Marrakesh

 

Marrakesh,  with its ochre-coloured buildings, towering minarets and bustling souks is quickly becoming a distant memory, the joys and delights of roaming its streets being progressively replaced by a sense of having returned to drudgery. Although the three weeks of work I have gotten under my belt since my return have provided fertile ground for that feeling to fester, the seeds were sown in Marrakesh, everything from passport control and its lengthy queues, an hour and a half spent waiting for a bag to turn up and even more queues at the body scanner as we waited to exit the airport all setting the tone for what seemed like running a gauntlet.  Once through all of that bedlam and outside the airport, the smell of smoke – somewhat like the linger of the remains of a thousand spit roasting fires – was a warm welcome of sorts.

Having gotten to our hotel – the Movenpick Mansour Eddahbi  – quite late on the Saturday we arrived, we spent the next day getting ourselves familiar with our surroundings, mainly to work out where dinner could be had close by, and where we could get bottled water – thankfully the Menara mall was handy for both. On our first evening out we had the good fortune of running into an English woman, her daughter and her Moroccan son-in law, who were kind enough to suggest a few lower priced places close by.

The days went quickly with visits to various places, all on the beaten path. The in-house botanist at the Argan oil factory we stopped at as part of the Ourika Valley tour impressed with his knowledge of a number of herbs and their use in alleviating various maladies from diabetes to psoriasis, albeit as a precursor to a hard selling session. There was also the hike up a precipitous rock face towards some water falls which at various times felt like flirting with death; no regard for health and safety one of the quintessentially English – and aged – couples on the climb pointed out as they dropped out halfway along the climb. The Yves Saint Laurent Museum was one of the most sought after places, lengthy queues guarding the entry on both days we tried. We braved the consequences at the second time of asking, being rewarded by what was a truly fascinating experience centred around the YSL oeuvre and his connections to Marrakesh.  Elsewhere there were pit stops at the Koutoubia Mosque and the gardens close by, various places in the old Medina, including a tannery, the Saadian tombs and the Bahia Palace.

We opted for a trip to the Chez Ali fantasy show on our last night, joined by a motley of other folk – an Italian couple, an Indian family of five, an older French couple and a trio of dark skinned French speaking folk. The facade of the venue was imposing, framed as it was by a large gate, ochre-red walls and a guard of horsemen lined up either side. Once through body searches and then allowed to go in, we were seated around round tables in a tent for the meal – a legume based soup as a starter, lamb dates and nuts as a second course and then a bowl of couscous to wrap things up. There were tricks by the horsemen, what looked like a demonstration of military tactics in which the mounted riders charged at the crowd and set off their guns into the air, and then a belly dancing session. All of that made for a far more sedate experience than clambering over rocks in the Ourika valley just a few days ago. The weather was much warmer – and drier – than London, the low twenties and high teens being a welcome escape from the sub-zero temperatures in the Northern England city we would have been in if we hadn’t gone to Marrakesh. Here are more  pictures, hardly done justice to by my iPhone.

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I found shades of Lagos in everything; the relentless, in-your-face hustle of people trying to sell everything from tours to bottles of Argan oil, the laisser-faire approach to driving and diving through junctions, roadside bus stops with people spilling into the roads and the police checkpoints a few of the more obvious similarities. That mopeds were everywhere, and more than a few ancient Peugeot cars didn’t help ameliorate that festering feeling of being on edge, of always being only a few misaligned bits of Swiss cheese away from a monumental cataclysm. I suspect I was far more concerned than I should have, but on these travels I am finding that rather being away from home, I carry shades of home with me; warts, joys, near dystopia and all.

The Burden of Grief

One of the lingering effects of H’s passing is that four times a year, I go through a phase where I especially struggle for words to share with my father. Although triggered by four specific days – her birthday (the 8th of July), their wedding anniversary (the 11th of November), the day she passed (the 19th of July) and the day she was buried (the 8th of August) – these tend to be long drawn out affairs affecting the days leading up to and the days after these days. The struggle takes various forms primarily centred on whether to call my father or not, and on the days when I manage to call him, what to talk about – to keep things as normal as possible or broach the difficult subject of H. He and I have never been the best of conversationalists – we’re much too similar for that – but these days make that tenuous relationship an even more difficult one, so much so that on most of these days, I have opted for not calling him in the end.

H’s passing does still feel especially raw, even though her’s was not the first of which clear memories still remain. For that I have to go all the way back to 1988 and G, the ones the genes took. I distinctly remember the events which led to it; the battle with a crisis and the ensuing hospital admission, and then the knowing once I was called out of my class to Mrs A’s office where the neighbour’s orange Volkswagen beetle was waiting to whilst myself and T home. The others in between though covering a range of family members – paternal grandparents, my maternal grandmother and a couple of uncles – are comparative blurs in the landscape of my memory. Distinct memories of G’s passing notwithstanding, I do not remember the same sense of grieving with her that still lingers with H. It is difficult to define completely the interactions of time, space and connection which make both experiences of grief so markedly different, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would offer up the fact that I was much younger then and that there had been a sense of inevitability to it, given the situation with the genes. I imagine others across a broad spectrum of locations and contexts still feel the weight of the grief with H as keenly as I do, given she interacted with a lot of people across the various interests and causes she supported.

This, the intersection of ‘griefs’, complicates grieving in the context of ongoing relationships. With my father, these key dates trigger a remembrance – and a reinforcement even – of loss, driving the conundrum that I wrestle with around these dates. Outside these dates, I feel like we have reached a new normal of sorts, one that accepts the reality of loss but focuses on getting on with life as much as possible. These dates disrupt that new normal for me, and drives the sense of there being a disjunction between living normally and remembering. In my head, by refusing to speak to my father on the day – and hence removing the need to speak about H – I am removing an additional trigger of remembrance from him. That at first glance sounds like a good thing but somewhere in my head, I wonder if it is truly as altruistic as it sounds. Not having the difficult conversation is a good thing for me, whether it is for him, and if this stance adequately honours the memory is a different matter altogether. It is this, the balance between living in the new normal and respectfully remembering and honouring the one who has been lost, that is the primary burden of grief, at least in my opinion.

There are also other non-time based triggers which set off the same sort of feelings. The most recent example was in the middle of a conversation with S’s parents a few weeks ago. Being the incredibly perceptive people they are, they picked up on how I had studiously managed to bring up the subject of H in the over three hours we had spent catching up at the time, which prompted the question. The uneasy silence which followed my explanation suggested it was a topic they would not have brought up if they had known the context. Perhaps – in typical J fashion – I am overthinking the exchange, but this unease exhibited by others when the subject of H comes up is another one of the burdens of grief. Not only does one have to deal with loss, one also has to deal with the reaction of others to loss.

There are no right or wrong ways to carry these burdens. I suspect that time will continue to chip away at the intensity of the grieving of loss which in turn might lessen the burden it places on relationships. If the last few years are an indication of how the next few might pan out in this regards, it is fair to assume that it will not be as simple as that.

Currently listening to: Mandisa – Lifeline

Of Journeys and Endings…

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[Source]


When March finally dragged itself to an end, I remember thinking that I hadn’t felt as stressed as I did at the time since 2008, 2008 being a nadir of sorts; one that ended up with me quitting my job and heading back to grad school, my version of navigating a delayed quarter life crisis.

So out of sorts and form did I feel that I took myself away to the Starbucks in Union Square, one Sunday after church, ordered the most decadent hot chocolate with cream on offer and proceeded to have a conversation with myself. What quickly became apparent from that exercise was that there were a number of pressure points which were driving my malaise.

Work was one of those. It has been an interesting – if difficult – year. From being dragged into a project at work with strong personalities on both sides of the table and poorly defined deliverables to the pressures of sub-par oil prices on the long term viability of the North Sea  business, trepidation has been the underlying emotion I have associated with work all year. With the pressure to deliver upwards of 20% reductions (75% in the long term McKinsey surmise),  in order to bring lifting costs in line with prices, cuts in projects were inevitable and more than a few good people had to leave, voluntarily or otherwise. This had a two fold effect – creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear, but also leaving one with survivor’s guilt every time yet another acquaintance got the heave-ho. The question of what constitutes appropriate etiquette around leavers remains open, at least for me. Does one call or text to commiserate, or does the ostrich manoeuvre suffice seeing as HR matters are of a private and confidential nature?

In tandem with the work issues were pressures on a personal level; big decisions I needed to make with wide ranging ramifications, spending which was spiralling out of control due to unforeseen circumstances associated with an acquisition I made at the turn of the year, and a sense of cognitive dissonance over my continuing world view issues.

There is a sense in which April, and NaPoWriMo 2015 was perfectly timed, particularly for the opportunity it presented to process the questions, ambivalence and unseen turmoil I was wrestling with. It was hard going, particularly as prompts weren’t necessarily timely for me given the time differences, but all told it helped that I could ‘steal’ lines  from La Reine and feed off the Komunyakaa-esque imagery of some of the pieces Tolu put out with challenging regularity.

I would like to think there has been an upswing (small and barely perceptible, but there nonetheless), the origin of which I would have to trace all the way back to a competency assessment interview I had with an outside consultant brought in to assess the team. Going over my background with him resulted in the unintended consequence of providing some much needed perspective for me; on  just how far I have come since being the bumbling twenty something year old new hire hassled by a police man all those years ago in Eket, to leaving (and surviving) 2008 and a few detours later arriving at where I am at the moment.

With time, and more reflection, it has becoming increasingly clear that of the myriad of decisions – some of which I agonised over to no end – that have taken me from there here, only a comparative handful have been truly life defining. The first big fight I had with my parents – over the choice of an under-grad major – in the end mattered very little as both options could have led me here. Ditto for the choice between Newcastle, Manchester and Cranfield for grad school. Perhaps the most critical was one I took most lightly, sending in the application for that first role which set me off on this path of pretending to know a thing or two about rust.

I have learned, and am learning that that ad for that iconic Scottish brew Johnnie Walker Scotch just might have been on to something:

Your entire life;  every routine, every risk, every moment, every step forward and every step back, has led you here to the next step and it has the power to change everything… Your entire life, all of it leads to the next step. The chance to define yourself by where you’re headed instead of where you stand.

And so, I keep walking…

NaPoWriMo Day 15 – Why I Write

Sometimes silence is
the song a caged bird sings,
the fading echo the flailing
of a broken wing leaves,
as it creaks beneath the weight
of life’s hammer blows.

Sometimes silence is
the shrill scream rushing air makes
as it leaves a pierced balloon
as it runs amok in its death throes
before nestling limp like a wet sock
and disappearing.

Sometimes pain will break you
and the linger of unrequited memory
will haunt you, seared as it were in the very
fabric of your mind’s skin.

Years later in a season of re-memory
you will remember – how
uneasy laughter masked worry
and how in the midst
of the milling, madding crowd
it was you, yourself
and a thousand broken things.

This, is why I write
For peace, for clarity
And for my seasons of re-memory.

For the Day 15 Prompt at NaPoWriMo

Seasons of discontent, a Nigerian wedding and other musings

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Although it is only September, there has been a certain nippiness to the last few Aberdonian mornings. If I believed the weather app on my phone – and the state of my ears when my brisk twenty minute walk ends with my bum at my office desk suggests that this is the case  – it has barely been warmer than 7 deg C on each of the last few mornings I have walked in to work. Besides the early morning chill, fall has remained frustratingly true to type; too warm to warrant breaking out the full shebang of a knee length winter coat, but yet too cold to be out and about with only a wind breaker for protection. If how many people already sport winter coats is anything to go by, I’m up there in the upper 10% in the hardiness stakes. When it slips out in an unguarded moment of banter with my mother, she thinks it is silly. I suspect all it will take to prove her right is coming down with the flu, if history is any judge, a clogged nose awaits me in the not too distant future.

One of those days, on my way back from work, I make a detour to the Co-op on Union to grab some mid-week groceries and end up running into an old acquaintance from a previous work project who has since moved on to other things. Hands filled with bags of fruit and all the other things a culinarily challenged single bloke stuffs himself with on a Thursday night, we stand just outside The Monkey House and chat. We eventually end up talking work, the people changes in my current neck of the woods and the prospects of pastures new further afield, and with almost his last words before he hops off in pursuit of his bus, he leaves me with a statement which is both true and depressing in equal measure; more depressing because a few weeks earlier a departing member of my work team – and there have been quite a few over this summer of discontent  – had said something similar in pretty much the same words.

Saturday brings some respite from the fall weather, and the sun peeks out long enough to brings some cheer and warmth. Encouraged by that, and enticed by the opportunity to eyeball dolled up bridesmaids, free food and hang with the lads, I make my way to the Music Hall to attend a wedding reception. The lad signing away his freedom is a friend from work, and if what we’ve heard is true, it promises to be a pretty massive celebration in the Egba tradition. After a close to two hour wait, we eventually gain access to the reception venue and find out I have the ‘misfortune’ of being sat at a table between my friend O, his friend K and two very married women with children. The closest thing to eye candy is a full table away, and is involved in a very animated conversation with a dapper bloke in a black suit and a bow-tie. When the party gets started it doesn’t disappoint. Each dignitary and family member introduced is led to the ‘high table’ with a song and a dance – the mother of the groom dances in from a side entrance to the rear of the hall before dancing all the way back up front and then onto her seat, flanked by her not inconsiderable entourage.  The bride and the groom dance in too, eventually, sashaying to a selection of songs topped off by the apt, if the worldview implications do not rile your sensibilities that is, P Square song  Chop my Moni. The rest of us with severely limited dancing abilities watch from afar and applaud the contortions and the agility with which they are performed, in what precious little space the various photographers and an iPad wielding family member afford us.

Food and drinks arrive in due course – catfish pepper soup chased down with apple juice and then a buffet of epic proportions containing rice in all shades and forms and – rumour had it – pounded yam and egusi soup for those in the know. The best man might have had a little too much to drink because when he kicks off the toasting his ramble segues into decidedly dodgy territory, the groom’s prior relationships and liaisons taking centre stage. He does recover gracefully though and completes the toast without spilling any salacious details.

It is a few minutes past seven pm when I nod my goodbyes to the people I have shared a table with, collect my things and head out on to the still relatively busy streets. There is a slight chill beginning to descend as sunset approaches and I stuff my hands in my pockets to keep them warm; my choice of a simple blazer proving not quite as wise as I’d thought at first. As I walk briskly down Union towards my simple lodgings, the one thought I have been trying to retrieve from the dark parts of my memory finally surfaces – it’s almost a year to the day since, running into today’s groom at a house warming party, he’d excitedly mentioned he’d met the One. As I recall, I had smirked inwardly at the time.