Friends Adam and David discuss how drinking goat’s blood in Tanzania, racism, and Aboriginal culture triggered a sense belonging

Adam: Connection and belonging are absolutely essential. Many of the people who experience some kind of marginalization in society and even typically these days a lot of the issues around mental health are because people don’t feel connected to someone. They don’t feel like they belong anywhere. And that can have such a detrimental impact on people’s mental health. The idea of that stuff starting from such a young age.

Adam: So belonging comes to one of the topics we’ve been talking about. We’d like to do our own podcasting series and one of the topics we were interested in was the idea of The Other. It seems to be something that happens almost automatically: you think about who you are and who is similar to you and then you think also about who is not similar to you: The Other. It’s seem sometimes it’s easier for us to mistreat or forget about those who aren’t similar to us, or those who don’t belong to our group. So we were interested in looking at how The Other is created in society.

David: There was one thing we were talking about and it has to do with language and phrases. If someone’s immigrated from Canada or England, they’re an expat. If they come from India, they’re an immigrant. Of, if they’re from Africa, they’re an African immigrant. So immigrant versus expat. These people have come to the country the same way, they’ve become citizens or residents exactly the same way but we say British expats, we don’t say British immigrant. We don’t say Canadian immigrant, we say Canadian expat. Why do we use those words? Is it a race thing?

So I’m Canadian and I’m not an expatriate. I’m just a Canadian living here. I see myself as a serial-migrant. You’ve made  a really good point. The language we use is a huge part of creating belonging or not. 

Adam: Absolutely. There’s the neuroscience behind it, in terms of the way that our brains work. We need to categorize things. It’s very hard for us not to automatically categorize things. But as soon as we start doing that we create this barrier and this separation. And like you said other groups of people — refugees, asylum seekers, people from the gay and lesbian communities — it’s very easy to put a label on them and if that label does’t attach to me, if I don’t feel like I belong or connect with that group of people than they become The Other. They’re outside of my group. And as soon as we start to create those barriers, we start to lose empathy.

As soon as we start to create those barriers,
we start to lose empathy.

It’s all about empathy, isn’t it?

Adam: It is and particularly about asylum seekers, it’s a big issue in Australia and the way certain groups in Australia label them as The Other. Putting people in categories or describing them in a certain way so Australians, people who live in Australia, can’t think of them as humans, or people they can empathize with.

Have either of you been treated as The Other?

Adam: For me I’m a white Australia male so it’s very easy to forget about the privilege that that gives you in society. It’s very very easy to forget that you can walk down the street and no ones going to look at you. It’s very rare to feel any kind of confrontation, any kind of difficulty and you don’t realize how much privilege you have.

The simplest example of being The Other was: I’ve done a fair bit of travelling and had the fortune to countries where I am The Other and I don’t look like everyone around there. One of the opportunities where I was The Other in the possible was a couple of days I spent in a Masai camp in northern Tanzania. I was the greatest fish out of water that could ever be there. I had no practical skills to look after myself. Basically everyone else looked after me. There was one person in our group who could speak English. So I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know the cultural norms. I didn’t know how to communicate with everyone else. Everyone was constantly looking at me and looking at me like I was crazy or silly or doing things in the stupidest way possible. And many times I was laughed at because of what I thought was normal or how I behaved in situations.

I was trying to stay tough but inside I wanted to cry a little bit

For example, one day the men took me out and they slaughtered a goat and wanted me to drink the blood from the goat, which was completely out of my comfort zone but I was thinking I’m with these people, it’s a great privilege,

David: Or maybe they were just having fun with you?

Adam: That’s exactly it. I really didn’t know. Maybe they thought: let’s just see if this stupid white man is going to drink the goat’s blood.

And so, they asked me to help them kill the goat, which was pretty confrontational thing. I had to hold it down and that was something I’d never done before and I was with all the men and they were all warriors and I was wanting them to accept me so I was trying to stay tough whereas inside I wanted to cry a little bit. This poor goat is shaking underneath me.

Then they started to slaughter it: they cut it open, they took the organs out, they were cooking the organs over an open fire and they’d done it wit the goat lying on its side so the blood was still inside the rest of the carcass. They eventually put the organs back into the body, mixed it up with the blood and then they looked at me. And the guy who spoke a bit of English said You have to drink now.

And I’m looking around at these guys looking at me expectantly thinking Ok, I have to do this, this. I have to be a man amongst the warriors. So I reached in took a handful of this blood and I had a little drink. I took the tiniest amount and I looked up thinking OK they’re going to really respect me now and they were like: No. You need to drink. You need to get in there and just drink a full mouthful.

This time I was basically pushed, someone pushed my head down into this handful of blood and I got a mouthful of it and a little bit of some kind of organ got caught in the back of my throat and I just started dry retching. I swear that was probably the thing that made everyone in that community laugh for the next couple of weeks. They thought it was the most hilarious thing possible. That this little white man couldn’t drink the blood.

They still accepted you for all your flaws?

Adam: They did. They still accepted me for all of my flaws and they were very respectful of me and looked after me.

Because you were fragile and delicate?

Adam: Exactly. This little white flower that they needed to take care of, who had no idea how to take care of himself.

Adam: So that was a real eye opener and something I think about a lot because everywhere I went people were looking at me. I could understand how in Australia when I’ve spoken, particularly with refugees, and they talk about this experience of people looking at them like they don’t belong and interpreting what does that mean?

My experience with the Maasai made me very aware of my privilege of being able to walk around and feel like I belong. People don’t look at me like I’m different or that I’m out of place. And to realize what kind of privilege I have being a white Australian man in Australia.

I’ve copped racism because I’m half Filipino, half caucasian

David: I’ve copped racism because I’m half Filipino, half caucasian. On the same street, within the space of five minutes, I copped racism from lots of different people that had nothing to do with each other. It was just a streak of racism in one evening and I couldn’t understand what was going on.

I was walking along Brunswick Street into the Valley one night, just by myself and it was just one after the other, one block, next block and the next block.

So I was walking along and two or three drunk girls walked past. And one said Hi, How’s it going? and the other pulled her along and said, Don’t talk to him, he’s just an Asian. 

And I was like, Excuse me? What? I was a bit stunned and kept walking along.

Then I got to the next block and someone not related to the first group, kicked a split drink all over my shoes  in the street. Deliberately kicked it on me.

And then I got to the next lights, and there was a different group of people behind me, and one of them was muttering Chineses sort of words behind my back at me.

I got really angry and I went into a bar and thought I just need to have a drink, I just need to calm down. And it was a funky kind of cool bar with an old-fashioned film on the screen and it was Breakfast at Tiffany’s and it was the scene with Mickey Rooney doing the Asian impersonation.

And then I just finished the drink and went home.  I thought, I can’t be out. This is awful. Why is this all in one street?

How did that make you feel?

David: Not so much The Other. It makes me think they just have the wrong end of it. They’re in the wrong. I’m not The Other, I’m just a guy. And they’ve got it wrong. They’re thinking of me as The Other. I don’t feel like The Other in this situation.

This is your country.

David: Exactly. I’m from here. We’re all different. We’re pretty multicultural. Everyone looks different.

Then he started doing Aboriginal dancing and
I remember having this moment of great pride

David: That reminds me of another time, a better time, at the Brunswick Hotel. There was karaoke and there was an Aboriginal bloke. He was a tradie, he had a council worker’s uniform and he was having some beers. He got up to sing a song. And he sang “Treaty” and he was signing it really well. Then he started doing Aboriginal dancing.

And I remember having this moment of great pride and thinking Yes, this is Australia. And this is what makes us different from the rest of the world and I felt like I belonged. I felt this connection with that guy. We’re all Australians. Because what makes us different, if you went to a Karaoke bar in the UK or in Japan, you’d never see an Aboriginal guy singing Treaty and dancing. That’s an Australian thing. It made me feel like I belonged when I saw that. I felt so proud to be Australian.

This story was caught at the State Library Queensland Big Day of Belonging 18 June 2016. You can also read it on the SLQ Blog.