By Sarah Cains

A text exchange between my husband and my niece has me thinking.

She lives in Melbourne, the city which happily and, perhaps rightly claims to be the food capital of Australia, so when my man developed an interest in chai tea, he wrote to my niece asking her advice.

Her reply filled us with pleasure; we read it in the pale glow from his phone in early morning darkness whilst waiting for the kettle to boil. Here is what she said:

…I loved your text question and have pondered your dilemma since. I too love chai, but have never made it successfully at home. The best I’ve ever had was made for me twenty years ago, from scratch, by Asmira Woodward-Paige (remember her?) – dried spices like cardamom pods and, cinnamon sticks with black tea and lots of black pepper steeped in the milk as it heated up. Have you tried a home recipe? I always think that if village people in India drink it regularly it must not require a specialty providore premix! Likewise, I always counsel myself not to rush to the supermarket to get all the ‘right ‘ingredients when cooking Middle Eastern or Italian food. However, in the interest of supporting our providores post Covid, I have enjoyed my research and have popped three types in the post to you. Two I found in the market today plus one I bought from our coffee bean provider on a whim during isolation but it is not to my taste (packet only opened recently). One is dried spices one a paste one an extraction – only in Melbourne! I’ll be most interested to know if any work. Looking forward to seeing you and mining your sourdough advice when we can finally visit again. Lots of love… 

Such an engaged and warm response! 

We sat sipping tea in the silent dark and I tapped out a text to ask my niece why a busy and super-capable woman in her mid forties had enjoyed putting such time and thought into her reply to an odd question from an ‘oldie’. 

Here is her reply.

…‘the question opened an opportunity to create a connection with an ‘elder’ whom I admire and like, but with whom I haven’t had much of an opportunity to trade information as an equal. Being accepted as an equal and even as an advisor (on this very modern thing called chai!) by an elder whom I have known and respected over many years, spurred me on to make the best of this exchange!’

So we can see that members of younger generations respond in a positive way to an expression of respect and interest from an older person. Such a question communicates that their activities, opinions and ideas are of worth.

This then, must be a responsibility for all generations. Those in middle age need to listen to the voices of their younger ones too. To dismiss school strikers with a curt, ‘They ought to be in school, not marching on the streets’, is to ignore hugely important chunk of society together with their valid viewpoint. It is respect from elders and institutions towards young people that has given kids a voice; now it must be heeded. Their keen young minds have perceived the truth and they speak with clarity and courage; they know what is right for the world they will inherit. 

We need to listen for voices from all tribes and include their ideas with our own. Minority groups must be counted in as the equals they are; their voices must be heard and included.

One glance at our shattered and fragmented world illustrates that we have not done well when one exclusive group has been in command of the whole ship.

We’re so much smarter with diversity.

Our common inclination is to stick to the familiar. To actively listen and to assimilate a new idea or different viewpoint takes humility and courage. It’s so much easier to just keep drinking English Breakfast tea and declare alternatives to be rubbish.

After all, English Brekky is safe and we know we will like it.  Who needs to try chai tea? It sounds foreign.  How much safer it is to resist, to stay in familiar territory and dismiss ‘the other’. 

But in these times it is clearly essential that we do change our ways, and change them fast, so where to from this standpoint?

 In a conversation on the question of change, a wise elder said that the solution to moving us all forward together is through education for all. She was a teacher, and, as one of only two Australians to win the Miles Franklin Literary Award four times, Thea Astley  proved that her voice will always be worth a hearing.

The value of the educated voice is that it achieves change by respectfully sharing information, by hearing one another and by cooperating. This can be seen in our sudden and unexpected dependence on scientists during the Covid experience. With great relief, we have confidently placed ourselves in their hands and collectively they are guiding us through a wild storm using their learning and their best methods to deal with a very big problem. This behavior produces positive results.

In an essay on forgiveness a writer (whose name I have forgotten) argued that forgiveness is a long-term business. On day one, the day when you decide to forgive a wrong done to you, you are full of resolve and act out the decision. But that is not the end of the matter. What if, on subsequent days, you wake up again feeling angry with the perpetrator of the wrong? Does that mean you have failed in your mission to forgive?  From day one onwards, argued the writer, you need to forgive that person every single day. Each day you need to wake up and remind yourself to re-set the ‘forgiveness’ button so that you are enabled to go about your business without slipping backwards into old ways. 

Can we use this tip in other situations? If we decide that, from this day on, we will pay special attention to respectfully hearing and assimilating opinions and ideas from people outside our ‘tribe’, we will need to refresh that resolution every morning in order to change old habits.

Could this simple step, perhaps, help in impelling ourselves towards that brave leap we need to make towards accepting the voices of ‘the other’; towards collective change?

So no more grouching to a like-minded old pal over the early morning tea and setting off into our days full of self-righteousness anger and intolerance of ‘the other’.


It’s time to try chai tea.