WHAT EXPATS CAN DO

…. to bring hope to the world

Changing our Concept of Home to Find HOPE

A reflection of Chris O’Shaughnessy on how we can change the concept of home to find hope.

 

home to find hopeMany sociologists agree that society is losing its ability to maintain community. More people feel disconnected, lonely, and hopeless: emotionally homeless.

Expats benefit from a lifestyle which challenges them to actively seek, build, and participate in community – while much of the world is unaware of the increasing need to.

The need to belong hasn’t changed, but how we accomplish and express it in light of technological and sociological developments has. Rather than just seek home in a traditional sense, expats can be empowered to intentionally create new models of home based on interdependent community that benefit the world at large.

Economic factors, sociological trends, and the deteriorating meta-narrative and increasingly atomized social constructs of post-modern society are changing the way we relate with each other. Friendships used to be second-order needs for much of the world: they were byproducts of existing systems – they grew on existing structures (such as jobs, locations, and shared needs), often unintentionally (though still needing nurturing, of course). But all of our modern advances mean that we’re removing the structures that relationships used to form around.

Our newly expanded yearning for privacy has also caused a giant shift in how we view relationships with other people. We have been so enticed by the ability to bare our souls online that we’ve been stunned into a panic with just how bare our souls can be. We constantly hear about the need to protect privacy online, from the government, etc. It would be naive to think this isn’t slipping into our minds and leaking out on how we view others. We’re less likely to “bother” our neighbors because we want to respect their privacy. We fear social visits, conversation with any depth, or an attempt to go below the surface with others may be invasive.

In 1985 most people said they had three close friends. In 2004 the most common number was zero… Having few friends is more dangerous than obesity and is the equivalent health risk of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” – Eric Barker (How To Make Friends Easily And Strengthen The Friendships You Have, 2014)

home to find hopePeople have to actually go and find friends now, more often and possibly more frequently than before. For a long time, that was a task reserved more for TCKs, migrant and transient people, or displaced people… but more and more it’s a task for everyone, and many aren’t prepared for, let alone aware of the need to do so.

Here’s where hope comes in, or rather where it doesn’t come in. Hope is inherently an external force: it’s something we bring into ourselves. I don’t believe we can generate hope solely on our own. I think we inspire each other and bring each other hope. But the more self-sufficient, independent, lonely lives we lead, the more we live out atomized individual stories, the more we remove conduits for hope to flow. If we’re disconnected, there is nowhere for hope to flow in or out.

Expats, people who work with expats, TCKs, and globally minded people have a call to action as they are often more aware of the stronger pull people feel to form community when they are displaced – a far more recognizable motivation to intentionally build community or a sense of home because they know they are in need of a place to belong. I’m not saying it’s always easy, I’m not ignoring the fact that for many it’s an incredible challenge. I’m saying that those issues are no longer reserved just for TCKs and expats.

I believe home (the sense of safety, belonging, community and interdependence) is more and more a fleeting thing the world over, and that requires our attention.

Home must become less a passive retreat and more an active pursuit.

We have something the world needs: the knowledge that we have moved past interdependence but still need it, and the drive to make a difference.

Practical suggestions for transforming ‘home’:

Work WITH technology

Social media (like junk food) isn’t going to go away. In fact, it’s incredibly useful – it just can’t supplant healthy interdependent community. For example, Nextdoor.com connects local neighborhoods to accomplish real interaction through an online portal people are comfortable with.

Incentivize community

‘High Occupancy Vehicle’ lanes (or carpool lanes) are a great example. Since interdependence is no longer necessary in many practical ways, but necessary to be healthy, we have to be creative in thinking of ways to reward its intentional reintroduction. Healthy eating campaigns, recycling campaigns and countless other initiatives have relied on this for success.

Be intentionally vulnerable

To need someone is to be vulnerable. Interdependence requires us to need and be needed – and that’s only going to happen when those with strong enough drive and belief take the initiative in being vulnerable and allow others to experience first hand the benefits of being needed and needing in return.

 

Christopher O’Shaughnessy
May 2019

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The trailing husband (of an aid worker)

We sincerely thank Federico Bonadonna for allowing us to publish the translation of his moving account of what it means to be the trailing husband of an aid worker.

 

I have followed my wife for ten consecutive years in places I had barely heard about (and some places I’d never heard about), not to mention other countries where I had sworn to myself I’d never set foot, so strong was their reputation of being dangerous, dirty, or miserable.

On our first date in Rome, I told her I hated to travel, I hated the “Chatwin-like mysticism” of the journey, and I did not completely understand the point of international cooperation “with all there is to do for the poor in Italy”.

aid workerAt that time my work focused on extreme urban poverty and I had never experienced being stuck in a besieged neighbourhood during a civil war, resulting in hundreds of deaths – practically ignored by media (apart from the local ones); and I was physically allergic to ethnic fashion (I still am, a bit). My future wife looked at me in silence… and less than one year later I was beside her in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. Since that moment I have done what the character of a song of Sergio Caputo (Italian songwriter, ndr) does: “I will follow you to show you something more, I’ll come with you should this be my work”.

Together with my wife in these 10 years, I’ve had stones thrown at me (even if the stones were for her, in Yemen, because she had unwillingly worn a colourful veil from which strands of hair protruded), been spat at (the spitting was also for her, for the above reason), and contracted intestinal and skin parasites. I fasted for days in the desert while she ate local food sitting on the ground, for weeks I only ate junk biscuits and drank Coke, I slept in infamous shacks among rats, cockroaches and snakes. A couple of times I threw up my soul as a result of serious food poisoning.

My wife and I have passed on a road a few minutes before it was shaken by a bomb attack and for years have breathed toxic fumes because of open air dumps and the constant burning of trash.

With her in these years I have visited orphanages that provide meager amounts of food to scrawny children – intentionally ensuring they do not appear well fed in order to discourage parents from abandoning their children there to give them a future. I have seen children looking for worms in the earth to eat. I’ve stared into their eyes: some were full of hate, others of pleading. Those eyes have tormented me for months.

I have seen China advancing in Africa, blowing up mountains to pave landscapes, build railways, bridges, motorways, or to extract minerals. I have seen the new colonialism, and the future shapes of the world: “Cindiafrica”, with her 3.6 billion people – mostly young. I have visited pristine places, and other landscapes definitely destroyed by pollution.

aid workerI have followed women on a three-hour trek to fetch water from the only well accessible to them, and trek 4 hours back, loaded with overflowing carboys. I have seen the result of the aid workers job: the joy of inhabitants in remote areas that celebrated the opening of new wells, the building of schools and health posts.

I have come dangerously close to contracting malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya and bilarziosis. I have understood that danger is part of the job: traveling on Russian helicopters that have fallen (and fall with alarming recurrence), driven by not-always-sober Ukrainian pilots to go to South Sudan, where there is a war – which means they shoot, kidnap, and rape… it means they have kidnapped, killed or raped people you know. Places where lodging outside of Juba are huts where poisonous snakes and rats live, infested with malaria-ridden mosquitos and cockroaches (I know an aid worker who fears nothing… except what I just listed: she has a phobia of beetles and she insists on going to those places, because that’s her job).

I have seen refugee camps with lean women and children as far as the eye can see, thousands of exhausted people, massed in camps between Kenya and Ethiopia, sitting on UNCHR rice bags. Being an aid worker is not a job for those who work for agencies that spend 70 or 80% of resources in staff (the aid workers I value and talk about are not only able to write projects and make ends meet; they dirty their hands – they risk). Aid workers do not think that the danger is always the fault of those who are kidnapped or attacked, or that you can always avoid danger. No, cooperation, in some places, is physically and psychologically dangerous work.

I met hundreds of people, extraordinary volunteers and aid workers, and then others too busy with looking good. Sensible entrepreneurs and infamous bastards. Elegant diplomats and others who cannot be described.

In these 10 years I have understood that I had understood nothing: that is to say that I, and all the people I know, have been born in the right place and at the right moment in history, that we have a material luck we cannot even understand because we are so far from the daily tragedies that the vast majority of people in the world go through every single second of their existence. And that even if unperfected, improvable, and modifiable, international cooperation – in all the shapes it assumes and has assumed in the course of history – is the most democratic tool for development. Cooperation, however, is made of aid workers: people of flesh and bones, with their dreams, passions, and ideals; but also with refined skills and knowledge that merit the utmost respect, because aid workers do not love danger, but their work by its very nature implies danger.

 

Federico Bonadonna
February 2019
Photo Credit ©FedericoBonadonna

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The privilege of drinking tap water

I recently came back from Indonesia, where for four years I could not drink tap water. Here is my reflection on yet another privilege of our rich Western world most people are not aware of.

 

I have spent more than half of my life in countries where drinking tap water could make you seriously ill. In most countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia I only used it to brush my teeth, and some expat friends thought I was crazy: they used boiled or bottled water even for that.

I have made it a habit to concentrate while brushing my teeth to refrain the instinct to gulp down a nice and refreshing swig of water. It has become so rooted in me, that when I go back to Italy – or any other country where tap water is drinkable – I instinctively take care not to let any drop of water go down my throat.

It takes me a while to get used to drink tap water, and every time I do it, I can’t help but thinking how privileged I am.

There is, of course, the obvious relaxation of not having to be afraid of ingesting amoebas, other unidentified bacteria and dangerous minerals.

Mostly and foremost, though, it makes me become even more aware of the privileges our rich Western world enjoys, and that are absolutely taken for granted by those who have never lived in a country where tap water is dangerous.

Of course, local people drink it. In many cases they have no choice. In some parts of the world they have no running water at home and in some cases they must even walk a couple of kilometres to collect it.

As expats, one of the first things we inquire about when we relocate, is whether tap water is drinkable – and how we can get organised otherwise.

In many places where I have lived in Africa, where big bottles of water were not readably available, we used to boil water for half an hour, let it cool down, and then pour it in a filter where two ceramic candles kept the dirt away. Only at that point could we drink our water.

I can still vividly recall the brownish luscious layer that covered the ceramic candles when I took them off the plastic filter to clean them. I had gotten so used to drinking filtered water, that it always took me a while to trust tap water whenever I went back to Italy.

When we go through things, we learn. Living in a place where running water cannot be drank or is scarce teaches you the value of every single drop you use in your rich world. That changes your whole perspective. It also gets you to understand why people permanently living in these disadvantaged countries seek better life conditions.

I am very grateful to my life abroad in tough countries for teaching me things I would not have understood otherwise. I am privileged to be able to drink tap water now, but I am also privileged to have gone through the experience of learning what it means to live day by day with no healthy and safe running water.

 

Claudia Landini
December 2018

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What an expat can do to change the narrative back home

I recently returned to Italy, my home country, while waiting for my next destination abroad. What I have found is a terrible reality in which the official narrative is based on racism, discrimination, and prejudice. I have been wondering what I, as an expat, can do to contribute to counteract all of this.

 

Don’t you agree? You put a banana in her hand, set her on a branch, and you realize they are all monkeys”.

“They”, I gathered, were dark-skinned people.

This comment came from an exchange I overheard between a fitness instructor and his colleagues at a gym where I was doing some physiotherapy, last August. The instructor had barely finished a brief conversation with a dark-skinned lady before launching into this bigoted discourse.

I have come back to Italy to find a country torn by discrimination, mistrust, and a lack of solid values.

Racist and homophobic attacks of all sorts have been on the increase in the last years, but never before had I experienced such a recurrence in discriminatory acts in our daily lives.

From North to South, there has been an increase in physical attacks on migrants (some have been killed), verbal abuse, mocking, discriminatory measures to avoid employing foreigners, deny them housing, or even excluding them from school canteens.

Like all those in Italy at the moment who feel disgusted with this climate of hatred and violence, I have been wondering what can be done to counteract the terrible atmosphere that must be so frightening and intimidating to the many human beings who have come to my country in search of opportunities; and who, in many cases, have actually greatly contributed to the Italian economic growth.

In particular, because I have been an expat for more than half of my life, I feel it is my duty to find a way to dismantle the official narrative that painfully contradicts one of the most ancient and deeply rooted Italian values: hospitality.

Photo Credit Claudia Landini

I have been welcomed in so many countries in my life. I have never ever felt discriminated against or badly treated because of my background, provenance, skin colour, or for my role in those countries.

The openness that people of my host countries have repeatedly shown has allowed me to relate to them at a deep level, and to touch the commonalities each individual shares in life, and build on them.

In sharing simple daily routines with the people who welcomed me, I have felt accepted – and this has allowed me to destroy mental barriers that the fear of what is different often builds in our minds.

This is exactly what is happening in Italy now: some of our politicians are playing with the fear of the foreigner; a fear which many who have not had the chance to get in touch with diversity feel – and politicians build on it. They create a wall between “us” and “them”, and reinforce this gap by feeding stories of dishonesty, criminality, and profiting at the expense of “our” goods and capital.

How we go about destroying this gap has been a desperate focus since my return. As Cristina says in her article about the power of our stories, I know I have the responsibility to share my experience with my countrymen who have not set foot outside of their borders and are more easily swayed by racist narratives.

On one side, I am aware that I have to find a way to explain that by living abroad, I have discovered how much all humans have in common. Deep down, we all want the same for our lives: dignity, health, and a beautiful life for our children.

I also discovered, though, that a wide portion of the world population struggle to achieve this. Some live in conditions that our countrymen cannot even imagine. And I know that if I manage to shift the focus of the narrative from what is happening in Italy to what is happening in the lands where most migrants come from, I can hopefully help change some minds – or at the very least shake some of the arrogant foundations of bigotry.

all rights reserved © Cristina Baldan

Ultimately, if there is one thing I am absolutely sure of, it is that I deeply appreciate the need and drive for migrants to desperately seek hope for a better life. I understand this because I have seen what happens outside our borders; and I think about what I would do in their shoes.

This is the “difference” we as expats can develop within ourselves: having witnessed how the other half on the planet lives, we can advocate for a warmer, more welcoming, and humane approach to these people’s realities. And this, I believe, is not just simply a choice, it’s our duty in these troubled times.

Claudia Landini
November 2018

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The Power of Our Stories

Grasp a cup of tea and take your time to listen to this powerful TEDx: it worth, it is tremendously true in our society.

 

 

When people ask me where I come from, I cannot just say I come from Italy: it’s just not true anymore, I also come from Saudi Arabia, from Nigeria, from Australia, from France, … from each of the countries I have lived in and visited – because almost 20 years of life abroad changed me as a person, no doubt.

So, I start to introduce myself by telling my personal story.

And I realize that when I start to tell my story, people become intrigued by my life.

Well, let’s say they don’t see the hardness and the price we pay for it as expats, they see only the beauty and the sense of adventure. But most of the time, they ask for more details.

Try sharing your own story, and you will likely see that in the moment you start a conversation, you will have an audience.

The way we use that audience is the space of our responsibility: we could just tell interesting or funny anecdotes – or we can choose to tell stories that give new insights into another country and another culture.

When I say that I lived in Saudi Arabia, I notice people have strange reactions: most of them tend to think that Saudi Arabia is similar to Dubai, so they reply with comments that seem to imply “you practically were on a constant holiday, weren’t you?” (Is that all people think about Dubai? Shopping and holidays, that’s it?).

Two or three people are a bit more informed and know something about the country. Their reaction is something along the lines of: “Wow! How did you cope there? It must be horrible for you as a woman.” And this is the moment I enjoy the most: I smile and say that for me it was a wonderful time, a great exploration of a new culture and an amazing experience, not easy, but great.

On the ground of their surprise, I start to tell a different story, the story of how I had been welcomed by Saudi families, how I met and discussed cultural topics with Saudi women and how I broke down so many stereotypes in my mind during my Saudi stay. And I did it just by sharing my daily life in that country.

Do we tell our expat stories? Or do we think they are not interesting enough?

Do we know how powerful our stories can be for society? Are we aware of our potential to help people understand those coming from other countries? We can add new stories to the overall narrative that can help reduce the “danger” of a single story.

We, as expats, can be witnesses of our time by telling stories that come from the places we have lived and build bridges across cultures and societies. Little bridges, not pretentious ones, but always bridges.

We can be powerful tools for society just by telling a different story: our own one.

 

Cristina Baldan
October 2018 – photo credit ©cristinabaldan

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“The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of dignity, it makes our recognition of equal humanity difficult, it empathizes how we are different rather than how we are similar (…) Stories matter, many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower and to humanize, stories can break the dignity of the people, but stories can also repair the broken dignity. (…) When we reject the single story, when we realize there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise”.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie TEDx Oct.7, 2009

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Hate Hurts, an important project by expat photographer Cinzia D’Ambrosi

Cinzia D’Ambrosi is an expat Italian photographer who uses photography to connect, feel, understand and denounce. I talked to her especially on one of her most important project, Hate Hurts.

 

Cinzia D’Ambrosi left her native Italy at age 18, and never went back. She has lived in Iceland, Germany, Spain, and has her current home in London, though she is constantly travelling for her work. Cinzia has followed her father’s love for photography in becoming a photographer, but she has developed her very personal way of using the camera.

Cinzia believes that photography offers a unique way to connect to people, to enter their lives and get to know them from the inside. It can also act as a powerful means of denunciation, because it exposes realities that would be otherwise unknown.

hate hurtsPassionate about themes like injustice, racism, discrimination and violence, Cinzia lets herself be guided by her emotions when choosing the stories to document. “Once I discover something I believe has to be denounced, I work to gain trust in the people I want to photograph. I live with them, talk to them. This allows me to see their lives from the inside, and give the right angle to my photos”.

This is how Cinzia worked with war widows in Kosovo, with women at risk of home eviction in London and, lately, with refugees and asylum seekers. She was in Greece for a photography residency when the flux of refugees reached its apex. She witnessed first-hand the physical, bureaucratic and psychological violence these persons are subjected to.

I was living in Athens, where lots of refugees would flow every day. I witnessed so many episodes of violence on them. Police would beat them harshly. Activists of Golden Dawn (far-right Greek party) would arrive and add to that. This filled me with rage and a sense of powerlessness”. Cinzia decided to talk to the refugees and collect their stories.

This is how her project Hate Hurts was born. Hate Hurts witnesses what is happening today with these important migration fluxes. It collects stories of refugees who have been subjected to violence in their search for better life conditions. In describing what is going on in this area, and the degree of violence the whole process of seeking refuge in a safer land implies, Hate Hurts investigates and shows facts as they are.

When all this is over”, says Cinzia, “the project will have gone through all the injustice, violence and suffering these refugees have been subjected to, and hopefully, it will stay as proof of what must be avoided if we want to create a better world”.

 

hate hurts

 

I asked Cinzia how she reaches refugees who have been subjected to violence. She told me she follows a precise methodology: she contacts associations that help them, contacts lawyers that protect them, and finds out whether any of them have gone through discriminatory or violent treatment. She talks to people and goes to the places where refugees gather – like the harbour in Athens, the bus terminals, etc.

She sometimes puts herself at great risk to talk to the refugees and photograph the harshest moments of their transitions. State police are not keen on having someone taking pictures when confrontation between them and the refugees arises.

Still, Cinzia continues her work. She has been collecting and sharing stories for her Hate Hurts project in Italy, Greece, Hungary, Serbia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Iceland. Hate Hurts has gained international support and several prizes. It is an on-going work that involves talks, discussion on the role of photography and is regularly exposed at different venues – it has recently been selected for the European Month of Photography in Bulgaria.

 

Article by Claudia Landini
August 2018
Please support Hate Hurts if you can

Photo credit ©Cinzia D’ambrosi

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Children’s Hope In Action: Improving lives, saving futures!

Nikki Cornfield is one of the Parfitt-Pascoe Writing Residents 2018. She is a British expat, yoga and meditation teacher, currently living in Australia. She blogs at https://nikkicornfield.com/. We thank her for this great article.

 

In July 2016 we joined two other families in Hanoi in the north of Vietnam to begin our adventure traveling south with Intrepid Family Holidays. Arriving in Hoi An, we were given the opportunity to visit CHIA – a grassroots charitable foundation for helping disadvantaged children in Central Vietnam. We donated packs of milk cartons and baby formula and were warmly welcomed by volunteer Jeanne Grant, who today is still generously giving her time as CHIA’s Marketing and Communications Manager. Jeanne Grant arrived in Vietnam on holiday in 2013 and after several more visits fell in love with it and decided to take long service leave from her job as a social worker and family therapist in Victoria, Australia, to volunteer her services at CHIA. “I was hooked and so excited to begin. I began the process of jumping all the hurdles at home to make my dreams come true.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela.

Jeanne and the CHIA staff

We knew we would be meeting children whose problems and disabilities would stab at our hearts; in Vietnam children with special needs are deemed ‘useless’ to their families as they cannot work or go to school to learn. But as we sat and played with them, their smiles demonstrated that these were the lucky ones: they stood a chance of having an education and a future thanks to Jeanne and the volunteers who came from all over the world to offer specialized care.

Life as a volunteer

Arriving back in Hoi An on 15th of January 2016, Jeanne secured herself an apartment and a motor scooter – “even though I had never ridden one in my life.” Her work began immediately at CHIA and her experience has proved “remarkable, fulfilling and so much more than I could ever have imagined.” Jeanne’s courage to start this new life and to give her time making a difference for these children and their parents came from her love of working with children and families, her love of traveling the world and a close family who supports her in everything she does. It’s this foundation of ‘home’ back in Australia that she says gives her the grounding to be able to offer her all in Vietnam and use skills acquired from 20 years of work with abused children. “It is a pleasure and honor to work with this great organization and the staff and children. The greatest satisfaction is that I can make a direct difference in a child’s life, which is an amazing feeling.

Chia children, staff and volunteers

Jeanne introduced herself to our group of five adults and ten children and spoke about the work that CHIA does, not just in the center but also in the community. As the children crawled into our laps for a cuddle or to show us a toy we all melted at the love we immediately felt for them. We were all moved to tears at the stories of just how difficult it is in Vietnam for families to survive and feed their children, let alone educate them. We were humbled at how much we have at home in comparison. In Central Vietnam’s Quang Nam province families are directly responsible for the total cost of sending their child to school. With most families surviving on less than $2 per day – yes that’s less than your average take away coffee -, it is easy to see that school fees and supplies are so huge that this large financial burden becomes unsustainable and children have to quit school. They are forced to work at an early age to help their family. Jeanne explained to us that if the child has learning and/or physical disabilities they cannot do this which leaves them abandoned at home, of no use to their families or society. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room at this stage.

A doctor from our group was emotionally stirred to help immediately and set to work assessing the children. The center relies on volunteer doctors to diagnose the mental and physical disorders in order for them to receive the correct care. We were inspired by Jeanne to act and do something to help this incredible organization, which had made her turn her world upside down to help “change the world of Vietnam’s children.

 

Nikki Cornfield
July 2018

To support CHIA please visit www.ChildrensHopeINAction.org

 

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How living abroad has taught me a few things about work

What Expats Can Do invites all expats to draw lessons from their experience abroad, and be a voice to help enrich the lives of individuals that do not have the opportunity to travel, and cannot witness firsthand what happens in the less fortunate areas of the world.

 

As some of you know I lived in Jakarta, Indonesia, until a couple of weeks ago. Like most expats that have advantageous conditions in their working contract, I had a maid. She was a fantastic woman who took care of me and my house with devotion and professionalism. Thanks to her I was able to devote a lot of my time to my work and all the projects I love.

Shortly before leaving Indonesia for good, she shyly approached me one morning. She was holding a threadbare plastic folder that contained a few recommendation letters, printed on worn-out sheets. She proudly showed them to me and asked me if I could add mine to her dossier. My heart shrank and I could not avoid comparing my situation with hers.

Ani has no LinkedIn profile, no electronic CV, no website, and no blog. All of her working history is contained in those few worn-out papers – and when an employer leaves, she can only hope they will find her another job or be motivated enough to recommend her on expat websites and mailing lists. Her whole working future depends on the willingness of her employer to put energy in this search.

The tools at her disposal, her independence, and ability to promote herself are not the only differences between her, and I though. While I can afford not to work and still live in perfect dignity, if she does not work, she does not eat. Like many other women in the world, she is the breadwinner. Her husband lost his job months ago and has not found another.

I am grateful for my expat life because it has put me in contact with the other half of the world, that part of the planet’s population that cannot afford not to work. And in order to work, they are often forced to adapt to dreadful and underpaid jobs, which many in our privileged positions would abhor.

Some time ago I visited the flowers market in Jakarta. There I discovered that many of the floral decorations used in weddings require a lot of ice to be kept fresh. Within the market there stands a little room where a woman produces and sells ice for this very purpose. She spends her days breaking ice blocks, putting pieces of ice into a machine that grinds them, and collecting the ground ice in big bags to be sold. For hours she is in that freezing little room, bent over ice blocks and filling bags with ground ice. She has one bare hand and a drenched woolen glove covers the other one.

Another thing I often observed in Jakarta (but this is true for so many countries in the world) is that trash collection is as lucrative as ever. I took this picture close to my house in Jakarta:

 

 

The mother of the child sleeping on the cardboard must rummage in the trash to find recyclables that she will sell to the “lord of trash”, as I explained here. She obviously has no one to leave her child with, so improvises a bed beside the trash on the street. I wish no mother on earth would ever be forced to do something like that.

Ani and her worn-out folder sent my mind spinning and I remembered another episode I witnessed in Lubango, Angola, in 1991. At that time we collected food donations to distribute in the war-plagued region, and stored them in a warehouse. When we were ready to distribute, we employed workers for the day to help us load the trucks and unload the food at various distribution points. The stock of food consisted of bags of wheat and cans of oil. I will never forget when a worker, who lifted the last cans onto a cement step where they were being arranged, used his hands to scrape a few drops of cooking oil and collect them into a plastic top that had fallen during the loading operation. I cannot describe what I felt and I do not even think it necessary.

What I want to point out is that when we do not get in touch with such situations, it becomes easy to forget they exist. But they do. This is my small contribution as a reminder to reach out to those who are not as fortunate as I am and don’t get to see all that I see.

 

Claudia Landini
Italy
June 2018

Photo credit ©ClaudiaLandini
except the head photo ©Jean Clauzet

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Getting close to people is a chance to practice your empathy

I consider myself lucky because my husband’s work (the main reason why I have been living abroad for almost thirty years) brings me close to a wide community of people from all walks of life. Wherever I have lived, I have easily made connections with a great variety of individuals and families. Fortunately, the mission behind my husband’s work has opened unexpected doors and led me to discover stories I would never have known otherwise.

 

Even though I have always had privileged channels to interact with people, I have always sought out opportunities to discover different ways of life and unique situations. I strongly believe that if we are to practice empathy, we need to actively get in touch with individuals and situations that we may not otherwise come into contact with in our daily routines, wherever these are.

This is the reason I am so happy and grateful for an event I participated in while recently spending a month in London. InPractice is organised every three months by the Royal Academy of Arts and the idea behind it is very simple (as stated on the RCA website):

“At this event we invite disabled artists and creative people at risk of exclusion from the art world to share their practice with others”

The actual atmosphere and energy this event generated goes beyond words.

 

inpractice

 

One by one artists with different kinds of barriers took the stage. They had ten minutes to talk about themselves and present their work. Some had severe physical disabilities; others came from a history of mental illness or depression; and some had difficulties I couldn’t even pinpoint… but none of this actually matters. What matters is that they were all present to share the one thing they had in common: their love for the arts.

 

 

Some of them did this by sharing their stories and explaining how their challenges led them to art or how art allowed them to overcome their challenges. Others simply explained how they work, and the content of their pieces of art. No matter what and how they decided to present, all through the event I felt a wonderful sense of connection to their stories. I was profoundly moved by the chance to stop for a moment in my healthy and privileged routine to listen to these people.

 

inpractice

 

Listening to these artists and exploring how their suffering has developed their art, or how despite their suffering they have managed to produce amazing things, has been deeply heart-warming. All through the event I felt grateful for this protected space where we were given the opportunity to open up to these artists’ stories and empathetically connect with them. They made us laugh, cry, inquire, and applaud – but mostly they opened up and allowed us to walk, even just for a little while, in their shoes while trying to imagine what it means not only to make art but also to live with physical or mental disabilities.

 

Claudia Landini
Back from London to Jakarta, Indonesia
April 2018

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The essential role of humanities in our times

“Now, as then, we must value the humanities even in the midst of conflict and division. Only through the humanities can we prepare leaders of empathy, imagination, and understanding—responsive and responsible leaders who embrace complexity and diversity. Our institutions must also play a leadership role by making the treasures of the humanities widely available. It is our responsibility to prepare the leaders of tomorrow, and to elevate and protect “the heritage of the human experience” that we all share.”

Source: Why we need humanities more than ever

 

For years I have been convinced that training in science, technology and economics is essential to prepare the young to the working world. Humanities certainly are interesting and important, but I always considered them as accessories.

My life abroad has changed this assumption.

While reading the above article, I found myself reflecting on which process I instinctively learned to set in motion when I have to face a relocation in a new country, and I want to find out more about the people living there. Despite my initial beliefs, I never start by investigating the scientific development and the technology level reached in the country. I certainly look into the economic development level, but this is an aptitude I learned from my university education that allows me to quickly understand the possible life style of population in function of the economical infrastructures available.

However, if I want to find out something about the people in order to be able to connect with diversity, I spontaneously start from literature. I read books, preferably novels of local authors. Literature tells me about a way of thinking, it tells me stories, it gives me hints on habits and ways human interactions are managed in that country.

humanitiesThen, if they are available, I go to exhibitions and local markets to find art crafts: art, and especially photography, makes me understand the feelings and the way local people interpret reality, it tells me about their lives, it is a mirror of how they see and go through life events.

And if in this journey through humanities I meet something I cannot relate to, I focus on it and make an effort to know more about, because most of the time that is the place where the difference is hidden: it is a part of humanity I do not understand yet.

With time and repeated culture shock, I realized that scientific discoveries, the level of technology and the economic development obviously give a lot of information about the people and their lifestyle, but they alone cannot illustrate cultural differences.

I wouldn’t know what I would do without humanities in my expat life: it is one of my most powerful tools to face culture shock. How many people should I get to know and how long would it take me before I can gather enough information to start understanding something about local culture? How can one neglect this aspect of human nature and think of being able to quickly build bridges between cultures and countries? Where there is no reciprocal understanding, communication becomes difficult. Education of new generations should stimulate this practice to open up to other cultures through humanities.

 

Cristina Baldan
June 2017

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