No Sexual Massage in Yangon

When I visited Yangon a couple of years ago I enjoyed a number of curious, memorable and stimulating experiences. Among these I recall the vivid sight of a mouthful of ragged teeth swimming in blood-red betel juice. I saw lovely women and lovelier children with cheeks daubed in discs of a caked pink, ochreous pigment. I ran in a huge mid-city park where I was alone, save for thirty men scything a small patch of pedicured grass of brilliant green, and lovers on park benches, enfolded in each others’ arms in the slow ballet of discreet half-satisfaction. I saw women and men banquetting at kerbsides on evil-smelling fishes, I read an English language newspaper from cover to cover, in which grown up writers and editors repeated children’s stories for grownup readers. (These stories, simply told and endlessly retold, announced that the government was very pleased with itself and if we had any further questions we should read the account of the Press Release on page three, which announced how pleased the government was with its plans to change nothing.)

I rode in taxis that had been young when I reached puberty and which still functioned – but only just. I recognised my own physiology mirrored in these noisy, puffing, sluggish vehicles. At the airport I was met by unsmiling men wearing military and paramilitary uniforms that would be laughable in comic opera. Under the hard eyes of these protectors of the public order young female Immigration Clerks checked my passport for twenty solemn minutes before passing me down a chain of clerks similarly trained in solemnity. The solemnity training is impressive, achieving as it does the extinguishing of the endemic native joy that radiates from the Yangonese. In a shop I saw a longhi. I always wanted a longhi and when I went to purchase one, eight young women, so feminine, so, so slim, all stepped forward to fit me. I went to a hairdressing salon where some hair was cut and someone sold someone else a massive bag of rice, while all the staff – including the person cutting the hairs around my throat – watched a lengthy and particularly violent show on TV.

I saw and enjoyed many things in Yangon but I never bought, received, contemplated, witnessed or wished for sexual massage in Yangon. I did, however, post an innocent blog report on my visit to the hairdresser.

Ever since that post my blog has been visited by readers from around the world, googling key words ‘Sexual Massage Yangon.’ I have innocently discovered the secret to a massive blog following. In posting this I expect to redouble that following. Fame and Greatness beckon.

Africans in my Lounge Room

Judy ushered them in, the two-and-two-thirds doctors from Africa. Tall, beautiful and young, each greeted us in perfect Hebrew: ‘Shabbat Shalom’, a peaceful Sabbath. Three smiles of perfect teeth lit our room on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

First and oldest was Shimelis, thirteen years a doctor, eight months in Australia on a Bridging Visa. Next came Sulam, with 18 months’ experience in Ethiopian hospitals and I don’t know how much time in refugee camps. She too holds a Bridging Visa. Last and youngest was Francine, the vulgar fraction: she has completed four years of medical studies in the Congo. Her birth country is Rwanda. I did not prosecute her with enquiry about her double expatriation. Like the other two, Francine subsists in Australia at the pleasure of the government. That means the kindness of Mister Morrison.

All three understand fully they can be evicted from this land of asylum at which ever moment Mr Morrison’s kindness might run out. As none of the three came by leaky boat they have the right to work. If they can get work. Judy brought the three to us to help them find work. I had invited two august medical friends, superbly connected senior people in their fields.

We sat down and talked. Shimelis outlined his situation. In his early thirties, married, experienced in hospital medicine and a recognized expert in immunisation in third world countries, he is permitted to work here as a doctor only under supervision. At present this distinguished professional works as a medical menial, washing incontinent bodies in a place for the aged. Shimelis makes no complaints about the red tape, he is grateful to be here, willing to go anywhere – to the outback, to the western suburbs – he just wants to use his training. Can we help him find work? This expert in immunisation – he is just back from Geneva, where he was summoned by the WHO to a conference – with his rich experience of tropical disease would be a gift to a hospital or a tropical medical school or an immunisation project or in policy in any of our tropical zones.

Sulam, aged twenty-seven, came to Australia by invitation, to attend the recent world AIDS conference. She applied for asylum with her husband, a chemical engineer who is also looking for work. They too will go anywhere. Sulam wants to be a GP. I pictured our large communities of people from the Horn of Africa with Sulam as the needed human bridge of cultural understanding to bring these many to safety. I saw the many Aboriginal communities crying out for GP’s.

Francine has been here for a few weeks. Judy has given her shelter. Francine wants to become a nurse. In this country nursing is university course and monumentally expensive. However asylum seekers can pursue TAFE studies at no cost. Francine managed four years of a medical degree; nursing will not be beyond her grasp. She’d be able to train as a State Enrolled Nurse at TAFE and from that platform gain employment and support herself while studying at Uni. I work with numerous African nurses, highly appreciated in the outback, where the barriers between the African and the whitefella are as nought compared to the gulfs all must cross in indigenous health.

There was little talk of the revolutions, the wars, the massacres; there was scarce mention of refugee camps; there was no complaint, no sense of entitlement, no pity of self, no cries for the families left behind. None of the three had met the others until Judy brought them together on Saturday and coached them in the Hebrew greeting on our doorstep. Sulam, Francine, Shimelis, three islands in this distant country, three shimmering humans simply happy to be here, eager to work, to stand up, to make their way.

Theirs is an old, old Australian story. I saw the Reffo, the New Australian, the Boat Person, the Gold Rusher, the survivor of the Shoah, the Balt on the Snowy Scheme, the student from Tiananmen Square. I saw my wife’s mother, a child fleeing Danzig in 1938, I saw my Grandpa arriving here alone, aged thirteen, a stowaway escaping the Ottoman police in Palestine.

There we sat – three young Africans, three old Australian doctors and one good citizen. An atmosphere quietly joyful, of welcome guests meeting grateful hosts, a current flowing back and forth of appreciative respect. A meeting, in short, of human people.

The next morning my wife and I happened to have three guests for brunch. One of the three, an old friend, works with survivors of torture; the second is a classmate from medical school whom I knew is a shy blonde, now President of the World Psychiatric association; the third is her husband, a distinguished gastroenterologist, now practising in Addiction Medicine. Our refugee advocate friend, his face ravaged, spoke of the horrendous week just past in which the Minister of All Prerogatives (Mister Morrison) sold the freeing of 103 detained children in exchange for numberless others, both adults and children. These others are offshore, in another country, beyond the borders of Australian conscience.

My wife and I told our brunch friends of the Africans in our loungeroom. Five Australians, all thoroughly unexceptional in our impulse, in our wish to help, spoke with eager seriousness of people, places, organisations, of contacts, of opportunities and of need. Nothing new, nothing unusual transpired. Five Old Australians, descended from New Australians, animated by memory and self recognition, each saw ‘mon frère, mon semblable’. I read in Sunday’s paper of the endless tides of Libyans escaping likely death, arriving in Italy where the locals, quite overwhelmed, yet see what our Morrisons and Abbotts and Gillards and Shortens will not: they see the human face and they give the arrivals succour.

In the few days since this human weekend I have tried to reach beyond my customary postures of anger and self-righteousness, to grope for understanding of my hard Government, of my soft Opposition, of my fearful fellow citizens in the electorate. I can only surmise that, somehow, at some time, my representatives and my fellow citizens have lost something they used to see – the image of the self in the face of the other.

An afternoon in the loungeroom with guests like mine might change everything.

Blogging On

I wrote a post a few days ago expecting it to pass with a yawn. That it did not is a surprise. That it might matter is an astonishment. That I’ll persist is the fault of the addressees below:

Dear palmerglassbox,

I am gratified to bring a ray of sunshine twice a week, but I am concerned about the other five sunless days. Please ask your doc to measure your vitamin D levels.

Dear Lionel Lubitz,
I like the idea of opening you (plural) up. It is ages since I performed a laparotomy. Thank you for your unhyperbole and for the teasing notion that the blog can annoy you (again plural). Someone’s taking notice.

Dear Susanne at Bilingual Options,
Your response delights me because you delight in the stories that delight me most, those about family. As one very familiar with the grandrats (Susanne is the model for the speech therapist in Carrots and Jaffas, and my twin grandsons were her patients), you know well their suicidal energies. And as for wordpress, it conquers even the mightiest intellect. Only my daughter can be its blogmeistress, and that by virtue of her power of persistence (in her childhood, read ‘stubbornness’.)

Welcome kaisywmills, who like Janus, has two faces, one feminine, the second bearded.

Claire McAlpine, bloggist and book critic, says blog on. Same to you, Claire, and more so. Your blog and your reviews bring good books to our attention.

Thank you Sulfen for what I take to be encouragement. It is no chore to write, the contrary in fact; my fear is creating a chore for the reader.

And Kerryn, who wrote so thoughtfully: Kerryn, when you encourage me to tell stories, you give my inner minstrel voice to sing. And your suggestion for a story about the bloke in my wedding photo is irresistible. (Watch this space.) Further, if, dear Kerryn you were born on New Year’s Eve about 35 years ago, you might have been delivered by me; and in that case you have met that man, you knew that face: he is my forever friend, my former partner in the medical practice you attended in childhood.

And dear Louis De Vries – the publisher all writers dream of and none can deserve – we know where the readers are: they are all reading on tablets, which were invented to bankrupt you, to frustrate me and to allow people to read in the dunny.

Dear Miriam Abud,
How delightful to find you finding me in this way. Suddenly the invention of the computer is justified, the existence of the internet worthwhile. The thought of anyone settling down to half a dozen of my writings thrills and amazes me. That it is YOU fills me with smiles of pleasure. I’ll keep going. And I think the radio would bring out all that is boring and pompous and opinionated in me. But if it would sell books…

And you, Helen, in urging more poetry you open a mare’s nest, a can of sperms, and a mix of metaphors. My own verse is largely limited to medical referral letters where, because they are confidential and hence unpublishable, the verse does least harm. On the odd occasion I post the verse of true poets, women – generally young undergraduates – drool and swoon, a pleasant surprise for an old gent. I suspect poetry drives many men away.

Hello, misssophiablog, welcome to this blog. I am impressed that yours has a FAQ section. Golly. When I need fashion advice I’ll turn to you, Courtney.

Hello Spot, your remark, ‘in the outback you give us another window on the world’ is unexpected and brings the sudden thought that a casual smartarse blogger might actually be some sort of postman to another person waiting for a letter, any letter. Suddenly, all this might be serious. Or significant. Thank you and golly!

Hello dear Faye Colls,
No writer could ever earn your unwavering loyalty. You are a warm and kindly spirit. Fair dinkum.

Dear Dear Bruce,
In your steadfast attention to my musings you create a blog of your own, revealing a soldier of the law who defended the weak to his own cost. You show us your wounds of honour, your human vulnerability. In all your humility you lift us up.

Dear Hilary Custance Green,
As well as having the very most remarkable and unforgettable and rhymable name an author or a blogger could desire, you write most thoughtfully and I should say, faithfully. Everyone should read your new novel, which I will buy in the UK in January – despite Amazon’s best efforts to sabotage you – and which I’ll review in this blog. Please ensure Foyles stocks the book.
I have just received your remarkable (and generous) review of Carrots and Jaffas. You have expressed my purposes so adroitly and divined my approach so comprehensively, you’ve actually deepened my understanding of my own book. Thank you, quite humbly, HCG. (in my trade hcg is the acronym for human chorionic gonadotrophin, which is the substance in a woman’s urine that tells her she’s pregnant when she pees onto a stick. You have elevated HCG to a more refined level.)

Dear Nick Miller,
Like you I find myself thwarted by wordpress. I’m all the gratefuller for your close attention to the blog, as to all of my writing. Carrots and Jaffas would have been a much poorer book without your criticisms.

Gerard Oosterman, hello, and thank you for commenting. Your own blog is masterly and you seem to have conquered wordpress. Bravo! (note to readers – chase up gerard’s blog: it’s a ripper!)

Dear I L Wolf, dear Margot Mann (in fact, beloved MCM), dear Glitchy Mind, dear Claire Word by Word, dear the chattyrachel, dear M. Talmage Moorhead (a name to rival Hilary’s), dear mannyrutinel, dear amandalyle, dear fictionistasan (intriguing monniker), dear M. Funk l PHOTOGRAPHY, dear Greg Mercer, MSN, dear jackiewilson, dear bluchickenninja – you all liked a blogpost that ran the risk of becoming a fishing expedition for compliments. You forgave me and you wrote. Thank you all.

And dear DovTheRov, you make me larrf, Thank you for the encouragement. You write a mean weekly newsletter. How many rabbis can make a minyan smile?

In Hebrew we have an expression: “acharon, acharon chaviv” – last mentioned, most beloved. Thank you Rachel, thank you, thank you.

Yours, twice weekly, I’m afraid.

Blog On?

Like every wise man I operate in thrall to my womenfolk. One of those womenfolk helps me manage this blog. Readers might have observed the blog stuttering in its cantering gait recently. I have slipped from my regular Monday and Friday postings, to no-one’s great regret. Noting this delinquency the Blogmeistress has commanded me to address my readers with some questions. She says I need to ask you what you want me to write about. The conversation went like this:

BLOGMEISTRESS: Ask your readers what they want.

HG: Why?

BLOGMEISTRESS: Why what?

HG: Why bother them? They’re enjoying the rest.

B/MEISTRESS: You need to blog, so you’ll reach new readers…

HG: Why?

B/MEISTRESS: Why what?

HG: Why do I need readers – old or new – of my blog?

B/MEISTRESS: You need blog followers so they’ll become readers of your books: your writing is OK; it’s just your attitude to technology that stinks. You write passably but all three of your books have been worstsellers. You need to get known.

HG: Look, no-one, not a single person has written begging me for a new post. No-one misses them. A blog that appears on your screen twice a week is an imposition. I’m giving them a break.

B/MEISTRESS: Blog – or fail as a writer!

HG: When I blog I fail because I take time and energy away from serious writing.

BM: Blogging is serious. You’re an appalling snob. You’re going to fail.

So, dear reader, dear slumbering follower, here are the questions a wise man must ask:

What would you like me to write about?

The news – all miserable – that I whinge about already?

My moral quandaries, in which I flail and thrash in a mighty masturbation of the conscience?

Oddities, trivial observations, exercises in whimsy and gentle self-mockery? Or would you prefer brutal self-mockery?

Family stories? Isn’t your own family is just as lunatic as mine?

***

Here is the question I am forbidden to ask: Could you care less?

Sorry to disturb your hard-earned respite.

Another Toby Emergency

A scream from the back of the boat, the scream of amazed pain. Now follow loud cries as Toby’s face rises above the transom. Tears stream down his face, uncharacteristically pale. At the point of his chin a gleaming carbuncle of deepest red rises to a meniscus, then overflows. Brilliant red drops appear on the white deck, tracking Toby’s path to adult rescue.

I apply my nearly clean handkerchief to the wound. Toby darling, press this hard against the cut. Very hard.
I’m sorry, Saba. I’m sorry.
No need to be sorry, Toby – just press.
I’m sorry. I’m very sorry…

My bottle-green hanky is turning red. A quick peek underneath shows a deep and gaping gash. The wound is irregular; it will need meticulous suturing to minimize the inevitable scarring.

Before we arrived in Metung I commanded the kids: NO RUNNING ON THE BOAT, NO JUMPING ON THE BOAT.
I’m sorry, Saba, I won’t do it again.

Pablo scoops his son into his arms and we run to the car. The patient, cocooned in his father, is stowed in the back. We drive into the little town to look for the doctor’s premises: the Village Store, a hardware and fishing tackle shop, the pub, a real estate office, a few coffee shops – these account for one half of the Central Business District; a u-turn brings us to the post office, a laundromat and a petite pharmacy. The pharmacist, a lady of my years, petite like her shop, is sympathetic. She advises, Yes, there is a doctor in town… every Tuesday morning.
Hmmm. Do you have surgical glue?
I don’t think so. I’ll look…
The search doesn’t take long. No glue. We settle for some stout Steri-strips, a gross of sterile gauze squares and a gallon of Savlon.
Across the road the door to Hardware and Fishhooks is locked. It’s only four PM, Friday. The sign reads, Open 9.00-5.00, M-Thurs. Fri 9.00-1.00.
The Village Store stocks food, suncream, the dailies, the Metung Meteor. Unless it’s a condom or a painkiller I seek, no pharmaceuticals. Do you have Super-glue? (Super-Glue is identical to Surgical glue; it’s packaged in crushable phials for single use, to discourage germs.) The helpful young cashier leads me to her hardware shelf. No Super-glue but we do have Araldite.
Araldite. I’ve never glued human tissues with this product. Will I try it on my grandson? I call the Emergency Physician in Alice Springs, where ED is full of my workmates. Yeah, Araldite will hold it, same as Super-glue. But it’s thermogenic. In an emergency, better than nothing, better than Steri-strips alone. Translated, ‘Thermogenic’ means the glue will heat the skin.

Back to the car. No doctor in Metung: we’ll have to go to Lakes Entrance. Toby lies quietly, eyes widening as I approach his wound. A wince, a gasp as I peel away my hanky of dark green and dark red, exposing a valley of flesh. Briefly bloodless, the wound fills quickly. Clean white gauze is applied. Toby darling, press again, hard. Here.
The child’s eyes follow me anxiously as he anticipates the uppance that surely will come: I’m sorry, Saba. I won’t do it again.

Driving back through town I wonder about the boatyard. They repair boats there, they must glue things. The Boatwright is helpful: Sure, Howard, we should have Super-glue somewhere.
The tube is not new. They have no other but needs must…

Pablo and I remove the patient and lie him on a picnic table, Pablo cradling the child’s head. Darling, we are going to put some glue on your cut to close it up. First I’ll wash the cut with this yellow stuff. It will be quite quick.
A splash, a yelp, a bit of quick mopping and a flow of fresh blood. It is quite quick – and quite hurty.

Now I’m going to squirt some glue onto your cut, Toby. It will be quite quick.
Pablo, pinch the skin edges closed… like this.
Pablo pinches – which hurts – as I peel away the gauze – which hurts. Toby’s eyes widen in fresh surprise, he releases a single gasp, half rises, then subsides. He takes deep breaths, slow breaths, as I squirt the glue – which hurts – and Toby breathes on. Through the following three minutes, Pablo pinches the skin edges – which hurts – and Toby, calm in his self-mastery, gazes trustingly into our close faces.
A few Steristrips bridge the narrow ridge of pink that was a cleft moments before. The wound is closed, and dry, more or less regular, messy in its scatterings of dried blood. It will heal and eventually scar.
Toby kisses his torturers and thanks us: You’re the best father, Papi. I love you, Sabi…I am sorry.

Postscript that might have been a Prescript: readers of this blog might recall an earlier, very lengthy post, titled ‘Toby’s Fingers in the Bath Hole’. A year after the Fingers in the Bathplug Story, we had the Batteries in the Ears story. Toby spent an afternoon in hospital for removal of hearing aid batteries trapped in his ear canals. Once in-situ, batteries create an enveloping oedema of the canal walls, a watery swelling of the flesh that neatly encloses the little discs. Toby is not deaf (not yet) and has no need of hearing aids or their batteries. But the batteries he found were just the right size, so…

Additional Postscript: Toby’s cousin Noah described the accident: Toby tried to get from the back of the boat onto the pier but his life vest caught on this wire and he fell when he jumped.
“When he jumped”: that must have been what Toby’s “sorries” were for. Not a forbidden jump at all, this was a jump from the boat, not on it.

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Do Not Vote – It Only Encourages Them

We had an election last year and I warned all – especially myself – to consider casting a donkey vote.
This coming weekend I will be fined if I don’t vote and angry with myself if I do. On the other hand I do believe it’s every citizen’s duty to help to choose a government. In practice I think this means my choice must encompass one of the two major parties somewhere on my ballot paper.

I consider the present government has made many inequitable decisions which are either corrupt or woefully incompetent. I have always voted for the other team, but Labor has worked assiduously to convince me of its own venality and hopeless thrall to factions.

I look about me and wonder, where is the Labor candidate or the Liberal who rises to cry ‘whoa!’ about our cruelty towards people seeking refuge on our shores?

You might think me absurd to consider a national issue in what is ‘only’ a state election in which the issues should be local.

But the refugee is neither local nor national. Literally, she is non-national. Morally she is universal. She is us, she is me.

Who, among the incompetents and the self-seekers and the factionistas and the corrupt – who will stand for the person on the boat?

I do know that many Aussies in the neighbourhoods stand alongside the newcomer and brotherhood and help. Which is the party – or the nonparty candidate – who will stand against Party and for ‘mon semblable, mon frere’ – the newcomer?

We’re Better Than This

The Refugee people sent me a young mother today with her four-year-old child who had a cough.
She said: “Interrupter, please.”
I looked at her, not understanding.
“Needing interrupter. Not English.”
I preferred to have a go without an interpreter.
“You tell me, I listen” – I said.
“My child much coughing.”
I listened to the chest of the vivacious child whose smile would melt an official from Immigration and Border Protection. I looked at her throat, I felt her glands. She was well, simply suffering from a snot attack. I ordered an anti-snotic.
I addressed Mum: “From what country.”
“Iran.”
“Salaam.”
A look of surprise. A brilliant smile.
I hadn’t picked her nationality. Her peasant blouse, embroidered with edging of magenta and primrose, somehow made me expect she’d be Hazara. That and her creamy skin. Wrong.

“Are you a Permanent Resident?”
A shake of the head. “Commentary Detention.”
“Are you on a Bridging Visa?”
“No. Commentary. Not visa. Commentary Detention.”

“Ahh… community detention?”
Nodding, a smile, we two are doing well despite the lack of an interrupter. But the smile empty of joy.

“My husband, the police, make shee – you know, shee?” The young woman waves her hand in a whipping movement. “Shee. Sixty times, they make shee.”
The woman pulls out her phone, shows me a photo: an adult lies face down on a narrow bed. The creamy skin of a broad back, fine scarlet streaks, the skin must have been lashed with wires.

“They do this before five years. We are not marry, he is boyfriend. I have baby” – she points to her belly – “They tell, ‘You wait, you come after baby, you also sixty shee.’”

The young woman’s pregnancy approached its end, she was summoned to the police station, but fled here, arriving four years ago – pre-Rudd solution.
“My mother, police tell her ‘where is your daughter?’ Mother tell, ‘daughter in Australia.’
They say, ‘No is hiding. Is in Iran. Must come to police station, have shee.’ They call mother many times. She very scare.”

The daughter appears to believe full well the police intend to keep their promise.
So, the boat. Detention at Curtin, then in South Australia. ‘My baby, not Iran.” The smile, this one half-charged: “Born Darwin.”
 
Her visa is not permanent resident.
Her visa is not bridging.
Her visa is not.
She is community detention.
 
What are we that we might send her back?
 
Whom are we bombing in Syria and Iraq?
Why?
 
I believe it likely the tide of opinion will swing in Australia because we – not our leaders – are better than that.

http://wbttaus.org

http://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=tl19NhC0d78