When I first visited Ayiti/Haiti, exactly a year after the 2010 devastating earthquake I did not know what to expect, but I was deeply moved by the indomitable spirit of the people, by the immense artistry and beauty that they created everywhere and by the care and loving attention they obviously invested in their children.
But we never see or hear this portrayal of Ayiti in the media, and even less about the historical wanton exploitation of the land and resources and the people’s labor by Europeans, Americans and even neighboring Caribbean islands. All our hands are a little dirty.
However, what we are most guilty of is our negligence of thought that continue to speak of Ayiti as the “poorest” country in the western hemispher, and negates its foundational wealth, its unstoppable creativity and its undaunting determination to continue and thrive. This collective spirit is evident in the children I saw everywhere — their clean, clear eyes, their open curiosity, their keen sense of responsibility for themselves and their siblings and their innate, open beauty that was as welcoming and heart-stirring as the most beautiful flower, which of course they are, and to my delight, I felt many of them knew this, was shown and taught this, despite their immediate circumstances.
As I was driving by, I photographed this little girl squatting by the road, in charge of the two bags to her right and left. There was something golden about her manner, some assurance of belonging, some assurance that life was not going to simply use her up then sit her out. She was already installed on her throne, hence the color and texture that I employed in amending the photo.
At a vodun ceremony, I was arrested by this other girl, who was probably no more than six years old. It was her gesture, finger to mouth, angle of her upright arm, bold intensity of her eyes that I wanted to share. I am here and must be counted, her presence spoke to me. I am here and have something to share. I am here and will not be forgotten. I am here…See me!
See these children, really see them and see their island, and help them and their island to live the freedom they so daringly seized that others have been trying to pull from their hands. They are truly methaphysicians. They see beyond the immediate into a future where real freedom is a lived reality.
This is part of a larger photo/poetic project, in progress, entitled, Still: Ayiti’s Resoluteness
I am a writer who takes photographs. I am a photographer who captures lives. Actually I am a recorder who interprets and transcribes all that I see. I am a seer, learning to see more. I am a projector. I am a futurist. I am a creator of reality.
This is a picture of a Jamaican man. I don’t remember where in Jamaica I snapped his photography nor the year. I did not ask him to pose for me. He was sitting talking and I think I did ask if I could take his photograph, but that might be after I took it because the moment you ask and bring awareness, then another face is shown. I want to capture the raw, un-posed; the moment – unmasked, vulnerable and even intense.
This is what I saw or perhaps this is what I projected. I have tampered with this image as all artists tamper/alter/amend images. I do this through photo-shop, the way I use light — adding or darkening– the way I crop the image to create an effect I want, and the other ways I apply filters and other methods to alter the image, as in inverting.
I was taken with his eyes; I think I somewhat believe the eyes are the mirror to one’s soul – whatever we think that to be. I was drawn to his entire presence, solid, stocky, a man who speaks his mind, I believe. A man who insists on being listened to, a man who draws an audience. A man who might be pushed to hit his woman or perhaps not. He might be a push over, only wants to feel her back pushed up against his chest.
But now he is my man; I get to show him off the way I want him seen; I get to tell the story I give him or extract from him or impose on him. He is mine – My Mister Intense.
I see this every day, and every day it is new. I make sure every day I enjoy nature. I make sure every day I do what I love. I make sure I enjoy my life.
There are many people who admire me. There are some people who envy my life. And there are the odds ones who despise me or think I am arrogant. I do not place stock in any of these sentiments. I live my life.
There is truly apart of me that do not understand why so many grown people are not living their life. Why are they still trapped in jobs, relationships, a specific place/location that they resent, feel unloved or yearn for a different environment?
What are you allowing to stop you from living your life? I realize that since I was twenty years old, and graduated from college I have been living my life. I have not allowed the unknown or fear or lack of resources to stop me. I have never stayed in a job beyond a year that I did not like nor a home. Not even three children and single-parenting stopped me, although it slowed me down for a minute.
I do believe attitude is everything, and I have been and remain and idealist, an optimist, a believer in our innate good, our ability to transform our lives, our resilience to push through, to find and celebrate love in all we do, and to make a difference wherever we find ourselves in the world.
What projects aka dreams have you been sitting on, stuffing under a pile of false obligations, waiting until the right time or when you retire or your ship comes in. Your ship has been at the dock so get off the boat and enjoy the new landscape. Splurge! Celebrate! Just do it. Do it, and before you know it, every morning will be joyous and you will find that you are living your life — taking your daily walks on the beach or some place else, having a soothing cup of dandelion tea, enjoying a boiled egg with cucumbers, meditating in your tea-house, reading, writing, lounging, having an afternoon swim, conducting interviews of amazing people, speaking to your children via social media, steaming fresh fish for dinner with pumpkin and kale, reflecting on the sunset, going to a movie, holding hands, being, living your life, living you.
Do you really want to have what you want?
Do you even know what you want and not what the media or your neighbors or even your parents and what others tell you that that is what you should want?
Do you daily see yourself having what you want?
Do you have love and share love freely and daily with everyone you encounter?
Are you thankful for what you currently have?
Do you complain and put others down?
Do you envy or celebrate other’s accomplishments?
Does your joy and happiness feed others?
Do you marvel at the sun, moon, the people you see, the animals around you?
Do you spend quiet time reflecting on your life?
Do you eat what is right for your body because you have checked in with your body and not what is trending?
Do you exercise so you limbs and joints can rejoice at their power?
Do you keep all promises your make, regardless of how small or large?
Do you just speak thoughtlessly, saying all the things you can do, or are going to do, but forgetting the moment the words are out of your mouth?
Do you truly value yourself, thank your mind, your spirit, your heart, your body for contributing positively to life?
Do you feel connected to others, and are you willing to work with others for the greater good?
Do you feel empowered and that you, and you alone can single-handedly make a difference for someone other than yourself.
Are you willing to grow and change, when necessary, an out-dated idea, belief, action, way of being?
What are you thankful? To whom are you thankful? To whom are you accountable?
Who helps you to grow outside and beyond yourself?
Can you measure or demonstrate ways you have changed and grown in the last year, in the last two years, in the last five years?
Who have you helped lately, and in what way was the help tangible?
Having reflected on all of the above, go in peace, be peace and share your divine peace with others.
The poem asks who is this child woman and where has she gone? Does her poems still grow in sun-flowers? Does she still dance in the rain? How has she faced the disappointments and with whom does she celebrate the successes?
The poems asks who is this other woman? Where did she come from and why does she have the eyes of the woman above? Are her poems still soaked in dreams submerged in molasses? Does she still hide among the tall grasses and interpret the shapes of clouds?
Are her songs still melodious and do birds sing her awake?
The poem really wants to know who are these faces and where do their truths intersect?
If poetry is the only truth and life is a lie where flows the water of our legacy?
My Mother still has beautiful hands, but they give her the most trouble. She laments that she has difficulty raising her arms above her head, she laments that her fingers ache and swell, she laments that she has difficult grasping things.
She is thankful that she can still use them to take care of herself, dress, go to the bathroom, even though it takes long.
I can’t imagine my mother not being able to use her hands. When I were a child her hands were never still. She could fix things around the house, the electrical iron, a bench needing a nail to stabilize it. She basked and every Saturday I lived for her sweet potato puddings, coconut cookies, cinnamon role. She was the best cook, and as a result was asked to cater for the cricket teams, but I couldn’t get enough of her stew peas and rice and pepper-pot soup.
There is nothing that my mother couldn’t and didn’t grow. Everyone said she had a green thumb, African violets, gerbas, banana trees, all kind of fruits. She also had healing fingers. When the chickens had yaws she would rub aloe vera mixed with something else on them. If the dogs got in a fight during the night with the other neighborhood dogs, she would dress and bandage their ears. When I got chicken pox, she filled a great aluminum basin with water and tamarind leaf, which she boiled, then bathed me in the water to soothe my itching.
She made some of our clothes that many thought were store bought. She made curtains for our windows, crocheted doilies for the tables and dressers; she embroidered patterns on our pillow cases and our initials on our hand-kerchiefs; she knitted tops, she made beautiful needle point wall decoration, she churned ice-creams, made wine from local fruits, juices, various concoctions, all with her hands. Her needlepoints graced our walls.
I sometimes forget how blessed I am to have an endless stream of creativity, to care about the world and contribute to help make it better, to be alive at this time and know that right now is the absolutely best time of my life, that everyday I get stronger, better, more inspired, and that I have always been able to find people who love me to support my artistic expressions and my cultural activist work.
Although it is not always easy to make my dream a reality, and sometimes I get frustrated and ask where is my help, why do I have to do so much of the leg work alone, where are the billions to fund my project –after all I want to do good in the world, I don’t want six cars and a diamond ring that cost millions. I just want to create an amazing artists colony with a profuse Caribbean garden with sculptures and an orchard with all the many fruits, and ponds and flowing water and wide open space to dream and think and create.
I want to leave my children a legacy of land and ownership, in addition to my writings, so each generation is not beginning from scratch so that we never make any ground way . I don’t want to go out the same way I came, unknown, unheralded, without leaving monuments that document that I was here, I had dreams and plans which I implemented that will exist long, long after i have gone, and will contribute to humanity.
I want it all. I deserve it all. I will live my dreams. I will continue to create and leave a lasting legacy. I will continue to help heal the world, and expose child abuse, and provide victims and parents with a voice to say no more enough. Our community must talk out, blare out, expose, eradicate and heal. To this end I have written, The Cock Crows Our Secrets, to begin the dialogue. I cannot do this without out. So support in all ways you can, spread the word, send contribution to the St Croix Foundation care of Moving Women. Raise the conversation with friends, family and colleagues, and most importantly do not be silent about these crimes that impact the entire community.
I am blessed and grateful and each day I am doing my part. Join me in happinesses and wealth building to support all our dreams. Support Moving Women’s theatre efforts.
I just put on luscious plum, one of my favorite colors, that accentuates my lips.
I love my lips, their perfect fullness and shape. I mostly wear dark colors, and I don’t spend a lot of money on lipsticks, but I have one in every purse, and I almost never go out without adorning my lips, for moisture, but also for appeal.
Men have always complimented my lips, all my lips, say I have kissing lips.
A few years ago while in the bank, one of those old fashion, charming Caribbean men that can talk you to step out of your underwear, even in a bank, I did not, started to chat me up, he said, “Darling, your lips so lovely if I had them I would be wealthy and own this bank, and I know if I were to kiss them I would be transported to heaven.” Talk about sweet talk. I must admit I smiled, even blushed – he was so into talking me up, saying he could spend more than a year just on a lips before his eyes adore my neck and the rest of my body. It made my day, and writing it now makes me smile.
When I was twenty-one years old another Caribbean man did adore my lips, while in a working meeting, that resulted in him getting into my pants, and the attention he paid to my lips during the course of our flirtation was divinely satisfying, running his fingers and tongues… okay enough.
This is actually about writing. I have lots of writing projects that need my attention –completing the edits on my forthcoming short story collection, Love’s Promise, proofing galleys on my children’s books, Look, Moko Jumbie!, drafting and editing interviews, completing a play, poems about my father, a daily guide, lots to do and this morning I woke up ready to go, but the words were reticent so I had to put on lipstick.
I discovered over three decades ago that there are times I need to put on lipsticks to initiate the writing process. It doesn’t matter if I have washed my face or bathed, or if I am in pajamas or wearing a sarong, if my lips are pretty, then I am ready to write.
The writing process of a writer is often idiosyncratic, and depending on what I am writing I need different things, a lit candle (the color and scent are important), a cup of tea, fresh flowers on my desk, always being able to see outside –trees, water, sounds-, walking around the house, taking a break to sit on the patio and visualize a scene, doing what is necessary to do the writing, which I love.
This morning my lips shouted, girl, adore me. So I went through my pouch of lipsticks and tried on several different shades. My lips are ecstatic! They love the flavor and of plum… They feel loved. They are vain and admire themselves. They can feel a tongue tracing them. They remember the pleasure of being sucked into a mouth. Now I am ready to write what I need to write!
we are wrought from salty foam
rising from the surface of the ocean
we are rocks and limbs
meeting the swell
like mountains pushing
back the storm
I had the fortunate pleasure to be among the 50 invited writers at the first international gathering of Caribbean Women Writers conference, held at Wellesley University, April 8-10, 1988, organized by Selwyn Cudjoe. My short story collection, Bake-Face and Other Guava Stories, had been published January 1986, and was praised in the New York Times. That initial gathering changed how I thought about myself as a writer, and introduced me to a supportive community of women who, like me, were seeking to tell their unique stories of the Caribbean and share them with the world.
As a result of the above gathering, The Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars (ACWWS) was born, spearheaded by the late Helen Pyne Timothy, founder and inaugural President. I invite us to stand in a moment of silence to honor the passing of this sweet spirit. Pyne Timothy was at various times Dean and University Dean for the Faculty of Arts and General Studies at the University of the West Indies St Augustine ,Trinidad; also, she had been the inaugural Chair of the Department of Language and Linguistics at that institution. Pyne Timothy saw the need for a women to come together to celebrate the works of Caribbean writers and scholars so founded ACWWS.
Throughout the years, I made sure to attend almost all of those bi-annual conferences in order to see and share with my sisters and learn what was trending, gain insight about new works and theories, but also to experience the warm, comforting feeling of being in a community of brilliant women, who were about supporting, but also interrogating each other, probing and pushing one another to go further, dig deeper, write more, network, create space for new voices and growth and come together to share and expand our insights. And it was with this keen realization of this important mission, why I agreed to be president of ACWWS.
ACWWS is still needed as an organization, and still provides a vital platform for Caribbean women writers and scholars. We need young scholars to step forward and grow this association so that we can continue to host bi-annual conferences that focuses on the work of Caribbean women writers at home and throughout the Diaspora.
words fill our handbags
heavy as any fisherman’s net
each an endless puzzle
we shuffle to stitch meaning
we are women of the same
mother who jumped ship
but did not sink instead
held firmly to yemoja
scrap paper from magazines
wall paper our walls telling
a story not our own yet one
as familiar as our own life
no more will we be invisible
our voices roam freely and loudly
we are the architects of our future
moving beyond glass confinement
color us multi ethnic name us
madonna and jezebel we are twins
who have run through fields and found
the other side a place of our own making
If you are a Caribbean writer and/or scholar I urge you to become a member of ACWWS -http://www.acwws.org/