Digital ravings of an analog girl

         Shoes and the meaning of life.

June 24, 2009

Karma and the Greek girl

Karma.  Not a word I use often. Frankly, it doesn’t suit my image.  People think of me as analytical, lucid, practical and considered.  (OK, maybe ‘considered’ is stretching it a bit)  I’m much more likely to use words like ‘consequences’, ‘payback’ and ‘return on investment’ than ‘Karma’.  But dammit, those words are limited by time, space and area of reference.  They don’t encapsulate the concept of the universe slapping/kissing you on the mouth the way that ‘Karma’ does.

So here’s where I fuck up my image.  I believe in Karma.  There I’ve said it.

Karma has slapped/kissed me so many times that I can no longer be a karma agnostic.  Not only is the world a small place, but time is compressed by karma too. Just look at today’s Dom Post and tell me Karma is not alive and well.

The back-story

So here’s a real-life Karma story from me.  In 1993, I was a circulation manager for a Hong Kong based publisher.  I would spend every third month in Bangkok, because that’s where the magazines were printed, and because I had a thing going with a Bangkok-based writer for one of the mags.  It was because of my romantic connection, rather than my work connection that I found myself visiting a Cambodian refugee camp on the outskirts of Bangkok where my writer-boyfriend was to interview several detainees and the camp manager for a story. 

While he went off to the Manager’s office, I wandered aimlessly through the dilapidated, dusty, smelly camp, and in the process collected a band of small followers – children from the camp.

Now here’s where I make my second confession.  I really don’t know what to do about children.  I don’t like children in general.  I like particular children, just like I like particular adults.  However, children in general do seem to like me.  On this day, I was a curiosity – big, tall white girl in (unwisely chosen) mini skirt and stiletto heels (give me a break – I was young, I had great legs and it was really freaking hot!).

The Karmic decision

I ended up in what must have been the kids dorm, and not really knowing what else to do with my band of small followers, I picked up one of the donated books in the dorm – Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak, and proceeded to have story-time in the little dorm.  One little girl sat on my lap, and all the rest of the kids sat on the floor around me, all rapt attention.  This is not quite as cute as it sounds, because those kids had not washed for some time and they smelled!  Also, I’m not sure why these kids were so attentive.  Not one spoke a word of English, and I’m not well known for my melodious tinkling voice… Ours is not to reason why…

Now, the second choice that day (close second I might add) was to head back to my air-conditioned car and listen to Billy Joel on my Discman (emember the Discman?).  But I didn’t choose to do that on this particular day.  I don’t know why.  An hour and several iterations of the story-book passed, and my writer-boyfriend showed up and I drove us back to Bangkok.  I have to admit, I didn’t really reflect further on this day in my life.

The Karma! The Karma!

Fast forward 15 years.  I have moved back to NZ and I’m busy struggling with renovations to my house.  My struggle is not made easier by the fact that my friendly electrician has been arrested for drunk driving and is unable to work due a a head injury he doesn’t remember getting.  There are live wires hanging from the ceiling in the hallway (guess he forgot to tidy up before he left for a drink with his mates).  Not good.

So I look in the Yellow Pages and call the local electrician from up the road to come rescue me before I give myself a live-wire perm.  He says he can send his apprentice at once.  A few minutes later, a knock on the door announces his arrival.  As soon as I open the door, the electrician’s apprentice says ‘Ritsa?’.  He seems dazzled by my beauty (happens all the time…NOT!) ‘Yup, that’s me.’  He fixes up all my wiring, working quickly and tidies up after himself.  As he’s leaving, he says ‘Are you Khun Dong from Bangkok?’ It’s my Thai nickname – it means Miss Big Nose (but in a loving way :) and it was kind of an honour to acquire a nickname from my Thai colleagues).  My new electrician’s apprentice was one of the children in that refugee camp, that I haven’t thought about in 15 years. 

He tells me he was orphaned in 1990, aged 7, and spent 9 years in that sad, smelly refugee camp before being allowed to come to New Zealand as part of our refeugee programme.  He tells me that he and his fellow inmates talked about me often for years after that day, and that he decided to come to New Zealand because of the strange, tall white woman who read him a story one day.

He tells me that the first thing he bought for himself after arriving in New Zealand was ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ by Maurice Sendak, even though he couldn’t read it. He recognised the pictures. 

This one small incident, that I barely remember, changed this man’s life.  I was moved and I cried.  I still cry about it.  Not because I had such a profound influence on this man’s life, but because I know how close I came to going to my car to listen to Billy Joel.  What would Karma have sent me if I had?


  1.   Madge — June 24, 2009 @ 8:06 pm    

    Wow-one very cool Karma story Ritsa – I believe too, sincerely and it helps keep me sane!

  2.   stuartm — June 24, 2009 @ 11:34 pm    

    That’s one heck of an awesome story – what are the chances?! Believing in karma is what keeps me calm every time I see someone do something idiotic.

  3.   Hannah — June 25, 2009 @ 4:36 pm    

    That’s amazing, love it!!

  4.   Simon — June 25, 2009 @ 9:13 pm    

    That is Awesome – no question !!!

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