Thursday, 10 December 2015

Some wordz on that 'ancestor worship' thing!

My grandmother, Felicia Saul had an indomitable spirit. For this reason she was known by the Seafield Villagers, in West Coast Berbice (Guyana) as ‘Braggart.’ Her indomitability was not fierce, nor miserable; it wasn’t wicked or riven with vexations. Rather it expressed a forceful, magnetic kindness and love. She welcomed others (non-family) into her home; fed them too from the sweet flavours of her country cooking; a generosity for which she is well remembered. This is my maternal grandmother – I didn’t know my paternal grandparents.

Pa, my grandfather seemed mystical to me when I was a child. He had a small, soft melodic voice that somehow harmonised with my grandmother’s brasher sound (she had lost her teeth by this time, which made her cheeks concave and perhaps attributed to the way she sounded to me). I relished listening to them in the early hours of morning, as they spoke quietly, perhaps respecting our sleep or the morning hush, when cocks hadn’t yet started crowing. I couldn’t understand what they were saying. They were possibly exchanging old time stories, or current ones; village tales, their own intimate memories, I don’t know - and maybe competing even between themselves for who could remember best. Either way, I loved listening to them.

One of my favourite bonding experiences with Ma was combing her grey – actually creamy with a copper tint – hair. It smelled of coconut oil – which may be a forced memory – since I know this is what she would have used to oil her hair. As for Pa – also known among the villagers as ‘Topan’ (don’t ask me why) but his name was Daniel, Ezekiel, David – nothing was more heartening than patiently waiting then gratefully receiving a morsel of his food which he’d saved for me! Alright, it probably wasn’t Just for me but I like to inject this selfishness into the memory because I’ve never discussed this precious experience with any of the cousins whom I know also awaited his ‘lef lef’ as they say in Guyana. It was the sweetest food – you see Ma always dished his first – something about that gave his left overs a magical quality.

Felicia, Christina, Maria Saul, my grandmother

Pa had the look of a sage, though I know he was no angel (at least from some discussions with my mother, when they were younger). In any case it might have been this intuitive wisdom for which he was selected to be the village Chairman. My mum says that when he was dying, villagers became distressed and came in their plenty to seek his opinion on things, especially relating to neighbourly disputes.

I simply adored them. I cannot recall ever being reprimanded by either. Around them I felt comforted, protected and happy.

My grandfather passed in 1978, when he was 90 (two months before my father, Solomon, the same year). It was the first time someone so close to me had died. In those days the deceased body didn’t necessarily go to the hospital to go in the freezer but remained at home if that’s where the person had died. It was dressed at home and from there the funeral took place. It’s possible he was taken to a church (Lutheran) that was in the village. But at least before this time on the day of the funeral I remember when they opened the ‘box’ in which he laid. The smell was overwhelming so we had to douse him with sweet smelling talcum powder (which I now know is also symbolic of him becoming an ancestor or rather transitioning between the physical and spiritual ‘worlds’). I say ‘we’ meaning members of the family, including 8 year old me and my elder cousins. This latter were scornful of my grandfather’s smell and didn’t want to sprinkle him with the powder nor be anywhere near his corpse. I sprinkled him and felt no fear. I must have been crying, or had been because there’s a tinge of memory that the elders (older family members) were making doleful sounds in-keeping with their mourning.

My grandmother joined him 14 years later in 1992 – when she was 96. One of my aunts had dreamt that Pa was in the spiritual realm waiting, in some manner of impatience for her. By now I was living in the UK, and had just started University. I wasn’t able to go to Ma’s funeral.

My grandfather, 'Topan,' Daniel, Ezekiel David.

In the second year of University I suffered bouts of depression and anxiety and was receiving counselling. I admit the counselling wasn’t working, not least because the counsellor had some momentary collapse before my eyes and rather than he handing me tissues to ease my sobbing, I found myself consoling him. It was my last session. My healing began with a dream of my grandfather taking me back to Guyana on a plane – until then (and since) I had not dreamt him. Intuiting, or maybe just trusting that this was something I was being ‘commanded’ by spirit to do, I took a year out and did just that. This proved wonderfully effective in relieving me of the malady of a cultural identity crisis (the prognosis and analysis of these experiences are latter day – I had no idea what I was experiencing at the time). For when I returned to the UK (Scotland, where I was studying) I had a better grasp or understanding of who I was (better but, of course, not ever complete).

The effect wore down as I was about to complete my degree. I experienced a psychological break which meant I couldn’t (then) finish the course. At the outset of this psychological split I did something intuitive. I drew a large circle on a piece of paper. I placed my name in the centre and the names of all the deceased relatives I could remember (even on my father’s side, many of whom I didn’t know – so I wrote ‘my father’s father’ etc…) inside the circle around the edge. It was a way of protecting (or willing it) myself from what I could ‘feel’ taking place in my mind/consciousness, which I couldn’t understand. Some of what I could ‘feel’ was suicidal. In any case the circle was an invocation; without being totally ‘conscious’ about ancestral veneration (as I now am) I felt compelled to call on their protection in this way. The reader might well ask, if so inclined why not God? I could only feign to answer, since at that time I believe part of the ‘crises’ related to my perception and interpretation of ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ – which was departing from the way I was brought up. Given the force of this Christian influence and the absolute lack of grounding in any African centred conceptions about divinity it’s a question I’ve wondered myself. I’ve tended to answer it also by recognising the role my ancestors played in this ‘crisis’ – that referring to them was so natural to me. I remembered my grandparents; they were part of the unseen but yet present in my consciousness - and after all, when I returned to Guyana I particularly recall the ‘presence’ of my grandfather, the one who had ‘commanded’ I go back. He was with me where ever I went, for which reason I felt safe enough to travel into the interior and so on…This ‘invocation’ to them, however, was the calling/opening to a particular aspect of my spirituality.

Now the term ‘ancestral worship’ is familiar to many of us and is burdened with confusion and ill-feelings as it relates to African cultural experience. So I think a moment to consider it is worthwhile. In an online article titled ‘Ancestors as elders’ Igor Kopytoff argues that the confusion (he calls it ‘paradox’) stems from an ‘ethnocentric distortion of the African worldview,’ which prevents our understanding of what we have persisted in calling ‘ancestor cults’ and ‘ancestor worship.’ European anthropologists, having observed the African practices relating to ancestors imposed terminologies according to their conceptual ideas about the role of the living and the dead.

Taking his example from the Suku of South Western Congo (Kinshasa), of which he belongs Igor Kopytoff explains that contrary to Western ideas (as proposed by theorists like Fortes –with whom he mostly agrees) ancestors do not ‘acquire’ power to intervene in the affairs of successive generations when they die. Rather they ‘maintain’ their power to intervene (jurally) in the affairs of younger members of their lineage.

He goes further to express this ethnocentric complexity which is borne of vocabulary/semantic problems. Having compared linguistic variants of many African groups (particularly Bantu speaking), Kopytoff claims that there is generally no word for ‘ancestors’ alone in their idiom. There tends to be a combination of terms that are used to represent ‘elders/ancestors’ and sometimes ‘grandparents’ that correlate to these in English. The Suku word ‘Bambuta’ means the ‘big ones’ or ‘those that have attained maturity.’ For example, the ‘uta’ suffix is such a combination, connoting ‘elder/ancestor.’

kristjanabjorkb: Turkana old woman with labret - Kenya by Eric Lafforgue on Flickr.

Therefore, in many African cultures, he writes, we can observe a ‘semantic association of growth, age, maturity, ancientness, eldership, ancestorship and authority.’ The lone identification of ‘ancestor’ doesn’t embody this spectrum but instead imposes a distinction that is bound up with Eurocentric notions about the ‘supernatural’ – which power is believed to be acquired at death – and when one becomes an ‘ancestor.’ African societies, however, tend to bestow powers on ‘elders’ who retain it when they make the transitional journey as elders. For the Suku and other groups ‘African lineages are communities of both living and the dead,’ according to Kopytoff. The elder has authority, is respected and consulted because of their maturity and has serious responsibility that involve representing their (in this case matrilineal) lineage. This ‘authority’ persists, albeit under new circumstances when the elder dies.

In the not so distant past, we dispersed Africans were in tune with a version of the foregoing ‘respect’ for elders. It’s incontestable that for the most part this ‘respect’ is a fading sentiment. I lap up the memory of my maternal grandparents and the love I felt they expressed for me – perhaps it was tangible because of their maturity, their authority to unconditionally express it. For those young people who have grandparents and great grandparents (on both sides too) in their midst, I’m mildly envious. Yet, I wonder how many of them appreciate this precious gift. For even if the elder is miserable and contentious, even if they don’t appear to ‘get’ or appreciate you there is always something they can pass on; and they will remain close to us (an imagined memory of their smell for example, or some gesture good or bad towards you will be retained) when they transition. They will remain in our consciousness, and we’re likely to have dreams of or about them – bearing some message about how we’re living or not living (some scolding or instructing) that serve to realign us to our purpose (though we might not see it this way). Or dare I venture to say, to ‘forgive’ them for whatever transgressions we feel they committed against us; some might not have entered fully into the light but remain ‘too close’ in the sense of being bound to former earth ties (usually their family, or some undone task) and might thus be seeking our help to send them toward said light (but that’s really another story…).

Elder Larim man in the Boya hills having his hair dressed. Photo by Patti Langton, Feb 1980. © Pitt Rivers Museum [2008.78.1.611]

Our forced dispersal from Africa has generally involved disconnection with some of those traditions we cherished. Kopytoff would argue that we didn’t ‘worship’ ancestors, as conceived by Europeans in their observances of what we were doing, rather we respected and showed honour to our elders in recognition for their maturity and wisdom that (aught) to come with those life changes. In truth, even if ‘wisdom’ wasn’t evident our elders were respected. After all, we too were elders – since the circle of life meant that everyone was elder to someone (the Suku refer to this as Baleke – meaning those to whom one is an elder). When the elder passed on we continued showing them respect, seeking their counsel and interventions for ameliorative purposes.

When I was at school I remember being intrigued by the reality of the ‘nuclear family.’ It was a strange term to me, but I didn’t understand this was evolutionary and that I was being acculturated into the identity. The disposable conditions of Western societies have impacted intergenerational relations detrimentally. Past a certain age, you’re no longer considered useful. My experiences with my grandparents, however, was an armour that when needed shielded me from a psychosis (indeed the diagnosis of ‘schizophrenia’ might not have been far off) that I believe has everything to do with cultural dislocation and the curious evolution of becoming alone in the world. Likewise there’s a blessing I’m experiencing with my octogenarian mother which involve some priceless exchanges, memories lodged in the recesses of her mind which by communing surface and impress my imagination. This is a power she has as an elder, which I recognise and respect. Yes, the memories are interwoven with levels of confusion (mostly religious) about African traditions, but the more time we commune the more we discover she knows but didn’t realise she did – was in fact made to doubt and despise.

Portraits of elderly people taken in Guinea-Bissau... DYNAMIC AFRICA

If I was born into the Suku tradition and was the eldest in my generation (who’d be Baleke) I would be the one to represent them, the one to make serious decisions on behalf of the entire group. When I pass on they would continue to show me respect. If, for example, there was some dispute or an issue they needed resolving they would either come to my graveside, or any other graveside of someone older; if not the graveside, they would come to a cross road (symbolic of the interchange between spiritual and material worlds) and commune. They would bring me the foods and drinks I used to eat when alive (palm wine or cassava, for example – actually I’d take mango, avocado and red wine!). Communication would take the form of a monologue but some message or sign would be given to indicate what must be done. This is a method, in the tradition of inciting psychological and social order.

Whether we regard honouring our ancestors as a form of worship, reverence, or respect is a semantic schism rooted in European expropriation of African traditional experiences. Consequently, we have been cornered into codifying our experiences so they would appear palatable (relatable) to European ideas about the way we live our lives. And we need to stop this! Each time the question of ancestors is raised it’s juxtaposed to some spurious connection with obeah (again another story…) Enough already! This juxtaposition is forwarded by Christians, whose righteous indignations are untenable, given that Africans ought to realise (since information is readily available) our experiences – cultural, economic, political and social are riddled with the bullets of imperialism and colonialism (the story…). It’s time to take pride in the memory of our ancestors. Those that perished during the Maafa, we remember you. Those freedom fighters that fought and died so we can have our freedom and a life in which it is evidently possible to either eschew our traditions or honour them, we remember you. Those of the distant and remote past, whose names are lost to us, we remember you. We have misunderstood, failed to appreciate the significance of your eldership but with active spiritual intelligence we can embrace what has been too long denied.

Found on (via Pinterest)

Shout Out.

Read Igor Kopytoff's article here

Thursday, 8 October 2015

The PEN Network Fundraising dinner and dance - measuring success

PEN Network Members, Ateinda Ausarntu, Kathy Nanena, Olivia Haltman, Anne Reid, Yaa Asantewa, Margaret David, Tony Franklin (Photo Bernadette Wills)

There was this young boy, pride radiating in his face. He seemed so serious and studious. He wasn’t with the other children when group photos were taken outside the school. It seemed that he had superimposed himself, wilfully, daringly – like some pertinent reminder – near the shabby Odoi Atsem School sign. A reminder or a prompt. I remember thinking only one thing as I snapped his picture – of Dr Kwame Nkrumah. I thought that humble beginnings can sometimes prepare ordinary people to accomplish great things.

The school teachers have an inspired mission that’s aligned with Nkrumah’s vision. Located in this off track area in Labadi along the coast – the school wants to give its pupils the chance of a Pan-African education that would be a credit to Nkrumah’s legacy. The school receives some materials and sponsors from other well-meaning visitors; especially some Christian organisations. But one of the teachers was keen that the school should be supported by Africans as well, who might have allegiance and therefore support its interest to promote Pan-Africanism.

Often schools on the continent and diaspora regurgitate the curriculum of those countries by which they were once colonised. They teach in the language of those countries thereby relegating local languages to inferiority. Since language is a major part of culture the result is that cultural imperialism continues to impact these communities and perpetuates their underdevelopment. By including Pan African education in the curriculum, Odoi Atsem is at least trying to change the script. In doing so they hope to ground the pupils in their society and community, thereby helping to shape lives in a way that makes sense to them.
I recognised the spirit in that boy’s eyes which for me said something like – ‘I don’t expect charity just opportunity.’

Messrs James Barnor, Eric Huntley and Luke Daniels
Above photos Eddie Osei

I learnt a while ago that change can be achieved by small efforts and the will to change. The first fundraising efforts through an Indiegogo campaign raised just over £600 for Odoi Atsem. The school used this to pay some of their student fees, teachers’ salaries and a little maintenance. I’d hoped to raise £1000 that could go further. I had made a commitment to the school from my first visit to help raise funds to eliminate the need for pupils to pay the £6 a term school fees. £6 a term! I learnt that the school needs £5000 to cover its overall costs. This might not seem much to us here in the UK, but it’s significant in an underdeveloped country. This reality of ‘underdevelopment,’ the term preferred by Dr Walter Rodney to ‘developing’ is a tragedy in a country credited as the first to achieve independence in subsharan Africa, making the demands more urgent for others on the continent and the Diaspora to become independent. Why should school children in any ‘underdeveloped’ country be made to pay school fees? What happens when they cant? This is so far removed from Nkrumah’s vision of socialism and it reinforces Rodney’s ideas that Europe underdeveloped Africa to the extent that Ghana does not have a social welfare system that incorporates free education.

So what could we in the diaspora do? A few of us agreed that we could begin to support this school and others that share the Pan-African vision by hosting a fundraising dinner and dance. One way not - the only way, but a start. It would be spectacular, of course. It would bring different groups of peoples, drawn from our respective and diverse networks together. We would encourage them to glam up in their finest attires and step into a gorgeous venue, with exceptional food and great music, all aimed to raise funds.

There was an art and beauty in the organising. Seven busy people, sparing little time to get together and make it happen - we got on very well and were forced to develop new skills. We had no financial backing, let alone experience of organising something on this scale. We formed the PEN quickly (standing for Promoting Educational Needs), realising that the event needed some name or organisation for legitimacy – members include Olivia Haltman of Oh Services, Anne Reid, Tony Franklin, Kathy Nanena, Margaret David, Ateinda Ausarntu and myself. There was no ‘committee’ set up as our aim was the event – not so much the organisation at that time. That loose format allowed us to fall naturally into our respective strengths and support each other. No one was boss! We were connected by the vision to make the occasion special, and unlike anything we’d been to or thought others might have experienced. The order was tall, but we would aim to reach for it.

Above photos by Eddie Osei

For me, I had wanted to see some folks come out, all dressed up, dancing and freeing up themselves. I felt that with all our social and political commitments, especially Pan-Africanists we hardly get together just to celebrate – but always for some serious issue. Or struggle – which, of course never go away. But surely we can mix and blend, as a way to reinvigorate the work we do towards struggle.

We wanted our guests to feel loved, and know that we’d carefully thought of them and what goodies they might enjoy. We came up with a welcome goody bag, dance off competitions and some raffle prizes. This latter we didn’t want to be slap dash (like hampers of tinned stuff!) and none were. Yes, we’d hoped some airline would donate a flight to Ghana – but none came through despite our attempts. We contacted the Ghanaian embassy – after a whole lot of effort they said the ambassador couldn’t come. In truth what would have been his role? When after all we had active community elders/leaders that gladly graced the occasion with their presence and for which we were so pleased: Mr Eric Huntley, Mr James Barnor, naming a couple and also Ms Wilhlemina Mitchel Murray, the local councillor who heard of the event and was thrilled to attend and support.

Above photos Brian Quavar

Again we had no budget for this - but knew it had to be good. And those family friends who are talented and need exposure got their moment and delighted the audience: J-Unity (Britain’s Got Talent finalists), Alysha and Georgia two lovely young girls who performed a dance routine, making memories that will also build their confidence in creative expression; Natalie David whose smooth vocals gave us the dreamy vibes of ‘somewhere over the rainbow.’ There were wonderful collaborations and ensembles too; the St Michael and All Angels Steel Band played Pan to guests on arrival; it’s a local (to Wembley) group comprised of young and elder members. Amra Anderson, Siayoum Karuma and Ras Prince blasted the drums, contributing the collectiveness of call and response. This all followed the unusual (for this kind of event) but culturally relevant pouring of libation by Priestess Osuyemi Rose.
St Michael and All Angels Steel Band

Priestess Osunyemi Rose pouring libation
Natalie David (singing 'Somewhere over the rainbow)

Alysha and Georgia
Jerome and Jamaal (J-Unity - check out some of their stuff here)
Ras Prince, Amra Anderson, Siayoume Karuma on drums
Above photos Bernadette Wills

And we wanted the catering to be superb. We wanted our guests to not wait. There was some of that, unfortunately. Africans have a way of looking mean when they have to wait for food. And behaving so! I have a bugbear of having to queue for food! In our planning we had asked the venue management about the possibility of table service to our guests, so they wouldn’t have to queue. There’s this curious idea that ‘Africans’ can only manage buffet style. I continue to voice my disagreement, but we were put off the table service idea because – so we were told – ‘it was our first time’ and we ought not to try this apparently novel way of doing collective dinning for such events – for our people! We will stand our ground, should we do this again because I think it’s a false perception that we can only do buffet!
That said, the food was indeed exquisite. Our caterers, Refill provided a wide spread to satisfy a range of dietary needs and tastes. They were professional and I really can’t big them up enough. If you go to an event and the food is wrong – the entire event is! So we’re grateful to Clive and his team for getting it so right. (Have a look see if you can get a feel...)

Banquet by Refill food - browse their website here
Above photos Bernadette Wills

We had an agreement with the venue, run by Mr Fixit that he would also be our DJ (his profession). I cannot explain why but this agreement and arrangement did not manifest as we had expected. On the very day of the event, Mr Fixit said he couldn’t be there. We implored him to recognise our agreement, that we’d bigged him up on our flyers and radio promotions, so he had to attend. He said he would but did not. Instead he installed other DJs with whom we’d had no prior discussions and who were less experienced and did nothing to engage the audience, as he (Mr Fixit) had said he would be doing (as part of the co-hosting). That meant I – the assigned hostess- was speaking too much (I know, I would have probably done so anyway…). He would have had the experience to urge the guests to support the event through raffle sales and other fundraising activities; take part in the dance offs etc.

Photos (from booth) Bernadette Wills)

It also meant that the music, though generally enjoyed by our guests did not always suit the diverse audience. This was a shame because one of the successes of the event was that there was a wide range of people who attended; the youngest being a two month old baby; the eldest probably 87! This is in no way to say our guests didn’t enjoy the music. It could have been much better – as I had anticipated with Mr Fixit on the decks. He has a good Djing reputation.

Our dance off competition saw guests doing rumba, salsa, cutting shapes and shaking it all to James Brown’s ‘Get up off that thing’ in what turned out to be a combi African/funky style. In that style too we saw some daring attempts to win the competition. Aside from the young brother who dipped effortlessly into a split and bounce, there was an awesome Matrix style, slow wind down to the floor, a skilful move that was seamlessly accomplished in suit no less (click here to see what I mean). During the Salsa there was a tussle between one of its pairs – a sister instructing her (dance) partner that ‘she would lead.’ She didn’t get her chance as he strongly told her ‘no – I’m the man. The man leads.’ The idea with this activity was that people would pay to enter a style. An instructor would show them how, they’d follow and be eliminated should they fail to do the style as expected. The Cutting shapes (shuffle in our day!) was lead by young Alysha and Georgia and monitored by 16 year old Shawana who singled out an able young brother who made the splices and bops look too easy. Few wanted to take part initially – seemed shy, or tight (you had to pay to enter) or didn’t get it! But those who did seemed to have a fab time.
And of course there was the brilliant group bonding dance of CANDY. I squashed myself in and had to focus to not bump into bodies or trod on toes. It was great. See it here.
Superb photo shot by Eddie Osei
Above photos Eddie Osei

Dressed to impress
The surprise best dressed male and female activity was won by those guests who we thought looked stunning, though in truth all the guests had made a great effort. I had all sorts of fantastic images in mind when I was thinking about how our guests would look – epic! And there were some amazing outfits; one of the winners (Desmond) looked so so fine in his silky tunic. And model figure Shanice, in her hugging long red dress over which was draped a piece of Kente, matching the big bow on her head also won for making a brilliant effort. We hope by this gesture others will feel inspired to look sharp in their outfits, whether tailored or sought and bought if we do it again. As for my dress, this was made, I’m proud to say by a local seamstress called Celia – who met my last challenge and did it in five days! Why the last min? Too busy with the organising, don’t you know.
Above photos Bernadette Wills

Did it work – was the fundraising mission accomplished?
The happy reports and feedback from the majority of our guests and the calls for a repeat of the event; even the generous donation by sponsors like Pauline Bennett of Project West who also came with two full tables and a further number of dance only tickets; the evidence through smiles and ready involvement of those who came all speak to the success of the fundraiser. But the big question bulging lips was whether or not we’d raised our expected or even enough funds. No. Is the simple answer. The income streams we’d envisaged didn’t fulfil our expectations. The bar, the raffles, the dance offs, the blind auction – the little brown envelopes (only one guest used this!), didn’t generate what we’d hoped. Those of you who have organised fundraisers like this, I’m sure will understand some of the issues and perhaps WHY it didn’t quite generate in the way we imagined it would, despite the evidently wonderful experience our guests had, many of them singing praises for the well organised event.

Photos Bernadette Wills

Sour notes
A major reason why the event was not financially successful, though it was socially, is that the venue manager stitched us up. We relied on the experience and advice of Mr Fixit (I’m using this medium to enable me to be frank because I feel his antics are detrimental to community development and needs to be addressed). Promises made, for example, that he would promote the event to his networks (since this is ‘what he does’) and so bring us more ‘dance only ticket sales’ were not fulfilled. Instead of the expected and potential 200 dance only tickets (for which we’d budgeted following his advice) there were no more than 50. He didn’t promote the event, at all, as he was not intending to be there. This he told us on the same day, a few hours before we were due to be setting up.

Those extra guests, who might have bought from the bar would have given us the sum we hoped to raise. Fixit demanded upfront payments for everything! Members, having now committed to holding the event at the Royal Lounge were forced to source funds from our own pockets for items that should have been paid after. This was despite our negotiation with the Caterers who was happy for us to pay the balance (of their part) after the event. The Venue had given us the total budget, you see, and entrapped up so that we weren’t expected to communicate with the ‘third parties’ (one being Refill). We were warned that ‘Fixit’ is all about ‘business’ but that he was kind of ruthless didn’t come into our thoughts as one of the members knew him and had recommended the Royal Lounge based on her experience of him. Toilet attendants, not necessary though we went along with it were asking our guests for money – this was not agreed with us and it seems probable that this was their means of income for that night as opposed to the fee we’d been charged for them. Further, we had asked Mr Fixit how we should budget for the bar. He gave us figures that we now know were grossly exaggerated.

Photos Eddie Osei

We take some of this on the chin as it were. Accept the lessons and our own culpability. We are thankful for the experience and will reassess, rather than regret. We wouldn’t have been in the conscious position we now are. We were totally ‘green’ and ‘vulnerable.’ I’m aware some fundraisers are fronts for exploitation; aware that unless you organise something you don’t see the behind scenes nightmare and might assume, because it ‘looks good’ that all is well. Sadly all is not well, when well-meaning ventures are sharked by those who know the ‘ropes’ and capitalise on the vulnerability and inexperience of others. This hinders community advancement, quashing the humanist principles I hold dear. For our community to be transformed we need to stop exploiting each other in the name of grabiliousness and greed. It would also benefit all our efforts to respect the process of organising – many of our would-be guests took time to advance payments, leaving it to the last minute. I think we can change this script too. What we didn’t want and didn’t achieve very well was making anyone wait for anything. This we must work on (lose the attitude that tardiness is a ‘black people’s malaise’) because it’s an important matter of discipline.
In all this we are grateful for the realisation that ultimately we didn’t do our due diligence on several fronts. We are wide awake now and accept, as one member expressed beautifully ‘post-mortem don’t bring back dead…’ but it can identify cause.

Above photos Eddie Osei

Sweet notes

Imagine, in one room more than a hundred people (about 150/60) brought together to support a single issue. Some had no particular idea what ‘Pan-African’ means in its political sense. That it is a symbol of unity, which we all recognise we need now as ever. Many had never heard of the school, which name and location they now do. Some level of consciousness was raised, therefore. Sponsors who gave us space to promote on their radio shows, and those who volunteered, the entertainers who asked for no payment (though next time we’d love to afford this); the team spiritedness of the PEN Network members; the sumptuous banquet; the tables named after an African Icon, or great Pan-African leader, with a piece of Kente draped across; that the 19th September was especially chosen to honour Kwame Nkrumah whose birthday it was; the feel of being in the midst of a large loving family were all signs that the event was something special. A glimpse?

And of course, we will advance £2000 to the school, as this is the sum we had hoped to raise for them. We know there are many who will support us and fulfil promises to donate. Will we do it again? That question is answered by the realisation that with every struggle there are lessons to learn and that transformation begins with readiness of a few ordinary people to take on struggle. So see you at our next venture…

Photos Eddie Osei
Our press statement, on the website ( gives more information about the event, especially our big thanks to supporters and sponsors. Do have a look and help us do this thing...