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.
I had resisted going to see Queen of Katwe because it is produced by Disney, and I am weary of Disney’s penchant for romanization and fabrication of a perfect reality, often at the cost of truth or accurate representation of history to sell to “young people.”
Nonetheless, I braced myself and went, and am glad that I did. Queen of Katwe is the important story of ten-year old Phiona, who after many years becomes the leading chess player and master in Uganda.
Performed by Madina Nalwanga, who is exquisitely beautiful, the story is set in the impoverished city of Katwe, Uganda. Phiona’s curiosity and wanting an escape from selling maze to help feed her family, leads her to chess, and over the years of steady progress, exposure to life outside of the slum, she strives for a home and more opportunities for herself and her family.
Lupita Nyong’o, herself a beauty, plays the mother who supports Phions in her goals despite misgivings; and David Oyelowo, plays Robert Katende, Phiona’s chess tutor who teaches her about life and emotional struggles and expanding her horizons. This is a stalwart cast that appears so at home in the setting that as a viewer I was right there, as hopeful as the people of the Katwe community.
But I was also acutely aware of the vast disparity and class biases so evident throughout most of Africa and the Caribbean. They might all be Ugandans, but class divide is rife in those communities, and the colonial legacy exacerbates the gulf between the poor and the rich, the latter, who often do not see the need to help those less fortunate. Watching the movie had my chest tight for other reasons –just witnessing the plight and poverty of Katwe, which is a mirror of many, many cities, towns and villages all throughout Africa and the Caribbean, and I can’t help but point fingers.
While it is true that those former colonial societies have had corrupt leaders who have squandered money from the people, they are not the real thieves, even though the West wants us to focus on a handful of such leaders. The fact is Europe and America daily feign amnesia, and act as if their exploitation of these societies have not led to their impoverishment, while developing the cities of Europe and the USA.
Why Europeans are not deeply ashamed of their exploitation, why they don’t drop to their knees to seek forgiveness for how much they have and continue to steal and rape the African continent, speaks to their deep-seated denial of their savage actions. Given Uganda’s natural wealth, reported as the 133rd largest export economy in the world and the 81st most complex economy according to the Economic Complexity Index (ECI), Katwe and other such cities and towns throughout Uganda should not exist.
Endowed with numerous natural resources, including, gold, tungsten, tin, beryl, and tantalite in the south; tungsten, clay, and granite, mica, copper, limestone, and iron in the north, and is said to be so fertile it could easily feed the entire African continent if it were farm commercially, so why does such poverty exist? Uganda was the original Garden of Eden.
Given these resources there should be no city like Katwe and no child or adult in Africa should live in the abject conditions depicted in that movie. Collectively, we all should feel deeply ashamed and work to eradicate those conditions for once and for all. It is not enough to have Phiona, in as much as we applaud her. There are thousands like her, and in order for Africa and the Caribbean to catch up and recovery from the holocaust of slavery, we have to provide opportunities for many thousands Phionas. Let repatriation begin.
Europe must be made to compensate by building schools, housing, universities and hospitals, and equipping them with the latest technology for the masses who are still reeling from the terrorism and violation of slavery that build Europe for more than 500 years.
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 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!
I am sitting in my garden surrounded by a swarm of bees that are busy pollinating and not the least bit concerned about me. The colors are vibrant, it is a glorious day and I am feeling very much alive.
“A swarm of bees means happiness,” says the online dream book. Bring it on, I say.
When I was a little girl, I was called and thought of as a tom-boy because I had little to no interest in playing with dolls and sitting with my ankles crossed. I hung with the boys who were always going, playing antics, hurling themselves off buildings, getting into trouble. One of the troubles we got into involved our obsession in stoning beehives or using sticks to poke them, then running, hoping to out run them without getting stung.
Well this day we were not so lucky. William, Trevor and I discovered several bee hives at a neighbor’s house and we went and got long sticks to poke them. They were not pleased about our disturbance and came at us with great fury. William got stung on the face four times, which was swollen for almost a week, making him look like a monster. Trevor got stung so badly on his arm, he had to be taken to the doctor. I got stung on both buttocks, of all places and for a long time, whenever I sat it hurt. My mother was at work so the helper, alternated between rubbing the stings with crushed garlic and sliced onions. When Mommy came home she crushed guava leaves and rubbed the swollen area, then just before I went to bed she put baking soda paste on the swells and I slept on my stomach.
Bees pollinate a third of everything we eat and play a vital role in sustaining the planet’s ecosystems. Some 84% of the crops grown for human consumption – around 400 different types of plants – need bees and other insects to pollinate them to increase their yields and quality.
That was the first time I remember being stung, but certainly not the last time. Throughout my childhood I got stung, mostly by wasps, several times. I loved sugar cane, freshly cut, using my strong teeth to pull off the hard skin. During crop season the bees feasted on sugar cane. During mango season, the bees feasted on mangoes. Anything sweet, which was the sum total of all the things I loved, the bees feasted. I did not consider them friends. I did not know about the important job they performed. But I knew that they loved the same things I loved, including their byproduct, honey.
Swarming bees mean richness, gain and luck in many of the things you do. Seeing flying bees could mean troubles, but if the bees are flying around you, this foretells happiness, luck in love, and overcoming your difficulties.
Earlier this year, while putting out the garbage, I was stung by a bee. It was so unexpected. I managed to remove the sting with my fingernail but it still hurt and my upper arm was swollen for several days. I was upset with the bees because I have a deep appreciation and respect for them, and for years I have been making sure to plant flowers that they love. I know they are vital to our existence so I do my part to help them multiply. I always have sun-flowers, fennel and daisies in my garden.
To dream about humming bees in the process of collecting nectar is a sign of hope and promise. This could be a favorable time for your career, project or business to flourish because you would have better opportunities and more resources at your disposal than ever before. Success could be within reach.
There are sun-flowers blooming in my garden, my crotons are vibrant, my other succulents are pulsating, my herbs are thriving so when I dreamed that I was sitting happily in my garden in the midst of a swarm of bees, I was not surprised.
I am embarking on several new projects that have been incubating for over a decade, foremost of which is my children’s journal, Ay-Ay: Junior Caribbean Writer.
May the bees continue to ensure our food supply and indeed be a sign of my success in these ventures of love and career.