Personal Post: Frustration of Working with “Be Grateful” Charity Mentality

“A Kind Word is Better than a Charitable Deed Followed by Harm” The Holy Qur’an

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” The Holy Bible

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” Mother Teresa
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Many of you would have been following my excitement about getting Taghreed a birth certificate. Let me tell you what happened:

A couple got in touch after this blog was posted telling me they were happy to pay for the costs that would see Taghreed through the legal system. This was exciting for the chance this offered us to set a precedence of getting ID for children on the street without the presence of abusive parents. An appointment with the lawyer was set. Taghreed turned up with a social worker and one representative from the couple. Taghreed turned up with no documents, no idea of when/where she was born, what her parents marital status was, what her mother’s real name is and they faced the first hurdle; she could not sign a power of attorney because she had no ID! This caused great frustration to the lady paying for the lawyers time.

I realised a week later that I was “unfollowed” on twitter by the man who got in touch and when I wrote to him saying I hope all was well, this is an extract of what he wrote back:

“You associate yourself to a sad bunch of people…  [the meeting] went extremely bad because of you dealing with the matter in such an unprofessional way. When I originally contacted you, I felt a sense of importance in the case you presented. When my wife explained what happened in the meeting, I realised it was just smoke and mirrors and we both felt being lied to. There is no excuse for not bringing the file that was on the girl to the meeting. The fact that you have lawyers there and no one bothered to meet but the worker coming totally unprepared… well I’m speechless.”

I first want to talk about this very specifically, and then try and deconstruct some “myths” about working with street children.

I do not “associate” myself with anyone. I am a random person who did my research fieldwork in an NGO in Egypt with street children. This NGO, like others, does amazing, incredible, extremely valuable work with children who have endured incredible amounts of disadvantage. They are DEFINITELY NOT a “sad bunch of people”. They are, in fact, an incredibly dedicated, under valued, under paid, under trained bunch of people who believe in a cause that is unfashionable, disappointing and down right dangerous, often putting their lives at risk protecting the children they work with. I found this highly offensive.
The NGO do not have LAWYERS. They have one lawyer who works for the NGO’s legal affairs, not the children. Had you spent some time asking, this is  what you would have found out. I do understand it may be hard when you are a CEO of an international company, living in the most affluent parts of Cairo, to understand that local NGO’s, especially after Jan 25 are working against incredible odds to just feed their dependents and many months “owe” their staff their salary. When help was offered for this girl through the legal process, it was my fault, perhaps, to have not highlighted it was not about the money alone!
From the very first email I had with the lady who went to this meeting, I asked to follow up with the shelter manager, to which I was told off in an email and told that she was offering us a favour and would not chase! I definitely should have stopped at this point.

In a way, I am glad this has happened. It has highlighted the need to critically consider the idea of “charity”, of doing good, of getting involved, and of my responsibility to make sure I do not subject the children that have trusted me to encounter experiences that further victimise them. But before I move on, there is something that baffles me… The person writing said they felt lied to. I am so amazed by this. The complexity of the case, the contradictions, the insecurities and uncertainties of the lives of these children are so out of the ordinary that those who come into contact with them are so uncomfortable that they want to dismiss them as lies? Why would anyone lie to you? I am not sure I understand this bit – what is there to gain from you? What street child would want to go through the legal process just for fun?!

Let me now deconstruct some myths around my work with street children:

Myth Number One: Charity

Street children are not waiting for bread crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table. It is important to note this very well before ever working with street children: if you are NOT going to be kind in your dealings with the kids, then it is far better you direct your charity elsewhere. I should have trusted my feeling from the start when the lady told me she was doing us a favour and would not chase. Working with street kids is a struggle, you are fighting for them, against them, with them, despite of them. That’s the reality you should come to them armed with, or like this couple, you will find an excuse to run away from them at the first disappointment.

Two amazing examples of this are my favourite Dr Hany Hamam, the generous and kind cosmetic surgeon who offered Taghreed free cosmetic surgery  a real example of the exact opposite of what these people were. He contacted me to offer his services, chased me with a few emails and every time Taghreed is due for a checkup or a followup operation, he tries to contact the shelter, emails me while I’m out of the country to chase. Someone who really wants to help. Then there’s Dr Ahmed who offered to help the kids who were bitten by the stray dogs. We organised an appointment with someone he asked a favour of, a top doctor in the field and the parents of the kids injured just didn’t turn up. Even though it was not my fault, I emailed him apologetically, his graceful response was “Anytime!! It’s important that the option for them is there”. This gracefulness, I realised, was something not to be taken for granted, and I am honoured that my path has made me encounter these people who feel responsible for the part they should play in a society.

Myth Number Two: Working with street children is gratifying/fulfilling

One of the hardest realities about working with street children is the bitter, painful statistic, that all who work with them try hard not to think of, there is only a 20% success rate in rehabilitating street children. I write about her a lot, Maya… a great example of how society, all parts of it, has deeply let her down; as a child and as a teenager. The NGO has been working with her since she was 7 years old. Maya too was a great disappointment to the social workers who invested so much time, hope, energy, belief in her to wake up one day and find her stir up a scene at the shelter, the same evening gone, now working in prostitution, abandoning her child. I spoke to many of the people working with Maya over the years. Most of them shrugged their shoulders and told me that what was important was that during her time in and out of the shelter, she knew she had them, that she knows, still, that they will be here. That it’s about what they can offer the kids, not what the kids offer them in terms of gratitude. It’s true that all over the world, rehabilitation of street children almost never works. Does that mean we should give up on them? Does that mean we should not give them the little we can afford them of the skills, love, material stuff that we can?

What did they expect Taghreed would turn up with? Taghreed trusts no one, she has never known her mother’s real first name!!! Yes, of course it’s disappointing. But to expect her to turn up suited up for your up market lawyer, with a team of her own lawyers and files and paperwork is naive.

Myth Number Three: Being a Professional

I am NOT a professional. I was quite taken aback by the claim that the couple who had offered their help had decided to withdraw it because of how “unprofessional” I had acted. I had to mull on this for a while. I wondered at which point I was ever deemed a professional in getting a case to the legal system. I am, after all, just an interested academic… an “expert” on street children that happened to write about my experiences working with them that has made this blog popular. I had left the “professional” world in 2010 when I left my role as Project Manager in a risk consultancy company.

While doing my research, I had to pass an ethics committee board to ensure that my work with vulnerable people would be done ethically and cause them and myself no harm. It took seven months to do this. When I finally got the ethics clearance and went to work with the children, I realised that my own ethics clearance would come if I were able to help these children in some way. I could not “pass” my PhD, get a job and then leave them and their stories behind. I am not a professional! I am not employed by anyone, I have not been paid to do my research, I have gotten myself into debt working with street children and I refuse to get paid for anything I write about the kids I have worked with – so definitely that description of me is inaccurate.

The other thing I want to mention is that I am totally thankful and overwhelmed by the response of people and every day I get many, many emails from offering help. I have to admit that I am not as good at dealing with this as I hoped I would be. Many of the people who have written have been able to help, one way or another, they just needed some contacts and got on with the helping themselves. I am not a professional volunteers manager, organiser or anything else of the sort. I have just used my accessibility to channel help towards the kids as it came in – at this point it’s all I can offer in an administrative sense. I am involved in academia and grass root work with the children themselves rather than a administrative professional associated with anyone/thing.

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All being said and done and off my chest, I have to say that I have walked around today with the biggest lump in my throat. The irony is, I received this email of blame at the same time as my last class in a module on childhood where students wrote me a card, mostly calling me “inspirational”. When I spoke to a few of them about what that meant, they said it was about helping them discover what they could do for the children they work with. This is key. That is all I am trying to do here. That what I have set out to do is to raise awareness, to highlight the fact that we are lacking a sense of social, collective responsibility. I am not here to hold anyone’s hand while they do a good deed, to applaud them or to beg from them. At no point was this my intention and it will never be.

I owe Taghreed an apology for letting her experience another event of being let down and abandoned. And I guess for now I have no other way to help her but to bribe her father to come in and help us get her the ID.

Personal Post: Diary Entry for my Trip to Lebanon

I was amused at the gates boarding the plane to find that the Lebanese were more eager to get on it than were the Egyptians on my familiar Egypt Air flight. As soon as the gates were opened every single Lebanese got up rushing towards it, despite numerous requests by staff to remain seated till our rows were called for. Another major difference were the menus the stewardesses gave out, in 3 different languages, as they walked by with their drinks trolly that had an array of different types of alcohol to the layman economy class traveller I was. Perhaps if I wasn’t so ill I’d have indulged in the luxury. But, feeling under the weather as I was, I made do with the roasted peanuts that came with the pineapple juice- joining the tens of passengers with no personality who chewed away at nuts they probably didn’t want to eat, simply because we were handed them!

It’s the first time I’m not excited to travel, a mix between feeling extremely ill, not being well enough to go to teach my classes this morning, being behind with my work for the first time, being without Shariff for the first time since we’ve moved in, and being confused about my academic identity. But, with one hour and a half to go, I’m making a promise to myself not to be ungrateful. I am on am all expenses paid trip to Lebanon, to attend the Arab Council for Social Sciences conference, chosen from 120 candidates, I had a chance not only to speak about the street kids role in social movements, but to talk about the incredible work Manadeel Waraq gets up to for the children in egypt.

We’re landing now… Outside the window, the different colour flickering lights feel like its a country having a party – not one divided by war or ideology…

There’s something about airports, something universal about these completely different countries… I wonder what Margaret Mead would have made of that universality? Of the fact that there are the same tears and smiles and the same eager run-ups along the corridor, hugs and kisses and proclamations of how much each child had grown. It didn’t matter what country I was in, airports were the same.

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My confusion between being an activist an academic became even more serious being surrounded by 70 other academics that I couldn’t easily start conversations with. A lot of the time it felt like a competition with how many big words you could string together in a sentence to be worthy of conversing with. But maybe that’s unfair, I was very ill, feeling unsociable and also trying to coordinate help for a 3 year old girl that we were told about who was in hospital in Egypt, burnt, tortured, broken boned, hurt very severely by her parents who got arrested after taking her to hospital claiming she had fallen from the second floor building. We were trying to work around a system that provided no foster care for abused children – we only have orphanages and shelters for street kids, but nothing for abused children. It was hard to keep up with papers on theoretical frameworks of inequalities and revolution when I felt I was so acutely helpless affecting real change.

But as the second day came about, I got some help for the girl, the rest of the Manadeel Waraq team got other help, following the “saving one child at a time” method, I eased up, started talking to fascinating academics and realised I could keep up the battle of bridging academia and activism, but I learnt how much the former was dependent on the latter for me. It was an amazing event in reality, bringing together so many disciplines in the region and discussing where research in the Middle East was going, and a refreshingly honest admission that it wasn’t the intellectuals bringing about change, but almost everyone else…

By this time I was well enough to go out for a walk… And I did………………….

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I waited for them to come out of the sea and as they dried up and got dressed, I found my self making all sorts of assumptions about them, quickly trying to categories them in every box I knew, I hated myself for it. But I couldn’t stop smiling; the boys were radiating fun and enjoyment it was contagious… They were different to the boys fishing, the ones on roller blades, different to the boys here for an afternoon stroll with their parents. I couldn’t place them. It was only after they pulled out some stock from under a parked car to sell that I recognised them. They were so polite, so cleaaaan, so clean in fact that I heard myself saying, “7adretak tefl shaware3?” There was no other option for me than to address the child than that way! As we all laughed and started talking about and they told me that he and his friends lived on the street, but they got up to work early every day so they could afford this play time in the sea.

It was amazing watching the women run and do press ups in tight Lycra along the beach and though some men would stare, they were left to do their thing with no one invading their space, it was exactly at this point that I thought my earlier comparison and declaration of similarity with egypt become totally invalid. The fact that there wasn’t a cigarette butt on the street rendered me comparison invalid too.

I got lost on my way to “down town” that I never reached in the end. I ended up on the hills in roads parallel to the Qornish and immediately the vulgarity of poverty and decay was apparent, a painful contrast to the beauty of nature that the sea, just less than a 100 steps away had emanated. Homes made of cardboard and cloth and other cheap materials, but still, like the street boys I’d met earlier, so superiorly clean; something that made poverty itself vulgar, but not the homes, and definitely not the people.

I didn’t take any photos of the homes because I felt it would be a huge invasion of their privacy, these tucked away manifestations of struggle, though I would have been trying to capture this cleanliness I could not explain. Why were the poor on Lebanese streets so squeeky clean and not the Egyptian poor on the street? It threw up so many questions about dignity, valuing life and the self, having self esteem, perhaps… Or was it hope, hope that things were definitely going to get better so one had to look their best to greet good fortune when it came to them.

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I’m sitting now on the Qornish writing this, I’ve decided that there is no way you can “travel the world” if you don’t stay in each place at least a few months, enough time to make friends, need to go to its hospital, pick up a friends child from its school, enough time to get to know you’re way around, to deconstruct all your previous notions of that place. I know so much has been written about this, so much analysis on space and culture, on deconstructing normativities, but each persons experience of it is different, each one of our consumption of space is unique, and at each destination I faced my own revolution and self discovery in relation to that space. I had to question too why I was far more comfortable talking to the street kids here in Beirut, than I was the academics in the conference I was supposedly more associated with..

I definitely want to come again, come back here as a person and not an academic, a distinction that has recently become very painful to acknowledge. The hills I can see in the distance are enchanting, something about them calls you to emerge yourself in them, even the air here is full of resilience and resistance, and a paradoxical calm… A city that could have fallen apart as a result of earthquakes, floods and civil war, it’s people’s ability to enjoy song and dance, perhaps like the Egyptians ability to joke, after each catastrophe, is perhaps what held this city together, keeping it clean, keeping it ready to embrace a change of fortune when it came.

From the Diary of a British-Egyptian Girl: First Working Day in Egypt – Queues and Personal Space

Nathan Destro and his “personal space protector” on the streets of Johannesburg. Photos by Christo Doherty

I left him to speak, as he leaned over me and with his well moisturised arm reached out with the money having invaded my personal space (a concept that actually does not exist in Egypt), was paying for three canned drinks. Only when he spoke to the kiosk vendor saying “a pack of tissues” (without saying please) did I realise he was not, in fact, after a piggyback ride. Just before this, I had bought a bottle of water and was waiting for my change.

As the man (who was very smartly dressed and sported a pair of D&G sunglasses and smelt rather awesome) abused the notion of taking turns, I turned around – while he was waiting for his change – and I said, with the sweetest smile I could muster, “excuse me, can I please ask you something?” Feeling quite smug, he looked at me with an I-know-I’m-hot-and-you-couldn’t-resist-but-find-an-excuse-to-speak-to-me smile, replied “sure, of course”. “Thank you! I’m new to Egypt and I am really excited to learn about the customs here… and I was wondering if you could please explain to me (the smile now quickly disappearing off my lips) why it is you are completely unaware of anyone’s presence but yourself, what is it that went through your head that made you possibly think it was OK not to acknowledge someone else, what about you is so amazing that you felt it was not a problem to take my turn in the queue?” Completely taken aback he mumbled something about his car. I looked around and saw he had left the door of his BMW open and I went on to say “Ohhhhh, I see, so I am supposed to feel better about having walked half an hour in the scorching sun, been harassed about 15 times in the walk, because you are worried the a/c effect was decreasing? I apologize”. He didn’t reply.

I was angry. I realised this was a huge problem on the streets of this beautiful city. No one cared about anyone else’s feelings, anyone else’s priorities, efforts, problems. People didn’t give you personal space because as soon as someone else saw it, they would think it was a gap for them to push into. This is so contradictory with the nature of Egyptian people who if they saw you in distress or in need all get together to help you in anyway they can. However, it seemed that the idea that there is “not enough” – of whatever it is, time, food, etc. drove people away from that helpful, kind nature into one demonstrated by the good looking but nasty natured man of this morning. It had nothing to do with how well educated or cultured you were. Manners in Egypt are one of those mystic things; there are no rules and no patterns of behaviour that are common to any one class, group, or creed. Each person in each of these grouping had his or her own set of rules of conduct – and it is beyond me what this is based on.

This was the topic of conversation with a working class girl from the suburbs on our way home. Her interpretation of the behaviour was that people “where you come from” are involved in setting the rules that govern them and their behaviour and so they respect it and respect each other, but, she went on to explain, over here in Egypt, people were never involved, they never had a say in what rules should govern them and so they each created their own that suited them, that would get their stuff done with the least amount of hassle in the shortest possible time. It doesn’t really matter if she was right or wrong, what mattered was how political that comment was and how her being so analytical cheered me up. There are clearly boundary issues that need to be dealt with, but I’ve decided not to be so angry with those who are on their feet sweating for hours to get to and from work when they push in anymore, but elitists who step out of their BMW’s and push in, will not stop getting a piece of my mind. Every time. “Queuing in Egypt” is just as much an Oxymoron as “British-Egyptian” and apart from the option of walking around in hula-hoops from head to toe; I can forget this British etiquette in Egypt altogether.

Personal Post: When He Stopped Sending Flowers to My Grave

When he stopped sending flowers to my grave, I was free to rise from it.

It had been so long. So many years I I knew I would hear the bell ring every Valentines Day, every birthday and every anniversary. Three times a year the bell would ring and I would expectantly open the door to an assault of colours and a smell of flowers, that in London, were always wanting. There would be a teddy too. The teddy, though meant for company, had a look in his eyes that demonstrated his awareness of the new home that would house him. A home full of teddies each representing a chain ensuring the exclusion and exile I was being sentenced to. And there would also be chocolates. Rich, expensive chocolates, boxed in the shape of a heart – as if we had forgotten the real heart, the flesh and muscle and blood that would ache in the loneliness these very chocolates were eaten in.

These three gifts were markers of time. They were the “rites of passage” from one miserable year to the next. Confirmation that life hadn’t changed, and that I haven’t moved on. They were the ringing of the chains that bound me. They always came when we weren’t “together”. Always an apology for having chosen a life that didn’t include me in its “realness”. They were the flowers that carried the message that I, despite the physical and emotional miles, wasn’t forgotten. That I was the love, the fun, the good memories. That even though I wasn’t the “chosen one”, I was the loved one. I hated them. And I hated him.

He came in and out of my life just as quickly as the flowers arrived and withered on my window sill. I didn’t know what kept him coming, or what kept me allowing him in. Till the last time I accepted his return I finally understood: it was the flowers. He bought with the price he was paying for them the coffin he had laid me in. The tomb which he was satisfied watching me laying in; lifeless, belonging to no one else, having no future. His respects paid to the life he had taken was the flowers he sent to the grave three times a year. A confirmation I was dead, and alive just in his memory. They were heavy and they weighed the lid of the coffin down. They had to stop coming so I could rise from my own grave. In desperate, bitter, passionate, hot, hot, hot tears I begged him to stop.

The first occasion came and I woke up too scared to crawl out of bed. I prayed the explosion of colours wouldn’t be flooding the joy out of my life and heart today. I prayed so hard that I would start my crawl out beyond the earth and mud that suffocated me today. I couldn’t think of anything else. I dedicated all my power just keeping the evil teddy away from my door. All my power of concentration was directed at keeping the van that came in its solemn annual duty, away. And the flowers didn’t come. When the clock struck midnight, I burst into tears! Such happy, happy tears. The same tears a blind man sheds seeing the blue of the sky for the first time. This was my chance to breath again, to live again and to love again.

Then you came into my life with the rainbows in the flowers you bought. You, the pot of gold behind them. You came to change the meaning of flowers in the rainbows that before you, used to appear in monochrome, changing the richness and taste of chocolates, changing my understanding of love, linking love – as it always should – with happiness. And this is why, my love, when I thank you for the flowers, I am actually thanking you for bringing me back to life.

Personal Post: I am the Common Denominator

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It seems the world offers me the best it has to offer me at four year intervals. Since 2008 was a brilliant year for me, I am predicting 2012 to hold much joy and happiness. It feels great starting the year with that conviction. A conviction that for this year, will become my mantra. It strikes me as significant that the main people in my life that were prominent in 2008, are also prominent in 2012 (they know who they are) and the people who were out of my life in that year, are also out of my life again this year (again they know who they are). From this I have much to learn. This is a big part of my job as a researcher after all, this finding patterns, isn’t it?!

I started this year with the firm decision not to make any New Year resolutions. I refused to say what I’m going to do for me. Instead, I asked of the world. I asked it to teach me things I need to learn to live these resolutions as a normal way of life and not something I was setting myself up to fail at. I was giving myself a sort of break, really. I was letting the world know that I understood its place in my life, that I respected it’s power and that I was going to learn how to receive.

Of the things I want to learn this year: a) to learn to love those who love me and b) to start only friendships/relationships/projects that have a chance of succeeding and c) to learn to hear my inner voice to understand what I want. Have I surprised you, reader, with the simplicity of those wishes? If I have, then you are one of the lucky few who understand the three secrets of happiness. For the rest of us, please go back and read them. Are they not the most difficult things to attain?

To reach a destination point (I have recently, finally, started to understand how maps function!) you need to actually know where you are first. In matters of the self, the honesty you need is incredible, difficult and often painful. But, I decided to hold my breath and bare that pain, in hope for something at the destination that would cure these ailments of the spirit.

a) To learn to love those that love me. How often have you caught yourself out with the “approval” habit? It eats away at us silently. It is quite an intricate process. You single out the people that do not totally approve of you, or those who are always critical, or those who actually simply don’t give a damn. Then you just try to please, to change, to be good enough, to impress so they approve. The painful thing is that usually, well – for me at least, these are not people who care about me and want me to change for the “better”, they are people who are just so selfish they want to keep me in their lives, but they just don’t care. Why do I do it if it’s glaringly, obviously, wrong? I actually have a reason. The need for pain. This isn’t a sadistic need. It’s something that much research has gone into, actually. Pain as a medium, a bridge, to some place deep in your soul that you need to touch to become creative, to write, to think, to philosophise, to draw. It feels like the mundane, the “every day”, the “normal” don’t get you there. They don’t hold the key the realms of depth and breadth of emotion that pain has the ability to. This aching of the soul touches parts that so far, happiness has not been able to. The tugging at the heart of the word “impossible” knocked on the doors of creativity and of growth.

But despite the explantations, I still don’t understand how love and pain have been so closely linked? I stopped this year and thought, “How dare I?! How dare I fall into the trap that this was the only way I could be what I wanted?!” For in truth, I was the common denominator. The different people came and went and I was left, I was left accountable for the thoughts, the feelings, the actions. I decided to take responsibility and let go of the inappropriate role of “victim”. I was going to take charge and I was going to make the search for happiness, and not the need for pain, the centre of my quest and those that made me happy would be the pivots of my world. Those would be the people I would link to love. I will no longer thank those who have hurt me, claiming that they taught me to be the person that I am. I wont, because I am accepting that I can learn much, too, from those who care and are kind and generous in their love. I am ready, world, to accept that love. I have found the barriers inside me that blocked it out and I am pulling them down. I will learn to love those who love me.

b) to start only friendships/relationships/projects that have a chance of succeeding. I guess where I was going wrong here is my skewed definition of the word “challenge”. In my dictionary, prior to this awakening, a challenge was usually something I knew 100% would not work out. It was a challenge in that I would faithfully bleed, sweat and pray. But that was it; that was the only resemblance to the real life dictionary definition.

I then realised the need to be kind to myself. I needed to accept my limitations to even begin to understand what was too easy, what was a genuine challenge, what was a challenge that wasn’t worth it and finally what was out of reach, not because I was not capable, but because it wasn’t the path I wanted to be on. I decided to learn the skill of letting go and giving in to challenges that did not fair well on the cost/benefit scale of emotion. It turns out to be that this was directly linked to the third point.

c) to learn to hear my inner voice to understand what I want. I was lucky to grow up with the support of my family to try things out. My mum and dad were the sort of parents who went out to buy the full karate outfit when I decided martial arts was my thing. They also bought me a piano when I thought music was my calling. My sister spent all her pocket money one month to go out and buy me a full calligraphy set and stand and paper when I felt that the art of handwriting was why I was born. Dina spent a significant amount of her redundancy money to support my decision of driving lessons. Shariff gave me the space to be every sort of woman i wanted to experiment being in a relationship, the independent feminist when I wanted and the the damsel in distress when he unfailingly set me free from the prison of independence. Ezzidin was there to teach me the joy of writing letters while everyone was on emails. My managers at work signed and approved every business development, project management and leadership workshop that took my fancy. My overdraft was, also, very supportive every time I enrolled on a course, from sign language, to psychoanalysis, to journal writing, to left brain training. Tant Kamilia was there when I wanted to be Christian, Ahmed was there when I wanted to be Muslim, Margaret was there when I wanted to be Brahma Kumarian and Anand was there when I was contemplating becoming Hindu.

You would be mistaken to think, having read the above, that the problem was me not knowing what I want. I just realised that this IS what I wanted. I want to celebrate the diversity and the contradiction and the fact that my fancies are not static. I needed to let go of the guilt of not following through or sticking to one thing. I accept now that I need to learn to shut out the voice of the structures around me. All expectations constructed by my family, schooling, media, gender, ethnicity, peers, class, creed, race, all had to be shut out. I finally discovered the volume button to something that should have been given supreme status. My inner voice. The voice that knew it’s ok to keep trying things out. That I didn’t have to be like the so many who knew exactly what they wanted to be and do as soon as they turned 4. That life was too short to be so sure of everything or anything. My voice, inside my own heart, was telling me it always wanted to be free to say “when I grow up….” But you know what was incredibly ironic? As soon as I let go, as soon as I accepted the not knowing, as soon as I wanted the freedom of keeping my options open; I knew exactly what I wanted. I felt satisfied and celebratory of where my life had taken me. The even better thing was that if this hadn’t happened, it would have still been ok because I would have enjoyed the journey and the search because I had entitled myself to experiment, to doubt, but most importantly, to change.

The most significant outcome of taking the time to reflect, was to understand that I was the common denominator. That nothing was anyone’s fault. That I am not so weak as to give anyone or anything or any circumstance the power over me by playing that person or that things victim. This is why I wrote this post. I wrote it in the hope that maybe one person out there will read it, and as they do, they will feel the absolute power and freedom I feel having written it and that they, too, will let go of the “approval” habit. They too will accept the love they deserve and maybe they, too, will be liberated in their discovery of wanting to try, and not simply wanting to want.

Personal Post: Midnight Judgement

Have you felt it before? That over powering feeling that you are full; so full you are over flowing, you’re bursting with… nothing? That’s how I feel now. It is my duty towards myself to write about this nothing; to empty the nothingness on to paper in the form of words so that there is space in my soul for what I would rather fill it with.

Do you think there should be a Lack of Gratefulness Disorder? Do you think by saying this I have disrespect for the person who suffers this terrible illness? Then you misunderstand me. This aspect of the disorder is perhaps one of the most painful. Painful not because you are not appreciating what you have, but because you are so acutely aware of your blessings and your lack of appreciation of them and you are suffocated in guilt. Suffocated because no matter how much is going on, no matter how lucky you are for all you are involved in; there is this huge gap; filled and overflowing with nothing. It’s something nothing on the outside can fill. And you, in desperation, try to fill it. You, at first, try with interest in the outside world, friends, love, hobbies, shopping, TV, politics, revolution. You wait, you watch expectantly and the emptiness grows, the space that holds the emptiness deepens. You then try and fill it in more desperate, more extreme ways; drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, over spending, over eating, risk, you take a razor and cut yourself, attempting to fill the gap with pain, with blood; but nothing. It haunts you, it tugs at your heart and it distances you from the whole world and everyone in it. This emptiness: you become it.

It is a curse to be intelligent, inquisitive, self reflecting. But ignorance is a greater curse because life is wasted on a life of floating on the surface of feelings and emotions. I tried a few times to lay back, relax, float and only touch the waters that pass quietly below me as I float; but even at those times my hair floated behind me weighing me down, I had to keep going and hoping for forces to move me along quickly in fear that if a stopped that mass of hair would wrap around my face and neck and drag me back down again. But the truth is, I was never floating. The “I” was somewhere else. The body was there, obeying the laws of the sea. But the “I”, the invisible mass has laws unto its own that no one can interfere with. This “I” was sinking more at those times in the deepest part of that sea. The depth of an ocean unimaginable even to me.

It is at precisely those moments that the detachment between body and soul is at its greatest and I looked in at myself with great amusement – and pity. I knew that when those moments of self denial were over, the self scrutiny and analysis would be deep and harsh and their call would have to be obeyed. Condemnation, the daily bedtime tablet. The slashing of the spirit that has let down and been let down. The deep sense of shame of existing as I am. The shame of having not contributed to an improved, better world. Where do I run from that? From the reality that my entire existence today was worth nothing, that I added nothing of value and lifted nothing of decay from this world that I occupy. How desperate this leaves me to seek approval and relieve pain of any sort, not out of kindness but to save myself from the night time blame where I am my own hangman. I am a slave to this emotion; a slave to being able to answer, “Yes!” confidently to questions such as “are you worthy of being loved, of living?”.

These midnight rambles are the most important. I am the prosecutor and lawyer at the witching hours. I am so harsh on this soul and I know it. I try to defend it, but the emptiness and what I have tried to fill it with are witnesses to the failure of the day. I have not acted well. I have not understood the purpose of the hours or the interactions with the people I have met with and I seem to have been blind to all the signs. Would have spending the day alone been any better? Are those nights safer from the whippings of my own remorse had I spent the day alone? Hardly ever. Do I have to go protect olive trees in Palestine, or build wells in Africa, do I have to donate a kidney or sign my organs away after death to feel that I have deserved the air given to me to breath? Perhaps. Perhaps even then I will feel the guilt that I am only doing it to be able to beat insomnia of the conscience…