An inspirational individual and writer.
Answers from Elena Ornig
Last week, I met Margaret Eliot (Gay Mackay) on the Gold Coast and to my greatest surprise I discovered an inspirational individual, fantastic mother and dedicated Christian.
You have had incredible experiences in your life which I would define as very harsh, facing up to the heartbreaking reality when you lost your daughter to cancer. When you launched your first book, in May this year, I remember you said that your daughter’s life was an inspiration for you to become a writer. But was there some particular thing that you could define as a trigger?
Part of my journey of becoming a children’s writer a couple of years ago had gradually and naturally evolved through my life, but the actual trigger, I believe happened when our daughter, Genevieve, was diagnosed with cancer. That was huge for me. She was a very charismatic personality; a very giving and very life loving young woman. When she was struck down by this disease she chose the road of alternative treatment that opened a door for her to meet some amazing people in her life. People, who had gone before her, people who had experienced this disease by choosing the same alternative road.
Genevieve used to say that it was like having a third person in your marriage; the cancer was as the third person that you lived with. It is like we cannot do something because of the cancer or we will do this because of the cancer. She was diagnosed a year after her marriage. She and her husband, regardless of such unfortunate circumstances, made a choice to do everything possible to celebrate everyday and every minute of their life together. They began their journey by moving to England and because of their attitude, Genevieve’s life really blossomed. She was given two years by the doctors, but she lived almost ten by her will to live and her love for life. During that time she experienced a miscarriage of her baby. We would fly backwards and forwards to offer any possible support; to see her and to take care of her. But Genevieve was very strong on her own. She got into interior designing and they build a lovely home together. They really celebrated every minute for five years before they came back to New Zealand. Together with her husband, I nursed her for eight months, right to the end.
My inspiration to write for children in order to celebrate life was my own daughter’s courage to celebrate life but knowing that she will die. She wasn’t dying – she was living, right to the end and that was very inspirational, not just for me but for everybody she had met on her journey.
To me, it seems as being a very difficult personal experience for you and your husband. What helped you and your husband to stay strong? Tell me more about yourself and your husband.
We are Christians. My husband is originally English/ Scottish. He grew up in India and was educated in India, in a colonial private boarding school. His own personal journey was quite an interesting one and he always had an open heart for international people; that eventually brought us together.
See, I was growing up in a small village in New Zealand, and at the age of nineteen I met this blond, blue eyed man who was more Indian than European. You could say I met a handsome European man with Indian flavour because he slipped into the Indian culture as naturally as you would slip into water. Surprisingly, he sometimes had difficulty adjusting to European culture because Eastern culture is more natural for him. So, he was so different from other people that I had met. I fell in love and we got married and we had our daughter and two sons.
In 2001, my husband and I made a decision to leave New Zealand and move to the Gold Coast. One of our sons stayed back with his family and second son joined us in Australia. The reason that we came to Australia is that we worked and travelled quite a lot around the world and decided to settle finally on the Gold Coast, because we really like this place. We worked in Turkey and we did some work in Iraq and we have been in India twice and…
I beg your pardon to stop you, Gay, but what do you mean that you worked in Iraq? What kind of work you are talking about?
Well, our work was always being based on helping, supporting and encouraging people, and in Iraq we were working as Christian missionaries. However, this was a little bit more than that because in 1991 we went to work in the refugee camp; just across the border with Southern Turkey. Because I had a medical background, we were called in to help Kurdish people. We were working there under the umbrella of a non-government organisation (NGO). We were called “Operation Mercy”. It was an amazing experience for me as a woman, mother and a Christian. It was extremely dangerous and we had high security protection by British and American soldiers, because of high sniper numbers around that particular area.
I had the privilege to work among many Kurdish women and getting to know them as women and as mothers. One of the biggest conclusions I personally made was – the human nature is the same, regardless of where you are. You have good people and you have bad people. The human nature is human nature, regardless of your upbringing, cultural background or personal beliefs.
These Kurdish women had such misfortune of losing their babies that were snatched away from them and killed by Saddam Hussein’s soldiers, just because Saddam didn’t like the Kurdish people. Some villages were just totally flattened and many mines were placed all around this part of Iraq. That is why we were guarded and protected all the time to avoid possible tragedy, again. What was horrific to comprehend was that the mines that were used against Kurds weren’t designed to kill, but to maim and cripple. We saw so many people with one arm or one leg. Just horrific!
When we arrived into the refugee camp, there were so many totally exhausted men, women and malnourished children; the overall overwhelming feeling of fear, fear personified. What was heart breaking was to see a mother holding in her hands an irreversibly dying baby.
I can only try to imagine that picture but I think it is impossible to imagine the feelings that you experienced there. How did you adjust and what made you strong enough to live there and be able to function in such a situation? – I asked.