Monday, 31 December 2012

Graceful departure: when it’s time to cross the bridge

For Betty, safe crossing...

A Guyanese proverb reads “never cuss alligator till you done cross bridge.” It warns against condemning something until you’re certain it is no longer useful, or that it no longer has need of you. Year end is perfect for self-reflection and contemplating new ventures and opportunities. Sometimes reflections are suddenly forced on us because we failed to read the signs sooner. Perhaps we read them but were reluctant to take new steps; to turn off the current road where the tarmac had long needed resurfacing. I share the following consideration about the current state of academia as part of my year end reflections.

Pursuing my degrees was meant to expand the relatively poor education I received at school and provide better employment opportunities. I didn’t plan it but multiple degrees usually imply a natural career in teaching at university. However, I’ve been feeling disillusioned with academia for some time. As I wander through the corridors of London Met, I can’t help feeling unhinged and thus tempted to “cuss the alligator.” The Caribbean Studies no longer exists – neither do History, Philosophy and Performing Arts. How can this be? In a university with the largest number of black and minority ethnic students across the UK, the Caribbean Studies Department made sense. On the History pathway, students had the chance to study Black British History – but only a privilege (probably white) will now have the chance to study any form of History at University level. The “bridge” has curved over my path, I must now earnestly face the question – do I still have need of alligator?

As a teacher, even if your position is marginal, you convince yourself that you’re at least “giving back,” and hoping to inspire generations who like you come from non-traditional backgrounds and are the first and maybe the last members of their families to go to university. Such students need extra support, sensitive teaching and consistent guidance. You pride yourself in the ability (earned from experience) to deliver lessons that would not merely benefit basic educational needs but also encourage students to consider how they might contribute to their society when they leave. Some wont make it – not because they are incapable but they need serious, consistent support and they will invariably take longer to “self-actualise.” You hope too that you’re part of an environment committed to producing “critical thinkers” who will challenge the destructive or outmoded practices and then find creative ways of transforming their society.

These well meaning efforts now seem sentimentalised. Stripped of the funding necessary to run courses in Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, institutions like London Met are forced to churn out training courses. Quality of the student experience and “higher learning” are compromised. Vocational training is necessary and for some, as it was for me, it can be the pathway to Higher Education. However an educational system exposed to market forces, as the government has now condemned it to be will only produce “drones” and breed the corruption evident in any business (or “for-profit”) environment. How will students respond? As Andrew Mcghettigan and others argue “students will be misled to put a price tag on everything they read and write. The intellectual freedom and critical autonomy of the individual, which democratic nations have sought to develop for centuries will be irreparably damaged.” (See paper 'Putting Vision Back into Higher Education: A Response to the Government White Paper'). I would add to this that students will also put a “price tag” on their teachers; they will expect more spoon-feeding, whilst doing and thinking less. But this is not the future, this is current reality.

It must be time to “cuss the alligator.” The government has been clear about its position on education - a legacy of previous conservative governments -: privatisation of Higher Education. An elite will receive the best educational experience and will largely not feel inclined to give back anything. The majority will scramble for scraps and pay extortionately for the “privilege,” as privilege it will be. In the market place of education the government doesn’t care about “weak institutions” like London Met. Indeed its policies are intentionally designed to weaken them further.

London Met’s reputation, perhaps since the merger in 2002 (which saw the start of redundancies and departmental trimmings), has been under agonising pressure. Its weakness lay in its diverse student body – though this was once its strength and the herald of “widening participation.” In August this year, the government’s vicious move to reduce immigration targeted this particular university because of its “weakness.” The signs are not veiled.

The Tower building is the stamp of the Holloway Road Campus. The “Tower” is also the 16th card in the Tarot divination system. The image on the card is of a building cataclysmically torn down, with fire spiralling from the top and two figures plunging to earth. Whether they have chosen to jump or were evicted by the intensity of the flames is not clear. Horrifically, in August just before the UKBA’s decision to remove London Met’s “Highly Trusted Status” a member of staff plunged to his death from the Tower Building. Like many who remain despite the gloominess and “flames” he had been at the University for 20 years. Why he did it is not clear but one might regard this as symbolic of imminent demise for the University. Interpretation of the symbols when the 16th Tarot card is drawn would naturally be personal. However, if we’re all in the burning Tower do we perform a collective weeping in the hope our tears will amass enough water to out the flames?

Crossroads are inevitable in every life. They force us to make choices. Spiritual aspirants are not daunted by this, but accept that these choices help to align us with our Divine purpose. We can’t always see over the bridge, which would give us certainty of what new experiences lay there. But our lives are more than a hamster wheel existence. And if we must take a lonely leap from the Tower at least this is an act of self-determination where it might yet be possible to find new alligators.

Shout Out
December 2012

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Affirming Thanks

To the Creative Life Force
Which directs my Divine Path, I give thanks:

Thanks for my light and life
My health and my peace of mind
Thanks for love, beauty and abundance.

I give thanks for guidance, wisdom and understanding
This trinity of spiritual elevation

I give thanks for present and absent family
My beautiful friends with whom I have shared this journey
Who have been patient with me, who have loved me and been true to me.
I give thanks for new friends who bless me with renewed wisdoms and understanding.

I give thanks for the many challenges that enable me to be more disciplined and purposeful in my life.

Thank you for the heart that courageously embraces every experience good and bad. I give thanks for the ability to turn misery to laughter and dismantle the mountain of negativity.

I am blessed by my interaction with the forces of nature. Through this I struggle to read the signs that direct me along the path of liberation. I am in tune with the rhythm of the seasons.
The moon does not make me mad. She is my great mother and I honor her. The sun guides me. Through him I am successful. I overcome my negative impulses and shine.

I give thanks for my open-heartedness and willingness to receive new ideas. I am not afraid to open the door of my subconscious where hidden truths abide.

In my dreams I run and win races.
I climb stairs and do not tire. I will one day master flight.
In my dreams I pick and eat the sweetest fruits. Some fall at my feet from overbearing trees.
I eat freshly baked bread. I waltz through great halls, attending sumptuous banquets where a seat is secured for me. My place there has been earned.

I am not watcher but maker and participant too. I share my wisdoms with anyone who searches like me.
I accept that there is a Divine Plan, moulded by Divine Law.
I AM not afraid that I AM part of it. I do not fear who I AM.
I recognise that here the Power is. And it is mine – now and always.

Through my Will I express this Power.
I champion the Wisdom of Tehuti, without which I have no meaning.
I am completely blessed and suffused with perfect Understanding. Through this I am guided.

My steps are ever certain and climbing towards liberation
From doubt, fear, ill-feelings and indiscipline.

Justice is my visible shield for I do not sacrifice the collective good will for individual grandeur and fortune.
Beauty is engraved on my heart. For beauty has a soul that extends its force to my life.

I uphold her Truth and know that I am Victorious. The expression of beauty is my desire for temperance, equality and freedom for all. All receive and freely give. All are rich; all share in the great, unlimited supply.

I chant to the eternal light. This prevailing splendour that channels me and restores my confidence, borning me new from the shadows that aim at my Soul.

I give thanks for the grace and love of Oshun, my muse. My heart is glad it found you. Het-Heru resides there too, driving me to that destiny with Ausar.

My ancestors keep me rooted to my purpose. In every experience they reveal themselves to me; their brooms sweep my path. They are the pillars of assurances and I never forget their perfecting rhythm. I drink wine and eat wholesome food in honour of them.For my body is the chamber of spirit and I respect it.
I nurture it with good thinking and being. I adorn it with the spirit of humility, compassion, joy and love. I nourish it with beauty and grace. I charge it with courage and confidence to champion the rise of Heru and the Power of Ausar.
Without wisdom for which my spirit ever yearns my divinity is vanity alone.

My path has long been designed. I ask only to remember, to give thanks and be guided by the exacting melody of Wisdom.

Shout Out

Top image - credited to D'bi Young (from her facebook)

Friday, 31 August 2012

Linden: "Touch One Touch All"

“Dear land of Guyana
Of Rivers and Plains
Made rich by the sunshine
And lush by the rains
Set gem-like and fair
Between mountains and sea
Your children salute
Dear land of the free...”

From Guyanese National Anthem

As a young girl I loved singing these words from our Guyanese anthem. I didn’t at the time understand their meaning. I simply thought them beautiful. I can’t remember at what age I came to know that the indigenous name “Guiana” means “land of many waters.” And there is a lot of rain and a number of rivers, chiefly Demerara, Berbice and Essequibo. In 2010 I realised my dream of visiting Kaieteur, one of Guyana’s many waterfalls – and yet unrealised source of hydro electricity.

“Mountains and plains” – were pretty words for imagined spaces. Its “gems?” The reality of Guyana’s vast resources would not be properly understood by me until my return some fifteen years after I left. It was at this time also that I saw for the first time the impressive landscape of Guyana. I travelled to the interior - to Aishalton on an army truck; to Bartica on a speedboat sailing along the Mazuruni; to the North West (Matthews Ridge) on a trawler. I bathed in the coffee black waters; I listened to a Wapishana family sing about their love of the Rupunnuni (area in the South) and of the Kanaku Mountain. I slept in a hammock underneath the brightest moon and stars, feeling a kind of oneness with nature. Mosquitoes didn’t terrorise nor scar me, though they are plentiful in the countryside at night, particularly during the rainy season. I did not see anyone being swallowed whole by anacondas as the stories I’d listened to before travelling had suggested would happen, given the “jungle” Guyana is.

This freedom and privilege to appreciate the landscape of the country where I was born provided me with something I had been missing and which had caused me to feel depressed and unsure of my place in Britain. I felt rooted to this place. Here lay my foundation, the beginning of the self I would live my life trying to actualise. It is from this place I expressed into “being.” This sense of being rooted, of knowing my foundation gave me some confidence when I returned to London (actually Scotland where I was living/studying at the time). I say “privilege” because I was able to save money to explore some of Guyana when I went back. My cousins who had remained almost in a kind of time capsule had never travelled into the interior, let alone “outside” of Guyana. For this reason some of them challenged me when I asserted that Guyana was the size of Britain. They didn’t have a thorough sense of Guyana’s size, beauty and resources. This formed part of the reason for their desire to go “outside” – London, Barbados, Canada, US - anywhere “outside”. This desire was otherwise based on the association of Guyana with poverty, the conception of “outside” with opportunity and prosperity.

So beside the beauty and immenseness of the landscape, the richness of the soil at one time earning Guyana the title of “foodbasket” of the Caribbean; the vastness of its natural resources –gold, diamonds and significantly bauxite, I was left with an intense impression of poverty. It is this contradiction that manifested in the slaughter by police of three men, Shemroy Bouyea, Ron Somerset and Allan Lewis on 18th July this year. I was born into this poverty. The poverty I experienced as a child when my aunt and uncle were parenting us (my siblings and I) as well as their own children. My uncle worked for the bauxite company in Linden. Whether or not he was part of a union I can’t say but when he died there was no pension to meet the needs of his family. By this time I had been shipped to London to “join” my mother. Our migration was bitterly resented by my cousins who saw this as our privileged route out of poverty. For there was no other way to conceptualise Linden – its bauxite deposits, considered one of the world’s largest still, did not amount to economic freedom for its people. Instead it remained a “small mining” town. “Small” confers the status of permanent underdevelopment despite the vast amount of bauxite extracted by the hands of changing companies.

Imagine living in a town which came into being for the purpose of enriching foreign investors? The miners and their families cannot realise any kind of economic advancement because this is not the objective for this community. I didn’t connect my bronchitis and other respiratory problems with the fact that I started my life in Linden, where the oppressive bauxite dust spewing out from the mines was part and parcel of living in the “mining town.” If I suffer with these complaints, how more severe would it be for the workers, daily risking their health/lives so that their families can eat and have a home? These are not luxuries. They are basic human needs. Any society that cannot ensure that such basic needs are met is anti-human. Any state that does not protect its citizens from exploitation by corporations has misunderstood their function as representative of the people. Thus it is that in Guyana our bauxite has been controlled by foreign companies who have never acted in the best interest of the miners/workers and the people of Guyana.

This blatant violation of the people’s civil liberties goes unchallenged by the present regime. Our eyes are focussed on Linden, where bauxite is extracted by Chinese owned company BOSAI. However, the High Court is still investigating an ongoing dispute since May 2011 between BCGI (Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated) a subsidiary of Russian-owned RUSAL and the GB GWI (Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union). An arbitration meeting was scheduled for March this year, but the company manager and lawyer failed to show up. The original dispute was not merely about low wages but also air conditioning in trucks as well as a request for an emergency vehicle to transport injured workers to the nearest hospital in Kwakwani, 16 miles outside of the mining area. The company agreed the concessions at first, but reneged claiming that the Union had induced the strike, had caused it to lose US$290,000 and had trespassed onto their property during the two day strike. Notice that the company’s first preoccupation is with its losses.

Similarly, President Ramotar in his insensitive, callous letter to the people of Linden following the massacre by the police of the three men and the injuring of several others, including elderly, women and children is mainly concerned with damages to property. He is so concerned by the “great hardships”, the “pain”, “difficulties” and “grief” the people experienced following the killings it took him nearly one month to visit and speak with the community. He claims that it is the “organisers of the blockades that are hurting Linden and causing deep suffering” but shamelessly fails to notice that their suffering is the result of his Government’s hike in electricity rates – of 800% in a community with high unemployment. There is no sincerity in his letter for the people – for in it he also writes that “BOSAI is also being hurt.” How so? What is BOSAI really doing for the people of Linden? How is their presence really improving the economic independence of the country? How are BOSAI and BCGI improving the quality of life for the people of the communities from which they extract exorbitant wealth to develop their respective economies and their individual interests? RUSAL is considered the world’s largest producers of aluminium and alumina (comes from bauxite). Yet they quibble over giving workers a fair wage for their labour and protection whilst they conduct their work in the hostile mining environment. This is the sickening realities of profit driven motive. It must always violate the basic needs of human beings. Without this it cannot maintain its leadership in global financial indices.

When I lived in Guyana we were poor. My aunt recycled breadfruit in a number of our meals because we had several trees. I find the fruit unpalatable now. When I returned fifteen years later, my family were still poor. The house I grew up in, situated on a hill in Silvertown had deteriorated; its roof made of zinc sheets was full of holes, my family still used a latrine as they couldn’t afford a flushing toilet. The roads – well these were always tracks with potholes sometimes too large for cars to drive through. 10 years later my family are poorer still – though there is now a flushing toilet, thanks to remissions from myself and other family abroad; the roads are not improved. Everyone has to hustle. What they make from their creative ways to survive is supplemented by the remissions they receive from family “outside.” This was the case over thirty years ago and nothing has changed.

Of course this poverty is restricted to the general population. Everyone knows Ramotor’s government is corrupt, fuelling drugs through the country – which explains his concerns about the protesters “blockading of roads.” When I was there two years ago there were curiously a number of large hotels, some with swimming pools which I was told are built from drug money. Lots of hotels but no tourists to fill them, but the money must be pumped into something to give the illusion of economic advances. We know too that the government is responsible for the deaths of nearly 500 Africans during its 20 years in office. But race politics, though the PPP would like us to focus on it is not the most pressing issue. It is capitalist exploitation that ensures Ramotar and his predecessor Jagdeo can live opulently, signing contracts with foreign companies that perpetuate Guyana’s underdevelopment – despite its being “gem-like and fair.”

And herein is the brilliance of Walter Rodney’s analysis in his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Underdevelopment in Africa is consequent to development in Europe – that the phenomenon of underdevelopment is “comparative.” One of its features is “exploitation” of one country by another. Rodney is clear when he identifies underdevelopment as a “product of capitalist, imperialist and colonialist exploitation” (p.22). This is the legacy of countries/economies like Guyana and those of Africa where so called “Western Democracy” is the order. Countries controlled by “capitalist powers” deprive “societies of the benefit of their natural resources and labour” (p.22). That is the nature of underdevelopment being perpetuated in Guyana by the PPP Civic regime under the guise of good governance.

That too is the nature of the transgression and betrayal by the ANC government of Azania (South Africa) where 44 miners were brutally massacred by the police in Marikana earlier this month. President Zuma has not condemned this cold blooded action by the police against the workers legitimately striking for increased pay. The only “clarity” he needs to see is that he has betrayed his people; that he is paying the price of selfish, individualistic leadership motivated by profit over people. The state apparatus has illogically charged 270 workers involved in the strike with murder, not only of their fellow workers but of two policemen – Zuma’s response? Silence. The spectre of Apartheid looms but worse than this is that big companies like the British owned Lonmin hold countries to ransom, are given licence by governments not only to treat workers inhumanely but to perpetuate underdevelopment within African countries and elsewhere in the so called “developing world.”

I repeat Lonmin is a British owned company, like RUSAL commanding trillions whilst paying pittance to workers daily risking their lives in the mines. The company’s response to the workers demand for a fair wage to feed, clothe and shelter their family (basic needs) is to shoot them down like hunted animals. For they know that ANC has no power over Lonmin – it is Lonmin and other multi-national corporations that own the country. They know that they can manipulate the country’s laws to get away with murder – for whose laws are they? Lonmin knows that despite these murders and inhumane treatment of workers there will be no intervention by the UK to ensure justice is served to the workers because their actions/motivations are underpinned by those other veritable forces – imperialism, capitalism and neo-colonialism. The company and its home country are upheld by these systems.

Comparisons can be made between what’s happening in Linden and Marikana with other countries in Africa. In Sierra Leone a woman was killed during a protest at the Tonkolili mines. Again in another area in Sierra-Leone, the people of Lunsar Town do not benefit from the extractions of iron ore by the London Mining Company. What are these sought after benefits? “jobs, good schools, roads, hospitals and a youth training centre, among others so they and generations after them would benefit from their minerals” (1). Whilst the people struggle to meet these basic needs with hundreds abysmally suffering from cholera in 2012, the President Ernest Koroma siphons billions of their currency (Leonnes) on erecting multiple Hollywood Boulevard style mansions.

Words and phrases like “plagued”, “beleaguered”, “tortured history”, “conflict minerals”, “atrocities”, “violence” are enshrined in the distressing reality of the Democratic Republic of the Congo whose immense natural resources continue to be a curse rather than advancing the economic conditions of its people. The lust for Africa’s natural wealth persists in the “finding” of two large diamonds by the Australian diamond company Lonrho Mining. This company, not the people of Northeasern Angola will benefit from this “dazzling” discovery. The impression is that this will “brighten” the future of Angola. But for me warning bells resound when we know that the Lulo project which enabled the discovery “operates as a joint venture between Lonrho and the Angolan government-owned Endiama”(2,my italics).

The killings in Linden by the police have forced me to make these connections of its underdevelopment with countries throughout Africa. The oppression, poverty, exploitation and slaughtering of workers in the world is underpinned by greed and shameless profiteering. The “freedom” hailed in the national anthem is an illusion because the country and its people are blighted by deliberate impoverishment. I have not forgotten this poverty out of which I emerged into the world. It is this that has shaped who I am; forged my connectivity with the struggles of Africans and other dispossessed people and inspired my commitment to Pan-Africanism. Our struggle in Guyana is not simply against racism as some would have us exert our energies fighting, it is for an economic system that will benefit all, not just a few of our people. Until such time that this system is achieved murder by any state officials must not deter the people from their natural right to protest.

(1) ( sierra-leone/)

Monday, 2 July 2012

Opening and closing Pandora’s Box

Its run at the Arcola Tent ended on May 26th but the success of Ade Solanke’s Pandora’s Box no doubt means there’ll be further opportunities to see it. Positive reviews ensured the nomination for the Best New Play for the ‘Off West End Play Awards.’ Powerful performances by the cast, each confidently and superbly owning their part also credited the play’s success. Smooth scene shifts and timings ensured the audience experienced complementary doses of humour and seriousness without need of intermission. The character (Baba) played by Olatunji Sotimirin commanded our attention with his at once comedic and critical commentary about contemporary Lagos as an alternative to London to where many Nigerians (and other diasporans) still aspire for prosperity.

Reviews of the play have focussed on the tough decisions mothers/parents have to make about their children’s education and supporting them to realise their potential. The Play’s backcover features Dianne Abott describing the added complexity of race and culture that impact the educational choices made by black parents. And it’s true – the play is ‘poignant’ but I don’t think for only the reasons these reviews highlight. My latterday consideration is not intended as a further review. But despite the reconciliatory embrace by mother (Mama Ronke, susan Aderin) and aggrieved daughter (Sis Ronke, Yetunde Oduwole) at the end I left with a nagging sensation that there was a further layer of complexity that wasn’t the play’s focus but I feel need to be addressed. Overstretching myself meant that I didn’t have time to do it earnestly after seeing the play and thought the feeling might go away. Though it has been over a month the sensation hasn’t left me so I’ll use this Shout to see if I can release it.

Deep down we want the happy ending, to believe that we can embrace away emotional trauma. Opening Pandora’s box – evoking untold histories, hurt, trauma – in this case the misery and memory of a mother’s decision to leave her eldest daughter behind when she journeys to London. The mother’s reason for so doing? Economic freedom – to study in London which she hoped would ensure a better life for her family. The fact that Mama Ronke felt it necessary to leave Nigeria and go to England subtly reminds us of the manacles of colonialism and imperialism at the heart of the search by many Africans for economic opportunities elsewhere. Many of us in the Diaspora know this story. Let me rephrase– many of us can relate to the trauma of this story – hence the poignancy spoken about earlier. While many of us can relate to the trauma, very few have experienced reconciliatory release from it.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that the audience were urging the second generation mother, Toyin (Anna-Maria Nabirye) to repeat the history in reverse. The play centred on her making the decision to leave her son (Timi, Bradley John) in Nigeria where she too hoped for a better life for him, away from the perils of London’s streets - a particular reality for African boys. Before the discovery that Timi has posted images of him posing with a gun on Facebook, I sense that the audience had already concluded that a better chance - not simply of life - but of staying alive might be experienced in Nigeria albeit with the militant Principal Osun (Ben Onwukwe) at a prestigious boarding school where discipline and learning are strictly enforced. It could be said that my surprise at the audience wasn’t warranted – for a boy’s life was in question. We had been given the context of friends who had been killed in London. There was another youth experiencing the rigours of the boarding school (Tope, Damson Idris) and though missing the materialisms of London street life and the closeness with his mother, he was advancing his studies, mastering a new language and embracing his ancestral traditions. So if Timi’s life could be spared and he could advance himself culturally, educationally and socially with a few accommodating lashings – then what’s the issue.

Yes – his life might be spared and he could emulate the success of his aunt (Sis Ronke) but the nagging sensation, which I think highlights the play’s poignancy is that Timi might never experience the mother/son reconciliation that the play projects between Mama Ronke and her daughter. The play serves therefore to challenge many of us who are burdened with this traumatic consequence of our mother/parents’ decision to leave us behind.

Sis Ronke is bitter. She’s jealous too of her younger sister Toyin (born in England) who had the opportunity to grow up and bond with her mother in a way clocks cannot rewind to make possible for Ronke. Nor can Mama-Ronke’s box of stored-up dresses and dolls she hoped to send for her daughter. At least for a time that’s how the play engaged us – that there was no imminent reconciliation between mother and daughter. But the play was not pitched as a tragedy – it was placing experiences and perhaps in satisfying the quest for catharsis and healing it provided a vision of reconciliation.

But I wondered about those hushed up sensitive experiences that many of us endured when we were left behind – or in some cases were the reasons why we might have been sent back or sent away – anywhere where the ‘problem’ might also go away. Very few families in the Diaspora have been spared this familial disruption which has caused and continues to be the cause of major rifts between its members. Siblings permanently vexed with one another because one or two thought the other/s had it (everything) better because they had mummy and daddy or mostly mummy; mummy sticking hard-heartedly to her reasons for leaving without credible consideration about the consequential trauma experienced by sons and daughters. In my experience fathers often escape the emotional tussling in this family drama. When I speak here it’s directly about my mother’s decision to leave me behind, which is not to absolve my father of his share in that responsibility. That I’ve elsewhere addressed.

But what is this ‘problem’ I’ve alluded to. When some of us are walking with the misery of our mother’s leaving us behind it’s because we are trying to come to terms with the reality that we were unprotected from the so called uncles and aunties who preyed on us sexually and levelled all kinds physical abuses against us. There was no one to talk to about it – brother or sister was enduring their own tortures (if they were left behind with us) and too scared and too young to protect you. I know this isn’t everyone’s experience – at least not the abuse – but the feeling of being ‘abandoned,’ left to the possible wiles of relatives or ‘family friends’, developing the sense that your mother/father never loved you or that they preferred the London born sibling/s is source of the pain those children left behind have stored up.

At some critical moment in our lives we might feel urged to speak to our mother (after being granted our indefinite leave to join them and remain in England) about these abuses but what might be their response. Do their eyes meet ours and say “sorry” or express some understanding of what we’re trying to explain to them? Do they - like Mama Ronke express that they left us for the best possible reasons? Do their eyes mostly shift in disbelief and some kind of measurable portion of shame? Shame that their trusted relative, brother, sister, sometimes mother took this unspeakable advantage of their child. Unfortunately that mother’s memory might evermore deny them the critical objectivity to say they left because it was opportune – not necessarily for betterment but wickedly for fashion. In other words the Joneses were doing it so like them I wanted to touch down in London, become graceful and look down my nose at the unfortunates left behind. And in that vainglorious scurry to clean up London’s streets I didn’t contemplate what possible harm I was subjecting my baby girl/boy to. Again – this will not be everyone’s experience. My point is that sometimes the reasons our mothers/parents made the decision to migrate to London have nothing to do with the search for economic freedom – not seriously – but it was at the time ‘en vogue.’

When faced with the reality that you suffered abuse as a consequence they might force some kind of rational explanation for making the decision. Sis Ronke’s life is successful but who does she thank for it - her mother? Nigeria? Her grandmother whom she remained with? Herself? And if her life was not measurably successful who would she blame for this? Her mother? Her sibling/s? Her abusers? For how long will she adulterate this trauma? For ever? Or will she find a way to take charge of her life and recognise that she is alive; she has survived; she is the maker of her own opportunities, that she is in command of the directions she wishes her life to take - that ultimately clocks wind forward.

Whatever way we imagine or interpret our mother/parent’s decision to leave us behind we need to reach a conclusion (the closing of “Pandora’s box”) that will release the long-held trauma. It’s likely to be the cause of many unfathomable disputes between us and other members of our family. We might hope for our mother/parents to say it was a mistake, but I’m not sure that would give us satisfaction. We might dream they would believe us that we suffered abuse and then perhaps confront our abusers but their shame and sense that they failed us might remain unexpressed; except for those rare moments when it leaps from their eyes or juts from their mouths in some sudden attack on us because they do not understand that secret pain at the back of our eyes.

One thing we must avoid is conscientiously and steadfastly holding that decision against our mother/parents. We must try, however difficult, to position ourselves in their place. If self righteously we feel we would never leave our children behind perhaps we should contemplate Toyin’s dilemma. We cannot be too confident about what will force us to make certain choices but when questioned by our conscience and our children we will need to say that at the time we made the decision it was in the best interest of our family. We need to be able to embrace our child and say softly “darling if I’ve wronged you it was not my intention.” We need to simply say sorry when we see that hurt in our child’s eye because they may never find a way to speak of the reasons why your leaving them was so painful. The decision may have been sound for you, but the consequences unbearable for your child. Reconciliation works in multiple ways. If entered into with the desire to be free of festering experiences there is no lonely winner; all are relieved and perhaps then the lid of our Pandora’s box will be slowly and gently closed.

Shout Out

Monday, 30 April 2012

As Bright as the Morning Rising

She is waiting
as all ancients do
till time turns
her borning
and vibrating
from flame
from fire
a nascent beat returning
and unbounded

Struggle is the
Particular shade of
Black and earth brown
Bolding her eyes
Chains the grooves
Weaving her skin
Revolution sounds
Her heart

She is coming
Earth Rendered and
Hurt healing so
deep scarred but

Embleming beauty
Her poised lips
Withholding herstories
And ours
An untrained sensuality
Lain long and alone
In the silent memory
of womb

She is rising
Like potent prayers
Bellowed from belly
From soul
To the hearts
Of Goddesses

Oh but she comes
With that graceful gift
of sweetly sown
and brings not simple hope
But Truth
Spirited from the
bosom of eternity
mothering fathering
life not wars

She is rising
Spirit catching
She is rising
With the
tenderest light
beaming her face

she is dawning
scenting rain
sounding something
a long time lost
but now made new
blazoning heart
stirring spirits
sunning fresh
blades and resplendent
perfecting paths
of unencountered journeys

She is rising
Sacred power
And I chant
In the hidden secrecies
Of her eyes
And I cry
for unity
And I call
For unfolding mysteries
That will take us there
To the perfecting of peace
she is coming
sounding from her heart
the subtle untangling of keys.

Top Artwork by Fowokan "As Bright as the Morning Rising"
Poem - Michelle Yaa Asantewa

Second Art Work - a portrait of my mum by my niece Leah.
Photo - Yaa in nubiance.

Take a tour of Fowokan's website where the poem is featured.

Saturday, 31 March 2012


Where do we go when pressures become too much, when burdens seem more than our fair share? What happens when we fall? Who do we blame if not ourselves for our confident stride into stumbling blocks? And why were we not able to perceive those blatant boulders ahead of us which others could easily identify and steer clear from? How do we process the experiences of a significant moment in our spiritual/personal development so that we can know – not merely believe that everything, good or bad, happens for a reason?

‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are like two heads of the one coin. Some one might divine that ‘tales you win’, or ‘heads you win’, another might divine that ‘tales you lose’, ‘heads you lose’. They are quite arbitrary. The Pendulum (another means of divining) swings any which way as a means of directing a serious query. This means that any energy force the Pendulum accesses will provide answers for deeply probed questions – by tapping into recent or distant experiences that are troubling us. In trying to respond to the above questions, I’d like to contemplate the significance of the ‘Death’ and ‘Tower’ Tarot divination cards, as well as ‘The Crucifixion’, ‘Death’ and ‘Resurrection’ of Jesus Christ.

There is a physical certainty or temporal reality that most of us fear. As sure as we are alive, confident, youthful, happy, prosperous, arrogant, proud, hurt/hurting, doubtful, wise, humble, wicked, good, healthy, poor and so forth, we are going to die. So why do we fear death? If we were suffering from a debilitating illness which was severely hampering our life, most of us would prefer to live in that condition rather than call on Death to relieve us. For we know or rather we believe that where there is life there is hope of a miracle, and that belief sustains us. And so it should. Hope is, after all, connected to faith. The trouble with hope (and not faith), however, is that it is a lullaby – it lulls us into the belief in a positive outcome. And as a lullaby it does not endure. Faith on the other hand is a certainty, an assuredness - complete knowing that a positive outcome is inevitable. Knowing what is and what is to come makes us feel secure. But although we know that death will come, we do not know what death is, so we fear it.

In Tarot the Death card is not the final one. It comes way before the end of the 22 major cards and is numbered 13. In Tarot, Death represents transition, the necessity of movement by going through (experiencing) a period of darkness. Death is both necessary and re-warding. It rewards the spiritual pursuant with a new phase of life by necessarily demolishing those aspects of life that are inhibiting our journey. The point that death is a period of darkness alludes to the image of death as a door painted black, which once opened brings new light and thus regenerates a new cycle of life.

Here’s a brief outline of the Tower card. It will likely depict a broken/cracked tower -perhaps the top is on fire or being struck by lightning. A person or people are falling from the Tower; they might be naked as they fall. It is a dramatic expulsion and to me seems more frightening than the skull or skeleton of the Death card. I mean by this that there’s no indication of where the person or people are going to land when they fall. In fact it seems hardly as if they are falling, but as if they have been abruptly, brutally evicted, pushed, thrust from the tower without any chance of being rescued. On the contrary, the Death card is more settled, the matter has been decided, there is no state of limbo.

The Tower represents those things (ideas, concepts) that we believe in – our worldview. These are the things we feel we know that are the strong blocks of our foundation, they are our guiding principles in some cases; we love them, we value them we hold them dear to us. The Tower, the physical make up, is a fixed placed, and appears to be enduring (towers are usually old), as they are constructed with bricks. Bricks are used to build the foundation for houses. We have built our own Tower, though sometimes we find ourselves woefully trapped in someone else’s tower. (Perhaps, I shouldn’t say trapped, but we may have willingly taking up position – rooting – ourselves there.)

Now imagine if the foundation of your house were not merely to crack (which might be fixable) but dismantle completely. What would be your response? You might reflect on the unheeded warnings (the surmountable cracks that were hurriedly patched up) or you might feel that there were no such signs and that the collapse was sudden and unforeseen. Either way your foundation will have to be rebuilt. Would you reclaim and reuse the old bricks to rebuild it or would you go in search (reflecting on self) to find new bricks (ideas, concepts, knowledges) to rebuild your new foundation? If you choose to find new bricks, what would you do with the remnants of the previous foundation? Would you be like Lot’s wife in the Bible and look back at the past (to the glorious illusions or evident successes there) to the extent of freezing into that time and space or would you grab what precious little you can make use of and tear tail towards a new, though unknown and uncertain journey?

You might have perceived that the Tower does not represent ready answers to a given circumstance or experience. Because ultimately it requires serious depth of spiritual inquiry before you can be sure about what recent experiences are trying to convey. So although you may fall from the Tower, it will become necessary to look for/at the instigator of the fall – if the Tower was struck by lightning or if there is fire; what do these symbols convey – rebirth (baptism) through fire, illumination/spark of truth/revelation? Indeed, they may point to a greater truth to which you were blind and which made your foundation or parts of it illusory. Whilst in the Tower did you love someone or something so much that it literally put blinkers on everything else? Would that not be an extreme existence or experience? This surely identifies that one of life’s aspirations should be to find some better balance – or in terms of Tarot to know Temperance.

Let’s see how this might link to Crucifixion of Christ. Why did Christ have to be crucified? And what does ‘crucify’ mean exactly? Is there a difference between ‘crucify’ and ‘death’? Maybe Christ was crucified because he had to be. It was the order of things. As the embodiment of all that is illuminating, just and right, he had to experience that which we must also experience since we are supposed to ‘follow him’ and since ‘he is the way’ (Truth). How, after all does light know that it is dark(ness) – how does dark know that it is now light.

Through the transient experience of one moment of extreme and then another, we, like Christ, can affirm that ‘I am the light, I am the truth and the way’ (my self reflections are clarifying my purpose, journey, responsibilities, sense of self and so on). I have sought truth (having experienced Death/been crucified, having fallen from the Tower) and in my dark hour (when I entered the black door of death, burdened by more than my fair share, experiencing shock/betrayal and so forth) Truth found(ed) me (provided me with a new foundation).

Jesus had to be forsaken by Father, Mother and everyone (being thrust from the Tower), but he also had to forsake them. His cry of ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani’ (my God, my God why has thou forsaken me) did not yield a response that basic scripture reveals. Yet Jesus was not truly forsaken by God, for he was experiencing the cycle of regeneration necessary to attain unto heights and become Christ – anointed, illumined. This leads me to the consideration of ‘crucify.’ According to Collins Dictionary crucify means to ‘put to death by crucifixion’. In the context of Jesus’ crucifixion the cross on which he died represents current beliefs – those things he stood for- the accumulation of ideas/concepts/experiences that he carried through his cycle (of life) unto his death (regenerating a new cycle).

In Truth these ideas are more than beliefs in the case of Jesus, for it was his destiny to experience light and dark, to exemplify that which the spirit has always (deep down) known. Where crucify and death meet is referenced in scripture by Golgotha – the place of the skull (or the ‘head’). Crucifixion makes necessary the renunciation of personality to submit to spirit (entirely). Spirit is real as opposed to the fleeting reality of flesh (or mind/head consciousness). It is at this point, of total abdication of temporal obsessions/material possessions (physical body/being), that Jesus becomes his destiny to be Christ (illumined, conscious).

Jesus’ body is entombed in a sepulchre, which again Collins Dictionary tells us is ‘a burial vault’. When the two Marys go to the site, the stone (locking the tomb) has been rolled away. Imagine how dark the sepulchre must have been. Yet once opened, the only scene that should spring to mind is an intense light piercing in. This is when we’re told that Jesus’s (dead) body is not there. There is instead someone clothed in white – the blazing light of illumination – revealing the new Jesus as the anointed one of Christ.

Resurrection is inevitable when we consider the necessary renunciation of tempo-realities. It is in the order, it is regeneration and newness of cycle – in short the extraordinary rhythm of life. Having been put to death, new ideas must be formed by upliftment of mind consciousness so that it confers with the Divine will of spirit and soul through what the body must experience. Resurrection is the culmination of fulfilling the Divine will, accepting/knowing/realising one’s destiny. This is why the body of Jesus was transformed. The body must regenerate; it must be revived once it has experienced crucifixion. But it must do so by acknowledging spiritual reality, its Divine purpose by which it can now completely, assuredly be guided. To be resurrected is to relinquish the old traits that are limiting The Way/Path. It is to now see (re-view) the world anew. It is to know and embrace Truth, love and peace (this is embodied in Christ consciousness as Salome – one of the female disciples of Jesus). To experience Christ consciousness is to desire to spread that newly found love, Truth and peace in order to establish a temperate (balanced) universe (internal self and physical).

The resurrection allows us to accept that the sum of the world comprises many personalities, realities and experiences of which ours is no insignificant part. How to weave in and out of this vast universal tapestry to be a meaningful thread becomes the humbling focus of one who has experienced the Death and expulsion from the Tower in Tarot, as well as the death, crucifixion and resurrection as Christ. So whilst it is necessary to seek refuge and to dwell in God’s fortress - hiding from life, taking refuge, retreating), we ought not to take up permanent residence there, lest from there too we are brutally, inevitably evicted.

Shout out

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Art of Loving People

For Kathy who always gives.

“People must prove to the people
A better day is coming for you and for me
With just a little bit more education
And love for our nation
Would make a better society”

Curtis Mayfield

We can probably all name someone in our lives we consider supremely special -someone whose generosity and love is immeasurable. Living without them is unimaginable. If we’re conscious of the trappings of idealism we avoid believing they are an angel or guardian bequeathed to us by some divine power. Yet we feel wonderfully blessed to have them in our lives.

To pedestalise anyone comes with certain consequences. For one thing a pedestal is a height from which they could fall. And if they’re tempted to bask in our glorification of them how would this impact their ego? If we put someone on a pedestal how do we place ourselves? Are we always looking outwards and upwards – anywhere but inwards for salvation (I use this word in the sense of a ‘salve’ - that which soothes/relieves). Self reflection can seem too abstract - if not terrifying. But I think we need that special someone as much as we heed the “still small voice.” (There is no typo – ‘heed’ spirited itself into the sentence and I think it fits.)

I would like to dedicate this Shout to those people who have that precious capacity to love in spite of a life traumatised by suffering and loss. That could be said for many people since love is the common human factor around which the world revolves. Even when our lives are embattled and embittered we’re still able to squeeze some portion of love for our significant (and sometimes insignificant) others. But it is not that ‘squeezed out portion’ of love that concerns me here, for truly that comes naturally. I speak of love that is consciously crafted towards perfection; of love that is unbounded, that fearless kind of love that propels the human spirit. Put another way it is love borne of a creative impulse and thus designed for the unshackling of humanity. This is what I mean by the ‘art of loving people.’

How do we cultivate this art? Is it more natural and therefore easier for some people than others? If so why? Is it perhaps derived from the experience of and commitment to struggle? Recently at the 7th Annual Huntley conference Sculptor Fowokan explained that his art was a reflection of his life. As an African his life has been one of struggle and therefore his work embodies resistance to imperialist domination. Thus in his work we find strong, brazen figures of male and female warriors or queens and the spirited people memorialised from childhood in Jamaica. It is this politics of his art I love. For me art so engaged is imbued with transformative power. The power to positively and progressively transform people, society and the world has to the basis for cultivating the art of love.

At school a destiny was laid before me which I skilfully averted. Racist teachers directed me towards Athletics. I wasn’t particularly good but they thought it was all I was good for. And maybe I could have excelled in the field, mastered the discipline involved in sprinting, long jump, high jump etc but I resented the inference. I later observed that the next possible field in which I could be gainfully employed was Social Work. Sociology degrees seemed a natural course of study for a number of Black people/Africans. I wondered why? Certainly I felt straitjacketed, my choices limited. Though a number of Africans are Teachers now and yet more, Teacher Assistants, I didn’t imagine I could become one back then. My mother’s generation were mostly nurses – the men worked in public transport. A number of Africans also work as Carers in Residential Housing. The point being made is that these are people focussed roles. Excepting that racism barred many of us from diverse opportunities I have often wondered whether these society enriching roles were a natural choice for us as Africans. Again, is cultivating the art of loving people determined by our affinity with struggle and suffering?

Suffering is experienced by most people which means that this ‘affinity’ should not seem absurd. But are we conscious that we can generate creative power through the expression of love for others? Or do we transfer this power to someone or something else? It may be possible for some of us to experience pain and suffering without attuning ourselves to the shared experience of others. But how do we advance our humanity this way?

We live in a society which from time to time advises us how to be human. Before Feminists fought for women’s rights, Africans struggled for their rights as human beings. Neither battle is won – women throughout the world are still engaged in the struggle for their rights; Africans continue to be oppressed throughout the world. Age-discrimination (imagine!) is a (re)newed topic of human interest. Doctors, Nurses and I presume carers are being told to be more ‘compassionate’ when dealing with elderly patients. This is bizarre. Addressing an elderly as ‘dear’ will now be deemed ‘agist’ – actually a law will be passed to restrict (criminalise people for) usage of the term (along with ‘bed-blocker’ – fair enough!). Should we be concerned that this society feels it necessary to instruct us how to be ‘compassionate’ towards elders?

That a law is required to encourage compassion suggests a prevalence of anti-humanness in our society. We shouldn’t be surprised. We live in a capitalist society which drives us to individualism. But capitalism can only compromise our humanity if we are not conscious of our power to express love in the face of extremes. The current economic situation imposes burdens on all of us that can make us want to hide, if not do something more drastic to escape the rut. I have a friend who constantly questions why although she works so hard she never has that magical surplus income. She does not desire the surplus for lavishness. If she works another day or for a few more hours she will give the money earned to someone who needs it, in spite of her own needs. Capitalism has never been about egalitarianism or humanism. We live under a system that steers us toward anti-humanness for it developed from the enslavement of people (not from love of people). My friend pumps more of her labour into the system in order to express her love to people. It is an unnatural bind but her efforts are a literal labouring for love.

Commitment to the struggle for human fulfilment is an empowering act and art of love. The self that struggles only for itself also expresses a measure of anti-humanness. The self that can find no way to attune itself to the experience of others, to love greatly, freely, fearlessly; to involve itself with the collective human spirit is unconscious of their creative power. The creative expression of love embodies the threads that pulls together the colourful, beautiful tapestry of which we all are part. We must therefore resist systems and ideas that attempt to bind our humanity, and thus blights our creative expression. Those engaged in struggle do so by attuning themselves to suffering, hurt and oppression. I extend a note of tribute to some of those loving people who continue the struggle despite the recycling of these human ordeals. By their example a new, better world is possible.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Awakening

To the memory of W.E.B. Du Bois

No sweeter sound
will enliven my heart
than the unchaining of
beautiful Andromeda

But if Perseus lapses
will we simply wait
till perchance he sets her free?
Or will we Rise from
our eternal slumber
and tackle
the monsters’ talons
Our Will to reclaim our home?

If Libya loses her bravest fight
Perseus his enviable might
will we remain splintered?
Or will we Unite?

How long can be a dream?
How deep a sleep?
Monsters have no manners
their will is perpetual plunder
to attack and devour
it matters not how nor when
in the night’s stillness
when we pray and sleep
in the day’s brilliance
when we play and toil

They have no care
for punctuated prayers
lamentations and tears
they too have dreams
of reigning terror
and War Cries
from babies
brave men
warrior women
From you and me
on opposing sides
of their power
of permanent victory
and belief
That you and me
cannot ever win
That our prayers have
exasperated the heart of God
That like us
our gods are sleeping
Or struck silent
That our ancestors have
abandoned our pleas
That we who once hoped
now despair
That our faith without works
have made us all mad

But the monsters’ dream is not mine
Their ill-gotten gains
Must be revoked
If poor Perseus is slain
I Will Birth Heru
I Will not
Stand Still
And wait

To embrace the peace
I seek
I Will adorn my
Warrior’s vestments
I Will not only set
but SOUND the great alarm
Blow with every breath
And might
The War Horns
Nkrumah’s stride

My faith is not dimmed
I am not made mad
By the monsters’ wicked meddling
My Will is the tide of

Cast their for centuries
my ancestors will
tear Poseidon to pieces
And even hell wont welcome him
They do not sleep
I tell you
Lumumba’s laughter
has not wilted
The three Toures are
yet pounding fists
and exchanging hearts
Fanon’s fury with the French
still inspires revolt
And Yaa is my name and muse
Garvey’s Black Star
is still docked in Ghana’s flag
see how it waves in the wind
The gentlest breeze is a good sign
Can you feel it
freshening your face,
whistling in your ear,
tickling its way through your hair?
They do not sleep
I tell you
I do not sleep
You do not sleep
We do not sleep
Dreams alone cannot
design your destiny
nor envision
Human dignity
I am reaching for your hand
I feel it folding in mine
Reach for your sister’s hand
Your brother’s is outstretched
Each Together Arise

Haitian Pride has not worn
Congo no longer wails
from tyranny and greed
Her riches enrich her own
And Azania, Zimbabwe, Rwanda
Nigeria, Uganda, Sudan South
Egypt and Burkino-Faso too
Can you hear my horn?
Are my drums
pounding your hearts?

I Am U N C H A I N E D
And so are You...
And so are You...
And so are You.

M. Yaa Asantewa

Note, Sculpture is from Artist Fowokan's site: