Whose story is it anyway?

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I was listening to a radio programme the other day that was talking about some people in Macedonia who earn money by making up fake news. It felt a bit shocking but it shouldn’t really be shocking because that is what we get fed all the time. I guess what was shocking was that these are actual individuals potentially changing the course of events regardless of the consequences. ‘We’ve got some good stories lined up for the French election,’ was how the programme ended in an ominous and threatening cliffhanger.

But why should that be shocking? Because it is blatant untruth not wrapped up in shiny paper? I’m not sure but it certainly doesn’t sit well. We are being fed lies all the time and how are we to know what is the ‘real’ story and what is not? We can’t all go out to various parts of the world to find out the truth about what is actually happening but we can find out from someone who is out there or who does know. Even then, we would only be getting one person’s reality amongst the zillions of stories that unfold around us.

We are fed stories all of the time and whose stories are they anyway? We are influenced by the stories around us, we are made up of stories, they are the very bedrock of humanity and they are also manipulated to make us believe whatever is convenient for us to believe at the time. As Terry Pratchett (I really miss him) once said, “People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around…”

What happens when people write your story for you? What happens is that people start spouting complete rubbish, believing it to have some basis in reality, and there is a very real impact upon a person’s life. For example, the likes of the Daily Fail and The Sun say things like ‘We are being overrun by foreigners and you will never get to see (usually a foreign) doctor ever again.” Panic sets in, fear fuelled by ignorance and then a Polish family has their shop burnt down. Person writes story for money = person’s story being rewritten as a consequence. Every time you, or anyone, squishes a person into a triangular shaped hole of prejudice, you are writing their story for them.

There is the narrative of the good immigrant/bad immigrant that hangs heavily in the air. Yes you can be here but you have to be a super human being and not commit any human error at all, ever, not once. Even a speeding offence can be enough to prevent a person from applying for citizenship. You can jog along through life being super good, super successful but please don’t outshine everyone else, very very polite and then maybe maybe we might give you a polite applause. The judgement weighs heavily on what constitutes good immigrant/bad immigrant and it takes very little for a person to have their story rewritten for them.

Last night I watched a programme about 5 year olds and they had a selection of 5 year olds from different backgrounds to try and cover the range of people that might ordinarily be represented. No Chinese children. In Eastenders there are no Chinese people. You hardly ever see Chinese people represented in stories or the media and yet there is a huge population of Chinese people in this country. They are the group of people in this country most likely to be on the receiving end of a racist attack and yet we hear nothing. Why? I think it is because the story (stereotype) that is written on behalf of the Chinese population is that they are quiet, uncomplaining and hard working so we never hear about them. What if a Chinese girl wanted to dye her hair purple and join a rock band, sleeping all day and partying all night? Gasp, Chinese girls don’t do that, we haven’t written that into their story.

By neatly putting people into categories – Chinese people are good at maths and work hard, certain castes or classes of people can never aspire to a level of education, Muslims are terrorists, only children are spoilt, the Irish are drinkers – their stories are being written for them before they are even  born. A Muslim will have to prove that they are not a nutter rather than it just being presumed, a Chinese girl will have to battle for a place at drama school rather than doing maths, the behaviour of an only child will be interpreted as spoilt before proving themselves innocent and so it goes on and on and on and on. The consequences of writing someone’s story for them is huge, it results in death and misery on a very very big scale.

Even on a small scale it can alter the path that people might take or feel able to take. The careers advice at my school was that, as girls, we might get a job as a secretary but probably not even that. We just survived the experience, it was hugely zen and in the power of now. ‘Have you done your homework?’ ‘I’ve just been to the loo and survived miss…,’ our thoughts didn’t extend far into the future. At another school, just a few miles down the road, children were being told that they could aspire to great and grand things in life. It was just the luck of the draw but people were having their stories written for them except for those determined few who had the energy left to take their fate into their own hands.

I was speaking with a Kurdish friend who asked me how many people there are in London – around 16 million I think was my reply. He said that there are around 7 million people in Kurdistan. I said that I thought that there were around 40 million Kurdish people and we sat in the silence of our mismatched information. What if the Kurdish people are being told that there are not many of them to make them believe that they could not be a force to be reckoned with and we are being told that there are millions and millions of them to make us believe that they are a force to be reckoned with? How do we actually know how many people there are in London? It’s easy in a village to go round counting people but in the whole country, how do we actually know that there are too many people as we are being told? So there are registers and lists and data and all that stuff but who is collecting it? The very people who are feeding us the stories that fuel the fear and ignorance that is writing the stories of others.

The truth is that we can never actually know. The more I know about various goings on, the less I know to the point that I now feel like I know pretty much nothing. What I do know is that we have to write our own stories. To place judgement upon another person is to write their story for them and none of us have the right to do that to another person. Our stories are sacred, our stories are the very essence of who we are, our stories are to be held sacred rather than to be rewritten and meddled with as if they were some sort of game. Write your own story and stand very proud within your own story’s skin and leave everyone else’s stories alone.

Jungle Fever

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So the Jungle is finished. It was a day that was hoped for by so many, that place should never have existed in the first place, but it also leaves sadness.

So many people that I have spoken to say that they miss the Jungle in Calais. They reach a place of safety, reach a goal, the supposed dream and then miss that shit hole of a place. Why? Well, because it was so much more than just a shit hole. It was so much more than a few shacks and tents. I have never really been a great advocate of the idea that you have to have lived it to understand. For example, I don’t have to be black to know that racism is wrong but, in the case of Calais, it is true. It is difficult to explain why you have to have been there to understand but I will try.

The Jungle was not just a place for people to sleep but a place for people to stand. People stood up for what they believed in, people moved heaven and earth to make things happen against all the odds. People remained resilient and kind in the face of the worst treatment. People stood up against their worst fears, their worst nightmares and came out the other end. People were able to be in a way that normal life does not usually encourage and that goes from one spectrum of human behaviour to the other. There was brutality, violence, fear, joy, laughter, music, more laughter, hospitality, hard work, theft, exploitation, beauty, resilience and so much more. Everything was extreme, extremely kind, extremely brutal, extremely extreme and it is not often that you get to experience life in the extreme. I discovered that I am good in a crisis. In ‘normal’ life being good in a crisis doesn’t really get you anywhere, unless you’re a firefighter or something, and it is not often that you get to flap your feathers. In the jungle there were many people like that who got to show their beautiful feathers in a way that normal life would not allow them and that goes for everyone.

The Jungle was a place that rose up out of the sand dunes, out of the chemical waste, fuelled by the ingenuity of the human spirit. I remember walking along the path one day and a broken tent was lying by the path. By the time we made our way back again, someone had turned the broken tent poles into a set of steps up a muddy bank complete with handrails. The Jungle became a city and, like any city, it had shops, nightclubs, cafes, schools, community centres, church, mosque, library, theatre and you name it, whatever the human spirit most needs, it was there. Like any city there were people that exploited others, there were victims of violence, there were undercurrents of every kind. The difference with the Jungle was that it was stripped of the veneer of pretence that is layered so thickly over most cities. The veneer that allows us to believe that everything is under control. The veneer fuelled by car MOTs and weekly shops and latest fashions and food in abundance and music piped through shops telling us that everything is just fine. The jungle was the same as any other city but it didn’t, or couldn’t, pretend to be anything that it wasn’t. It was raw and real.

People miss it because it was so real, urgent, and it had a purpose even if that purpose was survival. Isn’t that the general purpose that we all have except it’s dressed up a bit fancier than that? People miss the community spirit, the pulling together, being able to help one another. I miss the fact that there were so many people there spending time trying to be good rather than spending time trying to look good. I saw real beauty in that place. People miss it because it was like no other place that any of us are likely to experience, the good and the bad. Most of all people miss the people. Most of us there would, in other circumstances, never have got to meet one another, people from around 20 different countries would never have crossed paths and friendships were thrown together of the most improbably combinations. Over the last year I have lost old friends and made new friends. That’s life I suppose.

I bow my head in awe at the people I have met. Journeys made over and over, journeys across the world, escaping war, escaping all sorts, stories and stories that will swim round my head forever. Volunteers who came together and achieved what seemed the impossible. The one constant thread running through that place was tenacity. Tenacity is so often seen as a virtue but it came to be seen as a threat. The Jungle was a mirror held up to the world and the world did not like what it saw. It was a reminder of the inhumanity that lies so embedded within the system that proclaims to greatly to be there to take care of us all. It was a mirror that the world was not ready to look into. Just yet anyway but there is always hope…

More Sex…

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The last post that I wrote was about people being outraged at the thought of women possibly going and having sex with anyone that wasn’t from these green and pleasant lands. There had been outrage at the thought of a couple, a British volunteer and a Syrian guest, living happily ever after or happy even just for a little bit. There was no outrage at children being raped but apparently sex and happiness for us English roses is not on. I will come back to this…

This last week has seen the dismantling of the Calais camp and the press have descended upon this with hand rubbing glee. It is important that events are portrayed in the media, this cannot be denied, but you’d like to hope that a certain level of decency and responsibility comes with that but we have all come to shrug our shoulders and say ‘Ah well, that’s the press for you’ when they incite hatred and write complete bollocks. Time for a big up for the Mirror, Guardian and Times who have been supportive and tried to tell the truth as we know it. May The Sun burn in hell…

The power of the press, and the media in general, can also come into its own as a force for good as this week has shown. As various authorities ploughed forth with taking apart the camp and scattering 10,000 people to the winds and four corners of France or the world, children were left. Neither the French nor the UK authorities were doing what needed to be done to ensure the safety and well being of these children, and this meant even the very basics like food and water. Come into force, the mighty people that know how to do videos and stuff and a whole heap of people who give a shit and shouting from the rooftops for something to be done about this.

I put up a post on facebook asking if people could join the shouting by tweeting and emailing and phoning and doing whatever they could, or wanted to do, to let the powers that be know that we do not find it acceptable to leave 1500 unaccompanied children to their fate without protection and safety. It went nuts. My intention was to share with friends and family, the vast majority of whom I am pretty sure do not find children offensive, and ask for their support in this. The post was shared almost 8000 times and nutters started flooding in from all over the place.

Before the sun had set on the first day (let’s try and turn this vitriol into poetry), comments were coming in such as ‘Stop bringing them over here ffs (which means for fuck’s sake apparently)’ ‘They have nothing that we want (or something to that effect)’ We’re all going to end up wearing hijabs’ and so on and so forth. It felt like I was being cornered by a pack of snarling dogs. To be fair, the sane comments far outweighed the insane ones but still. The post was asking for support to keep children safe. Children that are prey to all kinds of stuff – the slave trade, prostitution, sold for sex, sold for their organs – and the trade is thriving as children are on their own and wandering about Europe unprotected. I was not advocating anything other than trying to ensure the safety of children.

Why, then, should it incite such hatred? Why are people so frightened of a few children? Taking away any of the narrative around age and which country is responsible and the standard stuff, what we really have is some children who need protecting. When a story was published that children were being raped in the camp there was nothing said. When a story emerged that children needed protection and a place of safety, possibly even in the UK, there was an uprising. What is that all about?

So I come back to the sex thing. I think it is all about sex. For some reason men get upset about women having sex with someone who is not from here (This is probably true of many countries). It seems to be alright the other way round i.e. if a man is with a woman from another country – ‘Cor he’s done alright’ ‘He must be rich’ – and people don’t seem to get quite so upset about unattractive women being taken ‘off the market.’ An attractive white female, however, causes venom to spill forth, the likes of which I hoped never to hear and read (Sarah and Hamoude take comfort in this, that maybe the reason that your lives have been blighted with hatred is because you are both too beautiful!) Likewise with children. It appears to elicit a response that goes well beyond anything that is reasonable. Some people try to dress up their responses into nhs concern or schools or housing or there won’t be enough ketchup left over and so on. They are children. You just budge over and make room for children. That’s it. So I started to think about this coming from a place of primal fear, the survival of the species and all that.

Is it survival of the species that is a driving force behind all this hatred? I will take lions as an example because I like lions. Women lions generally stay their whole lives in the same pride that they are born into. The women lions do most of the hunting and work together for the whole pride to be able to eat. Men lions are driven out of their pride when they are teenagers (relatively speaking) and then they wander about until they are strong enough to take over another pride by sending the resident male packing. They have a few short years to make babies before they, in turn, are driven out. When a man lion takes over a pride he kills all cubs under the age of two. This makes sure that there are no cubs that are not his and that the woman lion is now ready to have some more babies, his babies. Women lions, who are already pregnant when the new man lion come along, have been found to ‘disguise’ their pregnancy and fool the man lion into thinking that the new babies will be his. That also sounds a bit familiar.

Survival of the species is a driving force and, therefore, individuals of any species end up behaving in a way to ensure that survival happens. As humans, though, we should have the mental capacity to contemplate how our actions, as a species, affect the whole and all of the possible consequences. The species, in and of itself, is not motivated to do anything in particular. It is the individuals that have motivations and what motivates that individual is that they have babies, their babies. The rest of the species does not come into consideration, at this point, as members of their own species (still trying to stick to lions here) are eliminated rather than preserved if they lie in the path of that individual’s ongoing reproductive success.

So I started to think of all these children as maybe representing the cubs of other lions and could this be a reason, a primal fear one, for people’s otherwise incomprehensible reactions to children needing a place of safety. I ran this idea past a very dear and wise friend who is just 18 years old. ‘Yes but we’re not lions,’ was her reply.  Spot on. We, as a species, have homes for old people, we stop and pick someone up if they’ve fallen over, we even have an emergency service to help people in trouble. We do not naturally want to eliminate those that are of no use to us or stand in the way of a good shag. Naturally, we are a loving and caring species. That is how we start off and then it changes as life experiences happen and narratives reach our ears and fear kicks in. But the very primal instinct of which baby belongs to who continues to cause more than a few ripples. Women have ovaries and men don’t. I don’t know why, but that’s just the way it is. The only sure fire way to ensure that a baby is produced by one particular male is to lock that woman in a room and allow access to no other males. This does happen in some parts of the world and most people would find this abhorrent.

So, although most people would not advocate the practice (that continues to happen in this world) of burying women up to their necks and throwing stones at them until they die, when a person says ‘They deserve to be raped,’ it is coming from the same mentality. Women who volunteer with refugees have had this thrown at them time and time again, death threats and so it goes on. It is the very same mentality that drives oppressive and lethal practices across the world. It is the same mentality that finds the idea of a few children needing a place of safety terrifying. Absolutely not alright.

I put up a photo of a fire that my friend had in her garden yesterday. Big fire, big garden. Why that photo? Because although I feel genuine pity for those who are shackled by the fear of the ‘other,’ my heart actually goes out to those who lives are crippled by the idea of a divisive narrative, a teeny bit of me does actually hope that there is a special place in the burning fires of hell for those that wish ill on the lives of our children and on our fellow humans, from whichever loins they were spurned.