The Reality of the Refugee Crisis – Accounts from Chios

I have taken a bit of a hiatus from blogging recently. This is why. After hearing more about the unfolding refugee crisis, particularly some horrific stories of what refugees were enduring as they arrived on the Greek Islands, I felt I had to to do something. A friend had set up Sussex Refugee Solidarity and through this Facebook group, me and a group of other like-minded people began collecting aid to send to the Greek Islands of Samos, Chios and Leros.

My sister Laura was very involved in these collections and resolved to go out there. We had made some contacts on Chios and she decided to forego a family Christmas and travel out to Chios over the Christmas and New Year period. I am so proud of her for what she is doing. She has sent a some updates sharing her day to day experiences on the island that I think need to be read by wider audience. Please read her accounts below and donate to her fundraiser if you feel moved by what you read.

30th December 2015
On Sunday night we had lots of boats with terrified and distressed people wet through to the neck. They said they were beaten and sometimes held at knife point metres from the shore and forced to swim to land. Their belongings were thrown into the sea and they were thrown out of the boat before the boat got to land. This included old ladies, really small children, sick and injured people. We found out recently that the smugglers (who are essentially the Turkish mafia) have run out of dinghies. So they need to make sure their remaining dinghies return to Turkey. They do this by holding Turkish locals or other refugees at knifepoint, kidnapping them and forcing a relative to take the boats filled with refugees to Chios, then take the boats back again. But they are so scared of being arrested, as they fear for their families’ lives that they panic before they reach shore and force everyone out of the boats. We used up most of the clothing stock that night because entire boats full of 60 or more people were completely drenched, from top to toe. We urgently need more clothing, especially adults trousers, (small sizes are better) especially joggers, socks for all ages, especially adults, older children’s clothes 7/8 and above, teenagers clothes, gloves and also shoes, especially adult shoes, men’s shoes in particular.
On Monday night I was on shift with a qualified nurse who has worked a lot in war zones and other refugee camps. When our shift ended at 2am we got some food and then headed to Tabakika (registration, which is in an old abandoned warehouse and is very dirty and looks like a prison camp, people often vomit just from entering the toilet area) to see if everybody was ok there. We handed out cereal bars, water, socks, nappies, and other small items to those most in need, and we found a tiny, very sick and severely disabled baby struggling for every breath. We woke the parents but it took a long time to persuade them to let us take them to the hospital. The baby was put on oxygen and made it through the night. The next day another family they were travelling with had bought the father a ferry tick on the next boat, leaving in a couple of hrs. The mother and baby were still in hospital. We had to persuade 14 people not to get on the boat, to wait for the mother and baby to be released from hospital so that the family wouldn’t be separated. Eventually one of the other volunteers stepped in, Aslam, who is this amazing Syrian guy who used to work with the Red Cross in Damascus on the emergency response team there. He has been volunteering here for over a month and was one of the people who set up the kitchen. He said he would arrange for a hotel for the entire family and pay for all their ferry tickets again (they were €44 each) if they would wait for the baby to come out of hospital. We are working with the hospital to ensure there is some coordination with a hospital in Athens, and that we have a full care plan printed off to help with communication. Very hard trying to translate the details from Dhairi to English to Greek, but we managed it with the help of a lovely Afghani guy who spoke some English and reluctantly accompanied us to the hospital (all the translators from the camp were asleep as this all started about 5am). He stayed with us a few hrs and was a very good sport!
No-one coming here is an economic migrant, they are all refugees. They are all running for their lives. They come from mostly Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, and very occasionally Iran if they have been targeted by police, experiencing brutality and ‘interrogations’ there under some draconian law. They pay thousands of dollars for a space on a dinghy complete with a free useless and fake life jacket. They often lose all their possessions and passports, wallet etc during the journey across the water. The boats are so over-packed that to prevent the boats from sinking the groups often have to throw everything else overboard. Or the person responsible for returning the boat to Turkey throws their stuff overboard near the Chios shore.
Please donate if you can, I will ensure any donations are spent on what is needed the most here. Probably joggers, socks, nappies, sanitary towels or food, or some combination if the above.
We really need disposable baby bottles. You can’t buy these here so if anybody can find them online and order them direct to here they will make such a difference to families with hungry babies.
The clothing donations we sort here in the stock room include lots of things I remember packing up back home in the UK from Sussex Refugee Solidarity collections so please be assured that your donations are getting out here to people who really, really need them. Thank you to everyone who has donated so far to either clothing collections or fundraisers! Xxx Update: the baby is doing much better now but has had severe breathing difficulties since birth due to her complex disability. She also had a cold or chest infection which threatened her life but has cleared up a lot now and this will give her a good chance. She also had other infections; she has antibiotics for these. She was severely malnourished as she was too weak to feed for a long time, although the mother does breastfeed her, but not for long enough. She has been on a drip to help with this. She is three months old and weighs 3kg, the same as she did at birth frown emoticon the nurse I was with does not think the baby will survive but the doctors at the hospital seemed more hopeful and Aslam believes the baby will definitely survive. She surely has to be pretty tough to have made it this far, given her circumstances.

3rd Jan 2016
We had another all-nighter on Friday night. Maybe 25 or 30 boats … Apparently it was the busiest night they’ve ever had here. About 1,500 refugees altogether arrived in one night. 50- 60 in each boat. Every car was out, every team was busy all night. We were supposed to be third in line as back up but we were meeting boats from 11pm – 7am, so was every body. After this i spent the whole morning and early afternoon in the hospital and Tabakika.
There were so many very wet and cold people, one boat in particular that i know of had a very difficult landing. As the boat was landing we ran down the cliff path to the waters edge, as I was descending I could see children being thrown from the boat into the water, which looked deep, and everybody was screaming. The children and young people I was helping up the cliff were distraught, they were so traumatised they kept just collapsing to the floor in despair, they could barely walk. Eventually we discovered that their families were still on the boat, but the person navigating had left again, people still aboard, and people were saying that the boat had turned back to Turkey with refugees still aboard. Families were separated leaving some children and young people entirely alone and distraught, terrified for the safety of their relatives. We dressed the children and young people first but they were inconsolable, understandably so. Eventually we discovered that the boat had returned but slightly further south, so they had been picked up by another team of volunteers at the next village. One volunteer and one man from the second half of the arrivals ran the 500 metres up the road – he had no shoes only emergency blankets wrapped around his feet. He ran to his family and explained that everybody had landed ok – such a relief for the kids and all those who were separated from each other. We bundled the kids and women all in the car and drove them down the road to reunite them fully. I helped dress the women next, while I was doing so the police arrived, lights flashing. There was lots of shouting and I heard someone yelling “give me the baby, you are under arrest”. There is so much confusion in these situations, i don’t believe the people driving the boat who drove away necessarily did this for bad reasons. Sometimes they drive away because they are too scared of being arrested – they know if they are driving they will be unde suspicion. Or maybe they realised that it was a bad place to land (everyone who got off the boat had to swim or be rescued by the Spanish lifeguards as the water was so deep and the were so many rocks). So maybe they turned back to find a safer place to land. I don’t think the people navigating were smugglers, I think they were refugees who panicked, but three men were arrested. We heard later that they were released and allowed to enter the usual registration process.
The buses that night often took hours to come as they were so busy. It was absolutely freezing – the previous night it snowed for hours, almost a blizzard and it was still utterly bitter, so while we waited we would pile all the children and mothers into the cars on top of the clothing and put the heating on full blast. The pirates would bring a barrel and wood and make a fire for the men. One car, the battery died because the lights and heating was left on without the engine running. No one had jump leads. An ambulance arrived to take a sick woman to hospital. Literally the moment it left a family told me that their baby had just vomited after hitting its head on the rocks. We emptied the car with the flat battery (the only one which wasn’t full of sleeping children (we’re talking 12-17 in each vehicle) and rallied a group of young men. We pushed the car down the gentle slope trying to start it, but got to the point where we were pushing uphill. Samar, a Syrian volunteer who came with the Norwegian volunteers knew what to do and so we pushed the car backwards down the slope and he got the car started in reverse. We got the mother and baby into the car, and I found a woman who spoke good English to accompany us to help translate to the doctors. A local drive us to the hospital but he was terrified of being arrested as its illegal to drive or walk refugees anywhere, you are supposed to make sure they get the bus. So he dropped us round the corner from the hospital, we went to a & e. The doctor and nurses were so wonderful, very patient and they wanted to keep the baby there for a few hours to observe and run some tests after a certain amount if time had passed to check if it was concussion, or not. So the next few hours I spent going between the hospital and Tabakika (registration area) to make sure the two separated families knew what was happening with each other and where they were. Eventually I got to bed around 1pm but only got one hrs sleep until we had to move again.
Last night I went to bed at 11, and awoke at 9 – finally a good nights sleep. My roommate woke me asking, “do you have a stocked car, a boat is arriving at the nearest shore”. We pulled on our clothes and rushed over to two successive boats. This time the landing were easier in the daylight and the people were not so stressed. Hot tea, bananas and socks!
Then over to Karfas store to clean and sort clothing for a few hrs. Now I will spend the rest of the day trying to organise more tea urns for each patrol car in case we gave to wait ages at night in the cold for the buses again.
I will focus some funds that i raise towards tea urns, thermos storage and facilities for heating storing tea and gas. If you would like to donate please visit this link and SHARE to your friends to help support this cause xx

In Case of Emergency/ Cat’s Cradle

One of the things I’ve been trying out lately is doing some writing. There is a great game you can play with another person who wants to do some writing where you give each other three objects or prompts and and you have to try and include these in your story. I find it a really good way to spark my imagination. Me and Rob did this exercise together, and this is the story I wrote.

Oh and the objects were a lock of hair, a tin of food in an unknown language and a ball of string.

If you want to give me three objects or prompts to work with for another story, or want me to give you some objects to work into your own story, leave a comment below!

In Case of Emergency/ Cat’s Cradle

Mum always wore this strange old fashioned locket around her neck. It had a lock of hair in it. I asked her about it when I was very young, maybe about 4 or 5, and she said “It’s your brother’s hair”. Then she got this look on her face and I didn’t ask her about it again. I didn’t have a brother.

It was always just me and Mum.

I didn’t even have many friends growing up. I’d get home from school and she’d sing to me, little nonsense word songs. Or one day she got out a ball of string, cut a bit off, tied the ends together and showed me how to make a cats cradle. I always thought there was something magical about making those shapes out of a length of string. Or maybe it was just the magic of doing something simple with someone that you love. Laughing, getting it wrong, our hands brushing, cuddles before tea. I miss that. Some things change as you get older. You can never regain that easy way of being together.

She used to bundle me up in her arms before she went off to cook the dinner. And I’d snuggle into the nape of her neck and play with her necklace. I used to tilt the locket from side to side, watching as the light glinted off the strands of hair. They were funny colour. The hair could look almost red in some lights, almost green in others.

One time, as I was looking at that lock of hair, I almost asked her about my brother, but I think she saw what I was thinking and she quickly disentangled herself from my squeeze and said she had to go cook.

She was a good cook too, I miss her food. We didn’t have much when I was growing up, but when she cooked she made the best of it, even the time when things were so bad we had to live on handouts and food parcels.

I went to help her in the kitchen. I liked to climb up on the kitchen counter, even though I wasn’t really allowed, and help her get tins and things down from the cupboards. I don’t think she was really with it that day because she didn’t even try and make me get down.

Sometimes she was like that. I never really noticed until a couple of years ago when I turned 10, that other people’s parents went out to work, or at least had babies to look after if they stayed at home. My mum didn’t really have a reason.

So anyway, I was rummaging around in the back of the cupboard looking for sweetcorn when I saw this funny looking tin. It didn’t have a picture on it of any food, just loads of weird writing, like nothing I’d seen before, and I know all about other languages. The writing reminded me of those shapes the string made when we did Cats Cradle when I was little.

The paper was a bit loose on the tine, so I pulled it off and folded it up and stuck it in my pocket. Then I could look at it later.

I looked at my to see if she’d noticed but she was just zoning out at the wall and burning the onions. I got down, turned down the gas and gave her a nudge. ” Mum, look.” “Oh….bother…..” she said. “Don’t worry, I like them burnt Mum.”.

I forgot about the label until I was about to put my school trousers in the wash at the end of the week. I pulled it out and looked at it again. I really don’t think those words were like any language on earth. Maybe that was why we were always a bit different em and mum. Maybe we didn’t fit in because we weren’t from here at all. That would explain why people never really invited me round theirs for tea, and the strange songs my mum sang sometimes. Probably in the alien language.

I could check of course. I could go and find the tin that I’d taken the label off and see what was inside. If it was all full of gross blue slime or something then I’d know for sure.

I put my pyjamas on and went downstairs to get the tin. I walked past Mum, who was lying on the sofa again staring off into space. The TV wasn’t even on. When I looked in the cupboard there tin wasn’t there anymore. Damn! Maybe Mum had thrown it away because of the missing label. I walked back out of the kitchen feeling deflated.

Mum looked up from the sofa as I came past. “Come and have a cuddle my love. I’m sorry.” She hugged me close and by habit my fingers went to her locket. “I love you so much, you know that don’t you?” She muttered into my hair. Sometimes I just miss your brother. And your Dad. Somedays I just wish I could be with them. I haven’t been very fair on you. I should have told you about them…” He voice started to slur. Sometimes she did that.

She had a bottle of something she kept in the medicine cabinet to send her off to sleep that the doctor had given her. She was already conked out on the arm of the sofa. I gave her a few gentle shakes in the hope that she’d make up and tell me a bit more but in the end I thought she’d be better off having a bit of a sleep.

On my way up to bed I had a terrible sinking feeling. What was all that stuff about wanting to be with my brother? He must have died when he was a baby or something. What if she’d taken more than just her normal dose of medicine? I ran back downstairs to check on her, she was still snoring, but who knows how quickly or slowly these things kill you? I ran back upstairs and went to the medicine cabinet. Mum thinks I can’t work the lock but seriously I am nearly 12 and have been able to open it for years, who is she kidding? Once open, I looked at the bottle. It was still mostly full and there was a recently rinsed medicine spoon propped against it. Do people wash the spoon after taking an overdose? Do people even use a spoon to take an overdose? To be on the safe side I checked the bins in case there was an empty bottle in them. Nothing.

I went back to the bathroom to close the medicine cabinet, and that was when I saw it. The tin with the funny label. Well the tin that I’d taken the funny label off anyway.

Mum was fast asleep on the sofa, now was my chance to open it. I took it downstairs and got the tin opener out. For once the lid came off in one smooth turn of the opener. Inside was a load of gross blue slime. How weird was that, right? Well it wasn’t gross exactly, it sort of shimmered a bit like a migraine. I sniffed it. No smell. I got a spoon and dipped it in tentatively, in case it vapourised the spoon or something. I swilled it around the tin (as well as you can swill slime at any rate) feeling a bit silly for being scared to touch it. This was probably some very upmarket joke shop slime, right? I dipped my fingers into it, and as I pulled them out, the slime came too, draped over my fingers like a rope. It seemed to very gently cling to my hand, and as I pulled my hand out I saw that all of the slime was out of the tin now and it formed a large loop.

I had to hook my other hand through it to stop it trailing on the counter. Instinctively I looped each hand round a second time, like how the cats cradle starts off, so I could look at it better. It didn’t seem to be dangerous, just very beautiful. And definitely alien-y. Where the ropes of slime crossed over itself as it looped round each hand it had turned a slightly purple-pink colour.

I stretched the substance out in my hands, then hooked my middle fingers through the strings passing over my palms. Where the threads crossed between my hands they turned a yellowy green, and the migraine-like shimmer began to flow around the slime-cord. I went through the whole cats cradle for one sequence, marveling at the beautiful colour changes. As I twisted my hands into the final cradle, the colours and shimmers suddenly disappeared, as if a switch had been flipped.

Well this properly scared me, my heart started pounding, I couldn’t get this strange alien goo off my hands and back in the tin fast enough. I didn’t know what to do about the tin full of weird stuff apart from to chuck it in the bin. Then I put some old newspaper over it in case mum saw. Not that she’d probably notice something like that anyway……though she had noticed the label missing from a random tin in the back of the cupboard…..

I went to bed and tried not to think about what had just happened. My heart was still hammering away and there were a million questions buzzing round in my head that couldn’t be answered until mum woke up.

In the morning I sat up in bed and stared at the label. What could it mean? What was that blue slime?

I walked downstairs still holding the label, wondering whether I’d be able to get mum to tell me anything about what was going on, about the slime or about this brother and father business. She was awake, but still on the sofa, staring blankly at nothing again. “mum” I said “What does this say?”. I put the label in her hands. She looked down and said “In Case of Emergencies…… Where did you….?” Then trailed off with a slight frown on her face.

At that moment there was a knock at the door. I went to open it, as mum didn’t seem to be moving. Standing at the door were two men. One just a boy really, maybe a few years older than me. They both had funny coloured hair. You would probably have thought it was a strange blondey-brown at a quick glance. But I’d been looking at a lock of hair like that my whole life and I could see the way it looked a little red in some lights and a little green in others. “What’s the emergency?” said the man. “I think my mum needs you” I said and lead them to her.

Tarot reading with Polly from The Forest Mermaid

A while ago now, I did a tarot reading for Polly from The Forest Mermaid. This was my first online Skype reading, which I found surprisingly nerve-wracking- I think I keep forgetting that I have anxiety! Polly is extremely lovely, we talk all the time on Twitter and it was really nice to speak to her ‘in real life’ at last.

I wrote the reading itself in the first person, as if addressing Polly directly.

We did a Celtic Cross reading. The general area of the reading was about what you were doing with your life right now, as you started a new job and wondered whether this new role, and moving in with your boyfriend are the right direction for you. Here is the layout:

Polly's Celtic Cross layout
Polly’s Celtic Cross layout

Position 1 – The Issue: Innocence (major arcana)
This beautiful card is one of my favourites. An old man gazes the insect in his hand with the wonder of a child. It symbolises an innocence with an inherent wisdom in the way you view the world around you, and to me very much relates to your love and wonder at nature. For you this seems to relate to two areas of your life, the first being your romantic life where a bad experience with a partner not being who they said they were meant an end to your relationship and a loss of the stability associated with that. The second area that this seems to relate to was finding work, and how bad experiences like being sexually harassed at work had lead to you feeling that, as with love, you could no longer trust your instincts to assess things at face value. The way that these experiences relate to the card seems to be how you can maintain an innocence about yourself and your approach to life (which you regard as quite an integral part of your personality) but at the same time be wise and learn from these experiences and avoid feeling like the wool has been pulled over your eyes in the future.

Position 2 – What is enhancing or obscuring the issue: Awareness (major arcana)
I found this card a little hard to interpret while doing the reading itself. I think I now interpret it to mean that you can approach things with both innocence and awareness without compromising this innocent outlook that helps you feel the wonder of the world around you. This card suggests that cultivating a mindset where you can enter relationships and new work ventures with an awareness of what can happen, both good and bad, but not an expectation that any of those things will necessarily happen. This can free you of the stress and suspicion that comes with having been burned both in love and in your efforts to forge a career.

Position 3 – The unconscious influences: Thunderbolt (major arcana)
Thunderbolt points to an event in your life that was literally a bolt out of the blue, that shook you to your foundations and swept away all security. It can point to the loss of a home or place of safety. This seems to relate to your breakup with an ex-boyfriend who lied to you and which resulted in the loss of your home together. Though this card seems in some ways negative, the lesson from the card is that you needed this experience in order to start to envision your life as you truly want it to be. This card appears in the unconscious influence position, and though I think you are aware of the impact this experience had in your life, I think the position here indicates that there are still things you can uncover from this experience, that are perhaps affecting you on an unconscious level.

Position 4 – The conscious influences: Silence (reversed, major arcana) We talked about how this could relate to your current living situation, where at home with your parents you can’t find the mental quietude needed to tune into your inner voice at the moment. You told me how you really get this feeling from being in nature, and about finding time to go back into nature and allow that to have this quieting effect which helps you hear your inner voice. This will help you to know what you really want from life right now.

Position 5 – Old patterns, the old way: The Lovers (major arcana) I think this card has two meanings in this positions. One, of moving beyond a dependent, idealised romantic love, to something more whole and all encompassing, which allows you to be fully yourself. And two; of your perception that what happened with your ex is reflective of something negative about you. I think this sense that you need to stop being so naive in order be a real grown up, and have successful relationships and work experiences, especially when this quality of innocence is so important to you makes me feel a little sad. Both the experience of being in a relationship with a manipulator and being sexually harassed at work are truly awful things to happen to you, because they make you question your sense of self. To me they are reflective of very unpleasant qualities in the perpetrator, not an overdose of naivety in you. I have known people who are the very opposite of naive and innocent to fall prey to the same kind of people and I very strongly feel that you and your personality traits are not at fault, or something that you need to change in order to protect yourself here. I guess this card to me represents leaving behind this sense that these difficult experiences were reflective of a fault in your character, and leaving behind the type of relationship relationship in which you lose your self.

Position 6 – New patterns, moving into the new: Letting Go (8 of water)
This water card represents an emotional softening or letting go, perhaps of a past identity, or past experience. Oddly in relation to my reading of the last card, it also represents a merging with the universe and a loss of self, of ‘I’. Perhaps a selflessness? It represents the casting off of a previous identity or character trait, and through this discovery of innocence. Whereas the last card represented the loss of self in favour of becoming a mirror to another individual, this to me is more about becoming part of everything. Allowing your unique contribution to the universe to affect the whole.The implication of this card is that the events which will allow that to happen have already been set in motion, and like the gravity pulling the drop of water into the pool in the image on the card, you are already on your way to this. We wondered if this could relate to leaving behind your family home and moving into your own place with your partner, or your new role at work. I feel like this could mean that in moving into a new home with your partner, and into independence in work you are able to let go of this past experience with your ex. In realising that this is a happy relationship that you can ‘let go’ emotionally in without fear of hurt or of losing yourself, you can lay to rest your feelings that somehow what happened in the past was your fault.

Position 7 – Self – your feelings and attitudes about the issue: Ripeness (9 of rainbows) The represents a readiness within in you. With very similar symbolism to the previous card, of something being ready to drop. This card is also about sharing your gifts with the rest of the world. As the rainbows suit I feel this relates strongly back to the idea that these gifts of yours are about magic in the mundane and a deep appreciation and love of the natural world around you.

Position 8 – What you are attracting from the outside: Travelling (8 of fire) This card is the suit of fire, which represents masculine, active energy. In this context it perhaps signifies that you are on a journey – in this case I think an inner movement from one way of being to another, rather than a physical one. I feel like this card in conjunction with the previous one (ripeness) points to a journey of self discovery, one where you really uncover what it is that have to offer the world and how you can share your unique gifts. This card tells you to accept and embrace the new!

Position 9 – Your desires and denials: Exhaustion (9 of fire)
This card is also one of fire, and I think is a note of caution about what can happen if we let that active energy run away unchecked. It is about over-work, forgetting or not allowing oneself to rest and recharge, and about setting up routines that keep chaos and spontaneity out of our lives. I think this is a little warning to stop you from getting bogged down on your journey, to remember that staying fresh in your outlook and excited about life’s mysteries is more important than being productive or busy. I think there could be two possible meanings here – one to assess whether a full time 9-5 job is the right thing for you if it makes being creative difficult. Secondly it could be about blogging and how it’s easy to get caught up in a schedule of blogging and really enjoy life. The symbolism of this card is that of a robot or some kind of mechanical shell around a person – my feeling is that this card is telling you not to surround yourself with machines or people who are like machines, lest you become a machine yourself.

Position 10 – Outcome/Key: Possibilites (2 of fire) This third fire card, is all about you having a unique perspective on life right now that allows you to see a myriad of possibilities open to you. It indicates being at an exciting crossroads, but where many many options are at your fingertips. It also talks about how you are at a particularly self contained, self-loving point in your life, where you are very much in tune with your own nature. It tells you that your opportunities are boundless and that you do not have to settle for content and small, as your potential is limitless. I think this card is telling you to follow your dreams, follow what you love, follow what gives you this feeling of limitlessness. The symbolism of this card is yet again all about nature, and I think this a key thread to the reading overall.

To summarise the reading there is a sort of ‘knot’ formed by the 5 major arcana cards surrounding the issue. major arcana cards often indicate particularly key issues for you. The ‘letting go’ card in the ‘moving into the new’ position implies that by softening emotionally, relaxing and trusting your current relationship, you can finally unknot and move on from painful issues surrounding relationships and work. the column on the right of the reading is set upon the suit of rainbows – the ‘magic in the mundane’ suit- which totally represents what you are all about. This is then followed by card after card from the fire suit, indicating a time of great action and energy (which includes the possible pitfalls of too much action and energy!). This is all about a time of change, of moving towards and becoming, all built on a foundation of getting in touch with your inner nature, and learning how to share that with the world.

You can find Polly from The Forest Mermaid online here:
The Forest Mermaid Blog
The Forest Mermaid on Facebook
The Forest Mermaid on Twitter

If you enjoyed this tarot reading post you can find my other tarot posts here:
Tarot reading with Jude from Jessie Jumbles
Tarot reading with Emma from Harper and Finch

Thoughts on the Refugee Crisis in Europe

I have never posted about politics on my blog before, even though I consider myself to be extremely interested in politics. But I can’t ignore the horrific images that I’m seeing on a daily basis: of children separated from their families on the border of Macedonia; of toddlers washed up on the beach; of babies born in railway stations in Hungary because their mothers were refused ambulances.

These things did not happen in a war zone, they happened in Europe, where there is infrastructure to support people in need and an agreement that we have a duty to shelter refugees (The 1951 Geneva Convention). All these situations could have been prevented were it not for the ideology that says ‘we cannot make it easy or attractive for people to come here, or more will come’.

But imagine a situation that would make you take your children on a treacherous boat journey, hide yourself under the bonnet of a car where you are crushed against the engine, cram your family into a refrigerated vehicle, give birth in the streets, or sleep in tents under flyovers. All these things are still ‘more attractive’ than living in a war zone.

Many of the refugees are coming from Syria, currently in upheaval due to civil war, drought and the rise of the Islamic State. I traveled to Syria in 2006, and it is a country that will always be close to my heart due to the incredible welcome me and my friends received there. After planning to volunteer in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, war broke out two days after our arrival. Our group was evacuated with the help of the UN to neighbouring Syria. Once there we travelled to Damascus, Palmyra, Deir es Zoud and Aleppo. Throughout Syria our experience was the same; wherever we went we were invited into people’s homes to share food and conversation so frequently that it was unusual for a day to go by without receiving an invitation into someone’s home. We had tea made for us, food made for us, were taken out for dinner, had ice-creams bought for us, lifts given and our onward travel paid for, and we were not people in need! How can we forget these generous-hearted people?

There are two things that strike me as terrible injustices when I look back on that experience, and contrast it with the experiences of families fleeing war across Europe. The first is that the very people who were so welcoming to us (despite our country being involved in a war with their closest neighbour) are now finding that although they are in desperate need of sanctuary, our country will not find a place for them. The second thing is that we were so easily able to travel despite the unrest, because we are Europeans, and because when war and other international crises happen UK citizens are quickly evacuated.

It seems to me that the criteria for freedom of travel is ‘if you are in need, you cannot come here’. I feel sick to think that a select few can travel anywhere in the world, but our country stops people in need from entering, letting families and children drown rather than offering safe passage. Is this how we want to treat our fellow humans? As a parent I strongly believe that we are responsible for creating the world which we pass on to our children. I very much want to be part of creating a world where we help people who are just trying to escape desperate situations. I think it is vital that we start to listen to and share some of the stories of people who are travelling across Europe escaping war and persecution, particularly ‘in real life’ rather than online. When I read the comments sections on articles on the refugee crisis I wonder if the lack of face to face contact that comes with the internet age disconnects us from our ability to humanise and empathise with the suffering that people are experiencing. When we meet another human face to face and hear their story, I think we have an instinctive connection and empathy for the other person’s experience.

Because I can’t just stand by anymore, I’ve joined a local group called Sussex Refugee Solidarity, set up by a friend of mine as a grassroots response to the crisis. Our aims are to show that Sussex welcomes refugees by setting up some local initiatives to create community between refugees and those in solidarity with refugees, and to challenge the perception that refugees are ‘burdens’ by offering opportunities for both refugees and non-refugees to share their skills with each other.

If you are based in the Brighton or Sussex area, then please do join our group. I will also be attending a Brighton Sees Syria and Refugees Welcome Here Day of Action in Brighton tomorrow at 12pm, along with some other families. You can find us under a Sussex Refugee Solidarity banner. We would love to meet some likeminded people who want to make Brighton and Sussex a welcoming place for refugees.

Fruit Salad, Jungle, Treehouse Goodie Box Giveaway!!

Some of you may remember my Perfect Strangers post, where I made up a box of goodies for a stranger. I’m a bit sad because not only did my swap partner not send me a parcel, my parcel that I sent them was returned to me after not being collected from the Post Office:(. I know how life can be so maybe there was something going for my swap partner that meant they couldn’t join in, so I’m not upset with them, but I was excited about the idea of someone getting a little parcel of loveliness and being part of that. So as to not let my parcel (which I was VERY proud of!) go to waste, and to hopefully spread some nice happy giving-y vibes I am launching a giveaway of my Perfect Strangers goodie box!


Here is what’s in it:

Watermelon washi tape

A (handmade by me!) fruit salad necklace

A (handmade by me!) kanzashi flower hairclip and brooch

A Scout Editions mini card featuring a little woodland treehouse

A Lydia Meiying notebook featuring an orangutan in the jungle

Fern frond and butterfly papercuts

I’m running the post on Rafflecopter and you can enter here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Please join in for a chance to win this awesome goodie box, and do share this with your friends if you know someone who would love to receive this treat!

Creative Kickstart with Lynn from Ribbonreal

This month has been tough, and it feels like a long time ago since I posted my last creative kickstart image already. Etta had to go into hospital for a couple of nights, for what turned out to be a false alarm. It was a completely miserable time for her, she hated being prodded and poked and woken up and given medicine. Then as soon as she recovered, we set out for our holiday to France, which had been delayed by her hospital stay. Thankfully now this is all a distant memory, but the blog went completely out of the window while all this was happening.

It’s time for me to flip back into gear again and share my favourite #creativekickstart image from one of you guys! Creative Kickstart is my monthly challenge to share an image of everything that has been inspiring you over the last few weeks as way to celebrate and track your creative path.

I think you are all gonna love this month’s creative kickstart from Lynn at Ribbonreal. Like me, she is a maker who is inspired by Japanese design aesthetic and kimono motifs. Her beautiful cushions made from upcycled vintage kimonos are some of my favourite things ever.

Also from time to time she passes on her vintage kimono offcuts to me to make kanzashi from, so that even the most tiniest scraps of the kimono do not go to waste. We met when she contacted me about sharing a stall at Brighton Japan Festival a few years ago, and we bonded over our appreciation of Japanese textiles. Here is her creative kickstart image:

Creative Kickstart from Lynn at Ribbonreal

Lynn says about her image: “What’s been inspiring me this month…. Inspired to design my own fabric after a visit to the Tate to see Sonia Delaunay. Bootfairfinds old camera and illustrated cookery book make me want to own a vintage wares shop, the Toymaking book fulfills my love of modern Japanese kawaii and clean page design, while my vintage kimono cushions make me so very happy on a daily basis. So much to want to do in very little time. And the flowers are from my garden – a constant source of interest and inspiration over coffee time”

It won’t be long until I share my own #creativekickstart image for August. I just realised that I may have missed July…I will have to stop calling them after the months now! If you would like to join in with the challenge just share an image of what has been inspiring you recently on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Tumblr using the hashtag #creativekickstart, and you might get picked to be featured on the blog next month. If you want some more ideas, try searching the hashtag on social media to see what myself and others have been posting, or have a look at these past Creative Kickstart posts:

Creative Kickstart June

Creative Kickstart with The Forest Mermaid

Creative Kickstart May

Creative Kickstart with Laura Danby and Designosauryeah

Creative Kickstart April

Creative Kickstart with Sweetiepips

Creative Kickstart March

Hiromi Asai and the Future of Kimono

This month I’ve been getting really excited about an ambitious Kickstarter project by kimono stylist Hiromi Asai, to take authentic kimono to New York Fashion Week 2016. I’ve been trying to promote it as much as possible, by backing it and by sharing the story behind it because its wider aim is to preserve artisan kimono crafts in the face of a declining kimono trade. Authentic artisan kimono differ from mass produced or vintage kimono because they are produced by hand by highly skilled craftspeople, so it is a living practice based in traditional craft skills.

To combat a downward trend in the kimono industry the Ministry of Trade and Economy in Japan has established a study group to investigate the decline in kimono wear and production. Some of the issues faced seem to be that kimono is difficult to put on correctly without a good deal of knowledge; there are not many events to wear kimono to; artisan kimono production techniques are incredibly highly skilled and laborious, which makes kimono expensive.

Some of the solutions offered to these problems have been to invent easy to wear kimono, which come in two pieces and also METI are considering instigating a ‘wear a kimono to work day‘.

There is a renewal of interest in kimono amongst a younger generation, perhaps as a result of a rise in kimono subcultures like Kimono Hime , which has revived interest in vintage kimono, worn in a way that subverts traditional conventions of kitsuke (kimono dressing). But the focus of this renewed interest has been more on vintage kimonos, and machine made designs, perhaps because of the price tag of handmade artisan pieces.

For this reason Asai’s project is particularly important because so far there has not been a project or enterprise which tackles the issue of how to keep the craft of artisan kimono making alive. She has teamed up with Kimono Artisan Kyoto (a group of professional kimono artisans) to take their hand crafted kimono to NYFW16, where she will style their creations. By financing this project via crowdfunding on an international platform, she aims to create a new model for funding this highly skilled and time consuming art. Thus giving kimono artists an opportunity to display their work at the forefront of the fashion world.

To give you an idea of the intricacy of some of the artisan crafts involved in kimono making, here are some clips of some different techniques used

Nijishin-Ori – woven textiles from the Nijishin district, often  used for making obi: 

Shibori – an intricate type of ‘tie dye’ used to decorate kimono, obi and most commonly, obiage (a silk scarf worn at the top of the obi)

Yuzen dying – a resist dye technique – 

The real crisis in kimono lies with these artisan crafts, many of which are practiced only by an ageing population of highly skilled craftspeople. The wider purpose of Asai’s Kickstarter is to ensure that these beautiful crafts are passed on to another generation of artisans. If she can find enough backers to raise the $50,000 dollars needed to take a handcrafted collection to NYFW she hopes that this will revive kimono production at an artisan level in two ways. Firstly that it will create a a new route to funding and income for craftspeople, who may be able to crowdfund future projects if the profile of kimono can be raised enough. Secondly, she hopes that kimono will be recognised as a universal formalwear.

The Kickstarter campaign is now 90% funded, with only 8 days left to raise the final $5000 needed. This means that any donations made now will really decide whether or not the project happens. I urge everyone to support Hiromi’s project and raise the profile of kimono worldwide, bringing much needed revenue to the artisan kimono industry! 

* NB Hiromi’s project has, interestingly, coincided with a protest at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Protesters wanted to raise awareness of the West’s history of appropriation and stereotyping of kimono wearers. This article gives some responses by those trying to promote the kimono industry from within Japan. I don’t aim to intervene in this debate other than to point out that in funding Hiromi you are funding Japanese artists to promote and make a livelihood from their craft.

Creative Kickstart – Looking back over June

I seem to have got a bit behind with my creative kickstart this month! It’s been a tricky time, with my parent’s being away on holiday for 2 weeks, as I usually rely on them for two days of childcare a week. Squidlet naturally decided that this would be a good time to drop her nap, so I have been struggling to fit much in.

So, what  inspiring me during June?

This was a very pen and pencil inspired month!

Pen drawing/drawing inspiring women – I’m still using my Promarkers.  I wanted to do some portraits of women that inspire me, after reading a quote that starts ‘You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.’ The quote is widely misattributed to Diana Vreeland, but actually written by lexicographer Erin McKean. The quote really spoke to me, as I’ve never felt like I fitted in looks wise, or was conventionally pretty. I often feel that people have not really ‘seen’ me because with my wonky face and barrel shaped body I don’t fit neatly into the way we expect women to look. It made me want to celebrate women who don’t fit in, who transcend the focus that the media puts on women’s bodies and on their looks.  At this point I still thought the original quote was from Diana Vreeland, and I drew her, alongside a different quote (that I think really is from her this time!). I’m hoping I will get a chance to expand on my portraits. Something I would like to do in the future is profile women who I find inspirational, in how they allow their experiences to change the world – I am thinking I might do a piece on Camila Batmanghelidjh soon. I would like to use my own illustrations for these pieces, but I really need to work on my drawing skills for this.

Life drawing – I think this must have been around the beginning of June that I went to another DRAW Brighton life drawing session, as the details seem slightly lost to me amongst sleepless nights and hectic days. This one was about the face and how it connects to the body. I haven’t been life drawing for ages, but had been drawing at home, and it felt like something clicked in this session. I also felt like there were noticeable improvements in my drawing this time. I really regret abandoning my drawing skills after leaving art school, and I feel like drawing is something that sustains me, whether or not the results are good, but it is always quite pleasing when you do feel that you’ve captured a likeness with an image.

Hand lettering – This is something I was doing alongside my pen portraits, having got into looking at handlettered fonts for my logo redesign. I’m a little bit torn between whether I love or hate handlettered quotes. Sometimes I think it is very useful and enlivening to see little inspirational bursts of text, that you can relate to. Other times I feel like they have over saturated the internet and the instant-read, instant-click, instant reblog nature of these out of context multitude of quotes replaces reading more in depth layered and nuanced writing. But I love the contemplative process of actually doing the hand lettering, and the balance between care and letting go that is needed to write beautifully. I am still not very good yet!

Mandalas or wreaths in flowers and petals – I have many photos of these on my camera, ready to process and upload to Instagram. I love making these, in some ways, but again I wonder if I am trying to imitate these ‘flower wreathed inspirational text’  memes that are so ubiquitous to Instagram now. I read a piece by Georgie St Clair (who I think deals with flowers in a highly original way) about how she has felt pressured to please people in what she creates in order to make sales. I feel the same thing about making images to be popular on Instagram. I can see what type of images get a lot of love, and it is tempting to make those kind of images (which definitely please me on a visual level) rather than ones that fulfill me on many different levels. I am trying to explore ways that I can illustrate my blog that will be visually appealing, but also be ‘me’ not ‘what everyone else is doing’.

Reading – having said I didn’t have much time for anything this month, here is one thing I did find time for! This is partly because Squidlet doesn’t seem to mind if I sit and read a book while she plays, whereas if I pick up the tablet to do some work, I get told off! I haven’t felt like I have had the concentration power to read many books since having a child. Okay, I have read most of the Game of Thrones series, but nothing much else to speak of. This month I read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee for the first time (I know , I can’t believe I have never read it before either), and ‘American Gods’ by Neil Gaiman. Both books are absolutely incredible. Both really explore the American experience. To Kill a Mockingbird made me think on the ways in which racial oppression are still playing out in America, and how important, yet painful, it is to listen to the voice inside that tells us ‘this is wrong’ when we see injustice. If I have the time to write them, I would like to include book reviews on here, but I wonder if this will become one of the ‘if I had enough time’s that don’t get managed in the end!

Writing – I didn’t do as much writing as I wanted to do this month, just two pieces, one for  Emily Loves Japan and one for The Collative on how I create. I started seeing opportunities for writing everywhere. Doing more writing for this blog has made me realise how intrinsic to my creative process writing is for me (I loved this article on how transformative the process of writing can be), and how maybe this is something I would like to do more of, as guest posts on other people’s blogs and maybe even one day as paid articles. If you woould like me to guest post on your blog, please get in touch!

Amanda Palmer – Bigger on the Inside – I actually forgot to include this in the image – oops! There was going to be some more handlettering saying ‘Bigger On The Inside’ but everything was a rush and I forgot it! I want to include this even though it’s not really in the image because this month I’ve been following Amanda Palmer’s updates about her friend Anthony dying, which are so honest and raw and vulnerable, alongside her pregnancy. It has been harrowing, and moving. She is actually a huge influence on how I try to approach life, and approach writing a blog. To put yourself out there, keep creative, to find a way to make a living being creative, to stay honest, stay vulnerable, to fuck up, to be flawed. I really hope she finds a way to balance her huge creative drive with motherhood when her child arrives.

That’s all!

Please keep posting your #creativekickstart images using the hashtag! I am so thrilled that people are really joining in with it! I will probably be looking for images to feature over the next week so as not to get too behind with things, so if you have an idea of what you want to share, get making your image!

Swapping Gifts with Oh Comely’s Perfect Strangers Project

I recently signed up to Oh Comely’s Perfect Strangers Project. I’ve been a fan of Oh Comely for a while, as their magazine seems to be a very non-image focused publication, intent on telling stories that get to the heart of people’s lives or mindsets. The Perfect Strangers Project is all about giving someone you’ve never met a wonderful little gift. I first found out about it last year, but was too crazy busy with being a mum of a one year old to sign up for it. When I saw it this year, I was in! I really like the idea behind the project of giving without expectation. It was incredibly easy to sign up for and manage, you can leave a little message for your swap partner too. I loved the message which my swap partner left me- it made it really easy to make them up a little box, and it gave me some ideas for the kind of message I might leave next time, to really help out my swap partner. This was the message they left me: “My main aspiration in life is to one day live in a treehouse in a tropical jungle, where I can draw lots of pictures of elephants and maybe monkeys could bring me big bowls of fruit salad too.”

So this is the parcel I put together for my perfect stranger!

It includes:

an orangutan in a jungle notebook from Meiying

watermelon washi tape from PasoKuma

A kanzashi hair flower and brooch (in jungley colours) handmade by me

A treehouse mini card from Scout Editions

some palm frond punches from AbsolutelyForYou (so that opening the package would feel a little bit like going through a jungle!)

a fruit salad necklace handmade by me (yes I am quite proud of it!)

I really really loved putting together my box. I want to put together unique personalised boxes for people for a living, it was SO much fun! I am really pleased with what I put together for my swap partner and I hope they love it. I realised as I was packing it up that I didn’t manage to get elephants in there, damn!

Did you take part in Perfect Strangers this year? Have you taken part in it before? I would love to hear what you sent, or what you received as part of it!