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!