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March 6, 2012

Day 14 of the Australian Journey 2012

By Lewis Mehl-Madrona

Today is the end of the Australian cross cultural adventure. I fly back to the U.S. today and resume ordinary life. I write about the people I met whom I appreciate and what I learned and where we might go next.


Today is the final day.   It's a double day because it involves going for an early morning run, one last time for now braving Australian drivers, who are lovely people until they get behind the wheel of a car.   Then they take no prisoners, stop for no one.   Actually one person once slowed down to let me cross a street.   Unfortunately my cynical me told the rest of me that this driver was probably a Canadian immigrant.   Even on the wide, paved paths of Canterbury Gardens, an older woman on a bicycle just before sunrise almost mowed me down.   It seemed that she had plenty of room to go around me, but she preferred to go through me.   She screamed at me as she brushed past, "I rang my bell at you."   I didn't hear a bell ring behind me, but I still maintain that a person on foot deserves respect from a person on wheel who catches them from the rear.   Old-fashioned, I guess!  

There was just enough time for a quick eggy brekky that Sally made which was delicious and the drive to the airport.   I had to borrow another bag from Sally and Tony because of my Op Shop adventure.   In the USA, we call them Thrift Shops, but I like the "Opportunity Shop" term better.   We have found a shop in a nearby suburb that tends to have excellent suits in my size.   This trip, for a mere $50, I managed to procure five tailored suits of excellent fit.   But they required their own bag.   I left the price tags on them and kept the receipt in case U.S. Customs had as much difficulty in understanding how I managed to get such quality suits for so little money.

Today is appreciation, summarize, and conclude day.   I begin by appreciating Tony Gee and Sally de Beche, our hosts from Life Is" Foundation.   Sally and Tony were the point people in Australia who coordinated everything, managed the finances among all the partners involved, scheduled events, and kept track of the myriad details of our journey.   Sally and Tony are deeply committed to the goals of Life Is", which is to prevent suicide and to help those heal who have been left behind by suicide.   They are also committed to serving aboriginal people.   It was in my first year of coming to Australia, five years ago, that Sally met Tony.   They have been living and working together for at least a year now and are planning a wedding during the time when we return in 2013.  

I also must appreciate the leadership of the aboriginal coop.   Jason is the President and CEO and holds a strong vision for improving the health and welfare of his people.   Pete is the operations guy and Gratin is their cultural advisor.   Gratin is related to Uncle Albert, one of the elders attached to the coop and maker of quality boomerangs, clack sticks, and other art.   John ferries people back and forth to the island and, along with Willy, does whatever needs doing.   Willy is amazingly able to seemingly silent appear wherever he can help and disappears when the job is done.   The cooks at Culture Camp run the Payroll Department in their ordinary life.   Jamie seemed to help everyone.  

I must appreciate some of the elders with whom we interfaced -- notably, Shadow and Lilly from Millumgimby, in the Northern Territories, and their family and clan members who have come over the three years of the project, Auntie Jennie from Queensland, Auntie Norma from Sydney, James, our Maori friend who runs sweats in prisons, Rob and Christian, our firekeepers from Sydney, Bess and Dave from Alice Springs, Laura from Western Australia, and others who will remain unnamed because they didn't give me permission to name them.   Bess' daughter is a wonderful musician and Bess is running for Member of Parliament from the Northern Territories.

Finally I have to acknowledge the help of Sister Catherine and Father Ken of Karith in Warburton, Keith and Phoenix, who organized the Warburton workshop, the Polish Jester's owners -- the wife cooks and the husband serves vodka,   in Warburton; Sandi, Quinn,   Indigo and crew, from Voices Victoria; Mission Australia and Phil and Pauline Nunn in Sydney; and everyone else who was involved.   I also acknowledge Union Institute & University and the University of Arizona who permitted Rocky and me to have two weeks for full immersion in social justice and celebrating diversity.

                What did we learn?

1.        Cultural exchange is more powerful than cultural demonstration or cultural tourism because it is a dialogical process in which all involved listen and speak.   Dialogue is more powerful than monologue.

2.        Change in aboriginal communities (and in institutions) happens through building and maintaining relationships, also a dialogical process.

3.        Relationships deepen as people feel heard and respected and, over time, the sharing grows.

4.        How things should be done for cultural understanding and implementation arises through this relational process and can't necessarily be anticipated or formulated.   When people talk and share story, they start to make plans and implement those plans.

5.        Transformation for disadvantaged people occurs more readily when services are integrated with one central coordinator and that people don't have to go to multiple locations to different offices for all that they do.

6.        The work of cultural exchange and cross-cultural bridging and understanding lies in finding ways for all the voices to be heard and to sound as equally loud as those of the dominant culture.

7.        It seems very important for every human being to feel as if he or she has something to offer others in the context of community, to feel people being interested in him or her, in being genuinely curious about him or her, in actually coming from different backgrounds, social classes, language groups, and being able to have a relationship of equal exchange.

Of course we learned much more that I don't have a clue how to articulate, but it's good, I think, to list seven items that can be articulated that do encapsulate much of what we did on the trip.   I'm also looking forward to some implementation.   Rocky will be starting a consultation service to primary care physicians working in cultures other than their won with Miriam, the Coop's doctor, as one of our first attendees.   Tony and Sally in Australia and Barbara and me in Vermont have further resolved to fund raise to create a safe house for people who are psychotic, where they can get peer help and can be safe and can stay outside the psychiatric system.   I'd like to explore the Catalyst-Clemente program more for our population and perhaps to see how it could be helpful for homeless people in Vermont.   At Union Institute & University, we will be implementing a Narrative Medicine and Psychology certificate program soon, and I am hoping that this program will seem valuable to people in Australia and that we can recruit aboriginal people to populate it. Cultural exchanges are already happening several times per year for the Coop without our being present, but our initial Camp seeded that process and made it seem more possible.   There is funding for at least one more camp in 2013, so until then, that's all for the Australia Cultural Exchange Journey.

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Authors Bio:
Lewis Mehl-Madrona graduated from Stanford University School of Medicine and completed residencies in family medicine and in psychiatry at the University of Vermont. He is the author of Coyote Medicine, Coyote Healing, Coyote Wisdom, and Narrative Medicine.