Blogging at RAW Community Garden; RAW stands for Resilient Aspiring Women
What are resilient aspiring women I wondered and did I fit the bill? That was the inquiry that popped into my mind when I was invited to attend an afternoon at the RAW community garden in Brighton, a community space created to bring women of all backgrounds and cultures together by my dear friend Author and Speaker, Mariam Issa.
There, you can often find refugee women working together on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays with the local women from the Bayside area. Together, there is an unspoken and yet visible harmony as they plant the seeds, toil the earth or feed the chooks. At the end of a weary winter day, the dreamer of this wonderful garden brings out an exotic silver pot where homemade chai tea is shared.
RAW is not just about Mariam as she reminds me often; it’s a collective, a movement, an opportunity to create an empowered, joyful community with a conscience. Mariam stands tall, striking with those wise eyes and enviously unwrinkled skin. Born in Somalia, raised in Kenya, she first made her way to Australia with her family as a refugee on a leaky boat. In 1988, she found herself pregnant with her fifth child and with the rest of family in tow, she settled in Brighton, one of Australian’s most affluent suburbs. It did not take long to realise that they were the first black family to ever move in the area.
Mariam is assisted at RAW by her equally tall German blond partner in crime, Katrina, more affectionately known as “Ina”. Together a year ago, they began creating this very special space that is now thriving and bustling with activity with the support of a great committee around them.
This particular afternoon event was a storytelling session organised by the Chilean community of Melbourne where stories were being told of the Mapuche people, the indigenous people of Chile. Traditional songs were accompanied by haunting strumming of guitars, singing and later a special tea was served to all there. The traditional owners of the land were also acknowledged through song and an Aussie larrikin delighted all by a rendition of a ‘convict’ song.
It was a truly eccletic and joyous occasion as I photographed and captured the guests unaware. The fire was kept lit, it was cold but all huddled together. I felt very privileged behind my lens capturing special moments of tenderness, new friendships being born and effortless laughter.
On that cold and wet winter afternoon, I observed people of all cultures, ages and faiths come together as one. I reflected that most of us were in fact from somewhere else, a different land from a different time and how fortunate we were to live in a country like Australia where this is possible. There were Christians and Muslims, some women were covered and some not, there were Greek fathers and German mothers, Somalians and Chileans, Mauritians and English.
Resilience was all around us that afternoon.
Each one had a story, perhaps not all as poignant as Mariam’s own but I believe that we all have a story to tell. Although, there were many men in attendance, I noticed the women moving through the space, almost like in a dance, holding their babies or teenage daughters, gathering marshmallows for the young ones to toast on the open fire. Like swarms of busy little bees, they were coming in and out of the kitchen with homemade soup and cake, which made us all feel nurtured.
‘It takes a village to raise a child’, this well-known African saying resonated with me that afternoon but who was the child?
I believe it was ‘us’, the ‘collective us’ brought together through the creation of RAW. RAW allows for us to go back to simplicity and the simple tradition of connecting person-to-person, face-to-face, spirit-to-spirit.
The simple act of gathering around a fire, sipping tea, making time stand almost still is an experience seldom practised in our communities. That afternoon, we became part of another family, the village.
Mariam shared her extraordinary story in her book ‘A Resilient Life’ and as I was reading it, I have pondered over what resilience meant to me.
Resilience to me is that quiet determination that allows you to put one foot in front of the other and keep walking in the right direction whilst you are being pulled in a thousand ways by circumstances and people.
Resilience to me means waking up in the morning no matter how hard yesterday was and being content that I have a new opportunity today to make this day count.
Resilience is experiencing a full life even when you are missing many aspects, vital aspects of what is deemed to be a full life.
Resilience also changes as you age, I have noticed. Over the decades, it shifts and it toughens you. With it, you become more understanding and forgiving of others.
Resilience is knowing that I can make that change and take control of my life; it’s knowing that you are in the driver’s seat heading towards your destiny.
Resilience has been an important part of my life since I was a young girl and it shadows me even today. I see my life as one incredible adventure and for that I feel blessed for all of the good and not so good that comes into it because it helps me learn a lot more about myself.
I have come to realise there is always a way and when the stars are not aligned, I reminisce on the wonderful journeys I have had and the many more I will have no matter what cards I am dealt today. That is my resilience.
I wonder, what does yours look like? Close your eyes, go back.
As for being an aspiring woman, well, that’s for others to contemplate and come back to me! All I know is that everyday is a new possibility. If I get to inspire someone with my stories when I am writing or speakingor a beautiful photograph that I have taken or helped one of my mentoring students then I feel that I am on purpose and truly aligned with my values.
Mariam talks about intentions and setting a wish for the day or week and she applies this without fail. She looks to celebrate diversity and create a community with a social conscience. She shares her adversities and lessons with us so we can learn and appreciate the gift we have been given, that of life. She wants us to come around the fire at RAW and share our story because it is our right.
That is the common thread that Mariam and I share. We discovered that we are both authors, speakers, mothers and above all women on a pilgrimage. We may be different and yet we are so alike in many ways. Although we continue on our very own journeys, we come together and exchange ideas and help each other like we once did in our own village; hers in Kenya and mine in Mauritius. Our story is one of sisterhood.
In fact, all of the women at RAW are such women. I encourage you to look them up and drop in for a chai or a dig in the garden.
Yours truly, B and remember always 'Dare to Dream Big'!
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