Good morning from the streets of Thamel, Kathmandu – Days 1 – 3 so far…

Good morning!

It’s the beginning of day three. Day one was largely logistics like getting from the airport – via our local guides (a lovely gentleman named Prem) own old Toyota Camry and sorting out local sim cards for our phones.  Driving here is an experience but look beyond that and the streets are full of life and colour and activity.  Then we wandered up and down the Thamel district and totally loved it. Day two yesterday we just continued to experience the streets and food and sounds and smells.

Yesterday morning we had breakfast outside our accommodation on  a local roof top terrace with 360 degree views of Kathmandu and looking straight at the Monkey Temple on a nearby hilltop.

I want to take a moment to talk about the streets here and how some people might find them fearful experiences.  Because repeatedly Australians tell me about how dangerous the traffic is in places like where I am now and how it stops them from experiencing all the other parts of travel.

They miss out on the experience travel by going and staying in their motel or they don’t go at all – because they fear injuries and accidents in what seems like chaotic road conditions.

Fear and danger are different things.  They are both real.  But in my experience people from privileged western backgrounds get very fearful in areas in second and third world countries for all the wrong reasons.

Fear in Australia seems to largely be about things that we may never experience.  Our lives are so comfortable and safe it’s almost like we have to create drama with unnecessary fear mongering and our media outlets are exceptionally good at that.  Why?  Because it sells.  So we must crave it somewhere in our psyche – but I think we now confuse fear with anxiety because of our privileged lives.

For example if you are frightened of traffic with (what looks like) no road rules (there are but from our perspective it looks like chaos) – you are going to experience fear here.

Mild Kathmandu traffic Click for video

Sometimes we “buy in” to media fear mongering way too much – particularly about traffic conditions in countries that are foreign to us.  These kind of messages may stop us from traveling or swimming (shark! shark! shark! when less than 3 people die a year and millions swim every day) or even laughing (I have met someone who was afraid that if they laughed too much they would have a stroke).  Basically we can and will fear anything if we don’t question what is fearful behavior and what is actual danger.

I was reminded of a conversation I once had in a tea room with two mainstream Australian Engineers and one Engineer who was from Pakistan.  The two Australians kept harping on about bad drivers and the other man was perplexed by the levels of unnecessary fear in the conversation.

What he found even more perplexing was that they were talking about an accident that could have been prevented by simply hitting the horn and warning the other distracted driver to move or by slowing down.   He then ranted and raved at the man “how would you know? Where you come from no one can bloody drive and there is no decent roads”…that kind of rant.

The man calmly replied, “Oh we have roads, many different types and drivers are bad all over the world.  We just honk our horns and value life more by not assuming the other person will move”.

The Australian Engineer got angry at the other man when he questioned why the Australian man had not just slowed down and honked his horn – angrily retorting that it was rude to honk your horn.

I then, frustrated by the “redneckery”,  asked the Australian man, “so it was better damage your car or have an accident than to honk your horn? And have you ever been to Pakistan to comment on the roads or the drivers?”.  He would not answer and stomped off and left the tea room and most of us were relieved!  Turns out he had never left Australia because he was afraid to.  He replaced his fear with anger and bravado and putting other people down – anything but admit he was afraid.

Some Australians seem to think the roads must be perfect and other drivers must respect them but are not prepared to take any responsibility for their own driving habits.

Here horns honk and people slow down.  Little narrow roads, roaming dogs, beggars, children, cows, yaks, bicycles, motorbikes and monkey’s mean that if you don’t honk your horn and slow down you are in a world of hurt.

So people don’t get offended at honking a horn.   And pedestrians and cars just slow down.  As a pedestrian…horn honks, step to the left.  Slow down (both vehicles and pedestrians).  It’s really not rocket science and there not piles of injured and dying people alongside the road as a testament to “no road rules” as some mainstream Australians would say.   I’m sure the road statistics are dreadful but there are ways to stay safe as a visitor.

People here are, by far, better drivers than some Australians I have met who resort to whining about road conditions and other drivers endlessly when we have some of the best driving conditions in the world.

There is a very real danger in the traffic in Kathmandu, of that I have no doubt.  But I am not going to sit in my hotel room and worry – I’m going to get out there and “just keep my eyes peeled” with full confidence that someone will honk their horn and I will step to the left!

If I live in fear of being hit by a car then I wouldn’t get out and about in Australia either.

Perhaps it is because of the nightly news that  we are subjected too in Australia – endless nasty images of mangled cars.  The majority of those fatalities are caused by alcohol and speed – take a look at the ABS stats and you will clearly see a pattern.

Roads don’t kill people, people driving cars do.  If you are aware and slow down you will have much less chance of getting hurt or injured (no matter where you are in the world).

We all are afraid at some time or other.  The best medicine is to face that fear by getting to know ourselves, what are our triggers, what frightens us and talking about it.  Then if you want, getting out and facing that fear.

When in REAL danger you will be surprised at how good your adrenalin system actually is.  It’s what kept us alive when we had to worry about regular dangers like saber toothed tigers.

Some other fears that people have expressed to me about travel to other than European countries (because they won’t get out of their comfort zone) are:

1. Disease.  Yep, it’s real too.  But the serious ailments you can find vaccines for.  If there isn’t a vaccine and there is an outbreak – stay away from those places (Ebola) comes to mind.  25% of Australians who die overseas it’s because they didn’t get a vaccine.  Doh! Again it’s not rocket science.   One thing you need to accept.  You will get “gut rot” when you travel to places with less than first world conditions.  Sorry, but there are ways to manage and minimise that – you won’t die and you won’t totally destroy your trip either.  Take water purification tablets/ filter systems.   Take gastric stop type medication when it continues and a good travel doctor will arm you with the right anti-biotic and advice.   Our kits for this trip are quite comprehensive.  And for goodness sake have travel insurance.

2. Language.  So you don’t speak the language? Never mind.  Buy a phrase book.  Look for English speakers and actually ask them what the words are for basic phrases and use them.  People will respond in kind and you will have a much happier trip and you will learn heaps.  Fancy that! 🙂

3. Cost of travel.  Hmmmm….there’s a whole another post on this.  I’ll end by saying this – don’t whine to me when I come back to Australia that I am “lucky” to be able to travel.  Particularly don’t do this with a cigarette in one hand and an alcoholic beverage in the other.  This trip is worth about one year of those things alone and if you halved your consumption two.  You are worth more than giving your health away to a tobacco company surely?  And yes, 5 star travel is expensive.  My advice is to try two star, learn some language, reduce your prejudice about other cultures, see amazing things, challenge yourself and build brain cells rather than kill them with substances and FEAR.

4.  Terrorism.  Oh my…again another post in itself.  All I will say is – research and go somewhere with lower risk.  More Australians die every year from falling out of bed than terrorist attacks (regardless of the current bullshit on TV).

Finally, people will tell you stories about experiences that are not necessarily positive. Listen to those that give strategies to avoid the situation and who see the experience as something to be overcome so that a trip can be fully enjoyed and appreciated. But don’t listen to horror stories (and usually these are from people who didn’t go but are second, third or even fourth hand accounts).

F.E.A.R = False expectations appearing real.

Pre-trip “Madness”

It’s four sleeps til we fly and there is a certain level of madness that has set in.

I’m irritable, reactive and moody.  It’s complicated by the fact that I haven’t exercised for 10 days because I got the flu.

I’ve decided to stop analysing my “madness” and just deal with it – which means I have to just let it pass with the minimum impact on those around me. Which means talking about it and letting people know I am working on my moods.

Some people dislike the word “madness” – but I have embraced it.  I’m mad.  Sometimes it’s positive madness and sometimes it’s not.

I did a subject at university about the history of medical ethics (bioethics) and the stigmatisation of illness featured prominently in that – from the rise of the asylum to the demise of the asylum, from the witch trials which influenced early psychiatry.

It’s important that we take back terms that have meaning to us.

When I was working as a field anthropologist in Central Australia I tried to engage in two Indigenous languages as much as I could and became quite proficient in one of them.

One of nicknames was “woomeye” (Central Arrernte language) and I thought is meant “mad” until a local Indigenous linguist, scholar and respected elder, M.K. Turner, pulled me aside in Yeperenye shopping village after overhearing some local girls call me woomeye  and she said, “it’s great those girls call you woomeye, you know that?”

“Yes, I said, it means mad in a positive way – full of life, eccentric, etc., am I right?”

“Sort of.  It also means she doesn’t take any rubbish and it’s a strong word, you should be proud of this nickname”.

For those of you who are not aware of the amount of Indigenous languages in Australia (and who still believe the myth there is  only one language spread by weak pedagogies of national history) – click here to be better informed.

I always spoke my mind in community, albeit politely but I always spoke my mind.  Particularly when people where being destructive or blaming or not engaging without making excuses (usually people of my own culture though, I cannot pass authentic comment on anyone else’s cultural behaviour).

I used to think I was offending some people, and I probably did.  Of that I have no doubt.  But my view of madness was defined to me by my own rigid and westernised culture – it was perceived as something different in Central Australia.  Some people say you have to be mad to want to work in remote communities and refugee camps like I do.

I think the world needs a whole lot more of the types of madness that sees people give up comfortable lives in the service of those who are disadvantaged and living in conditions not of their own making – but inflicted upon them by modern life, insane wars and historical dispossession and colonisation.

If that’s “mad” – I’m happy to be “mad”.

Introducing Ralph the Cassowary and on modern life and depression

Introducing Ralph (the puppet Cassowary).  This is him sharing my cake and coffee at Mungali Creek Dairy

He’s our trip mascot but he’s a bit more symbolic than just his photo-bomb presence.  He’s symbolic of where we live in

Far North Queensland – the great Cassowary. 10704323_10152728163696810_5433245346240255145_o

But Ralph is anxious.  Why you ask?  Because he’s endangered by the human obsession with a progress that isn’t even really progress at all.  – this link is useful for understanding a bit about Ralph’s predicament.  If you are interested in wet tropics conservation here are some links for you as well… – some great organisations doing great things.

For me, Ralph the Anxious Cassowary represents three things:

1. What happens when we forget to take care of our world around us – we lose things of great beauty.

2. What happens when we don’t get out and value the world and it’s beauty – we only see things through a television set.  The same television set that the mass production of kills the environment that we say we value so much as we sit in front of it.

3. The combination of the two things above that mean we live a life that conforms to the big corporate agendas for us instead of meaningful lives with our own self-sufficient industries and economies.

For example, we choose to shop at major supermarket chains claiming it is cheaper. We don’t really know where the food comes from, but it is now being more widely accepted that processed food is not convenient, because it’s killing us. We save money on processed food but spend more on diet related diseases than ever before.

It leaves us slaves to stay in one place, eat only food that is readily available and the humdrum of lives that depress us and turn us into corporate slaves always “wanting and consuming” and having relatively meaningless lives filled with things that fall apart – which we just work harder to replace.

These agendas mean we cannot produce ourselves a life that was once “normal” – where we had our own businesses and economies like this dairy we visited with Ralph yesterday.

Viewed in the light of the whole of anatomically modern history it’s not radical to suggest what I am suggesting now and say it’s not too late to go back to lives where we valued our farmers, our industries and family businesses.

We don’t have to all live in cities and be a slave to corporate agendas and we now have TV shows dedicated to people who have “sea-changes” and go back to the types of lives we have had for millennia as though it’s something new.

Depression and anxiety and the fear of not being safe are products of a world were we are not valuing who we fundamentally are.  We, as human beings, are not meant to live trapped, conformist, “expert-dependent” lives waiting for the day when we “retire” – only to realise that at retirement we have wasted our entire lives waiting for a lotto win or someone to miraculously save us from our humdrum existences.

Maybe more of us need to find our human spirit again and start more dairies, small farms, wineries and more family businesses and become more self sufficient again.

Human beings have been anatomically modern like we are for around 200 000 years.

That means we have had exactly the same potential for physical and intellectual progress for that long. Our ancestors could have invented the car 200 000 years ago, they just decided they didn’t need it and thus didn’t invent it.

Until very recently we didn’t live in box shaped concrete boxes, getting fat on junk food and sitting in front of a TV.  We had to move and be out in the world in order to survive and thrive.

It’s bizarre really. It’s bizarre that we view people going back to producing their own food as a way to provide themselves with their own economy and get away from the “corporate rat race” as something radical or as brave (when it’s what we did before our current status as employees).

And yet we don’t view the concept of our “corporate slavery” as radical? You work in excess of 40 hours for other people, buying goods that don’t necessarily directly benefit you, at inflated prices and suffer diet and mobility related disease as a result. You do this for a house you don’t really get to sit back and enjoy and a car you really take out for site seeing anymore or for much leisure either.

We have only been a slave to the corporate rat race since the industrial revolutions.

Even if you be conservative about that and say the last 1000 years out of anatomically modern human life – then that is living like we are now for only .0005% of human history.  Can we say we have it right? If we go by the levels are which we are killing ourselves and others with our own self-destructiveness – compared to earlier history, then the answer is clearly…no.  

Wow. I don’t think this phase of our history is helping us so much. Ralph might be anxious but as least he knows why!!

We might have lived shorter lives a few hundred years ago and died from injuries that we don’t die from now, prior to the advent of our more sedentary life now, however we also didn’t practice the following:

1. large scale governance that launches wars on such a scale that millions die

2. trash our environment on such a scale that the very air we breath is becoming compromised

3. generate economies that wipe out anyone and anything who lies in their way on a large scale for material goods that are effectively not benefitting us in any real way

The irony is – through this amazing period of human intensification we have done some amazing things – medicines and technologies that have given us a greater quality of life in many respects.

But now we have taken these advantages and turned that beautiful potential into something very ugly and self-destructive and full of self-loathing.

Physically we are not meant to be sedentary, we have not evolved a way to deal with the rapid changes we have made to our diet (preservatives, colours, flavours etc) and now we have longer lives with more disease related to poor diet and sedentary (lazy) lifestyle than ever before in human history.

We might live longer, but sometimes I wonder if it’s a long slow painful death we are living, instead of short but meaningful one as it might have been for my Celtic ancestors in the highlands of Ireland a few hundred years ago.

We used to work the fields or some form of hunting and gathering and were always active.

I’m not saying we trade off longer more comfortable lives for shorter more meaningful (but more painful perhaps) lives – I’m just saying we need to balance out the two and come to some middle ground.

I am so reminded of the scene in children’s animated film Wallee where the entire population of the world is now living in a space station, is morbidly obese (so much so they can’t support their own body weight), lives on coloured slushies and gets around on hover-craft like scooters with a permanent holographic computer screen replacing their view of the world.

A woman is cruising along and there is a glitch with her computer screen and suddenly she can see the pool in the complex. “We have a pool?” she says excitedly, even though she has been driving past it every day.

How long before this is the reality? Why are we so obsessed with some bizarre need to be respectful of each other and not call someone “fat” that we can’t make connections between low self-esteem, being morbidly overweight and depression?

How kind is it to say to ignore what we are doing to ourselves with low exercise, high material drive, environmentally destructively behaviours? It’s not kind, it’s bizarre. It’s denial – which is at the centre of every violent human act, whether that act is directed at ourselves or others.

Hurting people hurt other people and themselves.

Diet related diseases and obesity related diseases rival our increasingly horrendous mental health statistics.

Remember “Norm” from the Life. Be in it. campaign?

We used to see these TV ads every night. Bring them back!!!!!

Ralph is anxious because we are destroying his habitat with our aggressively self-centred human lifestyle.

He could go and hide in what little forest there is, but he is tackling this with us. He could do what he has always done and skulk in the shadows, but it’s not safe for him there anymore.

He is getting out there and saying “your lack of happiness with yourselves is destroying the beautiful world you have for me and everyone else”.

Me? I’m accompanying Ralph because I don’t want to live in a world full of morbidly obese mindless people with severe depression denying that anything is wrong whilst trashing the planet and killing each other because they want to own a plasma TV and watch what the world used to look like.

Do I sound harsh? Maybe! I have been one of the people above and I have no doubt I will still contribute to the madness – but I would like to contribute to the madness less. In the process I would hope that others might also wish this (and I know many who are like me who already do).

I think our search for happiness and our high levels of mental health issues are symptomatic of something bigger.

We have lost who we are as human beings, lost our very humanity and replaced it plastic sedentary lifestyles that really have no meaning.

So we, Ralph and I and a few others in the world are getting out there in the world and as responsibly as possible to spread the word.  To live a life that isn’t what the advertising companies want us to believe is human– but which really pays the way for a small group of elite human beings while the rest of us blindly following commercial culture like lemmings off the side of a cliff.  10636936_10152728345866810_3100958112301138575_o

There are many forms of slavery and our collective psyches respond with depression, anxiety and suicide (ultimately).

Life is more than your plasma TV.


14 days to go…on positivity R U Okay?

Today is R U Okay Day.  See someone stressed out? Don’t estimate the power of asking “R U okay?”

Well it’s 14 days til we fly out to Kathmandu.

I am currently fending off flu-like symptoms at home and letting it take it’s course so I can be more active again soon. Today I just wanted to write something without backing it up with facts, figures, perspectives and other authors on positivity.

People talk about being positive a lot.

Positivity is an awesome force to be reckoned with, but like the search for happiness, sometimes people get lost in the search.

I have been advised to read a book called “The Happiness Trap” because apparently it aligns with my views on the unrealistic belief that you can be happy all the time.  Don’t make the search for any one concept (like happiness or truth) the life or the life the search.

The same goes for positivity.

It’s actually a very old Buddhist teaching that we should watch all emotions and just let them pass and that’s what I subscribe to.  They are not bad nor good.  They just are.

This is the path to happiness, to positivity. 

No one thing in our lives is ever certain and clinging to something desperately will bring us very strong emotions and often the kinds of emotions that make us not feel pleasant. 

It has taken a lot of years for me to be able to say what gives me joy. To even use the word joy without cringing as though I was “slacking off” by looking for joy.

Then a few years back I realised that joy was always present, just not always visible to me.  Some goes for positivity.

The key thing is don’t make a project out of it.  Out of anything in regard to emotional states really.  Let them come and go and foster and nurture those that make you feel good. 

The science of neuro-plasticity says the more positive the experience the more we rewire to the positive energy and the more likely we are to gravitate to the positive and continue to experience the positive.  Those who don’t like neuro-plasticity say this is just behaviour and nothing to do with brain plasticity.

I think there is ample evidence (in my own life and that is enough for  me) that positive behaviour makes the brain positively plastic.  🙂