A Part of Me by Yaari

January 14, 2014

I remember that afternoon quite clearly.  David’s presence helped me breathe.  The knowledge that he would catch me if I fell gave me strength.  I had finally gotten up the courage to go to her.  David drove; I held on.  I knew she was dying.  A part of me wanted this to happen before I had to see her alive and suffering.

I knew that it would hurt, that there would be pain.  My father had introduced me to in at the age of ten. Those memories were etched into my mind.

My granny, Mary Vierra, was a story teller.  Those stories gave me the young woman in the ancient body; a body some found frightening to touch.

Age made her a part of me.  The circle was closing.  The woman who was there at every turn was on her way to the other side.  I wanted to give her some of my warmth and youth; I wanted to let her know that she was loved.

I watched the wrinkles in her face, her extra long braids brought memories of the many hats she wore to avoid catching “linen cold.” The fleshy folds that hung from her arms stirred inner smiles as I recalled the times that I spent letting my fingers swing them in fascination.  Curled under her were those bowed legs that made her seem small.  They never stopped her incessant movements; she made daily walks to the market.

She and I had been running in the opposite direction.  I hid in David’s shadow.  As long as happily making love of some sort in my new world of romantic emotions, I could pretend that death was not rapping at my family door, again.

Mummy kept me informed of the different stages of deterioration and that was hard enough to bear.  The night before, a call came in saying she had collapsed at home and had been taken to the hospital.  The doctor had operated and after the operation Granny had had a heart attack.

It tore at my guts when I thought of a knife cutting through that already frail and dying body – so fragile and old that all the veins showed – her body transparent as if she was slowly disappearing.  Why cut her?  But I knew the answers.  She was in pain and they were doing their best – the oath.  Wouldn’t I have done the same thing?  I would have become that pain – taken it as my own; eased that old and dying body into the ground.

I went to see her in the hospital; reluctantly I took the drive.   I knew I didn’t want to; I didn’t want to see her.

She was in a home for the elderly.

My mother had kept her for as long as she could – it was impossible because she needed constant attention.  I knew a part of Mummy died when she let her go …. even though there was no other choice ….

In Guyana, to put someone in a home is as bad as putting them out on the street.  It is as if you have handed them over to Death letting him know that the fight was almost over.  What else could she do? – new immigrants to the country – she, starting life over at 55 in a new country, new job, new apartment – new savings.  Daughters all in school with hopes of becoming something – but nothing yet.  There was nothing to do even if we were filithy rich but in the face of Death there is the need to feel that something else may have been done.

I knew I must see her.  What kind of person would I be?  A coward?  Someone who couldn’t stand to face the pain of someone she loved.  Someone who couldn’t give whatever help was needed in order to cross that invisible border into the next world.  No!  I couldn’t do that because I loved her and she ahd always been there for me and after all to love is to be strong enough to bear pain for others.

Oh God!  I was scared!  I was walking but I wanted to stop.  David was my thread.  He stayed by my side and his company worked like a strong breeze pushing forward.

We passed others – old people – in different stages of decay.  Some were bearable, some were sad and some were downright unpleasant to look at.  I don’t really remember the hall, the building or the colors of the walls but I can still see those faces as if they were yesterday, maybe they’ll fade with time.

I guessed we had come to her room because the nurse left us at this door which was standing ajar. I grabbed at David’s hand.  He held me.  He squeezed reassurance.

Upon entering the dimming lit room I could not focus.

Suddenly, the light came on.

The first thing I saw was an empty bed and, for an instant, my reaction was one of relief.  It was a delay of a few seconds, then I saw her.  My God!  She was so small, lying there in a fetal position, her knees drawn up to her chest, so damn small and fragile.  So lonely. so lost, so vulnerable.

My grandmother who had given me so much hell when I was younger – oh what I would have done then to have her back screaming at me.  I wanted to cradle her in my arms like a baby, but I was frozen – stopped dead in my tracks as I felt my body react.

I turned to the window.  David stood behind and wrapped his warmth around me.

I felt the heat of tears, the pain lacerated my insides – they burned fast and furious.  They shook my whole body.  Oh… there were tears of sadness, of pity, of helplessness, of anger, of self disgust, and tears of love.  I tried to control them, tried to hold them back.  I turned into David’s shoulder. He held me.

I knew she wasn’t with me in the present – she was  senile – living somewhere in her childhood – who could know for sure.  Yet, I did not want to upset her with tears.

I heard a tiny voice.  “Is that you Denise?”  I looked over and she was looking right at me.

She recognized me!   I said very softly, reaching but not expecting a response, “hello Granny” and I saw it in her face – she recognized my voice and a light appeared in her face for an instant and she turned and said quite clearly, in surprise “Denise!”  It was as if she had missed me, as if she knew that I hadn’t been to visit with her in a long time.  A stab of pain seared my heart.  I had avoided her; watching age take it’s toll, sapped my spirit.  I did not want to feel sadness.

Her time with me only lasted seconds.  They were seconds that held a million conversations – a million memories.  It was in those seconds that our loved reached across time, across borders, it was a last touch.  A final goodbye.  My tears came easier.  They came slower and eased the pain.  I had done the right thing in coming.

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After midnight on Broadway by Yaari

January 14, 2014

The night was beautiful – one of those warm, soft and deep dark velvet skies – a blanket of black charcoal, dotted with bright spots of tiny white lights shooting silver sparks off their sides – the kind of night that begs for your gaze as you drink in every drop.  Casting caution to the wind, I ignored my need for sleep.  Rushing through my brain was the thought that tomorrow would be a day of drooping eyelids and muscles that groaned with every move.  My mind quickly shoved that thought into the tiny sucking hole created for things to be denied and suppressed.

My right foot moved off the accelerator toward the brake; my right hand reluctantly eased out and joined my left on the steering wheel as I slowed my sloppily loved blue Honda Civic and let it crawl across the driveway hump of the restaurant. I pulled into the parking lot.  My eyes darted around and found the only available parking space – a quiet spot outlined by two fading white lines waiting in the comfortable shadow of a naked city tree.  As I reached my right hand to pull up the brake, a rush of breath escaped as my voice stirred the calm.

Boy, I’m really hungry now dat we’re her ……uuuummmmm…..

My eyes quickly took in the many cars in the parking lot.  There would be a line of colorfully dressed party goers in the lobby.

I’m in the mood for someting salty….

My left hand moved.

Grits?  Never really had it before….

toward the door handle as my body prepared to unfold into a  long awaited stretch and I anticipated a slow leisurely late night early morning breakfast.  It stirred memories of comfort.

Ooooh…..

the sound of her voice and the slam of the passenger door brought my awareness back to the warmth of the night and the beautiful woman in my company.  Like the night, she was a tall, elegant human sculpture of warm caramel gong on toffee, covered from neck to toe in rich, ink black sweater and pants.

The Unborn by Yaari

January 14, 2014

In the spirit world a long time ago, the spirits looked down and found great pride in a couple who lived in a land of wide expanses of green, lush trees, deep lakes and rushing rivers.  They watched as she, deep dark and vibrantly black, moved up and against her lover as he dipped steadily into her, his powerful muscles encased in the lushness of sapodilla smooth brown skin.

Children spilled from her womb full of health, sucking deep into their bodies the milk of a loved woman and very soon they roamed happily in a land of siblings, family, and love.

This couple never left each other; they broke bread, hunted, made home, cared and grew into weather wrinkled wise ones.  She was a teacher and he was a healer.  They laughed; they loved; they created stories – teaching and healing their offspring and the future.  When death came to her she followed and waited patiently on the other side for her lover.  He, seeing no reason to stay, joined her quickly and happiness was their reward.

Their spirits were then reborn into two beautiful African beings that found themselves on a march to slave ships.  She was torn from him and stumbled battered and raped onto Caribbean soil.  He found himself on a block, his balls palmed and examined and his beautiful muscles prodded – sold onto a plantation of cruelty and hate.

She was forced time and time again to bring forth children; brutality withered her spirit as over the years she watched as predator fathers raped and sold their own children.  This time she ran into the arms of death chased by an evil she could not name.

He, covered with the scars of that vicious evil, watched as his seed came forth from multiple loins into a world of inhumane translucent beings.  They stood on two feet, fangs dripping with blood, as they fed new flesh to their young.  He died with a longing for a time long ago and a land of stars and freedom still a flicker in his memory.

On the other side, she took deep breaths with the hope that he would come.  He arrived to find her waiting.  They held each other and waited to try again.  This time they found different chains and they refused to give birth, to share, to provide flesh to the new monster – capitalist cannibalism.

Hope is Alive by Yaari

October 28, 2012

HOPE IS ALIVE

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

Mexico

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.

Curacao

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.

Center of Attention – The Heart of the Matter

July 10, 2012

“One Love, One Love” Bob Marley rocked me down Cliff Drive, slipped me into a welcome calm as the ocean and sky touched my eyes with sunset soft blue and transparent orange red hues.  I rocked and reggaed my CRV into the parking space.  Letting the music curl my tongue, I sat back for a minute and then reached for the keys with my right hand.  As my fingers closed around the flatness of the key, I felt a shudder roll through the right side of my body.  What the hell was that?  A minute seemed slow as my mind recorded and registered a shift in my physical being.

Somewhere in between the conscious and unconscious, between denial and wwhoooooaaaa… I called for help; some other identity – one quieted by some oncoming fear took on a whisper; my tongue was caught by the disbelief that my half body shudder could be anything serious; my voice squeaked into a closed window.  No one heard.  What did I expect?  I lived in a quiet neighborhood in a small and quiet apartment building.

Calmly, I did like I do every night; I grabbed my bag from the seat; I opened the door and stepped onto the concrete yard.  I stumbled, but I kept walking aware that my right hand seemed to be losing its grip on its contents and I couldn’t hold on.  In the shadows of my consciousness lurked the recognition that something was slowing down; my right side was pulling at me; it was alien.

I made it to my apartment, but the physical warning that had taken over took me to my neighbor’s door; I rapped weakly and called, but there was no stir and something in the recesses of my mind nudged me to use my cell phone; that took some time as the phone kept slipping out of my hand.  And when I eventually held it I couldn’t press the little buttons hard enough.  I concentrated and slowly success came to me.

Stubborn and light heartedly refusing to acknowledge the slow deterioration of my balance, I called a friend to ask for permission to ignore my body.   I was aware of my own refusal to accept that anything serious could be at play.  After all, I was 52 years old and healthy.  Didn’t I conquer Crohn’s!  I mean, really!  I did not feel ill.  I was suppose to feel ill.

That friend was not at home, but another family member answered; she was older and had had some experience  with danger.  She suggested that I go to the emergency room to be on the safe side.  I refused; I had had an experience at the emergency room that kept me away from the medical profession for years.  I was not willingly going there.  She pushed.  I told her that I didn’t think I could drive; she suggested a taxi; I told her I had no cash on me.  I then told her that I would go in the morning.  She said no.  She said call an ambulance; I was adamant; I was not bringing a noisy disturbance to the neighborhood.  Really!  What drama to find out that it was all for nothing.

My friend sent her brother.  I sat on a stool in my apartment with the door open.  By this time, something ominous was registering somewhere deep in my consciousness as I found myself not able to keep my balance.  I reached for something on the table next to me and my hand behaved badly.  It did not follow my directions.  I kept hitting objects that were not a part of my command.  I trivialized the seriousness of this phenomenon.  I could not be in serious peril.

Andy, my friend’s brother and her sister, arrived and escorted me to the car.  I kept up a running comedy  routine in the car.  I told them that if I died at least I wouldn’t be going to a place that my loved ones hadn’t already visited.  After all, my mother, my best friend, had made the trip in 2006.  This did not get me laughs.

Arrival at the Emergency Entrance of Cottage Hospital brought me back to the real world.  Andy asked if I needed the wheel chair.  And, of course, I didn’t!  That is until my body refused to follow my mind.  I really thought that I could control my body and walk to the wheel chair.  But, to my surprise, my body did not respond and I had to be helped to the wheel chair and pushed into the building.  From there, after registration, things moved fast; it seemed like minutes and  I was quickly in the hands of two nurses.  They were young, blond, pretty and friendly.  And, I, in the midst of trying to deflect fear and anxiety, kept up a continuous and humorous chatter.

A what! A catheter! Where?  You are not serious.  In response to their affirmative answer my chatter got faster and funnier.  Humor was my armor against this loss of independence, this absolute invasion of body and privacy.  I had no control.  I told them that any such action would bypass friendship and go directly to intimacy and would mean the sharing of family details.  They laughed.  I laughed too as tears were quietly pooling inside.  I recognized that I was dependent on their kindness.  I clung to their smiles.

Somewhere, sometime in the midst of my trauma, Dr. Delio appeared.  He seemed to have been woven into a dream.  His presence did not surprise me.  He smiled and interacted with the nurses and he was at ease with the light hearted banter happening in the room.  At the same time, he calmly looked at me and told me directly, “Ms. Bacchus you are having a stroke and I need to know now what  time it started.”  A Stroke!  What could he mean?  I looked at him with some confusion, but I concentrated on his question and I tried to calculate the time spent between my parking the car and the present.  At the same time my query was “why is the time important?”  He explained that he only had a three hour window to give me t-PA – a powerful blood thinner; if he didn’t act fast he would miss the chance and that could leave me with debilitating results from the stroke.  Before all of this, before he could act, he had to get my permission.

The information swam in my brain.  What did it all mean?  I was too numb and deep in denial to do anything like seriously calculate medical information that spoke of possible death; but I had to give permission.  I looked at Dr. Delio’s face.  I saw calm intelligence; I saw concern; I saw compassion; and I saw confidence.  Those things I used to form an opinion and they steadied me.  It was what I needed to give my permission for him to use a powerful blood thinner that could save me in some way; some way that I did not fullly understand at the moment.  Those qualities he exhibited earned my trust.

Time flew.  Vitals were taken and came back normal.  Dr. Delio suspected a PFO; I was sent for a bubble test of the heart to confirm his suspicion.  The test was positive.  I had, unknown to me, a Patent Foreman Ovale = an open flap in the heart.  It made it possible for clots to escape into the blood stream.  A clot had escaped into my bloodstream and headed to my brain.  That clot had broken in two; one headed to the right side (   ) and the other to the left (ansular).  Together they blocked the blood vessels and were slowly starving the cells of oxygen and sentencing them to death.  And, in doing so, they were taking from me abilities I took for granted.

By  this time, there were constant tests = the nurses checking the movement of my feet, my ability to keep my hands up and at the same level, stick out my tongue, smile…..  My right side was losing movement and feeling; my speech was slurring.  Emotionally, I was somewhat removed from what that meant and therefore, I blocked intelligent calculations.  I kept laughing.

Needles hooked me to drips. The nurses gently smiled and apologized as they entered my veins and started infusions.  Time slid over me; minutes moved and became meaningless.  They rolled me to the MICU; needles kept me anchored; the catheter helped me to stay put.  Every hour a nurse engaged with me as she checked my vitals and my responses to tests.  “Stick your tongue out” became a joke.  Somewhere in my brain I was surprised that I felt no panic.  Again I clung….. to their smiles, their patience, their compassion… I clung.

Paralysis stunned me.  My right side was no longer mine.  It existed like dead meat hanging off of my shoulder bone.  Someone had replaced my marrow with lead; my right side had become clay.  The fingers on my right hand could not longer grasp my needs; it could no longer sustain my independence.  In a matter of hours, I was totally dependent on others – for everything – food, toilet, hair, teeth – you name it.  I held on to my smile and from somewhere outside of me a spirit, maybe mine with the help of others, started the a fight for life.

Education.  My hunger for knowledge; my bookworm identity entered this new stage as a firm friend and as my mental stamina.  The multitasker in me became that anesthesia for psychological pain.  I got busy.  Questions formed and spilled out.  My left hand reached for the computer keyboard and I let intellectual hunger find calming food; I googled for information.  I could not panic.  I questioned.

Dr. Delio and the nurses stepped in to supply information to my many questions.

I learned that brain cells die; they just die when injured.  Some of mine were either dead or badly injured.  There was no regeneration to be expected; other pathways had to be taken; other cells had to learn and take over    Under the heavy weight of this information a struggle began.  After all, I was lying in a bed immobilized by a cathether and unable to roll over on my left side.

I had tried.  The sweat appeared on my brow as my body refused to perform that simple act of rolling over and my mind tried to digest the mental shock of this lack of cooperation.  I loved the fetal position at night; it was my warmth.  What could I do?  Too, I could no longer write.

This was not happening!  I focused on movement.  I did not sleep.  I kept talking to my right hand; it had to work; I kept pushing my fingers to open and close.  I just knew they would listen to my body’s signals.  I could not stop; every minute I tried to pinch something, to pick up something.   I willed and I willed..   And they did; those fingers got moving.

The MICU was a three day mental and physical struggle; fingers twitched and struggled; one footed was lifted every minute; it was tested for strength.  The time was a journey I did on my back, staring at the ceiling; it was also a struggle to remember details.  I found myself often startled when in the midst of a visual memory story I could not recall some fact.  I was like having a book and turning the page and finding that the next page was missing.

I kept the constant knock of anxiety at bay with rapid interrogation of this new visitor, my stroke.  To think of that blood clot in my brain; to think that it could happen again, right then right there…. the nightmare of permanent paralysis, to ponder the might of what could have happened had I gone to bed.  That was too much to contemplate.  I lived with repeated and surprised gasps for frightenbed air.

After three days in the MICU, I was moved to the neurological wing of the hospital.  Again the smiles; again it mattered.

The nurses welcomed me into a room of space and comfort. They opened for my personality; they allowed for my individuality and in so doing they kept me whole.  I called; they came.  I talked; they listened; I asked; they answered.

They helped me mend.  Those smiles did their magic; they kept a promise and I held on to it.  Physically it was happening; there was more movement in my fingers and in my foot; I could stand.  Dr. Delio was informed; he gave permission.  The catheter could be removed.  And, they took it; I was free; very wobbly but free. Again, I needed… the smiles, the gentle voices, the arm and the shoulder.  Without them I would fall.  They, the nurses, braced me and did not let me go.

The strength to hand and my leg returned slowly; gingerly I started to the toilet and back; my sense of privacy and independence, caught in the midst of its fray, was overjoyed by the quiet of the closed door.  To sit alone; to think that I could have lost this freedom stopped my breath for seconds.  The reality of that possibility left my heart suspended in time and I could almost feel that dark hole open wide below; I could feel the beat of fear waiting…. just waiting.

And, I clung again… to the smiles.  The nurses laughter mixed with mine and their willingness to be kind; they drew me back into the fight for life, for limb..  I leaned again and again.  I needed them.

One day, I pushed even harder as I watched that walker leaning against the wall.  I figured, if I tried, with some help of course, I could make those short strides; I could, if I tried, wobble over to that other side, put my hand on that walker and take back a part of my life.  When the nurse arrived, I asked if she would shadow my backside, keep my robe from flapping, and catch me if I started to fall.  She stayed close and I made it to the walker.  After that I kept it by the bed and quickly found a limited independence.   Soon enough I attempted to manage without the walker a little at a time.

I was so caught up in my progress that it took some time for me to realize that my healing progress was moving a lot faster than expected.  The nurses were pleasantly surprised and willing to offer encouragement; I took it greedily. The excitement of good news fueled my body and I could almost feel those neurological pathways revealing themselves willing to take over new tasks.

I had a plan and it included Dr. Delio.  I was going to surprise him.  He was expecting walker; I would give him walk.  I was motivated to give him some good news.  Time had given me an understanding of his profession.  A shocking 1 to 2% of stroke victims made it into the Stroke Center within that crucial three (3) hour window.  I could not digest this news.  1 or 2 out of 100 people get the chance I was given.  Stroke was the primary cause of disability.  How could that be?  It was the third cause of death.

It occured to me that nurses, doctors, and therapists of neurology must deal with an overwhelming number of people who are incapacitated by brain injury – a lot of paralysis, loss of cognitive abilities…. struggles with depression.  What must it be like to be that face that someone sees as they try to wrap their minds around incredible loss – of abilities and of independence!  What must it be like to be that thin membrane between a smile and a tear.

In Santa Barbara, in the month of March, in the year 2012, at the heart of the Stroke Center stood Dr. Delio and nurses who kept me steady with their expertise and compassion when an “out of the blue” stroke sent clots to my brain; two clots that gave me an appreciation for life.

They were the heart of what mattered.

Is jealous deh jealous eh

July 10, 2012

I’m lookin’ at dis CD called deh Motherland an it come to meh.  Is no different dan deh man next door, dan meh friend at school…. deh just jealous, but is a jealous full ah hate.  Deh wanted to be fus. Like meh grandmudda say you gotta get a small min to understand dese folk.  Is deh really ignoran ones deh let lose to rob and plunder.  Ah mean if deh pirate thief Columbus didn’ even kno when he meet dem Carib people dat he wasn’t in India yuh kno when deh were rapin and thiefin dem humans pun African soil deh had no idea wuh deh was doin’ – ai ain’t sayin it would ah stop dem – but it was deh mudda mudda mudda chile deh was killin.

Ah gon tell yuh it does mek me laugh with a cackle uh somethin hot in meh voice when ai hear deh “horror” in dem voice when deh talk bout Hitler; ah mean do dese people read.  Is who deh tink dis man study?  Ah mean does dese people really kno deh history.  Is 50 million people deh tief an ah hear half ah dat dead pun deh way over makin deh middle passage maybe deh largest graveyard yet.  Deh jokin right – when dem uppity “class” conscious people who does celebrate deh jubilee of one vicious family – of course deh believe in Darwin and he does help dem sleep at night – ai mean ai sure dem lion an’ tiger run in deh opposite direction when deh learn and see dem European devour meat.  Ah mean dat man put deh animal in animal.

An deh hungry and greedy bad eh.  Ah mean dat is what capitalism is all about and deh whole idea is to we to all agree it deh only way to go and den we all Bamaco and dis one, deh motherland.  Ah mean deh got we believin dat poverty is because deh poor like poor.  Deh got we believe dat deh middle class is we goal so we climb each odda like crabs spittin out each odda blood as we an crawl.

Ah have to be honest.  I don’t believe dis story dat deh didn’t really kno wuh deh was doin’ because deh was convinced dat we was animals.  Really!  Half deh women pun deh slave ship com off pregnant.  Naw man dese people kno wuh deh was doin an today deh kno wuh deh is doin.

Ai ain’t gon seh dat today deh is doing deh same old same old with “sophistication.”  Wuh is duh?  Globalization, sweat shops, mekin we meh it, tek it from we fuh a dolla and den sen it back fuh we to buy fuh even mo money.  My grandmodda use to seh is brute force and ignorance and dat is wha it is.

The Academy as Bloodsport by Yaari

May 23, 2012

AN INTRODUCTION

The Academy as Bloodsport (always in motion)

Suddenly it was easier to speak; it was easier to see.  It was as if I had been given new infrared glasses through which darkness was made transparent.   Fear had been removed with the gift of knowing.  Confidence took the place of insecurity and along with it came pride and the revealed confirmation that I was not alone.  I knew it had been lying just beneath my skin.  The smell of thick rich sweet-smelling blood clung to the air.  My suspicions were confirmed; they were not nightmares; they were memories.

Often it happens like this… I read a book like Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and/or see the movie and it loosens my tongue, unhinges a deeply rooted piece of knowledge – reminds me that it is not insanity.  If it is, then I am in the company of those I admire.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t stop talking by Susan Cain is a book suggested by a man who has dedicated his life to helping people maneuver in a world that no longer holds them steady.

Yurugu by Marimba Ani is a book recommended by a man who walks the earth close to his words; he walks with his lips to his heart as he keeps up a constant fight for minority and indigenous peoples.  He looked at me years ago and named me “warrior queen” when I only had vague answers to questions and when I had only just stepped on to a path; I did not even know I had purpose.  He has stayed with me all the way; he was there even when I was not aware.

Milissa V. Harris-Perry’s book Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America gave me the four letter word I did not know would give meaning to my experiences; she gave me “tilt.”  My first encounter with Harris-Perry was around a book that also made an impression; that book was Marable Manning’s The Reinvention of Malcom XMilissa was on a panel with three other academics and her way of being caught my attention.

These books helped me to make sense of the academic world.  They gave me lenses that allowed me to examine skeletons picked clean by social cancers; these lenses magnified, for me, the extent of the disease and gave me the opportunity to understand how it had metastasized.

It was not hard to identify the history of colonization and its lasting impact; it was reflected in the academic behaviors ensconced in dialogues of social justice imbued with hopes of eventual equality.

Intellectually, if one pays attention to  the theories of psychology and learn how minds are warped by oppressors, these behaviors are not difficult to understand or predict.  Sad to say, the intellect seems to be at the mercy of the heart and the heart is in a long battle with pain; it has endured centuries of being skewered by racism.  And when women are included at the intersection the pain is layered as sexism steps in to close their throats with the intent of taking them deeper and into darker waters.

Francis Fanon and Edgar Mittelholzer raised their voices in their books – Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks and Mittelholzer’s Corentyne Thunder and others; they cried for help as they lived in a crooked world tilted by the horrors of racism.

Purpose:

I intend for this piece to be subjective on purpose.  Over years of observation and reflection, I am of the opinion that I should question not only what is happening in the world of “truth” told to me by the oppressors, but I need to be just as vigilant, if not more so, as I encounter the worlds of the oppressed who have had opportunity to gain a “higher” education and use it in multiple positions of “power.”

Subjectivity has become more important to me over time as I begin to understand how being “objective” contributes to my own oppression and marginalization.  I have come to believe that the structures of academia and the gatekeepers who maintain that structure – the descendants of oppressors and those who are descendants of the oppressed – are caught in a macabre dance of death.

The system is punitive in multiple ways.

In order to counteract what I know will be both passive and aggressive resistance to my view, I will tell my tale by using my own experiences at, what Patricia Collins calls, my “intersections;” it is a story of collisions, ones witnessed and ones experienced, in a world called “the academy.”

It is a particular and evolving culture of violence.

Before the tale begins I want to clarify what I mean by passive and aggressive resistance.

Passive resistance comes from those who do nothing!  They watch; they witness; they fear losing what they feel they earned; they do not really believe in change.  They are often in denial.  Passive resistance comes in the form of invisibility; they ignore.

Aggressive resistance comes in the form of public verbal and written attacks in so-called safe academic places.  Or, it happens when ideas leak; it takes place when professionals claim information revealed by others; aggressive resistance takes jobs and damages reputations; it takes lives.

This resistance comes from those who inhabit the spaces behind the walls and who intermittently gather at the intersections and congregate with others.  Here we have the men who maintain, or try to, gender dominance; we have the women who bifurcate themselves in order to be accepted; they believe they stand to gain from becoming participants in that dominance.  Hoping to maintain European order (conscious and subconscious hegemony), we have the oppressors in a variety of costumes hoping to “save” language and culture that supports a superiority they believe to be “true;” we have the predators hanging out here with the mocking grins of those who know that “gender power” will continue to support their actions.

And standing on the ever shifting fissures and volcanoes at this ring of fire are the lives trying to become a part of this academy while they also attempt to avoid certain death.

The Hunger Games:

I read; my business is reading.   When the younger generation devours books, I pay attention.  Rawlings’ books about Harry Potter grabbed the attention of so many readers of various ages at a time when my generation – many educators –  was enjoying their complaints about how much the younger generation lacked and not about their talents.  Our chatter was so self-centered that the air waves were full of noise about how to take them back to basics.  BECAUSE, they can’t write structured essays; they can’t spell; they can’t speak in sentences; they can’t focus; their brains are being eroded by the addiction to multitasking.

The popularity of Rawlings books said something very clearly.  Not only were they reading, but they seemed to be performing something very Frierian; they were reading the world and the word; they were finding the world in the word and on film; they were drawn to serious subject matter and they were thinking.  In her books Rawlings captures readers because she deals with child abuse, death of loved ones, depression, mental illness, outsiders, awkwardness, introversion, shyness, good and bad politics; the books deal with heavy social issues and children are reading and the reading is sustained; many of them read all seven books; and the books are five to seven hundred pages each.

It is a message to us that the younger generation is aware; they are fertile ground for critical thinking activities; and by their willingness to open themselves to books at a time when the competition for their time is at its strongest, suggests that they are agents of free will.  The attention to those books is a call to us  educators; it iss a way of knowing; it is an out of the box and out of the classroom self-education.  It happens in spite of the “distractions.”

This time, The Hunger Games trilogy should have drawn us educators to the books and the movie.  What does this writer reveal and explore that draws such a wide audience?

It is the future;  the period is post-rebellion.  The hegemonic Capitol has crushed it and recreated an ancient form of punishment – gladiator type sport using a male and female from every district to fight; there can only  be one victor.  The scene looks very much like ancient Europe; they even use chariots.- The war on terror seems to be a new kind of war; it is endless and it seems to be borderless.  Waiting to see the movie I was subjected to a long ad for the youth to join the military; signing up today with all the attractions for the poor and unemployed often means years of killing and watching others die.)  Traitors to the Capitol have their tongues cut out as a warning to others and a silencing.  (Again the ongoing talk about holding terrorists indefinitely; stories of outsourcing torture; stories of creative cruelty in the torture chambers; creating arenas to hunt and kill “dictators” for public consumption;  this is America today.)  The districts are kept Hungry; this has multiple meanings.  The Capitol, on the other hand, wallows in excess of all kinds.  One of the consequences of this excess, this all consuming greed, seems to be a loss of empathy, a loss of a connection to the “other’s” humanity and, therefore, they develop a blood lust in fertile minds; they salivate at the smell of blood.  In their separateness they justify the bloodsport.

The Academy:

It starts at birth when the boys and girls are separated by color and behavior is groomed.  This still works in 2012.  At school, the heart and intellect are separated slowly as competition is rewarded and a form of bullying is revealed.  Of course, like the Capitol, certain groups are groomed in certain schools, while, like those who inhabit the pauperized districts, certain groups continue to pay for their “rebellion.”  These schools and neighborhoods are kept so “hungry” that they begin to feed on each other.  And, as the society slowly inhabits our minds with falsehoods, at the same time using a ghettoized system, they parade the gladiators of the day to day sport through the criminal system.  The schools play a part in this preparation.

Over the years of schooling some things become clear.

Code of Conduct
In the academy, is there a code of conduct!  Of course, there must be one and it must be one that satisfies the majority. It is, after all, a capitalist democracy.  It is a well protected group and, not surprisingly, like any culture with a valued code any voice that challenges is quickly set aside.

I was told, and rightly so, that I must find an arena more suited to my ideals.

I want a shift in thinking,  a different future.

CHAPTER ONE

Crooked room ‘isms and anecdotes

Graduate student

I was angry; and I didn’t know where to hold it long enough to manage it.  Chu walked into to my life then; he walked in just in time to save me. Tall, black, and Ibo; he was everything I admired.  He spoke many languages; his voice was soft and compelling; he was a scholar and at the university for a while.  He understood my anger and he folded it into his voice and coaxed me to calm often.  Chu gave recognition always to the crooked room.

At the time, I was the only black woman in the year’s cohort of hopeful teachers.  I had met and befriended the only other black female hopeful in the year ahead.  She and I shared the unique quality of trying to walk in the direction of young black children with not much as guidance.  The university’s department had somehow not achieved a substantial amount of literature related to people of African descent, developed a list of black instructors in the community, or hired professors to fill the needs of students whose main purpose was to deal with the overwhelming odds facing that community.

Time folded in and wrapped us together in the rise and set of the suns.

She was the concerned mother of two beautiful children searching to find a clear path to healthy success.  Our paths crossed and I pulled her into a project focused on young boys in an elementary school and we collaborated and managed progressive success with a group of boys and over time we produced a number of meaningful poems.  She and I observed this healing and it helped us as be exposed bruises that were often being damaged again and again; we discussed how much it was a part of the culture; we thought it might be different.  Our laughter at that niavete was threaded with the black and blue of pain.

And then it happened; I heard about it as I left one of my university classes.  The students were in an uproar and they were concerned.  A professor, a white man, had taken the “liberty” of using her, this young black woman, as a guinea pig for his experiment/classroom activity.  As I was told, he tried to prove the results of racist discrimination.  The activity was laced with liberal racism and it traumatized the young woman; it shocked her classmates, who removed by color, could not possibly have suffered the same trauma.  This added isolation.

A crooked room it was; a crooked room filled with poisonous gas; she stumbled out of that room damaged at the core.

She broke; I watched.  The tears started as we worked; she could not check them.  She struggled. Before I knew it, she was cowering under a bed; her mind cracked; she saw fear in everything; and that included her family; it included me.  No longer could she study.  The cushion of time and similar interests ripped at its seams and spilled us in different directions.  Soon, for her, it was medication, and psychological incarceration.

The anger grew in my throat as my mind was bombarded by the constant nightmare repetition of the bloody wounds cleaving their way through black minds.  I was thrown into the past and I crashed into the memories of my father.   I again watched someone who could not tilt and instead shattered in so many pieces I could not hold them steady.  Guilt, reared its ugly head and sucked me into the darkness of despair.

race:

“I don’t  date no bitch blacker than me.”

College

Conferences

class:

“uppity”

“virago”

Rules of Engagement

CHAPTER TWO

Hope as Triumph!    She walked with head held high; her memories were blaring their beauty and in all her glory she trumped the sport

The Novel as a Bridge to Understanding Violence and Oppression

Collisions at the intersection by Yaari

April 13, 2012

The Past Haunts.

I write because the past haunts me.  I am not sure why it started or how it started, but my hand found a pen and my thoughts were captured by history and all of the unanswered questions.

I wanted to answer women questions.  I was looking for a way to build my confidence, to claim my individuality, to find a path in my own agency that had as little to do with someone else’s expectations about who I should be depending on the particular lens by which they were viewing me.

I was bone weary of hearing “NO” and bone weary of all the various boxes I was suppose to fit into and bone weary of all the passive and aggressive punishments that were like shards of glass in every direction I treaded.

I was always unprepared for the double conscious behavior; I could never figure out how to be girl and independent; strong woman and subservient seductress…. And, I could never figure out how to dodge the barbs and survive the pain of ostracism and marginalization so I went hunting for any others who understood the destructive contradictions of what it meant to be woman and black.  Instinctively I knew they were out there buried in history and battling the day to day lives of those caught in the poisonous webs of gender, mental illness, sexuality, age and race discrimination.

Marginalizations:  gender

I love my womanhood; I live with anger; I twist and turn in the day-to-day battle with illogical behavior.  I swallow my disgust at the hypocrisy.

Yet, the struggle against invisibility and the daily struggle for respect has worked to give me a gaze of extraordinary intensity.

Mental Illness

Let’s talk about how mental illness marginalizes and how often it is used as a weapon: a weapon with multiple results.

It is a social embarrassment.  Like leprosy society itself is ashamed that it produced those who cannot “hold it together.”  Therefore, they opening ignore those who suffer and they bury them in deep, dark invisibility, but they do this in open sight.

The Caribbean is notorious for keeping secrets in the closet; they are notorious for “be but don’t tell.”  A person who is connected in any family way to someone who lives with the painful sadness of mental and emotional torture lives with the cast of suspicion in spite of any sense that others might have.

A Caribbean Tale by Yaari

December 3, 2011

A Bastard Was Born

Pretty girl was born the bastard child of a well to do black man and a poor but beautiful Portuguese woman.  He made it up from selling cows to owning a rice mill and she made it to town from a small farming village in the country area.

They met; they courted; they became engaged; and she let him…..    She got pregnant and he left her for a proper black woman of the upper class.  Without money she was nothing more than a pretty face.  That face wasn’t enough to hold a man on the way up the ladder.  He climbed while she fell further and further into shame.

The scarlet letter was engraved on her brow.  Shame on you woman.  Society put it there and she polished it.  Bitterness and shame took over and flowed into the atmosphere.

She gave birth – Pretty baby born the wrong color, at the wrong time, in the wrong place – skin as white as soursap flesh and face the splitting image of that man who went from cows to rice mills up to fancy house on the hill.  Nothing could hide Pretty baby from that Scarlett letter.

The pain inside as she looked at this child through the eyes of her dead dreams and shattered future erupted in anger at all things around her.  Yet, she continued to live propelled by the instinct to survive and love – yes love in spite of the childhood dreams of social status soured and curdled in the pit of her stomach – dream of protected wife into welcomed motherhood was dead dead dead, but she was alive and so was Pretty baby.

Poverty was the stagnant trench and she was caught in the depth of hard work and nowhere to go fast.  She washed clothes with hands angry with shame and rough with determination.  She cleaned other people dirt and held the pieces of her ego together by rending the air with her roars.

They lived between bits of wood that made up the tiny rooms that sheltered her mother and pretty baby.  She hated and loved them as she tried to breathe and felt their fragile beings clog her nostrils.  With every breath the pain seared her heart.  She blasted them with the hot words of despair and loss.  The wounded animal in her had no way to control the ripped ego and self hatred that battled to take over her heart.

Lonely without human warmth to nourish emotions she fought battles she kept losing.  The world outside no longer held clouds, dreams did not paint her future.  Her eyes closed from exhaustion and behind her lids danced her mocking nightmares of what she had become – an insect of society, unworthy of visibility.  She was a bad woman, a bad bad one, a good for nothing.

So, she let another one in.  He came with nothing but smiles and the knack of a snaring charm that caught them all.  In the midst of social ridicule what he offered came close to companionship and a semblance of love.  He came and offered conversation next to kitchen stove – a kind of family.  She needed him so shame looked the other way and she ignored the fire of the Scarlett letter.

She took him to bed and had another bastard.  Born, again, shame stood tall and she let go of all internal expectations and just looked ahead for the sun to rise and bare the day, the grind to come, and to let go of life in the night – the market, the scrub board, the buisin,’ the self hatin’ and in a little hole somewhere a flicker of lovin’ laughter struggled against the biting pain.

At times the tired hands washing other people’s sweat didn’t make enough to bring food to the table.  Friends with pity stretching their faces gave here and there even the left overs from hospital trays entered her door as scraps on plates.  Her spine barely withstood the tug to break and slowly she found a way up the alley away from the neighborhood full of other tired souls to settle on the border of visibility.

Pretty baby grew with this in her flesh.  Shame! Shame! Shame!  She watched and heard the vicious pain sear the air with its burning purpose.  Hell and damnation.  She learned to cringe behind a silent face.

Resistance came in school work.  She excelled. She did well – won academic awards and gathered a little envy to soothe her hidden wounds.  She yearned for love, the love of family, a home away from questioning stares, away from gossip surrounding but not confronting.  She longed for peace as she endured the constant waves of harsh social derision.

Instead the turmoil continued and half sister did it again with another abuser of women’s love and time and brought into the world and unsuspecting innocent bastard child.  This bomb shattered any facade and scattered family parts far and wide.

Poor bastard child brought another layer of shame.  Pretty girl swayed with the social burden; she staggered again and again; she called on prayer; she locked her jaws; she stifled the screams.  Instead of beating the walls she taught herself absolute control.  Father abandoned and reclaiming could go to hell.  She would make it on her own.

And she did.

Pretty as pretty could be she found pieces of love and affection and cautiously she accepted them from a safe distance.  Alongside those pieces of love she kept pace with the old and made others her responsibility.  To keep them safe, to make some pride became her purpose.  To live in spite of her history glowed in her for a time.

One day Pretty girl saw him and he saw her.  The commitment was made.  She saw the possibilities, the pieces coming together, a dream being made.  Probability of love hovered closer and closer.  She made a friend.

Little did she know that she had met…..

A Mad Man Was Born

The mother had given birth to all his children in private shame.  They did not know that their daddy hadn’t married her.  They were all bastards according to Caribbean society. She felt the anxiety and quelled it with the long ago story of the slave trade – life for family.  At least he stayed.  What could a woman in her circumstance do?   She had after all laid down with that man.  That Indian.

Indentured labor had brought his kind to the Caribbean.  They came with an intense Muslim culture and it had grown into their only claim against non-slaves.  At least they weren’t those blacks, the pitiful.  At least they had something – religion, a connection with India, a language.  They were something.

She found him after his first Indian wife had died and he needed warm flesh to remind him of life.  She got pregnant and his reputation in community made him stay and pretend a social commitment had transpired.

She loved him and fooled herself that he loved her.  And there the excuses started and abuse became love and stayed like a viper in her heart spewing a toxic venom.  Slowly it moved through what was once her inner self and became a personal poison.  It ate and ate and ate…..

Into this new well a mad man was born.  Baby boy a handsome mix of coolie and red – favorite thought twisters of colonial heritage.

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Here is a story.

Once upon a time there was a beautiful Guyanese woman; she was golden in color and slight in built and of christian mind; inside her bubbled the african and amerindian spirits.  This beautiful woman met a handsome man; he was smooth chocolate in color and muslim in mind with senses harking back to India.  In the midst of this mixture of love and lust were the gods of racism, slavery and indentured labor, at war with each other as they conducted their historical colonial orchestra.  These gods banned the legal union of muslim and christian and manipulated these people – one beautiful woman and one handsome man – to participate in multiple forms of abuse.  The relationship of the gods eventually produced an offspring, gender suspicion and this godchild grew into sexism.  The love hated itself and the hate fed on the love.  He did not marry her and she allowed him.

Over time this woman gave birth to twelve children six of whom died – one of them in a tragic death of red hot flames.  The man, throughout these births and deaths stayed steadfast, to the gods and their godchild.  And, he collected their weapons for use.  The years made him expert with words as weapons; he used silence with the skill of isolation; his understanding of gender gave birth to demands beyond equality.  Eventually, shaped by the forming of child selves, the deaths of six, the burning of one all mixed with the expertise of the progenitors her mind caved in.  She went crazy.

There was this large house somewhere in the country made for those who went crazy.  He had money; he sent her there; he sent her to her own cottage.  For twelve years he kept her there; on a train from town to town he sent her favorite fare; he made special arrangements for her culinary pleasure.  The twisted gods of love continued to work their magic.  Eventually, he brought her home to manage another generation of offspring.

Into this holy mess a tall, beautiful and handsome he child was born.  He held all the traits of both his father and his mother and he was baptized in the springs of the muslim and christian baths and he became a child of the Caribbean.  He tried to satisfy all of these gods of mother and father.  He met and fell in love with another beautiful woman of golden color and christian mind and married her.  Over time they gave birth to seven brown girl children of the Caribbean.  But, throughout it all he was strapped onto this wrack of torture; his life was woven into the world of the colonizer.  They turned the wheels slowly and over time he broke and followed the path of his mother.

You wonder why I tell you this story of colonial order and you ask how in heavens name it could be of import to my selves as an educator and intellectual conductor.  And, I tell you it is … just listen and it will cross those borders and they will meet at the intersections.

The beautiful golden woman he met was also a child of the Caribbean.  Her mother was of Portuguese descent sprinkled with some african spice and she was a country girl in an urban city.  Poverty was her bedding and blanket.  Love and lust were her transgressors.  They led her down the aisle and she believed their lies.  They put a ring on her finger and she followed them to bed.  Instead of ring she bore a child on those bed of lies and became a woman scorned and a woman despised – a single mother.  The child of this unblessed union was the beautiful golden she child with dreams of her own.

When they met he was shy and she was bright.  He stopped his bike and followed her.  She noticed and from then on they shared moments in time.  They learned to love and trust.  They married and then came those seven girls.  The wrack on the wheel stole into their lives and wrecked that time.  He lost faith and they lost the connection of friendship.  They both felt betrayed; he by what had entered his head and she by the broken promise of dreams.  Time collided and folded into itself and sooner than they could comprehend in their senses lives were shattered.  Mental illness reached into the folds of flesh and imploded.  Society’s condemnation of such illnesses stained their everyday lives and sentenced them all to years of silent torment.  This social condemnation along with gender discrimination exposed all of these women to other human vultures.

The smell of blood drew them like jackals who sensed the wounded.

And, the tall beautiful golden woman was sentenced to a life of a struggle to save her girls.  She was left to do this alone.  Shaped by the gods of christianity and the colonizer’s social rules she held her tongue when the vultures walked in and fed on the lives of her young.  She watched as they took vows of subservience and she watched and listened as they laid down on beds of nails and gave up blood to the vultures.  At these crossroads stood irony.  The vultures fed on her young in the same way that the handsome grandfather fed on the blood of the beautiful grandmother.  They drew blood with words and smashed lives with fear of exposure.  “You will go just like your father.”

For years I lived with the fear that the man I loved would be used to abuse me.  For years I heard and watched realities that made that fear a nightmare.  For years the threat hung over my head.

This is the history into which I was born.  These experiences shaped me and these experiences are with me at the crossroads.  Mental illness stands with me at the intersection.  In the book Black Feminist Thought Patricia Hill Collins centers the importance of working from the intersections of our lives.  In this way, all “truth” is recognized and analyzed.

These are the experiences that tilt my world.  In Melissa Harris Perry’s book Sister Citizen: for Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Politics When Being Strong Isn’t Enough, these experiences found a lens to give them meaningPerry’s use of the analogy “tilted room” to describe gave sanity to what would otherwise be insane as women try to exist with a lack of logic in their day to day lives.

When they confront race and gender stereotypes, black women are standing in a crooked room, and they have to figure out which way is up.  Bombarded with warped images of their humanity, some black women tilt and bend themselves to fit the distortion.  ……… To understand why black women’s public actions and political strategies sometimes seem tilted in ways that accommodate the degrading stereotypes about them, it is important to appreciate the structural constraints that influence their behavior.  It can be hard to stand up straight in a crooked room.”

Milissa V. Harris Perry in Sister citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

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The new clothes by Yaari

November 30, 2011

When they look back at our “culture” our “civilization” they will recognize the sickness.  Is it a human  thing this gladiator thirst for blood – some kind of blood or this vulgar need to dehumanize some other human being.  I sit here in the hotel and no glasses no work I decide to surf.  The TV has one after the other one after the other show of degradation and dehumanization.  But today I decide to really watch a show on prisoners.  I took my time and I allowed all the responses, the emotions, the feelings and I asked the questions.

The thing about computers and televisions is that I can write as I see; I can write as I feel; I can stay with the feelings and as I watch I think of years ago when mentally ill patients were the circus show for the British society.  I think of Hitler and the many human beings that used him as a reason for their deeply inhumane and psychotic brutality and that was in my lifetime.

I look at this TV show and I see and hear the connections, the bridges, between the NPR show where the man shared the deeply racist beliefs his family expressed at the Thankgiving dining table, THE THANKGIVING DINING TABLE –  the place where Americans eat hearty meals while celebrating their denial of how they actually stole the land that they declared God sent them to take.   And, in this case, a family sat to share how they really feel about the descendants of the black women and men that they raped, brutalized, sold.

I have a hard time seeing the good in this “transparency” of prison life.  I see a sick sick sick social movement in these reality shows.  I see a focus on religion as salvation – the new missionaries in a society of people of color and they win their souls for God.  I see a sick society that on one hand talks about the sickness of homosexuality as they house warm blooded humans in pens without any access to human need – they create the show and then sell it as a public performance for the world.  A trapped bunch of performers for their mastabatory  fetish type behavior.   The camera focus tells you that this is not a worthwhile or worthy path.  The camera like a peeping tom, the camera like the sick minds of those who performed the mutilation of the homosexuals, Gipsies, and Jews take us to the cuffs on the hands of the men, the camera takes us to the smears of blood, to the nakedness of the men.

The TV is being used to seduce us into the public rape of men – mostly men of color with enough white men to counteract the accusation that this is another lynching another enslavement another violent attack on the humanity of certain groups.  We watch as men must pee for tests, as they do push ups in their cells, who pace like animals in a zoo as they battle the forces of a tragically and dangerously schizophrenic culture.

I listen as a black man talks proudly of his duty to execute these men.  The society is being fed the idea that we should come to believe the story that started in their fields – black men are dangerous animals who prey on other humans especially white women.  I look at this man’s face and I listen as he details and describes how he goes about killing his victims.  American civilization?  I understand in a visceral way from my experiences in the white world how much the innocent white person is not even able to see and admit to themselves that they still live as if their black brothers and sisters (and I mean that literally when you think of the many white men who continuously raped black women in order to increase their slave trade) are not fully human; they practice an “innocence” that is as poisonous as the cobra.