Saturday, 27 August 2016

02/09/12: the first flight

When sorting through the last of my things and streamlining my digital records I stumbled upon this old piece of writing. It will be four years old next week! Which means, it's almost 4years to the day that I went to Nepal. Strange to think the Kathmandu I 'know' is now virtually non-existent; a reminder how of fleeting our time is and for me, that life is what you make of it - back then, I never would have thought I'd be the one flying a plane three years later, or that I'd travel the way I have recently or write a book. As Wham! (and my good friend L's pajamas) said; CHOOSE LIFE :)


Where have the last few weeks gone? I am writing this from Kathmandu, Nepal after what feels like the journey of a lifetime. I say lifetime because I can’t believe it’s less than 24hrs since I said bye to my Mum at the airport and felt so nervous that I considered ducking out of my trip and just going home again. At passport control I thought I was actually going to be sick! However, I reminded myself that my parents and home will one day be no longer, so I should just get on with looking after myself and not miss out on my chances whilst I have them. Never be left wondering “what if…” It’s such a cliché!
 In the build up to coming away I burned loads of paperwork as I don’t need it anymore. I also burned by diary as the life it held within it has long disappeared and the memories contained within it have served their purpose. I revisited times when I’d applied for the RTP…the Happy times I’d spent with my Mum, ex, friends, sad times I’d spent with certain people and very sad times when good friends died. All these little snapshots of life were contained in a little book. Snapshots taken at a time when I could not possibly have predicted where I’d be or what I’d be doing, despite all the planning and faith that went into engaging with those activities at the times of writing the diary. I saw so much of myself taking shape in that diary that it was both a proud and painful thing to read. But, whilst it was nice to read it and get perspective, I burned it because I think events which truly shape you as a person are those which don’t need prompts to jog the memory. There are certain trigger events in a person’s life which define them as a person, everything else is just minutiae detail in between to make links and fill gaps. For example, for me, the experience of getting on the plane and actually coming to Kathmandu is what’s shaping me. I honestly had not really thought this through…so it was a bit of a sudden shock on Friday to realise I was actually going and the reality of ‘the adventure’ set in. It’s still setting in now…the shops aren’t like England’s. The food is different. The weather and colours of the landscape are different. Everything’s different. 
There’s some loud music playing (Clapton I think?!) within the hotel somewhere…it’s been going on for an hour or so now and feels like I’m out clubbing rather than about to sleep! Now there’s a rumbling that sounds like a train going by making my bed vibrate. There are no trains nearby. That is the clearest way I can share my experience so far with you all – there is no quiet time, even when alone. I even wandered out the shower earlier thinking someone was actually in my room because the noise sounds so close and ‘on top of you’! Whilst it certainly is a culture shock, this may not be a negative thing. When I arrived at the hotel, the electricity wasn’t on so I had no lights etc…I lit some candles and burned some incense (just for good measure?) as I unpacked and sussed out the shower. It was instantly relaxing after the long journey, despite my frustration that I can’t have a cup of tea because the power adaptor won’t stay in the powerpoint! I was really looking forward to my tea and powdered milk.
The culture shock isn’t just in the way the people are (driving here is a REAL experience….one I have no intention of sampling!) but in the fact that I am so used to being able to just have things sorted. To be able to just do things at the time I want to do them. I don’t feel very comfortable with not having things that just ‘work’ at the moment. This is a huge difference in society though. At the airport in Kathmandu, someone had actually taken my luggage off the belt as if it was theirs and was about to go with it when I opened the little tag to show it was mine. I did think to myself that I’d have told the police or something if it had happened in England, but here, it’s just a given that people will try their luck to rob you! And they just get away with it…nobody cares. It’s this attitude which spoils Nepal a bit. I feel that if people are so desperate that they stop fearing the law, there’s a problem.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Fear, tribes and divides

Firstly, this is not the blog I thought I was going to write but it’s the one that ‘came out’.

Secondly, I still have a lot of thinking to do about this. My values are being challenged. I don’t believe there is ever a point where I will stop thinking about it, or that we should stop thinking about it.

Thirdly, I wish the continent would stop putting lemon in my tea and giving me black coffee; that is not tea, to me…

The first statues I noticed when arriving in Paris are above the Bercy bus station. They look African or Indo-European in style and are a line-up of people that I think, look quite scary. I can remember thinking that Paris clearly doesn’t care for beauty in its public art. A row of creepy looking figures made me feel a little on edge at first (though it had been a long night so perhaps they played on the over-tiredness too). I have considered whether I’d feel the same about a row of Classical themed Olympians, or maybe some mythical figures slaying antagonists but from my imagination, I don’t think I’d feel as on edge as I did when seeing these. Was it because I’m unfamiliar with the style? I know classicism. I know it so well I can imagine how I’d feel seeing things I’ve at some point, already seen but I can’t do that with the sharper, harsher lined style of these figures. Was I fearful because it’s something I’ve not encountered before? Is fearfulness a natural state in getting to know new things, new people, new ways that harks back to something evolutionary in us? If that’s the case, it has made me wonder if we should be accepting fear of each other as being ok to some extent.
Having spent years saying this is not ok, advocating open talk and no fear, that is a hard sentence to write, but psychologically people do fear the unknown whether that be upcoming situations, relations, emotions, surroundings, or people. For example, I feared rED the most at Glasgow last year. I feared even turning up because I couldn’t imagine the university or the people; at Carlisle, I was getting off the train. I felt threatened by the expectation. Fear isn’t just a feeling, it can drive our actions if we don’t embrace it as a process to go through rather than something to take hold. At Carlisle, I was ready to be sick. I used to be sick all the time with nerves - people can’t imagine the way my life used to be dominated by anxiety when you see me now; I used to go to out knowing I would be sick at some point, almost daily at one point. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I let fear take hold, instead of going through the process. I rejected the process in favour of what I knew; the safer option of being sick which would inevitably be a release and null the horrid cocktail that fight and flight can brew. There was no need for me to face any fear when I took sickness to be a state of normality.
How does this relate to people and current tensions? I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say fear is permeating public consciousness across Europe. When I look around - people watching - I see tribes. I see the fear that isn’t spoken, or maybe not even realised. I watch people in a variety of contexts gravitate towards what they already know, the friends they already have; the people like them. I have watched ethnic minorities struggle to get a seat on a bus because people don’t, or won’t, move their bags and witnessed the change in tone and atmosphere when groups of differing people are faced with each other. Communities are based on collective ideals and values, collective experiences, an overlap among collective identities. Maybe a focus on what isn’t in common is also needed if we are to diffuse the rumblings beneath the surface. Perhaps society chooses only to look for common ground then retreats if it isn’t found, instead of accepting the uncommon as valuable as well. If we talked about the uncommon, the knowledge would soon become common; the divides and fear of unknown would lessen.

When I met Melvin, a native Jamaican, on the way home from that beautiful island, I was utterly confused when he started talking at me in French.

I was confused because I speak no French. He was confused because I am not French. I was confused because he is Jamaican, not French. He was confused that I speak no other languages when Britain is supposed to have good schooling. We could’ve ended our interaction there, having discovered something that separates us and in that brief, inevitable moment of fear on whether to keep talking or not bother. Our introduction had just revealed our incorrect, stereotypical, unfounded assumptions. However, we kept talking. We swapped stories. He has led a very different life to me, and me to him; we became friends because the initial edginess of first meeting someone knew dissipates as you get to know them. We could’ve been offended by each other’s assumptions, worried that we are so different and assumed there would be no common ground, but considering we were leaving the same country, there would be common ground we just had to explore it! It is the same in neighbourhoods, cities, countries, anywhere; two people next to each other in the same space and time already have something in common. Fear is inevitable but when we let it drive our actions we miss out - I’d have one friend less if we’d have let the fear of *not* finding common ground outrun the belief that we would find some.

The British media feeds the fear and has, for a long time, helped keep society in a fixed state rather than a process. It has not reported responsibly, but there will be no reprimand. As an ethnic minority watching some of the bile that has been produced, it has made me angry. It evokes a ‘them and us’. A divide. Worse, it evokes a ‘the majority and what is known is better than the minority and what is unknown’. In doing this, a ‘majority’ is inevitably maintained; the self-fulfilling prophecy; overall, society (remainers and leavers…) tuns to the easier option of looking at each other through soundproofed glass houses instead of popping over to offer a cup of sugar and a chance to talk. We, as a society, choose not to get to know each other. We choose not to confront fear and instead have let it blanket us to this point. Collectively, we need to make a choice to learn about what we don’t know - all of us, no matter what group or background. We need to start valuing each other as individuals again, each with our own story.

I didn’t get off the train at Carlisle. I was very nearly sick, but not quite (thanks to Polos; some people use cigarettes, I use Polos). I didn’t get off because I remembered fear is natural. I endured the myriad of feelings I had to go through before settling down again. I recognised the unpleasant feelings and let them pass, let them go, focusing on the experience I’d have outweighing the one of going home. Some of my fear was based on assumptions and possibilities that one can never know or prove unless the experience is had. Fear doesn’t have to be a negative if you choose it not to be.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Some thoughts

I have struggled to think of anything to write on the referendum and the subsequent events that I've been watching from afar while travelling so generally, I've opted to say nothing. Part of this is fuelled by not wanting to get involved in debates - I don't feel there will be a consensus and for me, I've said this angst and open intolerance in society would happen for several years either in writing, presentations or in person. I have given up a lot of my time and my self to try and talk about this in Britain. My mind has had a busy week thinking about this, whether I want to or not, and I can't offer my thoughts without first eradicating the idea that anyone will read this and secondly without abdicating responsibility for a 'tight' or decent piece of writing. I have felt very down to see British politics fall apart the way that they have - farcically, without dignity and without integrity. Some may say the latter is a naive wish but I don't understand why people in power shouldn't have integrity; isn't that a key quality of good leadership?

So tonight, I will be a selfish writer and try to unjumble my mind vines.


1An authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.
1.1(In general use) extreme right-wingauthoritarian, or intolerant views or practices:this is yet another example of health fascism in action
Nearly 4 years ago to the day of the referendum I had a conversation with two people in which I stated that there were underlying tensions developing in society, dangerous ones, and that if we didn't start making a stand then (educationally speaking) these tensions would grow into civil unrest. Now here we are, four years later at the point I saw in my head at the time but couldn't communicate well enough for people to understand. I feel a failure for that. I shouldn't, it's irrational and ridiculous - arrogant to an extent. I feel that if I couldn't engage people who actually know me in a conversation then I have no right to feel disappointed or annoyed that we as a society are at this point now; could've done more, didn't do enough or didn't do it the right way. If each of us who believe facism is rising focused on the little changes we could make perhaps the force of this wave could be eased.
 Looking at the definition of facism above is scary. It's a word people are familiar with yet we don't associate it with Britain and our politics because it's also closely linked with extremist regimes and Nazism, and Britain wouldn't do a mass genocide or be racist, would it? Yet when I am discussing my role as a teacher and recent events with fellow travellers, all are shocked that we teach 'Modern British Values' in schools and ask me why it's termed British (I have no answer but it leads me to the fascist route). Being of Indian and English/Scottish/N Irish origins, I cannot understand how my values differ to make them uniquely British - being born in Britain didn't form my ideas of how I should behave or why, my parents did. My family's input taught me to respect the law, be democratic, welcome and take an interest in other people regardless of culture, colour or background/status (this is the bit Britain terms tolerance; I term it 'enjoy people'). From what I can see, MBV implies societies values are under threat and need reaffirming, but from who? And, if the values we are now imparting/promoting in schools (doesn't Ofsted say promoting?) are those which were decided by 'a unknown' and without any input from the people of the country, how is that not a fascist agenda? Shouldn't something like that be democratic? People often point the finger at South Korea or China when they think of dictatorships but the imparting of how people should behave/think along with the traditional stance to education makes Britain seem quite similar when I'm discussing it with my traveller friends. The main difference is we can all vote in Britain but they can't. They said in China the leader is decided by the other people in power and then the people just accept it. So, if there is not going to be an election for who will take over leadership of the Tories from Cameron, how are we so different to a dictatorship? Surely, these are elements of a fascist regime in place.
 I have come to think that PREVENT and Modern British Values are not about protecting children or preserving national identity but about creating one; one where only 'pure' British looking, sounding people belong. I actually wrote a poem about this fours years ago about whether you could hear the sound/of the beating drums. I don't have it with me but the gist is the drums of an army mobilising are in the distance; they're beginning to march. In the last three years we have witnessed Go Home vans (brainchild of Theresa May) driven around London and commissioned by government, the step into English education of what we as teachers should do to help 'keep the country safe' and I think there were also changes to the citizenship test as well, which asks crazy questions out of context and when my Mum (who tutored for it) spot checked me on it, I failed straight away. The motto of the leave campaign was "we want our country back" - who is the we? who does the our refer to? And by country, which one? Shouldn't it be kingdom rather than country? Oh, and back from whom/what? Five words yet so many questions! I wonder if I wouldn't mind this campaign as much if it was actually direct and clear about what it stood for instead of alluding and talking as if there's a spectre somewhere that can be interpreted differently by any individual. In that way, I find it divisive and strategic in manipulating people and perceptions.

Finally, when I see people debating the referendum what I see is not debating but groups of people shouting louder to advocate their stances. It makes me wonder how many activists a society should have before that becomes a negative. If we all shout, and nobody listens, like toddlers we eventually exhaust ourselves and collapse in a heap without anyone getting the outcome they were calling for - that's not to say we shouldn't protest the things we passionately disagree with - values aren't static - but I think we should not define ourselves as people by the way that each person voted. As I've seen mentioned on Twitter, both campaigns lied and manipulated but as I've also seen the onus for pointing out the lies is in the opposing campaigns as well as on voters to seek out clearer information or think critically. If we now find ourselves as a society in a position where we've all lost our say, an element of control, our value as citizens in some form, then we need to look back at the events - subtle as they may be, all matter - and look at whether we, as a united society regardless of voting sway, are going to call for a consequence to such a shambles from our politicians on the global stage or whether we accept outright lies as acceptable - if we accept claims like the EU money being used for the NHS suddenly being dismissed as 'just a mistake/shouldn't have said that' the next day, making a joke of it and turning to each other to condemn how unprofessional that is, we as a society will reap what we sow.