Category Archives: Reflection

Period poverty – this is going to get a little personal

I remember my first period really clearly.  I was 11 years old and it was awful.  Even though I knew what was coming, understood its reason biologically – my mother is very pragmatic and we had already had “the talk” – it was still awful.  I had fairly scientific leanings even then and while my rational mind could make sense of the biological function of it all, this pretty early blooming, relatively speaking, made me feel quite defective.  As an introvert I was already struggling with how to be more invisible but somehow this experience made me feel like I had a big, scarlet “P” on my forehead – “she’s a woman now!” – which completely freaked me out. Quite bizarre thinking back on it.

Unfortunately getting my period also signaled the beginning of a 30 year struggle with my body and its hormone functions – a legacy of “woman’s issues” in my family.  Every doctor, naturopath, acupuncturist, chiropractor, endocrinologist visit under the sun.  Countless hours reading everything about women’s’ health and I won’t even hazard a guess at the amount of money spent on these visits, procedures, tests and medication.  Who would want to be a woman?

But I am not sharing any of this really personal stuff to solicit sympathy. No, I am about to utter words of absolute gratitude.  Never once have I had to wonder how I would afford my next pad or tampon or even pairs of underwear ruined by flooding.  Never once have I had to say I will just live with all this pain and agony around that time of the month – there was always a new doctor to try, a new treatment within reach.  Never once did I have to sit in shame, alone thinking I was dirty or unclean.  Never once did I have to face any of the medical stuff alone or keep all this to myself for fear of shaming my family.  Never once did I have to face as a child making the decision not to go to school because of my period or later in life postpone happy travelling adventures because of my period.

I have just watched “Period. End of Sentence” – a 26 minute Netflix doco that brought me to tears.  One thing I know for sure from talking to all sorts of women over the years is there is nothing straight forward about periods.  The documentary highlights what is going on for women in rural India with regard to their periods.  They can’t even talk about it, don’t understand why its happening, have no access to even basic sanitary products never mind trying to navigate pain, complications, disease, hormone imbalance and all the other complexities that often arise around our monthly bleed.  My heart is broken.  And then all I could think was these are disposable pads they’re making! What about the waste, what about the planet!  These women have only just found some empowerment, access to a basic need.  Just in time for others to probably tell they are clogging up landfills with their waste!  My heart is broken again.

In my little bubble of a world the new conversation is all about waste-free managing-your-period alternatives like moon cups, period underwear or reusable cloth pads.  Most of these options come with a hefty price tag.  You would have to approach this with an investment in the future mentality.  While trying to find an option to suit me I came across a New Zealand start up – I am Eva.  Brilliant!  I invested and I am sold – great product!

But no sooner had I started congratulating myself for another little waste free win than I read something that shocked me.  Period poverty is thing.  Right here.  Right in my backyard.  Young girls in New Zealand are missing chunks of school every month because they cannot afford sanitary products!  Even older women working minimum wage jobs are sometimes missing work for the same reason.  This is insane to me in a country like New Zealand.  Thankfully there are amazing things happening out there to try and solve this.  I am Eva is one example – you can buy period underwear on behalf of women and girls who cannot afford this basic need.  Australia has just taken sales tax off sanitary products… perhaps we should be doing the same?

In May I am adventure bound once more – an elephant conservation project in Mozambique.  Part of our plan is to visit village schools along the way with environmental education materials but also reusable cloth pads for girls.  The importance of girls staying in school cannot be overstated, not to mention a little dignity with a side of empowerment.  I am humbled to be a part of this Journey with Purpose and to help in a small way support the work of armswideopen.org.

If after reading this you feel inspired to give, I am asking for donations in support of my expedition in May – for more info click on the link – https://www.givengain.com/ap/a-bit-of-ubuntu/

In my early 40s now I have finally learned to stop fighting my body.  I have learned to find stillness and listen to the sacred rhythms of womanhood.  This may sound weird or airy fairy but it is truth.  Seriously.  And I wouldn’t even consider myself a feminist.  All I can speak to is what I have learned about life from tapping into the wisdom of what makes me feminine – our periods are so much more than biology.  My wish is for us to find a way to lift taboo and allow all girls to tap into their sacred feminine too. And we can’t even consider that if most girls don’t have access to basic sanitary products.

Candy striped sneakers and turning 42…

Being the geographer I am I know that female life expectancy in NZ is 81.46 years.  That makes me officially middle aged as of Thursday.  I am having a really hard time getting my head around this!

I have always been quite excited about birthdays and finding ways to celebrate.  This was the first one I really just ignored until it arrived.  My darling family were bugging me right up to the last minute about what and how we were going to acknowledge my number day.

This whole situation has resulted in some serious reflection time.  So here are a few of my musings…

What are you supposed to have achieved by middle age?  A happy marriage. Nope.  A kid or two. Nope.  That house with the accompanying mortage. Nope. A successful career.  Hmm, debatable.  I LOVE my work environment but it took me a step backwards and a serious pay cut to get there.

I have also had a very non-linear employment journey.  In my mind I think this means I could give practically anything a go. Unfortunately it has held me back as many prospective employers are not too sure what to do with me. My current team leader would be the exception.  She took a chance on me and her support has been invaluable.  She definitely gives me space to play to my strengths and for that I will be eternally grateful… And there it is, the first blessing to count.

But what about the rest…

Well, for the girl so passionate about her birth place Africa – its red earth in my DNA – I sure have a lot of stamps in passports.  So reluctant to leave.  Yet that first travel experience in 1994 literally opened a world of possibility.

And so I can tell you what it feels like to wander the streets of London, Paris, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Rome, Florence, Pisa, Nice, Genoa, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Wellington, Melbourne, Bath, Bristol, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Maputo, Harare, Gabarone, Montpellier, Volterra, San Gimignano, Lucca, Windsor, Aylesbury, Waikiki, Hilo and Auckland.

I have watched the countryside roll by from the windows of cars, buses, trains in Pennsylvania, New York, Baltimore, Maryland, England, Scotland, France, Tuscany, the Lake District, the North and South Islands of NZ, Botwana, Zimbabwe, and all around South Africa.

I have had more breathtaking moments than I can count in nature – that is where my soul really sings.  Standing on the edge of Lake Wanaka or catching my breath at the top of Mt Tongariro.  Breathing in the silence in the Kgalagadi red dunes.  Drinking in the view from the top of the Drakensberg escarpment looking over Mpumalanga. Watching the seasonal waters arrive in the heart of the Okavango Delta.  The itchy heat of a summer day in the north of Kruger Park.  The numb on my face of standing in the snow at Glencoe or sailing with the wind in my face on Loch Ness, letting the sand ooze between my toes at Waimea Bay, north shore of Oahu or standing on the edge of the world at Kilauea Crater, Hawaii.. and so so so many more.  What an immense privilege!

I got to call some interesting places “home”.  My two little places in Maun, Botswana come to mind.  Or avoiding the hippos and the sleeping elephants on my walk back to my little house in the heart of the Delta each evening.  My quirky shipping container house in Blikkiesdorp, Twee Rivieren, Kgalagadi.

As I recall these places and times I am also reminded of the incredible people I have met and shared life with even if just for a short time.

Seeing life in this way has so often taken me out of myself.  What I mean is that so much of life today is taken up with just getting through the day for all of us.  It can be quite an insular experience especially for an introvert like me.  Yes, I need the time by myself to reflect, mediate and recharge but too much time alone is never good.  We are wired for connection.  Travelling and moving around has been the best way for me to get out of my comfort zone and connect with people.  Again, what an immense privilege!

And so yes, I am now middle aged.  No, I have not achieved any of the milestones usually associated with life at this point.  But no regrets, only oodles of gratitude for a life rich in experiences.  May I do this richness justice by using what I have learned along the way to live more carefully on this planet and show more compassion for you, my fellow travellers in the second half of my life.

And I think I will continue to wear candy striped sneakers – the ones my amazing sister got me for my birthday because the style name is the same as mine.  I will still love the Harry Potter books and movies and anything by JRR Tolkien and even teen movies from the 80s like The Breakfast Club…. and I will still believe in magic…

With that I am adventure bound once more – leaving for Edinburgh on Thursday.  Some time on a job experience programme at Edinburgh Zoo and then to England for time with special family…. can’t wait!

Ending off with two of my most favourite quotes, more like mantras these days…

“Not all those who wander are lost” JRR Tolkien

“Have courage and be kind” Cinderella

A little reflection on the season just been

The baubles and tinsel have been carefully packed away for another year.  The pantry is clear of all those little indulgences.  Boxing Day sales have been and gone.  Even the fireworks and the countdowns and the resolutions have been ticked off.

Now the balmy days of summer stretch ahead.  This time of year toys with me.  Do I give into moments soaking up the sun, afternoon naps, sipping cool drinks while curled up with a good book and totally relish no responsibilities, deadlines, timetables, etc.?  Or do I allow the New Year’s rejuvenation to reinvigorate and work, plan, list, do for the coming months?  This year I opted for ticking off a to do list and relishing in a sense of productiveness.

But right this moment I pause to reflect on yet another festive season gone by.  What does is all mean really?  What is the point?

I pause in gratitude for the safe, beautiful place I live.  A place where a festive season held no loss, no tragedy, no hate, no violence.  For me it held family, belonging, blessings, love and the gift of hope for our futures.

I so appreciate being able to get wrapped up in the Christmas “hype” but still not allowing it to be in a superficial way.  But rather in a way that celebrates the blessings me and my family have been gracefully given.

Here are a couple of blessings – one for Christmas and one for the New Year – that speak to me about the truth of this season:

I thank my sister for sharing the Christmas blessing with me from Lion Book of 1000 Prayers for Children by Lois Rock (I could not find an author for the New Year blessing)
I thank my sister for sharing the Christmas blessing with me from Lion Book of 1000 Prayers for Children by Lois Rock (I could not find an author for the New Year blessing).  The photos in the background are mine – one sunset and one sunrise in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

Even though we are 16 days into 2015, I wish all humanity a blessed year ahead.