Wednesday, January 19, 2011
On a Monday afternoon I learn of A's death. “Did you know A. died yesterday morning? I make the messenger repeat three times. Even after the third time I don't believe him. Sudden death brings a shock of disbelief. A mantra of not wanting to believe; a repetitive rhythm of the deceased name rolling around inside my head, shes dead dead dead... It is now a week later and the mantra of death subsides as reality sinks in and goodbyes are placed upon the graveside.
A. was 9 when we first met. She was the third oldest of 10 siblings and the bravest, most confident. A. came daily to my small flat, up the hill from the bay where she lived. I became fast friends with the whole family and they became a big part of my first few years here in Grenada. A. visited daily to take a swing on the hammock, look for change for mommy, or simply hang out and chat her preciousness; fresh and innocent. Usually she arrived with a stream of brothers and sisters trailing behind. But then there were afternoons when i would have her all to myself. A. was brave. Independent. A leader in her own small yet large world.
I visited the family a few days before Christmas. When i asked about A I was told she wasn't feeling well, she was lying down. Little did i know she was in the back room dying; her mother too ashamed to let me see A. in her last stages of an illness that brings embarrassment, shame and misunderstanding worldwide. A week later my young friend would be dead and i would hear the news on the streets down below from her brother.
I wonder how A. coped with the pain, humiliation, disgrace from dying of an illness that wears a cloak of ignorance; disabling many people the right to die a death of dignity.
“She kill she self” her mom says into the phone wearing fear and despair stoically. At the funeral the Pastor says repeatedly “the wages of sin is death”. and I can't help wonder what sin A. committed. Was A's sin being born a woman with a natural longing for tenderness, affection, acknowledgement? A young person reaching out for some sort of softness in a not so tender male world ? Was A's sin the 'rudenss' she wore as a protective sheild to a hardened world she belonged to; Was A.'s sin 'bad mindedness', a label hurrled at young women who find themselves moving with different male partners or having sex at an early age? Was A's sin poverty, an education that did not tend to her learning needs, a birth order that placed her in the middle of a large family with very little resources?
i hear a murmur of acknowledgement for the Pastor's words regarding grandparents burying the youths and how this is a drastic change from the past when it was the youth burying the elders. I feel a sigh of sorrow amongst the gatherers. I also hear commom statement from behind “the youths today have no discipline, they haunted oui?” I hear often youths being blamed for their own deaths, their own incarcerations, their own 'rudeness', 'misbehaviour' and 'bad mindedness'. I want to hurl the word 'why' out into this world and hope the dialogue will move from blame to reflection?
Why are youth globally searching for more? What are the contexts of their lives? Why do some youths choose unhealthy and deadly paths while others move towards a stronger, more pliable path? Why do some youths choose not to be victims to their hard lives and others fall prey to the violence? Why do some youths become leaders of youth groups and conferences while others become leaders of street gangs and crime? Why do some youths choose unprotected sex over sex with confidence and control?
Every youth has a story that lies within a garden of other stories. When will we as a global family have the time, space, open mind and heart to hear, understand, and help to change these stories so our youths worldwide can begin to understand themselves within a larger context and perhaps gain courage and strength to choose a storyline that reflects the basic goodness we all possess??
I let A. move freely into the spirit world by releasing her from my sadness. I watch a dragonfly flutter by and I know Alice is hovering, giving a sign of hope, a sign of freedom, a sign of change in the air, a sign of goodness that our global youths possess.
Watching A. unfold into the larger goodness of our Youths.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
You're Perfect Just the Way You Are
While listening to one of Micheal Franti's recent songs, Maya says, “Mom all women should listen to this song so we can appreciate our bodies!” I acknowledge with a deep breathe the wisdom my daughter is weaving into her evolving self and I reply, “yes gyal, we got to shake what our mama's gave us! Appreciate what our bodies can do for us!” And with a roll from Maya's eyes, we start singing along with Franti and Lady Saw “Your perfect just the way you are!” shake it shake it shake it like a tamborine”
i begin to think about raising our daughters; raising our daughters to love their bodies, their natural curves; soft bellies, short limbs, wide hips, flat noses; thin noses; straight hair; fizzy red hair; small one side breasts; large symmetrical breasts, coco brown skin; peachy white skin. Many of our daughters measure themselves up against a saturated media market of thinness, whiteness, shallowness; perpetual images that squeeze our daughters into inconceivable spaces that hold very little meaning outside a very small one dimensional box.
It wasn't until I moved to the Caribbean that i began to feel comfortable within my own body, within my own soft belly that is genetically and wonderfully a part of me; my buddha belly, soft like Maya's favourite pillow; like a warm corner of a colourful cushioned house. It is here in Grenada that I witnessed beautiful full bodied women who weren't afraid to be their natural selves, who didn't try to hide or camouflage their size through large clothing or a shyness that confines and hovers like a rain cloud without rain; it is here that i experienced women moving their bodies with such confidence and delight; with a flavour of gratitude and pride for what their female ancestors gave them.
At first it was difficult getting used to the compliments that were part of the returning ritual “What gyal you looking real fat, your mama feed you well!” or “How you looking so fat! Canada agree with you!” I soon realized these comments were meant to be compliments telling me i was healthy and stress free. Women who are too thin are assumed to either have money worries, not enough food to eat, husband stressing them out, or physically ill.
Beauty conditions exist in Grenada as well, just as they exist all over the world; conditions that limit, confine, bury woman's natural ability to be themselves. For example in Grenada, and in many parts of the world, the lighter your skin the more beautiful you are considered. In many families, schools, communities the lighter skin children have more privileges. Colonial mentality is alive and thriving. The more European you look the better for you. I remember our 85 year old neighbour giving me nose straightening exercises to perform on Maya's nose so she wouldn't get her fathers African nose. Television exists in majority of Grenadian households and therefor American ideals of beauty is seeping into the culture. Thinness is becoming more and more fashionable for the younger girls and so I now watch Maya being teased and chastised by some of the Village kids for putting on size as she grows into her per-adolescent natural self. I give praise that she has many strong women in her life and a mom who works hard at spreading messages of self love through music, dance, paintings, poetry and youth peace programs.
I recall a memory from this summer while swimming at Cribbon's Point, Nova Scotia: Maya and i watching a full bodied, curvy Canadian woman in a bikini moving her body to the twirl of her hoola
hoop; making the hoop dance around and around her belly in the middle of a sunny afternoon; feet sunk into sand and sea, moving to the rhythms of her hips. We watched mesmerized, hypnotized by her beauty, her confidence,her freedom to be her natural earth loving self. I thanked her over and over in my head for providing my daughter an image of real beauty; a beauty that holds no labels, conditions, rules or laws, a beauty that radiates Freedom!
Today women continue to be underneath the microscope of a male dominated view that continues to dictate and define how women should look. These definitions and dictations reach deep into our psyches and thus we find ourselves becoming the biggest critic of one another; robbing us our ability to be who we are meant to be, unique diverse earth giving souls. Our boys too are victims to this madness and develop 'lookist' attitudes from a very young age contributing to the vicious cycle we all find ourselves in. As long as we have men like Micheal Franti and women who are shaking their beautiful natural selves like Lady Saw and hoola hoop Sistren then perhaps the world's limited view of human beings will change one song, one dance, one lyric at a time.
You are perfect just the way you are!”