Silence…

Today’s photo isn’t part of any photo challenge, it just reflects how I feel at the moment. I’m feeling quite introverted and I don’t seem to have anything to say to anyone in real life or online. I am struggling with the fact that, on Facebook, the rot has set in quite badly.

What do I mean? Everyone on Facebook has to follow the same set of opinions, you can’t just have one opinion that agrees with other people and two that don’t, or you’re a bad human being and everyone gets angry. You have to be that background noise on Parliament TV where you can here the politicians agreeing with whoever is speaking, and they sound almost like cows mooing. “Yurrrrrrr…”

I don’t agree with everything everyone else says. I am not a mindless zombie. And no one listens to each other anymore so there’s no point even pointing out when I disagree with people because we can’t discuss such things as adults nowadays, they are just sucked into a silent vacuum of passive-aggressive, judgmental arguments left unsaid.

On the plus side, in my personal life things are going better. I have been stably back off my meds for several weeks and my therapist is helping me work through stuff. We’re keeping a pin in the bipolar diagnosis, and the ADHD one, and she suspects I developed post-natal OCD at some point in the past year, which has made everything worse.

https://www.ocduk.org/ocd/ocd-during-prenatal-postnatal/

So for now, I’m sitting in silence a lot of the time and trying to quietly get on with things. The TV is on a continuous loop of nursery rhymes, the baby is always making noises and we live by a busy road with thin windows so every passing car is audiable. But still I am sitting in silence, learning to tune it all out.

My photo is from Nepal. Kathmandu was so noisy and busy, everyone was always going and doing and seeing and selling and moving and begging and eating and… and yet the city has this strange inner silence. Anywhere else, all that busyness would have been a very stressful sensory overload, especially for me, but here, there was a silence woven through everything that made the noise easier to bear. Not words unspoken. Not the silence of death, or inactivity, or thousands of thoughts flitting from one moment to the next.

It is the silence of inner peace.

 

Mailerlite vs Mailchimp: A warning (it’s not what you think)

So about 12 months ago, I was using Mailchimp and there was suddenly a huge drama because they changed their fee structure and got a LOT more expensive. Customers started leaving them in droves. I didn’t understand the issue until I got my new bill and it was suddenly insanely high compared to how much money I was making.

I asked around and everyone told me it was so easy to switch to Mailerlite, and that they were better in a number of ways that no one could explain. I was pregnant and knew I needed to reduce my overheads.

So I exported my contacts and imported them into Mailerlite, where I grew my list to over 15,000 subscribers.

With Mailchimp, the only issue was the cost. Everything else about it worked perfectly, I never had a failed send or anything. They always just sorted out payment and everything was smooth. I don’t know what their customer service was like because I don’t remember ever having to contact them after the day I first signed up.

Also, Mailchimp works in China, and Mailerlite does not. I was living in China when I started emailing my list through Mailchimp instead of using batches via Google mail.

With Mailerlite, it seemed like every time my mailing list grew, they wanted me to re-verify myself, to fill out a tedious questionnaire (for the fifth time) about what I was using their services for, and they threw in some mandatory market research questions as well, which honestly is offensive but you do what you gotta do to get a half-price mailing service to email your newsletter for you.

The best part? They do this when you want to send an email, instead of when you hit the new subscriber threshold. This means, if you’re sending about something time-sensitive, like a flash sale or 24-hour deal, you will not get to send your email in time especially if you want to send according to timezone.

I didn’t like the fact that a lot more of my emails seemed to go to the spam folder when I used Mailerlite, either.

I sucked it up.

Then I had a baby, so I deleted my contacts because no-one wants to pay $150 a month for a mailing list they’re not actually sending any emails to for a year. I downloaded and carefully saved my 15000 contacts in a CSV file that I never actually looked at because I had more important things to do like keep a small baby alive.

Obviously.

Ready to get back to work, I uploaded my email list to Mailerlite and guess what? They wouldn’t let me re-verify because I’d already uploaded this list and deleted it.

So in desperation I went back to Mailchimp, thinking that paying $200 monthly is worth it if you actually get the service you’re paying for. I uploaded my mailing list.

Then I found out why you should never, EVER move your list to Mailerlite.

We’re always told that our mailing list is the most important marketing asset for our business because it is ours and we get to keep that no matter what happens to service providers, right?

WRONG.

Mailerlite has deleted so much information from the downloaded copy of my mailing list that Mailchimp actually doesn’t have the data it needs to let me upload to them.

So I opened the file to look through it. There’s email addresses, but then all the other columns are empty. No first names. No last names. No opt-in timestamps or IP addresses and no confirmation timestamps or IP addresses (all of which you need to be compliant with data handling, CAN-SPAM, and GDPR rules). It’s a mangled, useless CSV file that is as useless as a phone book comprising of phone numbers but no names.

I am effectively stuck with Mailerlite who seemed able to re-connect all the data when I uploaded the email addresses (presumably they’ve stored the rest of the data on their server and can access it by using the email addresses as a “primary key”, but I obviously have a right to have all that data, it’s not theirs, it’s mine, so they shouldn’t keep it like this). Who won’t let me go through their stupid validation and approval process. And anyway, I resent all the bullshit they’ve put me through so I’m not going back to them.

This means I have no mailing list. Mailerlite has destroyed it by deleting key data. Five years of hard work down the drain. Fifteen thousand fans of my business, who I cannot contact because Mailerlite have ensured I can’t go to another service provider.

God I wish someone had written about this before I switched to Mailerlite.

Please, please, PLEASE be careful. If you want to switch to Mailerlite, be sure you’re going to stay with them forever. Because they will not let you take your mailing list when you leave.

I guess that’s what you get when you go with a cut-price mailing list provider. I have learned my lesson the painfully, devastatingly hard way. I have no business to come back to after maternity leave. I built my business to give my baby a future, and now our situation is more precarious than ever.

If I am very, very lucky, I might still have an old version of my mailing list from when I switched from Mailchimp to Mailerlite in the first place. But obviously, that could have people on it who have since unsubscribed, so I have to weigh up whether I can use that old version or not.

This is my honest review of two companies I’ve spent thousands of dollars with, over the past half-decade. Verdict? I’d rather spend more money on a service that actually does what it says it’s going to. Your mileage may vary. If you have a different perspective, or a solution for this issue, please let me know in the comments.

Postcards to my baby: Kathmandu

August 2018

Little one,

In 2015, there was an earthquake that destroyed large parts of Kathmandu, capital city of Nepal. When we visited, they were still rebuilding.

The side-by-side of rich and poor had never been so stark. Beside a luxury boutique hotel, a single wall, three storeys high, was being rebuilt by a dust-covered family when they finished work each night. They moved bricks until 2am, then they went out to work 4 hours later. Dhal Bhat Power, 24 Hour.

One of the best days of my life was spent on a makeshift rooftop terrace above a cafe, drinking Coca Cola with your daddy and watching the world go by, five storeys below. One of the worst days of my life was spent on the bathroom floor, then in a private hospital, where compassionate and efficient doctors gave me the news that I had lost my baby (caused by a very nasty fall in Xi’an, China). You were conceived exactly three months and several rivers of tears later, but the journey began here, for reasons I’ll explain some other time.

Visit Nepal for the food. The momos are crisp, the dhal bhat is smooth, everything is a unique fusion of Chinese and Indian, with extra cilantro (coriander). Visit Nepal for the monuments, breathtaking and almost Tibetan… but not quite. Visit Nepal for the people, so friendly and eager to show you their wonderful country. Visit Nepal for the bargains. Visit Nepal to do yoga and meditation with the masters. Visit Nepal to see Mount Everest (I’ll write you a separate postcard on that one).

But do me a favor, little one. Don’t come home with some cheap, badly-woven “angora wool”. It’s almost certainly ordinary wool woven in China, fluffed up with a hairbrush and imported. If you want stuff like that, go to Shanghai, instead. It’s cheaper. And there’s so many more things to spend time on when you see Kathmandu.

And whatever you do, don’t hire a car. Yes, your license is valid in Nepal. But 70% of the roads have literally no road surface. Leave the driving to the taxis. They will overcharge you. But we will teach you how to haggle before we let you go to Asia.

Mama Adventure xxx

New to this series? Start here.

21 ways to challenge everyday racism against Irish Travellers/Gypsies

The very first thing I ever got published was a letter to my local newspaper when I was 16. I was challenging the racist anti-Irish-traveller rhetoric that Margaret Moran, our Labour MP, was spouting. She really knew how to milk the cameras. The local news ate up her drama and so did her adoring public. I was very pleased to see her downfall during the expenses scandal. She, and our local Liberal Democrats councillors, used to put publications through our letterbox telling us all the ways they were going to get travellers out of “our community”. They thought they could make up all sorts of rubbish about travellers, because a community with low literacy cannot defend itself against printed lies. So I pushed back. We had only been in Luton for a few months and already I was seeing a duplicity, that on one hand, there were services such as Jennifer, the Traveller Education officer who fought hard to get me into a school and managed it in February of GCSE year after I’d been out of school for 3 months, preceded by 3 months in school in a different area, and before that, four more months out of school. But on the other hand there were people going door-to-door telling us what they wanted to do to get “those travellers” out of Luton.

My letter got attacked viciously by people who thought I was “a naive bleeding heart” (they assumed I was a) an adult and b) one of them, who needed teaching about the terrible otherness of travellers).

At the moment the spotlight is rightly on Black Lives Matter but a lot of people are questioning their everyday racism and racist structures in society, so I have written this list of ways you can create a positive, anti-racist environment for Irish Travellers and Romany Gypsies (Irish Traveller is one of my ethnicities; maybe I’ll talk about things that apply to the other in a different article):

  1. Pikey and gyppo are derogatory terms. Stop using them. Now.
  2. Stop assuming we are going to shoplift. There are good and bad travellers, like there’s good and bad everybody else.
  3. Challenge local councils when they put out racist information blaming their systemic failures on travellers.
  4. Befriend some travellers. It’s not a “them and us” situation. Travellers are generally friendly, like most other people in the world, if you don’t approach them from a place of racism.
  5. Tolerate them when they stop somewhere. If rubbish is an issue, contact your local council, not to get the rubbish removed, but to challenge their bylaws which state you must register your vehicle, apply for a permit, or show a council tax bill to dispose of rubbish at the recycling centre/tip. These byelaws make it virtually impossible for travellers to dispose of everyday rubbish. Imagine if the local council refused to collect your bin, how much rubbish would be in your garden? In Ireland, bin removal is a privatised service that you choose a company for, so culturally, Irish travellers in Ireland are able to dispose of their rubbish where they’re unable to do this in the UK.
  6. Don’t fall for stereotypes. We actually do pay council tax, where we own land (and houses…) in the UK. Not all travellers are UK residents, and they pay the correct tax in their locality e.g. Ireland, Germany. The easiest way of explaining this (although this is a bit of a reductionist statement) is, do you pay tax to the countries you go on holiday to?
  7. Try to separate the description of the ethnic group from the actions. Some of us live in houses and saying, “that doesn’t make you a traveller, then, does it?” is like telling an Afro-Caribbean person that they’re not Afro-Caribbean because they’re not currently living in Africa or the Caribbean.
  8. Challenge ways society tries to funnel people into living in houses against their will. Why do you need a home address to buy car insurance or road tax, instead of just a registration plate (I’m aware of the just-so story explanation of “risk” postcodes but I refute it)? Why do you need a home address to claim benefits instead of just a National Insurance number? A lot of these sort of laws impact Travellers’ quality of life, and these laws were designed for this purpose. The fact these laws also marginalize homeless people are collateral damage in a white-supremacist power structure.
  9. Challenge cultural appropriation. “Gypsy style” clothing is based on an outdated stereotype which is as offensive as dressing as a Native American. Or putting on blackface. The reason you all get away with it is because Irish Traveller is one of the smallest ethnic minorities in Europe, and Gypsy is another, and we’re generally pretty easy going and preoccupied with more interesting things in life than arguing with idiot country folk (people who are not travellers, i.e. people who have a country). We don’t walk around covered in more gold than Mr. T with money sewn into the hemlines of our skirts, our belts etc. Having said that, anyone who knows me knows I do like gold jewellery, there’s a certain permanence about it.
  10. Challenge hypocrisy: One minute, “gypsy style” clothing is the latest fashion, and in the same breath people can denigrate “gyppos” or “pikeys”. But you’ll wear clothes attributed to us.
  11. Know the differences: Gypsies and Travellers are two separate ethnic minorities under the same banner of nomads, just lumped together for UK statistics because the power structure doesn’t actually care which one we are.
  12. Challenge hipsters calling themselves nomads. They are able to easily be “nomads” because of the fact they are not, in fact, nomadic. They avail of cultural privilege such as their parents having a home address, meaning they can get their documents sent there. They avail of cultural privilege of being able to store all their stuff in their parents’ garage or attic, meaning they can wander around the world with just a carry-on. Real nomads don’t benefit from locality-privilege (IDK if that’s a real word, but it should be).
  13. Challenge “identity verification” services that require a landline phone bill or a council tax bill, or which demand to call you on your landline number to confirm your identity. These are structures put in place to disempower gypsies and travellers.
  14. Challenge power-holding systems that favour “employees” rather than “self-employed”. Most travellers (myself included) are self-employed in work we can do anywhere around the world. This means it’s hard to get a mortgage, a rental contract for a house to live in, and the taxation system makes it difficult to do casual jobs alongside “famine months” where self-employment income is low. The system isn’t set up to allow us to pay tax properly.
  15. Educate your family and friends about their attitudes and opinions. People often hit out at gypsies and travellers because it’s perceived as “acceptable racism” because they aren’t black. These same people hit out at Chinese and other non-black minorities too. Teach them that it’s not okay.
  16. Challenge power-holding systems in the UK (and this is unique to the UK) that say you can only stop in a motorway services (and other “free” car parks) for 2 hours without paying the equivalent of a hotel bill, while simultaneously making it illegal to drive tired. All over the continent, you can stop overnight in services and laybys. Lorry drivers are allowed to stop overnight in some areas of the UK. Why aren’t travellers? They have nowhere else to sleep. These car parks are completely empty overnight, the only reason people can’t overnight in them is systemic capitalist racism designed to marginalize travellers and gypsies.
  17. Stop using “white” like it corresponds to people’s skin colour. Travellers and gypsies do not generally have white privilege unless they participate in non-traveller structures (like I do. I have white privilege most of the time which I fully acknowledge, but that’s because I made a choice to live amongst you and to follow your rules). They do not have a range of privilege afforded to other non-nomadic groups. Stop excluding them from the conversation and narrative, because building an anti-racist society means creating a world where gypsies and travellers are not erased and excluded anymore.
  18. Challenge TV programmes and other media depicting an outdated vision of gypsies, conflating gypsies and travellers (two different groups), and other reductionist, racist practices (and outright erasure).
  19. Challenge laws that are purposely designed to trip up travellers, catch them out, and put them in prison. 5% of the UK prison population and 10% of the Irish prison population are Irish travellers. Amongst 12-18-year-olds, travellers make up 22% of the UK prison population. Amongst women in Ireland, travellers make up 22% of the prison population, too. Only 0.1% of the UK’s population are “gypsy or traveller” and 0.6% of Ireland’s population.
  20. Help travellers you know by providing them with references when they need them, standing up for them as character witnesses, and generally using your privilege to support them.
  21. Challenge enviromnental law-makers who assume people have houses when they are lobbying for policy changes. Travellers who live full-time in caravans do not have the storage space to avail of many of the “reduce your waste” initiatives, such as bulk buying loose produce (where would they put all the billions of empty reusable containers they would need?) and often, these come to you printed on leaflets (and at least 40% of travellers are illiterate), so the chances are they cannot access information about recycling, packaging etc. Bear in mind that two hipsters in a van can easily do things that a family of six in the same space cannot. Environmental laws need to enable travellers to reduce and recycle their waste at every level.

I hope to write a separate article on how educators and schools can enable travellers to succeed, but I’ll need to pull my thoughts together first.

Postcards to my baby: Pattaya

Christmas Day 2017. Twenty-four degrees celsius, if you can believe it. Blue, cloudless sky, punctuated only by palm trees. The sound of the sea, gently rising up the clean sand, leaving gifts of shells for me to find. The calls of men selling hats, water bottles and street food on long bamboo poles or hand-carts as they amble up and down the beach.

For our Christmas dinner, we went to the Hard Rock Café Pattaya, and had a delicious English-style Christmas dinner complete with turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes, gravy and all the trimmings. After four months in East Asia, it was like coming home, without having to actually go back to England with all its problems.

After we had eaten, a group of twenty or so children arrived and took to the stage, singing Christmas carols they had learned in their English lessons, and their teacher explained how the school had been set up for them. Education is widely seen as the key to ending poverty, and in countries where literacy is low, getting schools built and teachers trained is very important.

I hope by the time you are old enough to see Thailand for yourself, those children are out changing the world and teaching the next generation.

IMG_4886b

This is part 2 of my Postcards to my Baby series. Part 1 here. All photos copyright MamaAdventure.

A Template Letter to ask Police to use Bodycams at all times. Send it wide!

Dear Police Department,
I am writing to let you know that I strongly support the use of bodycam and dashcam footage for all law enforcement officers. This is for your benefit and the benefit of the community. Impartial bodycam footage can indemnify you and protect you as much as it can prove allegations against racist cops.

Please let your officers know they should be using bodycams at all times, and ensure they are provided with the resources, training, and workplace policies/culture to be able to do this.

I am also concerned about police violence and I would like it to be known that I do not support or endorse the use of unnecessary force against protesters. Violence does not de-escalate violent situations. It is being disproportionately used against persons of color and this is not acceptable. The police should be protecting people and keeping the peace, not attacking peaceful demonstrators.

Police officers should be using “sideways management” within the force to stop their colleagues from being racist, to challenge racist assumptions, and to report upward through the chain of command any incidents of racism either perpetrated against police officers of color or against the wider black/minority community.

Black lives matter.

Yours sincerely,
A concerned citizen.

A photo a week challenge: Just for Fun

This photography challenge comes from Nancy Merrill Photography. The challenge was something fun. My contribution is a photo of Hogwarts castle, from Harry Potter, which I took in 2019 at Universal Studios, Japan while I was pregnant last Spring.

Japan was so much fun. I think Japan and South Korea were my two favourite countries to visit in Asia. I would definitely like to spend more time there one day.

 

Postcards to my Baby: Shanghai’s Old Town

Dear A.

One day, you’ll see China for yourself and understand why I can’t describe it very well in one postcard. It is a land of opposites, complications, and yet… simplicity.

On one hand, the bureaucracy to do anything at all is intense, and often requires an app which only mostly works in English, until you’re trying to do anything complicated. On the other, in rural areas, life has never been burdened with problems like technology, literacy, money or germ theory. Truly.

The nuances across this vast land are stark. This postcard is of the old quarter of Shanghai. It might not be a quarter. Vendors sell whole fried squid on a stick and tourists line up down the street to buy them. In the narrowest alleys, people hang their washing on the electrical wires and they look like a canopy of multicoloured trees above a rusty rainforest of decay, but no birds venture here. The sky is white with pollution.

What no photo can ever convey is the smell. This area stinks of fermented pig urine. In the distance, skyscrapers loom. The clean, sleek future, eclipsing the murky past. Even during the Mid-Autumn lunar festival, few tourists venture down these side streets, funneled away by mapping apps and official, approved guides.

When you get here, this urban wilderness might be gone; replaced by more skyscrapers filled with things China wants to be known for, instead of what it is. A land leaving its winter, its identity is as changeable as the tide. I hope you will see it in Spring, once the sakura blossoms.

Maybe, if I’m lucky, you will see me in my Springtime, too.

Lots of love,

Mama Adventure

This is part one in a series of postcards I have written to my baby while I was still pregnant, telling them about what we did before they were born.

Part 2 is here.

A photo a week challenge: Peaceful Place

The creative geniuses around WordPress are finding ways to keep the now-defunct weekly photo challenge alive. This challenge comes from Nancy Merrill Photography. The challenge was a place that brought you peace. My contribution is a photo I took in 2018 at Lake Tahoe, just a few miles up the road from the town of South Lake Tahoe, on the Nevada side, in the USA. Honestly, I have never felt so at peace and at ease as I did on this quiet retreat. I’d just driven down from the dusty hustle of Reno where I’d been for a big author conference, and after that toxic, smoky environment, the clean air and abundance of nature at Lake Tahoe was nourishing.

I would live there if I had any chance at all of getting a US residence visa.

IMG_1717 fix