A journey into openness and honesty… Distilling truths about ourselves, others and life from shared experiences… Learning to live consistently with that truth… Becoming free to be who we truly are…

A single candle

There is something primal about a candle burning in the dark. The warmth and light provided by fire since the early dawn of mankind is captured in one small flame.

A candle offers security and comfort. Just one flame keeps the darkness at bay, along with all that is hidden by it.

A candle allows us to see. We can safely navigate a path through the dark, avoiding obstacles and holes that would otherwise cause us to stumble and fall.

A candle deepens our connection with others. It reveals only those nearby and focuses our attention on them. Seeing those we love in the soft, gentle light enhances the intimacy we experience together.

A candle touches our spirit with a profound juxtaposition. The tiny flame is so fragile it can be extinguished with a single breath, and yet, if set free, it has the power to become a raging fire. Holding that power captive in a single flame allows us to master one of the most powerful forces on earth. But still it commands our awe and respect… allow it to escape and it will pay us no heed as it sets our world on fire.

Exploring mindfulness

Over recent months I’ve been doing daily mindfulness exercises using a mobile phone app called Headspace.  Fifteen minutes a day has already proved its worth many times over. Becoming aware of my thoughts and feelings moment by moment is enabling me to understand and manage my thinking and decisions in a way I’ve never been able to before.

Instead of automatically reacting to situations, being aware of what I’m thinking and feeling at that time allows me to choose how I respond. Instead of being controlled by negative feelings such as anxiety, frustration, anger and depression, I am better able to acknowledge they are there, accept them, and make life-giving choices in the face of them.

I’m becoming more aware of what is happening in conversations with others… What is the other person really saying? Why are they saying it? How are they feeling? Instead of being absorbed by the impulse to ‘have my say’ and respond with my opinions, experiences and solutions, I can listen more intently and focus on understanding them. It is usually better to say less and listen more, in order to be more empathetic and  contribute more value when I do speak.

The mindfulness app began with a 30 day introductory pack called Foundations. You can then choose from a range of topic specific packs. So far I’ve worked through Anxiety, Acceptance, Sleep packs. Along with the mindfulness exercises each pack provides simple tips and techniques for getting the most out of the topic.

There is much more to mindfulness to than this but let’s get back to the candle…

My bedtime candle

One of the tips suggested in the Sleep pack was to set in place simple habits that tell your brain it’s soon time to sleep. These habits help your body and mind to begin relaxing even before you get into bed.

I now have a bedtime candle…

2017-03-24 Bedtime candle 1

My candle is mounted in a beautiful old brass candle holder… the classic design that allows you to safely carry a lighted candle from room to room. Each night after I’ve cleaned my teeth, taken my tablets and been to the bathroom, I light the candle in the kitchen and carry it to my bedroom, turning off the lights as I go. Placing the candle in front of the mirror on my chest of drawers fills the room with a beautiful, soft light. I change into my pajamas by candlelight, get into bed and blow out the tiny flame as my last act of the day.

It’s such a simple habit, but it is beautiful and profound at the same time. I guess this is how (healthy) rituals develop… simple acts that take on a much deeper meaning beyond the acts themselves. A pre-sleep habit encourages our minds to let go of the busyness of the day, and prepares our bodies to release all the physical tension that builds during the day.

Much more than a candle

One night when I put the candle on the dressing table I was fascinated by the reflections in the mirror and the way the light fell on some special items I keep on my dressing table.

The ‘Willow Tree’ Grandfather and Grandson statuette caught my eye. The soft light and shadows added a new dimension of beauty to an ornament that captures the precious relationship between myself and my 4 year old grandson Flynn.

I then noticed how the candle lit up a collection of three dice I have created over the years out of redgum, softwood and talc stone. Creativity is a gift that I value greatly. To be able to bring ideas to life using my own hands gives me a great deal of fulfilment. My writing and photography are other aspects of this gift. Each time I build, write or capture a ‘Wow!’ image, I feel like I have been given a gift to both enjoy myself and share with others.

My childhood teddy is very dear to me… as a very young boy I loved my teddy very much and cuddled it every night. But even more important is that provides a direct link to my Mum, who died unexpectedly when I was only 8 years old. I remember sitting next to her in the back seat of my Uncle’s car on a long holiday trip. Mum was knitting the jacket my teddy still wears to this day. This jacket captures the fact that my mother, whose severe illness left her unable to care for me for much of my early life, did in fact love me deeply, rather than being a woman who abandoned me during those critical years.

A new light in my life

I find it amazing that a single candle has brought to life so much more than I initially expected or hoped for!  Not only does it help my mind and body settle for sleep at night. It highlights the precious gift of creativity which inspires, fulfils and humbles me. It reinforces the connection I feel with my beautiful grandson. And it allows me to see that the mother who had no control over leaving me at such a young age was not only my mother but my loving Mum.

ian-dingo

Ian James
29/03/2017

The meaning of Trees

Nature has a dimension that extends beyond what we see with our eyes.
If we take the time out of our endlessly busy lives
to quietly be in her midst, she sometimes reveals her secrets… deep truths about ourselves, humanity and the universe…

Too great an expanse, the daytime sky,
Too majestic, the heavens at night,
For ancient trees to support the veil above forever.

One by one they grow,
Each tiny seedling stretching for the sun.
Lifetimes pass before the giant,
Beautiful, tall and strong,
Reaches the sky and takes its turn to hold it in place,

Immortal their stand appears to be,
But age and decay overtake them all,
In violent storms, or stillness,
One by one they fall.

But others take their load,
And none stood there in vain.
They held the skies,
While the Earth flourished below,
And their young grew around their feet.

Who are we, but trees?
Always reaching for the stars.
The full expanse of love and life,
Ever just beyond our grasp.

We hold humanity’s standard high,
Through Ages dark and bright.
Weaving a tapestry from life’s myriad strands,
As we struggle towards the Light.

But like trees we’re not immortal,
Age and decay overtake us all.
In life’s violent storms, or stillness,
One by one we fall.

But others then take up our load,
Our lives are not in vain.
We hold the skies,
While the World toils and plays below,
And our young grow around our feet.

 

ian-dingo

 

Ian James
22/03/2017

 

 

 

The skill in listening is not only in hearing what the other person says, but hearing what they don’t.

Often what is absent from a person’s conversation reveals far more than what they say.

An example… A person who often speaks about their husband/wife/partner in glowing terms conveys the impression of a deep, fulfilling and happy relationship. If in all this they never mention the word ‘love’ therein can lay a very different story.

 “He who has ears to hear, let him hear…”

The skill in writing is as much in what you don’t say, as in what you do.

If the reader has to think and fill in the gaps, they may gain meaning and inspiration far beyond even what you intended. They are much more likely to remember and be impacted by insights they worked out for themselves.

 Write what is essential; delete the good, keep only the best.
Spoon-feeding produces children not adults. 

ian-dingo

Ian James
08/03/2017

The Threshold

A dream, a hope, a belief I hold close…

I’m standing on the threshold of this life, and what comes next,
That liminal space between what was, and what is to come,
The doorway, the veil, the light, or the darkness,
Even a precipice holds no fear.
Just one more step
Shall I fall, or float, or soar?
Or find new unseen ground beneath my feet?
It matters not
Death is no more the end of life than it is the beginning
The end of one tired journey, time to start anew.

And if this belief fails me
For no-one can know for sure
If death is truly The End of this “i am”
I will have lost all, and nothing
As “i am” will not be there to say “i was”, and grieve

But to me this makes no sense
So without shame I hold this hope
The essence of “i am” will continue on

Sunrise will follow sunset
(If indeed there is still a Sun)
A new realm beyond comprehension
That earthly words, and dreams, even imaginings, cannot grasp

What will I perceive in this new paradigm?
And how?
Will I see, hear, touch? Will I think and feel?
Or will my senses and mind be so transformed
That perceiving and being are completely new?

I wonder now how I will wonder then.

And far more crucial than What,
Who will I find?
How will we interact, and connect, and love?
If relationships exist at all.
Perhaps a myriad of “i ams” will be “we are”
Each unique, yet all as one.

But this threshold is a far horizon
Much yet to see, love, be and do
Or maybe not
I may be surprised
And next moment wake somewhere new.

ian-dingo

Ian James
05/03/2017

 

 

 

… SOMEONE ELSE WILL, and YOU MAY NOT LIKE IT!

How many elderly people do you know who are happy, fulfilled, have a strong sense of self-worth and purpose, and spend much of their time relating to family and close friends?

Growing old in our society

Experience with three elderly family members in their 90’s has raised serious questions about the future all of us are facing.

Western society has come a long way in improving the physical and medical care for elderly people, but when it comes to valuing their wisdom and experience, and maintaining their mental, emotional and social well-being we’re falling dismally short.

As people age we tend to view them as having little value to offer; they become a burden on society; we let them become progressively more isolated in their own homes, or send them off to retirement villages and ultimately nursing homes, where they are kept warm, clothed, fed and cleaned and spend their days being entertained by activities suitable for children. Meaningful social contact fades away, and their sense of worth and purpose wither. How many elderly people sit day after day doing little more than passively waiting to die?

Is this the future you want for yourself when you are old?? I doubt it.

It’s tragic that unless we die young, all of us are heading inexorably to this place, but few of us (me included until recently) are doing anything to change our direction or destination.

The bottom line is that if you don’t make choices to determine how you will live your elderly years someone else will make them for you. Even if family and medical experts genuinely care they may not fully understand your needs and desires at this stage.

A common response is, “Of course I’ll make these decisions for myself… But not now, I’ll do it when I’m older.” Here lays the big trap…  leave the decisions too late and you may have limited options available or have lost the ability to assess what is best for you. Change is gets more difficult as we age; unless we make plans in advance we will likely resist even considering it until circumstances force our hand or remove the choices from us altogether.

Please share your thoughts…

How can we do things differently?

What choices can we make now to ensure we maintain a happy, fulfilling life that provides value, purpose and meaningful social connection (as well as adequate physical and medical care) in our elderly years?

Sharing your thoughts will not only be help me and others who read this blog. You will also help yourself to begin the journey of ensuring you have the future you want. (And, you will be helping the group of blokes I meet with once a month discuss this topic at our next meeting.)

ian-dingo

Ian James
12/02/2017

Breaking free of fear…

Shortchanging ourselves…

How often do we give ourselves second best in life, or choose to not do what we are capable of, because of fear?

A lesson from life…

Earlier this week I literally had one of the best nights of my life because I pushed through that fear, stepped out of my comfort zone, and did what I really wanted to do…

I was late buying tickets to see one of my favourite artists, Passenger (Mike Rosenberg), in concert at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne. I got a seat in the back row at the extreme edge… the furthest I could be from the stage while being in the seated area.

When the support act finished the security guards motioned for people in the front rows to come forward to the rail in front of the stage. As Passenger started to play others from the audience made their way down as well.

I wanted to go down too but fear glued me to my seat. What was I afraid of? Some childhood fear of “getting in trouble” or being rejected? It was completely irrational and yet I just couldn’t move.

I stayed in my seat for the first two songs, my desire to go join the crowd pitted against this irrational fear. When the third song started I mustered enough courage, stood up, walked down the steps to the front, and found a superb spot just one person back from the rail.

Passenger and the band were only a few metres away, I had a near perfect view of the stage, and also the whole audience behind me when I turned around.

The music was incredibly loud, but not as deafening as I expected. The huge ground-level subwoofer stack was at chest height just on the other side of the rail… I could feel every base note pound through my body.

I had just stepped into an amazing space, physically and emotionally. The fear was gone. I never went back to my seat…

Being entertained by Mike Rosenberg is like having your best friend on stage sharing about his life, his empathy for others, and concerns about where the world is heading, and then translating this into his powerful heart-felt songs.

The concert was an awesome and profound experience. I stood there for the whole evening soaking up the atmosphere, joining in with everyone else clapping, yelling and singing at the top of my voice. I was high on feel-good emotions and having loved myself enough to step our of fear into freedom.

What I could have settled for…

20170125_195853

What I experienced after putting aside my fear…

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The impact of fear…

Had I stayed in my seat I would have had a great time… but I would have denied myself the best. How often do I do this in other areas of life? How often does fear hold me back from doing what my heart yearns to do, or stop me doing things that I am actually capable of doing?

My early childhood left me scripted with deep fears of rejection and failure. In response I adopted behaviours to minimize the possibility of these things happening.
Fear of failure has trapped me in my comfort zone… stretching or challenging situations are “too dangerous” because I might fail.
I’ve stayed silent so often instead of expressing valuable thoughts and opinions that could have impacted others lives… the fear of possible rejection was too painful.

These fears are irrelevant to my adult life and yet it has taken decades to realize this and start identifying them in action, distorting decisions large and small every day.

Keys to becoming free…

  1. Develop self-awareness of how you make choices. Raise a red flag every time you think “I can’t”. Are you choosing against worthwhile activities because of fear? Is saying you don’t have the ability/time/desire really valid? Or is it just an excuse to give in to your fear?
    For some months now I have been using a Mindfulness app called Headspace… it has helped significantly with being far more aware of my fears and how they impact my decision-making.
  2. Challenge fear-based thinking. Am I limiting myself because of a valid reason or because of fear?
    Sometimes there are good reasons to not do worthwhile activities… none of us have endless time and energy… some things in life (like climbing Mt Everest) really are outside our capabilities.
    However, our fears are often invalid and irrational. They frequently come from long-past experiences that have no relevance to our life today.
  3. You don’t have to suppress your fears but you don’t have to follow them either. Feelings are neither good nor bad… they are simply feelings. Accept that the fear is present and make your choice independently of it. In time the fear will likely dissipate.
  4. Choose what is most life-giving and do it. This is the tough bit… but it is also the doorway to freedom and fulfilment! Overcoming fear takes courage… but the more you choose against irrational fear and experience the good things that flow from it, the more you empower yourself, and the easier it is next time.
    (Yes, sometimes things may not turn out as hoped but instead of allowing “failure” to reinforce your fears, take the opportunity to learn and do things better next time.)

The theory is easy… applying it takes time…

Becoming free of fear is a process. It takes persistence and hard work.

I expect I’ll be working at it for the rest of my life…
… and every new step into freedom will be worth it!

Ian + dingo

Ian James
27/01/2017

P.S.
To experience a video of Passenger’s reflection on world events of 2016, the heartfelt song that followed, and the crowd’s powerful response, check out my facebook post… 

Rosie's funeral - My tribute

Before today arrived I wondered if it was going to be much like any other day… I’m a long way from home in Queensland and unable to spend the day with other family members who I know will be finding it very tough (poor holiday planning on my part) but the thought of Rosie’s second anniversary just seemed surreal.

But it’s not like any other day… far from it.

Physically I’m in an amazing holiday destination on a beautiful day (in fact as I write I’m sitting in the café at the top of the Skypoint Observation Tower… the highest building in Surfer’s Paradise with stunning 360 degree views). Mentally and emotionally however I feel disassociated from my surroundings… my spirit is in a very different space from my body… almost like being in a strange dream.

The day has given rise to a very complex mix of emotions… the overall sense is that of being numb… it’s like I’m drifting and can’t find an orientation point to hold onto.

What am I feeling?

Sadness, yes. Grief, yes. A profound sense of loss… very much so.
Freedom and release, yes
… it was a long, very tough 16 year cancer journey for Rosie and I. But release into what I’m still not sure… I’m still trying to understand who I am and what my new life is about.

There is also a very sober awareness of the sacred space I stood in on this day two years ago… being with Rosie, my wife of over 33 years, as she died… the final exchange of love between us in the hour before she passed… her letting go and dying immediately after I said to her “Rosie, you are free to go”… these incredibly powerful experiences have been indelibly printed in my memory and are once again replaying in my mind.

As I look up from my laptop and see the incredible views laid out before me a freeing thought comes to mind…

Rosie would have loved this place and been so excited to be here. No doubt she would want me to be excited and enjoy it too… so that’s what I’m going to do.

One thing these last two years have taught me… Joy does not always replace grief… it often sits alongside it.

I am so thankful that my honorary daughter Alexis lives in Surfer’s Paradise and that I am able to stay at her place over this weekend. Being away from family and alone at a youth hostel today and tonight would have been very tough.

ian-dingo

Ian James

Remembering Rosie…

rosie01

Tomorrow would have been Rosie’s 60th birthday.
It’s not an easy time.

I’m keenly aware that Rosie’s facebook friends will receive a Birthday Reminder notification for her tomorrow. For many this will arrive unexpectedly and cause the grief of losing her to return.

I haven’t yet deactivated Rosie’s account as this would mean we could no longer access it. Rosie’s facebook page is a place where we can still share memories of Rosie and the feelings of joy and grief that come with those memories. It also captures the later years of her life… the tough cancer journey, important events with family and friends, funny life experiences, all wrapped up in her unfailingly positive, joyful approach to life.

Rosie’s page is an invaluable record of how she lived her out life motto…
“Live Well, Die Well”.

In the coming month I will arrange to have Rosie’s account memorialised. This will still allow us to post on her page but we will no longer receive birthday reminders.

This morning I unexpectedly came across Rosie’s address book.
I opened the first page and saw her written instruction at the very top…
A big asterisk tagged with “People to ring… when I reach heaven”.
She had then asterisked and highlighted peoples’ names throughout the address book to ensure I didn’t miss any of them.

rosie02

It hit me pretty hard… this was one of the contact lists we had put together in the months before she died.

But it also reminded me yet again how much Rosie cared for so many people in so many ways… she wanted to make sure no-one was forgotten when the time came, including those with no access to email or facebook.

I was especially touched by the words “when I reach heaven”… Rosie’s unwavering faith in her God brought her deep joy and security in life. Death for her was not something to fear… it was not the end, but rather the beginning of a whole new life.

It reminded me of the quote she wrote out and stuck in the front of her Notebook…

rosie03

For Rosie these were not just inspiring words, they were her guide to living life to the full… She indeed made her torch burn as brightly as possible… right to the very end.

 

Ian James
29th Sept 2016

 

 

A friend in need… Manaf…

I have a friend. His name is Manaf. He has been living with his pregnant wife, Qamar, and three young children in a Syrian refugee camp outside the city of Thessaloniki in Greece in terrible conditions for months.

The refugee camp is in a disused warehouse… broken windows, a concrete floor, lines of tents along the walls.

The warehouse floods in heavy rain. One night much of Manaf’s family’s bedding and their few possessions were saturated.

The camp facilities are rudimentary. A row of washbasins line an outside wall for basic sanitation and washing clothes. Waste water flows away in an open drain. A row of portable toilets line another outside wall. Overflow from the toilets runs across the concrete pavement.

The mosquitoes were very bad. Qamar’s legs were so covered with infected mosquito bites they feared their unborn child could be affected. Qamar is due in September. Manaf wants to take her to a hospital. They are hoping the birth is not difficult. They have no access to an ambulance.

In summer the warehouse became so hot that Manaf’s children were unable to sleep… now the cold winter is approaching.

Manaf’s youngest child, Minas, was born in a tent in an earlier refugee camp. Manaf feels sad that his daughter has never lived in a real home. He does not want the new baby to be born in a tent.

Why they left Syria…

Manaf and Qamar lived in Idlib, near Aleppo, a focus of intense fighting throughout the war. Manaf worked as a mobile phone maintenance engineer and a truck driver. When the communications network failed and his truck was destroyed he resorted to collecting scrap metal from the streets to survive.

One of Manaf’s brothers and 13 of his relatives were killed by aircraft bombing. Daily heavy shelling made work impossible and life intolerable. They left Idlib after their home was destroyed.

Manaf took his family to Turkey. Europe offered the hope of a new life for his family. It took three attempts to reach Greece by boat.

They almost drowned on the third attempt. The people smuggler said he would take 34 people. He loaded 40 adults and 38 children people on a rubber boat designed for 24. Part way across heavy seas flooded the boat. The engine failed, women and children were screaming, everyone was terrified, Qamar fainted. Then a large wave overturned the boat and dumped them all in the sea in freezing conditions. They thought they were going to die. After two hours in the water a German rescue team arrived and took them to safety.

Europe…

Manaf’s hopes for a new life in Europe were shortlived. Soon after they arrived the European borders unexpectedly closed leaving them trapped in the refugee camp in Greece.

Manaf is not allowed to get work and has run out of money. He can no longer provide for his family. He feels he has failed his parents and disabled brother back in Syria… they depend on money from him to survive. He believed he could get work in Europe to support them along with his own family.

Our response to other’s suffering…

The media constantly bombards us with images of war, devastation and human suffering. The number of refugees worldwide is estimated to be 65 million and growing.

When we see people suffering…

We feel pain… compassion is hard wired into us.
We want to help but we feel overwhelmed and powerless in the face of the magnitude of the problems.
We can’t bear to feel the raw pain of other people’s suffering indefinitely so we shut it down to protect ourselves.
We become immune to the plight of others.

But from time to time an image breaks through…

Like Omran Daqneesh, “the boy in the ambulance”, a 5 year old Syrian boy dug out of the rubble after his house in Aleppo was destroyed in an airstrike, his bloody face and clothes covered with dust… his stunned, blank expression tearing at our hearts.

We feel grief. We feel outraged. This little boy’s suffering grabs the raw nerve of compassion within us. But what can we do?? We know real people just like us are suffering but they are half a world away.

But when we turn off our screens they fade from our thinking.

But what if one day you woke up and Omran Daqneesh was sitting in your lounge room instead of the back of an ambulance?

What if you opened the front door and a refugee family was standing there? Homeless, no money to buy food, their clothes their only possessions?

Compassion breaks through…

The ‘front door’ to my home was a Facebook friend request. Normally I delete unsolicited requests but this time I was curious.

I ‘opened the door’ and found a refugee family standing there. Manaf and I started exchanging messages. I asked a lot of questions. It became very clear that Manaf and his family were in desperate circumstances.

How could I ignore them? They were no longer unknown faces of suffering in a remote country… I was exchanging personal messages with another human being living in inhumane conditions.

Nonetheless, I was wary. How could I be sure that Manaf was genuine?

I told Manaf I wanted to help but needed to verify his identity first. Manaf sent me a photo of his passport, other identity documents, and photos of the refugee camp. He also entrusted me with a copy of his wife’s passport and photos of her as well, asking that I not show photos of Qamar on facebook as this could bring shame on her family.

The photos of Manaf’s children showed the camp in the background. An internet search verified they were indeed in the Sondos camp.

I checked for aid agencies working in the camp and couldn’t find any. This was consistent with Manaf saying there were none working in the camp and their reliance on assistance from the army.

Taking a risk…

No amount of photos and documentation could be a 100% proof.

In most life decisions, the facts only get us so far… often our intuition is the final decider.

The more I communicate with Manaf the more I am convinced he is genuine.

Manaf’s grasp of English is not great… but his rudimentary use of words conveys a powerful message.
Manaf loves his family… this clearly shines through his facebook page and messages.
He is very reluctant to ask for help despite being in great need… he expresses both shame and a great deal of gratitude. (I’ve asked what he needs and how much it will cost before sending money… a couple of days later I receive photos of a smiling family with what they have managed to buy.)
Manaf cares for others despite his own circumstances… he bought two fans and gave one to his neighbour.
Manaf has a sense of social justice and openly campaigns against ISIS on facebook.

I have so much, Manaf has so little. I live in comfort and security. Manaf lives in terrible conditions with no security. My excess gives me security… but still it is hard to give it away.

The amount I could lose was minimal compared to the benefit I could provide.

What I’ve given so far has cost me one cappuccino a day for a few months, but it has provided Manaf’s family with life-changing essentials… nourishing food, a pushbike to save him walking 17km to town to get the food, mosquito protection for Qamar, and a fan for his children.

Out of the frying pan … into the fire?

Recently Manaf messaged me with a very tough decision. Four pregnant women in the camp had been offered small apartments rent free for 6 months by a benefactor with a big heart . Manaf desperately wanted to get his family out of the hell-hole.

But there are consequences….

They will not be allowed to return to the camp under any circumstances. So what happens in 6 months if he cannot pay the rent??

The camp provides food (subsistence level), some medical help and basic provisions. Manaf is not allowed to work so how does he feed and provide for his family?

They need basic furniture and bedding for the apartment .

They need to provide for the new baby (due very soon).

I asked him to estimate the cost of providing for his family… 7 to 8 euros (about $12AUS) a day. I doubt any of us could provide the basic needs of 2 adults, 3 young children and a baby for $84 a week!

I told him I could provide a third of this for a year and encouraged him to get his family out of the camp. A significant risk for him, but an opportunity that may not come again.

He chose to move into the apartment. A big step forward (hopefully)… but what of the future?

The Challenge…

Don’t let overexposure to suffering steal your compassion and make you immune.
Those who suffer are all real people like you and me.

Material wealth does not make us rich… it is the people we allow into hearts and lives. People in need may give us far more than we ever give them.

Am I asking you to help Manaf? Yes, but I’m not sure how best to approach it.

Yes, I want to appeal to your heart. If anyone is moved with a genuine desire to help then it will be greatly appreciated. A little from us can make a huge difference… it can even change other people’s lives.

However I don’t want to manipulate or pressure anyone. So if this not for you feel free to let it pass.

If you have questions feel free to ask. If you want to help please message me privately.

Manaf’s photos…

All the photos have been sent to me by Manaf or posted on his facebook page (except the Google maps image). They tell the story from his perspective.

I have tried to capture the essence of Manaf’s descriptions in the captions.
I’ve written the captions as if Manaf is speaking…

(Initially Manaf asked that I not share photos of his wife… he has now given me permission.)

Manaf and his family…

My wife Qamar and daughter Minas...02-manaf-and-wife

 

Meet my wife Qamar and our
youngest daughter Minas…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Qamar is pregnant… she is due in September.
I hope the birth is not difficult… we have no access to an ambulance…

 

 

 

I love my three children... Yasser, Rose and Minas...

 

My three precious children…
Yasser, Rose and Minas…

Minas was born in a tent.
She has never known a real home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why we left Syria…

The daily shelling in Idlib became relentless…
Our home and my livelihood were destroyed…

One of my brothers and 13 of my relatives were killed…32-syria3

Idlib at night… these memories are distressing…Idlib at night...

 

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We left my parents and elder brother in Syria… there was no money to take them with us.

I am their only support but I am not allowed to work in Greece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My brother has twin boys. He is disabled and in despair.
“They have stones and scraps to eat”…
My brother has twin boys... "they have stones and scraps to eat"

The boat trips…

The three attempts were all made at night so Manaf has no photos of the trip. 
boat-crossing

This photo was taken one hour before we left the Turkish city of Izmir. We were attempting to cross the Aegean Sea to Greece.

Part way the boat capsized in large waves. We were in the middle of the sea for 2 hours. We felt icy cold. We were terrified and felt on the verge of death.

We were saved by a German rescue boat and taken to Greece.

The Refugee Camp…

The refugee camp (bottom right) is in the industrial part of Sondos, outside Thessaloniki, Greece… The refugee camp in Sondos (outside Thessaloniki, Greece)...


Our front door... the shadows express how I feel...

 

The front door of our home…
The shadows express how I feel…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rows of tents in a disused warehouse…
Broken windows, concrete floor…
It floods in heavy rain…
The refugee camp - rows of tents in a disused warehouse...

Our home...

 

Our home…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where our children sleep…Our bedroom...

 

Our food…

Food from the camp... pasta one day...

 

Food provided by the camp…

Pasta one day…
alternates with rice the next…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rice the next day... rotten rice makes you cry...

 

 

One day the rice was rotten…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our health…

Manaf has an abscessed haemorrhoid from the camp diet.

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My wife’s feet became so badly infected with mosquito bites… we were afraid for the safety of the unborn baby…

 

 

 

 

 

 

My children get sick too. Minas has asthma... she was very hot...

 

 

My children get sick too…
Minas suffers from asthma.
She was very hot…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was very distressing seeing her like this…I feel distressed when I see Minas like this...

Facilities at the refugee camp…

Our bathroom and laundry...

 

Our washroom…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open drains...

 

                       Open drains…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our toilets...

 

Our toilets…

 

 

 

 

 

Chemically treated overflow...

 

Chemically treated overflow…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Qamar preparing to bathe Minas...

 

 

Our childrens’ bathroom…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"I love Minas so much!"

 

 

                  “I love Minas so much!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where do the children play?

The inside playroom... a cold, rough concrete floor...

 

Our children’s indoor playroom…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our backyard…Our garden and clothesline...

The garden playground... lots of safe, modern play equipment...

 

The children’s playground…
lots of safe, modern play equipment…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Providing help…

Manaf is reluctant to ask for help… he feels a great deal of shame.
When I have offered he and Qamar are incredibly grateful and send photos of what they buy…

Now I can feed my family with healthy food…Now I can feed my family...

Fresh fruit and vegetables!Fresh fruit and veges for my family... thankyou!

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A fan to help my children endure the heat…

Sadly it was damaged when the warehouse flooded…

Manaf also has compassion for others. He bought a second fan to give to a neighbour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thankyou for my new bike... now I don't have to walk 17km to get food...

 

 

Thank you for my bike!
Now I don’t have to walk 17km to get food for my family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manaf’s call for justice and compassion…

Photos from Manaf’s facebook page… 

We could not stay in Syria…
We believed Europe would help… but the refugee camp is a hell-hole and we are treated like cattle.
We have found no humanitarian care in Greece…35-sj3-isis1

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Omran Dagneesh (left), “The boy in the ambulance” pulled from the rubble of his house in Aleppo.
Alan Kurdi (right), the 3 year old Syrian boy who drowned when his family tried to reach Europe by boat.

Meanwhile, world leaders keep talking…37-sj2-omran-daqneesh3

Images that break through…

The images behind the “Choices for Syrian children” sketch on Manaf’s facebook page.

Omran Daqneesh and Alan Kurdi in real life (and death)…omran-daqneesh-alan-kurdi

 

 

 

 

 

This week I turned 59…

It was a birthday like no other…

I was on my own.

I was driving in a remote part of Western Australia I’ve never been to before.

I’d forgotten to book my accommodation for my next destination and had no mobile phone reception.

I figured there’d be no gifts or birthday celebration.

But it felt good…

I was alone, but far from feeling lonely. Being alone and loneliness are two very different things.

I spent most of the day driving north from Kalbarri to the coastal town of Denham on Shark Bay. The weather was perfect… a brilliant blue desert sky set against the deep red outback earth and the low scrub… just a smattering of clouds, temperature in the mid 20’s.

I was doing something I love… exploring territory I’ve never been to before.

The desert countryside is never boring… a wide array of vegetation still manages to survive in this arid area. The wild-flower season is beginning… much of the roadside featured yellow wattles… in places the ground was covered with carpets of white flowers, then yellow flowers, interspersed with bushes displaying purples, pinks and occasional reds.

I’ve never been a wildflower enthusiast I found myself constantly on the lookout for new colours, and in some places the landscape took my breath away.

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Unexpected birthday gifts…

Life has a habit of bringing surprises… it had a few in store for my birthday…

A long distance celebration…

My phone rang very early while I was half-dressed. My day started with a cheery Happy Birthday from a friend. For her sake and mine I’m glad it was audio only… my waist down got progressively colder during the call but it was well worth the birthday greeting!

Once I left Kalbarri that was it for mobile reception. When I arrived in Denham early afternoon my phone burst into life with a host of text messages and facebook notifications.

By evening I’d received a profusion of birthday wishes, messages and phone calls. I think more people wished me Happy Birthday this year than ever before in my life! I’d been blessed with a long distance birthday celebration… lots of love, care and encouragement ‘over the wire’… I really felt touched!

It’s the little things that count…

A free cappuccino. The young waitress making my coffee asked about my day… I told her it was my birthday. “That’ll be $4.50 thanks”… then a smile, and “No need to pay… it’s your birthday!”

The big things count too…

The key tourist attraction at Shark Bay is Monkey Mia… a beach 25km from Denham where wild dolphins come in every morning to be hand fed. Originally it was fishermen who fed them. Since then a whole resort has been developed along the beach and the dolphins are fed by staff.

According to Google the nearest Backpackers/YHA hostel was in Denham. Hostels in urban settings are not my ideal, but I was pleased at least there was one.

After leaving Kalbarri I realized I’d forgotten to book the Denham hostel. There would be no mobile reception until I arrived. A remote location… no accommodation booked… if all else failed I’d be rolling out the tent!

I stopped at a roadhouse for petrol and a coffee and spotted a brochure for a “Flashpacker’s Hostel” in the Monkey Mia resort complex.

The Flashpacker’s Hostel was a total winner! It’s located right on the beach where the wild dolphins come in. The hostel is clean and modern and I’ve got access to all the resort facilities… a restaurant, café, two bars, dining areas overlooking the beach, kayaks for hire and free WiFi to top it off. And so far I’ve had an 8 bed dorm to myself! To top it off it’s actually cheaper to stay here ($35/night) than in Denham!

My surprise accommodation was a BIG birthday blessing!

The biggest surprise of all…

A very precious birthday gift came the morning after I arrived… you don’t always get your birthday gifts on the day!

I woke much later than usual. The sky looked stormy and there was a strong, cold onshore wind… a total contrast to the day before… time for jeans, shoes and socks.

I wandered along the beach to get a coffee at the restaurant. I noticed people gathered at the water’s edge with a bloke in the water speaking to them. The dolphins had come in and it was feeding time! I hurried down to join them and got my camera ready.

The instructor explained only people chosen by staff would be permitted to feed the dolphins. Anyone who stepped into the water, waved their arms to get attention, or called out ‘Pick me!’ would be excluded. Most people were in shorts and bare feet. With jeans, socks and shoes on it never entered my head I’d be in the running.

Only two dolphins had come in. I stood there taking photos hoping for some good shots. One of the staff had a dolphin swimming next to her. She looked at me and called out “The guy in the green hat”. I was stunned, “You mean me??” I gave my camera to the lady next to me and tried to get my shoes and socks off as fast as I could. I could hear someone saying “You’ll have to hurry!” and almost fell over in excitement and haste. I waded out into the water, getting my jeans thoroughly wet, and had the superb experience of being up close to a dolphin and feeding it!

I could hardly believe what had happened! I wasn’t even heading to the dolphin feeding… I wasn’t dressed for it… I totally expected to not be picked given my attire… and here I was standing in the water in wet jeans just having fed a wild dolphin. What an incredible gift! Totally unexpected and literally ‘out of the blue’!

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At a deeper level…

I sometimes say bushwalking for me is a spiritual experience.

Some people no doubt think this is a bit weird. Years ago in my Christian days I’d hear other people say this and think, “Sad, misguided … they’ve replaced faith in God with a poor, illusory substitute”. (It is so easy to be judgmental!)

Interacting with Nature has always been a spiritual experience for me. I don’t know how to understand it or explain exactly what ‘spiritual’ means for me in this context. What I do know is when I’m in the midst of the Australian bush, or surrounded by a beautiful rainforest, or working hard to reach the top of a mountain and then stand on the summit surrounded by incredible views, or walking along rugged coastal cliffs with huge waves pounding in below, or soaking up an awesome sunrise or sunset… my spirit is deeply touched.

I find myself in a special place… deep stillness on the one hand, deep awe on the other. I feel connected to something far greater than me and I am part of it.

It’s like I’ve come home.

The dolpin…

All the wild dolphins have been named according their personalities as observed by the staff. How ironic then, I had been totally surprised by a dolphin named ‘Surprise’.

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One of the staff told me this was not ironic at all… the dolphins themselves have a role in choosing who feeds them. I felt my spirit being touched again.

Some gifts don’t bear analyzing… they are what they are… our spirit rather than our mind is the primary receptor. All we can do is accept them and appreciate the wonder they bring.

There’s many things we still don’t understand. For me it’s far better to stay open to new truths, whatever form they may take, rather than locking myself into a belief framework that may deprive me of new understandings of life.

A big thankyou…

I had a great birthday. Another memorable milestone in my life.
So many unexpected gifts from family, friends and Life itself.

A big thankyou to everyone who turned a very different birthday into an unexpected celebration!

Ian JamesIan + dingo
18/08/2016