Waiting for the end of the world to come and find us

We have landed amongst dead dogs strewn on the road side and an orchestra of beeping cars. Amongst ten million people fighting their way through ten million people. We have landed into lost languages, lost cultures; the descending steps of moon temples and the walkways of death. Into Frida Karlo's home, seeing the bed where she painted, slept, fucked, felt like her pain was so heavy it might suffocate her.We have landed into open hearts, into the family of a friend who are offering us advice and warm beds and unusual foods that make our tongues feel elated. Into warm people, who draw our uncertainties with their eyes. Who make us feel unique. Into colour and passion, into forgetting how much we relied on language. Into the dry, hot, sun.

We are in Mexico City. Traveling on boats through back canals, past clucking hens and palm trees. Past kingfishers and restaurants where loud, happy families spill out of the entrances. We're jumping across one deck to another, so we can dance to the sound of a Mexican band who sail besides us. Were clinging onto each other now. Laughing, throwing our heads back, swaying, spinning and thinking, this is it. I finally understand; plucking guitar strings, horns, the singers voice rattling with excitement when he reaches that high note. It's music to our ears. Literally. In Mexico we are lost in language. Nicholas and I. Stumbling on words, not knowing how to speak as well as we'd like to, forgetting ourselves, our names, our ages. We don’t have the capacity to tell anyone who we are and why we are here. We can no longer sell ourselves, add details, charm others with our words. We are simply polite and humble; aware that we will never again be defined by our jobs or names or ages. By an image of who we thought we once had to be.

We have dined in caves here, lit up by a thousand candles, eating cheeses, beans, meats, fresh vegetables, drinking cinnamon rice and watching traditional dancers make the earth shake. Yet, we are leaving it all behind now. For Oaxaca and its crafts. For its beautiful women who sit in huddles on pavements. Their long, thick, black hair and old hands weaving brightly coloured threads together. For cobbled roads, cathedrals-ornate and golden standing proudly in market plazas. For wooden animals painted in ocean blues and neon pinks. Then for Palenque. For tropical jungle, for slick black jaguars and spiders with the faces of children. For a festival in between the ancient Mayan ruins and the trees. For dancing under silver pin pricks and watching the sun rise, thousands of patient people beside us. All waiting for a prophecy to emerge in front of them. Waiting for the chance to unite with everyone whose ever followed an idea through until the end. Yes we are leaving it behind now, we're heading to Palenque now. To stand on top of Mayan ruins. We're aware we may not belong here. We know calendars end and calendars begin because time cannot be measured by starts and finishes. We are sure that next year we will both be breathing, and the world will still be intact. Although perhaps, we hope, we might just see it a little differently. But for now we are here, waiting for the end of the world to come and find us.

All inches of our beings

We have been on the road for two weeks now, watching America take shape from the window of our van. California has sped past us, we have seen oceans change to forests, change to mountains, change to deserts. California has sped though us; imprinted its vastness, its depths and strangeness, into all inches of our beings.

We began amongst ginger trees the size of apartment blocks. In the Giant Sequoia Forests of California. We had heard stories of roots so sprawling that their bases had been made into dance floors; couples side stepping across their ancestors. We had heard of trunks so wide that cars would drive through the middle of them, speeding through the heart of history and past the circles that time had naturally formed. We found the worlds largest tree, The General Sherman, that had been growing for 2,400 years. We climbed over the fence that entrapped it, the fence that made sure tourists couldn’t trace their fingers across its skin. We sat in the pit of its stomach, straining to hear the story of twenty four centuries; the aching and insight of a life lived that long.

We left the forests to drive into the endless desert of Death Valley. Saw nothing but sand dunes, cracked dry earth and rocky mountains for 140 miles. Turquoise and pink embedded into the surface of rock faces, strange cactus, and scurrying beetles. In the middle of nowhere we met a teenage girl working behind the counter of a gift store. She looked angry and hot, perhaps the stillness of desert weighs heavy on a fourteen year old's momentum. She wore makeup like all other girls her age, but because of the heat her eyeliner left smudges under here eyes and her forehead collected beads of sweat. She grimaced when we handed over a dollar bill for postcards, told us that she hated new notes as they stuck together and she miscounted the money at the end of the day. We asked her what she enjoyed and her mouth cracked like the dry, desert earth.
‘There’s nothing better then sliding down sand dunes on a mattress,’ she told us.

We arrived in Las Vegas Wednesday morning. Saw neon bulbs waiting to become ignited, speeding cars and hotels thrown up from the middle of the sand. We saw an advert for a show called burgers and bullets, saw endless rows of chain smokers hypnotically posting coins into slot machines. Saw pawn shops with queues of people streaming out of their doors. We accidentally checked into a hotel that had an aquarium in the middle of its swimming pool. The aquarium was filled with sharks and a water slide that went through the middle of it, so guests could slide passed to the depressed and board looking creatures in the tank. I ached to free them, to send them of with a pocket full of gold nuggets and a one way ticket to the Atlantic. Surrounding our hotel there were more hotels, with roller coasters wrapped around them and lasers of lights shooting out from their tops. We saw the Egyptian Pyramids, The Eiffel Tower and huge pirate ships sailing across fake oceans. We played roulette; winning thirty dollars, and then played again, and lost it all. 

In the morning we went to the ‘all you can eat’ buffet the hotel provided, ate eggs and fruit and tried to fill the whole of emptiness that the money loss and the flashing lights and cigarette smoke had left. The food didn’t work, so instead we went to find the seventh wonder of the world. Now The Grand Canyon isn’t easy to describe with language. It’s the sort of thing that can be felt, but to write it is near impossible. In the two days there we heard a pack of coyotes wailing, their voices sounding like the laughter of manic women. We stayed on the American plains, imagining the Natives that must have stood upon it before us, feeling loss and growth a thousand times through. We walked to the bottom of The Canyon, which took two hours, and then to the top, which took six. Saw something so vast and unusual that it stole our breath and captured pieces of us. From their we drove back through the desert, to Joshua Tree National Park. Stayed amongst giant boulders and cacti that looked like people who were throwing frozen dance moves on a floor of sand and stillness. We saw a tarantula in migrating season cross the road. We listened to country songs about sleeping in the back of pick up trucks and drinking beers with Jesus, and for the first time in years I heard everything silence had to say for itself.

The last four days of our road trip we spent in two of the most opposing places I have ever been. The Salton Sea. Apocalyptic deserted landscapes and a two thousand strong town of societal outcasts, anarchists, artists, rebels, visionaries, madmen and pioneers-Slab City, ‘the last free place on earth.’ An ex army base in the middle of disused desert which has attracted enough people to form a city, to create of one of the most amazing art pieces I have ever seen, Salvation Mountain, and to speak for everyone, everywhere, who has ever felt like they didn’t quite belong.

Then finally, we left for everything that is LA; for Venice Beach and Bel Air. For Compton and Hollywood. For swearing as freely as breathing, slick buildings and iconic landscapes. For famous hand prints, traffic and very, very large breasts. Now the Chevy has been returned. The next plane has been boarded and we begin the final chapter; the unfolding and exploration of Mexico City.

Looking down onto forever

We have left San Francisco in an old Chevy that wer'e renting for fifteen pounds a day. Traveled four hours West to the largest coastline I have ever seen. We have sat in hot sulphur springs while the Atlantic ocean crashed below us and clambered through redwood forests. Weaved through lines of trees that made us feel young and small at once; their bark the colour of rust, their branches like outstretched fingers. We have travelled four hours East to Californias gold country, past orchards of almonds, cattle ranches and hay bales, until we got to the top of Soulsbyville mountain. Now, as I write this, I am looking down onto forever. Wer'e staying in a beautiful house, with a hot tub and two amazing dogs and a wonderful women who likes to feed us up until we are sweating and giddy. Yesterday was Thanksgiving, in the morning we drove to Pine Crest Lake, we passed through towns with names like Whispering Pines, Old Strawberry and Mi Wuk to get to this strange apocalyptic ruin. Pools of water, boulders and tree stumps littered miles of land. Tiny rivers trickled down with flecks of gold carried on top of the water into what was left of the lake. Green Pine trees lined the outside of the basin and in the distance, we could here the far off crash of the waterfalls. In the afternoon we ate turkey and pumpkin cheesecake. Got lost in heated debuts with thanksgiving guests about politics and religion and all the topics that England and America have to feel uncomfortable about. Now, its tomorrow. The day before we set off again into the heart of it. Yosemite. Death Valley. Grand Canyon. LA. Mexico, await us. 

Drag Queens and Burger Kings

I am lucky enough to be in America. Some days I think I’m here because I was made to feel the wind comb my hair, driving down highways, stopping only to consume cheeseburgers and to watch the sunset smother the skyline golden. Other days, I think it’s to be around fourteen year old writers. Going into high schools and patiently listening to the next generation of speakers offering truths and insights, from one of the most powerful countries of the world. Regardless of why, I have been in San Francisco for two months. Been amongst beautiful drag queens in dive bars; hair piled as high as ceilings, makeup dragged over shallow cheeks and red stained mouths. Amongst the artists. The filthy, genuine artists; painting murals down side streets and exhibiting in galleries full of the stinking rich. Seen the homeless, curled up in the doorways of banks. And supermarkets. And beauty parlous. Given dollars to old ladies with tiered eyes and grandchildren. I have been among the great minds, the cites finest, the struggling, the longing. Watching Patti Smith rasp at a Sunday morning festival, her voice quivering like an old lady, her body moving like a kid. Seen Joanna Newsom, pluck her harp underneath palm trees and flecks of sunlight. I have been amongst the children; the next politicians and beauty queens. Amongst the spitting on side streets, and the fight to be heard. I have heard  Mexicans talk of Aztec gods, rape and food like their mouths were full of truths. I have tasted burritos. Nachos. Enchiladas. Quesadillas. Tacos. Smelt black brooding coffee and piss drenched escalators. I have mapped the city from the top of apartment blocks. Walked it until the muscles on the backs of my legs became tender. I have sacrificed myself with poetry, heard the crying of  others who do the same. I have ached to move my bones like Oakland dancers do. I have sat in bars. Under low, dimmed lighting, making out the jaw lines of the faces that surround me. Writing my name across toilet doors, so to remember who I am and just how far I have come to be here.

Religious Diaspora Paper

The following is a critical evaluation of John Hinnells’ definition of ‘diaspora religion’ as ‘a religion practiced by a minority group, conscious of living in a culturally and religiously different, possibly hostile, environment, away from the old country.’

Humankind is vast and varied and the geographical lines that once distinguished a persons ethnicity, religion and perhaps identity, now merge more then ever before; creating entirely new representations of culture. For years, research into a particular religious group has been orientated around the geographical origin of that religion or in what has been coined by scholars like Hinnells (1997:682) as ‘their old countries.’ In the West, any mention of religions groups outside of their country of origin, has proceeded in the then treating of these groups as separate from the essence of that religion in its homeland; like a branch of the religion, which is merely an extension of its pure, original form. As Chryssides & Geeves (2007:176) argue, ‘how to be considered authentic has always been a challenge for new religions.’ Yet in today’s society what diaspora religions can represent is a new form of being authentically religious, whilst highlighting the importance of the western societies they are found in.

Since the origin of the species, human kind has been a scatted race; nomadic in its living. Although the fight for independent identity has seen the separation of the species, the collective unity of humans has always been fundamental to our evolution. Modern genetics has confirmed that there are no separate racial groups. One of the most valuable areas in the study of Religion, inspired by the human need to separate and distinguish itself, is between the Western and Eastern religious groups of the world. Yet because of increased immigration, migration and travel, as Hinnells states in the proposed title, leaving the old country and ending up in a culturally and religious environment, seems common place for an increasing amount of people. This paper will access the title statement by dissecting the varying key words in it; minority, culturally and religiously different, hostile environment and old country, in an attempt to understand if Hinnells’ statement is an adequate one. The nature of reality is that everything changes, which is why defining anything is a difficult task. Especially with something that is both  a new phenomena and one that has been under a lot of critical scrutiny and prone to change. Hinnels’ statement under evaluation in the following essay will be narrowed down in an attempt to find progression in its exploration. Many people can be classed as Diasporas. As Cohen (2008:532) discusses Diasporas can be, victim, labour, imperial, trade and cultural; and even these terms aren’t interdependent of one another.

The term diaspora means dispersed and can be separated into two parts, dia ‘across’ and speirein, ‘scatter.’ As according to the Oxford English Dictionary (2011), the term ‘originated in the Septuagint (Deuteronomy 28:25) in the phrase ese diaspora en pasais basileias tes ges 'thou shalt be a dispersion in all kingdoms of the earth.' It’s definition has been attempted by many, but its original meaning emerged during the 6th- 8th BC when describing that the number of scatted Jews was greater then those living in Israel. Israel in this context is perceived as being the holy land. This point can be accounted back to Hinnells’ definition of Diasporas as those who are away from the home land. Even though the original empathises was placed on the Jewish Diaspora, contemporary Diasporas now represent, ‘any people who have a sense of living away from their old country, but that they are a minority phenomena.’ (Hinnells 1997:686)

  To summarize, the common features that distinguish a religious diaspora according to Safran (1991) are; their ancestors have been dispersed from their homeland to TWO or more foreign regions. They hold a collective idea of what that homeland represents. They believe that they are not accepted in their host countries and never will be. There is a general consensus that when the time is right they should return to there homeland, whist simultaneously believing that the diaspora collective should be committed to working on the prosperity of the original homeland and their ‘ethno communal consensus’ is committed in this also. Through this observation one can note how revered and significant the old country is for religious diasporas. This significance may even amplify how culturally and religiously different their host countries are as the old country will be continually a source of comparison to the daily life in their new environment. (citied in, Cohen, 2008:6 )  Perhaps it could even be argued that the very essence of religion, what some may define as the passion or ultimate dedication of ones religious belief, may be ignited by the separation of an individual from their homeland and the holy quest to then return there. As Clifford (1994) describes them, ‘travelling cultures understand culture as a practise rather a characteristic’.(citied in Hinnells 2005:534) Culture has now become separate from any ultimate connection with locality, regions or nations of origin.

Knott (1986) argues that diaspora is effected by varying factors such as; the traditions from the country of origin, the nature of the religion and its distinguished features such as food, dress, language etc. Traditions of the host country, nature of migration group; its cohesion with the society that surrounds it and its links with the homeland. How and where the dispersion has taken place, group size and ethnic diversity and finally the nature of the hosts response which include social attitudes like racism and attitudes towards integration. (citied in, Hinnells 2008:539) One can see how all of these points directly relate back to Hinnells statement under evaluation.

Applying the study of religion to Diaspora groups has taken a while to catch on. Initially it is believed that there was a reluctance to take the term from the Jews and apply it to other religious groups, but in later years religion seems as important as ethnicity amongst the study of Diaspora. Yet it is when the separation of ethnicity and religion occurs that the distinctions between the two become difficult to understand, for example. A Western Muslim may be seen as belonging to an ethnic Diaspora, yet the word Muslim signifies the individuals religion. Yet again this individuals religion may not represent their culture, practise of that religion and the religions homeland. A good example of the differences and similarities between ethnicity and religion is explored by Cohen (2008:153) He said, ‘in a small neighbourhood in London it is possible to find Muslims from Turkey, Bangladesh, Kosovo, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Somalia and Iran…sharing their Islamic faith, but often not sharing even the same language.’ It seems interesting to relate this argument back to Hinnells’ statement under evaluation. In reference to the point of Diaspora being minority groups in a culturally different environment, because in this case it is those minority groups that are making the environment culturally different for the original people of that country. When you have a collective sharing a shared identity, even if they belong to a minority, they are still able to create an environment more relevant to them. Yet Cohen (1997) also argues that, ‘religion provides additional cement to Diasporas……likely to enhance social cohesion.’ (citied in Hinnells, 2008:540) In other words, attempting to both acknowledge and understand the many aspects of diaspora makes it easier to not only understand its relevance, but to use this understanding productively. Perhaps a sense of belonging occurs for the participants of diaspora groups in knowing that they are apart of the same identity. This perspective of being the same is apparent world wide and in all walks of life. People like to belong to groups, that’s why in the West we join clubs, society’s and organisations; because we like to surround ourselves with those who have been through what we have, like what we have and who are sharing a similar something.

Due to globalization an increase in human interaction has occurred. Creating a world in which, as well as communication, trade and technology, ideas, language exchange occur frequently between cultures. Immigration, migration and travel is a prominent feature of the 21st century. Smart (1987) states, ‘the increased pace of connectivity, especially in respect of cheap long-distance travel, means even rather poor religious communities can maintain contact with the principal epicentres of their religions.’ (citied in Cohen, 2008:151) In relating this statement to the essay quote under evaluation, one could argue that the longing to return to the homeland that Hinnells’ talks about, needs readdressing. The easier access to return home and the replication of what home is in the host countries, may have altered the desire to return. This raises questions of the next generation of Diasporas. If a child was born into a host country, with parents who still attempt to return to the homeland, does that make the child apart of a diaspora? Or will the increased tolerance that host countries have for diaspora communities led to an attempt in them to represent their culture in a new environment without the desire to return to the old. Integration in a culturally different environment is necessary for both the diasporas and the people of origin to the country and environments will change due to the people who occupy them.

In the Independent on Sunday, former labour minister Margaret Hodge said, ‘Migration is a feature of globalisation. People have more access to national boundaries more often and more easily.’ (2011:8) Vertovec in his paper Religion & Diaspora states that when talking about Diaspora we have to define if we are discussing, ‘the process of becoming scatted, the community living in foreign parts or the place or geographical space in which the dispersed groups live.’ (2000:2) If we relate these points back to the original title it seems that any group which is a minority in a different country from its origin, is a diaspora. Yet in countries like Britain, where the general population is an amalgamation of many cultures, who is then classed as the minority? The majority of host countries, who have had an influx of religiously or culturally different people, often display hostility because the countries identity may have been sacrificed due to this melting pot of diversity.
On April 16th 2011, current UK prime minister David Cameron made the statement that immigration causes, ‘disjointedness in our communities.’ Prior to the Conservative government being in power, Labour ‘cut the number of people seeking asylum from more then 84,000 in 2002 to under 18,000 by 2010.’ (Hodge,2011) Frustration over British identity has been apparent and although according to the UNHCR (2006), ‘the vast majority of refugees are sheltering in the developing world,’ anger over the claim that Europe is now hosting many of the world refuges and immigrants is increasing. The following paragraph will access part of Hinnells’ statement that diasporas live in a possibly hostile environment as a way to explore contemporary Diasporas and the view of them in British society. This will be focused around a case study conducted by Tantony, R in Bristol during April, 2011 involving a Muslim refugee from Somalia.

Fadumo Abukar is forty four year old woman, who flew to the U.K alone in 2003 after Somalia erupted into civil war. She was granted asylum in Bristol in 2004. Abukar claims that she has had a positive response from her host country, she says, ‘I found a better reaction then I was expecting in moving here. In spite of my differences, people want to know about my religion and listen nicely if I explain. That makes me feel comfortable.’(Tantony,2011) Abukars’ experience doesn’t support Hinnells’ statement that diasporas will live in a possibly hostile environment, highlighting that any definition will always have exceptions and be dependable on the individual. In contrast, Nanda Vayanaperumais gives an account of life in Britain. He moved from India to Portsmouth and talks to the Independent on Sunday about his experience in Britain. He says, ‘the shop has been attacked in the last two months. I recently had a guy come through the door with his face covered in a scarf. He came in with a tub of paint and splashed it in my shop. That’s really bad and makes me worried to be here.’ (Duuta, K & Merrick, J,2011:6)

What has interestingly emerged within the study of religious diaspora, is that ‘migrants are more, not less, religious after migration.’ (Hinnells,1997:683) The various factors that may have influenced this are; people having their faith tested via the difficult journey of departure from their homes, the decision to leave their country of origin and arriving in new place, adjusting to community cohesion within their own culture and the culture of the host country and adapting to the new representation of their religion in a different environment. This new environment may require more effort for them to represent their culture and religious background and as McGowan (1999) says it, ‘might require more blatant identification.’(citied in Vertovec, 2000:31) Abukar claimed that she became more religious once arriving in the U.K. She states, ‘I rarely miss praying or fasting at Ramadan. I even wear a scarf here, the children wear scarves here; I had never seen at home. The reason for this is that I feel lonely here but it represents our faith when we have something to bind us together.’(Tantony,2011) This statement emphasizes that the concern of children born into host countries losing their religious or cultural tradition, is simply a product of individual experience. In areas which are dominated by one culture, like the Chinese community in China town, London, the Somalian community in St. Pauls, Bristol or the Asian community in Lozells, Birmingham, there is often an attempt to replicate the culture of what the residence have left behind in their countries of origin. As Warner (1998) argues, ‘the religious institutions they (diasporas) build, adapt, remodel and adopt, become worlds unto themselves.’(citied in Vertovec, 2000:18)

Studying Diaspora religion has helped the student and scholar of religion, think about all the areas surrounding a religious group. All the factors that represent that religion in today’s society, both in a western and eastern context. Yet making a distinction between the difference of, for example, Muslim Diasporas and Muslims in Iran, may lead to alienation and separation of being a Muslim amongst its members; because  sub cultures of that religions emerge. Therefore study of it helps us address the communities that surround us as the changes they inevitably go through occur. Penny Logan (1988) reported that many adults claimed that they had, ‘become more aware of their religion in Britain, as a result of belonging to a minority group in a predominantly irreligious society.’ (citied in Vertovec,2000: 16) Meaning that they could no longer take the assumption of their religion for granted. Being apart of a Diaspora could be seen as a means for those to distinguish between culture and religion, whilst still embracing an identify in itself. In her chapter for the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Schmidt (2004) argues that ‘the migration process itself had added to the ‘purification’ of Islam. As Muslims originating from other parts of the world get to know each other they see what they all have in common. Islam.’ Raising the question of when does an individual or collective become a Diaspora ? Is it the moment one leaves the homeland, the journey, the settling?

To define anything in life is a difficult task because of the fundamental law of existence. Everything changes. Hinnells’ original attempt of defining Diaspora can be criticized and evaluated as being a both negative and positive, a correct and false assumption. Yet regardless, this attempt to describe religious diaspora is vital in order to understand it better. Creating a definition in order to grasp not only a new phenomena, but something that affects so many areas of modern society, including political science, anthropology, sociology and cultural studies. John O. Voll,(1999) chairman of the organizing committee for AHA stated, ‘everywhere we looked almost every subfield, people wanted to talk about diaspora.‘(citied in Vertovec, 2000:3) It is necessary to define something in order to narrow it down and understand it better. We as humans continually attempted to understand that which is different from what we know as a clarification of our own identity. In order for something to be heard it needs to be named and described and by doing this in regards to religious diaspora it gives an identity to a movement of people and a representation of something that is emerging in an important area of study. As Hall (1992) states, ‘we all have the desire and right to speak from somewhere.’ (Hinnells, 2005:535)    

Since it was first written, Hinnells’ Handbook of Living Religions, has been edited over seven times and still evolves. Hinnells claims to want research further in religious diaspora in the following areas; the place of language, the transmission of ideas, individual identity, group identity, leadership, universalities and the impact of western religious ideas. The answer, for the scholar of religion, seems to lye in dis-attachment from definition. This essay has accessed Hinnels original statement and shown that although the factors mentioned that distinguish a religious diapora have value, they are also wholly relevant to individual experience. Diaspora has over 100,000 web pages devoted to it with a clear relevance in modern society, and although the general feeling attached to it is one of loss and misery there will always be the exception, the individual who experiences life differently from the collective. As Jonathon Z. Smith states, ‘Diaspora religion, in contrast to native, locative religion, was utopian in the strictest sense of the word, a religion of nowhere, of transcendence.’ (Vertovec, 2000:19)


Chryssides, G. & Geaves, R. (2007) The Study of Religion: An Introduction to Key Ideas and Methods. London: Continuum.

Cohen, R. (2008) Global Diasporas: An Introduction.2nd ed. N Y: Routledge.

Dutta, K & Merrick, J. (2011) ‘Immigration’. Independent on Sunday. 17 April, p.5-7

Hinnells, J. ed. (1997) The Study of Diaspora Religion in: A New Handbook of Living Religions. London: Penguin Books.

McLoughlin, S. (2005) ‘Migration, Diaspora and Transnationalism’. In: Hinnels, J.ed. The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion. NY: Routledge.
Refugee Week (2008) Refugee Fact Pact. [Online] available from: http://www.refugeeweek.org.uk/Resources/Refugee%20Week/Documents/Factpack%20Web%202008.pdf. [Accessed 20.5.2011]

Schmidt, G. (2004) ‘Islamic Identity Formation among Young Muslims:
The Case of Denmark, Sweden and the United States.’ Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 24 (1) p.37.

Tantony, R. (2011) tantonyr@hotmail.com Diaspora Questions. Email to Fadumo Abukar, 16.5.2011. fadumoabukar15@hotmail.co.uk

The Oxford English Dictionary (2011) Diaspora. [Online] available from: http://oxforddictionaries.com/?attempted=true  [Accessed 20.5.2011]
Vertovec, S. (2000) ‘Religion and Diaspora.’ Proceedings of the New Landscapes of Religion in the West, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford.

Feature on Flamenco Dancing in The Bristol Evening Post

The Journey of a Flamenco Dancer

The orange sun has set behind the jagged roofs of this city, so now only tiny stars puncture the sky. The warmth of the day has been replaced by nights chill and instead of the whir of traffic, music and excited chatter streams through the air. The sound of feet pounding rhythms on the floor, frantic clapping and shouts of exaltation hit me. I am surrounded by incredible colours, bright red and green dresses that swirl with every flick of the hip. Men bearing confident smiles, clad in ruffled shirts and black rimmed hats. Everything seems to be boiling on this Spring evening, though it’s not the red wine or taste of the hot potatoes and paprika keeping me heated. It is the intensity and passion of Seville’s Feria- the home of Spanish Flamenco dance.

Every year, Spain celebrates the arrival of Spring, and like the landscape, Seville explodes into life. Thousands of marquees adorn the streets and horse and carts wind through the traffic carrying the residents of this antique city. For six days the Spaniards do what they do better then any other culture I have encountered. They celebrate, they unite, they let go, they dance. The tradition of Flamenco is rediscovered and everyone, from the young to the old, stamp, clap and release all the burning intensity of being human through the magnetic routine of a dance.

It is that intensity that drew my towards Flamenco, and I say drew because that’s what its like. The Spanish say it’s a calling when a foreigner enters into the dance from the outside in. Like any other journey sometimes you don’t know what it is that motivates you to walk or indeed dance along a particular path, but you carry on regardless, unknown of where you’re heading. I have tried and enjoyed so many dance forms over the years. The shoulder shaking of African, the hypnotic grace of ballet, the intertwining partnership of salsa and although I still reap all that these dances provide. They can’t quite beat the rawness that is Flamenco.

I have danced Flamenco for a few years now. For seven months I lived in the AndalucĂ­an mountains and would travel for fifty minutes every week through the windy foothills, into the local town, to learn Flamenco. My Spanish isn’t so good, yet words were lost anyway in that tiny dance studio. As long as I stayed focused and held the teachers gaze I would be okay and I would dance. After my stay in Spain I returned to Bristol determined to find a class here. Which I did.

The class is taught by Alejandra Velasco, 36, who has been a Flamenco dancer for twenty years. Born in Madrid into a family of creativity, her father was a flamenco manager, her mother and aunty classical Spanish dancers, her dancing has carried her  world wide. For the past seven years she has been based in Cardiff and teaching two classes a week in Bristol. Monday nights at the Tobacco Factory in Southville and Wednesday evenings in Cotham School Dance Studio.

Bristol, the city that offers every kind of means to express yourself, is heavy with creative classes. Yet what is it about this class that has led me to Seville, stood next to a guitarist and wearing bright red lipstick and a flower in my hair. Perhaps like the Spanish say, it was my calling to do so. Perhaps I felt it to be some kind of therapy, where all of lives stresses could be expressed through a dance form. We are, after all, so used to the grin a bear it attitude of modern society, it’s refreshing to be involved in something that allows us to express all the varied emotions of being human. Even fury, desire, lust. Or perhaps it is simply the incredible dresses, the femininity, the simultaneous strength and vulnerability of the dancers.

There are about fifteen of us in Mondays class, all with our own unique reasons as to why we dance Flamenco. One dancer, Katy Gaunt says, ‘when you get the feeling of passion rise in you, you can become lost. Its like a pain and you dance with every part of yourself. Your body, your eyes, your facial expressions, your soul.’ The majority of women in the class are mature and there is a general consensus that you  need to have experienced life to be able to truly dance Flamenco. Katy also adds, ‘you have to know life to really express it. You have to see the anguish of living on the dancer's face.’ I count the lines that dress the skin of the people I dance with. I try and look further for the signs in their dance moves, that life may have knocked them hard, yet that they dance regardless. Isn’t that an incredible thing about being human, that we have a choice to dwell in our misery or turn it into something spectacular.

I’m excited by Seville. By this time I am swept away with that Spanish passion. I stamp out the tiredness of the evening. I clap the insecurities of the language not resting as easy on my tongue as words I have used before. I dance away the feelings of life's hardships and I let go. It is now the early hours of the morning, the music is still painting the night. Children and the old are still dancing together. My own Flamenco journey has taken me to Seville and tomorrow it will throw me back into Bristol again. And I’m ready for it. Ready to express myself, ready to live, filled with as much passion and intensity as the dance teaches. As Monday's dancer Jo Holmes says, ‘Its more then just a dance; it’s a language. A lifestyle. A way of being.’

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Feature published in the Bristol Evening Post regarding the recent anti Tesco riots in Bristol

Exploring the Stokes Croft Riots

I live in Stokes Croft. In the heart of it; above the art shop maintained by the influential Peoples Republic. Across from the prominent Canteen bar. A stone’s throw away from a litter of independent shops and cafes. I choose to live here because of what Stokes Croft represents; the independence of a city that is a hub of diversity. In which shops line there shelves with food that is local sourced, locally grown and consumed by local people. I live here because the women opposite my house are from Northern Pakistan, and their magnificent silk dresses ignite wonder in me. Because the dance classes I attended across the road are taught by traditional Senegalese teachers and in that two hour class I am transported into another culture. Because I greet the woman who serves me in the post office and the guy who I grab my steaming morning coffees from by name. And I know the people who live in Stokes Croft, through their many varied languages, all have a desire to be heard.

For me, fighting the battle to be heard goes as far back as I can remember. Those bellows of frustration as a child, when I wanted my parents to cuddle me instead of my crying younger brother. As a teenager when I wanted to be heard instead of my talkative best friend and now as a young woman, who simply feels the pressures of being a young woman. It’s incredible, that we as humans have a voice to speak and the desire behind that voice to stand up for what we believe to be right. It’s incredible that we live in a society where the freedom to express this is boundless.
I don’t want the cafĂ© I work in to be closed down because people buy their breakfast from another Tesco's store. There are already eighteen in Bristol. I don’t want the farm shop or the Italian delicatessen to shut so products are brought from a store that has no character or representation of the people that surround it; and it’s not only me who holds this opinion. For over a year a campaign has been on going to try and stop Tesco from opening on Cheltenham Road Stokes Croft. Claire Milne the diligent spokeswoman behind it says, ‘it’s so important that people don’t lose sight of what we are doing and last night’s violence doesn’t become a smoke screen. For over a year there has been a very peaceful protest against it and a law case as to why this shouldn’t have gone ahead.’ So how did this peaceful demonstration erupt into the chaos of Thursday night? 

At 9:00 pm, at the start of the bank holiday weekend and in a busy drinking area of the city, police gathered to raid a squat. Members of the squat, situated opposite the Tesco store, were supposedly said to be a threat to Tesco. Yet the eviction was resisted. 160 officers were involved in the operation. A helicopter whirled through the night sky, with a dramatic spot light that pieced through the black and illuminated the chaos. Some officers mounted horseback and others were firmly on the street, bearing shields and helmets, some with angry dogs in their hands others gripping batons. In opposition a strange mix of young anarchists clothed in scarfs, people caught in the riot on their way out to celebrate the back holidays and residents of the city appeared in their hundreds. 

I was hit by so many emotions last night. I saw young men clamber onto the roofs of houses, pulling off tiles and hurtling them down onto lines of police. I heard accounts of an officer who had been hit over the head with a concrete block and the hand break of a van let off so it rolled down hill. Plastic bins set alight that filled the air with a rancid stench of noncompliance. Alongside this I saw police officers pull an old man to the ground because he attempted to pass them and get safely to his home. A couple walking back from an evening out who were fiercely attacked for no reason other than walking near the riot. Innocent people pushed to the floor just for getting in the way; residents pounded with batons whilst hordes of angry police men ran towards them. And I felt scared and sad and afraid. Not only because my house is in the heart of this city, my garden the streets that now held the weight of this battle, but because I know longer knew what I was fighting for. 

This war will continue. As Claire says, ‘The ball is now in the court of Tescos and Bristol City Council. We want the decision to be re addressed we want to stop Tescos being able to trade. We need to know if its profit is more important than the safety of our community.’ 

As I was drifting off to sleep that night, with the whirl of the helicopter and smell of burning plastic, I couldn’t help but think about the intention behind the riot. Surely we are all just fighting the battle of what we believe to be best for us. But why do all parties involved carry anger around like another limb, just waiting for its moment to explode? The fight to be heard does need to exist, but not by throwing petrol bombs and using batons. It’s by acknowledging that we as humans are filled with dissatisfaction and finding ways to unite ourselves in this. We all want our environment to represent just how unique and wonderful we are and no matter what, Stokes Croft will always be the heart of a city that just wants to be heard.