Longing/Belonging

Today it is a decade since my husband and I moved to the UK.

Like all those who move from one society to another (whether by choice or forced by their circumstances) our first few years were spent in longing… longing, in equal measure, for the life we left behind and the life we wanted to build here. Equal parts nostalgia and determination.

And like all those who put down roots anew, today I feel a strong sense of belonging… belonging twice over, in equal measure, to both, the community we left behind and the community we are part of here.

Today is also my birthday, and like all those who celebrate these milestones in parallel realities (real life and online!) it is inevitably a day spent looking at one screen or another, as the warm wishes pour in. Late night emails & early morning phone calls, Facebook, WhatsApp & Skype around the clock: my digital reality today is yet another reminder of how very fortunate I am, to have so much love sent my way from such distant parts of the world. Meanwhile my physical reality – doing deeply rewarding work while enjoying a sunny day in a beautiful garden I get to call my own, before enjoying a celebratory evening – reminds me how privileged my life here is too.

I find myself sighing even as I smile… and acknowledge, yet again, this borderless state of mind I enjoy, the sheer privilege of a globalised life, and yes, the lifetime of saudade I’ve signed myself up for.

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My first attempt at a Haiku, seemed fitting for it to be this one, on this day.
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‘No Buy July’: rethinking consumerism

buy-nothing

I’ve just finished what I called ‘no buy July’. At the start of the month I decided I would go a whole month without buying anyTHING. (I would still spend on services, and of course, on food and drink. But I wanted to see if I could go a whole month without buying things.)

First, the rationale behind my decision: it was not about saving money, but about taking a good hard look at my own consumerism and minimising my own impact on the planet. If you stop to think – as I made myself – about the amount of resources that go into creating, packaging, shipping and selling things, and then question whether you really truly needed all that material, energy and money spent on fulfilling that precise desire… honestly, not many things would pass the ‘do I’ test.

My decision was prompted, in part, by my frequent visits to India in the course of this last year. As any of my migrant friends will appreciate, a visit ‘back home’ is almost always a shopping expedition: all those special treats you really only get out there, the traditional clothes, shoes and accessories in colours and designs you’d be hard pressed to find in London stores (and when you do, they’re certainly not at comparable prices!) By now, the impulse to buy in bulk is an almost automatic one.

But as I made more than a couple of trips back and forth this year, I realised I didn’t really have to stock up quite as much, and I certainly didn’t ‘need’ to go shopping on each trip. More to the point, my decision to exercise sensible restraint was in glaring contrast with the behaviour I witnessed while in India…

As the country has ‘developed’, with globalisation bringing most brands into the domestic market, and the urban middle class enjoying more and more disposable income thanks to salaries starting to reflect international collaborations, consumerism has become quite the phenomenon. So much so, I found myself wondering if people were even conscious of how impulsively (compulsively?) they were buying things!

Every single time I made plans to meet family or friends in India, they would suggest we met at a bar or restaurant – either in a mall, or in the middle of a ‘shopping area’. (Not surprisingly, the food and retail markets seem to coexist, and feed each other.)

Every single time we met, at least one (but usually more) of my drinking/dining companions would be carrying a shopping bag, with something they had just bought.

Every single conversation with friends was therefore inevitably punctuated by exclamations over what had just been bought. Discussions over where similar – or better – items had been bought by the others. Arguments over whether similar – or better – prices, alternatives, other brands had been found.

And no one seemed to stop and think, did I really need to buy that?

Perhaps as an over-reaction to what I saw as absent-minded consumerism, I decided I would impose mindful un-consumerism upon myself.

I was determined to see if I could go a whole month without buying anything, and force myself to think of clever alternatives to buying the things that would only contribute to plunder at one end of their life-cycle, and waste at the other.

Here’s a small sample of the choices I made:

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  • Cooked my friends a present instead of buying them one.
  • When visiting friends, took them flowers from my garden, arranged in a once-used gift bag I had saved. (Yes, I always save wrapping paper… and would probably have wrapped them in recycled paper if I didn’t have an old gift bag at hand!)
  • I started baking in glassware and covering dishes with plates instead of taking the easier way out with aluminium foil and cling film. (Even though I was already using recycled foil and biodegradable cling film)

And yes, I didn’t buy any new clothes or personal effects: but then, as someone who doesn’t wear makeup, and never paid much attention to trends, that wasn’t hard for me to do either.

In fact, I ended my no-buy July by wearing a shirt** that I recently realised (thank you, Facebook memories!) I have been wearing since 2005!!!

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If this sounds like a challenge you would enjoy too, do check out the wonderful Buy Nothing Project, from whom I borrowed the title photo on this page.

** And yes, I cheerfully wear a decade-old shirt on my own birthday too! 

Leaving the party too late

The end of the year is always a good time to pause and take stock, and – at least in my case, and particularly this year – a time to celebrate everything that went right in the year gone by. But sometimes, the reflections are so deep, so detailed, they take time to be clear enough to be articulated.

2015 was a momentous year for me. In more ways than one. In the spirit of grateful goodbye, I would have liked to articulate my gratitude, but I was too busy enjoying the party (“squeezing the last drop of pleasure from it” as my mother says I do almost each time) to start making my goodbyes just then. Also the fact is that in some ways, for me, the New Year actually seemed to start a few days later; a lengthy trip to India ended on the 5th of January, and that seemed like a more fitting time to turn the page on 2015.

As anyone who knows me will know – for me the professional and personal are deeply intertwined. And in 2015, I found this reinforced again, as events brought me full circle and issued me both, my greatest challenge and the greatest sense of reward, in both spheres. But still, considering how much went on in the year, I guess my reflections will follow in bits and parts…The professional year that was. And what the year did to/for ME, personally.

But thank you, all of you who were part of my life in 2015. (You know who you are, and I hope I’ve made it clear how much I valued your part in my life this year!)

It was a great party. And the next one has already begun well…

When home is no longer an option.

I feel compelled to share Kenya-born poet Warsaw Shire’s poem ‘Home’ in its entirety, if only to reinforce the #RefugeesWelcome message. These are undoubtedly the most powerful words I’ve read in a while, a stark reminder of society’s moral responsibility towards those for whom home is no longer an option. And of our obligation not to confuse refugees with migrants, who have far more agency in their own destiny. No images necessary, her words are description enough.

Home

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.

— by Warsan Shire

If you’re as moved as I was, please consider adding your voice to this Avaaz ‘no more drownings’ wall. It’s a beginning.

How Snapchat works the 3As: and why I can’t wait to see it used more!

Before I begin rhapsodizing about Snapchat, let me say upfront: it’s not about the sexting. Though I can see why that would be the most popular – or most obvious? – use of the app, I’m fascinated by how much more it could do. As a communications professional, I’ve been intrigued by the possibilities offered by Snapchat and been wondering how the power of the fast-growing network could be harnessed better for causes.

Image courtesy FT.com

But most of all, I’ve been struck by how well Snapchat works the three As framework I’ve mentioned before:

Authenticity: With no ‘liking’, sharing or commenting, Snapchat users are no slaves to statistics. No metrics judge the merits of each post or each profile, which means users can be who they are, say what they think, and share what they like without constantly measuring their popularity by their notifications. The fact that the images don’t last forever gives users further freedom: to share how they feel ‘in the moment’ without worrying about where the image will show up. Yes, that relative anonymity may encourage over-sharing, but at least there are fewer consequences, whether they be awkward dinner-table conversations with parents, or job applications being rejected because of that time they were tagged in a questionable photo/mentioned in a scurrilous tweet.

Audiences: At its core, the app allows users to share image updates with ‘their friends’ – either individually, or in groups they select. Naturally, this means each Snap is expressly designed to appeal to the audience. Subsequent add-ons, like the Discover feature, allow users to access curated content which means they are pulling content according to their own choices; much like your Twitter/FB newsfeeds start to reflect editorial preferences, putting the audience in charge of what makes the front page.

Audacity: Ok, so this is self-explanatory! Nothing encourages #NoFilter audacity like a combination of consequence-free communications to controlled audiences and the (relative) privacy of the app. No edits, no censure, no backlash – at least, that’s what we hope – surely that would encourage ever-greater freedom of expression?

Add to all that the huge numbers that Snapchat can already boast of (in the time it has taken you to read this sentence, no less than 240 thousand ‘Snaps’ were shared!) and it’s no surprise Snapchat CEO Spiegel is being feted at Cannes by advertising professionals. Which only makes me wonder which advocacy groups are already using the service, and why more aren’t! (If you know of campaigns that use Snapchat to good effect, please can you share the info in comments?)

Meanwhile, I’m gong to download the app today, because (what I think is) a prime opportunity just arose: Qataris are preparing to grab “the chance to tell the rest of the world what life is like in the Gulf” via Snapchat’s Live Story feature, thanks to #DohaLive. And with so much attention on Doha right now (for a variety of reasons) this could be the moment Snapchat users step up to the spotlight and share a multitude of voices from Doha, the voices of the young – and yes please, particularly the young women!! – to whom the city truly belongs.

Promisingly enough, the debate has already begun.