11 days of down time…

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I have been back in Bali for 11 days and I’ve done pretty well two thirds of nothing. I’ve only written one blog post prior to this one and I’ve almost finished reading one book, I haven’t even had a swim.

So what have I been doing? Sleeping (at least 10 hours a night!), chatting and posting on social media, talking with friends and my hubby, catching up with good friends here, watching nonsense I downloaded on my laptop, pottering around, a tiny bit of shopping, relaxing, eating, having massages and treatments, and that’s about it.

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When I came I had grand plans that included finishing writing one of my books and breaking the back of another one, planning my business offerings for 2017, going to yoga and meditation, walking for kilometres each day and I have done none of those things. Not one.

But it’s ok.

It’s really ok.

The negative should part of my brain tells me that I could have done these things at home, but in reality I wouldn’t have.

The positive part of my brain tells me that I have done what I needed to do for me.

And I have.

What I needed to do was nothing. Time out, quiet time, nothing time, to relax and decompress.

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You see before I came here, I had had a crazy few months of flat out work, travel, a trip to Africa to start building a women’s shelter and a whole lot of craziness and stress leading up to it, too much busy-ness, one very unpleasant experience that impacted hugely on my ability to fall asleep, leaving me with about five hours of sleep a night (I am a minimum eight a night girl) and to top it off I had bronchitis for almost four weeks. By the time I left home I was beyond exhausted. I was so tired I didn’t even know myself.

Being back in Bali has, as usual, been wonderful. I feel so at home here and I easily slip back into the laid back tropical lifestyle that only Bali brings me. It only takes a day or so and I feel as if I am breathing out, and time doesn’t matter any more.

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I am heading home tomorrow and have planned to do almost no work until the end of January and I aim to keep it that way. I am taking this opportunity to reassess my schedule, look at different ways of working and reintroducing myself to the hardest word of all for me to say – no. 2017 is already shaping up to be very busy and I want to enjoy all it brings me, while maintaining optimal physical and mental health.

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I plan to do a closing off ceremony for this year and look forward to taking time to reflect and give thanks. 2016 has been one of the most challenging, difficult and yet exciting and wonderful years, full of growth and opportunity, filled with so many contrasts and for all of them I am very thankful.

So, as I head off to sleep for the last night in my beloved island home, I wish as you much rest, relaxation, breathing out and down time as you can take.

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Mama Africa, I’m coming home.

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Next week I’m returning to Ghana for the first time in four years. As my regular readers would know, I lived there for a year in 2010 and returned once briefly in 2012. Until last week it was looking like I wasn’t going to be able to go, there was a myriad of reasons, and finances played a major role. Even though this trip was more than a year in the planning, due to circumstances out of our control, our long held dream to build a women’s shelter for victims of domestic violence and the reason for this particular trip was under threat.

With the support of an incredible team of volunteers, in early August we sent a 40 foot container to Ghana ahead of our upcoming trip, full to the brim with building material, goods, donations, gifts and more things than I could count, such a bounty of generosity, love and enthusiasm was wrapped up in that container. Imagine our heartbreak when two weeks into the voyage our shipping company Hanjin went bankrupt. This left our plans up in the air and to this day we still don’t have arrangements in place for getting our container from Singapore to Ghana as all of the boats were offloaded on bankruptcy and everyone is still left with more questions than answers. The trip is still going ahead however, thanks to the kindness, generosity and commitment of our amazing volunteers, who want to do what they can where they can and much to my amazement they even bought my ticket, as I was going to remain behind to save the much needed money that we’ll have spend on the additional shipping fees. However I digress, which I am known to do, but background stories and context are important too. I am a storyteller after all.

So apart from finances there were some other things that came up for me and still do when I contemplate returning to Ghana, on the West Coast of Mama Africa, my husband’s country of birth and the country that taught me more in one year than I had ever learnt in the previous 44. I have always said I have a love/hate relationship with Ghana, and I still do. What do I love? The people, family, culture, music, dance, rhythm, drums, colour, community, connection, activity – so many things. Africa is the heartbeat and rhythm of the world, she’s also where we all came from, she truly is our original Mama. What do I hate? Corruption, poverty, hunger, politics, lack of infrastructure, inequality, religious domination, open drains, lack of access to toilets, frequent power black outs, but mostly corruption, the biggest killer of all developing countries.

Those things are all important and they certainly have an impact and provide unlimited challenges to overcome, but mostly it’s about how Ghana made me feel. She pushed all of my buttons, shoved me right out of my comfort zone, challenged everything I thought I knew about myself and the world and turned it on its head. She shoved me hard. I was forced to look at myself, my darkest nooks and crannies, my hidden places, my life and everything I thought was important and re-evaluate, again and again and again. And again. Until the version of myself that arrived in Ghana was not the same woman who left a year later.

Going back again will surely test me. It will remind me of those challenges, and bring them back to the surface to consider and learn again. As I started writing my book about the year I lived there (How I learnt to love my bum and other lessons from Africa) all of the emotions came flooding back to me, in full colour and real time. I was actually surprised at how much I remembered, the level of detail and importantly the emotions I experienced that year. One day when I was writing about corruption I got myself so worked up I had to take a break for a few days. Unless experienced first hand, it’s impossible to comprehend the impact this has on every single aspect of life.

Mama Africa taught me so many lessons, just like my own mama did. However she taught them to me in a way that lacked compassion and empathy, she threw me in the water to let me drown and allowed me to teach myself to swim. She pushed me hard against myself and others and she left me floundering, wondering who the hell I was and what this life was all about.

I will write more this trip than I did before. I just wasn’t in the headspace to do it, but with time and reflection I am now looking forward to revisiting the place of my life’s biggest lessons and learning whatever it is she wants to show me.

I love you Mama Africa but I ask of you just one thing.

Please be gentle with me this time.

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This piece also appeared on the Huffington Post

What I’ve learnt so far about writing my book…

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I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. I’ve always written in some form or another and I’m sure I was born reading a book. For most of my career my writing was centred around business writing, product development and training material.

I started blogging in 2010 when I moved to Ghana, this is my fourth blog. One has been retired, but the others are still going, each with a different purpose and audience. While I’ve been published in magazines, I’ve never written a book and it has been on my to do list for many years now.

I decided that this, my 50th year was the year to finally make my book happen. I’ve got a big to do list this year, and time is running by too quickly!! I took myself off to Bali to retreat for 32 blissful days in June, in order to focus on writing my memoir about the year I lived in Ghana. The working title is “How I learnt to love my bum and other lessons from Africa”.

I had this grand idea that I would knock this book off in a month, with time to spare. Yeah right. I started well, but quickly realised that it was going to be more challenging than I had originally anticipated. I’m so used to blogging, quick wins and finishes that the process of an unfinished product at the end of each day felt all awkward and prickly to begin with. As my wise friend and fellow writer Helen told me, writing a book uses different muscles than a blog, similar to the differences between running a sprint and a marathon.

So, after 32 days I came home with just over 30,000 words completed, not too shabby. I also had an idea for another book and that’s 5,000 words in, as well as various blog posts and other creative ideas flowing all around me. I’m very happy with the outcome of my retreat and I plan to make it an annual event.

snoopy_writing.jpgThis is what I learnt:

  1. I am an expert procrastinator. I’ve written about this before here where I generously shared some of my best tips for extreme procrastination. I really am the queen in this area and if there was some kind of nobel prize equivalent, I’d win for sure.
  2. It’s not my husband’s fault. I always said I wasn’t able to produce a book with him around, because, well he’s my biggest distraction. However I left him behind and still managed to get distracted by lots of shiny things and almost everything else, every day.
  3. I remembered more than I thought I would. We lived in Ghana from July 2010-July 2011 and despite my hubby’s best advice to keep at least a small journal with even a sentence a day (yes he’s always right, as well as being extremely hot), I didn’t. This means I’m relying solely on my memory, which I’m pleased to say, has been very reliable to date. I have also found some old blog posts, photos and Facebook to be helpful.
  4. Writing a memoir can be painful and emotional. One of the reasons for writing this is to share my experience of living in Ghana. That year was both the best and worst of my life. It pushed all of my buttons, shoved me hard right out of my comfort zone and taught me more than I had learnt in the previous 44 years on the planet. Remembering the highlights and lowlights triggered quite a few tears.
  5. It’s ok not to get it perfect right off the bat. I learnt about shitty first drafts from Brene Brown and Anne Lamott and for that I’m grateful. I’m writing down the bones and fleshing it out later. I am a recovering perfectionist and this was a biggie for me.
  6. It’s ok to change direction. I thought I knew where the book would go, but it has taken me in very different places than I had anticipated, and that’s absolutely fine!

I’ve been home for a week now and I must confess to having lost my momentum a little, actually a lot, ok I’ve not looked at it since. I’m almost finished writing my smaller book and plan to have it off to the editor on the weekend, so after that I will pick it up again and get back into marathon mode.

Someone hold me accountable! Too many distractions…ooh look that’s pretty!

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I’m not lucky!

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Today was my second to last day in my favourite place in the world, Bali, or more specifically Ubud. I’ve been here for a 31 blissful days, got quite a lot of writing done, hosted a writers retreat, had lots of down time, and started some exciting new projects.

I booked myself in for a full spa day today as a final treat to myself. I’m all about extreme self care and this was a beautiful way to wind up my trip.

At lunchtime I met another solo traveller who’d been travelling for the past three months and over lunch we got to talking about life, as you do. She mentioned that people had commented on some of her posts that she was “so lucky”. We discovered that we both object strongly to the term.

Let’s look at the term luck for a moment. The dictionary states: Luck is success or failure brought by chance rather than one’s own actions. 

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No wonder we both objected, it implies that our good fortunes have nothing to do with our hard work or tenacity. She worked long and hard to make her trip happen and was proud of her achievements, and rightly so. Luck has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that we are both following our hearts and dreams.

Here’s some other examples I hear and you may too.

“You are so lucky to have a good husband, marriage, relationship.” No, I’m not. Yes I do have a great marriage to a wonderful man, but luck plays no part in this. We both took a chance on love and made some crazy impulsive decisions when we met, and they worked. Our marriage is happy and strong, but this also has nothing to do with luck, we work at it and are both equally committed to making it last forever.

“You are so lucky to be able to travel so often”. No I’m not. It’s a lifestyle choice we made, based on how we want to live our life and our definition of happiness and fulfilment. We choose to live a simple life, with flexible working arrangements that afford us the ability to travel. I’d rather have a plane ticket and my passport than all the fancy things in the world.

“You are so lucky to work for yourself”. No I’m not. I worked in corporate, government and not for profit for over 35 years, and was blessed and grateful for the success I had in my career. I chose to work for myself. Self employment is not an easy path to follow but I wouldn’t change a thing. Self employment has no guarantees and I never know where my next dollar is coming from, but it provides me with the lifestyle I choose and freedom for travel.

“You are so lucky, you’ve lost weight and look good”. No I’m not. I battled my food addiction demons for over 35 years and this year I finally did what was necessary for my health and to save my life. This was not an easy decision and one that was permanent, with ongoing implications, but I’m so incredibly thankful I did it. I’ve never felt better and can look forward to the future with more enthusiasm than ever before.

“You are so lucky……insert the blank”.

I left school at the age of 15 and every single thing I’ve ever achieved has been the result of my own hard work and decisions I’ve made. I am not lucky.

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Next time someone tells you that you’re lucky, or before you say it to another person, stop and ask yourself if it really is so?

Most of the time the people we see as lucky, have worked long and hard to get where they are.

Here’s to the “lucky” ones.

The risk takers.

The dreamers.

The believers.

The adventurers.

The artists and creatives.

Those who chose to live life on their terms.

May you always go where you heart wants to take you.

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I write.

 

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Roosters crow, birds of all kinds sing, and geckos make their chit chit sounds. Water flows rapidly over layers of rock filled pools, cool and calming to the ear. Children laugh and play, men and women work, motorbikes zoom up and down the hill. The pungent scent of incense occasionally touches my nose, mingled with frangipani, jasmine and wood smoke. A gentle breeze blows across my damp sweat kissed skin as the sun sets for another day.

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Where else would I be right now but here? Beautiful Bali, Island of the Gods, full of grace, elegance, wisdom and beauty, a feast for all the senses. As I lay here in the afternoon breeze, I’m playing with words, rearranging and sculpting them to create stories, poetry – word art to spread across the canvas that is my page.

I create word art that tells my stories, the stories of others and paints pictures in my heart and soul. I create art that tells of places, people and loved ones here and those long gone from this earthly plane.

I write because I love. I write because I live. I write because I am.

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What? No wifi?

Dude-Perfect7A friend and I were enjoying a luxurious stroll through the streets of Ubud this afternoon, taking in all of the sights, scents and sounds of this beautiful place that I love so much. We had lunch at a lovely little local Warung on JL Gautama and chose roadside seats so we could happily people watch while we chatted and enjoyed the delicious food.

After another long walk, we felt a little peckish and felt that dessert was in order. We stopped at one of the many gelato stores that have opened up in recent years to order a cone. While we were waiting I noticed two women sitting in the window seat. “What’s your wifi password?” one of them bellowed across the room. “We don’t have wifi” the girl gently responded. As if she had spoken Latin, she had to ask for the girl to repeat what she had said. She stared at her, looking indignant and shocked at the lack of wifi in this little ice cream shop. She looked back at her friend in amazement and what I’d call a look of disgust and confusion.

She continued to use her phone, as did her friend. I’m not sure if she had any other kind of service or if she was just looking at photos or making notes. She seemed quite baffled as to what to do with herself.

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Now I’m as big a fan of technology as the next person, and I’m often quick to jump onto the wifi and check what’s happening in the world, but today I managed to enjoy my day without it. Nobody got hurt, everything I need to know will still be there and the world continues to spin round and round. It’s baby steps for me, but I’m doing my best.

Have we really lost the art of conversation and human interaction to the point that we can’t enjoy an ice cream cone without being connected? Have we become so attached to what’s happening “out there” that we can’t connect with what’s inside us or find out what’s happening for those we care about who are sitting right there with us? I hope not, but I do fear for the future of our conversations and real human connections.

I’m working on disconnecting from the online world more, so I can remain connected in the real world. It’s a hard habit to break, especially when my phone has so many shiny bells and whistles to distract me. One thing that has helped is to turn all push notifications off.  I now need to intentionally open my phone and check to see if there are any. I often take Facebook and messenger off my phone, but as I’m away I have put it back on in order to stay in touch with loved ones far and wide.

Mind you, I still find myself picking it up and checking what’s happening with the wicked temptress Facebook, often before I realise what I’m doing, I look down and find myself scrolling mindlessly, so that’s the next step for me. Leave it down, don’t pick it up every second my hands or mind are free.

Take the opportunity to daydream,  imagine, create, manifest. It’s only in those spaces of stillness and quiet that we can drop into our heart, hear our inner thoughts and that’s where the magic of creativity is born.

I might even leave it behind tomorrow.

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Riding in cars with strangers

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Transport?

Transport? Yes? Transport? Tomorrow? Anyone who has been to Bali will be familiar with the always optimistically asked question of whether you need transport, even if you are literally stepping out of a taxi, they will still ask.

Drivers are everywhere here, trying to make a living and will do their best, understandably to get a gig. You can’t walk a few steps without a tooting horn from a taxi if you are in Kuta/Legian area, a roadside driver calling transport, or a friendly face offering you a ride if in Ubud, as taxis aren’t allowed to operate here.

Today I was taking a walk and had already said no about fifty times when I started talking to a friendly guy named Wayan. Oh by the way, people tell you to ignore when approached by drivers, shop keepers etc, after all these years, I still can’t do that. I smile politely and say no thank you in English or Bahasa, depending on my mood. Everyone is just doing their best to make a buck and deserves respect, even if you have been asked a million times if you want a massage, pedicure, leather jacket, valium, viagra, transport etc. So back to Wayan. I told him I didn’t need a ride as I was jalan jalan (walking). We had a chat and I took his number as you never know when you need a ride, especially given I was here for a month this trip.

After lunch I was about to head out to find a driver back to my villa when I remembered him, so I sent him a text and asked him to pick me up. No big deal right? It was only when I started thinking of it from an outsiders perspective that it might seem strange. Where else in the world would you hop in a car or onto the back of a motorbike in this case, with no idea of who you are going with, and no way to monitor who is taking you. No ID, no licensing regulations, just a bloke with a motorbike. Only in Bali, well for me anyway.

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Just another day shopping in Seminyak – 2009

I was then reminded of the many times I have gotten rides on bikes and in cars with different people and I remembered the day I met Ketut. It was November 2009 and my friend and I were walking up Monkey Forest Road when a cheeky guy said something that got my attention. I sat on the roadside and talked to him for ages, he was hilarious and we had a great laugh. I then asked if he could take me for a ride, so he and his friend got their bikes and off we went. No idea where and for how long, but I didn’t care. My friend only went a short time as her guy had to be back at work but Ketut and I went for a couple of hours. We went to the back blocks of Ubud to places I’ve never seen, beautiful peaceful places, and he even took me to his family compound to see his home. I had a lovely time and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.

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Ketut and I touring around Ubud – 2009

I’m usually such a scaredy cat. I would never do this in Australia and I don’t walk around the streets in the dark at home either, despite living in a very safe area. Here though, I feel so safe that I don’t give these kinds of things a second thought. I don’t place myself in danger or take unnecessary risks, but I certainly don’t feel scared either.  I’m currently here alone for a month to write my book and am happy pottering around and could do so forever.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be safe, or take care of ourselves, but I am saying that life is here to be enjoyed. Live it to its fullest, no matter who you are or where you are. Embrace it, take a chance. Talk to a stranger. Strangers are after all just friends we haven’t met yet.

You never know who you might meet or where you might end up. Enjoy the wonderful adventure that life is!

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