Archive for February, 2010


Recently I was privileged to attend a wedding here in Hong Kong, where the two people marrying are from diverse cultures and ethnicities. Raphael is from DR Congo and Fe from the Philippines.  The bishop who conducted the ceremony is from Zambia and he delivered, with much humour, a message for the bride and groom which applies to all of us – a successful relationship, of any  kind, requires adjustment.

Adjustment! All of us who were guests at this wedding will, I’m guessing, never forget what the bishop spoke on, as this word was mentioned in every second phrase, yes literally!

In December a friend and I made a quick 4 day trip to Malaysia to visit our Kachin refugee friends. We were able to take, because of the generosity of many people, several suitcases of clothing, toys, vitamins, first aid supplies and mosquito coils.  We were also given a sizable donation of money, which we were able to pass on for schooling and accommodation needs for the refugee women and children.

For me, this was my 4th trip to the Kachin, and I have come back with another ‘adjustment’ to my perspective.

We met and spoke with a woman who has 3 children – and whose husband has ‘disappeared’ somewhere in Burma. You see, the  military had come to their town for labour conscription and when this woman  voiced her opposition, the soldiers beat and kicked her repeatedly in the stomach. When her husband found out and made a complaint to the authorities, he was arrested. She and her children fled Burma and are now trying to survive as refugees in Malaysia. She doesn’t know if her husband is even alive.

As we listened to her story I started thinking… is one of the easiest occupations for us all to complain about and criticize our government, political leaders and ALL the aspects of our home countries that irritate or even anger us. In fact, I have noticed of late that for some people I know, this is a daily part of their conversation.  Interestingly though, these individuals all reside in countries where not only do they daily experience political and social freedom, but also are privileged to have ALL their needs, and certainly most of their wants, fulfilled.

Ironically, it is BECAUSE they have been born,  and live in countries where they CAN express their dissatisfaction with those who are in leadership positions, that these people have become totally comfortable with living in a permanently dissatisfied and unthankful attitude.

And so I have been reflecting on the fact that for most human beings in this world, complaining or even respectfully voicing one’s opposition to something, is not an option – certainly not the preferred option.

And in countries like Australia and the UK, one can still ‘complain’ – whether it is in an armchair or with a placard outside Parliament House. We can voice what we think about this or that politician or policy, we can badmouth, we can belittle – and there is probably a good chance none of us will be complaining about our husband or boyfriend or father being forced into unpaid labour to serve the needs of a totalitarian regime, or our teenage son being taken from us to be a child soldier.

While we fill our stomachs with good food and lie down in our warm comfortable beds, most of us reading this probably won’t go to sleep wondering if the police are going to come and arrest us for speaking against the government. We won’t be tortured by thoughts of having to run and leave everything, and seek refuge in  another country because MAYBE we have said, or not said, something that will be seen to be disloyal or anti government.

This young Kachin woman sitting on the floor and quietly relating what has happened to her family, funnily enough was not complaining – she simply shared what had taken place, with no negative imputation towards those who had beaten her and taken her husband.

I have asked myself  ‘why’ – why do these refugees not barrage me with a litany of personal and national grievances, and why do they not seem to be eaten away with anger and bitterness for what they have suffered?

Is it because this is the way it has been for so long, and that to suffer incomprehensible hardship and persecution is what is ‘normal’, and all the privileges I take for granted because I am Australian are, in fact, privileges for which I should be hourly not only conscious of, but heartfeltly thankful for.

As a result of being repeatedly kicked in the stomach, this Kachin woman cannot work because of continual pain and bleeding. And when one is a refugee, medical attention is also not the ‘normal’ outcome that I, as a citizen of Australia, expect when I am unwell.

What I see as normal needs that SHOULD  and ARE met by my government, such as medical care, schooling and basic protection of my rights  to live securely without harassment, are definitely and absolutely not the normal expectations, or even ideals, of people like the Kachin, or the Karen, or the Somali, or the Sudanese.

When one is simply struggling to provide enough rice for a meal for one’s children, one is not in the privileged position of sitting back and griping about a government policy that raised the price of cigarettes or alcohol.

When a woman is beaten and kicked and then chooses to run from the country she loves and calls home, so that her children can live, then she probably isn’t too upset by a ‘stupid’ comment some politician made in a radio interview.

Perspective! Mine received a much needed adjustment yet again – and that is one of the many reasons I am passionate about doing trips like this.

The proverbial ‘penny has dropped’ rather loudly for me – the realisation that complaining and badmouthing are the luxury of the privileged – the well fed, the well clothed, the well housed…..

Of course, there is a time and place to see and even discuss the deficiencies we perceive in our societies and leadership figures – human nature is everyone’s common denominator.

But let’s realign our perspective to truly and deeply realise that we have so  much more to be thankful for than to complain about, and that in our very blessed circumstances  WE CAN be the tangible blessing to someone who has so much less.