Category Archives: Health

Grief: the unwelcome but necessary Christmas ‘guest’

I have not been looking forward to Christmas. Not because I am bah humbug but because it is and has been painful thus far. This will be the first Christmas without my dad, the third without great uncle and the fifth without Brian, my godfather. No matter which way I look at it, it is going to be miserable.

Over the last two months delayed grief has hit me like a bitch. She has drawn out emotions in me I never knew existed. The extremities of anger and sorrow swinging like a pendulum has been physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting; interrupted by sustained moments of calm ‘acceptance’.

This may come as a surprise to some because I hide my grief ‘well’. And it’s true; most times I am actually ‘fine’ – I smile, I laugh, l live, I love – most times… But when I come home and allow myself proper space to decompress, not filling up my time with work, socialising and other meaningless activities to keep myself preoccupied, grief greets me in unexpected ways.

The only thing I can compare it to are literal waves of emotion engulfing your entire being threatening to take you under; you just don’t know which emotion it is going to be. I have even briefly entertained suicidal thoughts – the sorrow can be that overwhelming-but I would never have the courage to do it; I am far too cowardly.

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This is one of the many phases of grief which has to happen. It cannot be bypassed; you just have to go through it, one painfully agonising step at a time.

The countdown to Christmas has felt like a blur, days merging into each other. I hear the noise, excitement and buzz around Christmas but I just cannot partake in it. Something literally feels dead inside.

Flashbacks from last Christmas come thick and fast, despite my best efforts to suppress it. Facebook unknowingly complicit in torturing me with memories from ‘This time last year’ as if I need reminding. But that’s where I am going wrong; the emotions, the memories should not be suppressed but expressed. The healthy thing to do is to talk them through and be real. I have since parked the pride and opened my mouth with those I want to share the journey with and it feels like a positive step.

My personal faith in God during this season of grief has for the most part, been an anchor;  at other times, a noose. There are instances where I believe in Him with all my heart, His presence an undeniable comfort in the dark and unknown places. Yet there are moments when the anger comes and it gets ugly… Multiple profanities piercing the air, emotions raging, asking why a loving God would take away my three father figures one by one, back to back, just like that?

Unsurprisingly, He doesn’t answer because He doesn’t need to. And even if God did, the answer could never be satisfactory in my eyes. For a long time I thought peace would come if I knew ‘why’ , but it has literally ended up being one of the most frustrating and futile things I could have pursued. Since I have forfeited the right ( the need) to know ‘why’ it has given me unexpected, much needed peace. (I really recommend reading this article by Pastor Jo Naughton, which helped me come to this conclusion).

Grief has made me lack energy, lash out at loved ones, cry like a baby, swear like a trooper, be a crap friend who let’s everyone down at the last minute, a sloppy worker… It has undone me.

Equally it has also brought out some hidden gems like increased compassion and empathy for others and being an excellent worker on occasion (workaholics eat your heart out).

At times, I have felt guilty for grieving not just because of the obvious negative side effects but because it seems so selfish, so self indulgent. Why can’t it be over already? There are so many problems and sorrows in the world and you want to cry about losing a loved one? How many people lose loved ones every day in more tragic and trying situations?

But the thing with grief is that it is not rational, it’s not logical and it is perfectly fine not to be OK and to take all the time you need to adjust to life post death. Grieving doesn’t have a timetable, it just takes it own natural course.

A good friend of mine, actually several good friends who have lost multiple family members, have given me great advice to hold on to during times of overwhelming sorrow and that is to be grateful. Grateful for the lives of loved ones passed, your life, your health, your friends, family- there are endless things worthy of thanksgiving.

Truth be told, this is not always easy to apply, but I am trying and so far, it’s been alright.

 

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Eat like a lady, NOT like a man!

“Kem, do you want to take a break?” My best friend said, gently urging me to back away from my dinner plate. We were dining at a friend’s house and I was clearly struggling to finish my second helping. She approached slightly tentatively as if she were negotiating in a hostage situation, expecting to receive a hostile reception.

“Break? No that’s for sissies – this mountain of food will not defeat me – I will be victorious, muahaha! I am going to eat this food – no waste.”

“OK, no one is disagreeing with you re. Wasting the food, but Kem- just take a little rest then come back to it.”

To be honest, she had a point; I was eating as if I was at an ‘All You Can Eat’ buffet with a two hour time limit. But with a natural propensity towards stubbornness and greed, I ploughed on.

“Um sorry that is NOT how I work; if I stop eating then I won’t come back to it.” ***(Returns to food)***

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This is not the first time I have been told to slow down whilst eating….either by my best friend or by an acquaintance!

I have come to a realisation that I need to eat like a lady and not like a man. This is a) partly due to how I appear to others b) the little discomfort I get after eating too quickly or eating too much or both c) my increasingly slow metabolism; they weren’t joking when they said it changes at 30 d) I am significantly decreasing my chances of marriage (no joke).

Book needs to get rewritten!

Book needs to be rewritten!

Before I continue, I want to set the record straight – I don’t always eat like this. Oddly enough there are many occasions when I am the last person to finish a meal even when eating at a fairly rapid speed. However something happens when I’m in the presence of copious amounts of food; especially when the environment is super relaxing with ‘no restrictions’.

So what makes a young lady eat in such an eager manner? There are several thought processes governing this behaviour – here are just three of them:

The ‘scarcity’ mindset– I.e. “this food is going to run out and if I don’t get to it it will be gone.” ( totally illogical food FOMO.)
Weirdly ironic, reverse gluttony / ‘hate waste’ mindset – I.e. “there’s so much food we can’t let it go to waste (as if fridges and freezers don’t exist), better get stuck in and finish it, even if my belly hurts.” (Again, ludicrous behaviour)
‘All by myself’ mindset I.e. ‘I’m so use to living on my own, I eat not for enjoyment but out of necessity, therefore I eat quickly. I forget this is not acceptable when in social settings.’ (Potentially pardonable)

My relationship with food is strongly linked to childhood. There was a zero tolerance food waste policy in our household and my mum was the main enforcer. One of her favourite mantras was to constantly remind us that there are ‘starving children across the world’ and that we have ‘no right not to finish our dinner’; A complete and utter guilt trip which I often wanted to counter with “so why don’t we airmail it to them then?” (But for obvious firmly remained as thoughts in my head).

Her request sounded very reasonable and one which my siblings and I largely acknowledged. However bear in mind that we were almost given the same portions as our dad, how on earth could we finish all that food? And to make matters worse, it was usually robust meals like eba and stew, rice and stew or pasta and guess what? stew. These sorts of meals should be restricted to those exerting a lot of energy (like doing hard labour or running a marathon).

Nigerian cuisine: Eba and stew

Nigerian cuisine: Eba and stew

Most times, I didn’t have a problem finishing dinner ( I love my food) but I would often eat beyond the the point of contentment; I ate until my belly ached just to avoid my mum moaning! This behaviour became the norm; ‘if my stomach isn’t hurting then I am not finished’. I now believe this was and is a weird and unhealthy place to be.

The reason my mum was so insistent on overfeeding us was because, as with many ethnic households, food = love. Feeding (over feeding) is a clear demonstration of love and care; it’s just sometimes taken to extremes!

So what do I plan to do now? Having been in a few social situations recently where I have been the recipient of odd glances whilst scoffing down my food, I am now on a mission to ‘hold it down’ (aka maintain some decorum). This will entail: only eating to the point of contentment and not beyond; taking my time and enjoying the process of eating leisurely and making sure if I am invited somewhere to eat, not to go on an empty stomach! I have got to keep it classy -at all times- and eat like a lady, NOT like a man!

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Good rule to dine by!

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Review: ’42’ photography exhibition

42 is the name of an exhibition featuring photographs of women from Sierra Leone by British photographer Lee Karen Stow currently being exhibited at the Horniman Museum, South London.

The exhibition features women in a range of everyday settings but behind each image is a powerful and extraordinary story. 42 was originally exhibited in 2007, when Stow sought to document the brilliance and resilience of women from this previously war torn nation.

Having recovered from a civil war, the Ebola virus and now flooding, Sierra Leone (which means Lion Mountain in Portuguese), is unsurprisingly one of the poorest countries in the world but ironically one of the richest countries in terms of its natural resources. A decision to re-exhibit the collection, could not have come at a more opportune moment, serving as a reminder of the incredible strength and courage of Sierra Leonean people.

The exhibition’s title is a powerful and poignant statement because 42 was the average life expectancy of women in Sierra Leone when the photos were originally taken. Despite modest improvements, the average life expectancy is still extremely low, making it one of the worst in the world.

The exhibition features a broad spectrum of Sierra Leonian womanhood all within their ‘natural’ habitat: women boxers in action, fashion models striking a pose, agricultural workers tilling the land, faith filled women crying out to God, mothers and children in a variety of settings, nurses caring for those in need, brigadiers exuding power and disrupting traditionally masculine spheres, human rights activists -dignified, powerful and poised- the list is endless. It also managed to feature the First Lady of Sierra Leone – Sia Nyama Koroma.

At first glance, these seem like pretty ordinary images, but what Stow has done is to cleverly encapsulate an extraordinary breadth of women related issues, anchored by the accompanying blurbs. High infant mortality and maternal deaths rates, Female Genital Mutilation, girls education and gender equality, single parent households, women in work, women operating in traditionally male fields (I.e. boxing and the Army),faith as an anchor in everyday life, women pursuing their dreams despite the adversity – all of this and more is brought to life in 42. The photos also subtly promote some of the initiatives providing innovative solutions to these issues whilst also building solidarity and empowering the women.

Strength, perseverance, character, beauty and determination permeate these beautifully vivid and bold images of Sierra Leonean women. What gives this exhibition added poignancy is that a few of the subjects, are now deceased including one of the children photographed as a result of poor health care. Despite some of the grim subject matters covered, 42’s dominant narrative is hope.

The only criticism I have is of the location of 42 within the museum. Even though it is ideally placed on the upper floor (along the main balcony area of the museum) the area is dimly lit and in my view, limits the viewer’s experience. Similarly the exhibition is broken up by the museum’s permanent Romanian heritage collection which is slightly disorientating and disruptive.

42 is running until Sept 27th at the Hornimans Museum in Forest Hill, South London. The exhibition is free.

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Thrifty Afropolitan Meets… The Molo Street Children Project

Street children are some of the most vulnerable in the world- a silent majority of almost 100 million, populating the streets of developed and underdeveloped nations. They are often stigmatised – labelled as petty criminals and considered a nuisance to the establishment and mainstream society. Street children are often not orphans but victims of extreme poverty (where their families can no longer provide for them) or of (physical, sexual or emotional) abuse. And despite the obvious perils, the streets are the only place they can go- finding a sense of belonging, ‘security’ and a source of much needed extra income to support their families- often entailing great risk.

This year's theme: The International Day for Street Children started in 2011

This year’s theme: The International Day for Street Children launched in 2011.

To coincide with the International Day of Street Children, I wanted to interview an inspirational couple who, for the past 12 years, have given hope to some of Kenya’s most deprived children in the Molo district of Kenya.

Meet Chris and Sonia Donnan, founders of the Molo Street Children’s project.

Q: What is the Molo Street Children Project all about?

Molo Street Children Project (MSCP) is a Christian, community based, not-for-profit organisation working with street children and poor families in the Molo area of Kenya. Our aim is to rehabilitate former street children into productive members of the community and to support families to look after children at home, to prevent them from going on the street. We do this in three ways:

  • Education: We provide school uniforms, pay for school fees so children can go to school, with additional follow up support. We also offer vocational training and informal schooling for children and adults.
  • Family support and guidance including access to basic healthcare, spiritual nourishment and counselling.
  • Employment – We provide income generating opportunities and casual work for some families.
In the beginning: The Donnan family in the early stages of MSCP.

In the beginning: The Donnan family in the early stages of MSCP.

Q: How did MSCP begin?

My wife and I, along with our three children, went to Kenya in August 2002 so that I could take up a teaching post at a local secondary school. My wife, Sonia was also working part-time at the same school and so had the opportunity to make friends out in the community.  Sonia became increasingly aware that although primary education was free following a change of Government, many children were still on the streets during term time. Upon investigation she realised that the children were often on the streets in order to get food as they came from households with little income. But she also realised that the children weren’t at school because their families couldn’t afford to pay for their school uniforms which was compulsory.   We began to provide uniforms and equipment for children to attend school and soon after founded MSCP, almost a year later.

Q: What is happening with the project at the moment?

We currently support approximately 160 children and young people, including over 100 children in primary school, 34 in secondary and 11 in University, with another 2 due to start this September. 30 of the children in primary schools are sponsored; the remainder are supported to varying degrees, according to the needs of the family such as provision of school uniforms, exam fees or with meals.

Q: You have supported over 300 families and countless numbers of individuals during the past 12 years. What is your favourite story of transformation?

Kirio dropped out of school during Year 6 and started coming to the project after being on the streets for about 8 months. He has dwarfism and is about 4ft tall. His mother was around earlier in his life, but has turned to extreme drinking and left Kirio and his two sisters to fend for themselves.

Kirio decided he wanted to go back to school, so we tutored him and he re-joined Year 7 after a two year hiatus. He achieved excellent results in the Primary exam at the end of Year 8 and a sponsor was obtained for his secondary education. He did very well, despite some difficulties. He is now in his third year at University studying Actuarial Sciences. During the holidays he supports the project by doing various tasks and also encourages the younger children, who may have experienced emotional trauma.

Q: What are your plans for the future? 

Our desire is that the project will be run and fully financed by the Kenyan people in the long term.  We are actively working to increase the amount of money generated within Kenya- working with individuals, businesses and developing income generating projects to sustain the future work of MSCP. Ultimately, our hope is that MSCP will continue to care for vulnerable children and families, advocating their cause to the educational establishment and the Government. We strongly believe that only persistent pressure, prayer and dialogue will change the plight of these children and their families.

Beautiful children: Here are some of the children that have been supported by MSCP.

Beautiful children: Some of the children that have been supported by MSCP.

Q:How can people support your work?

You can support the project in a number of ways. Through volunteering; regular giving; child sponsorship or hosting a one off fundraising event. We would also love for people to spread the word about MSCP, sign up to our newsletter for regular updates and to pray- we believe in the power of prayer!

To find out more about the Marvellous Molo Street Children’s project visit http://www.molostreetchildren.org.uk 

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Remembering Dad series: Mr Cheesy Feet

My Facebook feed is flooded with references to feet. No I am not a secret member of the ‘I love feet’ fetish society, but I am a Christian and this day is one of Biblical significance – commemorating the Last Supper and the ceremonial washing of the Disciples’ feet by Jesus.

Feet mean a lot to me; they remind me of my dad. And strangely enough I have his exact same feet (except a feminine version- never thought I would be so grateful for that) serving as a comforting and funny ‘memento’.

As children, my sister and I would often wash and massage dad’s stinky feet after a hard day’s work (he worked 2-3 jobs). We did this in the hope that he would ‘show us the money’ as he normally ‘paid’ us. My sister and I were no more than 8 & 12 years old. We would take off dad’s socks and massage his notoriously cheesy feet with any concoction we could get our hands on- cocoa butter, Vicks, Baby lotion you name, we used it. We would happily crack his toes, one of which had been broken years before in a football match and had the scar to show for it. He loved the pampering (who wouldn’t?) and we loved listening to his banter.

Blue cheese: Dad's feet had a similar fragrance! (Just kidding )

Blue cheese: Dad’s feet had a similar fragrance! (Joking! )

More often than not, the session would end with my sister getting paid £1.00 and I, 50p despite doing the same, if not more work. “How come she gets paid more than me even though we have done the same amount of work? That’s child slave labour!” Knowing full well it was because of the age difference, my dad, renowned for his mischievous nature and witty sense of humour would respond “It’s the minimum wage but at least you don’t get taxed!”

Fast forward 20 odd years later and there I am kneeling down by the bedside, massaging my father’s feet but this time he is bed bound. Sickness is ravaging his body and sapping what little strength is left, but the cheeky charm and twinkle in the eye still remains. Each time I visited him in the last 18 months of his life, it always included giving him a foot massage with drops of peppermint oil, accompanied by the sounds of smooth Jazz, Soul or Gospel music to soothe him and provide temporary respite from the suffering.

I will never forget the last time I massaged his feet. Dad was in hospital and was placed opposite a grumpy old man who had mental health problems. The man, in his anger, had upset dad the day before through his ill conceived words. Clearly annoyed because of the level of coughing and constant beeping emanating from dad’s bedside the other patient said ‘why don’t you just die’. This was wrong and not the words of a pleasant human being- especially when directed at a man only days away from death (thankfully the situation was promptly dealt with by the staff and the man’s cater /minder.)

But Dad not one to take things lying down, determined to make the man jealous and annoy him further, asked me to massage his feet whilst my sister massaged his scalp. “I want you to massage my feet so he can see. I want him to see. Bloody Idiot- you see, he will never get this kind of love and attention, miserable man-you see no one visits him.” I didn’t want to partake in this petulant point scoring but dad was not in the mood for my ‘mature and measured’ response- he meant business! My sister and I couldn’t help but laugh at him, seated on his hospital bed like a King on the throne, being attended to by his ‘servants’ all whilst transmitting the dirtiest looks known to mankind in the other man’s direction.

Dad's face: This captures my dad's behaviour that day!

Dad’s facial expression:  This captures my dad’s demeanour perfectly that day.

I miss sitting at dad’s feet and my godfather Brian’s swollen, porcelain feet whom I also had the privilege of massaging in the days before his death. They were oddly enough ‘happier” times.

Yet despite the natural sadness which comes with losing loved ones, I am assured and pleased that they have now entered His rest -literally putting their feet up in Heaven, having run the race well.

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‘Whose looking at you kid?’

“I’m surprised you knew how to find your way here”- the optician said as she issued me with a new pair of glasses. Apparently my prescription is so strong and eyesight so dire that it was a miracle I could see where I was going. I had been putting off getting my eyes retested for a few years now- 4  to be exact, despite being told that I needed to be seen every 2. But anyone who wears glasses and has the misfortune of needing Deirdre Barlow (God rest her soul) bottle top lenses knows how incredibly expensive going to the opticians can be; it can easily set you back a few hundred pounds and that’s without being extravagant.

This time however I couldn’t avoid the inevitable- I in my natural clumsiness managed to break into two one of the lenses on my last remaining pair of glasses by rolling over it with my chair whilst at work (don’t ask how that happened.). The need to get new glasses was more urgent than ever. Thankfully I had a voucher from my former employer which entitled me to £100 off a new pair of glasses, which needed to be redeemed before the end of 2014! And armed with a mission to be as frugal as possible I decided to see what else I could do to reduce costs. So I had a look online and noticed Specsavers had its usual 2 for 1 offer but were also offering £10 eye test for a limited period only.

All in all the total cost for my glasses were £200- which is phenomenal value including condensing the lenses which can be very expensive and two pairs of sturdy designer frames. And because of the £100 off voucher,  I only needed to pay £100 of my own money-result!

Blooming cheek: this came through my door... Packed full of discount but a few weeks too late!

Blooming cheek: this came through my door- packed full of discount but a few weeks too late!

There are other ways which you can reduce costs when getting a new pair of glasses:

  • Get your eyes tested in store but order your glasses online-this can save quite a bit of money.
  • Use your own frames- if you  happen to have your own stylish pair of frames lying around at home, all you have to do is pay for the cost of the lenses and getting them inserted-making potentially huge savings.
  • As mentioned,  check the benefits package at your place of employment. Even the most stingy of workplaces will have a benefits scheme which should include a discount towards eyewear especially if your work entails sitting in front of a computer screen for long periods of time.
  • Look online for vouchers, offers and discounts– Specsavers have them all the time but there are other opticians who do too -just keep your eyes open.

It was a relief to see clearly again and appreciate the finer details of things that would normally pass me by. But my new glasses also got me thinking of people in the developing world who can’t access eyecare so easily-either because of financial or geographical restrictions. Many end up blind without needing to. It can be so easy to take this for granted, so, keen to make use of my old glasses I searched for any organisations that recycled old glasses and came across Vision Aid Overseas (www.visionaidoverseas.org ). I will be sending my old glasses on in the hope that they will be reworked to give sight to someone else. Similarly I have also decided to donate some cash to them; there are a number of other charities such as Sightsavers (www.sightsavers.org)– who also do incredible work to save people’s eye sight in poor communities across the world. The point of me telling you this is not to guilt trip you into doing either but to be mindful. Next time you happen to get your eyes tested, why not consider blessing someone with the same gift of clear vision?

 

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