Monday, 4 September 2017

The press coverage of disaster and our innate determination to reach the end of humanity

Do you know one of the things that makes me sick to my stomach - our lack of coverage of developing countries. There is only ever one narrative to hit our screens - of everyday suffering; but when something pivotal happens - an earthquake, a flood, a year without rain - that doesn't even make the cut.

The way that we dismiss disasters that do not happen in the West is unfortunately inevitable. It didn't surprise me that disasters were happening and I had absolutely no idea. 

This summer alone - the floods in South Asia, the famine in East Africa, the mud slides in Sierra Leone; yet the press seem fixated on the floods in Texas.

I am not saying the floods in Texas are not horrendous, but I believe that all human life is sacrilegious. 44 people have died at the hands of Hurricane Harvey. That is 44 people who had families, lives, dreams and desires. Yes that is horrendous but sometimes we need to put it into perspective. 

The death toll of the South Asia floods currently stands at 1400; over 30 times that of Texas. I am not saying that we should just judge disasters by the death toll, but it does raise a question - how has this disaster gone uncovered? 

Sierra Leone raised a similar question only a month ago, with 1000 dead but little coverage in the world press. 

Maybe East Africa should not even be raised when Action Aid has said that more than 16 million people are at the brink of starvation; or their reminder that 250,000 people died in just one famine in Somalia in 2010. 

Is it that we think that Western lives should be more valued, or that our press judges them closer to home? 

If we look at the facts - in a post-fact world - Texas is 4900 miles away from London, while Somalia is 4100 miles away. So actually we are closer to 16 million people starving than the Texas floods. Maybe it is the closer culture - but my experience of Africa seems as centred around Apple and Nike as the UK. Maybe it is just the inherent racism that seems to run through our society - infecting us like a disease. 

So I have a question - should we let these atrocities go unnoticed? If we have learnt anything in the past few decades, the past few years even, the press seems to dictate the will of the people, and in turn the actions of our politicians. 

Our prime example could be Brexit; or maybe Diana vs Charles could raise a few eyebrows. If we continue to let the press dictate the make up of our own personalities, our own decisions, our own view of the world - where are we actually going to end up?

A society which would take wealth over substance?; materialism over compassion?; beauty over brains?; drama over duty?; fiction over fact? Or are we already in this new version of the world with our obsession of Kardashians, Love Island's collaboration with companies using cheap labour. increasing inequality? Have we already allowed our humanity to be eroded?

If we changed the world - if we actually looked at the each life as having the same worth. If our press covered these disasters with equal ferocity, would we view International Development differently?; would Racism cease to be a thing?; would Climate Change become more of an issue?

We saw earlier this year a rampage of terrorism attacks. Manchester and London to name just a few. But utilising fact again the four terrorism attacks which killed more than 100 people in 2017 occurred in Syria, Afghanistan and Libya. I barely knew these existed yet pride myself on being well-read. 

Should we even mention the atrocities the UK could actually be responsible for? Afghanistan - in tatters, Iraq - a quest for oil, Yemen - UK-supplied weapons at the hands of Saudi Arabia, Syria - destroyed by sponsorship by the giants of the West. 

How does the press cover these issues? Barely. 

Until we actually acknowledge for some unbeknown reason that in our society we care so little for some countries in the world that thousands dying isn't worth printing, we will never actually make a difference. 

If we can so easily ignore catastrophies in a world, how will our government feel inclined to actually help them? If we dismiss a country by its position or history, how will we ever view it as anything other than a developing country? If we allow some peoples lives to matter more than others, how will we ever strive for world peace? 

Maybe this big question should be - if we can ignore another human's suffering, to the point our press is so blase in covering it, have we lost the essence of our humanity?  

Every human in this world strives for love, health and happiness. Everyone can feel pain, grief and loneliness. We are all human and until we can truly believe and understand that - our press and our politicians will do little to support it. In my view, until we can hold every human life in equal value, until we demand our press does the same, until we can get over this innate arrogance, self-obsession and selfishness, we will continue to go along this path of self-destruction to the end of humanity. That is not a goal we should be aiming for. 

Friday, 1 September 2017

Social media, being ill and a resolution to overcome the conflict.

Two and a half years ago I fell ill. Since then I have been diagnosed with Malaria, Glandular Fever, Reactive Hypoglycaemia, Ehlers-Danlos and Lyme Disease. The doctor is still searching for a root cause.
The issue is that this has left me with debilitating fatigue, pain and constant illness. But how many of friends know and understand this?
Two and a half years ago, I was planning to travel South America, loved clubbing, was constantly in the gym or pool and planning a career in law, banking, NGO etc. The majority of friends I have are from this time - the high energy, bounce back Elly.
Social Media has been a blessing and a curse. In some ways it has allowed me to stay in touch with people and access support services. But on the other side it sees my peers continue to achieve the things that I dream of, it can give me serious FOMO and feel left out, finally it raises a question of should I be honest?
The first year of my illness I tried to downplay it. After contracting Lyme disease that has become harder and harder. I tried forming a separate social media identity to access the support without having to voice my illness or sufferings.
I didn't want to that girl who seems to be moaning or airing her dirty laundry in public - to be honest who really cares - but then if I can't talk about it how can I expect my friends to understand. I am not very good at voicing my needs to say the least.
For my friends they have achieved incredible things in the past three years. They have gained degrees and qualifications, they have got promotions, some have qualified as doctors, vets, accountants and lawyers. I am unbelievably proud of each persons achievements. I however feel like I have barely moved forward. While people post photos of accomplishments and travels, I feel as if I am constantly trying to keep up.
I then have to remind myself while they are achieving things which come with a certificate or a pay check, I have managed to get over to major leg injuries, various illnesses and still manage to keep going, keep striving for actual recovery. I like to think that might make my friends and family proud to. 
So I have decided - on the 1st September this year - to actually try blending the side of me which is ill and suffering, with the side of me which is not.
I still dream of being active - of climbing Everest, swimming vast distances, trekking through the Amazon (I would start with being able to walk into town); I still dream of a career in diplomacy, law or NGO work (and still as undecided as ever); I still dream of travelling round South America, India and China; I still dream of moving back to Uganda; I still dream of going to Glastonbury; I still dream of using all that ambition, diligence and charisma that used to define me. All of these parts of me are still there, albeit a bit more weathered and mature like the rest of you.
When I get an ounce of energy I am constantly trying to use it to do something fun whether that's camping or London or seeing friends, albeit most of these will result with days not leaving the house afterwards, but they also result with smiles, memories and a sense of achievement. Though, to be honest, most of my adventures are to bed or the hospital. 
So I hope that my friends who follow me on social media can see that if they get bored of posts of illness that one day they might just get a message off me asking if they want to jump on a plane or grab a bite after a swim; but till then you are all just as welcome to come stay, or go get a coffee, or tell me to get in touch when I am next in London. As it is not just the fear of my youth passing me by without me being able to do the things I dream of, it is also the fear that when I am able all those who I have held dear over the years will have moved on and I will have just faded into a distant memory of teens and uni, nightclubs and bars - rather than made the transformation to a friend situated in the present realm of adventures and brunch.
So here's to honesty paying off, a hearty apology for being your new boring friend, and also cheer to new friends, old friends and making social media a healthy place. Xx

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Dear White Supremacists.

Dear White Supremacists,

My skin is white. Well that is what it would be defined as. In reality, it is this pale pink tone which shows scars easily and can burn within ten minutes in the sun.

My brothers are defined as white too. Despite this, I would say they are nearer a caramel colour and have a distinct tan line where there watch would lie.

Our skin colours aren’t actually very similar at all. It has always been a wonder to my Mother and I, how her skin has a yellow undertone and mine is pink. The same way, I was always mystified in Biology class when both my parents had brown hair, yet one brother and I had blonde.

You see, I never have defined myself as a skin tone, or seen it as a defining feature.
Growing up, my Mother commented that one time she couldn’t remember the name of one of my classmates, so described her as “the tall, black girl” in my class. She didn’t mean it in a racist way, just as a descriptive measure.

I had no idea who she was talking about. That girl was tall, loud, bubbly and funny; but I had never taken into consideration her skin colour.

Since then, society has forced down my throat that skin colour is something I should notice. It has forced it down in history, in culture, in geography. It has forced down my throat that skin colour is more defining than hair colour or eye colour. It has told me I should notice this about someone.

But I should not. Like I said – my family has many skin colours, yet we are all classed as white. Despite our range in tanning abilities, the different colours we suit, our ability to look good in white, despite all that, we have the same heritage.

I was reading an article the other day about Mary Beard and people of different races living in Roman times. I found it incredibly interesting and think that we should do more to educate people. I found it heart-wrenching when I read an article about the white-washing of Dunkirk, how we barely remember the lives lost and blood shed from different corners of the Earth. I hear stories from friends and stories in the news, of people being attacked because their skin colour and it makes so angry. I feel complete anger than someone is attacking someone else based on their skin colour.

So I have a message to the white supremacists who are running riot in America. The human acts which I am most of ashamed of are – the slave trade, the apartheid, human genocide and the holocaust. It is not natural to look back at these crimes and celebrate. It is not natural to think you are better than someone based on something as futile as your skin. It is not natural to cause pain, suffering or death to a fellow human being.

As a child, I didn’t see skin colour as a defining feature. Society has forced me to see it as a difference. It has forced me to group people based on only one aspect of their appearance. Even when that is not due to prejudice, it still forces me to say I am white when I go to the doctor, or hear people call music “black music” or “white basic bitches”. The thing is, it has also allowed me to see something else: injustice and wrong.

Skin colour is never going to be an easy prejudice to challenge. If you challenge skin colour, then some people think you are challenging heritage. I don’t think that I am, I think heritages should be celebrated and I enjoy learning about different cultures. If you challenge skin colour, then hurt and shame raise to the surface. But we can’t live in the past.

I pray that one day we will not let fear, prejudice and an inability to apologise rule our society. That children will not be forced to see skin colour as a defining feature. That we will not riots based on people think they are superior based on a skin colour.

After all, if you are walking because you think white is superior, then I hope you realise the only difference is you that you will get a worst sun burn. If you are walking because you think the slave trade is OK, then I hope you would be just as willing to walk if it had been your ancestors in boats and chains. If you are walking because you think the holocaust was alright, then I hope you would be just as willing to walk if your Grandfather had lost his family in a gas chamber or grew up in a concentration camp. If you are walking because you think the apartheid was justified, then would you be OK only being allowed in a worst quality school, or not being allowed on a certain bus, not based on your ability, or determination, not even based on your ability to work hard – but based on your skin colour.

Because, my dearest white supremacists, who seem to think all these things are OK. It is just damn luck that your family were on the safe side of history.

So learn to be human, learn some morals, and if you think God is on your side, pray and read the bible. Because if you have the energy and the time, to march on a peaceful town or mow a car into a group of people because you happen to have a skin colour which has faced relatively little prejudice, then you have the energy and time to protest poverty, school inequality, police shooting, gang crimes, modern slavery, sexual abuse, abortion rights, animal cruelty, climate change, mass starvation, female education – or the many problems society is actually facing right now.  

Thank you.  

PS. I think it is important to note two rather vital points. One - not all crimes above have been based totally along one-direction racial lines - there have been prejudices, attacks and injustices around the world affecting many different races - but the crimes above have been referenced in these marches and therefore find themselves in this article. Two - I do not understand the everyday life of those suffering from racial prejudice, and I don't know if I ever will. I have experienced prejudice based on gender and disabilities so while in some ways I can relate, I do not truly understand. All I can do is apologise to those experiencing it and hope that one day society will work together to overcome it. I hope my ignorance causes no offence. 

Sunday, 6 August 2017

What is a role model and who should we bestow with that title?

I write a blog for a careers website and in a fit of writers block an idea hit me – role models.

It then got me thinking – who are my role models? Why are they my role models? Do they deserve to be up on a pedestal?

None of the people that I have been inspired by would class themselves as role models. They would probably bow their heads away from any crown the title may bestow. They wouldn’t want to be acknowledged for the great feats they have achieved, or the great traits they have.

They are not even all alive. Actually, perhaps more accurately, most of them are not.
One of my greatest role models received that title on the day of his funeral. My Grandfather had such modesty that he hadn’t told me of all the fantastic things he had done for his local community in his lifetime. He hadn’t told me how hard he worked for a playground to be installed or a zebra crossing. He hadn’t told me how determined he was for the greater good, as well as being the clever, loving and hard-working man I knew he was. That fact, the modesty, made me respect him even more. My greatest regret is not telling him that to his face.

My other role model was his wife. It was in fact their relationship. Their marriage was the marriage I inspire to have – the long lasting love, the true love, the forgiving love. Their ability to see and cherish each other faults, as well as their strengths. That said she was also a formidable woman in her own right. A one of a kind.

My great Uncle is another man who gave me so many life lessons and another source of wisdom I miss every day. He bestowed on me time, love and pressure to better myself every day. All that I have left of the determination, adventurous spirit and wisdom he had, are the letters and books he left me.

These three incredible humans are not the only role models I have, but they are possibly three people which I try to think like. Despite that, I look at charity workers, models, politicians and business leaders, and I am in awe of their determination or good nature. I look at people I have met over the years who have changed my life through lessons they have taught me, opinions they have made of me, or simply the choices they have made.

Which leaves me with one rather big lesson – what is a role model? Can a role model be someone we don’t actually know, or how well do we know anyone? Is anyone actually perfect enough to be considered a role model? Anyone so serving to others, determined and ambitious, intelligent or talented enough – for us to yearn to be made in their image or achieve their talents?

Or is role model actually just a great sense of respect? A respect for someone who has touched your life? Or is it a sense of ambition? To better yourself? To be more like that person? To have that part of their personality embedded in your own?

Or – should we only have one role model? God. Jesus. Because at the end of the day, the only person perfect enough to be given that title – and I am pretty sure my Grandfather would agree with me on this – is him. 

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Trains, love and unity

Trains. They just keep moving. They come and go. To some people getting in that train is the most important thing. They need that train to get to a big rent : a funeral, a wedding perhaps. For other it marks the start of a journey. They are are just waiting to see where life takes them. What the next Adventure holds. For some they are just another passing moment while they wait for the next big thing. They just want the train after or maybe the train after that. They discount that train because it isn't the one they need. 

Trains. Or life. 

The past few weeks have shown us that life is something that can come and go in an instant. The last ew weeks have shown us that life can change quicker than we could ever imagine. Life. What is it for? 

For the past few years two words kept coming to me in prayers. Love and unity. They would burn in the back of eyes when I closed them and asked for guidance. That live is the most important thing. That love is all that mattered. 

I asked what I was meant to do? The answer was love. When I asked for forgiveness for actions the answer was "but you loved". 

God loved. He loves. He loves us more than we are capable of loving anyone. He lives a like a father, he loves us like a creator, he lives us like a soulmate, he lived I like a teacher, he loves u like ourselves. He loves us. 

The second word unity came to me In a weird prayer session back in university. I was desperate for my purpose, for an answer. Since then I have tried to benefit discriminate and to speak out in defence of others. Just because they are the other. 

The past two weeks have been horrendous. We have seen children slain, mothers slain, fathers slain, innocent people slain. They loved and many injured talk of the importance of love. 

But we have seen so much more than that. We have seen unity. We saw rooms being opened to strangers. We saw taxi drivers giving free rides. We saw restaurants giving free food. We saw people hugging others of all faiths. We saw people run to the defence of men and women. We saw police fighting off attackers with no weapons other than their bravery. 

We have seen love. We have seen people giving their lives for others. We have seen nurses and cities working for free. We have seen families crying out in pain for their lived ones. We have seen pop stars coming out to show support. We have seen the human race coming out in support. 

Love and unity. 

They have been abundant. 

These terrorists say their actions are for Allah. Let's show them what God or Allah truly stands for. Love and unity forever

Friday, 10 March 2017

Disability and losing the right to be human

So I am disabled. It takes a lot to say that but at the end of the day I am. What started two years ago as debilitating fatigue has developed into fatigue plus two diagnosed conditions and a host of random symptoms.

I have to eat every three hours because of Reactive Hypoglycaemia but my stomach burns constantly and I haven’t felt hungry or not bloated since I was diagnosed. I have ended up in bed with sprained knees from swimming which meant walking was painful for over a year. I got a sprained ankle from just walking which has meant I haven’t slept through the night in months thanks to the pain. The culprit this time was Ehlers Danlos syndrome. That isn’t to mention I get constantly ill, I am constantly fatigued (fatigue and tiredness are so different it is impossible to explain) and as much as I dream of working full time in an exciting career – I am simply stuck.

But this article isn’t a run down of everything that is wrong with me, it is about the problem with society when it comes to working with disabled people. It also isn’t a "look at me I’m disabled", because I still have it so much better than millions of people around the world. I got 22 years worth of a healthy life and I have the hope that one day I will get there again. I know I am so lucky and thank God for that (not as much as I should). 

But it is about the fact that the moment you get long-term health conditions or disabilities, it seems you lose the right to be human. Recently I had to give more information that I was really comfortable with to get the adjustments I needed and they are allowed to ask for this and I even understand why they have to ask for this - proof. But would this be the same for a healthy person? No if it didn’t interfere they wouldn’t have to lay out their body on a platter for the taking.

At the end of the day I felt violated and maybe that was me being sensitive, but that was how I felt. I could understand economically why I had to. I understood that if we are in a country where people might fake illness why I had to. But I have never faked an illness or exaggerated an illness in my life, and it made me feel bad. I am just trying to survive.

Society has to change. Just because someone is disabled or struggling with their health, does not take away their privacy. I like my privacy. Granted I can be super open about telling people all about my love life or my stupid mistakes or the funniest thing I’ve done, but at the end of the day that is because I don’t want people digging and delving below the surface. It took me five years to share with my friends some of the worst things that have ever happened to me, three years to tell my own Mother. I hadn’t shared so many dark days that I had because I wanted to be private. Instead I would fill that void with funny stories. None of these stories actually matter and none of them define me, but that’s better than letting someone in.

The thing is that since having to actually ask for help and adjustments, I have lost that right. Suddenly it seems I have to tell people all about my problems. Being diagnosed with this many issues half way through what was meant to be the best year of my life is probably the worst thing to happen to me. I can tell myself it’s a blessing in a million different ways and I have. It’s a blessing to spend time with my family, it’s a blessing to spend time with my cat, it’s a blessing to slow down and smell the roses, it’s a blessing as once I am better I will be able to help other people, it’s a blessing because it helps me understand human fragility, it’s a blessing as I have had time to identify my dreams etc etc etc. But at the end of the day as much as I can try to frame this in a positive light, it is stopping me from living and I am doing everything in my power to get the fitness and all clear to go to Peru like I originally dreamed: to sleep in a hammock in the Amazon and to see Machu Picchu at sunrise. 

I am lucky and with the correct care and management some of those dreams might come true. I know I am so lucky compared to so many disabled people in this world, but please can we just bare a thought that all people deserve to be human.

It doesn’t matter if someone looks perfectly healthy so you decide to question them on how they actually feel and look, like they need to defend sharing their deepest feelings with you. It doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t look healthy and looks ill so you decide you can treat them differently like they need to defend their right to be human.

People ask for help and when people ask, give it, because their life is a hell lot more difficult right now. But that same person deserves to go away and not have to explain every single detail of their personal condition to you. It is kind to help, it is good to help, it is human to help – but that is no excuse to violate that person, because that is what it is – violation, and that isn’t something you should ever do to a human, ever.

That violation comes in many forms, some even dictated by our government. 

I have come to realise that I will have to learn to deal with this fact of life, but that doesn't mean it is OK. 

So I guess it is a blessing that I have come to see this, as I pray that I will never, ever, make someone feel violated because they are asking for help. That just doesn't make sense to me. 

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Privilege, stereotypes and recognising you will never know how it is for someone else.

Has anyone been watching 'Timeless'? It's a new E4 programme where three people chase a 'criminal' through time and, like art should, it uncovers the many prejudices which have existed throughout history. 

The team is made up of a woman who comes face to face with the old school sexism, the black man who ends up in scrapes simply because of the colour of his skin and finally the white good looking man who realises he does not have these barriers. Finally, they come face to face with an 'Old Boys Club', inherited wealth and the advantages this gives its members. 

While it may have shown how far we have come (and how far we have to go). It also showed something else - how privilege affects everything. However much empathy one may have, you will never understand someone else's life. 

If you were born a man, you will never know how it really feels to be a woman. You will never know how it is to be felt up, objectified, feel scared when being followed home, look at your outfit and question if you are asking for it, know that you are earning less than your male contemporaries, be asked when you will have kids, know you only have so long to have kids, know you don't have control over your body, wait for your period to see if you're pregnant, be called a slut, be called frigid, shave or wax over 50% of your skin, have to go to work while feeling like your stomach is being stabbed repeatedly etc etc. 

If you were born one race, you will never know how it is like to be born another. How it is to be suspected by police because of your skin colour, how it is to have friends who have been shot by police, how it is to have people cross the street, how it is to hear from your family how they were forced into worse schools etc during segregation. 

If you were born into a certain religion, you will never know what it is like to be anything else. If you aren't Jewish, you don't know what it is like to have family lost in the Holocaust. If you aren't Muslim, you don't know what it is like to be stared at with fear when you board a plane or say a prayer, or see your religion dragged through the mud when ever a terrorist attack occurs. If you aren't Christian, you don't know what it is like to be questioned on your purity by every male you come into contact with. 

If you have money you will never know what it is like to not have enough for food. If you have an education you will never know what it is like to be illiterate. If you have a country to call home you will never know what it is like to run for your life. If you have a loving family you will never know what it feels like to be truly alone. If you have running water you will never know what it is like to get risk your life because you are thirsty. 

That's the thing you see, you will never know what it is like to have someone else's life. You will never know what it is like to be grouped into another stereotype. You will be in your group, whether you asked for that or not. 

So what can you do about it? Try and show empathy. Try and understand that some groups get it better than others. Try and imagine what it is like to be in their shoes. Then try and challenge it. 

If you were the one at a disadvantage, what would you want someone else to do?

If you were being judged by a police force by your skin, you would want someone to look beyond that and look at the facts. If you were treated like a bad person just because of your religion, you would ask people to look at you as an individual. If you were scared because you had a vagina, then you would want that vagina to be protected. If you had spent years running for your life, searching for a new home, you would want to be welcomed to somewhere safe. 

We are all stereotyped, there is no denying it, but right now some people get it easier. But it could be on the other foot. You could be the one who is being judged on something they can't control, the one who needs help or the one who needs inclusion. 

So recognise your privilege and treat others as you would want to be treated if you weren't so damn lucky, because you are really really lucky, trust me. 

Written by a privileged girl from the UK.