Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Long overdue and somewhat personal

It’s been a while – in fact if I’m honest this year has been rather lacking. I haven’t written much even though I started the year with the goal of writing a blog post each month – life took over. And it didn’t inspire.
Then as luck would have it last month a friend of mine invited me at the very last minute to a talk by Elizabeth Gilbert  - she of “Eat Pray Love” fame at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). The event was organised by Greenlight Bookstore and although I had no idea at the time what to expect, the words BAM and Greenlight Bookstore were enough to convince me.  And as it so happened, this was exactly what I needed - a rather unexpected intervention in my struggle to find my inner creativity.

The event, entitled Unbound was in the format of a hilarious conversation between Elizabeth Gilbert and the brilliant playwright Sarah Jones about Gilbert’s new book, a non-fiction, unapologetically self-help tome entitled Big Magic- Creative Living Beyond Fear.  As I sat in the audience with my girlfriend who is a writer working on her second novel, I felt completely refreshed and rejuvenated and ready to embrace my art. Elizabeth Gilbert is funny and honest and self-deprecating in a way that was completely energizing.   She recognises that she has critics, many of them; some that she acknowledges would even try and help her gain the credibility of a serious writer that she lacks, according to them. She jokes about the NPR-types who insist that when she talks about the characters involved in her writing process, one of whom is “Fear’, they attempt to throw her a lifeline by suggesting that she is simply using metaphors to describe her creative process. To which she responds emphatically that these are not metaphors but real aspects of who she is as a writer.  She is a breath of fresh air in a world of New York Times-quoting, self-appointed critiques that pride themselves on finding fault with other people’s art rather than creating their own.  As I laughed deeply at some of the comments she made, I couldn’t help but think back to another writer, one whose work I adore, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie who once said that her novel, Americanah was her “Fuck You!” book – in other words when she wrote it, she decided that she could care less what people think or say, or the labels they decide to attach to her work. How invigorating that must feel!  Like Chimamanda, I loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s honesty. It takes a certain maturity and self-assuredness to say to hell with the naysayers and I think for so many of us who dream of a more creative life, of taking our creativity to the next level, the opinions of others represent the hurdles we face and often struggle to overcome. 

In response to an audience member who asked how could she tell whether she was good enough to do the creative thing she loved – what if infact she was just mediocre at lots of things, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about being the type of creative person who has focused on one thing with a dogged determination and gotten better at it over time. This acknowledgment, though obvious to some, goes against the usual rhetoric of the natural born artist – we have become more accustomed to the accounts of knowing that you have something special from an early age. So much so that when some of us don't feel that way, we conclude that it must be because we have no God-given talent and content ourselves with a life of banality.  Ms. Gilbert doesn’t claim to be born with this talent, instead she says that she knew writing was what she wanted to do from an early age and decided to stick with it. She concedes that she was probably not that good to begin with but knows with absolute certainty that she has gotten better with time and practice.  In her honest and open accounts, both during the conversation and in this book, she encourages her readers/audience to accept their flaws and still embrace their art. She makes a distinction between our ego – the thing that drives us to want more and more “likes” on social media and our soul – the thing that makes us do something even if no one else in the world reads, buys, listens to it, just because it makes us happy.  Yes she resorts to catchphrases at times to get her point across but just because I don’t subscribe to the notion of “Big Magic” doesn’t mean I don’t agree with her message.  In a similar way, I couldn’t stand the catchphrase “Lean In” – for Godsake’s it should be lean forward….you lean forward not in – but that did not stop me from relating to so much of what Sheryl Sandberg had to say.

And now back to me and my writing. I love writing and I love reading and this is what I want to do in my free time more than anything else. I love reading what I’ve written and what other people have written. At the moment I’m reading Edwidge Danticat’s “Untwine” as well as Jojo Moyes “After you” and Tanehisi Coates “Between the world and me” because each one, in its own way,  feeds my hunger for beautiful words and incredible stories. So thanks to Ms. Gilbert I am reading again and writing and who knows what the future holds. I am not setting myself any goals but I hope you’ll be able to read me more often than you have this year and I hope that I’ll inspire you to do whatever makes you happy…..even if you do it for an audience of one!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

My "f*#% you" to Facebook apathy

I have decided to quit Facebook indefinitely. To be honest with you it was a long time coming as I've grown increasing tired of the constant navel gazing. I mean let's be honest, how many f-ing selfies do you need to take before you've convinced your self-absorbed self that you're beautiful or rather that you photograph well? And yes so you signed a contract or closed a deal, some people negotiate ceasefires between warring parties or resuscitate people for a living but you don't see them regaling us with tales of their contribution to humanity or world peace now do you. But even with all that silent suffering, I kept coming back, dare I add like an addict. So I guess the straw that broke the camel's back was the reaction to two recent stories/status updates that I posted. One involved a celebrity and as I would have predicted within hours there were comments and "likes" and it felt like I was having a real conversation with real people.  The second related to a critically ill child in need of medical care, post a liver transplant and depressingly that post elicited one like in a day and a second the following day. In that post, I pleaded with those on my Facebook to help me raise a modest amount for a friend's campaign whose goal was to help the girl's family with hospital treatment that could save her. It was met with a deafening silence. Not only did I find that deeply disheartening (let me be honest with you... or as we say in Krio "tell friend true nor pwell (spoil) friend"), but it reminded me of how fickle and ineffective a tool Facebook is when it comes to real, meaningful interaction with people we know... some of whom we may even love. It tells me, not necessarily that my 100 odd Facebook friends are not genuine friends - I make a point of culling my numbers often so without a doubt, many of them are - but that they do not want to engage in anything meaningful via Facebook. As such I have to conclude that as a social media tool, Facebook holds no value for me. If it's superficial engagement I want, there's twitter. For meaningful conversations, there is Whatsapp, making Facebook redundant, even superfluous! 

On the one hand I hear the arguments that we prefer light-hearted interactions on social media. I get it but then I don't actually, in all honesty, I don't get it because no amount of ignoring "heavy" posts and news items makes them go away - it just makes us apathetic. It makes us fair weather friends...ready to share the laughs but running a mile in the opposite direction when there's pain.  In real life - away from our computers and smart phones we can watch mindless sitcoms and reality shows while at the same time processing news reports - sometimes uncomfortably depressing but burying our heads in the Real Housewives of X town doesn't exactly make those reports disappear, it just makes us ignorant of what is going on in the world and even more depressing, it means we are not part of the solutions to those problems.
At the same time I also think that the tendency to only post bad news, whether it's about Ebola orphans or newly reported natural disasters without offering solutions or glimmers of hope - indications of how we can ease the pain - is completely unproductive, even exploitative. It's like "disaster porn" addicts - you know the types who love to observe and even profit from people's suffering .... in a completely detached way. 
So all this to say Facebook has ceased to serve a purpose for me - long live Whatsapp for my family and friends! And for those whose daily musings are a source of endless amusement to me (you know who you are), please join me on Twitter!! We don't even have to address each other directly - just keep on posting funny things that make me laugh - it's that simple! 

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Power Women 232

The silver lining that has emerged from the dark cloud that is Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone is the number of phenomenal women who are doing something to make the lives of victims, their carers and their affected societies better.

What better day than International Women's day to recognise the incredible work and sacrifice of one of those phenomenal women. 

Power 232 - a network of young professional women - launched a campaign in August last year aimed at recognising and rewarding the tireless and selfless efforts of healthcare workers dealing with the Ebola epidemic. Through donations from individuals and businesses, Power 232 creates care packages for healthcare workers that include essential items like soap,  toothpaste, tea, milk, and biscuits, cornflakes. They also include 'Thank You’ cards that remind these amazing carers who risk their lives each day to help others, just how much they are appreciated. 

Today, these amazing women honoured one of those healthcare professionals on their Facebook page with the following:

Dr Fanny Koroma
Meet PowerWoman Fanny Koroma, MD. We at PowerWomen232 have waited until International Women's Day 2015 to feature Fanny because she is one of the numerous unsung female Ebola heroes across Sierra Leone. A committed Christian with a passion for singing, Fanny graduated from the College of Medicine and Allied Sciences, University of Sierra Leone with an MB.Ch.B degree. With a firm belief in leadership, she served as President of the Sierra Leone Medical Students' Association (SLeMSA), which is Sierra Leone's chapter of the International Federation of Medical Students' Association (IFMSA), the only UN recognized student body with over 100 member countries, this is in addition to membership in numerous organizations including the Sierra Leone Junior Doctors' Association.
When the Ebola outbreak began in Sierra Leone, Fanny was attached to Connaught Hospital as a House Officer. She worked in the outpatient department which is the first port of call for ALL patients, doing screening and deciding who fits the case definition of Ebola. She did this on average of 3 times a week with little or no personal protective equipment (PPE). Fanny had many scary moments, each time a patient she had screened was confirmed positive for Ebola, it took an emotional and mental toll on her; compounding her mental anguish were the deaths of several outpatient department nurses who contracted the virus and subsequently died. Through all this, Fanny continued to show up for work day in and day out. She finally broke down when her immediate boss and mentor, Dr T.T. Rogers contracted the virus and died, she was placed on self observation for 21 days and those were the longest 21 days of her life.
During her 21 days of self observation, Fanny had a lot of time to think. She felt 'helpless' people were showing up at the hospital when it was too late due to fear. She wanted to do something different in the fight against Ebola. She felt she would be of better use at the community level were the problems could be arrested before escalating to the hospital. Fanny joined the World Health Organization as a Tracing Mentor/Coordinator in Kambia, Northern Sierra Leone. In her current role, she is in the field everyday, in villages and quarantined homes; following contacts and conducting case investigations to get epidemiological links/chain of transmission. She also ensures that people in quarantined homes get all the necessary food, security and communication needs to enable them to comply to the terms of the quarantine. Additionally, she ensures that contact tracers visit quarantined homes for monitoring twice a day.
Fanny is saddened by the toll Ebola has had on health care professionals in Sierra Leone, especially the more experienced doctors; she was hoping to work with them, to learn from their experiences. Many of them have died after contracting Ebola. Even more troubling to Fanny is the huge death toll of both Ebola and non-Ebola causes in such a short time span.
According to Fanny, Ebola has changed the face of medicine in Sierra Leone, for doctors, nurses, medical students and patients. “Ebola has been an expensive lesson for Sierra Leoneans,” she says “from issues like hygiene, to managing hospitals, and how to approach medicine when a majority of the population prefer to seek health care needs from traditional healers, we must do better, Sierra Leoneans deserve better.” In the midst of all this, Fanny is forward thinking, a visionary; she is looking forward to a health care system that works in Sierra Leone, one with the right policies, administration, infrastructure etc...and she is hoping to make a significant contribution to the turnaround of our healthcare system.
We at PowerWomen232 are so proud of Fanny, at a time when those in the medical profession are sacrificing their own lives in the Ebola fight, she has stepped forward, to offer her services to humanity. Dr. Fanny Koroma, on International Women's Day, we salute you, we beam with so much pride, you and countless other women ‪#‎MakeItHappen‬ in this‪#‎Ebola‬ fight. We simply say thank you for your gift to humanity, thank you for your gift to Sierra Leone.

To learn more about and to support Power 232 - please visit their Facebook page  or follow them on twitter . As the name of the campaign suggests, in order to eradicate Ebola we need "All hands on deck!"