Saturday, 18 March 2023

How Akin became Yankee

Ticking the funny boxes

When it comes to the context of identity, I find that I can be quite pedantic and regimented in my thinking. I recognise the many influences that form the expression of who I am, by heritage, birth, association, involvement, recognition, and soon also by marriage.

The way I have for all intents and purposes become something of a world citizen, though I am yet to travel the world enough to lay that claim, I wield a passport that at least provides a welcome to most countries for a sojourn, but not a residency.

When I am asked to tick ethnicity boxes, the one I want to tick is Black English rather than Black British, sometimes, I would write in the box for Other, Black English, then we have orders of granularity, Black Caribbean, Black African, Black Other even as there are large populations of in the Americas, both north and south. These boxes do not fit anymore.

The quagmire of identity

Then with the recent penchant for claiming whatever identity or pronoun you desire, you wonder if you can detract from the obvious to impart the almost superfluously ridiculous; yet, conviction, is one you cannot dismiss easily if I have convinced myself I am Caucasian or Asian, who is to question me when they have assumed by default and accepted norms that I am what they see rather than what I seem?

There is no keeping up with identity politics, and we old fogies have a lot of catching up to do. Who I am is so different from what you see, and to make assumptions without enquiry to ascertain and verify what I have become because of what and who I think I am, without having to explain why it is that way is slowly becoming a hate crime.

Now, you need to be aware of deadnaming (2013), misgendering, pronouns, and much else. I am surprised the first two words are not neologisms, they are in our English dictionaries.

An English American

However, I have a nickname at home, that everyone can subscribe to and by that, we reduce the power-distance index to the point where we can communicate easily as peers. I like that kind of conversation with my siblings and it works well for me.

It was only a fortnight ago in a conversation with my mother that I learnt the real provenance of my nickname. It would appear strange that for someone who is quite proudly English, their nickname would be so distinctly American, also too American for my liking, yet it stuck and I have not quibbled about it.

Attending an office where my mother had to have my name registered, for the many times she said it to the hearing of the official, he just could not get it. He twisted and mangled my name into the spectacle of him giving the rendition of a patriotic nursery rhyme. That is how Akin became Yankee. [Yankee Doodle – Wikipedia]

I purposely did not use Anglo-American in the last section title.

In Telling: Not knowing there is help for you

Not knowing your dues

Understanding how to get help can be a handicap for people who have generally been self-reliant and independent. Having been schooled on self-sufficiency through grit, determination, and hard work, one can so easily be lost when the tried and tested modes of living and existing fail.

When some thirteen years ago I fell so seriously ill with cancer and the treatment meant it was impossible for me to consider returning to work as I underwent chemotherapy. Living in the Netherlands with all the accoutrements of an EU citizen and fully paying my taxes, I was unaware of what support I might get from the state. In fact, I did not think I qualified.

There was one month when I literally had nothing, but for the generosity of friends, I might just have one day expired on the floor of my living room and then would have been the end of all my troubles. However, it was one of the unique elements of the Dutch health system that they were not just concerned about my physical health but also my mental health and how I was getting on with life.

Support beyond the medicine

On one of my hospital visits, the nurse asked if I was getting any income support and when I responded in the negative, she was quite taken aback. She insisted that having worked in the Netherlands for almost a decade, I should have contributed enough to the system for such situations as my inability to work because of ill health.

She did not leave it at that, she marched me to the social security support office in the hospital and asked that they take on my case. Immediately, I was given forms to fill and I typed out a cover letter explaining my circumstances. The office fast-tracked the application to the responsible department and within the week, much-needed financial support arrived at the highest accessible support payout, backdated 6 months, which was the maximum that could be allowed.

Getting the help needed

If I had known any better, that application should have gone in at least 8 months before. Yet, with that lesson learnt, it is not that practised. The default inclination is always to be actively and fruitfully engaged in employment than depending on welfare payments.

It delays the necessary work of seeking support because you have the mind that things are on the turn and the reality is as days turn to weeks and weeks to months, that passage of time means what could have been done, is not done.

By the time you realise or understand that there is more than adequate support available, your situation is almost hopelessly dire. It is strange, yet troubling, the many who need help sometimes just do not know what help is available and how to access it.

Thought Picnic: When mountains seem immoveable

Why am I here?

There are times when you walk into a place and a sudden vehemence attempts to rise up within you to protest that you do not belong there. There is an otherness of the unfamiliar to which there is little relationship or understanding, the stuff you read about is usually, the sort of thing that exercises remoteness to your situation until circumstances change to give you experience.

The things I am good at, I think I know, and there are many other things I have rarely been able to adopt and bring into my frame of reference. Even where there is an entitlement, that ability to exercise access to such is at once distant and a niggling sense of failure. Things were not supposed to be like this, but things do happen and you do not have to be elected or selected to be the object of happenstance, it is the cycle of life.

What do I do?

What has sometimes threatened me and held me up is a kind of paralysis, the inability to fathom and find the wherewithal to act decisively in areas where there is little knowledge or total ignorance. These are places where for my failings and foibles, I probably need a bit more patience exercised from interlocutors as I am guided towards possibility and accessibility.

When humbled by the situation and humiliated by circumstances, you are quite easily marooned in the throes of turmoil, unable to concentrate and less able to accentuate. Progress comes to a standstill and confidence begins to look like a wonderful tool that was once effective but left to waste and somewhat ineffectual.

Where is the source?

When I look at it, I cannot answer why I am here, but since I am here, it is what I have to deal with. I have gotten to a point where I am no more praying for time, even as time is a constant rolling forward of participation engaged or reluctant, now, a miracle is something else, that is one thing I know I need, not just one, but many.

Even when I think I have run out of resources, strength comes, we never really know our own strength until a demand is made on it. I have to believe I am here to write a better story.

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Thought Picnic: A famine unfolding

 Something on nothing

Famine is a spirit,
A cruelty on living nature,
Like creation walking back,
From the sixth day to the first,
The skies stand closed,
The clouds bereft of spirit,
People look up and cry,
Succour is a distant memory,
The faint are really fainted,
The weak weakened still,
Death hovers over land,
Harvesting souls to misery,
The grass is totally parched,
Water is the stuff of dreams,
The world begins to shrink,
As girth absconds for gaunt,
All countenance is fallen,
No smiles visit the face,
The hope for tomorrow,
Is surrendered for survival,
A fast is already imposed,
From the situation of lack,
The people cry with prayers,
When shall the rain duly come,
For grain to take forth life,
And beast grazed the land,
Bellies filled with plenty,
Laughter is cacophony loved,
Things find a new normal,
People gain verve and purpose
To write of famine past.

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

Thought Picnic: Great capacity and gratitude beyond adversity

The days of then

In a life that has had the experience of many things, I find in each day, a cause to be grateful and thankful for life, even when other things are not particularly going right.

The 1st of March, 13 years ago would have been the 8th session of chemotherapy after which I felt I was ready to restart my life with no inkling of what the long tail of cancer would entail. It transpired that I did not have to take that last drilling of cytotoxic medication because when I saw a 9th session scheduled after I took my 7th, my consultant and the oncologist decided not to proceed with the 8th.

Just over 5 months of chemotherapy changed me, I had lost 25% of my body weight and though I had the willpower for a lot, there was little strength for much. My medical team felt I needed at least 6 months of recuperation, however, there were mounting bills and a mortgage I could not ignore. In the third week of March, I was back to work.

In adversity, see possibility

My team was very understanding, I was allowed to have Wednesdays off, and that meant, I had enough strength to work and recover. I look at that journey where if the chemotherapy did not take, I was given 5 weeks through the statistical information that people who were admitted in my state not lasting a decade after diagnosis and say I am exceedingly blessed.

It is the same spirit that informs my approach to many other hardships I have faced since then, part of which was selling up my apartment in Amsterdam at over a 10% loss, needing to return to the UK to start over again, along with a few downturns in employment prospects. There is hope and strength that powers me through adversity that keeps me full of gratitude.

A story shared

When I attended a support forum on how prostate cancer affects black men yesterday, I was surprised at how my own experience of cancer affected the participants, they all seemed to want to hear more and all I wanted to say was not to be afraid to have things checked out along with working with medical personnel for the best outcomes.

I thank God that I am here to share my experience and tell my story that even when you seem to be hopelessly staring death in the face with a stark and dire diagnosis, you can have hope and expectations to the point that when you look back the passage of time leaves in awe of the wonder of life. Shalom!

Friday, 24 February 2023

Ash Wednesday as I participated

Learning a new focus of trust

This week has been one of the interesting contrasts in how to maintain focus in an environment of distractions, some harmful and others hopefully more beneficial. One thing I had decided was to be more participatory in this season of the church calendar, and this I mean, the Church of England – Anglican Communion arrangement.

I probably could have given some heed to doing something for Shrove Tuesday, I had the flour, and I could have made pancakes, yet I was exhausted and drawn away in thought and reminiscences that were quite unprofitable and redolent of interactions with seemingly sincere but quite unreliable people. Eventually, I find I can step away from the situation to reflect on how in words of the old hymnal, Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus, ‘the arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own’, or that of any other too.

An eerie feeling of compounding disappointment and dejection seeks to occupy your thoughts and reins for which despondency intends to feed you the tears of apparent helplessness, yet you cannot relent for the hope that abounds and the love of God you are striving to understand and learning to believe beyond platitude and the scribed to experience.

A mortal in eternal purpose

The Lenten season is ushered in with Ash Wednesday and I had some excitement about attending the church service which was termed the Holy Eucharist with the Imposition of Ashes. It is one tradition I have never before participated in. When I told my mum about it earlier today, she thought it was a purely Roman Catholic tradition, I guess there are many areas where Roman Catholic and Anglican conventions overlap or are shared.

It was a solemn meeting in a medium capacity seating for that time in the afternoon. The highlight was The Imposition of the Ashes, wherein, the congregation files to the front before the ministers to have the sign of the cross in ashes placed on their foreheads. With the words said:

Remember that you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.
Turn away from sin,
and be faithful to Christ.

Taken from the second clause in the verse of Genesis 3:19, “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

Quite a moment of spiritual recognition and an almost trembling appreciation of our humble mortality in the context of an eternal dispensation. I do wonder if it would have felt more poignant if that was said in Latin, “Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.”

Intention for guidance and direction

After that, we then participated in the Breaking of the Bread signifying the work of redemption and the new covenant in Jesus Christ as our gathering ended quietly apart from music from the majestic Stoller Organ.

This period of Lent would be used to help attuned one’s spirit to the witness and the voice of the human spirit, given the direction of the Holy Spirit, away from distractions, distortions, noise, and confusion that can so easily leave one unsure of purpose, direction, peace, and guidance.

On the question of spirituality, I am learning that it is more an individual experience than identification with creed, church, or denomination. Where you are blessed is where you should be.

Thursday, 23 February 2023

Autism: Do you see what I see?

Taken at Woolworths in Rosebank, Johannesburg - February 2019.

It was not spelt right

Look at the picture above and have you noticed something? This is a regular conversation I have with Brian when he comments about my ability to see things others do not see. In my own view, I am left quite surprised it is not that obvious.

I cannot tell how it is that I see things in patterns, especially when it comes to words, there is an expected order and when things are seemingly not in that order, I notice. That is not to say I do not commit the same mistakes. What I have written and what I perceive is there could be two different things. It comes with the territory.

However, the number of times I have heard people say, “It’s only you that would see that.”, would suggest there is something, a gift or some irregularity that I possess demonstrated in these observations I cannot seem to keep to myself.

Sensory observations out of pattern

It was only two Sundays ago when in our church Sung Eucharist pamphlet where the credits for the hymns were written, the year of birth and death of one of the credited showed he had lived for 165 years. Who reads that? Well, I do and I noticed before I showed it to the dean after the service.

Yet, it is not just patterns in words, I sometimes hear sounds out of place even if my hearing is not that keen and for someone who has a lazy eye, the keenness of my vision along with the inability to use stereo vision to judge distance and speed is quite interesting. It just seems anything that is out of place jumps out to me.

I sometimes wonder if I should ignore these things, then, these observations can make for interesting documentation or conversation. I love the sight of the unusual, the irregular, the strange, the abnormal, the distinct, or maybe, the invisible to others. Somewhere on that spectrum of autism, the strange is just quite normal. It is the way we see our world.

Did you see it?

If you did not see what was strange about the picture above, Brian swears I saw it within a minute of getting to the restaurant and trying to place an order. My Instagram post about it appears below: