Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It's been a long time coming

I know it's been quite a while since I wrote anything on this blog. It's been a long exciting year and a half since this blog was updated. I fell sick with an unidentified virus, went to and completed my first year of grad school, attended the wedding of two of my close friends, become pretty close to my in-laws, lived in and fallen in love with the village of Okurase in the Eastern Region, and finally made the move to live with my husband in California. Whew!! So, there's a lot that has happened in my life. I am going to really try (fingers crossed) to keep the notes coming on here. Have a Happy Thanksgiving (for those who celebrate it), and do keep in mind that this holiday also marks some horrible events against the Native Americans. Let's pray that we have all grown and matured enough to learn from the past and NOT repeat such acts of hatred.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Hangin’ Out in the UK

I left Trinidad for the UK on the 26th of February, a week after Carnival. Twum had come to visit for the Carnival week, and it was nice to see him and spend time with him. I also took part in the Trinidad Carnival, so that was good. I had planned to stay in the UK for about two weeks, getting my Ugandan and South African visas, and making contact with various organizations in both countries. This, did not happen. The organizations in Uganda and South Africa either did not respond, or did not have space for me as they had accepted their quota of interns for the time being, or were working on rape and not domestic violence, etc. In the waiting, I applied for some scholarships to fund my masters program in the fall (I’m still waiting…pray for me), and I baked up a storm! I think I may have made close to five or six pounds of pound cake. I made some chocolate cake and the cheese pound cake. I reconnected with some old friends (Michael Awuye, James Lawson and Victoria Hazel from Morning Star, primary school days, and Elizabeth Yankah from Gey Hey), and also met Kathy’s boyfriend and his friends. We had quite a ball, cooking up a storm and going out to the movies, shopping, and visiting other friends. I also made some new friends.

I also got close to Annabelle, and spent a lot of time with her. One very memorable incident while I was in the UK was on 10th March, when Annabelle and I decided to attend the annual bash to celebrate Ghana’s independence, which was 6th March. (On 6th March we went to Baba’s Foundation to get some food to commemorate the day. I got banku of course! LOL!). This year’s party was huge because Ghana was celebrating 50 years of independence. When we got to the place it was being held, the line was ridiculous. I didn’t have a ticket, and I had to buy one from a lady who was tired of waiting. Annabelle and I stood in line for forever, and then we heard they were allowing people in behind the building, so we went to the back to see what our chances were. They were next to nil. A throng of partygoers, dressed up to the nines in various kente and local cloth combinations, shoulders bare in defiance of the cold weather, were pushing and shoving at this ‘magical’ door. Annabelle and I plunged into this crowd, thinking that we could finally get in. Hahaha! We were shoved and pushed, and I got separated from Annabelle because I got fed up and left the crowd, as people were pushing back and forth, causing this kind of wave effect where you can’t control your body anymore. I did not want to be crushed to death because of this party, thank you very much. ( I know, I know…crushed to death is a little bit much, but I felt I could get badly hurt over there.) I had to call Kathy to get Annabelle’s number, and it turned out that she had also gone out of the crowd to the front of the building, looking for me, while I had exited and stood still at the back of the building. Finally, the police came around in their trucks, announcing on their PA system that the building was closed and no one else would be allowed to enter. I had already sold my ticket by then, and Annabelle also sold hers. We walked down the road, found a bus, and begun the long ride home. We got home around 4am, exhausted, but with nothing to show for it. LOL! Okay, I got something to show for it…a man was selling roti next to the party venue, so to forget my troubles, I bought some roti and munched on it happily. He didn’t have any Sorrel Shandy though, pity. 

When I finally got in touch with two organizations who were willing to have me over, I finalized my ticket, got my Ugandan visa, and got ready to leave. I got to the airport the Sunday I was supposed to arrive, and they said my bags were too heavy and I had to redistribute. I had my trusty jute bag that I had bought in Ajmer, India. I did the redistribution, and went back in line, only to be told that the plane was full. What???!!!! They realized that it was their mistake and booked me on a flight on Tuesday. The Victoria line decided to break down that day, so that a lot of underground stations in Central London had to close. I couldn’t get through. I went to wait for a bus, but because everyone else was also stranded, there was major traffic on the road and the buses were not coming. I finally queued up for a taxi, and Annabelle came to meet me there. We somehow found a way to get to Heathrow, as the stations finally opened up after fixing the problem. It was way too late by then. I called the Emirates Airline and explained the situation to them. They said they would reschedule me for the next day. Annabelle and I went on to the airport to get the change confirmed and to get a new sticker to verify it, and then we took a bus back to East Croydon. The next day, I took that same bus and got to Heathrow safely, checked in, and flew to Uganda, via Dubai. Dubai is lovely, by the way!


I arrived in Trinidad on 6th January, 2007. I was met at the airport by Dearice, the matron at the shelter. She drove me to the shelter and showed me my room, where I had a table with some biscuits, milk, cereal and tea bags. It was quite nice. I think I fell asleep almost immediately. The next day Dearice prepared some mac and cheese, calalou, chicken and beans for lunch. It was delicious. I also got to meet Trevor, the security man/handyman at the Shelter. I also heard the three dogs who are part of the shelter staff. Dearice had to ran some errands so she took me along. I don’t know how I communicated to Twum and my parents that I had arrived, but somehow I did. The next day, Monday, Liz, who is the fundraising person for the shelter and has an office that is out in town, came to see me. I had slept till late, and she had to leave for her office. Later on I met her older sister, Jen, who works as the Shelter Coordinator. Auntie Jens took me under her wing and took me everywhere she went. We went to get donations of food and linen (bedsheets and towels), and we also went grocery shopping for the shelter. As the days progressed, the shelter gradually filled with women, peaking at nine women and five children. Some left while I was still staying there, and others were still in the shelter when I left.

While at the shelter, I realized how hard it must be to leave your life and everything you’ve had as a constant in your life, and flee to a shelter. It’s not an easy decision to make, especially if you don’t have any financial support or are not working, like some of these women. The shelter had curfew of 6pm when you had to have returned from town, you had to have given prior notice the day before if you wanted to go out, and you couldn’t use your cell phone on the premises. Wake up time was 6am everyday, and lights out was 9pm on weekdays and 10pm on weekends ( I think). The children had different lights out times, and there was also a TV schedule for both the women and the children. Each woman had to take part in the cooking and cleaning of the house in addition to taking care of their children. Of course this would cause some friction, as you have all these people who are used to doing things their own way.

Some days I got to sub for the matrons and supervisors on their day off, and I was in charge of the house, and locking up. It was quite scary. One night the person supposed to relieve the day supervisor was very late in coming, and one of the women had an epileptic fit, causing the day supervisor to be delayed even further till 11pm. It was a scary night. I was not there that day, because I had gone out for a Carnival program with one of the night matrons who was not on duty.

For my work, I visited Families in Action (FIA), an organization that works with anybody and everybody on various issues such as drug abuse, alcoholism and domestic abuse. I got the chance to tag along with their Peer Counseling Education team when they went to a secondary school in the southern part of Trinidad to train some students who had been selected to be Peer Counselors. It was a lovely day. I also visited the Rape Crisis Society (RCS), another NGO that deals with rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence, offers free counseling, and also goes out to sensitize the public and educate people, especially in rural Trinidad. RCS established one of the first hotlines in Trinidad. Lastly, I visited the Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CADV), another NGO dealing in domestic violence. They had a lot of different programs such as Stopping Elderly Abuse Now and Childline, in addition to their Domestic Violence work. CADV responds to different DV clients based on what the client needs (counseling, help with divorce, court proceedings, child custody hearings, understanding their rights under the law, etc.). For all three NGOs ( and I think a lot of NGOs worldwide), the main problem is getting funding, and also keeping staff for a long period of time, as this work is hard, demanding and not as financially rewarding as other jobs, causing some people to burn out quickly. I also learnt that a lot of people arrived at their jobs in the NGO/DV field through a lot of avenues. Some had volunteered while pursuing another career, until they finally switched over. Others had never had any experience with the field until they just decided one day to switch careers. Very few had started out working on the issue of domestic violence.

Now for the fun part: I happened to be in Trinidad during the carnival period, so I got to witness and partake in it. I know most of you have already seen my pictures from that time, but it was a lot of fun. I went for fetes where I saw some of their musicians such as Destra Garcia, Shurwayne Winchester and Patrice Roberts. I also attended Calypso Shows, and went jogging on Lady Chancellor Hill like everyone else, in preparation for the carnival. I ate doubles, which are two delicious small, fried rotis filled with beans, chili pepper, mango slices, and other lovely things. I also enjoyed rotis, especially those with goat meat curry, green beans curry, pumpkin, channa and potato, and these greens I love but I can’t remember their name. Oh, I also fell in love….with Sorrel Shandy! Oh Lord! That is the best drink ever. I could drink about six bottles of that a day. I saw the St. James Children’s Carnival too.

Then, Twum joined me in Trinidad, and we had fun walking around and watching Carnival on the Carnival Monday. That night, I decided to play mas on Tuesday, so we called around until I found a band that had space, and I went and got the costume. You all saw what it looked like. I KNOW what it looked like, but I figured it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I went for it! Now my kids and grandkids can never say that Mummy/Grandma was boring. Teeheehee! I played with Rhythm Nation, and had a lot of Sorrel Shandy, water and juice to drink. I only played for a half a day. I think playing carnival is mainly tiring because you spend most of the time waiting to move along the street, as all bands have to pass in front of the judges at specific points, one of them around the Savannah, to be rated.

After carnival, Twum unfortunately fell sick. We think it was something he may have picked up on the plane, as after he got to Trinidad, we ate the same food. He however got well before he left, and I was grateful for that. It was a lovely time, and I’m especially glad I got to share it with Twum. We left the same day, him for the US, and me back to the UK, to get visas for Uganda and South Africa.

Christmas in the UK

I spent Christmas in the UK with Twum, and we met up with friends and family. We hung out with Edwin, Twum’s friend from Motown. We also met up with my friend Jojo, a musician, who is getting married this August (Congratulations!), and we also spent time at Twum’s uncle place in Edgware, with Twum’s cousin Fiifi, Fiifi’s girlfriend, and Tracey, a lovely Nigerian girl who also lives in the area. Twum and I had fun decorating the whole house with fake Christmas trees, Christmas lights, and Santa hats. We also visiting Dr. Asante, one of my dad’s friends who lives about five minutes away from Edgware with his family. On 31st December we went to visit Victory Bible Church in East London where Pastor Clement and his wife minister, and I got to sing at the service (it was nice, but I was extremely NERVOUS!). From there, we went back to the hotel to sleep, and then took the train up to Birmingham to visit Angela, Sammy and Adrian. We spent New Year’s Eve with them at church service, and then the next day, they made us the loveliest breakfast ever with this nice mincemeat omelette. Twum and I left for London that same day, and then we spent the first week of the year together, after which I left for Trinidad and he left for the US. Here’s a Belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!

Last week in India

My last week in India was pretty uneventful. I had bought some scarves for the ladies as presents, so I wrapped them and distributed them. The day before I was supposed to leave (the Friday), the ladies gave me a necklace, bracelet and earring set made from pearls, with a purple stone. It was really beautiful, and I was quite touched. Anindita’s wedding was that evening, so we planned to leave together form the office. While we were dressing up, I got a call from the airline that was supposed to take me to Mumbai so I could catch my flight to London. They had rescheduled the flight to 11am. I was extremely unhappy. I had cancelled a Kingfisher flight to get on this other flight, and now they had rescheduled. What even annoyed me even more was that all they could say was that they were sorry and there was nothing they could do about it. I kept the woman on the line, explaining to her that I was on a student ticket and didn’t have money to purchase another ticket if I missed my connecting flight to the UK. My friend Jagati meanwhile was on the phone to other airlines to see if I could get another early morning flight. The Air India lady gave me a phone number to call the shift manager at the airport, and he said that I should just come to the airport early in the morning and they would see what they could do. I also managed to get a standby reservation on Jet Airways for almost R 12,000, about twice what I had paid for the Air India flight. Served me right!! Anu the director was told, and she called me from her house to check and make sure that I was alright and everything was being sorted. Jagati was more than helpful, and after all these false starts, we left for Anindita’s marriage ceremony.

She looked amazing! The ceremony itself wasn’t too elaborate as they just signed the marriage licence, and then went through some traditional rituals. When we left the wedding, Chandrana and her husband took me to a hotel cafĂ© where we had tea and desserts. It was really nice of them. When they dropped me home, I stayed up watching a movie and trying to finish up Mrs. Sanyal’s wrap. She got a little concerned that I would miss my flight, so she came to check on me around 4am. The taxi driver I had hired was already waiting downstairs, so I just got my stuff together and left. I had wanted to give Naran Rs. 1000, but I wasn’t sure how much I would have to pay for my heavy stuff, so I gave him very little money. I’ve been meaning to send him some money by Moneygram but I just haven’t gotten around to it. He was really helpful.

At the airport, I went to various offices and stood there waiting for almost an hour before someone offered to help me. I was feeling very scared because I had booked a flight on Jet Airways which was leaving at 6:30am and it was almost 5am. The lady who saw me at the Air India offices directed me to another office where the shift manager was working. He was a pretty pleasant man, and cracked a few jokes with me. I smiled, but I guess my anxiety must have shown because he quickly filled out an invoice for me to get cash at the other office. At the other office, I had to wait again till they paid out the cash to me. Even that, they called the shift manager to verify, and then I had to move to another office to get the cash. The lady at the accounts office paid me 500 rupees less than they were supposed to, and when I mentioned it, they said it wasn’t true. At that point I didn’t care, and 500 rupees was not enough for me to miss my flight to Mumbai, so I just said it was okay and left, very close to tears.

As I walked to join the security line, I saw some Jet Airways staff. One of them accosted me and asked what the problem was (apparently I looked very distraught). I explained to him, and as I ended saying “I just want to go home”, I heard someone hailing me and waving me down. It was a staff member from Air India, and they were bringing the 500 rupees. For a brief moment, I wanted to be snobbish and uppity and throw it back in their face, but I was too tired to even think up ways of doing something so childish. The man from Jet Airways asked what flight I was on, and when he learnt I was on the 6:30am flight to Mumbai, he quickly ushered me across the security line and I went to join the bus to board the flight.

I think I snored all the way from Kolkata to Mumbai. At the Mumbai domestic terminal, I had to join a queue to board a shuttle to the international terminal. Mind you, I was still wearing my sari from Anindita’s wedding. I got quite a few stares, especially since I was wearing the sari with my full afro combed out. I made it to the international terminal (finally!), and proceeded to go to the Virgin Atlantic counter. At the Mumbai international departure terminal, you had to have your bags screened before you even got to the counter. I screened my bags, and proceeded to the Virgin counter, feeling relieved that I was there three hours before departure, and that I could get to sit down soon. That was not to happen! When I got there, I was told my bags were too heavy (I knew that already! LOL!) and that I had to pay about 26,000 rupees extra to transport them. So I went to change almost all the money I had on me, ready to pay for it. When I got back, they said that I could actually put my stuff into two bags, so I had to redistribute my belongings, and I ended up throwing out some of my yarn. (Sob! Gulp! Sniff! Hehhee..that’s for you Phoebe!) After letting the whole world see the insides of my suitcase at the Virgin counter, I was told I had to go back and get my bags screened! Aaargh! I wanted to scream in frustration! (I was still in my sari…the first time I wear a sari, and I have to carry my over 32kg suitcases to and fro!) When I got back to the Virgin Airlines counter, I got the coupe de grace…my reservation was not in the system. At that point, I just started laughing, and I think I scared the check-in attendants. The one serving me called their supervisor over, and she went to verify whether I was indeed in the system. A few excruciating minutes later, she came over to tell me that they had found my reservation. I also didn’t need to pay that much for my luggage because I was transiting through the US and was allowed two pieces of luggage. So, after finally checking in (thank God!), I went back to the forex bureau to change the rupees into pounds, and then I went to find something to eat.

The trip itself back to the UK was nothing major. When I got to the immigration control area, one of the staff workers asked me whether I was Indian. I wanted to retort that it was a stupid question, seeing that I was as black as he was. I instead just said no, and he asked why I was in a sari then! Oh my! I held my tongue and said I had just arrived from India, and I went past him as quickly as I could. Sheesh! I got out into the departure lounge and waited for a few minutes, and then I saw Twum. We found a cab and went on to our hotel. We ordered some food and I fell asleep right after eating.

Week 9:Monday 4th December 2006 – Sunday 10th December 2006

Today Monday, I’m still recovering from a cold I got sometime last week. I haven’t felt well the whole day and spent most of the day quietly typing on my laptop. I called the STIC office to find a ticket from Kolkata to Mumbai on the 16th. The lady said she would call me back but didn’t, and now the lights are off.  I might not leave till the lights come back on. Meanwhile, I’m not sure what to do to keep myself busy. LOL! There was supposed to be another panel discussion “Women and the Media” at Gorky Sadan, but apparently there were no people in the audience, so it was cancelled. I was quite sad to hear that, as I’m sure it would have been pretty interesting. I have also not seen any of the movies that Drik India puts up after each panel discussion. I hope I can get copies of the movies to watch later.