Friday, 29 May 2009

The Hollie Steel dilemma

It’s very unlike me but I have been watching Britain’s Got Talent. As a mother I felt slightly strange watching Hollie Steel tonight. She was clearly struggling and then broke down, pleaded to be allowed to start again and lost it when she was told that was not possible – just like a ten year old would. She reminded me of my five year old when his artwork doesn’t go the way he wants it – but Hollie was doing this in front of millions of people on live TV. Should she have been there at all?

Her mum was clearly anxious, leaping onto the stage, and with her as she faced the final vote. I felt nervous watching it at home. Hollie is through to the final but, as I prepare to go to sleep tonight, I can’t help wondering whether the right decision would have been for the judges to send her home. Should she be repeating the ordeal tomorrow night or spending the weekend preparing for a return to school like a normal ten year old? Would that be a happier end to half term or is it okay to let her chase her dream in front of the whole world?

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Call Me Okaasan

When Revolution Baby was published I worked hard at marketing, thinking, naively, I could get it all done before Baby 3 was born. I hadn’t appreciated the effect of momentum and how one feature would lead to another. This is how I’ve been introduced to some fantastic projects, and ended up writing much more often than I’d expected with a new baby.

I was very flattered to be asked to contribute to an anthology about multi-cultural mothering. Feeling slightly unqualified I wrote about my experiences of ante-natal care when abroad, sent it off and didn’t think much more of it.

Last week the book arrived with the postman – Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering, edited by Suzanne Kamata. I started to read it and was engrossed.

The main marketing quote is “Whether through intercultural marriage, international adoption or peripatetic lifestyles, families these days are increasingly multicultural. In this collection, women around the world ponder the unique joys and challenges of raising children across two or more cultures.”

I have found it to be a very interesting commentary on motherhood. Written from alternative perspectives it allows you to see everyday issues from different angles. Some of the essays I enjoyed because I could particularly relate to the sentiments, some are thought provoking, some are beautifully and lyrically written, some expose the rawest emotions of motherhood and some show how the simplest issues can become complicated.

I think it’s a really special book about alternative family lifestyles. I have been touched by it and feel very honoured to have been involved.

You can buy it on Amazon or find out more at Suzanne’s website,

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Food for Thought

I was supposed to go to the gym this evening but instead felt I had to stay in and write this blog. I’m sure you’re thinking “yeah right, good excuse for being lazy”. But there is a reason deeper than lethargy.

This afternoon I had tea with Bishop Alphonse and his wife Evelyne from Nebbi Diocese in northern Uganda. I have a link with Nebbi Diocese because I lived there for four months after law school. I stayed with the then Bishop and his family. He’s now Archbishop of Uganda, Henry Luke Orombi, who you may have seen in western media due to his controversial thoughts on homosexuality.

I warmed immediately to Bishop Alphonse. He is a gentle man, softly spoken, wise words drifting from his lips if you listened above the tumult of children and afternoon tea. The cadence of his voice took me back to my days in Nebbi when I listened to the tribal language Alur and smelt the smoke of cooking fires. Bishop Aphonse told me I would see changes if I went back. “Food is now short” he said simply. He explained that due to lack of rain the crops have failed and people are hungry. “We have nothing; our supermarkets are our gardens. People eat one meal of porridge a day after long hours of work. Mothers stay in the garden so they can’t hear their babies crying.” Can we help? I asked, can we send some bags of rice or maize flour? “But that will only help very few for a short time,” he said wisely “and will cause problems with those we cannot help.”

I couldn’t eat my sandwich. Neither could I go to the gym. I felt it was wrong to go and burn calories from excess food when I’d heard about true hunger. So I’ve stayed at home to pass out this message.

We sometimes say we’re hungry but we know nothing of hunger. I recently read an essay by Katherine Barrett*, a Canadian currently living in South Africa. She describes how what she’s seen in South Africa has caused her to “recalibrate her scale of hardship”. She writes about her daily struggles of bringing up three small children, then shows how she’s learnt what real struggles are – camping in temporary shelters; worrying about xenophobic violence; scraping together enough food for a family enhanced by orphans taken in through selfless kindness.

I’m not sure what we can do, maybe understanding and trying to appreciate the cliché of how lucky we are is a good start. Bishop Alphonse said they hope to have crops by July. Until then, he was not sure what would happen to his flock, hoping, vaguely, that the government would help.

Today it’s raining and we’re complaining it’s cool for May. But people in Nebbi are starving because it’s not rained enough on them. When I lived with Archbishop Henry he told me that rain was a blessing. Now I’m starting to understand why.

* Carrying On by Katherine Barrett is featured in the recently published Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering edited by Suzanne Kamata. It’s a wonderful and thought provoking book which I will be reviewing on this blog as soon as I’ve finished it!