Cogais

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“Conscience is a cognitive process that elicits emotion and rational associations based on an individual’s moral philosophy or value system. Conscience stands in contrast to elicited emotion or thought due to associations based on immediate sensory perceptions and reflexive responses, as in sympathetic central nervous system”
responses.https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conscience

Cogais is the name I have given to my studio. The studio is a second-hand converted shipping container, measuring a cosy 10’x8’. The intention is for Cogais to be a creative space. Inviting others to share the space, listening and sharing stories about life’s happenings and building connections through a process in the present.

Cogais has landed

and will soon be furnished with stylish and functional pieces.

Watch this space to see how Cogais Studio evolves.

10 months on

A strange sensation came over me. Had I led a good enough life? A sense of calm descended. I told myself quietly that there was nothing I could do and that if I panicked the anaesthetist would not be able to proceed. There was a moment of acceptance. I just laid there. My life in their hands. I waited to see if I would live or die. I felt a huge sense of relief when I woke up in HDU, knowing that I had lived. Owen came to see me. I felt pretty helpless and out of it. I remember thinking, I must go and see my boys.

Makes for things looking different somehow, when faced with your own mortality. I’m still wondering what’s different and how I might have changed but I am at peace about the now and not so concerned about the what next. Those who have walked with me during these past few months have helped me to get through the most difficult days. I still have a journey ahead back to full recovery, but it helps knowing how much people care.

At times I have been tearful and motivation towards fitness can be low. Other days, I am more energised and hopeful that I will one day regain the endurance I once had. My body has undergone a lasting change and each day that passes, I wonder whether I can fully accept the change and begin to somehow embrace the new shape of me.

The hysterectomy almost pales into insignificance in comparison to the trauma of the sepsis and subsequent laparotomy. It was an internal bleed following the hysterectomy that caused the clot that became infected, resulting in sepsis.

The sepsis caused me to quickly feel completely out of control and helpless. Then the loss of dignity was just something that happened. The student nurse on duty was great and nothing seemed to much for her although I’m sure she was challenged.

I think that my immune system was compromised because of life’s happenings in the months leading up to the operation. I was grieving the passing of my mum, brother in law and step dad when the scapegoating in the form of bullying, ostracism and harassment escalated to a whole new level. How could they be so cruel when I was grieving? Where did they learn that behaviour? How does anyone ever think it is ok to treat another like that?

What happened, before it all happened.

In the Absence of Physical Bruises,
Micro aggressions multiplied,
I caught the swing of their mood,
Coordinated combination punches landed,
A high sideways kick.

Thinking my quiet courage,
was my greatest strength,
Discouraged and disempowered.
No winners, no victory.
All I appear to be,
would not have been possible had it not been for all the things I’ve been through.
I had no shield, no weapons, no defence.
I’m sorry I wasn’t good enough for you.

-00-

And thats what happened, before it all happened.

Fundraising in March 2019

Thank you for looking at my wordpress page.

During March I aim to raise £400 towards the work of CPT. Donations are in USD$ and £5.00 is equivalent to $6.50.

To make a donation to CPT please  Click here

If you would prefer to donate in pounds Stirling, I’ve set up a PayPal account here: https://paypal.me/McGechaen?locale.x=en_GB

 

For further information about CPT please click here

If you have any questions about CPT then please PM me.

 

The world is well prepared to win the war, but not well prepared to win the peace. (Marie Dennis)

Thank you for your donation towards the work of CPT.   CPT stands for Christian Peacemaker Teams. CPT are a human rights organisation, committed to building partnerships that transform violence and oppression. 

CPT’s routes grew from a pacifist Mennonite tradition, recognising the need for a more assertive but still non violent resistance to systemic oppressions. CPT reflects presence, spirituality and faith and strengthens grassroots initiatives.

CPT have teams working alongside  communities in Iraqi Kurdistan, Colombia, and Palestine where indigenous people are having their land, homes and livelihoods destroyed  by the state and corporate powers. There is also a team on  the Greek island of Lesvos, where 10,000 migrants live in the refugee camps.

Whilst I have visited the team in Lesvos, my main experiences of CPT have been in Palestine.  

CPT Palestine walks alongside Palestinians who face daily human rights violations living in Al Khalil/Hebron. Children as they walk to school, residents as they are ID checked, searched, detained and arrested, farmers during times of planting and harvest. 

CPT lives in the community and documents these violations standing in solidarity with the community’s efforts to resist the occupation and claim their rights, dignity and freedom.

During a  CPT delegation  to Palestine in August 2017, I visited a Bedouin community.

When people with direct experience of the struggle against the Israeli occupation speak, the challenge to do something in response can be overwhelming. I was unprepared for every story I heard. Some experiences just don’t leave you alone, attaching themselves to you, like a recurring loop in your consciousness. I will share some of the truths I experienced. 

I camped out overnight at the village of Um Al Khair which lays in the shadow of an illegal Israeli settlement. I heard stories of multiple home demolitions. This small rural community raise goats and grows thyme which is the main ingredient of zatar, a delicious palestinian condiment. I met an impressive young man called Tariq who had a maturity beyond his young age of 21. Tariq explained very clearly the issues faced by his community. He shared how his brother was beaten by a settler whilst he was herding his goats. Apparently he went too close to the settlers fence with the goats and he now has severe brain damage and is unable to function as an adult. His mother was also badly beaten and her donkey stolen. The village bread oven has also been destroyed multiple  times and they now have to buy bread which is a lot more expensive.

The delegation was arranged so that we heard from different perspectives. Israeli Jews, Palestinian Christians and Muslims provided us with hospitality. And we visited a mosque and attended both a Christian as well as a Jewish Shabbat service.

Every person and community was different, but certain traits linked them all: hospitality, openness and sumud (steadfast perseverance).  

Your financial gift supports the work of CPT by helping to cover team members costs whilst they carry out the work of accompaniment with partners around the world.  Full time team members give up their earning potential to carry out this work. Why not consider joining a delegation yourself. For further information visit, https://www.cpt.org/.

Thank you for your support.

In peace,

Louise

Reflecting on Privilege in Relation to Racism

I started writing this in August 2018, following a month long training in Jordan, with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). During the training we were called to reflect upon our privilege in relation to racism. I am and this is, a work in progress.

Please click on the various hyperlinks in the text.

Today is 3rd December 2018 and the headline in The Guardian newspaper reads: Racism in Britain: the stark truth uncovered.  I feel prompted to try and put some structure into my writing and to share it with friends and family.  As many of you know, I am recovering from two recent major abdominal surgeries and sepsis and therefore this writing might not flow as well as it could. However, I feel passionately about undoing oppression and non-violent resistance and this is my way of continuing to be an activist rather just a clicktivist although please do sign those petitions I send you!

I would highly recommend you read the Guardian article on racism in Britain:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/dec/02/revealed-the-stark-evidence-of-everyday-racial-bias-in-britain

Staring

We arrived at Amman airport hotel. There was a large group of people in the hotel foyer. I was conscious of trying not to stare. The people were dressed so vibrantly and in contrast to the way I was dressed, I found it  hard not to keep looking. Men wearing brightly coloured skirts and hats, women in stunning garments. Later in the dining room, I observed some people in the group were eating with their right hand which I associate with Muslim dining etiquette. It’s so easy to make assumptions when there is a difference between people but I found myself watching these people eat and I felt uneasy by my gaze and wondered if I had made them feel uneasy too.   I later found out that they were from South Sudan.

Passport and Freedom of Movement

The last couple of weeks the news has reported about migrants arriving in dinghies on the south coast of England. We hear less, if anything about the thousands more on the Greek island of Lesvos and hundreds drowning in the Mediterranean and thousands dying of starvation in Yemen.  Millions of people worldwide living in refugee camps for too many years. No one seems to ask why are people migrating or what might they be fleeing from.

I’m reminded of my privilege to have a home and the freedom to travel the world and then return to that home. I am conscious that I have done nothing in my life that warrants this passport privileged life that I have. I have often seen it stated in the media and then heard people say ‘illegal immigrants’.  What right does anyone have to call another human being ‘illegal’? What right does anyone have to tell another human being that they do not have the right to self determination?

What is White Privilege

The subject of white privilege is not widely discussed in the UK.  I am beginning to explore my white privilege. As I sit here on my iPad Pro, thinking about my white privilege, I am mindful that this very act is a very privileged thing to be doing.

I was born with a set of unearned and invisible advantages and benefits because of the colour of my skin. The system I was raised in was created by the values and perceptions of white people. The system I belong to is run by people who are the same colour as me. These advantages remained invisible to me until several years ago when I started spending time alongside refugees and asylum seekers. Once I began to realise that I had done nothing to deserve all the privileges in my life, I tried to make some changes in the way I see and treat other people who were not born into these advantages.

I watched this film about whiteness https://youtu.be/Dscx4h2l-Pk

I watched this film about white privilege and it gives an example of how a person who is perceived as white, is able to walk through the world differently. The film encouraged me to become more conscious about what I might witness happening and how I can use my privilege in helping with undoing oppressions

https://youtu.be/Wf9QBnPK6Yg

I know that I am privileged in many ways. I am privileged as white middle class passport holding citizen. I am privileged as a cisgender woman. I am privileged as an able-bodied person. I am privileged that my first language is also our national language.

I am a white woman and a product of being raised with the myth of progress. Progress is ingrained in me. I am motivated to do my best and to be a good person.  I have learned that the concept of progress did not appear in other cultures, or even western thought until around 300 years ago, and yet it is so much part of who I am. Other cultures have different perspectives of cycles of time, seasons and history. As an activist, I am future focussed and committed to creating a better life and a better world but from a position of privilege and with the myth of progress.

I came across this article about ‘all the ways white people are privileged in the UK’.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/ways-white-people-privileged-uk-171011124754885.html and I am reminded how people of colour, particularly, black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi are more than twice as likely to be without work than white people and I have become more aware of my privilege.  In contrast, I have never been without work when I wanted it and I have only recently become aware of this imbalance. I live in a country where wealthy politicians help the wealthy people the most and the poor and powerless people, the least and where race also determines income levels.

And whilst there are too many white British employees on low incomes, there are twice as many black and Asian workers.

Education

The UK education system favours white British children. I haven’t given much thought to this previously as I live in a world that has been tailor made for white people like me.

Pupils of Roma background are more than three times as likely to be excluded from school, compared with white British children. Black Caribbean pupils are almost twice as likely to be excluded.

Sometimes I’ve found myself caught up with expressing my own perceived educational disadvantages but then realise I need to check my privilege because the reality is that this disadvantage is based on white privilege and not on the colour inequality that plagues every aspect of the UK schooling system. I can’t imagine what being a person of colour, in the UK education system might be like. My educational experience was grossly inadequate and I still left school with virtually no qualifications but with white privilege have been able to navigate a way through life. Without my white privilege, I would have faced multiple barriers, the likes of which, I really can’t begin to know.

         ‘92 percent of teachers are white. Asian and black teachers account for just six percent’

‘2015 only 85 of 15,905 professors in the country’s academia were black’

‘only 15 black academics in the British university system were working in senior management roles’

‘black students are 1.5 times more likely to drop out of university than their white and Asian counterparts’

When I read this, I was shocked by my ignorance. I am becoming more aware of the huge impact the white system has on people of colour. I feel angry and ashamed that I didn’t know

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/uk-university-academics-offered-white-privilege-lessons

I have noticed myself becoming a lot more aware of what I might be thinking and considered, before I speak. I realise that it’s not enough to be ‘un-racist’, and that I need to become ‘anti-racist’. This requires me to actively acknowledge my own privilege. Even though I didn’t ask for this privilege, it was given to me at birth and now I need to actively acknowledge that this privilege is a major cause in the inequality suffered by others.

I want to be able to notice and acknowledge, when my race has made my life easier and someone else’s life harder. I am unlearning subconscious prejudices and checking my thoughts, actions and language for hidden bias.

Everyone Wants to Come to the UK (not so)

The mainstream media are leading people to believe that everyone wants to come to the UK because it is a better place to live and that all ‘these people’ are coming to the UK and taking our jobs.  This is not true.

What people don’t realise is that there are more people from the UK, working in Europe than there are people from other European countries working here.  People take for granted their passport privilege and being able to work abroad and then question people’s right to work in the UK. People in the UK criticise people who can’t speak English and yet we are the last to learn a second language. We move abroad, to Spain, France etc and don’t bother to learn the language and instead join an ex-pat community and live in a white English speaking bubble.

We are on the inside, looking out and observe others as different, lesser humans. Consciously or subconsciously, we think we are superior, although I know, one should never generalise about a particular population. When we move abroad, we like to be called ex-pat but when foreigners move to the UK they are immigrants. It seems there are two rules at play here.

The UK is becoming more and more right wing. Brexit threatens to close  the UK down from immigration. Racist attacks have become more commonplace. Boris Johnson a conservative MP is hailed a hero by white supremacists for describing women who wear the Burqa, as looking like bank robbers and post boxes.  He is appealing to the right wing voters and its rumoured he could make a bid for the Conservative party leadership. It would be a very sad day if he ever became prime minister. He has been likened to Donald Trump and the UK establishment seems to be supportive of this violent white supremacist practice.

I have never experienced racism, classism, sexism or deprivation and therefore am unable to begin to understand what that might be like.  I think that rather than pretending to understand racism, I need to focus on identifying the privileges of my whiteness and how that has made my life easier and other’s lives harder.  Acknowledging that people of colour live in a racialized society whilst I go about in a state of colour-blindness. I really want to become less oblivious to what’s happening. I want to see the injustice and I want to speak out more against it.  

Until relatively recently, I had not been aware of white privilege, which is a classic traite of white  privilege. I have had white privilege all my life and I have not experienced the barriers in life, that not being white brings. I have no doubt contributed to and benefitted from a prejudicial and discriminatory system.

There is a  difference between white supremacy and white privilege. This article is from a US perspective.  There is little in the UK to read about this but there are many similarities.  

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/jesse-benn/the-white-antiracism-tone_b_7861740.html

The article states: White supremacy refers to a racial hierarchy in which whiteness sits atop of. The United States was founded on a system—legally, culturally, economically, and politically—of white male upper class supremacy. All of these remain today.

I’m aware that I lack a lot of knowledge about UK history but I can see that our current system is very similar if not identical to the US.

These are some things I learned from the article.

White supremacy refers to the system and white privilege refers to the many benefits from that system.

White privilege is, when growing up,  all of my teachers in school looked like me and almost all of the characters in children’s books and on TV looked like me.  White privilege is, as an adult, walking into a room and being interviewed by people who look like me.

It’s white supremacy that created the system where this could happen.

I read this article https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/british-people-are-proud-of-colonialism-and-the-british-empire-poll-finds-a6821206.html as part of my self education.  To have reached the age of 53 and to be so ignorant of British history is a real shame. Governments are very adept at manipulating the memories of the populations they supposedly serve.  

Writing this reflection on white privilege has been really educational. It has helped me to realise just how limited my education has been.  We were not taught any British history around Imperialism at school and it seems to be missing from the mainstream consciousness of the UK. I have become more aware of how much I do not know and I am embarrassed by my ignorance.  I don’t know what I don’t know but I am willing and interested to find out.

As is said at the start of this piece of writing, I am a work in progress. Thank you for reading and please click on the links and watch and read the short articles.

 

CPT Training Amman 2018

We are home and it feels great to be back in Moray.

I might be sending you this, because you have shown an interest and have been supportive during my recent exploration into the work of CPT.  Writing this will also hopefully help me to begin to process the month of training in Amman.

By embarking on CPT training I hoped to gain a deeper understanding of the work and discern whether joining a CPT team was for me.

Participating in CPT training was not without some personal challenges. As you know, the preceding months had been fraught. The deaths of my Mum, Step Dad and Brother in Law as well as other major life and family events meant that I had low  emotional reserves. Self care during the weeks leading up to and during training was a priority.

The group comprised 13 trainees, four trainers and care support. We travelled to Amman from Holland, Canada, USA, Palestine, Ireland and UK. We lived in shared apartments. Owen and I shared with Melissa from the US who is the newly appointed Care Coordinator for CPT and Erin from Canada. We named our home, ‘The Dungeon Apartment’ because it was the darkest accommodation, being on the ground floor, it had bars at the windows and shutters that blocked out any daylight.  It was small and airless, but a comfortable space and we really enjoyed each other’s company. The washing machine didn’t work, so we bought a large bucket. Other than a blocked drain causing a flood in the kitchen and Owen sticking his hand down the drain to clear the stinky sludge, we had no issues.

We took it in turns to shop and  cook and all felt the burden of this task at the end of our long days in training.

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Owens turn to cook

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Melissa, Owen and Erin

Each day, we left the dark apartment at 7.30am, put on our sunglasses and took a taxi to the training centre about four miles away. The group convened for a reflection at 8am and we each took it in turns to lead this time together.  Some reflections were longer than others, some more engaging. Training was four hours in the morning and three in the afternoon, with a two hour lunch break for working on any assignments and rest. We had a rota for lunch prep and ate a lot of hummus and pitta bread. We had a closing circle at the end of each day, followed by daily tasks such as mopping floors and cleaning toilets. We usually left the training centre around 6.30pm. Owen and I often walked back to the apartment which took an hour and a quarter, including a ritual ice cream stop!

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Melissa 7.30am en route to training

Being part of an intentional community was an intense experience. Meeting strangers and walking with them whilst they also walked with me felt risky. At times, I felt vulnerable and fragile in the space we created together.

Long hot days in an enclosed environment, the constant sound of traffic through the open window, a constant reminder that people continue their everyday lives whilst I have  been able to take time out of mine. I am reminded of my privilege to have a home and the freedom to return to it.

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The training centre

Two weeks in,  I had started to form  a new identity, changing the way I saw myself and the world around me. By involving myself  in consciousness-raising dialogues, questions arose like, ‘how can I improve and be a useful tool in a world where hopelessness and injustice are rife?’ ‘What, if anything, do I have to offer a CPT team?’. Gaining invaluable insights into the values of CPT was really thought provoking and helpful. Just in case you’re still not sure, CPT are a human rights organisation committed to building partnerships that transform violence and oppression. Their routes grew from a pacifist Mennonite tradition, recognising the need for a more assertive but still non violent resistance to systemic oppressions. CPT reflects presence, spirituality and faith and strengthens grassroots initiatives.

CPT have teams working alongside  communities in Iraqi Kurdistan, Canada, Colombia, and palestine where indigenous people are having their land, homes and livelihoods destroyed  by the state and corporate powers.There is also a team on the Greek island of Lesvos, where 10,000 migrants live in the refugee camps.

I was reminded that I am part of an oppressive system and I also carry oppressive attitudes and beliefs.  I’m also reminded of some distant and recent personal hurts caused by oppressions in my family. This was, at times, painful to carry and process.

At times, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the content of the sessions. Some complex issues were presented to us and I was intellectually challenged. I found the  training room a difficult learning environment. The background noise of traffic, air conditioning and the wide variety of people’s vocal expressions, together with the limits of my tonal hearing at times felt too much to process.  The pace of the sessions seemed to move quickly for me and I felt I was constantly playing catch up. Still processing the previous day whilst trying to grasp new information and ideas. I hung on in there.

It is true, I experienced death by:

PowerPoint, group work, role play, feedback, singing, light and livelies, poor skype connections to CPT in other parts of the world and all things being awesome most of the time and ate far too much hummus, lentils and ice cream.

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Group Work

You might be wondering, whether this training prepared me for CPT fieldwork and what on earth we did for an entire month? My answer is both yes and no and it will take a while to process all that we did. We were invited to go inside ourselves and be transformed. This was a profoundly individual journey in a shared space and I engaged as fully as I felt able to.  I think the long intense days were to test our stamina for team life and we both coped well.

We were given three full days off and some of us took a long day trip to Petra and Wadi Rum which was well worth the effort. On another day, we booked a hotel with a swimming pool which was luxurious.

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Wadi Rum with Dan and Charlie

I stepped up to the training and stepped out of my comfort zone on multiple occasions during the month.  I surprised myself and Owen, by discovering I had a bit of a hidden talent for acting and public speaking. My closing speech was chosen as a best example and much to my discomfort,  I had to do an encore! All good confidence building stuff as I received so much praise and encouragement which felt so good.

This is a list of some of topics we covered during the month. We looked at our own spirituality, fears and core values, public witness, civil disobedience, de-escalation and nonviolent direct action, photography, public speaking, report writing, videography, social media, facilitation skills, consensus decision making. Undoing oppression, sexism, privilege, racism, LGBTQPIA terminology, single stories, microaggressions, sexual harassment. Personal styles and excess (Gilmour Freighley), music as a tool of nonviolence, conflict transformation and frameworks, nonviolent communication. Self-care, trauma. Public speaking, fundraising, CPT policies. Working with partners, human rights documentation, project briefings, truth telling, detention and arrest, death kidnap and torture, security personnel, lethal and non-lethal weapons, white supremacy and cultural appropriation.

Whilst I didn’t always agree with all that the trainers said and did, on balance, they delivered a very good programme and held the space, in what was a challenging environment, away from their usual training base in Chicago.  They had some difficult decisions to make and not everyone completed the training or was invited to become a member of CPT.

Endurance test, learning curve or enjoyable experience? All of these, yes. And It is my hope that by participating in this training,  I can continue to make some small differences in the fight against oppression in this world. At some point in the future, I’m hoping to carry out some work in the CPT field, but for the time being, I hope to continue reflecting and enjoying our home, making new connections and welcoming many visitors!

With love and in peace,

Louise

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Women on Wheels

From Bradford to Scarborough to Whitby!Women on Wheels Short Film

In 2011, my colleague Judy and I ran some learn to ride a bike sessions in Lister Park in Bradford.  We loved teaching the women to ride and decided to organise a cycle trip.  We cycled along the old Cinder Track from Scarborough to Whitby and stayed overnight in  Boggle Hole hostel in Robin Hoods Bay. We had a great time and produced this short film to remember and celebrate the time together.