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My Life in Words

Oh how time flies! It’s crazy, huh? It’s funny (funny interesting, not funny haha) how this time 12 weeks ago I pushed out me and my husband’s bundle of joy( pain rating 100/10- no exaggeration!!)

It still really hasn’t sunk in yet that I’m a mummy. All I know is that I wouldn’t swap the early morning feeds, or gazillion nappy changes for anything else.

Me at 36 weeks...Photography by Catherine Doherty

I’ve seen him grow so incredibly fast and he’s a lot more responsive now (as he should be by this stage). Not just a little ‘pooper- eater- sleeper’ anymore but a ‘hi-fiver-smiler-hugger’ too. I love being a mum. It’s such a rewarding feeling!

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Yesterday (14th September) was my birthday. Yep, that time of year where you look back at the last 365 days of your life and think to yourself: “Wow, I’m not getting any younger”. When your Earthstrong comes round every year it’s a good time to sit and think about what you’ve  achieved in the last 12 months and where you hope to be (figuratively and literally) this time next year.

An interesting fact that I learned -which I’m quite surprised I didn’t know up until yesterday- is that I share the same birthday with the late, ultra talented singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse. Here’s my favourite track of hers- ‘Rehab‘. May her soul rest in perfect peace.

Map of London Boroughs

I had a weird encounter on Sunday that involved some pound coinsHammersmith and a Polish guy. In fact, the experience left me wondering whether I’d accomplished my good deed for the day, or been had.

Ok. It’s a normal Sunday morning. 6am to be precise. I’m waiting at a bus stop in East London to take the bus into work, iPod in ear, and me mumbling every cuss word under the sun about why my shift begins at such an ungodly hour. Normal.

“How do you get from here to Hammersmith?” someone behind me asked. From the early morning sun, I saw a tall shadow form next to mine so I turned around. Standing next to me was a tall man, say 6’2” in stature wearing a white T-shirt and three quarter length shorts with trainers. Before addressing his question, I looked him directly in the eyes. He looked a little stoned. Wide-eyed. But I couldn’t tell whether it was signs of sheer tiredness or not.

“You can take a bus to-” He stopped me right there. “No, by walking?”…  Was he a crackhead? Seriously. Walk from Newham, East London to West London? Totally opposite ends of LDN?

“Erm, I suppose you could but you probably won’t get there for another six hours.” (Random guestimation. I don’t actually know how long it takes. Never attempted to make such a journey!!)

“Ok, that’s fine, but how?” he enquired while taking out his tube map and a pen. I foolishly began directing him: “Walk all the way down this road…” then I stopped. Nah, this is silly, I thought to myself. “Why do you need to walk? Why don’t you just take public transport? I’ll be much faster”, I probed.

Then he explained to me how he was from Poland and had only been in this country for two weeks. He had fallen asleep on the bus after work and someone had stolen his bag that had his wallet, phone and personal documents in. He’d gone to a police station but they said they weren’t responsible to help him get back home.

“I ask a few people if they would give me some money for my ticket and they look at me like I’m asking for a million pounds,” he scowled.

I knew what was coming next.  I counted down in my head. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. “Will you lend me money for my ticket?”. “Sorry”, I replied. “I don’t have any change on me”

“Do you know any Polish people that could help me?”, he asked.

“No. No, I can’t say I do”, I replied. Even if I did, 1)I have to get into work and 2)They won’t appreciate me waking them up right now for whatever humanitarian reason.

My bus came from round the corner and as I signalled for it to stop the Polish guy walked away kicking the dust and stones on the floor in frustration.

Just then, my mind triggered back to before I left the house that morning when I was frantically looking in my bag for my house keys. To my delight, I came across some stray coins: four 50p coins, a two pound coin and a pound. Four pounds!

…. Anyway, as I entered the bus I shouted “Excuse me?!” The Polish guy turned around with a glimmer of hope on his exhausted-looking face. “Why don’t you take this bus to Piccadilly, then you can get a choice of buses from there to Hammersmith?”

He replied: “Yeah, but I don’t have money”. I went into my purse handed him the coins.

“Here”, I said. “Take, this. It should be enough to get you closer to where you want to go.”

“Thank you but how am I going to find you to give it back to you?” He asked worryingly. Now, I don’t know about you but I wasn’t going to be stingy over four pounds, especially as I gave it to him from the heart with genuine concern.

“Don’t worry about it”. I touched in my oyster on the bus and went upstairs. The Polish guy spent about 3 minutes asking the bus driver for the best way to get to Hammersmith… Err, I thought I told him already?…I just put it down to his desperation to get back home.  He got off . The bus drove off. Maybe he had opted to begin his journey back home by using the DLR. It was Sunday so he’d have a bit of a wait before the trains would be running.

Throughout my bus ride, I kept replaying what had happened. It must be hard living in a foreign country on your own, trying to get to grips with things and make ends meet.

Ironically, on my way back home from my gruelling 9-hour shift, the bus terminated roughly 1.5 miles from the stop I usually get off at. I waited for about 20 minutes for the next bus before agitation began to set in. So, in the 30 degree heat, I decided to walk the rest of my journey home. Got there about 25 minutes later (my petite 5’4” frame can beat anyone at power walking) without a single bus passing me! I didn’t get it.  Why was I the one experiencing such torture?! KMT (Kiss My Teeth)!!

I suppose I’ll just have to find comfort in knowing that my actions of compassion that day were done with good intentions and if the Polish guy wasn’t genuine, well he’ll get his comeuppance and karma will just take a juicy chunk out of his ass.

This weekend at work, a colleague said to me “I don’t mean to sound racist…” So I stopped him and said: “Well, that means that whatever is about to come out of your mouth is going to be blatantly racist.” He went straight on the defensive. “No, no!” He responded. Anyway, I stopped what I was doing, looked him directly in the eyes and heard him out. “This should be good”, I thought.

He started again in his Essex/cockney accent: “I don’t mean to saand racist but I ‘ate it when foreigners who can speak English speak their language to other people that can speak English an’all. It does my head in.” Pause. Now, I don’t I need to tell you what race he is…. And so it continues….

Now if his point was that it’s rude when someone speaks their mother tongue (that you don’t understand or can’t speak) in front of you, totally disregard your presence, then I would have understood what he was saying, because I myself find that annoying at times.  But that wasn’t even the point he was making.

“Well”, I began challenging him, “Supposing English isn’t their first language and both people feel more comfortable speaking their mother tongue to each other?”

“I don’t care!” He replied in anger “If they’re in this country they should speak English.”

“Wow!” I said, taken aback “So, for example, when White English people go and settle in Spain, do you think that all they speak is Spanish? Do they totally abandon speaking English?”

He tried to explain himself but I wasn’t having it. I dismissed him, at which point he took the liberty of informing me that he wasn’t speaking to me any more. Ha! “Is it cos I is Black?” I asked humourously, just infuriating him further. As if I actually cared. He’s not even deep enough to hold an intellectual conversation with.

“Listen” ,I added while he began throwing his toys out of his pram, “Just because you can only speak one language, don’t knock those that have the ability to speak two or more.If you want to bring up an issue with me, make sure you actually have a valid point because right now you sound dumb.”

I don’t like to pull out the racism card any time someone offends or discriminates against me because I would forever be paranoid, but the prejudice undertone to what he said really opened my eyes to his true character. What he said wasn’t actually racist but the intention behind his words was fueled by racial prejudice.He was totally showing his ignorance.

I find it rather amusing whenever an ignorant white person assumes that because I’m Black, I eat jerk chicken, rice and peas every day of the damn week. Don’t get me wrong. I love to tuck into a good Caribbean dish, but erm I’m African and also enjoy the delights of my own traditional cuisine. But they wouldn’t know that simply because of some of their lack of willingness to learn about different cultures (and why should they when staying in a little bubble is much more fun?)

For goodness sake. I speak and write far better English that the guy telling me about the language itself and I wasn’t even born in this country.

Maybe he’s blind, but last time I checked I was blacker than black. If that’s how he feels about “foreigners” then he was speaking to the totally wrong person. He should have made that point to his white friends, who, I’m sure would have appreciated it far more than I did. They would probably agree with him and have a good ole hyena laugh about it while drinking a pint of beer and scratching their balls.

There’s not one person on this planet that can honestly say that they have never said,thought and/or done anything racist at all in their lives. Racism exists. Fact. In some people is dormant and others, very active.

Racism: the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.

I once saw on twitter: “Question: When does a black person become a nigger? Answer: When they leave the room.” Very clever, I thought to myself sarcastically but the irony is that they were actually showing themselves up in that “joke”.

Maybe it’s an inferiority complex that they have, but the sooner racists start seeing individuals for their human worth rather than as a colour, the sooner they’ll actually start valuing their own selves. Rant over.  🙂

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I’ve been writing my autobiography and thought I’d share one of the chapters with you. It’s all still very rough and unpolished but let me know what you think.

The events are true, however, I have changed people’s names to protect their identities.

Background info for this chapter: I’m 17 years old in Year 13 studying my A-levels . I’ve bracketed some information so things are slightly clearer. So here it is:

I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to bottle things up anymore. I had to tell someone, anyone, so I decided to tell a teacher at school. I saw my sociology teacher, Ms Collins, the most because she not only taught me 4 days in a week but was also the head of my year [year 13]. Even though she came across very strict, I trusted her.
It was a Thursday and sociology was my first class of the day. When the lesson had finished, I deliberately packed my books slowly and waited until all my classmates had gone. I’ve always been private, never wanting anyone to know my business. Until now. I walked up to her desk slowly while nervously twiddling my fingers.
“Erm, Miss.”, I said timidly.
She looked up with a warm smile and said, “Yes, Rebecca.”
“Can I talk to you about something at the beginning of break time, please?”, I asked with a shaky voice.
She had a slightly confused yet concerned look on her face but immediately replied, “Yes, of course you can. I’ll be here at the end of second period. I’ll see you then.”
“OK, thanks.”, I said desperately trying not to let my emotions prematurely get the better of me before I had even confided in her.
I had private study time for my second period. You’d be fooled for thinking that I couldn’t focus on my work because strangely enough my mind wasn’t preoccupied on speaking to Ms Collins. By this point in my life I had, I guess, subconsciously trained my mind to shut out certain things if they weren’t relevant to what was going on at that present time. I suppose that’s how I’d managed to maintain top grades. School was my escapism. A world where no one could hurt me, control me or manipulate my thinking. Mind you, five minutes before I was due to see Ms Collins I went into distressed mode.
My eagerness and anxiousness got me to her classroom two minutes early. I patiently waited outside until the bell rang and her year 12 students left the room one by one.
“Hi, Rebecca.” She said as she placed a seat next to her desk for me to sit on. “Now, what did you want to talk to me about?”
I thought the best way to begin was to just give her a quick breakdown of my young life up until that point: How I was born in Sierra Leone, West Africa and was adopted by an aunt in England when I was 4. My adopted mum sadly died from a heart attack when I was 8 years old and I lived with a neighbour and her family for just over a year. Then I went to stay with another aunt for about two months in South London. Then I went to live with my adopted mum’s first cousin, Irene and her husband [who I call grandpa because he’s considerably older than me] a day before my 10th birthday. They obtained legal guardianship of me and that was my present ‘home’.
I looked up and the expression on Ms Collin’s face was that of shock. I could see that she was trying to take it all in.
Describing Irene was tricky but easy at the same time. Hate is a strong word and I’ve only ever seriously used it once to express my feelings for her. I hate her with a passion.
I got on with my grandpa. He was a peaceful, laidback kind of person- the total opposite of that witch. He couldn’t stand her, that’s why he would go abroad for months at a time.  Peace of mind. He, like most people, couldn’t wait get away from her. Her nagging, her deluded way of thinking, her garbage filled mouth.
I could feel my eyes begin to well up as I told Ms Collins all the nasty things she would do to me like slap me round the face on numerous occasions and pull out my hair. “You think you’re beautiful, eh?” She asked me a few years back. “Well you’re not!”, she informed me before giving me a look of disgust. I suppose it didn’t bother me so much because a)I don’t consider myself to be a vain person and b) I thought she was uglier than my very own black arse. On that day, she grabbed chunk of my hair and pulled so hard I could not only feel, but also hear the strands of hair ripped from their roots.
As I continued telling Ms. Collins the details of my daily ordeal, I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. Irene would cuss me in Krio [one of the main languages spoken in Sierra Leone] by calling me “Basta pikin!” which means bastard child and saying things like “Noto me fuck yu papa n bon yu (translates: I didn’t fuck your father and give birth to you) so why should I care about you?… Yu noto me pikin (translates: you’re not my child).” My thoughts to those comments were “True. Very true. Thank God Almighty, you’re not my mum.” She’s the kind of person who, if it were possible to divorce or legally disregard certain family members you’d definitely want to eradicate every living memory that you’re even related. Ironically her parents weren’t married either when she was born so she’s technically a bastard too, by dictionary definition of the word. Made me chuckle a little while wondering if she realised she was cussing herself and her own son.
“Oh, my… Rebecca. I had no idea.” Ms Collins gasped while promptly grabbing her box off tissues and offering me one.  “You always seemed so happy and together.”
Yep, that was the me people saw in public: smiley Rebecca, focused Rebecca.  But inside I was an introvert battling isolation.
“Now, you listen to me,” she continued, “You’re a lovely girl and you have so much to offer. Don’t you ever let that woman get you down. Education is the key. It’s you’re way out. You’re a very bright girl so remember, whatever’s happening at home, you need to focus on getting those top grades that you deserve.”
I was wise enough to know the importance and value of my education. Hearing those kind words from Ms Collins gave me a confidence boost. It certainly made a change from being called “bastard child”.
Even though I had revealed how vulnerable and distraught I really was, by the end of our chat I felt somewhat emancipated, as if a load had been lifted off my shoulders. The BT campaign slogan at the time summed up my thoughts:  ‘It’s good to talk’.
The bell rang and I made my way to my Politics lesson but less than 15 minutes into the class, one of the school’s receptionists came in and said: “Sorry, Miss but can I take Rebecca for a moment? There’s someone at the reception who wants to see her.”
All eyes were on me. As I stood up I racked my brain trying to think of who could possibly come to the school to see me. I shut the classroom door behind me and asked the receptionist who it was. “She said she’s your carer.” Irene loved it when I called her mum but when she’d go off on one she used to say “I’m not your mum. I’ll treat you like a ward. An orphan.”  ‘Carer’ sounded funny because she didn’t embody the true meaning of the word in any way shape or form.
We turned the corner and entered the reception. I braced myself.
Irene was standing in the middle of the foyer and before I could even say hello she started shouting at me. Her voice was getting louder and louder and her tone more aggressive. So much so that the receptionist called a senior member of staff who was in the office. It was Ms Deely. I had her as head of year when I was in Year 11.
“Rebecca? You OK?”, Mrs. Deely asked as she saw me standing there motionless staring straight ahead. A gush of warm tears cascaded down my face.
Her presence didn’t faze Irene, who, at this point, was just getting warmed up. “What, did you take your bank card to school because you wanted to run away with him? That 30 year old man?” She exclaimed. Irene loves to exaggerate EVERYTHING. She’d always make mountains out of molehills. My boyfriend [now my fiancé], although quite a few years older than me, was no where 30 years old and I took my bank card to school purely because I needed to go to the shopping centre after school to get some hygiene and femi products. To this day she’s probably still convinced that I wanted to run away with him despite the fact I didn’t pack any clothes, my passport etc. Dumb Ass.
“Erm, excuse me!” Mrs Deely exclaimed in a very authoritative teacher voice, “As long as our students are on our premises we have a right to protect them, now please leave.”
Irene left. But before going demanded my debit card and threatened “Wait ‘til you get home.”
The receptionist looked at me unsure what to say so just naturally asked “Are you ok?” even though I clearly wasn’t. However, I was far from embarrassed. If anything, I felt a little triumphant. Triumphant that Irene had exposed herself as the mean, intimidating bitch she really was. Triumphant that she couldn’t get me at school: a no Irene zone.
“So what’s all this about a 30 year old man you’re apparently going to run away with?” Mrs Deely asked pulling me to a quiet corner. In Sierra Leone we call this type of person a  ‘bisabody’, which simply means someone that is too nosey for their own good. I felt like telling her to mind her business in a not so polite way, but instead just firmly told her that I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to tell every Tom, Dick and Harry about what was going on in my life, and quite frankly didn’t feel obliged to. People always want to know so much but do fuck all to actually help you. I remember thinking, “Sorry, but this isn’t gossip hour at Aunt Claire’s press and weave. This is my life and unless you’re living it, you’ll never be able to even begin to understand the emotional trauma I’m going through, so mind your own.”
I didn’t return to my Politics lesson. Instead, I spent the rest of the day in the medical centre. I didn’t feel ill but I preferred to be in a solitary place where I could gather my thoughts.  One of my classmates kindly packed my bag for me when the lesson had ended and dropped it off at the centre. I had totally forgot about my books and stuff because I intended to return but had no clue that drama would transpire.
Word got back to Ms Collins and she came to see me at the medical centre. “I want you come and tell me if anything happens. Don’t keep it to yourself.” She instructed. I felt warm inside. Like I had a friend, some one who cared. “OK”, I promised.
My politics teacher Ms. Knight saw me walk past her class teary-eyed after the incident so she came to see me too. “I heard what happened and just wanted to check that you’re OK and let you know that we’re here for you. No one should make you feel that low.” She, as well as Ms Collins was one of my favourite teachers. So genuine. So kind. They were both concerned about me going home and what sort of an evening I would have. Believe me, so was I. But I had endured Irene’s vicious onslaughts for 8 years now, so I was almost aloof to whatever fresh treat she had in store for me. I just took it as it came.

As I walked home from school, I was transfixed on almost every house I went past. “Funny”, I thought to myself, “No one really knows what goes on behind closed doors, behind those curtains, behind those ‘hi neighbour’ greetings.”
I was ‘home’. I nervously turned the key and opened the door. When I got in, I remember standing at the bottom of the stairs thinking “God, I’m in this house all alone with her-again.” That was her ideal situation. One-to-one so she could say or do whatever she liked. Everything would be my word against hers. I could see her standing in the kitchen with her back facing me. She was peeling potatoes. As I calmly walked through to the TV room she turned her head to the left revealing a sinister smirk.
“H-H-Hi” I said meekly.
“Hi? Hi?” she said exclaimed aggressively.
She stopped peeling the potato in her hand and dashed it onto the floor.
“Hi” She repeated, this time mocking my voice. In one swift motion she turned around to face me and approached me with the sharp knife in her hand.

Also see my blog post Homeless But Fearless, which is a fast forward snapshot look at my life a few months on.

homeless-streets.jpg

As I sit on the bus 25 to Ilford, Essex my mind triggers back to the six months of my life that, deemed homeless by Redbridge council, I lived in a B&B where my daily routine involved going to the toilet trying to frantically avoid the smeared faeces on the walls and dodging the piss puddles on the floor. Mind you, it was great training for bladder control! Attempting to cook in the far from hygienic kitchen was as depressing as being surrounded by crackheads, drug dealers, alcoholics and prostitutes. Don’t even get me started about trying to bathe myself in the greasy, pubic hair ridden bathrooms! I can only laugh at it now that I have the power of hindsight. I mean, if I didn’t laugh, I’d cry, and boy did I have my fare share of tears.

I would quite defensively educate any ignorami out there that think that being homeless is “your fault!” No one chooses to be homeless. Some life situations force individuals into a path they would otherwise do anything to avoid. For instance, I desperately needed to get out of the psychological, mental and physical trauma my former guardian had inflicted on me for eight years. For instance

being called “Bastard child!” by her on numerous occasions for no reason was by far out of order. Everyone has their boiling point and that was mine.

I had nowhere and one else to go to (that I really trusted). My only option was to go to the council’s Homeless Prevention Unit with a small suitcase full of belongings I had managed to pack. What kept me going for those six months? Education. School had always been my escapism- especially after my adoptive mum died when I was 8. I’d find myself free amongst literature of all kinds. This was my world where no one could hurt me or control me. I excelled in school and despite being “homeless” from 17 years old, living on my own and surviving on peanuts, I still conjured up the determination to complete my A-Levels and achieved top grades.

One has to really go through hell and back in order to truly understand pain. Living off £5 for two weeks was more than a challenge but it taught me so much about materialism and tainted happiness. A philosopher once wrote: “If who I am is what I have, and I have nothing, then who am I?” So simple, yet so powerful and deep. When I was homeless, I had nothing, but it didn’t mean I was nothing. I knew who I was, where I came from and definitely where I wanted to go.

I’m at university now studying…wait for it…journalism and live in a lovely house – independent from government help. I’ve got a lot to say about a lot of issues and it’s personal experience that has really opened up my eyes to a lot of things. I pray for those still in the struggle…you’ll make it, trust me- just believe in the power you hold within you to make a change in your life for the better.

“Last stop!” the bus driver shouts. As I jump startled, I smile to myself. I’ve got a long way to go yet.