Hope is Alive by Yaari


by Yaari

 A woman’s journey along the trail

I was looking for something!  Always looking; always looking to fill this yawning emptiness.

One day, Hope walked in.  This time I was ready; I’d gotten better at being ready for her.  It had become easier over time to recognize her.  It was to be expected; I had been following her trail for years.

My mood was one of those airport travel good moods; I was going somewhere.  I had long ago come to terms with my predilection for observations.  People were always fascinating and airports were literally crawling with them; I could give my thoughts full rein and let the stories tumble.

I had an eye for beautiful women: a flash of color, a toss of the head, the flash of a smile … so her smooth brown chocolate five foot ten tall elegance captured my attention.  Her ease stood out in the familiar and predictable confusion of the Los Angeles international airport.  I watched her; and I played with the idea.  I had done this before, played with this idea of Caribbean friendliness; and I’d always let the moment go.  You never know, never really secure.  I looked at her and wondered.  Who was she?  Should I reach out for more?

I felt my smile stretch and pull at my cheeks as I looked at her stroll pass the food counter; a little dip, a pucker, appeared between her eyes as she tasted; brown lips opened slightly; the tongue contemplated; and eyes surveyed the area for empty chairs.  An almost roll of the eyes look of resignation appeared as she dragged her bag in cart in some direction.

Bright florescent light bounced hard off of white plastic table tops and skidded into irises, landing between rapid blinks on big black red and brown, green and gray suitcases big and small interrupted by brown cardboard boxes for those traveling far and carrying everything they need stuffed in and bulging out.

I settled the matter then; the table next to mine lost its visitors; I looked up just as she was looking back.  She was making a last sweep of the area and I waved my hand.  I signaled; she saw; I motioned to her that the table was empty and I pushed up and over and secured it with a bag.  She came; she smiled; I felt glad that I had not let this chance meeting go, not this time.

A journey of women had brought her to my table.  A world of meaning had brought us together.  It was so much easier this time to recognize family.  Whispers reached me some years ago.  Ancestors were calling; I was hearing.

And, as things go, I had again reached out and found Hope.

On her way to Taiwan to work with women as they used the land to gain the most for community, that’s how she was passing through.  She was in agriculture; she had had a child’s need to touch the land and breathe the air.  She found an interest and took it to school and then she jumped borders to shape her future for family and for land.

Cuba.  Seven years; I was impressed; I was jealous; I knew it.  She felt right, so I sat back to gobble up her story.  This was a path that felt familiar: women and their stories; they fascinated me.

I was impressed.  Multilingualed and expert in her field, she left Cuba with a new language, a new partner, and a road to travel.  Along this road of work and family she opened her arms for a young teenage woman in trouble.  A challenge yes but one she did without question as woman and family in community; she helped save that young soul.

By the time she sat down with me she had shaped lives and yet, humble and smiling, she was ready yet again to go climb that mountain.  There was another young woman waiting.

I sat looking in her eyes; I sat listening to her voice; I was thinking as she was talking.  Hope was alive.

In Mexico it started for me all those years ago.  Book of Spanish language in hand, and frightened excitement jumping in my chest, I arrived in Acapulco, taxied into to town and found the bus ride.  Cuajiniquilapa here I come, black community calling me.  “El banio” “el quarto” “gracias;” these were the saviors of my fear.  They got me from here to there.

And, Hope again I followed


African Diaspora – Mexico – click here.

A mass of black curls sat on her head as she stood by the door and with welcome on her lips and great white teeth flashing, with a wave of her hand she called us in.   Into a restaurant mostly of floor and big open window spaces that left me quite satisfied as they recalled for me home and therefore soothed the discomfort that comes with being outside.

Bending around tall dark green palms sitting in big white plant pots, my friend, six foot four and very new to me, led us to seats nestled in the cool breeze.  He was familiar more and more because of shared roots of African ancestry but more because we shared a Guyanese history.

Las cervezas she offered us and we drank and we learned. I listened. They spoke Spanish and like before I yearned to know something more, something new.  Who was she?

This wonderful woman was again making excitement in me.  I felt the heat curl; I felt it roll.  Her story; it was incredible.

The restaurant she ran alone.  When visitors came no matter the size she did what she did.  She sat them down; she gave them beer and then, she and she alone prepared the meals from scratch to finish.  I couldn’t believe this.

Imagine.  In the midst of potted green palms shading large white plastic tables with four seats for each; at the end of a paved road in Cuaji, Guerrero, this woman of African descent grilled, baked, fried, steamed, and did all those things that experienced chefs do for guests in four star hotels; all and sundry, in the surrounding neighborhood, loved the food and added to her popularity.  And, all this done at the end of a road in a little village in Mexico.

Hope showed herself right then and there.

Later that day we found more information that impressed and left us inspired.  Not only did she single-handed manage her restaurant, but she, mother of two and wife; this house-proud incredibly talented cook, painted.  She was an artist.

In the evening, at night, I went to see this woman paint.  As colors made their way across canvas she explained that this art had a purpose; it was not something she could do without.  The paintings on the wall of the restaurant were her works of art.

And, yes, one day came when on a visit to Washington, DC, I found paintings and photographs of this Diaspora African woman on the walls of the Smithsonian.

That morning in Cuaji, Guerrero, Mexico, I sat in the zocalo and watched as people go. To the market, near the place that churned out tortillas all white and gold.  That rich bready smell slipped up my nose as it called lines of early morning risers to quick quick buy; to run run home and dip deep into some kind of morning coffee and meaty breakfast waiting.

There was a buzz of shifting feet making time to school and work; the brooms whisked and swept preparing for rushing morning and dragging afternoons.  I sat deep in the disbelieving reality that I was really there.

Not yet knowing, that it was a day for Hope to show and share.

The Mexican Painter – click here.

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Women’s Voices in the diaspora – Nova Scotia, San Andres, Jamaica – click here.

I never knew; never knew about the meeting place, the end of long rides, the letters shared, the underground railroad, the above carriages, the disguises, the pride, all those stories, even the ones that died.  Those stories were not in the curriculum when I was in school.  Yet, Guyana was a part of that kingdom that grabbed the land.

The British promised; the slaves dreamed; the maroons in the Caribbean screamed.  For freedom they ended up in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Women came to my rescue when I arrived in Halifax, yellow paged lined notebook in hand, with nothing else to go on except the stories I had read about the place where the underground railroad met and carriages made stealthy trips, where horses rode with female riders in male clothes; it was a place of lively African culture.

I figured the library would be the place to start my search for people of African ancestry.  I found one beautiful brown skinned woman with a fresh sapodilla complexion and her hair pulled up in a chic bun. She came to the counter to listen to my quest and then she sent me to visit the branch further up the hill where much of Afro Canadian history had been folded and filed.  And, there, I started reading and reading.  I was drawn in by the amount of treasure I was finding in this search of mine for family and meaning.

While sitting and reading, a phone call came through and it was a woman of African descent who had answered a call from the woman at the library.  She was on her way to take me on a tour of the countryside.  In her voice I could hear the pride and that confidence and security captured my curiosity.  What would I find out about family on this journey?

Here again, I was on the verge of learning more; I was learning history and it was another branch of my own story.  That now familiar tremble started; I recognized the light headedness; I was excited; I couldn’t wait and I found myself pacing up and down on the pavement eager to meet her and start another leg of the journey.

The car pulled up and out stepped a woman of about 5’ 5,” warm honey brown, blue jeans and a cream button down shirt.   A big smile was on her face and it was topped by a salt and pepper afro that reminded me of so many women.   There was comfort in feeling as if I already knew her.

In the car, she drove me up the hill and told me history stories that just held my tongue still.

I felt the envy well up inside at this knowledge she showed me.  I wished I wished that I could have been the one to tell this kind of past story about immediate family and planted history.  She pointed and explained, as we passed, that the names of her family members and others she had grown up with were prominent street markers. She explained, when I saw crosses on what looked like graves, that, yes, many of them were buried along with the older generations behind the houses in their own backyards.

I asked and she answered that they, the Afro Canadians in Halifax, could trace their family histories to the first freed men in that area, their connection to the United States and the Caribbean, and how they had come to get the land they lived on.  She drove me to a place down by the docks where a monument stood to represent resistance of people in the year, …. .  They fought back against the abuse of power and forceful removal from their homes.

What held my attention keenly, over all of the stories she told, was the way the Afro Canadians stayed connected to the land and honored their ancestors.

In this tradition of story-telling, I learned that ancestor Angelique, a woman fighter, was brutalized, was hobbled, was murdered because she declared war on inhumanity in her fight for freedom; this is the history of 1734.  She, in her willingness to resist, showed courage and made a place, again, for Hope to live.

There had to be recognition.  The story in Canada was an unforgettable story of freed men and women and others who had taken different kinds of actions.

Stories of history of resistance and tradition; my own mis-education and the need for comprehension and resurrection of people of African descent, of past/passed ancestral spirits, and my cultural thirst motivated my research and determination to find these unspoken heroes and heroines that were purposely denied the chance to tell their stories.

Nanny town, Jamaica, there Hope lived on.

Kingston, Jamaica

African Diaspora – Jamaica – Mama G. – click here.

Nanny-town drew me down to Jamaica where I found a history that filled my deep well of envy.  Here was a story so fierce and full of human fire that it took my breath away with the wonder of it all.

The story of Nanny, another woman fighter for freedom, lived in the hills of Jamaica; she lived on the tongue of her descendants.  Nanny and her brother, Kujoe, stood their ground in the fight for freedom.

Guide and keeper of memories, Mama G, told me Nanny’s story.  As I listened closely, Mamma G reassured me that Nanny lived still in the hearts and minds of those with the will to survive; Nanny still kept her, Hope, alive.  She stood tall; she held her head high; she held a promise to guide.

Hope led me; Hope joined my hands with Mama G and we travelled into the hills of Jamaica.  And, she told me stories on the way.

Mama G told me how Nanny refused to step aside; she told me how she and the fighting maroons were able to read the land, find the water in the hills and build around and how they used the ground; they planted the land as green as it still stood up and down the hills.   They used the skills that came with them from Africa their homeland and they managed with what they had and made the British pay in blood for their constant terrorism.

Mama G, a rasta maroon woman dressed in a self made maple tree honey brown hat and a dress the color of banana leaves…….  she felt that Nanny lived in her.   One day not so far away she said, she sat on a bench alone as a woman with men and listened and learned about what it must have been like for Nanny, a woman way back then who again and again pushed forward with Hope for better days and a solution for slavery.

Hope she expressed; Hope she desired and Hope held her hand from day to day.  Hope and Mama G, they helped me discover the pride of a people and ignited, yet again, the fire I had growing and burning inside.

San Andres, Columbia

African Diaspora – San Andres – sisters – click here.

Spanish was on my tongue when I landed in San Andres.  I must admit that before the announcement at the conference that their next venue would be this little island off the coast of Columbia, I knew nothing about her.

Research, one of my favorite past-times, became again my friend.  Hand in hand, we visited the online sources now available to us.   I learned to my astonishment that here lived another branch of my Africanness.  The people of the island, the natives as I eventually learned they called themselves, were from the motherland.  Like my Guyana, they were at one time colonized by the British and so it goes as before the story of capture, cruelty, and greed.

Excited and curious, I arrived on the island.  To my surprise and delight I was met by laughing, courteous, and flirtatious black men ready with their taxies to take me to my destination.  Their smiles met the sunshine in the sky overhead, and I felt the stretch of mine as their sunny dispositions stirred recognition in my consciousness.  Yes, I knew them; they were my family; they were my friends.

English!  They all spoke English!  All that Spanish I practiced and what a surprise.  They all spoke English.  I still had a lot to learn.  I silently admitted that I was a little relieved.  I would not have to work that hard to be understood.  It meant that there was less possibility of ignorance.

Darlin,’ weh can I tek yuh?  The white flash of absolutely perfectly positioned white teeth appeared between two gorgeous berry brown-pink lips…. And,  my smile stretched from ear to ear.  Some connection was made as I heard that Caribbean lilt hit the airwaves and something Jamaican appeared.  Questions, more questions, formed in my brain.

Following the advice of a friend, I arrived at church the next Sunday and introduced myself to the local community.  And, it was not too long before an entire family adopted me.  Mother, daughters, and grandchildren.

Blessed.  I felt blessed to be enfolded in the warmth and friendship of a matriarch and her many daughters.  Touched by my interest in their history and the recognition of our connections, they willingly took me down roads of the neighborhood telling me stories on the way.

The British, long ago, brought them to the island.  Eventually, they became freedmen and women and the land belonged to them. They planted the island with edible commodities.  They traded successfully with people across the waters.  In this way, they became, to some degree, self-sufficient and enjoyed years and years of quality livelihood.

As we traversed the island, they introduced me to two women.  They were sisters born in the early 1900s.  The older sister was one hundred and seven years old (107 years old) when we met, and sitting next to her, in a sunny and windy cottage in their family compound, was her sister of a ripe ninety eight years (98 years old).

The stories they told me brought wonder to my eyes and they opened wide with surprise at what I learned about women of African descent.  Again, Hope revealed herself in the intent that these women carved into the face of history.  They unleashed in me a stronger will to tell tales of women’s trails.

On her own and with an independent spirit, the older sister, with her father’s permission, made a decision to move away from home and use her cooking skills to make a living.  She held jobs and, after years of survival, returned home at the request of her family, to care for the newer generation.

Full of comedic energy, the younger sister of 98 kept our ribs hurting as she told stories of falling in love with her husband; he pursued her relentlessly and little by little she let him in and he became her man.  Over time, his habit of spending good money on whiskey called for decisive action and many times she left him on the veranda sleeping off what became a regular stupor; it was repititious affair.  This she told us with a twinkle in her eyes and a carefree laughter that sent us into stitches bringing tears to our eyes.

Humor held us dear and love of a kind entered me and bridged the spirits of the middle passage with my Caribbean heritage.  And, so were my travels on the island of San Andres as it became my history and my community.  Renewed and energized, Hope guided me to the shores of Barbados, a sunny island near the continent of South America.

Bridgetown, Barbados

In conversation, I told a friend that as I travelled I enjoyed collecting the stories of women of African descent, women of the before generations.  Immediately, she let me know that she had a friend who was on the verge of celebrating her hundredth birthday.  Of course, I decided to make a date to hear what that woman had to say.  Would I, again, I wondered, find Hope along the way?

There she was, bright eyes behind a tilted pair of spectacles on a tiny little crinkled toffee brown face lined with years of living, looking out as she sat on a chair next to her window surveying the street running along the front of her tiny wooden cottage. Bright pink curtains hung on each side of the windows; they greeted me as I walked up a winding path to her tall slim double sided doors.

I entered her front door to find a smile on her face that revealed small creamy teeth pushing out of two lines of rumpled pink lips.  A pink flowered decorated blue-green cotton dress hung a little baggy over her almost skeletal skinniness.  And, she peeked at me through lopsided dark brown rimmed glasses that hooked on one ear that was kept stable by a somewhat high bridged nose.

Married for years to the one man she loved, she praised his extraordinary regard for hard work and family.  As she told me, it was possible to ask anyone on any street nearby and they would tell you of his unusual compassionate demeanor.  He played it safe in every way and only spent money if they had it saved.

On the other hand, she said with a laugh, she was a big risk taker and waited until he went to sea; she visited the bank and inquired about a loan– this story she told me with a cracked giggle rippling from her throat – SHE decided to take the leap and get a loan to buy a piece of property as a family investment.  He agreed, eventually, that it was a good choice that she made for the family’s sake.

That day, as things stood, she lived on that piece of land long after her husband was gone.  It was a gift to her children for their future.  Another high pitched laugh rang out as she told me this; her eyes turned to a passerby on the road outside who called her name and greeted her with the familiarity of years.  She waved back and her eyes gleamed with the happiness of her position of sage woman-friend in her neighborhood.

I appreciated her as a role model of the independent woman and as historian.  She told stories of how a colonial company created the community, but limited certain possibilities.  Yet, she explained, that change came and her daughter now had an education that made her someone who was a recognized member of the society.

Hope, there she was again.


African Diaspora – Curacao – Faces and Voices – click here.

Four languages!

On the road, surrounded by beautifully painted wooden buildings of Dutch architecture, sitting on a bench in the downtown area of Curacao, I met a man and his children who code switched for me, from Papiamentu and Spanish to English, when they realized that I had limited language skills.  English was the only language that I could feel completely comfortable with in communication with the people who lived on this island.

In conversation, I learned that in their schools they recognized Papiamentu as first language and then it was onto Dutch, Spanish and English and most people could converse in these languages.

How did I come to be on this island of African history?

Again, I was on the history trail of women’s voices, of tales, of memories, of ancestral spirits… reminders of my identity.  I was intent on following the voices of the people who extended from the motherland onto branches yet unknown to everyone.

I was intent on this globalization.

Curacao had a black history museum that honored the spectacular culture and traditions of Africans.  Juxtaposed against the richness of this information, the contradiction of slavery, the incomprehensible burdens that Africans were made to carry, hung on the walls as reminders of man’s inhumanity to man.

Curacao, this beautiful island of various shades of green lushness and fabulous inland waterways, an island of rocking boats on white crusted waves had been a place to trade in human cargo… the slaves.

I met many wise women of history in Curacao.

A songstress and story teller and proud speaker of Papiamentu, gave me an interview and told me tales of ancestral women and their trials.  She expressed them in a serious tone as she recalled for me the memories of her history.

The songstress – click here.

The story teller – click here.

The songs she sang again told these tales in a different way as they called for others to sing along.

A teacher of children also gave me an explanation of why our young ones still need a critically conscious education that keeps them fighting oppression.

And, I again, was granted a sit down talk with a female member of an older generation.  She was a smiling soft voiced woman who had lived, by then, for one hundred years (100 years).

One hundred year old historian – click here.

What an historian.  Her story was the story of many women of African descent living in the diaspora.

At the beginning of the 20th century, she lived with her family a long way from where the people of the island did their buying and selling.  Therefore, it was necessary for the women of her family to harvest what they planted and pile the fruit and provisions in baskets on their heads and walk, an entire day, into town in order to put on sale what they had grown.


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