Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Watford Observer


The local paper ran an article on my exhibition. I was going to scan it to put up on here. When it came out, a few hours before I was heading to catch a flight to Belfast for a friend's wedding, I scurried into town and bought up 5 copies. I knew I wanted a couple for my portfolio and thought that Tim Stock (curator for the exhibition) might want a copy for his. Then I was going to send one to mum and Dad and one to my grandparents - it's the sort of thing grandparents love, or so we all think.

Recently I've been struggling with how open and honest to be on a public blog. I'm not sure how to open up reasonable insight into the genuine peaks and troughs of being an artist without being transparent...so I suppose here goes.

I was disappointed with the article.

The article makes me feel a little misrepresented. For example, is it really fair to actually say I grew up in a war zone?

As I break the article down, it’s actually the bits about the evacuation that I really cringe to read. Maybe that’s no one’s fault – just the reality of a journalist trying to represent an intensely personal experience, based on one conversation, that is so far from the experience of most British citizens that it is impossible to represent if from the same perspective this third culture, missionary kid, teenager lived it.

It’s not true that I don’t remember feeling any trauma at the time of the evacuation – my response was in answer to a leading question! I only meant to say that you have to shift your perspective to that of a 13 year old who has spent her entire childhood in less than ‘stable’ political environment. Things that seem dramatic and shocking to the average British teenager were somewhat more commonplace to me and my three siblings and to our friends. But of course, we were all deeply upset driving through burnt out villages, where school staff live, in an armed escort en route to the airport and, waiting for the emergency flights to take us away, seeing smoke rising in pillars from the city centre.

It is probably true, however, that at least at first I didn’t feel that ‘displaced’ by our trip to Australia; perhaps that is what I meant by things ‘seeming dramatic’ to kids who grew up in the UK. We had little understanding or expectation at that point of the severity and longevity of the situation.

So, living as refugees in Australia didn’t “feel traumatic” in the sense that one might assume. We weren’t living without shelter or food and we weren’t injured or without medical attention when we needed it. I suppose the ‘trauma’ was subtle (our living conditions may have even improved, as refugees) that it feels like an untruth to call it so.

Watching CNN news each day to see if they featured the situation in Ambon, desperately hoping they didn’t, was difficult. We were told if no incidents occurred for a certain number of weeks then it would be deemed okay to go home. So we children watched the news each day, counting the days where Ambon wasn’t featured in the headlines. Each time Ambon was featured, we had to start counting from day 1 again. That was a ‘trauma’ I recall as it slowly dawned upon me that going home was being more and more unlikely.

The overwhelming mass of ‘orang barat’ (westerns) walking around probably threw us all (adults and children alike) into culture shock…but to a kid who lives between cultures and moves frequently, culture shock isn’t usually deemed ‘traumatic’ (though with retrospect, it probably is a kind of trauma).

*The hardest thing was leaving friends behind. You’ve somewhere to escape to and they don’t.”* - That feels like the truest thing in the article. Leaving neighbours and friends behind devastated me. I understood, even age 13, how ‘unfair’ that situation was. Furthermore, when you know your purpose (as a family) in a country is to serve the community in Jesus’ name, escaping the break out of war when others can’t is painful. To this day it makes me cry.

The rest of the article is fair actually – apart from the reference to Lancaster. I suppose yes I did ‘identify’ with a couple of the people in the homeless community, but I wouldn’t want that to be misrepresented as me having developed friendships and earned trust with them – it’s my dear friends Jess and JC who have done that.

For now, 5 copies of the article sit rather lamely on my dining room table. A copy hasn't been posted to either my parents or my grandparents. But perhaps the article is more fair than I first gave it credit for. In one sentence I’m quoted as calling the evacuation ‘not traumatic’ and the next living in Australia as a refugee as ‘traumatic’. Both comments left me feeling misrepresented. Maybe the whole thing was more unsettling that I like to admit and I’m confused by how to represent my experiences to people who, by no fault of their own, can’t relate. Perhaps the whole situation was deeply traumatic, but I feel a sense of guilt in admitting so, since we, the ‘orang barat’, were the fortunate escapees with other homes to flee to. What then of our friends left behind - who gives voice to their, much deeper, trauma? Perhaps I should.

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