Death, Love & Unfettered Friendship

I’ve been in a place of confusion and despair for the past two years. I’ve been fighting internal battles about life and love and Christianity to the point where I stopped recognizing my own self. I felt like I was an outsider watching someone else live their life, and the entire time I wanted to talk to that girl and tell her to slow down or take it easy. Other times I just wanted to scream at her, hoping that I’d jolt her into action or inaction depending on the scene unfolding before my eyes, but the girl I was watching would have none of it. She’d become a bulldozer of sorts; her mind loud and her walls seemingly impenetrable. I didn’t recognize her and I couldn’t because she wasn’t who she used to be. Life changed and it changed her. She’d become someone else, someone new, someone foreign. She was me, and I didn’t know what to do with her.

When my brother died in 2016 I became a zombie of sorts. On the outside, I maintained my happy, bubbly demeanour but inside I felt shattered and confused. For a long time I didn’t cry or grieve, I simply busied myself to the point that I barely had time for sleep. All the while, ignoring the dearth of emotions bubbling beneath the surface, waiting to explode. I had stopped praying because my prayer would always lead to me reminding God that my brother was dead and me wanting to ask Him why. I continued to avoid God and all things Christian for a while and one day I finally realized that I wasn’t avoiding God because my prayer was static, I was avoiding Him because I was mad at Him. I blamed God for my brother’s death. I should digress a little here to give you context to why I’d be so mad at God. You see, I had this wonderful relationship with God at one point. I loved Him unconditionally and I communicated with Him constantly. Because of that, I lived fearlessly and boldly, believing that things would always work in my favour because of the powerful God I serve. For the most part, once I became a Christian, life was good. I had my fair share of trials and triumphs but in everything, I knew God was with me and I had a peace about life that I still can’t explain with words. But then June 6th, 2016 came and I got the call that my brother had drowned. Drowned. How could he drown in a sea that my God controlled? That didn’t make sense to me. The more I processed that thought the angrier I was at God. Maybe if he had died in an accident or someone killed him or even from illness, I could have dealt with that, but how could God allow HIS sea to kill MY brother? MY BROTHER!

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Akeem (my brother) and Ayden (my nephew). This was the last Mother’s Day dinner we shared together.

If the term “self-righteous” is running through your mind right now, I’m not going to hold it against you because that’s exactly what was happening. I was so consumed by my expectations of God that I genuinely believed He was obligated to do everything possible to make me happy, all the while forgetting that the message of salvation never promised me eternal happiness on earth or a warranty that guaranteed I won’t face loss or experience intense pain.

All the same, I intentionally rebelled for as long as I could. All the while hoping that God would get fed up of my foolishness and destroy everything that meant anything to me. I wanted a different kind of pain, one that would help me forget the pain of losing my brother, maybe one that would make me numb enough to not care about love and losses. Here’s the problem with that though, I don’t serve a vindictive God. I guess grief makes you irrational because during this period I completely forgot that the reason I followed Christ was because of his ability to love me the way I needed to be loved at every stage of my life. You see, when I became a Christian I worked on building a relationship with God. I spent time reading the bible, I would sit quietly and have coffee with God each morning, I’d commit everything to Him; constantly seeking his guidance because I wanted nothing more than to be close to Him, understand His love and replicate it in my life. So naturally, when pain and disappointment came and I no longer trusted God, I figured all I needed to do was stop doing those “Christian” things and that would be the end of my relationship with God. So I stopped. I stopped praying, I stopped reading my Bible, I stopped listening to worship music, I stopped doing anything that made me feel I was being a Christian.

Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly for that matter, God never checked out of our friendship. When death shattered my expectations and left me void and hopeless to the point of relinquishing my ties with everything Christian, He stepped in and being true to character He loved me just the way I needed to be loved at that point in time. When I reflect on the past two years I marvel at how many times I was protected, many times from my own self! I see God’s hands in the friends I made, the communities I became apart of, the opportunities I was given, and every success I’ve had in the last two years. In my weakness, His strength was perfect, not because of anything I did, but because of who He is and I will be eternally grateful for that.

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Keem and I at a family reunion 🙂

June 6th is fast approaching and the closer I get to that day the more I feel hurt, and frustrated, and confused. I don’t know if this pain and this hurt will ever go away because I loved my brother so very much and it still feels unfair that he had to die this young, that he had to die at all. What I am not, this time around though, is angry. I can’t say that my anger won’t return (I’m genuinely hoping it doesn’t though), but for now, at this moment I find peace in knowing there is life after death and I have hope that I will be reunited with my brother. I said all of this to say that we don’t always understand why things happen the way they do and in our confusion, it’s easy to blame God or not want anything to do with Him and that’s alright. God doesn’t abandon us because we abandon Him. He’s not vindictive or cruel towards his children and He’s more than capable of handling our hurt, disappointments and even anger. And just like the prodigal son, when we decide to return He’s there to welcome us back with open arms. I don’t think this would be the last time I turn away from God but I do believe that when my humanness causes me to err He will continue to be my guide, my strength, and my friend. I don’t deserve this kind of love but I am so grateful that He gives it anyway.

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Lead Me Not

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been thinking about leadership a lot. I was recently nominated for the University of the West Indies Premier Leadership Award – Female. This is the highest award given by the university to someone from the student body who is believed to have exemplified what it means to be a leader: locally, regionally, and internationally. Before my nomination, I wasn’t particularly reflective about my leadership style but once I received wind of my nomination I, being the harshest critic of myself, started to think of all the ways I’ve failed in leadership. Naturally, my mind also wandered into the realm of the shortcomings of persons who lead me. As such this post is about two don’ts of leadership. I’m sure there are a lot more things that can be added to this list but these two have been recurrent in different spheres of my life so I’m zoning in on them in this post. These are things which a good leader should avoid if they’re going to be impactful and effective.

  1. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath-water: This point is about motivation. A core responsibility of any leader is to keep his/her team motivated. This is usually done through positive or negative reinforcement. The challenge with this though is striking a balance. Firstly, know your team. Different people respond differently to similar situations. If you’re leading a large team of individuals take the time to understand what keeps each member motivated and inspired to give their best. Too many times leaders use a broad brush approach to motivation and fail to acknowledge that a different approach may be needed to adequately help some individuals. This tends to happen when leading a large group of people and that’s where you run the risk of throwing out the baby with the bath water. If you’re having a meeting to openly discuss the shortcomings of your team, a good balance would be to recognize the good of each department/subdivision before delving into their shortcomings. Can you imagine walking out of a meeting where all you’ve heard was what you’ve done wrong? For some people, this can push them to do better but for others, this could make them feel dejected and uninspired to continue working. The same can happen if you only highlight the great work of your team without taking the time to show them those areas they can build upon. Motivation is necessary, make the best of it by understanding your team and striking a balance when motivating them to perform at their best.
  2. All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others: Let’s talk disciplinary action. In most organisations, there are stipulations in place to discipline persons if needed. The worst sin a leader can commit is to have varying standards of discipline for the same error. What do I mean by this? Well, if I assign duties to my team members and there are two members who failed to execute their duties it would be remiss of me to issue a letter to one person, while the other gets a verbal warning. This principle is extended to rewards as well. If a standard is not set for negative and positive sanctions you risk ostracizing members of your team. The person who receives the warning letter may become demotivated and rebellious because of unfair treatment. Additionally, the person who received the verbal warning may be seen as the “teacher’s pet” by other members of the team and face backlash from his/her peers. If you intend to maintain order and cohesion among your team, set a standard for positive and negative sanctions and stick to it.
  3. Do as I say, not as I do: Talking about cardinal sins, the WORST thing a leader can do is hold persons to a standard they themselves do not uphold. I’ve had leaders who stressed the need for me to go above and beyond in service, while they did the bare minimum when it came to the fulfilling of duties or execution of events. Being a leader does not come with a magical veil that protects you from scrutiny. When you lead, you’re more likely to be scrutinized and your actions have a greater effect on the team than anyone else. As such, you should be careful to lead by example. Don’t ask your team to give of their best while you operate at a mediocre standard. Your drive and standards will set the pace for your team. If you give your best, more times than not, your team will give their best also, but if you fail to put your best foot forward no amount of pep talks, threats or emails will help your team reach their full potential. What you’ll get is an uninspired group who do the bare minimum to keep their positions and no more.
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Part of my team that led the recently concluded inter-campus debates competition at UWI, Mona. We took the other teams from the region to Dunn’s River Falls before they returned to their respective countries. (The featured image shows all the debaters from the various campuses)

I know you’re probably thinking of other things leaders do that hinder their teams so feel free to share them with me. Also, if you disagree with any of the points I’ve made let me know (I might learn a thing or two).

Beneath The Surface

I’ve always found images depicting a cross section of the skin fascinating. I’m not a science whiz or anyone close to that actually – I’m a communications person – but, from the first time I saw a cross section of the skin I was enthralled. To me, my skin was always just this caramel, acne forming aspect of my body that I took care to moisturize regularly and was careful not be too harsh with because it’s sensitive. My skin is one aspect of me that ties me to my ancestors and the struggles faced by blacks the world over. I’ve learned to love it. Yes, learned to. There was a time when I would have traded it because I was ashamed of it and what it represented, I hated that some of the struggles I faced were based solely on the premise that I was born black. And I didn’t want those battles. So yes, I’ve had to learn to love my black skin and the strength, beauty, passion and power that comes with it.

There’s no struggle now though, where the colour of my skin is concerned. I mean, it irks me that  I’m plagued by acne whenever I’m stressed but the little suckers have grown on me and I’ve accepted them as a part of who I am. Don’t get me wrong, I am treating the marks left behind because I don’t want permanent skin damage as a result of acne but I don’t feel the need to hide nor apologise for the existence of little bumps on my skin. So yes, I’ve learned to love the skin that I’m in. I’ve digressed quite a bit from the point I wanted to make though so let me revert to my initial train of thought.

The cross section of the skin fascinates me because it appropriately highlights how beneath the surface of what we think we know are so many other layers. The skin is so thin and fragile at times it’s baffling that such a thin layer has other layers to it. I find it intriguing how it’s affected by our lifestyle as well; the things we eat and drink, the hygiene products we use, where we live, our sleep patterns, you name it and it probably affects our skin. And of course, it makes me think of me. How many layers of myself are there that I’m yet to discover? Am I truly aware of how my choices and my relationships affect the core of who I am?

I’m an insomniac and an overthinker: of course one lends itself to the other but what that means is I’ve had many nights to think about things and for a long time I spent those nights thinking about my life, assessing who I am and my place in the world. I would replay situations, scenarios and conversations and evaluate my response to them and dissect them so I could gain a clearer understanding of who I am and how I respond to various stimuli. I map my thoughts and actions back to Christianity and Christ most times because that’s the core from which I operate and I adjust my behaviour as I see fit. Suffice to say I know myself very well, my EQ is above average but I still find that I don’t know everything there is to know about me and that bothers me. I want to understand myself completely but I worry that if I take a closer look at the layers beneath the surface I won’t be pleased with what I find. I don’t know that I’ll be as fascinated with the layers to be unearthed as I’m fascinated with a cross section of the skin.

I’ve read many articles that say, as you grow you learn more about yourself. And as cliche as that sounds it’s true. The more I grow, the more I mature, the more I learn and the more I interact with people is the more I see things within me I didn’t realise was there. Whether they were always there or are new emergents I can’t say. What I can say, however, is it’s interesting to see and evaluate the new things that pop up every now and again. There’s always a new piece to add to the puzzle and figuring out where it goes and how well it works with everything already down on the table can be intriguing. We’re all just a bunch of layers and sometimes we don’t realize just how many layers are beneath the surface but I think they’re worth finding out about.

I think we’re all just a bunch of layers and sometimes we don’t realize just how many layers are beneath the surface but I’m sure they’re worth finding out about. People should know what they’re made of, we should understand ourselves as completely as possible. We should take the time to dissect each layer, understand how they work in tandem to others and how outside forces affect them ie. work, school, people.

What may seem like a complex mix beneath our surface may very well be what we need to become all that we’re destined to be. With all of that being said, I’m very much aware that this will be easier said and done but I think I’m ready to devote some time to peeling back some layers and truly understanding what I’m made of.

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The Most Beautiful Place on Earth (for now)

This weekend I visited the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life; Blue Lagoon in Portland Jamaica. Before this the most beautiful place I’d seen was a snow covered village at the base of Mt Olympus in Greece. It was the first time I saw snow, and looking out from the mountain top I stared at the gorgeous blankets of white atop houses and my heart was giddy with joy. In that moment, even though it was -15 degrees and my Caribbean bones were not accustomed to the cold, I was happy and that image was moved to the top of my list of beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Since then I’ve seen other amazing sights: canals at sunset in the Hague, old Chapels in the middle of Boston, the sun perched high above the ocean from a mountain in St. Vincent, Eisner Steg bridge with locks of love in Frankfurt Germany, and still Mt Olympus was the place I visited most frequently when reminiscing on places I’d love to be.

That changed this weekend though. What was supposed to be a quick stop to take some pictures turned into the most satisfying part of a roadtrip on Saturday. I tend to go against the grain with preparing to visit places. Unlike the average person I don’t google the places beforehand but I wait to see it in person. My eyes nor my heart was prepared for all that is Blue Lagoon. To be honest I’ve seen my friends pictures when they visited but I never saw professional shots of the treasure that is Blue Lagoon. Even though I saw my friends pictures they  never did justice to the immense beaty that captivates your soul once you lay eyes upon the blue green mass of water.

To get to the Lagoon we drove down a narrow road and came to a dead end with little shacks selling hand-made crafts and clothes. As the vehicle slowed to the end a couple men approached the car and enquired whether we were interested in a boat ride. Quick digression, I keep saying we becasue I went with three other persons on the trip – my friend Kim, our classmate Sheldon, and his friend Javielle. Now where was I? Oh right! So we decline the boat rides because this really was a quick stop on our way to Boston beach, which was about half an hour away. I was the first one out of the vehicle and when I walked out onto the jetty I screamed. Literally screamed and repeatedly said “oh my God” while beaming at Sheldon who was so kind to invite us on this trip and suggest we make the stop. I should mention that Sheldon is now one of my most favourite persons in the world (yeah he moved wayyyyyy up the list this weekend). As I looked out I saw a small area of sand across the lagoon and there were three beach chairs on it. I could see fishes in the water close to me and when I could contain myself no longer, I stripped off my shorts and dived in. As I got deeper I felt two distinct temperatures on my skin, one ice cold an the other extremely warm and it was then I learned that Blue Lagoon is comprised of both fresh and salt water, as a river and the ocean converge there.

I cannot find the words to adequately express all that my heart feels in this moment as I try to recall every emotion I felt at Blue Lagoon. The highlight of that trip was swiming out to the centre of the lagoon while holding on to Sheldon’s shoulder (I panic if I’m alone in the water so he had to take me out). Being in the middle of something so exceptionally gorgeous felt liberating; in that moment I had no worries, no stress, nothing seemed important or urgent, and I was happy.

Blue Lagoon in Portland Jamaica is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life and my heart will visit it many times in the future. That space made my soul come alive and my heart remember that it was made for more than pain. Everybody should see Blue Lagoon. Everybody! I hope Saturday reminds me that it’s not enough to exist in this world but I must take time out to live.

What do you call this?

My thoughts are scattered today so if my writing lacks cohesion and that irks you or causes dissonance of any kind feel free to step out of mind for now and return at a later date when I’d be more inclined to follow the rules of good writing and storytelling.

I’m a sceptic. I doubt things and people. I don’t believe anything is ever what it seems and I look at what isn’t being shown and listen to what isn’t being said. Scepticism has kept me sharp and protected me many times but there are days when I wonder what it feels like to embody an easy-going, naive existence. Today I’m thinking of death and deceit and celebrations I’d like to have but can’t because my resources are limited on this island. I’m conscious of my emotions and my capacity to wreak havoc with my words if should let them loose on those who are naive to my potential. Today I wish I wasn’t an emotional intellect. I want to be naive and do as I please with the protection of “I didn’t know that’s how you’d feel” to cushion the blow of any backlash my words would cause. But I don’t have that luxury. I’m too aware of myself and others to live such a reckless life.

Tomorrow will be the one-year anniversary of my brother’s death. Weeks ago I started writing a tribute to him but I can’t seem to finish it. I’m so angry with him for leaving us without warning. I hate that he fell in love and sacrificed his life for the woman he loved.  I wish she had died instead. I know that’s not what I’m supposed to feel. By society’s standards I should celebrate my brother’s heroic act and feel proud of him but I don’t feel that way. I hate that he drowned saving that girl’s life and I hate that his death corrupted the place where I’m most at peace. I hate that I don’t have closure because I couldn’t bear to see them pull his lifeless body out of the water so I didn’t go to see it, and now every time I go into the ocean I expect his body to bump into me as though he was never pulled out and never buried. I’m angry, bitter and sad. I want to scream at him and hit him so hard! I want to tell him how stupid he was to go into that water. I want to ask him if he thinks it’s fair that he broke his mother’s heart the way he did. I want to be the big sister that sets him straight and stops his foolishness but I can do none of these things nor be that big sister to him anymore because he left me. He loved a woman and chose to give his life for hers and didn’t care that he was shredding my heart to pieces in the process.

Today I’m tired and tomorrow will be worse. Wednesday, there’s a hope that Wednesday will be a better day (fingers crossed).

Beautiful Failure

Bullshit! I think it’s utter bullshit to romanticise failure; to paint it in some beautiful, nostalgic light which radiates hope in moments of disappointment and despair. And yes, I know there are hundreds of thousands of speeches and quotes and memes that tell us how great it is to embrace failure and I’m sure these concepts were coined by some ver brilliant minds, but I just can’t buy the whole “failure is beautiful” argument. I think if we were honest, truly honest with ourselves, we’d admit that failure is a stench we’d be happy to let our nose live without.

Have I failed at anything before? Yes. Have I learnt from my failures? Yes. Have some of my failures made me stronger? Oh, definitely. After answering yes to the last three questions do I think failure is beautiful? Absolutely not!, Hell no! NO NO NO NO NO!!!

I can admit that my response to my failures has produced beautiful results but failure in and of itself was never beautiful. Failure is dark and dismal, it has the potential to place you at the bottom of a pit and force you to find ways out or die. Failure is having your foot stuck in a bear trap with a pack of wolves quickly approaching and you feeling every thump of your heart in your chest while willing your lungs to intake air so you don’t faint from a lack of oxygen and succumb to what may very well be imminent death. Failure crushes you, even if only momentarily, and forces you into survival mode. So yeah, the results of bouncing back after you’ve failed, you being an overcomer and not allowing failure to define and determine your destiny, is beautiful, but failure, in an of itself, is ugly.

If I were to have my way I’d never fail, at anything. I’d be successful at every single thing I become a part of and I’d do a lot of great things because my successes would motivate me to do more and take on greater tasks than I did before. I know what you’re thinking:

“Akeela your failures can have that same effect if you let it. Once you’ve overcome failures you’ll know you have the power to overcome obstacles and that can motivate you to do better!”

True. Very true actually, but trying again after I’ve failed means focusing time and energy on accomplishing something I could have already accomplished if I hadn’t failed in the first place. And I’d never choose to continuously work on perfecting one thing instead of being able to focus that same time and energy on accomplishing something else, something greater even.

Am I saying it’s all doom and gloom after we’ve failed and we should never pick up the pieces and try again? Oh gosh no! I believe quite the opposite. I think when we fail, and our butts hit rock bottom, and we look around and only see darkness, and we feel hopeless, we should centre ourselves and try again. I think we should flip failure the bird and really kick ass at what we’ve set our hearts on doing. We should learn the lessons that failure teach, we should allow our journey to help develop our characters, but with all things being equal, we should acknowledge that failure is what it is, an ugly part of our human experience that we’d be better off without.

I’ve failed, I’ve tried again and I’ve failed again a thousand times over. I’ve failed, I’ve tried again and I’ve overcome a thousand times more. Failure has brought me both laughter and tears. Because of it, I’ve grown and evolved. I appreciate the potential for greatness after failure but I cannot, and I will not ever, regard failure as beautiful.

Vegan Vibrations

Can I tell you that I have no idea what the title of this post is really saying? I’ve learned that the best way to attract people to your online content is to give posts a catchy title and that’s where “Vegan Vibrations” came from. Don’t worry you’re not about to read a post that has absolutely nothing to do with veganism; quite contrary, I’ve recently become a vegan – more out of necessity than anything else – and I want to tell you about my journey so far.

First thing first, I hate this new diet! I am a food lover and a meat lover. I love eating meat, I love seasoning meat, I love cooking meat: I love meat! (almost as much as I love coffee).  But I love life more; I’m currently high risk for breast cancer (my mom has it and I’m currently waiting on test results for my diagnosis), and so it’s imperative that I change my diet. The funny thing is my diet wasn’t particularly bad before: Most of my meals were home-cooked, I hardly ate fried food, I ate a lot of vegetables and of course I exercised. Just goes to show that even when you think you’re doing enough there’s always something more that can be done.

So now I’m vegan and it’s tough. I should add some balance by saying it’s also a bit fun because I absolutely love cooking and trying new dishes so I’m enjoying that aspect of the journey. What I don’t like though, is the limited options I have when I go out to dinner with my friends. It’s so tedious having to settle for salads because there’s nothing else on the menu that caters to my diet. And yes, I could look for vegan restaurants but my options for that are limited and I’m a student on a budget in a foreign country.

On the bright side, I’m an optimist. So although I hate this change right now I’m anticipating that it will get better. I’m currently trying to find my niche – my go-to foods that I can make at any time – while trying to figure out which textures and flavours work well with each other. Hopefully, in a couple months my feelings of resentment will subside and I’ll be the all natural, vegan woman you can turn to for some great meal tips.

If you know of any great vegan recipe sites or if you have tips on how I can remain steadfast on my journey I’d love to hear them. Until then, it’s back to experimenting and adjusting through trial and error!

 

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One of my first vegan meals: Baby Spinach, Garlic Herbed Potatoes and Fresh Salad