Tag Archives: image dump

2013: The year in cats

Okay, so I haven’t updated this blog in quite some time. I’ve been more focused on writing things elsewhere, and reporting on life as it unfolds hasn’t appealed so much. If you’re interested, I’d be happy if you’d check out my website for up-to-date info on my articles, zines and whatnot; and I’m on the Twitter if you’re into that sort of thing.

Anyway, I hear the internet is rather fond of cats, so I hope sharing the various cats (also, dogs) I’ve lived with in 2013 might go some way towards making up for my silence here.

I began the year, as has become customary, in Lyttelton, a small village (population 4000) next to Christchurch, looking after three cats and two dogs.

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Hidup Rakyat: Bersih 3.0 in KL


Soalan ditanyakan. Jawapan disediakan
The question has been asked. The answer is ready

I live in Kuala Lumpur, currently. My 32-hour stopover in February wasn’t enough, so seven weeks and six countries later, I came back. I’m here temporarily, but for a longer period of time than I spend in most places. I’ve been exploring the city, learning Malay, cooking and eating epic food, following lizards around, and waking up next to someone I’m completely smitten with. And last Saturday afternoon I found myself in front of the Lotus Hotel in the city centre, surrounded by protesters who had just been tear gassed.

Behind me, two young women were crying “Allāhu Akbar.” I got out of the way as a trampled body was carried into the hotel. Bottles of water were thrown to the street from the upstairs windows, and eventually a couple of emergency fire hoses were aimed from them as well, to cheers from the crowd down below. Protesters offered salt and water to each other. Riot police paced at the corner of the street, so I figured I wasn’t going anywhere for a while. Masjid Jamek LRT station was closed, but its metal shutters had been broken by people desperate to escape the gas, and police would later follow them in to beat them.

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Outside the Syrian embassy, Kuala Lumpur

Burning Assad

I had 32 hours in Kuala Lumpur and my principal interest was finding the Syrian embassy. I couldn’t deal any more with the disconnect between the atrocities documented every time I checked Twitter and the conversations I had with people around me when I surfaced from the internet: “What, there’s something going on in Syria?”

7800 martyrs, 500 children, 400 female

I didn’t know if there would be a protest and I didn’t know how to find out anyway; I just went, hoping that showing up on a Friday might increase my chances. I was right. Riot cops hovered around the periphery while flags, fists, placards and voices were raised. I caught only one or two keywords from the mainly Arabic speeches, but the pain, horror and outrage was clear. I had come here not only to show solidarity, but because I had reached a point where I desperately needed to be among other people who cared about what was going on. The attendees were mainly Syrian students, people directly impacted by the violence. A Somali who had just moved to Malaysia after twelve years in Syria told me of his classmate, Sardasht Ali, who was shot dead in the street, eighteen years old. He hoped to return to a Syria free of Assad. Insha’Allah.

All of Somali people with Syrian revolution

As the demo drew to an end, we headed back the way we had come, before a large group of Malay Muslims passed us by, heading too for the embassy following Friday prayers. A second protest, this time with locals showing their solidarity.

Malay Muslims demonstrate

And I wonder what it will take for white Westerners to pay attention and get angry now that there are no prominent fictional lesbians in the movement. Is the name Hamza al-Khatib as familiar to my peers as that of Amina? Hamza’s body was returned to his parents last year after he had been detained for protesting; they found that his jaw and kneecaps had been smashed, he had three gunshot wounds, he was covered in cigarette burns and his penis had been cut off. Whenever I see a photo of him, a smiling thirteen-year-old, my heart feels shattered. This is what the Assad regime does to kids. As one of the signs at the demo read: “The regime is committing massacre while the world is watching silently.”

Syria, Homs, the regime is committing massacre while the world is watching silently

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Leave it to the men with the weapons

I went back to Europe for a date last week. We were meeting in the McDonald’s in Taksim Square – really? Is this some kind of joke? – and I arrived in a dolmuş from Kadiköy, too early, having been unsure how long the journey would take. So I sat in front of the Republic Monument for half an hour, wishing I had worn my hoodie. I listened to Parlovr and FantomenK. Parlovr made me think of Saudi Arabia, the backdrop to the story behind Hell, Heaven; of Malden, Massachusetts, where I was based when I discovered them a year ago; and of Belfast, where I sat in a bar at sixteen or seventeen and considered the relative safety, or not, of my location were gunmen to enter.

play Parlovr – Hell, Heaven

Some men were shouting as they headed down Istiklal Caddesi carrying a giant Turkish flag over their heads. 22,000 Turkish troops had entered Iraqi Kurdistan that morning but the world seemed to have reacted with its customary disinterest, and anyway Gaddafi’s death was the big headline that day. I recalled February in Leipzig, wondering where I could find a ‘Gaddafi’s dead’ party when the time came. He was still in charge back then, his presence causing more to die every day, and the immediacy of the situation made me believe that his death would allow the Libyan people to live. In the end, he was dead not because of self-defence but revenge. I could understand why it had happened this way, but I didn’t feel like a party any more.

The following day, I was afraid I would miss my flight. I threw up intermittently through the afternoon and spent long periods of time sitting on the floor, activities like standing up and walking upright having become excruciatingly taxing. I hadn’t drunk all that much – at least, not by the standards of a million other nights out – but maybe it was bad wine or maybe I simply hadn’t eaten enough before I started drinking. At least it had been a good night: I recalled conversations about sex work, Islam and Defiance, Ohio; a blurry recollection of kissing in the street (how did this come to pass?); the tattooed former sailor who ran Zurich, the metal bar. The aftermath, though, formed the worst day I’d had all year.

Zurich; blurry

Eventually Asli came home and took charge, insisting that I eat some bread while she prepared medicine. “I don’t feel like eating bread,” I said. “That isn’t really the point,” she explained. I sat on the sofa and ate the bread painstakingly slowly, eventually zoning out so I could chew mechanically without being too conscious of the horrific act of eating. The medicine was a big cup of lemon and mint tea, which sounded and smelled appealing but was less than appetising. But now I felt able to take an illegal taxi to the airport, saving me from being around crowds, and I no longer had to consider wasting 70 euros by delaying my departure.

Georgia had been on my mind for more than a year, ever since I left Berlin. At the time, I had been wandering aimlessly, sad and tired. I didn’t know where I wanted to be, and was feeling pretty suggestible when Murdoch recommended Tbilisi; I appreciated that somebody had stepped in to give me a lead, any lead. I had never even met anyone who’d been to Georgia, and my knowledge of the country could be summarised quickly: Mariam Romelashvili represented it in the 2007 Junior Eurovision Song Contest; it was bombed by Russia in 2008; there were eucalyptus trees in the breakaway territory of Abkhazia; and Georgian wine was really, really good. Murdoch knew someone who had a room available for absurdly cheap rent, and I emailed her to ask about it. While I waited for a reply that never came, I found myself reading guidebooks in shops, picturing a new life. Berlin had been a false start; maybe Tbilisi was what I needed. Having failed to unlock the next level of German, I would turn my attention instead to learning a new, curly script. My basic Polish and recollection of half the Cyrillic alphabet might bridge a gap or two while I found my bearings. I would live cheaply and quietly and far from anyone I knew, and if I was still sad I would just fucking deal with it.

In the absence of a response from Tbilisi, I held on to the city in the back of my mind. My plans and locations started to change, but I needed to at least check out the path I might have taken.

It was almost 3am when my flight landed.

Somos los de abajo

Around 200,000 people (estimates vary, as always) demonstrated in Barcelona yesterday. Since I didn’t know anybody there, I focused on taking a lot of pictures. Blame me for any clunky translations.

Mi vida
My life is not your Monopoly board


I would not be able to look my children in the eyes and tell them they had to live like this because I did not dare to fight

Rise up!
Rise up! We are 99%

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Pictures of Kurdistan


Lake Dukan, the largest in Iraqi Kurdistan. There was no one else around


Sulaymaniyah and its surroundings


Cave in the Zagros mountains

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Waiting room


Lucky, one of my charges in Llanidloes


My neighbourhood for two weeks


Please feed the duck

I spent the month of January in Llanidloes, Leigh-on-sea, London and Manchester. I stayed in a total of seven different homes. Although I moved around a lot, it felt like a waiting room month. By the end of it, I’d been back in the UK for nearly seven weeks, a period of time so short it was obnoxious to make a big song and dance about it, but still. I tried to be fully present in my day-to-day interactions, but I frequently caught myself zoning out. I was too numb to commit to the traditional January blues; I enjoyed the time I spent with friends and did my best to be engaging, but often I also felt uneasy, anxious, apprehensive, impatient. I translated it as anticipation. What I needed to do was get out of the country again. That way, uncertainty would have a legitimate position as something I could work through. I was counting down the days.

And sometimes, out in the streets or on the tube, I felt kind of invisible, but that was neither a bad thing or a good thing. It felt a little like camouflage; maybe it kept me out of trouble. I realised that although I’d done well in jettisoning a lot of the sadness since I’d left Berlin, there was still some left, and there was not a damn thing I could do about that. It was boring and I had to be patient.


Sky over Lambeth


Emli‘s dog, Tilly


Charley Stone and friend


Everything I travel with

And then I arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan and the above words felt already redundant.

Repurposed

January to March
The snow at the beginning of the year increasingly struck me as artificial, like it was really icing sugar, or maybe talcum powder. I went out and got drunk a lot, but I mostly abandoned weekends and saved my adventures for midweek instead. I was opportunistic, but frustrated. I frequently woke up with the hangover of the soul; it was like I was looking for something but not finding it. The previous night would come back to me in flashes and mainly it would look like a pointless exercise. I behaved badly. I was just waiting to leave. Correction: in order to leave I was waiting for term to end so I could get my money’s worth from the Polish classes that I got at a discount on account of my low income. Still, in between the many nights full of bad ideas I managed to make a couple of zines, do a couple of readings, DJ a few times.

I went to Anglesey with La Glitch for my mum’s birthday. We rented a cottage and I lit a candle in a church on the day. Hard to tell whether I’d just gotten used to her absence, or whether I hadn’t given myself sufficient time on this trip to reflect. Four and a half years, though, that was a fuck of a long time. By now it just got reduced to brief moments when I was lying in bed hungover and I’d find myself sobbing hard for five seconds and then I’d stop.

We drank in the pub next to the cottage and an old woman with Parkinson’s disease talked to us and somehow, something about her reminded me of my mother, even though the similarities were subtle. She told us about the time she took a bunch of kids to the zoo and one of them stole a penguin. I’d heard this story before, but without the excuse he provided: My mum won’t let me have a cat, he’d explained. When I got back to Edinburgh, I printed out the Snopes discussion and sent it with a card to the pub, addressed to The Nice Woman Who Drinks Whisky And Lemonade. She wrote back.

Mostly, I felt like my mind was never where I was. Penguin had been picking up on it, she said that it was like I wasn’t really there, wasn’t really focused. I didn’t mean anything bad by it, but it left me without much to say for myself.

Term ended. I got drunk one last time in the Wayside and felt mild regret that I would miss the Bon Jovi tribute band playing at the weekend. I went round to Penguin’s and we made badges together, and the next day I left Edinburgh and flew to Brussels, feeling not a whole lot other than numb.

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America, abridged

In rural Pennsylvania I drank cider by a bonfire while people yelled “Fire in the hole!” and launched flaming pumpkins from giant catapults and then boy scouts rushed to put them out with shovels.

In Washington, DC, I killed time in a Salvadoran bar, waiting for Jeremy to finish band practice. The waitress and I conversed in Spanish. She asked how I could travel so much and not miss my family. She couldn’t go home and see hers: it wasn’t just about money, it was about not having papers. She said that if I didn’t manage to contact my friend, I could stay with her and her aunt in Maryland.

I got a lift from Washington to Dayton with a woman who was on her way back to Manitoba. The journey took eight hours but she wouldn’t accept any money for petrol. It turned out she had grown up in the Mennonite town that Miriam Toews described in A Complicated Kindness. She said that she could speak Low German but that it was pretty useless. “I can speak backwards,” I offered. “At least you can communicate with someone.”

I had decided to try not kissing anyone for a year. I got as far as Ohio with that plan.

I walked into a bar in Indianapolis with my rucksack, and the owner sent over drinks on the house because a couple of bands I’d never heard of had cancelled their gig at the last minute. “John Dillinger used to come here,” said my host, a disarmingly cute conspiracy theorist. I nodded like I knew anything, and thought to myself: Four? Or Escape Plan? He drove me to a house on the outskirts of town, a work in progress that had been classified as uninhabitable. It was like the houses in the dreams I’ve had all my life, expanding: when he moved the boards and mattresses that were propped against the walls, they revealed doorways leading to more rooms. I slept on a couple chunks of foam in a cold, bare room; killed time in the morning by studying Polish until he came downstairs and apologised for waking up so late. “My bad,” he said. Outside, a mountain of bin bags filled with leaves awaited an ambitious composting project. He took me for brunch in a Mexican diner and then saw me off at the bus stop.

In Chicago I met up with a friend of a friend, an activist. Green tea turned into dinner and drinks in a pub till the small hours of the morning. We put the world to rights. “Hey,” I said, “we’ve spent several hours together but we’ve only just started using the word ‘dogmatic’ and I think we should throw it around some more.” She smiled shyly and then said, “My place is kind of a mess, but you’re welcome to come home with me if you’d like to.”

I went home with a girl in Somerville, Massachusetts. In the morning we lay in bed talking about ligers and the time she went to Canada for three hours. I wondered how long it would take before her bruises would fade. I wanted to see her again but I didn’t know if she was interested in a repeat performance. I cooked risotto for everyone and when she tried to summon me into an empty room I declined before I realised what that probably meant. But it was okay: my time in the States was ending, and it was what it was. My time with her, my time with everyone. I could be sad about leaving or I could be happy about all the experiences I had had, and I chose the latter.

What August looked like

A small selection of pictures:


Tous les jours. Murcia. I know, it’s kind of emotastic and everything, but I had to take a picture of it anyway. Another one (in different handwriting) proclaimed: Carmen, vuelve, eres mi vida.


Juaaaaan.


Backpackers’ washing machine, Republic of Užupis, Vilnius.

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