I read Paul Cantor’s piece on his 100 posts for Medium which took me back to 2004 when I started my blog Black Looks. I was living in rural Spain in what was an idyllic life for a while. In the summer of 2000 I was diagnosed with Grade 3 invasive breast cancer in my right breast. The diagnosis came a few weeks after I returned from holiday in Crete where I had swam topless, my breasts floating freely in the blue green Aegean sea and knew I would never experience the caressing of water on my breasts again.
The NHS, my surgeon and oncologist, were wonderful human beings. In a way, despite the horror of discovering I had a life threatening illness and the side effects of the treatment, there were moments of immense humanity and joy. My surgeon always available to calm my nerves in the weeks between my first and second operation; him coming to see me just before I was anesthetized for surgery; and waking up with my younest son Ibrahim, sitting by my bedside holding my hand. I had two operations and spent 7 days in Middlesex hospital for each one.
One Saturday my friends daughter came to visit. She was on her way to watch a film so I asked the ward doctor if I go with her if I promised to take care. At the time I was hooked up to a drip bag of unpleasant looking blood waste from the operation so we fixed this so it sat in a paper carrier bag and off we went. I don’t recall the film but I remember feeling the streets of Soho buzzing with people. It was September in London and the late summer warmth was till in the air. After the film we walked around the streets and shops where I ended up buying a denim jacket from the Gap in Piccadilly Circus and which I still have today.
Another memory was the night before the second operation?—?a full mastectomy. I had to report to the ward to register and later prepare for surgery the following day. My friend Janette and her daughter Nancy came with me to the hospital where after going through admission procedure, we left to eat dinner. For some reason I had an urge to eat mashed potatoes and fish pie so we choose one of the few Soho restaurants that served traditional British food. It was a like the last supper as I somewhere close to the surface of my mind was the feeling I might not wake up such was my fear of the anesthesia mixed with the fear of not being able to imagine myself without my breast. I don’t know how other people think of their breasts but I loved mine and the amputation was a physical assault on my very being. I spent day after day for a month trying to process the idea of an amputation and a reconstruction which involved cutting other parts of my body that were perfectly healthy to form a breast. I wondered if it would float like my real one!
Its 14 years later and I am still alive albeit with a few scares and in retrospect I wish I had cut both breasts off and be done with the constant possibility of recurrance. Logic tells me that there is a good chance of whatever factors came together in 2000 to cause some cells in my body to malfunction could well happen again. As I write this I just learned that a very good friend with a very young child has been diagnosed also with grade 3 invasive breast cancer. My hope is that she too will be able to write ’14 years’ on from now about that experience.
In 2002 the opportunity arose for me to move to rural Spain, in a valley outside the village of Velez Blanco in Andalusia where I lived for the next 4 years. I moved because I needed to heal physically and emotionally from the cancer experience. My body ached to be cleansed of the toxicity of chemotherapy and my mind the assault on my body. It was late November and the mountain air was cold but dry with piercing blue skies. I spent the next two years planting and growing vegetables on 4000 sq meters of land plus managing 26 olive trees and all manner of fruit trees?—?cherry, fig, green and red plums, pomegranate, apricots, almonds, grapes and lemons. I walked with my dog, Zami everyday for miles exploring the hills and dry river beds. I had an old landcover which I drove through lanes and across the wilderness searching for anything I could use in the yard, tires, tiles, bits of wood and iron as I discovered my creative self. At one point I bought a 200 euro motor bike which lasted about as long as one would expect a 200E bike to last but it was fun for a while.
I took the opportunity of living so close to north Africa to make regular road trips with Zami to Morocco as far south as Zagora on the edge of the Sahara. I loved driving through southern Morocco through the green hills and valleys towards Essaouira where the sounds of Ali Farka Toure and other desert musicians blasted from boom boxes everywhere and on to the red earth of Ouarzazate and finally ending with the sands of Zagora on the edge of the Sahara. OR sometimes through Marrakech and the Atlas mountains and raw emptiness of the Dades gorge. I loved the wilderness, the isolation, the huge markets where I could spend days buying anything from recycled tyre buckets flip flops to multi coloured blankets, dates, nuts, oils and musky smelling perfumes, seeing and knowing yes this is Africa.
In 2004 I heard about a small company in the nearby city offering satellite internet so I signed up and suddenly I was reconnected to the world. I became restless longing for my former world, particularly Nigeria and Africa in general and I guess people. I was healed, for the moment anyway. I can’t remember how but the first person I met online was my dear friend Victor Mukasa who was in Kampala at the time but soon to be hiding, due to his sexual orientation / gender identity as a trans man. It was not long after I decided to start a blog which eventually became Black Looks and which ran for 10 years. Black Looks came to an end in August 2014 but I am proud that the archive which represents 10 years of my life, remains.