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It’s been just under four years since I began this blog, completed the 365 challenge, attempted to keep going, realised I’d run out of stamina and had taken on far too many projects along the way. But it’s been wonderful, especially knowing I could share 4 years of my life with over 100 dedicated followers and many nomads who passed through from time to time. However, from this day forth, ‘The Death of the Writer’ is now closed. It’s not, of course, the end of my writing. As you know I’m now the deputy Editor and contributor for MAGNIFY magazine – the UK’s first independent feminist, faith and fashion magazine – you should definitely check it our here. I’ve also been exploring and expanding my poetry. In fact i’ll be performing at Latitude Festival this summer and hopefully at many more in the years and months to come. I’ve found small and meaningful success with poetry and poetry competitions and hopefully you’ll see me on some circuit or even buy my anthology (when I get round to writing it!). Theatre’s also been a great exploration, so who knows what the coming months will hold! I suppose, the main reason i’m closing the blog is partly the lack of discipline to keep going everyday (life gets pretty busy). But also the lack of freedom. I think, I’m also in a period of transition – i’m trying to work out what the next story will be….and that inevitably will be an incoherent process, at best, so I’d like the freedom to just scribble and write nonsense and let me thoughts crystallise organically, a bit like at the beginning of this adventure….ALSO in the meantime i’d really like to set up a WEBSITE so you can see all my stuff in one place – wouldn’t that be neat!
BUT in the meantime, if you want to keep following my spasmodic thoughts or are looking to get in contact PLEASE follow me on twitter (@JustinaKehinde) and do inbox me and I will endeavour to get back to you ASAP. Keep on the look out for whatever comes next and may you also continue to discover and hone your voice. All the best, continue to Shine Bright
Poetry So Far….
Last Friday I took myself on a date. The usual time of empty cupboards had come back around (these things don’t change that quickly, but progress is being made). I figured I had two options:
1) Go to sleep
2) Drink water and go to sleep
The only problem with aforementioned options was that I was meant to watch a show that night with a friend. I knew if my head touched the pillow I wouldn’t even make the curtain call. So I threw on a jacket, straightened my outfit, applied some lipstick (hey why not) and cycled into town. The local Chinese restaurant was the joint I was to grace with my presence, wonton noodles the lucky dish that was to nourish my somewhat lethargic body. Sat by the window, order given, the laptop lid was flipped open and headphones encased my ears.
I like spending time with people. I do. I mean, I can make myself laugh (I have a wicked sense of humour that only I seem to get), but sometimes other people’s banter does the job too. I enjoy listening to people, even giving advice, but deep down I’m a closet introvert. I need space, partly because I live in close proximity to the multitude of thoughts that swarm across my mind and sometimes seep out of my mouth when i’m sleeping. I’m an active daydreamer, my mind slipping from reality to possibility (today I walked directly into an oncoming van totally oblivious to its steam-roller capacities). So there I sat, wonton noodles on my right, a glass of water directly in front, my laptop and the audio track I was transcribing from at the tips of my (somewhat sprained) fingers. For the first time in a long time I felt quiet.
The noise began to recede. And I live in a lot of noise. The noise of emails, Facebook notifications, the constant, often mindless updates on Twitter. The noise of pressure, obligation, of commitments. The noise of fear and anxieties. The noise of desire, a deep longing, of jealousy, insecurity – it’s a bloody cacophony of sound, exacerbated by the people or messages that carry that noise like a body, weighty, loaded and ever-spreading.
But there, alone, I was quiet. My mind at times was unfocused – silly desires would take my attention from my screen to the window and back again – but for a few moments I was oblivious to the world. Inconsequential (except perhaps to the staff who knew my presence was more money in the coffers), but I was small, remote, petite even. Quiet.
I miss that. The stillness. Sometimes you can find it amongst people. The ability to sit, gently, and not speak. Too often though we’re afraid of the noise that roils off our bodies even when our lips are sealed – so we unseal our lips and let incessant chatter ramble forth.
But what I liked more was the focus.
As a creative person my focus can be intense, but often fleeting. Even in the course of writing this i’ve switched direction, pondered a few months into my future, worried about an upcoming competition, grazed a bit of the avocado lying on my table and considered re-logging into Facebook. And those are only the distractions I can remember. In the 90mins when I chowed down most of my meal (then spent the next 20mins recovering from indigestion and the after burn of the chilli oil I had carelessly poured across the entire dish) I was focused on my work. I had streams of thoughts linking arguments I hadn’t even fully articulated (I told you, I flip quickly), and a narrative arc that even got me excited for the viver. But my focus is fleeting, and therefore my conviction lacking. Unlike my sister who is a completer, i’m a spitfire. When the spirit leaves me, my hands stop moving, the punches stop falling, my eyes go dead and next thing – i’m out. I’ve lost. Lost focus, lost my drive, lost my engagement with life. It happens. I feel my body and mind drifting apart and then I want to give up. To just sit down and float, and breathe, and be still once again. To be intimate with me and my thoughts.
And that’s the thing. To do ANYTHING in life, to even complete my dissertation, I have to be PRO-ACTIVE. Sure i’m active, i’ll make grand plans, and sometimes, if the timing is right i’ll get to the end of them (while letting almost everything else fall to the wayside), but a lot of the time i’m not the initiator.
In sparring I have really good timing. I have a strong punch. But i’m afraid of hurting the other person, and of failing myself, so I often don’t leap into the danger zone, and when I do, apparently I don’t commit. So I don’t win, and weaker fighters get the point, because they were proactive.
I want to lose this fear of failure. To banish it to the darkest corners of existence. To be brazen. I’ve been socked in the eye, winded, jabbed in my gut, had my tendons ripped and shins bruised – I can take pain, but I take it from a defensive position, not from offence. I’d like to try being offensive for a while (not the insulting type). I’d like to try sticking my neck out and seeing what happens. Of being a completer.
Maybe then the piles of work that are growing each day would start to diminish.
Maybe then I’d batter my opponents
Maybe then that acquaintance would start being a friend.
Maybe then i’d stop being afraid, because i’d look up and realise – i’d done it. I’d made it happen.
Who knew such thoughts could occur when one went on a date with their dissertation?
Courtesy of new blogger Victoria Taiwo from Twenty/20
Vegetable Fried Rice
So it’s Monday, I know, but it doesn’t mean this recipe can’t keep still be of use. As mentioned in my previous post, I survived for almost 2 months on various presentations of the same dish – instant noodles. Below I will chart 3 of the best and easiest ways to make noodles still appear edible after the umpteenth time of consumption. But first, a shopping list.
Considering Broke Friday Meals are for just that – Broke People at the end of a working week, all the ingredients i’ll be listing should be within any good supermarkets basic range. Of course if you have more money to spend you might just do that and be more ethical in your shopping, but if you’re scraping pennies, these menus should help you to at least subsist.
Basic should be no more than 50p in total. If you want added ingredients you’re looking at a split cost (you won’t use e.g. every pepper in the packet) of around £1.50
Miso Noodles Method (Noodle Soup):
Broke Bibimbap Method (stolen from the exquisite Korean dish, Bibimbap):
Now that you know the basics, there’s a wide variety of meals you can make depending on what’s at your disposal. You can also add vegetables to the Miso Soup or Microwave-Fry extra, or boil an egg separately and add to either of the dishes – you get the idea, go experiment. You can also find your perfect softness point for noodles, whether it’s closer to al-dente or more like pulp.
Don’t ever presume this is the authentic way to either cook or eat noodles of any kind. Once you have money treat yourself to some authentic Korean, Chinese, Japanese or Singaporean food and savour the quality of their cuisine whilst apologising for butchering it in your poverty. But while your poverty remains, this is a cheaper (and to all accounts far healthier and faster) form of consumption than the £5 McD meal, even with the extra burger from student discount, or the sandwiches, or baguettes or w/e else you might wish to buy. It is also surprisingly filling either with the Miso Soup form (hot water fills you up quickly) or in the stir fry form as noodles swell.
Got a better way of making Instant Noodles tasty, put it in the comments section below.
Coming to University my finances weren’t great. Like many, my family faced the middle class squeeze. When you have three children all in the same year at elite institutions and Student Finance only reads what’s on the paper and doesn’t take account of whats in your actual pocket, sometimes you fare worse than those termed the ‘poorest’. But I have been very privileged to attend a college that is proficient if not exceptional in financial support. The only problem however, is timing. By my second week of University I had run out of money. My loan didn’t cover my room bill let alone food and though I knew that grants were hopefully coming, they weren’t coming any time soon. In real time my savings were wiped with 32p being all that I owned in the entire world. Seriously. I’m not kidding, it looked as mournful to me on the screen as it does to you reading.
I was open and honest about my financial situ with my mother who kept reminding me (sometimes very forcefully) that if needs be she could make it work, she would make it work. But that’s a parents job. To put their children before them. However, I think when you’re a child of the economic crunch you start to learn how to add pretty fast, and you know that even as they scrimp and save here and there, a massive deficit is looming – and as you get older your parents become less capable of hiding it from you. Unlike the Bogeyman, debt, poverty and financial limitations really do exist, and they don’t hide in the shadows. So I refused. I told her i’d hold out. I had enough in my fridge, I had all my essentials, i didn’t need money per se, what I needed was some kind of financial security, but seeing as I wasn’t going to get evicted anytime soon, we could wait. When she came up by my third week of Uni to watch my play, my mother brought a box of instant noodles and some homemade food. I shelved and froze it all, and as the days went by salvaged a limited variety of meals from that hamper. There’s a lot you can do with instant noodles if you have to.
I wasn’t the only person struggling in my house. One of my closest friends was in a similar situation, and so together we worked to make ends meet. Last year when she was in particular difficulty I had the means to support her. It was ironic this time round, 4 weeks into term when she returned the favour. How quickly positions and situations are flipped around. But I was extremely, extremely grateful. However, 2 weeks ago, bar about 12 packets of noodles, I ran out of food. Nothing, unless you count half a dried leek, 3/4 of scotch bonnet pepper, and 1/4 of butter. Realising that All Purpose Seasoning, Salt, Pepper, Basil, Oregano and Dried Chilli Pepper don’t constitute a meal, hunger loomed expectantly before me. Said friend and I had taken to eating dried granola at night as I boiled yet another pot of hot water for instant noodles. We hadn’t had breakfast for about a month. I’d taken to going to Chapel on Sunday mornings not just because it was a great space to worship in, but, and I won’t lie, because of the more or less free english breakfast served afterwards. That meal would also make up for lunch, while extras were packed into a container for later and then we’d be back on the noodles in the evening.
I have a PhD student living in my house from India. His name is Rajesh and i’ll write about him at a later period, but for now, just know that he is an official legend. After seeing me eating yet another packet of instant noodles (thus depleting my limited stock, which at this point only consisted of 2 flavours – Chicken and Stir Fry), he took to feeding me the fresh vegetarian curries he made every day. In an 8 week term Rajesh has fed me 6 times. Every time I tell him that before the year is up i’ll cook him some real Nigerian food. He aways replies – I don’t need your food, I just want to make sure you’re eating well. He reminds me of a father figure, except he’s too young and too funny. So maybe an older brother. He cooks really well, and luckily he’s always let me have seconds.
Considering the 32p in the bank account wasn’t accumulating any interest and there’s only so many noodles any one person can eat in any given week, I had, I admit, also taken to common thievery at my church. Every Tuesday before student group they have a Student Dinner, with a required £3 donation. There were a number of weeks when I turned up and ate without paying. I also took left overs. That made up dinner and a good 4 subsequent meals for the coming week between myself and my housemate, carefully rationed but eaten with gusto (and sometimes more salt than necessary). I will pay my church back the difference.
It’s not so much that I was walking around hungry. Luckily I don’t get that hungry. And it’s not so much that I was in dire, dire, straits. I had chosen to refuse my mums offer of money, not because I wanted to be a martyr, but because I wanted to exhaust all possible avenues. I figured, once I literally had nothing – had finished all the noodles and had gotten round to eating the frozen container of egusi soup – then I’d reach out for help. Because to be honest, food is food. Sure lack of variety isn’t great, but I wasn’t starving. Some people have it much worse.
But it was still a pretty shitty experience. I’d been in a similar situation in my first year and had managed to write a funny (in my opinion) post about it (read it here). But this time round Sainsbury’s basics wasn’t even on the cards. Just a lot of water…and noodles (i’m going to start a thread called Broke Friday with ingenious recipes for times like these).
I say all this because last year, and for all my previous years at Uni, I was known as Miss Hospitality. I cooked meals for my friends, if people were in a bad way, they new my room always had a fresh supply of tea, probably even some form of home made vegetable soup (and even homemade bread if you were lucky). My mother’s love language is service, so all of us know how to be excellent hosts. So, I think I sowed a lot of seeds, fed a lot of people, definitely made a lot of herbal tea.
And this time round, during these past 6 weeks when I couldn’t even afford to buy asthma pumps and discovered that the placebo effect is a real thing because if you press your empty inhaler and inhale normal air, somehow, your lungs wish themselves to relax – and they do (mind over matter) – but this time round, I had the privilege to reap.
None of my friends, bar my housemate, knew about my situation. There was no reason for them to know, I was too busy writing essays and doing my thang to even think about it till I got home. I’m only writing about it now because the situation has been rectified, and I can now look back and see that I was blessed. Because over these past 8 weeks, for random reasons, friends have, out of the blue, offered to take me to lunch. Or bought me apples, oranges, lemons. Made rice, stew and chicken and just because, have handed it to me in the library (you know us Nigerians at Uni, we gotta stick together when it comes to home cooking). Little, Random, Acts of Important Kindness. ‘Cause those random meals weren’t just feeding me, they were feeding my friend too. And they all tasted so good. They kept us going.
There’s a saying in the Bible which is applicable to all life – you reap what you sow. Most people relate it to good and bad deeds, and I guess that’s the general gist. But I think it’s even more than that. I believe in a God who provides, I really do, and I have seen God provide for me in fantastic ways, and often in financial ways too. Some might be skeptical, but i’m not preaching a prosperity gospel here. I’m talking about a God who doesn’t turn his back on those in need. See when I had much, or at least enough because grants had come through on time, having been raised to share I shared. And there were times i’ll admit last year when I was like – all my friends do is take, take, take. They come, they eat, they don’t wash up, they leave. Sometimes I got tired of doing the right thing, of being aware that said neighbour needed food, or had had an awful essay week and maybe some hot choc would pick them up. And now here I am, a year later, being the one that can’t feed herself sufficiently. But I had the privilege to reap, to receive. See, I don’t think God (and for those of you that don’t believe in God, let’s call it Universal Kindness,or Goodness whatever suits your fancy), I don’t think God always provides by dropping a cash sum at your doorstep. But I do believe that God provides through the little acts of kindness. Through people buying you tea, or buying you apples, or bringing you left over food. I believe God, through friends, strangers and neighbours has sustained me over these past 2 months when I was in need. And it’s really humbling.
Obviously I interpret these things from a place of faith. For those that don’t have faith, I do hope however you can recognise similar instances when you’ve been helped at a time of need – maybe you put it down to Human Goodness. The thing is, however you see/interpret/understand it, it’s important to pay it forwards.
Tonight I shared this, somewhat embarrassing experience (because money is always embarrassing) with members of my student group. It was weird being that vulnerable. But after the service a guy by the name of Dave came up to me and said – this is for sowing – handing me an envelope.
This is for Sowing.
We always have something that we can give and we can share – even a packet of noodles can go far between friends. This morning, my friend and I ate our first breakfast at home for the first time in a month – cereal and bananas never tasted so good. I also went on a “massive” (as in, in comparison to the nothing I had before, boy!) grocery spree and my shelf is now flooded with vegetables – you don’t know how much you miss greens till they’re gone! But, saying all that, now I have food in my fridge I will make Rajesh a Nigerian dinner. I will pay back my church for the ‘stolen’ meals. I will keep sharing my food with my housemate. I will keep my eyes open and my heart ready for others who are in need. And sometimes it doesn’t have to be overt, you don’t need to put your name on the envelope so people feel ‘indebted’. You can sow quietly. You, the receiver and God know – that’s enough.
So Dave, thank you – it will go to sowing. To everyone else who has helped me in the little ways, my family, my friends and the strangers – I look forward to the day when I’ve helped pay it so far forwards it makes you smile when it comes back round again.
For those that know me in real life – i’m OK. Don’t feel obliged to now overwhelm my doorstep or pidgeon hole with goods. Honestly. There’s someone you sit next to everyday in the library who needs it way more. There’s someone on your corridor or in your lecture hall who would love you to take them to dinner, because they’re really hungry and can’t face another bowl of cereal without milk (that’s if they even have any more cereal). So sow into them. Pay any goodness you’ve experienced this term to them. And #payitforwards with gusto, that’s the only way you grow big trees.
This is for sowing. Life is for sowing. And quiet joy is found in an unexpected reaping.
I have a friend who’s from my mothers home state in south eastern Nigeria. I think he finds me intriguing in a you’re-interesting-but-kinda-weird-way. Sometimes when we’re talking , I can tell that he humours me, he doesn’t necessarily ‘get’ me, but he listens and he finds it interesting. Sometimes I imagine that in his eyes I look like a lost sheep, slightly homeless and befuddled, but fuelled with a sense of directionless purpose. I feel this most often when i talk about my identity, my sense of belonging. He speaks Igbo, lived (if only for a short while) in Nigeria and knows the point at which he migrated to the UK. It was something he was contextually conscious of. He tells me if I went back i’d be welcomed home as a returnee daughter. Sure, for a period i’d be called oyinbo or ‘just-come’, but in time I would settle, I would be accepted. He doesn’t, I feel, quite understand that diasporics never fully settle in already established homelands. He is rooted in a context, I, as I see it now, am rooted in rootlessness.
My sister has never had an issue with this. Growing up my Dad’s pet name for her was ‘the Rock’, because she was solid. Some of this had to do with her physical build, which my Mum gave my Dad an earful about, but I think a lot of it had to do with her character. T is solid. When she sets her feet on something, it’s because she’s sure, and when she’s sure she stands her ground. She weighs her words carefully and speaks sparingly, often the quiet one in conversations. I used to think it was because she was shy, or didn’t always ‘get’ what was going on. Time told me it was because most of the time she had already worked out the answer, and found all us babbling self-proclaimed young ‘intellectuals’ wallowing in our existential crises at best irritating, at worst stupid and self indulgent. T is a firm foundation. She is rooted. And I think she’s rooted, because she is secure in what she is, and she’s made peace with that. In that sense we make a perfect team. I used to be called feet-on-the-ground-head-in-the-clouds and my mother’s nickname for me was spitfire, because I would flare and burn and run full steam ahead before burning out, sometimes with the job, passion or vision left unfinished.
These are crass and simplistic distinctions, but for a generalistic musing they’ll work for now. Whereas I pined for ‘home’, T was comfortable from the get-go with being British and Nigerian, being a Londoner and from Anambra and from Ilesha – it wasn’t really a thing, it was just her, whereas I flitted from British, to English, to Nigerian, to British Nigerian, to Nigerian British, to Igbo, Yourba and Bristolian – I was very lost, and frustrated by this perceived loss.
I think part of it was to do with a strong racial conception of self from a very young age. I might regret saying this, but then Piaf had a more messed up life and managed to declare she had no regrets, so hey-ho. Growing up my mum was very fair. She’s never seen herself as anything less than Nigerian, never thought of herself as white but as the whole biracial discourse became more politically correct, when pushed she’ll say she’s mixed raced, but she was always secure in her Nigerianness,as though English was an historical technicality but had little cultural or even personal bearing. Yet when I looked around I was very aware that Mummy looked like the other parents, and the other parents were ‘right’. I was embarrassed by what the connotations of being black were, and growing up around non-Nigerians I didn’t quite get Caribbean culture, because that wasn’t home-life, and the Nigerian culture I saw was foreign (I’ve later realised that class has a lot to do with culture in the UK and ethnicity, but that’s for a later post). So, to be like Mum was to be better. If T was the chocolate baby, I was the yellow baby. But T had ‘fine features’ and I had the ‘African nose’ the ‘thick lips’, the things that made me more ‘Nigerian’ than her, the ‘coarse’ features.
Firstly I want to call Bullshit on such a distinction. That’s right, I call BULL-SHIT on the whole fine/coarse features thing. What it implies is that there is something refined and noble about caucasian features and something rough and ungainly about ‘traditional’ African features (read Aphra Behn’s Oronooko to see what I mean). Basically it means white pretty black ugly. So even though I had lighter skin I was still more ‘African’ than my sister – and people remarked on that shit. Ah Kehinde you have such coarse/strong/striking/Nigerian features. Ah Taiwo, you have such fine/european/english/pretty features. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t told I was beautiful, but it was a different type of beauty – so I went to find that type. I went to discover where that beauty came from. I wanted to go ‘home’ to an imaginary Africa, an imaginary Nigeria where my features were the norm.
Now the issue with such a distinction is that it creates a contrast. What if caucasian features were classed as ‘undefined, less-defined’ in stead of ‘fine’,as though they were delicate, fragile, precious. Think about it, if generic african features ( which really are generic, because if you look at the variety in African features from the Fulani to Ethiopians, Khoisan to the Sudanese you’d realise African features encompass ALL types of facial features, but, I digress) if things such as wide noses, thick lips, strong jaw-lines, big thighs etc etc were the norm, then anything other would be less, right? But I grew up in the UK, so it wasn’t the norm, and it sent me looking for it, it sent me towards this idyllic fairyland called the ‘home’ of black-consciousness and self-worth, it sent me back to ‘Mother Africa’.
A Diaspora is a ‘scattered population with a common origin in a smaller geographic area, or a movement of people from their homeland’. It implies that there is a ‘real’ place that you ‘truly’ come from, but for some reason or other you are not there.
And it’s definitely true. There are plenty of diaspora’s the world over. Some of them have settled and are no longer viewed as diasporas (white people in America), others are less stable (Jewish diaspora, Turks in Germany), but they exist. The issue I have with diaspora as a definition is that I think it belongs to 1st generation migrants. The one’s that have ‘just-come’, the ‘freshies’. I think it applies to second-gen migrants who go back to that country of ‘ethnic origin’ regularly, speak the language, can flit easily between the two.
But for many children of African migrants who don’t go back, who have settled in e.g. the UK but still exist within their parents culture, we have another homeland emerging. See, I’m beginning to see things like my sister, to realise there isn’t one place that I ‘truly’ come from, or rather there is, it just isn’t a recognised nation-state. See, I come from the diaspora. I am a child of the diaspora, born and raised. I speak the language, I understand the culture, I breathe the history. I have that beautiful ability to morph regularly, to be at ease with Nigerians, with Africans in general, with whites, with Indians, with Far East Asians. I speak slang, I speak Received, and not just in English. When I go abroad I know how to adapt my body language, how to blend in and stick out at the same time. I understand cultural symbols, I understand how to act with elders, even if its elders from another culture. My straight up immigrant friends don’t know how to deal with that drunk roommate, or the friend who calls their aunts by their first name. The kids who tell their parents to fuck off in the supermarket cause they can’t get a Fanta and they’re not even in year 2! They think – He dey craze oooh. My homegrown friends don’t understand to call their ‘immigrant’ friends parents Aunty and Uncle, not Femi and Gbemisola, or Raj and Amina. But I do, because I am a child of the diaspora.
That doesn’t mean i’m totally secure in me (me is a fluid thing constantly evolving), but it means I am not homeless. I have a home. I’m not a global citizen (that phrase is so daft, cause we all know citizenship rights are NOT accorded to how many passports you have, citizenship is more than legalities), I am a disaporic national – and that can be ok. My home can be like a ven-diagram with Nigeria and the UK as the far circles that overlap to make ‘My Home’ in the middle. I can be rooted in that, and in being rooted in it, I can find a freedom that other people before haven’t had.
I can also begin to understand that human history is one of migration. Even those who’ve ‘been here for generations’ aren’t people of the soil. As one of my best supervisors once said (at least in regards to recent World History but it certainly goes back to the beginning of time)
Indigenous people were just the people who were there when the Europeans (read any kind of coloniser/invader) turned up.
So yeah, i’m beginning to find my home -and i think i might just like it.