Lettre ouverte aux ‘immigrés’ Africains noirs: l’Europe n’a pas le bonheur dont vous cherchez.

Chers amis Africains,

Chers victimes du monde capitaliste,

L’Europe n’a pas le bonheur dont vous cherchez. Je sait ce que vous pensez : « Ha c’est facile a dire ceci lorsqu’on habite en Europe. Elle ne veut pas partager l’argent et la richesse qu’elle gagne là-bas ». Mais je vous jure, ceci n’est pas la vérité.

Je sait ce qu’on va dire quand vous verrais un photo de moi : Cette fille yalla qui n’a jamais connu la vraie pauvreté, la vraie lutte. Mais, je ne suis pas en train de comparer ma vie privilégiée a la votre. Je ne suis pas en train de vous stéréotyper, je partage simplement ma tristesse en voyant tant de vous qui meurt en train d’atteindre un Europe qui vous trompera.

Je ne veut pas vous catégorisez ou généralisez, alors s’il vous plais, ne me catégorise ou généralise pas. Vous n’êtes pas immigrés, réfugiés, ou exilés. Vous êtes des êtres humains, vous êtes chacun de vous un individu, une vie sacrée, un frère ou une soeur.

Comme sœur Africaine, ayant vécu toute ma vie en Europe, un Europe que vous pensez désirer, je vous en supplie, laissez moi vous raconter la réalité qui vous attend ici. Vous ne trouverez pas le soleil qui frappe votre peau, traverse vos os et vous réchauffe le cœur entier. L’Europe est froid. Les Européens ne vous accueillerais pas aussi gentiment que vous leurs accueillerais dans votre pays.

Vous ne trouverez pas ici la diversité qui rempli l’esprit de l’Afrique. Vous ne vous présenterez plus comme Gambien, Nigérien, Sénégalais, Congolais, Sierra Léonais, Zimbabwéens, Caméroniens, ou Gabonais. Les Européens s’en fiche si vous venez de Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger ou la Cote D’Ivoire. En Europe vous êtes simplement ‘noir Africains’.

En Europe vous êtes noir et a cause de cela, vous êtes dangereux. En Europe, l’homme noir ne se fie pas de l’homme blanc, l’homme blanc se fie de vous. Dans la littérature Européenne, noire représente la peur et le mal, mais ceci n’est pas la seule raison que l’homme blanc ne vous aime pas.

Les dictateurs et oppresseur que vous essayez d’échapper sont en Europe aussi mais dans une forme alterne. Vous deviendrez une esclave au capitalisme, à la dette, vous serais volé par les taxes et les factures. La seule différence est que ce ne serait pas si évident.

En Europe et l’Amérique du Nord nous sommes tous « riches » mais nous ne sommes pas tous content. Le plus d’argent que nous avons, le plus que nous voulons. Le plus que nous voulons, moins nous sommes content. Nous essayons tous a gagner de l’argent, acheter des maisons, voitures et nouveaux habits. Mais cette « rêve Américain » des économie de marché, des richesses infini et la mobilité sociaux… est simplement une rêve. Cette rêve n’a pas été crée avec vous en tête. Les Européens noir et les Américain noir sont encore en train d’atteindre ce rêve. Vous serez au fond du fil.

En Europe, vous n’êtes qu’un statistique, une autre boîte cocher. Si vous mourrez en train d’accéder l’Europe, vous deviendrez un autre numéro, un visage non-identifié dans la fosse commune. Il y aura un moment de tristesse quand votre mort est annoncé sur la télé, mais vous serez rapidement oublié parce qu’en Europe, le temps, c’est de l’argent, et ca ne paie pas de penser a votre mort. Vous êtes simplement un visage anonyme.

Vous travaillerez en Europe tant que vous travaillez chez vous. En Europe, l’argent ne pousse pas sur les arbres. La vie en Europe est difficile, mais encore plus difficile pour vous parce que serez constamment en train de vous prouvez, en train de montrez que vous n’êtes pas dangereux, que vous ne voulez pas voler, que vous n’est pas analphabète, ne venez pas « des buissons ». A cause de ca, les Européens vous prendrez d’avantage. Vous serez payer encore moins du salaire minimum et pas simplement parce que vous êtes désespérée, mais parce qu’en Europe, pour vous (les Africains), c’est attendu que vous travaillerez plus pour être moins payer. Parce que vous êtes classifié comme « illégal » et vous n’avez pas le droit d’être ici, vous êtes considéré inférieur dans la société Européenne.

L’argent que vous envoyez chez vous en Afrique ne fera rien. La situation dans votre pays ne changera pas. La corruption, l’infrastructure faible, et l’absence de facilité médicaux persistera malgré. Alors vous payerez pour l’éducation de vos enfants, les encouragerais à voyager en Europe, au même Europe que ne les veulent pas, pour travailler à un boulot dont ils sont hyper qualifié. Ils seront exposés à la haine simplement à cause de leur peau noire.

Finalement, vous ne leur raconteriez pas la vérité. Quand vous retournerez chez vous, vous feriez semblant d’être riche. Vous porterez des habits européens, et vous ramènerez des cadeaux couteux (chaussures, ordinateurs, etc..). Vous ne confiera pas aux amis, combien vous avez eue peur dans le bateau, combien de personnes vous avez vue mourir devant vos yeux et combien d souffrances vous avez subi. Vous ne raconterez pas à vos familles et vos amis que vous travaillez 3 métiers et habitez dans les taudis. Vous ne leurs dirais pas que l’Europe ne possèdent pas la joie dont ils cherches. Vous téléchargerez des photos sur votre Facebook de voitures couteux et des motos qui n’appartiennent pas a vous. Vous frimerez en portant vos seuls habits chics en essayant de faire semblant d’être content. Mais vous serez réellement malheureux.

 Je vous supplie, restez et battez pour le pays que vous avez. Pour le pays que vous voulez voir fleurir. Ne croyez pas pour un moment que l’argent est équivalent au bonheur. Ne croyez pas que vous devez risquer votre vie pour être content.

Patientez mes frères et sœurs. S’il vous plait, soyez patient. Restez chez vous, ne risquez pas votre vie, ne croyez pas au rêve d’une Europe parfait qui n’existe pas. Tout s’arrangera pour vous mais seulement si vous restez et battez pour votre rêve.

(Traduction par Natasha Lowery- Original en anglais)

Open Letter to Black African ‘Immigrants’: Europe doesn’t have the happiness you’re looking for.

Dear fellow Black Africans,

Dear victims of our capitalist world,

Europe doesn’t have the happiness you’re looking for.

I know what you are thinking ‘ha, it is easy for you to say that when you’re in Europe. You just don’t want to share the money and wealth you are earning over there’– I promise you, this is not the truth.

And I know what you will say when you see a picture of me ‘this yalla girl who has never understood real struggle, real poverty’- I am not trying to compare my privileged life to yours. I am not speaking down at you. I am sharing my pain in seeing so many of you dying to reach a Europe that will not live up to your expectations.

I am not trying to clump you all into the same category, please do not clump me into one. You are not immigrants, migrants, refugees, exiles or asylum seekers. You are human beings, you are each one of you an individual, a sacred life, a brother or sister.

As a sister who has lived her whole life in the Europe which you think that you desire, please let me open your eyes to the reality that awaits you here.

You will not find here the warm sun which beats on your skin and radiates through your bones, warming up your hearts. Europe is cold, people will not welcome you so warmly as you welcome them to your country.

You will not find here the diversity which fills the spirit of Africa. Stop telling people you are Gambian, Nigerian, Ghanian, Senegalese, Congolese, Sierra Leonean, Zimbabwean, Cameroonian, Gabonese, Guinea-Bissauan. No one cares if you’re from Burkina Faso, Mali, Central African Republic or Niger. In Europe you are just ‘Black African’.

In Europe you are black, and because of this you are a threat. In Europe the black man is not afraid of the white man, the white man is afraid of you. In European literature, black is associated with fear and evil, but this is not the only reason why the white man dislikes you.

The dictators and oppressors you are looking to escape from are also here in another form. You will become a slave to capitalism, to debts, you will be robbed through bills and taxes. The only difference is you will not see it happening so obviously. You are only running to embrace the opposite side of the spectrum.

In Europe and North America we are ‘rich’, but we are not all happy. The more money we have, the more we want. The more we want, the less happier we are. We dedicate our lives to making money, buying houses, fancy cars and new clothes. But this ‘American dream’ of free-markets, endless growing wealth and social mobility is just a dream.  This dream was not created with you in mind. Black Europeans and Black Americans are still fighting for that dream. You will have to join the back of the line.

In Europe you are another statistic, another ticked box. If you die trying to reach Europe, you will became another number, an unidentified face in a mass grave. There will be a moment of sadness when your death is announced on the news, but this will be quickly forgotten, because in Europe time is money and there is no money in thinking about your death. You are just another number.

You will be working just as hard as when you were back home. In Europe money doesn’t grow on trees. Life is hard, but even harder for you because you will constantly have to prove yourself. Proving that you are not dangerous, not coming to ‘steal’, not illiterate, not from ‘the bush’. Because you will always be trying to prove this, you will allow people to take advantage of you. You will get paid less than the minimum wage not just because you are ‘desperate’, but because in Europe you are meant to work harder and for less. Because you are ‘illegal’ and you do not have the ‘right’ to be here, you are placed at the bottom of society.

The money you send back home will not help in the long run. The situation of your country will not change. The corruption, poor infrastructure, lack of medical facilities will still be there. So you pay for the education of your children, where are the jobs for them back home? You will say there are no jobs, they have to come to Europe. To the same Europe that does not want them. To work a job that they are over qualified to do. To be exposed to hatred because of the silky blackness of their skin.

But you will not tell them the truth. When you go back home you will pretend that you are rich. You will wear ‘western’ clothes and bring back expensive gifts. Shoes, bags, computers. You will not tell your friends and family back home how scared you were taking the boat, how many people you saw die before your eyes, how much pain and suffering you endured. You will not tell your friends and family back home that you are working three jobs and living in a slum. You will not tell them that sometimes you are hungry, just like when you were back home.

You will not tell them that you are not happy. You will not tell them that Europe doesn’t have the happiness they’re looking for. Instead, you will put pictures on your Facebook profile of cars and motorbikes which do not belong to you. You will pose in only your nice pair of clothes. You will not let them see that you are not happy.

Stay and fight for the country you have, for the homeland you want to see flourish. Do not believe for one second that money equals happiness. Do not believe that you have to risk your life to be happy.

Please be patient my brothers and sisters. Please be patient. Stay where you are, do not risk your life, do not believe in a golden Europe that does not exist. Things will get better for you, but only if you stay and fight for it.

Why voting for reality TV is more important than the general election.

It’s no big hidden secret or surprise that when it comes to choosing between voting in the general election or for your favourite couple on Love Island that a vast majority of voters in society would prefer to do the latter. In 2004 alone, 6,363,325 votes were cast for the live final of Big Brother season 5– a trend which has only been increasing with the swelling broth of reality TV series. So why is it that young people, especially, are more likely to vote for their favourite celeb than on the political future of their country?

Well, it’s quite simple really. 

1) Relativity

Relativity and ‘relatability’ are the fundamental ingredients for fostering any type of connection with another human being, let alone in trying to sell a product or a service. If there’s one thing that reality TV does so well is to rope viewers in with the illusion that they are gaining an exclusive insight into the ‘realities’ of famous people. When we get that heavily edited sneak peak into our favourite celebrities’ lives, what do we see? Well, nothing much more than the fact that even rich people have their mundane problems. Whether it’s romantic drama, drug-addiction, or family related episodes, seeing these prominent figures and role models going through the same universal, everyday struggles that everyone goes through– rich or poor– temporarily boots them off the pedestal that both we and society have placed them on and makes them more ‘human’ in our eyes. We root for them because we’ve shared a similar experience and we can relate.

In 2008, 14 yr old George Sampson was the winner of Britain’s Got Talent. He was the favourite to win from the off-set, with a touching backstory of a young boy, from a low socio-economic background, suffering with Scheuermann’s disease and still busking in the streets of Manchester to help raise money to support his mother. From the beginning, a lot of emphasis was placed on George’s background, and the fact that he claimed he would pay his mother’s mortgage if he won the £100,000 prize congealed the public’s support and attachment to George as the season progressed. George’s talent, along with the typical story of a young boy trying to build a better life for himself, and a single mother with a mortgage was relatable enough to secure his victory. 

Now looking back to the recent general election, quite a lot of people were surprised by the gains that the Labour party made under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, and most of the non-Labour supporters were even confused. How did he manage to get as many votes as he did when Labour has been lagging behind the Conservatives for years now? How did he manage to engage so many naturally ‘uninterested’ young people in politics? Whether you hate him or love him, the answer to the (not so very secret) secret is that he is relatable. He is a no-frills, rough and gruff politician who doesn’t hide behind fancy private school vocab or a clean shaven beard. He is one of the underdogs, and because of that people can relate to him and can sympathise with his ‘struggle’ and cause as their own: In effect, they want him to succeed because he represents the working class and our struggles.  

2) Text messaging voting 

Now I’m not saying that political elections should have to succumb to social media and the technological hype we are currently living in, but it is nevertheless a fact that we are living in a growingly technology-dependent era, with each generation that comes having an even more distant biological memory of the internet dial-up tone. This unfortunately has its downside and the reality is that people who are used to clicking a button to share their thoughts and express their votes, might find it rather tedious and ‘inconvenient’ to have to use a pen to tick a box instead. Reality TV and talent show voting works so well because people don’t have to go out of their way to vote. From the comfort of their very own beds and only with the touch of a couple of buttons they can exercise their democratic rights.

3) No one really wants to take responsibility 

Us human beings really like to play the game of delegating responsibility, especially when it comes to taking responsibility for ‘bad’ decisions and outcomes. As much as we may think that we are grown up, accountable adults, I think everyone has a phobia (even if it’s just a slight one) of taking responsibility. It is much easier to place the blame on everyone else BUT yourself when things don’t go to plan. Politics is no different– in fact you’d be surprise how many times I’ve overheard casual conversations on the tube or buses of people complaining about the ‘messy’ political situation in the UK at the moment, and how many of these conversations were concluded along the lines of “oh well, I didn’t vote anyway.” I have to admit, I too have been guilty of being too quick to point my finger and blame the tory voters for the big pickle we’re in at the moment (with Brexit, increasing pension age, increasing inheritance tax, increasing university fees, nhs, disablity and education cuts and whatever else the Conservatives are responsible for) and ironically, even blaming the non-voters for not honouring their responsibilities, which they have as citizens of this country. I guess it just goes to show, everyone wants the piece of cake but no one wants to bake it. 

4) Too much jargon and not enough transparency 

Politics is one of the most convoluted social arenas– which of course the media doesn’t aid one bit. The EU referendum demonstrated this more than anything, with the big fat £350bn NHS lie being shoved in people’s faces and 100 others propped up behind it. Whether it’s the flamboyant polish of campaigns or politicians’ dribbling falsehoods spewing out of their mouths, politics has become about talking about everything but the actual problems. It is sadly not shocking that after the EU referendum, the second top Google UK search was: what is the EU? If this doesn’t demonstrate the dire prevalence of political illiteracy in the UK, I don’t know what does. We can scrap the culpable assumption that youths are simply ‘not interested’ in politics and start asking whether they– along with many others– actually even understand it.

5) Nothing ever changes

One of the biggest reasons why I think individuals don’t vote during important political changes is because they have lost hope that anything will ever truly change. The effect of this is that it gives rise to extreme parties, individuals and ideologies which of course propose a much more severe and immediate change– just look at Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen’s campaigns. Regardless of age, I’ve spoken to friends and family members that have expressed either their disillusionment with the ‘democratic’ system or simply won’t vote because they feel that their voice will not be heard. It becomes very easy to see then how the satisfaction appeal of voting for a reality TV shows has a higher gratification return, when each week you’re able to see a direct result and impact because of your vote: either your vote secures a place for favourite celeb or it doesn’t. This sense of fulfilment is apparently so great that people don’t even mind paying to vote because they know at the very least, something will actually change, which I guess is more than we can say for the political elections and referendums we’ve had recently. 

Gift Wrapping & Bows

Your rejection is one of the most beautiful

double edge sword gifts you’ve ever given me.

The cut contact, cut ties, cut pictures,

is the sharpest cut I’ve ever seen on a gift bow.

 

Your indifference wrapping paper is the perfect compliment

to the glassy ice cold sellotape,

carelessly and economically placed on the sides.

The emptiness within the box is packed so neatly,

How did you manage to get it all in?

 

And the reverberating silence that bounces back

when the dialling tone comes to a

stop

 

after unravelling the layers of decoration

and the death cold room temperature

that reminds me of my own source of heat and energy

 

How did you manage to get all of that into the emptiness?

 

The jagged velvet skirting of the blank card,

and air bubbles trapped beneath the wrapping,

bulging with the pressure,

I can see you’ve already squished them down

 

I imagine a thousand different messages you could have written on that card

I imagine the invisible ink bleeding into its thickness

but you were right to leave it blank,

all the right words could never have fitted onto this little card

 

Your gift is not desirable, it’s necessary

And those are the best kind of gifts to receive.

 

I didn’t want this nakedness

that has forced me to feel so lonely

that I had to remember what it was like to build myself up,

to remember what it was like to be alone before you came

but there was something therapeutic in stripping all the layers of wrapping paper away,

its bareness almost heals,

It forces me, reminds me, that I do not need you to be whole,

that I was whole before you came.

 

I used to be naïve,

Your last gift was packaged in a much smaller box

bearing a glimme-ring rock

with a much bigger card,  ‘ti amo per sempre‘ 

Now I know that there is no promise,

no obligation that external love should become a permanent tenant in my household

Back then I had met you, only as far as you had met yourself 

 

This is not a love poem for you,

do not think for one second it is,

It is a love poem for myself,

for the tears I shed for myself,

for the part of me that I’m mourning,

the part that I lost when I lost you,

tears of joy I cry for the rebirth,

the rediscovery of self

that became so clouded, so engulfed, in my search for the gifts I wanted

but were not needed.

 

Today, I’ve met myself again,

So thank you,

for allowing me to give the most beautiful,

and necessary gift I could give myself. 

 

Thirteen Reasons Why: A remake of An Inspectors Call?

I first heard about the series Thirteen Reasons Why from my students whilst I was teaching English in Sicily, and one of the very first things I learnt about it, before even knowing about the plot, was that Selena Gomez was the executive producer. Growing up watching Selena Gomez on the Wizards of Waverly Place and starring in Princess Protection Program film, I couldn’t help but feel like this series would be sprinkled with a touch of ‘Disney-star-trying-to-grow-up’. In the end I decided to watch the series, approaching with the attitude of ‘you can’t judge until you’ve seen it for yourself’ and I was actually pleasantly surprised to be so captivated with everything from the script, to the directing style, and the actors’ and actresses’ performances. 

Whilst the series definitely had a more ‘modern’ touch, I couldn’t help but feel like the storyline was one as old as a time. The demoralisation of an individual, malicious acts, coupled with the perhaps seemingly harmless ‘unkind’ actions that cuts deeper than expected, all sound like the base plot for any allegory about restoring altruism in humanity. So where had I seen this all before? Back in my GCSE English Language class of course, studying J.B Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. 

Not only does Tony’s character fit the bill of the Inspector’s role, seemingly just as enigmatic and mysterious as ‘Inspector Goole’, and sent of behalf of Hannah to torment the conscience of the other characters, but also the strong resemblance between the two main female characters, builds for a streamline correspondence between the two texts.

Hannah Baker, just like Eva Smith, does not appear onstage in the ‘real time’ of the narrative, but rather both are absent figures around whom the action of the narratives revolves. The protagonists are both subjected to mistreatment at the hands of others, and although the realities and setting of the narratives are widely different (Eva Smith is an unmarried, working class woman in the 1912 and Hannah Baker is the unpopular, new girl at high school in the 21st century), they both unfold through their ‘diaries’ (in Hannah’s case, in the form of a tape collection). Both women have been drastically let down by society, so much so, that they feel that their last resort is to commit suicide. It is no surprise then that the theme of ‘responsibility’ is central to both narratives, and the dangerous repercussions of not upholding our social responsibility we have to one another is exhibited in both texts. Throughout the course of the stories unfolding, it becomes increasingly clear that the characters act as a microcosm of the people in society who change and those who don’t, and so both women serve the ultimate overriding purpose of  embodying the lessons which each of the guilty parties must learn individually. 

“One Eva Smith has gone– but there are millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, with what we think and say and do. We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.” (An Inspector Calls)

Essentially, the underlying lesson to be learnt in both pieces are one and the same, and one which is highly important, irrespective of time: not assuming our social responsibility towards one another can ruin an individual’s life. Eva and Hannah die because no one takes responsibility for their actions against them. Just as the Inspector’s final speech is not only directed to the characters, but also to the audience, we too are expected to reflect and learn that our each and every single action, no matter how big or small, has a consequence and potentially, a repercussion. 

Italy: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Over the past year that I’ve been living in Sicily and the years of travelling Italy, I’ve experienced it as a rich country, full of beautiful architecture, delectable dishes, passionate and fiery nationals in a very incongruous nation of conformity and non-conformist where the regulations are secondary. At first taste, this whirlwind of a dichotomy can seem overwhelming, so whether you’re passing through, staying a while or a bit longer, here are my personal good, bad and ugly that I think you should be prepared for! 

Il buono: 

In Italy you will definitely learn the importance of eating well. I don’t just say this coming from my scanty life before as a heavily indebted university student- when I’m back at my family home in London, I do eat nutritious and delicious home cooked meals, but what I mean is eating well, and actually sitting to enjoy food rather than  just eating to keep fuelled. Cooking and eating in Italy is a sensual experience which cannot be rushed. I feel like in the UK especially, the eating culture is very ‘on the go’ and sometimes we forget the simple pleasure of sitting down to enjoy food for food’s sake, and not just to satiate our needs. In Italy food is celebrated in all its glory and for no other reason that the fact that it is worthy of each and every second spent on it’s dégustation.

In Italy the pace of life is much slower, which acts as a gentle reminder that life is meant to be leisurely and that we weren’t born to simply work ourselves to the point of exhaustion. Even in Milan, the economic capital, life seems to be kissed ever so slightly with the Italian laissez-faire attitude, making it distinctively unhurried compared to London, Paris and other European capitals that I’ve visited.  

Language barriers do not exist in Italy. Even if you don’t speak a word of Italian, you can still have a full on conversation! Italian is just as much about your body language and gestures as it is about the vernacular language. You have to think that before Italy was united as the Italy that we know today, there were hundreds of different dialects (some of which still exist today but are slowly dying) and so gesticulating was the universal mode of communicating.  In my experience, I’ve found that Italians are much more willing to want to understand you than in the UK for example. If you don’t speak English in the UK, you might have a harder time than if you don’t speak Italian in Italy.

The rules can often be bent in Italy. Now, of course this has its advantages as well as disadvantages, but you know what they say, if you’re going to tell any lies, white lies are the best- I feel like the same unspoken rule of thumb applies here in Italy. ‘Smaller’, less ‘important’ rules seem to be more flexible. When I was visiting my ex-boyfriend and travelling from Palermo to Paris with hand luggage only, I bought along with me a 180g, half eaten jar of pistacchio cream (in my defence, I didn’t realise then that ‘creams’ counted as a liquids). Desperate to bring the cream for him to try, I proposed to the security lady that I scoop the cream into my empty plastic bottle, however, either moved by my determination and desperation to get this pistacchio cream through, or perhaps just not very bothered at all, she allowed it to pass through, just giving me a pat on the wrist and telling me not to do it again. So it just goes to show that sometimes bending the rules does work in your favour! (only sometimes though… I’ll get onto driving in Italy in a bit.)

Il cattivo:

The downside to breaking rules is that when they’re not broken in your favour, it often leads to inefficiency, which I think is a really big issue in Italy- especially when it comes to getting paid on time. When I started working in Sicily as an English Language Assistant for the British council and MIUR (the government’s ministry of education and research), I wasn’t paid during the first four months that I was working due to a lot of miscommunication and unnecessarily convoluted bureaucracy. It will come as no surprise that I still haven’t been paid up to date for the last 3 months of my contract… 

Supermarkets will shamelessly shortchange you, for the sake of their ‘conveniency’. Now call me cheap (which I am), but in a lot of chain supermarkets the cashiers (and perhaps even the management too) think that it is acceptable to round up your bill because they don’t like dealing with small change. 5 cents might not seem like a lot but when you think of how many customers those supermarkets serve everyday, nationwide, those pennies really do add up!  

Italians are a nation of gossipers. Family rivalries, relationship problems, work drama– you name it, it’s bound to be going round in a large number. People love gossiping, wherever you go. We can all agree on that. The only difference is that in the UK  people generally don’t do right in front of your face. One thing that I really didn’t understand at first when I arrived was that whenever I met someone new, instead of asking me questions directly about where I am from or who I am, they would ask anyone else but me, even though I was within hearing range. The awkwardness doesn’t just stop there I’m afraid. There have been many times that I’ve been in situations in which I have literally been a metre away from the subject of gossip and couldn’t help but feel swamped with guilt and embarrassment. How am I suppose to respond to the fact that you’re telling me, within hearing range, that Mr barman over here is cheating on his wife? 

Il brutto:

As a life-long asthma sufferer, smoking in public is one of my biggest qualms. Unlike in the UK and other European cities, where there are more regulations implemented and reinforced in regards to smoking in public spaces (in 2007 in the UK, smoking was banned in enclosed public places), in Italy the etiquette is a lot different. There aren’t any clear cut ‘rules’ (used lightly) about smoking, and as a whole, people don’t seem to take much notice of others and their surrounding. 

Italians drive like crazy. Italians may have gifted the world with the Ferrari, but their driving is far from smooth cruising through country lanes. Italians are some of the most reckless drivers that I have personally seen in my short 20 years of existence. Their lack of regards for the highway code would make you think that one doesn’t exist. But this non-conformist and rebellious attitude takes a sour and quite sinister tone when it is no longer a case of jumping a red light or accelerating a bit over the speed limit, and is actually life-threatening behaviour, such as not wearing a seat-belts, controlling the steering wheel with your knees, or overtaking at the most inopportune and dangerous moments. If you want to drive in Italy, I would highly recommend you to think twice. 

Femminicidio, systematical violence against women, is not of course specific to Italy, but I was surprised to see how highly prevalent it is there. There is no denying that Italy is still traditional in many ways, and many remnants of the patriarchal society has settled in it cobble paths, especially in the south. ‘Freggio’ scars, an odious part of Neapolitan culture, in which men purposely disfigure their lover’s face as a sign of ‘possession’ or as a warning to any potential rivals, act as a symbol of what femminicidio has come to mean in Italy. This sense of male domination and possession is still very present in Italy, with everything from catcalling, to more physical acts of violence being carried out. 

Istanbul

Istanbul, home to 14.8 million people and a cultural capital in its own right, has been on the top of my list of travel destinations for a while now. Turkey is a great destination if you’re travelling on a budget– the conversion rates from GBP to TL is not only very good at the moment (approx. £1- 4.3TL) but also the food, accommodation and museum entry fees are all quite cheap compared to many other destinations that I’ve travelled to in Europe.

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Flight/Transport: 

We flew into Ataturk airport from London Heathrow with British Airways. Although British Airways is one of the more expensive airlines, we chose to fly with them because of their (general) reliability (that said, they are going on strike on the first week of July) and also because my mum is registered with their executive points scheme. It’s important to note that if you are planning on travelling with British Airways or to selected Middle Eastern countries (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia) that the UK government has temporarily implemented a technology ban, allowing only for mobile phones to be bought on the aircraft.

London Heathrow is always my first choice when travelling out of London for two main reasons. Firstly, it is probably the most accessible airport in London with the Piccadilly line terminating at terminals 1-5 and because of that, it is also one of the cheapest airports to get to, costing you only up to £5.00 to get there by tube.  Once we were in Istanbul, we asked our airbnb host to arrange an airport transfer for us which costed only 60TL, approximately £13. I would highly recommend to avoid using yellow taxis as they tend to up the normal rate, however if you find yourself in a situation in which you have to, make sure you always agree on a price before hopping in and that no money is handed over until you reach your destination.

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Visa:

Although you can purchase an e-visa online before arriving at Turkey, you can also purchase it at the airport at the visa information desk or using one of the self-service kiosk. The cost at the airport is £20/ $20 in cash and it is valid for 90 days from the date in which it is validated with a stamp (at the airport). You can apply for a visa up to 3 months in advance online and can pay using a credit or debit card. The official UK government website has some useful information about applying for a Turkish visa.

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Accommodation: 

Travelling light as we were only staying three days, we decided to book an Airbnb right in the heart of Istanbul, a stone throw away from the Blue Mosque. Airbnbs are my preferred type of accommodation because they often tend to be a lot cheaper, located in local areas and usually offer the a space to cook or prepare light snacks. If you’re unfamiliar with airbnb, I’ve got a video all about how I plan a budget holiday often including my staple airbnb accommodation.

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As I mentioned, I’ve wanted to visit Istanbul for a while now, with everything from the food, to the TV series, art and architecture influencing my decision, however with the increasing terrorist attacks worldwide and the media’s propaganda of which countries are ‘safe’ and which aren’t, I was a little apprehensive to visit. When I told most of my friends and family that I had booked a short trip there, most of them would ask me whether that was a good idea, which of course made me even more uneasy. I’m really glad I did visit though because we were met with nothing but openness, kindness and a heartfelt welcome from everyone. Waking up to leave for the airport on Monday morning and hearing of the terrorist attack that took place near Finsbury Park Mosque and in Virginia, I had to stop and question myself– is Istanbul really anymore dangerous than anywhere else in the world? As with everywhere, you need to be cautious of your surroundings, but we shouldn’t be dissuaded from experiencing a culture firsthand by the media’s portrayal of certain countries. I personally couldn’t have felt safer and more at peace here.

If you’re looking for somewhere to learn about Islam, go to Turkey. The Blue Mosque in particular had very useful information scattered around the premises, with everything from the history of Islam, to an explanation of what hijab means, to the family tree of the prophets. I felt so emerged in Islam, waiting to break our fast with the adhan and not just with a countdown on my watch– It was such a unique and spiritual experience for me. I truly feel that the people there were so genuinely kind and friendly, everyone we met was so humble. Anywhere we ate or bought food, or gifts from, they thanked us so much for choosing to visit their country and to buy from them. If you look lost, you won’t even have to ask, someone will be waiting willingly and eagerly to point you in the right direction. The hospitality and goodwill nature is something you must definitely experience firsthand. 

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If you want to see what I actually got up to whilst I was in Istanbul, here’s our daily vlog:

When Home breaks down

Amongst one another, it is often hard to identify and experience the full sadness, happiness, or pain of another individual. We reply on what others report to comprehend their pain and we often try to relate this to a time in our own lives in which we felt that way. 

Since the longest time that I can remember, reported pain and mishaps seem to take up a large bulk of the news. I can only say that I came into semi-consciousness of the reality of it when I was around the age of 16, but even then, I didn’t feel like I was fully able to appreciate others’ suffering. 

Not the war in Syria, not the Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria, not the droughts in Eastern Africa, not the attack in Manchester, not the attack on London Bridge, not the pain and suffering anywhere else in the world urged me to do much more than just donate money except the inferno that took place in Grenfell Tower yesterday morning. Waking up for suhoor, I tend to scroll through my news app on my phone and the event unfolding at that time had been reported as another ‘fire block outbreak’. It made me think back to last August when a fire broke out in another block of flats in Shepherds Bush Green and finishing my meal and getting ready to sleep again, I didn’t think much more than that– until I woke up later on that morning to the devastation. 

Seeing first hand the West London community’s (and beyond) efforts to help those effected by the fire was really breathtaking. It made me think back to the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy that blew up in the news last November, where even though I was outraged, when a friend on the ground recounted her own experiences attending the protests, I felt so detached and disconnected from the actual action and reality of the situation. 

For the first time yesterday I actually did something more than sending money to help. It was so heart-warming and encouraging to see the community come together and not simply brush aside other people’s pain and suffering. It was through perceiving this suffering firsthand that I realised that if everyone showed this amount of care and concern for everyone’s suffering worldwide, then there would be a much bigger driving force for collaboration and change. Ultimately, however, I think it takes the action literally hitting home for us to be jolted into action, because when it happens at home you cannot just change over the news channel or continue scrolling through your Facebook feed. ‘Far way’ pain is hard for individuals to connect to and appreciate apparently. 

Seeing the Grenfell Tower ablaze yesterday really bought alive for me how this is the only reality for the hundred of thousands who are living in war zones everyday. One tower block was on fire and it devastated a whole community- can you imagine thousands of buildings alight? How many friends and family members, how many lives lost, how much suffering. 

I believe what has really given strength and some possible comfort to the community is the effort, emotional support, and resources that have been pulled together from all over London and the UK to help those affected. Hope in the hardest of times is the one thing that keeps us going. My heart sinks to think of the individuals in war-stricken zones receiving no help– they must feel so alone and so helpless. How do they keep on going? Who is going to help them keep on going?

This event has really opened my eyes to the importance of community- and not just in times of need. Our community should not stop at just 20 minutes down the road. Our duty and our love for one another should and must run much deeper because misfortune can fall on anyone of us. 

Why it seems like the world is falling apart

If you turn on the TV to watch the news, I can completely understand why you might quite literally think that the world is falling apart. We are bombarded on daily basis with terrorist attacks, attacks which cause terror but aren’t labelled ‘terrorism’, Donald Trump supposedly making America great again, and friction in the European Union becoming more deep-seated– the list goes on. But is any of this really news?

A graph created by Statistia for the Huffington post shows that in fact the number of fatalities from terrorists attacks in Western Europe between the 1970s and 1990s sum up to considerably more than those killed between 1990 and 2015. Yet people still seem to believe that things have never been this bad, that the world has reached a point of no return. Perhaps our historical perspective might just be a little bit distorted.

One only has to think back to the fact that the Holocaust, one of the biggest atrocities of human being’s history, was committed in the 20th century to realise that perhaps this rise of terrorism is not much more than a revival of a dark time in history, when various political groups though it acceptable to massacre thousands of innocent people. Not much has changed today. Although ISIS and many similar groups may be ‘religious’ by name, the birth of these groups and the way in it which they have been continually sustained has very little to do with religious endeavours and much to do about politics and the power tug-of-war. Put into context, perhaps that golden age is much more further out of reach than we first thought– perhaps it never existed to start with. 

If you still aren’t convinced that things aren’t as bad as the media makes out to be, then you only have to put all of this into perspective with terrorist attack carried out in other parts of the world. Since the beginning of 2015, Africa, Asia and the Middle East have experienced almost 50 times more deaths from terrorist attacks than both Europe and America. Between 2001 and 2014 Iraq had seen one of the worst period of terrorism with over 40,000 people dying. In that same period, over 100,000 people were killed worldwide due to terrorist attacks, of which 420 deaths occurred in Western Europe. So if we really want to denounce terrorism, we first need to broadened our scope much farther than the shocks just felt at home, and if we really want to ‘pray’ for the European cities trouble-ridden with terrorism, we ought to start including all those other places in our prayers too. 

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be concerned or don’t have the right to fear terrorism. Of course we should not just sit back and accept these terrorist attacks as the new norm. If anything, I think it’s important to acknowledge the past history of terrorism, and with the lessons which we’ve (hopefully) learnt, find an effective way to deal with it– one which doesn’t simply including feeding more terrorism abroad, because we all know how that ends. 

If you’ve taken anything from this at all, I would like it to be this, to ask yourselves: who benefits from my fear?