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The Art of Pain

The works of June Okochi Voices of Pain Voices of Pain is a multi-track montage of individuals’ reports living with or affected by sickle cell.

This UK based audio-documentary is a heartfelt and insightful production which captures the featured individuals’ first hand experiences and themes of pain, suffering, trauma but more importantly, resilience, hope and dreams that has enabled them deal with their pain & suffering.

The collection of untold accounts is an unedited and raw artistic expression of people aimed at finding meaning in their suffering and with art forms of poetry, prose, language, sensory, colour and sound which brings their narratives to life.

Created by June Okochi
Sound Production by MistaBooks
Music - The Path by Sean Beeson Click here to listen Enjoy! Portraits of Pain Artists always aim for an expression of their works to depict a true depth of humanity and human suffering with objectives that the recipient can recognize these expressions and connect to their everyday lives. For me, that sense of liberation to express art in forms that may depict pain, suffering and humanity has been the foundation for my work, Portraits of Pain. I use photography as a form of art to express differently, to tell mine and other’s stories, living with our genetic condition (sickle cell) through visual imagery. Portraits of Pain uses photography as an art form to express the different motions that come with sickle cell. It’s a collection of abstracts, that which can’t be seen: - the hidden disease, the pain, the fatigue from anemia, mental health and depression, the isolation, frustration, the red cells shaped liked a sickle, the damage, the resilience, suffering, hope, love, the battle and the fight to overcome. More importantly, I wanted to bring to life the actual subjects of the portraits, the warriors of society, those who go through pain and suffering and who are behind the scenes just “getting on with it”. I collaborated on this project with: UK based photographer, Jim Higham Nigerian based creative director, Ijeoma Okochi-Agwu London production team: Mica Marshall and Thomas Okochi. The models I featured are all London based individuals affected by the condition. This work was publicly exhibited at Imperial College, London in 2019. Pain that assails me ; Sometimes I have the urge to go into the mountains or a remote beach and just scream out loud at the top of my lungs to let out this pain I have bottled up inside for many years We weren’t born rich:
We are not alone. In our world, we may be individuals but we feel the same pain in our bones, shed the same tears, share this same flawed blood cells, walk through the dark together. Hidden behind the veil: Masking my pain has become a skill The Crisis : The pain and crisis come in the middle of the night and all I can do is call 999 and wait Son, Give Us A Minute: "No child deserves to suffer so much pain and all we can do is sit here broken-hearted, helpless, praying that this pain goes away. We know we can't take his pain away and that’s the worst position any parent can find themselves” I Cannot Lose Her Always ready to carry her when she falls (from this pain) because if the system fails her, I certainly wont. Why Me? I used to seek reasons for my pain. I have normalized my suffering. I am no longer a victim. I have found meaning in this pain. #StopDStigma: Sickle on my sleeves A millennial generation who are not inhibited by their pain or suffering and have an exposé of their lives on social media and on hashtags but are caught up by the stigma their parents, grandparents and communities have carried with them. "Hush child! Don't let them know you have sickle cell" The life and death of a blossoming rose: Blossoming a very painful flower, and pricked by a deadlier thorn. Please give blood! It helps takes my pain away. Zoned Out: Sickle cell became that thing that was always ticking along in the background like a white noise, it just sits there and every now and then emerges and demands attention (through pain) at its own convenience. The Sickle On the Heart: I look nothing like what sickle cell and its has put me through. In these dark shadows, shines a light. My heart and my mind is a provenance for how I deal with this pain. 'Weltschmerz': It's this deep pain about the imperfections of my genes Enduring Anguish: A type of pain ever isolating and crushing in its all-consumingness Sickles, the death of us: To be familiar with an ongoing sense of death, organ damage, pain and suffering feels like a constant visitor & an unwelcome guest we have to deal with Trapped: Like being caught in a trap, and never being freed from this pain A World Without Sickle Cell: I often imagine what my world could look like without this pain I Only Cry At Night: As a black man, I was taught to never show weakness or pain Eyes Wide Open: As a child, what I knew was what I knew, and I didn’t necessarily draw equivalences with other people’s lives to see if my experience was the same as theirs. I just went with the flow and the pain Look closely, I Am Sick And in the end, with this pain, I have learnt how to be strong alone Is Love Enough?: Love is beyond just a genotype and genetic imbalances. In future generations, must come poetic justice The Helpless Tears: As parents, we want to protect our children from pain, suffering, traumas and distress but how can you control the suffering and pain that comes with the flaws in their DNAs? How do you watch your child suffer and you cannot save them? Glass Full; Like drowning each day in the spring I need to survive the pain by treading water constantly You Can Do It: The forgotten stories of parents who not only raise a child but give life to their sick babies living through pain. Blood that runs through my little fragile veins: Life Changing Exchange; Exchanging my blood to receive new blood. It’s the blood of kind strangers, members of the public who donate their blood that keep people like me pain free, healthy and alive. A Warrior who Beat Life Spans: "I am awake. I feel liberated, I AM NOT ON BORROWED TIME" Protecting those We love: Of what use is a feeling of helplessness that can't take the pain away? Life Support: Trapped in her pill pot and masked by her lipstick. Who sees the pain? A death unseen: (Avascular Necrosis); The pain feels like a Barbed Wire is constricting the bone and then it eventually dies. Mummy, you are my rock:
The impact on families (especially mothers) as choice becomes a primary focus in the context of social perspectives when considering to have children who could live with pain and a disability for the rest of their lives. Strengthening ties with loved ones; Allowing me to be helped, loved and saved. He remains the hand that always helps me up through pain Letting my tears drop: sealing my pain in these tears and finding solace and strength in letting go. The burden of guilt parents carry watching their children undergo excruciating pain. In loving memory: We leave the light on and the red roses for those who have gone too soon, for those who will never feel this pain ever again. Ever again Sickle cell anemia is a blood disorder that causes the red cells to be shaped like sickles and therefore restricts oxygen from circulating within the vessels, the organs and other parts of the body, causing excruciating pain, organ damage, fatigue, strokes, avascular necrosis, sickle cell retinopathy, cardiovascular problems, and sometimes early mortality. #sicklecell #pain #health #art #photography

Travel the World (with Sickle Cell)

I often find many young sickle warriors, even adults, and parents of children with sickle cell struggle to find ways to cope with travel specifically with long haul flights. Well, guess what, I did too especially when I discovered my love for travel. I have also had a number of friends and young people I mentor living with sickle cell contacting me for travel advice from time to time. So I thought I would do a little coping guide for people travelling with sickle cell. Some people may not need this as some people are relatively well, manage their sickle really well and may not have sickle cell complications that regularly trigger a crisis. Others will need all the support they can get especially if they are regularly in crisis. Disclaimer: this should not be taking as medical advice for traveling. This is a guide solely derived from my lived and tried experience so I would advise anyone requiring medical support in the first instance to speak to your GP or haematology team before you take any holidays abroad. I really love travelling and I am lucky to have traveled widely, I am clocking 50 countries and there are still a lot of places I am yet to visit. The world is so big and beautiful. Everywhere I have traveled to remains enchanting and enriching in its unique ways and has left me with stories and experiences I will always cherish. I personally think travelling is one of the most fascinating things in the world because it opens your eyes to new things. You meet new people, experience new cultures, hear different languages, taste new dishes and flavours, get to do a lot of different and interesting things you wouldn’t necessarily do at home. It’s also a time to relax, soak in couture, learn, feel, see, taste, and reflect. And for someone living with a chronic condition like sickle cell, it puts too many things into perspective for me. So if travelling for healthy people could be stressful and tiring, think about how much worse it could be if you live with a lifelong chronic illness or condition like sickle cell where high altitudes are likely to trigger a crisis and lead to possible hospitalization. Many years ago, my father (now retired) worked in aviation and between living/ working in 3 cities, Lagos, London and Paris, he and mum flew quite a bit when they started having children. I guess this was a great introduction to the world of flying as they travelled with me a few times when mum was pregnant with me even and after she had me (as an infant) so they trained me well. So combined with my experience of traveling as an adult, I thought it would be helpful to write a little guide for others and hope I can use some of my experience to encourage and guide other warriors to travel crisis free. Those of you who know about sickle cell may be aware that flying long haul trips could have a significant impact on your health and the consequence is one that is likely (though, not always) to trigger a sickle crisis. Of course, if you have taken the time off, booked and paid for holidays, the last thing you want is to be unwell. So having flown over hundreds of thousands of miles and spent a bit of my adult life on air traveling and wander-lusting, these are some practical travel tips for people living with sickle cell: Step 1 – Insuring your health Ensure you have travel insurance before even booking your flights. This is essential as most insurance companies would rather you buy your package at least a few days or weeks in advance of travelling especially if you have a pre-existing condition. If you travel more than twice a year, it’s probably cheaper and better to buy an annual trip insurance package. If you require a one off deal which is usually what most families may need during the school holidays, then it’s advisable to buy a one off package as it’s always a cheaper deal than the annual package. I have used Goodtogo insurance company for many years as they cover people with pre-existing conditions including sickle cell. I have personally found them reliable and responsive in an emergency when I have been unwell a couple of times abroad. They provide an emergency number which my family or friends usually have access to and they advise of the closest affiliate clinic to attend in the city. I have also recently started using the UK post office travel insurance and bought an annual worldwide package as I can travel 3-4 times a year across 3 continents. Your quote and cost of package will depend most likely on your personal health circumstance. For example, the numbers of times you have had a crisis, the number of hospitalisations you have had, if you have had a major complicated procedure or surgery. So the fewer crises I have had in a year determines how much my next annual insurance will cost. Note that with travel insurances, in certain countries, you may be required to pay for your care at point of access and then claim the payments from your insurance company subsequently, so make sure you or your family have enough to cover you if you are asked to make payment to a hospital abroad. This is rarely the case as most hospitals should bill the insurance company directly. If you live in the UK, you can get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) which is likely to cover some or all of your health expenses if you are ever hospitalised in countries within the European Union. With Brexit over the line, there is some uncertainty as to how this will continue to work. So keep an eye out for updates. Step 2 – Plan layovers if flying long hours Once you have booked your holiday, depending on the duration of the flight, the destination and the duration of your trip, you will need some certain precautions. If you can, where a flight is more than 8-12 hours long, it is recommended you break your flights by having a layover/stopover and then continuing hours later or the following day. It eases the impact of jet lags and the risk of a crisis which could be caused by high levels of altitude leading to a lack oxygen in the blood vessels or a lack of blood circulation. This could often result in a crisis. As sickle cell is caused by the lack of oxygen from the red blood cells, flying long could easily impact people with sickle cell when you are thousands of miles above sea level, in extreme altitudes. If you are travelling short hauls, step 2 probably is less applicable but ensure you move your body as frequently as you can to enable circulation. Step 3 – Gathering information As a sickle cell crisis can be super unpredictable, ensure you find out the closest general or specialist hospitals around your hotel or place of residence at your final destination before you fly. Ensure you make a note of the hospitals that could take care of you if you become unwell while out and touring. It limits any delays in your care. Access to rapid response from an ambulance in under-developed counties could be a challenge so ensure a family member or friend has your personal details, hospital details of where to convey you as you may be required to get to hospital using a taxi or other forms of transportation. If you are travelling alone, communicate to the hotel or place of residence. If you are in excruciating pain, as you know, it could be sometimes difficult to talk or communicate effectively before you receive pain treatment, so make all your personal and medical information as easily accessible as possible. I tend to write mine on my phone where it gives an option to write your medical history on the IPhone health app. You will be surprised the level of information that medical professionals will find helpful when they are treating you for the first time. An example was when I had a nasty chest crisis in New York in 2018 and my partner, worried and scared to death managed to stay composed and knew my medical history and information was on my health app. So he just handed my phone to the paramedics who conveyed me to hospital and subsequently the doctors who treated me as I was too sick and in a lot pain to even speak. My care plan was also embedded in my phone. You can take a picture of your care plan or email it yourself and save it on your flagged items. In New York, the staff and Paramedics also respected my dignity and privacy by taking me through staff lifts and through the back door of the hotel into an ambulance. They were all kind, compassionate and sensitive and it made such a difference on top of an added anxiety of having a crisis away from home. Another tip: Ask for the house doctor in the hotels. Most good hotels and resorts of good size will have a medical lead that can support you if required or at least point you to the right place to get support if required. Step 4: Preventing Malaria or other possible viruses If you are travelling to Europe, parts of North America or Australia, this is unlikely to apply. When I am unsure, I just ask my GP. If you are travelling to Africa or other tropical regions in the world, check for malaria prevalence as you will be required to take anti-malaria precaution or certain prophylactics if going to malaria prevalent regions. I would advise to speak to your GP in this case. They always know when vaccinations are required in any region of the world and can prescribe the right medication for you. My parents and some of my siblings live in Nigeria so I tend to travel to visit my family which means I have to start taking my prophylactic at least 3 days before. Note you may want to do this a week before as it allows time to start taking the medication to protect yourself before arrival to a malaria prevalent country. Malaria and sickle cell are not great friends, trust me! J There may be other air-borne diseases to be mindful off so ensure you contact your GP if you are unsure. Step 5: Being well and proactive for your trip If you are going to spend over 3-4 weeks away at any time, it’s important you discuss with your medical and nursing team in hospital to ensure they are aware. Ask them for contact information incase you need to reach them. For long haul flights far away from home, you may require a blood exchange if you are on this treatment to ensure your hemoglobin levels are normal. You must discuss with your doctors if you are unsure. You will require sufficient medication (including your pain treatments) for the duration you are away and even a little extra incase you become unwell and become stranded for whatever reasons - delayed flights, adverse weather, security or conflict issues or even a breakout of a disease like they have recently had in China with the coronavirus. It could anything outside your control that stops you from coming home at your planned departure date. So take more than enough always! You will require an accompanying letter from your doctors stating the list of medications you take, your diagnosis, any complications you have and what medication you are travelling with incase the security airport officials question you. This is always helpful as traveling with lots of opiates and analgesics could pose a small issue at security gates. I always just take a copy of my last outpatient letter as this always has an up to date record of my medical history. The letter may also indicate that you have sickle cell and may require oxygen in-flight as if your saturation begins to drops, this could trigger a crisis. However, be mindful that if the airlines perceive you as being unwell or unfit to travel, they may not let you fly. Its really in their discretion and of course, they need to be risk averse. So the letter has to state you are well and medically fit to fly, however, if you become unwell, you are likely to require oxygen. Now I do not always need this as I am usually well most times. However, I have required it once or twice after I had a bad episode of acute chest syndrome so my lungs were still recovering from a bad trauma. So this is really at your discretion. As mentioned above, you will require your care plan either on your phone or in your carry-on for any eventualities on the plane or at your destination so medics know what to do and understand your personalized treatment protocols. They may not always have an exact pain medication on your care plan, but if they have your record, they will tend to give you an equivalent or similar to your treatment threshold. List of things you should have on board: Of course, your passport and travel documents Your sickle cell care plan Pain killers and other daily routine medication An extra blanket as it gets too cold on flights. I don’t personally find the ones provided in-flight long or thick enough so I tend to take my travel thermal blankets which you can find in most online stores. An oximeter to monitor your saturation levels when altitude is significantly high, you could use it as evidence to ask for oxygen with that letter from your doctor when your sats drop. Travel socks to control blood clot or manage circulation which could prevent DVT in sickle cell. You can buy these from any pharmacy. Take a lemon and a little pot of honey for your water as this helps reduce the risk of bacteria or infections in long flights especially when passengers cough and sneeze in a tight air cabin. Or just ask the air host/hostesses. I usually ask for warm water, lemon and honey. Evidence has it that you are more likely to catch a cold in a flight than in your usual day to day environment. Take a spirometer and use it if you feel a little tight in your chest as this helps expand your lungs. Bottles of water once you pass security especially for long haul flights as you only get small cups of water on the flight and trust me you want to stay as hydrated as you can on a long haul flight. Things not to do on a long haul flight and if you can on a short flight Do not sit tight! Move about. Try to avoid caffeinated drinks, teas, coffees, energy drinks or alcohol. If you are in pain, do not sit calm, ask for help. The sooner you get help, the better for you, the rest of the passengers and you could be saving the rest of your holidays. Things to do in your flight (especially long hauls) Book an aisle seat as this is easier to support movement. Take regular breaks by walking or pacing up and down the aisle. Do this every hour. This may look odd and embarrassing but trust me it does wonders for your circulation. Sometimes I have a friendly chat with the crew at the bar, they are usually very lovely when they are not busy. Drink lots of water and fruit juices. Infact start hydrating 24 hrs before flying, it does a lot for the body. Ensure you eat warm food at least once on a long haul flight. Move your feet, neck and hands regularly in circular positions to ensure you are regularly in motion. Again this helps circulation. Dress warm and wear free loose fitting clothing - this is always advisable. Wipe and moisturize your hands, face and neck before landing to clean up stale air or moist residue. After your flight When you land, do not rush into any physical activity that will strain or exert you. Remember you may be jet lagged and that alone is a trigger risk in itself. So this means you will need lots of sleep, rest and hydration and a good meal. Once you have had a day or two to acclimatize, and you feel well and fit, then you can explore and continue your adventure. This is important as people with sickle cell need some time to adjust to different climate and weather conditions. Ensure you have a backpack with a bottle of water, your medication, an umbrella or a cardigan for when/if the weather changes. I usually pack thermals and a mini hot water bottle if travelling to somewhere cold because if the air conditioner in the hotel room becomes unmanageable or the hotel room is colder than normal, then I have a back-up plan. But also, when I travel with my family, my partner or friends, their body temperatures are different, so they may feel warm and I may be freezing so rather than argue about the temperatures of the aircon or heating, I just wear my thermals and layers and everyone is happy! J If the weather is very warm, remember to dress light and expose some skin if you feel comfortable to. Drink even more than normal. And on a very hot tropical day, you don’t want to over exert yourself by climbing mountains and running marathons as this could be detrimental to your health. Find shaded places to rest. For example, I love orange trees in Spain and palm trees in the Caribbean so I usually stop for shade if I am wandering and enjoy a cold drink or some ice cream. The final advice is DO NOT overthink anything, relax and have a fabulous holiday because that’s all that matters in the process. The moment you begin to build a level of anxiety, this becomes a trigger for a crisis and really all you want is a holiday that is perfect for you and absolutely pain-free. You are welcome! Please share tips of how you cope with traveling living with sickle cell. I would love to hear from you. To read some of my travel stories, click here

Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart: Alicia Keys

"There are those among us who are blessed with the power to save what is loved by another. But powerless to use this blessing for love themselves".

Alicia Keys

Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart, The Element Of Freedom, 2009

This song hits every part of my core.

From lost lovers, to broken hearts, family rejection, loss of friends, loss of grandparents, grieving loved ones gone too soon, euphoric recalls, blue animations, elusive epiphanies, moving to a different country, going back to it, staying in a new city, puzzled by cognitive dissonances, frustrated by writer blocks, traveling alone, peering into cotton clouds through airplane window seats, kissing and waving goodbyes in airports, coach and train stations, childhood traumas and adult ones, unintended smokescreens, high reaching ambitions, coy pitfalls and soft landings, road trips and rail journeys to off the beaten paths, showing vulnerabilities, knowing responsibility early in childhood, through betrayals and false claims of clairvoyance, being sleepless in cities and dreamy in some, rides in ambulances, solo hotel check-ins and calls for room service, silly dramas to petty jealousies, my creativity, to remarkable admirations, through reconciliations and bewildering wide berths, hospital corridors, misconceptions and unconscious biases, starting new jobs and office leaving dos, memories of Prince (RIP), to illusions and delusions, paving through my lack of judgment of unrequited love, misreads of potential ‘hook-up’ tensions and non- reciprocal crushes, taking my ‘L’s taking my f^cking ‘L’s, settling well with an open mind, getting lost watching the waves of the sea, through to beautiful sunset walks on sandy beaches, scary nightmares, accepting what I need and not what I want, mid-summer meadows and depressing winter dark nights, self compassion, ongoing discovery and therapy for my core, impulsive spontaneity, being too upset I could barely stop sobbing, self- pity and self-remorse, absurd logics, silhouettes of seasons, navigating through pretty tough ambivalences to a coordinated mind, growth and beauty, wonders to thunders, pillow talks to pillow tears, forgiving myself and trying to forgive others, experiencing sensual luxuries and letting go, having great times and understanding the need for hardships, obscure arguments to pent up feelings, my foolishness and lack of intuition, times of (re)healing, recovery, past bouts of reactions stemming from a young lady with a bad temper, good control and balance, bounce backs from serious sickness episodes, navigating the world on topics such as world wars, global terror and child poverty, a desire to long for more, fears of an early mortality, meditating through silence, thriving on rejection, simulating regrets and mistakes, a silly Catholic guilt to dumping religion, crying over jazz, northern and neo soul, finding my path through rock bottom, shifting my personal narratives and (re)basing them on self worth, loving the framework of my identity as a dual national of 2 beautiful countries, lingering on passionate kisses missed, teenage love affairs, the painful resulting anticipation stemming from distant relationships, learning to receive and relax, through my pursuit of hedonism, finding my cause, dancing nights away under the illumination of the moon, holiday romances that were some of the best times of my life, understanding true fulfillment, understanding true happiness, through wandering thoughts, a show of affection, hospital beds, rebel hearts, magical fascinations and flat feels, holiday blues, warm cuddles, trying new interests, dumping them, upholding my values through reassertion, living my fantasies, the tale of love stories, writing poetry, drinking beautiful red wine and getting emotional, every time I am being told I am a new god-parent, getting off a horse after riding it, boat rides in Europe, lost in a good book, lost in a city, meeting strangers and falling in lust with them, Saturday long showers or hotel bath soaks, when he travels and I miss him, in my silences and me-times, through selective memories, to missing my family, through artist dates, morning pages, journal entries, unforgettable laughters, lonely Christmases in my 20s without family, Tuesday dates, spending New Year’s Eve and New Year mornings on a hospital bed, giving my fish pets away, being risk averse, being restless and loving inertia, being broody and yet unbothered about kids, through hopeless nomadic episodes to being dynamic and unconventional, floating in water, hating astrology and swearing by it, understanding unconditional love, crushing a dysfunctional sense of responsibility and letting go, finding balance, certainty and self love.

Finding balance, certainty and self love.

Finding balance, certainty and self love.

...and without a doubt finding the ELEMENT of my FREEDOM.

Thank you Alicia Keys for the gift of music, one that I will resonate with.

From here, in life, and till my dying day. This song means a lot to me and represents too many things in my life. I can’t write it all. It saved me. 10 years past and I haven’t stopped listening to it.

#trysleepinginmybed 10 years on and I am still in love 😍

Where You Wanna Be

American artist Morgan Whitney’s digital collage, ‘Where you wanna be’, 2019.



Krakow; The City of Amber and Literature

Recently, I have been re-living my time in Krakow through subtle reminders in recent events. From cultural similarities found in a recent trip to Budapest to the series on BBC 1’s ‘World On Fire’ or news few weeks ago, where Krakow was named the best city break destination in Europe for a 3rd time running. I see why. So I decided to re-live memories in the way I know how to do best. We had arrived the former Capital mid-afternoon on a beautiful winter Wednesday evening. The sun was just setting in this cold winter city, South of Poland. The energy of the eastern chill biting in its usual welcoming pattern, translating shorter days to longer dark, cold nights. The solstice still a week away. I said to Neil, “I cannot survive here”. He responded saying “you absolutely can”. I sighed wondering why I decided to come at this time of the year. We usually have these winter pre-Christmas European jaunts where we aim to visit Christmas markets in Eastern Europe. It’s become our couple tradition. I wondered how I was going to survive this biting freeze for the next 4-5 nights. My health condition does not do well with adverse cold weather conditions. Temperatures had dropped to -16 to even -20. We arrived our hotel, the Grand Hotel, Krakow, it was a welcoming embrace of warmth, away from the chilly bite of the evening. The Grand Hotel is about a century old, beautiful and traditionally conserved. It had a post Victorian interior with low hanging grand chandeliers; very ornate and golden. There were a couple of vintage telephones in the lobby, other furniture persevered in form. The rooms were huge, classically decorated in a truly grand vintage style. The room had a comfortable lounge area, a queen size bed and a spacious bathroom. The windows were bay-like but not specifically, very high up the ceiling. They were huge. Each morning, I would sit on top of them and watch the world go by, peering through the window panes or just read a few pages of my novels right after breakfast. It was so European. It reminded me of my time in France and how much I adored Juliet Balconies especially in le Provence. Its become one of my little favorite quirks. So after unpacking and getting warmed up, we wander into town, first into the Christmas markets. The market, Rynek Glowny, is the largest market square in Europe, so it appears. There were food stalls, cafes and coffeehouses, mulled wine stalls, shops, horse and carriages, arts and crafts, Christmas décor, everything. It was so cold, I certainly couldn’t feel my face. The markets were well lit. It was beautiful. There were street lights, fairly lights, Christmas lights and candle lights. The varying colors of light illuminated against the stalls and this brought a lot of color and life to this cute town square. It was beyond magical. After a bit of short lived wanderlust resulting from the biting chill, we stopped for some traditional Polish dumplings and some seasonal hot sizzling winter soup. The dumplings were one of the tastiest things I have ever eaten in my life. Too tasty I ordered some more. Blending with street food culture, we stood and ate in the freezing cold as there was hardly anywhere to perch. The town was buzzing. They were Europeans, Americans, and Australians, name it. It gave me joy that people still love travelling even to countries in the East of Europe notwithstanding the unpleasant harsh winter weather. There was a light rain, some music in the background and the Christmas lights shone so brightly, contrasting against the cold nights. It brought everything to life. Neil warmed my palm - each at a time as I removed my gloves to take each mouthful of a very hot watering spoon of soup. And eventually some mulled wine. Thinking about that moment, I would say it probably would make the list of best romantic travel moments between us. The beauty of memories eh? Then there was Auschwitz… 2018, 14th December, at 9:41 a.m, I am seated in the coach heading to Auschwitz, completely lost in translation and trapped in my anticipation which stemmed from a choice to go see what I read in the history books. Not knowing how to frame my thoughts, what to expect, how I would feel. I felt weak, cold and my heart raced. Transported physically and lost in my own world as I travel through snowy roads, woodlands, empty fields and quiet towns from Krakow, headed west to the prisoner camps wondering what the journey was like for some of the Jewish Poles who may have traveled these roads and were deported to the concentration camps in thousands. We arrived. We explored. We saw. We paid our respects. It was jarring, absolutely goring, too dark to put into words. It was one hell of an unfathomable day. I had no words. But in minus temperatures, the least I could do was walk those hours in the concentration camps of the innocent Jews, Poles, Gypsies and others who were tortured, murdered and exterminated for no reason. It was the least I could do. My heart was too heavy 1.3 million people – one country! Children Women Men I guess we will never understand the depth of the heart of man. Well, there lies the difference between reading the history books and experiencing or visiting these sites. The reality is profound. It’s a reminder that life is fragile and everything else is mundane as hell. No words. It’s all too cold, dark, morbid and sobering. I had to down lots of reds that night with Neil as we decided to try not to dwell on things we saw and heard and read. So after getting all the morbid stuff out, the rest of our trip consisted of visiting the Grand medieval Royal Castle overlooking the banks of Vistula river, the National Museum, Schindler’s Enamel Factory, the Salt Mines, Florian’s Gate and the Defend Trail, St Mary’s Cathedral, more time at the Market square and the fascinating Cloth House. We also wandered the Old Jewish Quarters and stopped for snacks and a drink. One thing I noticed was that there was a lot of Amber in Krakow. Beautiful Amber in shops, in jewelry stones, just everywhere in your face- whether it was Oskar or Baltic Amber, it’s embedded in an inextricable history of Krakow so I had to buy a little piece in jewelry for keepsake. On our penultimate night, we decided to dine in style in a beautiful restaurant called Szara Ges. It was located bang in the middle of the market square; a restaurant termed ‘The Essence of Polish Cuisine’, apparently Michelin starred. We found it wandering the town the day before and thought we could try it for dinner. We did. The food was absolutely divine. I had a candle lit, warm and cosy 3 course dinner with my buh, celebrating love and travel on a crisp white table cloth with beautiful wine, a bunch of perfectly cut and arranged floral red roses, superb for the winter vibe, dim lights, as the restaurant played a beautiful low-toned playlist of the dreamiest and finest Christmas Carols. God, it was one of the most elegant and romantic nights of my life. We marveled at the culinary excellence, the gorgeous décor and the perfection of fine dining. We discussed visiting a beautiful town in Poland called Nysa but time was of the essence. Did you know Krakow was listed as the European Capital of Culture in 2000? Krakow also really reminded me a lot of Prague and a little of Reykjavik. And guess what, even a fact closer to my heart is that the beautiful city is listed as a UNESCO city of literature, so says the hopeless litterateur. But Krakow is not just the City of Literature, it’s got compelling history, its history on WWII and the occupation of the Nazi Germany. It’s got remarkable European architecture, a reputable streak of film on a local site and its call to Hollywood fame, the ‘Game of Thrones’, certainly a rich culture on film and theatre, poetry and the arts, history, art deco, and noveau, beer and Vodka, culture and food (especially those Pierogi dumplings and Polish sausages). We had some special tea and cakes brought up to us complimentary of the Grand Hotel on our last night and watched ‘Love Actually’ before bed and I was graced by the city’s beauty. Thank you Krakow.

81 Shades of London; by a Google Local Guide

Have breakfast at 34 Mayfair Visit Portobello Market in Notting Hill Grab a bite of street food at Borough Market Visit the Mudchute City Park and Farm Go to Kensington Palace Get on a steam train at Ongar Epping and pop your head out like the movies. Watch a play or two at West End, Soho Visit the Backyard Cinema, its so street Visit Barbican, explore art at the galleries, or have high tea in the conservatory by the fountain terrace. If you love poetry like me, you can either read or listen to poetry at the Poetry Café in Coven Garden. Visit Grenadier, England’s oldest Pub for a pint, there is a lot of war history there. Invite your beau or belle to the Electric Cinema at Nothing Hill and cosy up with them on the bed lounges watching a movie. If you love a G&T, go to the eclectic Mr Fogg’s Gin Parlour in Covent Garden If in London at Christmas, go shopping at Oxford Street, God the lights!!! Walk or hike in Epping Forest Late night funky music at the Warwick. It’s a pub that turns into a late disco. Grab a Turkish kebab at the Wood Oven, South Woodford. It’s the best in London. Visit South Bank, there are loads of things to do Grab a night cuppa from an Italian Barista at Cafe Nero at Warren Street While you wait at St Pancreas anytime, go to the lobby bar of the Renaissance hotel for a glass of wine or champagne Walk King’s Road, Chelsea to World’s End. Visit Charles Dickens Museum and travel back in time. Swim at Hampstead Heath Ponds Go to the V&A museum, there is always so much art to see. Visit David Zwirner, Huxley Parlour or the Photographer’s Gallery for free. Eat fab Chinese Food at China Town Picnic on the top of Primrose Hill Check out the Jazz Cafe in Camden Have lunch at Little Venice by the canals and lake Visit Charlotte Street for original family owned restaurants. Brunch at 45 Jeremy St, it’s part of Fortnum and Mason Wanderlust in Hoxton for some arty and hippy vibes. Hop on the Eurostar from St Pancreas to Paris or Brussels Have a weekend stroll at Holland Park and see the fab Kyoto Garden Fine dine in Corrigan’s Mayfair Get on the cable car from Royal Victoria station to the 02 Have lunch at St Christopher’s Place in Bond Street Get a warm fresh waffle outside Marble Arch station, street Belgian style Visit Kew Gardens, its floral and magical especially in Spring and Autumn If at Christmas, have an experience of Christmas in Richmond, Santa usually comes!. And so does the sight of deers. If you like jazz, visit Ronnie Scott’s at Firth Street. Stroll to see the magnificent Wallace Collection If you love meat, eat at Hawksmoor, City of London Visit the National Gallery, its beautiful Walk Westminster bridge at sunset and get views of the sun setting on the Thames as the lights illuminate the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. Get lost in English lavender fields at Mayfair Lavender Farm and pretend to be in the Provence. Have cream tea at Claridges Visit Hampton Court’s Palace Spend time at the Maison Assouline Book Store at St James’s Enjoy the vibe of the fabulous library room at the Arch Hotel in Marble Arch. Attend a hip hop brunch and bottomless Prosecco, there are so many places. Do your morning Sunday run along Regent’s Canal If you like French food, reserve a table at the La Poule au Pot, Chelsea And if you think you are a sommelier, try Les 110 de Taillevent, the concept is fascinating. Visit Leighton House Museum and be surprised, Try Piano Works, Farringdon Night life? Club at Cargo or Trapeze, Shoreditch Eat at Gillray’s Steakhouse at the Marriott, Westminster as you enjoy the river view. Soul parties at Blue Kitchen, Shoreditch Eat decadent cake at Cutters and Squidge Soho Go paint art on a canvas at Griffin Belle at Vauxhall sipping beer, wine or a nice glass G&T. its artnight! If you are in London 1st Saturday in June, dress up and go see the horses with her Majesty the Queen at the Derby. Buy Vintage items from Spitafields Attend the Chelsea Flower Show in May If you love flowers and you are not in London in for the Chelsea flower show, stroll to Columbia Road Flower Market in a Sunday morning in London’s East End. Have a glass of champagne at the Champagne Bar, Harrods If you are like morbid, spend a day at the Highgate Cemetery Check out God’s own Junkyard in my former neighbourhood, Walthamstow. Have 24 hour breakfast at VQ Aldgate 360 views at Gavin at Windows, Michelin starred restaurant Get on the river bus and ride the Woolwich Ferry on the Thames. See the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral Have lunch at Walthamstow Village, it’s very chic. If you are a writer, visit the Poet’s Corner. Pick a condiment from Harrods or Fortnum and Mason’s Food Halls, its affordable! Have a drink at Capeesh Sky Bar, Canary Wharf (its the Penthouse), Visit Fitzrovia Chapel, its a soothing and a silent place away from the crazy city buzz Window shop or just shop at New Bond Street if you can afford it. Its luxury… Visit Westfield Shopping Mall London Go bowling at Star Lanes Get a cocktail at the American Bar, Savoy Hotel and listen to the jazz pianists. You are very welcome!

Bargemon, Enchanted

It was a beautiful summer morning, not a single cloud in the sky as we woke up to the sound of the alarm in our hotel room on a nice Saturday in Nice (no pun intended!) Hmmn, what an absolute delight to wake up in the Provence-Alpes-Cote’ d Azur once again, specifically in this beautiful French Riviera city I love. I opened the blinds; the swimming pool was calling me. It’s was 27 degrees but of course our air conditioned room meant we slept so well, without a break of sweat. We had a late flight the night before and checked in just before midnight. We had planned to drive up early to Bargemon to meet others for brunch. After a very typical French buffet breakfast which certainly consisted of the perfectly baked croissants and fresh black coffee, we picked up our rental car, a metallic red 2019 convertible Mercedes Benz with the ‘baddest’ technology I have ever seen in a car and drove up north to Bargemon, a medieval picturesque rural village also located in the Var region of the Provence. I was enchanted. I had read about this village a little while ago when news had it that the Beckhams had bought a holiday villa there. Drive up from inland Nice was probably around an hour and 30 minutes with a number of tolls. I caught some excellent views like the views of the blue lakes in Lac de Saint Cassien. Lynn (Neil’s sister) and Dave (her husband) had booked up a (typical Brit-Francophile) family owned villa for a week, a very generous gesture for 11 of us, friends and family. The villa was a true definition of French influenced rustic charm, located up on a hill, not too far from the main village. An absolute breath-taking property nestled in the centre of mountains, olive groves, woodlands and hills. We chilled out, had a villa day, I got to meet Isabella, the Parisian married to Joe the American from California (they live in Paris), and Dave and Tina, the Northern Americans also from California.  They were beautiful people and great company. We had a light lunch or was it brunch after a 10 minute tour of the villa offered by little Anya, Neil’s’ niece and proceeded for a very relaxing villa day with the rest of the group. After dinner, we decided to have a midnight walk into the village as we could hear the sound of music from a distance and our curiosity wouldn’t let us stay. So we wandered into the main square and there were a couple of pop up bars- I think it was the penultimate day of a local music festival. There had a  Caribbean theme/ vibes going on- after swinging our waists from side to side watching the bands play and having some beers, we wandered round the little alley streets, mounted around 12th century walls and cobbled pavements. A village of fountains, I thought. Trees older than a 100 years old. In a measured peaceful silence of the night, with the residual night activities shutting down, we walk down the hill home and at that point I knew I had come to one of the most beautiful and peaceful places in the world. An untouched French gem, still again, unseen. After a lovely morning swim in the warm dawn of a Monday morning followed by a typical French breakfast, we wandered round town and drove up to Fayence for a day trip, where we explored the pretty village, stopped for gelatos and ice creams, bought souvenirs, herbs, lavender and tchotchkes. Yet again, another magnificent neighboring village, discovered in my wanderlust. We had also driven round Claviers, Seillans and Callas, beautiful neighboring villages. I was just falling more and more in love with France. As if there was any more space left in my heart for loving the Provence After the group had split in their different directions to seek personal space and seek personal interests, we agreed our rendezvous would be the car park. When we had enough of the sun as the afternoon began to bake, we all drove up grocery shopping at U Wines, a huge grocery store where you can find practically anything. So we stocked up on food, fruits, vegetables and wine. Dinner was a lovely ratatouille dish with baked potatoes and a fresh provincial salad. On Tuesday, after a lovely morning swim, brunch and a well-deserved fabulous reflexology treat from Lynn, we wandered round town, this time, in the day. We visited the fine art galleries, the little arty shops, a local pottery store, museums, the tower, castle, vintage and antique collection stores, and stopped for pre –dinner drinks just as the sun was setting. There were a couple of bars in the Square (Place Philippe-Chauvier). Apparently, the square was named after a Provincial Poet. There is the Notre Dame de Montaigu which you cannot miss, its in the centre of the village and a number of small chapels around the village. At this point, I had come to appreciate how stunning this village was. The sight of Juliet Balconies, the little chic and rustic restaurants, cute little bakeries and boutiques, the village fountains and the Spring that produces refreshing cold water which we drank from, the popular local butcher, elderly men playing boules in the park, the life at the square was a treat of rurality. The next day we went horse riding and wine tasting in the vine yards of Domaine de Meauix in neighbouring villages of Bagnois-en-Foet (a little farm of Idefix) and Fayence respectively. On our way back, we drove past the weekly local flea markets. The village had more people in it than I had seen all week. We had planned to visit Aix en Provence the following day- just Neil and I as the group had individual plans, some of them drove up to the Antibes for a bit of night life and others stayed back at the villa. But we decided that as it was our penultimate day, we would rest in the villa. So we played boules, relaxed at the pool, prepared dinner, packed up and just chilled out; exactly what I needed for my soul. On Friday morning after a French style breakfast which consisted of cold cuts, charcuterie, pain avec fromage and a yummy omelette, I went up to write in my journal about how Bargemon had been kind to me and showed me a love of places which consistently reminds me of my absolute obsession for Southern France and why I am a Francophile. I came down, played a little bit with little Anya, got our luggages ready, nibbled on everything French left in the fridge and packed up into the car home bound via Nice. After we dropped the car, we headed to board. However there were severe delays with the flight which annoyed me a little bit. But I chose not to be annoyed by the hiccups of British Airways. Afrerall, I have had the most memorable time in Bargemon and neighboring Les Plus Beaux Villages de France I would ever see. Writing about it gives me the blues. Absolutely and truly in love. Merci Bargemon #provence #southoffrance #Bargemon #riviera

An Inconclusive Diagnosis

So recently I was very sick. I developed these agonizing headaches that just wouldn’t go away. No matter what I did, they stayed. I have a history of migraines so I know what they are like. I have had them for many years as a result of the side effects of my medication. They come once a month, I stay in a dark room, get rid of anything with a screen or light and sleep it off. But these weren’t migraines. They were not going anywhere. The headaches were like a constant. I slept, ate, existed and worked through them. When the doctors asked me if this felt like the regular migraines. I said to them, of course not. I would know if there were, right? Sometimes I had a few hours off work, other times, I worked through them. It was debilitating. Then one week, my temperature started to spike, I felt very tired. I would lie in my bed, fighting a fever, covered, shivering under a duvet in the middle of summer. It wasn’t great. Neil would bring my meals up to bed but I would not even eat them. I had lost my appetite even when he cooked my favorite meals. Think all I had in 2 or 3 days at a stretch was cheese and biscuits. It was crazy. I refused to go to hospital because once you are in, they keep you. I didn’t want to be kept in. Then one Saturday I went to the Sickle Cell Society’s AGM and all I got from people was “June, you look tired”. As if I didn’t already know. I was sleep deprived for crying out loud. These headaches and fevers had been keeping me up at night. I sighed. Oleander a friend and sister, literally dragged me from the event to A&E, checked me in, sat down with me and ensured that I didn’t leave before she left. LOL. I got into a bay, the doctor saw me and carried out a neurological assessment to rule out stroke or a TIA. Well, that was a relief. To think that was an immediate area of suspicion after assessing me scared me. So, great news, no signs of stroke!!! (People who live with sickle cell are at risk of strokes) He carried out a detailed assessment and after the consultation, he said he thinks I am having tension (cluster) headaches and that I needed to stop taking pain meds such as paracetamol and ibruprofen at home as the meds could be something called over medication usage which could be progressing the headaches. So of course I listened to him and got off the meds and of course I knew this- my temperature now spiked to 40s because I had no codeine or paracetamol to control it. So from Saturday night to Monday morning I endured a really bad fever and more agonizing headaches. Then Monday I had agreed with Neil that enough was enough, he said “darling, you have to go in to check what this is. It’s certainly some sort of virus”. We agreed I would show up at the day unit to see the doctor. I did, on Monday morning. I left home with just my phone, my purse and a scarf. The weather was pleasant. When I got in, the doctor did some tests and did another neurological assessment to rule out stroke. Again!!! She came back with my results saying, “June, you are very sick and I am afraid, we will have to keep you in”. Fuck! I just knew it. I had a feeling this was going to happen. All I could think of was - ...shit I haven’t put my out of office on. I was working between 7-9 before I left the house that morning and informed work I was heading to the hospital for a few hours and would work from home that afternoon. As if! The 2nd thought was I have nothing on me. I actually thought out loud and she said to me, “I wouldn’t worry about work you not have anyone who can pack a bag for you”. I responded that I did. “My partner will, but he is at work at the moment. Works in Tooting and would have to head home, pack a bag and then head here”. That’s fine, she said. “Worse case, we will give you a wash pack and fresh clothes” All I could think about was how much I hated being in this situation. How my poor partner has to deal with this shit. My sister who doesn’t really handle me being sick very well, including my dad and the rest of my family. The entire burden I put on them emotionally and how that affects me. It was just another situation I could have done without but life throws these things at you and sometimes, you have to sit and relax even in the challenging situation and wait until the moment passes, because at this point, there was nothing I could do within my control. I was thinking of my meetings later in the week with potential curators for my recent creative work, a job interview I had missed, my prep for holiday to the south of France, my mentees who I had meetings with, friends who I was meant to catch up with, my sister-in-law’s baby shower that weekend, my niece’s 2nd Birthday that weekend etc etc I was annoyed at how my body had betrayed me, how it keeps letting me down! So many things running through my mind and all I could think of was I really don’t want to be admitted. The picture below of me curled on my bed was the morning I was hesitant to go in. I was in that position for 20 minutes as Neil kept requesting me to try gather some strength and jump into a cab. Oddly, it was strange for me because I wasn’t in crisis. I had no sickle pain so the thought of being sick was almost far fetched and not entirely realistic. I have never been in hospital for anything else other than a sickle crisis so this was a first. Anyway long story short I ended up spending 8 days and a bit in hospital and doctors couldn’t diagnose what the fuck was wrong with me. My temperature spiked for a week to high 39s, blood pressure was super low, I was haemolysing, heart rate dropped, I was told there was a murmur in my heart, I was jaundiced, dehydrated, constipated, my CRP was unusually high, was in agonizing pain from the headaches, weak as hell, and just felt like death. Everything was either very high or very low. My body was shutting down right before my eyes. Yet mysteriously, my diagnosis was inconclusive. I saw about 12 doctors in total between the oncall doctors over the weekend, to my specialists, to the acute care doctors and none could tell me what was wrong with me because they couldn’t find anything in all these gazillion tests I had. Nothing. So I ended up having 2 lumbar punctures, a heart scan, brain scan, 3 chest X-rays, about 15 injections, several medicines, blood transfusions, IV fluids, about 20 blood cultures (for each time I spiked) and 10 blood tests all of which were torturous because I have no veins and when they managed to get a tiny vein,it just doesn’t produce blood so they have to try multiple times which was just absolutely dreadful. I really worry about my vascular access. It depresses me. Anyway, after all said and done and the dramas (worthy of mention) of being on a ward where you just couldn’t sleep, I had no diagnosis. I was told when I was admitted to acute care earlier that week that they were suspecting potential sepsis which frightened me because all I could think about (as dramatic as it may sound), was that I was going to die. Everyone on the news who has sepsis dies. I was just thinking, God, I do not have a near healthy enough immune system to fight this virus. I broke down in tears and the kind doctor held me and said “June, I didn’t mean to freak you out, it’s only suspected and whatever it comes to, we will look after you”. They also mentioned it may be meningitis. Oleander was with me that day. She had come to the day unit just as the porter wheeled me to the ward to be admitted. So in all my tribulations, they didn’t know what was wrong, I had no treatment for the virus because the doctors said they couldn’t treat me blindly as all the results were coming back negative. So as most viruses tend to have a cycle, this very serious virus which was suspect sepsis did its full cycle and left my body. So just when I thought my immune system was non- existent, my body healed itself with a bit of water and blood. But also with the prayers of my family and loving friends. I get love. Doctors weren’t keen for my to jump on a plane the week I was discharged but I did, - nothing stops me from traveling except if I am in a near death situation or in excruciating pain. It’s the one single thing that gives me joy and inner peace- Getting away to somewhere new. “I have to travel”. I told the doctor. “I am going away with my partner and his family and it’s been booked for ages so I can’t miss out on all our plans. It’s my summer get away”. Anyway she said that’s fine, if you have to go and you feel well, that’s fine. But she insisted I had to call her when I was in France because they were still worried about me. Infact she asked me to see her before I travel and then ring her when I am there. I was happy with her plan. We both were. I like my doctor, she is good peoples. I have genuine love for my specialists team. So I ended up flying to Nice with a lot of help from Neil, helping with getting settled at home, packing and airport logistics. Everyone welcomed me with kindness and warmth. We were about 12 of us. Some from California, Paris, London, Scotland. Such a great group trip. So I enjoyed my summer break in a really traditional Provence villa (with rustic charm, I must add) in Bargemon, a beautiful Provence medieval village north of Nice. Oh I so loved it. It was out of this world. The headaches disappeared, I glowed, caught up on sleep, had some sun, ate traditional Southern French food, drank Provencal rose and reds, spent time in the pool, relaxed in the garden, explored the village, drove around neighboring villages, attended the local festivals, explored local art and culture, went wine tasting, horse riding, visited farms, got some fresh Provincial lavender and herbs, met new people, did all the beautiful things I enjoy doing when I visit the lovely Provence. And one day, I took a very deep breath and patted myself on the back, asking myself- how do you fucking do this, Anwuli? I also rescheduled all my meetings and attended them because life only paused for a few days but nothing stopped me from getting my confidence off the floor and forging ahead with my life and my passions, I wrote my morning pages daily in hospital even when I felt like shit, I worked with my younger brother to produce a beautiful audio documentary and reflected on lessons I had learned from this setback and this crazy episode - one of which was- I needed to cut back, have a strategy that works for me work wise, time wise and health wise and came to the conclusion that I needed to cut down my working hours and work part time, that I needed to learn to rest, to genuinely rest and not do fuck all and to make more time for the people I love. So my family and Neil were core to my recovery and I can’t express my love to them enough. They are my constant. But I cannot forget beautiful friends in my life: Oleander, this beautiful woman who just loves wholeheartedly and selflessly, who pushed me to get help even when I was braving something quite dire, she was there for me the whole time. I love her so much. Donna and Ella my darlings- Donna visited me, checked on me daily, got me things to occupy me in hospital, made sure that I was ok, sent me a beautiful bouquet of flowers when I got home, even when she was dealing with her own stuff, she was there, ever so present. I love her. Then Daniel, my fam, my dearest, darling friend drove all the way from home a little late one night to spend time with me and walked ages to find a shop that sells shortbreads because I had a mad crave for them. He checked on me daily and said prayers for me, too much love. He has been there for me for nearly 20 years. True love. Sandra, nnem (my beautiful sister) who although wasn’t aware initially was always looking out for me from afar. This woman is love. Micheal and Whitney my friends who I work with to mentor kids, they checked daily. They have become my family. Mark, my love, my eternal love, everyday he would leave me voice notes and send me positive vibes, stuff that made me giggle even when I was going through shit on my hospital bed, I would read his memes and laugh out loud. And he would promise me the world, if I got out well. I am ever so grateful for your love and kindness and compassion in a time of fear and vulnerability and to all my other friends who didn’t know I was ill but reached out a lot when they found out, I still love you too. My lovely medical and nursing team fixed me and I am back. So let’s try look after the body and stick to the script. June, remember your letter, let’s keep doing this thing called life. Have a great week dear friends and keep doing this thing called life, it’s beautiful. X My lovely medical and nursing team fixed me and I am back. So let’s try look after the body and stick to the script. June, remember your letter, let’s keep doing this thing called life. Have a great week dear friends and keep doing this thing called life, it’s beautiful.

Milano, Quintessentially, Yours

My friend, Ijay and I spent three months trying to figure out where we were headed for a long weekend. We had never been to Milan. I had suggested Sicily but on second thought, we were only meant to be gone for a long weekend. 3 nights seemed more appropriate for Milan than Sicily. My blog about Sicily will tell you that I needed to spend longer than a long weekend there. I knew this trip was going to be a little soulless, perhaps less adventurous and matter of fact, more of an elegant indulgence with the city. But it was fine; we just wanted an excuse for a jaunt to a European capital to celebrate belated birthdays. The long weekend was anticipated to be a fusion of culture, exploring trendy fashion designs, dining for Italian food, exploring art nouveau, medieval castles, art deco and really taking in some Milanese R&R. R&R meant that we planned to have longer lie ins, order breakfast in bed, slowly wander late mornings into town, check in to these local chic urban cafes, traditional modern bistros, local boutiques, and art galleries to soak in the northern Italiano culture. Like they say in Italy, “Dolce Far Niente”, meaning; the absolute sweetness of doing nothing. Why not? Come to think of it, most of the north of Italy seems to be the more affluent parts of the country including central regions such as Tuscany, (which I toured last summer of 2018 and have great memories of). When you bring it back home to the UK, it’s the complete opposite with the South being the more affluent parts of the UK, specifically London. The world is a very interesting place. So Milan, this world’s landmark for global fashion, a fascinating wealth of art and history made us bond with the vibrant metropolitan city for three nights. As this break was booked probably about 10 weeks before we left, I had tried to book tickets well in advance to see ‘The Last Supper’ knowing fully well how difficult it could be getting tickets when we arrive. Well, it turned out to be sold out even 10 weeks in advance including the ‘Lates’, one that I was specifically interested in attending to avoid the overwhelming throngs of tourists. Oh well, we were certainly gutted but tried not to let it taint our excitement before flying. After all, I love Italy; it will be my 4th time in the country. Italy always reminds me of Elizabeth’s Gilbert’s ‘Eat Pray Love’. Each time I go, (whether it’s the Eternal City (Rome), Tuscany, San Marino, Venice, wherever)- I fall in love. Whether its with my romance with Tuscan influenced villas, fresh Italian coffee, sweet pastries, (Baroque) Piazzas, Basilicas, vine yards, art, freshly made pasta (especially a pasta alle vongole) and some fresh local red wine. My life is that simple and I find substantive comforts in these things. We touched down just after noon, and decided as check in was at 15:00hrs, we could kill a bit of time by being adventurous and using local Public Transport. So we navigated our way with google maps from the airport using a bus half way into town and getting on the metro from Forlanini to Republica station. We lodged at the Westein, 5 star rated (4 star rated by us). The hotel was beautiful, we loved the Victorian and modern interior fusion. The reception smelled of citrus and pink roses. They had brought me a chocolate and vanilla sponge coconut coated cake to celebrate my birthday which was really sweet. The city view from the room was refreshing each morning when I woke up. After a short and sweet siesta, we wander into the Duomo, about 15 minutes’ walk away from us. The weather was pleasant; it was a beautiful summer evening. Milan was beautifully bright with pink, yellow and blue trams passing through colourful streets, bright coloured fashion designs illuminating through store window panes, and museums and galleries at every nook and corner of town. So as the Piazza del Duomo connects into the galleria, after visiting the extraordinary Duomo, we walk into the absolutely stunning galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. It was a remarkable experience. The galleria had this incredible octagonal shaped arcade and oozed of haute couture, luxurious fashion designer stores, chic coffeehouses and expensive jewellery stores; we wandered through them. After all, it was all for the Milanese culture. I considered it a wonderful work of art. We spontaneously enjoyed some yummy flavours of gelatos and after our wanderlust; we somehow randomly strolled into Lumas art gallery. It was inviting, I loved it there. My senses seem to awaken once I behold visual art. It’s life. I was desperate to buy some black and white vintage portrait photographs from the 1930s. But it was too expensive that as much I was keen to get one (not a set), Ijay talked me out of it and it felt (at the time) like I needed to be talked out of it. But I got back to London and wondered why I didn’t whack it on my credit card. The next day, we had planned to visit the magnificent Lake Como. We were due to leave at 10.30am from Milan to Varenna on a train and change to Como through a ferry to Bellgaio. However, we didn’t get to Varenna as the train company was on strike so we stopped in a town just after Milan and was stranded for an hour. There was no way to connect. No one would help us or other travellers. It was a bit of a disaster. So we walked in a café for a snack and drinks to work out a plan from this cock up. We were subsequently told that we could get direct buses to Lake Como from that town. We got tickets and got on the bus. It was worth the hassle when we arrived. Como was mind-blowingly picturesque, absolutely unbelievable. So we spent some time wandering round town, got on the slow ferry to Bellagio and that ride was a ride of a lifetime. I still cannot get the memories off my mind, I was surrounded by absolute beauty, It was like something from the moon or a Disney fairy-tale. The lakes nestled and surrounded by the hills, the mountains, the colours, the lushness of summer colourful flowers and trees, the towns, the belvederes, all of it were fond discoveries of a lifetime. I couldn’t be more grateful for stumbling on a video on my Facebook wall and to Sajid for encouraging me town hop. We had one of the dreamiest romantic lunches I would ever have. It was in Hotel Florence, (Restaurant de’l hotel Florence) , an exquisite al fresco style overlooking the lake and the shore lines. The restaurant had beautiful orange tress shading the tables covered in a light pink table cloths, contrasting with the colour of the lake, the skies and the trees. It was beyond beautiful. I see why it’s called the ‘Pearl of Lake Como’- because of its beauty and its position between the two branches of the lake. Lunch was fresh, a culinary decadence. We subsequently took a walk along the promenade and into the villages, taking in the views of the colourful homes and flowers. I remember walking up the hill on our way back and it was a quiet path up and Ijay and I put on Burna Boy’s ‘Ye’ on my phone as we danced and sang along walking up towards the ferry dock. A few people smiled at us and must have thought, look at these crazy bitches! I said to Ijay, this is the Nigerianness in us coming out. We took the fast ferry back to Como and the train back to Milan. When we exited the station, we stopped for local pastries and bought a whole bunch of these breads baked with black olives. I don’t know what its called but it was super-yum and we ate them on the streets as we tried to hail a cab down. The next day we wandered into the fascinating and exclusive upper class world of Quadrilatero della Moda. It reminded me of New Bond Street, London. The numbers of stores and boutiques with really luxurious and (un) affordable items was overwhelming. The fashion designer houses were so traditionally Italian, they had kept their original historic forms from the 1960s or wherever. Valentino for example had a number of floors and this was the pattern for the big luxurious designer houses. A number of black men were security guards in these stores. They would wave at Ijay and I as if to identify with people who look like them but are not necessarily in this world they have found themselves. It was sad but endearing. We would smile and wave back. After all they are holding dignifying jobs within their contexts in the most sought out fashion district in the world. It was great especially for Ijay my friend who loves her fashion. From the Hermes, to the Valentino, to Prada, Fendi, Gucci, Ferragamo - just name it! A hub of luxurious fashion, it was oh so fascinating. Admiring from a distance, was the real definition of window shopping, After 2 hours of wanderlust and flattering our lust and appetite for luxury in the ultimate fashion shopping district, we decided to stop for a treat at Armani cafe for some light lunch and coffee. It was a lovely little treat; we had some fresh salads, fresh juice, breads and coffee. It was so good; we had decided to reserve dinner for later at their fine dining restaurant upstairs After admiring fashion designs and having the ultimate window shopping, we decide to head back to the hotel for a nap. Sadly, the Westein didn’t have a proper spa like a heated room or a heated pool so we decided to nap like the Italians, seeing that we don’t have that opportunity back home. It was our penultimate day anyway. I loved the art, the food, the fashion culture, the city pace, the gelatos and sorbets at your convenience, the colourful trams, the shiny and colourful window displays, the grand palaces and the bustling city nature. But I found Milan a little soulless. It would not be my first choice. It’s the same sort of soullessness I had when I visited Dubai. But Como and Bellagio compensated for this elegant Italian affair and I cant be more grateful for the opportunity to experience such captivating beauty. Our penultimate day was super chilled out and we had the most amazing luxurious dinner at the Armani restaurant, real fine dining. This was what Milan was about. A lovely grilled sole fillet over beautiful white wine followed by a rich creamy selection of fresh baked desserts. We ate, prayed, loved, laughed and boarded a plane back. And then there was Milan Fashion Week…after we left, one on the bucket list which we will one day we will both be back for. Thank you Milano, Quintessentially, Yours, June. #milan #milano #italy #art

A Letter From My 8 Year Old

A letter from my 8 year old self

Few months ago, I met Julia Cameron. She asked me to write a letter to myself from my 8 year old and my 80 year old.

I have never had to think of doing something so simple yet so incredibly hard in my life but I did both (on ink and paper) and I posted it in the mail to myself. The one that particularly made me cry and feel so many emotions was doing one from my 80 year old self. It was a few reams of paper and I have decided to keep it personal for now. Maybe one day, I will have the courage to type it and share some excerpts of the letter.

Dear June

Look at you.

You are such a pale little pretty, skinny girl. So fragile yet so strong. So it’s important to remind yourself why you are here.

So here is the deal

There is an incredible world of opportunity for you to shine your light and make this world a better place. Yes.

You don’t have to be some big hero or superwoman. You don’t need the attention or recognition to make an impact. Be understated.

Just do your teeny tiny little bit in the world and let that be your legacy marked on this earth.

The earth is too big, the sky too wide for you to craft your own little space and find your corner.

You know your condition is part of your DNA so it’s going nowhere. Regardless of your health challenges, your genetic imperfections, you have the power to touch the sky, to find your purpose and to touch lives. Everything you dream is possible if you work hard, dream big and believe in yourself. Push those boundaries. Its so bloody cliche, I know but let’s give it a shot.

With your Illness, there will be constant pain and suffering and there will be life challenges that may or may not be health related but you have to raise your head high, fight them and walk gracefully out of them taking the learning and finding meaning in each of these events. Let that remarkable strength you have be a constant sense of solace that in the thick of it, in the bottom of a rot, in the dark pangs of depression, you will always come out the other side rising, still rising. Because hey, look at me, you don’t have a choice. It’s only one way sweetheart.

I hope you eventually get to live by the sea or the beach as you have always dreamed, writing whilst watching the sun set and rise. Maybe even practice yoga each morning, ride horses weekly, find little fun adventures to experience and travel the world with someone you so love.

Remember true love shines so brightly. There is no question about it. Love is kind. It’s simple. You will recognize it when it’s binary.

Never forget your family

They will always be there when people come and go. There are the guardians of your being on earth. Love them. Unconditionally.

I hope you find someone, a partner who will love you so affectionately, look after you, feed you on your sick bay, hold your hair back when you are sick, kiss your feet and tell you each day how beautiful you are. It’s that simple June. And if you get that, you know he is precious to you so be those things and more to him.

Nurture good friendships. The ones who genuinely care about you. It’s rare these days and allow yourself to be loved by others.

As you climb, don’t forget to lift others. There is a huge difference between sharing and giving. Recognize your role in these and the impact it has on others.

Find peace in solitude and being alone but don’t be lonely.

As much as your physical health remains a focus, don’t forget to look after your mental health June. The traumas, the pain and the suffering will have a toll on you. There will be losses, grief, heart breaks and disappointments. So you must remember to look after your mind.

Let your self development and self care be your daily motivational factors.

Lose yourself in the arts since that’s what you have chosen to immerse yourself in.

Keep creating. Don’t hold it back as you know what happens when you do.

Educate yourself daily. Never underestimate who you learn from. Whether it’s a child, a homeless man on the street, a wise old person, someone from a different culture. Use different forms to learn.

Have an open mind.

This is very important.

Always, always show gratitude for everything you accomplish because in doing so comes more blessings.

Pray for the sick and those at the end of their lives, the poor, the shell shocked, those at war, veterans, sick children, the bereaved, the helpless and help them when you have the ability to do so.

For perhaps your ‘healing’ could be buried in the (gift and) act of doing for others.

A sense of lack is created by you. It comes from within. Always recognise this feeling. You lack nothing.

You are NOT entitled to anyone’s attention, no one because with this expectation comes resentment and we aim for contentment. Be aware of it.

Always, always be kind to yourself, June. And kindness starts with the little things, from a soak in the bath, to a walk in the park, to having a lie in on the weekend and breakfast in bed. Whatever makes you happy.

Show yourself compassion and empathy. And then show these qualities to others because these are the ultimate tools that will guide you and show you the path to navigating life. It will attract goodness and positive energy.

Love is in you. You are your own love story. Make your life your fantasy.

Everything you dreamed of your little barbies as a little girl, the life of paradise? Dream it for you.

You will soar

You are beautiful, June

So overwhelmingly beautiful.

You are smart, kind, strong, compassionate and just pure.

Your heart is deep in soul

So keep that love burning

Be the vessel and let the light in.

Keep discovering yourself.

Be restless. It’s ok to constantly seek to find. Expand your mind.

Change is a good thing. Thrive on it. Be the alternative that excludes.

Discover your purpose.

Live a great life in this beautiful, yet chaotic world.

Find consciousness in every action you take.

Laugh, June, laugh.

Have so much fun like everyday was your final one. And as much as you are aware of life in its entirety, be also a little aware of your own mortality.

The world is what you want to make of it and if you are fortunate, it could be topped up with a little bit of luck.

Do all the beautiful happy

things you love doing.

Forgive yourself

Forgive others

Learn from your mistakes

Show your vulnerabilities

Wear them on your sleeves.

Because in showing vulnerability comes bravery.

And in sharing vulnerability comes a connection to the Light and the universe.

Do not be afraid.

Be generous even when you don’t receive generosity back but do it with consciousness.

Afterall you are not being kind to others for reciprocation.

If people are unkind to you, do not be unkind to them but feel free to emotionally and physically check out from that space.

Because at the end of the day, you can’t change a person’s behavior towards you but you can choose how you react to them.

Always question and explore the “whys”.

Climb baby, climb

Run, soar, fall, trip, fall, rise.

I know you can do this thing called life.

Repeat after me June.

“I can do this thing called life”.

And remember always that life remains the single most precious thing in the world.

Always remember balance and certainty are tools to keep handy at all times.

I love you so much and the one ultimate thing I wish for you June is eternal happiness. Anything else is just a cute little bonus. Right? So let’s do this deal.

Yours eternal & affectionately yours

June Okochi, Your 8 year old

est 1988 #letter #loveletter #8yearold

Loch Tay Highland Lodges; Summer in Scotland

This time last year, summer of 2018, I was glamping in Scotland and had a terrific long weekend with my Scottish family, ‘glamping’.

I was treated with love and a warm welcome to the southern edges of the Highlands of Perthshire- an area famed for its dramatic green and naturally-manicured mountains, a worthy escape to the glens and lochs, ancient castles and unspoiled nature.

With fascinating road trips exploring some distinctive cultural venues and countryside towns whilst soaking in the breathtaking coastal views of the Tay.

My lungs has taken in the freshest air it’s had in a very long time and of course I drank softer water.

It was phone, laptop, social media, work, calls, make up and everything free - just nature and me making out.

Oh and the midges were kind to me. Bites are the only thing I dread when camping. Some weren’t so lucky. I also proved to someone I wasn’t so much of a diva and I can survive anywhere 😉 Back to the rat race but not without holding on to the fond memories of this discovery and an appreciation of some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen- and of course, what’s life without those people who absolutely love and adore you 😍

A wee pit-stop at Perth for a wee lunch. 😊

Now, Edinburgh and home-bound via London City Aeroporto.




Loch Tay







Tunnels of love; the march of the avenue.



#summerglamping #travel #soctland #glamping #lochtay

A Summer Day in Little Venice, London


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