New Year Resolution – Take I

I gave up making New Year’s resolutions a while ago as like many I did not manage to keep them a few weeks past the beginning of January.

Yet add some friends, the sea and some gentle pressure about camping and before you know it I’ve declared that I will camp overnight in the desert, possibly near the sea in 2017.

Allegedly, having someone keep you accountable is one of the recommendations for sticking to your resolutions. I made this announcement in front of 2 camping keen buddies, their hubby, my older son and my other half.

So I guess it’s time to add a tent, blow up bed, torch, etc. to the shopping list.

Who’s keeping you accountable for your new year’s resolution?

Sane ranting

I recently transferred to work in the Mental Health Service. Unfortunately like most parts of the world, Cinderella would feel at home. Fortunately, never mind a prince, there’s a team of clinicians and managers primed to change the fables that surround mental health care.

Like all good tales there are and will be advances and setbacks, villains and heroes, hopes raised, dashed and resurrected, tandem comedic and tragic moments and idealism balanced with a pragmatic approach.

I once had the experience of hearing from a recently appointed Department of Health policy advisor. He was addressing a crowd of people with over a thousand years of aggregated mental health experience without any deference or recognition of their experience or knowledge. My nurse colleague and I regarded each other with incredulity and sympathy. Why hadn’t they listened to the real experts during their ‘consultation’?  Why would I have to try and convince the workers at the coalface to implement something they knew was doomed to fail?

My personal Brexit was spurred on by being one of the maligned managers manically trying to implement ill-conceived ideas of politicians. And if I hadn’t already left, Hunt’s statement that introducing a general “manager class” in the NHS may have been “an historic mistake” would have had me considering claiming asylum in a foreign land.

It’s great to be in a place where my skills are desired and sought; my arrival to the department was greeted with joy and relief; and within days colleagues were asking for my help with getting things done.

In the desert, the West is often touted as the vanguard from models of healthcare to press freedom. I’m not a fan of blanket neo-colonialisation especially after seeing the front cover of an American magazine emblazoned with ‘Trapped With A Madman’  and a  headline inside  declaring ‘Kim’s Nightmare: Trapped With A Madman.’”

I guess the whole world has a long way to go when it comes to our mental health.

At this hectic time, how is your mental health?

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving – that’s so American

Black Friday – that’s so… wait orgiastic mindless buying  overpriced things we neither need nor want made by underpaid people in countries we’d struggle to place on a map… bring it on!

I find it fascinating how we can be so dichotomous in our thinking.

Got me thinking about what I was grateful for while filliing my online baskets …for the kids, Godchildren… maybe one or two for me.

I must say having had my bro and sis in law over in early November, made me more cognizant that:

  • Its great to have siblings by birth and by law and by extension family
  • distance need not weaken bonds
  • where I live and how I live is amazing as I saw it afresh through their eyes
  • sometimes you need visitors to encourage you to do or see things you just never get round to doing or seeing– so finally after 6 years we went sand dune bashing and saw the inland sea

It was wonderful to tune into the spirit of this holiday, thanks to Mohadoha  and family with whom we had dinner on Thursday night. And without getting into the ever reducing circular conversations about Christmas and national day celebrations in my part of the desert.



It’s the last day of October so time for …

…my sister’s birthday. Aww!  There’s lots to say about my younger-but-taller-always-stylish-recently-become-a-mum sister but not today… (Sorry sis). Because the majority of the world (sorry sis) celebrates Halloween on 31 October. Or do they?

Before kids, I happily ignored this holiday. But now, there are so many questions and viewpoints. Whether religious or not, many parents have differing views on this holiday.

My fundamental concern about Halloween is its apparent one-sided-ness: celebrating the dark and the dead while shunning the light and the living. It’s great this year that it falls around the same time as Diwali – the Hindu festival of light – which unless you are a strict (insert name of your faith) if you’re a Trinbagonian you lay claim to. But I digress…

This is further complicated by guilt, having grown up Catholic in the Caribbean, I have memories of vigil mass as the 1st of November is All Saints Day (saints are those who are in heaven whether beatified or not according to Catholic dogma) and the 2nd November was about going to the graves and/or praying and lighting candles for the faithfully departed who were in purgatory. But I digress…

Instead of being mired in the merde (excuse my French), this is what we’ll be doing:
• dressing up – Superman or fireman – super-heroes or ordinary day heroes
• lighting candles in remembrance of those no longer with us
• stocking up on sweets
• distributing to anyone who knocks
• discussing difference, tolerance and acceptance
• decorating – not – the house
• making memories with friends

Wishing you light, love and blessings whatever you’re celebrating …

For Changalang

I’ll wear pink

I’ll  laugh with abandon

I’ll bawl without care

I’ll hug my kids for a bit longer

I’ll hold my husband’s gaze

I’ll reach out to friends and family

Memories flow

Aunty Patsy’s pow and lime juice at recess

Shooting the breeze on ‘the bench’

Cedros for Mr Archie’s Geography project

You explaining the circulatory system in Human and Social Biology

Our unabashed pleasure of making our balance sheets.. uhm balance in Principles of Accounting

Dissecting the Saddhu of Couva in English Literature

Blissing out in Mayaro after CXC

I’ll be pleased we hooked up that one time

You said it was like your birthday come early

MB had also been in touch

We had lunch bemoaning our weight gain

Chided a certain JAC

For not changing since SJC

In your passing

We’ll live and

Your essence will live on

Guava whippings and writing

Having read Woman’s Weekly since I was about five, I’ve dreamt of being published in this magazine. In the desert, it’s a slice of Britannia which I often have with a mug  of tea(Yorkshire,builder’s).

Having had a letter and a photo published, my holy grail is a short story.  Some sources recommend breaking into Buckingham Palace as an alternative. A writing magazine columnist, who makes a significant portion of her income from selling her short stories worldwide, has had limited success in over a decade. She has neither confirmed nor denied meeting the Queen.

Having perused the submission guidelines, I decided to do one of their writing courses. This plan was scuppered by the Great British Passport Fiasco of 2014.

Deleting this from my Ultimate Wish List has been considered and dismissed, often.

Having read, studied, dissected, analysed, critiqued, examined scores of others’ stories; I have drafted, edited, rewritten and proofed several of mine. Out of many, one was chosen to be redrafted, critiqued and rewritten several times before being polished. Same was done with the covering letter. With a hope and a prayer, both were posted.

Eight weeks later, I received a rejection letter. Gutting but expected – part of the writing life. Two lines stung like the welts of a guava whip: the suggestion that I should read the magazine as the story did not reflect the audience and I should consider their fiction course.

As they say in the desert…What to do yani?

Khinkali, khachapuri and churchkhela

And wine…I love a Merlot or a Colombard or a Rosé – when it comes to wine I’m neither fussy nor knowledgeable. What I do know for sure is that Georgia may be one of the most underrated wine producers in the world. In years to come, Mukhrani, Badagoni and Marani will slip off the tongue as easily as any Western European, Australasian or South American wine house.

Dumplings the size of your palm? Choose your fillings: pork and beef, mushroom, cheese or potato? That’s a khinkali – reminded me of pow (Trinidad Chinese dumpling). These steamed beauties were as ubiquitous as they were delicious. Georgian pizza would be a lazy way of describing khachapuri but after you’ve had one, that’s exactly how you’ll feel. Cheese and bread and sometimes a sunny-side-up egg– what’s not to love?

If you have a sweet tooth but trying to stay away from cakes and pastries then churchkhela is the perfect snack. Dried fruit pulp (think Fruit Roll-Ups) wrapped around walnuts. We noticed the sausage-like stalactites of red, purple and peach outside many shops on the way to Meidan place and had to try it and bring some back.

When we weren’t drinking wine or local spring water, we had Georgian lemonade. This was a misnomer as it came in different flavours. I deduced it was cordial which was added to fizzy water. Our favourites were lemon and tarragon. The latter looked like liquid kryptonite and was refreshingly different.

On our last night, our landlady took us to a traditional restaurant about 30 minutes’ drive away in New Tblisi. In this converted watermill, replete with waterfall, we sat on the riverside terrace and ordered a kilogram of bbq pork and a superb red wine. For checking in on FB to the Tsiskvili restaurant, we got a free bottle of sparkling wine which we had been assured was wonderful. The traditional Georgian music, singing and dancing facilitated degustation.

However, to paraphrase a Trinbago saying ‘we eye was bigger dan we belly’. We took some of the pork home and had it for breakfast the next morning and we gave the sparkling wine as a gift to our host.

This is the third and final of three posts abot our visit to Tbilisi.

Tempted to visit?

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?