A synagogue, a mosque and a cathedral

Sounds like the beginning of a non-PC joke but I assure you it isn’t. We passed the Leselidze Street Synagogue every day, considered going in but didn’t, lured by the opportunity to have coffee from George’s coffee pot stand. Though this synagogue was built in 1910, a Jewish presence in Georgia dates from the times of Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BC.

Similarly, with the Tbilisi mosque which serves both the Sunni and Shia Muslims, we didn’t go in but found ourselves in the midst of the faithful pouring out after Friday noon prayer. We’d just finished our wander through the botanical gardens and physiological matters like food and drink were on our minds.

We probably could have spent all of our time visiting churches. We tried but failed to locate the one and only Roman Catholic Church. However, we couldn’t miss the Kashveti Church of St George which is opposite the Parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue. Time drifted as we admired the frescoes and observed the rituals of the faithful.

With our last morning falling on a Sunday, it seemed only fitting to go to mass. We trekked across the Metekhi bridge, and up the cobbled streets, to the Metekhi church under (or so it seemed) the watchful presence of King Vakhtang Gorgasali, founder of Tbilisi. There were people spilling onto the porches but other worshippers squeezed in so we followed. Inside, there was standing room only, as there were no pews. The priest called out and the choir and sometimes the congregation responded. I didn’t understand a word, so no different from going to mass in the desert then. Yet wrapped in a blanket of incense, the dim light of the spaghetti-like candles and the potent faith of my fellow worshippers, I felt the Divine.

The Metekhi church dates from the 13th century and is currently being repaired so scaffolding mars its façade but does not detract from the beauty of its compact garden where we sat admiring the hibiscus flowers. The same hibiscus flowers can be found in the grounds of Sameba (Holy Trinity) Cathedral which we visited the day before.

Even God has to air out his carpets as we found several basking in the sun on the side steps of the Cathedral. Once you entered there were no pews, just a lot of open space, a barred off throne area in the middle and hundreds of icons of Jesus, the apostles, saints especially St George. People milled around, repeatedly making the sign of the cross, kneeling and lighting candles. The difference to a Catholic or Protestant cathedral was at first overwhelming but I soon settled into looking at the icons and one of Jesus drew me as the light made his eyes twinkle. I gave thanks for my good fortune and prayed for my parents, husband and sons. I lit my candles including one for Val, the recently deceased aunt of a friend. She wasn’t religious but I remembered her all the same.

This is the second of three posts about our visit to Tblisi, Georgia.

Nature and Culture – a walk away

We were nearly extras in a Bollywood film. No, we didn’t go to India. We were in Tbilisi. Capital of Georgia – former USSR, not southern USA.

This was a holiday of many firsts – not just the first without the boys since the boys but also our first trip to Eurasia and our first AirBnB experience. Any one of these is enough to give one the jitters but I’m thrilled to say that much ventured, much more gained. I had no preconceived notions as one does of Paris, London or Barcelona. I did have a few expectations: access to nature, culture and food within a walking distance. Tbilisi far exceeded this expectation.

We stayed within a 10 minute walk to Rustaveli Avenue (named after the13 c poet). In the middle of the square is a huge plinth on which St George and the dragon reside in golden splendour. Our aim was to wander down to visit the museums and the Kashkeveti church but we got sidetracked by the Garden of the First Republic- a lovely square with mature trees and bushes. Kids were playing with their parents and grandparents while workers took a break. We sat and basked in the 35 degrees Celsius sun and enjoyed the breeze. So normal but so different from the 40+ degree heat we left behind in the desert.

We eventually made it to the National Gallery – lots of modern art: the ones that make you think that an unsupervised kindergarten class was let loose in a Hobbycraft store. Definitely not my thing. A quick exit and a hop to the National Museum where we spent over 4 hours. The basement boasted a display to rival any of the great jewellery houses of Paris’ Place Vendome. Many of the treasures featured my favourite gemstones, garnet and turquoise.

Another hall held currency as varied as cowrie shells and coins from 15th century Venice and the Ottoman Empire. The middle floors had exhibitions of contemporary Georgian artists. Many of the pieces were dark and foreboding and were commenting on the Soviet occupation which was explained in a balanced and at times personalized way on the top floor. With expanded hearts and minds yet aching muscles and grumbling tummies, we sought out food and bed.

The following day we crossed the spectacular Peace Bridge into Rike Park where I was a temporary pawn-eater on the gigantic chess-board. We made our way to the cable-cars that took us up to the Narikala fortress and the Kartlis Deda (Mother of Georgia), the 20 metre aluminum statue erected in 1958 to celebrate the 1500th anniversary of Tblisi. Due to her placement on the hill, it is not possible to take pictures imitating her stance, like at the Statue of Liberty (93m) or the Christo Redemptor (38m). This is a shame as in her left hand she holds a bowl of wine to greet those who come as friends and in her right hand is a sword for those who come as enemies.

We opted to descend by ambling through the verdant botanical gardens and wading in a waterfall-created pool. All that greenery and fresh air had us pining for more so the next day found us at Mtatsminda Park which I thought I’d never see due to the driver’s blatant disregard for self-preservation on the 20 minute drive up a winding road. The view into the valley was spectacular. The serenity of the Pantheon to Writers and Artists was worth the vertigo-inducing funicular ride down.

On our final day, we wandered into the market space of the Tblisi museum. We didn’t have time to explore the exhibitions but we perused the art and crafts on sale. We bought a Kakha Khinveli painting of Meidan Place. After a lot of deliberation, we purchased some pottery from the artist Gigisha Pachkoria. These two bowls are a perfect complement to our Denby Coast dinner service, some crockery we bought on the Accra-Kumasi road and a dish we got in Wensleydale, Yorkshire. Made me ponder on how similar we are despite our apparent differences.

This is the first of three posts about our visit to Tblisi, Georgia.

I’ve started, so…

We left Trini with eight suitcases filled with the essentials and a few keepsakes. So when we were moving to the desert, Mum exhorted me to take as much of our stuff as we could. I’m glad we did as it made it easier to settle in with familiar things around us.  If you bought us crockery, cutlery, or a chopping board for a wedding present or placemats or towels for our anniversary or a picture or a candle holder for our birthday – know we use them every day out here.

However, we’ve lived here for over six years and have accumulated a lot more possessions. An abundance of space and an absence of charity shops have meant that I haven’t decluttered as often as I used to do in the UK.

The trip to Ghana was a great motivator and I sorted through our clothes and shoes and sent enough stuff to open a pre-loved stuff boutique.  Once I had the house to myself, I tackled other   areas.  From experience, I know that sorting out stuff can be emotional as a child’s drawing or a ticket stub can so swiftly return you to that space and time that you experience whiplash. So I took my time and didn’t try to do it all.

I went through all of Kwame’s school work from nursery to present day, choosing a few examples to keep in a folder for each year.  I also chose a few to display on his bedroom wall. I’ve got them framed or laminated and now just need to mount them – much cheaper and more original alternative to the norm. I shredded photocopies of documents, ditched plastic containers with no lids and re-purposed bags and bottles for storage and display.

Sometimes challenging, sometimes fun, totally carthatic.  When in doubt I asked myself 3 questions:

Would I want to pay to ship this back home?

Would I want to pay to store this in the UK?

Why am I keeping this?

Usually the answer to the first two was no but the answers to the third were insightful – evidence that I or we had had a certain experience or someone had thought of us usually at a special occasion. And that led to other questions such as ‘Do I need physical proof of love or a time well spent?’, ‘Is the memory not enough?’.’

This process helped me be more ruthless in dispatching many a black bin liner of stuff. Yet some items stirred such strong sentiments that I was unable to detach myself. Maybe next time, maybe under duress or maybe never.

I couldn’t let decluttering get in the way of all that reading so there are books, cds and toys still left to sort. But the boys will be back soon and in a couple weeks, we’ll have ten days off for Eid Al Adha and we can do some of it then and they can help.

It’s not like where planning on moving any time soon but it is good to know that I won’t have to deal with the full flow of emotions of immigrating and sifting through our  life as I’ve witnessed happen to a few people whose contracts were terminated suddenly earlier this year.

Also, it now means that now that I’ve begun, I’m more motivated to complete it and more likely to maintain a low level of buildup. Minimalism isn’t my ideal but I like the lightness of our home and in my spirit.

Is there a project you need to start?

What I’m doing with myself

The boys left for Ghana last Wednesday – the big one for a week, the smaller two for a month. I keep being told that I won’t know what to do with myself. I know I’ve been Kofi’s partner for half of my life and a mother for about a fifth but I’m tempted to respond as they say in Trinbago ‘ah born on meh own’.  Also, there’s the paid work and after that there’s the housework as my helper’s on leave as well.

However, I’ll also be:

Reading

Malling but not looking at stuff of the kids, sports or electronic variety

Reading

Watching a program sans interruption which may involve a ‘perp’ and forensics

Reading

Larking instead of avoiding anger by daring to rouse the owls with whom I roost

Reading

Sleeping early – uninterrupted- letter ‘X’ style- king size bed

Reading

Playing ‘my music’ really loudly

Reading

Drinking a cup of coffee or tea before it gets too cold

Reading

Sharing  mangoes – not

Reading

Going for a quick dip in the pool

Reading

Deciding to leave the house and leaving the house in the space of a few minutes

Reading

Meditating

Reading

Restoring my soul

Did I mention reading?

I’ve finished at least 6 books since last Wednesday and some, well ,all are of the romantic escapism genre that is unjustly criticized and I feel the need to justify, unnecessary I know but killing old habits is hard.

So maybe I’ll reconnect with Morrison or Eliot or Walker and maybe I won’t but this month I’ll certainly be

Reading

What would you do if you had some time to yourself?

Perspectives

Several weeks ago as I was saying bye to friends who had decided to relocate back to their Caribbean isle; I lamented my inability to do the same due to the crime and racism/colourism on mine.

Fast forward a week and there was the vote to leave the European Union by the UK and the subsequent xenophobia, My emotions spiral into an abyss mirroring many others who unlike me were better able to articulate the feeling of being publicly whipped naked in a hail storm while hungry and being told all will be well. I thanked Divine Wisdom for me choosing not to vacation in my adopted home this summer but what about in the long run, when the GCC and I decide to part company…

My American colleague asks me about considering the USA as a place to set up home and I tell him how I once had a NY dream that involved living with my grandmother in Brooklyn, going to college in up-state Syracuse and working for Essence magazine. This was interrupted by my parents’ decision to move to the UK. Since then I’ve viewed America as Europeans do, with prejudice (I know), suspicion and superiority because of their two-week holidays, no statutory maternity pay and the death penalty in several states. We joke about ‘the-ranting-man-who-could-be-President’ and then with more sobriety I add that the land of the free filled me with fear being the mother of two black sons.

Fast forward a week and my daymare became the reality of two more mothers of black sons.

Another colleague is considering Australian citizenship. She was born here and will forever retain nationality of her parents’ birthplace. It’s not Syria yet it’s not a place she wants to return and raise her family. I find it hard to consider Australia – that island is too far from the other islands I call home and then there are the Aborigines.

Fast forward a week and I have just finished reading ‘The Invention of Wings’ by Sue Monk Kidd set in the 1800s as the Abolition of Slavery movement gets going in the USA. Just over two centuries ago. A long time ago or not so long ago? On both sides of the colour and gender lines, folks fought for progress, railing and rallying against the status quo. Feels familiar…

Fast forward a week or two and my boys will hopefully be off to Ghana to see family. Ah Ghana!  And suddenly things don’t look so dark.

2 U

It’s been too many days

Since you went away

Your life continues to resonate…

Awe-inducing talent and

Effort bringing creative vision to fruition, prodigiously.

Daring me to define and live my glamorous life with love.

Urging me to reach out for something new.

Reminding me that we are mortal and

Death comes unexpectedly to most.

 

Sharing my fears of becoming the worst aspects of my parents.

Exhorting me to party as if it’s the beginning of new millennia.

 

Contributing to the soundtrack of my life.

I wish u diamonds and pearls, heaven.

And the horses will not wonder who you are.

They will know that u r …

Taboo no mo’

A video post, paragraphs in a memoir, confidences of friends and I resisted considering to think about it. Memories of others’ secrets and my own suppressed recollections were sunrays breaching my psyche’s black-out curtain. I allowed the memories of unwanted advances and inappropriate conversations by family friends and others and thought it is not as bad as… Is a touch on the face better than a touch on the bum or the breasts? Subconscious subscription to a scandalous scale.  The keeping of the secrets exacerbates the suffering and protects perpetrators everywhere.

Confronting one’s own demons is challenging. Added to the demands of parenting and most fears are magnified.   I can shrug and say I am the mother of two boys but that would be ignorance of the fact that these acts are committed against boys as well. And of course I have relatives and friends who have daughters.

Is it time to question practices in cultures like mine and my husband’s where all adults are called aunty and uncle; potential perpetrators who can self-conceal in plain sight and trust as kids are warned of stranger danger?  One friend’s alternative is that all adults are called by their first name and Mr. or Ms. prefixed for respect and aunty and uncle are reserved for blood relatives or rule-breaking friends like me.

And what about pet names for body parts? flower, petal, front bottom and down there…

My parents and a special aunt encouraged discussion of topics that they would never have dreamt of discussing with their parents. They explained the reasoning behind some of their prohibitions and sometimes expressed that their concern over others’ motivation was more of a driver of their actions than their trust in me. This didn’t prevent the approaches nor my keeping some secret but it did empower me to make life-changing decisions including challenging unwarranted behaviour.

This is my legacy and my husband and I are trying to pass it on to our sons. We are trying to equip them with the intangible and the practical: self-sense and problem solving skills. I also try to be like my special aunt taking time to listen to the kids around me, hoping that they might be able to consider me that adult they could trust.  Sharing our experiences is crucial for self-healing and for prevention and protection of others. I believe our actions and interactions can also be powerful paths to redemption from the pains of our past.

Re-knowing…

I am in a challenging space in my life and it is as if  the river of creativity has been dammed. Yet I know that as surely as we need air, I need to write. So I sought inspiration from myself because when I’m in this fog, reading others’ works just makes me more fogged… I need to be reminded that I am capable of putting one word in front the other in a sensible manner…

I looked into my trove and found a piece I wrote which was published (external validation – we all need it from time to time) in the How Women Work conference magazine 2013 … I think

Pushing Past Resistance to Living your Dream Life

My bookshelves are groaning under the weight of self help volumes promising the elixir of self-actualisation. So why am I still no closer to living the life of my dreams?

Knowing your heart’s desire is kindergarten, mine is writing. Actually doing it is like high school: all those swirling emotions that frequently paralyzed you.  My feelings prevent me from pursuing, never mind realizing my potential. The most potent of these emotions goes by different names. Some say its fear and others resistance. I’m going to call it resistance and define it as the fear of pursuing what you were born to do.

Resistance is like treacle and it offers choices: submit or overcome; live in anxiety or live with freedom; wear a mask or be your authentic self.

My choice of degree and career was motivated by a desire for economic security and subtle but effective familial pressure. In the UK, a fifty-sixty hour work week plus 2 hours a day of commuting was the norm. Here, I tend to work regular hours and have had time to reflect, to remember and rediscover my purpose.

I excel at what I do and this is part of the reason I was able to secure my job in Qatar but it is not my true calling. This is the life am living but there is an unlived life, a dream life and between the two, as Steven Pressfield says in the ‘War of Art’, there is resistance.

Everyone who is following their true calling experiences resistance. The difference between the achievers and the rest is that they act despite the fear. In the last three years I have been swimming out of the swamp sometimes successfully and other times less so. Do I write as often as I should or would like to? Not always but I am making progress. I’ve distilled these actions from the numerous books. They’re helping me move through the molasses, I wish the same for you.

9 Actions to help push past the resistance

  1. Recognise that resistance exists as the sun exists.
  2. Recognise what it looks like for you – societal norms, family expectations, self-fulfilling myths, media projections/suggestions.
  3. Recognise your avoidance activities: internet surfing, eating, retail therapy.
  4. Feel the feeling. Go ahead allow yourself to truly feel the resistance, the anxiety, the fear. Let it rise up in you and let it wash over you. Hold it and own it. Now let it go.
  5. Record the feelings. Even those who claim to not be reflective, find writing out their thoughts cathartic.
  6. Get over yourself. The world needs you to live your passion so stop denying the world your gift. As Marianne Williamson, says in ‘Return to Love’, your playing small does not serve the world.
  7. Record the feelings you would like to experience or think you will have when you are living your dream life. These are usually the opposite of the feelings recorded in point 4. You’ll probably be thinking of ease instead of anxiety, openness instead of blockage, and clarity instead of confusion.
  8. Reach out to others. We are meant for community so if you want to write join or start a writers’ group. Remember two is a group. If you want to get fit, find a class that is calling out to you, be it spin or zumba and do that one class. Better yet invite a friend along and share the babysitting costs.
  9. Get a supporting cast. You are the star of your life. Find people to be your mentors: at work, via their books or their blogs, at seminars and workshops.

However, resistance is a recurring visitor so regular repetition is required. In doing so you will have the most amazing adventure of all: living the life you were born to live.

 

Every day is women’s day

Ashamedly, I had not heard of International Women’s Day before I came to the desert. It took getting involved with How Women Work and its founder Carolin to make me aware of this recognition and celebration of women.

Embarassingly, I knew very little of the suffragette movement until a few weeks ago on a flight I watched the movie Suffragette which gives insight into the movement and its impact on characters who were of different classes.

Admittedly, I haven’t paid much attention to the feminist movement whether it’s the still resonating Germaine or the latest ralliers like Chimamanda.

Aware of my privileges, I conferred the praise on my family. The mother who moved countries to ensure my post-high school education, the grandmothers who worked away and the great-grandmother whose wisdom seemed magnified by her lack of formal education. The men too, the father who told me, at maybe too young an age, that men only want one thing and the importance of my own source of income and a grandfather who educated four girls despite being ridiculed.

Yet, I am increasingly cognizant that I am a beneficiary of the endeavours of many unknown or forgotten thinkers and movers. Not so much a debt but a call to co-create a future where ceilings are removed and boundaries are erased. This future is being created in the present one thought and one action at a time by all genders.

Are you a co-creator of this vision of the future?

Pausing a bit more

After my gym session yesterday, I went to the changing rooms, to have a shower. I turned the tap clockwise but after a minute it was still running cold, so I turned it towards the cold setting, in case it had been fitted wrongly – this happens here! Still no warm water.

I got angry that I could not have a shower. Then, I started to plan how I could get home, have a shower and still make it to work. Then, I panicked as it would mean missing the Sunday morning huddle attended by the Senior Exec team – so my absence would be noted. Then, I panicked some more as I remembered that I had the gift vouchers for the employee of the month that would be awarded at the huddle. Then, I got angrier.

Then, I..paused. There were two more showers, I tried one and it had hot water. While showering, I reflected on how many times I let my emotions dictate my reactions and cloud my decisions.

I’m preparing for a conference at work. It’s huge. I’m having many ‘firsts’ and being tested in my not-so-new communications role. I’ve been putting pressure on myself to make instant decisions or to know all the answers.

My shower experience reminded me, even in and often especially in the midst of the busyness, it is important to pause.

So, today and in the days leading up to the conference and even during the conference, I’m going to…pause.

Do you need to… pause?