Finding Refuge

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ON a balmy Brisbane evening I am slouched under a magnificent tree, savouring a plate of colourful African fare and sipping a Tusker malt lager. There’s but a whisper of a wind on this hot summer evening, just enough to scatter the tree’s tiny white flowers onto the faded tablecloth like confetti. The flowers fall into my hair and onto my head, like little sparks of inspiration.
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I’m at Mu’ooz Eritrean Restaurant in West End, surrounded by fellow writers, artists, poets, singers and daydream believers, attending Wild Readings. I blew in here a little like the white flowers, an invitation from a friend to join this underground movement of creatives, who gather on the third Tuesday of every month. It is here that they soak up the collective juices, which are threatened with drought when you are alone for too long in a big city, stalked by the shadows of conformity.
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The host opens the night by describing Wild Readings as a “public series for the storyteller in all of us.”
“We’d like to build a community of storytellers and people who just want to listen to words,” she says.
There are four readings in this delicious hour, Alanna uses art to tell stories about mental health and is reading from her book called “The Letter R” for Resilience. You need a lot of resilience to be a writer anywhere in the world, and it’s apt for this setting in which I find myself.
Tina is a published author and runs a children’s and young adults’ writers conference in Brisbane, fuelling the fire of future generations of crazy creatives.
Really, they should be building asylums for those of us insane enough to keep striking the keyboard in a world which begs us to do otherwise. And yet, thank God, we continue.
Annie, a program co-ordinator for newly-arrived refugees, picks up a ukulele and strums her story. There are others, a couple of poets and an author, but it’s Annie and her uke which strike a literal and metaphorical chord with me this evening.
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I didn’t leave the house expecting to find a story, but in this salacious setting how could I not? Not only am I inspired by the passion and prose of my fellow artists, but Mu’ooz itself is a not-for-profit social enterprise, established by Eritrean Refuge Women, which assists women arriving in Brisbane from many parts of Africa.
Shortly before the evening begins, I stumble across Manager Saba Abraham, who opened the West End location three years ago and since then has provided training and employment for more than 100 refugee women.
“We provide a pathway to employment with many of the women now employed in other places including schools, factories and cleaning jobs,” she says.
“The program aims to give them confidence and help them understand the workforce.
“Women refugees have minimal employment opportunities and many of them have never had any education in their country, therefore finding it extremely challenging in Australia, to learn the language and secure employment.
“Many of them feel like this is home to them, it is much more than a workplace.”
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Saba tells me the business is not without its challenges, rents in West End are high and there is still a disconnect between mainstream Australia and what they are trying to achieve, even in this socially-progressive suburb.
Which is a great shame, as the food here is different and delicious, boasting many dishes and ingredients even a well-travelled Australian palate may have never tasted such as Enjera – savoury purple pancakes; Silsie – a traditional Eritrean sauce; Berbere – traditional hot pepper seasoning; and Tasame – butter flavoured with Eritrean herbs and spices.
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I sip on my second Tusker malt lager, a beer I’ve never encountered before – and the white leaves keep falling on my head, urging me to write this story. A tale of a little courtyard in Brisbane, a meeting of people with big hearts and those cursed with that damn desire to write.
We are gathered on the traditional land of the Jagera, Yuggera and Yuggerapul people and we pay homage to them. A Yuggera elder has penned a Welcome to Country for us: “Everything sits in a circle around us. When we open ourselves to looking and listening it allows us to connect with Mother Earth, everyone’s Mother.”
On this hot night, I embrace the circle of refugees and creatives and watch as those tiny flowers keep falling, reminding me to keep writing.
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The next Wild Readings will be held on Tuesday, Feb 21 at Mu’ooz West End at 6pm for 6.30pm. You can join Wild Readings on their Facebook page. To dine at Mu’ooz and support their incredible work, go to http://www.muooz.com.au

Behind The Seams

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THERE were men with mops, half a dozen flaming hot firemen, a flirtatious French Canadian and even a couple of monkey masks. No, I am not talking about my latest sexual fantasy, but my “behind the seams” tour of the newest Cirque du Soleil show which opened in Brisbane on Friday night. Presented with the opportunity to witness what it takes to pull together a performance such as Totem, I leapt at the chance after all, I am a woman and a journalist, which makes me the nosiest person on the planet. And I was not disappointed with my detective work.
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I arrived early, at the wrong gate, but that was just fine, as I stumbled across a couple of men with mops where it occurred to me for the first time in my circus-going history that not only could men use mops, but even the tents need to be washed. This was confirmed when I finally made it to the correct gate and saw another cleaner, abseiling down the side of the Grand Chapiteau like a Cirque du Soleil performer himself, with a hose. And I thought only elephants got washed at circuses. (Note: there are no elephants at this circus). There are also, thankfully, few clowns, as The Global Goddess has a clown phobia. I don’t like seeing them at the circus and I certainly don’t like dating them.
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Fortunately, I’m met by handsome French Canadian Publicist Francis Jalbert with whom I am to spend the next hour sneaking and peeking around the tents. Unfortunately there are half a dozen other journalists also on this tour, but for this one hour I pretend it’s just me and Francis with his ooh-la-la accent, as he explains the production behind the production.
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It takes 85 giant containers to move the show from one city to another, with Brisbane being the 30th destination for Totem, which has been on the road for an incredible 15 years. But there are plenty of techniques to ensure the show, and the performers, don’t go stale. The show is recorded each and every evening and watched by the performers, who hail from 16 different countries, in a bid to perfect and correct any moves. In addition 250 locals are hired to assist in the set up for a show like Totem, which takes three years in the making – two simply to bring the ideas together and the last in which the artists are trained in their acts.
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“We try to keep the show young and fresh for us and also for the audience,” Francis says.
“There is a lot of technique involved even though it is a tent. We have a grey set video screen at the centre to emulate effects such as water. It is like you are travelling with us for 2.5 hours.
“It is a live performance and anything can happen, especially with a show like this. Most of the performers will tell you they like to make mistakes as it is challenge as to how they recover from it. And the audience loves that too.”
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Francis tells me (I’m pretty sure he’s looking at me) that the artists are all international athletes, many with gymnastics careers, who are selected only after their competitive career is finished. “We really have to know that it’s over for them and they don’t dream about the Olympics any more,” he says.
“When you come to Cirque you have to learn how to compete in a team with gymnasts you’ve competed against before. You have to re-learn all your skills.”
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In Totem, which traces the journey of the human species from its amphibian origins to flight, there are 750 costumes. The make-up of the performers takes anything from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours to complete. And in a coup for the Queensland capital, the costumes for this show have been designed by Brisbane-born Kym Barrett. It’s almost impossible to believe Cirque du Soleil has grown from 20 street performers in Quebec back in 1984 to a company of 4000 employees worldwide.
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So, now that I’ve given you the low down on what happens back stage, what can you expect when the lights go up in the Big Top? I’ve been fortunate to see a number of Cirque du Soleil shows around the world, and this is one of the best yet. The first half is the most captivating in my opinion with the 45 acrobats, actors, musicians and singers, taking you on a journey of creativity and colour through ancient civilisations. Sure, there are moments when you realise you’ve seen a particular acrobatic move before in another Cirque show, but that’s when you have to remind yourself that what these performers are doing with their bodies is truly incredible. There’s plenty of heart and humour in these performances, which will have you cartwheeling through the rest of your week, and dreaming of life under the Grand Chapiteau. With a French Canadian, a few men with mops, half a dozen firemen and a couple of monkey masks.
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The Global Goddess was a guest of Cirque du Soleil. For a complete performance schedule and ticket information go to http://www.ciquedusoleil.com/totem

First World Problems

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ISN’T it ironic, don’t you think? Yes, a little too ironic that the day I am meant to be reviewing a show called First World White Girls, every imaginable First World problem rears its ugly head. I wake up from a delectable deep sleep courtesy of last night’s meditation class (First World White Girls love yoga and meditation) and wonder what the universe has in store for me this day. Like other First World White Girls around the planet, I reach over in bed for my MacBook Air (you don’t expect me to sleep with a PC, do you?) and switch it on, only to find one of those mosquito bite emails that is going to itch all day. I sigh, and go and make my Vietnamese coffee (I’d rather DIE than drink instant), check a few more emails, and get ready for my yoga class.

Photo by Nick Morrissey

Photo by Nick Morrissey


There’s a green tea (First World White Girls adore green tea) and avocado on Ryvita before I have to head to a GP appointment in my air-conditioned car (I mean, really, who can live without aircon?). But wouldn’t you know it, I have to wait a whole 30 minutes in the doctor’s surgery (OK, it was on a comfy seat, with a flat screen TV, my iPhone and magazines to keep me company). I get free blood tests and pay $75 for my appointment, of which I will receive $37 back on Medicare (You mean I have to PAY something for great health care). My female doctor (yes, a woman) pens a string of scripts for other things, like valium, which are designed to make my White Girl First World more bearable.
Photo by Nick Morrissey

Photo by Nick Morrissey


I head off to lunch – sushi of course – with a gay male friend (First World White Girls always have gay male friends), and while waiting for my second green tea of the day and my lunch, my mate and me take turns at complaining about our mornings. Lunch takes 30 minutes to arrive, a point I make of mentioning to the waiter (does he not KNOW I’m busy?) and on the way home I pick up a skinny chai latte (First World White Girls love chai latte). But I’m annoyed as I go to pay with the spare $50 floating around my wallet and wouldn’t you know it, the till is stuck and I can neither pay nor receive my chai. Just as that serious issue is fixed, I head upstairs in the shopping centre to pick up my library books (which cost me 50 cents to reserve) but I can’t just swipe my card and leave, as I owe the library $10.20. This time my eftpos card won’t work, and so I have to pay in cash. I mean, how annoying, right?
Photo by Nick Morrissey

Photo by Nick Morrissey


The afternoon is spent writing, emailing and surfing Facebook until I have to knock off early and have a long, hot bath (my First World White Girl muscles are tight from all the yoga, you see) before picking up my friend for the show. But I get stuck in traffic in my air-conditioned car, and while I listen to music on my choice of radio stations, I shake my head at what a First World White Girl day I’m having. My friend jumps in my vehicle and we complain all the way to Brisbane’s Judith Wright Centre, where we stop briefly for a burger before the show. I’m relieved to find the burger joint also sells wine, I mean, after the incredibly GRUELLING day I’ve had, how could ANYONE go without wine. I snatch another one just before we enter the theatre.
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If you see nothing else this year, try to get to a production of First World White Girls somewhere around Australia for this is quite possibly the best reminder you will ever have of what a fortunate life we lead. Written, composed and performed by Brisbane cabaret artists Judy Hainsworth and Kaitlin Oliver Parker, this one-hour performance is punchy and perky without being at all preachy. Dressed in floral frocks, faux fur stoles, beige shoes and hair that is coiffed to perfection, the two proceed to entertain the audience with their singing, dancing and dialogue. “Just because we have food, water and espresso pods, doesn’t mean life is easy for us,” they quip, in between sipping on San Pellegrino bottles, with a straw.
Photo by Nick Morrissey

Photo by Nick Morrissey


In fact, the audience is invited to participate, by writing down one (just one) First World problem on a piece of paper, which is then collected in a Tiffany bag, and read out at random. I wrote: “I can’t find a boyfriend” and regular
Global Goddess readers will know this is a life-threatening issue for me. There’s even a checklist to discern whether you are a First World White Girl which includes:
• If you throw a fit when there’s no free wi-fi
• If you chip your $80 manicure
• If you get teased for owning an Android phone
• If your friend spoils the end of Game of Thrones before you get a chance to watch it
• If you get a disastrous spray tan the day before you are bridesmaid at your best friend’s wedding
I know, I know! These are all very real issues, and I’m not sure why the UN isn’t stepping in to solve them.
Photo by Nick Morrissey

Photo by Nick Morrissey


By the end of this show you will have laughed your head off (that doesn’t literally happen in the First World) and taken a good, hard look at yourself. This performance may not solve all of the planet’s issues, but it does take a giant leap towards solving some of our First World Problems.
The Global Goddess was a guest of the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, which has a great program of eclectic performances throughout the year – http://www.judithwrightcentre.com To see where First World White Girls are playing next go to http://www.firstworldwhitegirls.com.au
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