Then and now.

Who forces time is pushed back by time; who yields to time finds time on his side. –The Talmud

(NOTE: this is a long one, with a bit of cursing, disclosure, no punches pulled, and vulnerability. Don’t like any of that? Don’t bother reading any further.)

Picture it: October 2013.

Aside from a few pieces of luggage filled to the brim with whatever I could carry, I returned home with almost nothing. The life I was trying to build in the United Kingdom was snatched from me.

I’d been placed on unpaid leave on August 9, 2013 – in contemplation of dismissal – by a shady employer that misinformed me about my work visa, among other things. Because of the employer, I accidentally overstayed my work visa by about 2 months by the time I received notification from the Home Office on August 8, 2013. I then had to report to the local immigration office like a criminal – once per week initially, then once every 2 weeks. I was evicted from my beautiful apartment in October by what turned out to be a shady landlord (I’ll never forget, Gary Sheppard of southeast London). I’d been his tenant for over 3 years and even offered him my security deposit, but money over everything, right? For 3 weeks before leaving the United Kingdom, I stayed with someone who insisted that I stay with her after my eviction. (I won’t mention her name here, but can’t thank her enough.)

I asked the male DNA contributor to please help me get a ticket home; there was no real response. Things were so bad that an American colleague took the male DNA contributor’s number from my phone to call and explain how bad things were. (Even though I knew it was a waste of time, she insisted.) Male DNA contributor begrudgingly bought a ticket, didn’t accept my thank yous, and treated me like shit. After almost 3 months of no contact (didn’t even check to make sure of my safe arrival to the U.S.), the male DNA contributor e-mailed me – not to say “hello” or “how are you?”, but to tell me that “you owe me (insert U.S. dollar amount here)”. No exaggeration – that’s what the e-mail said. When I responded that I was living from couch to couch, the male DNA contributor stated that I was exaggerating and need to look for work to pay back the money, along with some other really fucked up things that I can’t remember off the top of my head. Male DNA contributor would’ve known that I was looking all day every day, including weekends, at employment opportunities, had there been any effort to check on me. Don’t worry… I washed my hands for good.

Bye.
Bye.

The female DNA contributor isn’t much better. (Boy… if there’s a higher power, he or she sure knows how to pick the people whom they want to create new human beings. 😐 ) Complete narcissistic waste of time & energy. Don’t worry… I washed my hands for good a while ago. At least I don’t discriminate, right?

Another person from England, whom I’d known for 10 years, insisted that I pay her back $50.00 I owed her in spite of full knowledge of my situation. Yes… $50.00. I was so stunned that she had the nerve to ask me for money she knew I didn’t have, that I just responded with “not a problem”. I gave her the bit of money (and boy, was it just a bit) I got from the former employer about 5 weeks later and after that… *crickets* –  no “hello” or “how are you?” or even “f*** you” after that. I waited 1 year for her to say something to me on any form of social media or technology… still *crickets*. I was there for her during some really difficult times (including an abusive relationship), before and after my move to England, and she threw everything away for 50 U.S. dollars. Don’t worry… I washed my hands for good.

Bye. (Or, in British speak, off you go.)
Bye. (Or, in British speak, off you go.)

At one point, I don’t think that even my aunt & uncle – who are like real parents to me – realized the gravity of my situation. And I’ll admit, I was angry at & frustrated with them for a bit before my return home. But once they realized how bad things were, that was it. I began staying with them before Xmas 2013.

I forgot to mention that since I accidentally overstayed my visa because of the former employer, along with reporting to the local immigration office, I was banned from returning to the United Kingdom for 1 year. Once I gave up all chances of returning after being shafted by recruitment agencies, I gave up trying to get back to the country and sat out my 1 year ban.

And so many other painful stories of betrayal and outright dismissal, from so-called colleagues, friends & relatives, that I could recount since I hit my rock bottom. (I’m not sure if those people deserve my energy, though.)

But then there are people such as:

  • my (ex-)stepfather who, in spite of us not speaking for 1 year because of an issue, picked me up at the airport upon my arrival home even though he lives in another state and carried my luggage – no questions asked – and gave me money for public transportation to get to interviews without me asking.
  • Joana, who insisted that I stay with her upon my return home, free of charge and refused any of my offers to help otherwise. I didn’t stay long due to other reasons, but for that and her I’m eternally grateful.
  • my aunt & uncle, who’ve housed me, which has helped me rebuild my life slowly but surely. Among countless other things, aunt bought me a coat and interview clothing also.
  • Dashima, who supported my fundraiser and sent me flowers when I finally got a job after almost 8 months of no luck.
  • Juma, who gave me his old coat until I got a new one, and provided other support.
  • those who gave me emotional and/or financial and/or other support and didn’t have to – Ellen & her husband storing my stuff in England, Sherri helping me pack, Sherri (again) & her husband cooking for me, Nadine helping me pack, Dacia, Gary, Johanna, Uzma, Twana, Sharon S., Natalie & Emmon, Ruth, Atiba, my 2 main Facebook group members, and so many others I wouldn’t expect.
  • the many people who sent me job postings.
  • the people who don’t know me in real life or online but believed me and believed in me more than enough to help, no questions asked.

I know I’ve forgotten some names, but I hope those people know my heart.

I think things are beginning to look up.

  • I’ve worked since March 2014, after almost 8 months of unemployment with no benefits of any kind.
  • I’ve paid down some debt.
  • I joined a gym to return to healthier living.
  • I’m studying for my next highest credential (or qualification, for those of you overseas).
  • My aunt, uncle and I get along very well overall, which is definitely a challenge for an introvert like me.
  • I have travels coming up within the next 2 months; my travel bug is finally back. (I’ll leave the travels as a surprise for now.)
  • And last, but certainly not least, I’ve been able to help others with no strings attached. It warms my heart to help those who can never pay it back (nor do they have to try). I’m just grateful to be able to do it. (I’m very selective, however.)
Finally (little by little).
Finally (little by little).

I sit here, typing this with tears in my eyes. (A few of ’em even fell.) Some feel like sad tears, but more feel like grateful tears. For those who left me when I needed it most, farewell. For the rest of you, I’m eternally grateful. I thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart.

Little by little, step by step, day by day.

The world returning to my fingertips.
The world returning to my fingertips.
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Unsung heroine.

I learned about Mary Seacole about 9 months after moving here. She was the Black equivalent of America’s Florence Nightingale.

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October is Black History Month in the United Kingdom. I like it more here because it’s longer than in the United States (February – 28 days long, 29 days long every 4 years) and, in my area, there are lots of things going on during the month to celebrate, reflect & remember. For example, I had the honour of hearing Kofi Annan (Wikipedia link) speak earlier this month, and I’ll see another international figure of Black heritage speak later this month. But for now, I’d like to highlight a Black history figure who hasn’t received (well overdue) attention until recently, within the past few years.

I learned about Mary Seacole (Wikipedia link) about 9 months after moving here. An art gallery hosted an organisation, focused on raising funds to build a statue in her name, to talk about this little-known woman who made a big impact in Britain. She was the Black equivalent of Florence Nightingale.

I took photos of the painted portraits of Mary Seacole during the discussion, but unfortunately I can’t find them. If or when I do, I’ll add them to this post. In the meantime, check out Mary Seacole by going to the link below, expand your knowledge & learn you something. 😉

October is Black History Month – Mary Seacole

Consider donating to the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue fund.

Mary Seacole.
Mary Seacole.

Fashionably late.

I attended my first ever, bona fide fashion show with 3 women. (Meetup is the best.) But before you see the photos, I’ll briefly open a window (just a bit) into a small part of my life.

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09.22.2012

I actually was “fashionably late” due to missing the train. I’d say that my style reflects New York City, but… well… suffice it to say that no one asks me for fashion tips.

Pardon, I’m rambling.

Anyway, I attended my first ever, bona fide fashion show with 3 women. (Meetup is the best.) But before you see the photos, I’ll briefly open a window (just a bit) into a small part of my life.

Before moving here, I was small. Throughout my life I was either teased for being too skinny, or told “I wish my body was like yours” (or some variation thereof). I could eat almost anything I wanted, in any amount, when I wanted. Freshman 15? Never happened to me. I was never overweight. In spite of this, I didn’t like myself.

Fast forward to now, and I’ve gained weight since moving here – never been overweight in my life until now. You never miss what you had until it’s gone and in my case, I wish that I appreciated my health & body more. I’m not used to it and it affects me a lot, negatively. (NOTE: This is not about looking down on overweight or obese people, so don’t pen any hate mail.) Being unable to fit most of my old clothing, yet not knowing where to find affordable & fitting clothing, made me look & feel slovenly (along with any other negative feelings). This was especially so in 2011.

Toward the end of 2011, I re-evaluated many things in my life and decided that working just to pay bills wasn’t worth it – mentally, financially, physically or emotionally. I resolved to make myself more of a priority in 2012 and beyond, and I’ve done alright so far. However, figuring out clothing sizes & cuts & colours & etc. was/is still a bit of a challenge. I also sustained an injury that has made it hard for me to work out & lose weight. (Getting older isn’t much help with weight loss either.) I found out about a stylist’s Meetup workshop and got a free ticket. Her tips gave me some ideas about where to start, as fashion has never really been my forté.

Little by little, the tips are helping, along with attending the show. Not only did I see women of different shapes & sizes (dressed better than me, no exaggeration), races & ethnicities, I also got a look into some of the latest trends. I know that I’ll never be a true fashionista (mostly because I generally hate shopping), and I may never dress like a true European (of any race or ethnicity), but I’m developing my style and now have an idea of what’s classic, current & fitting for me. I’m trying to work with what I have, no matter my size.

Alright… enough about me. I and the 3 women had a nice time; we wandered around for a few hours & each got something to bring home for ourselves. One even scored a great DKNY denim jacket for a decent price. Check out a small sample of the show’s offerings.

Kat & Bee. http://www.katandbee.co.uk/
Kat & Bee. http://www.katandbee.co.uk/
The Branch. http://www.the-branch.co.uk/
The Branch. http://www.the-branch.co.uk/
MariaFrancescaPepe. http://www.mfpepe.com/
MariaFrancescaPepe. http://www.mfpepe.com/
Vivienne Westwood. http://www.viviennewestwood.co.uk/shop/womens-accessories/shoes/
Vivienne Westwood. http://www.viviennewestwood.co.uk/shop/womens-accessories/shoes/
American vintage. www.cashmerebytania.com
American vintage. http://www.cashmerebytania.com
Free (and purchased) goodies.
Free (and purchased) goodies.

The following photos are from the ALICE by Temperley catwalk show. ALICE by Temperley is a collection under the Temperley London line.

Caroline Flack, host for ALICE by Temperley catwalk show.
Caroline Flack, host for ALICE by Temperley catwalk show.

And here’s one of my small purchases from Kat & Bee.

If you’re a fellow expatriate, have you experienced body changes? How did they affect you (if at all)? How did you adjust to the changes? Are you pleased with the changes, or are you learning to work with what you have?

No pomp & circumstance.

It’s always amusing to me when I go home or have telephone and/or e-mail conversations, and people say things like…

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https://twitter.com/#!/spinstercompass/status/179310141122940929

It’s always amusing to me when I go home or have telephone and/or e-mail conversations, and people say things like

So, did you have tea & crumpets with the Queen?

LOVE the British accent! (because there’s only one, of course) Everyone sound so posh & proper over there.

Everyone is so well off over there! You’re so lucky!

And my favorite:

There are projects over there???!?!?

Pip pip cheerio.
Pip pip cheerio.
How splendid.
How splendid.

If one thinks about it, I wouldn’t be here if my services weren’t needed. If this place was as perfect as many imagine it to be, I’d be in Switzerland instead. (Does Switzerland even need have social services?) To make things simple for those folks who may or may not read this, think of Washington, D.C. in the United States. The person considered to be the most powerful man on the planet – the President of the United States – lives there in a beautiful House, yet less than 5 miles away are some of the roughest neighborhoods in the nation.

Check out my photos below to get a better idea of the conditions which I work in every day.

Empty.
Empty.
Schoolyard.
Schoolyard.

Neighborhood homeless woman.
Neighborhood homeless woman.

SMH.
SMH.
Notorious estate, empty & condemned.
Notorious estate, empty & condemned.
View from a doorway.
View from a doorway.

Pomp & circumstance? Not really. Real life? Yes.

The Riots 4 – street debate.

Somehow or another, the people who live & thrive off of conspiracy theories (either one or all of the conspiracy theories) seem to find me. All I wanted to do was take a few pictures, maybe a video, go to the grocery store quick, and go back to the office. But it doesn’t work that way, it’s never that simple.

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https://twitter.com/#!/spinstercompass/status/104262483761573888

“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.

Part of the "love wall".
Part of the "love wall".

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.

Work here = Work everywhere.

I guess now is a good time to talk about what I do for a living. I work in social services. It’s something I decided to do as a teenager…..

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I guess now is a good time to talk about what I do for a living.

I work in social services. It’s something I decided to do as a teenager, when I saw the work that my father did. He wasn’t a social worker by trade, but his community work was admirable – working with drug addicts, people with HIV/AIDS (who were also often drug addicted), mentally challenged teenagers, etc. I wanted to become a doctor or find a cure for HIV/AIDS, but then I decided that I might make a bigger difference by doing the same things as my father. As a result, I studied a few different social sciences in college and went on to graduate school.

The United Kingdom, especially England, has a historic shortage of people willing to work in social services. The reasons are varied & complex, but to make it simple for you:

– underpaid
– underappreciated
– overworked
– overwhelmed
– bureaucracy on a massive level
– challenging families – poverty, deprivation, desperation, etc.
– burn-out and, as a result, high turn-over rates

(In 2009, the Local Government Association basically begged retired/ex-social workers to come back because of the shortage.)

To remedy this, one of the ways that the United Kingdom tries to fill in vacancies is by recruiting overseas on a heavy basis – the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, etc. That’s how I got here. Overseas recruiting worked for a while, until now. With the world economy already up Shit’s Creek, the United Kingdom, like most or all of continental Europe, has taken many austerity measures to close gaping budget gaps. One of these measures will likely target overseas recruiting (if it hasn’t already – depending on what part of the United Kingdom one resides in), which will likely lead to an increase in social service vacancies….. Why? Because despite heavy PR campaigns in & outside of the United Kingdom, the image of social workers by the public is quite tarnished due to high-profile child abuse cases that took place over the past 10-15 years – Victoria Climbie (detailed story – Wikipedia) & Baby P (detailed story – Wikipedia) are glaring examples. As a result, there aren’t many people willing to attend school for & work in the profession. And honestly, I’m not sure why in the world I keep doing this because all the above reasons apply to me too. 😐

And as you might imagine, the many vacancies will affect families, as well as the way that social care agencies provide services. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that it’s a vicious cycle that occurs everywhere, worldwide.

To be more specific to my experience, I work for the local government in children’s services with the aim of keeping children ages 11-17 out of (foster) care. Although cases of child abuse and/or neglect aren’t part of my department’s services (that’s the job of child protection), the area in which I work is pretty deprived. Here are some statistics:

– According to the 2001 census, the area is 63% white, 16% black African and 8% black Caribbean
– Broken down further, this particular area is one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the United Kingdom
– High-crime area with high levels of gang violence, for which it has a notorious reputation
– Most crimes here (and throughout the United Kingdom) occur as stabbings since guns are illegal here
– Great Britain overall has seen an increase in gun crime & gangs in recent years even though guns are illegal here
– The area has the highest teenage (under 18) conception rate in the United Kingdom (and if I remember correctly, in Europe)
– The area has high STD (or, as they’re known here, STI) infection rates

(The only reason that I’m not specifying from where I obtained these statistics is for privacy & personal concerns; hopefully readers will understand.)

Well, there you have it. Welcome to my (work) world.
______________________

For further information about the aforementioned topics, check out the following links:

Europe hit by wave of anti-austerity protests – The Guardian
Austerity in Europe – Financial Times
Workers in Europe protest austerity measures – New York Times

Operation Trident – BBC News
10 years of Operation Trident – Time Out London
Operation Trident may be ditched in spending cuts – The Guardian
Gangs in the United Kingdom – Wikipedia (pardon me for posting a Wikipedia link)
Drop The Weapons/Stop The Guns
London Street Gangs – Blogspot
Los Angeles (California, United States) gangs take over UK streets – The Sun (warning: a bit sensationalist)
Teen gangs of Britain – The Mirror (warning: a bit sensationalist)
Police identify 169 London gangs (as of 2007) – Current TV

Images for Victoria Climbie (WARNING: GRAPHIC)
(Victoria) Climbie report urges childcare reform – BBC News
Baby P & Victoria Climbie tragedies synonymous with reforms to system – The Telegraph
Timeline: Victoria Climbie – BBC News
Baby P: The official files – The Independent
Couple behind Baby P death named – BBC News
Bonus link – Timeline: Khyra Ishaq’s death – BBC News