NYT Writing Prompt: Great Conversations

It sounds like laughter punctuating rhythmic, meaningful dialogue. It is unpretentious. Deep topics share the limelight with casual stories about how someone’s child woke up 4 times last night and the chaotic morning traffic in the new town someone else has moved to.

Everyone is sitting around the table, splayed out on comfy couches, or wrapped up in balls on the floor. People’s recent accomplishments are celebrated and mistakes are discussed openly. Nobody feels judged or like they have not earned enough stripes to be welcomed. People are there because they want to be there. There may be slow music in the background; the décor may or may not be to ones taste; there is always an array of food.

The above is what I imagine when I think of an evening sharing a meal and having great conversations with friends #goodtimes. I am grateful for the opportunities that I have had to be able to travel to several countries and participate in occasions like this with people from different walks of life. Moments like these enable me to step behind stereotypes and Instagram filters to connect with ‘real’ people.

When I travel, make friends and share meals with locals and other travellers it reveals much more to me about culture than any book or Google search will ever provide. It reinforces the fact that despite what the media propagates, not all Africans are poor, not all Asians like Maths and not all Southern Europeans are lazy. It reminds me why I love cosmopolitan cities like London and Paris – and why although I will probably always be more at home with the black girl with the afro hair whose parents eat the same food as mine – I can still chill pretty comfortably with the young ginger father who is new to the south of France and wondering where he can buy Vaseline for his baby’s bottom. We have much more in common than we may initially think we do.

It also highlights to me how sad it is when people fail to enlighten themselves about those who are ‘different’ from them. It amazes me that in the 21st century, people still think that being young, black and male is synonymous with being slightly shady (this was demonstrated when at a 30th birthday party, a middle aged white woman interrupted my friend who was talking about his PhD topic to ask if he knew where she could go and buy some weed. N.B: She wasn’t asking him because she thought that he was hip and into trendy ‘alternative’ recreational activities).

Great conversations occur when people are willing to listen and be present. They occur on long bus journeys, via debates on social media and at dinners like the one I described above, but they also occur in silence when you take time for self-evaluation and are open to give yourself some home truths.

Let’s take time to get to know the people around us. You don’t have to go very far, just relax, be comfortable and start by smiling and saying hello to your neighbour. #goodtimes




Please read this article, ‘On Tennis and black excellence’ by Claudia Rankine. It’s real awesomeness.

‘‘I play for me,’’ Serena told me, ‘‘but I also play and represent something much greater than me. I embrace that. I love that. I want that. So ultimately, when I am out there on the court, I am playing for me.’’

Source: The Meaning of Serena Williams – The New York Times

If only things were that simple…

“Why do people risk their lives and the lives of their families, over and over, every hour of every day when the best that awaits them is a frosty welcome? The answer is simple: Desperation. They fear staying in a land where they face persecution, or where their family starves. That desperation makes the risk of death a gamble they believe worth taking.”

– IOM Director General William Lacy Swing.

I was flicking through Facebook recently and came across a post which read:

“50 MILLION NAIRA to upgrade your life in Nigeria OR UK CITIZENSHIP?”

There were only a few responses to this, but one comment struck me.

It said, “I will go for UK citizenship because with time I will get more than that”.

This remark was illustrative of the thoughts harboured by many people who migrate from humble conditions across the Mediterranean seas to Europe in search of a better life. There are thousands of people who watch Western movies, listen to celebrity radio and hear embellished stories of grandiose migrant living overseas and believe that no matter what their home country can offer them, Europe, “with streets that are paved with gold”, will give them better.

There is another group, who though aware that European streets may most likely be paved with litter-strewn concrete, consider the continent to be an escape from a life of poverty, war and persecution. For the latter group, if they could stay at home with their families and loved ones, secure a good job and build their dreams without fearing for their lives, they would. Unfortunately, the difficult circumstances of their society mean they feel compelled to spend their life savings, place their lives in the hands of total strangers and risk everything to leave.

I’m aware that the difference between economic migrants and those seeking refugee status is often blurry and that sometimes the former and the latter are indeed the same. i.e. someone might be desperate to leave their country because they are at risk of their house being burnt down by soldiers but they would also prefer to settle down in X country rather than Y country because they believe they can earn a better standard of living there. There are also some economic migrants who, although their home country is relatively safe, feel that their future is so bleak at home that they are forced to leave.

According to The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in 2014 approximately 200,000 migrants and refugees– mainly from African and Middle Eastern countries – attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe – an increase from 60,000 in 2013. Worse still, many were unaccompanied children. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that between January and September 2014, at least 4,077 migrants died attempting to reach destinations around the world’.

As recently as Dec 2014 2 cargo boats carrying over 1,200 migrants were abandoned and left to drift dangerously in the Mediterranean. In September 2014, up to 500 migrants drowned as they approached Malta from Egypt. Apparently, their boat was deliberately rammed and sunk by people-traffickers.

The amount of deaths, stories of rape and torture faced by migrants who flee their homelands through precarious means is horrific, and these numbers only represent the cases that are documented.

The sad fact is that for those who are lucky enough to make it to the end of their journey alive, when they reach their destination they are often vilified and treated like vermin. Whilst I recognise that for some people, fleeing their homeland is the only option and for others, relocating abroad really would offer them better opportunities (seriously – it would be ignorant to say that many people have not significantly benefited from migration. I know so many people who have arrived in London with literally nothing, hustled their way to the top and now continuously give back to their home country by way of remittances/offering advice/skills developments/opportunities to others). But I also know that this is not the case for every one. I have heard stories of people who have been at the top of their game (career wise) in their home country, migrated abroad and not been able to find anything when they arrive at their destination and have had to settle for menial work, whilst being disrespected. Some of these people have entered Europe illegaly because they feel that it would definitely be better for their future prospects and have been disappointed. It is also likely that some of the people who were crafty enough to make it to Europe would have done far better at home.

I believe in the free movement of people – though I also understand that on a personal, political and economic level this can be complicated. I believe that people often have to relocate to pursue their dreams and some just want to live somewhere else (some are privileged enough to have a choice, others are forced out), but given the treacherous and undignified journey to Europe, risk of death and frosty welcome, it might be worthwhile for those who can make it back home but who decide to risk everything because the movies show Europe as amazing, to note that their journey to and also in Europe will not necessarily be easy. They need to be sure that it is really what they want. Some need to take a closer look at the ‘50M Naira’ offer, seek out what is available at home and remember that their homeland is also beautiful…

#Goal: Write about something that recently piqued your interest. 1000 words max

Protests in London over shooting dead of Michael Brown in Ferguson | Demotix.com

London to Ferguson

Carol Duggan (L) aunt of Mark Duggan who was shot by British police and whose death lead to riots in the capital, joins a rally outside the American Embassy to remember Michael Brown who was shot dead on August 9th, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.

via Protests in London over shooting dead of Michael Brown in Ferguson | Demotix.com.