Accepting The Invitation

I like getting dinner invitations. It means I don't have to cook and I have company during dinner. Yay! But being the guest means you have to be an adventurous eater and have a sense of humour.

Many years ago when my husband was in the army one of his mates, Pebo invited me to dinner at his home with his wife, Cherry. Frank had been away for several weeks on exercise and I was in need of company. I accepted Pebo's invitation and I was excited about not having to eat on my own. I took wine to compliment the meal. When Frank is away I never cook a roast meal, so I thought about the lovely smells of a roast beef with baked potatoes, pumpkin, onion, carrots, peas and gravy. You know what I mean. I walked up the steps of Pebo and Cherry's home and sniffed the air. Nothing. Not one little whiff of the juicy roast I had expected. Okay, maybe it would be a BBQ steak or chicken. Mmm, nice. That was just as good as a roast.

I followed my hosts into the kitchen. Pebo took the wine and filled three glasses. Still no smells that would make my mouth water. Anyone who knows me, is amazed at how messy I am when I cook. No matter how hard I try I can't help getting food from one end of the kitchen to the other. Pebo's kitchen though, was spotless. So what was for dinner?

Pebo and his wife took me into the lounge room where we drank our wine and all the time I was wondering if I was supposed to bring the meal. I was so hungry my stomach growled loud enough for all to hear. Oh no, I got it wrong! With my face turning red, I asked if I'd made a mistake and was supposed to bring the food.

'Oh no,' Pebo said brightly. 'We're going out in sympathy with Frank, tonight.'

Call me stupid or whatever you like, but did that mean I wasn't eating tonight? Frank had told me there are times when the soldiers on exercise are so busy they don't get time to eat. Oh dear, I knew I should have stopped in my Saturday busyness to eat lunch. Whenever we had people over for dinner I cooked a special meal. Too bad, tonight I wasn't eating, so I gulped a few mouthfuls of wine instead. My head was already going dizzy.

Food that warms the heart.

Food that warms the heart.

'Does that mean we're not eating tonight?'

'No, Laura. I'll go and prepare it now,' Pebo said.

Oh good, food at last.

I took a few more sips of wine and within fifteen minutes, my head was spinning. Pebo came back into the room carrying three plates. I sniffed the air, still no nice aromas. Pebo had a smirk on his face and placed the three plates on the table. He called Cherry and me over. He stood behind a chair at the table gesturing for me to sit. To my horror, the food on the plate consisted of the army ration pack. This had to be a joke.

My fuzzy head fuelled my sense of humour and I sat down laughing. It wasn't until Pebo refilled the wine glasses, sat down and ate with gusto that I realised the dried biscuits, tinned bully beef, dried out cheese and macaroni on the plate in front of me was my dinner.

Pebo and Cherry chomped away as if they were eating the roast beef meal I had conjured up in my mind. I picked at the food and ate what I could. Pebo proudly told me he and Cherry often ate ration pack to identify with the soldiers out in the field. Identifying with my husband while he was in the field left a lot to be desired. I excused myself and went home.

Pebo and Cherry got posted soon after that and we never saw them again throughout Frank's army career, but it will be a meal I will never forget. Have you ever accepted a dinner invitation and it left you feeling less than satisfied or bewildered?

For the Children...

As I've been travelling this vast country during recent months, I've thought about the freedom and choice of lifestyles we have in Australia. I imagined what it must be like to live in a place where tomorrow doesn't have the certainty we take for granted.

I wandered in my imagination to a country that had been destroyed by war. Buildings razed beyond recognition. People huddling against the rubble with a sheet of cloth protecting them from the weather. No toilet, no water, no bed, no kitchen, a couple of pots and pans, if I was lucky.

I became one of those people....

All my possessions gathered at my feet, my toddler huddled close to me for security, trusting me I will provide a meal for her. I know her belly is empty. I see hunger in her eyes. 'Please Mummy can I have something to eat?'

I pull her closer. Her skin is cold. The rag that covers her body offers no warmth.

My stomach aches. We haven't had food for over a week. My energy is low and all I want to do is lean against this wall of rubble and slip away from the poverty, but I can't. I have six children depending on me. The eldest, a daughter, who is ten years old, rummages in the bins for scraps of food, while the youngest sucks on my empty breast hoping for a drop of nourishment. But there is none.

Another daughter dawdles toward our home, searching for food her eyes full of despair. No shoes, a ragged dress that is held on her shoulder by a mere scrap of fabric, her skin caked in dirt. A son carries a small bucket. Brown liquid splashes over the sides. He slows so the liquid will be contained. There is water for us to drink...maybe. My other sons, six and eight come back empty handed. All we have for today is a cup of water each to drink. The water is dirty, but it is all we have.

The smell of death is all around me. Anguished cries of desperation reach into the human parts of me. I want to do so much for them, but I have nothing to give. I'm struggling to keep myself and my family alive.

A cold wind blows and fills my nostrils with a mixture of human excrement, decaying meat and sulphur fumes. Death is coming, too quickly. I draw my children closer. I have to get my family out of this wasteland. I must do something before the last of my energy leaves me. Bombs explode in the distance. I am powerless, but I have hope. Tomorrow will be a new day, but each tomorrow becomes the same as yesterday.

Tomorrow has come and with it comes a ray of hope. A man approaches me and says he can help us leave the torment tomorrow. He promises an education for my kids, a home, employment and a future. 'I have no money', I say. 'Why do you want to help this woman who can't pay?'

'I have a way to get you to Australia. You can pay when you find your future in Australia. I will keep a record.'

Is this my new hope? Dare I believe it to be true? What choice do I have? None. Staying means certain death for me and my children. I see others around me packing their meagre possessions. They are in search of hope and a future, just like me. I know nothing about Australia, but perhaps it is good there.

For the children I will do anything...

This is what I imagine the life of a refugee is like before they come to Australia. How can we deny these desperate people entry to our country when all they want is an opportunity to have a little of what we have?