Last night I was watching a TV show about people watching other TV shows. The show was called ‘Gogglebox’. One of the people on the show, a woman, was sitting with her family, watching a report about Remembrance Day…. where they remember the people who lost their lives during World War 2. Whilst the woman watched the segment, she remarked to her family: ‘It’s so sad, the war; and there are still wars going on now. People are still fighting. Why can’t we all just get along? When will we find peace?’*(Paraphrased) Shortly after, I switched my focus from the TV show to my mobile, to look at my Facebook news feed, and as I scrolled I saw a comment about an attack in Paris, then a BBC report of the same thing. I called David and said: ‘Did you hear that something happened in Paris, apparently within the last hour? There was a horrible attack, and a lot of people died. I don’t know much else, or who did it, but it seems that ISIS is suspected.’* He looked for more information, and suggested that I switch the TV station to BBC. Surely enough, they were reporting on it: Breaking News.
In that moment, I had a mix of feelings. Negative feelings at first, because so many people had died, normal people who were just going about their daily lives having fun. These were people, like me, who had hopes, dreams, families, plans…and then unexpectedly it was stolen from them. Positive feelings secondly: my loved ones are safe.
–The woman’s comment from Gogglebox replayed in my mind: When will we find peace? —
What struck me about the negativity I felt was that it was slightly more intense than it usually is when a tragedy occurs in another part of the world, and I realized that it felt different because it felt ‘here’. I’m in England now, next to France, within a European context, no longer in Trinidad. This time, I didn’t feel as isolated and distant from the horror… it felt very real; almost as if I could look out the window and see the sky light up a bloody red orange: the faint glow from bombs detonated in Paris. I felt a sense of horror, sadness and fear that I never felt before when such things happen. Usually, I’d be sad, yes, angry, yes, horrified even… but not afraid, and well honestly, less disturbed.
I considered what that said about me. Am I selfish? Perhaps. Is it wrong that I feel even more disturbed and horrified by this massacre now that it’s close; now that I’m actively appreciating commonality of geographic situation and circumstance? Perhaps it’s just that the scale of the attack is beyond that of before, but no, it’s not just that… attacks of an even grander scale have happened elsewhere before, and I felt sorry for the people, but not like this. I didn’t empathise in the way I empathise now. Should my sentiments be the same regardless of where I’m situated; regardless of my proximity to tragedy? Am I a bad person for feeling worse now?
But then I thought; perhaps wholesome sympathy is built on enhanced empathy. Perhaps the lesson isn’t that the pain I feel when others die should be the same regardless; but that I should search for greater ways, within reason, of situating myself within the experience of others. Sympathy is amplified when we can empathise more: when we can see the position of others and imagine the pain that they’re going through more realistically. Being in England allows me that. It’s easier to imagine the pain of those who we can identify points in common with, and so, I guess, my lack of idealistic sympathy stems not only from selfishness, but also from the fact that previously I was less able to place myself in the position of those who suffered. Being in Europe now, I have one more layer of relation to those in pain, and so my immediate empathy has raised a notch. With each added layer of similarity I find, with each added detail I know of those suffering, the greater I’ll be able to feel the pain… the more I’ll be able to scan my own experiences, find points of connection, and empathise in ways that are more real than imagined. As the stories pour out of those who died, and of their loved ones; as the information builds and I can identify more and more of the similarities between their human experience and my own, the stronger I’ll feel. I thought on this for a while… and I imagined how different I might be, or the world might be, if we situated ourselves more in the physical, cultural and emotional reality of others. Perhaps the more layers we uncover, the deeper we delve into how our current position relates to that of those who suffer, the closer we’ll get to appreciating the reality of suffering, and to answering the question of: ‘When will we find peace?’ with ‘Soon’.
In October 2007, I wanted to learn how to make a clay pot, and on my way to visit my grandmother in Freeport, I’d usually drive past a house in Chase Village with a shed at the front. Under and in front of the shed would always be filled with various types of clay pots, and in October-November, it would be filled with diyas because of the upcoming Divali/Diwali festivities. An old Indian man would sometimes stand under the shed, molding away at his potter’s wheel… and one day I decided that I’d stop and speak to him. I pressed the buzzer in the green band maxi for it to stop, I exited, and nervously walked into the yard to ask the old man about his pots and pottery. I told him that I wanted to learn to make a clay pot and asked whether he had any advice for me. He smiled, and then to my surprise, rather than just giving me advice, he invited me to the wheel and started teaching me pottery. Pottery was the family business, and when he became tired, other members of his family would take over making pots. The old man did most of the pottery on the wheel, and others helped with baking in the kiln… though they were also very good at making pots too.
I felt a bit awkward, not because the old man and his family treated me in a strange or offputting way, but because the opposite happened: they were all needlessly kind, made me (a complete stranger) feel at home, and were willing to take time out of their day to explain to me about making various types of pots, their diyas, and what they do. I made a little pot, a big pot, and a diya I think. I messed up a lot. The old man and his nephew (or he might have been his grandson) made the pots so effortlessly, and over and over again they’d let me try, and I’d mess up completely: the pot I made might be too thin, so it’d crack in the kiln and I’d have to do it over, OR I wasn’t properly guiding my hands and the clay would fly off the wheel. If they were frustrated with my slow progress, and my consistent mistakes, they never showed it, and I was invited to visit them until I got it right so that I could make a proper pot of my own.
I eventually did get a pot right, and I felt incredibly proud when my baked pots came out of the kiln and they presented it to me. They never wanted anything in return for the time and clay they spent on me, and I felt indebted to them. I thanked them for being so kind to me and for teaching me to make pots, and ever since then, I’d pass that house whilst in the maxi to my grandmother and think of how special the family made me feel.
I really liked how this illustration turned out, and I enjoyed painting her hair. ^_^ Not a day goes by that I don’t worry about earning enough money to fund myself whilst doing the PhD here in the UK. Around the end of November, I’d really like to get good jobs to do for the Christmas season when I’m on break (please feel free to ask me to do work then, or to tell anyone who needs an illustration done to contact me then).
I spend my time worrying about PhD work, worrying about money, and pretending that I’m not worried about any of the above… but I am, a lot. I often read of people being praised for not putting out a false image of ‘security and awesome’ on social media. They’re praised because since we so often broadcast a face of calm, when we actually are not, it then becomes really admirable when people are truthful and bare the anxious, confusing, abstruse, scared, worried piece of their mind for the world to see. Still though, as admirable as it might be to show the world our vulnerability, there is a sense of happiness that’s gained from showing ‘lovely’, and receiving lovely feedback in return…perhaps with feedback from out peers about how beautiful our life appears to be, we can gradually fool ourselves into believing the ‘reality’ of the lovely face we broadcast, despite the anxiety within.
I’ve been in England for over a month now, and I’ve ACTUALLY been cooking at a rate of about once per week. I emphasize ‘actually’ because it is a pleasantly surprising happening. I barely cooked whilst I was here for my MPhil, despite planning and intending to do so when I left Trinidad then. When I was in England previously, I planned on cooking as a money-saving measure, and whilst I certainly didn’t feel very ‘well-monied’ back then, I guess that I felt, and was, wealthy enough to eat out often/cook for myself very little.
Things are different now that I’m doing the PhD though… I have to scrunt (cut back on spending, live cheaply) more, and scrunting leads to ‘Eating out less’, and ‘Eating out less’ leads to ‘Eating in more’, and ‘Eating in more’ pushes me to want to cook so that I can enjoy ‘nice food’, as opposed to bread and egg, cheese or franks everyday. So, during the weeks gone by, I’ve made myself Potato pie(casserole) with mushroom &/corn, Shepherd’s pie, Lasagna, lentil peas and rice, and sawine. I got a bit tired of all the cheese every week, and so today I made myself curry and geera baigan (melongene/eggplant) with tomatoes and potato (aloo), alongside sada roti. (The pictures are of meals I’ve prepared.) I enjoyed eating it, and it reminded me of home.
I grew up on sada roti, and it feels weird calling it ‘sada roti’, because in my house we actually called it ‘bake’. It was only in my later years that I realized that when other Trinis say ‘bake’ they usually mean either ‘fry bake’ or ‘coconut bake’, and that what I called ‘bake’ was what most folks called ‘sada roti’. Either way, daddy would make bake/sada roti on the baking stone (tawa) in the morning, and we’d usually eat that with whatever was in the fridge; usually butter, peanut butter or cheese. Sometimes we’d eat it with the left over food, like the peas, beans, pumpkin or bhagi that we’d have eaten with rice the day before. I can’t say that whilst in Trinidad I was a huge fan or eating those typical meals, but I knew that I’d miss it when I left.
Therefore, one of the first things I did when I got to England in September was to look for a rolling pin (bailna) and a baking stone (tawa). I couldn’t find a baking stone; the closest I got to one was a ‘chappatti pan’. So, I cooked my bake/sada roti today in a frying pan. It turned out alright, though crumpled up on the edges. At some point in the future I have to attempt callallo, and something with eddoes… I saw eddoes in Tesco yesterday.
…that’s what he told me when I asked him what his name was. He’s a Cambridge Ambassador with Cambridge BID, and I met him in front of Poundland at The Grafton last week. William, and others dressed similarly to him, all with bowler hats and suits, walk around Cambridge trying to help people who might be lost. I’ve met a couple of them in my time here, the last group I stopped just to tell them that they do wonderful work.
I came across the Cambridge Ambassadors when I first got to Cambridge. I noticed them, milling around, looking both dapper and peculiar in their suits, and one day, a lady who works as an Ambassador approached my parents and I and asked if we needed any help. She pulled out a map and helped us to find where we were looking for. Since then, I have been curious who the mystery bowler hat people were, and so this October, I stopped William and asked him a series of questions about his job and what he does. He was very friendly and happy to answer my questions. He explained to me that his job was to ensure that people get help if they’re lost, to make sure that folks are happy in Cambridge and to ensure that the city of Cambridge itself was taken care of and kept tidy. Sucks though that they don’t seem to work in the night, because I used to get lost then, but alas, they need time off too. I thought it was such a wonderful thing that there are people devoted to doing what he does. I asked to take a picture of him and also draw him, and he stood tall (and he is pretty tall, so he stood taller), put his hands behind his back, and gave a slightly shy smile after saying ‘Yes!’. After taking the picture, I wished him well, and he wished me the same; saying that I could always share the art with them on Twitter once I’m done.