Nuku’s Story

Every 2.5 minute a baby with cleft lip/palate is born somewhere in the world, making it one of the most common birth defects worldwide. Cleft babies in developed countries typically have their cleft repaired soon after birth and benefit from a comprehensive cleft care package that includes a series of surgeries as well as dental treatment and speech therapy.

For the more than 170,000 cleft babies born every year in the developing world, however, such treatment is far from given. Where cleft treatment is available, it is often too costly for a family to afford. While poverty is the most important factor preventing cleft babies in developing countries from receiving the necessary treatment, cultural and societal preconceptions about disfigurement also play a role.

In some communities, a baby born with cleft is considered cursed and rejected by its family and community. Children with an un-repaired cleft are often stigmatised and hidden away out of shame. Sometimes the mother of a cleft affected child is accused of having done something wrong for her child to be born with a cleft. Prejudice, superstition and cultural myths die hard, which is why a recent feature film by Ghanaian filmmaker Priscilla Anany is so important.  Continue reading

Unyummy Mummy

s-l300When I announced I was pregnant with my firstborn, my parents exclaimed:

“Who would have thought you would have children, you’re not exactly the maternal type.”

And when I eventually married the father of my children, they were equally astounded,

“We didn’t think you were the marrying kind.”

To be fair, I’d never openly expressed a desire for either motherhood or marriage, but without getting too sentimental about my love for my children and my husband, let me state for the record, that I am very happy I did become a mother and wife…even though I don’t have quite what it takes to be either:  Continue reading

Breathing Your Way to Wholeness

happiness-1866081_640Breathing, the most fundamental function of the human body, has never come easily to me.

My cleft lip and palate meant that I also had an impaired nasal airway and while subsequent rhinoplasty left me with a somewhat less wonky nose, it did little to improve my ability to breathe through it.

As is common with children born with cleft, I developed a habit of breathing through my mouth, and despite numerous attempts in recent years, by yoga instructors, personal trainers, and meditation coaches to teach me to breathe through my nose, I’m still a mouth breather.

For a long time, I didn’t pay much attention to my breath, until about two years ago when three blood clots lodged themselves in my lungs, making it very painful to breathe at all. Continue reading

Rules Are Made To Be Broken – Unless You’re in Sweden

After nearly three weeks of leisure, good food and wine as well as the occasional swim in 17℃ water the time had come to say goodbye to Sweden and fly back home to London.

But before we left, we stopped over in Gothenburg to see family and spend a day at the amusement park there. The 10-year old is a daredevil and forced her dad to join her on the most gruesome rides, while I was spared such terror and headed to the child-friendly section with the 7-year old.

After about an hour in the park, my husband sent me a text,

“I’ve been sick, I’ve got food poisoning.” Continue reading

The Simple Pleasures of Country Living – as perceived by an inveterate big city girl

Two weeks into our stay in the Swedish countryside, I am feeling more alive than I did when we’d just arrived here from London.

IMG_0749Ditching the big existential questions for the time being, I’m able to enjoy the little moments: going for a walk and stopping to look at the bright red poppies that line the gravel road; plunging into the cool sea water and swimming until my body goes numb; nursing a generous glass of deliciously cold Sancerre at dinner; and reading a book into the small hours because there’s no need to get up early the next morning.

Where I am right now, is the only place I’ve ever known where I’m able to breathe easily. Here, I’ve always felt free and unencumbered by the stress, busy-ness and expectations that otherwise blight my daily existence.

IMG_0737Here, amidst farms and fields, I don’t think twice about leaving the house dressed in dirty shorts and a worn-out t-shirt that gives off a distinct whiff of underarm sweat.


Here, I couldn’t care less about my appearance. Designer handbags, trendy shoes and perfectly manicured nails mean nothing to me here.

I love this carefree life; so much so that I toy with the idea of coming to stay here for longer periods once my children are old enough to look after themselves.

Two years ago, barely a month after I first began to write this blog, I posted a piece about my yearly summer visits here and everything I wrote then still applies. This is what I wrote:

I am a big city girl – always have been, always will be I’m afraid. I’m not a fan of camping holidays (it’s been twenty years since I last slept in a tent) and I don’t jump for joy at the chance of attending an outdoor picnic in the park. I’d rather just sit at a table when I eat.

But I can’t stand the thought of spending the hot, humid, sometimes rainy, summer in the city. So as soon as my children finish school for the year, we swap London for a rural, rather insular, part of Sweden where my parents have a holiday house. I’ve come here every summer since I was little and I call this home. 

This place – a flat, baguette-shaped island off the Swedish east coast – is an acquired taste I realise, and I don’t kid myself that my British-Caribbean husband and London-born daughters love this part of Sweden nearly as much as I do. I am just grateful they agree to come here each summer, and with time I hope they might grow to appreciate it almost as much as I do.

For me, no summer is complete without a lengthy stay in this old-fashioned, beautiful if dusty, asthma-inducing, fly-infested house, accompanied by daily walks.

Near our house, in the outskirts of a farming village that has seen more prosperous days, stands a lonely tree in the middle of a cornfield. Although it is of a common Nordic variety, it resembles, I think, a sprawling African Acacia tree, albeit smaller.

Whenever I have a few moments alone, I steal away from the house and take a stroll down the country road, past the tall cornfields, past the grazing cows and the smell of fresh manure – and past that tree. Sometimes I stop to look at it, half-expecting to find a cheetah resting in its shadow.IMG_0730

The pale blue sky sits so low above the farmers’ land that it seems as if the clouds are within my reach. Alongside the road, poppies, irises and sorrel stand tall, in defiance of the strong winds that are a common feature here on the island.

Vibrant colours surround me, reminding me of a Van Gogh painting. “This is my Arles,” I muse as I stroll down the road.

Here, nobody cares what you look like.

Here, there is no need to be fancy, cool, successful, or anything other than oneself.

Here, is the only place I know where I can truly, and simply, be who I am.