Freelance Work: Harajuku Gyoza

At the start of this year I was given the opportunity to work as a freelance social media associate for a local izakaya chain in Brisbane. It was the first time I worked with as a food photographer and videographer, and it was also the first time I worked in a freelance capacity.

To begin with, I had a lot of trouble building confidence. We did not start with any discussion of payment as I was too hesitant to bring it up. Eventually after a pep-talk from one of my good reporter friends, I finally brought up the discussion of payment and they were of course happy to pay me for my work.

My friend brought up a really important point. She mentioned a report she had read that had said that women are much less likely to negotiate pay than men, especially in entry level positions. As a young woman it can be hard to feel that your work is worth being paid for, and that you deserve to be paid for it. Of course an employer will not pay you more than they think you are worth, but we should be able to ask for the pay we know we deserve.

My experience in freelancing here taught me a lot in self-confidence and about building a relationship with your employer of mutual respect.

I also learnt an important lesson about the photography industry: it can, in fact, pay.

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Children in India: Don’t Mistake ‘Duty’ for ‘Religion’

The Sanskrit word for ‘duty’ is mistranslated into the word ‘religion’ in English. Professor Singh has taught Indian literature in translation for eleven years and believes that this mistranslation has changed the way the western world understands India.

Shivani Singh is a full time volunteer for an NGO called Samanpar that works to put children into schools. She says that it is easy to judge the life of a child that we see working when we do not fully understand their duties that give them a place in their communities.

A child stands in the slums of Kathputli Colony.

A child stands in the slums of Kathputli Colony.

Children throw flowers and coloured flour to celebrate the deity Ganesha.

Children throw flowers and coloured flour to celebrate the deity Ganesha.

This 16 year old wife is a mother to two children she looks after.

This 16 year old wife is a mother to two children she looks after.

Children often mind stalls.

Children often mind stalls.

The children are responsible for tasks that are the role of adults in other places in the world.

The children are responsible for tasks that are the role of adults in other places in the world.

It is a common sight to see a young mother and her child in the slums.

It is a common sight to see a young mother and her child in the slums.

A child serves street food to another child in Old Delhi.

A child serves street food to another child in Old Delhi.

Children celebrate the festival of Ganesha with music and colour.

Children celebrate the festival of Ganesha with music and colour.

A young girl follows inquisitively while minding an even younger child.

A young girl follows inquisitively while minding an even younger child.

Even when there are adults around, children are seen taking care of other children.

Even when there are adults around, children are seen taking care of other children.

Children are dressed up by their parents and offered up for photos with tourists. The parents then often ask for money in return.

Children are dressed up by their parents and offered up for photos with tourists. The parents then often ask for money in return.

Vaisha is a teenage mother and looks after a group of children in he area in the slums.

Vaisha is a teenage mother and looks after a group of children in he area in the slums.

A young boy answers the calls to Muslim prayers.

A young boy answers the calls to Muslim prayers.

I first published this story on UQ in India.

Stay Safe Delhi

Last year I was fortunate enough to be awarded the New Colombo Plan Scholarship to train as a foreign correspondent in India with The University of Queensland.

My time in India was too short, filled with adventure, new friends and lessons to be learnt. I had a lot of friends from India throughout my 21 years and thought I had a good understanding of what I might find. A lot of my favourite works of literature were Indian. My favourite food. Many of the girls I traveled with had chosen to investigate some of the more confronting issues of women’s rights and the caste system. Stubbornly, I wanted to use this opportunity to broadcast the beauty of humanity and chose to report of the people  who deal with a growing younger generation by educating slum children in informal systems of education.

I learnt so much. Every person I met was a beacon, and hospitable beyond belief. I spoke to volunteers, women who work as teachers in slums, to the children who had grown up in slums themselves. And I guess one of the reasons these amazing people shown so brightly and meant so much to me was because I was more confronted in India that I had prepared myself for.

I felt unsafe. And that worries me. Having grown up living in countries in South East Asia with a reputation for being unsafe, I didn’t bat an eyelid when I was warned that Delhi was the rape capitol of the world. I thought it was a case of Western Hype, a threat, but one that wouldn’t affect a traveler like me. Delhi was the first place I felt I was wrong. I felt that I needed to be accompanied by a man that I knew before I ventured to far outside. Especially in the area surrounding the Kathputli Colony when a group of about six adult women that we were couldn’t get two young boys to stop touching us inappropriately. These boys couldn’t have been more than 12 and they were aggressive in their assertion of sexual behaviour. At the colony, we were followed by about 30 young men who slinked through buildings and narrow alleyways to be in our sight, always.

I’m trusting to a fault, and stupidly brave most of the time. But the consistent reminders, the signs on train stations saying that most men choose not to go on the ‘women only’ carriage, the husbands who stand gloating over their wife as she files a domestic violence complaint at a women only police station, the concerned look on local residents faces when they realise that we were a group of girls travelling with only one male companion, the need to take private cars on longer trips through the city, meeting several 15 and 16 year old girls and their children, these all gave the journey a dark undercurrent of fear which terrifies me.

Harsheen, a young modern Sikh girl, spoke passionately about how India was going about women’s rights in the wrong way by institutionalizing victim blaming. Females had a curfew at her college: males did not. When a woman is out past 10pm and is raped, the question becomes, “Why was she out past the curfew? She knew this would happen to her!”. She can’t wear shorts in public because women are so scared of showing skin, if one girl in a hundred does, she looks like an invitation.

Emma who wrote a story on a court story told me about a women who was left by er husband with his best friend in a small village. All 60 men in that village were invited to rape her that night, but her case was being thrown away because she couldn’t recall the exact order in which these men had violated her.

I wanted so badly to have all of the things I had heard about women and India proven wrong. I chose not to publish these stories except by word of mouth to the people close to me who asked. The women I met in Delhi were a force of nature, battling a violence they shouldn’t have ever needed to endure.

But these women are bright eyed and see a Delhi I couldn’t see in my short time there. There is beauty to the chaos, but there is also a darkness which scared me.

That is not to say I did not have an amazing and inspirational time. Sometimes though, you have to learn a lesson you were hoping you’d never have to.

 

An Animal Kingdom

Despite being lucky enough to live on an island continent that is home to countless unique animals, it is not often that I have taken some time to go and seriously enjoy Australian wonders.

 

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Jacarandas blooms in the Australian spring. It’s techni-colour brightness almost stings your eyes and it stains the streets of Brisbane.  

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Emus are basically Australian dinosaurs. 

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Kangaroos have very delicate paws. 

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This adolescent kangaroo used it’s paws as a pillow to take a nap.  

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Emus can sit. 

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Further confirmation that Emus are dinosaurs. 

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Emus have soft feathers, almost like hair. 

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Kangaroos have on big toe. 

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These little dragons are found all through South East Queensland. 

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The most solemn looking kookaburra in the land. 

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A rainbow lorikeet waits for a feed.  

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This croc is not waiting for a feed. In the cooler months of the year, crocs don’t have to eat every day.  They can get sick if their metabolism doesn’t digest food quickly enough.  

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This cheeky kangaroo is poking it’s tongue out. 

India: Where Kids Rule the Land

As many developed countries face the crisis of an aging population, they can only dream of a state where half the population is under the age of 25.
This is not a dream for India. It is a reality. By the year 2020, India will be the youngest country in the world. Every hour 3,800 babies are born. Last year alone, 150 million young people between the ages of 18 and 23 became qualified to vote for the first time.
Though some, like Denmark and Japan, might cast sidelong looks at this emerging middle power with envy, this burst of youthful energy does not come without its complications.

Every year there are more children needing enrolment into formal education systems for whom there are simply no space. Though Modi’s government understands the fundamental need for the education for their youth, there has not been sufficient progress to match the rapid increase in the sheer number of children birthed into the nation.

“The number of children to be educated is too much and the infrastructure is not coping with it. We have just realised that the number of youngsters are more and so we need more education and more institutes. We need more of the primary sector, we need more of the higher education sector. The government is working towards it but it is a slow process,” says Shivani Singh, a full-time volunteer for Samarpan Foundation. “The population explosion has happened suddenly but the infrastructure has not risen to that level.”

Sunita and Bharti are teachers at a Samanpar Foundation school in the slums of Delhi.

Sunita and Bharti are teachers at a Samanpar Foundation school in the slums of Delhi.

Indeed the logistics of the education system only represents a margin of the issue. For families living in poverty, children play an important part in their communities. Often older children are the caretakers of the younger siblings, or even the main provider for the family. Education which in itself is not an income does not feed hungry mouths and therefore sometimes cannot be the priority.

Children in work is not an uncommon sight in Delhi.

Children in work is not an uncommon sight in Delhi.

“’Dharma’ is relatively translated [to English] as ‘duty’. But dharma is not duty only because duty is what you are forced to do. It is not that. It is something that you do on your own. Something that is coming from yourself,” Professor Shashi Shekhar Singh explains why there is a cultural difference between a western understanding of children in the work place and as it is seen in India. As a lecturer of Indian literature in translation at Amity University he asked me to understand how some of the fundamental elements that make up Indian culture have been misinterpreted by the rest of the world.

The more time I spent in Delhi I started to feel like I was starting to understand. What might seem like exploitative underage labour to us coming from a western culture was something children seemed to do without question or objection. There are children in the markets working as vendors, or stringing together flowers to be put at the feet of Hindi gods, or some with an even smaller child strapped to their backs.

A child serves street food to another child in Old Delhi.

A child serves street food to another child in Old Delhi.

Even when there are adults around, children are seen taking care of other children.

Even when there are adults around, children are seen taking care of other children.

Walking through the slums of Kathputli, I was swept through the narrow alleyways in a stream of excited children.
“Hello!” The smiling brave little people yelled as they stuck out their hands to touch mine. Some more shy of company put their hands together in a gesture to say Namaste.

The slum children of Kathputli crowd around to say hello.

The slum children of Kathputli crowd around to say hello.

The Kathputli Colony is the largest slum area in Delhi and is home to 40 000 people living in abject poverty. There are only four toilets to share amongst these 40 000. Stephen Dziedzic of the Australian High Commission to India informed me that most of these people living in slums were not in fact from Delhi but had travelled from rural places, particularly from West Bengal or Rajasthan in search of a better life in the city.

Slums like Kathputli have their own functioning form of an economy in which children play a vital role. Some children work alongside their families in a trade of performance. Kathputli is sometimes called the puppeteers colony, but living in these slums are also monkey charmers, magicians, dancers and the younger generations that are taking on these trades.

Children exhibit their skills with instruments and song.

Children exhibit their skills with instruments and song.

For the children born and living in these slums, this culture runs as deep into their roots as their poverty. Introducing education is a difficult mission but these local NGOs work at a grassroots level to address the deeper issues that continue to fertilize the cycle of poverty.

NGOs have a vital role in this environment as they have the resources and flexibility that allow them to work within slum environments and use a bottom-up approach to educating children and eradicating poverty. PETE India is one such organisation alongside Samanpar Foundation and others that have set up schools in slum areas to educate children.

“We teach the children here literacy and numeracy and also have vocational training,” says Lexmi who walked us through the Kathpulti slums. The school was a concrete building, as brightly painted and crumbling as all the surrounding buildings. It was distinguishable only by a sign and the young girls in bright saris spilling through a crevice in the wall which was also the door.

“She is fourteen and she is a mastering henna,” Lexmi pointed to the bright orange marks that stained decorated the hand of a young girl.

Girls and women use their skills in Henna to trade.

Girls and women use their skills in Henna to trade.

The work of these NGOs are becoming increasingly invaluable as the number of children for whom there is no space in government provided education also increase. That is not to say the government does not still play a vital role.

“The change is slow. It’s bits and pieces here and there, but it’s happening,” says Shivani Singh. “You see that thirst for education, once they get a taste of it they really want to do well.”

There is a bright and curious nature in children that deserves to be nurtured. Though India is struggling to keep its head above water in a sea of bright new faces they are not without support.

“If there is work to be done, we just do it. That’s the philosophy of our foundation,” the young volunteer Shivani says with a smile, “If there is work to be done you just do it, and there is so much to be done in so many sectors.”

First Published by me on: https://uqinindia.wordpress.com/2015/10/14/india-where-kids-rule-the-land/

Springbrook Adventure

Deep down south there is magical land and in that magical land is a town called Springbrook.
By “down south” I do mean a two hour drive from Brisbane. And by a “magical land” I refer, of course, to the Gold Coast Hinterlands.

We trespassed upon this land and made it home for a couple of nights. Our friends called it a “couples retreat” to which we snarled back that it was not. Absolutely not.

But it was. It really really was.

We stayed in Riverstone Cottage which had a fairy tale garden.
Every morning we breakfasted among the flowers, and to the buzzing of bees.

And as we delved deeper into the forest, we fell deeper in love.

We could always hear the falls long before we could feel the air thicken with droplets of water.

It was the small details that really fascinated me.

But then the magnificence of everything the forest had to offer was breathtaking as well.

We’ll escape the city to visit again soon.

Gender X: Hormone Access at the Doctor’s Discretion

The queer community are no strangers to hormones.

Hormones have been used by those who do not feel comfortable in the body they are in, or experiencing gender dysphoria. We have become used to the idea that hormones are being used to increase or decrease the appearance of secondary sex characteristics in such people who are transgender.

In recently years, especially in urban areas, hormone treatment has become more accessible with clinics specialising in gender.

For those who identify as gender neutral, however, the process of gaining access to hormones can be more difficult.

When Wren decided to start taking hormones, they thought about it for several months while dressing more femme and asking for the ‘they’ pronoun to be used when spoken about. When they then consulted a GP, they were referred to a psychiatrist. They discussed their desire for hormones with the psychiatrist and were recommended to start taking hormones. After several blood tests to ensure Wren was healthy, they were given access to hormones.

Though Wren identifies as agender, at the doctors they suggested more that they were ‘a girl’.

“Some doctors aren’t too receptive towards non-binary people,” said Wren. “I didn’t want to take the chance.”

Miranda Sparks, Queensland activist for queer rights, also voiced her concern over the gatekeeping that can happen when non-binary people feel that they need hormones.

“I have heard of a lot of cases where peoples – non-binary people – have felt that they have to pretend to be one way or another.”

Those identifying as gender neutral, however, are not the only ones to have trouble with gaining access to hormones. Even those who identify as a gender identity not aligned with the sex they were born with can face difficulties with the expectations of what a ‘trans’ person should be.

“I heard of a case that happened to a friend of mine who was refused hormones because she was wearing jeans to her psychiatrist appointment,” says Miranda, “and apparently she didn’t identify as a women enough for them. Because women don’t wear jeans, apparently. Tell Levi’s!”

Ultimately, access to hormones becomes an issue that of the doctors discretion. For a community that experience social anxiety at seven times the rate of that of the rest of the population, the added fear that even those in roles designed to help them might be the gatekeepers that keep them from getting what they need is a concern.

Read more about Gender X:
Hormone Access at the Doctor’s Discretion
The Reality of Changing Gender Identification in Australia
Beyond Gender X: Third Gender Around the World
Interview with Miranda Sparks
Photostory: A Day in the Life
Interview with Wren and Charlie 

Gender X: The Reality of Changing Identificationin Australia

The fight for recognition of non-binary gender identities in Australia has not been easy.

In 2009 Centrelink recognised same-sex couples for the first time and in 2013, a non-binary gender option.

A further victory for the queer community came in April 2014 when the option for gender X, the alternative to M, male, and F, female, was passed by the High Supreme Court as a recognition of the non-binary third gender identity on passports and official documentation for those of “indeterminate, intersex, or unspecified”.

Miranda Sparks, a Queensland advocate for queer rights, is hesitant to give this move too much praise. Though she acknowledges the step forward in the right direction with the introduction of Gender X, she’d like to see Australia, “even widen the range of those [gender identities].”

Anti-discrimination legislation of 1991 in Australia makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone because of their gender identity. However, this does not into account the discriminatory nature of rights that are systematically withheld from individuals because of their gender identity.

Miranda Sparks is one person would look favourably on changing the nature of forms in Australia all together.

“I think that gender, as a requirement on forms and on identification, should just be abolished completely.”

In fact, forms have been were the introduction of gender x has met some of its greatest challenges. By April 2015, all government agencies recognising gender x were supposed to have introduced enabling measures into their systems, ensuring that the correct paperwork and forms have the option, including passports. However, an attempt to fill out these forms indicates that this has not happened.

Wren and Charlie, an agender couple living in the Brisbane area are concerned over the lack of legislation protecting those with non-binary identities. They rely on a presentation by Evie Ryder called ‘Bits of Paper’ for information regarding the process of identification changes. This document is about 200 pages long.

The United Kingdom has also recently joined Australia in their recognition of a non-binary gender identity, introducing Mx as a title alternative to Mr and Ms.

Read more about Gender X:
Hormone Access at the Doctor’s Discretion
The Reality of Changing Gender Identification in Australia
Beyond Gender X: Third Gender Around the World
Interview with Miranda Sparks
Photostory: A Day in the Life
Interview with Wren and Charlie