car or waited aeons for a bus. I took a bus into town when I started my PG Diploma in film, television and media studies the University of Auckland. You took it from the back roads of Hobsonville and it went down Don Buck Rd towards Massey, came out somewhere Triangle Rd before it got on the motorway. The last bus back from town was at 11pm and too bad if you missed it.
I went to Hobsonville after many years today and the Westgate area is a mess. Rather a superb example of very poor urban planning. Of course the roads have been widened and the fields opposite of the old Westgate, along the old road to Helensville, where Garelja Strawberries used to be are now fancy shops. Beyond that more parking lots and new developments. Another Countdown.
And lots of cars. But no sign of public transport.
I did not see a single bus go by; I did not spot a bus stop.
I was in Melbourne last week. I love that city, I love taking the train, the trams, the buses, walking the laneways. Public transport is smooth and easy. Of course Melbournians will disagree with this LOL. The two days I went into town, the Frankston line was closed beyond Caulfield. We had buses take us from that station to Flinders St. It was cold, raining, my son was with me and it was completely painless.
Here in Hobsonville, Auckland we have car upon car and a supposedly unending supply of parking space but no thought to public transport. Whoever planned this development did not seem have given a thought to adding in public transport. For now or in the future. So many people out there on the weekend. I am sure they would have taken public transport if there was any. With good frequency too. Not every 30 minutes. I drove. From Epsom. My bad too. I would have taken a train if it was there.
Three weeks ago I attended the Diwali function at Parliament. I am always surprised when I receive invitations for events organised by government or related agencies or even political parties. Who could’ve invited me? Why have they invited me?
Some years ago, I received one for a meet and greet with Don Brash when he was the leader of the National Party. Those days of snail mail. I was a bit shocked when I opened the envelope. Me?! For a National Party event?! (Or a Labour/other Party event.) I went along. I mostly do. It is usually out of academic curiosity; as an observer of human behaviour. What do Indian migrants want? Why do they do what they do? Why do politicians say what they say? That is what drives me. Don Brash spoke the usual stuff. Numbers, immigration, law and order. Strong subtext perpetuating the model minority myth versus dole bludging tangata whenua. The Indians, mostly men all suited, talked about immigration, visas, direct flights to India, law and order. Some I knew, others I did not. All Very Important People. They didn’t see or did not want to see, that even if supposedly better than iwi, they were not quite Kiwi.
There were hardly any women and no youth; there was an early iteration of Paula Bennett. As is my wont, I stood in the middle and asked Don Brash why there were no women and youth. Then I asked him what the National Party was doing about the health sector and the creative sector. The TVNZ Charter was going to be scrapped and arts funding was iffy if National won the election. A senior, a pillar of the Indian community who edits an Indian newspaper, his eyes popped out of their sockets. Ah, there she goes again. Who does she think she is! It was a fun Sunday afternoon.
That was my intention when I attended Diwali in Parliament on 28/11/18. To observe. Besides I love to dress up.
I live tweeted. So much easier to rant.
The dear Pakeha lady sitting next to me, who told me I was entitled to my opinion is the wife of a very important, senior Indian New Zealander. She was perhaps not used to a brown woman opining about numbers being problematic. Or asking questions. According to Statistics NZ Indians were the fasting growing ethnic group in Aotearoa. There were 155, 178 of us here in 2013. What could our needs be exactly? Direct flights to India? Better law and order? Better education? Better visa conditions perhaps? Jenny Salesa said, I paraphrase, we were doctors, engineers, accountants, all sort of highly educated, high earning types. We should also go into public service. Priyanca Radhakrishnan said we should make submissions to the select committees and she praised the honorary consul general to India Bhav Dhillon for looking after migrants.
Priyanca might become a minister one day, she is ambitious, makes all the right noises although the korero is empty but Jenny, Jenny should know better. What would she have said at a festive gathering of Pasifika peoples? Praised leaders and shining stars across the spectrum but also addressed the acute needs around health, social support, education, domestic violence, poverty, lack of housing? Encouraged the community to engage in finding solutions? Talked about the wonderful Pasifika creatives telling amazing stories about the communities and sought more? Acknowledge the racism, the resistance, the self-reflection. Yet also be fully aware of the intra-community beliefs and perspectives, the rebels, the feminists, the patriarchs.
I mean, it was a Diwali celebration. Good versus evil, illuminating light, happiness, good versus evil. That singular myth about a triumphant Rama returning to Ayodhya after vanquishing Ravana. Best time to re-iterate the model minority myth so why shatter it?. That four days of celebrating different traditions and myths coming out of an ancient agrarian society to mark harvest and new beginnings is also a time for introspection and reflection. Most opportune to look beyond the facade of high education and silk sarees. The issues, Jenny would find, are the same. Health, social support, domestic violence, poverty, lack of housing…exploited migrants…
Priyanca worked for Shakti and the Ministry of Women. Shakti’s Wellington Refuge has been struggling to get funding for some time now yet not a peep about domestic violence. Not before she became an MP, not now. Guess that sort of activism to create awareness and push for empowerment of her coloured sisters does not fit with her political goals. Then about Bhav helping migrants. I have young Indian migrant patients who are exploited by their employers and whom I have directed to unions. I suppose this does not happen in Auckland and north of then? Or maybe these young migrants with immense financial burden have been helped by the office of the honorary CG?No harm in mentioning that evil exploitation then?
There is now enough research to show gaps in health requirements, accessibility and outcome of the pan-Asian diaspora in America. That the model minority migrant is wealthy, generally healthy, can access health providers and services and have their supposedly fewer health needs met has been proved to be wrong. The Asian-American Health Initiative, the U.S. Office of Minority Health and this NCBI article are just some simple examples. It is not much different from Aotearoa and there is enough anecdotal evidence to warrant academic research and maybe those Very Important Indians could potentially fund it in partnership with various ministries themselves. So when for Diwali, one wishes happiness, long life and prosperity is it just related to material wealth? Maybe no one gave Jenny the memo even though Jenny should intuitively know. Because that is the problem with numbers. 150,000+ Indians in New Zealand will tell us their superficial needs and what governments can do. Such as organise Diwali to make them feel Important. Join the public service but who will weed out the casteist right-wing Hindus, the patriarchal men, the misogynists, that get into the public service? The numbers will not tell you such outlook and ideology exists amongst the Indian here will they? Because you will only see, for example, ten Indians pat yourself on the back for being inclusive.
I don’t expect invitations to any political party/government/parliament events because, you know, the ‘angry brown woman’ mars subservient, grateful gatherings of Very Important Indians. And that’s alright. It is not like you need to be seen by and known to ministers and MPs to make change.
This from one of my favourite blogs. Cannot unfortunately just share via wordpress, which we could in that blog’s old avatar. But hey, at least I can post the link.
Stories from different parts of the world always interest me especially those we do not see on a routine basis. It is hard to make a film (I know, ‘coz I been there and keep going there). So I have great respect for those who maintain their passion to carry on with their projects, keep looking for money, for like minded collaborators, for staying true to their vision and then make it happen.
I want to see this film. Here is the trailer. Enjoy.
This is more than a year over due. Might seem like a random discontinuous series of words but really it is the last of my Chile and Bolivia travelogue and should be read in continuum with my other Sud America stories. I had to refer back to my little book in which I diligently make travel notes to see if I had missed anything. That is my post Fellowship exam year brain. 2017. What a year! I could have spent the entire time blogging about world and local politics but am grateful I was bound to work and studies. The journey to this point has been tumultuous; a story I shall tell one day and name names, those who bullied me in the hospital, made unilateral decisions about my career and values, mediocre registrars and consultants. That is why it was important for me to be focussed and get through the year. Promises I made to myself and to my teachers who believed in me. I have left this blog verbatim from when I first wrote it and added the last bit only.
The highest capital in the world! I shared a taxi from El Alto into La Paz where I had booked my airbnb for the my final leg in Bolivia. I was going to be town! My companion was an Australian woman on a prolonged OE and we talked about Australian politics, as you do. Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Australia’s terrible handling of their refugees on Nauru…all favourite Leftie topics of conversation. I invariably meet such Aussies on my trips. There was this couple in Samoa who also lived near Shepparton, Victoria, where my sister lived at that time, and they were rabid Tony Abbott haters. So much so they scared an American couple at the same hotel who, being Americans, had no clue of any other democratic system. Yeah. So this woman gave me a copy of Marching Powder and said I must read it. All about cocaine and crims in San Pedro prison, La Paz. Then she left me to go her way.
La Paz is a difficult city. I have never seen such traffic! Not in Bombay, not in Auckland, Tokyo or anywhere else. Narrow one way streets, people in queue for private buses, for taxis. Seemed like an eternity to get from Plaza De San Pedro to wherever. Same distance I covered in less than 30 minutes walking one way.
I reached my airbnb, dumped my gear in my room and went looking for food. I found a shopping mall right next door. Hang out of the Bolivian middle class. Shops, food court, multiplex. Even Hello Kitty ice cream!
The burger and Fanta I ate almost made me throw up. My body is not used to aerated sugary drinks and that combo was poison but the hungry can’t be choosy. Sometimes lionesses have to eat hay.
There are three amazing things to do in La Paz in a short time. Not in any specific order this.
Visit the Church of San Francisco. An impressive structure in Plaza Mayor, a public square witness to constant transient crowds and traffic. Akin to the Strasbourg Cathedral in Place du Chateau. Both Catholic buildings but San Francisco not the slightest intimidating or ugly. Watch the faithful, see blue Jesus on the museum wall, climb up the steeple then wander out to Mercado Lanza and have fruit salad and ice cream like the locals. Don’t forget to check out the dvd stalls. Asian cinema is big in Bolivia.
Do a walking tour with the Red Caps. This is a bunch of enthusiastic La Paz locals who will take you through the food market, the Witches Market, Bolivian government buildings and finish in a bar. They have wicked sense of humour and tell a lot of jokes about Evo Morales. I was the only person of colour on the walk. An American-Chinese couple at the airbnb had warned me about the ‘ignorant Australians’ (surprise, not) on these walks. When we reached the Witches Market the boys made us sit on the street and told us a story about human sacrifice, to be careful of going out alone at night and the horrified ‘oh-my-lord-these-dark-uncivilised-barbarians’ look on the faces of the goras, the Americans and Australians was worth more than a million dollars. It was hard to keep a straight face. The Red Caps paused, looked around and snorted. ‘Oh you all got scared’! Then there was this story about Evo Morales telling Bolivian women they should keep their virginity until they got married. Those women, they came out on the streets telling him to mind his own business! He backtracked and said Bolivian women were the flowers of Bolivia. Of course they tell it better than I can. 🙂
The third thing to do in La Paz is to take the cable cars. Mi Teleferico. It is a great way to see La Paz. Locals told me it was a cheap mode of transport for all those who commuted great distances to get to and from work in this difficult, mountainous city. ‘It creates equality.’
A well travelled friend once told me that the poverty in India is different from the poverty in South America. I think the poverty in developing countries, invaded and colonised by Westerners, their cultures and indigenous ways destroyed, is the same and different from poverty in New Zealand and Australia. Or Europe and UK. (Can’t comment on America, never been.) There should not be homeless, hungry people in the Western world at all. There is enough wealth to provide basic amenities for everyone. But, greed. How to alleviate poverty in the post-colonial world? That is a difficult, complex process. (In my head anyway.)
So in that quest, I travel. Trying to connect the dots, connect humanity, find my place in the universe. I’ll go to South America again but I want to go to Africa first. Morocco. With a trip back to India. Maybe Korea or Taiwan in-between? Japan, beyond Tokyo again.
Nights rides on a bus are sometimes a blessing. You can sleep and not worry about missing the landscape. So it was on my way from Uyuni to Sucre. The seat was comfortable, I had a big llama fabric wrap around me, and my bladder stayed quiet. The bus reached Sucre at 3a.m. A short cab ride and I was at my airbnb Hostal CasArte Takubamba. I’ll write about this again but not once did I fear taking a taxi ride in the dead of the night in an unknown town, in an unknown country where I did not speak the language. I would never do that in India. Not an alien country AND I speak the language.
It was a relief to sleep on a bed in a warm room after the freezing temperatures on the bus. The hostal is a beautiful old casa, (house/abode in Spanish) that also doubles as an art gallery. One of the guys invited me to an opening later and it was really interesting to see the chi chi set of Sucre. This place offers a very good breakfast too. Fresh fruit, freshly squeezed juice, eggs on toast and a variety of Bolivian teas. I had coca leaf tea every day.
Sucre is beautiful.
It is laid out like a square grid, streets running perpendicular and parallel to each other with a green space bang in the middle. There is a church on almost every street. I wonder how Christianity dealt with indigeneity and vice versa. Indigenous cultures are embedded in nature, tied to this universe, manifesting multifold. Then there is the idea of a singular God. The dissonance therein and eventual assimilation would make fascinating study. Although I guess colonising forces always have the upper hand. On my last day in Sucre a guest at the casa invited me for Sunday mass but I had a flight to catch. Pity. I would have loved to go. A service in Spanish after experiencing one in Manase, Samoa.
The genteel atmosphere of Sucre was a welcome change after touring Uyuni in one day. I walked around and observed the locals as I love to. Bolivia is slowly getting prosperous (as one local in La Paz told me). I saw indigenous people tucked away in corners trying to eke out an existence or just beg. I don’t have a solution for poverty; to prevent people from being forced out of their own land, where no God or gods can alleviate suffering nor prevent greed or selfishness. It breaks my heart. I wish I had an answer. I don’t think global poverty can be eradicated with us from privileged positions wanting to help others but maintaining hierarchical status quo. The failure of free trade economy is obvious for all to see; the world is not flat! There has to be a collective solution, the will and leadership for it. How that can be when the world order is imperialistic? Not that communism is the answer either. That order to begets its own pecking order and unilateral power. President Evo Morales of Bolivia, not quite comunista y socialista you know. (Incidentally I blogged about Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat way back in 2009.)
Back to Sucre. As is also my habit I eat street food as much as I can and I discovered this little place under the stairs of a building. A whole pot of hot chocolate con leche, queso (cheese) empanadas, masaco de yuca con queso sonso, a kind of cheese pastry that is a Bolivian speciality. Another time I had Milaneza de pollo, a chicken dish, in the food court at Mercado Central, the central market. Right amongst the people some of whom were counting their coins for what was a treat out. It reminded me how I went to this roadside joint two of the three nights I was in Shanghai and finished off an eggplant and rice dish from an orange plastic plate.
I got a taste of South American soaps while dining. Like Hindi television soaps they are loud, melodramatic and hilarious. I was riveted :-p
Oh and was I not surprised to see Asians established in Sucre.
An old Korean couple ran a Kodak Express right in the town centre. Asians rule!
I did most of my shopping at a co-operative in Sucre. The wool, the fabric, the style is quite unique. Arts and crafts that reflect the local people and their ideas of the world, their interactions with outsiders. Museo Casa de La Libertad was another little place I browsed to know more about the history of Sucre and Bolivia in general. And there is a great vegetarian cafe just off the town square too.
There were many parades through the streets during the time I spent there.
On my last night in Sucre I went up to the church behind the casa where the street was closed for a fair. A jatra जत्रा as one can see anywhere around a temple and on festivals in Maharashtra. Some things are the same across countries and cultures. So what if the language and religions are different.
My travel doctor had warned me about altitude sickness in La Paz, as I mentioned in my post Wanderings Again.. The only other time I’d experienced altitude sickness was in Sikkim, high up over Natha La Pass the other side of which is Tibet, the roof of the world. I was fine when I reached the hotel, breathing well, speaking full sentences. I walked around looking for dinner, found a cheap Chinese restaurant, had a tasteless rice dish, went back to the hotel. My flight to Uyuni was at 6am the next morning and I had booked a taxi for 4am. I felt nauseous through the night. I thought it was the rice. Well, it was the rice. Churning in my stomach because the bloody altitude was hitting me and although my respiration was fine I was inhaling rarefied air. So I threw up. Then I threw up again. I still did not connect it to the altitude. I thought it was a migraine because that is the only ‘condition’ I suffer from and that is the only time I vomit. Inside my oxygen starved brain I was chiding myself…you travel you suffer you get headaches that is so typical onward and upward serves you right. Throw up once more. That went on through the night. Chunks of undigested rice. I had to re-arrange my backpack in the morning, which, anyone who has travelled with one will tell you, is part of the daily routine. How To Distribute The Weight Evenly-An Ongoing Exercise. And it was cold. Bloody cold.
I slept through the one hour trip to Uyuni (yes I vomited at the airport).
Uyuni is a remote town straight out of a Hollywood Western. I took a taxi into town. This was the only part of the trip I had not organised. I was going to wing it. The main drag was empty. Not a soul on the street. Not even a drunk straggling home. Before I could get out of the taxi a fast talking local woman with a loud voice opened the door for me and sold me a day trip to the salt flats. Her office was warm and I could hang out until she assembled a group. Adventure on! I was dehydrated and cold. I stretched out on her office couch and was fast asleep in a second. Here is the point when a traveller should be alert to potential theft, assault etc. Not once did I feel I was in danger. I will reiterate this through my travel stories in Bolivia. Not once, never through my time in Bolivia did I feel scared.
Main street, Uyuni.
Main street, Uyuni. Guardian princess perhaps.
So it was a day of touristy Uyuni train graveyard and salt flat viewing. The group was full of Asians. Two Koreans, four Japanese, one Indian and the Bolivian guide who turned out be quite a keen photographer. He wanted us to pose and pretend for the camera. As if it was part of the service, for us to take these memories with us this way. At least I think this is what he wanted us to remember.
I was meant to be in Sucre the next day and the plan was to take the overnight bus but was the only part of the trip I had not booked. The tour business lady told me there were many buses going to Sucre and that I will get a ticket easily. I actually got the second last ticket. If you have travelled through rural India (or in my case rural Maharasthtra, which is my state) then such experiences are deja vu. You go into an office full of people, children, bags, sacks, lots of chatter, comings and goings. A seat number is written down on a receipt voucher, money exchanged and you turn up at least 30 minutes before the bus departs. You don’t know if the seat number actually means anything or fellow travellers will ‘catch’ the seat for someone else, whether there will be any place for your bag, whether there will be a ‘pee’ stop and whether you can safely empty the bladder in a female friendly space.
There were two buses departing at the same time, both to Sucre. Mine was a seater not a sleeper. It was unclear initially which was which. I waited to the locals to get in. Then I climbed in. There was a large Bolivian woman in my seat. Now these are formidable women you don’t mess with. She sat stoic. It was her seat! I ran back to the office and hey, the girl who wrote my ticket nonchalantly changed the number. Sorry. As if that was routine. Not for me. Whew and geez! Thus I took my overnight bus from Uyuni to Sucre. Safe as a single female backpacker in a foreign land, in a bus mostly full of locals.
Travelling, as always, reiterates how I can be any person and live anywhere in the world. I will always be an outsider, I will never ‘belong’ (what is belonging…), and yet I am here. Of course I indulge in such existential questions and analysis because I can afford to do it. If I was struggling on a daily basis, trying to earn a living, support other people, pay the bills, if I was a minority where I was not allowed to be live with my beliefs, my culture, if I did not have a voice at all then the idea of travelling seems distant and alien.
Even my minimalist backpacking is a privilege because I can afford to do it. I have the choice to do it. As an academic friend who studies multiculturalism and international students pointed out to me, such kind of travelling is an upper middle class indulgence. It is not just me trying to make do without certain travel luxuries because they are beyond my budget (well, some are) or in a non-consumerist manner; it is because I have the freedom to do so.
That said, travelling is a very humbling experience for me. I don’t see myself living in hotels and seeing places with travel groups. Intrepid is my word, my thing. Simply because in this space I meet the locals, I get to have conversations with fellow travellers on a similar journey, I see my place in this world. A nothingness, an inconsiderable speck, a spectre of self-centredness in her daily existence.
As I waited in the lounge to board my flight to La Paz I saw this tall, dark man, very distinctly Indian. I strained to look again. I had seen many ‘Indian’ looking (not indigenous) people in Santiago. I am one of them but I rarely get recognised as Indian. I am from everywhere but there. Except other Indians who stare at me suspiciously. Is she? Isn’t she? But she has no designer gear on her, she is in rags…and she is alone…Indians don’t travel by themselves, not women…I can see the emotions flicker across their faces…so I fit among the locals in Santiago. Never mind that me no hablo Español, hablo only poquito.
This man was definitely Indian. I placed him as either from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh or interiors of Maharashtra. He had a moustache, a red thread on right wrist and a gold chain around his neck. All external markers of a Hindu male from India. Then I noticed the Indian passport. Bazinga! He looked at me suspiciously as I seated myself opposite him trying to eavesdrop. 😉 It was a group of four with the other three very possibly Chilean. I am pleased to report our man spoke impeccable Español. Rarely on my travels have I encountered an Indian speaking the local language or being so comfortable. It was quite cool.
On the flight sat next to me a man who kept peering at my book. He was, he seemed Chilean. Is that Arabic, he eventually asked me. No it is Marathi, my mother tongue.
Where is that from? So we got talking. He was going to La Paz on business and offered to help me find a taxi to go to the hotel because the Bolivians might swindle me. Does not cost about seventy Bolivianos? I had done all my research. Nah, he said, they might charge more. He said he had been to La Paz a couple of times on business. He had a factory in Santiago and made industrial chemicals. He was, he finally told me, third generation Chilean-Lebanese. His grandfather had moved to Santiago from Lebanon. He could not speak or read Arabic except for a few words. Habibi, I said. He laughed. Yalla! He laughed more. Do you eat fatoosh, hummus, falafel? How do you know, he asked. I don’t, I said. I assume you do. Food is the great memory from and of your ancestors. Fifth generation New Zealand Chinese still have Chinese food at home. Curries and mango pickle, Yorkshire pudding, pho, sushi/kimbap; different flavours, same desires and yearning. Putting down roots does not mean belonging. Putting down roots does not mean permanence.
So I travel. Seeking home. It can be India, somewhere in East/South-East Asia, New Zealand, Australia, Europe and now South America. Wandering, encountering, believing in the oneness and diversity of humanity.