PRIDE – as I floated through the centre of London on top of a Bus stating ‘Mental Health First Aid for All’ I felt like I was on top of the world.
Not only was I here with my, decade old, friends and colleagues, I was draped in a saree representing Asian heritage and people from my community. Some of those were in the crowd cheering me on. Almost all of them were totally surprised by a ‘woman in a saree on top of the mental health bus’.
As I connected with people who looked like me I smiled with all my heart and pulled my best pose and I stood a little taller in my attempt to reflect their pride. An honour I felt very privileged to have, in those moments.
My heart also sent out love to those who will never find a space to come out or even know the words with which to talk about their identity. I received a gorgeous message from another Asian woman, who took a picture from the crowd, found me on social media and sent it on. she said ‘the whole day made my heart swell up with pride…love is love, isn’t it!’ Yes it is.
Obviously my pride saree was just amazing! The @mhfaengland crew know how to celebrate. @prideinlondon
I’m sat here 48 hours after having a ball at my leaving party with my MHFA England family and I’m reflecting on my week. What a week it has been…
Monday was the bank holiday a beautiful sunny spring breeze in the air and I sat at the top of my garden with 60 post cards, my favourite pen and a bunch of thoughts. I was intent on writing a message to everyone in my team but where do I start? What do I say to people I have spent more time with in the last 10 years then I have my own family? Many of whom I now consider my family. How do I thank people I have respected, learnt to live from and grown with? How do I begin to express how positive they have been for my mental health and how grateful I am that they were there when I was swimming through troubled waters?
As I started to write the first postcard I discover it was in fact very easy to say all those things, because it’s easy to tell the truth. I realised that it wasn’t the words I was worried about it was the fact that I am going to miss my MHFA family that I was troubled by. Penning each card reminded me of a memory that made me smile and I felt lucky to have been part of something that is this tough to leave.
Tuesday we had a full team strategy day and as I watched the morning unfold starting with our vision and objectives, followed by our new strategy I felt pride and I felt excited about the journey ahead for MHFA England…momentarily I also felt a pang of loss. I heard myself think ‘who could I possibly be if I am not the CEO of MHFA England?’ I felt a little scared about my journey ahead.
Wednesday I met a friend for dinner he is one of London’s famous workplace mental health advocates and he was really keen to tell me a story. He was at the Co-op on Essex Road near Popham Council Estate and there were two young mums with pushchairs and two little ones. They were talking about mental health so he couldn’t help but listen in. One friend was saying to the other ‘I went on this course this week it’s called mental health first aid and it is brilliant you should do it. I learnt loads.’ I was moved by this recounted story as I felt like I had just had the biggest accolade of my career. There are people out there that will not experience the stigma, confusion and shame of mental ill health in the same way I did. My efforts of the last decade has played a small part in changing some people’s lives. I had paid my good fortune forward.
So when Thursday my secret leaving party day arrived I was standing tall (in my heels) ready to be with my team for one huge night out. The MHFA crew did not disappoint; they wrote me a poem (too funny to share), created a book of memories, presented me Rosey’s to encourage me to indulge in my garden, a Jamdani saree from my favourite designer Bibi Russell, we had personalised chocolate cake and they even made up a word to describe me ‘yes-ability’! The event was impeccably planned and delivered with heart – in true MHFA form. Laughter was the theme (with a few tears) and we rocked another evening and made some more memories.
Making an occasion of airport goodbyes has been a thing in my family as long as I can remember.
It’s become a tradition and we expect my cousin to turn up with takeaway containers full of freshly cooked birani! 🍛. We expect to wave our family off until we can’t see them as the airport staff try and clear a path through our crowd to let others through 🙄. We usually takeover a few tables at an airport restaurant and we even have goodbye drop-in guests who just stop by the airport for that one last hug or Salam.
We essentially have a mini party where our people from different parts of our country congregate to say a passing goodbye…just in case it’s the last…
I went through a short phase in life when I used to find it all a bit embarrassing 🤦🏾♀️ now I have returned to – I LOVE that we turn up on mass to say goodbye to one person and I love that we bring a picnic and do it properly! 💪🏾🙏🏾
On this occasion we saw my mum, aunty and uncle off to Bangladesh for a long break. I loved wearing my peach cotton gamcha weave saree a signature design originally launched by @bibiproductions and a product of Bangladesh with an @asos top.
In case anyone is wondering a gamcha is hand towel size cotton material that is used for everything. It’s always checked and you see it literally everywhere in Bangladesh; on peoples heads to protect from sun, as towel to dry with, as a cloth to soak and cool down with. I remember my mum always tying her freshly washed hair to dry in a gamcha. Which is why I love this saree. It reminds me of childhood. (https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.thedailystar.net/lifestyle/cover-story/the-life-cycle-gamcha-1566922%3famp)
So this series of pics made me laugh so much on Saturday. I was desperately trying to get a picture of just me and mum and my saree….
Last day in Seattle and seeing the city from the water is on my mind. I’ve already had 3 awesome days in this stunning place.
So on this last day my absolute highlight was going to the Seattle ferry ticket office and asking ‘when is the next ferry out of here? where does it go? How long will it take?… Bremerton? 1 hour? 8$? Perfect!’ I’ve always wanted to do that, one day I’ll go to an airport and do the same! (Except with Brexit the choices might be limited)
When I arrived in Seattle last Friday, I had money (having learnt from my last trip abroad) and my first purchase was an ORCA card to get me around and I’d even taken my planning one step further by organising to meet family that evening! Pleased with my preparedness I boarded the train to downtown Seattle.
I got chatting to a fellow passenger Kito, who informed me that I needed to tap in and tap out with my ORCA, which I had failed to do, which means I may be fined (not feeling so smug anymore)! Oh well, I’d just have to deal with consequences when I exit.
Now Kito was very interesting he was a ‘Vietnam Era Veteran’ he wore a cap that said so. This meant he served during the Vietnam war era but not in Vietnam. In fact his job was to service aircrafts and he managed to avoid doing this by joining a choir led by the General’s wife who held rehearsals most days. He loved to sing and he found a way to do what he loved all through his life. He was a proud man and he told me he came to Seattle for a weekend and never left, the air quality here was just too good! At my destination I thanked him for all the local ‘must do’ tips and for the friendly welcome to his City.
At the exit, the barriers were open and luckily I got away with my mistake. I made a mental note to pay my dues (my mums voice in my head reminding me to pay it forward).
I left my hotel late this morning hoping the opportunity to do so might arise. Seattle it would seem is as big on brunch as it is on portions! This afternoon’s food of choice was delicious noodle with tofu served in a box the size of my head!
As I found a sunny bench overlooking the water and began my brunch, I noticed a man with a brown cardboard sign, on it one word ‘homeless’ I placed the lid back on my enormous box and asked him if he’d like some food? ‘Hell yes! I’m starving!’ A few feet away there was another man who met my eyes, hopeful, I gave him what change I had. Opportunity ceased, dues paid (I could see a relieved look on my mums face. She believes bad things happen if you don’t give back)!
Arrived in Bremerton and sat drinking tea in The Coffee Oasis in a pint size cardboard cup. This happens to be a very quiet place with a big naval base. On my way to this cafe, I (literally) bumped into a man as he came out of the barrack security gates, after an apology he tells me his wife is about to give birth to their baby in hospital. I wished him well as he rushed off up the hill. He’s excitement was infectious and I’m still smiling wondering about the gender of the baby.
To end this adventure I wondered back to my hotel through Pike St Market and noticed a shop with an Arabic sign, I popped in to see what it had to offer and guess what? Yes, my favourite Sesame Snaps! Perfect ending to a balanced trip.
So being Bengali and more importantly from Portsmouth, I refuse to pay the extortionate exchange rate at the airport and decide that 40 Australian Dollars from the cashpoint is going to have to get me to Parramatta from Sydney and I’ll deal with my cash-less issue there later.
As directed by a lovely lady (who thought I was a student) with a big smile, smudged lipstick and a mother like demeanour, I go find my place at the bus stop. Second bus is the number 400 to Burwood, my next destination, except I have notes and the big beardy driver doesn’t take notes. However, from underneath all that facial hair there is a smile and he says ‘you’ll just have to go take a seat!’ ‘That’s very kind of you’ I say (my English sounding really English!). My new best friend tells me all about his travels and Egyptian wife and 30 minutes later I’m in Burwood.
This place is full of Thai and Chinese food and lots of hair dressers…full of older men being groomed…fascinating, I wonder if the bus driver ever tends to his beard using such services!
I’m very tempted by the food smells but bearing in mind it’s only 9.30am I decide to stay focused on my mission to get to my hotel. I have a lunch time meeting with a minister from Ireland. Besides I’m still full from DimSum breakfast.
I head to the shopping centre thinking there must be a money exchange place here. A nice young man in a bed linen shop tells me there isn’t and I should go find the bank. He even googles the exact location…three shops down…(I don’t think he goes to the bank very often!)
So to the bank. another lovely lady with smudged red lipstick (there is a market for quality lip liner here!?¿). She tells me that the cashier bit is closed and I can’t take any cash out on Saturday however there is a money exchange place next to the bed linen shop!
I’m thinking I should forget the money thing today and just get the hotel. She points me to train station across the road. Great. Direct trains! Ahh nowhere to buy tickets. I start talking to a young woman (no lipstick). Who kindly calls the ticket guy. Who tells me they are short staffed and he’s on the platform seeing a train in but he’ll be down in a bit. (It’s like Southern are following me around the world).
He turns out to be very helpful. Instead of 5dollars on a single I get an Opal card for 20 for the week – I can now travel on everything! I’m very excited by this concept and the icing on this little adventure is I find my favourite Sesame Snaps in the Opal shop too!
So 20 and a bit dollars, a few nice Australians and a sugar boost later I am here. Personal mission for my stay will now be to get every last moment out of my Opal card! Love having time for small adventures!