water (part 2): “…we have come to be baptised here…”

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Koleka Putuma. Photo: Andy Mkosi

 

I often wonder why I feel as if I am drowning every time I look out into the sea

This and feeling incredibly small 

[…]

Every time our skin goes under

The reeds remember that they were once chains

And the water, restless, wishes it could spew all of the slaves and ships onto shore

Whole as they had boarded, sailed and sunk

Their tears are what have turned the ocean salty

This is why our irises burn every time we go under

Every December sixteenth, December 24th and December 31st

Our skin traumatises the sea

They mock us

For not being able to throw ourselves into something that was instrumental in trying to execute our extinction

For you, the ocean  is for surf boards, boats and tans

And all the cool stuff you do under there in your suits and goggles

But we, we come to be baptised here

We have come to stir the other world here

We have come to cleanse ourselves here

We have come to connect our living to the dead here

Our respect for water is what you have termed fear

The audacity to trade and murder us over water

Then mock us for being scared of it

Koleka Putuma, Water

I’ve been thinking about Koleka Putuma’s “Water” (seriously, do we walk the same earth as her? Her poetry is out of this world) and the line, “We have come to be baptised here” is playing on repeat in my mind, and I feel my body and soul craving a baptismal of sorts. A watering. A watering to halt the withering.

Yours,

DustySoul

“Take me to the water/ To be baptized […] I’m going back home, going back home/
To be baptized.” ~ Nina Simone, Take Me to the Water

 

 

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water (part 1): on getting wet

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This drought situation has really been stressing me out. December at home was rather trying because our water was rationed (there was a day we went two days without it!). This on top of the frequent electricity cuts. I wasn’t coping fam.

There’s nothing like a drought to remind us that we are fragile. Human. And incredibly dependent on Something Other than ourselves. As cows die, plants struggle to bear fruit, and the fish in the water perish with the drying dam, we cannot help but be confronted with our mortality.

We go through life like tumbleweeds, hurtling forward at breakneck speed, but even then, there is wind that propels us that makes that movement possible. We are not as independent as we thought we were.

I am sitting at happy.me popping bubbles and balled fruit through my straw. The tea is delicious. I’ve made a mental note to remember my combination so that I can have it again, perhaps bring a friend so that we can try it together. I am typing away at the screen, busying my mind and time with admin because, well, it’s what I came to do, but also because if I stop, I will certainly begin to cry again. It’s been an emotional month, you see, and I have cried many rivers of tears in the past few weeks. I turned 25 exactly 8 days ago. Leading up to my birthday I had anxiety, a feeling of pulled-down-ness, an inertia, a blues. It was apprehension at growing old and feeling like my life is a helpless with little chance of rain. I felt dry.

When the birth-day eventually came I was calmer than I had been leading up to its arrival, but I felt very faux-adult. And lonely. Like maybe if I had a boyfriend to take me out on a date that day I would feel better about how crappy my life turned out to be at this point. But thinking that made me frustrated at the thought that even if I did, I’d have nothing to offer him.

A few weeks later and I have just knocked off, made my way to Bree, and am in line waiting for a taxi home. Half an hour later, I am still waiting. It is not pleasant, but it’s not the worst case scenario. An hour passes. Okay, this is not ideal but maybe a taxi will arrive now. By the time I’ve been in line for two hours I can barely think straight for frustration: the last taxi to my destination left thirty minutes ago with people sitting four-four and some on top of those four. As people were rushing to get into it, we were pushing and jostling and still some of us did not make it in. My anxiety levels were through the roof. “This is what we have been reduced to,” I think. “Fighting for space in a taxi that shakes unsteadily as it moves, offering no certainty that it will reach it destination in one piece, and neither, for that matter, could we. We’ve worked long days, we are weary, we live in squalor, we work tirelessly, and yet we still can’t get out.”

Black life is cheap.

Bree has now closed so we are all outside, and in true dramatic fashion, it begins to rain. Now I am without transport and I am getting wet and cold. It is the last thing I need, but I embrace it, because we need rain. Aren’t I the one stressed out about the drought? Funny that, to be mad at the thing I have been wanting just because it came at a time that made me uncomfortable.

Makes me think, you know, of Langston Hughes’ April Rain Song :

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain. 

Who can stop the rain? Who can make it stay its course or sway it to another direction? All we can do is embrace the shower. To embrace the journey that we are on, to be like children, who welcome getting wet with innocent abandon. To actually feel, not escape, the rain. And when we are through, because we have been watered, to grow.

Yours,

Dusty

“Two mountains can never meet but perhaps you and I can meet again. I am coming to your waterfall.”
― Edwidge Danticat, The Farming of Bones

What Melanin Means

The following post was first published on my book blog “The Black Feather Hideout”, and is a short account of how I started it.  If you haven’t already, check it out, and let me know what you think! Dusty

The Black Feather Hideout started out as a frustration. When I started living in Johannesburg a few years ago, I would troll second hand bookstores, indie bookstores, and mainstream bookstores for reads I could dive into and get lost in. What I kept seeing, over and over, were multiple editions of books like Pride and Prejudice, a JM Coetzee book or two, and once in a blue moon in the corner of some shelf at the back, a copy of Things Fall Apart. Friends of mine too, knowing me to have a voracious appetite for reading, would ask me which African authors to recommend to them, and time and again, my list always felt too short. At first I thought, Let me start a sort of directory where people can find authors from Africa and the diaspora, as a way to expanding their knowledge. But then I began to see that that would be limiting myself and the possibilities for this kind of project a whole lot. My frustration begat an excitement – not just a directory but reviews, interviews, podcasts, giveaways and in the future, events and workshops and all sorts of wonderful Black Feather Hangouts!

This is our corner of the internet where Black writers and their work can be celebrated and acknowledged, where the issues that we want to discuss can be discussed, where we can just be.

I do it for the Black teens who don’t know who Tsitsi Dangarembga is because we feed them Shakespeare every school year, but minimal literature by Black writers. For the black boy who wants to be a writer but writes in thous and thys because again, Shakespeare ad nauseum. He does not know how to articulate his specific, unique, complex and beautiful Black existence, because he is limited to metaphors he gulped down from dead old white men and not his father Achebe, or Sol Plaatje, or Miriam Tlali.

For the times when your skin feels heavy like a burden and you want to scratch it off. This is so that you will reach out and use your hand to join this community of beautiful Black people also groping in the dark for a matchstick. So you will know that you can be free.

Here is the beginning of the salve.

I do it because Blackness is not brokenness, slavery, apartheid and colonialism. Gene Demby wrote it how I felt it when he said that Blackness is not just “a parade of calamities and disadvantage”.

Because we belong in books and there are books that belong to us.

And most of all, I do it because melanin matters.

Yours in power,

Relebone Rirhandzu eAfrika, aka The Black Feather aka Dusty Soul

melanin is why you are still alive.

after. the torching.

it is a second lung. the next heart. and the next heart. and the next.

breathing thing.

a ceremony of life. while you are asleep.

a cosmos. in conversation.

immortal.

– nayirrah.waheed

Poetry: a note

“I wanted to write poetry that was accessible to those whose experiences I was writing about, namely the black community. .. I heard music in language and I wanted to write word-music, verse anchored by the one-drop beat of reggae with meter measured by the bass line or a drum pattern; I wanted to write lines that sound like a bass line.” Linton Kwesi Johnson

 

Black women create – acknowledge that!

The devil does not rest sha! While Black women are out here creating, he’s erasing our names from our work. These bloody internet thieves who think our work is good enough to post on instagram and twitter but who don’t think the creators are good enough to credit will be the death of us. Stop that.

For many of us, writing is hard work. Not only because writing itself is a difficult art, but because we often write from our very unique, complicated, and often painful experiences and positions. Yes, we don’t always write from experience, but even when we don’t, it is our imagination that did the work. For someone to swoop in and pillage our sweat, blood and tears – to erase us – is incredibly violent. We’ve been schooled by life and our writing comes from that education. It’s an education that came with a few hard knocks and personal joys and victories. Respect that.

Gosh,

Dusty

Don’t feel entitled to anything you didn’t sweat and struggle for. –Marian Wright Edelman

 

Losing weight and other wars

My 600-lb Life is one of my favourite shows on TV. For 12 months cameras follow individuals who are obese as they work towards getting healthier. In many of the cases, the individuals are morbidly obese and their bodies turn on them, bringing illnesses that threaten their lives. Diabetes, heart conditions – one episode  even showed a woman whose body was racked with flesh-eating bacteria! The body is truly a world all its own.

Whenever the show is on I make sure I have won this round of Remote Wars Between Siblings because watching these stories is so inspiring. Not because I think all people need to be a size 30/32, or because I derive pleasure from seeing people struggle. What is most interesting and inspiring to me about the individuals who (bravely!) share their journeys is that when they reach the point where they have tired of resisting, instead of backing down – they fight. Now you have to realise that gaining weight is rarely about just liking food. Food is nice bra, but that’s besides the point. Losing weight is hard because 70% of the battle is in the mind, about 10% is actually showing up, and the rest is body-work. Hey, that’s not scientific, but my point is this: losing weight is an incredibly tough journey because you realise that what you need to conquer is not the fat, it’s yourself.

When I was about 14 my mother came into our room, as she often does, and put on a pair of my jeans for sport. I was mortified. I thought to myself, Here is a woman who has had many preganancies, lived 40+ years and she fits snugly into my jeans. I knew then that I had to change something. But the hardest part of losing weight was not the exercising, which I actually love, it was conquering the inner me. I struggled with “eating my feelings”, or comfort-food eating, a lot. On a bad day I could go through two huge burgers, a milkshake, two packets of large fries, a packet of large Simba chips, a box of Astros, a little bit of biltong, and a Kit Kat snack in one sitting. Sometimes I would just eat when I was bored. Eating made me feel full physically and emotionally. But always only for a little while.

It’s a tough thing, to realise that the major thing in your life that needs to change is you. How do you conquer yourself? How do you win over the traumas you have lived through? It’s always easier to fight what’s on the outside.

The switch for the people on 600-lb life came when they decided to live their lives on purpose. Faced with life and death they chose to take charge of their lives.

That is my wish going into the new year: to live life on purpose, not just to get through or get by, but to be intentional about being present and being “all here”.

Be encouraged boo, and Happy New Year,

Dusty

“How you gon’ win when you ain’t right within?” – Lauryn Hill, Doo Wop (That Thing) 

Summertime livin’ (AKA Avoid facebook during the holidays because MEH)

December-time can be nightmarish.

“What have you done this year?”

“What are your plans for next year?”

“When do you plan to get married?”

All fielded by aunts and uncles with their face too close to yours, getting into your personal space about things they didn’t have figured out at 25 either.

Sigh.

You try your best to answer their questions without sounding like a loser, flexing your best PR muscles so that jobless becomes time to reflect and improve or some such flowery sounding thing, and then proceed to chop vegetables by the pot-loads so that you can quell the “She’s gotten lazy” whispers they don’t even bother to say behind your back anymore.

chris breezy

Then you sit down for a moment, behind the garage where no one can see you cry, and take stock of the year. My goodness, it’s been such a crap one! You’re tired of crying, so you wipe your hands and fish your phone out of your apron’s pocket. Facebook is full of disgustingly happy people. Three people are engaged. Thulani got his PhD. Salome got accepted for Masters at Yale. Must be nice! Jane is off to the Seychelles on a baecation. Mmm! Must. Be. Nice. And then you’re like WTF?! because there are like, five people either pregnant or giving birth. Gahtdamb! Where have the years gone? We’re getting old.

Summertime, and the livin’ is heavy.

Pause. Lemme tell ya what I know for sure: rest is a lifestyle. If I am constantly looking to “get there”, to “arrive”, to “make it”, then I will always be agitated and restless and peace will elude me. Hey man, don’t get me wrong, progress is a good thing. I have ambitions too. But I can’t keep looking at my life and thinking that everything in it is wrong. You know, something about the day of humble beginnings and all that. You’re not where you used to be. You lived through your worst and you’re still here. You’re stronger than you know. You did the best you could wethu.

I never want to feel like I have arrived. Never be complacent. Despair says, “Circumstances = stuck”. Hope says, “This is just a delay”. My faith must continuously be active.

You put your phone back in your apron, stretch your back and smile. This isn’t the end for you because you see it now. You see the most delicious thing about life and it’s this – it goes on.

Merry Christmas,

Dusty

“We were sad of getting old, it made us restless/ Oh, I’m so mad I’m getting old it makes me reckless!” ~ Adele, When We Were Young

Guest Diary Entry: A Mother’s Encouragement to Her Daughter

Screenshot_2015-12-16-16-42-01-1

My mother as a young woman

Baby,

It’s my turn to write you an email, though I was flirting with the idea of jumping on the next flight to PE instead. That would have been drastic. You, me and of course other sons and daughters of Man, are fellow travelers, often coming to the same crossroads, same rivers, mountains, same onslaughts. Same thoughts. That’s why mind could not help seeing and dwelling on these “stops and go” or Mt Seir’s if you may. I must have dwelt longer than the red robot of the stop and go demanded because all of a sudden the jolt came, from my GPS, I guess, to say MOOOOOOOVE! Except that it (the GPS) did not use those exact words. It said instead, asked rather, “DO YOU NEED AN EASY LIFE?”

That threw me, completely, maybe coz it was unexpected, and I even had to move from the TV area to my bedroom. And I couldn’t help answering it, “I don’t need an easy life”. I did not feel coerced to say that, and it gave me some life, some impetus, to engage with great grace, my gears, from that stop mode to the move mode.

Suddenly it did not matter that I’ve been sleeping when the green light cane on, it did not matter that the other motorists were looking, and that some were even beginning to honk with irritation, it did not matter that they were aware of that lapse on my part. I just wanted to go with the flow of that moment ‘coz it was birthed by the One who is never going to leave me. The one who is never going to overtake me. You should see the dramas that play themselves out after a stint at a “stop and go”. Hilarious, and sometimes downright dangerous. People just overtaking so you won’t have to retard (sic) their progress with your lapses again when you get to the next “stop and go”. But the GPS Joe, He stays with you, sticks closer than a brother! I did not know how this letter was going to turn out. Again, the GPS just led the process.

You know what my greatest excitement is now as I conclude this? I know you will understand, not only because you are one of the most brilliant minds I know, at that age, but also because you have your own Teacher and Interpreter.

So I am beating a retreat for now. The onus is upon you. Are you going to hunch your shoulders, collapse, collapse in a heap,  and beat yourself small because of your lapses? You are way too smart for that. The grace to move from that position is there for the taking. Seize it by force, every second, every minute, hour, day, week, month, until you reach your destination. Your mantra? I have the mind of Christ, I have the mind of Christ, I have the mind of Christ! Coz, truth be told, you have!

Mme

Saturday, 13 October 2012

**This letter was written by mother to me in response to my panic about life at the time. Thanks Dimaa, you brought the sunshine.

“I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

The Secret (a short story)

Photo source: hidura.com


When the sun eventually rises they find the body lying in what used to be a pool of blood, now a dried out map of red coming from the direction of her side outwards. It shocks them at first, how serene her face looks in that grizzly scene. As though she had the last laugh over death, and were laughing still. As though she were not dead. It’s the look, the elders say, the deceased give when they know they will rise to haunt the living.

The first sighting happens in broad daylight. A boy, coming back from school on Friday finds her waiting by the tree. Her light blue jeans are stained dark with blood, and she is holding what looks to be a cellphone in her hand. Hello, she calls out. Her red lipstick is faded and her eyes are messy with smudged black eyeliner and mascara. At school Mrs Hannigan told him and his peers not to speak with strangers, but at home he’s learnt that every adult is to be greeted with respect, according to Rakgadi Kgaugelo. So now he timidly replies, Hello. Do you want to know a secret? she asks. He looks at her shyly, draws a circle in the dust with his feet. He arrives home to find that all the food has spoiled, flies everywhere. When Rakgadi Kgaugelo tries to shake him awake the next morning she finds that he is not breathing.

A little over a week later a middle-aged man is roused from his sleep by hunger. A headache that splits his head in two greets him when he first blinks. It might be the sleep, but he is sure he hears a woman’s laughter in the dark. The voice is low, guttural, and subtle like the afternoon’s first breeze. He tries to lift himself up from the bed but flops back onto the hard mattress and lies there defeated. He reaches for the matches to see, is that really a fly? In winter? The match dies out and clumsily he reaches for another. Do you want to know a secret? the low voice asks. He moves his candle around him slowly, but sees nothing. Eventually he succeeds, with difficulty, in getting out of bed, and begins to scan the room again, his movements cautious and considered. A rush of hot wind fills the room, but he begins to shake.  Who is there? No answer. The pesky fly inches closer to his face with a loud buzz and he swats it away, striking his ear in the process. Moments later he is met with another gush of wind. A grunt. A pause. Then again, laughter. It is a while before he drifts off into sleep once more. A few days later he finds himself restless again, his room warmer than he can stand. He sits up and takes off his shirt, so that now he is naked save for his dark underpants. He scratches his crotch and yawns. Do you want to know a secret? he hears. His eyes widen. By the end of that night his shack is covered in smoke, his charred remains indistinguishable from the image of the smooth talker people knew.

When the sighting first happens to a woman, the orange-red purpleness of the sky is descending into the earth, replacing the lush blue with a navy blackness. Real as the goose bumps on her flesh, the woman feels a hand touch her but sees no one around. She puts the bucket down and turns the tap off. Her throat is stuck between a cry and a scream. Hmmm, she moans, uneasy. Do you want to know a secret? a voice asks. She turns around and finds herself staring into the most chilly eyes she has ever seen. She hesitates. This must be a ghost. But what type? The elders caution against speaking with the dead unless they speak with you first, but what of ghosts with The Chill in their eyes? Some say that kind brings death to those who meet its gaze.

Do you want to know a secret? the voice asks again.

The Secret, the voice continues, is this. Death will come to all who neglected me.

Who are you? The woman responds. Who neglected you?

The young. The old. The knowing. The ignorant. Not one is innocent.

Who are you? she asks again.

I carry the Secret. the ghost responds.

Yes, but what is your name?

I knocked on fifteen doors that night, the voice continues, yours was the first. The ghost moves closer to her and she sees its form clearer.

Her eyes widen. Chriselda?

Yes, the ghost, now identified as Chriselda, responds.

The woman gasps, her hand flying to her mouth in disbelief.

Yes, Chriselda repeats.

But – you are, you died?

Your door was the first I knocked on. Fifteen doors. Fifteen.

How was I to know? I was alone.

So was I. So was I. You took their word against mine. You let them poison you.

Can you blame me?

Blame? she scoffs. Afterwards, you know, he dragged my body into the open field and did it again. And then he pushed a knife into my side thirty times and left me for dead. But now, friend, I have one thing to do.

Please, please, please! She is distracted from her cries by a rush of flies and smoke surrounding her hair. She swats the flies away furiously.

Low, guttural and subtle; Chriselda laughs. She reaches her hand out towards her friend and the flies move away from the woman and to the hand that beckons them. They vanish.

When they find the woman’s body in the morning, they are stupefied. She’s on the ground lying in what used to be a pool of blood, now a dried out map of red coming from the direction of her side outwards. No knife or gunshot wounds in sight but in that pool of blood, marked out in tiny grey stones they find these words: Do you want to know a secret?

– FIN –

Dusty Soul,

“If you prick us do we not bleed?

If you tickle us do we not laugh?

If you poison us do we not die?

And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?

~ William Shakespeare 

Monsters in My Head – For Suicidal Girls Who Struggle to Get Over 

I was sitting in a seminar room with my classmates when our lecturer, after finally poking and prodding an answer out of me, said “Yes! That’s good. Why are you so apologetic about it?”
A few weeks after that incident a friend of mine, a writer I ‘met’ on Twitter, said something similar. I was working at the publisher where his latest book was published, and I was speaking with him on the phone about some admin tasks I had been given to do for him. I must have sounded apologetic then too, because he said to me, “Why do you sound so timid?”

He had read a review that I wrote for a book last year, and in it I had been scathing and fierce in my analysis. Anyone reading it would think “She’s something fearsome. I don’t want to mess with her.”
I realized, once these two virtual strangers said this to me, that I don’t trust my ideas. I don’t trust my mind, and I never have.

I grew up in an environment where silence was king – we were meant to be seen, not heard. I mean, of course we spoke. Mundane speech occasionally, but never the deep stuff. Never the thoughts you really wanted to speak. We were taught to be apologetic, even about things we were not at fault for. We learnt early that our voice, our opinions, don’t matter. I spent most of my childhood in my room, reading, or in front of the TV watching cartoons. But mostly in my room, reading. Escaping. I had to get away from the unsaid things, the heavy unsaid things that choked each and every one of us daily.

And so here I am, a girl who lives in her head but never vocalises what’s going on in there, because I don’t know how. All the monsters, they never out unless I write them out. Writing is the only way I know how to speak.

You’ve heard it said that in a crisis people’s responses are either to fight, or flee (flight). My response is to freeze. That monster stays getting the best of me.

Sometimes that freezing is a mental one. Fear, you know, freezes intelligence. Every time I’m afraid, I find that I can’t think. It’s like writer’s block, but for your brain, and far worse.

I think a lot about death. About how suicide seems sane, though it is not usually thought of as a rational act. The girl who does it seems to have taken the rational, not easy or cowardly, way out. Having surveyed the heaviness of life against her, found her options for “getting over” wanting, she took her life. This life which she was given without her permission/ consent. This life which she was pushed into without being able to choose what circumstances she could be born into. Doesn’t birth, her birth, any birth, seem to be quite the violence? Being born is unfair.

And? What can be said for all these things? How do we, girls born into a world that sets us up for failure, and disappointment, and yet expects us to rise; how do we get over? Can we?

Not waving but drowning. Source: codepen.io

Maybe can is not the problem for you. Maybe it’s do. Do I want to? Get up after the millionth time? Try again after having tried a million times before?

How many

times

can she be knocked down

before

she realizes

there’s no more

fight

left.

Yes, life is war. Always war. It follows then, that to find peace we must fight for it. And we are our biggest enemies. And our greatest allies. But the decision is always ours.

“You block your dreams when you allow your fear to grow bigger than your faith”, Marty Manin Morrissey said. So I must feed my faith, I must find a corner of the world, or a corner in myself, to grieve my disappointments and fertilise my faith. I’ve heard only a mustard seeds worth is necessary to begin. So you fell again. Begin again. Because dying may be easy, but living will be worth it, in the end.

How you got here was not your choice, but you are here now. It was God’s gift to you, you can be.

And you are meant to be.

Yours,

Dusty

“Are these jottings morbid? I once read the sentence ‘I lay awake all night with toothache, thinking about toothache and about lying awake.’ […] Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep thinking about the fact that you suffer.” ~ CS Lewis, A Grief Observed

“You can live through it. It’s working for your good.” ~ James Fortune & Fiya, Live Through It