A Dear John letter….

It is funny when we use names or talk about the stories and adventures of ‘little johnny’. we frequently use the name when discussing hypothetical situations when at school. However, for me, I have written a dear John letter to try and explain why the way I am and why I do the things I do.

The letter would read like this….

Dear John,

I have seen the way you look at me sometimes with a look of suspicion, of unease and lack of trust. You may not realise it then but I do see the hurt and more in your eyes. It is a times like this where I would love to sit you down and explain why I am the way I am and why I do the things I do. I never have the energy or the guts to tell you what I have been through, what I have survived and why it will take time for me to undo what has been done. All I ask is you be patient and come on the journey of rebuilding with me. I ask this as I know at the end of the rebuild you will have all of me, the best of me.

It’s hard to explain but I suppose dot points may be the best as it would take to long to tell you the whole story.

Life was a battlefield, walking on egg shells at all times. I don’t know if you have ever lived like this, but I have.

Here’s a ‘tiny’ snippet of what it was like…. and I mean tiny!

1. The house had to be clean. The sheets, the washing, the sink, the back patios, the pool, the pool filters and everything in between. If it wasn’t then it was A look of disdain and utter disapproval That became the vibe in the house. In front of the children I was made out to be inadequate, even when exhausted and totally drained. Never good enough!

2. The cutlery draw had to match. I kid you not, if one fork was not the same or a spoon was out of place then you were asking for an argument. No one wanted to go there!

3. The kids rooms had to be pristine! Who has ever known a teenager to have a pristine room at all times! It was my fault if it wasn’t, I was an inadequate mother if they were messy! Little did others know the kids had been at work until after 7pm every night with me, waiting, home exhausted and with HW a priority their rooms became something we just managed. After all wasn’t Einstein a messy man and he was a genius!

4. You handed me a carrot and cheese the other day, all I wanted to do was chomp into it but I hesitated. I waited to see if it was okay… okay you say… yes okay to make a noise while I ate. To many times I have been told to leave the room, or to eat quietly. Even made to feel like I was a wild animal all while I thought I was eating quietly!

5. Be showered and shaven! Who would have thought this would be as stressful as it was. There are days and times where this just didn’t happen! Well it had to, whether it be the last few minutes of alone time, of freedom… I had better be shaved and clean. Or clean and fresh as it was said or expect to be told I was unacceptable. You are disgusting, even dirty. Who would have thought being a full time single mum of two, a mother of two puppies and the maintainer of a house was enough of an excuse! Never!

6. Socialising… friends you say, what are they. I had many good friends, friends who I had had for over a decade and they were deemed unacceptable. If I hung out with them the fight, the drama and the tension in the house made it not worth it. I began to think I was at fault. It’s all my fault and I should not see them as it would make the household more peaceful. So I cut them off. Little did I know this was the plan!

7. Bitterness. I have never been a bitter person, I have never had the time for it. The upbringing I have had, was one of opportunity and wonderment. I am more thankful for that now than ever. To have someone in the house who is bitter and angry, always, and I mean ALWAYS, is draining and soon this begins to eat away at your armour. You begin to doubt yourself and question your upbringing. Note to self! Never do this! They are not worth it! (Living with a narcissist!)

8. Naked in bed. To this day when we fall asleep naked I feel uncertain. I worry that when you wake you may see all of me. The stretch marks from my child, the rolls or love handles I have. The slightly saggy (I say slightly but hey…) breasts that fed my child and are not what I want them to be. I am totally exposed. I never had this before. I was always expected to be covered. Whether it be in uncomfortable lingerie or silly underwear, I had to be dressed. Now with you, it’s like a freedom I have never known, a luxury I am having to learn and by god it’s amazing! You are amazing. Day by day you’re setting me free!

9. Adventure? What was that? Until you came along there was none! The furthest I had ever been was the lounge and Netflix. If we ventured further than that it was a mission and to be honest more of a trying expedition than a fun one. Me being on super ‘high alert’ to ensure the kids were on their best behaviour. The food was perfect because my goodness I forget something, even the right butter, then the trip was hell! So adventures were not high on our list! They were more an anxiety and stressor for me! With you, who knows, they are spontaneous, unexplainable, enjoyable and have always made me smile. Your ability to turn a walk in the grass plains into a tree climbing, deer stalking adventure amaze me. Your ability to roll down a sand dune and make everyone laugh is heartwarming. You blow me away with your patience and sheer sense of adventure. Nothing is unattainable! We have climbed mountains, been lost in the bush and much much more all bare foot and care free! I have never felt so refreshed and complete as I do with you!

10. How’s your day been? A simple question but one that was never asked. I can say NEVER asked! You ask it everyday. In the past my day was never a topic of conversation. Never considered as I was the one who was at home every night. No, I did not work shift work. No, I did not drill holes underground and no I never worked over night, in your eyes! My overseas 2 weeks trips never counted! However, I do work with 120 young people every, day at least. I am responsible for 120 as a head of year. Their social, mental and physical well being. I am there 24/7 for them. When they are in tears, when down in the dumps and also when celebrating the small things! Whether it be family, friends or even something as serious as suicide I am there. I am their person. It’s not an 8-3pm job, it’s more than that. Not only did I parent two children of my own and two dogs and maintain a house but I educated and looked after more than you would ever know! I am a parent to more than just my own!

11. Family! I cannot tell you how much my family means to me. I would never be able to begin to explain it to you. You have seen it. We have travelled the world. Continents even. We have been poor and not wealthy but okay. They have been by my side through times normal families would have deserted their own. They have helped me financially to ensure my daughter is brought up the best she could be. We have had sleepless nights, tears and arguments. We have had talks of ending it all, well I have and they have been there. Through thick and thin. To then have someone try and cut that out. To have someone try and turn me against them, was unthinkable! To isolate me from the one thing that has kept me going! Let’s just say thank goodness they did not succeed. Thank goodness I have the family I do. I would not be here, and I mean living, without them. That I say is the truest thing I have ever said!

12. Food and more! While I know you worked away and hard. So did I. It was an evening where I had parent teacher interviews both tuesday and Wednesday until 7pm. I arrived at school both those days at 7am. Those are 12 hour days as you would always say. My goodness, let me think, how did I forget to make sure an amazing dinner was on the table, or a huge meal, all of which you expected. You fly in from your 7 days, 14 days or 21 days away and expect their to be me, in my apron, primed and ready. Sexy, shaven, well rested, the house clean, the kids washed, the lawns mowed, the dogs walked and clean, the e-mails done, the bills paid and much much more but what if I couldn’t. What if I had no option, no time. There were times where this was possible but also times where it was not possible. This understanding was not there. The patience and acceptance was not there. More the anger, the disappointment and the words that could not be taken back, said. It was tiring, it was hard and more than ever I was made to feel like I was never good enough. It took me a while to realise it was not me but you. You were never happy. You would never be happy and the only thing you could do was make others unhappy. Just like you.

13. Small breasts, stretch marks and more. Unfortunately but proudly I can say I have stretch marks, I have breast that sag a little lower than before and I have love handles. While not an excuse of having a child or being 20 when I had her I wear them with pride now. I did not before. Before you, John, I wore them with disgust and angst. I wished for ‘bolt ons‘ as they are called. I wished for a tummy tuck and the perfect figure. To be honest I was 110kgs when I had her and now I am 76kgs. I think that’s enough of a triumph. The stretch marks will never disappear I wear them, as I said with pride, I built a human being and they are evidence of that. I tried to feed a young child and my breasts sit a little lower because of this I carry weight on my hips because I make more time for her than I do I. For now. Until she is independent and the woman I know she’s going to be. Then I will focus on me. I was told over and over my appearance was unacceptable and how I would be able to better myself with surgery or something. However, I never wanted it, I was made to think it would be the only way to make myself beautiful. Now that seems so stupid, so out there and such a wild expectation! You go to bed with me for me, you don’t pay attention to my lower lying breasts, the stretch marks I have and the love handles. Thank you!

The list could truly go on, but I would never know where to stop! Or expose myself and the hurtful and controlling nature of what I was exposed to. All I know is give me time and I will give you all of me.

I love big, laugh big and give big. I know nothing else. Always do to the detriment of myself. Be patient. Realise when I say I am yours, I am.

You are the best thing that has ever happened to me. You have freed my heart, my soul and certainly my spirit! One cannot ask for more!

You take my breath away everytime I see you for no other reason than you are all I ever hoped for. All I could ever ask for in a partner. You are honest, upfront, loving and most of all appreciative of who I am and what I do.

Thank you for freeing me!

The curse of the tattoo.

Tattoos are something that used to be frowned upon and yet now seem to be something we see on almost everyone.

They vary from small pictures or words to full sleeves, or even whole body works of art.

I have a few.. each with their own story. I think over time that’s what they become. However, I always thought one particular type of tattoo carries with it a curse and I believe, for me anyway, that it is and was true.

My first one was in a way an act of rebellion. I was 18 and had been in Australia 5 years. Being the teenager I was and having been told I was never allowed to get one, what did I did as soon as I was able….. well get a tattoo of course!

At that stage of my life I dreamed of being a marine biologist. You know one of those fit young women who swims with the dolphins and plays with all the marine animals. Like we see at Sea World and on TV.

So away I went, I got a dolphin with a blue Maori pattern. As usual at the time, on the right pelvic bone, which would be seen when I wore my bikinis to the beach.

Back when wearing bikinis was what I did.

It hurt like hell and I managed to keep it hidden from my parents for a while. My mother was the first to spot it and from there well the rest was history.

When I was pregnant my dad used to laugh and comment on how the head of my dolphin was becoming the size of a whale. Note to all the women out there, think about if you’re going to have kids when you decide on where to get a tattoo as they don’t quite return to normal after being stretched beyond what feels like a few watermelons!

Needless to say my tattoo returned to somewhat normal and my parents forgave me.

Time for a bigger one I said.

A few years later and a painful 8 hours I had a side piece. A somewhat green, red and yellow cherry blossom. Something I pictured as white and pink but did not turn out that way.

A piece that I have fond memories of.

The next smaller one was of a persons name. Now I say this like that as I had always vowed NEVER to get a persons name tattooed onto me. I always thought it would ‘curse’ me and or the relationship in some way.

People used to laugh at me when I told them this but I stood my ground.

Well until January 2018. I had been married almost two years and with him for nearly six. We had talked about getting each other’s name on ourselves…….. ah, sweet, how romantic you might be thinking or even cringing and thinking how corny. Well it was always discussed and I managed to put it off for over a year.

However, January 2018 rolled around and we had bought the house, been married for almost two years as I said before so I though that it couldn’t possibly be cursed. Everything was going swimmingly. Or so I thought.

On it went, 1 hour and a small simple pattern on my left wrist.

By May 2018 we were separated, by July the house we bought only a year earlier was sold and I haven’t heard from him in months.

Cursed you say? Was it the tattoo? Who knows but I do stand by the notion that by putting his name on me I had in some way cursed myself. It was just a feeling.

It’s now January 2019 and I have started the process of having it lasered off.

This was day 2. It took about 15 minutes and hurt like hell. It’s literally like having your skin burnt off, slowly, and you cannot pull away!

This is three weeks later. Healing well but will take at least three more goes before it will be faded enough to be faded enough not to be seen or even tattooed over.

Itchy as hell and still a reminder but soon enough will be gone.

Round two and this time I thought it would hurt less. I was very wrong! This session hurt even more. She spent a lot longer on it and as she said later; “I really zapped it!” You sure did I thought.

Two days later and it was swelling up like a water ballon on a tap. It hurt, was itchy and burnt when I touched it. One more session to go I hope!

It’s healing, two weeks now since the last session.

I suppose after all this, and when it’s finally gone I am not sure it won’t be ‘completely gone’. There may still be marks and a tiny bit of scarring but at the end of the day it will be a constant reminder for me.

I was right!

The small things..

It’s been a hot sweaty day at work, you come home and are exhausted. You’re teenager is short and moody at best and your holding your breathe each time you are near her as you are dreading the next argument. Trying not to rise to the occasion or be the ‘bigger person’ or the ‘adult’ as I have been told many times but hey, that’s not always the way we are!

It’s at times like these where we have to appreciate the small things. The things done by others which brighten up your day, your night or even light up your bum…..

Now I know you are wondering what on Earth did you just read, did I intend to write that???

Yes I did and here is why.

It has been one heck of a year and it was a few weekends back where I just felt like I wasn’t managing as a parent. The job was to hard and I began to question myself. I was exhausted, drained and near tears  from the moment I woke up.

My parents, who I had not seen for close to 8 weeks at this stage planned a visit. Arriving on the Friday afternoon and planning to leave on the Saturday.

I couldn’t have asked for better timing. When low, the only cure is family. That night, Friday night, I had to attend the Year 12 Valedictory evening. It was a good distraction and an opportunity to have a break from parenting, even if it was for a few hours. However, I could not wait to get home and have a hug and be reassured by my parents that I was doing okay, that it would be okay.

I was, to put it plainly feeling a little low. Like curling up in the fetal position and just sleeping for a few days.

Arriving home from the valedictory, seeing dad on the couch and knowing mum was upstairs I sighed! All would be okay, I was okay.

I raced upstairs to see if mum was still awake, she was, excited to open her own presents from Peru. I had had them wrapped and on the bed waiting for their visit.

Side note: You are probably thinking, when is she going to get to the point, when will this story relate to the heading of “The small things”.  Well it’s coming….

I was watching mum unwrap her presents and my 13 year old runs in and says, “Mum, go do a poo………..” Yes, those were her very words. I did not understand initially and had to ask her to repeat herself as I feared I had not heard her right.

But no, that is what she meant to say… and in fact, said it again. This time however she added, “or go do a wee, just go to the toilet mum!!!”

I did not think I smelt that bad….. However, this was not why she had said this..

My family, particularly my dad is a prankster. Always finding the humor in all he can and taking every opportunity to prank his children. When I was told, “Pops has done something to your toilet.” My first thought was, has he glad wrapped the toilet?

Instead he had installed a light, one that has a motion sensor and when you enter the room the toilet bowl lights up. Hence, lights up your bum.

It is this small gesture, this small thing, which has made me laugh many a time between then and now. I may be having a tough time, be unable to sleep or settle and without fail, the lighting up of the toilet bowl always makes me smile. It seems easier then to get settled after having an interaction with my glowing toilet!

It was at 3am the other morning, I was struggling to get to sleep and had worked myself into a state that rest was not going to come when I ventured into the toilet. Sitting down, the red glow, slowly changing to blue, green, yellow and white made me smile.

It made me think about how lucky I am to have the family I do. It was this small gesture that reminded me I was loved and even in the tough times it is okay to smile. It is the small things that people do that make everything seem so much less daunting, so much less ‘scary’.

If you do not have one of these toilet bowl light, get one. There is nothing like it. It may seem silly, or will not fit your decor but I can guarantee that those few seconds, minuted and/or hours (depending on your toilet routines) will be done with a smile on your face.

Failing as a parent?

Have you ever just stopped and looked at your children and thought; “am I failing as a parent?” Is this what I have role modelled and is this my fault?

Lately this question has been on my mind. It’s actually the centre of my daily thoughts and responsible for the unease and restless nights!

My parents met when they were young, high school sweethearts in fact. Two people who I have realised I put through hell but two amazing people. I am the strong and determined person I am today because of them. They may have felt like I do now at times I am sure, but I am where I am because of them! Achieving the things I am, travelling the world, Working with underprivileged children, building structures for them that we take for granted. Teaching our parents children to value what they have. Go be thankful!

I am wholesome and appreciative of everything I have because of the parents I have.

I was taught to always open the door for adults, to help clear the dinner table, to eventually pick up after myself. Not to swear, not to talk back (often), to try and not fight with my brother. I was taught to say thank you, to appreciate an education and eventually overtime realise all the money and time that had been spent to give me every opportunity under the sun!

When I found out I was having a child I vowed to be just like them. To bring her up with morals, teach her manners, teach her respect and to be thankful. To appreciate how truly lucky we are to have what we have and be where we are.

Today I question if I have failed as a parent?

Life has not been easy since she arrived. A surprise she was, but a wonderful surprise. Her father and I young and with nothing did the best we could with what we had. However, it was not enough. Single parenthood here I come. This was hard, you learn that you have to be the mum and the dad. You are the one they take it out on, the one who they cry out for at night and the one who is their centre when the world around them is just to much.

You never get a break. There is no such thing as ‘time out’ from parenting, but we get through it, the daily grind… we survive.

Was it that her father and I didn’t work out that I feel like I have failed?

No, that was not meant to be and for many years we co parented wonderfully.

New man on the scene a beautiful wedding but a ‘touch and go’ few years. Counselling, courts, tears, anger and more. I was again a single parent, the better decision, and time has and will continue to be spent rebuilding us both.

Was it this? Did I fail her again?

Today I sit hurt, angry and it feels like always on the verge of tears. The constant back chat, the entitlement and the lack of respect, the teenage years are upon me and again I am doing it alone.

No longer is her father in the picture, nor the man I loved for 6 years. I am again doing it alone. This time there is no co parent relationship, this time there is no one to ask for a break or a night off. No adult to converse with or to debrief after a hard day. Being invited out with the ladies and having to continually say ‘I can’t make it’ as there is only you. Knowing to leave for a night or take a break has to be organised, takes forward planning and organisation and at times you’re to tired to even think about doing it, even when you know it’s exactly what you need.

This time I am truly doing it alone and again I wonder if I have failed as a parent?

I have watched as the children at school have lost respect, lost manners and certainly lost the ability to be thankful! I have watched them grow more entitled and think at the age of 13 they are equal to us as adults. That our life experience means nothing. I have watched them push boundaries I would have been scared to even think of pushing.

I watch this all filter into my home! Is this what I had thought parenting would be like? Certainly not!!

Working two jobs to keep a house over our heads, spending the last cent I have to ensure she has what she needs and there is no thanks. Their is no gratitude. Is this because I have failed as a parent?

All the decisions I have made have been for the betterment of her. Does she understand? No at 13 she doesn’t. Will she ever? Maybe, one day.

All I know is I question if everything I have done and continue to do is failing her as a parent?

Is this parenting? Questioning what we are doing and if we are doing it right? If so parenting sucks and I wish to resign! I wish to put it on hold or get an ‘extension’ as the kids do at school on an assessment when the going gets tough.

We can’t though! We have to wake up, paste a smile on our face and keep going. Hoping that as a parent who works, provides and continues to teach those valuable life lessons will one day be enough. That these hard times and lessons will set up our children with the skills they will need when they leave the safety of our own home.

From the moments when they refused to leave you, huddled between your knees on that first day of school, the tears and the fear in their eyes. To the fighting and arguing as they learn to be independent. You watch as they learn to fail, have friendship issues and go through hard times and have to think it’s going to be okay. That’s all part of life, isn’t it? Part of parenting?

I guess I am not failing but doing what people have done for years. I am parenting to the best of my ability. Putting everything and all I have into it.

One has to hope that’s enough!

That liberating feeling! (Part 2)

It is surreal to think about where I was not only two weeks ago. Being back in the normal day to day activities of a school teacher, I find myself day dreaming and looking out the window expecting to see the snow capped mountains I became so accustomed to.

I wake with a start hoping, yes hoping, to find myself on the thin mattress, my clothes and hiking pack strewn all over the tent floor beside me.

But, no, I am in Australia, at home, in a bed and my clothes, while still possibly strewn on the floor are not half as dirty as the ones I was dreaming of!

The second half of this amazing journey was completing the Salkantay Trek. This trek is one of the many pathways the Incas took to get to Macchu Picchu. However, the Salkantay is less traveled by tourists and the general public.

“Why you ask?”

Well it is because it is dam, hard! Its a mental, physical and emotional challenge!

It is 5 days of waking early, constant walking, sometimes for 8 hours or more, over mountains, through snow, rain, sleet, amazonian heat and humidity and bugs…. lots and lots of very large bugs!

We talk about Melbourne weather here in Queensland being temperamental but man this was unreal!

Let me take you through the days one by one!

Day 1, the start…… a puffed out 15min walk from the bus and I was thinking to myself, I am already puffed, how am I going to survive the next 5 days…. A bead of sweat on my forehead and the heart rate increasing……..

It was okay though, these were all an effect from nerves and of course the altitude, as we were now sitting at 3800m above sea level. After breakfast in one of those amazing igloo shaped buildings, which mind you are quite warm and are part of the accommodation available for those who wished to rest prior to the trek, we set off……

The main section of day 1, and by far the most challenging section, was passing through the Salkantay pass, bordered by Mt. Salkantay herself. She is one astonishingly beautiful mountain who frequently disappeared behind the clouds only to reappear a minute later!

This is her, a majestic snow capped mountain!

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It took us approximately 5 hours to get to the top of the pass. We had already climbed a number of false peaks, at the top of which we thought, no more! But of course we kept going. Slow and steady, the altitude making it slow and steady!

It was cold, the lungs were burning, the hear rate was up and the legs were protesting, not wanting to take another step!

Finally, as we topped the 4800m crest we started getting wet with rain. The students commenting on how they hoped it would snow! We had mentioned snow was unlikely and we would have to be extremely lucky!

Well within a few minutes this rain turned to sleet and the sleet to snow! For one of our students this was her first time seeing snow, let alone having it thrown at her. It was such an amazing experience.

Lunch in freezing temperatures, huddled in a make shift thatch covered sleeping area, we admired the mountains as they disappeared under a white blanket, completely in awe of where we were and what we were seeing. I was wearing everything I possibly could and was still cold.

After lunch we left the snow capped mountain and began the decent through the pass and into the valley below where we spent our first night, a very cold night.

DAY 1

Day 2 was totally different, we entered the Amazonian forests. The heat, the humidity and of course the giant bugs that come with a rain-forest environment surrounded us. The mosquitoes were the size of small birds, okay a small exaggeration, but the holes they left in us were and still are quite large and very very itchy! We could not believe the change in climate!

Day 2 was 27km of downhill! This may sound easy, but let me assure you it was not! Camp was hot and humid however, a beautiful place to finally make at the end of a long 8.5 hours of walking. Again, something that had become the norm, we were accompanied at the campsite by a number of dogs. The dogs are everywhere. They line the city streets and all the public campsites even on the trek!

Apparently there is no control over their breeding and in some ways are appreciated by the locals as they deter the native wildlife when in camp. Most were clean enough, others were walking rabies infestations. Note to travelers – maybe consider a rabies vaccination!

Day 3 was a massive day. Whilst only 14km long,  it took us just over 8 hours to crest the mountain our camp was resting on top of. From this camp we could see Machu Picchu, so far away, yet so close. There is no better feeling than seeing your end goal, the reason you are doing the trek, the final days reward as you fall asleep exhausted from the days trek.

We still had a way to go yet but it was a sensational feeling.

Playing UNO while we sat inside a small building atop the mountain, thunder, lightening and torrential rain outside. The mist covering the mountains, we as, as a group came together enjoying each others company and relishing in our individual accomplishments.

The conversations often ‘interesting’ and the topics discussed deep and meaningful. This is what I treasure the most, watching the team push through the hard times, smash those mental, emotional and physical barriers and come together on the other side! There is no better reward.

Day 4, we descended the mountain and followed the train tracks which never seemed to end arriving at our base camp after a mere 17km and 8 hours of walking. Again!

Machu Picchu looming ‘very’ high above us, almost unreachable at that point in time. We all took a moment, stopped and said to one another; “How do we get up there tomorrow?”

Accompanied by 9 wild dogs. Each of which were given a descriptive and amusing name. We enjoyed our final camp dinner, cooked by our very own chef. The chef, who had managed to erect a make shift kitchen using a tarp and three wooden pylons. A hot drink and the maize specialty dessert were had before we retired early, knowing we had a 4:30am start.

Day 5, the day we had all been waiting for!

We set off up the 1876 steps to the summit, or the gates of Machu Picchu.

Joined by thousands of others from around the world we entered these gates and immediately, were breathless. The sheer size of the ruins, atop the mountain and in the clouds was unbelievable! Seeing it from below or the side will never truly reveal how amazing the ruins and the expanse they cover until you are looking at them from above!

The Incans were truly astounding people and what they were able to build and construct without the tools we have now is hard to believe. The stability and precision something we do not see today! They used the boulders atop the mountain to build their places of worship, their houses and even a sundial. The wealthy and the workers separated by the vertical gardens all terraced and now covered in plush green grass.

Splitting from the group and taking the time to move in and out of these amazing buildings, look down the sheer cliffs from their windows and interact with the Lamas was something special. The ruins are tightly supervised by a number of locals who all have whistles. You are not allowed to be loud, jump up and down, eat or sit on the ruins. If you do they will blare their whistles and wave at you wildly. The reason you are not allowed to jump up and down is they have had multiple deaths from people doing this and falling off the side and to their deaths. Who would have thought!

For a lot of people, myself included, life can seem to move to fast, be to hard and feel so unsatisfying. Well this was a moment where it felt all to overwhelming for me! As someone close to me said, “Shelley your cup is never half full, it is always overflowing!’ This was an overflowing moment and boy did I feel it in my bones. How lucky was I to be where I was and to have done what I had done. Even better I had done it with other peoples children and given them an experience I had waited 33 years for before they had even left high school!

That liberating feeling! (Part 1)

It’s weird to think that a week ago today I was finishing the final day of the Salkanty trek, ending up at the base camp of Machu Picchu……

Now I am sitting in my all to familiar little abode with the spring breeze floating through the house, the suns out and I feel liberated, free and totally self satisfied!!

The South American trip was two years in the making! It’s hard to believe now that it is over.

I am still in awe of what we did as a team! I mean who can say they have built three fully functioning toilets for a small kindergarten class that were using the small patch of dirt behind their classroom as their toilet??

Well I can and the 8 students who came with me can!

It’s amazing what hard work, being a team and basically pushing through the mental and physical barriers of being exhausted, adjusting to altitude and an overall lack of sleep can produce.

Arriving at the camp, day 2 of being in South America, our view snow capped mountains that stretched for days! Tents, our accomodation.

I was totally overwhelmed with where we were and what we were about to undertake. Would we finish our project in time? Would we all adjust to the altitude? Would anyone get sick? All these thoughts, racing through my head.

I laugh now as all it took was looking out at the view and we had to realise that we had already achieved so much! We had arrived! The rest was easy!

Waking each day at 6:30am, breakfast in the small hall built by a previous team using mud bricks called Adobes, we fuelled our bodies for the day ahead. The hike down to the school was always a quick and easy one! As downhill always is!

When we arrived it was straight to work. Mixing concrete, sifting sand, walking to get buckets of water…. the list goes on! We all became brick layers, sifters and concrete mixers. We watched the wall start to grow, the first line of bricks already down! We worked alongside a local ‘Mistro’ named Sisilo! He was so amazing and man did he work. He NEVER stopped!

Here in the first world we have no idea what hard work is! These guys do!

Nothing happens quickly in a third world!

Over 6 days our toilet block started to take shape! It was extraordinary! Each day we would pack up, dirty, exhausted and sweaty ready for our warm bucket showers.

These showers though, were at the top of the hill we walked down every morning. Now as I said downhill was easy! The uphill was crazy! We felt the altitude when we started the climb! It was only a 1.16km walk, straight up mind you, but it felt like a mountain! Your heart pumping faster than ever before, your breath stolen from you, your legs burning and the sounds of blood pumping in your ears! Altitude is an amazing thing! You can’t see it but you can feel it!

It took us 47minutes on day 1 and I am proud to say by the end of the 6 days we managed to get it done in under 26 minutes! Booya!!!

When given the chance we can do amazing things! From start to finish here is our progress!!

How amazing is that!!!

I have been asked a few times before why would you pay, or make students pay to go overseas to build a toilet. Why make them pay to work?

Well it’s easy! Look at what we achieved! In the first 6 days of this amazing 17 day adventure (see part 2 coming for the second half of the trip), we flew 33 hours, went on 5 planes, discovered the airports, came together as a team, shared stories, discovered the sights of Cuzsco, hiked up and down a hill each day, watched our project transform from one row to ten to over 20!

We watched the small local kids smile as they themselves saw their toilets transform! Our gift to them! This strange group of white ‘Gringos’ who has flown across the world to build something just for them!

We pay to help as without us they would still be going to the toilet at the back of their classroom, in the dirt and the dust.

We pay to show our over privileged children just how lucky they are!

We pay to give back to those less fortunate.

We pay to find ourselves and to build on what we have already!

We pay to build resilience, grit, patience and awareness!

We pay because the benefits far outweigh the costs!

(Stay tuned, this is only a snippet of what was a life changing, mind altering and liberating 17 days!)

Back of the toilet door

Toilets – something we all need, use often and in fact spend a lot of time in.

I wanted to find out on average how long we spend in the toilet so I used the most trusted website – ‘Google’. Here’s what it said.

“Now research has proved that women really do spend longer locked in the bathroom – the equivalent of one year, seven months and 15 days, a month longer than men.

It found men spend an hour and 45 minutes every week going to the toilet – whereas women get everything over with in a mere 85 minutes a week.

The poll of 2,500 people revealed that going to the toilet accounts for the biggest chunk of time spent in the bathroom – an average of one hour and 42 minutes a week, or almost 92 days over a lifetime”

(https://www.google.com.au/amp/s/www.scotsman.com/news/how-long-do-we-spend-in-bathroom-1-189-years-1-1072528/amp)

Is that not mind blowing or what!

Not only are there a variety of shapes, sizes, colours and layouts of toilets but even more interesting is what can be found on the back of them. It seems this is a place where we ‘used’ and I say that now as more often than not we are no longer staring at the back of the door but rather at our screen.

In saying that, I spent time looking at the back of toilet doors and I found them the most interesting places and it was quite an experience.

The back of toilet doors, water closets (WC), Dunny’s, lavatories, loo’s, home offices, big hole and more, are wonderful places! They are places which may enable one to gather knowledge and find out about the area you are living in or visiting. They can be a source of inspiration or motivation.

What you read and see, on the back of the toilet door can vary from articles, photos, newspaper clippings quotes and comments.

I did some asking around. This included adults, children, colleagues and also some randoms. I must say I did receive some weird looks, but these were the most common things found, seen or remembered in or more importantly on the back the toilet door.

1. Calendars – Some of us need to be assured what day or month it is. I have never seen a calendar on the back of a toilet door as of yet. however, one of the things I think about when i visualise a calendar is more the pictures that may come with the dates. Who knows the actual date anymore? That’s what our phones, computer watches and other devices are for! It may be useful for birthday reminders? You can send of a quick text while on the loo. Saves time later, or even forgetting!

2. Times tables chart or even a periodic table – to help educate our young ones. In this age of technology we would need to pry the phone or Ipad from their hands for this to even be remotely effective! I don’t think I ever heard my daughter reciting the times tables when she was on the loo. There is hope though and I think as parents we do hope the small things will make the bigger difference!

3. Historical posters – for example one teenage girl mentioned her father had historical war posters which included images and history of war tanks. This may mean you spend longer in the toilet reading them and I myself would need them to be changed or updated to be informative. Maybe this is to much to ask.

4. A book review – apparently these can be found on the toilet doors at a school. What a cool idea.

5. Signs, more often than not written in different languages, which highlight cultural expectations – such as please do not stand on the seat or how to dispose of sanitary items. These used to be mostly in English. The one I see frequently is written in five languages!

6. How to squat, the right way to do this. These signs usually include weird little stick figures or images which show the correct posture and then the cleaning process which should follow.

7. How to use a ‘bidet’ these are the small fountains which send cold rushing water into weird places! These are cultural and can be found in;  European countries, South American countries,  Middle Eastern countries and throughout East Asia, especially in Japan. They are more commonly found or as a separate structure anymore but have you ever wondered what the ‘hose’ is adjacent to the toilet.

8. Graffiti – this is where you find out who loves who and also who has hurt who. You can also generally make out the differences between being in a public toilet, a workplace toilet and the of course the high end building toilets. I mean if you take the following. One is the back of a public toilet, another from a popular food chain which has lots of people pass through it and the final one is of a toilet door in a high rise office building where your heels click on the marble as you walk in. You can spot the differences.

9. Motivational sayings and life goals.

10. Mirrors – hmmm I might leave that one alone and let your mind wander 🙂

Not only are toilets such an interesting place, where, face it, we do spend a lot of time but they can also when visiting something send our noses into overdrive or make us feel like we are living it up.

Rather than describe them I thought, as the saying goes, a picture tells a thousand words.

Enjoy, these are toilets from across the globe.

A ‘bommy’ or bush toilet used on Outward Bound. A bucket with a plastic bag. These can be interesting, especially when there are 18 people using it!

A public shower and toilet block built by volunteers in Kenya, Africa. This is luxury!The toilet, a long drop. Built by volunteers in Kenya. If you left the light on at night it attracted wildlife you did not want to share your time with.A toilet in Nairobi, I don’t think it was useable.