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Naughtie McCourtie Series: Handling the Indian heat

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By Rebecca McCourtie

India 2

Give it to me Indian style. I can handle the heat!

OK… I know what you’re thinking, calm down… it’s not anything like THAT… keep on reading…

Don’t insult me Rumna… I know what you’ve done! You’ve gone and made my dinner ‘white-girl-style.’ I told you that I can handle it! I’ve been working here for over a year now. You know I’m good for it! The biryani last week was just a once off… too many spices maybe. I can handle heat. This vindaloo is not hot! Give it to me like I’m an Indian!

That was when I was 19-years-old and working at the local Indian restaurant in-between university classes. I don’t know if it was then or whether it was inadvertently before this time when I developed an intrigue for everything that is ‘Indian.’

I remember being 18 and on my GAP year in Cambridge when I almost fell into a ditch after spotting the most magnificent earrings in a shop window. They were a bright emerald green, had gold trimming and elaborate filigree detailing. Each earring was shaped like a rotund crescent moon with little white pearls dangling off the edge like stars. I was in love! I wanted them so badly, but alas the minimal pocket money I was afforded by my volunteer institution was not going to cover their exuberant cost.

I would walk past this shop window every day for the remainder of my stay in Cambridge, wishfully gazing through the glass that separated me from the objects of my desire. It wasn’t until my 12 months volunteering was up, that my ‘employer’ gifted me the earrings as a farewell. I couldn’t believe my luck!

I banged around in these earrings for years and years, lapping up every compliment pertaining to their beauty. I wore them to the point that they literally dropped off my ears. I still have the broken pieces in my jewelry box. I had no idea at the time that they were actually Indian. It wasn’t until ten years later when I found myself in a jewelry store in Kochi, peering through a glass display case, that a salesman informed me that the style was typical in the region. You see, I loved India before I even knew I loved India, if you know what I mean?

I think I actually realised that I loved India when I got off the plane and out of Cochin International Airport. I became ‘one’ with the largest crowd I had ever seen outside of an organized event. For me it was the first time in my whole entire life that I was a racial minority and it fascinated me to be ‘different.’ The sights, the sounds, the movement of hundreds of bodies all going everywhere and nowhere all at once. It was a culture shock for a young woman from the northern suburbs of Canberra, Australia. There was just something about the chaos that I fell in love with… it was magical.

India 3

My love was confirmed while working at a school in Fort Kochi. I have one memory that has stuck with me in particular. I can remember it with precision and defined accuracy. It had been sport carnival day. Having learned the hard way that excitable children will bowl you over in any rush of enthusiasm, I stood at the base of the school stairwell and pressed my body against the wall. I braced myself for the swarm of children that would emerge from their overcrowded classrooms as the bell rang. DING DINGDING. I could hear the floors above me rumble with movement. Turning my head, the vision was surreal. A swarm of BRIGHTLY coloured T-shirts covering every colour of the rainbow loudly rattled down the stairs. It was like the Gods had opened a giant packet of Skittles and poured them down the staircase. Noise, colour, vibrancy… laughter… happiness… This was the reason why I fell in love with INDIA!

So who am I? Well, I am Australian, I am 29 and I am travelling the globe with the hope of ending up in India. I want to talk to you about this, that and the next thing… nothing is off limits!

I am Naughtie McCoutie and it is a pleasure to meet your acquaintance.

Naughtie McCourtie

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Australian government to find humane solutions for refugees in Manus Island

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FILE - An undated image released Nov. 13, 2017, shows detainees staging a protest inside the compound at the Manus Island detention center in Papua New Guinea. (Refugee Action Coalition/Handout via Reuters)
FILE - An undated image released Nov. 13, 2017, shows detainees staging a protest inside the compound at the Manus Island detention center in Papua New Guinea. (Refugee Action Coalition/Handout via Reuters). VOA

The U.N. refugee agency is calling on the Australian government to find humane solutions for hundreds of refugees it has abandoned in a precarious situation on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.

UNHCR accuses the Australian government of shirking its responsibilities to care for and protect some 800 refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island.

It says the situation has become more precarious for the refugees since the government closed its so-called offshore processing facility at the end of October. Over the past four weeks, it notes, refugees who were moved to three new accommodation sites have been attacked several times. The worst case involved three people armed with machetes and an axe.

UNHCR spokeswoman, Cecile Pouilly, says local hostility and resentment against the refugees is high and growing. She told VOA the Australian authorities must resolve this critical situation.

“We are talking here about people who have suffered extreme trauma and now are feeling so insecure in these places where they are staying. There are many victims of torture. People who have been deeply traumatized have been detained, having no idea what is going to happen next to them. I think this mental issue, this psychological issue is a major one,” Pouilly said.

A recent medical report commissioned by UNHCR finds the cumulative effect of uncertainty about their future is causing a deterioration in the mental and physical health of the refugees.

It warns cessation of services, substandard living and hygiene conditions and inadequate medical care are increasing violence and self-harm among the refugees. (VOA)