Monday, August 18, 2008

History, herstory, our stories

Three pebbles worn smooth by the lapping waves from a favourite beach evoke precious memories of home for Jamaican poet, Donna Smith. In her bruisingly candid poems laced with a healthy dose of dancehall energy and lascivious humour, Smith opened the floor at the Women in the Arts festival in Johannesburg last weekend.

The pebbles, a parting gift from a dear friend, hold joyous memories which Smith often uses as a source of strength when homesickness sets in. Three simple pebbles hold precious memories and emotive images of good times gone by.

How is it that we are able to infuse such intense emotion into innate objects? A dear friend recently emigrated to the Middle East. The reality of her move set in when 91 packing boxes later, through tear-filled eyes, she watched her life being loaded onto the moving truck. The boxes, some to be shipped, some to be stored, held rich cornerstones of memory, life histories now in transit to another destination. Her tears, painful but cleansing, were clearing the way for new chapters in her-story.

Stories form the bedrock of our lives, shape our identity and invite us to imagine. Through dreams, memories and visions, we are transported back in time and if we wish into the future.

So, what stories will you tell your children and their children? What keepsakes that signpost significant people and moments in time are you gathering? Consider unleashing your creativity and take thoughtful moments to gather symbols that personalise your life story.

Over the past decade in Africa, memory work has become a powerful healing tool for families living with and affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In creating memory boxes and memory books, families and particularly children, are more easily able to process the reality of death and the trauma of loss.

By creatively encapsulating life-stories through personalised notes, photos and quirky mementos, the essence of life is captured for posterity in boxes which are as varied and colourful as the owners. The process of creating memory boxes also helps children shape their identity and more freely talk about their feelings through cherished attachment to symbols representing loved ones, hope and ultimately peace.

Our history as Caribbean people tells of movements, forcibly or otherwise, which uproot our collective memories. I often wonder what our parents who emigrated to the US and Europe in the 50s and 60s would have put in their memory boxes.

In these days of quick fire, instantly accessible and instantly disposable experiences, the call to document personalised textures and nuances of our very life source is becoming more urgent.

By creating time capsule memory boxes, we can all be storytellers weaving valuable threads of life into history, herstory, creating our-stories for generations to come.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Will the real queen please stand up?!!

When last did you meet a queen? Sure, we know of queens in folklore and fables, and in mythical tales told in dreamspaces, too often reserved for children. In history, we’ve also heard of conquering lionesses - from Nanny of the Maroons of Jamaica to Nana Yaa Asantewaa of the Ashanti nation in Ghana. Both are renowned queens; women who led their people to conquer mighty powers, their prowess and virtues remain poignant affirmations as we celebrate them as national heroes. But, when last did you meet a real-life queen?

As we pause for breath after Emancipendence celebrations in Jamaica, we remember and honour our ancestors who fought and won liberation struggles of the past. Across the Caribbean and the African Diaspora, our recognition of Emancipation Day (August 1) offers us an opportunity to celebrate yes, and also, in the jubilation take time to reflect, define and engage a renewed sense of liberation.

Though we could probably count the number of documented and celebrated female warriors of fame and stature on one hand, we know that the unsung heroines of our past continue to serve in quiet accomplishment. Also queens, their crowns are often intangible and their works, indefatigable.

As for real-life queens, in our urban, cosmopolitan realities, we now talk of dancehall queens and even male queens. Somehow, the respected status of the queen mother is now veering towards media driven superficiality quashing any notion of serving a community.

Take the Rain Queens of the Modjadji female dynasty who have reigned over six generations, originating in Zimbabwe and then in Limpopo, South Africa. Amongst their other duties, the Rain Queens are revered for their ability to invoke nourishing rain showers especially in times of drought and hardship.

In her 2008, Emancipation Day message, Leader of the Opposition, Portia Simpson Miller notes how Jamaica is suffering from the global impact of soaring prices of basic consumer goods. She says; “rain a fall but dutty tough” and calls for action. MP Simpson Miller goes on to say that by building families and strong communities we can create abundant futures.

Rain is a powerful life force that symbolically parallels the significant works of service offered by us women, the real-life queens in our communities. Inherently, women are incubators, nurturers, and gatherers. So as you go about your daily activities, consider for a moment what kind of rain queen are you?

170 years after the abolition of the slavery, the emancipation celebrations present important opportunities to consider the meaning of liberation in our current realities.

As women shaping legacy for future generations to inherit, we are all members of communities at home, in our jobs, social groups and the like. Let us proudly reclaim our queenships and fiercely craft stories which create nurturing and dynamic communities for the future.

So, real-life queens step up!!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Re-engineering the brand ‘good man’

Imagine if you could re-write the story of creation? What would you change about the formation of man, our esteemed and beloved soul mate? Close your eyes and imagine we are in the garden, but this time, our creator made you, the woman first and then asked you “so, what kind of companion would you like to have?” How would you fashion him?

A similar question was the subject matter of an email joke doing the rounds recently. However, in that story, God created woman first and (as the joke goes) found a good-for-nothing previously discarded item to make man. Apparently, it sparked much mirth but also left twinges of deep pain.

Why would we laugh at effacing jokes about our significant others? Why would we choose to play an active role in dehumanising and belittling those who we claim to want the best of? Given the current status of man/woman relations, it is far from a laughing matter.

Truth is, we hear it everyday, on both sides of the Atlantic and all the stops in between! Less than loving descriptions of our existing and potential soul mates from light hearted jokes to persistent diatribes between us and our long-suffering sisters. All lamenting about how ‘there are no good black men out there’. I sense an element of a self-fulfilling prophecy at play.

I wonder how our children are processing such negativity heard as a constant background track in our homes. Just what kind of brand called man are we creating in their minds?

In the build up to South African women’s month which kicks off this week, I happened upon a talk radio show and heard a concerned man emotionally describe the state of bewilderment he believes men are in.

He admitted that he and other men he knew were mightily confused about what the notion of a ‘good’ man was. He suggested its time men took the situation in their own hands and began to re-brand themselves as clearly, they are being misrepresented.

Re-engineering a brand called good men, what a thought! Any takers? Successful brands clearly present their core truths exemplified through their attributes (values and virtues). So, brothers, in considering the offer to re-brand yourselves, know we (your consumers) are keen to connect with your core truth – your hearts.

Sisters, maybe we should also consider re-engineering our brand? In the quest for a good man, have you defined your value proposition?

Through out the following weeks as we are mindful celebrating emancipation and Jamaica’s independence and Women’s Month in South Africa, let us free ourselves from the ‘no-good men out there’ mindset and joyfully usher in heart-centered, soul boosting visions of the men we intend for ourselves and the women we intend to be.