Ghanaian Grief

I just had an interesting couple of conversations with my Aunt & Uncle in Ghana whose mum just died today. I called to see how they both are, expecting sad or heavy emotions but, instead, they both answered the phone with their usual cheery banter. Then we laughed and did our usual mickey-taking ‘hello old woman/man’ repartee in Twi, our Ghanaian language. And they weren’t faking or putting on a brave face.
When I asked how they are each, separately, said there fine. But the interesting part was that my Aunt responded saying ‘How can I not be? I have your Grandma here, my family, so I am not alone, we are together and so we are fine’ (paraphrased).

And my ever piss-taking, professional wind-up Uncle echoed that when I later spoke to him, saying ‘Ah but at this age, it is only a blessing, what else will happen? So it’s nothing to be sad or surprised about. It is fine.’

Now to western ears, this may sound cold or ‘in denial’ but it’s not. I think it just reflects the general attitude of ‘joy balanced with pragmatism’ that permeates Ghanaian culture.
They’ll bury their mother tomorrow, within 24hours in line with her religion (not theirs – that’s love & respect). And at her funeral, there’ll be weeping (loudly!) in the Ghanaian style, and there’ll also be dancing…

Balancing the sorrow with celebration. And it will be BIG. And no one will be alone.

That’s the Ghanaian way.

Me Before You-let’s kill disabled people?

OK, I have been looking forward to today for months: today is *the day* that Me Before You is released. And what a hoo ha there is about it! So I feel the need to wade into the debate-well attack-on the film.  I’ve read the book-unlike many who are commenting & even protesting, ugh!  To be more precise, I actually stayed up until 9am in the morning to finish it and then re-read it the same week.

And it definitely is *not* an ‘anti-disability’ book. Not a ‘snuff movie’ (Lol). Not a pro-euthanasia book. And not an anti-euthanasia one. These labels and criticisms miss the amazing depth and range of this story:

It is a story about love-of self and life and others.

It is about freedom-from fear, from shame, from doubt.

It is about class and hardship.

It is about family.

It is about hope.

It is about dreams and loss.

And it is about disability and euthanasia.

Yes, the chap (SPOILER alert!!!) wants to be euthanised. But that’s not making a judgement that all disabled people want to die, should want to die or should simply be killed without choice (yep, some ejits are actually suggesting that’s the film’s message!).

me before you protest pic(Hmm, only willfully offended people could take that message)

It’s saying this particular character wants to.  And that is his story and his choice. And as with all euthanasia choices it is based on both his physical condition and his personality.

Physically he is stuck. He’s not just ‘in a wheelchair’, he’s a quadriplegic: he can move one finger and his neck. A little. While that is tragic and horrid, it is something many people accept and live with and are happy in spite of-hence they aren’t asking for euthanasia.  But he is not able, or not willing, to live with it. Again: it’s his story not all disabled people’s.

He’s also in recurring, agonising pain. I know pain. I am in pain every day, all day. And anyone who has chronic pain and says they haven’t even passingly thought about death is lying (or has amazing drugs!).  Unlike Will, however, when my pain is bad I can get up, I can move position, take a bath, take meds, go to sleep, drink some wine, or watch some distracting Grey’s Anatomy! Whereas he is stuck, immobilised with searing pains, oh and suffers frequent pneumonia, and also night terrors.

Again, many people accept that and live with it and are happy in spite of this. I hope I would if it were me, but I do not know. What we readers know is that He Is Not.

And that’s where character comes in: he says, painfully, ‘I know I could have a good life with you, even a great life’ (paraphrasing from memory so excuse me if not exact). But ‘I am not a man who accepts’. He will not adapt, accept and press on to design a new, adapted life-like the many happy or contented quadriplegic people also mentioned in the book.   He wants HIS old life back. His active, adventurous, full, independent, busy life.  And if he can’t have it he doesn’t want the life he’s stuck with. So he wants to un-stick himself and be killed (because he can’t do it for himself).

That is not anti-disability. It is the story of many chronically ill or disabled people. Thankfully not all and not most. But it’s valid and real and important and needs to be told.  SO let’s stop criticising and just start listening to these sad but different and valid views. (Oh, and I promise I’m not just saying this because Sam Claflin is in the film 😉 )

me before you poster

The Sound of an Island

WOULD YOU RATHER…be DEAF or BLIND? Most of you will answer deaf: how can one imagine the insecurity of not seeing where we are going? (even though we manage just fine walking down the road with our heads in our phones following the blue dot!) Nor seeing our loved ones’ faces? Or – worse yet- being unable to check our outfits in the mirror in the morning?!

And yet, Helen Keller, the amazing woman who was both deaf and blind but was taught to sign and speak and who then became a prolific writer and public speaker (#legend!!!), when asked which was worse surprisingly chose deafness. Being blind she said, cuts us off from things whereas being deaf cuts us off from people. Profound right? But true.

If we were to lose our sight we could use a kick-arse combo of adaptive technology, a trusty white stick and a friendly, trained canine to navigate the darkness. And we could dine with our family and listen to the TV (nearly) as per usual (given half of us listen to the TV while looking at our mobiles anyway, I say ‘as per usual’).

Whereas if one were to go deaf…

How many of our friends and family would actually put in the time, effort and cost to learn sign language? Reallllly? And to learn it well enough to communicate freely and fluently? And what of the painful, silent months in between while we all muddle through whilst learning?

And then there’s the person in the shop or the assistant at the tube.  There’s the infuriating, saddening loneliness of dinner parties or group coffee catch ups where everyone chats ways and you are stuck trying to lip read friends’ blurred mouths. Eesh. What isolation.

Thankfully I am neither deaf nor blind. But I do have trouble with my hearing. I know the separation of being in a group and laughing along to a joke I couldn’t hear; of saying ‘excuse me’ in order to have someone repeat what they said, only to not ear it the second or third time and give up.  I know the unnerving feeling of not quite knowing what’s going on in a situation or conversation. The feeling, the muffled sound of being on a social peninsula-connected to everyone on the mainland but standing a little way off by oneself surrounded by waves.

deaf image

Ah but there are hearing aids you say! Why yes, and many are amazing and wonderfully life-transforming. But unless they are the snazzy, discreet, oh-so costly ones, they generally amplify *all* sound-the cutlery banging on plates, the traffic passing the open window and the chatter of everyone in the venue, not just the friends’ in whose conversation one so dearly wishes to play a part.

So whilst hearing aids may be the way to go later on, in the meantime, I’ll get used to occasional half conversations and disjointed murmurings; I’ll practise enjoying silence and I’ll get used to the sporadic fear until it subsides.  And I’ll enjoy the lapping and splashing sounds of my peninsula-which my husband and, hopefully, my dearest friends will visit if ever my peninsula becomes an island.

Cripplehood & Socks

Regular people just bend and put their socks on; they don’t even think about it while doing so.  None of that ‘mindfulness shizzle’ with socks, nope, they could be thinking about the bus they’re gonna catch; breakfast; their favourite shade of Jennifer Aniston’s tan; calling the dentist: literally *anything*.  Not me. You wanna know an insight into one of the things which most pees me off about being an intermittent cripple? The unpredictability.

See, I didn’t know this would be a ‘Socks are Something to Think About & Focus on’ morning until it was.  Until I actually had them in my hand and went to put them on.  That’s when socks went from being something that just sort of ‘happened to something I needed to do-purposefully and, to make a certain mindful loving friend happy by using her new favourite word, ‘mindfully’ 😉 This required concentration, bodily awareness and clear recollection of Alexander Technique instructions on how to lift a leg and bend to meet it all while maintaining correct postural alignment. Sigh.  ‘All my stupidly healthy friends haven’t had to pay hundreds of quid to learn how to put their sodding socks on!’ I thought ungraciously.  ‘And of course it would be when David’s away’: cue internal ‘oh poor me’ moment (yes Natalia, because *of course* if he wasn’t on holiday he’d have been at home on Sock Duty at 3pm on a Thursday!).

Kid socks
What focus, what determination, what mindfulness!

But then my socks were on and I was ready to face my bagel, tea and procrastination, I mean essay.  Now, I do not wanna seem smug or inconsiderate to people who are more than intermittently crippled, or whose pain keeps them up all night, crowding out any concept of possibly maintaining any other thoughts, not just once in a while like moi but as a regular shitty occurrence.  But I don’t wanna seem jealous of healthy people either. To be honest, I’m not smug, unkind or jealous about anything really.  Instead I have ‘perspective’.  Today was a Sock Issue day. And probably evening.  And to quote Stereophonics, ‘maybe tomorrow’.  That’s the pissy part: I genuinely don’t know what tomorrow, or even this evening has in store for me. BUT I’m cool.  Because (and here’s why the ‘I’m not being smug or inconsiderate warning was made!), I know that I WILL be ok.

‘Can’t Roll Over in Bed or Put Socks or Joggers on Easily’ days are, thankfully, followed by ‘I’m a Regular (well actually very hot, intelligent & fun!) Able-Bodied Person Walking Around London Living my Life’ kind of days (with drugs and a cache of elasticated support straps-medicinal not kinky, honest!).  So that’s why no jealousy.  Cos, without wanting to get too saccharine on you, having to think about the least painful way to put socks on some days means I absolutely bloody enjoy other daily things more.  And it means when horrid health diagnoses or traffic accidents or general shit happens, I’m an actual ‘Good Man in the Storm’ kind of girl (not the fake Arizona kind Grey’s fans!).  Cos you know what? After sockgate was solved, I sat down in my warm house, where I live with my devoted, kind-hearted, sexy husband who absolutely bloody adores me.   I read a book, drank tea, listened to Bieber’s new song (you know you did too: Love Yourseeeelfff), and worked on my Masters essay.  BECAUSE, I can read and think and make tea and put the heating on *whenever I bloody want*!  What absolute jammy-git luxury is my life 🙂

A mum’s response

Instead of me writing my thoughts (again) I’m going to share a reply I had from a mum to my post ‘It’s normal to hate your baby’. Given it’s Advent, when we look forward to celebrating a baby’s birth, it seems relevant! But why do I feel the urge to explain before I share this that ‘she is a great mother’? (Because our society judges mothers/women so much it should be classed as a national a hobby!):

‘Hahahaha I laughed out loud at the clip – I wanted to throw that bastard out the window. I def felt like that!

I’ve just vomited my feelings about it all below. Never written it all down before but I felt like it after reading your article so here it is.

I truly believe everyone feels this way but they lie because they can’t admit it or they are in some kind of denial.

Why would you feel good about suffering 9 months of anxiety about whether you’re cut out for the job on ‘mum’? Teamed with nausea, aches, pains and to top it off you can’t even have a gin to numb the pain! You then look forward to the barbaric freak show that is labour because you think the misery will come to an end. WRONG! It doesn’t. Now you have painful cracked nipples, boobs that feel they are going to explode but the *best one* is the swollen, sewn up vagina that is excruciatingly painful-so painful that you have to take a jug of water to the loo to pour down there while you pee to relieve the stinging of your stitches. And then you go to sit down on the sofa to have a rest with your rubber ring, because you can’t sit down normally as you are torn from front to back and that shit hurts to sit on. You do walk with an impressive waddle though!


It’s ok though as you can sleep though right? WRONG! Your baby will want to suck on your cracked, bleeding nipples all day and night. Through the tears I tried hard to breast feed but eventually I couldn’t cope with the pain any longer (oh and also had a uterus infection to deal with too!).

Not only was my body unwell but now so was my mind. I was a failure who couldn’t fulfil my plan to have a water birth and due to my stupid body not contracting as it should, I couldn’t bare the pain of labour (after 32 hours of trying). So my poor baby had to be born by forceps with bruises and cuts to his little face. How bad a mum am I already?  So that’s a shit birth and I couldn’t feed him because I was being ‘selfish’ about the pain I was in. He then had jaundice because of this so he then went to hospital twice. THEN I felt bad because I didn’t feel warm, glowing, rosy love for my baby but instead felt like I was doing the worst job in the world and not cut out for motherhood! Around 3 months I think I first felt the bond that you are ‘meant’ to feel. Did I love my baby in those early days? Nope! Did I want to get away from him? Hell yeah! Did I care for him and nurture him? Yep!

Now I adore him and love him to bits but even  after a year I still grieve for the freedom I’ve lost. Is that selfish? Maybe. But when I’ve been up during the night to tend to my baby, fed and dressed him in the morning, driven him to nursery, gone to work and taught kids all day, picked my son up from nursery and then get home to a house that’s a tip, sometimes I wish I could just sit myself down and rest a while. Oh I forgot about the fat and stretch marks that don’t go away either. I also felt a loss of identity. Who was I now? What clothes should I wear? What does a mum look like? All these questions used to go round my already worried and anxious mind.

Sometimes I still worry I’m not a good enough mum but who is? I know that I want the best thing for my son when I’m up at midnight researching new baby-friendly recipes. Or when I’m calculating how much calcium he has had that day. Or when I look at him when he’s asleep and feel so much love for him and know that I would do anything for him. It’s not an easy road but it IS worth it. And those nights when it has been so stressful you wonder why you’ve done this to yourself…yeah the gin helps! 😉

It’s Normal to Hate Your Baby

For my Counselling class this week I read an article by Winnicott who said that mothers hate their babies. And I agree.  OK, hate is a strong word so perhaps before I begin I should suggest some softer words-maybe dislike, annoyance and frustration are more palatable.  But COME ON, vocabulary aside of courseeeee mothers loathe their babies at times. That’s NORMAL. Unless suffering from masochism, I suggest it is humanly impossible to listen to a relentless high-pitched scream from a creation (albeit an admittedly adorable one) who selfishly & utterly ignorantly demands your constant effort, time & attention without feeling extreme dislike, frustration, and annoyance-what Winnicott calls Hate.

Why is that so bad to say?

10 Baby Sleep Cartoon

New parents deserve STANDING OVATIONS for simply brushing their teeth.  Hmm, actually there has been the very odd occasion lazy or low day when, I confess, I skip this myself so maybe I should set a lower bar… they deserve a salute for not grabbing their passports and running away from the screaming.  Every parent who pops into the chemist for nipple cream deserves applause!  And the respect of us creating a space for parents – but because of unrealistic & oppressive societal expectations, especially mothers – to express how bloody hard & horrid it can be. That does NOT detract from how beautiful, special, life-enhancing & heart-swelling having a baby is.  But yes, mums, it’s OK to admit that there are times when along with the beauty, joy, gratitude and sheer LOVE you feel, there are also feelings of anger, fear, frustration, dejection and loss. ETC. That is normal.  So us talking about it should be too.

I’m not a mum but I felt both amused and relieved watching this hilarious but oh so truthful Scrubs clip.  Maybe if more of us are encouraged to talk about the lows of parenthood without fear of seeming like a ‘bad mother’ (WHATEVER that is) we’ll have fewer Carlas.

 

 

Please comment but, as ever, be polite.

Hijabi chick-the early days.

So, a while ago I decided to wear a Hijab for a month out of a mixture of curiosity & empathy.  I wondered what it is like wearing something which marks you out as having a particular belief, value and belonging to a specific-and often misunderstood & misrepresented group. And as I look Asian I also wondered how I might be treated differently and how I would feel wearing a scarf over my head, not for fashion or because I was having a bad hair day (this happens a lot!) but just to see how I felt looking like a Muslim woman in London.

Here are some of my impressions:

Day 1: peripheral vision is blocked-duh, how did I not expect that?! It feels less secure crossing roads and I’m wary as people walk behind me as I can’t tell how close they are…oh well, I’ll adjust.

Off to lunch in my hijab
Off to lunch in my hijab

Day 2-

-I spent TWENTY minutes trying to get hijab right-ok, I mean pretty…clearly vanity not modesty is ruling this experiment, doh.
-I got a really warm neck walking quickly (because I’m late!)-it’s not pleasant feeling sweaty necked.

-My scarf got blown about in wind and is a mess-my responses 1) good! Take THAT vanity! 2) Hmm, my head now looks less purposeful ‘hijab’ and more thrown over headscarf-I need to sort it out.

-I feel bad saying that I was (stupidly) surprised several men I passed still looked at me – did I think I’d be invisible in my leopard print hijab and flowery dress? I did wonder if they were looking because of my hijab or just cos I’m a bright, patterned passer-by…and then I thought, if it’s cos I’m bright thennnn I’m still drawing attention to myself so not a win for modesty at all: I’m so conflicted by the balance of self-expression and modesty as a Hijabi.

-Studying with my friend (she totally understood & approved my reasons for lateness, what a gem!)…after a few hours of sitting, chatting, and working, I totally forgot I was wearing a hijab-today it wasn’t in my peripheral vision which helped.

-I change up my Hijab style before leaving for my date with hub to see how it feels; kirby grips transformed me from Afghani school girl to modern ‘urban’ hijab chick in 10minutes-see the pics!

-Still feels very warm!

-I notice fellow hijab wearing women’s smile at me-it could just be politeness because I’m a smiley person but think, by their warmth and the knowing look in their eyes, it’s a smile of solidarity and recognition of seeing a sister in a hipster part of London where there are more beards and red trousers than hijabs- feels good but I also feel a bit of a fraud.

Day and Eve Hijabi chick
Day and Eve Hijabi chick

-The date: I wanted to see how David felt walking with me in my head scarf -so chuffed and proud that my white, English hub couldn’t care less about what’s on my head and just rolled with it! I was self-conscious wearing the hijab in a bar but wanted to commit soo I ordered a cocktail anyway to see if I had any reactions drinking alcohol…none. Great! In hipster London it seems NO.ONE.CARES. If there had obviously been a Muslim present (perhaps imbibing a J20) I probably wouldn’t have been daring enough to oder alcohol for fear of causing offense but all in all, Days 1 & 2 have been interesting and educational.

More days to come along with more random Hijabi thoughts, feelings, and wonderings.

NLB

Holes

We are all-each of us small, flawed aching mortals-riddled with holes:

Love-shaped holes;

Health-shaped holes;

Holes shaped of broken relationships;

Purpose-shaped holes;

Child-shaped holes;

Work-shaped holes;

Holes of frustration and dissatisfaction;

Friendship-shaped holes;

Money-shaped holes;

Home-shaped holes;

And, a God-shaped hole.
The secret to unveil, the mystery reveal, the truth to share is this:

The God-shaped hole covers all of these-like a blanket made of water; as our hearts and minds are filled with God’s presence, He seeps into the other holes in us.

And in His subtle, special, splendid way we find that our holes are filled…

And ironically, we are ‘whole’.

Love of teaching

I LOVED TEACHING. I feel the need to capitalise that statement because so many people, teachers included, are jaded and critical of teaching. But I loveddd it. I enjoyed it when I trained as an RE teacher 8 years ago, then I really liked being in the classroom for the first couple of years, then, in my final few years, LOVE was cemented. There are not many roles in which one enjoys the intellectual stimulation of research, critical thinking, and deep analysis of topics as far-flung as necrophilia (yep, we went there!), Platonic views of reality, why God made wasps-oh, and the ‘meaning of life’.  A job where one is instructor & social-worker, lecturer & friendship-mender, prison warden & mother, academic mentor & life coach, actor & editor, entertainer & counsellor, researcher & preacher, make-up adviser & agony-aunt, administrator & mass tea-maker nearly every single day! (Oh and of course an art-displayer and sport’s day coach and cheerleader!)

My heart SWELLS when I remember hugging pupils (sod what the rules say-crying children need hugs!). I gave fist pumps when I struggling pupils got that C they needed, or when I saw the shiny stars accompanying the A of hard-workers who made the library their new abode for exam season. I grieved when troubled children were expelled because people didn’t know (didn’t want to know?) how to help them but I knew that they knew that I saw their worth.  I felt more pride in pupils’ finally ‘getting it’ than I do for my own degrees.  And no one who hasn’t taught can understand the feelings of despair when they don’t get it no matter how many diagrams and youtube links you employ or lunch breaks you give up…nor the JOY that comes when they finallllly do!

Teaching is worthy. It is a labour of LOVE love LOVE. I loved the intellectual engagement, the curiosity, and challenge, the variation that each day brings (even though you’re following the same timetable and teaching the same people-no day is ever the same as the next).  No one can explain the GRACE that teenagers can show when you’re unwell, or they can just somehow smell that you’re upset (even though you put your ‘teacher face’ on!), and no one can explain how they can level you with meanness if they sense you don’t like them. Because, like us all, pupils want to be loved.

Obvs teaching is not all hugs and gifts of chocolate-oh the marking, the data, the behaviour management, the exhaustion, the whiny colleagues, the whinier students, the misguided leadership, the ambition-obsessed peers, the challenging parents, and the constant demand to give, GIVE, and give more more more.

But whilst it is not the job for me for now-I doubt there are many more important and fulfilling (and demanding) job under the sun.

And if you’re curious ‘what teachers make’…check this fab clip out!

Sex, chocolate, T.Shirts and dusting: what do they have in common?

It was while sitting with a friend in a lovely art-house cinema on a Saturday afternoon in Notting Hill -two seats away from Shane Claiborne, the lanky, white dread-locked American social activist & writer whom I have long admired- that the words ‘Yum Yum’ brought me to tears.  The word ‘tears’, however, does little to describe the intensity of my crying, this was weeping – anguished weeping which compelled me to sit on the floor of the darkened cinema shaking inconsolably upon hearing these words which hitherto had bought to mind happy thoughts of sugar and tasty dough.  Instead of being a tempting label on a Waitrose or Tesco bakery shelf these words were being keenly spoken by the childish mouths of five-year-old Thai girls, with fake smiles on their beautiful, empty faces, as they plied their trade to male Western tourists, all of them unaware of the journalist’s hidden camera. Their ‘trade’ was sex, ‘Yum Yum’ means blow job and the girls are victims of sex slavery.  And so began my impassioned journey to find out more about the evil of modern day slavery and what little old me living my busy, stressful, but ultimately tres comfortable life in Greater London can do to help stop it about.

My journey of awareness has involved reading some inspirational, challenging, disgusting and brave accounts and watching films and going to talks which have evoked the same feelings but have ultimately left me feeling more alive, more determined, more sickened, more grateful, and more wise.  I now feel confident sharing some of what I know about trafficking or, more generally, modern slavery.  Firstly, I know that it is the 2nd most profitable illegal industry – behind drugs but ahead of weapons and quickly moving into that top spot.  Hey, it’s good business – drugs are consumed and guns sold never to be seen again but own a human and you have a reusable commodity… a woman whose body can be sold and used all day, every day, over and over, or a man whose hands can pick your farm produce every day, all day, or a child who can beg on the streets for you all day, every day, all just needing a little food plus a lot of fear and you’ve got yourself a reusable good with a lifetime guarantee-what a bargain!

Disgusted and angry as I am, I am also now aware enough to know that I am a participant in this trade… and so are you.  If there were a way of checking for the fingerprints of slaves, we would see their glowing swirls leaving tracks almost every time we get dressed in the morning, order a latte, buy a chocolate bar, pass a woman begging with a baby on the tube, get our nails done, or even when we stroll past terraced houses in all kinds of neighbourhoods, whether they be near verdant well-kept parks or high-rise flats.

Men, children and overwhelmingly women are trafficked into, from, and around the UK and in every other country of the world.  By ‘trafficked’, I mean that they are tricked/tempted/coerced/deceived/bullied/blackmailed/kidnapped by traffickers – the almost professional sounding name given to men and women who deal in buying and selling people as livestock – often snared by the promise of a legitimate and hope-filled job as a waitress/domestic servant/farm-hand/nanny/hairdresser or even as an ice-cream seller (yes, that one is true!).  The victims are almost invariably people who are vulnerable – people who like you and me want a better life and are willing to work for it, but who never get that chance.  Instead, they find themselves tricked, trapped, alone and without hope of a way out;

…the wonderful boyfriend who promised Anna* a new life in England suddenly disappears after dropping her off at that bland-enough terraced house in London, leaving her to be gang raped into submission by her new ‘owners’ as he makes his way off with her passport and his ‘fee’, already bee-lining for his next ‘girlfriend’ to woo and ensnare.

…the sweet neighbour who’s known Natasha all her life and has seen her blossom into a beautiful young woman, who was so kind in arranging for Natasha to come and stay with her on her next trip to London so she could improve her English, hasn’t returned after dropping Natasha off at the nail bar where she is now forced to work for free with a smile on her face 8am-10pm and then locked in the store cupboard with not enough room to lie-down in until the shop opens again the next morning.

…the job advert for strong farm-hands to work in the English countryside said ‘well-paid’…instead Leo is forced to pick cannabis all day, in fear of being beaten if he doesn’t pick enough, with no bed to sleep in, no freedom to leave the farm, no passport to go home, no contact with his mum and dad and ultimately no chance of escape.

…the couple who brought Abieyuwa to their home to work as their domestic help and nanny agreed a good wage and 1 day off a week; instead she sleeps on the floor in the kitchen, is never allowed out of the house, works every single day from 6am-11pm and is beaten and raped by her ‘employer’; at least Cinderella had the warmth of a fire to sit by – Abieyuwa has nothing.

These stories are snapshots about real people – people with parents, friends, talents, everyday problems, and hopes and dreams for their futures; people tricked and trapped and in need of hope and freedom.  Little old me cannot close (or better yet, regulate and make safe) the factories using slaves to sew clothes for Western shops to sell for cheap prices and big profits; nor can I regulate the farms making the chocolate adorning shelves and shelves of my local supermarkets, nor can I stop girls and women being raped and forcibly prostituted so that ‘Johns’ can get a cheap shag and their ‘owners’ can get a big profit – regardless of what it costs their bodies and souls.  And yet, whilst my heart feels heavy and my eyes teary as I type, I do not despair!  Because with awareness comes power and opportunity; I can think before I reach for an enticing bar of Galaxy Cookie Crumble – and instead reach for the plain yet delicious Galaxy, the Rainforest Alliance certified bar which tells me the cocoa which makes it taste so gorgeous wasn’t picked by a slave (oh poor me, what a sacrifice!); I can then email Galaxy and ask them WHY is one bar of chocolate certified slave-free but not t’other?  I can also now stop and think before buying a £1 T-shirt; I can consider the journey this ‘cheap’ item has been on – it’s been designed, then cut from cotton which was grown and harvested and manufactured, then sewn and shipped across the world…this costs more than £1!  So I can email the company and ask what their procedures are for checking if there is slavery involved in making their products; I can sign my name on Stop the Traffik’s campaign to stop slavery in the clothing industry. (NB: many cheaper stores use the same factories as the more costly ones but regardless of the size and name of the High Street chains we shop in, they all care what their customers think as happy customers buy more and make happy shareholders!).

So, in the face of this oh-so sophisticated, pervasive and evil ‘trade’, what can we do?  Well, along with doing some of the things above, we can also see websites or news articles or Facebook & Twitter posts and not cower from their painful truths but WOMAN UP and learn more about what’s happening to our sisters (and brothers) across the country and the globe.  We can watch films or documentaries to learn a bit more; I love movies and books and highly recommend Human Trafficking the mini-series with Mira Sorveno, Donald Sutherland [yep, President Snow himself!] and Robert Carlisle as an engaging, thrilling intro to the situation – no, it’s not the one which made me weep!  Also, the life-stirring and very inspiring book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn is one I bought for nearly all of my girlfriends and Aunties when I read it 3 years ago!).  We can sign petitions, get involved with local charities or groups working to fight this and we can organise fundraisers and give the money to support their work.  We can spread the truth and tell others what we learn to, just maybe, stoke a fire in their hearts to oppose this.

Most of all though, we can let our hearts be softened, our eyes be open, our ears be keen, our prejudices be challenged and our habits be renewed.

*All names changed