Learning to live with the New Normal.

Phew! What a week. I don’t know about you but I feel like I’ve gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson over these past few days, with news coming at me from every direction. There was the travel ban in America, the huge protests against Trump being invited on a state visit in the UK, and then there was the Brexit debates and vote in London. It just seems like every time I check the news something else has happened….

But somehow, with all this going on, we have to learn to carry on.

In all honesty, I am finding it inceasingly difficult to focus on anything. I have plenty of work and am in the middle of an essay-writing course with a view to increasing the amount of freelance work I do. I also have this blog to keep up! Never mind all the normal, daily routine work like shopping and dog-walking that you can’t just forget about. But on the other hand there is Facebook and Twitter and another check of the latest news and before I know it half the day has gone. I also find my mood swings all over the place with the increasingly worrying information we are getting on a daily, nay hourly, basis.

But I know it’s just going to keep on coming so somehow we have to find a way to live with this new normal. And one of the ways I have been doing it is talking to people who have been surviving for years, decades even, in the sort of uncertain political environment that we in the UK and the US (and other stable democracies) perhaps haven’t ever had to contemplate. In particular, I spent last weekend in Harare visiting with relatives.

For those that don’t know (which hopefully is few of you!), Zimbabwe has been living under Robert Mugabe for more than 35 years. I am not about to go into a plotted history of the country and its politics – especially as, to my shame, I am actually pretty ignorant as to exactly what is happening in that country despite living righ next door and having relatives there. But if you are interested to learn more, here is a link.

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Trying not to get crushed in Zimbabwe

However, what is true is that life in Zimbabwe has become increasingly difficult for many of its nationals and change still seems elusive. It is that lack of WHEN things will improve that I think is the hardest to deal with – many people can cope with difficulties if they know it is for a limited time. If nothing else, contigency planning is easier when you have an idea how many months, years or even decades you are planning for.

It obviously isn’t easy and there aren’t any simple rules but it certainly seems that trying to get involved, in one way or another, in any opposition to the ruling government can make you feel a lot more positive. Just to feel like you are DOING something can certainly lift your spirits. How much you are actually able to do will of course depend on where you are and your particular situation – but in the UK and the US we are still in a position to be able to petition, march, write, donate and share information pretty widely. Hopefully all of those things will continue.

Otherwise, distraction is a great way to deal wth whatever is going on around you – epecially when you feel so helpless to change it. Change does and will come – we only have to look at history to know that we won’t stagnate in this situation forever. But it may be slow, a lot slower than we would want – so in the meantime we need to find ways to cope with the wait. Whether that be writing or crafting or sewing or baking or even burying yourself in work, it is always going to be healthy to take your minds off things for periods of times.

Getting together with like-minded friends is another thing that can really help when you are feeling despondent. As an expat I do sometimes feel quite isolated from everything going on in my home country, especially as I am surrounded by American expats so the news of Trump does tend to dominate. But every so often I get together with another sympathetic British friend who reassures me that no, I am not alone in feeling like this (I know the internet and Facebook in particular is another way to bring people together but there is nothing like a proper, face-to-face get together).

Finally the other thing that really helps me is what this blog is really all about – which is that many people, in many countries have been living with these uncertainties for years and whatever happens we will still almost certainly remain some of the most privileged people in the world just by dint of our passports. Although I speak about Zimbabwe, South Africa also has been going through interesting political times with a difficult and unpopular government, student riots, allegations of corruption right to the top of government…..

But I look around me and people are getting on with their lives. They are shopping and cooking and drinking wine and selling mobile phone cases at traffic lights and sweeping leaves and walking dogs and going to business meetings….in other words, life goes on. It is frustrating, incredibly frustrating, when you feel that you can’t do anything to bring about the immediate change that you crave but actually what you do need to be doing is living.

Now I am going to take my own advice and go and make a cup of tea. Please let me know your thoughts – these are interesting times.

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First Brexit, now Trump – trying to make sense of a mad world

So how do you process something like this morning? Despite having that sinking feeling in my stomach just like I did with Brexit, it’s hard to make sense of what happened. We all knew it was a possibility but the reality seemed so completely beyond our understanding that we just switched off from it. Or we didn’t think about what it actually meant. But here we are, waking up to this strange, new, back-to-front world we live in.

I was out this morning with some American friends who I can only describe as shell-shocked. Oh yes, I know that feeling well. For me it really is 24 June all over again. Going to bed feeling optimistic, the polls looking good. Waking up to – what?! Has this actually happened? In truth I woke at 3.45am and looked at my BBC news app. I could already see results coming in – and that it didn’t look good. It was early days, people kept saying. Exit polls showed Clinton had it in the bag. But there was nothing overwhelmingly in her favour – it was all way too close, going to much in Trump’s direction.

And I knew, I knew then what was about to happen. I knew because we are five months ahead of the US. We have had five months to get used to this new world order, the anger and the post-truth politics. The total denial of anything that makes any sense. The refusal to admit they don’t have an argument or reason. They just want….what? Something. Something intangible – change? Their identity back? To feel like they still matter? I don’t understand it but then I am someone who doesn’t see people who are different to myself as something to be scared of – I welcome them. I love diversity and think we can only learn from others who come from a different place, have a different outlook on life or live a different way.

So I knew that this poison that has infiltrated our shores has reached America too. Why wouldn’t it? We are all part of the same globalised society now. We bounce off each other constantly, we read the same information and watch the same programmes and hear the same lies from the same sorts of people. With my American friends we discussed which was worse – Trump or Brexit. To them, understandably this soon after an unexpected win for Trump, nothing could be worse. But for me I feel that at least they get another election in four years time. We are (possibly) stuck with Brexit forever.

But in the end actually it doesn’t matter which is “worse” because they are both part of the same thing. Brexit, Trump and just as scarily the rise of right-wing parties in Europe. We are all heading in the same direction and at the moment I feel powerless to know what to do about it. I am having to defend my liberal values against people who now think it is ok for men to say what they want about women, it is ok that Muslims should be targeted and expelled from their home country, it is ok to cheer at the notion that all Mexicans are rapists. Many people who voted for Trump will say they are not racists or misogynists, that they were voting AGAINST something as much as FOR it (just like in the UK) – but in so doing they have enabled the hatred to rise. They now need to own it. If they really meant they didn’t vote for that then they damn well need to condemn it every time they see or hear something they don’t like. Because the small majority of people who really do believe these things are on the up and they are not going to go away.

So anger and confusion, Americans like us Brits will now be stuck in the culture shock cycle of this new place they arrived at this morning. You will be stuck in it for a while but I hope that you get some sort of clear direction at some point as to where you are going.

In the meantime I have no idea if this will help at all but just something I wanted to share. As I stood outside our gate this morning with our dog, having just put the children on their school bus. I saw the garbage man rummaging through next doors bins. He found some old, flat Coca Cola in a bottle and drank it. He found some wrecked, filthy trousers and neatly folded them up and put them aside. He then put all the rubbish back in the bin and moved on. He probably has no idea there has been an election in the US, nor who Donald Trump is. All he cares about is where to get food from. Yes things are awful right now and I feel pretty wretched but for 90% of the world life will go on just as before. We are all terrified for our future but at least we don’t have to go through bins just to find food.

Brace yourselves Americans because the worst could be coming

Wherever you are in the world, next Wednesday morning is going to be an interesting one. Whether you stay up late or get up early, whether the results come in for you in your time zone at breakfast, lunch or dinner, we are all going to be be focused on one thing. And I can tell you from our experience of Brexit, it is not going to be pretty.

Above all else I hope with every core of my body that the worse doesn’t happen. And by that I mean of course the worst would be if women-hating, xenophobic, climate-change denying and quite fankly terrifying Trump is elected. I believe that would not only set the US back decades in social policy but would put the entire world at risk. But almost as bad would be a slim win for Clinton – because I don’t believe Trump and his rabble rousers will simply sit back and accept the result. And it could go on and on and on….

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And while it rumbles on, the hatred being spewed out across the internet will get nastier and nastier and nastier. Because now this election isn’t just about he delegates, it isn’t just about the horrific campaign that has been run by Trump to villify Clinton or about some emails that Clinton didn’t handle too well. No, in a way they have become the side show. What it has become about is the horrendous, malicious abuse that this election (just like Brexit) seems to to have legitimised. While Stateside is is now apparently ok to call for a presidential candidate to be not just jailed but murdered, over in the UK internet trolls are calling for the rape and beheading of a woman (Gina Miller) simply for daring to ask the law to clarify how we leave the EU. And worse – then accusing our judiciary of being traitors for simply doing their job.

Where this will end I have no idea. I am frankly terrified. I have two children and they are coming of age in this climate. Social media is rampant – totally out of control, as is our so-called free press which at the moment appears to basically be running the country. If anyone can come up with a way to put the genie back in the bottle please let me know!

But in the meantime for all you Americans wondering how you will feel next week, I can only tell you to prepare yourselves mentally for the worst (and then hope it never happens). I wrote about how I felt after Brexit and I suspect many of you will go through something similar. It is like culture shock although for us Brits is is hard to move on in the cycle because we have no idea what is coming next.

I only hope that by going through the worst case scenario in your head you may be able to limit the damage to come extent. I honestly think Brexit was such a shock because we didn’t really expect it to happen. I know I did have some inkling it might because I was awake every night in the weeks leading up to the vote worrying about it. But I don’t think I had any idea quite how bad it would be – and that nearly five months on we still wouldn’t have a clue where we were headed.

So prepare for the worst and hope for the best. The next week is certainly going to be a roller coaster so make sure you have your seat belts securely fastened. I’ll see you on the other side!

Photo credits: Trump/Clinton – Ted Eytan