This episode of Sense-making in a Changing World is full of storytelling with Mariam Issa, author, speaker, community gardener, community-builder, human rights activist and ambassador for the Refugee Council of Australia.
A few years ago I met Mariam at an Australasian Permaculture Conference where she was a keynote speaker. We’ve been dear friends ever since. She has come to stay with me here in the ecovillage and I have visited her at the RAW Garden – a community garden in her suburban backyard in Melbourne.
Mariam arrived in Australia as a refugee over 20 years ago from Somalia, via Kenya. We spoke together in the middle of Refugee Week here in Australia 14-20 June.
Mariam talks of how, through permaculture she found a way to belong in her new home, to connect, to contribute and help others. In her backyard, Mariam created a community garden where people come to grow, harvest and share delicious lovingly-prepared food right there in the garden. There are regular cooking classes led by people from all different cultures, regular gardening days and story-telling circles.
Her inspirational way of storytelling uplifts and transforms. She awakens the storyteller in each of us, and shows how, through connecting this way, we are able to make sense.
Links to Mariam’s work
A Resilient Life is Mariam’s book about her refugee journey from Somalia to Australia.
Mariam and I also have chapters in the book Reclaiming the Urban Commons
Mariam is featured here in Dumbo Feather
Watch this clip about Mariam’s Garden
Morag Gamble: Hello, friends and welcome to the Sense-making in a Changing World podcast where we explore the kind of thinking that can help us navigate a positive way forward.
Morag Gamble: I’m your host, Morag Gamble, Permaculture Educator, and Global Ambassador, Filmmaker, Eco villager, Author, Food Forester, Mother, [Pr]activist and all around lover of thinking, communicating and acting regeneratively.
Morag Gamble: Unprecedented changes are happening all around us. So how do we make sense of this? To know which way to turn, to know what action to focus on? So our efforts are working towards resilience, regeneration, and reconnection. What better way to make sense than to join together with others in open regenerative conversation.
Morag Gamble: Each week, I speak with a wonderful guest who inspires and challenges me, with their ways of thinking. These thinkers doers, educators, activists, scholars, writers, leaders, farmers, or people whose work informs permaculture and sparks the imagination of what a post COVID climate-resilient regenerative and socially just future could look like. Their way of seeing helps us to compost and digest ideas and nurture the fertile ground for new ideas.
Morag Gamble: Together, we’ll open conversations around permaculture design, regenerative thinking, community action, earth repair, and eco-literacy. This podcast is brought to you by the Permaculture Educator’s Program of the permaculture education Institute. This is an online dual permaculture design and teacher certificate program designed to help you make permaculture your life and your livelihood, too. And to help you ripple out permaculture thinking and action in your world and beyond.
Morag Gamble: So welcome to the Sense-making in a Changing World podcast. I’m here today with a wonderful friend of mine who I’ve known for many years now. This is Mariam Issa, and we’re recording this conversation in the middle of refugee week.
Morag Gamble: Mariam is the ambassador for the refugee council of Australia and an inspiring storyteller, community builder, community activist, speaker, author, and she founded a community garden in her backyard, which is one of the ways that I connected with Mariam through the permaculture network. Mariam came as a speaker to the national permaculture conference in Canberra a few years ago, and her story absolutely inspired me. And we became friends after that. She’s come and stayed with me here at my place, and I’ve gone and visited her down in her home in Melbourne.
Morag Gamble: Mariam herself was a refugee. She arrived in November, 1998, uh, from Somalia via Kenya.. I believe. I really wanted to talk with Mariam on this podcast because our focus is around sense-making in this changing world and really that’s the core of what Mariam does.
Morag Gamble: She helps us to make sense of what’s happening. She helps us to find that inner strength and to communicate that with others and create spaces where that sense-making can happen and it really through her art of storytelling. And so, um, welcome Mariam to the show. It’s so wonderful to have you here. And, um, and I’m hoping that through this conversation, you’ll be able to help us to understand actually that we’re all storytellers, because I think that’s what you really helped me do. Identify that that actually in the work that I do, I’m not just a permaculture teacher or gardener. I’m also a storyteller and that communication, the way we communicate, the way we share our stories is such a powerful thing in bringing about positive change.
Mariam Issa: Absolutely Morag, and it’s such a privilege and pleasure to always have these conversations with you. And I know that, uh, Morag and I, when we see each other, it’s sometimes we even find ourselves not, um, ready to sleep. Like we can go all the way into the night and just talk about..about life and making sense. And I think as we talk as women, especially, um, we are not only storytellers, but we are space holders. I think, you know, women, I’m very passionate about the subject of, of, of, you know, bringing back the energy of women and feminine energy into this world. And I think it is what is happening and the world that is imagined.
Mariam Issa: I love, uh, Arundhati Roy, a beautiful writer, a Pakistani writer. She said, um, a new world is emerging on a clear day. I can hear how I can hear her breath and I can feel it. So, uh, the world that is imagined yes, is a heart. And I think for a long time, the world has been lopsided in the sense that, uh, the female energy was absent or maybe we’ve let go of our range. We’ve let go of our power. And, you know, for me to come back and become a storyteller, I think it was making sense of my stories coming to this country as a refugee, uh, 21 years ago. I’m not a refugee anymore, but it’s an adversity, coping with adversity and change has actually that suffering has opened my heart and allowed in compassion. I think compassion for self and compassion for the world that I live in. And in that journey, I think what I recognized and what I, you know, uh, emerged for me is that I have let go of my power.
Mariam Issa: I have been, you know, I come from a very patriarchal culture, a very communal culture. So in communal culture, it has its benefits, but it’s also, um, it has its disadvantages. So in communal culture, you don’t know much about yourself, you know, yourself within others and it is the Ubuntu culture. So it is, um, I am because you are, if there is no, you, there is no me. So you don’t really know that individual side of yourself, your preferences, your, you know, you don’t sort yourself out from others. And so that can be, you know, uh, it can, it didn’t have a big clash when I came into the Western world because the Western world was a very individual world, a very, you know, um, um, individual oriented and it was all, it mostly was about me and my successes and what do I, you know, what I get out of this?
Mariam Issa: And so I, you know, I know that no one is anywhere randomly. So I was placed even in Australia, when I came, I was a very lucky refugee. I have to acknowledge that because we had a family here. So we came through the family reunion. And so , um,also we were processed offshore. So that meant we came into the system and we were processed really easily. And so where I started in, in the house that I still live in is in a very fluent suburb, affluent suburb in, in Melbourne, it’s called Brighton. And it’s also a very Anglo, very white suburb. And so when we first came, uh, we were at a very big disadvantage. You know, we were very black in a very white suburb and very poor as well in a very affluent space.
Mariam Issa: So for us to be part of this community and to integrate into it was not easy job. And so that, you know, that discomfort that’s suffering, it was an adversity on its own. You know, we were displaced, you know, for eight years before we came to Australia, but that was a chapter in itself and a phase of disadvantage in the sense of being a refugee. But when I came into the Western world, it was another phase of connecting to a community that knew nothing about you. And that I knew nothing about. So usually as a storyteller, I say that, you know, um, culture is a currency, and if your currency is deflated, it doesn’t buy you much. And even when I was given the currency or the trading currency at the time, I did not understand how to trade with it. So it was a really, um, um, sloppy and very, you know, um, hard journey to begin with.
Mariam Issa: So in keeping, you know, in the best thing I ever did in this time of, of uncertainty and time of really hardship was keep a journal. I was writing and I kept a journal. And as you know, Morag, my journal became a book and it’s called a resilient life. So in that journal, I was getting to know myself. So I was not only integrating into a community, but I was also integrating with the self. And the integration of self is the most important thing in our world if we can do it well. So I didn’t realize at the time that the individual part of ourselves comes from our mind, you know, making sense of things and wanting to know ourselves as individuals. And then the heart is where the communal, you know, where the compassion, where it’s not just about me. And it’s about, you know, the other side, if we cannot marry the two together, I think we are at a advantage.
Mariam Issa: So that’s what I learned through this process. I learned that I had four bodies. There was an energetic part of me. There was the heart space where the emotions live, and there was the mind. And then there was the physicality of me. And so to combine this, then I knew that once I had, you know, I was looking and also because I was contemplating and I was looking inwardly and I was wanting to make sense of this new world that has imagined.
Mariam Issa: So this is so perfect with your theme of, you know, making sense of a new world, because we are at different phases and different, um, different times in our lives. So we have to make sense of, of whichever world is imagined for us.
Mariam Issa: And so the importance of storytelling in all this is I will demonstrate, you know, one day I was just, you know, um, as a speaker and being called and asked to do stories and tell my own stories, I became sick of telling my story, you know, and it was so hard. And I was like, Oh my God, I don’t want to talk about myself anymore. You know? And then one morning as I was cont, you know, I have a ritual of, you know, I pray. And then I, I meditate. I was actually literally shown the cross. And at the top of it, you know, at the vertical line and the horizontal line and I’m of the Islamic faith, I know nothing about the cross. So then I wanted to make sense of it. And in meditation, you actually, you, you either see a shape or something. So I saw the shape of the cross and I didn’t know what it meant, but in making sense, I journal what came up for me was that storytelling. And I was told that at the top of the vertical line is me the teller. And if I looked at the bottom of that vertical line is the listener.
Mariam Issa: So I was being shown my audience, that’s the listeners. And then I was told to put a horizontal line on the vertical line. And then I was told that on the left of that line is the ancestry and where our store, you know, um, the elders and then on the right of that horizontal line is, is the youth and the future. So there is a past of the ancestry and the future, and then me the teller right now, and then you, the listener. And then I was told at the intersection of this crossroads, there is the story. So that’s where the story lies. And I was told that this story, and I, this is just something that in my imagination, I’m making up and in this intersection lies the grievances and the grace, both grief and grace reside in the hearts and in this space. And that is literally the heart of the matter. And as human beings, we are matter. So that’s where it resides. And if that story, so I was then shown that that’s not my story, and it’s neither the listeners, the story, and it wasn’t the ancestors, the story, and it wasn’t the youth story. It became our story.
Mariam Issa: And that’s how I felt then yeah, okay. Now I can tell the story. And then when I looked at it, actually I am telling my story, but my story is a collection of the stories of my ancestors. It is the collection of stories of the people that I have journeyed along of the people that I live among. So I realized that within each and every one of us lives an incredible story, a story that comes from a lived experience from the triumphs of our adversities and from our daily joys. And in this intersection, in this space, we are actually sharing our story. And that’s how the power, that story has to move people because you relate. When I tell you a story, although you’re born in the Western world, you’ve lived here, or you will relate to my story from a very far world that you might never have known, and that is the power so of, of memory and imagination.
Mariam Issa: So it’s a powerful tool. So story telling become a really powerful tool of rhythm and language. And because that language, when used properly and used in a rhythmic and beautiful way, it has a way of moving us like songs, it’s songs is stories they melt.
Morag Gamble: Can you say a bit more about the rhythm? Like how do you enter into that?
Mariam Issa: Yeah. So even now, as we are speaking, you know, when people are listening, something in them moves something in them, you know, uh, you know, kind of shifts. So it has the power to shift and in shifting not only for change, but for transformation. So I realized that, you know, life for me has been a Safari and, you know, a collection of, of, of stories and moving with, with this stories, but molding it and designing it and shaping it as we, as I’m moving along.
Mariam Issa: And so in, in doing so then this becomes, you can then have that, your story in that, and you can own your power, but also it’s in this platform. It is a platform that compels us, you know, it compels us for change. It calls for us to ask difficult questions. And when we ask these questions, you know, depending on the potency and depth of our asking, then that’s where not only our experiences not only change, but they transform. And so we have that ability when we are holding space for each other, and when we are using it as the catalyst for our grievances and then turning them into grace. So that is the power of storytelling. And every human being is a storyteller. Whether you’re telling your stories through permaculture in, in gardens, or whether you’re telling your stories through food, or whether you’re telling your stories through drawing or through songs, it’s, this is who we are in this humanity.
Mariam Issa: It is the human condition. So our stories is the human condition. It is our way of interacting and connecting and, you know, and, and, and communicating. So it’s powerful. And I do come from, I’m very lucky in the sense that I come from an oral culture, which is really very rich in poetry and in words. So at a very young age, you know, my mother was a storyteller and she would just tell a simple stories. For instance, she was a craftswoman and she would be making when she wants to make a mat or something, she would say, Oh, tell us, she will tell us a story. And she would say, it is a good idea, you know, to sit on your old mat when you’re making your new one. And as she’s saying that she’s sitting on her old mat, and then she says, because that way you see the patterns and the mistakes that you have made in your old one, so that you can create your new one, but she would also add, don’t be caught up though, with your past mistakes or your future creation. Remember, you are the one sitting on the mat, you are the creator. So she would bring us into that presence. So that taught, taught me that, you know, we are always working with memory and imagination at this intersection of presence. And that is so powerful.
Morag Gamble: So I wanted to ask you about how you have helped to create space for that presencing, for that storytelling, for people to feel comfortable, to share their story, and to have that opportunity to transform, as you’re saying, from, from grief to grace, because a lot of the people that you have come in contact with have come from a place of grieving of, of trauma, and that it’s, this, this work that is, is amazingly transformational and, and those people are now being able to go out and do amazing work in the world because of this transformation that they’re having in these places that you create.
Mariam Issa: Yeah. And I think, yeah, so we are all, you know, and this, this, our innovations or our creation comes from a place of really, for need a place of, um, you know, place our need to connect. I think as human beings, we have that need for connection. And, uh, we have also the need for dignity. We needed to be dignified as human beings. And sometimes, um, when you are in a difficult situation, you might not be the one who feels, you don’t feel the dignity, you feel a victim. So when you’re in that space, you need people to dignify you, you need others to hold you. And so for me, when I came to the Western world, it was, you know, a very hard journey. And yes, I encountered a lot of racism. I encountered a lot of the other. And then I realized that I lived in different phases.
Mariam Issa: I, I went into the phase of victimhood of poor me, that I come from a dysfunctional community. And, you know, I, because, you know, in my eyes, I saw that whole system disintegrate in front of us, you know, community go into fight, you know, civil war is the worst, whatever, you know, when a neighbor can kill another neighbor. So that happened in my, in, you know, in my presence. And I saw that and I ran away from that. And then, yes, it, it gives you a kind of uncertainty where not to even, you know, it inhibits your trust as well in people. So how can you trust a total stranger when you couldn’t even trust the people that you lived among? So that was where my, you know, my passion for the garden, for the community garden that I started from.
Mariam Issa: I realized that, you know, and I only did this work when I went through the phases. So when I went through the phase of victimhood, I came out of it and then went into a phase of anger, which actually is so much better than being a victim, because then you can blame other people and you can prosecute and you can go. This is, you know, um, always make you see the worst in others. And then I saw that I was always going back and forth to dramas. And then I realized, look, if I want a world that I want to call home, what is it that I see? What is it that I envisioned? And this comes from a place of contemplation. It comes from a place of sitting in your, you know, in your old mat to make your new one.
Mariam Issa: I was like, I want a new life. And so, um, Mahatma Gandhi’s, um, beautiful quotes of be the change you want to see in the world supported me in this journey. And I felt, and also my mother’s analogy of the mat supported me, and I felt I needed to create a new, a new world. And so I feel that’s when I entered in my phase of empowerment in the phase where I took power of my life, and I wanted to make the world that I wanted to see. And so I wanted to work with women, and I realized that women, as a woman, I had, we take our war inside and we kind of, you know, men take their war outside. All the wars that are being fought usually come from men. Women’s wars, is the ones that diminish themselves. And, you know, uh, it either turns into a cancer, or it turns into, you know, um, something that you’re always fighting and, and not being able to go to the aspirations that you want.
Mariam Issa: So, as I’m having this, you know, this dream and planting this seed in my head, I was, the universe has an incredible way of, you know, being a way shower. And when you give, once you surrender and you allow yourself to be, you know, supported, everything comes into view. And then I did a permaculture. I was signed into a permaculture course. And while doing that permaculture course, I remembered, Oh my God. You know, as an African woman, I actually don’t know myself in closed spaces because I worked in community centers. I worked in offices and I was like, it didn’t do anything for me. And then I was in a community. I was in the permaculture space and it was abundant and lush gardens. And I was like, wow, this is what I want. And so that’s where my idea came from. And then I had a permaculture friend who was a designer.
Mariam Issa: And then I came back home one day. And as, as I was, because we were given homework and I was doing my homework, I had a small veggie garden. And I started to plant this beautiful tomatoes and eggplants and, you know cucumbers. And, and I saw that and I’m like, Whoa, this is it can happen. And then that’s when I realized I wanna invite people into my backyard, especially women. I want to bring them in. And so I wanted to register it as a, not for profit organization. And then I had a dream one night and the name of the organization came in my dream. It was called RAW. R A W – Resilient, aspiring women. And if you read raw backwards, it is war.
Mariam Issa: So in this space now, um, fast forward seven years, we have, uh, 38 fruit trees, 38 to 40 fruit trees. We have, um, we grow our own vegetables, but on top of all that, what we have put the love in the garden and every tree that was planted was adopted by a community member and has an intention behind it, whatever intention that that person felt was missing in their world. There was a young woman whose son was, um, had, um, autism. And she said he wasn’t accepted. So she put her tree down as a tree of acceptance, and she felt that we need to accept each other, regardless of our situation circumstances. And so that’s, we have the acceptance tree, we have an abundant tree. We have a trust and love too. So we have different trees which were put in by different people.
Mariam Issa: Then we have the Rotarians built, um, pav, you know, pavilion for us. And so in the pavilion, we hold, um, storytelling classes, or just the storytelling circles where people just come and tell their stories. But we also have connected with connected with storytellers, Victoria, oral, um, storytellers who come and tell stories of folklore, or sometimes even, um, you know, um, normal stories. And then we have cooking classes. So we have so far cooked from more than 15 different cultures. And that is how beautiful our multicultural Australia is. So just in Melbourne, people from the community come and they say, Oh, I’m from Malaysian background. I’m from Indian background. I am from a Somali background. I am from a pseudonym.
Mariam Issa: So we’ve cooked about 15 different cultures. But even in that space of cooking, as we cook, we also tell stories. And it’s a place where there is not, you know, what food actually does is it drops our guard. And it’s like, you know, where we can be vulnerable with each other. So we’ve had incredible stories there. People have come and shared very intimately.
Mariam Issa: And some of the stories really it’s the human conditions and the atrocities that we can commit among each other, because one of the women who shared her story was she went, she was raped by I think, a gang. And imagine someone coming there and just, you know, that trauma, that story, and then sharing it. But if you saw that woman and the radiance and the beauty of who she is and the way she shared that story, just uplifts you. And so that became a place where, you know, we can not only share our raw stories, but we can share with the stories that we’ve worked on to give, you know, um, meaning to give meaning and, and, and insight into, you know, into our stories. So
Morag Gamble: I just wanted to interrupt you there for a moment. This is all happening in your backyard. It’s all happening in your backyard. It’s a community garden, it’s a community space. It’s a community orchard. It’s a community storytelling space, community, kitchen, but it’s all in your backyard. And I like how you were saying that coming from where you were, where there was civil war rafting, it was hard to even trust your neighbors to get to the point now where you have opened up your home and your garden to be this space of connection and healing. It’s really a remarkable thing that you’re doing, and it’s not rocket science either, is it?
Mariam Issa: No its not? And, you know, we would jokingly, I started the community garden with a special friend. She, her name is Katrina and she’s from, um, German background. She’s migrant to Australia, but you know, and very hard working, they used to have a farm. And I think the work ethic of we actually joke that, you know, um, the, um, our garden is where the German position meets the African chaos. So we do need that position and the chaos in life. So, and, and it’s just, there’s no way we would have imagined or thought that’s what my garden, my backyard is going to look like one day. And it’s, you know, and every three years it becomes something different. You know, it used to be the resilient garden, but now it is a garden where we are seeding love. We call it, seeding love through the community.
Mariam Issa: And by that we have the four letters, like a, you know, um, 8-meter tall letters of love. And we have an artist working with each letter and we have been sponsored. Each letter has been sponsored by a community member, a woman, entrepreneur who, you know, um, accepted my vision because I do approach people. When I ask, I ask people and, you know, um, I’ve become so bold in this journey that I bring people in and, you know, and that power of influence is also really amazing. And as a storyteller, I think you can, you know, you, you become an influencer as well.
Mariam Issa: So I have had that privilege of people, you know, I approach people and ask for a favor and people say yes to, you know, incredible things. So that backyard has been invested by community over its investment is over a hundred thousand tomorrow because we have a proper kitchen working. The place has been built. The pavilion used to be, um, as you came Morag, it didn’t have doors. And, you know, especially now it has, you know, bi-fold doors, it’s become really beautiful and we can use it now all year round. We used, we used it how the elements, you know, allowed us because sometimes it will be too hot. Sometimes it’s too cold and it’s the bipolar of the Melbourne weather. We, you know, yeah. We do use to have a really hard time to use the space, but now, um, it’s been invested in and, you know, it’s just incredible what has happened. It’s beyond my, you know, my imagination. I could never have thought that would be possible.
Morag Gamble: That sounds amazing. I have to come and visit next time I’m down when we’re allowed to cross borders again.
Mariam Issa: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah.
Morag Gamble: I’ve also noticed that you, as well as working in this space in your garden and the storytelling that, that happens there, you were also very much out in the community. You’d go and work with women’s groups in different places. You do. Um, you go to schools, um, there’s also a center that you’re involved in that I noticed. Um, what’s it called space to be, and I’d love to hear a little bit more too, about how you, what kind of work you do with more recent refugees and helping them to find their place in Australia.
Mariam Issa: So, um, I, apart from the, not for profit organization, the garden that I run and it’s, it is run by community as well. I have a social enterprise, so I I’m an entrepreneur. And so I get to get, you know, um, the best job ever, you know, you, you are invited to places to, you know, different places nationally. I do a lot of national, um, speaking and conferences. And so, yeah, I talk about mainly my journey as a refugee and, you know, um, the support and the leadership, um, and you know, the economic part as well, and, you know, allowing people to have dignity as well. And, you know, um, because there’s an incredible potential that lives in people. So don’t see them where they’re at, but see them where they can be. Cause someone actually pulled me up because they saw me, they see my, they saw my light before I did so, and we have that potential as human beings.
Mariam Issa: Usually people don’t see themselves, you, the mirror is the one that you must see, so we are middle for each other. And I think, you know, that upliftment is really necessary and important. So I have the, you know, um, incredible, um, privilege of working with philanthropists, working with, um, permacultures like Morag and, you know, and, and David, you know, I’ve had an incredible journey with David as well. And, um, and, uh, Nick, who is, um, from, from Sustain Australia. So Nick and I recently, uh, his working with, um, women of color who are starting their own small businesses. And so I’ve been supporting them in the mentoring section of, you know, sometimes, um, women have this incredible potential, but they also lack that self confidence and self, um, recognition for themselves. It’s always they serve, they’re really good at giving, but very bad at receiving.
Mariam Issa: So I support, um, women to receive and I am also a life coach. So I wear that hat as well. And I sit with people who want to deal with grief as well. And then we go through three different, um, processes and I give them tools to deal with their grief so that they can tap into their grace. And then they can make sense of their future imagined world, um, with spaces to be, it is, um, design. And, um, for, it was actually, it is actually for refugees and asylum seekers, but it was also to bring in the main Australians, mainstream Australians so that people can co-work together. And in that space of coworking, I think they have an ability to give to each other. You know, sometimes we feel that we’re helping someone or I don’t even allow to use the word help.
Mariam Issa: I think we are supporting each other. And what we’re really doing is just reminding each other of who you are, you know, and when I am, so these days, actually my activism is not so much as in like the drama space of being a savior, but I do what I love and what I’m doing, what I love. It is a demonstration. It is giving people permission, to say that, you know what? I can do it. So can you, and so in, in, in doing what you love and being creative, I think you have the power then to light anD ignite, other people’s light. And I, you know, my theme for 2020 was connection, creativity and celebration. So I want to use these three, um, these three powerful words to really connect and connect with self. So I have a really, um, um, I have, I have, uh, I meditate a lot, so I have a ritual that I don’t ever get out of my bed, or my morning starts with real connection.
Mariam Issa: Once I’m connected with self, then I know I can connect with the world. Cause I want to leave the, what is left of my time now intentionally, and, you know, living intentionally means then you have to really focus and give your energy to something that you want to use. You know, that will give, you know, something to the world as well. So it’s not coming from just up. I just want to be happy. No, I want to be happy with others as well with my community and tap into that sovereignty that we have that space of sovereignty. I think we are not yet understanding the sovereignty because I don’t know. And I don’t think that a system that we have created can stop us in being who we want, you know, and sovereign comes from, you know, once you know what you want, then it doesn’t really matter. Everything just caught coincides with itself.
Mariam Issa: And you know, the garden, I work in my garden every morning. It benefits just to half an hour to be reminded, to really be reminded the garden. And the act is a reminder to us and to show us who we truly are, that we are interconnected. We’re connected. We’re not apart from it. We are part of it. So even if there isn’t much to do, or even if I don’t have time, you know, we, we do use this as I think I don’t have time is an excuse. We use it as an excuse. We have, you know, we don’t have to be in the linear time. We can be in a timeless space and the timeless space is the present moment. You know, any minute to that, you have, if, if you’re truly connected, then it’s just powerful because you will be looking at an ant and it will make, it will open your eyes in an incredible way.
Mariam Issa: So the work that I do is very important to me, but it also gives me an immense joy. And I think when we’re enjoy, we create more. We really, we do, we create more and we connect more and then we can celebrate those, you know, um, few things that we do.
Mariam Issa: So, um, I just had my, my 52, um, I turned 52 this year and my birthday was on the 4th of June. And it was a Thursday, very humbling. You could, you know, a lot of people came to my home and sending me flowers and, you know, bringing a gift and people just getting out of their way to come and visit me and say, happy birthday, a friend called me and her husband. They sang happy birthday for me. And I was just like, Whoa, this is just, I can’t, you know, sometimes the joy just becomes more and more so. And I think the more we talk about that, the more we create more of it, that’s where our creativity and our creation happens. You know, don’t talk about the things you don’t like, talk about what you love and what you like? And you get more of that.
Morag Gamble: I was just going to say too, that yeah, that we’re getting, because there’s so much going on in the world right now. And it’s easy to get really distracted by all of that. And it’s important to know what’s going on and to acknowledge that. But we also do, as you’re saying, need to imagine what is the world? So if not that, then what and recognize and celebrate each of those steps along the way that we are taking, we can quite get so caught up in, in the sort of determination of, of making change in the world of being on this journey and being on this path. And we forget to enjoy and celebrate and relax and connect. And I think they’re really powerful words that shift how we inhabit this space of being Changemakers. And helps us to make sense of what we’re doing rather than to feel in this, this hurry and exempt, this angst that we hold about, everything that really seeks us in that, like you’re saying, it’s that being in that present moment of a being right here right now and being as true and as, as authentic as we can right now. And…
Mariam Issa: ..and I think Morag, we becoming transformers, I think for us now change happens naturally. You know, that is you don’t even, your change is happening all the time, whether you like it or not, you know, we’re changing in form. We’re changing in, you know, we’re changing all the time, but what we’re looking at in this time is transformation. We are transforming. We want to transform our world. And, um, you know, with change, it’s like, we’re always slow with it because we are, you know, still caught up in, in, in what we want to make sense of what transformation means. Then it’s something that is completely new. It’s something that we don’t know, but we’re happy to, you know, to explore. So we explore. I think we’re explorers, we’re mystics. We’re looking for mysteries. We’re looking for resolving, you know, um, the, we, we’re here to have fun literally.
Mariam Issa: And I don’t think that there is a world that needs to be saved. I don’t think so. I think the world is in a good place. We only need to reach it in the place that it is. And once we transform, and once we align with ourselves, the world, literally around you changes the people around you change, you know, um, you see yourself not even being called to the things that sometimes you wouldn’t have been necessarily. You see yourself letting go of the foods or some of the habits that you had. It happens automatically, but all it needs is for you to go in and tap into the grief and then catalyze it. You are a catalyst. That’s what I tell people. You are a catalyst.
Mariam Issa: I think Morag, and I know this very well when you’re working with compost, it really humbles you. It humbles you to understand the process of alchemy. You know, this very smelly stuff. It starts with not smelling in the beginning and you have all these different, you know, scrubs of vegetables. And then you have this pile that really, you cannot live in. Sometimes it’s so smelly and in, and in the process, you see the heat and the way And then it becomes this beautiful soil. That once upon a time, if someone, you know, you smell it, it’s like, no, this cannot have smelled like, you know, poo or what it was smelling like before. So, you know, gardens garden is the best place to humble yourself and to connect with self because then when you digging, you see, you know, you see underneath, you see life underneath you and you go, Oh, I cannot walk, I have to walk differently now because I know that there is life under me. So I think walking from the brain and just going, going has been our disadvantage. I think once we come back into the heart, the heart enables and allows you to see that grief embrace. And to see that story..
Morag Gamble: I have a question from my 14 year old daughter, Maia, who she’s wondering, like, how do you become a storyteller? How do you find your story? And, you know, I think she’s really, she’s just started homeschooling again, after being at school for a little while, and she’s stepping into a sort of she’s exploring philosophy and permaculture and ways of knowing. And, and I think she’s just trying to find a way that she can then speak out her story more. And how do you encourage or support young people to be..just to be storytellers?
Mariam Issa: I think young people are naturally storytellers. Uh, but what happens is, you know, um, especially in the, well, in the, in, in, in the Western world, there’s a lot of distraction. There’s a lot of, um, things that call you, you know, as a young girl, I remember myself in, um, we lived in a very simple, uh, village kind of, and, you know, there were, there wasn’t much distraction at that time. And my mother used to take us to the, you know, we had food forests and we, you know, so we would walk in nature and all that. But I think the power of storytelling and story gathering comes from, um, connection with self. I think, you know, uh, young people have to come back to themselves. They have to kind of find where their joy is, what do they enjoy?
Mariam Issa: So does she enjoy writing? You know, let her keep a journal. You know, I would ask her to keep a journal and to start writing. So does she like writing? Does she like expression? You know, talking the story, does she like drawing? Does she like, so it depends on how she likes to express herself and, you know, she can choose all these mediums. It’s, you know, it’s, it is, you know, um, when she is expressing, she has a mirror just go in front of the mirror and, you know, do you love dancing? Dancing is a form of story telling it’s when your body moves with the rhythms, it tells you something, you know, some parts of you move that want to move. And so it’s just experimenting with that.. and Words are like that. So when she wants to tell a story to have friends, yet she has to be in practice, create an audience.
Mariam Issa: You know, whenever you’re told to tell a story, don’t shy away from it, sit in the discomfort, you know, the place where the story is, is where the discomfort is to sit at the intersection. And when she sits there in that space of, um, you know, of, of, of, um, it’s a sort of a grieving kind of, but it’s also the space of neutrality as well. You come to this space of neutral, you’re not excited, and you’re not also frightened. And you come to this space of neutrality and this space of neutrality, then you can understand what calls you. So if she can find that space in meditation, I think it’s really important for quiet, like meditation. Doesn’t have to be just sitting down and meditating. It can be walking. It can be, you know, uh, being silenced a lot of silence. So turn off distractions, whatever those distractions are and create a forum or space where you can share your stories.
Mariam Issa: And the more you talk, I think the more you will realize, and the more, you know, what you’re saying, because you know, there’s a lot of swearing and people use a lot of different kinds of words and words have vibrations. They tell us what we feel, you know, when we use this way, or you use a certain word on someone, you feel it actually what that word, the potency of that word and what it can do to the other. So as a storyteller, actually, you are not only an entertainer, but you’re also a place holder for others to feel connected, but to also feel, you know, compassion, you have compassion for them. So I’m very particular with the words that I use with people.
Morag Gamble: Good luck. And I really like the you’re saying that, sit with that discomfort and just start sharing, because it’s not about trying to work out your story. And in that response, when you say something and you, and you feel something happening, and then the story evolves and it, like, I think he said that before that our stories change and transform over time, it’s not like we have this fixed story. That’s our story. Our story only exists in relation to others. And it’s always changing because we’re always in relation to new, new experiences, new people, new environments. And, and it’s this constant ever.. Change is constant, change varies, things are always changing. And our story is always changing and practicing and
Mariam Issa: Well, one thing as well, Morag that, I, I share with youth of, um, you know, of the Somali descent, the poetry of the African descent, very oral culture, you know, in our old traditions, it’s, it’s cultural. Um, it’s, it’s oral. And I ask them, you know, because as story teller, we are channels we’re channeling energy. And so our ancestors actually in African culture, we say that, you know, um, there is no death, there is a continuation of life. So your ancestors, although you don’t see their body and their form, they exist in energy. And sometimes they can come through and you can channel them. And your stories can be an anger of an aunt who passed away, you know, is and wants to take revenge on someone. And it might not even have anything to do with you. So I listened to their poetry and it sometimes is very, it comes from a place of anger and it wants to, you know, to it’s like a bomb, but it’s there to really, you know, it wants to kill.
Mariam Issa: And I’m like, this is not yours. When did you even see feel all this hurt? You know, but if they bring the grief of the ancestry into this platform and it that’s, what’s happening in our world, you know, what is happening in the world is the wrongdoings is the grievances that has happened. And we can’t resolve that until we realize that we want to move away from it. We want to transform into a new people. So the people who have done, you know, the oppressor and the oppressed, you know, I, again, the end of one stick, they just both hold the end of one stick. And one can feel guilty of the grievances of guilt. And one can feel the grievances of shame. And when these two people come in the same place, those are very heavy energies that cannot, you know, we can’t go past them if we want to create change.
Mariam Issa: So we also need to see the, you know, the heaviness of the words that we use, do we want to be uplifters? Do we want to be healers? Do we want to love each other? Or do we want to hold these grievances for the rest of our? You know? Yeah. Because that’s what has been happening. You know, we have been carrying it from generation to generation. Is it time? Now that we stop that and move with understanding, come to a space and say, I hear you. I feel you. I am sorry if you are from that, you know, end of guilt space and this person to genuinely, because when you say I am sorry, genuinely, the other literally loves lets go of the grievances, but because we are not quite there, we want to make change from outside. And so the power is in compassionate storytelling and compassionate conversations in this city. So the first thing you know, um, space is to listen to each other. Cause if you can’t hear the other, you don’t even know what their grief their grief is.
Morag Gamble: Oh my gosh, there’s so many rich messages and stories in, in what you’ve just shared with us. And I, you know, I think, I think many people might need to listen through this quite a few times to just allow that to, to sit because, you know, there’s so much in what you’ve just said, that is, um, really important to hear. And I just would like to maybe sort of bring our conversation full circle as, as we, our conversation to a close, um, going back to the fact that we are actually in, um, refugee week right now. And is, is there something that you could suggest as a, as a community here in Australia in particular that we could be doing more to support refugees to feel more welcome? Like, in what way can we shift this? What, what way can we support the transformation?
Mariam Issa: Yeah. So the, the refugee theme this year, um, is welcome. And, and how can we welcome people, um, more into, into these spaces? And I think it’s, you know, you know, my mother used to say, you know, if you can host someone in your heart, you can host them in your home. So the first place of hosting, the first place of welcome is the heart. So to feel, uh, for this, even if you’re not doing anything, if you’re just feeling in your heart that, you know, the, this is a world that is changing and putting yourself in the space of the other, because the other is just a mirror of you, then naturally that’s, you have already taken a step forward. And then the second one is, then everyone knows what they can do. What can I do as an individual to support refugees, to support people who are seeking asylum, but also people in general, like, how can I not be stingy with love?
Mariam Issa: How can I give more smiles? How can I be kinder? You know? And so respect and kindness, and, you know, and, and, and trust that you can do it. I think sometimes we don’t even trust ourselves in the spaces that cause the Coronavirus as also allowed us to show us a bit of what being a refugee actually really means, you know, to be just disconnected from the whole world and to be putting this, you know, um, space on your own without you can’t, you know? Yeah. So we do know what, you know, in the context, however, small your context or big it is, we’ve, we’ve seen a little bit of that. So being from the heart and then the second one is hosting them in your home. Yeah. How can you host, you know, because this Australia is your home and how can I be more of a host in this space and what can I do? So there are a lot of refugee activities and things that are happening. You can go to the website of refugee council of Victoria, but also the refugee week. And once you go to that website, there’s a lot of things and directions and things that can be done, but more, become more of a host.
Morag Gamble: Thank you. And, and if people want to find out more about you and your work and to invite you as a speaker or find out how to access your book and all of that, where do they go to find that Mariam?
Mariam Issa: So my organization is called Mariam Issa Pty, and I do have a website mariamissa.com.au. And, um, the work that I do, uh, through that platform is with my daughter and we call ourselves, uh, intergenerational story inspires. So we go to schools, she goes to schools. I don’t go to schools anymore, but I do invite schools to the garden. Um, we invite, um, we’re just to starting corporate dinners, uh, in the backyard as well. And we will be inviting corporates andteam building and in connecting with, with, um, community. So I’ve always been in that at the intersections of, of difficult conversations. And I love to build the bridges and invite people into different realities because, you know, although we do live in this big world as a one big world, there are bubbles in it, and we all occupy different bubbles at different times.
Mariam Issa: So it is very important that we know of each other and we cherish our diversity and connect with each other more. So this is for me, as I see it is a world that is calling for love, and I love Rumi’s quote. And he says, do not look for love because you already are love, look for the places that you’re withholding love, so that, and he also adds let what you love be what you do. And so whatever you do as your career choice, or, you know, um, if you are even a mother at home with your children, love it. I mean, it’s just bringing love to the places that you withhold it from the places that heart and that is, you know, that’s most of the work that I do. So yeah, he will see a lot of my work in mariamissa.com.au.
Morag Gamble: Well, thank you so, so much for sharing your morning with us today as part of this refugee week, but also just to be, you know, also to be part of this ongoing conversations around making sense in this world and, and the storytelling is such a powerful part of that. And like I said, at the start too, when I first met you and I heard you speak, I saw something in myself about being a storyteller too, that just opened up a whole new way of seeing and being. And I hope that as people have been listening to this conversation too, that they’re also feeling in themselves, some of some of that potential as well. So thank you.
Mariam Issa: Absolutely. Thank you so much. Thank you for this invitation. And it’s always a pleasure,
Morag Gamble: Happy to have you on the show.
Morag Gamble: So thanks for tuning in to the sense-making in a changing world podcast today, it’s been a real pleasure to have your company. I invite you to subscribe and receive notification of each new weekly episode with more wonderful stories, ideas, inspiration, and common sense for living and working regeneratively and core positive permaculture thinking of design interaction in this changing world. I’m including a transcript below and a link also to my four-part permaculture series, really looking at what is permaculture and how to make it your livelihood too. So join me again in the next episode where we talk with another fascinating guest, I look forward to seeing you there.
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Thanks for tuning into my podcast today, SENSE-MAKING IN A CHANGING WORLD. It has been a pleasure to have your company. I invite you to subscribe (via your favourite podcast app like iTunes) and receive notification of each new weekly episode. Please also feel free to share.
Each Wednesday I will share more wonderful stories, ideas, inspiration, and common sense for living and working regeneratively. Positive permaculture thinking, design, and action are so needed in this changing world.
What is permaculture?
Take a look at my free 4 part permaculture series or Our Permaculture Life Youtube and my permaculture blog too. For an introduction to permaculture online course, I recommend The Incredible Edible Garden course.
Please support our permaculture work with refugee children, the Permayouth, by donating to our registered permaculture charity The Ethos Foundation. Every dollar goes directly to support these young people.
I acknowledge and pay respects to the Traditional owners of the land from which I am broadcasting, the Gubbi Gubbi people.
Thank you to Kim Kirkman (Harp) and Mick Thatcher (Guitar) for donating this piece from their album Spirit Rider.
Thank you to Evan Raymond (my husband) for sound editing.