As we gear ourselves up to embark on our second expat gig; unlike last time, when we moved to Hong Kong – this time two have become three!
Moving to China is not just about James’ new job and mum’s unbridled enthusiasm for adventure, it’s also about the small person amongst us and what it means for her.
Too small to understand the complexities of why we are moving to a different city, but big enough to know we must live away from family for the immediate future.
Old enough to know daddy works in hotels, but too young to know not everyone can walk into a five star hotel and instantly have staff running to get you chocolate ice cream with sprinkles on top!
There’s no denying an expat life for kids is a lark! Travel, exotic experiences and more often than not, nannies at their beck and call.
Throw in 5-Star shenanigans and it’s plenty of poolside pampering, fancy food and hand-picked presents perfectly placed on your holiday ‘heavenly’ bed.
This next gig will have us living IN the hotel...(not to mention in a city where blondies are looked upon with sheer wonder and amusement, especially pint-sized ones).
So you can imagine, I am keen to make sure my little “Third Culture Kid” (yes that is a fair dinkum term) doesn’t become too accustomed to the finer things in life at the click of her chubby fingers. (Of course, these rules need not apply to Mint Mocha-swilling mummies.)
In all seriousness though, as we immerse ourselves into a life where untold luxury is at our fingertips – a life where groceries are supplied by the hotel chef, a driver takes us to our each and every destination and housekeepers keep our things in order, there’s never been a more crucial time to remind ourselves that we must not become immune to the hardships of the world.
A great reminder came just recently via my dad, who went to a work conference in Fiji.
Just a short three hour flight from Australia, it was his first time to the neighbouring pacific island.
After a few days in the popular tourist haven, he sent an email which sent goose bumps prickling all over my body….and was a stark reminder that in many, many countries right across the globe, usually not too far beyond the five star gates, lies a parallel universe, one that’s more often than not steeped in poverty.
This tiny paradise on Australia’s doorstep, was no exception.
In Fiji, 250,000 people live in poverty. Forget five star feasts, facials, foot massages and frolicking in paradise, beyond the palm fringed beaches, its back to the bare basics… and in these traditional island villages life is all about the three F’s – family, farming and fishing.
What my dad experienced reminded me very much of my trip to Kenya, Africa in 2007…perhaps it’s why the story resonates so well with me. After volunteering at an orphanage in rural Kenya we travelled south to the Mombasa coast. A postcard-picture perfect beach was flanked with leisure laden pockets of paradise, while a stone’s throw away, locals lived in mud homes without power.
To me, this email captures a moment in time, delivering a poignant message that all too often gets lost in today’s fast-paced, frenzied society, monopolized by modern day manipulations and the eternal quest for material possessions.
“Fiji has been a reality check. The poverty is in your face. There is a definite misconception about this pocket sized utopia.
Sure, there are cheap air fares to this tropical paradise, but it’s also very third world – local communities are craving for the bare basics.
On Tuesday, 30 managers (including myself) embarked on a support mission to a very poverty stricken area, just one hour (in the bush) from our luxurious five star hotel.
I was confronted with no electricity, poor housing and no roads….in a place where 900 houses exist…each with just two rooms, it was hot, dry and dusty .
But what stood out immediately, above and beyond the realities of this shanty town were the big smiles!
A complete reality check unravelled before me.
In the morning I painted. In the afternoon, I mixed concrete.
English was minimal and it was sign language between me and my Fijian workmate – who was maybe 30 – all the way. He used two fingers to indicate dry cement and seven fingers for gravel mix.
On we went, all day, drying and mixing, a dynamic duo. “Keep up ‘whitey’ – shovel faster,” he joked….it felt like we were part of the chain gang! This guy earns $2.05 an hour, but oh how happy he was.
At the end of the day we washed up; exhausted he shook my hand. It was emotional.
I go home soon – to a bed , a great family, a car. I travel. I enjoy at times much more than I need.
I handed him 20 dollars…he says ‘No boss!’ I say, ‘Go to the pub, have a beer…’
This was more than a day’s pay for him…but for me it was a truly humbling, once in a life time experience.
I saw my granddaughters, three and two respectively – little Ava’s and Lillie’s, everywhere.
Another group of managers made bed bunks…
You know these little guys, until they received the bunks, had never slept in a bed.
I helped deliver a bed to a family at the end of the day. A little Lillie, the same age caught my eye…I went and chatted and I told her about my girls…she was shy…I kept chatting to her and at last…came a beaming smile!
I said goodbye and trekked off back to the bus, air conditioned with soft seats…
As we moved off, I looked out the window, here was the little girl with her sister (an Ava) waving, a big toothy smile. My goodness I will always remember that big smile.
The stand out is this hotel, flushed with all the amenities you could ever ask for, yet just 20 minutes out, utter poverty…nothing except the bare necessities.
But it’s these people, who have nothing in life but each other, who showcase the very best in humanity.”
Thanks for the brief reminder Poppy. All too often, we get caught up with how much we don’t have.
How many of us are guilty of enjoying the finer things in life without giving much thought to those that go without, really go without?
Whether it’s a dinner out, a new outfit, or the ability to go on holidays and stay at a luxury hotel, it’s all too easy to forget (or turn a blind eye to) the harsh realities might be lurking just around the corner!
Next time you grumble or complain the water’s not hot enough or your cheese platter is a little on the lean side…. remember not too far from your five star paradise there just might be a family grinning from ear to ear about a plate of dusty rice to share and a wooden bunk to clamber into.
A life lesson I surely hope we can teach our Ava and Lillie.
What about you? Do you have similar stories of your own? I’d love to hear. Leave me a comment!
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