Shadows have feelings, I know you don’t believe me. But it’s true.

The problem is that most of the time their feelings are mixed up

You see, most of the time shadows are all mixed up.

Shadows get very confused, and then they don’t know how to feel.

Imagine you are the shadow of a bird.

The shadow begins to feel tweety and beaky and chirpy

Until…

A great big car comes along, slap bang between glorious rays of sunshine and the bird.

Now we have a problem.

The shadow can’t feel tweety or beaky any more, how could you?

The shadow tries to feel growly and mechanical, but the bird is still there.

And the shadow knows it.

So our poor shadow gets horribly confused.

It tries to feel beaky and growly, mechanical and tweety.

Trust me, sometimes it can get quite messy.

Take, for another example, the way humans use their hands to make shadows like birds and animals.

Imagine the confusion.

One second, a shadow feels happy, it’s feeling useful, it’s got four fingers and a wonderful thumb.

As the shadow enjoys the way each finger wiggles, the poor shadow gets a horrible shock!

Suddenly it looks like an eagle, swooping and diving all over a blank wall.

Our shadow knows the hands are still there, but it also wants to have feathers to swoop with. But feathers are not there at all.

It all gets extremely confusing!

But.

Every now and again.

A shadow gets to feel like something that isn’t mixed up at all.

It’s a wonderful moment.

A moment all shadows look forward to.

The moment where a shadow becomes a silhouette.

A shadow of just one thing, a shadow so perfectly clear that everyone knows what it is.

And the shadow can feel exactly what it is.

When there is a silhouette of a tree, you can see the shape of the tall, strong, trunk and the long, lean branches and the way every leaf dances on the breeze.

For a shadow, this feels like freedom.

Even though the shadow can only be like the tree it loves the clarity, the security of being exactly like a tree.

Or exactly like a sly, sulking, mysterious cat.

Or exactly like a roaring, swaying, burning fire.

When these moments happen, shadows feel real.

In fact, they forget that they are shadows at all.

For those special moments the shadow IS a chair or a house or a fish or a brush or a caterpillar…

And sometimes, very rarely…

A person.

When a silhouette of a person is made, a shadow doesn’t just feel like a person…

If the silhouette is very very still, and the person is very very still, something special happens.

They share whatever is hidden deep inside their hearts as it beats.


The ability to communicate is an issue for me. At any given moment I have thousands of thoughts, ideas and emotions swirling around by being, and each of those exposes me to thousands of alternative unrealities.  While I quite enjoy spending time in these unrealities, the truth is the unlimited potential of random thought often means that reality stagnates. As soon as you make real life decisions with real life consequences, those thousands of unrealities come crashing down. when you take refuge in unreality, then real life becomes an enemy.

And that’s where communication becomes difficult. A thousand unrealities are not easy to express, earless and introverted journaling helps to order and expose, but not to communicate.

I suppose I’m trying to explain my silence since my return. It’s not just busyness or needing time to adjust. It’s that’s in returning, I lost the luxury of observing  from a safe distance, of living in a self-created unrealities inspired by the brand new raw data received from living cross culturally. And yet conversely, without the structure and direction that my thousand thoughts were able to wrap themselves around, they are free to go in all sorts of directions.

I miss Kurdistan.

Some may remember an early trip to invest in some stationary. Well, here are some of the scribblings that  have been produced over the last ten months. Maybe they will provide added of insight into my time in Kurdistan, then again, maybe not!

I am now writing as I make my way home, in a neighbouring country, and the experiences that were daily life a week ago are already stories and anecdotes that only capture a shadow of reality.  As I pondered this fact today, Ironically, I realised that one of the greatest effects of living cross culturally on me has been to increase my observational attentiveness.   The realness of experience is emphasised when that experience is alien, a trip to the shops is transformed from a mundane chore to an opportunity to explore and understand the different.  Sounds, smells and smiles are observed and savoured when an experience is novel, and I have enjoyed consuming some of the richness of experience on offer.

The effect of this observational attentiveness of the foreign and changed my experience of the familiar by creating a habit of noticing things that might easily be neglected. The way the air feels in between your fingers as you type, the coolness of kitchen tiles through threadbare socks, the round light fittings contrasting with the angles of a square room, the way clouds of steam rise from a kettle, water molecules making organic patterns as though they are making the most of their new found freedom. Infinite unnoticed incidents and unappreciated glimpses of beauty drench even the dullest of days, the sheer realness of experience has astounded me over the last year, and I am eager to preserve an attitude of attentiveness and to see the glory in the everyday weather at home or abroad.

Once upon a time there was a little girl with a big imagination.

Sometimes she would imagine small things.

She imagined that spoons had wings, she imagined they could pick up food and deliver it straight to your mouth.

But when she told her Dad about this idea, he replied:

Don’t be so silly, spoons don’t have wings.

Sometimes she would imagine medium things

She imagined that in school, every classroom led to a new country, she imagined having a Maths lesson in China and Art class in the Middle East.

But when she told her teacher about this idea, she replied:

Don’t be so silly, a classroom is just a classroom.

Sometimes she would imagine big things, she imagined that scientists found a way to move the world around the universe, so the sky would change colour every day and be filled with new planets and different stars every night.

But when she told her friends about this idea, they replied:

Don’t be so silly, the sky will always be blue.

Sometimes her imagination was so fantastic that as she walked around her village, she imagined that birds filled the skies and sang wonderful songs, and that the clouds were dancing along. She imagined that everyone would come out of their houses and join in the fun.

But she never told anyone.

When she imagined these now, things her own mind replied:

Don’t be so silly

Every day the little girl’s imagination got smaller.

And slowly her mind stopped thinking fantastic thoughts, and her world started to change.

The sky was only ever blue

Classrooms were only classrooms

And spoons  certainly never, ever had wings.

The little girl grew up and got used to this new world.

And it looked the same as everyone else’s.

Until

One Day

When her imagination had almost disappeared

She saw some words written in chalk on the pavement

That said;

What colour is the sky?

When she thought about it she replied:

Don’t be so silly, the sky will always be blue

But the question stayed in her mind, and her imagination started, very slowly, to grow.

The question stayed in her mind all day and wouldn’t let her relax

And as the sun started to set, she looked at the sky

And it wasn’t blue at all

It was orange and red and pink and purple and gold.

When she saw the sky, her imagination grew a little bit more.

And the question stayed in her mind all night and wouldn’t let her sleep.

And as the sun started to rise, the birds started to sing

When she heard the birds, her imagination grew a little bit more.

Then, suddenly her imagination was on fire

She imagined

far off countries

and new discoveries

and stars

and planets

and songs

and people

and animals

and adventures

But instead of telling people

She wrote it all down in a book

And when people read the book they imagined:

far off countries

and new discoveries

and stars

and planets

and people

and animals

and adventures

And everyone said:

How Fantastic!

For the last couple of weeks, between the hours of two and five in the afternoon, our street is dead. Not a soul is outside, stranger still is the lack of life indicating sounds from behind gates and walls. Soon after midday it is very normal to hear the clanking of dishes as copious amounts or rice are eaten throughout Kurdistan, but after this midday meal all sounds of life disappear.

The heat causes a wave of inactivity as the sun’s effect is at a peak. Sleep is the most efficient use of the baking hours, giving energy for the still warm evening and night. It is a wonderful thing to see a country, culture and community to change in response to the overarching power of heat; it is humbling to recognise that productivity cannot be maintained in the height of summer, and that schedules must be adapted in recognition of human limitations.

Of course, as lives are affected by something much bigger and more powerful, desires in turn change. Ice cold water it preferred over sweet black tea, rest over rushing, and cool tiles over comfortable carpets. There is a kind of liberation that comes from adapting, although it means admitting limited control and greater influences, which is easier for some than for others.

A near constant reminder of the foreignness of Kurdistan is the Kurdish script that adorns shops, signposts and newspapers. Words and information that would usually be processed and appear in consciousness automatically in my mother script are now present in a code that must be unravelled letter by letter, each letter needing to be searched for in memory for the corresponding sound, in the hope that the word that slowly becomes clearer will be part of my limited Kurdish lexicon. While this process is much more effortful than the equivalent in my mother tongue, there is a certain satisfaction when you crack the code, but an occurrence that continues to bring a smile to my face and a flash of joy to my heart is when after a minute of staring at alien letters the word that appears is actually remarkably familiar, and phonetically belongs to my mother tongue.  This week, while scanning a Kurdish newspaper I came across this example:

It reads ‘Jon Mkkein’ or John McCain.  Indeed, Kurdistan had an American visitor in its midst this week.

I also enjoy the way that brand names are transformed through the use of looping script:

Coca cola (light) suddenly becomes wonderfully exotic,  and ‘ Quality street ‘ could suddenly be full of middle eastern charm;

But my personal favourite is my ‘Oxford’ Kurdish dictionary…

There is something about the mingling of the traditional Kurdish script and western culture that I find I can identify with, having invested time in attempting to understand and integrate, learning language to an almost passable level, there is certainly some mingling occurring. However, somehow the intermingling, while increasing understanding, somehow has the almost ironic effect of highlighting discontinuity without being able to bridge the gap. While  learning increases, so does the awareness that I am very much a product of my own, incredibly unkurdish culture. But there is much delight in those moments of  discontinuity, and contrast in cultures is the very thing that conjures curiosity.