Archive for October, 2008

Another day, another whinge.

It’s been an odd week.

It started off with a hangover, and ended on a headache.

After a 3-way bitch about the subletter, with the sublettee and other housemate, E, I found it hilarious and downright hypocritical that sublettee, who returned on Thursday exhibited similar, if not WORSE, behaviour last night. I had about 3 hours sleep in total, as a result of singing, squeeling, laughing and carrying on til 4am. It just smacks of direspect. And after all our talk about how V, the subletter was being a cockmunch for slamming doors and waking people up at 3am. This is actually significantly worse.

The 15-year-old rebel in  me wants to exact revenge: loud, anarchic revenge, at a similar hour, just to rub it in how fucking hypocritical it all was. How many times had I been told by her to quiet down and shut up: no, I’m not putting up with it.

In other news, A is booked in for an operation on Tuesday: dual sinus/palette surgery with a tonsilectomy. Hopefully this will repair his problems breathing/sleeping. I freaked out when I first heard about it, and then A started freaking out, but now we’re both a little more confident in the procedure. I don’t know how long I can stick around after the op; I’m a little scared of seeing him either in pain or sedated or in bandages.

Anyway. I actually have a fair deal more to say, but as I’m quite tired, it’s just not making its way to my fingertips and onto the keyboard.

Time to go and have a beer.


Britt Lapthorne: confirmed dead

I got a text from my partner this morning, who had been listening to the news when he found out. There was a wave of nausea, and then intense sadness. The search can end, Britt’s body has been found.

Anyone who read my previous post would understand why I have a strong reaction to this. I never knew Britt, although I have a friend of a friend that did nor have I ever been to Croatia. Unfortunately, this story is quite close to home, in that it could have very nearly happened to me. It could happen to any of us, actually. It’s made me hyper-aware of the realities of women travelling alone, in fact, it may even put me off doing so. I know it’s not entirely warranted to feel that way, based on an isolated incident, but the fact is that you can never be wholly confident, or be sure of people’s intentions, or trust people who you meet on your travels entirely.

In light of this news, and my reflections on it, I’m actually really worried for my housemate, E, who is leaving to go to Eastern Europe within a matter of weeks. She’s travelling alone for 3 months, in a time when it’s starting to get bleakly cold out that way. I am quite concerned for her safety. Because this news about Britt is so fresh,  I haven’t had a chance to talk to her about it… I’m curious to hear her take on it, and whether it will affect her travels in any way.

To conclude: this is the very first time something I’ve heard about in the news has genuinely made me sad. All the tsunamis and plane crashes and bombings and hurricanes have nothing on the effect that this one story has had on me. I feel totally saddened by Britt’s death, and although there’s a resolution to the whereabouts of her body, it only opens up a pandora’s box of more questions… How did this happen? How did she die? Who knew about it? Why wasn’t more done to find her?

My heart goes out to the Lapthorne family, as well as all who knew her.

The trials and tribulations of Social Work Placement (self-reflection #1)

I can’t believe that I’m already 5 weeks into placement. They weren’t wrong about the time going quickly.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be meeting with my university liaison officer and supervisor, which last year was a pretty painless experience: really just touching base to see how we are progressing.

At this stage in my placement, I’d like to make a few comments about how I’m going and issues I have faced. More than anything, it gives me an opportunity to reflect, because as I’ve been so busy, I haven’t had much of a chance to..

  • Workload
    I had a heated discussion with A about how much work I’d been made to do, particularly around the area of grants applications. I initially didn’t care: I said, “Give me all of them! I can do them all!”. 2 grants turned into… 9? In a matter of days. I started to stress, more on the fact that there was a LOT of logistical detail on one of the grants, and also getting people together to discuss this grant was near impossible. I was losing sleep. I was getting anxious. The due date was fast approaching and the timeline getting smaller and smaller. Thankfully, 2 out of the 3 major ones got the plug pulled: based on the fact that it was just too much work. The remaining 6 dwindled to 4. The major one got handed over to another student (with me still co-working on it), and the 4 smaller ones are due next week.
    So. Add this to the casework (most of which has been outreach lately), and working 2 days at a different site 30kms away, and taking on different projects at each site? I am spread quite thin. I think this stems into the idea that I have problems saying no, and I have problems timelining everything, prioritising and recognising how much time each activity will take.
    As a student on placement, I think we are compelled to push ourselves, and prove ourselves with how much we can take on, but I am becomming more and more aware that quantity does not necessarily reflect quality work. It is important to slow down, take time to think, reflect, discuss and debrief, otherwise, you could be driving a bus with lose wheelnuts and no map. You drive on instinct alone, but before you know it, the wheels have come off, you’re driving  completely lost and frustrated.
  • Casework vs Community Development
    Communication seems to be a little tangential at this agency. The two main people who oversee everything in the Western Region, E & P (P is my supervisor), although they are wonderful and resourceful people, who can always give you time, unfortunately I’m not sure whether what gets spoken about to one gets communicated to the other. I was worried that because I’d taken up the offer to work at the Werribee site an extra day (which E offered to me), that I’d committed to do 50/50 community development (CD) and casework, as I’d be doing a bit of each at both sites. My initial intention was 100% casework, but after meeting with the refugee brokerage worker, I’d started to like the idea of a bit of CD, so I altered my learning agreement to reflect this: 80/20. But it has now become more than a once a week commitment and it is certainly not the direction in which I want to take my professional career, at least not in the immediate future. Speaking with A, we’d discussed  that I need to be forthright with them about this, should it start becomming an issue. There was a staff meeting today at Werribee, which both E & P attended: after which I spoke to P, my supervisor, and told her I’d like to meet up to discuss my concerns. I briefly mentioned my desire to focus mainly on the casework and less on the CD, and her reaction cemented that. What I find odd is that this is entirely contradictory to what her boss, and the deputy director of the organisation, plans for me to do.
    There was a hint by E of a job opportunity, but my guess is that he sees me filling the wrong sort of gap: CD work, the current program developer is leaving the job in January. A made a good point that I really need to be very clear with everyone about my intentions and desires, because of course what would be the point of doing CD work if it’s not your passion, if you’re not dedicating yourself to it as much as you would the casework.

I seem to have been soapboxing a lot of negative things and not paying any dues to the fact that I love the organisation I work with. I love the staff I work with (most of them: there’s one I can’t stand, but that’s another blog post entirely!), all very willing to help out and we support each other and give each other advice and feedback: very welcoming and loving atmosphere to work in.  I love my client base: all refugees and recent migrants from countries such as Burma, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethipia, Somalia, Liberia and Sierra Leone (to name but a few!!). Despite living in squalid conditions in refugee camps for years, despite all the adversity they’ve experienced, they’re the most lovely, polite, generous, welcomming and hardworking people I’ve ever met. I look at them and wish sometimes that the Australian-born community could take a few leaves out of their book!! Even doing some casual childcare with a couple of Sudanese children, it was so very easy (and I have to follow that with the fact that kids and me are a horrid, nightmarish mix – I have little tolerance for brats, impoliteness, and crying/squeeling) – an absolute pleasure actually!!

I guess this self-reflection I really needed to let out some steam, but I have to balance that with what makes me happy there: and that amounts to a great deal more than what frustrates me. It’s just that so often we bear more weight on the parts of the work that make you angry and stressed that you forget why it is you’re doing it in the first place, and what satisfaction it can sometimes give you. I really hope I don’t lose that, and that’s a part of the whole ‘slowing down’ process that I need to start on!!

Fierce independence vs common sense and safety

I’ve been following the news of missing Melbourne backpacker Britt Lapthorne lately, mainly because this story is so close to home.

There’s been another witness come forward with more information about what happened the night Britt disappeared. This information really rocked me – and I realised how easily this could’ve happened to me, when I was travelling in Lithuania by myself.

Britt has been missing just over a fortnight now, after going to a nightclub in Dubrovnik, Croatia. The Croatian police have been useless and the authorities basically sitting on their hands up until only recently, when the situation has made headlines throughout Croatia and Australia. I’ve been listening to the interviews on 774ABC with Britt’s father, who is just heading over to Croatia, and remains positive that she’s still alive. He said he’s not leaving Croatia without her.

In the end of 2006, I quit my job in the UK, packed my bags and went to Poland to stay with relatives prior to coming back to Australia. When I arrived at my hometown, I mused to my aunt about the idea of having one last backpacking sojourn, one last little bit of freedom and fun, and I investigated the options of either Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania. I settled on Lithuania; Vilnius in particular, as my uncle was born there and he recommended it highly over the others. Also, I heard there was less of the rowdy idiot English happening there than in the other countries.

I booked my bus from Warszawa, booked my accommodation in a youth hostel the name of which escapes me now, and was all ready to go. I was only staying for 3 nights, so it was going to be a very whirlwind trip.

I arrived in Vilnius quite late at night, and rather than catching a cab, I defiantly walked the kilometre to my hostel in the near pitch-dark. Warning bells should’ve sounded when loitering drunks made slurring Lithuanian comments, but I kept going. I found the hostel with minimal trouble, booked in and went to bed.

The next morning I awoke to an empty room, as I was travelling in November: a real off-peak time. It was cold, but not freezing as snow was yet to fall. I got up, dressed, and went out solo-exploring.

There is something freeing about being able to do all this on one’s own. I felt a real challenge with the language barrier, but revelled in it. I relied on instinct and logic, and for the most part won out. I took about 60 photos, and, as the sun was setting, had an early dinner at 4pm consisting of some local produce and Lithuanian beer at a gorgeous wood-cabinesque bar. It was starting to get dark, and cold, so I headed back to the hostel. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t have the guts to wander around too much, but thought that tomorrow would be a new, incredibly rested day for me.

I brushed my teeth, got into my PJ’s, and went to bed. Couldn’t sleep, obviously, because it was like 6pm. At about 8.30, a group of 3 quite loud English men came in, making noise, and generally not noticing that I was there. Once I stirred, they were extremely apologetic, but I said “not to worry” and got up. We chatted for awhile, and they confirmed my suspicions of Estonia and Latvia: they’d just come from there, and not only were the tourists abhorent, but the locals were too, bitter from the exploitation of their once-beautiful cities. They started to get ready to go out, and I enquired whether it be ok if I join them, seeing as I didn’t much like the idea of sitting around doing nothing. They welcomed me in to their group, and we head off for a meal, beer, then a bar, then God knows what.

The meal we had finished at the early hour of 11pm. We had massive steins of beer, and were feeling pretty revved. From there, to a bar down the road, which we stayed in til it closed. I think at that stage, I completely lost track of time. I had spent all my money but was getting shouts from the English guys. The only thing I had on me was my ATM card. Once the bar closed, the boys discussed going to a happening nightclub on the other side of town, located in an disused bomb-shelter or subway-type underground thing. We piled into a cab and went there, and negotiated for a good 15 minutes with the hefty bouncers to get in. They were hell-bent on ripping us off, knowing full well the ability for the English to pay their way to anything. I managed to get in cheaper, because I was a girl, and could speak Polish (which for the most part they could understand).

Once in there, I realised that being drunk in this environment was not going to be good. It was more suited to pill-poppers than drinkers, and as a result, I found myself slurring through conversations with ravers while they looked blankly back at me. I spoke to some girl at the bar for a little while, who ordered shots, then left me to pick up the tab. I lost my English mates several times, but I remember reconvening with them around a plate of colourful vodka shots that were being offered around by a Lithuanian guy with a mullet. I barely remember this, however later found out that these shots were rather suspect (they made one of the guys very violently ill).

From that point onwards, things go very blurry indeed. The last coherent memory I have is walking out of the club with the boys and a Lithuanian couple we’d befriended. The next coherent memory is waking up in a car parked in the middle of a forest overlooking a river, with a guy I didn’t recognise at the driver’s seat.

How I got there took many moments of reclarification and piecing together. When the guy woke up, he spoke to me in Russian, and bits and pieces started to come back about what happened the night before. I was confused, so I went over things obsessively, but there was only so much you can ascertain when there’s a language barrier. He didn’t seem menacing, but I had no idea how I had gotten to be in his car. In the little Russian I knew, along with the Polish, which he understood a little of, he told me he had found me talking to some dodgy-looking types in the streets of Vilnius, at around 1 in the morning. He lured me away and told me it was dangerous talking to them. He had 2 other friends with them, one of whom was Polish who I spoke with most of the time. I very vaguely remember that. We then drove around, and I remember going to a service station for some reason. The next memory I have is needing to piss really badly, in this guy’s car, and him and I almost having sex. I think the alcohol may have been the issue, if you know what I mean. And then, another break between memories: and I awoke. In a forest. In a car. With nothing in my pockets: no ATM card, no ID. With a stranger.

Despite the almost-sex, he was really nice to me. I was really confused and he was trying to tell me what happened. He asked me when I was going to leave Vilnius, and I answered “Sunday”.

“Sunday? Today?”

I didn’t understand. Today wasn’t Sunday – it was Saturday. I repeated the date, the day, and he confirmed it by showing me his mobile phone. Sure enough. It was Sunday. It didn’t really kick in until much later in that day that it was definitely Sunday. I was going home that evening. And I had lost a day of my life that I could barely piece together. I don’t recall how I spent the daytime of my Saturday.

When I finally returned to the hostel, the Brits were there, but sleeping off what I would suspect was a fairly groggy Saturday night. There was a note on my bed with phone numbers and details of the boys, along with a message of concern. When they finally awoke, they were all incredibly shocked and relieved I was alive. I was getting changed into some fresh clothes and winced as I took off my jeans – there were gigantic bruises on my thighs. One of them came to hug me as I burst into tears and said I simply couldn’t remember anything.

What I don’t remember is going to the Lithuanian couple’s house, drinking more, going to another bar and drinking more (in the morning!) and being incredibly stubborn about being left there alone when they were ready to leave. This was as much as the Brits could fill me in on. They showed me pictures of me from throughout the night and early morning, and I looked well and truly over my limit. I don’t even know how I wasn’t passed out by those stages.. the times were all around 4am, 5am… and I was still ‘rocking on’.

The hostel had been informed on Saturday evening that I hadn’t returned from Friday night. They held my passport, and the Brits were going to call the consulate should I not have returned on Sunday afternoon. I was lucky I returned when I did, because they were due to leave that evening.

In hindsight, I was incredibly lucky. Incredibly stupid and incredibly lucky. But it made me think a lot about the perceived notion of my own independence which I have now tried not to let become stubborness, or blatant disregard for my own personal safety.

When I returned to Poland, I told my aunt what happened, and she had a very “I told you so” lecture to me about how dangerous it was for a single, young female to be travelling alone. I think in this circumstance, it was. There are other ways of looking at it: the other 99% of my travels have been faultless. This was the 1% that went wrong, and even then, I was incredibly lucky to have people around me that didn’t take advantage or exploit me.

Needless to say, I’m a lot safer these days, not just travelling but in general, and if the experience taught me anything, it was to be wary and to plainly THINK more about what the reality is of the situation you’re placing yourself in.

On an end note: I really hope Britt returns home safely.

Run ragged..

I laughed at my supervisor last year when she asked me whether I took my work home with me. It was a laughable notion: the idea that I could get so involved with what was happening at work that I would mull over it when I got home.

Well, this week has proved that I really do have the ability to take my work home with me, and it’s not doing anything good to me physically or mentally. Thursday I was given an extra 5 grants applications to write, on top of the 4 I already had. Because I couldn’t say no, I took them all on, and started mapping out in my head how to get them done. 4 of the 9 are due next Friday.

I came home and was still buzzing with energy from trying to think of what to do. A was telling me that my eyes were literally darting all over the place. As we were snuggling in bed, I realised I wasn’t paying attention at all to my partner. I was staring off into space and trying to think of ideas in which to complete the grants on time without fucking any of them up. He called me up on it, and I looked away and started to weep. I didn’t know what I was crying about, but the tears came so readily and without any force, yet felt emotionally detached. The light was turned off, and I lay there looking up at the ceiling. I tried to sleep, God did I try, but between my active mind and snoring boyfriend, I was only ever on the edge of falling asleep, never actually having fallen.

As a result, I woke up on Friday feeling as though a truck had run me down. My mother called me at 8.15, interrupting that little eensy weensy bit of time I wanted to ‘sleep’ in, to ask whether I had cashed the cheque the Tax Department sent me. I was absolutely furious to have been disrupted for such a fucking arbitrary question. I had to transport a client that morning to Medicare and the post office, otherwise I would have totally not bothered to come in.

Friday ended up being an awe-inspiring day with the client – a topic for a future blog post – but once my time with him and his wife was over, the fatigue set in, and I found myself making very near-fatal decisions on the road. I had a work lunch (that I was an hour late to) where we discussed the grants applications, and to my relief 3 of the 4 due on Friday had been canned. I felt the immense weight being lifted off my shoulders, and suddenly there were no bones in my body. I slumped over my #37 Spring Roll with rice vermicelli, and stared off into space. My colleagues were talking to me, but I was a blank page. J finally leant over the table and said “You need to go home. You look wrecked.”

So, I went back to the office, tied off some odds and ends, and went home. I left the office at 3.15. After the traffic, I got in at 4.30pm, and pretty much dropped everything, climbed into bed, and slept.

I am astounded how much my work is taking out of me. The thing is that there has been tentative suggestion that I may be offered a job following all this placement rubbish, so I am feeling the pressure to perform and to prove myself as a worker. A’s argument is that I may be ‘over’ proving myself: setting a precedent for how I will work when I’m getting paid. He also stressed the extreme importance of self-preservation. Something I’d banged on about being an expert on prior to placement, but now finding my grip fast loosening on.

I have decided that after all these grants are complete, I will reward myself with two days off. It is unfortunate that the only thing I see myself doing on those days is sleeping in, but that, I guess, is the price one pays for running oneself into the ground. Besides, I love sleeping – so I’m not gonna complain too much.