Thursday, December 6, 2012


So my partner in crime, my little sister Heather is currently spending a year in Asia with her boyfriend Sam. Of course you all know I was  the reason they got together. Annnyway she has started a travel blog now you can catch it here

So Heather came in joined me the end of 2009 for a winter in Canada. She lost my car on Australia day and then broke her wrist snowboarding in Panorama. You know I delt with my mother criticising me for not taking my sister to the hospital straight away but I reminded her how my lovely parents left me with a broken wrist for 24 hours after I ran into a wall at school. (I dont want to talk about it right now)

We drove down the west coast of USA with random adventures on the way getting stoned with an apple in Eureka California and being pulled over by police an ounce of weed in the glovebox in Silicon Valley. We made it to Coachella for an incredible three day music festival with some friends of mine I'd met in a parking lot in Toronto six months before

Then we flew to South America for six weeks of adventure.
She took weed through the bolivia/ecuador border, we went swimming in the amazon and she forced me to ride a bike down the death road in Bolivia. She got absolutely wasted the day before our flight over the nazca and had her head in a bag for most the small plane flight. We got pushed into a locals car in Peru for a back road adventure where there always seemed to be 10 people in a tiny car and couldn't speak a word of spanish. We fought over who took the most jam when there was unlimited jam. but we fought over everything in those six weeks.

We drove through Nevada, a stop at las vegas which involved picking up two very young boys from ohio and then onto Mexico for a crazy communion of 200+ couchsurfers where we partied for three days. After mexico it was onto Arizona for two days that stretched into a week of waterslides, beer, river tubing (one of my favourite sports ever) and onto Colorado where we finally flew back to Australia. We smoked so much weed and had Jason Mraz on repeat in the car.

So its kind of weird now to think my little sister will be away for a year and then she goes to live in Sydney with her boyfriend. But thats life I guess and I'm excited to hear about all her adventures every day. Sure im jealous I would love to be spending a year in Asia but im happy for her. I'm sure we still have some mad adventures to come ;)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Just Do It.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than the things you did do.

So I am one of those people who gets fancy soaps for Christmas gifts and then puts them aside because well they are fancy and I don’t want to just use them for ANYTHING and continue to buy cheaper bigger bottles of soap for general use. I cleaned out one of my drawers yesterday and found some I had been given two years ago.. It made me wonder why I had kept it for two years. Whatever special occasion I was saving it for hadn’t come up and all I was doing was holding on to a temporary item. Did you know that soaps have use by dates?

So now I have a bunch of expensive soaps that all I can do is throw away, what a waste. I could have used that soap and smelt like lavender for a few hours instead all I am left of is the fact they sat in my room taking up space for several years.

When I turned 30 there was a lot about my life that I wished I had done. I wished that I continued playing drums, I wished that I had learnt another language in school, I wished I could do the splits. Well ok I don’t care so much about the last one but the problem with being 30 is learning new things is a lot harder and takes a lot more effort than when I was 15. Your brain is slower and less likely to adapt to change. Your body is not as physically able as it used to be. I’m far from over the hill but time is catching up with me.

I know however that I never sit there and think I wish I had never learnt how to snowboard, I wish I had never hiked to Machu Picchu, things which involved a lot of work and pain but I never regretted any of them. I may have bitched and moaned a lot of the time but the effort only made the rewards that much sweeter.

I don’t want to be that person who looks back on their life and thinks, well I had a good life. I want to be that person who looks back and says “I had a GREAT life” I want to know that I lived each day to the fullest of my abilities and past that. I want to go back and look at the photos and remember the people I met and the choices I made and I want to regret nothing. I’m no stranger to stupid decisions but even those became lessons that made me stronger.

So a friend of mine posted this on his facebook wall and I think it sums things up perfectly. If you were always considering it now is the time to start living life!!


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Couchsurfing and its impact on the average single white female in Northern Australia

I recently wondered what would make me give up the CS lifestyle. Many people have spoken about the easy nature of short term friendships where you neglect to create lasting friendships with people who aren’t on the next bus into the outback two days after you confess your biggest fears and desires to them. These short whirlwind fromances are uncomplicated and.. fun! But they don’t last which probably explains why they are so easy. Its no secret if you spend enough time with anyone than the things you might have brushed off in the beginning start to grate on you. Maybe that laugh you found endearing suddenly becomes the most irritating laugh in the world, or their lack of future planning, live for the moment attitude which in CS terms is an admirable trait but when you start to face their unreliability on a daily basis it suddenly becomes a make or break feature.
CS could have been part of the reason of my self imposed singleness over the last four years. CS filled a gap in my life and created fluidity in an uncertain circumstance. I don’t do so well with commitment or expressing emotions and therefore found it easier to avoid emotional entanglement rather than fall head first into the churning quicksand of commitment. This would also explain my long list of attraction to unattainable or uninterested men over the four years with the other side of the fence the list of men who were interested & attainable being tossed aside like a used tissue. Don’t even get me started on the countless surfers who stayed under my roof and stole my heart as they rode off into the sunset.
Well.. Can I blame CS and its support of my psychological issues for giving me an easy way out? How do I break the cycle I seem so in love with?

Maybe its broken. After creating a sexual relationship with another one of my unattainable attractions based purely on the fact that he was unattainable and easy and therefore satisfying the short term pleasure centre of my brain I seem to have somehow done exactly the opposite. I may have inadvertently fallen in love. Not only have I managed to break my four year emotional dry spell I seem to have fallen for somebody so far removed from my personality and outlook I have no idea what to expect. This is a guy who has no idea what couchsurfing is and I have yet to explain in detail why there are always random Europeans & the occasional non-European flitting about my house. Lucky or perhaps unlucky for me the more recant male surfers have either elected to keep their clothes on or have the kind of bodies that would make a Japanese Sumo wrestler jealous. Now if he had been a fly on the wall in previous years it may have been a different story.

I’ve never had to make the decision between CS & a relationship and I never ever want to have to.

There is a very good chance my involvement in CS is very likely to dwindle from the waterfall it used to be to a small trickle that stops completely during certain seasons. You know… I’m ok with that. I’ve had my glory days in both surfing and hosting, in fact I’ve probably had about 20 peoples share of the glory days. I’ve met some unreal people that will forever be a part of my life and I’ve had some adventures that will be told for years and years to come. I’m not giving up I’m just changing the way I approach the CS world. So I guess the answer to my original question – what could make me give up couchsurfing?
Nothing. Its ALWAYS going to be a part of my life.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

My little Sister Sandy dresses up for Halloween. Can you guess what her costume is???

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Burmese Taboo

Nous, les innommables. Un tabou birman

[We who cannot be named : a Burmese taboo]

by Habiburahman, with Sophie Ansel

Steinkis, Paris, 2012.

We who cannot be named is the story of Habib, a tireless activist and fighter for the rights of the persecuted Rohingyan minority in Myanmar, now a refugee facing the prospect of lifelong detention in Australia. Habib arrived on Ashmore reef on 29 December 2009 and was recognized as a refugee in 2010. His book recounts the recent history of his persecuted people and his own odyssey to reach Australia, where, instead of the freedom he craved, he has only faced further persecution, confinement and mental torture.

Habib’s book is the fullest account ever given of the psychological effects of mandatory detention. It presents the harrowing costs of Australia’s asylum seeker policy from the point of view of one of its victims, detailing in unprecedented depth the human cost of detention: bureaucratic indifference, senseless cruelty, suicide, self-harm, despair.

Never before have readers been given such a glimpse into what it is like to be a refugee imprisoned in an Australian detention centre. Among other things, the book recounts

• the way in which solitary confinement is used as a control measure in detention;

• how Habib was kept in solitary confinement for refusing to sign a letter admitting to offenses he did not commit ;

• the details of a suicide attempt at Darwin ;

• the negligence of SERCO guards in failing to attend quickly to a severe electrocution.

It also throws new light on the psychology of detention, particularly the state of mind behind rooftop protests.

Habib’s determination to fight for justice for the Rohingya is both an inspiring story of selflessness, and an indictment of the inhuman brutality of Australian refugee policy.


‘From the deck of the navy boat, I look onto the endless blues of the sky and ocean, the blues that have become calm and peaceful again and which have finally given us a reprieve.

Our dream and prayers as lost, unnameable, stateless, clandestine refugees have been heard. We’ve reached [Christmas Island].

A simple dream, but an impossible one for a whole people over three generations – the dream of a humble, ordinary life, free from extortion, violence, threats and prison. A life free from the fear latched to the pit of my stomach. A life with children with the right to go to school, to dream of the future. A life with two meals a day. A life with the right to start a family without being taxed and arrested just for wanting to love. Soon we’ll have peace, rights, freedom and democracy.’ (p. 318)


‘We remain under surveillance and our freedom is restricted.

Immigration personnel question us about our past. We understand that our odyssey isn’t yet over and we still have to clear the walls of the detention centre in order to find peace and freedom.’ (p.318)

‘Now in a world where everything is subject to the law, we find it difficult to talk about our former life spent in hiding, just trying to survive and work, sometime by using false papers; our life spent avoiding arrest by paying to avoid human traffickers. We spent our lives in the most illegal kind of illegality. That was the life the Burmese regime reduced us to, right up to exile.’ (p. 320)

he gives English lessons to his fellow detainees. (p. 320–1)

‘Sport is our first taste of freedom’. Just being able to play soccer with other Rohingyans was unimaginable until now. (p. 321)

May 2010: now in Darwin. 125th day of detention. Hopes of freedom dwindling. Men miss their families. Anxieties return. People feel paralysed, and can’t accept not being able to help or provide for their families. (p.323)

August 2010: depression sets in. People lose contact with their wives in Malaysia and don’t know what’s happened to them, don’t know where their children are. (p.323)


‘My initial enthusiasm is distinctly shaken. I’ve realized that the personnel’s politeness isn’t the sign of any respect for our rights and humanity, but just their systematic procedure and professional discipline. Resigning oneself to wait in a confined place with no power to make decisions about our future is a totally new kind of mental torture. The guards’ replies to our questions are hazy and send us mad: ‘the process is underway’. Rohingyas are set free in a tiny trickle. I’m eaten away by bitterness. I can’t distinguish day and night anymore, because my nights are sleepless and my days have no light. I’ve become a zombie. I pass whole days in bed. I avoid the dining room at meal times, and only leave my bed to make myself Burmese style rice in the middle of the night, with the kinds of spices I like. Then, when my courage and faith reawaken, I spend hours on the internet to communicate, call for help, in everyone’s name.

We force ourselves to contain our anxiety. We have to stop ourselves complaining or getting carried away because we’re under surveillance. Any excess emotion is looked on badly and noted down. Stay calm. Don’t ask for information on the months of detention in front of us. The future is a blank page which we’re forbidden to write anything on – that’s the authorities’ job, in their own time. Our freedom is in the hands of the administration, public servants who evaluate us for an indefinite amount of time.

Some crack. Then it’s solitary confinement and drugs. That happens to me sometimes. They separate me from everyone. And then I find the strength to continue within myself. I take things back in hand. I read legal texts. I write. I tell the story of our detention, the things we feel, the injustice.’ (p. 323-4)


they ask themselves why they’re not told how long they’ll be detained. Even criminals have that right. No one tells them what they’ve done wrong. Will they have to spend their whole life there? (p. 326)


‘We spend hours going over the problem again and again. In vain.

“Australia’s a democracy, isn’t it?”

“We’re not criminals. We’ve always worked hard and we’ll continue doing so if they give us a chance.”

“We’re not asking for anything, only the right to live, work and adapt to their laws, contribute to the development of their country.”

“What’s the use of leaving us in these detention centres? We don’t do anything, we just go mad. We don’t work and we lose our minds and our lives and our hearts are broken. They feed us and give us somewhere to stay. That costs them money when we could just work for their country and pay for our food and lodging ourselves. All of this is absurd and unjust.”’ (p. 326-7)

Habib thinks that his past as an activist may complicate things for him in Australia. Maybe the government will keep him locked up as a disincentive to other Rohingyas. (p. 327)


‘Around us, detainees from other countries attempt suicide on several occasions and mutilate themselves repeatedly.’ (p. 327)

‘Every day, I ask the officers how my case is going, along with those of Bilal, Fadel, Assim, Nour, Wadi.

“They’re being processed. Wait for them to get back to you.’ (p. 328)


‘A commotion breaks out at the other end of the courtyard. Detainees are leaping and running round. I come out of my torpor.

Abdul is already on the tree in the courtyard, putting a foot onto a high firm branch. All the prisoners gather round the tree. He is going to take the final step. I barely have the time to get up before he has put a long sheet around the broad branch. I have just a single thought: save Abdul. He puts his head through the knot. I race over there, feeling my blood freeze as I do so. He lets himself drop down into the empty air. His heavy body is caught at the neck by the piece of cloth which is already tearing him away from life. The guards run up and surround the tree, pushing away the detainees clamouring around it. Abdul’s body is already swinging calmly. One of the officers tries unsuccessfully to climb the tree. Too heavy, too clumsy, he gets stuck half way up. I push back the arm of the guard blocking our way and leap onto the trunk, followed by Nurul, another Rohingyan friend. The survival drive gives us new energy. Not a second to lose. We reach the fatal branch. I sit astride the branch and lift up Abdul’s arms to immediately stop the pressure of the knot on his larynx. Nurul grabs the sarong strangling Abdul, untightens it. Our movements naturally synchronise with each other in the urgency of the moment. We hitch him upwards to free him completely from the grip of the cloth before gently sliding him into the arms of the dozens of detainees and officers on the ground and instantly carefully take him before lying him down on the ground where he is given first aid. He is still breathing. Ten minutes later, the emergency services arrive and take him away in an ambulance.’ (p. 331)


‘Our mental health is gravely harmed by this interminable wait and lack of information. Four of us have tried to commit suicide in the last year. One of them set himself alight. After getting first aid, he was informed that he would be prosecuted for destruction of Commonwealth property!

Suicide cases affect everyone’s state of mind and are contagious. I suffer from violent headaches, and I feel like my chest is in the grip of a vice. I have trouble thinking. I continue to shut myself away, my head under the pillow so as not to see these guards, these walls and these fences whose very perpetual presence in my field of vision is a torture. In the pillow, I try to go blank, to imagine that I’m somewhere else. I now only eat during the night. As much as possible, I refuse their drugs, anti-anxiety medicine, sleeping pills, antidepressants. When I accept them, I sleep. For a long time. I forget. Here, I’ve lost control over my life. I can no longer choose dangerous routes, whatever they are. The ambivalence between my body and mind eats away at me. I’m treated properly, without physical violence, and given healthy food, but emotionally I’m going through hell. And, insidiously, my mind tortures my body.

I feel trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare. Where can the stateless be sent back to if Australia doesn’t accept us?

Day after day, month after month, I’m told that my case is being investigated, that I have to wait. During this time I see detainees from other countries released, sometimes without having gone through the same procedures as us. I don’t understand it.

The process is currently stuck at the ‘national security test’: am I a danger for the country or not? That’s the question which arises for everyone at the detention centre. That’s the procedure. …

Sometimes I recover the strength to speak, my fight.

After two long years in detention, bearing witness becomes more important than getting a visa. I don’t want to put an end to my days, nor do I want to be perceived as a victim. I just want to share our reality. This circle of hell which we’re walled up in, away from the world.’ (333–4)

June 2011: ‘My indefinite and infinite detention today has gone beyond 17 months without anyone having asked me precise and relevant questions about my origins, family and the persecutions I am fleeing. The officers seem not to understand that I came neither for a visa, nor for a naturalization. I came for freedom.’ (p. 335)

Asked to be transferred to another country. ‘I prefer a definitive rejection to continuing to roam through an administrative limbo. … I feel as though I am sailing hopeless and alone. The officers around me just try to calm the situation without trying to solve the problems. This detention is completely unjust and illegitimate.’ (p.336)


‘Today I am starting a hunger strike so that a decision will be made. Positive or negative. A final decision. My case has been neglected, with no transparent response. My first hunger strike in June 2010 lasted 12 days, with no result. I have no choice but to start again, it’s the only option I have for resisting and being heard. … My freedom cannot be trampled over and sacrificed to perpetual detention. I am not a terrorist. I shouldn’t be detained to be made an example of because I’m seeking a country of refuge. I haven’t been involved in criminal cases, neither in the past, nor today in the detention centre.’ (P.336)


Habib spends World Refugee Day 2011 (June 20) on the roof of the detention centre, ‘in the air, the only freedom that is left to me.’ (p. 338)


June 24 2011: Habib decides to come down from the roof. He is immediately put into solitary confinement.

‘Then, they come to ask me to sign a letter listing a series of unacceptable acts. I refuse to sign. The truths have been distorted. Deformed. The centre supervisor tells me that I won’t be able to leave my isolation cell if I refuse to sign this letter.

I reply to him with bitterness:

“Freedom of expression isn’t a crime. The cause I’m defending also has to be respected and before I sign a letter like this, I have to have the reasons for my inappropriate detention explained. No one gets hurt by my roof-top hunger strike.”

“The centre has a role and it has rules,” he replies.

Then I understand that there’s nothing I can do. Procedure and regulations don’t enter into dialogue with human beings. The system is a wall that I can only break my head against. Human rights only apply beyond the detention centre walls. I’m in the waiting room for freedom and I’ll only be let in if I stay compliant and mute. Inhuman.

I subside into my bed and roll myself in the sheets like in a shroud. I weep for a long time.’ (p.342) (Habib is later allowed to leave his isolation cell without having signed the letter.)

Habib is in the isolation sector again, following a court appearance for allegedly assaulting a SERCO guard. ‘Here the restrictions are complete: telephone, internet, visits of detainees from other blocks, medicine: everything is refused.’ Between 9 and 12 guards are exclusively dedicated to the 3 Rohingyas who’ve come off hunger strike. (p. 356)


15 November 2011: Habib climbed the fence separating him from his friends in the S1 block, and in doing so was severely electrocuted. He was then shut into an interrogation room by guards for an hour. Finally he was taken to hospital where he was treated for almost six hours. On return to the centre, he was kept in the N3 isolation cells, without being given a reason. Since then he refused to eat.


August 10 2012: 955th day in detention. ‘I no longer count the days of my detention in Australia. From now on I only count the number of deaths in my country. Victims of the hate and racism that have been cultivated for too long in a land of tyranny.

My own detention becomes insignificant. The only thing that’s still important is to go on writing the story of the last Rohingyas. It’s what dad would have done. In Arakan, the last identity papers burn. Soon there’ll be nothing left to prove anything. And now’s the time they’re asking us to prove our identities! Decades of oppression, confiscation of land, arrests, escapes, houses destroyed – and they ask us for papers. Whatever we held in our hands has all gone up in smoke, insidiously cleansed away.’ (p.361)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Selling the movie rights

My local newspaper did an article on me & couchsurfing. you can view it here

I was a little hesitant at first considering my newspaper has a reputation for getting facts wrong but the article is light and positive for the CS world and hopefully it inspires more people to open their minds a bit.

Although I kind of know my fellow darwinians and so many would be shaking their head in redneck disbelief its nature of the world now that people expect the worse of everyone before even meeting them. We can blame that on the media, the politicians and the mob mentality.

Anyway now im waiting on the call from Universal Pictures for the movie adaptation :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Just a typical Day in my couchsurfing world

Last night I made it home for a brief hour to organise my newest CSer. My phone had died in true smart phone fashion and I was worried about the missing him.

When I got to my house I could hear the sounds of guitar notes drifting through the air intermixed with the foreign voices of a few of my surfers. I made my way over to the area only to see the chaos before me. Beer bottles strewn everywhere with a torn up carboard box thrown onto the lawn. Bottle caps and random utensils in various spots. I raise an eyebrow at the three guys sitting innocently in their chairs staring back at me. They grinned as only three men who have been drinking beer and smoking green all day could

“Hello Amanda”

It was only 8pm and Laurent my French couchsurfer of nearly four months swayed back and forth in his chair not to anything in particular just the motion of somebody who had perhaps devoured 12+ beers in only a few hours

“What the fuck happened here” I questioned wondering what sense I would get.

It turned out they had been playing some kind of beer game and Laurent had lost. According to him Charly was very good. According to Charly, Laurent was very bad. Regardless I rolled my eyes, cracked a beer and joined them.

I had planned to sit around for just an hour and then return to my many tasks for the night but as usual I got lost in conversation and before I knew it two hours had passed, I was on my second beer and late to meet a friend. Just as I thought I would finish my beer and head off in walked a new guy with a huge backpack. It was 10pm and finally my missing surfer had arrived.

I settled him in quickly, showed him briefly around, gave him a set of a keys and then raced off to my appointment I was already an hour late for. And that was just a typical night/day in the Couchsurfing house Malak.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Saving the world with Social Media.

Once again its R U OK day which is aimed towards reaching out to people in your vicinity of all backgrounds to ask them if they are ok. Many people at risk of suicide suffer silently.
A friend of mine mentioned how this one day vigilantism didn’t help anyone. And that it was slightly annoying. It seems that every day is something day, suicide, remembrance, humanitarian. You know I actually relate to him. There are hundreds no thousands of people out there who will be all up in a cause for a day and then when that day is over they forget. With social media its become more evident the amount of one day freedom fighters around the world. Perhaps 90% of people that share these causes will never give another thought until the day goes around again.

Does anyone remember KONY 2012? You know that video you shared that accomplished nothing. Ok that’s a bit of a rare case because that was a ridiculous cause that was never going to get solved by public pressure in fact was already getting solved to the best of the abilities of international intervention.

What if for every 1000 people that share the cause one person listens? And that one person finds the cause that they are passionate about. There are tales of people who changed the world by fighting for what they were passionate about. Martin Luthor King for example. Whilst sometimes these one day vigilantes gets on my nerves I try to look past that and see the positivity and realise that if just one person’s world could be changed, one person’s life could be saved than all the social media spam I spent the day looking at was worth it.

Everybody is different and everybody has their own battles to fight. Some have none and you know that’s their choice. Mine is quite evident since the amount of work I do for asylum seekers rights, the political spam I fill my Facebook page with. My ultimate mission is global equality but I can’t change the world – but I can change one person’s world. And for every person’s eyes I can open to global equality and dismiss cultural stereotypes and fears that’s one more step towards my goal.

And suicide is something I feel strongly about mostly because I’ve felt the pain of being a survivor. When my partner committed suicide I was ignorant. The signs were all there and I ignored them. I spent a long time suffering and I would never wish that kind of pain on anyone. I would do anything I could to prevent other people going through what I did. So yes I will join the bandwagon and promote awareness. And I hope that I can reach at least one person that matters.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

My Couchsurfing family

A Maltese girl I met through one of my CSers who turned out to be quite the couchsurfer herself mentioned to my surfer “I don’t know how you can surf there, its to awesome I would never do anything or go to bed.”

To which my surfer replies “now you see my problem!”
Sam an English guy who surfed my couch back in December 2011 wrote in my guestbook “I’m sure Darwin is a great place but I never saw it because I couldn’t get off the awesome balcony chatting with the other couchsurfers”
Last night I was sitting downstairs drinking a bad german beer with three of my couchsurfers. Dan from California, Anders from Denmark & Charly from France.

Californian Dan proceeded to drunkenly inform me how I was Couchsurfing Northern Territory. I was the most experienced host/surfer in the whole of the NT. I guess its quite a feat to be the most experienced host in the whole of a region and I do have a few hosts not far behind me. But there is only 250,000 people in the whole of the Northern Territory so its not like I’m trying to be the most experienced host in California or anything.

Dan stood up and looked towards the balcony, the balcony of awesome. And he said “Imagine how many people have stood right here. How many surfers have passed through these gates” Dan was having a bit of a drunken spiritual moment I have felt time and time again when I stare out at the tents parked under my house and contemplate just how lucky I am to be given the chance to meet these people.

But sitting there listening to my three long term surfers rattle on drunk about the amazing stories and experiences that would have happened under my roof it I couldn’t help but think its not just me and my real life family who created this epic story it’s the surfers who passed through. I pride myself on my ability to select awesome people and time and time again I am rewarded. Each season I create a new family plucked from various countries that somehow all meld together despite being completely different. Its these connections that create the vibe that resonates through the house and creates the legend of the couchsurfing house in Malak.

Probably my first real CS family was a bit of a mixed bag of Gypsies. July 2010. You would have the frenchies Pierre, Greg & Eric & their token female Flavia the loud & proud Italian. Then there was Ilona the overly talkative German who became my CS protégé and European sister. The Morgans, a French couple with the same name sort of slid in there as well. Jon the American riding the country on his motorbike. I couldn’t forget Jordan! Who has his own CS bedroom now two years down the track we still refer to as ‘Jordans Room’. Where is that book? Oh its in Jordans Room. Then Kevin the crazy hippy surfy French guy who kept us with a constant supply of crepes in the cupboard. Of course there was also Tom the strange swiss guy who learnt English in Indonesia and kept us interested with tales of accidently blowing up cows with artillery tanks. And then Dominik, the slowest german in the world who started so innocently in Australia and ended up one of the biggest vagabond hippies ever on his exit two years later. We had crazy camping adventures, nights out in the city, raves on the beach, snake catching expeditions.

I can’t write all the families because there has been so many. I remember one particular day on the balcony in 2011 with A couple from USA Kat & Jeff, Ben from Couchsurfing (and also Scotland), Claire from the UK, Tal & Eran from Israel & Philipp my favourite crazy German statistic and Kat said to me “Its incredible how you can have all these different unique people in one place and it just works so well” Its effortless the combination of personalities.

Many hosts talk about that empty feeling when you say goodbye to somebody you make a connection with. Because hosting is temporary eventually one day they will all leave. And that empty feeling affects me considerably. But each time I think I will never have that connection again a new surfer walks through my door and a new surfer family is created. I never forget my past families and I hold a spot for each of them in my heart. I know I will see many of them again.

Its comforting in a way to know that all around the world I have family and that I will never be alone when I travel.

Other things may change us, but we start and end with family

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

work like you don't need the money

I’ve been kind of uninspired to write recently. In fact I start with a few sentences and then suddenly my focus is drawn somewhere else and then I don’t even care about what I’m writing about any more.

I’m thinking about my style of travel, of life compared to everyone else. You see I’ve been hanging out with a lot of Iranians lately. Yes they are all refugees but recently released and living in Darwin. In Iran your social status is very important, most will go to school to become engineers or doctors which in fact means that there are a lot of unemployed doctors & engineers in Iran.

One particular Persian I have been spending some time with is Hossein he is a motorcycle mechanic. His father is a very famous poet in Iran. When Hossein decided to become a mechanic his family frowned upon him. To say your son is a mechanic let alone a motorcycle mechanic is socially embarrassing for the family. But Hossein told me that he didn’t want to have an education and no job so he decided to be a mechanic. Really what is the point of telling people that you’re a doctor if you are not doing anything with it?

In Australia being a mechanic is quite an achievement and I told Hossein this! We pride ourselves on our tradesmen. No wonder doctors & engineers are in such short supply when we are so enthusiastic about mechanics!!! You can be a mechanic on a mine site and earn more than a doctor with less education & stress!!!

So in Iran social standing, income etc is very important how much money you make is really a big deal to them. It must be hard for them to come to Australia with these incredible educations and have to work as taxi drivers just to make ends meet.

And then you have me, I’m spending time with these guys who will give me the shirt off their back just to prove they have some kind of social standing and yet money has always been a moot point for me. I used to think I cared about that sort of stuff the house, the 2.4 children etc but after going through my partners suicide life really becomes so temporary.

For me ultimately life is about being happy and as long as you aren’t hurting anybody else than your happiness should be number one. Perhaps this is why I sympathise with “boat people” and their reasoning behind the journey to Australia I mean who are we to judge when everything for us is so easy? Don’t they have a right to be happy as well.

But travelling for me is also the same, im not into the fivestar hotels, guided tours, top rated resturants. I am more likely to have a better time sleeping on the floor of some random local following them to some obscure adventure in the woods and finishing up with a local meal at their friends house. Maybe that thing I ate that was given to me by that random guy was deep fried cockroache or I don’t even know where the fuck I am the next morning as I crawl bleary eyed out of a tent not recognising the five people passed out beside me. Or maybe I have no money because the closest ATM is miles away and I gave my last 10 bucks to the bartender for a round of beer with my new found associates who names I can’t remember but im fairly certain one of them had a monkey.

So I’m sitting at my 8:24-5 job and then I head off to university so I can get some paper to get a better 8:25-5 job. My office is huge, my boss is awesome, I love the work I do. But a little piece of me inside is kind of wishing I could be somewhere… anywhere where I don’t need anything.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

i reckon this quiz is pretty spot on about my travel style

I travel like Rolf Potts !
Rolf Potts
You are a travel legend in the making, with a sense of adventure that will lead to hundreds of fascinating stories. Locals all over the world will give you special nicknames, and almost all of them will be complimentary.
What type of traveler are you?

Take BootsnAll's Travel Quiz to find out.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Open Couch Request, why?

When you become a power hoster in the couch surfing world you can begin to put yourself on a bit of a pedastal. I am lucky enough that I have barely brushed the elitist attitudes of many of my fellow power hosts and still host for the cultural exchange. I am not going to deny though that the surfers who take that extra effort to be a good guest rate highly in my books.

One issue that is raised quite heavily with the super hosts is the lack of personal requests. Considering the amount of effort it is required to host its often seen that the surfer should at least write a detailed personal request when they want a free bed, but with the newest addition of the OCR (open couch request) suddenly the pressure is put back on the host. The idea that the host chooses the surfer seems to some to create more burden on an already stretched host.

With the kitchen being redone I have had my couch off for several months only occasionally accepting OCRS. I ran a statisitic of current OCR's I accepted in my town. Bear in mind all OCRs unreturned I accepted within 24hrs notice.

Out of 15 OCRs sent out

4 x No response

3 x Declined nicely with reply
1 x Accepted then cancelled by text on the day of being hosted (she was nice about it but I was slightly annoyed)
3 x accepted & were "good" surfers. Nothing bad nothing spectacular.
4 x AWESOME surfers. +4 extras that came as add ons with my awesome surfers that were also AWESOME!!!

I never put a lot of effort into my invites generally just a line or two saying to read my couch description and that I would be happy to host them. By this the effort I took to invite people who never responded doesn't really phase me. But what I did get out of the experience was eight awesome people who surpassed many of my personal request surfers. So if I was to take the attitude that surfers should take the effort to send me personal requests I would have missed out on meeting these people. I know I can't be friends with everyone despite my best efforts and that a couchsurfer missed can be quite easily replaced with another but its hard to imagine my life without them in it.

OCR can also be a little bit about real life. If everyone sits around waiting for people to make the effort to talk to them then a lot of connections could be missed. I know I have a bit of a lonely hearts complex where I seem to befriend lonely people quite reguarly.  I hate the thought of all these people not having friends just because they perhaps lack the certain social skills to create friendships. There always has to be someone to make the first step and thinking your better than everyone else so they should come to you is not a good mind frame.

So overall I like the OCR system combined with a personal request system. Really its proven to me that there are some amazing people I just haven't met yet.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Dare to be different

Freedom. Not just the physical limitations but also the emotional. I often take my freedom for granted often forgetting how lucky I am that I live in a country where I am free to be whoever, whatever I want to be.
From the simple actions in your day to day lives to the political movements that changed the world. Breaking free of religious control and becoming whoever it was that you were supposed to be without rules and regulations of an apparent deity. Or even just simply having the freedom to express yourself without the cares and worries of social standing.

I was flicking through my friends facebook pictures. He is a recently released asylum seeker who has been enjoying what Darwin has to offer I couldn’t help but doze off a little at the pictures. All the same stoic stance with flat expressionless face. And all the same just photos of him standing there staring at the camera. Its like the camera turns on and the personality disappears and he becomes this false image for his friends. I wonder, does he think he actually looks good in every photo?
Is that how it is in Arab communities that appearance is all about just basically existing. How do people live in such a secretive society of bullshit. Why can’t you be who you want to be on the outside as well as the inside.
I look over at my couchsurfers and suddenly I’m on the other side of the spectrum. Open, giving, possibly exploding personalities. They don’t care about their appearances they want to enjoy life and this is the side of spectrum that interests me. This is who I am. My life is an open book & I couldn’t care less. You only have one life why wouldn’t you live it to the best of your ability instead of trying to remain perfect in other people’s eyes. There are countries out there fighting for the rights to be themselves and here you are in one of the most expressive countries out there and still you’re conforming to public opinion.
Laurent my French couch-surfer is a prime example of exploding personalities. He doesn’t seem to care when he looks stupid or people are laughing at him. The photos of his bikini romp through a shopping centre prime example. And this is just one couchsurfer out of many who has inspired me with their sense of adventure.
I don’t expect everyone to be as open as me but at least smile in your damn photos. Or take a risk!!! Do something else besides standing in the same boring stance.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

ok yes I'm jealous...

I miss my life in Canada why the hell do we have to grow up? Its not Canada so much I miss but the fact that I didn't have anything holding me back from giving up everything and just moving on. Oh bored with this town ok lets move on to a new one.

I have all these couchsurfers walking through my doors having amazing adventures in Australia and here I am working 8-5 every day sometimes even longer.. for what?

I live in Darwin I can't afford to live in Darwin this city is to expensive. Especially when your single I pride myself on independance but I may almost have to get into a relationship just so I can survive.

I want to quit my job and sail off into the sunset right now.

I think its in the works. Soon as I finish my university I'm off to travel europe for six months than resettle somewhere else in Australia. Letting go of Darwin might be difficult for me but I can't afford to live in this town.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Not Goodbye....only See you Later!

Its been a while and where did I leave you on Amanda & Dominiks THRILLING Bali adventure. That’s right, we were about to climb Bali’s highest Peak. Mt Agung.

I was very certain I didn’t want to climb the mountain but Dominik was very certain he wanted to climb it. So because I pretty much say yes to any challenge put my way I basically agreed. Dominik mentioned the following day how great I was as I didn’t complain at all. Lucky for me & perhaps extremely lucky for him the possibility of reading minds is still in the distant future and the internal curses I had focused on him for pretty much the entire eight hour trek remained unheard.

Reaching the top was met with sighs of relief and then almost instant fucking discomfort. It was fucking cold. I had long pants and socks and two jackets but I was still cold. We had about an hour before the sun rose so I resigned myself to further misery. Don’t I make this whole thing sound appealing?
I found a little groove in the rock and settled down snuggling into myself. Dominik kindly shared his body warmth and I managed to find some sense of strength to get through the next hour curled up against him trying to keep warm. I think for several minutes I even fell asleep but a shift of the wind as the breeze ripped through me was enough to snap me up awake.

And then the sun rose.

I can easily tell you that as I watched the sun come over the mountains all the pain, the frustration & the discomfort melted away and I was once again awed by the power of mother nature. I sat there and thought about the guys back in Wickham Point and how much I wished they could have joined me in that moment. But I was happy to have Dominik there beside me and I won’t lie I was even happy that he had coerced me into the hike in the first place. It was something special to share with someone as awesome as him. Kind of a nice way to say goodbye to a close friend. We had conquered the lows of Bali 30m under sea level and now the highs of 4,500 metres above sea level.

Then we had to descend. Descend slippery slopes with crappy sandals that had no tread. Combined with my inability to stay vertical in normal circumstances I fell over, a lot. Despite my guide looking at me concerned I kept going. I tried to explain to him that I was pretty good at falling over but he didn’t understand English anyway. Amusingly enough Dominik fell once and twisted his ankle, tearing a ligament. He suddenly became a cripple and since I had proven my ability to fall over repeatedly not complaining once I was shown to look awesome and him a fragile little man.

Reaching the bottom was probably the best feeling in the world. I almost had one of those moments where you literally kiss the ground. Until I remembered I was in Bali and therefore kissing the ground could possibly end up with a lip amputation. We said goodbye to our guide and left.
After returning to Wayans house we retrieved our goods and went on our way to Ubud where Dominik was to drop off the scooter. At first we travelled through the busy cities before Dominik decided to head towards the beach. So more detours through the backside of Bali, children staring at us from the rice paddies as I threw them the old rock & roll sign we ended up on a freeway. I distinctly remember Dominik saying there were no freeways in Bali. If that was the case had our detours removed us from the Island to another world?
No. It turns out there were freeways in Bali. Because freeways are a relatively new instalment in Indonesian lifestyles the common etiquette that generally comes with them are lost to the wind. Balinese are left side drivers, like Australia, which would make sense that the slowest vehicles stick to the left. Not in Bali, in Bali the huge slow trucks stick on the right lane and the cars take up the left lane. Since freeways in Bali are only two lanes where does that leave the motorbikes? Honestly? Where ever the fuck they want. Overtaking seemed to happen anywhere anytime although more often the bikes would over-take on the left in the bicycle lane. But sometimes you would have three vehicles abreast in a two lane highway. And yet still I saw no accidents.
And then after two days, no sleep, several third world villages we reached Ubud. I love to travel and I can deal with not having normal amenities. No internet or air conditioning even no coffee. But I am first world child and not only that I am a complete nerd so too many days without my luxuries and I start tearing my hair from the roots.

Ubud was western civilisation. We crawled off the scooter our entire bodies aching from the 8 hour hike that morning & eyes bleary in the sunlight running off only a few hours of sleep. We found a bar that offered Wifi by the beach and ordered a Large beer. Reality once again.
Not going to deny it but our adventure through the back roads of Bali & then the impossible hike on two hours of sleep and uncomfortable conditions had left me frazzled. I needed that beer and wifi more than I had ever needed beer and wifi before. It was worth it though. I mean the discomfort (the beer was also worth it) but I love the fact that despite all the hardship there is always a place of comfort to return to. And yes that place is beer.
After the scooter was returned and lunch finished we made our way down to Kuta for our last night in Bali together. Time to get some serious partying on.

Dominiks ankle was a hindrance so I left him in a bar whilst I searched for a hotel, he looked very reluctant with that bingtang and laptop.

Only five minutes into my search I found a reasonable room with AC, Wifi, Breakfast & pool centrally located for about $40 a night. I returned to get Dominik but my XX chromosomes thwarted me again and I got lost. So a slight back-track and I rediscovered the bar and Dominik. Together we trudged back to the room for a well deserved shower. I may have forgotten to mention neither of us had showered in a few days. In our defense there was a serious lack of running water!!!
After we were cleansed and I sent Dominik out to get beers we chilled on the bed just surfing the internet and chatting about random shit. At some point I guess we had dinner which was not bad. I think I had the jellyfish or something, already I’ve forgotten. There is a serious amount of westerners in Kuta. We went back to the room and drank more beer. We were tired and unmotivated. But I was determined that we would go out in Kuta so I dragged him out of bed about 10pmish.
Sadly we made it out the door and down one alley before a guy offers us a delicious vegetable shake. We obliged. It was to be our downfall. We walked onto the main street in a hunt for a bar and found the beach. We sat down and talked about how weird it was the beach was so close and we never noticed before. I began to get overwhelmed by the beach and decided to head back to the room, Dominik in tow. Once we were in the room things got a little nuts. I put on some soft trance and lay back on the bed closing my eyes. We sort of talked but conversation was broken and I was going on many adventures in my head. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. It depended on what music played at what time. When I did literally make it into the bathroom the tiles were magical. I probably could have just sat in the bathroom for the next five hours and had an awesome time.
We spent an hour trying to turn the display off the laptop without turning off the whole laptop. Well maybe I spent an hour Dominik was not much help. I couldn’t remember what the word was for display. And I call myself a computer guru. I tried to explain to Dominik what I wanted but he was replying to a conversation I had had with him many hours prior. Eventually the word came to my twisted brain and relief spread as the darkness filled the room
2am came and I turned the music off. We slept.
The morning had an air of melancholy as we knew it was our last few hours together. So we had breakfast, real brewed coffee for the first time in days. Then we went back and chilled in the room talking and drinking beer. On check-out we ventured onto the streets of Kuta for some shopping – Dominik had to get a bintang shirt and we brought a matching bracelet to remember the good times.

Then it was over, Dominik & I hugged and our goodbyes were said
I watched him get into the blue taxi and drive off into distance. I knew that we would meet again.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

To Besikah & Beyond!!

Since my last post about Bali was written whilst I was drunk I don’t blame you for thinking it doesn’t make sense. I have a great habit of rambling when I drink. Well actually I can ramble anyway but when I drink I’m the worst.

So where was I? Seven dives in three days our coastal adventure was coming to an end. Dominik had gotten it into his head he wanted to climb a volcano and not any volcano but Mt Agung the highest peak in Bali. Am I a mountain climber? No not really. In Canada I tended to conquer a few peaks but settling back down in my flat city of Darwin my hiking has been minimal. Still I’m easily influenced so I begrudgingly agreed. Once again we set off on the scooter of death for what was to be a longer journey of around 2.5 hours to the mountain town of Besikah.

We aimed for the city of Abang as we needed ATMs & a helmet. Only 15km from the city and safety we ran straight into a police check point. Instantly pulled over our papers and ID cards were handed over. It was then the police officer got on the subject of my lack of helmet.

“Where is your helmet this is no good your wife has no helmet”
“It was stolen” we said after decided explaining that we weren’t married was too complicated.
“You come to the station and pay 1 Million rupiah” well that wasn’t going to happen since we had less than 100,000 between us.
“We don’t have that” Dominik reached into his pocket and pulled out 10,000. “This is all we have” The cop pushed his hand away
“No no put that away, you come to the station”
“We need an ATM we don’t have any money”
“No dollars or euros? 250,000 rupiah you come now we process you” well we did have some US but we weren’t going to admit that I pulled out another 20,000. “No this is all we have we need an ATM”

Again he pushes the money away. There were about 10 police men so possibly not the best place to try and bribe them.

“Ok you go to the city and you buy helmet and get rupiah and come back” he handed us back the papers & ID. “You promise you come back or I call my friend” he walks over and looks at our registration number “I remember your number I call my friend and he pick you up”
So we jumped on the bike sans helmet and rode towards Abang.

As we entered the city we found an ATM that accepted VISA & A helmet shop. Pulling over for lunch we discussed options.
“So you think we should go back?” Dominik grins “I can’t believe he gave me back my ID”
I shrugged “I have no idea, don’t we have to go that way anyway to Besikah?”
“No I think we can go another way”
“Ok” I nodded “lets just go the other way”
So lack of money and blind judgement got us out of a $30 fine. just an info update I am back in Australia again and we never got pulled over by any extra police.

Trying to find your way around Bali without a road map is actually more difficult than it sounds. Luckily for me I had Dominik who it turns out has this innate ability to pick the right roads. Perhaps it has something to do with my double X chromosomes but everything looks the same to me and I have to take a road more than three times before I can remember it. Dominik has a quick look at his GPS and then swings down a random side road only to be going the exact direction that we want. So we headed out of the city and onto Besikah which turned out to be entertaining enough. Riding a scooter through small towns, rice fields, mountains is like a scenic roller coaster ride where you have to dodge potholes and road blocks weaving in and out of traffic. There are no speed limits or road signs overtaking happens any time anywhere no matter if it’s a blind corner or not. But it works. No matter that to my westernized eye it looked like chaos its organised chaos which somehow works possibly better than the over strict road rules of Australia. Just think in Bali your mind has to be constantly paying attention to the roads & surrounding traffic otherwise results could be catastrophic. In Darwin the roads are so empty, the rules so blatant that you don’t have to worry so much about the traffic. So people get complacent which leads to human error. Its an interesting concept that with fewer road rules there are less accidents.

As we scootered through the mountains the weather got cooler and clouds began to form. Before long thick raindrops fell on our unprotected bodies. Rain on a scooter is irritating so we decided to pull in to a little shop. It was dark in the shop I don’t know if the lights had gone out or it was closed but a little old man walked over. We were stuck for a few minutes until the rain slowed down so what better to do but have a beer! That is if there was any beer. The old man had nothing. I went over to the fridge and somehow found a premium lager but just one. How were we supposed to survive waiting out the rain with just one beer? Despite our hand signals the man failed to produce a second beer so Dominik grabbed an ice-cream, responsible driver an all that. As we sat on the little stools the man wandered over with our change and four random mints. As delicious as mints and beer sounded ?!?!!!! I gave them all to Dominik. Nice aren’t I? The rain slowed down a little after a short time and we got back on the bike.

As we neared Besikah the traffic increased. There was a huge ceremony on at the Temple of Agung which meant tourists couldn’t enter the temple as normal and we were told there were 4000-5000 locals visiting every day for the ceremonies. We weaved in and out before getting stopped at the gate to pay our tourist fee.

It was then we met Wayan. He walked over to us and immediately tried to sell us a temple tour despite that we couldn’t access the temple. Then he started talking about finding a guide for the hike to the top of Mt Agung. Now that is what we were “apparently” interested in. The dilemma of course was that we had all our gear and were hardly going to lug it all up the mountain with us. Wayan offered us to homestay in his house until midnight and we could leave everything there in the interim. The price was a hefty 1,000,000RP. Yea, no. I had done my research via couchsurfing and knew we were looking at around 450,000. We bartered unconvincingly for a few minutes to get him down to 500,000 but we decided to head back down to Selat and find another guide not quite trusting the sneaky man.

1 hour later we were back as the trip down to the tiny little non touristic town of selat proved to be fruitless. Excluding of course the venture into a small localised internet café where you sat on the ground and speeds barely got above 56k. Wayan must have been waiting in a dark corner he appeared out of nowhere on his bike, the price had now gone up to 600,000RP but we were tired and it was still cheaper than $100 so we nodded and accepted our fates. I was at this point completely uninterested in visiting the temple or climbing the mountain but Dominik was adamant so I reluctantly conceded without a fight.

Wayan took us down the streets to his house where we met his son & daughter. We were then introduced to our room promptly hitting our heads on the doorway. I’m not a tall person about 168cm but I had to stoop to get through the door. He apologised profusely about the size but we were just happy to have somewhere to keep our stuff after our hectic scooter ride. After getting settled he took us down to the temple entrance to take a gander, dressing ourselves in beautiful sarongs we walked around the areas we could visit. I am so sure I visited the temple with my father years ago and I don’t even really like temples. Especially temples where the people seem to show their respect by throwing all their garbage on the ground. Dominik was impressed and snapped plenty of photos.

Once again Dominik being a vegetarian thwarted us as we tried to get him dinner. Trying to explain he didn’t eat meat was almost impossible but in the end I think he ended up with rice & tofu. Of which he kindly informed me tasted disgusting. Meanwhile my spicy chicken which had probably been sitting out amongst the flies for several days was delicious! This is why I don’t understand vegetarians :D Wayan tried to get me to buy some weird shaped stuff he said was from a pig but wouldn’t tell me what part…anyway over inflated tourist price put me off… judging by the grin on his face as he pushed it upon me there is a good chance I didn’t want to know what part of the pig they were. Would that have stopped me eating them? No…probably not but the price however did.

We returned back to the house and crashed out, the bed was actually really comfortable. It was only 8pm but since we had an all-nighter from midnight we attempted to sleep. There was singing outside so I had to wear my ear plugs but I actually slept really well until Wayan banged on the door. Outside it was cold & I was packed only with tropical clothing. I borrowed a jacket from Dominik Wayan takes one look at my sandals and bare legs and asked me if I had any long pants. I shrugged there was a pair in my backpack just in case. But I was tough… I think. So 1am we are riding through the dark streets of Bali on the scooter following Wayan to our guides place. Our guide didn’t speak English except for where are you from and hello my name is but I believe he didn’t even understand our answers. The scooter had gone from a half tank to almost empty. It was the little engine that barely could struggling like crazy to reach the end. But we made it to the base of the temple where we would hike up Mt Agung. The adventure would soon begin.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

how can you describe this feeling?

I cry less than 10 times a year but right now I am crying. Its not really a sad cry, its a happy cry its this overwhelming impossible to even comprehend the emotions I am feeling right now cry.

Its a good kind of crying.

Today I said goodbye to some of the aslyum seekers/ refugees I have been visiting @ Wickham Point, they got their bridging visas and have been released into the wild of Australia. Its not going to be an easy ride for them but the hardest parts are over. They have left their homes, been seperated from loved ones, crossed oceans and lived in Australian made prisons with no answers about their futures, no certainty with their lives. They are not criminals but have been through much worse as if they were. They are some of the strongest people I know and today at the airport seeing the smiles on their faces it brought a smile to my own.

Now they have a chance.

Ahmed is 21 years old from Iraq he has been there every week I visit since the beginning quietly sitting in the corner. Smiling when you say hi to him with a sleepy look on his face. His english is limited, he barely interacts. But every day he comes. One day he didn't come to a visit and I asked his brother where he was. He told me he was sleeping. I know that in the detention centres day in day out they are left with no answers as to why they are treated like criminal when they have not done anything wrong. I know the fact that every day is the same spirals them into depression and they sleep through the only good things. So that day I didn't see Ahmed I was sad because for someone so young to go through so much didn't deserve to finally reach the safe shores of Australia and be treated like he was. He deserved more. I wanted to be there for him and let him know how I respected & cared for him but in the two hours of the week we were in the same room it can be difficult to express that. Especially when the language barrier hindered us.

Now he was free.

At the airport when I saw him the smile on his face was undescribable in how it moved me. He walked towards me and we hugged. And we were outside in public without the walls of the serco prison. Now this time I hugged him I would be saying goodbye as he started the rest of his life as any normal 21 year old should be allowed to do. I asked him what he wanted to do when he got to Sydney, he wanted to have whisky and to go to the disco. I smiled, inside the centre its easy to forget sometimes how normal they are.

Later I sat and chatted with his brother on a chair & he knelt in front of me, he grabbed Hussin to interpret him and began to speak quickly in Arabic. Despite not understanding him I could feel and see that what he was saying was so emotional for him.
Hussin told me
"He says you are his sister that you are part of his family"
"He says thank you for everything because you helped him so much and he will never forget you"
His eyes were red, mine almost were too. The moment was so hallmark I felt like I was in a mid day movie. Queue bad music now.

I could only do one thing and hug him again.

"Thank-you Ahmed" I whispered to him.

The feeling I felt when I left the airport, when I cried at my computer desk at work, the feeling I feel when I write this down it can't be described. I want to express everything. I want people to realise that you can make this difference in somebodies life. That what I do helps me as much as it helps them. That its hard for me to remember a time I felt this kind of happy. I know I am involved with many charities but they never made me feel like anything I did really changed anything. They made me happy that I was involved and doing something good with my life but they didn't impact me like Ahmeds speech did today. When I think about that I have been visiting less than two months and already my entire world has been turned upside down I can't imagine my life before meeting these guys, hearing their stories. As my friend mentioned to me earlier today I've never been ignorant or racist in my past I'm one of the most accepting people he knows but never have I been more aware.
The guys began as people I just wanted to help and they ended as my family. I will stay in contact with them and visit them when I can. I pray to everything I can that their lives are good now. I underestimated the power they would have over me but I thankful that I was offered this chance.

I will never forget today and how I felt with Ahmed beside me. There will be more refugees & I will be there with them. I will get attached, make friends, cry when they leave but I will always remember this day  above all others. Strong words spoken from the heart of someone so young that really found its place inside me.

I can't describe this feeling, but know that it blows awesome to a new galaxy.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

when the meaning of life isn't 42

I know I'm not stoned enough to really get into this right now the most pondered conversation in today's world. Yet lately my brain has been driven by a need to have some answers. When I was in Kuta I did as you do and partook in some extra curricular edible items. Needless to say I ended up lying in my hotel room listening to soft trance and asking the universe questions about global acceptance. I tried to explain to Dominik my thought patterns but he was more interested in conversing with some imaginary person instead of relating to me. Unfortunately I ended up in one of those horrible loops which can only be explained if you have experienced it yourself and never came to a conclusion, except of course that humanity was so flawed and I was so frustrated people wouldn't listen to me.

When reality returned to my brain so too did understanding that what makes humanity so unique and special is the underlying essence which creates those differences. But you can't change the world with one thought and you can't change the world with a stupid 20 minute exaggerated video. But you can help the world by opening your mind.

So speaking of global acceptance I was recantly offered a marriage proposal by a fairly devout muslim. One could wonder why a muslim would ask for my hand in marriage. I'm not exactly the poster model of muslim living if you know what I mean. I've got no issues with showing skin, I drink like I should be a construction worker, my idea of prayer involves asking the powers that be for the bartender to give me a free shot, I bloody LOVE bacon and to top it off I dont exactly believe in marriage! I've known this guy for only a few weeks and consider him a good friend. In the middle east only knowing a females name can create a lifelong partnership.
I let him know how I would drive him crazy due to my beliefs (or lack thereof) so he let me know that he would change me. We got on the subject of religion. I guess the english barrier saved me a little here because we couldn't get quite into the depth he required not knowing some of the words. He had a hard time understanding why I didn't care about the afterlife but I tried to explain to him that just because I don't pray to any particular god I live my life well. I know I am a good person and to think if I'm wrong and there is a god would he really keep me from heavens doors because I chose not to worship him?
To which my friend replies "no god loves everyone" so why do I need to pick a religion if god will love me anyway? There just seems to be too many rules and regulations in religion which impact on me enjoying the life I was given. In fact wouldn't you assume that if god did exist he would want you to appreciate the gift of life and not spend hours every day praying to him?

Now wouldn't it be slightly humourous if religion was definitely real and god did send all the non-believers to hell. So all those atheists are like.."well fuck me, burning for the rest of eternity perhaps I should have listened to that crazy homeless guy on the street telling me armageddon was nigh" And all us agnostics get to be in some kind of limbo where as long as there is still beer I really couldn't give a fuck because if alcohol is the work of the devil I think I would enjoy being a little closer to hell! Could you imagine seeing me skipping amongst the clouds playing my golden harp and dancing on rainbows.

No me either.

As far as acceptance though this guy has informed me that I am one of his best friends (ok ignore the fact he doesn't actually know anyone in australia) and enjoys talking to me. He still thinks I am a good person despite that I don't worship his god and I never will. And that is in the face of all the people that try to explain to me how muslims only accept other muslims. I get that whatever your religion is you wish that every else would follow you in it. Especially the people you love because your faith is so strong you believe that there is this afterlife and it would be catastrophic if people you admire & respect weren't in the afterlife with you. Yet we will remain friends and he has accepted me for who I am no matter what god I follow. If more people met muslims like him than perhaps the veils of ignorance could be lifted and the world could move closer to a perfect existance.

In the midst of our semi-debate he asked me if god is not real then who made me? To which I replied "I don't know" and retorted "who made god"

his answer?

"thats a secret only god knows"

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Amed in a nutshell

The beauty of no plans in Bali, well any holiday to be honest is that your open to whatever random adventure that might come your way. All I knew was that I wanted to dive, Dominik talked me into doing the advanced open water course. Now that the course was over we still had four full days in Bali and no idea what else we wanted to do. I contacted a couch-surfer a hungarian guy who lived in Amed. We decided we wanted to dive more since Dominik wouldnt have a chance to dive in Germany and we had gotten a taste with our course and our appetites craved more dives. Stefan told us about some awesome choices in Amed so next thing I knew we booked in two dives and were off.

 Well ideally we were "off" but the only way to amed was via scooter. AS we began packing all the gear onto the scooter we got some assistance from several balinese guys outside our hotel. They helped considerably laughing at us a little. But then they asked about my helmet.
 "Police will stop you"
 "but there are people driving around all the time without helmets"
 "they are balinese"
 Oh great so my white westerner skin foils me again.
 "What can I do we dont have a helmet?"
 "20,000 rupiah. if one policeman 10,000 two 20,000" with an exchange rate of 9200 rupiah for $1AU I was fairly certain I could handle the bribe amount.
 "No worries" I said grinning. I got a few rupiah from outside my bag and stuffed it into easy to grab random pockets. Then we were off.

 Despite our preperation we didn't see one policeman. so my bribe money was pointless. We made it to our dive company with mere minutes to spare we had booked in two dives with Eurodive @ 50EU for two dives. Our guide was an incredibly skinny balinese local. I forgot his name. We hit a drift dive first. Where you float in the current along the reef. The dive was called buntanan I think. It was so awesome. But I ran out of air so early. I was having a little bit of trouble with my mask so I think it might have added to my stress level. Not sure but I was on 50 whilst dominik was on 80 and all the other times we had worked out that we had the same levels of air. in awesome sync or what! So I had to share the guides air and we floated hand in hand. Man why didn't I think about that with Eric?

 On reaching the surface we had a short coffee break before heading off to the Japanese wreck. wow. wow. wow. the wreck was overrated, but the corals near the wreck were incredible for a short time I was in this forest of sea life. Have i mentioned what diving is like. OMG its this whole new experience. When I travel im not into culture, cities, temples etc. I love everything natural. I grew up in Darwin, Australia. Our culture involves beer & BBQs. we dont really have a culture being such a young country. For me its always been about the outdoors, the wildlife, the natural scenery. So diving just opens another door to mother nature. To think that such intense beauty can be created from such simple beginnings. I think my brain is in spiritual overdrive recantly... when you think about the world as a natural thing race, colour, nationality doesn't matter. I've just realised my brain is stuck on this equality thing lately especially with all my recant refugee dealings. Its hard for me to focus on whats important for me in my life when I am watching the world as a whole. Hence why diving makes me so happy because when i dive i feel that oneness with the world. ok weird. im that drunk vunerable girl at a bar right now.

 where was I up too.. I just caught a motorbike from Kuta to seminyak and now im just chilling waiting to catch up with another old couchsurfer of mine rohdiana. she is a bali local. got 20 minutes, i have just realised that in seminyak beer costs more...

ok back to amed. After our second and LAST dive of our bali adventure we had lunch at a little local resturant wth stefen. it was one of the best meals ive had fish in bali spices baked in banana leaves. I almost ate the banana leaves as I was a little confused on how to eat them, but all good stefan pointed me in the right direction. we attempted to purchase a helmet more to aviod police than personal safety I was quite used to cruising without a helmet now. all part of the balinese expereince right? anyway we ended up with an offer for 120,000 rupiah about 12 bucks but i was not interested in being ripped off and ended up deciding to risk it. heck I still had my bribe money stashed in various places. As we paid up for dinner we realised that we didint have enough cash for much more and suddenly accomodation became an issue. as there were no money changers or atms in amed we were down to our last 250,000 rupiah. Stefan reccomend a homestay for 100,000 RP so we took the bike down. Only to discover that it was already booked out.
 now what?
 but in typical balinese fashion everyone is a friend of someone and everyone can help the other people make money somehow. so the manager of the place we were going to stay at took us to his friends hotel rising star. we told him about our money issues and he informed us that our prices would work. AS we walked down to the hotel I was stuck by how quiet it was. We ran into this guy gardening who turned out to be managing the place for now. He told us 300,000. even if we pooled all our cash together we didnt have that much money. there was no option. so we let him know his friend had told us it would be 150,000 and he grinned and accepted our offer of 50% of the normal price. wow having no money served us well. kind makes you think that no matter what you can work something out.

 As for the room it was actually pretty awesome considering it cost us $16 a night. AC, wireless internet and a gorgeous pool overlooking the ocean. breakfast included. the kind of room you would pay over $100 in australia. cost us less than a shitty hostel in darwin. as we stretched out on the bed we pooled our money together. Dominik tried to pay the guy in US$ but he would have none of it. so after police bribes, fuel money & room cost we were left with about 120,000 to spend for dinner and beer. that was the hard decision with bintangs on average costing 25,000 each we couldnt work out how to afford dinner and beer. so we went for a drive. we saw a local supermarket pulled in and next thing you know we have 3 large bintangs, some weird chocolate bread and some raspberry shit for 89,000. sorted? thats a full meal right?? it really goes to show our priorities when 90% of the money spent was on beer. so we celebrated our last dive with our meagre earnings. and I guess thats Amed in a nutshell, the reef far surpassed anything tulamben had to offer but the Liberty Wreck was way more awesome than Amed. so make the hard choices. At least if you go to tulamben you can meet eric.

Monday, April 23, 2012

did somebody say advanced open water?

"What do you do after this?" Eric from Tulamban Bali asks us
"I don't know"
I look at dominik eyebrow raised, he shrugs.
"We have no plans"
"Good!" Eric smiles and nods with approval.

Its 3pm Bali time. I finished my theory and now I just have spare time to relax, chill and enjoy my long weekend in tropical paradise. I guess its sinking in that now I am advanced open water certified.
I should say I am writing this drinking *large* Bintang beers and eating seaweed pringles chilling on the balcony looking over the ocean the sounds of scooters in my ears. The combination works I promise. Dominik is passed out on the bed we were watching the great barrier reef BBC documentery but two days of excessive diving has worn us out and he chose sleep. I chose another beer hehehe.
On arrival to denpasar my plane was delayed what jetstar delayed thats crazy! by half an hour. For no reason except the plane before us was delayed... so we had to wait for them to fix their issues before we could leave. even the pilot over the intercom was saying "I dont understand why we were delayed but singapore flight had priority so we had to wait for them" I almost missed my flight showing up 45mins before departure the girl at the check-in desk was less than impressed and informed me of her power to not let me through so I batted my eyelids and promised I wouldnt do it again. She let me through. Im certain it was because of my superior seduction techniques that and because I had no check-in baggage & had checked in online already.... Anyway the flight was short & uneventful for a cheap airline ticket I must say I was comfortable & my seat could even recline! not like my flight to Ho Chi Minh which was 4.5 hours of discomfort!! Honestly though you get what you pay for.

I had booked my advanced open water diving course & accomodation for Tulamben through Tulamben Wreck Divers which included the 2.5 hour return transfer to the airport. As I arrived late it was nice to have a driver waiting for me with a sign so I didnt have to worry about making my way to the small diving village. The drive was shit, I was so tired, the 1.5 time difference meant so much when it was 11pm / 12:30 am my time. I dozed in the back seat, but as we went through this random town about 12am there were about 20 police men blocking the road they waved us to the side and then my driver disappeared. So Im sitting on the back seat ...alone in the middle of fucking no where as policemen search the whole car with no idea what the fuck is going on. Well I did what any normal person would do I stretched out lay my head on my bag and went to sleep. WHo knows how much time went by but i was woken by my driver who mysteriously reappeared.
"Are you ok"
my eyes blurry i mumbled that yes I was but I was tired and asked him why we had been trapped there so long
It turned out the car was unregistered. wow. fantastic.
But honestly who the fuck decides to have a police check point at 12am thursday morning in fucking nowhere bali?

Thankfully we made it to the resort I got my keys and stretched out on the bed promptly falling into a deep sleep.

When I woke up the next morning about 630am I noticed the sun outside my window. So I rose and walked over to my balcony yes thats right I suddenly discovered I had a balcony, and not a small one either a beautiful balcony overlooking the ocean. I took in the sunrise with a smile. Paradise.

Breakfast was served in a quaint little cafe by the pool, all included in the ever reasonable $30 a night accomodation cost. expensive for bali apparently but cheap for me! Hot water, wireless internet, swimming pool etc. I got bacon & eggs with coffee and I was good to go. But I had 20 minutes so I headed back to my room and relaxed. A knock on the door drew me out of my sedation and there was dominik in all frizzy haired glory! I've mentioned him a few times an old couch surfer of mine from sept 2010. I was his first host, we hit it off & kept in contact. He returned to darwin dec 2011 staying for about three months and then left again end of february. When I heard about his Bali plans I kept an eye out for cheap tickets and lo and behold $150 return arose next thing you know I was heading to Bali to have one last hurrah with one of my favourite germans!! Its always nice when couchsurfing can bring people who would never normally meet together. SO many awesome people ive met since hosting!!

As we headed down to the dive shop together we met our instructor. Eric, a local indonesian guy who grew up 1km from Tulamban area. Not going to deny it but it was hard to concentrate on learning the nesscary skills, he had what it took. looks & personality. He was so adorable and well sculpted I was easily distracted. Since we were diving which involved getting in and out of the wetsuits a lot I was offered a lot of skin that kept me satisfied. It could be the bintangs talking right now but whatever, you should go with Tulamban and ask for Eric and you will understand me. He joked around with us a lot and his smile was to die for! Ok ive rambled on enough. maybe when I become one of those rich westerners I'll go hunt him down and carry him around as my trophy husband. hehe.

Our first dive was the deep dive. Was I scared, yes. I was terrified. I remember my first feeling when I was getting my open water. I have slight claustrophobia and the idea of being surrounded by water to me sounded terrifying but the reality is quite the opposite. Being underwater actually gives an immense sense of freedom that cannot be found above the surface. if anything agrophobia is more likely to affect you. thankfully agrophobia is not a problem that has ever affected me. But the difference between 10m deep and 30m deep is the real risk that if something does go wrong you can't just swim for the surface. So heading into the deep dive esp since it had been about 5 months since my last diving I was freaking the fuck out. Yet as I entered the water and began my descent that peacefulness overcame me. If you have never dived it can be almost impossible to comprehend the feeling on the ocean floor. Its as if the outside world no longer matters and suddnely everyone everything is equal. you swim along in this perfect harmony its easy to forget all the problems in the outside world all that matters is the beauty in front of you, and maybe how much air you have left. It does remind me of those bluebird powder days where you the only person boarding fresh tracks through the mountains wolfmother pumping in your ears the mountains stretching out in front of you.

So before I knew it I was 28m under water sitting on the bottom looking up and thinking about the distance to the surface. not being the slightest bit worried if something did go wrong i was a long way from help. Eric pulled out a chalk board and got us to do a few simple maths sums under the water to see if we got affected by nitrogen narcosis. I passed, nice to know my brain could still work. A thumbs up and a slow ascent and then it hits. 30m is no issue. ive dived 30m and surived. I am fricken invincible.

Our second dive was peak performance buyoancy and despite passing it I know my buoyancy control can use some work but its learnt with exerience rather than theory so hopefully down the track i can improve my skills. After checking off a few points we headed down to the deep end of the wreck - did I mention I could go to 30m now? Wow, being that I am quite new to diving it really doesn't take much to impress me but the Liberty Wreck was proving to be spectaculor. My only regret that my camera couldn't capture the beauty. I know I will be purchasing special lens & colour filters for my barrier reef dive in a few months! We only saw one part of the wreck as the next day we would be swimming the wreck in full. But my appetite was now wetted.

Thursday night was dive #3 of our advanced course. Night diving. Only a few skills were learnt and then we got to explore the reef in the shroud of darkness. We saw this awesome cuttlefish moving along the corals because we shone the torch at him he got confused what colour to change to and his skin kept changing designs as colours as he moved. we also saw this awesome caterpillar with science fiction type good looks. no snakes sadly despite my best wishes. Thats cool though we watch part #1 of the BBC Great Barrier Reef documentary and then fell asleep early probably because the anticipation of visiting the Tulamben wreck in full at 630am had us positively wet!!

The next morning I very grumpily crawled out of bed, no coffee just staight into my wetsuit. Eric was so cheery, did I mention how good looking he was? well he was and with that grin at 7am in the morning my day was suddenly brighter. So I grumbled and I groaned but whatever I could follow his shirtless torso into 40m & below into fricken Antartica.
Back on topic. The Liberty wreck is OMFG UNBELIEVABLE!!! drawing my eyes away from eric occasionally ;) I was able to see the omfg beauty of a man made wreck we swum through the wreck at some points and got to see the cannons. As I was swimming something stung me on my left forearm causing welts to appear underwater. The pain was encruiciating but I didnt want to give up my dive for a sting so I beared it and maybe 15 minutes later the pain was gone. As I came to the surface I looked at my arm and red dots like mosquito bites eric came over and grabbed my forearm and ran his finger along the welts WORTH IT ALL THE PAIN WORTH IT!!!! "oh you got stung" I shrugged "yea but its all good now pain is gone"
then my moment was over.

The last dive to become advanced open water was navigation. Fuck navigation who cares. Im an IT nerd I use gps and when i can afford it ill buy a dive computer! So me trying to navigate using a compass involved a lot of confusion, esp which way was north. despite the obvious i tended to go every way but north!!! I guess the positive is eric had to grab my hand and point me the other way a few times ok so I might have deliberately made mistakes in order to have contact but I am honestly a horrbile navigator. And im ok with that. so we dived I probably should have failed but he passed me. therefore next dive maybe watch me instead of your guide kk?

and that concludes tulamben and dominik has awoken so i think we will go eat something, or drink some beer. whatever this is Bali we can do whatever the fuck we want....within reason ;)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

nothin wrong with a bad muslim :)

I am sitting in the passenger seat of my mothers car as we drive around the streets of Darwin, northern territory discussing random topics in a typical mother daughter relationship. Its early and there are plenty of people enjoying the cooler morning air as they jog along the sidewalks. We pass one man he is wearing only running shorts which is typical to see in the tropical climate, his body is well sculptured I admit my eyes linger a little longer on him.
“He needs to put on a shirt” my mother’s face shows signs of disapproval. I smile and nod although I don’t agree with her comments I understand her opinions. My mother is not traditional or reserved we have always had an open relationship where we can discuss anything drugs, sex, religion. She was born in Victoria to a strict Italian father and her Australian mother died when she was only 20 years old. She was raised catholic though married my father quite young who was a serious atheist. My sisters and I were raised to make our own choices. She is quite typically Australian very social enjoying life as it comes. Hardworking and generous with an open attitude towards people from all cultures & religions.
Despite her relaxed attitude towards sex and life she has an issue with men jogging shirtless. To me it seems insignificant in the grand scheme of things in fact I would be all for more fit shirtless guys jogging down my street but that is how she feels and I don’t judge her because of it.

Yet as I visited her for lunch one Sunday afternoon we were discussing refugee integrating into Australian life and the topic arises about how they try to change our culture with their own. In muslim culture women are to be covered and I hear time and time again how they disrespect Australians because the women show too much. The problem with this is my mother has never met any muslims, in Darwin they keep a lower profile yet she continues to tell me how they want to force all women to dress according to their customs. As far as tolerance and acceptance go my mother rates highly in my eyes yet still that seed of ignorance is festering below. How many people have actually been in contact with muslims who tried to force their customs on them? How many women have been spat on because they are thought to be disrespecting by showing their skin in Australia? I have never found my way of life threatened significantly by other peoples opinions. Personally I would love to see the religious sanctimony of marriage be abolished and a universal partnership involving gay & straight couples to be recognised through-out the world. But does that make me a terrorist because I don’t believe in marriage and would like to see it struck from everyday living? I don’t sit there and mock people because they get married despite what I think and my mother’s opinion that men should jog with tshirts on does not impact the man whose choice it was to jog shirtless.

The beauty of Australia in my eyes is that we embrace cultures from all around the world and create a harmonious way of living with understanding. Despite our disagreements we should be able to see the personalities of the people we accept and appreciate that each of us are different in some way. To chastise an entire clan of people because of an extremist minority is far from acceptable and we need to open our eyes and see the people inside. Because my mother disapproves of shirtless joggers does that mean that all typical Italian/Australians should be ostracized from everyday living? Fact is I am not going to agree with everything you say and I do believe some change is good. Nativity scenes are welcome to remain in public places but therefore so are muslim’s allowed to wear burqas around the streets. Gay couples shouldn’t be scared to show affection publicly whilst Mormons continue to door knock and ride in the intense heat if they so wish. This is Australia and everyone and every opinion is welcome.

I spent another enjoyable few hours at the detention centre the past Sunday where I was educated on the practices of “bad muslims” The conversation came to light when I was conversing with a couple of my new found Iraqi friends regarding consumption of alcohol and contact with females who are not their wives or family. They informed me that they were muslim but were “bad muslims” because they would still drink. I asked them if it was ok to hug females they are not married too since I enjoy hugging my friends hello & goodbye and it begins to feel more personal than the handshake. I was to discover much to my delight that hugging was ok to them and I got to give them both a friendly hug as we said goodbye that day. Already my original perception of muslims has been shattered I always thought following the religion meant extreme practices thanks to media & mass opinions yet here I am meeting two amazing guys who consider themselves muslims but don’t follow it to the letter. So similar to devout catholics or Christians where there seems to be blurred lines between sex before marriage, visiting church, using the gods name in vain. It really stresses my opinion that each individual is different and practices their beliefs how they desire and to me that is important to realise.

I must admit I quite like the “bad muslims” ;)