Moved from the United States to the United Kingdom… and back to the United States. Currently in long-term limbo. My good, bad & ugly experiences as an expatriate and possible permanent repatriate (who'll continue traveling no matter what).
Greg, founder/blogger & writer/everything else of I’m Black & I Travel (IBIT) (Twitter hash-tag #IBIT), happens to be an internet friend of mine. I’ve followed him since I simultaneously started my blog & Twitter account. I appreciate his musings on the connections between people of color & traveling, getting more people of color (namely Black Americans) to travel, and his weekly travel news digest & travel tips geared towards people of color yet are useful for any human being who loves exploring the planet. Greg read one of my posts about the recent riots, and he liked it enough to feature me on his blog’s occasional series, “Out There!”, on August 18th.
Check out my post on his award-winning blog, and follow him on Twitter @ImBlacknITravel. Thanks for the opportunity, Greg. :-)
Terri, founder of Try Anything Once – “exploring food, continents & life” – is focusing on expatriate life in her blog this week. She asked me to write a short piece and of course, I obliged. Check out my post on her blog, and follow her on Twitter @TryItFoodTravel. Thanks for the opportunity, Terri. ;-)
I’m engrossed in my own world sometimes, along with greatly decreasing my consumption of negative news & blog reading. So I didn’t know anything about the Tottenham riots until someone wrote to me asking if I was “alright over there in riot-land?”. I said “Huh? What riots? Did I miss something?” The person mentioned Tottenham, I looked it up, and there it was.
Police shot & killed Mark Duggan on Thursday August 4th during a gun crime operation (Operation Trident). Guns are illegal here and most police don’t carry guns except under special circumstances and only for certain police forces. According to what I’ve read (if I read/understood correctly), police officers believed that Mr. Duggan, aged 29 with 4 children, shot first; a police officer was saved only by his police radio, which sustained damage by blocking the bullet. (An initial inquiry found this to be incorrect: Duggan did not use a gun or shoot anyone.) On Saturday August 6th, Duggan’s family conducted a peaceful march to Tottenham police station and under the circumstances, all was well. Then, a 16-year-old girl allegedly walked to the police station towards the end of the peaceful protest at around 20:30 and demanded answers about the shooting. A witness stated that the 16-year-old threw a leaflet and possibly a stone at police, at which point the police attacked her. This is the straw that broke the camel’s back.
A once peaceful protest became violent – arson, innocent bystanders being beaten by rioters, destruction of homes & businesses. The violence spread through the night into Enfield, where more of the same took place on Sunday August 7th. A smaller riot also broke out in Brixton that evening, which is interesting because Brixton isn’t near either of the affected areas and it has its own riotous history (please see sources at the end of this entry). Much to the chagrin of many people, the riots spread to other parts of London on Monday August 8th – shutting down shopping centers, high streets, & businesses as well as destroying homes, businesses & cars via arson. Some people were hurt, and to date, 5 people have died as a result.
During this time, I watched TV news & read online news. While I wasn’t directly affected (like a fellow expatriate’s friend who lost his flat via arson), it was emotionally & mentally draining for me and many others to watch. Now that things have calmed down, here are my thoughts/opinions about the riots.*
Punish those who participated in the riots/looting. Plain & simple. 5 people died as a result of the madness. People lost homes & businesses & cars, some via arson. Businesses closed for days, with many losing money as a result. Whether it’s community service, being forced to repay the value of what was lost, or doing time, they deserve punishment.
Whether people want to admit it or not, there are a few people in society who form a criminal element. This isn’t relegated to race/ethnicity, like some (racist & other) people insist. (Racists, who are usually idiots, will always think that a collective group are bad, and nothing will change that.) Of the few who form that element, there are a smaller number who will never “get” it, never change, and will be a part of that element for life. (Here’s a perfect example.) That handful definitely participated in the riots/looting & need to be punished harshly. As I wrote in a blog post, the criminal justice system here is too lax for my liking and, therefore, those criminals likely won’t be punished as severely as they deserve.
The United Kingdom has a documented history of police stop & search against people of color. With such unfortunate events as the Amadou Diallo police shooting & police brutality against Abner Louima back at home, as an outsider looking in I understand why some direct their rage against those who should uphold the law & defend the civilian population against crime/criminals. Some police officers use stop-and-search as a racist tool instead of using it for everyone regardless of race/ethnicity & class. (In my view, some police officers were punks as kids and use their new-found powers as police officers to bully others, but I digress.)
However (continuing from above), not every unfortunate police incident happens because of the person’s race/ethnicity. Some unfortunate incidents happen because, wouldn’t you know it, the person involved is a criminal (here’s a youthful example).
Some people are using these riots as an excuse to create a “race war”, whether in their own minds or in real life. In my opinion, this defeats the purpose of the original peaceful march. While an injustice occurred, Duggan’s loved ones didn’t march to start a race war. Just as the family of Ian Thompson fought against the police in courts of law, so Duggan’s loved ones marched in protest of the same entity to seek answers & justice for Duggan’s life. Sadly, I’ve not heard any updates on the Duggan police shooting case because the riots, idiotic rioters & political posturing took precedence over a worthy cause.
I spoke with a colleague and she mentioned something interesting that applies to what I said above regarding “race wars”: some people – including those involved in the riots, those who live here, and those outside of the United Kingdom – are avoiding the real challenges in this country by invoking race as the major (and/or only) issue. Race is just one layer on the onion, and it’s not even the thickest layer in the grander scheme of things.
Lots of people have their own opinions & thoughts & beliefs about the causes of these riots. Lots of those people, unlike me, live outside of the United Kingdom. In my opinion, at least 98% of those people should shut their mouths, put their Ph.D’s in Armchair Philosophy in the nearest shredder, and return to school for a degree in something else.
David Cameron is a simpleton. I say that with the utmost respect because I’d prefer to use a few choice curse words to describe him instead but won’t. He had to be forced to return to the United Kingdom from his holiday in Tuscany, and when he finally returned, it was under the guise of concern for the public. Sir, your fake spine doesn’t fool me. Threatening to cut benefits and lock down social media & cell phones will do absolutely nothing to get to the core challenges that most of the populace faces. While I understand the reasoning behind cutting benefits, these are surface & faux strong-arm solutions to challenges that are as deep as the Mariana Trench.
We live in a microwave society – people want things done in 90 seconds or less. After my lighthearted debate about voting, this is more obvious to me. While I understand the thoughts & feelings behind the riots (and rioters), these are limited thought processes. Major change does not occur without community organization, planned actions, blood, sweat & tears. For the simplest examples, please re-read your history books – Civil Rights Movement, feminist movement, women’s suffrage movement, (legal) slavery abolishing, American independence from Great Britain, Haiti’s independence from France, and the list goes on & on. In the case of civil rights in the United States, there’s still a long way to go because change doesn’t occur as quick as our microwave society wants it to, but my people have come pretty damn far in the meantime.
These are some of my thoughts about the riots. Feel free to add yours to the comments section.
“I’m not young, yeah. I’m 43 years old and I don’t vote.”, said the man as we talked.
Somehow or another, these people (those who believe either one, a few, most or all conspiracy theories) find me. All I wanted to do was take a few photos & (maybe) video, go to the grocery store quick, and come back to the office. But it doesn’t work that way, it’s never that simple.
It was Friday afternoon, a few days after the riots began. Things calmed down a bit, so I decided to venture out of the office to get milk for my tea. On the way to the grocery store, I stopped at the place where the “love wall” now stands, the place where I took most photos over the past week (exhibits one & two & three). Since I’m documenting this for proof of history, I took more photos & video at the wall. The “love wall” has become a new community meeting spot of sorts; people gather to post messages of support, dialogue & debate with each other.
There were 2 men posting messages on the wall – a community leader in a black suit and a younger man in a t-shirt & jeans helping him. As people came by to watch, some would ask the 2 men different questions about the purpose of the wall. As I took photos & videos, I decided to ask one or two myself. I normally don’t approach people, but since the younger man was next to me, it was a bit easier for me to speak without being noticed.
When he finished speaking with an elderly woman, I asked him:
So what’s next? We have people posting messages here, we have people saying that things need to change. That’s all well & good, but what’s gonna happen in terms of follow-up, action? Are there any community meetings planned? How about a forum? No real change will happen if all we do is talk.
He sighed and said that he didn’t know, but has aspirations to go into politics and works at a local college for now. We talked for a bit about possible changes, community organizing & how to avoid riots of this size in the future, and the topic of voting as a tool for change came up. While we were talking about voting, unbeknownst to us, a few people were listening to us. A man approached us and said
I’m not young, yeah. I’m 43 years old & I don’t vote.
Huh? What? There are people in Europe who don’t believe in voting? It’s not just an American phenomenon?
Sigh. Here we go.
It quickly became a lighthearted debate about the pros & cons of voting: me & Aspiring Politician vs. Proud Non-Voter. Proud Non-Voter used the typical reasons (excuses?) that I’ve heard in the past (and present):
- all political parties are the same
– the bourgeois determines election results before other classes vote and, therefore, it’s pointless
– only the bourgeois class have the real power to decide their interests while the proletariat‘s interests are never acknowledged
– “the man” is keeping people down
– the government is keeping people down
– “the system” was never meant to work in our favor
– voters are too idealistic
– things will not change
I canvassed for voter registration in some rough parts of my hometown some years ago, so I’ve heard the above reasons for people not wanting to vote. In addition to those reasons, being an ex-felon is another reason (depending on which state one resides in) that people give for not voting. I’ll leave that reason (excuse?) alone for now because many states still don’t allow ex-felons to vote, so that’s a genuine reason. But the other reasons, to me, reek of reading from the same handbook. Again. At the end of the day, the reasons (excuses?) go back to 2 common fall-backs: laziness & impatience.
We live in a microwave society – people want things done in 90 seconds or less. Whether it’s voting or any other necessary changes….. If things take too long in the microwave, they’re taken out of that microwave & placed in one that gives quicker results – maybe 60 seconds vs. the longer 90 seconds. As an example, people in Western society have gone from having photos developed over a few days to having them developed in as fast as 30 minutes. (And even then, some people don’t think that that’s fast enough.) I don’t know about anyone else, but the photos of old have a special quality to them; they may not be the quality that we’re used to in this new digital world, but it’s quality nonetheless.
The same can be said for societal change. Unless I’m forgetting something from history classes, macro-level change does not happen as quickly as a microwave society wants it to. There are too many examples to post here, but 2 good examples from the past are the Black American civil rights movement in the United States and the Indian independence movement in India. (A very recent example is the Wisconsin recall vote efforts, which won’t stop anytime soon.) Are things perfect in any of these cases? Of course not. India still deals with (overt or covert) caste systems & remnants of colonialism, and Black Americans still have challenges due to institutional racism. But to look back at either of these movements & deny that any change took place is incorrect at best and disrespectful to one’s ancestors at worst.
In other words, why not vote? Why not do what it takes to foster change? Our ancestors did these things with way fewer resources; what’s our/your excuse?
I believe that change can occur even though it takes time. I hope that the dialogues & debates at the “love wall” spread beyond the neighborhood, inspiring collective follow-up, action, and change. We the people.
P.S. In case you’re wondering, I’m voting in all elections next year & I’ll keep doing so as long as I’m out of the United States. Whenever I can vote here also, I’ll do so. While I understand being impatient & getting lazy, I can’t look back at the energy & blood-sweat-and-tears that my ancestors spent to gain rights for everyone and just give up due to laziness & impatience & conspiracy theories. Theories are just that – theories – and it’s a shame that so many people spit on our ancestors’ hard work.
I wanted to upload some iPhone videos that I’ve taken over the past few days, but unfortunately I didn’t realize that I’d have to pay extra on WordPress to do that. :-| So my observations will have to be seen through my words & photos instead. I’m drafting a blog entry about a conversation that I had about community activism & voting, a conversation partly brought on by my short videos; it will be published within 1 week. In the meantime, here are a few more photos.
Although I’m agnostic, I believe in souls, spirits, intuition and energies. As I get older, I’m learning to pay more attention to each of those things (if there’s a difference) because when it comes down to it, I know what’s best for me and need to learn to trust that. So it kinda jolted me into reality when on the way to work a few days ago, a realization hit me like a ton of bricks:
My soul/spirit has been at dis-ease lately. It hit me that a small reason is because I no longer want to go back home.
I never thought that those words would cross my mind. The United States isn’t perfect. I have a love-hate relationship with my country. But I didn’t think that I’d never want to return there.
And it’s hard to grapple with for so many reasons, a few that I’ll mention here.
1. I don’t have any real or potential suitors back home. (I don’t even have any here. Or anywhere else for that matter.) Love definitely isn’t waiting at home (or anywhere else).
2. I don’t have any children or other dependents. This isn’t hard to grapple with, as I’m child-free; it’s just another thing that doesn’t tie me down. I’ve got nephews & godsons whom I love beyond anything that they could ever imagine. But they’ve always been far away from me, so this amount of distance from their aunt & godmother won’t matter much. Hopefully they’ll visit me.
3. For reasons that I’d rather not get into now, I don’t really have any family save for a few family members. If those family members miss me, they can always visit (but they won’t).
4. Friends….. such an overused word, one of the most overused on this planet. Also for reasons that I’d rather not get into now, since I moved here I’ve seen their true colors. Sadly, I’ve had to let some go for good. It’s always been hard for me to make friends and it’s not much different here either, so maybe it’s best to cultivate a few friendships anywhere other than home and leave that behind.
5. Observing home from here has disheartened me, even scared me at times. I’ve stated that no country is perfect (not even Norway, sadly), but from an outsider now looking in, home isn’t giving me warm fuzzy feelings anymore. The political & economic climates, the outright hostility, the stripping away of civil rights/freedoms, the blatant disrespect on so many levels….. home isn’t exactly screaming “Come back! Welcome home!” lately.
It’s bittersweet. On one hand, I’ve always dreamed of traveling the world & living abroad. Ever since I was a child, having school pen pals worldwide & owning my 1st atlas, wanderlust has always been part of my life. I’d look at the atlas for hours, imagining the mountains & villages & towns & coastlines that I’d see one day. And while I’ve not seen every place that I want to see yet, I’ve been lucky enough to see a few. But however, it’s sad to look at my short list above & acknowledge that there’s nothing for me at home. A tree gets nourishment through its roots. I don’t have any roots to plant at home.
I don’t know if I’ll plant my roots in the United Kingdom. Only time will tell. I may even change my mind about home & return there after all, who knows. I know this for sure at this moment though: I don’t wanna go home & I’ll likely wander the world for the rest of my life. I’m used to doing it all solo, and that’s alright. It just so happens that along with the benefits, it comes at an unexpected price.
‘Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life.
Trying to make ends meet, you’re a slave to the money then you die.
I’ll take you down the only road I’ve ever been down.
You know the one that takes you to the places where all the veins meet, yeah…..
Well I’ve never prayed, but tonight I’m on my knees yeah.
I need to hear some sounds that recognize the pain in me, yeah.
I let the melody shine, let it cleanse my mind. I feel free now.
But the airwaves are clean and there’s nobody singing to me now.
Speaking for myself, being solo (along with introversion) allows freedom like none other. No worrying about dependent children and/or partner, very little (if any) concern about my actions affecting family or friends during my travels, doing things on my time, etc. There are drawbacks from time to time, though. Here are a few that relate to my experience; everyone is different, of course.
- There are moments during my travels that are great to experience solo. However, there are some moments that are even better shared with another person (friend, family member, romantic partner).
- Sometimes it’s hard to put myself out there to meet people. It’s a double-edged sword: enjoying solo freedom while wishing to meet like-minded others.
- If I need a shoulder to cry on, there’s none available.
- If I need someone to talk to, no one is available. People have their own lives and, while living their own lives, forget about whoever isn’t in their immediate circle. (People also include friends & family.)
- If I buy groceries (or any heavy items for that matter), there’s no one to help.
- If I hurt myself, there’s no one around to check on me; I’d have to call a doctor or ambulance on my own. If I died any time soon it’d probably take time to find out because I’m solo and, because of issues that I’d rather not get into here, don’t have any true next of kin.
- Sometimes it’s possible to be in the midst of a crowd and still feel alone.
This list isn’t exhaustive. Are there other expatriates who experience these things (or anything else that I didn’t list)? How do you deal (if at all)? If you don’t experience these things, what are your secrets?
And all the wonders made for the earth
And all the hearts in all creation
Somehow I always end up alone
Always end up alone.