Experiences that Change our Lives
We all have something that has had an impact on the direction our lives have taken. It may not even seem significant at the time, and it may happen at a time in our lives that we least expect it. But often, we all have an experience that completely changes our outlook and even our path.
My trip to Africa changed my outlook and my path, completely.
After completing my Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics at 22, I decided to complete a humanitarian project while waiting for my graduation. I was going to come back and pursue a clinical career and work my way up to managing the Royal Melbourne Hospital Dietetic department. Things did not quite go as planned...
Kenya and Uganda
Our trip involved funding and working as labour on self-sustaining projects in Kenya/Uganda over 6 weeks. Our final week was a "tourist" experience.
Our small group all went with ambitions of helping, but I returned with nothing but a sense of helplessness, as the experience was not just overwhelming but such a contrast to life here in the developed world, and not in the ways you would think.
People with nothing, gave, and were thankful for what they had. There was enough to go around and that is what happened, communities shared and took care of each other. They lived with the land and within their resources with no support from local or national government.
As obvious foreigners, we were targeted and generally, tribal war was a constant threat. Nothing has changed around this to date. Life and death was a normal fear to have, with one medical centre I visited to help regularly, one night attacked by a tribe, and doctors, nurses and patients all killed and injured with machetes. But this rawness, although not ok, was normal and all part of the civil code.
We could afford to visit nearby larger cities and buy foreign food that came in packages, our giant rubbish hole in our compound raided at night by locals wanting the packaging to "upcycle". I recall buying apples imported from France and asking a local teacher friend if she wanted to try it, as she had never seen an apple before. She had also never seen the ocean before and was not overwhelmed by sadness that she may never see it either.
Some of more of many experiences I recall vividly:
- Certain soft drinks were cheaper and more readily available than water to buy in roadside chanties.
- Markets of secondhand clothes from other countries were huge - it was like the final dumping grounds (I still have clothes from those very markets).
- Daily fresh food markets were how we managed our daily group meals of mainly beans, greens and tropical fruits.
- I worked in an aids orphanage for babies whose parents had died and that had a short life expectancy. I looked into adoption and found it was impossible - even for those few babies who did not have the virus. This remains the case today from all accounts.
- I had malaria most of the time and did not know it until the end when I finally took the medication "just in case" as my symptoms were masked by my daily antimalarial. I was so lucky to be able to afford medical treatment, but it was readily available if you had money.
- We hand washed (body and clothes) in cold water, collected from publicly accessed creeks and reserves or rainwater we had collected. There was no plumbing, unless you visited a bigger city and even then its was questionable.
- On our final part of the trip, we visited the Masai and ran into tourists, the second time in our whole 6 weeks across Kenya and Uganda. The Masai experience also broke my heart, the women forced from their homes to dance for the "tourists", who only saw the "tourist trail" of Africa.
- The first time we ran into tourists, I was so ashamed to be Australian when we met up with a Contiki bus of Aussies and Kiwis. They were so disrespectful to locals and property.
- The giant Government buildings in Nairobi next to the giant shanti town, a stark and obvious display of the divide of public funding.
- We were advised to never give money to anyone, the golden rule, as that money most likely would not stay with that person and/or would not go to helpful things.
So many experiences that completely changed my view of the world.
First Hand Experiences and the Return
I came back, and couch surfed for a while. I really was lost. My whole outlook had changed. I had less tolerance for people who lacked gratitude and positivity; I had a stronger focus on waste (water/power/food/rubbish) and health prevention; my eyes were open on corporate greed with no responsibility and govt corruption local and abroad.
I took a job in a new space of corporate health; the only space that was really preventative health. I packed a car and drove from Melbourne to Central Qld to be the first employee of a new company running health programs for mining companies, living in camps and hotels for years across not just central Qld, but Nationally - always somewhere new, always a new group of blue-collar workers to educate and support. This experience also shaped me.
This experience also threw me into many more, with no fear. I mean how much harder could it be than what these people were experiencing? Opportunity is always a blessing I have welcomed, but particularly since Africa.
I have met people who speak of what happens in developing countries and what life is like but have never been to or lived in any such place, and at best only within the "tourist route". I know people who work for not for profits, that work to get funding projects in places they have never seen, to learn how the projects may be most successful and/or what money really lands on the ground.
But like anything, such as the inner-city folk in Australia that preach what the country folk should be doing or what our Indigenous communities should be doing, firsthand lived experience is a significant attribute of the credibility of "preach". I think if more open-hearted people made the effort to truly walk in the shoes of others, the world would be a much kinder and equitable place.
City to Rural Living
Our 3 young kids, now we have moved from city to rural living, are learning about the importance of resources - with water tanks full only when it rains and power outages (and no internet/communication) a common occurrence. Important reminders that we should take nothing for granted and be more precious with our resources.
I am glad we can teach them this, along with our nude food ethos - mindful of our contribution to waste, and our healthy "close to nature" diets; we are trying to instill these important values. Minimising our footprint and respecting/being thankful for our resources.
We all need to experience some true human hardship to really comprehend what is important, what we should be thankful for and what we can do to help with positive change in not just our microenvironment, but our macro - with our personal choices and actions.
What was your life changing experience?