Get your bearings right

Support comes in all shapes and sizes.  Photo Credit: Rumela Basu

Support comes in all shapes and sizes.
Photo Credit: Rumela Basu

It was in the Kervan Palace Turkish Restaurant in downtown Glasgow that I realized how lost a man (or woman) could get. I realized just how easy it was for people to get so enveloped in their ‘issues’ that they tended to neglect the world around them. They did not see that the elements of the universe just kept going on and on and on despite their woes.

Damn the universe!

Can you not see that a man is suffering? Can you not see that losing his girlfriend to his best pal and missing the bus to his new job interview because he was finding out about the loss is an unfair move? Can you not see that denying her access to the internet minutes before she hands in her final assessment could be regarded as plain cruel?

Anyway, that is just to let you know that you can be unfair. Back to my epiphany.

I realized in that restaurant (and in the car as we struggled along the M8 into the city earlier) that i, and human race, waste a whole lot of time being pushed around by things we cannot control. We get flustered. We lose hair. We palpitate. We don’t even eat sometimes.

Know the destination. Plan to get there. The rest will fall in place. Photo Credit: Rumela Basu

Know the destination. Plan to get there. The rest will fall in place. Photo Credit: Rumela Basu

It gets so bad that we do not eat!

The road trip into the heart and the highlands of Scotland taught me something. There are things you cannot do ANYTHING about!

Eight people drove for 48 hours in 72 hours in two cars with one thing in mind; EXPLORE SCOTLAND. Over 3,200 miles of road was covered. In three days those eight people got only 12 hours of sleep. They spent over 570 pounds on fuel and realized just how bland the meals served in 10 different rest stops along the way could get.

The eight people journeyed from Cardiff to Edinburgh to Inverness. They got lost in their quest along the Loch Ness trail and ‘pretended’ to see the monster. They grudgingly and eventually settled for some good food and free wifi in a restaurant in Portree and walked quite a few miles to discover the breathtaking Fairy Pools near Carbost, a village on the south shore of Loch Harport on the Isle of Skye. Those same eight people travelled long nights and sung songs in Hindi and ‘Twi’ (Ghanaian language) as they sought refuge in Loch Lomond.

Those eight people ended up, however, with one thing. MEMORIES. Memories that will last a lifetime.

Those eight people chose to enjoy themselves silly. They chose to bond with each other. They chose to do the ‘Macarena’ in the backseat of a vehicle guided by the power (or lack thereof) of Google Maps. They chose to tell each other the stories of their families and friends in countries so identical they could be siblings. They chose to smile through the pain of not peeing for hours because the drivers of the cars they sat in needed ‘spotters’ of speed cameras.

The point here is this. In life, there is only so much you can do about the things that happen around you. There is no point getting messed up about those things you can do nothing about. You cannot control the steering wheel of the car approaching in the other lane at breakneck speed. You cannot control the algorithms that feed your phone with GPS coordinates and leave you miles from your destination. You just cannot.

What you can change is your attitude to these things.

Plan what you can. The rest is out of your hands. Stop stressing!  Photo Credit: Rumela Basu

Plan what you can. The rest is out of your hands. Stop stressing!

Like the eight road trip junkies, you can allow the beauty of the Fairy Pools to dazzle you and inspire you to write poems. You can allow the snow-capped mountains on the Isle of Skye to amaze you and get you screaming like a 5-year old. You can drive an automatic car for the first time in your life in a foreign country. You can fall on your bum and laugh out loud about it as tens of strangers walk past. You can even learn to say “I love you” in Bengali (Ami tomaye bhalobashi).

Get focused. You know what you can control.

Get your bearings right!

A word that says it all; Discovery

#Pespective

Viewing Gregynog Hall from behind a dust bin

One day i am a 28 year old guy standing in the middle of Accra Central holding up a camera attempting to film the scene of relative violence and chaos around the Kantamanto market.

The next moment, i am sitting in a 38-seater air-conditioned bus meandering along the hillsides of Wales listening to Donald Bryd’s jazzy rendition of ‘Just my Imagination.’

It not my imaginations though. All this is very real.

Its been a little over seven weeks since i left my homeland.

Seven weeks of adventure, interaction and connection. People, lives, personalities and perspectives influence my world view on a daily basis and i must say that sheepishly, i allow it to continue.

Why?

When Lindsay – the spectacled Taiwanese lady currently dozing off in the aisle close to mine – shares her frustrations about how she looks forward to the days when her homeland would experience true liberation from China; when Chetna – the twenty-something, ever-smiling Indian beauty – displays such admirable and coveted adherence to her religious ideals in spite of the daunting ‘distractions’, why would i not allow it.

For three days, i have been cooped up in a breathtaking 400 year old estate called Gregynog Hall fleshing out my dissertation topic and establishing how the next couple of months are going to work out for me academically. Now, as we head for Pontypridd on our way home, i think that understanding the lives of the people who sit in Room 0.05 with me for lectures during the week, was the greatest discovery of all.

#perspective

The view from behind

Take Lee Ping for example. The enthusiastic soul who nods more times during a lecture than an agama lizard when a lecturer speaks, can dance so well. He got the entire class cheering at the dodgy Halloween party on Thursday night.

The extrovert that is Nia Evans held nothing back when she gingerly walked across the room full of cheering course mates dressed as Mother Theresa; the rosary dangling, the wrinkles made so prominent with ink. Who would have ever thought!

The seeming gentle soul of Jayne Alice Lutwyche ‘shaking what her momma gave her’ to music from Rihanna on a night when ghouls were to lurking around the creepy corners of this enormous mansion. That was impressive to say the least.

Then there is the ‘Fab Bunch’ – Priyanka Sharma, Olivia Spilsbury, Susie Moozar, Lucy England and Dana Beltaji – These are the ladies who set the trends. They sure do know how to have a good time. One thing you should beware of is that conversations and debates, ranging from academic to fashion to world politics, never grow stale with this lot. TRUST ME. You should always know what you are talking about.

My Indian Family – Neeraj Krishnan, Rumela Basu, Ekta Rathi, Chetna Kapoor and Anugraha Hadke – Oh my Indian family. Neeraj is master of the ‘illusion of self’ but a great friend at that, Rumela is Queen of the jolly good and cheerful and has a thing for bald men (i think lol), Ekta is the voice of eternal wisdom and can set any storm at peace with her oratory, Chetna is the bundle of good nature wrapped in the cloth of unending ‘pain in the behind’. Anu is simply the intellectual discoverer. Together they form a bond so strong, and connection so unique.

There is the team i call ‘The wild side’ made of folks like Carla Guerreiro Santos – my housemate and leader of revolutionary crusades including the Halloween Party, Naimeng Dong (Rachel) – the lady with my sister’s name who manages to slip seamlessly out of range just when its most appropriate. Lorena Riveiro Rodríguez is the he pragmatic Spanish woman with a scary set of words for the utterly foolish things in life and Yen-Ling Hou (Lindsay) – Ever passionate about her homeland but with a streak of intelligence that could shock you.

#perspective

Get some perpsective on life

There is Kavya Nath and Denise Puca, two ladies the world must watch out for. Speak little and do much. Most apt description for them. Kavya, despite her over-indulgence in all things Nadal, has an incredible appetite for all things intellectual, albeit sports bias. Denise, the political genius of Italy, might come across as detached initially but wields a golden heart and genius mind.

When the Croatian, Petra Kovačević and the Indian Shreya Arora smile – Petra more than Shreya, it is a moment to truly behold. They make one wonder why we don’t see it often. Perhaps that way we cherish it more. They are the most serious students in the class. Petra, classic researcher she will end up being and Shreya, tough news editor who delivers performance above all else. Thats what drives them.

As for that Sandister Girl dierrr… What more can i say. Always on that annoying Galaxy of hers researching this or that. Mtsewwwww. Yet she is scholar from Ghana so what do you expect.

The folks from China Town are a spectacle. From Mat Guo who always underestimates his creative ability to Akira Oda whose Facebook profile picture is a direct reflection of his nature; pensive. The Samuai, Wang Dante whose real self i discovered on a trip through the woods; a live wire looking for a chance to be freed. James Yan, the fast talking Chinese man from Shanghai who loves Manchester United more than i do is what i like about humanity; never go down without a fight. Zhao Zhang, now christened Snowden, is a surprise waiting to happen. Whoever thought a China man could be that funny in a balloon debate!

The Chinese ladies are always a hard nut to crack but so far my experiences with Yuchen Du – i mistook her for a guy when i sent a Facebook message to the guys in the class about a football class, Yang Liu, Chenzhi Zhang, Miao Miao, Xinyi Li – a complete pleasure to work with and know, Cassie Jiang – creative bundle of genius, Yolanda Li, Bing Li, Sarah Wei, Chenxi Li, Ye Zhang – who gave me my first tour of the world of Manga, Shang Lorelai and Miah Wang, have made it a pleasure i would love to relive the rest of my days.

#perspective

The best way to understand people is to see life from their point of view

Pooja Mahesh and Sarah Weckerling, the gentle souls in the class. The brilliance of Sarah was all too evident during a class presentation in the afternoon of the day we arrived, Wednesday, at Gregynog Hall. Pooja, hardly says anything and when she does in rather hushed tones, has the attention of a cheetah ready to pounce and the memory of a sponge.

The ‘Men of Journalism’, as they have come to be known are complete work of art though. Take Benjamin Katz from South Africa. Complete mess of a man on the one side because it seems his hair is never combed, but always proceeds with the analytical mind of a professor on the other. Lucas Goetz, the French man who understands style about everything including facts and figures he is not given enough credit for. His wit is deep and requires a sharp mind to comprehend. Jonathan Scammel, the guy who locked me out of my room thus preventing me from showcasing the DJ side of Ghandi. He might not say much or seem to do much, but any man who has a history degree is worth his salt. He writes with a majesty that could take him places.

Aksel Zaimovic, the Bosnian man who i believe forgets himself and becomes a completely different individual on occasion is another member. There are few journalism students who work for Aljazeera. He is one. I am yet to meet any others. That should tell you something. There is Charlie Young. Oh Charlie. If only they knew. If only they knew how underneath all those layers of clothes you always wear to class lay a prowling mind and knowledge. If only!

The two oldest folks (yes, i am sheepishly smiling while writing this) are Andres and Mohammed. Andres is an expert in telecommunications partly because he used to run one and retired and partly because he holds a Masters as well. Mohammed, my Nigerian writer colleague who allows his experience to ooze from himself through his work. The two of them are inseparable often times.

As you can see, nothing prepares you for this influx of varied belief systems, ideologies and culinary preferences. Nothing prepares you for the love, care, drive and passion.

The only way i survive is to set my mind on a journey of perpetual discovery!

Are you straight?

Image

Carla, my Portuguese housemate (peace sign) and Petra my Crotian course mate are the most visible in this picture. The other two ladies in the background are Italians; Carolina and Laura. Chiara, has the brown bag.

For a select group of persons who have come to know me well, this question should set them smiling. For those who are yet to make my acquaintance, I should imagine this will get you wondering two things by now – the writer and his chums will find it amusing.

Well, the question managed to get itself wedged in my mind after they erupted from the lips of a 15-year old looking bloke who was gyrating to some Beyoncé-like mumble on a night when I made the brave decision to explore the decades-old metropolis on a windy Saturday night.

What a welcome it was.

It was a night of mixed emotions as my course mates and I had spent half of it looking for a nice place to have fun, which turned out to be a night of club hopping basically.

After 30 minutes at a place where the master/mistress of ceremonies happened to be a transvestite, we thought, “this could not get any worse!”

It did.

As I danced the evening away with some Italian ladies who I had just met that night, completely oblivious of what was happening around me, I felt a tap on my shoulder.

There stood a young man I believe was in his early teens; smiling and gazing upon me like he had just discovered a gem in the heart of a coal mine. He leaned forward and asked me: Are you straight?

As the words sunk into my mind and clutched at meaning, felt that familiar tingle: the one you get when you know you are far away from home.

I have been away from my home country, Ghana for three weeks now. I am studying International Journalism at Cardiff University. Yet, none of that prepares you for your fair share of some rude awakening.

Nothing prepares you for the intriguing smiles that greet you at every turn, partly because you are new in town and partly because the smiles are coming from people who are in the same situation as you. The Chinese, I must say, are quite guilty of this lovely attribute.

Nothing prepares you to deal with overcoming some of the rather skewed stereotypes associated with several cultures and peoples from across the world. “Keep and open mind, but guard it all the same,” wise words from a good friend were apt for maneuvering some of those touchy waters.

Arriving in Oyibo land

From Left: Abu, Sadister and me at Cardiff Airport

However, when another man, in a presence of three stunning females walks up to you and asks, “Are you straight?” its hard to tell you how to react.

I will however tell you what I did.

I put my hands on his shoulders, looked him dead in the face and said, “I am, sorry.”

One of the girls almost screamed out, “I told you, I told you. We were trying to hook you up with him. I told you. Where are you from?”

Through all of this, I just stood there and took it all in. I truly was away from home. A slap or yell or an insult or a combination of both would have been the fate of that poor young man if he had made a pass at me in a Ghana bar or club.

But then, I was away from home.

The adventures are numerous. The experiences are uncountable.

One thing rings true though; Humanity is a wonderful thing.