That steep slippery slope of insecure employment

(Originally written August, 2015 for Eric Grollman’s blog https://conditionallyaccepted.com   – with thanks to Eric for suggested changes)

In Australia, we are not called ‘adjunct professors’ – a term commonly used in the United States.  Rather, we are called  ‘sessional’ or ‘casual academics‘.  And, as I understand it, these positions may include research, teaching, planning and coordinating units, supervision, student consultations, marking – yes, all the work of a ‘real’ (tenured) academic without the security.  Of course our CVs will say ‘academic’; our insecure employment status is not how we label ourselves or what we do.

 I am given a ‘contract’ of sorts, that over the 11 week trimester, I will be paid for teaching time, meetings and marking.  We can claim nothing during the 2-5 week ‘break’ when students are off on their placements.  The ‘breaks’ between trimesters means a break in income, unless, as often happens, the marking extends over this ‘break’, but that really is just stretching what we are entitled to.  My annual income can easily fall below what might be considered ‘poverty level’ and I am never sure that I will be granted any work for the next trimester.

Just back from my psychologist – first appointment I’ve had for around a year.  Because I was doing ok.  Or was it because I was doing ok for a while, and then as I sunk down lower and lower into depression, I just couldn’t even pause for a minute to even consider how I was doing?  I have written before about sessional/casual/insecure employment in academia, and links with mental health.  I want to share some of this story while it is fresh, and while I’m feeling better, and the way seems a bit clearer.  Should I use a pseudonym?  I won’t because I want to say it how it is, to make it as real as it is to me, and not pretend we can protect ourselves with some hidden persona – because that is part of the mess I continue to get myself into, by being myself, and by being as absolutely honest as I can, as me, Annabelle.

I realised I needed to seek help (again) because I was so, so angry.  I have worked so hard for so many years, studying, teaching, writing, preparing applications and for (the occasional) interviews granted for those ‘real’ positions that offer some kind of ongoing job security, to do the job(s) I am already doing.  I was working days, nights, and weekends, on preparing, reading, writing, marking, planning.  I was working so damned hard, that my house was an absolute mess, my health was suffering, my diet abominable.  I didn’t eat, I didn’t have time to eat!  I was angry that I was putting in all this work, and yet was still not achieving any recognition (beyond the pay, when I had time to work out and submit my pay claim for each hour worked, in each category – as long as it was within the limits set by my initial contract). And, no matter how much my students appreciated the time and energy I put into teaching, my employer had no clue.

I was angry because I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be simply ‘happy’.  Because I had no ‘holidays’ due – in fact, I couldn’t even work out what to do if I had a true ‘holiday’.  I had lost sight of the difference between ‘work time’ and ‘holiday time’; either I was working, or I was worrying about whether I would get any more work.  I was miserable company, every conversation seemed to come around to how angry I was, and why.  Yes, I knew I had a point, but really, that’s just how things are … suck it up.  There were no ‘answers’ that my friends could give, or that could improve how I was feeling – it’s just the way things are.

As a critical educator, ‘that’s just how it is’ is not good enough.  I want to question why it is this way, how we could improve this, how ‘this way’ is making people feel, and is this how things should be?  I want to help people see that it has only become ‘this way’ in academia because we have let it happen.  Because we feel that we can’t raise these issues (i.e., insecure employment, overwork, power in the workplace, institutional priorities, economics) because of the way things are (i.e., insecure employment, overwork, power in the work place, etc.).

So I found myself sinking deeper into this angry pit of depression, and my marking was due.  And a job had been advertised for which I thought I had a good chance (actually for doing what I already do).  I prioritised the application and preparation for the interview.  I failed to impress – no job.  Dreams of getting a ‘real job’ shelved.  Again.  Marking still due.  Feeling miserable, incapable, and yes, angry.  I managed to devote myself for four days and nights, in silence, laptop on my lap, and I got that marking done, before the administrative cut-off, but after the turnaround for students to receive their feedback.  The story got around, “Annabelle – late for her marking – again.”

And I haven’t even mentioned my children.  My 20 year old son who has spent his whole life with his mother studying and working, saying that I need to do this so that I can get a ‘real’ job.  And him telling me he didn’t want his six-year-old sister having to hear the same story as I sat at the computer, days and nights, working and worrying.  His six-year-old sister now spends the week with her dad, who takes her to school and looks after her everyday needs, so that I can concentrate more on my ‘work‘ and have time for her on the weekends and holidays.

The job I had lined up for the next trimester was suddenly no longer ‘available’.  The students I’d worked with, and who expressly wanted to work with me again, had no say, and neither did I.  I managed to procure two teaching units, both of which I’d taught before, one of which I had chaired the year before.  In an 11 week trimester, students are off on their practicums for between 3 and 5 weeks.  Hence, no pay, no work for me.  No money puts my mortgage, my bills, my bare existence in limbo.

Being angry and depressed, my head was full of questions, accusations, frustrations.  What have I done wrong?  I’ve asked questions, I’ve let my frustrations be known, I’ve put myself out there.  I’ve tried hard, but maybe I really am just not good enough?  Why haven’t I published?  I don’t have time!  I don’t have support!  I am a sessionally employed teacher – my university has no support of, or even expectation that sessional teaching staff need to do research and be involved in research groups, conferences or discussions.  My student evaluations sometimes tear my heart out – but I tried so hard!  I have good pedagogical reasons for being a ‘hard marker’, for not giving straightforward answers to questions, and, at times, not responding ‘appropriately’ (an unfair accusation that I am unable to respond to in anonymous evaluations).  And the significant number of  good comments suggest that I’ve helped and/or supported my students more than any other teacher they’ve had, that they appreciated the challenges I presented them with, or asked whether I could teach them again.  And yes, the good comments mean a lot to me; they recognise and appreciate the effort I put in.  So why doesn’t my employer?  And why can’t I be ‘rewarded’ with prior notice about my teaching load for the next trimester?  Why do I have to wait and wonder, and worry, and beg, and plead for enough work to pay my bills and support my family?

Yes, there were moments when I felt as if the world was conspiring against me.  This is part of the downhill misery slope: no  matter how hard I thought about it, the only reason for not being given the work was that I had displeased someone, somewhere along the way, and this was their way of getting rid of the problem – me.  Don’t be so paranoid Annabelle!  This is not about YOU!  This is just the way it is, why it is called “insecure employment”.  There are reasons that have nothing to do with you personally.  Ah yes, perhaps, but they do affect ME personally, and I have no alternative avenue to take – aside from leaving academia?  Sadly, there are many who have taken that path after years of frustration (e.g., http://www.howtoleaveacademia.com/ ).   Leave and go where?  Ah that steep, slippery slope.

My numerous chronic, but invisible health conditions, my children, my mortgage, my advancing age, my single parent status – none of these are reasons to get any special treatment.  But I do find myself at times railing against how much I have to deal with, and yet how little recognition or reward I receive for what I put in to my work.  I know, of course, I’m not alone there.  But to just suck it up?  Not complain?  Not share my story?  Not imagine that something could be different?

Advice to Self:

Don’t ask difficult questions; don’t ‘rock the boat’; don’t bring up the issues that everybody just has to deal with; don’t remind those who manage to work with the system of how they’ve had to compromise their ideals; and just do the job you’re being paid to do.

Of course, my psychologist does not suggest that my ‘issues’ would all be fixed if it wasn’t for the conditions of my employment.  Perhaps my ‘choice’ of employment is a result of the ‘issues’ I have.  Maybe the ‘precariousness’ of my employment is a choice that relates to my inability to commit?  Perhaps my commitment to honesty and asking the difficult questions, and interest in critical consciousness in all that I do is also a precursor (or result) of these ‘issues’?  I have no idea, and will be going back to my psychologist to try to learn how to avoid tripping over into that pit of angry despair again.  But, unfortunately, the issues that I have raised here and elsewhere are unlikely to go away.  And I really hope that others are able to avoid the pit, and maintain a dignified and fulfilling balance in their academic and personal lives.  And to keep on talking about it.

(Advice to Self be damned!) 

 

Later…

I recently completed a course in ‘mental first aid training’, that I thought might help me with better responding to my students’ needs, and situations I seem to find myself in as a confessor and ear to students with various serious issues impacting on their studies and their lives.  As a sessional, I had to battle a bit to get accepted into the course, which was for ‘all those who have direct contact with students’.  Hmm, sounds like something helpful for we casual teaching staff that take on a huge amount of the face to face work with students.

I completed the two day course and enjoyed it.  I didn’t learn a whole lot I didn’t know about mental health issues, but I did learn a whole lot about myself.  I learnt that this is part of my calling, that being an ear and a consoler for those suffering mental health issues, and in helping to support and encourage them through their course, is a large part of why I do what I do.  And why I do it in the way/s that I do.  And why I pine for collaborative and supportive work environments, rather than competitive, dismissive and nasty ones.

As a sessional, I have been told – by union representatives and by sessional, contracted and tenured peers, that I am doing a disservice in spending my time with students when I am not paid for it, not expected to do it, and increasingly, not even entitled to do it.  This role belongs to those for whom it is written into their job descriptions, and no matter that they are overworked, have no prior or working relationship with these individuals, or do not have the personality or desire to take on this role, I should leave it to them.  Somehow this will show that sessionals should be paid for this responsibility if they take it on, that managers and unit chairs are somehow better at this role than sessionals, and administrators are cleared of responsibility because this is made clear to all involved.

Again, as a sessional, I want my story to be heard – that is, a huge part of my satisfaction from my job, and recognition that what I do means something to someone, is through my contact with students.  Yes, unpaid time that I put in responding to emails, meeting with students and staying after class, that give me an opportunity to use my skills and to help a student in their time of need.  This is time well spent.  And I can come home to my family and tell them about this, and they feel proud – that their mother/daughter really cares about who she is working with – they see that this is what gives me some feeling of worth, so different to the rest of the frustrations I come home with.

I have been teaching sessionally for a long time now.  I am no longer a poor student trying to support my way through to my PhD.  I am an experienced, thoughtful, critical and reflexive practitioner and I am able to use my life experience to both teach and support my students in their journeys.  I am not looking for more money, simply some recognition and security in continuing the damned good job that I am doing.  But most of all, I do not want my role as mentor, as a willing ear, as a supporter, advisor and voice for my students’ needs and rights to be taken away from me because I am not a ‘real’ or tenured employee.

(2,345 words)

 

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A life that just gets better!

(Post Written for Diabetes Can’t Stop Me  link to post here)

Some Introductory details:

  • I was diagnosed with T1 diabetes in 1977, at the age of 11 years.
  • I was admitted to the Royal Children’s hospital (Melbourne) almost in a coma. I stayed in the hospital and was ‘trained’ to look after my condition over 2 weeks.
  • I was embarrassed and ashamed at that time and didn’t want anyone to know. My older brother (by 9 years) had been diagnosed at age 9 but he never talked about it.
  • My mother took the brunt of my care. She boiled my glass syringes and reusable needles every night, to soak in Methylated spirits until required.  I had to test my urine, using a dropper, test tubes and a magic tablet that was dropped in the tube, changed the colour and then was then measured up against a chart.
  • At the age of 13, more complications for my life after a serious car accident (Anglesea, during a Diabetes camp run by the RCH).
  • Needless to say, my teenage years were a mess, but I survived!

Skipping a few decades, I am now 51, working as a volunteer in Savannakhet, Laos – a little known landlocked country between Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Myanmar.  I have two amazing children, a boy aged 21 and a girl aged 7, who still live in Melbourne where I grew up. I did a lot of study over the years, culminating in a PhD (Education) in 2011.  I volunteered in the Solomon Islands in 1994 after spending two crazy years in Kalgoorlie (Western Australia).  I never believed that having diabetes should stop me – and it hasn’t.

Not to say I’ve always been in the best of health, or particularly well-controlled.  My teenage years were a disaster – but having diabetes in a way stopped me from going as far awry as some of my friends did.  I have spent some time in hospital on occasions from DK (Diabetic ketoacidosis) and learnt a lot about my body and control in the process.  I felt close to death on occasions, and this is frightening, but gave me more determination to survive.

My son was born in 1995 (I was 29) – I spent 5 weeks in the RWH (Royal Women’s hospital) before his birth because of my badly controlled diabetes and risk of preeclampsia.  He was induced early, weighed 5lbs at birth and is now a healthy 21 years old.

My daughter was born in 2009 (I was 43) – and that was when I was able to go on pump therapy which has changed my diabetes control incredibly.  Another gorgeous healthy baby, induced but much easier than the first time around.  She is now an incredibly delightful child of 7, so much like me that I’m afraid she will be the next diabetic to join our extended family (currently – 2 siblings, 1 cousin and his child, 1 uncle – and who knows who else draws the next short straw?).

So, at the age of 51, with 40 years of diabetes under my belt, I am proud to say that it has actually incentivised me to conquer the odds, and do the best I can for humanity.  Here in Savannakhet, I am working at a Teacher Training College, with teachers who train young people from rural areas, so that they are able to return to their villages and share their knowledge as a teacher.  I feel appreciated for what I do, and I am so glad to be of help however I can.  Life here is not necessarily easy – complete lack of availability of the medications I need (I had to bring as much with me as I possibly could, and have cut back on blood tests and some medications so they don’t run out), the heat is constant – I’m always sweating, the food is so different to home, there is no suitable medical care locally and I must travel to Thailand or Vientiane for appropriate treatment for any problems that occur.

On the upside, I’m happier and more content than I’ve ever been before in my life.  I have everything I need.  My insulin requirements are much less than when in Australia (yes, even with the dreaded rice as a staple of my diet) and I have had incredible experiences and adventures.  And I appreciate life and every moment so much more.  I really thought, as a young badly controlled diabetic, threatened with blindness, amputations, and kidney disease for all my sins, that I would never get past 34 years.  Well I have, and I’m loving it!

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INFECTIOUS TALES

(Probably not so appealing to the squeamish – but good lessons to be learned…)

Some Pointers from a non-medical perspective:

  • Keep any open wound clean and covered when outdoors. Use your bottled water, and keep a supply of dressings.
  • Draw a circle (with pen) around any red areas. This is a sign of infection – if it is getting bigger, you have a problem.
  • Get any escalating problem seen to! Check the cleanliness of any medical help you get!
  • Don’t leave it, it is not like something back at home that fixes itself.

After too many tales of wheelchair bound travellers returning to Australia for treatment of infected wounds in the tropics (hey Kyra, hey Nik) I never wanted to get to that stage.  So when I fell over a drain (no I wasn’t drunk… see future post for the state of the footpaths in this region…) and grazed my leg, I made sure to clean it thoroughly and report it to my ICM (in country manager – for ‘just in case’ insurance purposes).

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The graze seemed ok and I covered and kept it clean, although was a raised lump underneath that wouldn’t go away.  After a few weeks I thought I’d better get it seen to.  I happened to walk past a clean looking medical clinic whilst away in Pakse (we’ve been warned not to get treatment for anything serious locally – I’ve visited the local hospital and can vouch for this!)  I went inside and surprisingly the guy at the desk had some English and took me in to see the doctor.  Again, minimal English but he ordered a blood test to check for infection, and sent me off with the nurse (who had no English at all).

She was good, laid me down on the bed and began work.  She cleaned it.  Then she dug a hole in it.  (youch).  She put what looked like a metal scone tray under my leg. Then she squeezed it.  (oooouuuucccchhhh).  Hard.  And harder.  I could feel something running down my leg and sat up to see … (bluuurrrrrgggghhhhh).  Well it was mostly blood.  Coagulated blood.  And clear fluid.  She made me lay back down AND KEPT ON SQUEEZING as hard as she could.  By that time I was biting into my finger and making little yelping sounds.

The big lump under my skin was not quite so big by the time she stopped squeezing, but she hadn’t finished yet…  She kept on saying, encouragingly, what I thought was ‘saep lai’ – which in my limited Lao means ‘It’s very delicious’!  Couldn’t be, surely?  (Later I checked my dictionary, the word for ‘infected/inflamed’ is ak-sayp – I’m guessing this might have been what she was referring to…)  By that time I was saying no, no, that’s enough!  I then watched her as she took off her sterile glove and began cutting a strip off it.  I think I must have been distracted by more pain as she worked away and was utterly relieved when she covered it up and let me go.  The doctor wanted to know how to spell ‘divorced’ and was very happy at learning a new word in the form filling exercise, and sent me off with a warning that it needed to be checked again the next day for more cleaning and signs of spreading of infection.

Back at the hotel the next day, after letting my ICM know, and him putting all resources into immediate action, I was waiting to be picked up by a car that would take me back to Savannakhet to pick up my things before getting to a place with more medical help.  My friend and colleague (working in Pakse TTC) was with me and I thought I’d better check the wound and wash it down, and re-cover it (the nurse’s handiwork with a bandage had actually fallen off as I was walking and it was looking like a right old mess).  So I poured some bottled water over it and wiped around it to make sure it was clean.  I noticed a little bit of white stuff on the sore part, maybe a bit of stray bandage, so I pulled on it.  Poor Debbie was my witness as I pulled out about 10cm strip of plastic sterile glove OUT OF MY WOUND.  (gulp, eeerrrrgggghhhhh)

OK, get over it, driver was getting impatient so cleaned and covered it again and got into the car.  The driver also had no English – he was not the regular driver, and I realised later when we were driving around lost in Savannakhet that he had no idea where to go.  The trip that took the bus 5 hours was done in about 2 ½ hours.  We passed every vehicle (and animal) on the road.  He drove like a mad man.  He refused to stop for anything, even though I was hanging out for a smoko.  When it started getting dark (about 5.30pm) I could see why he was in such a hurry to get on the way.  All those obstacles on and beside the road – bikes with no rear lights (often they ride with no front light on either, and on either side of the road), slow vehicles, cows, goats, dogs … bad enough in the daytime – far worse at night and in a hurry!

Well, made it home ok – forgot to mention the other complication, my phone had broken, being Sunday the shops were closed, my (work) computer is a dud and won’t let me get online, so I was also relying on other people with phones…  Thanks to Debbie in Pakse, and Susan in Savannakhet, and David (ICM) for his initiative, all things were put into motion.  Finally home I packed my bag (medications, passport, clothes for a few days) and managed to make contact with the medical insurance company and send them the latest photo of my wound.  I seemed to remember in the case of an infected abscess a few years ago (another joy of diabetes) that it was useful to draw with pen around any swelling or redness so hence the artwork around the wound in the photos.  Luckily it didn’t seem to be spreading or swelling up further.

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The next day the medical insurance people were still umming and ahhing about whether or not they’d cover me for a trip to a decent medical facility.  They decided yes at about 3pm and I headed straight off to airport for the ‘4pm flight’.  By that time the last plane was fully booked and I was put on standby – first they just said no, then after talking with David on my new phone (I’d been busy that morning – new phone but almost completely broke) said they would know by 6pm if there were any ‘no-shows’, and hence a seat available.

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The Airport Viewing Lounge
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The beer Lao – locked away.

At 6pm, after hovering around the sales office for 20mins, they asked me in, took my passport, looked at the computer and I got the ‘computer says noooooooo’.  Sorry?  No!  Look, I need to get to the hospital (big sad face).  Some more tap tap tapping on the computer and it seemed that one seat had appeared out of nowhere, and it had my name on it!  Phew.  Flew out on the 4pm plane at 6.30pm, surrounded by empty seats.  Huh?  But then we flew south to Pakse and got off the plane to pick up the rest of the passengers and sure enough, it was full to brimming!  Onwards bound, north to Vientiane, and taxi to good old familiar Alie and Hotel Lao.  And my Korean friends at the nearby restaurant who still remembered me from 6 weeks ago and invited me to join them.

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Set off to Australian Embassy Clinic the next day.  Dr Michelle is a breath of Australian speaking fresh air.  I love her!  And she speaks the Aussie Lingo!  Even if she does make babies cry (the previous patient was there for her jabs).  She congratulated me for coming in and having it seen to, and commented that the Pakse Clinic had actually done all the right things – blood test, cleaning out the wound and keeping the wound open – hence the rubber glove trick.  Put me on antibiotics (Augmentin Duo), took a swab to check what the infection was – ie what antibiotics would work – cleaned and covered it, and asked me to come back so she could check it the next day, and then for reassessment on Friday.

It is now Wednesday, and she is pleased with progress.  Still oozing, still red and inflamed, but getting better!  So fingers crossed that the wheelchair will not be needed in my case!

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After a number of checkups and some good times in Vientiane (luckily I only had a sore leg, no other symptoms) I was declared fit and ready to travel on Tuesday.  Unfortunately no flights to Savannakhet until Saturday so this little trip for good medical intervention turned into quite a long stay away from my home and workplace.  I have learnt some more lessons along the way and had rather an eventful two weeks.  Left work on Wednesday October …. Headed for Pakse  (see Pakse and Beyond post) and returned to work itching to get going on November …….  Wouldn’t want to be in a hurry!  (Luckily I’m not…)  Bor Pen Nyung (it’s ok…)

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Food adventures in Laos… because they always are an adventure!

Getting a ‘good’ (in the taste of the consumer of course) coffee is quite an adventure.  Whilst in Vientiane I regularly went on missions to get myself a ‘café Lao’ – now you would think that whilst in Lao, do as the Laotians do – well every time I asked for one it seemed they would look at me in confusion, usually say no, and no, we don’t know where you can get one.  Even places that proudly had their “coffee” signs displayed.

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The most authentico!

I thought I’d hit a jackpot when I asked this man, and he nodded, and proceeded to offer me a seat and make me a coffee in the ‘traditional’ way.  I would ask for ‘café dam, bo namtarn’ – black coffee – no sugar.  *I also found later that ‘no sugar’ meant nothing, I need to say bo sai namtarn – no take sugar – for it to make sense*  Now what he made me was certainly drinkable, but I was starting to wonder if my stomach would ever settle, and had to wonder about the ‘quality’ of the coffee he was serving.  But I did enjoy the ‘tea chaser’ a refresher served with every cup of coffee.

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Cafe Lao

My also newly arrived friends were looking for ‘real coffee’, like back home so we had some enjoyable but rather pricy cups of decent coffee at a few of the better establishments.  Once we arrived in Savannakhet we had to renew the search.  After a while I wasn’t craving it any more anyway, so I often stop by a little place near my work for a morning café Lao, and even reverted to agreeing to a dollop of sweetened condensed milk at the bottom – I actually needed a bit of a sugar fix at the start of the day.  So that is now my regular and I get to meet all sorts of interesting people – usually blokes who are sitting around, usually drinking tea, but always agree to me sitting with them at the table.

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I think that might be me! 

 

Our little ‘Avalon Café’ close by also now knows how we like our coffee (hot!) and treat us well, if with a bit of bemusement after we had a few of our Lao language lessons in there.

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Not my house – under the table at Teacher’s Day!

Of course coffee is but a small part of our culinary experiences.  I’ve also fully briefed (and will continue to do so) any reader of my predilection for local beers, in this case ‘Beer Lao’.  Taken to buying it by the crate load now that I have my own house and fridge to keep them in (12 bottles for 95,000 kip – $AUD15.70 – compared to the ‘normal’ price of 10,000 kip – $1.65 – per bottle from just about any random store).  Very happy with my Beer Lao – as most local people are getting to know.

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Making do for breakfast!

In Vientiane our hotel was very close to a fruit stall that served freshly cut ripe fruit.

Once in Savannakhet, we discovered that it was actually hard to find ripe (souk) fruit, especially cut up and ready to eat.  But the market is great and there are many choices of fresh produce available.  I tend to avoid the meat section and have never bought any – the closest I get is a tin of tuna.  Any dsc_0753meat dishes I save for going out – or the occasional nibble at a party or event.  But I do
love my fresh produce – oh the biggest juiciest
avocados and limes are heavenly!  Tomatoes and cucumbers are a hit, and a variety of greens and different types of fruits and vegetables.shopping5

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Yummy mango-steins!

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Often, dsc_0766my Lao work colleagues share their lunch with me.  They find my tastes pretty amusing, and my horror at some of their dishes.  I will try anything, but I won’t pretend to like it!   The fish was a winner, the frog and bamboo (image – thanks BouaKham) was not!  Sticky rice (the Lao specialty) rolled up with fingers and a bit of whatever is going is the regular offering.dsc_00131

 

 

 

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Trying to reciprocate the sharing with my vegemite sandwiches – not a hit with locals or foreigners alike!

 

 

 

 

 

 

white-house

Had a meal out with Bob (I’ve had many meals out with Bob…) at the ‘White House’ – so named because it is, well, White!  And clean white is pretty rare around here – an upmarket establishment sure but we have to try them all out!  Felt like a great place to drink Gin and Tonics on the terrace but it was lunch time so we made do with delicious icy cold fruit smoothies (no sugar added!).  We had a delectable salad with salmon, bacon, egg and greens, and a fabulous pizza – the best part being the buffalo milk mozzarella – delicious!

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Good, Better, Best, Never let it rest!

dsc_5995GOOD, BETTER, BEST … NEVER LET IT REST!

I’ve moved from a crazy culture that seems always to be in an urgent hurry, to one that isn’t.  And I’m loving it.  I tried the good, better … but was never the ‘best’ – of course!  So like a dog chasing its tail, I never got to where I (thought I) wanted to be.  I didn’t get that prized tenure, I was judged ‘not good enough’ for every job I applied for.  I saw the people that got that prize, and it didn’t look like much fun.  Because there is always another hurdle before you get to the next prize.  And another after that.

I don’t know a lot about Buddhist culture but it seems to me that in comparison to the one I’ve left, where you must achieve NOW! or at least in this life time – after all, it’s the only one we’ve got, there is a different way.  If I don’t get it right in this lifetime, I’ve got another chance.  Another lifetime.  I will try, but I won’t have lost anything by not reaching that prize.  Because I can try again in the next life time.  And the next.  And the next…

I interpret this to be equivalent to making the most out of what we have – now.  To see merit from good actions, leading a good life, rather than simply to judge and be judged on ‘success’ or ‘failure’.

Slow down.  Live a good life.  Be kind.  Be generous.  Do the best you can. And forgive yourself.

Personal Health & Wellbeing – surely it takes precedence?

Today I was sitting in my Lao language class and I realised that I’d forgotten to reload my pump (insulin supply) and it had run out.  I was running on empty.  I mentioned this to my colleague Susan, who has been fully briefed on potential issues for a diabetic and she said – you must go now and fix it up.  Thank you Susan.

Wow.  I thought about how many times I’ve sat in classes, meetings, doing busy work or whatever situation – even socially with friends, colleagues etc., and put my own (diabetic) needs last.  No I can’t let my diabetes be an inconvenience to others, I must keep going and then when I do get the chance to fix things up, I deal with the consequences on my own.  The soaring out-of-control blood sugar levels, the ‘hypo hangover’, the difficulties in getting the body into catch up mode.  The panic and distraction of trying to work out where I might get a syringe from, how I might get my levels back under control, how I might get home myself to access my supplies.  And I’ve done all this on the quiet because I never wanted to bother anyone!  I didn’t want my ‘problems’ to become other people’s problem.

So after 40 years of having diabetes, for virtually the first time I have been given the permission to prioritise my health and wellbeing over everything else.  I have a whole action contingency plan (under medical insurance) so that if I need to get specialised help, I will.  Other people who might be able to get me over the boarder to Thailand or to better health care have been briefed.  I have a whole team that is actually at the ready to take care of my health needs if it became necessary.

After a life of ‘looking after myself’, and not wanting to bother anyone with my condition(s), and never wanting to appear to be any more helpless than anyone else (when in actual fact I have virtually never taken time off work due to my chronic condition(s) – no work/no pay being partly the reason!), I have finally found my self in a position where I feel entitled to put my health and well-being needs first.  And this is as a volunteer in a developing country.  What is wrong with our ‘first world/Western’ mentality that it has taken me this long to feel that I can?

A #T1D Diabetic in Laos for a year

Diabetes is damned hard work and a persistent pain.  It can be hard enough moving to a new country, new language, new ways of understanding the world, and new food options, without the blood sugar levels (BSLs) going completely  and utterly crazy!

I managed to travel with no problems carrying a whole case of medications as hand luggage (+helmet, +laptop, +essentials).  The case was only checked once in Bangkok, by a very efficient airport official who checked through and opened some packets with her rubber gloved hands.  I had my explanatory letter ready and it really was no problem.

When I got to the hotel I filled the bar fridge with my insulin and other items needing refrigeration, and let the staff know not to turn the fridge power off.  Still living in (another) hotel I haven’t yet been able to properly unpack and consolidate my supplies so I still don’t really know what I’ll run out of – but as per my earlier post #T1D diabetic supplies for a year  I know I will.

So my blood sugar levels and insulin requirements have plummeted since arrival.  I try to surmise why this might be, and whether it is transient, or more longer term.  Some possible reasons:

  • Constant state of excitement and joy!
  • Low level but constant underlying stress
  • The heat and humidity
  • Food – eating less, and changes in diet
  • Beer Lao – insulin replacement therapy?
  • (Slightly) more exercise, exertion

Really though, it could be anything!  Hormones?  Body trying to cure itself?  …

So being on an insulin pump, where I have a constant set basal level of short acting insulin, onto which I would bolus a dose if I eat carbohydrates, or to correct a higher bsl, I have already lowered my basal (24hr dose) from 20 to 17 units of humalog, and hardly bolused at all, even when I do eat, because my bsl is already too low.

To cut a long story short, I need to constantly monitor my bsl using my meter and my precious supply of blood testing strips – of which I was only permitted to order 11 boxes from NDSS when I left Australia.  So the saga continues and I’m still pissed off about it – that my short and long term control over my health is hampered by my own country’s medical system that would not allow or assist me to get the supplies I needed before I left.  Again, still a work in progress … T1D and its persistent struggles …