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Take Heart

Fat Mum Slim /

Quite often we go through life not knowing if the experiences we’re about to have will leave us changed, or will affect us in a certain way. Of course, we might get an inkling or a gut feeling when we’re about to do something, like get married or have a baby. Those moments we know we’ll come out a different person. Then there are moments that change us unexpectedly…

This past weekend, I knew I was going to leave changed. I could feel it. Here’s what happened…


DAY ONE / GETTING THERE

Late Friday night I flew from Sydney to Darwin. Darwin is one of those places I’d never visited before, but it was always on my to-do list, something I’d experience when I could muster up the courage to handle the heat and humidity there. I asked my friends on Facebook what I should expect heat-wise, and when someone said, “Spend the next week in a sauna to prepare yourself” it scared me, but also mentally prepared me {almost, but not really} for the weekend. Almost.

I arrived at 1am, stepped off the plane and the humidity hit me. AT 1AM. Smack-bang in my face. I disrobed on the tarmac {as much as decently possible} and then grabbed a taxi to head to my hotel.

Now I wasn’t in the Northern Territory to report on the weather, although I can if you like. I was there to help raise awareness for a disease that is affecting Indigenous communities around Australia, Rheumatic Heart Disease. Imagine the freaky feeling I got when my taxi driver told me he was a newly graduated nurse about to leave taxi-driving for good to work in cardiology. And he even started talking about Rheumatic Heart Disease, before I could mention it. I knew I was in the right place, doing the right thing. That little spooky conversation confirmed it. I went straight to bed, and slept for a looooooong 5 hours.

DAY TWO / TIWI ISLANDS BOUND

Off the coast of Darwin is a series of islands called the Tiwi Islands. You can reach them by swimming in croc-infested water {if you’re crazy and an endurance swimmer} or more realistically by ferry or small plane. Or course we chose the scary, but speedier small plane.

This plane looks small, doesn’t it? However small you think it is… think smaller. It was small. We were like sardines in that thing. See, I practically flew the darn thing!

{I wanted to ask if it really mattered that those two dials were missing on the dash, but I was too busy trying not to touch the pedals at my feet, and trying to breathe at the same time}.

The perks of flying in a small plans are the views. We flew under the clouds, so we had the magical uninterrupted views below us.

I was pretty excited to spot the runway, if I have to be completely honest. And I may have wanted to kiss the ground when we landed, but I didn’t {because, dirty}.

Each year, in March, the Tiwi Islands hold their football grand final. It’s a really big deal. People fly in from everywhere to watch, and to also visit their annual art exhibition. The people are passionate about AFL. They love the Essendon Bombers. Local players have even gone on to play the real deal game. It excites them.

We were picked up by a local nurse, Jenny, and an Elder on the island, Stanley {who wasn’t old at all, being around the same age as me. He was voted to be an Elder because he’s so respected within the community} and we were taken to our accommodation.

ACCOMODATION

We had no idea what to expect with our accommodation, so when we saw how good we had it… we were stoked. And that little box on the wall {air-conditioning to you and me}, that was the best thing since sliced bread.

So why was on Tiwi Island and who was I traveling with? Rheumatic Heart Disease is a huge problem within Aboriginal communities around Australia. It starts as a simple sore {strep} throat and if it goes untreated, can lead to the incurable Rheumatic Heart Disease. This is a Third World Country disease, but it’s happening here in Australia. We have the resources to treat it, so it’s not about asking people for money to make things happen. It’s about simply educating children and families that if they have a sore throat they need to get it checked out and treated, before it turns into Rheumatic Fever, and then develops into Rheumatic Heart Disease.

Bupa Australia supports this cause financially, and by raising awareness, so they invited me along for the trip and to help out. I traveled with with Liz and Alisha from the team, as well as Dr. Rob Grenfell. With us were two filmmakers, Sue and Mike, who were screening their film on RHD {Rheumatic Heart Disease} called Take Heart {it will be coming to free to air soon, so I’ll share the dates as soon as I have them}.

After dropping off our gear, we headed out to one of the galleries to check out all the art which is locally made. It’s all super beautiful. Including these guys!

I love hearing the stories about the art, from the artists themselves.

After checking out the art, the sun was setting and it was time for dinner. The beautiful team of resident nurses and doctors on the island put on a BBQ for us, and we all got to chat and get to know each other better. I also got to be totally out of my depth as everyone talked about doctor-y type things. Mind blown.

DAY THREE / THE BIG DAY

Sunday was the big day, the day of the Grand Final. I got up early with Alisha, and we went for a walk down to the beach.

Now beaches aren’t for swimming for us humans, they’re for swimming for crocodiles. So we kept our distance from the waterline. There was a buzz on the island. You could just feel it. Everyone was excited about the football game, but everyone is so laid back that when you asked which team they were going for, most would say, “I don’t care who wins!”. The people on the island were so beautiful and friendly, but also a little bit timid. I fell in love with the kids most though. They’re just so beautiful.

After exploring at the beach, and watching the ferry come in, we headed back to the local school to start setting up for a screening of the Take Heart film. We hoped that loads of families and their kids would stop by and watch, and learn about RHD, to hopefully save themselves from future heartache.

For a small population, it was so heartwarming to see so many people keep streaming into the library to watch the film. And of course I went gaga over this little cutie, Jerome.

The day continued with the Grand Final game, and I have to tell you the environment was amazing. Everyone was just happy to be together. It didn’t feel like other football games I’ve been to {I’ve been to a lot}, it felt like a big love-fest where everyone was happy. We set up a little tent and fed the kids fruit, gave out hats and stickers, and raised awareness for RHD among the crowds.

It was at this point, in the screaming heat, when I started to flounder. Or perish. The heat and humidity is something else. It takes your breath away. I tried so long to cope, and then I couldn’t. I think I was getting heat stroke. So I trekked back to the room to recuperate and cool down. I tell you, the heat is harsh. Thankfully the locals said it was even too hot for them, so I didn’t feel like too much of a wuss.

By the time I had cooled down and headed back, the game had finished {the Magpies won}, and everyone was hanging out in the local club having a beer. Now, everything you think a club is… take that out of your head and rethink it. The club at Tiwi is a fenced area that is strictly monitored. Your ID is checked as you go in, and any prior trouble-makers are denied access. You can buy 7 tickets {one at a time} for drinks, but you can only buy half strength beer. Everything is tracked, including what time you had your last beer. I’m not a huge beer drinker, but there is some weather that calls for a beer and Tiwi weather is definitely beer weather. It was the best beer I’ve ever had.

If you had to ask me what the highlight of my trip was, the next part is it. The Bupa team and I cooked up a BBQ for the local families. Before we got to cooking snags, we hung out on the oval playing with the kids. And by playing, I mean they jumped all over me… stole my sunglasses and wore them, and then they borrowed my phone to take photos. My heart nearly exploded with how much cute, cheek and sass the kids had.

One of the kids, Yasmin, asked me if I had any kids myself, and when I told them my girls names, she quickly yelled out across the field, “Lulu! Lulu! Lulu! Come here!” Lulu came on over and was thrilled to know I had my own Lulu.

{Lulu, Piona, Me and Yasmin}

{Maria grabbed Dr. Grenfell’s camera and started snapping the gang. They loved checking themselves out on the screen once the photo was taken}

I had brought around 100 sticker sheets with me to give to the kids, but I was shy to give them out. I wondered if they’d think they were daggy or uncool {or mostly unnecessary} but I am so glad I handed them out. They loved them. Check out this cool dude, covered in Hello Kitty.

IMG_3622

At the BBQ, I think we would have served 250 or so sandwiches in 20 minutes. It was fast and furious, and awesome fun. I loved seeing those little faces line up, and find such joy in a simple sausage sandwich. The crew kept begging me to eat something too, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t take anything away from those beautiful little people.

We then finished the night with a screening of a shorter film, and we quizzed the kids. It was heartwarming to hear them answer the questions we had so desperately been trying to teach them throughout the day. To hear that they knew having a sore throat or skin sores was not something to ignore, made me so happy. And proud, proud of the medical teams and Bupa crew for doing such good things and making a difference.

DAY THREE / HOME BOUND

On Monday we packed up early, and headed to the airport {which is just a shipping container}, weighed in {always fun} and said goodbye to the island.

airport

This time we flew in a slightly bigger plane, and the pilot didn’t require my services as co-pilot this time… thankfully.

I felt melancholy leaving the island, to be completely honest with you. My words can never do the experience justice, but I was changed. Firstly, there’s something in the soil up that way. It makes you feel calm, and soulful, and reflective. And then there’s the people. I grew up in an area where my mates were Aboriginal. We’re still friends today. Learning about the history and culture and hearing from Elders was something we did often. Our school had an Aboriginal name. I thought this was the norm. I now realise I was blessed to have even such a small part of our Indigenous people and culture in my life. But then to experience what I did this past weekend… I walked away changed. I’m not even sure HOW I’m changed, but I am.

I texted my new friends Liz and Alisha yesterday to say just that, that I felt weird and changed and grateful. I wasn’t alone. They felt it too.

Apart from being changed myself, I hope we created change. I hope that we’ve planted a seed for these families and that we can start to see a decline in RHD in children. Of course the issue is huge and complex, but it has to start somewhere. There are teams of professionals doing absolutely amazing things right now for RHD, and if you watch the Take Heart film you’ll see it. You’ll understand it.

And perhaps, you’ll feel a shift in yourself too. Maybe.

@Fatmumslim