You look down
To find joy at your feet
A child’s hug
Beer with a friend…
Before the searing, the burning, the unbearable
You didn’t see it
You stepped over it
Your shins untouched
It is different.
Inspirational is the only word to describe Katie Piper. I picked up her book, Things Get Better, at the airport on a whim, something I will be eternally grateful for. Her story is that amazing.
In 2008, Katie Piper was the victim of a vicious rape and acid attack, which resulted in Katie losing half her face and caused severe damage to her internal organs (from breathing in the acid). The thought of this is so shocking, so horrifying, many of us will look away from even the text on the page. But I urge you to read on.
We are left thinking: How could anyone want to live after that? How could you possibly go on?
The honest truth is, many people would not. Many of us despair at much less. It is Katie’s story of how she fought through her despair, her physical pain, her humiliation, that is truly awe inspiring.
Unlike so many so called ‘inspirational’ stories I have read, as impressive and inspiring as they are, Katie is completely honest and open about how truly despairing she was after the attack. Katie talks about how the first step in living, is wanting to live.
I think for anyone who has ever struggled with life, this is important to hear. The physical and emotional pain Katie went through was more than any of us would want to imagine. She was at absolute rock bottom in every possible physical and emotional way. And it was for a long time. There was a lot to endure, a lot of pain, a lot of fear, a lot of humiliation… for a long time. There was no easy way, no short cuts, and lots of set backs.
Katie’s story shows us that it is possible to get through even this, possible to survive. Step by step, small piece by small piece, the human spirit can overcome and achieve amazing things.
By no means is Katie’s life now easy, or even pain free. Katie admits to still struggling with many things in her life, both emotionally and physically. But Katie also tells us that she has true joy and happiness in her life, and that her life has meaning and purpose. What is truly inspiring is not that Katie has survived, but that she has gone on to truly flourish.
If ever you are thinking you cannot go on, if it is all too much to bear, read Katie’s book.
You can go on, you can endure. But more importantly, you can flourish.
To find our more about Katie Piper, her story and her amazing work with her charity, check out the The Katie Piper Foundation‘s website. You can also follow Katie on Twitter @KPFoundation.
I’m ready for adventure – literally. I’ve just removed six leeches from my legs after completing a 15 kilometre (undulating…) walk with a 16kg pack – and I feel good.
Even though I have been training to ready myself for walking the Jatbula Trail, which means training up to carry a full pack weight, I wasn’t actually sure I would be feeling good right now. Today was the assessment walk for our little group, and I was nervous when I set out this morning. I had walked with 16kg during training – but not for six hours.
In true adventure style – it rained for a good chunk of our walk. My feet were soaked. Leeches were everywhere. But it was great. Maybe even awesome.
The bush smells beautiful in the rain. The birds were singing. The water balanced on the leaves, sparkling in the light.
My legs are tired, but good tired. My shoulders aren’t sore and I have no major blisters. And the leeches – well they were truly gross. But I walked my 15 kilometres with my full pack – and now I truly feel ready for adventure.
Can’t wait for Jatbula… and the rest…
I’d forgotten how great it feels. Its been a while.
You see, I am training to carry a full pack, as I am going to walk the Jatbula Trail at the end of June. Its a six day walk, and I need to train up to an 18kg pack – well at least 16kgs at a stretch. I am up to 14 – not too bad all things considered, but still a way to go with only 6 weeks before the trip. So I was pretty excited tonight, when after taking off my pack, instead of collapsing into a small heap – my shoulders felt all bouncy.
For anyone out there who has hiked with a full pack, you will know what I am talking about. This is when you know you’ve turned a corner, your body is getting stronger and you are getting used to carrying the weight. Once you get to this point, you are so used to walking with your pack that when you take it off, you feel as light as a feather. Your shoulders feel like they could almost float away – kind of bouncy. Despite having walked with a pack for an hour or two, you may even be tempted to go for a jog. Maybe.
It got me thinking. Sometimes the best things in life sneak up on us. We are toiling away, maybe feeling like we are just going through the motions, trying to stay focused on an end goal. In the day to day of it all, the end goal can start to look fuzzy, and teasingly out of reach.
Somehow without our noticing, all those little steps have been counting. Just when we least expect it, when we are distracted and slugging away at our day, we notice that something has shifted. We realise that we are actually getting there, making progress.
A similar thing happened with me and food lately. As I have been slowly ramping up my exercise, I have also been trying to eat healthily in preparation for my trip. I noticed that my clothes were feeling a bit loose the other day, so I decided to weigh myself. I was very excited to find that I was at the low side of my healthy weight (well actually 1 kilo under – but don’t tell my mum). So this means that not only do my shoulders feel bouncy, I can sit on my couch and eat a full tub of yogurt after dinner – guilt free.
To the victor goes the spoils.
As we all head into another week, its hard not to feel a bit ‘here we go again’. Its nice to be reminded that all the little steps do add up. When you least expect it, they will creep up on you and put a smile on your face.
You just have to keep walking.
Ever wondered what it would be like to live on a houseboat?
Well imagine if your whole village was made up of boats. Your school, the pub – the local crocodile farm.
I’ve been home from Cambodia a week, and in my head I’m still riding around in a tuk-tuk.
Tuk-tuk is actually the Thai word for a car without walls (or so I’ve been told), but it seems to have been adopted in Cambodia. In Cambodia they are really a carriage of sorts, designed for passengers and attached to the back of a motor bike. Tuk-tuks are mainly used for taxis, and their users can unhitch the carriage when they just want to use their motor bike.
Each owner decorates their tuk-tuk differently – which is partly to help you identify your tuk-tuk driver in a crowd (they often wait for passengers for the return trip after dropping them off), but is also simply an expression of the owners’ taste. The tuk-tuk’s in Cambodia were impressively clean and well cared for, and the variety in decoration and colour was impressive.
The thing about Tuk-tuks is, they are great fun to travel around in. You really feel like you are riding, fresh air blowing against your skin, wizzing around amongst the traffic. Years ago I had a Suzuki Vitara softop with no roof, and minimal walls. Ah – those were the days. I miss it still.
You see, when you travel around without walls (or a roof, or neither), you actually feel like you are there. You are in the place you are travelling through, not locked up in a little bubble looking out at it. You can reach out and touch the world as you pass (especially in Cambodia, the world passes particularly closely), hear all the sounds and smell the life around you.
Not only that, it is a communal experience. Everyone is out travelling along together. Seeing someone you know pass in a tuk-tuk feels very different to seeing them pass in a sealed air conditioned car.
Part of me wishes that tuk-tuks would take off in Australia, so I could go wizzing about in them here. But I fear the Health and Safety nuts will never let that happen.
It seems I will just have to keep planning overseas adventures, and enjoy tuk-tuks in their natural habitat – swarming smiling Asian cities.
How do I sum up Cambodia in a few hundred words?
It is impossible of course. In one week I dipped my toe into the assault on the senses that is Cambodia. I laughed, I cried, I was amazed and inspired.
The smells and streets of Phnom Penh reminded me of Mexico. A vague smell of urine and rotting food, broken footpaths, and lots of activity. You walk down the middle of the street amongst the motor bikes, bicycles, air conditioned four wheel drives, and people. People live out in the open, amongst each other.
The traffic in Cambodia is surprisingly quiet. No constant horns that you get in so many chaotic cities. But then, Phnom Penh was not chaotic. There is constant movement, constant activity, but in a quietly organised way. The traffic weaves gently around itself, in an out of each other, never stopping, flowing.
It was hot. Sweat would drip down my back and down my legs as I walked. The city was quiet in the middle of the day, everyone hid away from the heat. As the evening breeze cooled the day, people crept out, the city buzzing again by nightfall.
Where did that breeze come from? As a Sydney sider, I associated a cool breeze with the ocean, yet we were not near the ocean. How does that work? Where does a cool breeze come from if not the ocean? Mmm.
There was a very particular atmosphere that made me think of Budapest in 1991. 1991 was a time when Hungary had only just come out from under the cloud of communism. The city was poor, tired and struggling – yet at the same time there was this surge of energy. Buildings being renovated, new businesses springing up. Old people determined and resilient, young people daring to hope.
I learnt so much on this trip. So much about Cambodia, its history, and so much about myself. Cambodia’s recent history is so violent and so far reaching, there is no person there unaffected. Every family lost close friends and relatives, every person experienced personal suffering. I heard this from our guides, who had the tough task of sharing the Sad Story. A story that there is no right way to tell, no way to explain.
They endure, as do their ancient recipes, stories and dances. I ate Amok, a delicious type of curry, almost every night. I watched giggling teenagers perform their traditional dances for the tourists.
The ancient history is so enchanting, so full of richness and beauty it takes your breath away. Temples in the jungle seem impossibly fantastical, as if a childhood storybook was opened and its contents laid out before you.
Cambodia was impossible to just observe. It had to be tasted, touched and smelt – swum in.
Cambodia reminded me of everywhere, but nowhere. It stays with me. Part of me is still flying around the streets of Phnom Penh on a Tuk-Tuk.
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Today I was told the Sad Story of recent Cambodian history. I visited Tuol Sleng, the prison in Phnom Penh where an estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned, tortured, taken to what became known as The Killing Fields, and then killed. Only 6 people were known to survive. None escaped.
We then went to The Killing Fields, where the 17,000 people were killed and buried in mass graves.
It is impossible to describe in prose a day like today. So I will not try. But I will share a poem I wrote. Perhaps that is all we can do in the face of our shared history. Share our humanity.
Shaky feet carrying us through
A breath between
And the next.
Of shifting wind
Touching our cheek
Between the cracks
Between the frangipani leaves
The scent of hope.
We all have our demons. Mine are small and reptilian, and scuttle along the ground, through cracks and along ceilings.
Last night I was sitting at the FCC (Foreigners Club Cambodia), a beautiful old colonial building overlooking the Phnom Penh waterfront, enjoying a Tiger Beer and some garlic prawns. I noticed a quick movement above my head. I looked up – on the wall next to me was a gecko. I jumped involuntarily and started feeling all over myself as if to check that the lizard was in fact on the wall, and not somehow simultaneously crawling through my clothes.
I have a lizard phobia. Specifically a phobia of small lizards. Larger lizards I’m not really fond of either, but there is part of me that would prefer to be in a room with goanna than a gecko.
So – this lizard on the wall next to me kind of freaked me out. I calmed down, told myself: Its just one, its not moving. Finish your beer, and look away.
So I turned my chair around to look the other way – to see another gecko on the wall ahead of me. Oh God. Oh damn. Oh —-! Ok – sip beer, deep breaths. I checked that my bag was gecko free and the zipper firmly shut. I check myself again, down my top, feel up and down my legs.
I forced myself to look out over the water and not at the walls. It was ok. It was just stupid lizards. I had faced this in Mexico, even had to sleep in a room once where I knew there was a gecko roaming around somewhere. Admittedly I had to get quite drunk, and even then it didn’t work particulalry well.
I was reminded that this is why I never backpacked around Asia. I’d actually forgotten that that was why. I was terrified of being stuck somewhere where I had to be in rooms, or even sleep in rooms, with geckos. I had even heard stories of them falling off the ceiling and into people’s hair.
How ridiculous. To let this tiny – even rather pretty - creature, rule me like that.
I took a deep breath and turned around, glancing up at the ceiling.
Oh-My-God. In one glance I had seen at least 10 geckos on the ceiling. And they were not just sitting there, they were moving all around the place. Ok, now I was feeling pretty shaky. Just sip your beer, I thought, then you can get back to the hotel.
Oh god – if there were this many here, surely there were some in the hotel? I got shaky, I really felt like crying now.
Ok, the hotel room is air conditioned (Lizards are cold blooded, this is a good deterrant. I know these things.), spotless and the windows shut. Oh shit – I opened the window a bit this afternoon. Oh shit – oh shit. Ok calm.
The lizard closest to me started to move down the wall. I grabbed my bag and practically ran to pay my bill. A few people looked – oh well. As I was paying my bill I could see yet more crawling on the walls towards the door. It took some effort not to run.
I jumped in a tuk-tuk back to the hotel – after checking the ceiling and the seat – no lizards.
I got to the hotel - not a lizard in sight in the foyer. Good sign.
And then my room. I checked as best I could – no lizards. I stripped off and checked myself. No lizards.
Ok. Deep breaths. Its ok - no lizards.
My mind started on the ‘what ifs’. What if there are lizards in the hotel in Siam Riep? What if… No point in that. I will just have to face my demons as they come, one by crawling one.
As I calmed down, I realised – its time. Time to be free of this. I have faced far worse and survived. I can free myself of this.
So, if I do face any more geckos this trip, they will be the first step in my facing my phobia. And when I get back, I will get some help to free me of this once and for all.
Time to slay the dragons.