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All Stations to London Euston

After a week of full-English breakfast debauchery at the Hampton Hilton in Birmingham I return home to my beautiful family. They all seem so normal- compared to what, I don’t know. I walk indoors thankful for my spacious kitchen- staying in a hotel room for a week will do that to you.

The sun showed up as soon as I stepped into the taxi, almost as though the city was glad to see me leave. Hadn’t it rained non stop for the entire 4.5 days I’d been there? Even last night when I went searching for Afro-Caribbean food, I stood outside in the rain for 15 minutes, OK maybe 10. Still that was 20 minutes after they were to have opened. Another man came and stood next to me and asked if that was the Caribbean restaurant. I wanted to draw him into the heated discussion I was having with myself, about the state of affairs in our community and how were we supposed to get ahead if we didn’t even stick to our own opening times. But I couldn’t tell if he was Black or Asian. So I hushed up.

I chat with Ahmed, the cab driver. No he doesn’t tell me his name but he looks like an Ahmed. I double-check with him about Birmingham’s ‘city centre’. I don’t hide the incredulity  that laces my question; ‘Is the city centre by the station really the city centre of Birmingham?’ A part of me wants him to say yes, so that I can have one more thing to be thankful for, that I don’t live there. The other part hopes for his own sake that there’s a real centre, I just didn’t see it during my stay. As if he can read my thoughts he says ‘I don’t live in Birmingham , I live in Dudley. And yes, this is the city centre’. He explains to me that the city is fraught with a network of canals. At the mention of the word ‘canals’ I drift off to Venice where my head becomes filled with a network of idyllic images of passionate love and romance. It occurs to me that if I were to be asked about the size of my city centre, for example,  I would not be able to descend into its history or topography. I think that’s a bit sad and needs to be rectified. Oh to come from a beautiful city that has a network of canals, like Venice! Or Birmingham.

He tries to tell me my fare is £6, when I know fully well that it’s £5. I don’t prepare to argue. I simply tell him its £5. He mumbles an apologetic explanation as to how he forgot that ‘customers like you get a discount’. A feeble attempt to erase the brief shame you feel when you’re caught doing something infantile and silly- not silly enough to be told off, yet the silliness is what embarrasses you and not the being caught or the telling-off.

There is an immaculately dressed, older woman making her way quickly towards the station entrance, she tries to force me to confirm that she is scurrying in the right direction of the entrance, I nod with little certainty. It would appear the architects of Birmingham New Street Station made a grave error; it never occurred to them to put the entrance closer to her, knowing this day would come. I say a silent prayer of thanks because for once in my life and in what might actually be the first time, I’m not rushing. I have a whole 45 mins before my train departs. It is with this newfound calm and dignity I go to pick up my tickets- prepaid, I might add. I meet the older lady there, snapping at the ticket machine; ”it’s no point, I’ve probably missed my train, this is so ridiculous’‘. Her tone doesn’t go with her appearance, funny how the external can mask what’s going on inside. I realise I have been on the receiving end of a casual observer  many a time. I decide I prefer to be the observer and not the observed.

I sit in a waiting area and chat with my friend on the phone. A woman comes in with her guide dog, a beautiful cuddly, friendly thing. She snaps at her friend ‘sit down, please’, ‘please‘ is uttered with more force than ‘sit‘ and ‘down‘ and the dog quietly obeys. I think this must have been how Adam told off the animals in Eden. Soon my platform is announced, I make my way there where I am gifted once again with a feeling of superiority as I arrive on the platform to wait for my train. Usually trains wait for me, then change their minds as I arrive at the door huffing and puffing.

This one is a slow train, the type that makes up stations as it goes along just so it can stop at them. Our first stop is Stetchworth. Yes. And people clearly live there for a few passengers get on the train. Even more surprising, some people alight. A woman comes in with her 2 gorgeous little daughters. They look about the ages of 4 and 2, the kids look Nigerian but their mum looks err.. not Nigerian but she can pass for one. One daughter seats opposite me and the other stays on the other side of the aisle with her mum. Before long they’re skipping and whizzing around, and starting to irritate passengers. My eyes unintentionally lock with another passenger’s and she gives the polite British smile that says ”control your kids”. I smile back hoping my smile conveys to her; ”they’re not mine”.

The train stops at Rugby. It is standing room only and ‘my daughter’ is seating on her mother’s lap. A friendly passenger settles into the now vacant seat opposite me. Before long she is speaking French to the girls, ooh-la-la-ing with them, It’s a rare and beautiful sight. A complete stranger choosing to converse with 2 little girls. In French. The same girls that a few minutes prior I didn’t want mistaken as mine. The older girl smiles broadly and asks, ‘you speak French?’ Suddenly I feel jealousy creeping up . I want to be associated with these girls who speak French. I want to speak French too. I wonder if I can conjure up a reverse smile that does the opposite of denying them. I try to find the woman I need to offer this smile to, she’s gone. La zut! Ce qui est très triste!!!

Thank you for reading!

Partagez votre opinion ou être à jamais condamnée. (Translation: Share your thoughts or be forever doomed!)

Steps

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Lao Tsu

Last week was a rather overwhelming one, physically. It all started when I decided to spend 11 uninterrupted hours last Saturday working on our new website- it looks simply amazing if I can say that myself! We are moving onto a new super- duper platform and iits like going to school allover again. I have been going to bed with html codes and various image editing softwares swiming in my head. Anyway, after my stint I was surprised at not feeling a huge sense of accomplishment, you know the way you’re supposd to after you have done a lot of productive work. That feeling was carried into Monday, the start of the week. At the time I thought perhaps it was because I did just one task. It was unbroken and unvaried, maybe that’s why it didn’t feel like I had done much. Nonetheless I still felt burdened as the week wore on.

On Wednesday the Lord gave me a vision. A simple picture of a person (me) walking on a mapped out path with round stone slabs. It is a winding road and there’s nothing but fresh green grass on either side. The yellow daffodils swaying in the gentle breeze are a sight to behold,  pretty. In the distance the path leads to a beautiful house on the hill, the only possible destination. I keep stopping and looking up to see how much further I need to go. That was when it hit me. Rather than taking one step at a time, I look ahead and see the seemingly insurmountable task ahead. I keep looking at the big picture and feeling discouraged because although I have come a long way- evidenced by the long path behind me- I am impatient and want to get to my destination, like right now!
Yesterday, following my boycott of the suddenly expensive Tesco, my quest led me to Lewisham in south London. Here you can get fresh vegetables and meat at much lower prices. I parked the car a distance from the shops and did quite a bit of shopping. As I walked back to the car with my purchases I longed for one of those trolleys the senior folks use. It was the bags holding yams in my right hand for the week’s planned yam peppersoup, the plantains that will go nicely with rice and stew, the pounded yam meant for monday’s efo riro and the large bag of onions. My left hand held my bags of meat- neck of lamb, goat, chicken and kidney, coconut milk, okro and spices. I looked in the distance and saw the car park so far away. I decided to look down and keep walking knowing I will eventually arrive- that’s just my coping mechanism folks. I don’t like pain or discomfort! I took my mind off the journey and planned out the rest of the day- doing my hair and eyebrows and suddenly I had arrived!
I learned some valuable lessons;

I have learned to stop to appreciate the journey. It is not a race to get ‘there’ the fastest. There is so much beauty on either side of our lives that we need to be thankful for. Yes pollen may bring you hayfever but if that’s all you choose to see, that’s all you’ll be ‘enjoying’.

Take one step at a time. There is no other way to arrive than to take it step by step. Place your vision in front of you but you have to focus on taking the next step.

Stop and relax. Yes I am a busy mum/wife/business woman but that doesn’t mean my life has to mirror a roller-coaster ride- which I think may be part of the problem- I love excitement, but it is necessary to stop to recharge, take a breath, and energize myself. Life is what happens when you are busy making plans. I certainly don’t want my life “happening away”.

So as I look forward to the start of a new week, I do so with the knowledge that I will arrive at my destination. All I need to know is what step I’ll be taking tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that…

Have a blessed week, thank you for reading!

 

Today at The Mustaphas’

Do you ever look at people and wonder (or in my case conclude) what their lives might be like? It’s a habit I have. And enjoy. At the post office today I stared at Mustapha while I was in the line. Mustapha is in his fifties and he is always at the counter. I think he is the Post Office manager because the others direct all their queries to him. His face is rugged, like he has lived and seen a lot in life. His complexion is light brown, Asian no doubt. Mustapha never has an expression, he seems neither sad nor happy,  just…there. The longest conversation I have ever had with him was ‘hi’,  ‘grunt’.

Two spots away sits a middle-aged woman her name tag reads Maureen. I think she’s Asian although she kinda looks Mediterranean too. Her hair is in place and face very well made up. She seems to be enjoying her lunch- I spot some brown sauce, rice and salad. Her lipstick remains eerily in place despite the dripping sauce. I of course start to wonder what her life is like. Does she enjoy her life or despise her boss?  Then she says something about there being some salad left and passes her polystyrene take-away bowl to Mustapha. Aha! They are married.

Now I start to imagine what their home might be like. I conclude that their home is very comfortable and very well decorated. Rugs and wall hangings from Cyprus, dark chunky wood furniture with black metal hinges from India. Rich burgundy soft furnishings with gold threads running through. The scent of  spices hangs in the air. There is a large family portrait above the fireplace showing Mustapha, his wife and their three grown kids. Two boys and a girl. The first son is a doctor, practising in Canada. The second is the girl, she works as an accountant in central London and the last son, the one who refused to be  a doctor, accountant or lawyer works for a nightclub and has started his own gig as a DJ on the side.  Mustapha does not approve as he thinks he should have gone for a more serious profession. He is the one who point-blank refused to speak their native dialect when growing up and as a teenager brought a caucasian girlfriend home for dinner. He frowns each time he remembers the way she spluttered and coughed after her first mouthful of kesari bath, his beloved mother’s secret recipe passed down to Maureen. No one outside of the family knows this so it isn’t really talked about much. The family rarely shout, speaking in measured tones as though they don’t want to awaken the faux tiger fur rug that greets you in the hallway.

The knick knacks on the bookshelf tell the story about Mustapha’s immigration to the United Kingdom years ago. The photograph of him on his bike, with his mother in the bacground laughing heartily- something she rarely did after losing her husband years earlier to a bad illness. The black and white photograph of his young bride taken at their traditional wedding ceremony is framed in a beaded work of art, he promised to send for her once he settled in London and he did. That was 36 years ago.

Finally it’s my turn. The outsider attends to me, asking Mustapha a question about how to change the label on the parcel from Royal Mail to Parcel Force as the customer just realised Royal Mail strikes might delay the delivery of  her parcel.  Mustapha answers her without glancing up. Yep, he is unhappy with his third son’s choice of a profession and it’s all his wife’s fault for pampering him so. Life.

He loves me!!!

Ps 139 has become one of my favorite passages of scripture. It talks about God’s perfect love for man. I love the part that says; “your thoughts towards me are precious- so many, more than the sands”. Each of God’s thoughts towards us is precious. Each one of those precious thoughts is like a grain of sand- more than all the sand in the world. So that even if you could count all the grains of sand in the world, God’s precious, loving thoughts towards us is more than that. (v17, 18)

Another verse says; “you have hedged me behind and before, and such knowledge is too wonderful for me (v5, 6). Even if I make my bed in hell, you are there”. God is ALWAYS with us, even if I make my bed in hell, he is there (v8)

Dear Jesus, I thank you so much for loving me and hedging me in with your love and presence. I thank you because I am no longer in darkness. And if I were in darkness the darkness would be light to you, (v11, 12) so I am never, ever hidden from your view. Every thought you think towards me is precious. There are no angry thoughts, or thoughts of disappointment, malicious, irritating or negative thoughts. Only good precious thoughts (Jer 29:11). The reason there are no negative thoughts is because your ways are not my ways and your thoughts compared to mine are higher, even than the heavens (Isaiah 55:8). For that, I bless you- always.

Love, Toks

Success at any cost?

I work very hard on the business, not because I want it to generate an income, rather I want it to be hugely successful.

A while ago the boys and I visited my cousin who had just flown into London from Chicago. While we chit-chatted with his host -a really nice man, the said host suddenly appeared on TV. He was being interviewed, something that regularly occurs because of the nature of his job. I pointed him out to the boys, It was hilarious the way their big eyes darted first to the T.V and then back at the man, over and over again, mouths wide open as they peered to make sure it realy was him. Perhaps they didn’t believe me. Perhaps they wondered how he could be in their midst, in a house and at the same time on the T.V?

This man is a human rights activist so needless to say our conversation turned to the “plight” in Gambia. First of all I didn’t even know Gambia had a “plight” I tried hard to feign interest while all I really cared about was getting PP on TV. “How, oh how do I bring up my concerns about exposure of my business purely for profit making while we discussed the exposure of the atrocious Gambian president- without branding myself as insensitive?”

I left really pleased about my education on Gambia, Nigeria and other African countries and what Amnesty international is doing to help. I left considering my own selfishness in my own little world and how we all have a part to play in assisting the other man or woman beside us. I was also glad that my quest for success had not yet seared any feelings of benevolence and that it was not too late to start.

Lord I thank you for the many gifts that you have placed within me. I pray that I use them selflessly to glorify you and to bless the people around me, for the gifts are not mine to keep, but to pass on. Amen.

Joy

I don’t say this to brag but I have been filled to overflowing with the Joy of the Lord. This is a very different kind of joy to what I’ve always known it to be. This joy is alive, it rejuvenates me, causes me to laugh and cry for no apparent reason. Plus I am peaceful too. I first experienced this mind-blowing joy about 10 months ago when I read a little book titled “From Prison to Praise” by Merlin Carothers. I read it when I was going through a very difficult time in my life. The only thing worse than having the hardest trial is going through it without knowing if God is even aware that you exist, let alone there to hear you when you call. That’s where I was, difficulty along with the absence of Christ. Yes I was going to church and praying daily but did not feel his presence. What I took away from that simple, small book was that the word of God says rejoice in all things, so we should-all things. I started to learn to simply believe God’s word even if it did not line up with my current circumstance. The Lord does not need our situation to validate the authenticity of His word. His word is what it is. Period.

So I believed God’s word. If the word said I am blessed and there was nill evidence of blessing in my life, I chose to believe his word rather than what I could see or feel. I am learning to walk and live by faith, what his word says is true, and there’s no other proof He has given, so we just trust him. My testimony is looooooooong, but I love to share it so PM me if you want to hear it!

But there was a problem, this new joy was intermittent, and I noticed a pattern. When I take my eyes of God, panic sets in, stealing my joy. If I miss a period of prayer, the joy slowly ebbs away. Not because prayer is the currency of God’s joy, -there is no currency- but because in His presence is the entirety, the fullness of this joy. It goes without saying then that if you leave His presence, you’ll be leaving that joy behind.
Many times I attempt to replace the joy and peace of God with temporal things, but it all fades away after the novelty of the source has worn off- the new car, new home, shopping spree, etc. Jesus on the other hand never wanes, He is constant. The other thing I noticed was that my situation didn’t change yet I was filled to overflowing with joy. Then I started to change. God allows a trial to shape and mold you- painful but the finished product is beautiful. I love the new Toks!

Jesus, I pray you will deliver us from questioning your word and our situations. Help us to simply trust you and follow your leading. You came that we may have life abundantly here on earth before we go into eternity. Make your word true, unquestionable and infallible in our lives, amen.

Why My Rice is Never Soft

Today’s dinner was Jollof Rice, Turkey, Fried plantains, Coleslaw/Potato salad and a glass of coke. I tend to cook my rice just done, not soft. I like the grains separated and chewy, not sticky and …whatever the word is- you know what I mean. I wasn’t raised on chewy rice. On the contrary mum’s rice is quite nice and soft.
It all started in boarding house when Toyin and I went with Mariam to visit her mum. Mariam’s mum made this yummy jollof rice with carrots, all separated. Each grain of rice was coated in its own sauce, same as the carrot pieces. So if you’ve ever eaten at my home and wondered if I simply couldn’t cook plain old rice, be rest assured, I can. It all started years ago when I visited Mariam’s mum…