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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Thrifty Afropolitan meets… Angela ‘Baruch’ Knowles

Recently I had the privilege of interviewing the passionate, driven and highly talented Angela Knowles, a British based fashion designer with roots in Ghana. Her beautiful blend of African print and Scandinavian design, has seen her work featured in Look magazine and on the Stylist magazine’s Emerald Street. More recently Ms Knowles’ Baruch boutique ( Baruch which means blessed in Hebrew) was short listed for the Time Out magazine’s Love London Awards.

Q: Angela this is so exciting. Your store is awesome, you work for yourself, making clothes and doing things you love. Would you say you’re living ‘the dream’?

Not at all! I didn’t set out to inspire people or to ‘live the dream’; I set out to wake up in the morning with a sense of purpose and to really enjoy what it is I am going to do and doing. I try not to call this work as my perceptions of the word are pretty negative. In my mind, this is not work, this is fun and anything else which comes from it is an added bonus.

Q: Tell me a bit about your journey – did you always know that you would be working in the fashion industry?

When I was eleven, I knew at that point that my career would revolve around making things. I didn’t know who, what, where, why or when. All I knew is that I wanted to have a shop and sew. Some of my earliest memories are of being a small child, with my little sewing machine and sewing scraps of material alongside my mum. I didn’t have a clue about fashion although my mum was a seamstress; I only knew as much as she sewed. I learnt more about fashion over the years.

Whilst at 6th form, I decided I wanted to attend London College of Fashion but was discouraged by one of my tutors. As a black person it was assumed I would become a seamstress or a cleaner, there was a lack of aspiration. Fortunately I had another tutor who said that I was better than that. In the end, I decided to do something ‘sensible’ and took up sciences at A Level. I liked babies so figured why not be a midwife?! I failed biology and soon realised that wasn’t going to work!

I ended up studying Business Studies at Surrey University after going through clearing. Looking back it was definitely the right decision because it gave me all the tools I needed to do what I am doing now.

Welcome! Owner and designer at Baruch boutique

Welcome! Owner and designer at Baruch boutique

Q: You have worked for a number of very established brands, what did you learn from working with them?

I have worked for brands like Fenn Wright Manson, Whistles and Jaeger all of which were great in different ways. Working at Fenn Wright Manson taught me about quality; I loved their clothing and had favourite pieces which I would share with the customers. I was so passionate about the brand and that is what helped me to sell. Jaeger was probably the best retail experience as I was tasked with turning around one of their poor performing stores and given the freedom to get on with it. It was great to work with a store that was so well established. I left to go Whistles to run a bigger store and was given a similar mission to improve one of their poorer performing stores which eventually became a store of excellence. It was a really exciting time to work with the brand because it was evolving. I loved Whistles and thrived working there; I stayed for three years.

Q: Given your successful retail management career, which you appeared to have enjoyed, why did you decide to launch the Baruch boutique?

Motherhood. I was on maternity leave and felt anxious about returning to work but suppressed it. I realised that I hadn’t got everything I needed to from the working world so went back to the same company but in a different store and managing a different team. There was a lot of work to do as they hadn’t had a manager for 6-7 months. I received very little support upon returning; the company didn’t do any ‘keep in touch’ days and I had no training to help me settle back in despite having almost a year off. I was Grade 9 – the highest level of managers and was a senior of those; I think the assumption was ‘you’re the boss get on with it’. I was still quite emotional and enjoyed being at home and doing a little bit of sewing on the side, even though it didn’t pay me. Looking back, all I needed was emotional support. I returned to work and the store quickly improved moving from 6/7th place in performance tables to to 2nd within four weeks. I maintained this up until the point I left.

I realised being a mum was the most important thing to me and needed to be in a space which would allow this to happen. I remember one busy Saturday at work and I was holding a baby for a customer, a mother trying on clothes, and it hit me; why am I holding someone else’s child? My child should come first. All I wanted was to be a happy mum. I just thought I will no longer stress myself to make someone else’s dream and bank account bigger and sacrifice my own happiness in the process. That’s when I decided to focus on Baruch full time.

Afro-Skandi: Unique blend

Afro-Skandi: Baruch’s unique blend

Q: So you decide to start Baruch full time. How did you fund your journey?

I applied for a start up loan through the Greater London Enterprise (GLE). I didn’t know if it was the right approach but applying for the loan was the only feasible way I would be able to buy stock and afford a deposit for a space. I just had a baby, my husband wasn’t working and I was on the verge of leaving my job…it was a make or break situation and I knew I had to make it work.

I remember putting all the paper work together for the application process and saying to my husband, if I get it then that’s a green light. If not then I will have to save and do it over a longer period of time. The whole process took approximately three months from beginning to end. My advisor was really supportive and thought my business idea was amazing which helped.

As part of the process I attended a panel meeting similar to the BBC’s Dragon’s Den programme. In fact one of the guys who interviewed me resembled Theo Paphitis! I came really well prepared. They were very rigorous in their interview process especially when they asked me what I planned to do with the money. After the process I cried in front of them! I just thought this is it, I don’t want to go back to what I am doing.

The feedback from the panel was very positive- they liked the business idea, thought the plan was well put together and could tell I was passionate about it. They had a few things to discuss but would get back to me fairly soon.

By the time I got home from the interview the email was in my inbox! I handed in my notice on my birthday. I didn’t know how it was going to work, but it was going to work.The moment I handed in my notice, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Q: What were some of the practical things you did to get started?

I had a list of things to do which simply boiled down to; find brands I love, create stock, confirm a space and make it happen.

I went on to Gumtree to look for a shop space and didn’t find anything available in South London but was told about a possible space in East London. My husband and I went to visit the space which was at a back of a cafe. We visited six times and at different times of the day just to see what it was like. It was on a quiet street but it didn’t phase me as I was use to working in quiet areas. All I thought was if I have one customer a day who would buy something, then it will grow in its own time. You have to come to it with minimal expectations. I have since moved from the cafe into my own store, which was a huge move.

I set up the business in a short period of time, just over a year ago and the response has just blown me away. It has been non-stop. I am in my second year of business which is no small feat. I remember My GLE mentor saying don’t even expect to break even, more likely make a loss especially given the current financial climate. But do you know in my first year of business, I have never paid bills or rates late and have always had stock in. It’s growing slowly but surely. Everyday I come into work not expecting to have a customer – but they come and I am so grateful.

Showcasing one of her fab designs

Showcasing one of her fab designs

Q: I love your style- it’s very eclectic and fuses lots of different elements. Even your store layout oozes style. Where do you draw your inspiration from? How would you define Baruch?

In terms of the clothes it’s my wardrobe – a little bit rock chic, African, minimal and Scandinavian.
As a child I remember going to church with coordinating clothing and accessories I.e. Matching shoes and handbags which I learnt from my mum. I have incorporated this ‘coordinated’ approach into the Baruch range – ensuring I make pieces that match – which my customers appreciate. Similarly all the brands I have worked for, I have appreciated the high quality and excellence and this is something I am naturally drawn to and bring to my own range. Everything is thoughtfully considered and crafted even down to the African prints I use, it is not randomly selected; everything has a meaning and tells a story.

As well as my love of African print, I am also very inspired by Scandinavian design. I love their minimal approach. I remember going to Norway with my church as a young adult and being drawn to their style. This has since led me to coin the term Afro-Skandi; when I first shared this with my website provider – they didn’t have a clue what it meant but absolutely loved it!

Everything in here (the store) from the decor to the clothing, is what I would have in my own home. Everything I do, I have to love it, own it or want to own it.

Q: What are your future plans?

To keep doing what I love. I have no grand plans to expand but the natural progression would be to share the load with someone.

The number three keeps coming to me so maybe I will have several stores in the future- who knows? Over the summer I was commissioned to make three wedding dresses so I am looking to develop a Baruch bridal range.

Check out Baruch boutique in East London

Check out Baruch boutique in East London

Q : What’s the one piece of advice you would give to any budding entrepreneur?

Do what you love. Do it because you love it and if something comes out of it then that’s great. I am not doing it to be a millionaire or to be on the catwalks of London Fashion Week. I like sewing, I like fashion and I like mixing it together. For me, the whole point of the journey is that I have fallen in love; with the shop, with the pieces I buy, with the pieces I make… As corny as it sounds I just want to to be happy. I have worked in environments when my state of mind has been compromised. I have realised that it is so important to be healthy; if I can wake up every morning smiling and the whole world is my friend, then it’s all good.

To find out more about Baruch visit Baruchboutique.com 

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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#BlackGirlsGoCamping?

I’ll never forget the rather infamous last words I uttered during a conversation at a festival a few years ago whilst in the company of mainly young white women (some of which I knew). Despite the festival attracting in excess of ten thousand people over the course of the weekend, there were very few people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds present.

Noting the shortage, I said “Black people don’t really do camping – why would we camp outside in the cold, on the ground when we have a roof over our heads and a bed to sleep in at night?” *(Disclaimer: At this point I A) apologise for this crude generalisation although even the Guardian published an article on this matter a few years ago with some equally compelling stats to substantiate the case and B) secondly I know BAME is a problematic term- but just stick with me on both accounts).

Camping, to some, may appear to be complete and utter lunacy; paying to knowingly subject yourself to the elements, sharing toilet facilities with strangers, having no access to electricity, limited water supply and snuggling up to creepy crawlies does not constitute a holiday to most (irrespective of race), it sounds like self imposed poverty.

It’s a similar logic applied by my parents when I asked to attend a slumber party at my friend’s house as a child (‘party’ being the operative word, completely missed them). “Let’s get this straight, you want to sleep on someone else’s floor when you have a bed at home? No, you are not staying over”. My mum only relented when I reached my late teens. Now I understand her objection was primarily fuelled by her concerns over child protection related issues, in addition to her disdain at sleeping on a stranger’s floor.

So unsurprisingly, God taught me a lesson to banish my ignorant, stereotyping mindset. A friend and I recently went camping. Both of us are Black women in our early thirties and are first time campers. (Well I have been once before but when I was thirteen and on a school trip which doesn’t really count). I have attended festivals before but usually on a day basis or if over the course of a weekend, sleep at a nearby hotel (perks of work!).

The opportunity to camp arose due to the kindness and persistence of a friend who for the umpteenth time asked me to attend a festival he has organised for several years. After much deliberation, I finally relented and am glad I did because it was such a positive experience; it’s true what they say that life begins on the edge of your comfort zone.

Festival essentials: love my wellies.

Festival essentials: love my wellies.

In true thrifty fashion, I volunteered, saving on entrance fee (which, might I add, was VERY good value at £50 for three days) but primarily to keep me preoccupied whilst still enjoying the delights of the festival. I was given role of ‘Artist liaison’ which basically entailed running round and schmoozing with artists ensuring they got paid, fed and watered. In reality, I did very little but it it felt good to be involved, supporting my friend in some small way whilst finally experiencing this event he’s been harping on about for almost a decade!

Located in beautiful Wiltshire countryside, the festival attracted 3,000 people throughout the three days. The weather was equally glorious aptly embodying this year’s ‘Club Tropicana’ theme. There was a wonderful variety of music, arts and cultural events / workshops including Latin themed Brazilian samba bands and capoeira workshops. More traditional festival entertainment was also on offer such as folk music, rock and roll, dance and cheesy pop sets alongside new and interesting sessions on how to take care of chickens, painting, carpentry, short films, yoga and meditation.

We survived: My friend and I dancing our hearts out to Congolese music. (Copyright. Richard Shakespeare.)

We survived and thrived: My friend and I dancing our hearts out to Congolese music.
                                               (Copyright. Richard Shakespeare.)

Determined to reduce costs, I managed to borrow a tent, sleeping bags and roll mats from brother’s girlfriend- a six man tent, which weighed a ton but kept out all the bugs and was such a blessing on many levels (thanks Jodie!). Similarly, as volunteers my friend and I were entitled to free meal vouchers, which we didn’t always use, but were helpful on the odd occasion for saving money.  Adding our own thrifty Afropolitan twist we also brought along some snacks from home including chin chin and plantain crisps (lol #keepingitNaija).

I am ashamed to admit that for my friend and I, our biggest fear was not being able to shower properly over the three days and using public toilets. Let’s be honest – personal hygiene is a big deal but especially in hot weather, so we came prepared bringing copious amounts of baby wipes, Dettol, antibacterial spray and packet tissues to compensate. In fact my friend even bought a small basin to collect water for bathing purposes which came in very handy.  By the end of the weekend,  I had perfected the art of squatting in public loos to avoid contact with the toilet seat, overcoming any irrational fears I had (which were plenty).

It was a positive experience on many levels but particularly because it:

Allowed me to switch  off and be present in the moment- no distractions in the guise of social media, TV, Internet and the like.
The instant camaraderie, community and free spiritedness were infectious – I am convinced this is where all the adults come to retain their sense of youth and playfulness.
Lots of dancing until the early hours- cheesy pop or Congolese ‘happy’ music = #fun!
Random, funny encounters with strangers including an inebriated man calling my perfume, a love potion then bowing down to me! (I promise this rarely happens!)
Enjoying the simplicity of country living- we don’t need as much as we think!
Stunning natural scenery – so much open space and beautiful fields of green and gold.

As a self confessed Crack-Book addict, the festival forced me to digi-detox because there was almost nowhere to charge your mobile phone. The only place which did was the stand of a Bristol based charity called Temwa, which runs a number of sustainable community development programmes in Malawi-one of the poorest countries in the world (www.temwa.org). Someone came up with the genius idea to make people pay a fiver each time they want to charge their mobile phone with donations going to the charity!

Changing lives in Malawi: http://www.temwa.org

The only downside of the camping experience was that I ended up with the flu the following week, due to a rookie error. I completely underestimated the number of layers I would need to keep warm at night ( I forgot the temperature dropped so dramatically), so ended up with cold in my bones rendering me bed-bound for almost the entire week.

With this exception, I can say that I am a camping convert and look forward to doing more of this in the future but perhaps better prepared.

Would love to hear from you re. Your experiences of camping. Is it something only particular groups of people do? Would especially love to hear from women of BAME backgrounds who camp regularly, what are your experiences? X

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Mind the Gap: “You want to take a what?”

“Dad…I’m going to take a gap year.”  “You want to take a what?” He replied, his perpetually smiling face instantly morphed into a frown. “A gap year.” I said rather boldly (have I lost my mind?!) “OK…OK…OK” he said repeatedly as I became increasingly unnerved with each utterance, then it stopped. Silence. What seemed like an eternity passed. “So you are not going to go to university?” he said. Oh dear I could see where this was headed. “Yes dad I will be, just not this year but definitely next.””OK…OK…OK… So what does that mean?” His words mingled with sadness and restrained anger.  This conversation went round in circles for quite a while and as you probably guessed, it didn’t end well.

Dad's expression: "You want to take a what?"

Dad’s expression: “You want to take a what?”

My dad was one of the most liberal, free-spirited people on the planet whose abiding mantra was ‘live and let live’. I could have told him I was a lesbian, entering a nunnery, joining the circus or any other random scenario and he would have been perfectly fine with it as long as it ‘made me happy’. However the concept of a gap year didn’t compute.

To be honest, I was fairly surprised by his response because our household was not especially traditional. However looking back there were elements – no matter how liberal – which will always remain such as respect for your elders and reverence for education.

I should have known no matter how ‘open minded’ dad was, in an Afropolitan household – especially a Nigerian household – gap years are as elusive as unicorns. Things may have changed now (though I doubt it) but over ten years ago, it wasn’t very common amongst the British based West Africans I knew. Gap year for what? For who? What have you experienced in life which warrants a ‘break’? What are you going to do? All these questions would be swirling round in a Nigerian parent’s mind in response to such a ridiculous proposition.

Getting a good education was and still is of the upmost importance because it equates to securing a good future for you and your family. Go to school, go university, study something sensible (Law, Accountancy, Medicine), get a good job, buy a nice home, start a family, take care of your parents in old age – the usual trajectory in any traditional BME household which highly prizes education as the route of all self betterment.

I could now see that my poor dad thought his super academic daughter was ‘going off the rails’ and with it all his hopes and dreams for me. What was he going to tell his friends and family? How could he explain this decision to them? I felt like such a failure in his eyes which I had never experienced before. My dad and I were extremely close, in fact he delivered me at birth and our bond had been apparent ever since. But this was one of the very few times in my life where I had disappointed him, almost to the point of disgust. He would not talk to me for weeks afterwards and refused to give me eye contact – he was that upset.

Daddy's girl lol

Daddy’s girl lol

Dad didn’t even particularly care what I studied as long as he could say I went to university. He himself didn’t go to university so was not so focused on what I studied as long as I went. I planned to study English and History (which is an entirely different conversation altogether and something which still confuses my maternal grandmother until this day) but in his mind, at least it meant a move towards progress. He wanted a better life for me than he had for himself and education was the key to securing this. Why would I make such a selfish decision as to delay it?

I didn’t take a gap year because I had grand plans to travel the world. I did it out of embarrassment and because, in my eyes, I had no choice. I received my A Level results and though I got an ABB, unfortunately it was not the right grades to allow me to study on my preferred course at a prestigious Red Brick institution. I remember results day like it happened last week – I didn’t realise how arrogant I was or how much my identity was bound up in my intellect until the day of the ‘rude awakening.’

After realising I got the wrong ABB (the A was neither in English Literature or History) I instantly ran to the careers service to see what could be done to ensure I could go to my first choice placement. I managed to meet the main careers advisor, who had a horrific reputation for being brutally honesty and in a nutshell, crushed any hopes I had. “Well judging by how competitive the course and institution is you won’t get in this year. If you are lucky they may offer you another course which you can take and hope someone drops out mid way on your preferred course so you can change over but it’s not guaranteed and quite unlikely.” All I could hear was bla bla bla and at one point I said to her: “But how can I not be going to university? I mean it’s me! I got all A’s last year.” My pride was completely crushed as a cloak of shame covered me, how could I explain to my friends and family that clever kem kem was not so clever after all?

My response to not going to university that year.

My response to not going to university that year.

In retrospect taking a gap year was the best decision of my life. I developed a strong work ethic – working two retail jobs, six days a week including one at GAP – (yes you couldn’t make it up); took up another A level because I always wanted to study that particular subject (super geek), took up singing in a choir, met some amazing people including session singers and actors who had to do retail when their craft couldn’t pay the bills, found my faith (in fact it was the first time I truly spoke to a God and He answered!) … It was nothing like I expected it to be but I grew so much during this time and saved quite a bit of money towards University too! And when I did eventually go to University the following year, God provided the right group of friends, the right course and I had such an incredible experience as a result.

Gap year employment: You couldn't make it up if you tried!

Gap year employment: You couldn’t make it up if you tried!

There are untold benefits to a gap year but one in particular, is that you realise more than ever whether university is for you or not. For some people taking the time out allows them to come to the realisation that they are ready to enter the world of work rather than accrue debt which might or might not lead them to their dream job. For others, myself included, I realised that I wanted to go to university, but for the right reasons this time (not just to party and be promiscuous as popular culture loves to remind us.) I didn’t want a life of low paid work to make ends meet – university was my route out of poverty and I was going to grasp it with both hands.

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Thrifty Afropolitan meets…. Fieldview Festival Founder, James Cameron

A few weeks ago I caught up with the lovely, multi-talented James Cameron ( no not the director of Titanic or relative of the Prime Minister, David Cameron!). A few years ago, James and his brother, Dan started a festival in their ‘backyard’ (he lives in the countryside), combining their love of people, partying, philanthropy and playing music. Little did he know that the festival would grow to attracts thousands of people from across England and generate tens of thousands for charitable causes in the process.

Q:  Tell us a bit about yourself, what do you do for a living (I loathe this question but have to ask!)?

I am a primary school teacher by profession, who plays a bit of music (he plays in several bands) and organises a festival. I also love to travel and explore different cultures. I was in South America for 6 months earlier this year and am pretty fond of the continent having visited several times before.

Q: Day job aside, what would you say is your ‘passion’?  What excites you?

I love getting people to work together and using their various talents to make something happen. I feel most inspired and alive when I am creating something with people for the greater good whether that is music or events or fundraising.

Q: Tell us about Fieldview- how did it begin?

I’ve always loved organising parties from a young age. As I child I remember spending my pocket money booking a bouncy castle in my back garden and inviting my friends round. My parents were cool with it when most parents wouldn’t be.

Field View started in a similar way; it was basically an annual gathering / party with friends and grew from there. We started in 2007 with 7 bands 1 stage, 1 vendor, 1 day to tidy up with roughly 350 friends; it was relatively easy. Then it began to grow; in the following year we had almost double the number of people and managed to raise £1200 for Water Aid who were digging wells in drought ridden regions. By 2012 over 2000 people attended and we have to date, raised over £22,000 and donated the proceeds to both local and national charities. I never thought I would make any money from it. And when we did start I decided to give it away to charity, it jut felt wrong to make money from my friends.

Living the dream: FieldView founder James Cameron crowd surfing!

                    Living the dream: FieldView founder James Cameron crowd surfing!

Q: How do you decide what charities to give the proceeds to?

We donate to different charities each year. In the past we have given to a number of charities including Water Aid, the local parish church and Oxfam. It can be difficult to decide as there are so many worthwhile causes. Sometimes it might be a charity that has personally resonated with me or equally it could be an issue someone else has brought to my attention- It really just depends. I’ve learnt over the years that contributing to local causes is just as important as the global.

Q; I know that you are particularly passionate about climate change, reflected in your ongoing commitment to supporting one environmental charity year in, year out. Can you tell me more please?

About 4-5 years ago we began to charge for car parking. I was keen to somehow to mitigate the effects of pollution from driving. Carbon offsetting was also quite a prominent political issue in the media and in government so I decided I wanted the proceeds to go to an environmental charity.

After researching there were two potential charities which caught my attention, one of which was Cool Earth (www.coolearth.org), which works alongside indigenous communities in South America affected by deforestation. I liked the fact it was a small local charity based in the South West, with a small admin team reducing overheads. I was also quite impressed that they had Sir David Attenborough and Pamela Anderson amongst some of it’s patrons.

The charity has a personalised approach to allowing a donor to see exactly where their money has gone, which was a really attractive feature. For example, you receive a personal online account which provides a visual illustration of the impact your money has made. To date, we have generated enough funds to directly save 60 acres of rainforest in Peru from deforestation. I went to the rainforest a few years ago and was shocked at how quickly and badly it was being destroyed. I would like to visit again in the near future to check the current situation.

Cool Earth: chosen environmental charity. Personalised page showing how much rainforest has been saved from FieldView proceeds over the last 4-5 years.

Cool Earth: chosen environmental charity. Personalised page showing how much rainforest has been saved from FieldView proceeds over the last 4-5 years.

Q: Why do you think the festival has been so successful?

We weren’t intentionally trying to start something. We didn’t set out to have a festival that would grow. It began as a festival for our friends. I think this is a big part of its ‘success’. If we had set out to make a festival for profit we would have suffocated it before it began. We have approximately 80 committed volunteers who use a week’s holiday a year to come down and build the festival. We didn’t ask them to, it’s just something they do because I think they get as much out of it as we do. It’s a chance to have fun with people and build something that is rewarding. Our generation want to do something real and meaningful but many have mundane office jobs, this offers an opportunity to break free from the monotony.

Q: What has been some of the greatest lessons you have learnt as a result of Fieldview?

We weren’t prepared for Fieldview’s rapid growth. At one point it was so big, it felt like a slightly out of control freight train, and became physically and mentally draining for all those involved in organising it. We took a break when it got to this point. Now I have to come to realise it is fine if the festival is big; you just need to plan well, have a great team on board and make sure it is well financed.

At this point in my life I also realise it’s fine to make some money and reinvest it to make sure the festival can carry on. In the past I have been so against profit making my parents had to take out credit cards to pay for it! You need a balance; not all profit is evil it’s what you do with it that matters.

Q: What motivates you to ‘do good’?

I believe your resolve gets weathered when you get older. I had a set of ideals when I was 20; I was against making a profit, passionate about investing in my local community and committed to protecting the environment. These things remain unchanged.

Q: So what’s next for Mr Cameron?

My dream would be to put this altogether; record music that I love, live a sustainable lifestyle rather than whinging and criticising; grow my own food; have my own chickens; get rid of my own waste; generate my own energy…. My dream is to live out what I believe. I spent my 20s talking about it now it’s time to live it.

Q: Any other nuggets of wisdom you wish to share?

i believe that every action can have a positive impact. I just want to tell you one story of a couple who pretty much sum up all I am about and aspire to be.

There’s a couple in Forest Gate, East London who opened up a community cafe.The venue hosts the usual range of events such as gigs, art exhibitions as well as doing some incredible community outreach work like feeding the homeless and getting young (unemployed) people involved. The cafe brought a real focus to a community which wasn’t there previously, creating a real extended family vibe.

What’s particularly inspiring is that this couple recently put their house up for sale in order to invest the proceeds into the cafe. They were offered an extortionate amount of money by a property developer who wanted to purchase and turn it into a buy to let. The couple rejected this offer in favour of a much smaller figure from a a young family who were seeking to set up home. They have now downsized to a flat and have invested the extra capital into buying the cafe rather than renting, in order to continue to serve the local community.

They demonstrate that you can ‘do good’, help others and still maintain a good quality of life in the process. This is how I am aim to live.

Why not go along to this year's festival?

Why not come along to this year’s festival?

Field View is a grassroots, not for profit weekend of happiness and adventures. It takes place in Chippenham, Wiltshire from August 6-9th. For more information visit: http://www.fieldviewfestival.co.uk 

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