We are all one under the skin

Friday, May 24, 2013 Permalink

Since moving late last year I’ve been attending a local writers’ group meeting. I’m ridiculously nervous about reading my stuff out in meetings and to date, have basically avoided doing so. Sure, I blog and my words drift off into the ether, but writing something which will be read in my presence is just too scary. However.. I felt obliged this week to contribute something to an event held today at a local art gallery. We were given a number of themes and a maximum of 300 words. After procrastinating for days I whipped up something pretty quickly yesterday, focusing on the exhibition’s theme: We are all one under the skin, so here it is:

By the third week I just wanted to return to the place I was calling home. Such as it was. I couldn’t believe I was craving the most basic of amenities offered by my small apartment in the nation’s capital.

Never again, I promised myself, would I complain about the lack of running water and intermittent electricity.

I loved Africa. I loved the place and the people. But… I was used to the nation’s capital. With its irregular water supply and dodgy electricity grid.


In the three weeks I’d been travelling with my colleague I hadn’t seen another foreigner. I desperately wanted to speak English. My terrible Portuguese was being tested and completely useless in meetings conducted in local languages.

Day after day, we’d travelled about – in buses with goats and chickens – to meet with groups of women.

xai xai

I felt bad I balked at the tubs of murky river water local women fetched for my bath. I felt guilty that I was eating unpalatable scrawny chicken with my rice, undoubtedly depriving a local family of several meals.

In the third and final week I sat in a clay building. Somewhere. I was tired and grumpy. Several hours in I gave up trying to fake comprehension and started writing a letter to my family.

I was complaining. I felt useless, I said. It was such a waste of time, I said.

My rant was interrupted when an old woman came over to me. She turned and spoke to the group before kissing my cheeks (as was the custom) and embracing me.

My colleague translated her words. The old woman had talked of years of civil unrest and the deaths of many of her friends and family. She talked of hunger and sickness. She talked of fear. But, she said, this was changing. The fact that I had travelled halfway around the world to live and work with them, meant that people cared. We are not alone, she said.

That was almost 18 years ago. And something I’ll never forget:

We are all one under the skin. 

  • @Kanga_Rue
    May 24, 2013


    Thanks for sharing this Deb, it’s a powerful piece. I’m now kicking myself that I didn’t attend morning (as I thought you wouldn’t be there! Sneaky!).

    I would love to know the reactions you got?

    Cheers, Rx

    PS. If you ever write about Pickle’s shoe, I would love that.

    • Debbish
      May 24, 2013

      Thanks Ruth. I was unsure until we arrived re whether I’d do it or not. I’d asked mum to practise reading it in case she had to do it (if no one else would). She said it made her teary so she was glad I did it.

  • Mel
    May 25, 2013

    Beautiful Deb. It is true that you can impact people’s lives without knowing you are doing so, even when you are discouraged that your efforts are going unnoticed. What a lovely adventure to have had!

    • Debbish
      May 25, 2013

      So true Mel. Someone told me later that the small village ‘may’ talk about time as: ‘before the white woman came and after’. I seriously doubt that, but it was a rude reminder that my presence was more than little ‘ole Aussie volunteer me. I was a symbol of something greater!

  • Lila
    May 31, 2013

    Absolutely beautiful.

  • Dani
    May 31, 2013

    A beautiful vignette, indeed. I want more 🙂 Swinging over from Life in a Pink Fibro 🙂

  • Dorothy
    May 31, 2013

    Beautifully written, Deb. So glad you decided to share this.

    • Debbish
      June 1, 2013

      Thank you Dorothy. It was written very quickly and at the last minute… but I’m really glad I found the courage to read it myself!

  • JodiGibson (@JFGibsonWriter)
    May 31, 2013

    Amazingly powerful. x

  • Allison Tait
    May 31, 2013

    Lovely piece Deb! Thanks for Rewinding.

    • Debbish
      June 1, 2013

      You’re welcome Al and thanks for hosting!

  • Elizabeth the Evil Overlord
    September 6, 2015

    This was incredibly moving. I especially loved the technique of using “I said” multiple times when writing to your family.

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