Sexual harassment. A problem for all of us, from the point of view of a 21 year old.

My name is Iman Amrani. I am a 21 year old British Algerian, Algerian for the part of my father. I was born in Camden, London, and I grew up in the pretty city of Cambridge. Today I have decided to write a blog about a subject that I am very passionate about, and which I felt the need to express myself on. Sexual harassment.

I have grown up in the UK with a great deal of exposure to Arab culture, and I lived in the Dominican Republic for one year when I was 18 working in a Haitian settlement close to the border of Haiti. I am currently living and working in Bogota, Colombia, teaching English in a prestigious private university as part of my compulsory year abroad, required for my degree, BA Philosophy and Spanish, which I am reading at the University of Leeds.

I have experienced varying degrees of sexual harassment in every environment and culture that I have encountered, and today I felt like it was time to finally address some of these, and communicate my feelings on the subject. For too long it has just been another part of every day life, an aspect which I have either accepted or endured as “normal”, but after one too many distasteful experiences, I feel it necessary to speak out and share some of the issues that I and countless other women have faced in the street, in the workplace, and in countless other places.

Pakistan hit the news at the beginning of the month when a women-only park was opened in Lahore. People were jumping up on blogs and the comment section in the papers, having their say about the oppression of women in segregated societies, having a cheeky dig at the oppression of women in Islamic countries. Egypt also drew attention in the media this week, as commentators referred to the issues of sexual harassment against women during the Eid festivities. I have a lot of respect for the sisters speaking out against the problem, but I feel it is necessary to not view sexual harassment as an issue isolated in Muslim or Arab cultures. Harassment affects women around the world, regardless of nationality, race, class or sexuality, and it is important that we address it and speak out against it.

When I was in Rio a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to see bright pink cabins (they were rather pretty actually) in the metro, that were exclusively for women during rush hour – 6am-9am and 5pm-9pm excluding holidays. No one can tell me that segregation and sexual harassment is solely an Arab/Islamic issue. If there are women only cars then that has to be for a reason. Here in Colombia I was on the bus to work, wearing a dress handed down to me by my Nana. The clue is in the fact that it belonged to her first, so I defy someone to tell that it might have been provocative. During rush hour the buses are very crowded, and a man put his hand up my skirt and tried to stroke my thigh. I was new to Colombia and although I obviously pushed him away, it was scary because you never know how someone might react when you reject their advances.

Anyone female who has been to Notting Hill Carnival will know what I mean. The carnival is a fun few days led by the West Indian community. Families from all backgrounds attend to listen to music and join the festivities, and I really enjoy going, but the experience has been tainted a few times with groups of boys heckling the girls, shouting obscenities or chat up lines, and proceeding to call the girls “fucking bitches” when they have been rejected or simply ignored. This does not just occur at the carnival. One evening I was on the Edgware Road going back to my grandmother’s flat with a friend, when a man who was old enough to be my father shouted at me in the street. He started by complimenting my legs, and I said nothing, but shot him a dirty look, so he proceeded to shout at me “who the fuck do you think you are to look at me like that you fucking whore!?”. I was so angry but there was nothing I could say or do, because I didn’t know who this man was, or more importantly, what he was capable of.

In a far more serious story, my aunt had a young female friend who lived in the States who once rejected a young man’s advances, and he turned around and shot her dead in front of everyone. Now obviously this was an extreme story, but not a unique one, and it shows why it is such a serious issue, and why one might struggle when looking for the appropriate way to respond to harassment.

One of my first experiences of harassment was at my Mum’s side was on my first day of work experience when I was 15. I was doing a two week placement with my step-grandmother at the House of Lords in London, and we had arrived at the grand entrance for visitors, where the cloakroom for the Lords is situated. We were sitting on these plush leather sofas, after being rigorously checked by security, waiting to be met. There was an Arab gentleman also waiting in the same area, with an entourage of people attending to him. He was watching me for a while, and then came over and presented himself. He was an ambassador of some sort, and he told me that he would very much like for me to meet him in his hotel room later on. He handed me his card just as my grandmother swooped in and rescued me. I was 15 years old. It was my first day and I didn’t know how to respond to this man because he was obviously a lot more important than I was and I was scared to cause some great offense and get into trouble before even starting. Of course, I never contacted him, but I could see my Mother was also quite shaken by the experience. I was also wearing the smartest most decent outfit imaginable because of the nature of the work, but this gentleman thought that he could take advantage of my age and his status in order to take liberties.

Another encounter that I had at my Mum’s side When I was about 16 I was crossing a park in Cambridge and there was a group of about four young men, all in their early twenties who were heckling and trying to get my attention. I scurried by and jumped into my Mum’s waiting car, trying not to glance over at them. My mum was asking me how my day had been when this same group of guys, pulled up next to us in their car which had been parked behind us. They rolled the window down and gestured to my Mum to do the same. Not knowing that I didn’t know these guys she complied, and they shouted over asking for my phone number. My Mum was really surprised and asked them if they knew me. They responded “We’re not talking to you, we want to talk to you daughter”. Ma was speechless. She wound up the window and sped away.

Asides from public places, in nearly all of the jobs I have ever undertaken I have had to deal with advances and inappropriate behavior with men I have worked with. In Leeds I needed to get a part time job alongside uni, and as there are around 33,000 students in the city, part time jobs are not always easy to come by. I ended up getting a job first at Tiger Tiger, and then at a German bar called the Bierkeller. In Tiger I worked in the restaurant as a waitress, and I had to deal with randy, rowdy stag do’s, and pervy doormen who worked there. I had a uniform which was a black shirt and black trousers, and there were many other girls sitting at the bars in mini skirts waiting to have a chat, but the guys that came in would speak to any woman they saw in the same way, regardless of how they were dressed, or what they were there to do. I had my legs brushed as I walked past tables serving food, and was propositioned a number of times.

In January there were no more hours after the Christmas rush, so I went to work in the Bierkeller with some of the girls I knew from uni. I was handed a disgusting Heidi style outfit and spent the night rushing around with pitchers of beer for customers. When I was in the kitchen I was stretching to pick up an order off the hot plate and one of my supervisors squeezed my bum. I spun around and cursed him so bad, and sacked the job off soon after. The manager of the Bierkeller once told a Liverpudlian girl who worked with us that he would ask prostitutes to speak to him with a Scouse accent. The levels of harassment there were off the scale.

Even when I worked as a waitress at Cambridge University, in Jesus College, I had to deal with arrogant members of the rugby team who got rowdier with drink over the course of the dinner and dared each other to try and grab the bums of the waitresses going by. So let’s not try to restrict this issue to a certain class or race please.

By far the worst problem I encountered in the workplace was here in Colombia. As I mentioned before, I am working as a language assistant in a prestigious university here. The students at my university come from very well to do families, and the majority of the professors here completed their Masters or PhDs in The United States or in other countries with well known universities. I am by far the youngest member of staff, and one well respected colleague felt like he might be able to take advantage of this. I was invited to a very important dinner with a number of professors from the Theology department, as well as one of the leaders of the Catholic church in Colombia, and the leader of the Greek Orthodox church. This professor had been recommended as an upstanding citizen, a respectful gent, who could help me find the venue as he lived close to where I was staying when I first arrived. I was apprehensive to go with him, but I had little choice, as I had recently arrived and knew nothing about the city. It is a long story, but after attending the meal, this guy had my phone number and would not leave me alone. He was really intense and it was incredibly intimidating, as he is 33 years old, and I felt unable to tell anyone I worked with when he started sending me inappropriate messages. He had almost become a father in the Catholic church, and was perceived to be squeaky clean by all those I work with. They had not heard the way that he talked about the “asses” and “tits” of the exotic “morenas” like Rihanna. The girls I was living with helped me write an email where I told him that I was absoloutely not interested, and that I wanted to be left in peace. This did not work, and I ended up calling my grandmother in the UK in tears. I hd done absolutely nothing to provoke him, and I had told him in no uncertain terms that I wanted him to leave me alone.

Far too often I hear the blame thrown at the woman. For walking provocatively, for dressing in a certain way for having an “intimate gaze”. Let me just clear one thing up for you, Mr Pervert in the street. When I woke up this morning and put on a pencil skirt, I was not thinking about you, nor I did not do so for your benefit. If it is not for her clothes that a woman provokes, it is for being European and the impression that some people have of us, and when dealing with French men it has been for being English. Sometimes it is for being young. Other times simply for looking “nice”. I am sorry, but I can’t and wont be able to address all of these issues that weak men in the street cannot come to terms and deal with. You will learn to respect me, regardless of what I am wearing, but on the pure fact that I hold myself with respect, I respect myself, and I am not disposable to you or any other man, Mr Pervert.

One night I had to get a taxi home in Bogota and the taxi driver asked me if I liked oral sex, and when I refused to respond to him he crudely asked me whether I “liked to have a man use his tongue on my clitoris”. This was one of the most frightening experiences that I had, and he even asked me what kind of panties I was wearing. I could not leave the taxi because there were other potential threats in the street as it was dark, but he would not listen when I told him that I would not discuss engage in discussion with him.

I have told of a few of my experiences, that have affected me and left me feeling angry frustrated, upset and scared. But I am just one girl, and there are many other girls and women who have experienced the exact same things, and very often worse. I think it can be increasingly difficult when you are seen to be confident or successful. I have found that many men have been intimidated by this, and a reflex mechanism has been to respond to me and other independent women I know with a complete lack of respect in order to make up for their own short comings and insecurities. No matter what a man says or does to me, when trying to make me feel uncomfortable or inferior, I will always have less respect for him than he does for me. Always.

I feel that it is important for us to address these issues, to highlight them and speak out against them. I also feel like it is important to have a solidarity between women. I wont call another woman a whore or a bitch because that just weakens the strength of us all, and makes it more acceptable for men to use that kind of language against us. Obviously it is important for a woman to respect herself, and the responsibility lies with each of us to look after ourselves and avoid unnecessarily drawing unwanted attention, but I will not accept that it is OK to disrespect a woman on the grounds of her clothes. It is just not justifiable.

One final word. This is not an attack on all men, nor condemnation targeted at one particular group. There are many men who are not part of this problem, who respect women and in turn are respected. And there are perhaps issues going the other way, with women disrespecting men. That is not my story, and that is not my experience. I cannot speak on behalf of anyone except myself, and I feel like today that is exactly what I have done. I hope my words haven’t offended, and I hope that I have communicated myself well. I also hope that you will keep this in mind when you are with your friends, or raising children, or even thinking of calling out to a girl in the street.

This is the cabin for the women in rush hour in Rio.

Peace, love and blessings, may you have a good day. x

Rio. Favelas, cakes and sexy bumbums.

Rio

Last week I was in Rio. It was a brief encounter, I crossed over the Amazon on a plane to say “Hey” to my homeslice Olivia, who is studying at university there during my university “reading week” (they don’t really have reading weeks at uni here, it was more of a half term but that makes me think of school). Anyway, Rio has always been on my holiday wishlist, so I was bare excited to be going, but I was ever so slightly apprehensive that it would not live up to the hype…

I was not disappointed. Rio is a beautiful city, and it was the perfect holiday – a smidge of everything that you hope for, the beach, amazing views, beautiful people and fucking amazing cake. Yes the cake was definitely a highlight worth writing home about. Latin America is not given enough credit for its desserts in general. Forget France and Creme Brûlée, Italian gelato or New York Cheesecake, I don’t even care about your Nan’s apple crumble, Latin America holds the crown when it comes to sweet stuff. (Bakalava and Algerian cakes are exempt from the competition because I am biased.) From dulce de leche ice cream, tres leche cake, banana bread, coconut flan, and deep fried sweet plantain, the sweet treats on offer across Latin America are a milky dream. If you are lactose intolerant I feel for you because you are missing out BIGTIME. Every country has its own take on the different desserts, some echan un poco de canela, some vary the proportion of milk and sugar in order to get more caramelly or more fudgey textures. But I have to say, Brazil is stretching out in front with its cakes and naughty foods. I think I had a minimum of one cake a day, and one day we went to a place where you bought cake by weight in a restaurant. It was peng.

Although I could talk about cake all day I’m sure that is not why you are reading my blog about Rio. You are expecting some crazy stories, some mental encounters, a bit of drama perhaps? Whilst there will be some of that later, I have to say that my intention was to fully chill out in Rio. I made the most of staying with my friend in an apartment on the Copacabana and rolled out onto the beach in the morning with a good book to catch some rays and check out the sexy asses playing volleyball. I succeeded in my mission of chilling out and could literally spend hours switching my attention between my book and the bodies soaking up the rays on the beach. Everyone wants to know how the mandem in Brazil size up to their reputation. Are they really heavenly Adonises and Aphrodites  with J Lo bums and perfume model pecs? Yes, yes they are. Not all of them mind you. Obviously that would be right mental, but the percentage of ten outta tens is higher in Rio than most other places I have visited in my life. But, don’t go crazy rushing out to buy your ticket in the hope of finding your perfect partner. The men that I encountered were CRAZY arrogant, I had one disillusioned tipo approach me in broad daylight on the beach and try to kiss me on the mouth. Motherfucker. The most frustrating thing was that he could simply not understand why I wasn’t playing his game. I don’t care if you have the body of Mario Casas (he’s a tasty one worth a google) that doesn’t mean that you can behave however you want and just go round touching girls up. Jeez.

The machista mentality running through the veins of Latin America can be quite wearing sometimes, and the way that guys are with women in the street can be a bit much. And for the guys looking at the Brazilian ladies, just keep in mind what you see is not always what you get. You know the J Lo song “I’m Real”? Yeah, well she wasn’t talking about the girls in Rio. (Obviously this is a gross generalization and there are many many hotties in Rio, don’t get it twisted, I’m just saying, Rio is not a place that you can accept on face (bum) value.)

So, with the tasty subjects outta the way (bums and cakes) I should probably tell you about what I actually did when I wasn’t being lazy on the beach. I am not a big fan of touristy sights. The Eiffel Tour is one of my least favourite spots in Paris. It looks crackin’ in photos and is probably one of the most used images on Tumblr, but up close it is quite disgusting to see rich American tourists with their €6 hot dogs alongside gypsies and groups of somewhat questionable looking gents trying to tout tacky souvenirs and bottles of cheap wine, the two world mingling like water and oil, together but separate. Compared to this the Cristo Redentor statue was what sights SHOULD be like. The view of Rio was sensational. I didn’t feel overwhelmed by touts and there was a mixture of people up the top. We went at around 5pm so it was quieter than usual and we caught the sunset which was divine. Some people had said the Cristo was a bit of an overhype but I whole heartedly disagree. For me it was one of the most memorable things that I have done on my travels.

Besides the Cristo, my other big sight that I wanted to see was the Steps in Lapa. You know the ones where Snoop Dogg and Pharrell filmed the video to Beautiful. Yeah, there. I was so happy when we got there because I have always seen photos of them, they are a really identifiable spot in Rio and I really really wanted to sit my bum down somewhere where Pharrell had once been. PAH! But yeah, Olivia was my beautiful tour guide and told me that each of the tiles on the walls were brought from different countries, and that there was an artist who had made it all up, and included some of his own tiles. We bumped into him sitting on the steps drawing a self portrait/caricature whilst talking to himself. He had a massive moustache and wasn’t wearing any shoes, and he grunted to everyone that went by “Where are you from?” and then grumbled to himself in Portuguese and Spanish. He was pretty jokes.

After listening to his mentalness for a while he pointed out that something was being filmed on the steps, as we were wandering past to leave I had a cheeky nose and asked a young guy in Spanish what they were filming. He looked completely nervous and lost and desperately shouted at one of the older guys to come over and help him. Only then did I hear his strong South London accent and realise that he was from the UK! Turns out they were filmed a little something to release in the UK later this year, like a promo video, and the next thing I know I see the cheeky Adam Deacon coming over. He asked if I’d mind doing a little cameo, I asked him if I would have to take my top off, he said no, so we went ahead. Two minutes, had to pretend to be Brazilian getting chatted up by AD and then Olivia and I went and got some well deserved lunch. Might I just add that Adam Deacon is exactly like his character in Kidulthood. Or even Anuvahood. Whatever, the man made me laugh with his lines. Casanova he most certainly is not.

I went to a favela with Olivia as one of her friends (who used to live in Cambridge, small world) was living there. It’s called Rocinha, probably one of the best known favelas in Rio as it is one of those where tourists some scurrying through hanging out of the windows of “Safari buses”. It was quite interesting to see this as I have been working on correcting a paper for one of the professors at my uni which was about poverty tourism and glamorizing the slums, because they are considering doing similar things in the slums here in Colombia. Apaz the police levels had been kicked up a lot in Rio in advance of the World Cup, and it was noticable that there were quite a lot of them hanging on street corners, checking out the girls and toying with their guns. The police and military presence is a lot higher in Colombia than in Brazil and every man in uniform is brandishing a massive rifle of some sort, but what I didn’t like in the favela was seeing the policemen with discreet little things that fit snugly in their hands. I like to be able to see where the shots are coming from thanks. We wandered through and saw the police dragging a man from his house in his boxer shorts. He was resisting a lot and people were coming out of their houses to have a butchers. The view of Rio in that favela was also phenomenal.

One day, Olivia had class, so I decided to go out on a little adventure and catch a bus somewhere that I didn’t know to have a little wander. Sounds a bit irresponsible I guess but I had heard about an area not far from Copa and I wanted to find a cafe or something to chill out in. I got lost on a bus and met some Brazilian girls, and one of them ended up giving me like a little tour of the area and taking me to a different “favela” in the area. We went and sat by the lagoon and exchanged details, and on the Friday she contacted me about going out. Olivia and I got ready and made the massive journey away from the bright lights of Copacabana and went out to near where the City of God is to a gigantic nightclub where the girls were waiting for us. The venue was rammed full of Brazilians, we are talking thousands, and I think I was the only person present who didn’t speak Portuguese. The dancing made daggering look like two-stepping as the rules of decency were casually brushed aside to make way for dance moves that would no doubt lead to babies. Needless to say I was resolutely dancing on my jays, water in hand. The guys were pretty aggressive about trying to dance but luckily I had some fiesty Brazilian chicks around to keep things in check. There is no way I would have stepped in that club without Brazilian backup.

We stayed in the club until it closed at 5am, and made our way past the bodies on the floor, and those stumbling to get sausages for breakfast in their high heels and short skirts, licking ketchup off their fingers as the sun crept up behind them. I felt pretty lucky to see the sunrise as I had been telling myself that I would have to see it at least once whilst I was staying in Rio, so I went home feeling a little grubby from all the dirty men grabbing my arms, but pretty blessed.

Rio is a sick city. I’m not sure if I could live there, but it is one of those places that you have to visit in your life. It feels Latin American but European in some places, and there was a lot which I identified with Colombia – they are neighbours after all. I hope that one day I can live somewhere with mountains in the skyline of the city. I loved being with my friend Olivia, even though we hadn’t seen each other in nearly six months, we just have one of those friendships where time just goes on hold whilst we are apart, and we can pick up from where we left off. Doncha just love them ones? We had a girlie last night, drinks and pizza in Lapa and I felt really lucky to be with my gorgeous friend who speaks Portuguese and looked after me so well, in such a special city. Thanks Olivia!

One last point that I wanted to make was that if you have a wishlist of places that you want to visit, you should start making plans today. You never know, you might end up finding that you feel right at home in one of those places on your list, and you might even decide to live there permanently. There isn’t any excuse to put your dreams off until tomorrow, live in the moment, take advantage of your freedom and go have an adventure 🙂

Peace love and blessings to all, take care, besitos, LEY x

Irrational fears are a side effect of big dreams.

Of all the people whose words have left an impression on my mind, I doubt that you would guess that I am about to write about a lesson learned from R Kelly. Yes, I said it. R Kelly taught me something. Lets push aside the mountain of disgust that I’m sure we all share for his shameful behavior in the past, and I shall explain. R Kelly is renowned for his title as the King of RnB, not just for his own songs, but also for those which he wrote for other artists including Michael Jackson. (Try not to make connections between the two, that is NOT the point of this post today). I remember watching an interview with RK back in the day, a very long time ago, where the interviewer asked him whether he ever regretted giving his songs to other people, especially when they became number ones or very successful, and whether he found it hard to not be able to bask in the glory of the success.

His response was very interesting. He said that he couldn’t feel resentment, because that would be a manifestation of the fear that he wouldn’t be able to make another, equally successful song in the future for himself.

Now at the time, that struck me as kindof deep. He could have just said some generic answer like “nah man, it’s all bless, I’m happy for my homeboys”, but instead he left me with this fresh perspective about opportunity. Regret is the fear that something you missed in the past will never come back around in the future. And with regret comes his wifey resentment. This little couple stop you from living in the moment and make you chew over “what ifs” and imaginary scenarios, which distract you from getting back on track and working to get to where you want to be.

Furthermore, I thought it was interesting that RK identified regret as a fear. Regret is like a fear stuck in time, fear that your actions in the past will dictate your future, and that you will not have control over them. And fear is what paralyzes us most when it comes to progressing in our lives, taking leaps of faith and making big decisions.

The bigger our dreams are, or the more we hope for something, the stronger and more irrational our fears can be. If you are content with a small-scale lifestyle, with the same surroundings and little need for risk, your fears will be restricted to what is around you, and to a large extent are identifiable. But when you dream out of your comfort zone the risks and fears extend beyond the horizon of what you can conceive. I suffer sometimes from these irrational fears. I will share some of my smaller ones with you. It might sound ridiculous, but I get serious paranoia about leaving my hair straighteners on, or leaving the door to the apartment unlocked. This has never happened to me yet, but for some reason, when I am out, enjoying myself with friends, I will suddenly get this thought in my head and I wont be comforted until I have either rang someone at home to check it out, or arrived myself to make sure everything is ok. My friends think that I am a nutter because it happens so frequently, but I am like that with many things, many of them a lot more serious but I use these to illustrate the point.

I think it comes from a mixture of feeling really secure in some things, and feeling really insecure in others. I want to control everything to try and make sure that nothing bad happens because I feel like there is so much opportunity in the world, and I never want to do something stupid that could limit the opportunities in my life somehow. If I burn the house down with my straighteners then I will have to spend all of my wages to fix everything, and I will feel terrible with my friends that I live with. Similarly if I leave the door unlocked. Logic tells me that I will have less freedom and I will be restricted by guilt and money. There are numerous other cases like that, but what I think about with the R Kelly quote is that you can’t control everything, and you need to just let go of your fears, because there is always potential, there is always another chance, not just a second chance, but infinite ones, so you don’t need to worry. If you learn to let go of things you can be more peaceful and open your hands to a shower of opportunity. I have a friend who used to have an irrational fear about her house burning down as a result of an electrical fire in her house, so before going to college she would take photos of all the unplugged electrical items in her room so that she could reassure herself when she was in class that she had’t left anything on or in the socket. She was living the perfect live, and was a big dreamer, but at the back of her mind she was forever fearing the worst.

I’m not sure if everyone will understand this post. It is quite personal, and to some people it might sound a bit crazy, but the essence is that we should be conscious of those stifling feelings that hold you back, and keep you in an imaginary past or a hypothetical future, and really live and appreciate the blessing in the moment. Being scared is a complete waste of energy, as it relates to something that we cannot control. You have to work hard to be conscious of the limits that you put around yourself, and practice being happy, and letting the world rotate, whilst you do the best you can to make the most of it (even if it means leaving your hair curly so that you don’t have to worry about burning the house down).

Peace love blessings and besitos to all, have a nice day.

Los reyes de la noche, la policia y te ingles. // The kings of the night, the police and English tea.

Last night was my best night so far in Colombia. As a self-proclaimed reggaeton junkie the chance of seeing the big Don was too good to miss. For those people who think they don’t know who Don Omar is, just remember that song that was doing the rounds last summer, Danza Kaduro, and the Puerto Rican in Fast and the Furious.

To top it off, the lead singer of the Dominican bachata group Aventura, Romeo Santos, was performing as well. they called it Los reyes de la noche – The King of Bachata, and the King of Reggaeton (they also had the King of Vallenato, but minor, that is not what I was there for.)

You have never seen wannabe groupies until you have been to a concert like this in a Latin American country. I’m 94% percent that the girls accompanying the guys next to us (who where were dressed like rappers from the 90s, short of the bandanas) were prostitutes. And in my life I have never seen so many examples of plastic surgery and enhancements in one place. It was the stuff of Lil Wayne’s wet dreams, “fat asses”, “titties” and “badunkadunks”. I am sorry, but they the look like frozen jello balls on your chest I refuse to simply call them breasts.

Anyway, to set the scene, a group of us from my uni bought tickets for an area on front of the general audience, which cost a bomb but I felt like it was a sacrifice that could be made for getting a view of my prospective husband (#TeamDon). We got ready at a friends house, they pre-drank and I tanked up on Nestea. They are still not used to this, and there is a running joke that I drink milk instead of alcohol. I can never tell if that is an innuendo or not…

The venue was out of town so we had a bus hired to take us there. When we arrived there were loads of people queuing. Thank goodness we jumped that. We got searched on our way in, which was standard. I am continuously being frisked as I go into any public building here. They even do it at every door of my university. When I went to the Movistar concert and saw Chocquibtown play it was forbidden to take makeup in with you, we got frisked 3 times each, you had to present your Colombian ID and the boys had to pay to leave their belts with random men in the street to collect later.

We had a sick view inside, and we were on the tables and chairs in order to get even higher, literally dancing on the tables to reggaeton and bachata all night long. Romeo Santos was amazing, he performed for ages, and he even held mini auditions from the crowd for Aventura stand-ins, so that he could perform one of their most famous songs with 3 other people, then the best singer was given a $200 prize. It was a nice change that he pulled some boys up, instead of doing an Usher and finding a girl from the crowd to whine on. Plus I don’t think the Latinas in the audience would have really stood for that, the life of the girl would have been at risk…

Don Omar performed a tighter set, not taking breaks between his songs like Romeo, but I swear I haven’t screamed like that since I was 16, when my friend Katie took me to see Chris Brown and he performed “Take You Down”, topless, gyrating on the moving stage. Natti Natasha from the Dom Rep even came to sing Dutty Love with him which was lo máximo  The Don was amazing, but I had my dreams “of forever after” shattered when he told us that the day of his wedding was the best day of his life. I heard the hearts of every woman in the audience break at once in that moment. No one had told me that he was married. Sad times.

On a serious note though, he took a moment in the show to talk about his life, and how he worked hard to achieve where is is right now. He said that the most important thing in life is to have a good relationship with yourself and God, and to work hard everyday, for yourself, for your family, for Bogota, for Colombia and for the world. In writing this looks really cheesy, and in truth coming out of the mouth of your fulanito latino that wouldn’t really change, but there was something about the way he was speaking that was really sincere and surprised me. He is the reggaeton king, and I was sort of expecting him to play that up, and reach out to las mujeres in the audience, but he seemed to be making more of an effort to be positive, without worrying about telling everyone that he was married, and he took a moment to talk about faith. That was nice. Then he got back into the reggaeton, everyone was grinding, they spurted out glittery paper over everybody and we started to leave.

It was 3.30am.

People had been drinking.

The fights began.

Luckily, half of the Colombian population are police or in the military, (that is a joke not a statistic) so there were loads of men in yellow or green around who could get involved and “break things up”. It is quite astonishing watching the people around a fight getting involved, there were people picking up chairs and lobbing them at other people, the woman behind us picked up a large bottle of vodka to chuck, but we were all like “are you out of your motherfucking mind?!” and she backed off.

Eventually we got out.

There were just over 10 of us in total and some were more worse for wear than others. One guy, Omar, was on a level beyond the rest, and as we were leaving he started asking the police to take him home. Bless him, he is pretty skinny, and was wearing white jeans and loafers, so the police just passed him and left it out. Thing is, when everyone has been drinking things start to pop off, and eventually the guys were with got into a brawl with a guy who had pushed one of them. The police came, split it up, and we tried to lead the boys off. Turned around two seconds later and they were in another pickle, but this time there were 20 policemen on the 4 boys. The police started kicking Omar in, and he was covered in blood. All over his white trousers and we had to literally pull the police off him. When they saw us, the majority of them moved off sharpish, because they knew that they had overstepped the line but there was nothing that we could do. The ones that were left behind refused to show their ID and our bus had to pick up some school kids from the other side of town, and by this time it was nearly 4.30am. Someone had put the shirt that Omar had been using to stop the blood on my hand, and I was pissed. I was pissed that the police had beaten him up. I was pissed that they had run away, and I was pissed that the ones that were there wouldn’t show their IDs because they knew that they would get into trouble. But most of all I was pissed to have somebody else’s blood on me. I wiped my hand down the police officer’s uniform smearing red into the flourescent yellow, we rounded up the boys and we caught the bus just in time.

It was a good night overall, I loved the concert, I hated the police, and I finished the night with a well needed cup of tea and a bowl of Special K Vanilla and Almonds, luxuries that I myself can not afford to buy myself over here, chatting to the very beautiful Tania in her kitchen. The tea was made in the microwave, and I though to myself that was somewhat unconventional, and then I remembered the night that I had just had and laughed to myself at the stupid things that occupy my mind sometimes.

Hope you are blessed and happy right now. Unless you are a policeman, then you can go to hell. Besos xxx

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Poetry Day – My Way

Before you all snore off, I want you to know that this isn’t what you think it is. I am not going to post some fluff   related to those poets you are fed during GCSE English classes, but I think it is important to take advantage of today and promote the power of poetry and spoken word. I love words. I am a closet Shakespeare fanatic and I think that reading opens the mind and the ears.

Hiphop is my music of choice when it comes to thinking and I have had many an epiphany whilst listening to the words of lyricists such as Lupe Fiasco, Immortal Technique, Lowkey, KRS One, Logic, Kanye West (“Bitch-ass niggas got ass and breasts” is not the kind of thing I am talking about, think “Family Business”, “Sierra Leone” and “Jesus Walks”.)

Asides from political hiphop, I shed a tear the first time I heard Adele’s “Someone like you” because the words were so perfect and as James Corden said when introducing her at the Brit awards “There’s nothing quite like the feeling when you’re listening to a song, written by someone you don’t know, who you’ve never met, who somehow manages to describe exactly how you have felt at a particular moment in your life”.

When I was about seven years old I got an anthology of poems by Benjamin Zephaniah. His poems broke from the norm and were about crazy subjects like toothbrushes and the Jamaican essence shone through in his work. This unlocked my imagination and thus began my love-affair with words and poetry.

I was once a Twitter-sceptic, but I have realised that it is an amazing tool for sharing words and using words, and one of the best points about it is that every letter counts. You have 140 characters to make your point, so each vowel and consonant has value and cannot be wasted. If you look closely, that is something that all good writers do. (Take note from my homeboy Shakespeare if you don’t believe me).

Words are powerful and today I just wanted to share some of my favourite poems with you, in the hope that these words might have a positive effect on your day. Here are two of my favourite poems by Maya Angelou. Have a nice day and use your words wisely.

 

Phenomenal Woman

 

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them

They say they still can’t see.

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman

 

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need of my care,

‘Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Maya Angelou

 

Still I Rise

 

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

 

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

 

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

 

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops.

Weakened by my soulful cries.

 

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own back yard.

 

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

 

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

 

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

Maya Angelou