IS THIS WORTHY OF YOUR UPWORTHY?

This ‘nation’ ethically cleansed a whole population from their land and their homes, created generations of refugees, refused them the right to return, murdered innocent men, women and children, wrongfully imprisoned their children without evidence or trial or justice, annexed them with a wall, humiliated them, put fear in their hearts, denied their cultural history, wrote over their Arabic signs, called them terrorists when they fought back with rocks, bulldozed their homes, attacked them with bombs and phosphorous and war, pillaged their lands, rationed their food supplies, occupied their territories, denied their basic human rights, denied the right to clean drinking water so they could fill up their swimming pools, spewed violent hate speech against their entire race, treated them like animals, took revenge on an entire population for the actions of a few- YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT’

*clicks page*

*blank page*

*

Welcome to your genocide.

Is this the Greatest Love Quote of All Time?

Louie

Dr. Bigelow: So you took a chance on being happy, even though you knew that later on you would be sad.

Louie: Yeah.

B: And now… you’re sad.

L: Yeah.

B: So… what’s the problem?

L: I’m too sad…. Look, I liked the feeling of being in love with her. I liked it. But now she’s gone and I miss her and it sucks. And I didn’t think it was going to be this bad, and I feel like, why even be happy if it’s just going to lead to this, you know? It wasn’t worth it.

B: You know, misery is wasted on the miserable.

L: What?

B: You know, I’m not entirely sure what your name is, but you are a classic idiot. You think spending time with her, kissing her, having fun with her, you think that’s what it was all about? That was love?

L: Yeah.

B: THIS is love. Missing her, because she’s gone. Wanting to die…. You’re so lucky. You’re like a walking poem. Would you rather be some kind of a fantasy? Some kind of a Disney ride? Is that what you want? Don’t you see? This is the good part. This is what you’ve been digging for all this time. Now you finally have it in your hand, this sweet nugget of love, sweet, sad love, and you want to throw it away. You’ve got it all wrong.

L: I thought this was the bad part.

B: No! The bad part is when you forget her, when you don’t care about her, when you don’t care about anything. The bad part is coming, so enjoy the heartbreak while you can, for God’s sakes. Pick up the dog poop, would you please? Lucky sonofabitch. I haven’t had my heart broken since Marilyn walked out on me, since I was 35 years old. What I would give to have that feeling again…. You know, I’m not really sure what your name is, but you may be the single most boring person I have ever met. No offense. Give me my dog. Come here. You…. Don’t fall down.

meet cute nightmare

I get approached in the street quite often when walking alone, usually with my headphones in. Sometimes during the day, sometimes at night, always the attention is unwanted and I get flustered and try my best to get away, sometimes I can do this easily, sometimes I can’t. The worst of these stories was an elderly man with a disfigured face, who followed me to the train station and onto the train, tried to give me his number and mentioned that he knew where I lived. right after insinuating about how he had ‘taken care of’ his ex-wife and the man she cheated on him with.

The fear of leaving the house followed me for an entire year until I eventually moved away.

In Barcelona, it took me three days before I could leave the house, after a man physically attacked me in the street.

So forgive me if I am sensitive to my personal space when walking alone.

A few months ago while crossing the bridge, a guy appeared right in front of me, startling me, as they always do, and said; ‘I’m sorry I was just walking past you and I thought, I need to tell this girl that I really like her look – you’re so exotic – where are you from? Are you Spanish?’

I said no, I’m not and tried to keep walking but he kept following me. Eventually I got rid of him but I remembered him for his distinct accent which sounded South African but he had said was actually English.

Today, lo and behold, the exact same guy approached me and said the exact same thing.

‘hello I was walking past and I just wanted to tell you that I love your look – are you South American?’

‘I’ve seen you before. You’ve done this to me before.’

‘No that’s not right, it must have been someone else’

‘No, it was you. That accent’

‘It’s English but I get offended when people say it sounds Irish’

‘YOU SAID THAT LAST TIME TOO’

I ran away, perplexed. Am I being punked? What are the odds of that happening twice?

So many times, so many times I am walking and my space is invaded by these strangers, hoping something they say will penetrate through the barriers.

‘You look like you’re enjoying that song, what are you listening to?’

‘I just wanted to tell you how beautiful you are, I don’t want anything else!’

‘Okay thanks’

‘But do you want to go out with me sometime?’

‘Hey you should be smiling with that pretty face!’

Let me save you the effort.

No.

No.

No.

No.

No.

This is not a meet cute scene. I would like to not be standing here talking to you in the rain. This is my space. You have not earned the right to invade this space when I am unguarded and vulnerable.

GAZA DRINKING GAME

WARNING: MAYBE DON’T PLAY THIS GAME LITERALLY OK*

DRINK EVERY TIME THEY SAY ‘WE DO NOT TARGET CIVILIANS’

DRINK EVERY TIME THE IDF KILLS AN INNOCENT CHILD (BUT DON’T DIE OF ALCOHOL POISONING ON DAY 2).

DRINK EVERY TIME SOMEONE SAYS ‘BUT THE ROCKETS’

DRINK EVERY TIME MARK REGEV SAYS ‘KHAMAS’ IT’S LIKE THE HISSING OF A SNAKE

DRINK EVERY TIME THE US, UK & AUSTRALIAN POLITICIANS SAY ‘ISRAEL HAS THE RIGHT TO DEFEND ITSELF’

DRINK WHEN NO ONE SAYS PALESTINIANS HAVE THE RIGHT TO DEFEND THEMSELVES (OK CAN’T MEASURE THIS ONE PUT THE DRINK DOWN)

DRINK EVERY TIME THE MEDIA IS SILENT ON THIS OR BURIES IT ON PAGE 33

DRINK EVERY TIME A CRITIC OF THE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT GETS LABELLED ANTI-SEMITIC EVEN THOUGH NO ONE HAS SAID A SINGLE FUCKING THING ABOUT JEWISH PEOPLE AND GO LOOK UP WHAT ‘SEMITE’ MEANS, DIPSHITS, WE LOVE THE JEWISH PEOPLE, SOME OF THEM ARE THE BIGGEST, MOST DEDICATED SUPPORTERS OF THE PALESTINIAN CAUSE.

DRINK WHEN SOMEONE WHO YOU THOUGHT WAS COOL READS THREE ARTICLES, DECLARES THEMSELVES AN EXPERT AND COMES OUT WITH THIS WISE CRACK THAT WASN’T WORTH THE 10-SECOND CHAT IT CAME FROM – ‘BUT HAMAS IS NO BETTER!’

DRINK BECAUSE THEY THEN TRY TO SEND YOU AN ARTICLE ABOUT ‘HUMAN SHIELDS’ WTF AT LEAST FIND SOME ORIGINAL PROPAGANDA THIS FOOTAGE IS FROM SYRIA DO YOU THINK ALL BROWN PEOPLE ARE THE SAME, PROBABLY!

DRINK WHEN THEY USE CEASEFIRES AS AN EXCUSE TO KEEP BOMBING THAT’S NOT THE POINT OF A CEASEFIRE

DRINK WHEN YOU CAN’T WORK OUT WHERE MAINSTREAM MEDIA OUTLETS ARE GETTING THEIR FACTS FROM ARE THEY MAKING THEM UP IT’S POSSIBLE

OH SHIT, THEY’RE PROBABLY FOLLOWING THE IDF’S TWITTER ACCOUNT, WELL THAT’S FUCKING STUPID, LOOK AT THESE SIMPLETON INFOGRAPHICS, DID A FIVE-YEAR-OLD MAKE THEM, GROSS, HOW STUPID DO YOU THINK THE WORLD IS, OKAY THEY ARE PRETTY STUPID, FAIR CALL

DRINK WHEN HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH LOL NAH THEY’RE USELESS

DRINK WHEN SOMEONE MENTIONS EGYPT LOL FUCK OFF

DRINK WHEN YOU DON’T HEAR FROM LEBANON, JORDAN AND WHAT I LIKE TO CALL ‘THE OIL COUNTRIES’ – HEY GUYS, LOOK WHERE YOU ARE ON THE MAP YEAH YOU’RE NEXT.

JUST ASK IRAQ, SYRIA, AFGHANISTAN – THEY’RE FUCKED BEYOND BELIEF SEE THE PATTERN YET?

TURKEY YOU’RE ALRIGHT, BUT STOP FUNDING THEIR MILITARY

DID SAUDI ARABIA JUST DONATE MONEY FOR HUMANITARIAN REASONS OR IS THIS SOME KIND OF WARPED REALITY SHOW PRANK, WHERE’S SAUDI ARABIAN ASHTON KUTCHER, I’LL NEVER BELIEVE IT

DRINK EVERY TIME ISRAEL BOMBS AN AMBULANCE, HOSPITAL, HOME, JOURNALIST, ANIMAL, EVERYTHING – ARE YOU DEAD YET, BECAUSE THEY ARE.

*DRINK*

DRINK BECAUSE GIDEON LEVY HAS BEEN WRITING ABOUT THESE INJUSTICES FOR LIKE THREE DECADES, HE MUST BE TIRED, POOR GIDEON, HE CAN’T GO ANYWHERE WITHOUT DEATH THREATS, KEEP GOING GIDEON WE LOVE YOU

DRINK BECAUSE YOU JUST REMEMBERED HOW FUCKED UP THE WEST BANK STILL IS, NOT TO MENTION ISRAELI ARABS, OH YEAH AND NON-WHITE JEWS IN THIS COUNTRY, WHAT IS THIS COUNTRY IS ANYONE OKAY, MAYBE THOSE GUYS ON THE TEL AVIV BEACH, THEY LOOK LIKE THEY’RE HAVING FUN

DRINK BECAUSE APARTHEID AND GIANT SEGREGATING WALLS ARE STILL A FUCKING THING

DRINK BECAUSE YOU JUST REMEMBERED THAT EVEN THE SO CALLED ‘TERRORISTS’ EXPRESS MORE CONCERN FOR THE LOSS OF INNOCENT PALESTINIANS AND IRAQIS, JESUS CHRIST.

WE’RE ALL FUCKED WHY DIDN’T WE LISTEN TO NELSON MANDELA WHEN HE SAID:

‘“We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”

WORLD, THIS IS YOUR HANGOVER.

Silence for Gaza by Mahmoud Darwish

thank you kathleenjoy for originally alerting me to this poem. 

 

Gaza is far from its relatives and close to its enemies, because whenever Gaza explodes, it becomes an island and it never stops exploding. It scratched the enemy’s face, broke his dreams and stopped his satisfaction with time.

Because in Gaza time is something different.

Because in Gaza time is not a neutral element.

It does not compel people to cool contemplation, but rather to explosion and a collision with reality.

Time there does not take children from childhood to old age, but rather makes them men in their first confrontation with the enemy.

Time in Gaza is not relaxation, but storming the burning noon. Because in Gaza values are different, different, different.

The only value for the occupied is the extent of his resistance to occupation. That is the only competition there. Gaza has been addicted to knowing this cruel, noble value. It did not learn it from books, hasty school seminars, loud propaganda megaphones, or songs. It learned it through experience alone and through work that is not done for advertisement and image.

Gaza has no throat. Its pores are the ones that speak in sweat, blood, and fires. Hence the enemy hates it to death and fears it to criminality, and tries to sink it into the sea, the desert, or blood. And hence its relatives and friends love it with a coyness that amounts to jealousy and fear at times, because Gaza is the brutal lesson and the shining example for enemies and friends alike.

Gaza is not the most beautiful city.

Its shore is not bluer than the shores of Arab cities.

Its oranges are not the most beautiful in the Mediterranean basin.

Gaza is not the richest city.

It is not the most elegant or the biggest, but it equals the history of an entire homeland, because it is more ugly, impoverished, miserable, and vicious in the eyes of enemies. Because it is the most capable, among us, of disturbing the enemy’s mood and his comfort. Because it is his nightmare. Because it is mined oranges, children without a childhood, old men without old age and women without desires. Because of all this it is the most beautiful, the purest and richest among us and the one most worthy of love.

We do injustice to Gaza when we look for its poems, so let us not disfigure Gaza’s beauty. What is most beautiful in it is that it is devoid of poetry at a time when we tried to triumph over the enemy with poems, so we believed ourselves and were overjoyed to see the enemy letting us sing. We let him triumph, then when we dried our lips of poems we saw that the enemy had finished building cities, forts and streets. We do injustice to Gaza when we turn it into a myth, because we will hate it when we discover that it is no more than a small poor city that resists.

We do injustice when we wonder: What made it into a myth? If we had dignity, we would break all our mirrors and cry or curse it if we refuse to revolt against ourselves. We do injustice to Gaza if we glorify it, because being enchanted by it will take us to the edge of waiting and Gaza doesn’t come to us. Gaza does not liberate us. Gaza has no horses, airplanes, magic wands, or offices in capital cities. Gaza liberates itself from our attributes and liberates our language from its Gazas at the same time. When we meet it – in a dream – perhaps it won’t recognize us, because Gaza was born out of fire, while we were born out of waiting and crying over abandoned homes.

It is true that Gaza has its special circumstances and its own revolutionary traditions. But its secret is not a mystery: Its resistance is popular and firmly joined together and knows what it wants (it wants to expel the enemy out of its clothes). The relationship of resistance to the people is that of skin to bones and not a teacher to students. Resistance in Gaza did not turn into a profession or an institution.

It did not accept anyone’s tutelage and did not leave its fate hinging on anyone’s signature or stamp.

It does not care that much if we know its name, picture, or eloquence. It did not believe that it was material for media. It did not prepare for cameras and did not put smiling paste on its face.

Neither does it want that, nor we.

Hence, Gaza is bad business for merchants and hence it is an incomparable moral treasure for Arabs.

What is beautiful about Gaza is that our voices do not reach it. Nothing distracts it; nothing takes its fist away from the enemy’s face. Not the forms of the Palestinian state we will establish whether on the eastern side of the moon, or the western side of Mars when it is explored. Gaza is devoted to rejection… hunger and rejection, thirst and rejection, displacement and rejection, torture and rejection, siege and rejection, death and rejection.

Enemies might triumph over Gaza (the storming sea might triumph over an island… they might chop down all its trees).

They might break its bones.

They might implant tanks on the insides of its children and women. They might throw it into the sea, sand, or blood.

But it will not repeat lies and say “Yes” to invaders.

It will continue to explode.

It is neither death, nor suicide. It is Gaza’s way of declaring that it deserves to live.It will continue to explode.

It is neither death, nor suicide. It is Gaza’s way of declaring that it deserves to live.

[Translated by Sinan Antoon From Hayrat al-`A’id (The Returnee’s Perplexity), Riyad al-Rayyis, 2007]

(Original Source: mondoweiss.net)

betty

Many moons ago, my grandfather’s brother married an Australian woman.

Her name was Betty.

They must have been together for a few decades – they certainly had quite a few children and even more grandchildren, my lovely cousins.

By the time I was old enough to remember meeting them, I discovered they were no longer together. Aunt Betty still came to family gatherings though. I remember how her face lit up the first time she saw me as a young woman.

‘I’m your aunty Betty! I was Tony’s wife’ she said with a warm, inviting smile, holding my hands.

‘She looks just like Jacqui (my aunty)’, she would say to my mother.

Later she told me how she understood a bit of Arabic – ‘you have to learn or they’ll gossip about you’.

It turns out that Betty and Tony hadn’t been together for more than 20 years.

They told me that Betty was heartbroken and wanted him back. She stubbornly refused to give up and never stopped believing he might come back.

She was also my grandmother’s best friend – comrades in arms in being married to difficult Joseph men. They would call each other regularly. I remember my grandmother telling me about it.

She would say to Betty, over and over again.

‘Why don’t you go with someone else? He goes with others, why don’t you?’

‘I like Tony’, Betty would say.

Betty waited for Tony for 27 years. I wrote this down when my grandmother told me. I thought it was the sweetest thing I’d ever heard.

When my grandmother told me that he finally did come back to Betty, I couldn’t believe it. My heart soared at the news. I saw them together at a funeral. They were happy. Uncle Tony had no idea who I was but Aunty Betty was thrilled to see me.

Today I had a little cry at the news of Betty’s passing and the thought of her little frail body. I will always remember how she would see me at family gatherings and come over just to tell me I was beautiful and she loved me, even though she hardly knew me and we weren’t blood relatives. This didn’t matter to a woman like Betty. You were always the most important in that room – when really she was the most important all along.

Rest easy now, sweet little Betty – you were the best little woman. I’ll never forget you.

‘keep your heart warm’

‘The only thing keeping me going is hoping. I met some really nice people. I love them’.

He leans forward, his face serious, whispering.

‘The Australian people keep my heart warm, alive’.

I stare at him incredulously. At this stage, it’s likely the young man sitting across from me will be deported back to the country he fled from, a place where an inevitable death awaits him. I sit here, knowing that a government that does not represent me is doing everything in its power to prevent him from being granted asylum.

He gazes wearily into my eyes, filled with a small, slightly formidable shred of hope.

I am in pieces.

***

I interviewed Farid* six months ago on a balmy summer’s eve on my balcony. He leaned in close so the iPad could record his barely audible voice. I felt chills despite the warm weather and was a wreck in the aftermath of taking it all in. It took many failed attempts to finally sit down and write it and even more months to work up the courage to post this piece. Recently my  journalist best friend called me to say she had also recorded his story. Afterwards she sat immobile on her floor, unable to move or even comprehend transcribing the interview. We both agreed to hold off on publishing or broadcasting until we had checked with lawyers and made certain that publicising his story would not put his delicate case for asylum in further jeopardy, or make life harder for him in his home country, should the cruellest outcome of sending him back ever occur.

I decided to tell his story either way.

***

He walks with a quiet gait, in an almost trance-like state, lost in thought, distracted and downcast. He won’t talk unless he is spoken to and at first, he responds with quiet, delicate, one-word answers, muffled slightly by his accent.

I fire question after question at him, as though I’m trying to break through some kind of invisible barrier. I don’t know what I’m trying to get out of him or this interview or why I’m even doing it. I haven’t even begun and I am already helpless, limp and lost in a sea of thoughts plagued by the media, by conversations I’m trying to mute in my head, as this young man sits bravely and stoically before me.

‘What makes you happy?’ I ask him later, after questions about the anguish of travelling by boat, of living in limbo and waiting for residency, of escaping his country and the problems he faced and just before he outlines his hopes and dreams of becoming a world champion in the sporting field he has excelled at (it’s because he is so successful in this field that I can’t name the sport, for it will almost certainly give him away), when he responds:

‘I don’t know what you mean?’ he responds humbly and unassuming, as though ‘happy’ is not an option for him.

I have to explain the word ‘happiness’ to him and eventually he answers, smiling for the first time that evening…

We start at the very beginning.

‘How did you get to Australia?’

‘Boat’, he says seriously. ‘I didn’t know it was going to be a boat like that’.

I try not to think about what kind of boat he had in mind. Political problems plagued his local neighbourhood only a few years ago. A powerful local Islamic group made life impossible for him and his family.

‘They have the power to kill and put people in jail. They’re with the government but they have their own rules’.

He had a prominent position in his community and in the city council, so he was often in their direct line of fire. When his life was threatened and he was in danger of being captured, tortured and imprisoned by the group, he made the decision to leave his home country. Farid made the trip by plane and arrived in Indonesia.

He spent two months there. He quickly discovered that people could be waiting up to one or two years for the UN to make a decision about their case and to send them somewhere safe. He stayed in a house with ten people living on top of each other. That’s when he started to hear that Australia was a good place to go, that it was safe for refugees.

You have no idea where you’re going but suddenly you’re travelling in a van squished together with ten people. You spend 25 hours in that van, with no end in sight.

‘You’re feeling shit and you don’t know where you’re going or how long it takes. You just go, no other option’.

This is only the prelude to the now infamous boat journey. Eventually he makes his way on to a small, rickety boat, where the worst experience of his life gently beckoned towards him. He recalls that there must have been 70 people in the boat.

Until that day he had never been on a boat in his life.

They were on the sea for two days before arriving in Christmas Island. In that time the experience was so harrowing, that his only thought was of throwing himself into the sea.

I ask him to tell me more about the boat. His face transforms now into a slightly crazed expression.

He tells me how you have hope before you get on the boat, but when you are on the sea, the wild crazy sea, squished in with desperate people you don’t know, you start to feel bad, you start to regret the decision to get on the boat in the first place. But you are here now, terrified as it rains and as you rock back and forth on choppy waters. You had no idea it would be like this and you don’t know where you’re going. 

‘Did you know the boats can sink?’ I interject.

‘I hear about this when I am already on the boat!’ he cries out.

‘You are thinking you might get lost at sea and you hear the screams of the children’.

 ‘I can say I died in that time. You want to die. You don’t have a choice to go back, Even if it capsizes, you have to finish the journey or you die’.

He describes how the boat nearly crashed on Christmas Island and I shudder at the thought. I grip the chair beneath me when he tells me how they were seen to be coming towards the island but no one helped them.

They try to call the Australian police and plead with them.

‘Why are you not coming to catch us?’ they cry into the phone, hearing indifference on the other end. I dwell on the incorrect use of the word ‘catch’ for some reason. It reminds me of fish.

The Australian personnel kept them on the water from 9pm to 9am.

‘Oh what, doesn’t anyone work the night shift?!’ I scoff, my sarcasm flying over his head. I am getting worked up but he doesn’t even notice. He is back there now on that boat.

Eventually the royalty emerge from their thrones to rescue the 70 odd, desperate people. They ‘catch’ them and take them straight to detention.

He spent 4.5 months in detention. After that he was moved around like cattle. One month on Christmas Island, six weeks in Darwin, two months in detention in Broome. He relays the numbers like clockwork, as though this isn’t valuable time in a young man’s life.

‘It’s like prison. It’s a waste of time’.

‘There are people who have been there for three or four years. They were suicidal, crazy. They see people get released, while they stay, not knowing why.’

 ***

Something miraculous happened along the way. He starts to talk about one of the detention centres being a more open and friendly place. His face lights up when he mentions his sudden turn and interest in Christianity during his time in Darwin. He joins a group who teach him about the Bible and charity work. He seems  visibly uplifted when he talks about this class and how it allowed him to leave Detention in order to talk to other people. The cynic in me wonders if Christianity’s appeal was in the slight hint of freedom it afforded them, but I start to realise that its drawcard was bigger than that. It gave him a sense of purpose and belonging during a time that was deadening and devoid of life.

‘I have good feeling with Christianity and I like it. They are nice people, very helpful…and…why not?’

Farid converted to Christianity during his time in detention. The religious Islamic group that he had escaped from found out about this because in his words, ‘they hear everything’. The real reason is that Farid has a high profile back home. He was a national champion in his chosen sport. Thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever for extreme religious groups to find out things you don’t want them to know. They go to his family’s house and make a scene, swearing and threatening them.

It ends in them stabbing his brother. I ask how he felt about this and he shakes his head and stays silent.

Having converted to Christianity, it seems his life back home is in peril. If he goes back, he could be executed. Farid is eventually placed in Sydney, where he is embraced by a small Australian community who love and adore him, making it all the more devastating when his application for asylum is rejected after being handed to the new and, let’s face it, atrocious Liberal government (and handed from one case worker to the next, each time making it more and more difficult for Farid to plead his case).

They started to ask him about things he couldn’t possibly remember and drill him for details from two years ago – names, dates, the exact name of that guy and that small thing that happened on that street. They assume from the outset that you are lying and the onus is on the desperate, fleeing refugee, to have to prove that you’re not lying – you’re simply traumatised by the entire experience, obviously. After facing rejection time and time again, he sends a letter to Scott Morrison pleading his case but like all things to do with Scott Morrison, it is futile.

He whispers to me that if they send him back, he will end his own life. I believe him when he says this. Months later, news broke of Leo Seemanpillai’s tragic death. My hand flew to my heart. I know this story, I think, and it’s closer to home now than ever before – because this story has become our home, the home we have built for ourselves on our great and sprawling, hostile continent.

I am now so acutely aware of the agonising impact this ordeal has on the mental health of such resilient people and I am afraid for them and for the future of this country.

‘I didn’t know you were going to ask me about the bad boat’, Farid remarks as we walk to the car.

‘I thought I was going to talk about my sport. But I am happy to talk with you about these things. It is like talking to the psychiatrist – I feel better now!’

We laugh and I hug him goodbye, feeling more useless than ever.

***

My new friend watches on, helpless to the unfolding calamity, caught between worlds, unable to go back, unable to stay, unable to breathe freely without the impending sense that he is neither welcome nor safe.

All the while my heart is gradually breaking in one long calamitous slow take, like shards of crystal shattering across the island.

We are long overdue for our revolution.

***

*names have been changed

we cannot walk alone

‘It was a deal I’d made with myself months before and the only thing that allowed me to hike alone. I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.”- Cheryl Strayed

I was maybe six or seven years old when my mother first alerted me to the fact that I was not safe. It began innocuously enough. I wanted to walk by myself to school like the other kids.

My mother’s hand flew to her heart, as though she had been shot. She may have even stumbled backwards and looked at her hand to check for blood, such was the shock she experienced. Her face contorted with panic and worry and rage all at once. She shouted ‘NO’ a few times and ranted about safety and what was I even thinking, this crazy child of hers.

When she was done, I thought that I had pushed it too far, trying to go on my own. So I tried another tactic and whipped out the older brother card for the first, and probably last time.

‘But maybe Matt could come with me? Would that be okay?’

She wailed once more.

‘Oh great, so they’ll kidnap your brother and then they’ll rape you!’ she shouted.

If I asked her about this today, I doubt she’d recall the moment. And yet there it is, locked away in my memory bank. Her words stung with such voracity that they left an indelible mark on my soul that you can still see two decades later. I didn’t know who ‘they’ were. Ghosts maybe. Faceless men. The back of a panel van.

The only thing I knew is that my brother would be kidnapped but it was me who would be both kidnapped and raped. Because I am a girl and one day I’ll be a woman and maybe one day after that I’ll be a human.

Maybe.

I remember that split second of hesitation before whispering,

‘don’t say that, mama’

and in an even smaller voice,

‘maybe they’ll only kidnap me too’.

But from the outset it became clear. The battle lines had been drawn. I am a girl. I could be raped. I cannot walk alone. I cannot walk with my brother.

I cannot walk.

***

Perhaps this is why I have made it my mission statement to walk alone wherever possible, going so far as to venture to foreign countries on my own.

As I grew older and more rebellious, the phrases brandied about in my house were often followed with the addendum.

‘You can’t sleepover at your friend’s house; you’re a girl.’

‘You have to do all the cleaning yourself; you’re the girl.’

‘You can’t go to that party and stay out late; you’re a girl.’

And in between those phrases came my cries of protest,

‘but the boys can do it, why can’t I?!’

But the logic was not infallible. I raged against the machine but the fight was futile and it seemed like things would never change.

***

I went to an all girls’ school that was entirely feminist at its core; I let them brand me with their radicalism. But I didn’t always see the every day manifestations of sexism in my own life because I started to block it out. It was a matter of survival. It was only recently upon reflection, that I realised how bad things actually were.

I was fifteen going on sixteen when our school did a simulated business week with an all boys’ school. Half of my grade went to the boys’ school and half of the boys went to our school in a kind of swap.

On the first day we were assigned to groups. A CEO had to be elected from the group by way of a democratic voting process. It was a tie between me and one of the boys. I can’t remember the specific details, but the tutor decided that I was the winner and declared it as such. The boys immediately began their protests, crying out that I only got the job because I was ‘a pretty girl’. Not a smart girl, or a confident girl or a girl with social skills.

A pretty girl.

Is that all you got punks!?

I smugly took it in my stride. Okay, so I’m pretty. Fuck you.

I didn’t even care about the ramifications of what they were saying, or that this superficial sentiment would carry along in my life up until the present day, filtering through all my achievements, my hopes and desires, my relationships, only to land smack bang in the middle of my everything.

Just another pretty girl coming through, nothing to see here, folks.

But I quickly learned that being a pretty girl was not a good thing, not by any stretch of the imagination. I was cat called for the entire duration of the week, leered at, groped, was told what they wanted to do to me, was treated like an object, was made fun of as a way of getting my attention and then hit on. One time I was sitting on a bench waiting for my male cousin to finish his class so we could go home together, when a year 12 student started making lewd gestures at me from his classroom. Naturally the teacher’s solution to the harassment was to kick the student out of  his class, thereby sending him directly to me, the receptacle of his idiocy. He harassed me for half an hour before my cousin finally turned up, looked at the guy and shook his head at me.

‘I hate having you here this week. I’m getting so much shit from all the guys about you!’

Yes it must be so hard, to experience this for just one week of your life.

A teacher from my school who was on duty – someone I liked and admired – pulled me aside to whisper angrily that my skirt was too short and that I was asking for trouble at an all boys school.

My skirt fell just above my knees.

I looked at my watch to check the time/see what century we were living in.

That week I sat by myself at lunch, read my book and ignored the comments. It’s incredible how little any of this actually affected me at the time. Maybe because I didn’t interact very often with the opposite sex, so I had become immune to it in some weird, twisted way. I chose to interpret this attention as complimentary because essentially, if we really wanted to look at the facts, I guess I was a pretty girl in a knee length skirt. I took the power back. They were nothing to me then. This was self preservation and denial at its best.

It’s only now that I look back and tremble with anger at the injustice of it. That our girls have had to endure this kind of bullshit for so long now and still do and try to mask it as ‘no big deal’ or to ‘just get over it’.

I should add that I wasn’t a very good fake CEO. I probably ran the fake company into the ground. I wasn’t cut out for it. Maybe that other guy would have been better. But that’s not on account of my gender, but rather that I was an aspiring author with my head in the nebulous and probably blew the company budget on catering. But the truth remains that I was democratically elected to be fake CEO because I could command a crowd, convinced the non-misogynistic half of the team that I was worthy. And I walked away from the experience unscathed – I was almost invincible. I didn’t need validation from these monkey morons. I was a goddamn powerhouse, plucked from my gender to fly high above the cretins.

I’m not bossy, I’m the boss.

***

Years later I was reminded of all of this when a good male friend told me that he was moved to tears by the things I had written. My reply was one of shock. I didn’t even know he had read those things.

‘Of course I do. Why do you think I’ve been sending you my scripts to read?’

‘I thought that was because you had a crush on me’.

‘Fuck you for saying that! As if I’m that superficial. As if you’re not good enough to warrant that compliment! Why do you believe that about yourself? It makes me sad.’

And he was genuinely sad for days afterwards.

But around the same time during a break up, a boyfriend wanted me to know that I would only ever have success in life because of my looks and my heart dropped into my ovaries and exploded there, to hear and recognise that voice that already echoes in my own head, reiterated from the mouth of another. The things you don’t want to ask yourself but you live with all of your life.

Did I get this job because of my looks?

Is he just saying that because he likes me?

Who would I be if I wasn’t pretty by society’s standards?

Fuck your pretty.

Here’s my brain!

***

‘Women in time to come will do much’

This was our school motto (the motto of the school with the teacher who told me my skirt was too short). Our founder Mary Ward was a revolutionary heretic of her time in the 1600s who believed in the radical notion that men and women were equal before the eyes of God. And that women should be allowed to act in plays, at a time when female roles were almost always played by young men. She told her nuns to stop wearing their habits, educated young women, travelled around Europe setting up schools for girls, and trained them to work with the poor and the persecuted.

So basically she was imprisoned and treated like a heretical witch and ex-communicated from the Church.

Ladies, this is your foundress!

And because it was high school and because most people in high school are dip shits, her radicalism was never truly appreciated. But I worshiped her in secret and spent a lot of time learning about religion and the meaning of life because of her (yeah I was legit the biggest nerd out).

There is one passage that I remember reading in year 12, while preparing for our final graduation ceremony. It was an innocuous enough passage, a quote that barely even registers to the average mind, but it stuck with me for so long afterwards, about the way education was so pivotal to the feminist fight.

Just a small passage about why girls were treated differently in schools.
And something about textbooks.
I’ll never remember it.
But somehow I always will.

***

I did a three sixty and found myself coming back to feminism after a heightened awareness of how important it still was in the world, even after all this time.

I think the most flagrant reminder of this was a solo travel trip I took to Turkey in 2009. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life but it was pocketed by several moments throughout where I was terrified. Like that time I took an overnight bus to Istanbul; filled with men who stared at me as I walked on, alone. And how the one sitting opposite from me stared at me for the entire six hours. So I stayed awake all night, afraid he might do something. He tried to speak to me at several junctures throughout the trip but I said no and he continued to stare at me. How can anyone stare for that long, I thought.

Please stop staring at me.

I think I prayed for him to get off the bus but he stayed. When I finally got to Istanbul, I ran so fast to the nearest taxi and told him to take me anywhere but this bus stop. It wasn’t until I noticed  that I genuinely had no idea where he was taking me, and as he drove for too long and stared back at me with menace, that I soon realised there was no safe refuge except for the one we imagine.

I was told not to walk around alone at night – yep, they already told me that, two decades ago, I thought. A guy who worked at the hostel offered to accompany me at night, pretending to be my boyfriend. I felt cloistered, claustrophobic, sick and stuck. He took me up to a rooftop and said,

‘If you didn’t have a boyfriend I would kiss you,’ as if that was the only barrier to kissing me, and not just that I might not want him to.

At the only hostel in Bodrum, an Australian rogue traveller who worked there told me in a calm, nonplussed voice that it wasn’t a safe place to stay because there wasn’t really any security and they didn’t lock the doors. He added, while eating a kebab, that girls had been followed home by men who sometimes got through the doors but you know, no big deal really, it’s all just a bit of fun, right! We’re all cool and easy going here, right mate! I literally remember staring at him for about five minutes in silence before picking up my bags and walking out of the hostel and I didn’t stop walking until I found a hotel, checked in and stayed in my room for about 10 hours before finally deciding, fuck this shit, left the hotel and sat at a cafe where I met an Australian Turkish couple who took me under their wing for a day. I think they took pity on me when they saw that I was literally trembling with fear.

***

I saw it everywhere in the physical manifestations of every day life. Have I ever been safe? The way I change my behaviour based on that inexplicable pang of fear that shoots up and down your spine against your will. The way I am ogled, objectified, inappropriately touched. The way boyfriends don’t see their own privilege, or realise their conditioning in the way they treat me. The way male friends have hurt me, ostracised me, expected me to love them, treated me differently for not doing so. The way they judge me. That list in my phone of random numbers – the license numbers of every taxi I’ve ever been in as a precautionary method to feel safer because of that one time the taxi driver thought it would be funny to lock the doors. The fact that I can’t walk home late at night without fear, the way I clutch the makeshift hair clip that looks like a knife, texting girlfriends to say you arrived home safely, always always always jumping when a stranger comes up behind you.

The way it was me, out of the whole group of people I was with, who was jumped on a street in Barcelona, and how it was only the girls who came to my aid, and how the one guy with us kept walking, and how we never let him live that down, even though I didn’t need him – I fought my attacker off on my own. But he was symbolically absent from the fight. I was reminded again of my mother’s words. And even though I didn’t leave the house for three days, I eventually did and when I did, I didn’t stop. I walked everywhere with my head held high, on high alert, ready to kick down doors.

Then there’s the harmless stuff; the belligerent and insulting sexist comments still made by people in our migrant community, who appear to still be stuck in the 1950s migrant time capsule. Make your own sandwich, why not?! The way the whole world is still suffering for this inequality. The views of the men in my life. The views of the women. The toxicity that persists.

I learned a lot from my best friend in my early twenties – the way she carved out new paths that no one else had previously explored. She was judged for it but she didn’t care. It was almost like she didn’t even realise how radical her actions were, and she hadn’t quite married them up with her own feminist ideals. It was only later that I’d see how it all built up inside as a kind of anger, watching her tell a guy off for assuming he could touch her without her permission. I saw in her a revelatory way of existing and it was a powerful thing. I am grateful to her for the influence she has had on me. I hold her up as an icon of how life can and should be for women and I always go to her when I’m feeling overwhelmed by it all.

I need to remind you of this from time to time. We can be just like you . You just don’t know it yet.

And there are ways in which men can be part of the revolution and ways for them to better understand what the fuck everyone is talking about when they speak of gendered violence. As uncomfortable as that is to read, it highlights the disparity in equality, that for so many women, we have had to live with these realities for so long, just to exist.

Being a woman is the single greatest thing you can know, I thought as I watched a trans friend try on her new clothes as a woman for the first time, a pang of excitement rushing through me. But I didn’t want to let her in on how hard it was to be a girl. Or maybe I was in denial at the time.

Maybe it’s that I still somehow have hope that by the time she finally experiences being a woman, it will be different.

Women in time to come will do much.

In time to come.

The time is now – and we cannot do it alone.

the place where apathy lives

‘Lately something has shifted inside of me and I’ve been thinking about how nothing matters and nothing has meaning because we’re all going to die (she says this so matter-of-factly, like it’s an accepted fact that we’re both aware of) …and I hear these ladies speaking about buying fresh vegetables and I think, why do they care? Why don’t they see that nothing has any meaning? and all these people are just making it so much worse, the meaninglessness. They’re making it worse because they care about these irrelevant things and I can’t get past that’.

A dear friend said these words to me late at night on a street near a shady looking park.  We had just been witness to a live poetry gig that moved us in every direction from sadness to emptiness to elation and laughter in a ceaseless circle of wonderment, so that our mouths were open and our faces in our hands, shaking with merriment and emotion.

And just before she said those words, we spoke of how this irrational thought had coincidentally popped up in both our heads lately, whereby it seemed like everyone we came across looked like a serial killer. We did not feel safe, I guess is what we were trying to explain to our male friend, who laughed at the perplexity of our shared thoughts.

I later replied to her aside: but you find a way through the murky darkness; you make your own meaning. Tell that story to someone. Turn nothing into something

‘That’s what he said too’ she replied, about the boy of her life.

‘But it doesn’t matter what we do because everyone else is just…ruining the nothingness’.

These words stuck with me and I thought about it for a while. I pondered on the emptiness that I’ve allowed to take up residence within. How I’ve guarded my kingdom of Empty like a Queen. How no one can cross and how nothing, not even love or compassion, can break through the fort.

I don’t know how I got to this part.

A few months ago I spoke to my friend about unadulterated happiness.

When was the last time you felt it?

He didn’t know and was perplexed by the question.

I used to feel it all the time, I replied for him.

Maybe it’s not so good that you don’t remember.

Later I realised that this too has disappeared and in asking him about that, I was hoping he would have an answer for me, or maybe a cure. But he is lost too.

Recently I went to an event I used to go to as a 20-year-old. I was a young volunteer editor still studying a creative writing degree and I barely had the discipline to wake up and get out of bed in the mornings, let alone finish an assignment, let alone write 10,000 words of a novel, let alone volunteer to help this organisation create their book, let alone attend this event they would host so early in the mornings.

Let alone.

In going back to this as an adult six years later, I had a revelation of sorts. As people spoke about changing the world, I couldn’t believe how removed and apathetic I had become in those years. What happened to me in that time? Where did I disappear to? How do I come back to myself?

How did six years stretch out into an eternity of nothingness?

I got lost somewhere, standing in the woods of my obliterated place.

16. The obliterated place is equal parts destruction and creation. The obliterated place is pitch black and bright light. It is water and parched earth. It is mud and it is manna. The real work of deep grief is making a home there’

I blocked out all the bad things. I did not want to handle them.

I blocked out all the good things that people did to counter the bad. I did not want to know what I was not doing myself.

I had blocked it all out, kept everything at arm’s length and replaced it all with fictional stories.

I watched TVs and movies and books and consumed content like oxygen, so as to become distracted and so it would take over all of my life. Somewhere along the line I became so far removed from reality, that when these incredible, inspiring, powerful people stood up to speak about the small and big ways that people could change the world and often did change it in spite of the challenges, and how it wouldn’t actually take much for us to do it too, I did not recognise myself in them but I knew instantly what I needed to do to get back in that world. Somehow at the same time, I already knew that I would not do it.

But last night through the poetry, there were so many words that flew straight into my head, in a language, nay currency, that I could transact. I sat forward in my seat, head filling up with these ideas, these beliefs – empowered.

I could write my way back through the darkness.

nos encontraremos de nuevo en el lugar donde no hay oscuridad

we will meet again in the place where there is no darkness

I want to go back there now.

If only I could find it on Google maps.