Reflections on humanity from a spirit Down Under

It’s Australia Day, and once again gaggles of boozed and tragicomically sunburnt revellers flock the streets of Sydney. Here, flags are raised and waved. Bodies hop and gyrate, turn and twist, flap and flop; they are arrhythmic, sweaty, and (at times smoulderingly) hot. Sales of beers, Golden Gaytimes and mint lemonades correlate directly with the level of armpit sweatiness. My friend and I snail our way past the throngs of voices piping “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! OY! OY! OY!”. We battle past the clackety-clack-clack of oversized prams and wailing babies, and we dance to the exotic trills and musical phrases that lifted and swirled around a polka-dotted gypsy caravan called Lolo Lovina. Our hearts skip a beat or two too, as we set eyes on the Romani fiddler with faraway eyes. Superb finger work, but alas, he’s married. A florist runs by with what I hope is a joke and a bouquet of bright yellow African daisies, saying “This is for you”.

An elderly man throws rainbow expletives, knuckles, minutes, and more at an ATM cash machine.

Whoa, mate.

Lolo Lovina at The Rocks. © Vicki Choh 2014
Lolo Lovina at The Rocks. © Vicki Choh 2014

Moving on.

It’s naptime. Drowsed by the scent of many good things, we snoozed in a prickly plot of green at the Botanic Gardens in Sydney, eyes untroubled by the blistering bursts of sun, thanks to the sweep of palm leaves over us. Jon and I then mumble something about the niceness of chunky knit cardigans, weddings, and wedding food. We just wanted to each get married without the added baggage of commitment, unruly hormones, babies and baby puke, y’know?

I begin to lose count of the wisps of clouds that floated by.

Instead, I think to myself: “Hey there, Happy Australia Day. My country is so beautiful, and these lotus-loving dragonflies are all kinds of cute. I guess I’m very lucky to be here. I could do much, much worse.

That last statement is very true. As is the remark about dragonflies. Not only was I surrounded by nature in the heart of great urban prosperity, the fact that I can lie there, placidly and itching, belly laughing with a friend of the opposite gender without a care in the world, hugging, slurping mojitos and debating aloud on virtually any issue and non-issue… places us in a position that would be enviable to some, if not many people around the world.

Unlike many, particularly those who live in poverty or under strict military rule, I do not have to look over my shoulder in fear of random ID checks – this phenomenon is universal, plaguing just about anyone anywhere from the streets of Iran to the banlieues or suburbs of France. I do not have to conduct myself fearfully to appease jeering puritans or fundamentalist militia. I do not have to be accompanied by a male family member to go to the markets or any public place. I can have disposable pads at the ready and some ibuprofen tablets to tame the raging tides of PMS; I can then progress with my day as normal – go to school, work, go compete on sports fields, haggle. For lights, I need only flick a switch. For clean water, I simply turn on the tap. For pleasure, I have easy access to entertainment outlets, dialogue, and contraceptives.

Sounds familiar?

If I like, I could chant the Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ mantra or the Fibonacci’s sequence to my heart’s desire, aloud, at decibels matching those hollered by Australian Day revellers… right there in the Botanic Gardens. I could draft nefarious schemes to convert Australia into a devout nation of Vicki-ology. Granted for the latter, I would need a very good PR team.

Behold my dilated peoples. © Vicki Choh 2014
Behold my dilated peoples. © Vicki Choh 2014

I can be any selection of letter from LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer) without the noose of harsh penal codes hanging over my consciousness, threatening to end my life against my will. I can be anything I wish, as long as whatever I am does not constitute harm to another human being. I can be proud of this and more.

And I certainly do not have to worry about taking a bullet to my head because I want to go to school, because I want to be educated in order to build a better future for my family and myself. I do not have the remotest possibility being raped as ‘punishment’ for loving a man who does not belong to my tribe. According to Amnesty International, I can expect to live to 84 years old, not buried by 50. I can expect to live after giving birth, and not be that 1 of every 11 woman who dies due to complications involving childbirth or pregnancy.

Which should not be the case. This is not a case of privilege, but of realising that we as global Australian citizens are free enough to help those who do not possess even the simplest of human rights: the right to freedom of expression, the right to education, and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It may not even cost a cent: we can volunteer, donate resources and time, and spread awareness to listening ears and open hearts.

It is shameful on our part to turn away asylum seekers who embark on difficult journeys across lands and treacherous seas, so that they could experience a more decent quality of life, something other than abject poverty. It is baffling to me to see that people are on the whole, a hell lot more vociferous in decrying baby-faced pop stars and the overexposure of Cyrus’ photo-happy tongue. On the other hand, tucked far away from the front pages of the news, we get under-reported stories and images of women abused around the world, of children starved, of men and refugees struggling to make ends meet.

Image: Amnesty International
Image: Amnesty International

There are many places in the world in which the voice of a woman and other members of the social minority is of little value. As a child who had once been raised in an Islamic nation, I know this too well. The pursuit of equal education and rights for all and the increased public awareness of human rights are necessary to create a world that is more equal and more secure for all. This is common sense and logic, but I find that we have taken our rights and liberties for granted, so much so that under PM Tony Abbott’s conservative ‘government’, we have become mean, stingy, unwilling to share the great expanse that is Australia with those who are well and truly in need. Or that we are unwilling to partake in humanitarian causes, opting instead to satisfy fleeting fancies.

In our complacence, we are complicit in stemming the progress of humanity. ‘Stopping’ the boats, not actively addressing the lacunae of injustice and inequality, even forcing migrants to abandon their cultural pride by replacing their native language with English… are the sorts of retrograde measures that  tarnish our country and our humanity from deep within. I do not expect us to morph into a mass of political activists marching down the sandstone edifices of Town Hall Sydney right here, right now. By all means, march on if you will. Importantly though, we must question ourselves: How should we best exercise the rights that we have to become not only better Aussies, but better human beings?

We are the agents of immutable rights and liberties: can we truly be content to live in ignorance and bliss whilst knowing that others are denied humanity, security, or decent standards of living?

That being said, death be upon the ant that is streaking a path of rashes on my leg.

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