Summer work and rest in the United States

A few weeks ago I went to my first SLA Conference Sourced Forward in Charlotte North Carolina.  I was due to go in 2020 but due to the pandemic, the conference was postponed until this summer.  I certainly was happy to finally be in Charlotte and I certainly didn’t envision that I would be attending in 2022 as their President-Elect 2022-2024.  As the saying goes, with ‘great power, comes greater responsibility’ – this was no less the case as we had a very full schedule with meetings and membership engagement.  It was great for leaders to meet and speak directly to attendees, as well as to attend the awards ceremony to very deserving winners for their achievements.

I am unable to comment in depth on the conference programme sessions (which I can still catch up on the virtual components) as I had other matters in hand with the board.  Obviously, I was blown away by few that I did attended, such as the opening keynote speakers, general and closing sessions. The opening keynote on ‘ReSourced Leveraging Library Infrastructure in Community Centred Projects’ by historian Dr Jennifer Garcon extolled the need for community group for finding the stories that are hidden in archives that may have been traditionally inaccessible from everyone due to barriers or power struggles.  She gave examples of building partnerships and leveraging resources to gain access for the benefit of the user ReSourced communities. Her talk also highlighted the need for digital preservation for local documents, personal stories and items. It truly was inspiring for the diversity and engagement levels of the projects mentioned.

The second general session called ‘Tell me Sweet little lies: racism as a persistent form of malinformaiton’ by Dr Nicole Cooke was great for exploring the multiple ways that information is used as a power tool for misinformation, disinformation and malinformation. This is a topic I have been interested in for a long time but look at the examples and some of the multi-layered ways that information is manipulated is very insightful as well as educational on how to prevent this happening – especially if it causes harm such as in medical or racial scenarios.  The final session By Dr Travis Wagner was great at highlighting the opportunities for understanding ‘The role of information professionals in crafting a gender inclusive future’.  As library and information professional, we have a responsibility to all our customers and I certain didn’t understand all the negative aspects of collection management and access that affects genders – I was shocked but also sadden by some of the practices that library patrons encountered as well as some of the discrimination in the content held in library and archives.  These larger sessions as well as the small education ones I was able to attend really reenergised me to return to the world with reinvigorated purpose and pride.

I also have a great time at some of the social events in the evening in Charlotte to going around some of the close blocks near the Charlotte Convention Centre.  I hadn’t realised that I would have so little time to explore and really didn’t go to the some of the local tourist attractions such as the Nascar Hall of Fame or the Mint Museum.  Perhaps if I make it back to North Carolina one day – I can get a chance to seem more of Charlotte.  In all, it was a great experience and I was so pleased to see so many SLA colleagues, members, our industry partners, supporters and friends.

After Charlotte I wanted to make sure I made the most of being in the USA, and therefore took an internal flight to Florida to spend time in Fort Lauderdale and Miami.  I was truly impressed with the beaches, the weather and the amazing architecture! You also see lots of different types of vehicles that you just do not see here in the UK.  There are local business and trains but I mainly stayed in local areas or went out with family. 

One of the recommended tourist sights of natural beauty and ecological interest was the Florida Everglades.  I was pleased that my hotel was able to arrange a pick up from the hotel and I was able to directly to one of the areas with facilities for tourist.  It was my first drive along Fort Lauderdale area and then on the Everglades.  I do love the holiday feel and look of this part of Florida and that the beaches were endless (apparently 600 miles of beaches).  Once we got the Everglades, it was a very hot day and the humidity was unbelievable.  The Everglades is one of the world’s largest wetlands and therefore was real delight going on the airboat long the lanes of the everglades.  It was interesting hearing about the indigenous tribes Seminoles, and how they lived around the Everglades.  The grasses, lilies, pond apples, mangrove and other plant life thrives in this wet and subtropical climate. And everybody hopes to see an alligator in the Everglades and lucky for us in the trip – we saw three alligators in the water! There was also an alligator taming show and you can actually hold a baby alligator. It was a great experience of a natural beauty and I recalled the 1970’s US TV series Gentle Ben, which had great scenes of a game warden family, his son and a tame bear who frequently went on an airboat. 

I was able to spend time with some of Caribbean diaspora at one of their local Caribbean restaurants where they were selling food, drinks, music and lots of Caribbean cheer on a very hot Sunday.  I totally get that these communities where there celebrating there Sunday with their Caribbean people, especially just after a cricket game with India.  There was music, a rhythm section and also a visit from world renown cricketer, Brian Lara. I also have some experience of the local night life by going to a Latin bar on in the Las Olas area and also in downtown Fort Lauderdale to an Italian bar.  It was great to see these areas and the night life that is famous in Miami.

The next interesting aspect of my holiday was taking a city bus tour around downtown Miami.  Miami got its’ name from the river that run through it by the indigenous tribes to the region.  Later on, Miami is the only American city that has been founded by a woman – she was Julia Tuttle known as the ‘Mother of Miami’.  The region is definitely very cosmopolitan and had a large Latinx community.  Very frequently I hear Spanish and a lot of the local shops had Latinx food or signs.  On the bus tour to the city we saw several of the Art Deco buildings that is in abundance in Miami.  The reason for the high concentration of this type of architecture is that there was a hurricane in the 1920’s which destroyed all the buildings and it seems the Art Deco style was popular at this time.  It really is amazing to see.

Cubans also exiled to Miami with the 1960s and the area Little Havana still has a large Cuban community with tobacco and coffee shops, with cool looking restaurants and musical venues.  The area is known for its cultural and Cuban community significance as well as it being a place for new South and Central American immigrants. One of the most famous and beloved Cuban-American superstars are the Miami Sound Machine.  It was great hearing one of their songs on the Hotel PA system when I was there.  The tour bus also showed us the recording studio to the Miami Sound Machine, and their funky colourful building.  I do recommend the bus tour to see all the sights without the hassle of driving and the waterways were great to see how the islands of Miami are linked up by bridges etc.  There was a misunderstanding with timings, and I was unable to go on my boat tour around the Miami islands – hopefully I can go another time. 

And while much of the diaspora has moved onto greater pastures around Miami, Little Havana continues to be a vital launch point for immigrants from South and Central America who bring their flavours, rhythm and hardworking spirit to this vibrant community.

Time Out

https://www.timeout.com/miami/little-havana

I particular liked my hotel in Miami for the ambience, the beautiful pool area, architecture and garden.  I really felt like I can visit there again someday and loved that the beach was only about 200 metres away.  The water was clean and fun to splash around in but I was not brave enough to go on any adventurous water sports or out further. It was the Atlantic Ocean and it was awesome seeing so much beautiful kilometres of beaches. 

More than anything, I was happy to finally visiting Miami after hearing about it for so long on another TV series such as Miami Vice.  It is also not far from Trinidad so lots of Trinidadians go there on holiday and have said that is a good place to visit.  I thank my family for their hospitality and for showing me around their amazing Miami and Fort Lauderdale. I certain would like to visit again and explore the region a bit more – event a far down as Key West.

Mission Possible – Libraries & Information Pros Collaborating

It seems like a long time coming but libraries collaborating is happening…again. At least for me. This month has been busy just with my work which has been great for giving me a purpose and mission. I seem to have been fighting for the last 15 plus years.  I suppose I still haven’t gotten use to just relaxing as it has never been easy for me.

We get visits from lots of people who wants to visit the British Library, which is always a pleasure to do. This month I had two visitors from the library profession from Canada and Aotorea (native name for New Zealand). It is good to go around the library with fresh eyes. The building is impressive but also the different subject areas and physical layout. It seems like people and professionals are travelling again like Te Paea and Cellia who were travelling to Dublin for IFLA’s conference. It was nice to see other professionals like Loida from USA and Kevin from the Philippines there too showing there connections and activities on Twitter.

There are times when we meet people who are similar to us even though we have not met them before.  This is also when I used the word recently to describe library and I formation work, I said mission. The same word was used by Safy Al Ashqar, Head of the University of Mosul library, Iraq. Safy was a speaker for CILIP’s conference and I was introduced to Safy by a friend from SLA Europe and lucky for me, I was able to attend a staff talk at the library. Safy described the horrors of war and destruction on the building and collection as it was burnt and bombed. It was deeply sad to hear the stories of death and devastation. The resilience and tenacity of Safy and his staff is amazing and heartwarming. His presentation spoke of the bargaining for funds and equipment with creativity and design with new ideas he picked up from his studies in Malaysia. Out of 150 staff, Safy now has about 93 with 70 of them women. He understands the need for libraries for heritage, education, creativity, community and knowledge sharing. He was totally inspired for the connections and networking opportunities that physical spaces bring. He was offered ebooks for rebuilding a digital library but he elaborated on the need for physical spaces to meet, and to store physical collections. We all know that the first casualty of war is the truth and knowledge – from the burnt building and collection, there is new hope and regeneration all driven by a man and his community and staff on a Misson to make it possible! What an inspiration!

Last Friday I also went with my colleagues to the National Archives in Kew. It was great to visit the building although I have used their digital archive and often refer people to their enquiry service for registered designs and other intellectual property. It was great to be welcomed and shown around by their staff. We were shown original patents and trade marks, maps, storage areas for records, very large maps, library and reference areas, and the 1970s Brutalist purpose built building of course. As we walked around, you can actually smell come of the collection in the temperature and light controlled rooms. There were some great displays for the 1920s and parts of the reading room was aesthetically pleasing. I would visit again it is in my part of town but I am grateful to get the tour from the lovely staff. Mark Dunton has even written a book on British Prime Ministers of the 20th Century.

I wanted to remind you that the National Archives does have an amazing collection and we can use these items to create new stories and innovative ideas from what we research. It is also a great reminder that we are here to conserve and preserve for now but also for future generations.

Last week I also spent time in filming a new video for the Business and IP Centre where I work and the UK network of libraries offering support for Business and other creative use of libraries and their services. East Ham Library was nice and bright with great use of space for studying, resources, cafe and meeting spaces. It even has Salsa Classes on a evening! There has been a few libraries that have survived the cuts from the last 15 years, and it warms my heart they are thriving as spaces for those who need them for study, work, research, learning, meetings and creativity. There was also a definite community and civic engagement feel about East Ham Library.

I was also invited to meet delegates from the British Library’s International Library Leaders Programme, which was an intensive five-day residential course bringing together emerging and established librarians from participants from countries including Australia, Brazil, Chile, Germany, Jamaica, Kyrgyzstan, Slovakia, South Africa, Ukraine and the US. I lead a tour of about 8 librarians to some of the reading rooms with various subject areas, and as expected, they were impressed with the spaces and items in collection that were displayed (there are millions we can’t see). It was great to meet socially other British Library staff working on the Oceania collection, Living Knowledge, Higher Education and the newly appointed Caribbean Curator. I met again Nick Poole, CEO of CILIP, who is one of the best advocates for libraries, librarians, information profession, policy makers, civil engagement and for the profession in general. I also met with a Ukrainian librarian who has recently fled the troubles in Ukraine and it was great to here briefly what she is working on. I did pass on my concern and best wishes to her fellow Ukrainians in this difficult time.

A couple of weekends ago, I was able to participate on the request of the community engagement team in the Somers Town Festival, which is the close neighbourhood in Camden near the library. We were showing visitors on how they can use the library to start their businesses but also about the fabulous collections and spaces. It was nice to see some of the entertainment from spoken work, humanist choir, to Asian Classical dancing from an ex-staff, which I loved seeing LIVE in Trinidad or in film.

Breaking the News exhibition is also on until the end of August and I was excited to see this. I had the benefit of a group tour with a Curator who gives you the insights and stories of the items on display. I still like to let people know that information comes in various formats, and we have to still use and…preserve these for the future.

I wanted to also wish my colleagues in SLA Europe a Happy 50th Anniversary and we recently celebrated careers which my own newly retired colleague Neil Infield. I knew Neil before I started working at the British Library because of SLA but since working at the British Library he was a great popular, capable and kind colleague who became a friend. I will miss him, and the four other colleagues who have retired in my department in the last two years.

This is a big month for SLA for their Sourced Forward Conference and the associations future, as I write this in my hotel room in Charlotte, North Carolina. I will share more next month or on my social media channels. There is great responsibility in representing the profession, our members, our stakeholders and partners. I am also giving this my best shot and much gusto! Stay for the ride as we find our destination.

Postcard from Trinidad – Coast to Coast

I have spent a couple of weeks in Trinidad, where I paid tribute to the last memorial Hindu ceremonies and rituals for my mother who passed away in June 2021.  Although I know she lived a full and beautiful life – I still miss her presence, her gentle personality, words of wisdom, spirituality, principles, motherly support, care and love for me and my family.  It was difficult to say goodbye to her virtually last year due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, and this trip was to attend the final act for her before the first anniversary of her passing that I could attend in person. I would like to thank all the family, friends and neighbours who helped us in the last year with her prayers and memorial commitments.

At the ceremony, it was great hearing from Pundit Dr Bramanand Rambachan explain the meaning of life and our place in this universe.  It is a great reminder that our life on Earth is only here for a specific time. The way of life we seek should be to find purpose, kindness and beauty in all creatures and our environment here.  We were asked to pay our respects and recall our ancestors and elders in whose lives, work and memory we offered our thoughts and prayers – in the hope that their good work and deeds will be carried on in this generation and in the future.  Going through this process in Trinidad with close family members – I couldn’t help thinking of life as my mind flicked though memories in time, as well as some deeper soul searching on what is the purpose of life on Earth for us as humans.

Death is not the end, your soul continues.

I am obviously coming to terms with the loss of my mother, and the loss of others who are no longer around in the family, network or village as time moves on.  I presume that this is the feeling I will continue to have as I get used to myself getting older.  It is good to be around younger people in this scenario to remember that life goes on, and that they also need our support and guidance to sustain them as we go through life.

It was good to see close relatives and friends after five years.  It was my first trip aboard since the pandemic disrupted our lives two years ago – I had to be extra careful in avoiding Covid before my trip to Trinidad as there were tests to do before my travel.  After the whole process of getting to Trinidad by aircraft, it proved to me that travellers needed to have a high level of digital literacy and some common sense to follow all the instructions for travelling, especially as we had to ensure that everything was uploaded, downloaded or printed for checking before and during our journey.  The 10-hour flight was pleasant but we had to keep on our masks, except when eating or drinking.  It was a relief when it was over as it was not a normal experience like in pre-covid times.

I was able to spend some time sightseeing in Trinidad and it was more for my son to see rather than myself.  One of the main highlights is a Sunday afternoon trip to the La Brea Pitch Lake, which is the largest asphalt lake in the world.  It was used by the Indigenous people of the Caribbean and it is literally close in distance to the South American mainland being located in the deep south of Trinidad. 

Sir Walther Raleigh was one of the first Europeans to encounter the Pitch Lake in 1595 (after raiding the Spanish Governor), when he used the asphalt to repair his ship – interesting blog here from Raleigh400.  The British set up an asphalt company in 1866 and the streets around the world are now literally paved with this ‘black gold’.  Today Asphalt is mined and has commercial value – and it is still good to see and visit the natural pitch lake.  It is amazing to feel and sink into the soft tar-like texture, and to walk on the water puddles with gaseous bubbles coming naturally from the ground.  The chemical composition and geology are really fascinating, and the texture and versatility of the product makes it spectacular.  I bet you will appreciate every road you every travel when you see natural asphalt like this – there are only three other natural lakes in the world. I was pleased to see international visitors from Suriname whilst we were visiting, and our official guide was very knowledgeable and fun! Do visit this natural wonder if you have the time, or think of the journey of tar the next time you see some. Instead of European getting El Dorado, they got ‘Black Gold’.

Being an island, life does not always mean that you are near a nice beach.  Some are industrialised and therefore you have to travel a long way to find a good beach.  However, we went to a nearby beach on the Gulf of Paria to spend an hour or so. This was in the deep south of the island and it was good to see rural communities and villages on a very pleasant Sunday afternoon.

Next, we went to the north of the island to Maracas, which is known as one of the best beaches in Trinidad on the Caribbean Sea.  The drive through the Northern Range hills is breathtakingly beautiful. The beach sits on a curved bay with good waves and view of the deep blue Caribbean Sea.  One must try the local delicacy which is freshly made shark and bake sandwich. It was a fun day at the beach in another beautiful place of interest – a must-see when you visit the island.

The final beach I went too was to Mayaro on the East coast of the Island on the Atlantic Ocean through various towns and villages.  I fondly remember going frequently to the coast in the 1980s with my parents and sister.  The miles of coconut plantations along the coast are truly sensational with a tropical treat to see the rows and rows of coconut trees and beaches, as well as the mangroves and rivers on the way to the beach areas.  Even as a child – it used to be special to bathe and be in the ocean where the next main land mass was the African continent. I am so glad I have these happy memories of a beautiful part of the country to cherish and the area is still beautiful.

Not all is well on this island paradise though.  The high level of violent crimes and safety issues are very sad and frightening to everyone I know in Trinidad. The days of small petty bust-ups with machetes and punches are now replaced with thieves, gangs and organised-criminals with guns.  All the official reports and travel advice I now read stress that the crime levels and risk factors are very high in Trinidad and Tobago.  It is sad, dangerous and also embarrassing.  I am not sure what it needs to stop this trajectory but it has left citizens with despair, numb and helpless from village to city.  I don’t recognise this island anymore, and it breaks my heart and hopes.

Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.

Norman Cousins

I did manage to find time to spend with family, friends and loved ones.  It gave me a chance to catch up in person after being away for five years and I had time to see some memorable items from our family album, such as when my father received his 15 years award in 1964 – he ended up working there for 51 years.   His story with starting to work as a child is truly inspirational, and he was a very dedicated worker.  I also love seeing the photos of my parents at this glamourous and elegant time in the 1960s.  This was a holiday break for me to reflect and keep memories close to my heart. We only get one life with limited time to appreciate and love those dear to us.

I am not sure when I will return to Trinidad again but I will certainly go back as it is the land of my birth, and my family and friends are there.  I love the flora and fauna, food, humour, the culture, the lay of the land with the sea, plains and mountain.  I only hope that the economy and crime situation improve in time.  I have little faith but I am hoping that I am wrong.  Until I return again, I wish good health, wellbeing and safety to all my family, friends and acquaintances.  Keep well and safe!

Lord Krishna said: “Arjuna, everything comes and goes in life. Happiness and unhappiness are temporary experiences that rise from sense perception. Heat and cold, pleasure and pain will come and go. They never last forever. So, do not get attached to them.”  

(Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2:14)

What is Good Citizenship?

What is good global citizenship?

I have been thinking about good citizenship recently after I heard a few EU citizens mentioned taking a citizenship exam for British nationality due to Brexit, despite living in the UK for years.  I too had to get my British citizenship through a naturalisation process about 20 years ago to ensure that I would not have any immigration issues, as I encountered in 1995 before I married my Italian husband (a long story for another day).  It has made me focus on my thoughts on what it means to be a good citizen in my view, and as I am Indo-Trinidadian – I have a very broad view of what a good global citizen represents.  We live in a very interconnected world with access to news sources all across the global right at our fingertips.  We can focus on the issues and topics of interest very easily, and therefore we must make personal decisions and responsibility for our thoughts, ideals, participation and actions as good citizens.  I have also tried to do some research into good citizenship, and in a personal, professional and corporate capacity – it really comes down to our values and identity with private and public participation as citizens.  I will try to explore some of my personal views on here now, and how it is represented in the images I shared. Do feel free to let me know what good citizenship means to you too.

Here are some of my thoughts about good citizenship:

Freedom – The Greeks where one of the first people to formally discuss citizenship where scholar Geoffrey Hosking writes:

It can be argued that this growth of slavery was what made Greeks particularly conscious of the value of freedom. After all, any Greek farmer might fall into debt and therefore might become a slave, at almost any time … When the Greeks fought together, they fought in order to avoid being enslaved by warfare, to avoid being defeated by those who might take them into slavery. And they also arranged their political institutions so as to remain free men.

— Geoffrey Hosking, 2005. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizenship

It is interesting that the formal recognition of citizenship actually was birth out of the ancient survival clause to protect oneself and to ensure freedom.  I like this as it reinforces the feeling of belonging and loss of citizenship (such as with Brexit).  Yes, I gained some freedom and a greater sense of belonging (due to post-colonial history) to live and work here when I got married to an Italian but…I did lose my EU Citizen when the UK exited from the EU.  I know I could now apply for Italian citizenship but I am not looking forward to the bureaucracy, as it was apparently a lengthy process when I did try 25 years ago.  Perhaps it is easier now since Brexit. I dreamt of spending extended time in Europe as a teenager – and although I have been on the continent for holidays – I haven’t been for long relaxing periods of time (perhaps months when I retire, I hope).  I can only dream that this may happen in future.  Freedom of movement and the rights of a citizens are definitely reasons citizens feel proud to belong to their countries or nationality.  I have enough negative and positive immigration experiences on this issue to appreciate what makes a good citizen in the official sense. And I prefer to be a citizen rather than a subject in a feudal landscape.

Civic Engagement – As a child, my first encounter with the word civic was in the local Civic Centre in my village in Trinidad. This was a place where the community came together for learning, meetings, social and cultural activities.  It was also opposite a park, therefore very accessible for larger events and I do recall bazaars with stalls and music in the 1970s.  I remember my mother and other women took classes on string art and macrame in the local civic centre. These were great for building communities at that time and I am not sure if the same activities happen now there at that particular civic centre.  I do see that there are still quite a few civic centres in Trinidad and Tobago, and I hope this level of engagement carries on to build communities.

Fortunately for me, I live in a part of London which has a high level of civic engagement covering many areas in society such as – arts and craft, volunteering, activism and value-based activities for the good of the public and community. These have taken many forms, such as the local art trails, guerrilla gardening, environmental campaigning, public health and safety, etc.  Civic pride, engagement and commitment are apparent in many of these activities in local venues, and sometimes even on the street and public spaces.  Volunteering and micro-volunteering are some of the ways good citizenship manifests itself, and it really is the best way to ensure that you start being good citizens…from even within our neighbourhoods.

“Everyone can be great, because everybody can serve.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Localism – Now if we take this same energy and widen it out a bit more we have…localism. This obviously in my context relates to being a Londoner for over 30 years – in fact, I have lived here longer than I have lived in my country of birth.  I used to care a lot about London but having worked in the heart of London – I have a bittersweet relationship on how it has turned out for me.  It really is personal.  I do get angry that there is no police station and support in my neighbourhood when we need it, the streets are dirty with litter and fly-tipping (I remember my Canadian Aunt telling me this in 1980s before I lived in London), frequent anti-social behaviour (ASBOS) and Londoners are still unfriendly.  I honestly have a friendly demeanour which was nurtured in the village and home I was brought up in.  Someone told me he thought I was on drugs when I was smiling all the time in a pub when I first arrived here.  I would like to see this as my natural happiness index

Although I have a love-hate relationship now with London, it is my home.  There are still issues we need to work through together, such as crime, environmental treats, climate change, expensive housing, travel issues, supporting local businesses, coming out of the pandemic etc – but it is great for access to international arts and cultural diversity, science and other educational institutions. I do know that I cannot live in a small town in the UK – perhaps for a little while but not for long.  I still take pride in the city where I live, and I will protect and contribute to my little corner of the world in whatever small way that I can. Yep, I am part of the metropolitan elite!

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen” Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

Globalisation – In a much wider perspective, I know globalisation has negative connotations due to the exploitation of companies, resources and humans.  However, there are still positive aspects of globalisation, especially as an international and multicultural society. The result is I am a Global Citizen! If like me, you grew up in a small island in the Caribbean, looking beyond the horizon to the rest of the world – being able to work, travel, lead and participate in global activities is a privilege. My heritage, place of birth, country that I live in and the friends and relatives I have abroad – I have a personal interest in all these regions and I am certainly outward looking.  As I write, Ukraine has been invaded by Russia and the news is distressing in the conflict, such as seeing death, damage and refugees making their way to safety to other countries.  It is also heart-warming to see other Ukrainian citizens stay behind and fight for their country.  I am not sure what I would do in the same situation.

As a Global Citizen, I want peace on Earth.  I don’t want humans to suffer. I want us to live in a World where we accommodate and respect each other values…peacefully.  It sounds a bit cliché but these are basic human rights and privileges.  What happens in one region affects us all – albeit climate issues, technology, health or even good old fashion joy! We should all take more pride as Global Citizens to help one another and to work on world issues, sustainability and challenges together.

According to UNESCO, global citizenship education (GCE or GCED) ‘develops the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes learners need to build a more just, peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, secure and sustainable world.’ 

Education – My deceased sister was a very academically brilliant and outgoing child in primary school.  One year in primary school, she received three prizes for her achievements – one of them included a prize for Good Citizenship. She received great encyclopedic books, I remember one of book was called ‘Tell me Why’.  I had the benefit of also using these books to gain lots of knowledge and trivia due to her brilliance.

‘I never found myself in a book’: Patricia Grace on the importance of Māori literature 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patricia_Grace

Education is one of the most important factors to make us good citizens and human beings throughout our lives. I remember doing ‘Ethics’ classes in secondary school where these principles were instilled. There seems to be different school of thoughts for history and cultural curriculum depending on what part of the world you are from, which impacts on our views. As adults we can learn to accept different arguments but encouraged to have a diversity of thoughts and perceptions on topics with access to information. We all need to remember from time to time to be kind and understanding to fellow humans to encourage engagement and exemplary citizenship. I recently saw a film ‘Cousins’ based on a book by Patricia Grace on Moari culture, where their culture was not appreciated or respected enough to encourage that relationship to be mutually respected and understood. I hope it is better today than the 1950’s when the book was based. I follow a South African activist and she inspires me with her advocacy for various causes as a global citizen. Education and great role models can teach us small and large acts of good global citizenship regardless of where we live. We do collaborate and learn from each other plus technology makes this a lot easier!

Once again I am looking at a big topic where there are several published research written for us to answer the questions and explore the concept of good citizenship. I hope working through my thoughts here on what it means broadly to me will resonate, reflect or rouse some of yours. Whatever way you look at it – we are all citizens of the world.

A tribute and admiration to my late mother-in-law

Earlier this month my mother-in-law, Maria, passed away. She was a beloved mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, great-grandmother, auntie, neighbour, friend and worshipper at the Francesca Cabrini Roman Catholic Church in Bedford, England.

The last few weeks has been a time when I am reflecting on the loss of my mother-in-law, and therefore it seems only fit and right that I write this tribute to Mamma. My mother-in-law, Maria, was 91 years and although she had some challenges with her health in the last year – it is still unexpected that she has now passed.  I have known her for about 28 years, and in that time, there are several memories of her warm welcome, kindness, passion, love and family values which had been demonstrated and captured in my memory and heart.

Maria was born in Italy in 1930 in Santa Maria Capua Vetere, Italy, which would have been very different than it was today.  She grew up during the war and apparently disliked it for all the harsh realities she witnessed and experienced.  She remembered the bombs and poverty of those days and told these stories over the years.  She started working when she was teenager in a grand house in her town. Santa Maria is a nice town to visit, which is authentically Italian – with relatives still there, I still see their way of life as classic and iconic from their passeggiata, ferragosto celebrations, wedding traditions, family gatherings, local cuisine, songs etc.  The real stories of Capua and the Santa Maria Amphitheatre are great reminders of the ancient and rich heritage that the area still has to this day. 

After the war, she met my father-in-law, Raffaele, on a day out at the Royal Palace in Caserta, where she ‘rescued’ him whilst he was working on the boating lake with her handkerchief when something went in his eyes. They made a beautiful couple and the rest they say is…history.

Being after the war, there was high unemployment in Southern Italy with many emigrating to other countries for work and new opportunities.  This was eventually the same route taken by my in-laws to Bedford, England.  I have blogged and carried our personal research into this in my previous post entitled: “Little Italy – Quarters of the World for Italian Settlers”. What is remarkable is that Raffaele came first on his own for two years as by his contract at the time, so Maria was left behind with one child. Therefore he went back to Italy after two years, but Raffaele returned to Bedford for a second time for work just before my husband was born in Italy.

In the late fifties, Maria made her way with two young sons from Caserta, via Naples, an overnight stay in Milan with a relative, on to Paris, then a ferry via Calais to London.  Raffaele was waiting to meet her in the final part of the journey at Bedford, where they made their home for the rest of their lives, and their children’s lives.  She told me the story a couple of times with some translation from my husband for the parts that are too difficult to relay, or lost in translation.  It was nice to hear that her elder son recognised his father from the photos they had in Italy, as a child can easily forget without visual reminders.  She did tell me she was angry as he was late as there was a mix up with the ticket!

I admire her strength to take this leap with two young children and make a new home in a country where she didn’t speak the language, but also you had to work really hard in conditions that were not easy to make a home and build a life.  Their story is of all migrants coming over in post-war England at the similar time as many Asians, Polish and Caribbean migrants – the hardship they encountered, as well as the opportunities that they took. 

Obviously, although they were Italians – my husband remembers his mother being called racist names, as he was called in school too. I take comfort from the large Italian and multicultural community that still now exists in Bedford and the fact that almost seven decades on, there is still a thriving Italian community in Bedford.

By then, with Maria’s own two siblings in Italy and Brazil – I knew she felt a deep bond to them although it would have been more difficult to communicate regularly in these decades that went by. She still tried her best to keep their families close at heart.

In the sixties and seventies, there are wonderful stories of my family assimilating and integrating with Italian and British culture – from football, church trips to surrounding towns, visits to shows and sightseeing in London – my husband reminds me, such as when his mum went to Café Royale for dinner and dance, and met the boxer Henry Cooper.  My mother-in-law worked in various roles in local industrial businesses and factories, whilst raising two more children (four in total) and to continue to improve their lifestyle in the 1960s – as most post-war families were doing at the time.  It is truly a special zeitgeist. Her neighbours are still here to attest to the bonds and affection that have lasted for decades. This warmth too has been passed on to my family.  Neighbourhoods like these are still the best…when we all care for the well-being and safety of each other. 

Maria welcomed me with open arms and I grew fond of her extremely early on in our relationship.  She was one of the best cooks I have the privilege of knowing.  I bet all Italian mothers and mother-in-laws are great cooks – but obviously Maria has a special place in my heart.  She welcomed me from my first visit and I always tried to help her whenever I visited.  She gave me masterclasses in making pasta from scratch, regional dishes, wine-making, Easter and other festive cakes.  Her meatballs were truly the best! I can just about make a similar pizzagaina for Easter, pizza and calamari, but I still can’t make her stuffed peppers, artichokes etc etc…like she did. I am truly blessed to have had great cooks in my own mother Kamala and in Maria.

My mother-in-law was also well-known for her ‘green fingers’ and love of gardening.  Apparently, she grew a prolific peach tree just from a seed.  And well into her late 80s – she was still gardening every little patch with vegetables, loads of basil and flowers in the summer months.  She also had several pet cats over the years and genuinely loved taking care of these little creatures too.

As mentioned before, the Italian Church in Bedford was built by Italians in 1960’s for their community due to the large size of migrants to the town.  In addition, it is where they celebrate the cycle of life with worship for baptisms, weddings, blessings and funerals. Maria would frequently attend mass, or look at mass via satellite broadcasts on Italian TV in the later years and through the pandemic.  The Italian priest mentioned in her recent eulogy her kind-heartedness, helpfulness and commitment to the congregation. It was only right that we prayed for her at the funeral at this very church, and then on to the Bedford cemetery, where many of her fellow Italian migrants are around her earthly resting place.  We will be holding a memorial mass in February for Maria at the Italian church too.

While we are getting used to saying goodbye – we know how lucky and honoured we are to have known her and have her in our lives. We will cherish the great memories, appreciate the stories, hospitality, support and love she gave us. We will always miss and love her.  May her strong but gentle soul rest in perfect peace, and may eternal light perpetually shine upon her now and forever. Rest in peace. Amen.

In My heart

I thought of you today

But that is nothing new

I thought about you yesterday

And days before that too

I think of you in silence

I often speak your name

Now all I have are memories

And your picture in a frame

Your memory is my keepsake

– Anonymous

Still water runs deep – going beyond the surface

Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep,

And in his simple show he harbours treason…

No, no, my sovereign, Gloucester is a man

Unsounded yet and full of deep deceit.

– Henry VI by William Shakespeare, Playwriter.

From sunken open-air theatre in my neighbourhood to cruising river for a tour, I am still not venturing far and wide due to the pandemic so my activities are mainly focussed on being local but I have managed to do some more interesting outings than in recent months.

Unknowing to me, I found out that there is an open-air sunken theatre in my neighbour and it was great to see a production of William Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’ production by the Greek Theatre, whilst the evening was still light and warm.  I was impressed by the costumes, music and acting and will definitely try to go again next year hopefully. We certainly didn’t have to worry about the virus being outside and it was great to see theatre again in the pandemic with great appreciation for the effort that this three-hour production would have taken to perfect. 

Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep. – William Shakespeare, Playwriter.

We were taught Shakespeare in secondary school in Trinidad & Tobago and I love recognising his lines from his plays in everyday life.  Macbeth, Julius Ceasar, The Tempest are some of his plays seen in some great theatres by the Royal Shakespeare Company in the city over the years.  Believe it or not, not everyone likes Shakespeare.  I know some people who really like his works and some who do not.  I appreciate his work and even though I may not know all his works, you can’t help but love a good story, sonnet or play.  I hope to visit Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon, and to see a play in the globe theatre in London. Shakespeare’s Globe always looks amazing long the River Thames and I have been trying to make time to see a play there for ages and recently booked tickets to see ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in October.

“I am opposed to the laying down of rules or conditions to be observed in the construction of bridges lest the progress of improvement tomorrow might be embarrassed or shackled by recording or registering as law the prejudices or errors of today.” Isambard Kingdon Brunel – Civil Engineer.

The river itself has a long history going back to ancient times with various people living off off the banks. In the last tour of Soho we were told that the Vikings or order tribes used The Strand for storing their boats, with the cargo being brought up to the marketplace in or around the now Covent Garden.  It is fascinating how the river served the communities that lived in and around it over time. The British Museum had a great blog here which gives you a great idea of the types of civilised or uncivilised people who used the river way before our time.

The other excitement this month was a tour of the River Thames with SLA Europe with specific reference to the Brunel family, and their influence on engineering, construction, designs and building along the river’s rich history in the period.  On this occasion it was as if I was looking at the river with fresh eyes even though I have seen the river hundreds of times working on two riverside locations with PwC and City Hall.  Our guide was so knowledgable and engaging that I always try to jot down notes to check out the facts and references later.

Creative Commons Images. Source: National Portrait Gallery.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s engineering story and the impact on building bridges, tunnels, shipbuilding and landscape in London and elsewhere is renowned, with some structures are still standing today and in the future.  He was voted the Greatest Briton for the last millennium and that may have been for his renowned engineering, innovative inventions and ideas for the time…and being in the right place at the right time in the heart of the Industrial Revolution.  The bridges across the river tell a great story of his legacy and you still see evidence of this work as your cruise along the river.

The river itself has a long history going back to ancient times with various people living off off the banks. In my last tour of Soho, we were told that the Vikings or older tribes use of The Strand for storing their boats, with the cargo being brought up to the marketplace in or around the now Covent Garden.  It is fascinating how the river served the communities that lived in and around it over time. The British Museum had a great blog here which gives you a great idea of the types of civilised or uncivilised people who used the river way before our time.

What is interesting too in current times (pardon the pun) is mud-larkers, who scavenge the river bed to find objects that are washed up from the river beds.  There are some amusing evidences of past life and…soul of the river washing up again to remind us of those who may have gone long before us. As with rivers and sea, the underwater currents are strong and surprising, despite the exterior appearance seeming to be calm, still and controlled. The literally wash up stories for us.

I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few. – William Morris, designer, artist and social reformer.

As you may gather, water seems to be my theme this month, so I was please to see the new play area at the Town Hall in Waltham Forest where I live.  The borough council has created this space as a legacy for being the first Borough of Culture in 2019 and states on their website that it is a place for “family and neighbours to this vibrant new culture hub to experience the next chapter of our Borough of Culture legacy and reconnect with our community”. The new public square area is called Fellowship Square which is inspired by our local famous Arts and Craft designer William Morris. William Morris was adamant on accessibility and is known for the motto ‘Art for All’, so rightfully they are using the brand Waltham FORest for ALL.

The water fountain has been transformed into a new pedestrianised area for families to play with the water features choreographed to water and lights, with music being played from the built-in sound systems form the benches.  Little rant – I do think that this is a great new place for local residents but I do wish they can sort out there recycling and litter problem too!

You can’t really go too far without seeing Morris designs, his way of life and ethos are celebrated in everyday things in our local area close to the house he grew up in that is now the William Morris Gallery. There are great designs that are popping up even in a face mask or little free library to acknowledge his influence, inspiration and legacy on design and art in the UK but also across the globe.  It is amazing too that the William Morris Co is still running to this day with his classic designs and brand.

There are other waterways around where I roam, such as the Walthamstow Wetlands, Lea Valley and also the canals near King’s Cross.  These are some of the old ways of life for communities and business who used the waterways. These passage ways were obviously used before modern transportation, and it is lovely to see the riverboats that still line the routes along the Lea Valley river.  I love looking to see how people are living in these compact spaces especially in all types of weather.  I do know that the cost of them are far less than ‘bricks and mortar’ homes in London, and that you have to keep moving them after a certain time.  So ‘no fixed abode’ really does apply to these riverboat homes.

As we go into autumn, I am sure to find time to explore the city and local areas as I don’t have any plans to go far away.  It does seem that there are more people out and about in central London, and I can stay to see more in the pandemic apart from my place of work and neighbourhood. Hopefully the death rate does not increase in the colder months and no other coronavirus variants rage as we approach the two-year mark in a pandemic. I will try to still see some of the great historical sites and venues as the weather gets colder and make use of the indoor areas.  And as this recap shows, there is always a bit of freshness, wellness and invigoration being not far away from spaces with urban rivers and water.

A tribute and celebration of the life of my mother on her passing

OM bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥtat savitur vareṇyaṃbhargo devasya dhīmahidhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt

We meditate on that most adored Supreme Lord, the creator, whose effulgence (divine light) illumines all realms (physical, mental and spiritual). May this divine light illumine our intellect.

Word meaning: Om: The primeval sound; Bhur: the physical body/physical realm; Bhuvah: the life force/the mental realm Suvah: the soul/spiritual realm; Tat:  That (God); Savitur: the Sun, Creator (source of all life); Vareñyam: adore; Bhargo: effulgence (divine light); Devasya: supreme Lord; Dhīmahi: meditate; Dhiyo: the intellect; Yo: May this light; Nah: our; Prachodayāt: illumine/inspire. Source: https://www.sathyasai.org/devotional/gayatri

I would like to honour and celebrate the life of my mother, Kamala Rampersad, by paying tribute to her life with these few words.  My mother was born in 1940’s Trinidad in a large close-knit Indian family.  I can only imagine how it was from stories, photos and tales told of that period. I do know that this was a family who kept their Indian and Hindu traditions despite being in the heart of Port-of-Spain, but also integrated with Westernisation. 
 
It was a time of great changes after the World War II, and some young girls were given newer professional roles in Trinidad at the time.  My mother completed secretarial examinations in ‘Pitman Training’ for typing, shorthand in the 1950s (later bookkeeping), started driving and working as a personal assistant for her father at his custom broking, left luggage and other businesses.  It was a pioneering time when entrepreneurship and innovation were happening at a very quick pace in the twin islands.  Close friends and other families at this time in Port-of-Spain were running businesses, and newer careers that will go on to create our national identity and culture.  Her family was known and even close to other families, such as Joseph Charles (founder of Solo Beverages), Naipaul (such as in V.S. Naipaul), and some others I won’t mention for privacy. The stories told by her and our relatives are truly great and captures the essence of the class structures in families and society at that time in Port-of-Spain. My mother would have been an active player, as well as a living embodiment of this high calibre of post-war Port-of-Spain. 


 
In the early 1960s my parents got married and this is where, even on a small island, there were stark differences in town and country.  Life in the village was very much still linked to the sugar industry and the surrounding sugar plantations.  My mother had some adjusting to her new life but she also fitted in beautifully and friendly with the other lovely people who are still to this day in the village. There are amazing stories told of life then and the way things had developed over the years.  Religion, cultural traditions and social life were very much integral to the way of life.  There were the usual support systems of the extended family, neighbour and community that pulled together.  I do believe that it was a time when the term “takes a village to raise a child” really does make sense.  I personally witnessed this in the 1970s and 1980s.  It was reassuring in the last few days since her passing I am hearing how she supported other families and individuals in the high, lows, bad and good times in their lives, as well as how some of them have been there for us.  
 
In terms of her achievements, she was able to provide support to several villagers, family and friends for functions by providing some financial support, cooking, chatting, peace-making, helpfulness and good all-round cheerfulness. It is well-known that my mother can cook in bulk and was called ‘the best cook’ and baker in many ways by many people. I will miss her delicious cooking and baking and she was certainly unique in her hand at the various cuisines. She loved music and allowed us to indulge ourselves. She loved Trinidad Carnival and witness the splendour of it in Port-of-Spain from the 1940s. She still loved going to see the mas’ too until recently.


My mother was an active member of the Dow Village Hindu Mandir for decades and had an leading role in their planning, service and events committee – as well as a devotee on a regular basis.  She also volunteered for many community and social initiatives over the years.
 


 
It is the small or big acts of kindness that are the ones that we will treasure forever. I would like to mention that family life will obviously be where her kind-heartedness, gentle and loving nature would come through unconditionally, as with most parents.  As a couple, my parents were the ‘star boy and star girl’ of their generation. They were undoubtedly hard-working, committed parents and wanted the very best for us, especially with sacrificing their own wishes and time so that we can get the higher education in our younger years.  There was little educational support then for those who were average (like me) but wanted to pursue a different field than the one available at the time.  However, they still made it possible for me to ‘follow my dreams’ and to be the person I was hoping to become in London and Europe. The hardest part of all of this is that I left them in a loving family at a very young age.  This love never diminished with distance – it only made it stronger and more cherished to this day.  My parents were great to me, and through my own family I hope their memory and sacrifices will be told for years to come. My mother has been able to travel, as well as spend extended time with my brother in Canada, and most importantly, she was able to visit India twice and this was also one of her dreams growing up as an Indo-Caribbean in the 19th Century.
 
My mother had emotional intelligence and was practising mindfulness before I knew what these were labelled! She was sensitive, spiritual and careful of other people’s feelings – and this is something she took to heart in terms of the use of kind words, actions and deeds.  As she was spiritual and ‘in tune’ with her religion and spirituality, she also seemed to me to practice mindfulness in her mannerisms, thoughts and prayers.  She had a remarkable view of life in a very philosophical way, especially after losing family members, my father and sister (both between 1999-2000). I do think this gave her the ability to see the bigger picture and context of us as players in life and the need for genuine support from those around us – some have labelled her a role model, as well as the peacemaker.  These are not easy to do, and sometimes it is the harder role we take on as leaders in our own life’s way, missions, journey and story. I can tell you real anecdotes and true stories but the moral of her story is that my mother has been influential, and is truly my role model, remarkable and an inspiration. 

 
And so, this is a very brief outpouring of grief, appreciation and thanks after six months of intensive health issues with her wellbeing and health. One day I may be able to give her, her generation, family, neighbours, town and village the justice of a more in-depth piece of writing and research.
 
Today, my family and I wanted to thank all the persons who have helped and supported us recently. I want to thank everyone who has interacted, cared and loved my mother over the years.  She truly was special and she deserves a farewell that is honourable, admirable and appreciative for her way of life, actions and deeds.  I will always miss and love my mother.  I wish her peace, albeit in the after-life, heaven or paradise. It is all the same. May God bless her soul and may ever-lasting love and light shine on her forevermore. 


TVAMEVA MATA PRAYER

Twameva Mata, Chapita Twameva Twameva Bandhu, Cha Sakha Twameva Twameva Vidya, Dravinum Twameva Twameva sarvam mama deva-deva

O God, You are my mother, my father, my brother, and my friend. You are my knowledge. You are my only wealth. You are everything to me and the God of all Gods.

This mantra is usually recited at the conclusion of a prayer session, meditation, or religious function. Here the devotee surrenders his or her individuality to the Lord for his Grace.

 
Om Shanti Shanti Om

The Green Shoots of Spring

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.

 – Marcus Tullius Cicero, Epistulae AD Familiares Vol. 2 47-43 BC

One of the best ways of trying to keep sane, calm and upbeat in these very difficult and challenging times is spending time outside, exercising and…gardening. After almost five months of lockdown, I can write about other pressing issues as the UK opens up on retail, leisure, cultural centres, libraries etc.   However, it will be a missed opportunity to now see the beautiful displays and sense of change that comes with the changing of the season. Without a doubt the last winter has been one of the most difficult in our lifetime which the cold spell compounded with restrictions to group festive celebrations, New Year’s Eve parties, carnival get-together and birthday celebrations.  The green shoots of spring bring us new hope of a coronavirus that is under control here (for now) and gaining some more freedom to spend time outside to enjoy the coming spring and summer seasons. 

According to Mintel report on Hobbies and Interest February 2021, the lack of commuting and space time as the lockdown took over, meant that there is more time for hobbies such as “Baking, Handicrafts, Gardening and Home Improvements”. There was also a spike on Google Trends for people researching for these topics. We also have surplus time to spend on our hobbies and exercise due to the lack of commuting time. Gardens are great places to find peace, tranquility and mindfulness.

“The power of hobbies to improve mental wellbeing is set to drive growth throughout 2020. As mental health continues to be in the spotlight, hobby operators that position their services and products as beneficial in this respect stand to benefit.”

(Mintel Hobbies and Interests – UK, February 2020)

Garden Centre were some of the shops that remained open most of the last few months were garden centres and as soon as the weather was a bit better – I went to two of my favourites in my vicinity. I spent time looking at acid compost that I needed for a Magnolia plant present I received.  I always end up spending more money than I intended when I visit that garden centre as it has some amazing plants that I do know find in the commercial garden centre.  The centre is called Northfields and has been going for a number of years and seems to have some great photos of its’ horticultural historical business.  It was really busy last summer at the peak of spring reopening in the pandemic! I plan to go back in the next few weeks to find some plants on my wish-list. So fingers crossed.

I was able to germinate some courgette seeds and I hope to plant them in the ground in the next few weeks.  I also put in some herbs and lavender plants this month. There are some local friends who seems to have access to allotments.  There photos of their progress and the ‘fruits of their labour’ (pardon the pun!) on social media is always great and inspiring to see. This allotment hobby is not a programme that happens in other countries, but our Italian cousins in Rome had an allotment with lots of impressive and delicious Mediterranean vegetables, fruits and herbs.  I used to enjoy the visit there when we went a few years ago.  Italians also process and bottle their tomatoes into ‘passata’ from the summer for next year ahead.  My mother-in-law was also doing this in Bedford up until a decade ago.  I also saw on social media that my Trinidadian-Canadian friend who is married to an Italian-Canadian doing this same tomato processing recently. I can only imagine the great flavours of the sauces they make! There must be something special about making your own vegetables but I don’t seem to have much luck as yet with tomatoes.

Over the years I have bought a few gardening books and love looking at photos in books and magazines.  About 20-25 years ago, there was a great interest in gardening design and make-over TV programmes.  It still seems to be some during daytime TV and I tend to catch up on ‘Gardens World’ on BBC iPlayer if I can’t look at it live.  It does make me feel happy to see the plants and stories from other gardeners.  The format also shows other members if the public in their gardens and sharing their tips with us.  I love the diversity of the gardens and their presenters.  I also take inspiration from some of these and can easily spend more time looking at this sort of light-hearted shows.  I may also splash out in a few gardening magazines soon.

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.

– Aubrey Hepburn

Due to traffic-calming and environmental improvement measures in my neighbourhood, there have also been continued guerrilla gardening in my community to help with these issues.  In our local neighbourhood, some of my neighbours are also planning a Chelsea Fringe this June as a spin-off from the Chelsea Flower Show.  And guess what? …I have never been to a Chelsea Flower Show even though I used to hear about it on the BBC World Service when I lived in Trinidad. Trinidadian horticulturalists do take part and sometimes win at the Chelsea Flower show too!

I have noticed that there are lot more plant and gift shops in my high street and hear that the twenty-somethings are buying more plants.  There are definitely more plants in the shops in my local areas, and flower retailing were busy for Valentine’s Day and Mothering Sunday in London despite the lockdown.  I received a few flower bouquets as presents from friends in March and it was nice to receive them even though we could not meet.  Getting flowers by post is also something that is new to me. Bloom and Wild is a popular brand that is used for home deliveries.  Flowers are one of the treats I have been buying myself in the last year as I am home to enjoy them!

Horticulture businesses are generally doing well in the pandemic as most people are spending the time in the garden spaces that they have. Garden shops are one of the main retailers that we can still pursue at our leisure without causing too much of a commotion.  There is also the birth of the new type of business – the Lockdown Gardener called Doorstep Gardener, whereby garden centres were initially closed and persons were buying plants and seeds online.  My local supermarket was the only place where I could buy plants and seeds at the beginning of the first strict pandemic lockdown but it was interesting to see the innovations online as well as in-store evolutions. There is also Pleydell Smithyman who offered a drive through ‘click and collect’ for plants.

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body but the soul

– Alfred Austin

The environment and outdoor spaces are a major part of our wellbeing and mental health factors.  I have really enjoyed my local walks in residential areas of my neighbourhood, as well as venturing to some of the greener spaces. You can be assured that you will have lots of space to social distance with the added benefit of seeing beautiful nature.  There is also evidence that we enjoy green spaces, meeting friends and family outdoor and use them as places for relaxation.  For those in urban areas, the pandemic has been bitter sweet.  We are able to enjoy a quieter city but if you lack access to green spaces at home, the parks and communal spaces have been really busy during this lockdown period.  Apparently, there are 10% of Londoners who have moved to the rural areas as there are more opportunities to work from home with less commuting time and costs.  This BBC article ‘How Covid have changed where we want to live in March 2021 explains some of the reasons why Covid-19 have impacted on property sales and moves out to the country.

Last week, I also went outside of my local area for the first time since December to visit Hatfield House Garden, which was about 50 minutes away from my home.  It was reasonably priced for the garden visit and I have been meaning to visit even thought I have driven through Hatfield hundreds of times on my way to Bedford. Hatfield House Garden was the childhood home of Elizabeth I of England and apparently, she received the news of her accession to the throne whilst reading a book under an old oak tree.  It was a lovely woodland and ornate garden, as well as a show of vintage cars on display.  The walk in the woodlands, the sundial and hew hedges were interesting to see. The Old Palace is still used as a function hall and it was fabulous to see it being used for Indian weddings. 

On our walk at Hatfield House, we actually bumped into 88-year-old twin sisters who were friendly and spoke to us on our walk.  They conveyed their love of walking in the woodland park and local gardens to find what was interesting to watch and talk about.  They were really special and sweet to share this with us as it is exactly what I do too! We wished each other a good day and safe journey to our homes.

I am looking forward to visiting some more outdoor spaces as the weather gets better such as Beth Chatto’s House in Colchester. When I am able to, I am hoping to visit Trinidad again to see family but, in the meantime, visiting places of relaxation and natural beauty are some of the few pleasures I am looking forward too and the green shoots of Spring seem to symbolise so much hope.

Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine to the soul.

– Luther Burbank.

#ChoosetoChallenge – Celebrating the 110th International Women’s Day

It is exactly 10 years since I first celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD) for the first time, and it feels right to write about the progress, changes and challenges that women are facing.  The theme for this year’s IWD on 8th March is #ChoosetoChallenge, which spans the whole month of March for Women’s History Month. I will look at some of the areas that affect women and my views on the topics as gender conversations have certainly moved on with more fluid and open discussions.  Non-binary gender identities, gender pay gaps, gender bias, feminist protests and leadership roles are some of the topics that are being pushed up the agenda and discussed in many (not all) countries to challenge the status quo and act as “agents of change”.  Like with many aspects of life, there are some countries that are performing better than others and new generations are demanding more equality and inclusivity – we can’t run away from this.  What we can do is learn from each other, support causes that we care about that affect women…and lift each other up in what is a difficult era in a pandemic.

Some of the main areas where I feel we have made progress over the last few years are in our openness to discuss in greater details inequalities in the workplace, health information, body positive images in the media (think Lizzo!), learning about key women heroines and achievements, finding places where we can network and most importantly, amplifying our voice on feminist issues. 

There are stories of the feminist movement of women rights who had led the way in the past, and they will always be great for inspiring new generations of girls and women.  I certainly didn’t know all feminist over time but some of characters that I have discovered on the last ten years – Ada Lovelace, Mary Wollstonecraft, Harriet Tubman, Frida Kahlo, Josephine Baker, Mary W. Jackson, Claudia Jones, Manuela Saenz and many many more!  The access to information on the internet and social media have made their struggles, achievements and stories celebrated with new energy and creativity. 

At university, I completed a module on women’s right from the industrial age to 1990s and therefore learnt about the suffragette movement with admiration for figures such as Emmeline Pankhurst, Millicent Fawcett and other women who fought for the vote. It was great to actually do a tour of Westminster a few years ago where the struggles and battles they won were highlight in the living recollection in the space where their hardships and successes were made collectively to give us the vote.  This was obviously an international achievement with New Zealand as the first self-governing country to give women the vote in 1893. We mustn’t take this hard-won right for granted. I still don’t know a lot of great women but it seems the topic is covered in education in schools now, and this generation of girls and young women are able to freely aspire for greater equality, and continue to push and challenge for changes that will affect them in their lives.

The struggles are real still in many parts of the work – education and access to work are some of the basic rights that women have to still fight for in the 21st century – the UN facts and figures women states: “women make up two thirds of the world’s illiterate people”.  There are other challenges such as poverty, work, health and getting into leadership roles which are specific to locations, but generally we still have a way to go. Low literacy and education levels really makes me sad when I hear that some women don’t get the basic right to education.  My parents allowed me to leave a happy home to come to study in a foreign land when I was 18 years – because they believed in me.  I will be forever grateful for their support and help they showed me by financing my studies here. I know that this was NOT a privilege.  I haven’t had free university education – a privilege that many of my university friends may have took for granted 30 years ago. It was difficult and I didn’t see my family for four years, but at least it gave me the ability to support myself and follow some of my teenage dreams.  There is this great graph below by Statista which shows the top 10 countries which have full equal rights for women.

Source: Statista

Not all girls or young women have this option to this day.  Adult learning is possible (plus you never really stop learning), but there are still countries where the cost of education is too high, accessibility and social structures are barriers too.  The cost of higher education in the UK is so high currently that I am deterred to further my studies until I am more financially secure.  One reason I pro-actively keep up my Continued Professional Development (CPD) is because I work in a professional field that never stops serving, changing and develops with technology.  I wish the governments and organisations would value this industry so that we are not at a disadvantaged professionally.  Generally, there are less negative gender equality issues in my professional field as there are more women who work in this area, but men in the sector are usually paid more, and get the top leadership roles. 

“Companies that overlook half of the world’s population overlook half of the world’s talent. To compete effectively, we need to reflect the diversity of the world in which we, and our clients, live and work.” Sheila Penrose Fotolia. Chair of the Board Jones Lang LaSalle

According to this review by Hampton Alexander on the FTSE 350 companies, 33% of women are on UK board leadership roles. In other sectors, the glass ceilings have been smashed but the percentage is still low. In the 2000s, I heard the term ‘old boys’ network’ for the first time but it seems change is slowly taking effect in the last few decades.  Businesses need women for diversity of thought, opportunities and for understanding their customers and stakeholders. Women offer insights and perspectives which open up new markets and ideas rather than having all-male boards.  Women also make up a large amount of the consumption and economic power of business services and products, and therefore you would be missing a new era of inclusive thought if talent and insights were not brought to your business. It is great to have diversity in business as it yields better results and cultivates innovation.  Having women in the decision-making roles also correlates to better business results according to Women on Boards

Over the years there are lots of research I have seen where it makes great sense to have structures, policies and initiatives in the workplace which foster greater support for women to progress beyond their roles and to “smash the glass ceilings”.  These may include improvement in attracting women to traditional male-dominated roles, offering better working patterns for working mothers and families, being flexible, and more defined supported routes and policy such as mentoring or training.  Giving opportunities can also one of ways that women in the workplace are not overlooked. Gender pay gaps, gender bias, greater pay transparency and inclusive policies are still work in progress. It would seem rather strange if organisations still have all-male boards in this 2020s decade, and let’s hope there are more deserving women in leadership roles and better equal representation.

It is important for leaders to communicate with their teams and understand that while the pandemic has affected everyone, it has not been the same for every employee. I think the last nine months have made certain qualities of leadership come to the fore. I think empathy is the strongest trait leaders have shown and understanding that everybody is dealing with professional stresses and strains.

Victoria Head – Legal at Football Association

One aspect where women are challenging the stereotypes and making their headway for themselves is by being entrepreneurial and starting their own businesses. Women have always been in great roles as entrepreneurs in the past, such as Madam C. J. Walker in the film ‘Self-Made’. I also recently attend a fabulous Sound Heritage workshop where I learnt of other remarkable women such as Mary Quaint, Audre Lorde and Rene Sawyer, who fought for greater rights and fairness.

As I work in the business information sector, I meet and admire women who are creating their own businesses. They are really passionate about starting up with their own ideas and visions, being their own bosses and having the freedom to follow their own paths to success. As reported by Hult International Business School, US women-owned businesses have increased by 74% over the past 20 years – 1.5 times the national average. They harness their own entrepreneurial talents and open up a world of opportunity, and in turn are in a position to hire other talented diverse persons for their teams.

Local Business Women

Sadly, I recently read that the pandemic will have a negative impact in gender pay and also entrench imbalances, as mentioned in Italy here in the FT’s Women in Business. Therefore, with high levels of inequalities and economic hardship brought on by one year in the pandemic, the next few years are going to be tough on all of us, especially women.  It has also been mentioned that the disparities for ethnic minorities are having the most negative economic and health impact with working in health and social care. Mckinsey have also reported in ‘Women in the workplace 2020’ that: ‘For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women were promoted—and this gap was even larger for some women: only 58 Black women and 71 Latinas were promoted’.

This is a clear message that all of this research is telling us – there is still a lot of work to do for greater equality, representation and diverse policies for business cultures.

Not all men discriminate against women, and some women also do not support other women. However, there are more inclusive practices in the workplace.  Women are also challenging barriers in various fields but they are generally under-represented in some sectors such as STEM, Tech, construction, emergency services, sports, etc.  The UN has created this great datagraphic which demonstrates the under-representation in all fields, and it is still very striking in the ratio between men and women, for example – directors at the Oscars, Nobel Peace prizes, chefs with Michelin three stars, etc. Our challenge is to continue to create structures, policies and supportive environment where young girls and women can fulfil their ambitions and careers. This may seem overwhelming at times but women do tend to support each other and this is the best way in actually working towards more equity for us all.

Sadly, I wanted to mentioned that this month has been a very sad time in my homeland with the murder of a young woman, Andrea Bharatt, who was making her work home in a taxi (falsely licensed when she boarded it). She was brutally murdered at the prime of her young life and leaves behind a lone parent. It is a terribly devastating story, and unfortunately there has been a high level of gender-based violence and murder in recent times in such a small country, as featured in this article by Brown Girl Magazine.  This has forced a national protest on these crimes and a call for a better justice system as a result of the fear and lack of confidence in personal safety felt by the general population in recent year.  It really is horrific – my contacts were sharing an outpouring of grief on social media and to say ‘enough is enough’!  This ‘femicide’ and other gender-based violence is prevalent in other parts of the world, such as I saw reported in Mexico and India recently. It is great to see that public displays of peaceful protest by women are still challenging for better policies, demanding personal safety, well-being services, general equality and…respect.

I wish you a great International Women’s Day month of understanding and finding out more stories and facts on women’s role in society.  I have always felt that there should be harmony with all genders and do believe that we need boys, young men and gentlemen to be our allies in understanding our roles in the world.  It could be my upbringing and because I went to an all-girls convent school! This is only the tip of the iceberg on the issues women encounter. However, I will continue to keep an eye on ideas, little tips and stories to help other women along the way. I also look forward to discovering new great female figures from the past and our present times this month. With this in mind, do stand up for and against the barriers in our way to greater equality, and remember to #ChoosetoChallenge for women everywhere.

Decolonisation – the Quiet Revolution continues

Divide et Impera – Divide and Rule.

In a professional capacity, my recent activities seem to want a more equitable world and they have similar themes around topics such as structural inequalities, patriarchy, white supremacy, anti-racism and decolonisation.  It is this reason that I feel compelled to work through some of these topics on this blog post.  The pandemic has affected many communities and more so in those that are disadvantaged, plus the anti-racism work brought about by the reaction to the death of George Floyd, the Black Lives Movement protest this summer, as well as and the move to a more inclusive and equitable profession and society in general.  All these topics have definitely, and rightly so, been pushed up the agenda, discussion themes, organisational and personal missions of events and content I have consumed this month.  Collectively, we still don’t have all the equitable answers but there certainly are lots of questions, and new marginalised stories being unearthed from some communities.

A more diverse and inclusive current generation of academics and professionals are researching, working and creating new stories to make sure that imperial, colonial structures, white supremacy and racism which underpinned power and control of places and peoples, societies and communities are now being rattled, dismantled and abolished.  The most poignant discussions are not to overwhelm or dominate another culture, race, religion, place, people et cetera – it is simply to reclaim lost identities, re-balance and acknowledge that change is necessary…and happening now.  It is a quiet revolution without guns, ammunition and brutality, but one of thoughts and actions based on evidence, research, compassion, empathy, discussion, understanding and respect.

Coinciding with Black History Month, essential television viewing this month was ‘Enslaved’ which looked at the 2000000 slaves that were killed on the ocean crossing alone in the Transatlantic Slave Trade over 400 years.  Although I studied Caribbean history in secondary school in the Caribbean, I still learnt new facts about this horrible crime against humanity.  We didn’t have a documentary like this when we studied the subject in the 1980s. Therefore, it was gripping and sad seeing the visual landscape and underwater shipwrecks as evidence that these atrocities happen in human slavery, and you despair at the brutality and conditions of enslaved people in these crossings.  It was good to learn about some of the ‘trading’ stations on the African coast, slave rebellions such as the Maroons on Suriname, slave escapes from the USA to Canada, European-wide slave trade (I wasn’t aware that Danes also traded in slaves), and the African slave shipwrecks close by on the English coast around Devon

African history didn’t start with slavery. African history was interrupted by slavery.

– Enslaved TV Series 2020.

The United Kingdom played a huge part in the Transatlantic Slave Trade but is most keen to forget it.  As the recent departed US Politician John Lewis said in episode two of ‘Enslaved’ – “it is brushed under the carpet”. There is also a great article this week in The New Yorker entitled ‘Misremembering the British Empire’ which mentions brilliantly the amnesia, denial and pretentiousness that has whitewashed history.  There needs to be a re-balance with remembering the slave trade and also the rich histories of African culture before slavery.  You can ask most Black British who agree that this is not taught in detail in UK schools.  British slave trade and slavery are skimmed over, not explored for greater understanding or empathy, with most suffering from amnesia and ignorance.  There is no two ways on this – it was a horrible fact and African slavery used for capital, which built and propped up Britain with the riches and imperialistic power from slave labour from the colonies.  The rulers, leaders and elite in Britain supported and knew all along that this inhumanity was happening…but did nothing to stop it until the abolition movement in the late 18th and 19th century. 

Even in the 21st Century, the current tone of imperial might and successes are still reiterated today without balance and scrutiny which is harmful and causes devastation to communities and peoples. The nationalistic tone of Brexit has highlighted this blinkered way the UK thinks of Empire. …”Through the lens of pivotal moments in the post World War II world, this essay examines the breakup of the British Empire and how the vision of empire lives on, particularly in the context of global populism and a rapidly globalizing world. Brexit, the 2016 vote by popular referendum in the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union, is closely tied to the identity forged a century ago, at the height of the British Empire”. Source: Populism and British Stories of Decline by Joe Murphy in The American Journal of Economics and Socialogy.

The distasteful word Empire is still used in national awards with the word for honouring persons in the UK, which really is backwards if these persons have to engage with persons from outside the UK.  It is ignorance at the highest level. There is a great article I read which mentioned that if your heritage is from a post-colonial culture of anti-colonialism, rebellion and independence – the rejection of imperialism is natural as part of a contemporary psyche and freedom.  This is explained for Americans, who have seen centuries of imperialism and colonialism. …”The United States was formed through rebellion against the British empire, but well after the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, resistance to that empire continued to shape America’s history. The civil rights movement, for instance, was not only deeply influenced by the thought and practices of the Indian anti-colonial movement, but it was also part of a wider anti-racist struggle in the era of decolonization that connected activists across Asia, Africa and beyond, mobilizing the global diasporas of Asians and Africans that colonialism had created”. Source: Prita Satia at Stanford Department of History entitled ‘We can’t tell Kamala Harris’s story without British Empire we can’t tell Americas without it either.

With this context in mind, you would be delusional to want to go back to that dark part of genocide, slavery and pillage that made people fight for their independence and freedom. The UK also seems to believe they were the ‘civilising force’, the best and only empire compared to their European counterparts, who started empires before the British. Posturing in true dominating style, empire is built on twisted power, influence, domination, destruction, looting and capital on the back and blood of other people and communities. The apex of this system also encourages and perpetuates white supremacy, which was used to control the new world order at the time.  It really has no place in modern and equitable societies.  There is no level playing field, structural equality or unity due to the divide and ruling structures that was used centuries ago to control the colonies. This is why we are experiencing so much racial and human discord at present – a true quiet revolution.

This month also saw an interest in stories of resistance, rebellion against slavery, and the fight for independence. I remember studying the Haitian Revolution 1791 in 1986-1987, whereby I had to write a eulogy for Toussaint L’Ouverture. Believe it or not – my eulogy was so good, the Caribbean Examination Council Board kept my eulogy possibly for preservation.  In those days, I didn’t think about keeping a copy, so I can’t remember the words I had written.  I remember my inspiration for writing the eulogy and making the actual hard copy headstone eulogy out of coloured paper, markers and a crinkle scissor. 

Back to the present, it will always be great to see that the story of the revolution is brought up today to discuss rebellion by self-liberated Black slaves.  The use of ancient voodoo and other African culture was also used to empower and fight for freedom.  I also attended a virtual event today on the new book ‘Black Spartacus’ by Sudhir Hazareesingh, which discussed Toussaint being a devoted Roman Catholic but also there was the use of voodoo. A Black British friend recently described the Haitian Revolution as ‘our first revolution’ and I am grateful for studying Caribbean history in Trinidad, pedagogy starting with the ancient and first nations people who inhabited the lands there.  It puts history with evidence, details and facts on the correct footing (pardon the pun) and in context. No wonder we are able to move away from an imperialistic perspective and create our own national pride. The same can’t be said for Britain’s imperial and colonial past in their UK history lessons. Is it too traumatic to teach about the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Slavery in detail to young British children? Or to intentionally not covered the topic to keep the imperial status quo? Or to keep the military and capitalistic might?

It’s embarrassing that I’ve learnt more about colonial history from Instagram.

Elle Magazine October 2020

In the academic and research world, there is pedagogy and student intervention work on decolonising education, universities, museums, places and research. In an open and fair world, especially digitally, there is no place for ego, imperialistic behaviour and power.  I attended two virtual events which covered decolonisation – one at ‘Open and Engaged 2020’ by the British Library, and the ‘Festival of Ideas – Decolonising Knowledge’ for SOAS.

It was interesting seeing examples of decolonising research such as in language and context. Also the most horrifying was the use and study of Eugenics and the UCL Bricks and Mortal project on slavers, white supremists and persons with shady colonial pasts. …”Eugenics – the science of improving human populations through selective breeding – is generally associated with the Nazis, but in fact has its roots in Britain. It had its roots at UCL. The story of these origins is seldom told”.

Looking back at the slides now, this was such an eye-opening as well as mind-blowing event. From looking at the recurring themes of lack of diversity in books, professional research communities, the North-South global hemisphere divide, research content, acknowledgement and the recognition of indigenous original stories and representation.  Some of the presentations showcased the Palestine open maps projects, indigenous tribes of the Americas and stories from varied voices, such as the herb that was consider a weed by Western professionals until corrected by a South African researcher. With the lack of variety, scrutiny and diversity in scholarly research and structures – there is an imbalance, incorrect and false truths of the world.

At the SOAS virtual event ‘Decolonisation – not just a buzzword’, it was an art verbatim video with the sentiments, anecdotes and thoughts that were similar ones to those that are resonating in anti-racism discussions I have participated in recently.  Due to the remit of SOAS, they are working aptly and proactively to address decolonisation. …”It begins with the assumption that global histories of Western colonial domination have had the effect of limiting what counts as authoritative knowledge, whose knowledge is recognised, what universities teach and how they teach it”. Source: SOAS https://blogs.soas.ac.uk/decolonisingsoas/about/

It was interesting to hear one French speaking Belgium student said that when he was in India, there is distrust for him (possibly as a white European ex-coloniser coming to steal knowledge) when he wanted to view ancient manuscripts in Indian.  This student sounded in awe of the rich Indian items still to be discovered and explored. Though distrust by Indians perhaps is a culmination of years of abuse, destruction and removal of Indian manuscripts during colonialism.  The knowledge kept in ancient manuscripts is vast and comprehensive, as my ancestors have ensured we were told in Asian, and African, oral traditions and ceremonies. It was great to hear harsh and truthful global perspectives of imperialism, colonialism, racism, biases and international views from current academia at SOAS.

I have written about my Indian heritage on my blog before and therefore there are myriad ways of looking at the world, as well as hanging on to the intersectional of indigenous traditions, religion, culture, race and identity as a British-Indo-Caribbean married to an European.  This week it was a real privilege for me to visit the British Museum to see the ‘Tantra: Enlightenment to Revolution Exhibition’, and I am able to understand my Indian heritage a bit more. Not everyone from the diaspora can do this though as mentioned too by one of the students at the SOAS event, and as mentioned by me on social media a few weeks ago.  In this exhibition, it is great to learn about Goddess Kali and her role in anti-colonialism. To be honest, we were told in Trinidad that her puja is dangerous, savage and powerful, which may have been tainted by imperialism, and intended to control the religious practices in the Caribbean as well as India. However, Kali puja was totally acceptable in Kolkata (previously known as Kalikota and Calcutta), and they used her imagery in revolutionary ways by indigenous Indians against British rule to instil fear and to empower. Goddess Kali is certainly Badass! 

We should be proud to have such ancient and powerful feminine images and forms in various Goddesses, and Navratri is a great as an auspicious time to remember the feminine form and cosmic energy. We held prayers at this time in my home in the Caribbean. I liked understanding the belief in feminine power and that women have Shakti all the time. Also the Tantra counter-culture of the 1960s was great to see – from John and Alice Coltrane, The Rolling Stones to artwork. John and Alice Coltrane were fans of the higher consciousness of these traditions and knowledge obviously. These arts forms have accepted and moved with the mutually respective times to fused cultures in new innovative art.

It is great to learn about provenance and to see decolonisation in context to items held in museums that were once part of imperialistic acquisitions, treasure hunts and domination.

Another common thread recently was land acknowledgement of indigenous and first nation peoples, which I witnessed at professional events and discussions including both by the British Library and SLA. This really shows up pretentiousness, falsehoods and insensitive rhetoric from colonisers that still insist on dominating with their imperial ‘brand’ to this day.  It has been decades whereby ex-colonies have achieved self-determination, independence and freedom. The post-colonial shift are by nations and citizens who have matured with new self-identities. I am not that naive – I also know that there is reverse racism and bias in all people. We really need complete balance, truthful and fair understanding of history and colonisation now.  We need to peacefully revolutionise and abolish the white-centric power struggle and structural inequalities that still exist in western societies, institutions, organisation, countries and the media.  Or at least know how to best deal with it. Perhaps to even ridicule inequalities and colonisation as a message, as reiterated by a student at UCL, and by other freedom revolutionaries in the past.

I conclude with a statement: I was born on Caribbean indigenous land, which belonged to ancient tribes, and now live on Briton land (once colonisers if my homeland) – which makes an odd but balance view of the world.  Going forward by the events this month, it is time for some post-colonial truth and equality.  Prejudice, structural racism, inequality and dominance are prevented on our watch.