Tuesday, 2 September 2014

What makes Superman a hero is not that he has power, but that he has the wisdom and the maturity to use the power wisely.

The last time i visited X in detention he was telling me that he would soon stop accepting visitors. I viewed it as some kind of desperate but ineffective bid for somebody in the bureaucracy to show some humanity, a cutting-off-his-nose-to-spite-his-face kind of martyrdom. Understandable but pointless. Today he was reluctant to see me and when he finally arrived at the visits area he was in a hurry to tell me how miserable he is.
I have been visiting X for almost 3 years, it must be almost 100 visits by now. He has been in Australian immigration detention for five years. News from home is not good and although information is scarce it would seem to me that his dad is probably suffering from some kind of major organ failure. In a modern medical system it might be possible to buy him some years of life but in the developing world.....well, not so much.
X has no clue why he is being detained or when he might be released, despite the fact that his story has been told and re-told right to the highest court in the land. He has digestive disturbances and dizziness, cold sores and non-specific pains, gradually his regular visitors have stopped coming, he reacts badly to institutionalised food. Mostly, he suffers from being stateless, faceless and having no voice.
At around 40 years old X believes that he is too old to marry or have children. In his culture he is an old man, his younger sisters are already grandmothers. He tells me these things regularly and my protestations of a fulfilling life to come fall on deaf ears.
Most days I have empathy for X's despair but today I was annoyed. I wanted to tell him that my life is unfair, too. I wanted to tell him that wallowing won't help. I was irritated that he turns away well intentioned visitors, people who have made time in their lives to spend with him, a stranger. I wanted to remind him that he has chosen his path in life and we all have to live with our choices. I wanted to remind him that he might now be married if he had been kinder.
You see, after all my visits I actually know X. I admire his loyalty and his general honesty, I think that he does a good job of keeping an open heart in a situation which encourages only bitterness and cynicism. I acknowledge that 5 years of indefinite detention is enough to break anyone but I also know his tendency to self pity, I am frustrated by his resistance to hope, I have experienced his brutal honesty and his amateur manipulations.
It is a long time since I have seen X simply as a pitiable victim to an ungenerous policy (although he is definitely that) and I have no desire to reduce any multi-faceted individual to a caricature so without the simplicity of a one dimensional view, today was the most challenging day ever as I came face to face with the parts of his personality and situation that I dont much like and dont have many skills to deal with. I was forced to re-examine my own motives and expectations, required to dig deep to find love for someone who wasn't being likeable.
Of course I know I am privileged in comparison to X, I know that my irritation was inappropriate, I know that people just dont say these things that I am saying but I also believe that it needs to be said. We do everyone a grave disservice when we censor every difficult thought.
I believe that I found today's visit difficult for a reason and I need to figure out the right response. Am I obliged now to do some self-work? should I be inspired to a deeper political involvement? do I need to find a new way of expressing solidarity and concern for X?
I will find my way, maybe with a new focus or just a renewed determination but I am deeply sorry that I am just one woman with a link to just one man. This country is making a mess of our obligations to suffering humanity and there will be no real change until citizens and leaders are prepared to ask and answer the difficult questions but that would take a maturity that we seem not to have.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Kitchen experiments

i never had any real intention to turn eclectica into a food blog but it seems as if food is my default topic.....

that picture above is my attempt to make quark, a european style soft cheese, little known here in australia, used for sweet and savoury dishes. i suspect that it should be smoother looking but my manufacturing process was unorthodox, to say the least.
i had read the recipe several ties and it is very simple so i didnt actually refer to the recipe to make it. that was my first mistake. after 24 hours of culturing and still no sign of coagulation i double checked the recipe to find that i didnt heat the milk enough. my poor little microbes couldnt do their job without a decent warm bath so i rewarmed the milk and waited another 24 hours. there was still very little sign of change so i did a bit of reading and came to the conclusion that  as a last ditch attempt at cheese i could heat the milk even hotter. it might kill my culture but it also might finally produce a curd.
It worked! so i strained it and now i have gourmet triple cooked non traditional quark. it tastes mild and creamy straight from the tub but i am looking forward to trying it with some fruit or maybe some herbs. one day it will be interesting to find out how it compares to the recipe as it was supposed to have been made.

sauerkraut is my other current experiment. i have done a couple of previous batches so it wasn't very experimental except that this time i got to use my new fermentation jar with airlock. it looks all scientific and should ensure a safe fermentation. unfortunately the jar is very small for a whole head of cabbage so most of it was fermented in a plastic container, weighted with a plate and generally very .....um.....rustic?
i threw a handful of peppercorns in, that was a good addition. next time i want to make more of a vegetable mix with cabbage, carrot, onion and maybe some fennel and radishes. if i'm organised about it i should be able to develop a range of pickles to have in the fridge and choose them as the mood suits

Friday, 25 July 2014

Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.

i usually dread it before i leave home and then end up revelling in my regular friday trip to the markets and today was no exception. the sky is sunless and grey, there is a light drizzle and a creeping cold, it would be nice to curl up with a book or a movie but the cupboards were bare so i eventually managed to steel myself and trundle off.
i have many, many times seen on the stalls large bags of partly prepared vegetables: peeled onions and chopped pumpkin, maybe other things if i had paid attention. i always regarded them as a restaurant product and then today i saw a woman pushing a trolley with a bag of cut pumpkin and something about the new context opened my eyes. pumpkin soup without all the work! i saw a new possibility in those bags. the kids love pumpkin soup but it takes so much chopping and peeling that i usually opt for something easier, could this be as good as it looked? i resolved to check out the price. it was $2, TWO dollars, for a bag of prepared pumpkin. i couldn't buy whole pumpkins for under about $4 or $5 and there wouldnt be anywhere near as much of it.
i was still on my pumpkin high when i decided i might treat myself to a handful of prawns. the fish counter was busy and i stood for a long time while some lady negotiated $5 off a $150 box of prawns. yawn. midway through this extremely painful exchange a woman came toward the counter and made a vague,
sympathetic, you-go-first kind of gesture which was weird because there was nobody available to serve us and i had been standing there for freaking ages. i made an equally vague smiley gesture and finally somebody showed up to serve me. except you-go-first-lady made an immediate and abrupt demand for some fish. i stood, slightly gobsmacked but could'nt really do much so i waited some MORE while negotiations proceeded for the $5 off the box of prawns. somewhere in all of this i thought i might not want prawns all tht much but i had waited so long i thought i would just hang in there a tiny bit longer. finally it was my turn. "Could i have about $5 worth of prawns, please?"
"no, i cant do that"
" i dont want them for $5 a kilo, i want $5 worth"
"i know, i wont sell less than half a kilo"

having been educated i was ready to say "ok, i'll have half a kilo" but she had already written me off as a bad deal and was gone, several feet away, making high powered negotiations with some other innocent.

never mind, i have my pumpkin. i should have enough for pumpkin soup, pumpkin cake, pumpkin scones, pumpkin pie and even a curry or relish. i must get to it.