Friday, 21 August 2015
Recent events have reminded me of what it means to be among the privileged people in our world and to be thankful for being born among the ‘haves’ rather than the ‘have-nots’.
There are many ways privilege can be measured, and too often we measure ourselves by what we don’t have, rather than what we do. There will always be someone else with more. When I look at what I do have, I am among the richest and most privileged people not just now, but through all of history. The medieval kings and queens who make for fun fairy tales were not as rich as I.
That which makes me privileged includes:
Health and access to healthcare. It is easy to take health for granted, until you or someone you know is dealing with illness. That I have been healthy most of my life is a blessing. That when I became ill recently (not seriously, but enough to interfere with life) I had access to doctors and medicine was a privilege. In PNG, not everyone has that, at least not without a long journey. Even at the end of the journey to a hospital, there is no guarantee that the staff, equipment or medications will be available to help. When the locals doctors decided I needed to follow things up with specialists, I was able to fly back to Australia and see specialists there. The privilege of having the funding, insurance and passport to be able to do that makes me one of a very small number in this country. Once in Australia I chose to spend money rather than time and go through the private system to get answers sooner. That I had the funds to do this is a privilege. Even if I had not, the public system in Australia gives high quality health care to those in need, it just might take a while to get to the head of the line if your condition is not critical. We are privileged to have access to such care, access that does not require going into debt.
Education and Literacy. I sit here at my computer, typing my thoughts so that I can put them on the internet and share them with the world. In a box at my parents’ house I have enough university degrees to allow me to put more letters after my name than I have in it. I have been taught critical thinking and I can engage with the world. These are the big things of literacy and education, but the fact I can read the instructions on the medications from the doctors and ask questions about what they’ve said, are the important everyday applications. So many cannot do this. They have not had enough education to read meaningfully, or even at all, and have not been taught to challenge authority and take control of their own bodies and their own lives. That I can read fluently and think critically makes me privileged. That I can do this as a woman makes me even more privileged.
Safety and Freedom. People always ask me about my safety in PNG. I am safe here, I am careful about my safety, and I am not afraid. Maybe I do not walk about at night on my own or head to local villages on my own, but these are small and manageable things. I can sleep at night without wondering if a war will land a bomb-shell on my house. I don’t worry about drug cartels or gangs, as people do in other places. I can publicly express my faith without fear of persecution. Although my clothing is less revealing than standard Australian wardrobes, there are no laws or religious police who will beat me for choosing to dress otherwise. When others are willing to lose everything, including their lives, for a chance at the level of freedom I live with, I am reminded how privileged I am to live with such safety and freedom.
There is also the security that my faith gives me. I believe that I am a beloved child of God, of intrinsic worth to the Creator of everything. I have stood on the deck of a ship at night, out of sight of land, with an infinity of stars above me and mysterious kilometres of ocean beneath me and known in my deepest being that I am known and loved. I am not a speck lost in an infinite universe. Although I have my ups and downs, I have a hope and joy in life and do not fear death. Dying sounds a bit scary, but death itself does not scare me. This security in life and death is not something everyone knows.
Food, water, shelter. Maybe these things should have come first! At the moment El Nino is causing a drought in PNG. Further up in the Highlands than my base it has also caused frost. When frost kills the gardens of subsistence farmers, they go hungry. When the water in the creeks goes down and becomes dirtier, people still need to drink. That I have a house with warm blankets to sleep under at night, half a tank of rainwater (I’m from Adelaide, I’m practiced at water conservation!) and food in the cupboard, with funds to buy more when needed makes me a privileged person. Not only do I have food to survive on, but food to enjoy, which makes me rich indeed. I do not always appreciate these everyday things as I should.
Community. Although I am single and live alone, I am not really alone. I am part of a network of communities and belonging; here in Ukarumpa, in Gulf Province, in Australia and with friends scattered across the world. I have my moments of loneliness, but the reality is that I have good and loving relationships with many people near and far. Such belonging should not be taken for granted. Many are alone, not knowing their neighbours, having no one to call on, cut off from their families. When I was stressed recently, I had many friends to call on, friends who would rearrange their plans to make time for me when I needed them. I am honoured to call these people my friends and family. It is a privilege I am aware others lack, and that prompts me to reach out to those who are less networked than I.
Meaningful work. This may seem an odd addition to the list, but having recently had a few weeks sick leave, returning to work has reminded me that I enjoy what I do and that this is a privilege. So many just struggle to make ends meet. To not only have regular income, but to be doing something I am skilled at and passionate about it a privilege indeed.
Have-nots. Reflecting on what I don’t have is important in recognising what I do have in two ways. The first is to help me see what I do have, and the other is to help me appreciate what others have. This second path reminds me that privilege takes many shapes and that I should never expect people to be thankful for the exact same things as me. One thing I do not have, which others do, is land. I say this as a reminder of the privilege that the majority of PNGns have in secure access to their land. Although I have much that they don’t have, their life has other good things.
Sailing in Cairns… Yachts are often depicted as the ultimate expression of privilege. My afternoon of sailing expressed my privilege in that I was healthy enough to go, could read the information to find out how to join in, had the funds to pay for it and as a woman could safely decide to do this if I wanted to. Yep, I’m privileged!