Wine and Vermicelli in Cambridge

wine pharmacology

Yesterday morning I thought to myself: ‘I should write a note comparing my Cambridge wine drinking to my Trini wine drinking.’ It’s interesting because in Trinidad I don’t really drink any alcohol. In the UK however, I tend to drink it at a frequency that is ‘unheard of’ to the version of me that lives in Trinidad. By yesterday morning, for example, I’d already attended 3 Cam events where wine was served, and I’d altogether drunken at least 4 glasses of free wine at those events. Over the past year in Trinidad though, I’d drunken wine a grand total of NADA; ZILCH times. 
The first Cambridge wine event was part of departmental graduate orientation. Students and lecturers gathered in a room with small eats and bottles of wine on the table. We were free to pour ourselves wine and take things to eat, after which we were expected to make our way around the room socializing and sipping. The second event was very similar, however, it was smaller: my research group as opposed to the department. I spoke to a number of people there, about topics ranging from ‘research in the UN’ to ‘the origin of sawine and where to find vermicelli in England’. For info, I’ll mention one answer to the second topic: I found vermicelli tucked away on the bottom shelf in the ‘World Foods’ aisle in a big Tesco supermarket… and sawine originated in Pakistan. Pakistani folks also make sawine during Eid-ul-Fitr; with milk, elichee (cardamom) and vermicelli. Perhaps it is common to have wine receptions at UWI, I don’t know…. I’ve never been invited to one, and neither have I happened across one. Either way, after my morning wonderings about whether I should write about those 4 glasses of wine, I unexpectedly and randomly happened across another wine reception that afternoon.
It was at the Pharmacology Department. I was liming with my friend Himansha, a PhD student there. We were having a very interesting discussion that moved between education, privilege, representation, discrimination and assumptions grounded in ignorance, when people started filtering into the room. Soon enough, I found myself in the midst of a wine reception (pictured). Apparently someone from Pharmacology was leaving the department, therefore: wine reception! Himansha and I decided to partake in this event that had enveloped us. I picked up a glass of red wine and awkwardly walked through the group, before heading back to sit at a table with a romantic-looking colourful, candle-looking light. It was an amusing end to an interesting afternoon, and Himansha showed me around the labs and told me a bit about the research they were working on before we hugged and said ‘Bye’ for the time being. I then headed over to the Psychology department, where another wine reception was in progress. I was a bit worried about going to that reception, because I’m no longer a member of the Psychology department, and neither was I invited to the event… but I really wanted to be there. The Psych reception was to bid farewell to some lovely folks, including Diane (the librarian) and Rachel (the graduate administrator): two of my fave people in Cambridge who I’d visited shortly after arriving in September. I had to be there to say ‘Bye and all the best!’

I was a bit sheepish as I approached the room with the reception, feeling worried that I’d feel out of place, that people might look at me a bit oddly, like “What is she doing here?” or worse yet, “Who is she?”. My worries were needless though, because before I approached the room, Rita (the Guyanese graduate secretary for Psychology in Cam) saw me, smiled brightly and said ‘Hi, Kalifa! You came to say bye. Rachel is inside. We have cake!’ I smiled back and said that I just had to come. Rita went into the kitchen and I entered the seminar room where the reception was taking place. Susan, a Professor in Psychology, saw me, smiled and also said ‘Hi Kalifa!’ By this point, I was feeling fully welcome and lost every bit of guilt for crashing the reception. I took my coat off and left it on a chair… and began my socializing. Whilst speaking to Diane, Rita brought me cake and asked if I wanted wine. I said, ‘Yes, I’ll have some wine. Thanks!’ As Rita walked off, I turned to Diane, who I’d been speaking to, and said, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t be getting wine. I just left a wine reception at Pharmacology that I randomly found myself at, and so perhaps I’ve already had enough for the night.’ Diane then paused, looked down at one of her hands (she was holding an almost empty glass of red wine in it), and then looked at her other hand (she was holding an opened bottle of wine in it). She then looked back up at me, smiled, gave a little nervous laugh, tilted her head slightly and gave me a look that said: ‘perhaps I’ve had enough wine too!’

A walk through a cemetery on Mill Road


As I entered this morning, I heard the voices of many children… playful, lively… but I could only see two children standing, relatively quietly, behind a gravestone. I looked to see where the many voices were coming from, and as my eyes searched, I saw little shadows moving, shifting behind the trees. The juxtaposition of death and the children playing between the trees, amongst the gravestones was slightly eerie, and one of the most poetic visual representations of human transience that I might have ever happened upon. The scene was both a reminder of the grim fragility of life, and the beautiful hope and possibility that it might be. It was a bit difficult to stop my mind wondering into thought in the moment, but I was late for a meeting and so I continued on my walk. The children’s voices gently faded into the background as I walked along the path. As my steps progressed, the children’s playful laughter melted into a snoring sound. Again, I couldn’t identify where the sound was coming from, until I saw an older man, hunched over on a bench ahead of me. The closer I drew to him, the louder the snoring became. I thought to myself, ‘How curious is it that one would sink into such a deep sleep in a cemetery?’ I walked past the sleeping man, thought back to the children playing earlier, and wondered to myself for a moment: How often does one walk through a live play on the stages of life and the gently sloping levels of consciousness?

Diane…so much more than the librarian

diane and me2

She had red hair when I first met her, but this time, it was blond. She said that she remembered when she met my mom and I in 2013. She told me that my mom and I had just arrived at the Psychology building, and she was carrying a stack of things back to the library. I said, with a smile, “Yes, I remember!”. In my mind I was smiling even more at the fact that Diane remembered that day too; it made me feel special that she did. Diane is the Department of Psychology Library librarian at Cambridge University, and I went to visit her recently when I got back to Cambridge. I had to say ‘Hi!’ again now; because at the time when I felt the most lost in this city— back when I first got here in 2013— Diane was joyful, welcoming and keen on helping me get myself sorted and settled in. She made me feel worth pausing from work to help. When we met two years ago, and she was carrying that stack of things, she’d invited mom and I to follow her, and we did. She spoke to us as we walked toward the library. She then offered to register me to the library and was willing to help beyond everything we’d asked. Up until that point, I’d met very few strangers in Cambridge who were so nice, so warm, so genuinely considerate, and she made a huge impact on my outlook; she made me feel that it wouldn’t be so bad being alone in a new place once my parents returned to Trinidad.
So, when I got back to Cambridge this year, she was one of the first people I visited, despite the fact that I’m no longer in the Psychology Department. We chatted for a while. She asked me if it’s difficult being away from my parents and if I miss them. I told her ‘yes, sometimes I do’. She gave me a knowing look, a thoughtful look, and then said, ‘I miss my daughters very much. They’ve both gone away now, and we Skype… but it’s not the same. [They’re studying away I believe; at least one is in the US] Sometimes you just want to be there close to them, to hug them. We do activities together over Skype sometimes. Do you Skype with your parents?’ I responded that Yes, sometimes I do. We continued to speak, and as she continued to speak of her daughters, and I of my parents, I felt this strange sense that in a way she was sharing with me the type of empathetic concern that my parents might feel for me as a daughter in a foreign land…. and my only hope was that as I spoke from the perspective of being a daughter away from home, that I similarly was giving her the gift of having her feel more certain that her kids were fine and missed her too.
Diane and I had a lovely convo; she’s so incredible at making you feel welcome, important and as though you’re in a home away from home, and so, when she whispered to me, ‘I’m leaving the library soon. I’m going to teach in a preschool!’, I felt both saddened and happy. Sad: because I love knowing that Diane’s there in Psychology. I love knowing that I can see her and catch a smile, short convo and a genuinely caring ‘Hi, How are you?’. I know that I’ll miss her presence there. But I was happy because I absolutely believe that she’d make a wonderful, kind-hearted teacher. ‘Working with children will be so joyful’, she said, ‘I think that it will be great for me at this point in my life. I know that it’s really late to change careers now. I’m thinking of doing my PGCE; I’d really love to work with children and I’m excited for the new job!’ …and I agree with her, and if my recommendation was worth anything, I’d recommend her for the new job; because I have no hesitance in my belief that she’d be an excellent teacher, that her students will love her, that she’d bring joy wherever she journeys in life.

Who was it that previously worked on a Japanese TV-show and is now studying Education?

phd induction

I haven’t yet written about actually starting my Phd; which is what I’m here for. This post remedies that. We’d been sitting down through induction lectures… I’d enjoyed them very much; they did what they had to do quite well and I left feeling at ease about what I’d chosen to pursue. Over the course of orientations, Dr. Nidhi Singal, FERSA, the librarians and Doctors Panayiotis Antoniou and Riikka Hofmann presented. As is common with inductions and orientations though, we had a ‘get to know each other’ activity. I had chosen a blue sheet of paper from a box at the front of the classroom for the activity. Written on it was “I used to work on Japanese prime-time TV (Fugi TV channel) with ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano.” I didn’t know of this ‘Takeshi’, but my task was to find the person who wrote about working on Japanese TV with him, whilst someone who would have chosen my paper, had to find me. There were about 65 students in the room, and my eyes first darted to various Asians. I knew that anyone, not just Japanese Asians, could have worked on Japanese TV. I even figured later on that perhaps the person who’d think it interesting to write down that they had worked on Japanese TV might actually not be Japanese (and not look like a typical Japanese person would) at all, but still, in my mind, I figured that an Asian, Japanese person most likely wrote it down. So, after narrowing down my search, I went around saying ‘Hi, did you work on Japanese TV?” to various people who looked more likely to be Japanese; that is, the East Asian folks. A Taiwanese (I think that she said she was Taiwanese) girl gave me a confused ‘Whattt?? Noo” look. Various other folks we just like ‘No, that’s not me”. We all had one clue, and that was the colour of the piece of paper the person was holding. I had written my note on a green sheet, but had chosen the note of someone who wrote on a blue sheet… and so I went around primarily meeting Asian looking folks holding blue sheets of paper. After having a couple people ask me if I was their person, and after asking a few people myself if they were mine, I figured that I should ask more non-East-Asian looking folks. I asked a girl who looked Indian, a white girl, a white guy, and I kept going around asking folks… but I couldn’t find the person whose paper I got. I stood still for a moment, looking around the room, and began slowly walking again. Just then, a cheerful, full-figured, middle-aged white woman with a British accent stopped me and asked if I am an artist who did such and such. My face lit up, and I said ‘YES!!” That’s me!” She looked all ‘YAYY!!’, I smiled all ‘YAYY!’, and then there was a brief moment of silence. I looked at her, already fixing my face into an expression of ‘I know this might sound weird asking you, but…’, before asking her “By chance, did you work on Japanese TV?” She lit up, laughed and said “YES!! I did, with Takeshi Kitano. What are the odds that we got each other’s paper?!! We should get a mathematician to calculate that!” We both laughed, and continued chatting. She’d lived in Japan for 8 years, and like me, was also doing her research on Educational technology. It was a lovely meeting. She was a wonderful person. I did feel pretty stupid though after for having assumed that the person whose paper I got was most likely Asian. It was a great exercise though… It reemphasized for me that you can never appreciate the rich intricacy of someone’s story just by looking at them.

Race based hurt

parkers piece bus luton

Last night, I got back to Cambridge after a bus ride from Luton. After exiting the bus, with a suitcase and a huge bag, I stood for a moment looking around…scanning the area. I was looking for a taxi. A tall, white man stopped, smiled and asked me in the kindest of ways, with an English accent, “Do you know where you’re going?”. I smiled back and replied, “Thanks, yes, I know”. He then laughed a little, smiled again and said, “Alright, Cheers!!”. He then went on his way, pulling his suitcase behind him. I smiled to myself for a short while, and I thought to myself too after coming to a realisation…. because up until that moment, I didn’t know that I was carrying around a chip on my shoulder.
It’s a two year old chip, hurt, pain. When I first got to Cambridge two years ago, another tall, white guy completely ignored my parents and I as we asked for directions. It was during the day time, as we stood on a corner waiting for the street light to change so that we could cross. He wouldn’t even look at us, and I felt invisible, slighted and hurt. Since then, I had received help from various other white people during the daytime, but it was unpredictable. However, when I tried to stop folks to ask for direction in the nighttime, I was ignored… always ignored or brushed off as far as I can recall— unless the person I asked wasn’t white. So, I started discriminating in who I asked for help. Thing is, I know that I can’t judge all white people based on those encounters. I know that it’s a broad, damaging and dangerous generalization to think ‘white folks in England won’t help you out with directions in the nighttime’. Knowing that that was a harmful generalization that was almost certainly untrue, I didn’t believe that I was carrying around any particular hurt. But when that man stopped last night, and offered to help, I felt the strangest feeling…. I felt as though a weight was lifted, as though he righted all the little hurts I’d been carrying around. Little hurts that I didn’t even know I was still holding on to. He’ll never know how big a moment stopping to help then was for me, both in coming to self-awareness and in personal growth…. but it was, and I’m grateful that his helpfulness allowed me to heal and to align my emotions with what I knew to be true.