27 September 2017

Vegetables and War Zones

If you asked me last month about soil salinity in Afghanistan I would have been able to tell you nothing. I probably would have thought to myself, I kind of think that soil salinity in Afghanistan is the least of their troubles.


To which I would primly point out to you that I talk about everything from housework to human rights and SURELY THAT COVERS SOIL SCIENCE?

That aside, it turns out that soil salinity is a fairly critical issue for Afghanistan and other 'critical states'.  'Critical states' refers to the places we here generally think of as 'countries which have had the bejeezus bombed out of them and the infrastructure destroyed for reasons we're not very sure about but seem to result in lots of people killed, injured or misplaced'.
After the largest non-nuclear bombing ever happens, not much is left
Source: Reuters
For a country that has around 75% of the population dependent on agriculture, where it snows in winter and bakes in summer, where the woodlands/trees/forests have been depleted due to conflict, construction and the need for fuel, the salinity of the soil is a massive deal. It affects the ability to grow anything, like you know - food, which affects both the health of individuals and the economy. It affects the quality of the water, which of course affects hygiene. And of course hygiene, affects health, which affects.... oh you get me.  Being able to grow stuff is pretty important so if the soil is all wrong (a genuine scientific evaluation) everybody is screwed.

Add into that mix Afghanistan still suffering more than it's fair share of conflict and internal instability, it almost seems like it's all too hard. I'm a bleeding heart lefty remember and even just listening to it I felt overwhelmed by the impossibility of the task. I mean - gardening and guns - I am not great with either if I'm honest.

But it turns out that people like Brian Hilton from World Vision, the government and a bunch of other NFPs are more comfortable with gardening and guns than I am, and have wandered about Afghanistan chatting to the locals and worked out that overall they'd rather NOT be growing poppies even though the buggers grow everywhere, because poppies mean opium and opium means addiction, fighting and the average Afghani is pretty much over fighting about anything.  So, they've worked out they can grow winter wheat, saffron and pistachios and get it all moving again.
Khatai cookies - Afghan cookies with cardamom and pistachio (vegan)
You're very welcome for the #foodinspo
Now obviously I've massively oversimplified lots of really involved science, politicking, negotiating and so on, but if you had ever told me that getting Afghanistan back on its feet might be as simple as nuts, I would have told you you were, ummmmm, nuts.

Oh c'mon. You would have made the same joke.

But it goes to show how much we know over here in our little corner of the planet. And this is what is fascinating to me about the work World Vision does - they don't just say "I think they need", or "I believe they need", or "They bloody well need", they go and ASK THE PEOPLE WOT LIVE THERE LIKE.

Or to be fair, they send people like Dr Brian into the field with his American accent, his crutches, more than a touch of knowledge about 'stuff' and a couple of translators/bodyguards to help with the asking and then they all sort it out. But then, you get the opportunity to listen to him talk and you find that you are actually massively intrigued by what is involved in the reforestation of Afghanistan and what that means for the people.  I mean this is the same man that got me fascinated in the biodiversification of sweet potatoes in Burundi last year and what that means in regards to the elimination of blindness. I mean sweet motherless child of Colin, I'm not even sure I could have placed Burundi on a map before he spoke but all of a sudden I was loving Burundi innovation as if I'd discovered it myself! (Could I be any more of a white cliche?)

Anyway, as you know a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous things and before you knew it I had fallen down the 3am rabbit hole on more than one sleepless night, reading about the role of vegetables in getting countries back on their feet after years of extensive conflict. In short, people are feckin' amazing and vegetables are so much more than your ability to see in the dark.

I've been thinking a lot about what Australians' don't know about 'critical zones'. And I know that when people say 'go back to where you come from' they're being more than a little bit racist, but it also shows how much we don't know collectively. I mean it would be great to send all the refugees in our detention centres back home wouldn't it? I mean most of the fighting is finished, so like just get back to it. Start living your lives again.

Except that there are no trees in public parks for kids to fall out of so they can sue the government so there are no jobs for lawyers, there are not hospitals for doctors to doctor in, no food for grocers to sell, the schools are bombed out so teachers have no resources, the power is still disconnected so there is no need for electricians to link up to Foxtel. These countries literally have to start at the very beginning, and that's sorting out the soil, and the drinking water and growing nuts.
source: World Vision Images
And what can we do? We can dust off our compassion, be kind to each other and share our pistachios. We can't solve all the problems of the world at once, but we can do a lot by doing a little to make our little corner of the world a much less hateful place.

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15 September 2017

I am. You should.

The first friends to hold our second child were Brad and James.  They popped in after work in their checked shirts to congratulate us and deny that they could see any resemblance between her and 'Flacco', which was kind but clearly untrue.

Flacco and Cass
Brad and James have always been the kind of couple that we should all view as an excellent example of 'synergy'. One of them loves to cook, the other one can't cook. One drives, the other doesn't. One talks, the other doesn't. One's got your typical go-to country family, the other has a family that has nothing typical about it.  One is pragmatic, the other dramatic. One buys a checked shirt, the other wears it. And vice versa.

In fact, the only odd thing about this couple is their commitment to checked shirts. I'm not sure it's natural in people so young. Who don't live in the country and milk cows for a living. But I digress. 

We went to Hobart in 2015 with the girls to take part in Brad and James' four day wedding love fest. It basically ruined the girls for life because now whenever we attend a wedding that doesn't have a bagpiper and band to walk us from the ceremony to the reception they feel a little bit ripped off. They know what love looks like.... it kind of looks like Brad and James BUT WITH LOTS OF DRUMS.  I get it, I feel a little disappointed I didn't have drums at my own wedding in hindsight.

We've celebrated a number of New Years with Brad and James, had them to our place for dinner, gone to their place for dinner (a much better option if you've ever get the choice), had them mind our children while we've gone on date nights, called them for advice, offered advice, given support, received support, made bad jokes, chatted on the phone, hung out. You know, like friends do. 

Today we received a letter from them that made my heart hurt and my eyes cry. 

The letter said -

"Dear Nick and Alison,
Last week the High Court of Australia took the decision that the marriage equality postal survey will go ahead. As two people involved in politics in this country we were disappointed with the outcome because in Australia our laws are made in Parliament and if offends our sense of social justice that the rights of any minority are subject to a different process before they can even be considered in that place. This is nothing but a costly and harmful delaying tactic engineered by the opponents of equality. Rights delayed are rights denied.
Since the announcement of the survey our first priority has been to help our friends, family and colleagues support each other through this tough time, particularly our younger friends for whom the struggle for equality and dignity is just beginning.
We are now focussed on 'winning' the survey and so have chosen to ask for your help by the same means that the survey will take place - by way of the post.
Here is how you can help us to achieve equality for all LGBTI Australians:
1. Complete your survey
This survey is optional and based on similar postal ballots we understand that only about 65% of survey forms will be returned. This makes every survey important.
We are heartened that a majority of Australians support equality but if those people support us do not return their form, than the ballot may be lost.  As soon as your survey comes in you should fill it in and post it straight back.   
2. Tell your family and friends that you have voted Yes
Take a photo or video of you completing your survey (or putting it in the post box) and post it to social media. Ask your friends to do the same. 
3. Talk to people about what marriage means to you
We've been in a loving relationship for nearly a decade. We have built a house, grow herbs on the balcony (with mixed results), share dinner with friends over at the weekend and sometimes disagree about what we are going to watch on Netflix. 
On 22 August 2015, we hosted a four day celebration of our love in Tasmania, but it was not a legal wedding. Our relationship doesn't have the same standing in society as others in our family and a patchwork of legislation means our legal status as a couple is not guaranteed. 
If you feel you can't share your own store of love or a story of how this will affect your family we would be honoured if you shared ours.  We believe that the only way we can win this fight is with love and we have plenty to spare. 
All committed love between two consenting adults is equal. All families are equal. We should all be recognised under the law with equality.  If a Yes vote is returned than nobody is going to be any less married and nobody is going to be any more gay.  Love will win the day. 
Yours in equality
Brad and James"
Now the question you might be asking me is why such a beautifully articulated letter made me cry?

To recap:Our friends just wrote to us to ask us for our support 
in helping them to achieve the same human rights as we have. 

My friends felt the need to write to us, and all their other friends and family, to ask for our support in having their own country recognise their shared humanity.  

They were asking for help, to have themselves recognised as equal, as worthy, as relevant as us.

What a fucking disaster Australia has created. 

We have put faith before humanity. We have put politics before humanity. We have put our family and friends on the firing line and asked them to play Russian roulette with the rights that  we WROTE AND ENSHRINED in the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights on10 December 1948.

In fact -

The first two articles state:
Article 1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. 
Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Australia’s Involvement in the United Nations Charter
Australia was one of the 51 founding members of the United Nations (UN) and our involvement in the development of the international human rights system dates from this time. We played a central role in the negotiations on the UN’s charter in 1945 to ensure that respect for human rights was placed alongside peace, security and development as the primary objectives of the United Nations. 

Australia’s Involvement in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Australia was also a founding member of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which is the main international forum for the promotion and protection of human rights. The Commission, with Australia as one of its 8 members, drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration was presented to the UN General Assembly and adopted on the 10th of December 1948. In the chair as President of the UN General Assembly was an Australian, Dr. H V Evatt, one of the architects of the Declaration and the chief Australian delegate to the UN.
So yes, I do find it heartbreaking that my friends are being put through this absolute farce of a vote. And yet the only thing I can do about it now that it is in play is to make sure that I vote, and that you vote, and that you understand it's not about you and what you believe. 


History has proven that time and time again - Cambodia, Rwanda, Ukraine, Zunghar, Armenia, Libya, Burundi, Iraq, Croatia, Bosnia, the Holocaust.... and um.... our First Australians. 

I get that Australia has a track record of voting on people's human rights. Hello 1967's referendum. But that was fifty years ago. Surely we've learned something in that time, even if our our politicians haven't. 

I don't want any of my friends EVER to have to ask me again for my help in having them recognised as being equal to me. I NEVER want to be in a situation where people can be so hurtful and unkind to people they haven't met. I NEVER want to have to look at any of my gay or queer friends or their children and say "I AM SORRY WE FUCKED THAT UP."

All I want is human rights for all humans.  The humans I know and love. And the humans I don't know and never will. Even the humans I know and don't like. 


So please, for Brad and James and their families, friends and future checked-shirted offspring, and at least forty other people I know personally and their children, and for all the people whose sexuality makes no difference whatsoever to you - vote YES. 

I am.

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