May to the summer solstice

It’s been a while since the last post in the midst of Covid-19 which has become the constant, a bunch of close ones and I have followed the doctor’s advice.

Stay healthy, maintain the distance, and make sure you make memories.

Making memories is what differentiates today’s reality from psychological isolation.

As a special friend described as we make more memories the distance works itself out.

With that, I discovered the invaluable constant.

Through my eyes, a number of things materialised over the past few weeks…

The comfortable space of just being, without obstructions from noise.

That comfortable space on the sofa, the giggles, the awe, the excitement, the unexpected dance, the beer out of the bag, the bag of chips, the walks, the SUPs, the sculls and the steers.

This is the story of the past six weeks.

A year ago today…

I had just finished my exams, celebrated my birthday and got on a flight London to Seattle.

I found myself arriving at a 22 buck a night air bnb in Highline on the outskirts of Seattle with a quarter full suitcase and lots of time to absorb my new home, write my dissertation, and quickly explore the city in five days before catching the greyhound to Portland.

I loved where I was staying instantly. A wooden structure, shared between three of us, just the right dynamics of chats, learning about our differences and expectations en transit, keeping sweet vibes throughout and respecting each other’s time needs and privacy. I loved waking up surrounded by the alpine greenness of pnw. Got my Orca loaded, and picked my daily trips between jumping on the 35min bus journey to the city centre, or 35 min walk to the coast.

Seattle is where my journey begun, and where it ended.

I got caught on the rising tide on a private beach, I studied in the most quaint little library in Fremont, strolled in unexpected familiarity up and down University Way and experienced the awe of Japanese tourists in Suzzallo and Allen Libraries the setting of some of the Harry Potter scenes.

Seattle is the uber cool without the forced coolness. It is grounded, down to earth, green, gorgeous, creative and blatant.

I couldn’t have ever imagined Seattle would have made such a fundamental mark and given me so many beautiful memories from this two month trip, and without sparing any important details, I couldn’t have asked for more.

Other than to return, again and again to soak up the atmosphere before I move on again.

 

Athena. I’m sorry I have just been obsessed with…

Tim Hakki is a Londoner of Turkish Cypriot and Guyanese descent. He lives two floors below me, and studies at Oxford University. Amongst the many conversations we have, the Greco-Turkish conflict in Cyprus is a central interest to him, and as I am of Greek and Anatolian descent, we have been analysing the situation, in view of new governments, regional investment initiatives and international cooperation. The following article is Tim’s thesis on the issue, followed by my response.

**************************************************************

Athena. I’m sorry I have just been obsessed with Greco-Turkish history since I told you I began to study it. I have formed my conclusions based on a fuckton of new knowledge.

I love the Greek people and the Greek culture but that church is a real dirty piece of work. I just wanted to get them to stop dehumanising Muslims through their propaganda. It’s obvious that they don’t see them as humans but as infidels.

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The same can be seen in many Islamic fringe groups today, but the difference is that the majority of Islamic religious authorities denounce the use of violence. I have never seen any effort on the part of the church to do the same with their leaders.

The man who divided the Cypriots was archbishop Makarios. A man with three jobs. He was the leader of the Christians in Cyprus, he was the president of every Cypriot, and he was the commander of a large private army of ultra-nationalist Greeks. At one point, instead of my writing my novel, I told myself I wanted to understand, truly understand, what happened in Cyprus, rather than relying on the account of my family or the various Cypriots spewing lies at each other on various forums in a never-ending ethnic battle.

I watched documentaries made by Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots and British filmmakers and tried to get the most comprehensive view I could. It’s a very sad story what happened to the Cypriot people. The political context of these events was British rule. My grandmother grew up in a British dictatorship. It was a very efficient dictatorship. In the end, they made the island the fastest growing economy in the region.

The troubles started when the mainland church suddenly got expansionist ideas. Through Makarios, they convinced the Christians of the island that they belonged to Greece. Britain tried cracking down on dissent by hanging Cypriot youths who were encouraging Enosis. The murderous rage of the nationalists just grew and grew. Soon Cyprus was crawling in random acts of brutality towards its British citizens. The Muslim Cypriots at this point were not in the equation. They were viewed as a silent minority. Until Britain assembled an anti-terror force comprised exclusively of Turkish Cypriots. When the Christians saw their community leaders being arrested by Muslims they decided that they now had two enemies. Cue the massacres, rapes and ethnic cleansing of the island by Makarios’s private army EOKA. This, in turn, provoked Turkey to invade cuing massacres and rapes of their own by the occupation forces.

The biggest tragedy of Cyprus is how little control the Cypriots had over their own destiny. If Cyprus became a part of Greece then Britain would potentially lose their military bases there. This was a land grab by Greece which became an excuse for a land grab by Turkey. The Greeks were in the pockets of the Russians and the Turks were being backed by the British because of Cyprus became a part of Greece they would lose their military bases on the island. The Americans were backing both horses. At the end of the day, Cyprus happened because five nations that had nothing to do with the lives of the Cypriots saw the island as a giant fucking aircraft carrier. This has been to be of the most profound courses of study I’ve ever embarked on, and it’s really shown me the sickness of nationalism and its myths.

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Their point about the lives of Jesus and Muhammad took me a very long time to come back to. Though we can’t pretend to know the details, it’s generally accepted that Jesus was a pacifist and Muhammad was a war leader. 

Religion led division.jpg

The big thing now is reunification. Both sides of Cyprus want it. But they have no idea what it would look like. I believe the best answer is a federal government, with two zones, north and south. Both Greece and Turkey have occupation forces there.

If I’m dead next morning it was the Eastern Orthodox Church that did it.

Tim

 

My response:

The diplomatic dynamics in the region will not volunteer discussions on reunification.

In Turkey, Erdogan is strengthening his political power with human rights abuses, effectively distancing his government from the prospect of European cooperation.

In Greece, you have a far-right state pushing orthodox Christianity as a fundamental representation of Greek identity and anything Muslim (including the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Syrian refugees) as a threat. The days of Nobel Prizes won by greek islands for their humanitarian work in the refugee crisis are long gone. The current government is shrinking the state like any populist conservative government does, reducing the role of education, institutions, health and welfare in development, whilst pointing the finger of blame to those outside the power held by political elites, or power to influence or inflict any damage in corrupt undertakings.

The last positive diplomatic action in the region, between North Macedonia and Greece, under the centrist-left governments, saw Tsipras loose the elections (albeit by a close margin) because Greeks were sold the lie the Prespa agreement signed-off their land over to Macedonians, and at risk of losing their national identity too.

The Road and Belt investments in Eurasia are being too China and Russia-centric for Europe and the Brits to feel comfortable with. The loaning conditions to fragile European and African economies are a point of  contest, and reinforcing China’s soft power diplomacy.

I don’t think the British, or Europe, will allow Greece (even if Greece was in a position to ie. under a politically different government) to sign-off a reunification deal. Turkey wouldn’t want it too. As recent as 2018, tensions quickly grew on the identification of sources of gas near the island. Turkey was not shy attempting to claim it. 

If you really think about it, the island itself has little value to economies, so its population is worthless to politicians too. Not big enough to produce anything at scale (apart from Haloumi cheese the Chinese love and have been ordering by the ton).  Yet it has a geopolitical position of importance, and in combination with the potential of natural resource explorations and the  further tensions arising from common pool resource governance debates, it is very unlikely either side of the diplomats would bring up the idea of reunification.

Because at the end of the day, even under miraculous conditions, a local leader/President/PM will still need to identify with either of the two main religions to even stand a chance of being listened to by either camp. Likewise, any extractive generated wealth will need split between one, or another camp, to serve the interests of the political donors.

And more so, how likely is that, for a post-colonial little island surrounded by strategically positioned near dictatorship run neoliberal governments aspiring to Thatcherism structured on theological approaches to socio-economic development inspired by Adam Smith’s mythological ‘Invisible hand of the economy’ economics?

Unless of course, they ban religious representations.

But really, how likely is that in a place that has been defined by religious conflict ever since it went into conflict with itself?

Chances are slim.

Love,

Athina

 

April 2020, the month of coronavirus lockdown. My breathing exercises in spring views of East London, UK

I would like to start this blogpost acknowledging this has been one changeable mood kind of a month.

It begun in semi frustration and acceptance: this is what we need to do and we commit to it. Blindfolded into commitment, no questions asked. Then days, then weeks passed. The exhaustion of changing habits in and out of home. The disappointment of realising you can’t walk into this pub, or straight into the shop, they are either shut, or there is a queue. You can’t hug your friend or pat the back of your neighbour. And that cycle route you always thought as the best, is out of bounds, too many runners using the tow path and daddies training their little ones to cycle. So forced into rediscovering your vicinity in new conditions, you get to become the tourist again, and that is cool.

Then the important stuff happening unnoticed until you think there’s value in the time you have saved from travelling and all the social stuff you can no longer do. So talking to friends and neighbours you end up rocking up to a community space in a church build on the ruins of one that was built in the 1600s, thinking you’re not the religious type but there are enough Muslim kids and white working class families about to take the edge off.

Next thing you’re committed and talking to new people. That guy is familiar, of course he is in and out of my block, and we chat, I hear the news and off we go.

Those who are organising everything, early on in the outbreak, with little knowledge of the impact yet without hesitation, they set up shop quickly. They asked and got donations, listened unjudgmentally to the community’s input, and attracted people of all ethnicities and faiths to help. They reassigned resources quickly. The initial food was delivered to 40 odd people three times a week and now it has grown to double of that.

Today, the last day of April feels like a halfway point on a long holiday. It’s been thrilling, confusing, too long, too short, too busy, and now seems to be going too fast and to be true, I don’t want it to end yet, but I do want to be able to make plans for the future.

Somehow the reality is: I can’t, and none of us can.

As we will gradually re-enter a version of normality in the coming months, there will be plenty of vulnerable people who will still not be able to leave their home. This help will not stop with our needs being met, and not until they have their fully met. It has been challenging at times running up and down unfamiliar estates, motivating oneself to get out, cover up, do your deed, run home, take everything off, clean everything, shower. Yet it’s been worth it. The smiles, the chats, the waves, the odd requests, or the kind wishes and offers. It all makes it so special.

This month has also been one where I covered nearly 200km cycling. It’s not a lot, however in addition to my training, and the bursting energy of spring colours and smells, there was plenty of visual richness to record.

The blog and the photos are dedicated to the community leaders, and those who need their swift action. They are being both my inspiration and motivation throughout the past six weeks and the very out of the ordinary month of April 2020.

Canary Wharf

Even more so, this month I hope does not go by forgotten. Everyone has been affected by it and I purposely included the empty canary wharf development. No one is immune to this and I hope this chance for a level playing field is finally grasped like the breath of fresh air we so much need.

Herd politics

Let’s clear up a few things.

So there are a lot of generalised assumptions and fear tactics by media and fake media out there. There has also been pressure on populist political leaders to begin taking scientific advice seriously. There is often more than one scientific advice, based on different modelling approaches. An acquaintance’s COVID-19 modelling presentation has been misrepresented by the news and slaughtered as if it was political advice. Let’s get this right, political decisions are not made by science researchers. Researchers, do exactly this, they research and present their findings. Politicians then, in theory, should compare it with other researchers’ advice, compare it under socio-economic contexts and implications, and make policy decisions. Scientists and boards can make ethical decisions on research pieces involving directly the community, more often than not, in clinical settings. As the COVID-19 virus is not a domestic issue, but one that requires international cooperation, I quote the World Health Organisation’s principles on the ethics of bioethics. The most commonly identified
principles are:
1) individual autonomy (the ability to make decisions for oneself);
2) beneficence (the obligation to “do good” for others);
3) nonmaleficence (the obligation to avoid causing harm to others);
and
4) justice (the value of distributing benefits and burdens fairly).

Now I won’t go into much detail on how elastic these can become in domestic policy context, but I refer to them as a signpost of considerate practice.

So going back to the politics. Assuming the politicians understand the principles, they have been called to make political decisions and introduce relevant policies. Policies are drawn on the elites’ understanding of the value of social investments. Social investments are education, health, livelihoods, self-determination/individual voices aka sustainable communities. To date, we have seen the third market crash was no longer dependant on corporations, and that the corporate market may not be salvaged by cash injections alone. Corporations are always dependent on the people that work for them. When people can’t go to work, or refuse to, and corporations can not replace them by informal or imported or illegal labour due to travel restrictions, the value of the local labour offer increases. Thus the involuntary small cash injections from populist governments to the people’s hands.

Their objective remains the same: feeding the corporate machine to jump-start the economy. The value of sustaining a trained workforce, on basic income streams, state-funded, is worth investing so a) corporations don’t fold, and continue funding the political elites and their parties and b) subduing existing breadline populations from rioting against corporations or striking. I believe as long as corporations keep running, things will go back to normal at the end of this pandemic.

Interestingly enough in Germany, the policy decision, after a consistent containment of the virus and early-on testing, smaller businesses will open for business next week. Germany’s policy decision tells us two things: a) they have backed up their scientific modelling with clinical and community-based research and b) the independence of small and medium-sized business owners is the bedrock of healthy and thriving communities. In British conservatism, this would translate into a lesser dependency on state-cash injections directly to the individuals when they are out of work.

In summary, get people safe, provide them the assurances they need to return to work and the community aka let the economy trickle-sustain with prioritising average Joe, because average Joe is doing all the hard work of keeping the fine balances on a local level. Without the local level of support sustaining economic reproduction, there will be no feeding loop.

Interestingly enough populist politicians are looking at Germany for guidance yet without having invested in social care protections in their own domestic policy decisions. They are suggesting opening businesses as usual however ie USA’s and UK’s economic systems are structured entirely differently to that of Germany. A German factory worker is directly linked in value to the German stock exchange. The US or British worker is owned by the corporation they work for, who calls the price of their labour, hence less worker rights and so on. Now the outcome of this means, it is in Germany’s interests to keep this worker secure, and import more workers that can be developed to this capacity, vs the model of disposable workforces in UK and the US (Windrush in the UK, abandoned industries in the US, minorities leading the populist moment against other minorities/xenophobic sentiments).

Furthermore, many of the populist politicians are coming up to election time or will be soon enough. We know, the lax policy adoption of herd immunity without the social investment, is economic suicide for corporations and corporate funded political systems. We also know those very political elites will be left unscathed, unless the corporations pull the rag from under their feet. We also know those corporations will move on to the next guy that will have them, and will sponsor the next guy’s campaigns instead.

So how do those populist politicians intend to close the gap between the average local Joe in the UK and the US and a sustainable community, when we know the cash injections are in fact an insult of a gesture when social-care infrastructure has been disassembled bit by bit (Obama care, NHS and so on).

The supporters of populist ideologies, aka no or limited state investment, may have not realised that without state-funded infrastructure, there is no monitoring, no data (ie lack of health free healthcare services), no statistics from the community (no outreach healthcare services) that can serve the interests of the community.

So scientists can model all they want, but without data, modelling is pretty useless. To put it plainly, these people in the communities don’t exist, or have any chance of benefitting from designs that could be made for their benefit. They will not account towards any losses other than some economic by their corporate employers, who might find/informalise/eventually import a replacement or may not depending on the level of loss and risks to corporate business.

Bio-scientists, then can get together with vaccinologists and jump hoops and do their uttermost best (privately or state invested – doesn’t really matter right now, beggars can’t be choosers).

Even when they come up with the ‘solution’, politicians will still need to drought in the social care investment of distribution, prioritisation and access. And we also know populist politicians have interests in specific balances. And these balances are clearly becoming more about patterns, not who is the perceived winner ie who markets themselves as being the top dog, but perhaps a multilateral consensus about who sustains their position better and leaves average Joe the least unscathed.

Then, for the sake of managing a global issue, there’s a call for serious investment in international knowledge-sharing, energized by today’s very real post-Westphalian conditions.

Lifebuoy

During the Covid-19 pandemic, mindfulness, video calls, checking-in on friends and neighbours, social distancing and exercising, have become the norm of daily life prescriptions.

Recommendations on finding meaning in small things and appreciating the moment of what we have, to adjust from our fast paced life, have been a challenge for many. Yet, there is beauty around that for those operating in high levels of anxiety or to-do projects and achievement-oriented mentality, has been marginalised in view of personal gratifications and quick wins.

The Covid-19 situation has highlighted the reality of our unsustainable living, exemplified in shopping habits, sociopathic needs, drama karma, and neediness for external gratification.

Yet, the ample emergence of existing situations that have been in existence parallel to modern human material and immaterial condition, are increasingly claiming a place to the forefront of service and significance.

In the current re-adjustments of living and requirements new pressure points can afford us to look and really see.

Squid, remodelling needs

In one of my last dissertation supervision sessions, my supervisor asked me which animal species are thriving at present?

I took a couple of guesses none of which were right.

I was trying to join the dots between his question and my dissertation topic, which was a comparative study between the political economy of the Sami and the Inuit. I just couldn’t see where he was leading onto.

Jonathan went on to say it is the squid. And the reason for it, is that whilst fishing has focused on other species, the squid had the opportunity to multiply in swarms.

He went on to explain that the obvious answers are not always the correct ones. I suppose he was trying to tell me by focusing on one thing we assume as the path to survival, there are emerging occurrences we leave unnoticed.

I since then took to noticing squid more often.

Walking down SE Division Street. Portland, OR, past Whiskey Soda Lounge with Tim, I took this.

In one way, the story is that of silver linings behind a cloudy day. We are seeing changes to our lives that we have not entertained in detail of how they will be affecting our emotional needs and resilience.

Making a smoothie cocktail with Craken is my resilience recipe for the odd night now we are spending a lot more time at home. And enjoying it over a long video chat to the wee hours of the day.

We know in times of uncertainty there are certain parameters we can measure against, and work towards, to meet those needs.

 

Our needs are not only our own. They are universal values our humanity exists by. When these are threatened, or placed in new unfamiliar conditions, there’s a couple of things we can do to refocus.

The top ten commandments of emotional needs are:

Connection

Attention

Privacy

Autonomy

Security

Wider community

Friendship

Competence

Achievement

Meaning & purpose

The overarching point I see across the list of emotional needs, is intimacy.

Intimacy in a non sexual way.

But the space where two people connect over a unique shared experience that rings emotions of belonging, and trust, for both of them.

We are all interconnected. Even at times when we may feel that life becomes unfamiliar, rather than trying to regain a sense of control, our biggest strength may be in our capacity to reflect, learn and evolve.

I don’t know much, but situations like today’s offer a unique chance, that of a lifetime, to improve and rejoin community with renewed values of what we need and how to approach what we have and what presents itself before us.

 

Chow salad

West Indian staple for boosting immune systems galore.

I’m sharing this seriously tasty medley of flavours as it has proven a huge hit shared out with friends from all over the world.

My mother in law called me the other day. She was thinking what to cook for her 72nd birthday in a couple of days’ time.

Being stuck with the insentive to boost my immune system, having just returned from a very long and challenging hike, Chow was the only thing that would hit the spot in terms of vitamins and flavours. Chow is a north coast Trinidadian staple salad and Anne’s call reminded of it just so.

I have made several versions over the years. This time around the first attempt I made contained (shown in the picture above):

Half lime juice, salt, sunflower oil, banana, mango, kiwi, spring onion, ceyenne, cucumber, carrots. Mix up and leave it to meddley together.

In the second version I added some red onion (quarter of it very finely chopped) and fresh radish.

The original version requires bell peppers, which I love.

I’m not so keen in the garlic, but that’s up to personal taste.

There is a wonderful Caribbean cook here that shows you how to make it with all the ingredients you can find in the north coast of this wonderful island.

https://youtu.be/dUT4lhsDHGg

Check this guy out. If you can get the incredients, go original. Yet seriously not much lost by trying alternatives!

In fact, the first time I tasted Chow was on Maracas Bay, by my friend’s beach house on the north coast of Trinidad.

The rest is history.

Enjoy, in honour and gratitude to my lovely Anne on her 72nd birthday.

Hiking in the UK

For outdoorsy adventurers, hiking is a much-loved choice of activity taken close to one’s place of habitat or place of visit.

The subtle differences between hiking in different parts of the world are on the type the equipment, the style of the hike like the intensity of the walk, and the distance covered. This reveals a lot about the flora and fauna, the weather conditions expected in general and the end objective for the hike.

This article presents a short oversight of hiking in the south of the United Kingdom, and towards the end of the winter. The overall equipment relevant message is to wear comfortable waterproof boots, bring a change of cotton t-shirts, carry 1-2 litres of water, prepare lunch snacks and carry cash for group saver fares, the pub lunch option and pub celebration at the end.

I have hiked in India, the Pacific North West in the US, in Scotland, in Bali, in Italy, in the Arctic part of Norway, in Morocco, on the north coast of Trinidad and in Tobago and in Fuerteventura and every single hike was different on many aspects.

In the south of the UK, hikes tend to be longer, often including a couple of very steep climbs up hills and the same dissent. The most recent hike took me up and down Pitch Hill in Surrey Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, twice climbed it on the same day, a near-vertical and rather muddy aspect, and over a distance of 30km round trip on foot.

Walking sticks were encouraged whereas in other parts of the world they are prohibited as it can attract lightning strikes in tundra conditions. UK’s well known cloudy skies, even in winter, require sunblock as there is still plenty of exposure doing outdoor sports to cause skin damage.

20 min stops every two hours are also encouraged to take in the views from higher viewpoints. In contrast, stopping for this long or any period of time longer to a couple of minutes, in the middle of the winter, in the northernmost part of Norway, will cause your body temperature to drop really quickly and dramatically and make the focus of the latter part of your hike an effort to warm up instead of watching the path or scenery. This can make the body feel very uncomfortable, and rather demoralising, in severe sub minus C conditions.

The photos in this post are from my hike in Surrey this week.

It looks mud messy but it was a great all round exercise. I could not recommend anything else more satisfactory to do outdoors this time of the year. Hiking engages people in community spirited discussions, recharges the body with a full-on exercise uptake, and in the UK, it is rewarded with log fires in the pub, local bitter brews, and new memories and vistas to take away.

Cozy spots for the last days of winter in London

Black Sheep coffee in Canary Wharf; one of my favourite spots for a good cup of coffee and chat and laptop working on the wharf.

The Williams Ale & Cider House; just cozy in Central East City in the heart of Spitalfields. A hidden gem for after-work chilled out drinks, a date, a catch up, surrounded by ancient looking stone walls and arches.

Boundary London rooftop bar; Nordic chic designer warm in the winter, quiet, great service, friendly vibes, hidden away on one of the rooftops in the heart of Shoreditch. Will come back in the summer.

Good vibes, always.