Wednesday, July 30, 2008

lawyered up

Sorry if you've been waiting on this, although I'm sure you haven't been. Firstly, I have been off trekking the Inca trail. Easy :) Secondly, this, the fourth column, is a total rip off of a blog i wrote a while back. Seriously, it's almost word for word. I'm only posting it so I have a record of all my columns.

I have a lawyer and I’m not afraid to use him. Actually, that’s a lie. I do, in fact, have a lawyer but I am utterly afraid to use him.

Update: I am getting a divorce. Probably the most frustrating thing about that is I have never been married. Huh? Okay, so I’m not actually getting a divorce, but may as well be.

Mr X and I owned property. Moguls, for shizzle. So we have to get a separation agreement. Even though we are amicable, and smart, and can sit down over a coffee or three and split possessions in a fair and rational manner, the world says "nope, sorry, you have a pay a lawyer an outlandish sum of money so they can turn your completely logical ideas and conclusions into jargon that resembles Japanese more so than English. Because you don't understand what they are saying, or what you're reading, you'll succumb to their jaw-dropping fees just to get the hell out of their office and finally farewell the situation you're in".

This is my life at the moment. X's lawyer writes document. Posts it to me (even though X could have just given it to me when we caught up for coffee two days earlier) with 800 canary-yellow stickers which say SIGN HERE, SIGN HERE, SIGN HERE, SIGN HERE, SIGN HERE, SIGN get the point.

I choose not to even look at it. En route to MY lawyer, for no apparent reason other than a build up of "this sucks", I start to cry. Fool. I find a park, compose myself and walk towards MY lawyer's office. I walk in.

"Hi, I have a 12 o'clock with *i can feel that, piss off throat lump, not in front of the receptionist* David Johnson," phew, survival."No worries, take a seat."

Now, this is no doctor’s surgery. There's no New Idea from September, 1997 to help me take my mind of things. This is particularly unfortunate because I was really hoping for an update on Princess Di. Did you know she died? Seriously.

"Hi Kate, how are you? My name's Alice, come on through"

First thought; you're delightful. Second; you're not David. David is on his way back from Brisbane apparently. Alice will start of our consultation by getting the background.

"Let's start at the start," says Alice. Good plan. My response, tears. She is empathetic, and searches for tissues. I am mortified. For as long as I can remember, I have been the kind of girl to play the hardarse card. Want vulnerability? You will NOT find it here. But then I figure, Alice doesn't know this, or me...more tears.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry...I'm fine." Mmm, obviously. We proceed. Life story is told, peppered with teary episodes. David arrives. Goddamit, it's so much easier to cry in front of women. I just know they're both thinking I have been left at the altar or experienced some equally horrific, one-sided breakup but, no, just having an emotional day.

I think one of the things that really scares me is I've come to the point of requiring a lawyer. That I actually need a third party to give me professional advice, assistance and a whopping bill.

I don't even have my own accountant. I don't even have my own doctor. I *sob* don't *sob* even *sob* have *sob* a *sob* booooooyfriiiend *waaaaaaaaaa*

Over it though. Really.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

no more mr nice guy

I feel it is my duty to inform you I am not a martyr. Don’t be fooled by this volunteer project I am working on and don’t be fooled by my words of admiration, although heartfelt, for the children of Pumamarca.


I do not, as a friend suggested in a comment a couple of blogs ago, have a heart of gold. My heart comprises gold, no doubt. I am capable of and often inclined to deliver kind, generous acts, especially towards those I love. But I know my heart also boasts a little silver, some bronze, probably some tulle, a bit of cellophane, a paddle pop stick or two and, I’ve got to say, there’s a touch of onyx in there too (onyx is black, in case you missed the point).

Here’s the thing. The decision to come to Cusco and work for Peru’s Challenge was one made with my own interests at heart. The fact a charity, and the gorgeous, struggling kids of Pumamarca would somehow benefit was a bonus. This was about me doing something out of my comfort zone and growing from it. It was about me gaining a new perspective. And, it’s no secret, it was about me running away from an unrecognisable and sometimes scary life at home.

Here’s the other thing. Having now been here three weeks, I am so ready to leave. The kids and going to school remains the highlight of my days. The few friends I have made have also made the experience a memorable one. But the cons are starting to come to the fore.


I dropped the c-bomb in the shower two days ago because, yet again, the hot water was AWOL. I never use that word.

I have been feeling sick for the last seven days, two of those were spent on a drip in hospital with nurses whose language I don’t speak. Note to self: learn how to ask “should you be sticking that syringe of weird stuff in my IV?” in Spanish.

I am scared of Peruvian food for fear of watching it come back up, again, and, as a result, I am feeling sick from starvation. How do you do it Mary Kate? How?

My dreams continue to be interrupted by barking dogs, whistle-blowing security guards and early-rising volunteers void of courtesy.

I am so, very over the tools in this volunteer group. There seems to be an unreasonable number of them and they’ve been getting worse as time has past. My intolerance for dickheads doesn’t help the cause.

See, it’s still me, mum. Anything in small doses, few things in big ones.

Monday, July 21, 2008

salmonella, not just my sister's nickname

I’ve just been released from Peruvian hospital. Two nights on an IV drip. Interesting. I’m fine now, in case you’re wondering. But two days ago, ugh.

It started Friday morning. I woke up feeling off but I got better after a piece of toast and headed to school. One art class down, another to go. I started okay, but finished outside, on the cool concrete, with my head in my hands.

I wasn’t the only one. Another volunteer hadn’t even made it to school. She was hugging the toilet bowl while I was helping gorgeous kids stick eyes on paper fish.

A visit from Dr Victor that afternoon yielded answers. After a blood and “pee pee” test, it was revealed I had salmonella, a severe urinary tract infection and amoeba. Am I sharing too much, btw?

Anyway, the UTI is an interesting one. Firstly, the doc kept calling it a “pee pee” infection which never stopped being cute. But secondly, I’ve had a UTI before and it makes me cry when I pee. With this apparently “severe” infection, I felt nothing. But whatever, he’s the doc and I’m chewing antibiotics as I type.

But, it was the amoeba which was really screwing with me. The Doc said one strain would be enough to make someone ill and I had over 100. Winner.

He said I should go to hospital. I imagined what kind of treatment one would receive at a third world facility. But, after some reassurance from the Peru’s Challenge president, I packed my bag for a two-night stay at Casa de Hospitalo, courtesy of my travel insurance.

The thing is, you get any of these conditions in Australia and you might take a sick day but here, the bacteria is so much stronger than we’re used to, it takes a lot more to fight it off.

I spent two days on an IV drip. I also spent two days throwing up the very little food I ate. Hope it shows on the scales.

I returned today to a volunteer house full of casualties. Everyone who ate at the restaurant I did on Thursday night has been diagnosed with something. It’s just unfortunately I was diagnosed with three of the four things going around.

We’re all blaming the guy who booked the restaurant, his favourite, even though it was a farewell dinner for a group of four who had requested we go somewhere else. Of course, he couldn’t have foreseen such consequences, but it’s nice to have someone to stare down en route to the bathroom for yet another chuck.

On the plus side, the little cutie pictured below, whose face, to me, has rascal written all over it, saw me feeling sorry for myself outside class on Friday and decided to help cheer me up. A sequence of big hug around the neck, kiss on the check, and an adorable look which seemed to say “is that better?” was repeated about 10 times before she ran from an approaching teacher, no doubt trying to get her back inside. To be fair, she was probably only making me sicker, the snotty face and all, but she was too cute to reject.

Immune system and self portrait abilities both amiss

So, the trials and tribulations of Peruvian food. I am on a strict, self-prescribed diet of vegetables and bread until I leave.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

home is where the heart is

Meet Darwin...

Darwin is a happy, eight-year-old kid. He posed proudly for this picture when I asked him which bed was his.

There are only two beds in Darwin’s house and they sleep three boys. Not sure how, but they do. Hernan, pronounced ernarn, is 13 and Yuri is six. The brothers live together, alone, in a one-room house the size of a modest bedroom. In the absence of parents, Hernan looks after his brothers. Need I remind you, he is 13.

What were you doing when you were 13? I was in Year 8 receiving a better than decent education which I, at times, went to waste while I was too busy trying to be cool. I was gossiping with girls and flirting with boys. On the home front, I lived with my mum and two sisters who I constantly fought with. No reason, maybe a bit pissed of at the whole broken family thing but, probably just a brat really. A huge bedroom, with ensuite and walk-in robe, was being built on the back of our already three-bedroom family home which, upon completion, would be mine.

Back to the boys. Their father left the family for another woman many years ago. As a result, their mother (let’s call her Julia) turned to alcohol. With the support of Peru’s Challenge she was sober for about three months earlier this year before she returned to the bottle. To make matters worse, she had an affair with a married man who, like her, lives in Pumamarca. The man’s wife put Julia in hospital and, once released, she was basically banished from the community. Therefore, the boys now live alone.

The boys' living area
Normally grateful for the efforts of Peru's Challenge, the community do not appreciate the organisation's support of Darwin et al purely on the basis they are Julia's sons.
This assistance though, is very simple. A weekly home visit yields a bag of rice and some toilet paper. Although their small, cold, dark home was built as a result of Peru’s Challenge funding.

They are not sent to an orphanage because of a promise made by the boys’ older brother. He is about 30, lives in Cusco (about a 25 minute drive) and claims to visit them once weekly. He doesn’t.

But, just like the rest of the Pumamarca students, Hernan, Darwin and Yuri attend school with smiles on their faces and hope in their eyes. It’s tragically beautiful.

While we spend most of our time at the school, home visits represent the other side of the volunteers’ role with Peru’s Challenge. Rostered once a week, each volunteer will visit probably three or four houses per outing. It’s heart-breaking.

The conditions are as bad as I’ve seen. Housing only the bare necessities, homes are simply worlds apart from anything I’ve ever known.

The outdoor kitchen
I am told of a Pumamarca family of 11 who all sleep in the same double bed frame. And I said frame people. No mattress, no blankets, no pillows – just a wooden frame. Me? Give me a queen sized bed and stay on your side. I’m trying to sleep here goddamit.
If nothing else, Hernan, Darwin and Yuri are an inspiration to each and every volunteer who has been welcomed into their home.

Me included.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

what to do?

Column three, at your service

In case you’ve missed it, here’s a quick summary of the story so far.
Boy meets girl. Boy and girl together six years. Boy and girl break up. Girl lost.

Just to clarify, by ‘lost’, it’s not that am lost without a boyfriend. I know girls like that and they need a good slap. They are also likely, in my humble opinion, to be the girls who end up settling for a husband because they feel they’re running out of time and, as a result, not being as happy as they truly could and should be.

Instead, I guess I am lost in an ocean of options. For the first time in six years I get to make an utterly selfish decision. I get to make my next step based on exactly what I want to do and need not consider anyone in the thought process.

First thought, run. Run as far away as you can. And I am seriously contemplating it. I have long been jealous of my globetrotting mates so, why not?

It’s certainly the right time. I don’t have anyone keeping me here and I am certainly not sticking around for my job.

My career took a major shake up as a result of my relationship breakdown. Under normal circumstances, the two wouldn’t be related but, lucky me, I worked with my ex. Anyway, for the sake of our relationship and my sanity, I decided to ‘do the right thing’ and move on.

I went from sports writing, my dream career since I was 15, at a daily paper to council reporting at a weekly, community rag in the space of a week. Adding to my separation with the ex, I was now professionally heartbroken. Even writing about writing about the council makes me fall asl….zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

In journalism, it’s not enough to be a talented writer. You have to care about what you’re reporting because apathy is transparent. But tell me, how am I supposed to get excited about a new set of traffic lights, a petition against a perfectly reasonable development application, or a resident whinging about the perceived global conspiracy of fading shop-a-dockets?

I can’t do it anymore. I don’t care. There needs to be more to my life than a career. No longer do I want to throw “not much, just working” at friends who ask what I’ve been up to lately. One day my husband and kids will be my life, and I look forward to that time, but what about now?

What to do, what to do? It’s a question which, for me right now, had endless answers. That’s both scary and exciting. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

the running man is coming to town

Before I left Australia, bound for a volunteer project in Cusco, Peru, I was asked time and time again; ‘so, what exactly will you be doing?’.

Now, finally, I can accurately answer that question.

For the next month (well, more like three weeks now) I will be working at a primary school in Pumamarca, a poverty-stricken mountain village just outside Cusco.

There are about 150 students at Pumamarca. Before Peru’s Challenge stepped in two years ago there were 13 and the Department of Education was threatening to close the school down, as it had done to so many others in Cusco’s poor regions. In the words of Fat Bastard, it was a “vicious cycle” – not enough students to keep the doors open but education standards too low to attract enough students.

Now, the ramifications of your school closing sucks a little more in Cusco than, say, having to enroll in Mt Austin High instead of Kooringal (although, that would have been pretty bad). When Pumamarca closed, the students’ education stopped. They would instead work long, laborious hours at home or in nearby fields – their youth lost.

The five hours these kids spend at school are the happiest and most carefree of their day. There is no sign of the dire conditions which await them at home. They laugh, they play, they learn and they adore it.

Step foot in the school grounds and you are greeted by swarms of smiley, boisterous children. The little ones, some as young as two (they follow their brothers and sisters to school), run towards the group, arms outstretched before wrapping them around the volunteers’ legs for a heartfelt hug. You can do nothing but melt when they look up at you with big, grateful brown eyes.

Sure, you’re a stranger, but they know you are part of Peru’s Challenge and the not-for-profit organisation is the only reason the school exists.

The kids also love having their photo taken. "Photo amiga, photo". But it's the ability to immediately review the picture on your digital camera, an otherwise unseen luxury, which fascinates them most. Simple pleasures.

I have so far been allocated the roles of teaching art, singing and PE classes. Oh, and dance. Wonder how the Peruvians will take to the running man? I’ll also be helping run the after-school sports program, helping with the construction of the new kindergarten building (we all chip in with that one), and writing the newsletter (for the program and the website, not the school).

A recent art class yesterday reaped heart-warming rewards when, later the same day, we saw the cellophane animals proudly displayed on bedroom walls during our first lot of home visits.

Performed by each volunteer once weekly, home visits are where the harsh realities of life outside school come to heart-breaking light.

Till next time.

PS: I miss my friends like the Cowboys miss winning.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

canned fruit anyone?

Quick question. When will I grow up?

When Peruvians stop naming peaches after the female reproductive system probably.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

get out of my head Missy Higgins

Column two. So far, the scariest I've written. I only imagine it will remain so.

The good news is, my boss thinks I write well. It’s probably why I have a job. The bad news is, he wants me to divulge more.

``I just want to reiterate, the writing’s terrific, really accessible…but I want to know more. Why did you guys break up?”

I have to wonder whether, as a passionate gossip, said boss actually wants to find out more simply to add to his personal collection but I will reluctantly oblige.

The thing is, I have been trying to work out what went wrong for the last six months. What happened? Was it me? What could I have done better? I am yet to come up with a succinct answer. So boss, a warning; in my effort to be utterly honest, my writing may just go to shit.

So far I’ve told myself, and others, that working alongside my boyfriend put too much strain on our relationship. For four years we woke up together, showered together, ate breakfast together, got ready together, drove to work together, spent eight hours sitting next to each other, went to the gym together, went home together, ate dinner together, went to bed together and started the process again the next day.

We got so used to being together, day to day life, and therefore our relationship, became monotonous. That’s what I tell people. And it’s true. But while it was a factor, it’s not the reason we broke up.

The sad truth is we both got to a point where we were asking questions. Not of each other (which was probably a problem in itself) but of our relationship and whether it was heading in the right direction. They were questions I never considered in the early years and they were questions which scared the complete crap out of me.

Society and, possibly more often, television tells us that “you’ll just know” when you’ve met THE one. The funny thing is, for years, I did know. He was the one. We were destined to get married and live happily ever after. But it unravelled.

I cannot and will not speak for the man in question but, from my point of view, a combination of expectation and fear combined to release doubt in my mind.

Expectations the perfect relationship should travel completely smoothly, even when I am smart enough to know that’s not the case, and fear of following in the footsteps of my parents whose split when I was six (and seven, and eight, and nine, and 11) produced shock waves which still linger 20 years on.

That doubt ate away at me until I first heard Missy Higgins’ Where I Stood. I was alone, in my car, and I started to cry.

“There were sounds in my head, a little voice is whispering, that I should go and this should end and I found myself listening…you mean more to me than anyone I ever loved at all but you taught me how to trust myself and so I say to you, this what I have to do.”

I cried, I blubbered, I was an embarrassing mess but, just as Missy said:

“I don’t know who I am without you, all I know is that I should.”

I don’t make a habit of taking advice from strangers but never have I been so personally touched by song lyrics. I knew it was over. I was devastated but, finally, I was sure.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

poverty and positivity

Safe and sound in Peru people.

First impressions? It’s dilapidated, dirty and ugly yet, strangely beautiful.

The flight here with Aerolineas Argentinas, or Aerolineas ArgenCRAP, was painful for many reasons. Firstly, my flight was delayed five hours. Then my connection in NZ was delayed a couple more. Given the delays, I was going to miss my connection to Lima from Buenos Aires but, what do you know, that plane was delayed too and I caught it by about 30 minutes. Winner by default.

In fear of sounding precious, the worst thing about the airline was the entertainment. Mostly because there was none. None! There was one mini television at the front of each aisle which showed the time at point of origin and destination but that’s not going to keep anyone occupied for 19 hours.

Far more annoying though, and hardly the fault of the airline, was the guy I spent 11 hours next to from Auckland to BA. Firstly, he was a hocker. You know, sniffing the excess snot from nose to throat with gusto. Ewww, get away. But then, it got worse. Far, far worse. He took off his shoes. Oh, the smell. That foul, wretched smell. I was gagging and spent the entire trip with my cardy across my nose. Is it just me or does it feel worse to breathe bad smells in through the mouth. I feel as if I’m eating it. Ugh.

Anyway, Lima was the first port of call. I arrived at my hotel at about 1am which is 6pm Australian time. I couldn’t sleep. I watched The Wonder Years in Spanish but it’s only funny for so long.

The next day, I arose at about 11am. I’m blaming the jet lag but we all know I can sleep in that long on any given day. I braved the outside world solo for a few hours before I joined three fellow Peru’s Challenge volunteers at the meeting point for the City of Lima tour.

One was Tricia. A 29-year-old American who loves ice cream. Instant friends. The tour was interesting-ish. Worthwhile-ish. Glad to have done it but not running back to Lima any time soon.

Signs Lima won't go down as a must see destination: most memorable sight was a clothesline

Off to Cusco, or Cuzco depending on where you’re from, and I was immediately more impressed by the southeastern city upon landing. Flying through the Andes will do that to you, I suppose.

Like Lima, Cusco boasts the stark contrast of poverty and beauty. Rundown homes are set among spectacular mountains, ramshackle roofs shelter bright, colourful walls and deprived people sport broad, genuine smiles.

For the next month, the Peru’s Challenge volunteer house in Larapa will be my home. I am sharing a small room, showers are luke warm if you’re lucky and you cannot flush toilet paper – but we live in luxury compared to the locals.

It took less than 24 hours to turn “how am I going to live in this city for one month” into “one month isn’t going to be nearly enough time here”.

The reason for the change of heart? Pumamarca.

Watch this space.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

i'm freaking out here people

my column started in the Townsville Bulletin on friday. it's been in the pipeline for so long i had forgotten about how scary it was going to be. put broadly, it's kind of about my life and, at the moment, that means it's about how i recently made a life changing 180 degree turn. i know life changing is meant to have a hyphen but i'm in peru and i can't find the key. only just found the apostrophe. anyway, it's really easy for me to write about my life, but not so easy to think about people, particularly strangers reading it. in know, i know, why have a column and, furthermore, why post it on camelshoes. just staying true to the walking contradiction i's number one...

If you’re reading this, I’ve managed to convince my boss I’m a literary genius and deserve my own column. Well done me.

Let me start by saying, I just spelt genius wrong. How ironic. I’m calling it a typo, thanking spell check and cursing my honesty. But since the basis of my ‘give-me-a-column-cos-I-write-good-and-stuff’ argument was honesty, I figured I’d better follow through.

So, let me be honest.

My name’s Kate Jacka. I don’t know where Jacka comes from but I do claim to be related to Albert Jacka – the first Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross medal. I hope it’s true. I often omit the fact my middle name is Shivaune. Mostly because of the funny looks I get.

I’m 26 although I’ve been estimated at 33 (that was a bad day, especially since I was 24 at the time) and my five-year-old cousin guessed I was 15 and few weeks ago. Admittedly, it was probably the oldest possible age he could think of.

I have been with my boyfriend, partner, lover (I never know what to call him) for more than six years. I have a thriving career, the world’s best friends, own two properties and life is good.

Oh, no, hang on. That was six months ago. Now I am single, at odds with my career and am going through a horribly trying possession split which is costing me the gross domestic product of New Zealand in lawyers’ fees. I feel like punching things. Not people, things. Things which don’t punch back.

I’ve never really been through a break up of this magnitude before. My previous boyfriend was a three-monther and we split because of university holidays. Now that’s commitment. Anyway, breaking up is proving to be so much fun. You should try it. Now, where’s that sarcastic font key?

The hardest part, quite seriously, is the man I’ve ‘let go’ is possibly one of the most perfect catches a girl could hope for. I question the decision daily. I cry weekly.

The inner-monologue goes something like this:

It’s the right decision. The timing wasn’t right for us.
Mmm, timing. Nice excuse. How about, you’re scared.
I’m not scared. I’m just…I’m just not ready. There’s so much to be done before I settle down.
Like run away from any serious commitment. It wasn’t too long ago you were ready to marry this guy.
Things change. And I’m not running away. I’m living my life.
Yeh, and giving up the perfect man in the process. Smart.
Yes, he’s perfect, but not perfect for me right now.
Does that even make sense?
Shut up. Just shut up.

External monologue: tears, or frustration. Actually, tears of frustration.

The tears don’t sit well with me. I try very hard to maintain an image of strength. Basically I like people to think I’ve never shed a tear in my life. I’m not sure why that’s so important, especially since I’m yet to watch an episode of Oprah with dry eyes.

“Oh my God, Oprah’s giving everyone in the audience a car. That’s awesome. They are so lucky. She is so nice. They’re all so thrilled. Awwwww.” Cue happy tears.

“Oh my God. She’s addicted to drugs because she was abused as a child and she can’t pull herself out of it. She’s sharing her innermost thoughts and feelings. Oprah’s giving her a hug.” Cue empathy tears.

Those tears are easy though. They have disappeared by the ad break by which time I have my head in the fridge wondering what I can snack on. I am tear-free and back on the couch with an ice cream just in time for Oprah to discuss problem eating. Coincidence?

Right now, my life needs and ad break or two. A little timeout where I can forget my life has been turned upside down. I think some people call it Friday night drinks. Vodka cranberry, thanks.
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