I’m Not Racist But…

F**k Off, We’re Full announced the windshield sticker on a Perth hatchback. In the 14 years since first visiting the land Down Under, an insidious undercurrent of fear has taken a firm hold on the national psyche. Not the increase in skin cancer or shark fatalities, but the fear of a Chinese take over. In the late 70s as the government opened its borders to refugees, it allowed thousands of war-torn Vietnamese to flee Russian communism and start anew. The typical Aussie was far from welcoming. Clearly things haven’t changed much in some parts!

A fear of foreign invasion was born years ago. Russia threatened to rob Australia of its prolific mineral reserves back in the mid 1800s and the seed was planted. Even the mysterious drowning death of prime minister, Harold Holt back in 1967 has conspiracy theorists pointing at Russian involvement.

Fact or fallacy, fear-mongering shares a popularity similar to sport in this sun-blessed land. Imagine! Almost daily, politicians exploit the public fear of foreign takeover and job losses to grab the attention of a nation.
It works. In 2001, when John Howard ordered the turnaround of a boat load of refugees during an election campaign, it ignited the voters and sealed his victory.

I recall a similar fear infiltrating my home town of Leicester back in the 70’s as an influx of Indians and Pakistanis descended on our city. Silent prejudice brewed in ‘white’ homes, mine amoungst them. Tempers flared on buses. ‘Coloured’ kids left abandoned on playgrounds. An us and them mentality arose from our threatened status quo and rampant belief in British superiority.

Like Canada this is a nation born from immigrants. Unlike Canada it’s still kicking and screaming in protest. I reckon the die-hard Aussies won’t go down without a fight. The iconic image of the blond-haired, surf-crazy, politically incorrect, beer swillin’ nation is hard to break. After all, this is the Australia we have come to know and love around the world.

But everything changes. With death and taxes it’s one of the few certainties in life. Guess it depends how long and how tightly we hold on, and to recognize if and how the fear of change plays out in our own lives. That’s surely worth an evening of contemplation.

 

Stealing India

Rx:

Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat as necessary for optimal results. The unbidden prescription that launches and sustains life. 
An adequate supply of oxygen and clean air is medicine we rarely question in our Western world. Inhaling the good stuff in the pristine wilderness of BC, it’s easy to grow complacent. Until India.

 


With a population of 17 million, Delhi boasts the unenviable reputation of world’s most polluted city, the label once allotted to Mexico City. The smog, an acrid layer of airborne sludge, blankets the city for miles. Amazing to consider its choice for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Hardly conducive to record setting.

Everything about India steals the breath. Billowing black clouds of diesel fumes blast the faces of road occupants and side liners. None are exempt. Rickshaw riders, drivers and pedestrians consume gob loads of the stuff. 

Aging men squat silently along garbage strewn pavements, immune to the lung-junk settling deep inside. Scooters heralding entire families maneuver skillfully, wedged within the throngs, careful not to dislodge the babe held perilously in a mother’s arms, sidesaddle at the rear. No helmets. An early initiation into India’s city life.

Open drains, simmering pots of pungent spices, giant woks of burning oil and masala chai add to the olfactory chaos.

Road side stalls retail the gamut of daily wares. Shampoo to shock absorbers. Each laden with a gritty coating of dust and grime, ready to eat, wear, or take home to loved ones. 

And the NOISE!. The incessant din requires a desensitization that the locals have in spades. A cacophony of horns snatch the breath in alarm, again and again and again. Bells, beeps, buzzers, blasts…

On Your Left  – On Your Right  – Coming Through – Let Me In – I’m Right Behind You. 

Amazingly it works. There are few accidents and an absence of road rage amidst the seeming chaos. A language unto itself. 

In the hierarchy of pedestrian, bike, rickshaw, scooter, car, bus and truck, the revered cow, however, tops the lot. Even the busiest of intersections scream to a halt when the holy cow chooses to cross. Hinduism in action.

It’s all traffic and people and animals. Too much and too many. Like the tangled overhead wires, the scene below depicts a congestion that has to be seen to be believed.  

Heading back to the airport the warm toxic acidic fog burns the back of my throat setting off a crazed coughing fit. My eyes and nose stream helplessly in violent protest. The driver can’t get me out of this place fast enough. I press a scarf tightly to my face and pray the carcinogenic crap won’t reach my lungs.  

The following day, stepping down onto Tasmanian soil, I find myself snatching long, cool inhalations. Desperate to breathe again, blessed to have a choice.