October 26, 2013 § 8 Comments
I am supposed to be knee deep grinding out a submission for the Commonwealth Writers Prize which closes on November 30th, but have been doing everything except that. A few weeks back, I was allegedly chasing inspiration in Warwick, New York. Last week, the beautiful St. Lucia was home for a few days and I deluded myself into thinking that maybe a main character is from the island and needed to return to get her voice. Unsurprisingly, I left my computer in the United States and embraced the island with voracity.
And if the cab driver who transported me from the airport to my hotel (Coco-Palm Resort) in Rodney Bay was an indication of what the island was going to be like, I knew I was in for a very pleasant experience. He informed that after 3 or 4 Pitons (their local beer named after the twin mountains), I was “going to realize that the world has no problems.” Although I’m not a beer drinker, I decided if I’m going to have a true Lucian experience, I better drink up. It’s not recommended to have alcohol in hot climate but the Piton is refreshing, lite, and maybe just what you need in Paradise. Lo and behold, after the first one on a Catamaran Cruise around the island, I forgot about pressing deadlines and used their kreyol phrase, “i bon.”
I will not profess to be a travel expert on things St. Lucian but if you must go, do not make my mistakes; remember to pack your camera because no matter how high-tech your phone is, you need a camera. Also, drive the Buggies. More specifically inquire about the Island Buggies Soufriere Safari tour. It is the most exciting way to see Soufriere and the Pitons. You’ll basically leave from the North side of the island and drive the buggy along the West Coast to the town of Soufriere and I promise, it will be breathtaking. The tour has three stops at various vantage points; the kick is being able to drive your buggy into the volcano, to a waterfall where you can stop and splash and finally at a restaurant atop the hill for reaaaaallly good St Lucian food.
Another must is the Sea to Sky tour, where you will leave one side of the island on the liveliest Catamaran Cruise. The staff has great taste in music, hor d’oeuvres, and sips (amazing rum punch, piton from the tap, and something they dubbed the ooo-hmmm). When the boat docks, your personal guide takes you to a plantation where you can zip line above bamboo trees, a body of water, some of the rainforest, and fruit trees. Mind you, to return to your original location on the plantation, you have to zip line back. For my fellow thrill seekers, it shall please you when the instructor informs you that if you brake prematurely, it is a treacherous self-rescue as you climb the line back. After, there is another delicious lunch at a restaurant on the estate with the best Golden Apple Juice. After a few days, you’ll realize the running theme is great food, beautiful scenery, and lovely people (both visitors and nationals from every corner of the world). I made acquaintances on a lot of my excursions with whom it felt like we were friends for years as we laughed and traded experiences. On your return via the Catamaran, the boat docks for a bit for a swim in the Sea, snorkel, some dancing etc.
view from one stop on the zip line.
Of course, if you’re in the Caribbean you will go snorkeling, lounge on the beach (Reduit is nice) but try parasailing. However, if you aren’t an adrenaline junkie, on Friday nights the village Anse La Raye has street dining and the main dish is fish prepared in every fashion imaginable. It’s my belief that if you’re going to visit a country you have to experience it like its citizens and that’s a perfect opportunity. You can walk the streets and mingle with everyone; they are quite friendly. Afterwards, you can take a cab ride to the village Gros Islet for the Friday night Jump Up. It’s a street fair/block party with vendors, grilled meats, souvenir stands, locals and tourist mingling, music, and exotic liquids. One vendor was selling a blueish-green liquid he insisted was fertility in a bottle, “the baby maker.” I had one sip and concluded if my fertility depended on that, I was going to be childless.
Random New Yorker who shared the cab from the hotel to Gros Islet playing the drum (anyone can) at the Jump Up.
It would be unfair if I fail to give honorable mention to the staff at Coco-Palm. It’s a three star hotel but their service is five star. The food will give your mouth orgasms. Unfortunately, you cannot dive in the pool, and after 7pm swim at your own risk. However, it was the best time to go to the pool. The place is cool, no one is there so you can swim the full length undisturbed, and the up-lights on the building and the lights in the pool give a warm glow. I recommend staying in the pool view room (it’s not as expensive as a suite and offers a better view [the village, mountains, hotel grounds, and pool] than the garden view). Drink a fruit punch everyday, the bakes are boss, the Kreyol Vinaigrette is heavenly. As a matter of fact, everywhere I went the food was DELICIOUS!
Since St Lucia is very close to the Grenadines and Martinique, it is a great opportunity to kill a few birds with one stone. With an extra $185 you can sail to Martinique which is considered the France of the Caribbean where you can shop, tour the island with a guide or just explore on your own, and dine (covered in the $185). The grenadines will cost about $400 dollars in a small plane but imagine having to buy individual airline tickets for all three locations. Yes, it is a steal!
sunset onboard the catamaran
the town square in the capital, Castries.
The sad thing about a vacation is that once it’s over, you’re planning another and I shouldn’t be doing that but I am. Instead, my attention should be on that submission. I should be sitting at the computer piping out pages. Instead once again, I’m telling myself stories; claiming to be channeling my inner Alice Walker and the Color Purple, searching for characters in random places. I know they aren’t city people…but I learned they aren’t Lucian either. Nevertheless, every day on that island was worth it and the experiences dampened the guilt of not writing.
Glossary of terms
Mi yon bèl koté!: what a beautiful place
i bon: It is good.
October 8, 2013 § 2 Comments
Warwick, New York
Fall is by far my favorite season; cooler temperatures, post card worthy scenes of yellow, wine red, rust brown, and burnt orange desiccating leaves, apple picking, and the prestigious Commonwealth Foundation/ Commonwealth Writers Prize welcoming entries for its short story prize (Oct. 1st- Nov. 30th). Admittedly, as much as I look forward to the competition, I am always nervous to begin my submission, and before long find myself arguing out loud with the story. That kind of mania demands a step back and away from the laptop. So, last weekend I took the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors at Maskers Orchard in Warwick, New York. To say it was a worthwhile excursion is an understatement. Even the hour and change drive through West Milford, Butler, and a great deal of New Jersey was refreshing. The trees in the city aren’t quite into their change, but further away they are every shade of Fall. My inner country girl had a field day; winding roads, windows down, singing Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” at the top of my lungs. I love the small town feel of Warwick, pumpkin picking, apple cider donuts and tea, or simply roaming the orchard eating way too many apples, absorbing the fresh air and scenery, and the juicy Golden Delicious, Idareds and Empress apples of Maskers.
It’s safe to say, I feel sane enough to resume my efforts. Last year, I wasn’t even fortunate to be shortlisted. However, after the winners were announced, I received an email to re-send my entry and through a few exchanges learned that the Caribbean region submitted very few entries. So, Caribbean writers, if you’re up north, as the temps dip, huddle under those blankets and share your stories. If you’re in the region, pull a fan close and get to typing. Other than the attractive monetary prizes for regional winners (₤2,500) and (₤5,000) for the overall winner, the greatest benefit of winning is that it ‘connects writers and storytellers in a range of disciplines…builds communities of less-heard voices and links them to groups which seek to bring about social change.’ And if/when frustration hits, get out, and enjoy a bit of mother nature. Or, like the Dixie Chicks crooned “touch the earth…break it in [your] hands, grow something wild and unruly…be the only one for miles and miles.” Seek your inspiration, then follow the link: http://www.commonwealthwriters.org/
July 26, 2013 § 2 Comments
If I had lost a leg… instead of a boy, no one would ever ask me if I was ‘over’ it. They would ask me how I was doing learning to walk without my leg. I was learning to walk and to breathe and to live… And what I was learning is that it was never going to be the life I had before.
Those words snatched a covered thing and shook it so hard that my breath caught. I thought about the various aspects of loss and how people react differently based on the reason a person is in mourning. When a loved one dies either of old age, illness, or tragically, most people are willing to mourn with that person for as long as they are grieving. If a member of their body is amputated, there is concern for that lost limb and the individual’s well-being until they have come to grips, gotten over, and/or learned to live beyond the pain. But when a woman miscarries, there is a brief understanding, then an almost sudden growing impatience for her to hurry up and get over it.
“You can always have another,” is a common refrain. She is expected to mourn quickly as if a family member didn’t die, or as if she hasn’t lost a member of her body. Most times, even those closest to her fail to understand the depth of her despair; the many ‘firsts’ she thinks of that will never be, and the hurt that looms thick like fog. Or worse, as she vainly laments the changes her body has made that were bound to be buffered by that bundle. More so, the violent ways the body reminds her that it was made for this; breasts that fail to realize that there is no baby in need of nourishment. Surely, she will get over it, will lose the weight and her mammary glands will stop lactating. Maybe she will have another, but like the family member or that arm or leg, from time to time, she’ll have bouts of lows. But above all else, she will appreciate your consolation, some space, a tremendous amount of understanding, and definitely no deadline on her mourning process/period.
*Sadly, I don’t remember who did the painting; apologies to the artist.
June 25, 2013 § 4 Comments
A little over a week ago, I went to the movie theater to chase the Monday blues with two movies; After Earth and Man of Steel. I saw on the news the dismal turnout at the box office and read the less than enthusiastic reviews by some critics and movie goers for the former. However, I also saw the trailer and it caught my interest. I tend to take most of the film guru’s critical reviews with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, it seems as if some of their assertions had seeped in and grown roots because I was ill-prepared for what After Earth had to offer.
It was better than expected and had great philosophy without being didactic; one could sit in their seat and not feel as if they were being preached to. The themes explored fatherhood, how parents mean well but sometimes their humanity often breaks our hearts. It is also a coming of age story which we see from Kitai Raige’s (Jaden Smith) journey. He thinks he knows more than he actually does, is tougher than he actually is, and as his mother Faia Raige (Sophie Okenedo) notes, “he’s a feeling boy who needs his father.” It glances over climate change and our role in it; how we treat Earth and how it is forced to change in turn. Most of all, it addresses a common strand in our humanity: Fear. In one of Cypher Raige’s (Will Smith) exhortation to Kitai, he said:
“Fear is not real. The only place fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me; danger is very real but fear is a choice.”
How many times have we sent our minds staggering, our blood pressure through the roof, and our hearts racing thinking about the what-ifs of tomorrow? Mind you, I am one for planning for the future and thinking ahead but as it has been said many times over, we lose many moments by not being present. And so Cypher Raige offers the antidote for those moments when panic, angst, anxiety, fear, worry etc comes; “take a knee…ground yourself in this moment.” In the film, fear is symbolized by Ursa who can smell it on humans then hunts them down and kills them. It is a clear depiction of how many are crippled by their fears and that in itself is a form of death.
It is hard not to appreciate After Earth especially when it employs so many devices, has such beautiful wisdom, and relatable themes. The most disappointing aspect of going to the movies that day was watching Man of Steel after. Alone, I am sure it stands on sturdy ground but coming out of After Earth, it felt shallow, almost empty. I couldn’t help wondering what the critics’ bone of contention was with After Earth, so I went back and perused the internet. The common theme was summed up by one reviewer from the New York Times who claimed it was nothing more than “a big-screen vanity project.” And that’s when I realized that the problem wasn’t the message or the writing; it was the fact that 90% of the film featured the relationship between Kitai and Cypher (Will and Jaden Smith.)
It’s sad. I’ve seen worse movies get great reviews just because it had many A-list actors, good advertising, or both. For me, this movie goes on the same shelf with Crash, The Pursuit of Happyness, I am Legend, The Ides of March, and Michael Clayton. It is one of Will Smith’s better roles, if not his most mature. As for Jaden, I didn’t laugh as much as I did watching karate Kid but it’s not always about laughter. Sometimes, we have to watch a character grow. Sometimes a story doesn’t need a large chorus for support or laughter to chase. It can stand on its own, be as it is. In those cases you really have to take the criticism cum grano salis.
June 13, 2013 § 2 Comments
Ever read something that makes you feel naked, but not in a way that embarrasses you? Instead it tells a truth you were unable to articulate, or only disclosed to a select few because the shame or pain of that experience was still raw and required a kind of vulnerability you didn’t have the strength for, or could not afford. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s most recent novel, Americanah did this to me. The more I read, the more undressed I felt; large fractions of my most intimate stories, save for a few differences, splayed across pages.
It is no secret that I have an affinity for books that address the immigrant experience. More so, those that tackle the subject in a fashion that doesn’t beg for sympathy but authentically explores the struggles, triumphs, and the things we consider too taboo to disclose to the outside community so we keep them amongst ourselves. Some of my favorites are Jhumpa Lahiri’s the namesake, Chris Cleave’s Little Bee, Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brown stones, Jean Kwok’s Girl in Translation, and now Amerincanah.
Like one of the main characters in Adichie’s novel, Ifemelu, I was a foreign student and as a result found it quite easy to identify with her. I won’t be presumptuous to assume that every foreign student or immigrant would feel this kind of kinship. However, a lot of her experiences mirrored mine. From the letters in bold print from the bursars office; “YOUR RECORDS WILL BE FROZEN UNLESS PAYMENT IS RECEIVED BY THE DATE AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS NOTICE,” and the voice of the love she left behind trying to buoy her via a phone line, to her inability to work because of her status. Or, more seriously, the circumstances that would eventually cause the fissure that grew between them.
I am not sure if Adichie’s life or that of someone close to her informed this book. However it is very clear that she took care in making sure that it was as authentic as possible. For example, the exchange in the hair braiding salon:
“How you get your papers? Aisha asked.
“How you get your papers?”
Ifemelu was startled into silence. A sacrilege, that question, immigrants did not ask other immigrants how they got their papers, did not burrow into those layered, private places, it was sufficient simply to admire that the papers had been got, a legal status acquired.
“Me, I try an American when I come, to marry. But he bring many problems, no job and every day he say give me money, money, money.” Aisha said, shaking her head. “How you get your own?”
…I got mine from work.” She said. “The company I worked for sponsored my green card.”
“Oh.” Aisha said, as though she had just realized that Ifemelu belonged to a group of people whose green cards simply fell from the sky. People like her could not, of course, get theirs from an employer.
Ifemelu’s observation of Aisha’s reaction reminded me of the hierarchy in some fractions of the immigrant community. Not that Ifemelu was guilty of it, but I’ve found that a lot of immigrants can be judgmental, even harsher than a group of Xenophobic Americans. With those immigrants, there are tiers of relevance and importance. At the top are naturalized citizens, followed by permanent residents, and just above the undocumented or illegal aliens but below the permanent residents are the visa categories (F-1/international students, H-1 work visas, H-1b/spouses and children under 21 of H-1 holders etc). Also, how one gains their green card may rate their importance. It is not sufficient that this type of scrutiny already exists outside of the community. We must be perpetrators too and carry it out on each other.
But Americanah does not only explore the immigrant experience. It is in essence, a love story; definitely not a cliché but one that examines other themes such as race in America. For example, the dinner party that Ifemelu attended where she belted, “When you are black in America and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter when you’re alone together because it’s just you and your love. But the minute you step outside, race matters. But we don’t talk about it. We don’t even tell our white partners the small things that piss us off and the things we wish they understood better, because we’re worried they will say we’re overreacting, or we’re being too sensitive. And we don’t want them to say, look how far we’ve come. Just forty years ago it would have been illegal for us to be a couple blah blah blah, because you know what we’re thinking when they say that? We’re thinking why the fuck should it ever have been illegal anyway? But we don’t say any of this stuff. We let it pile up inside our heads and when we come to nice liberal dinners like this, we say that race doesn’t matter because that’s what we’re supposed to say, to keep our nice liberal friends comfortable. It’s true. I speak from experience.”
Adichie allows her characters to say things we have all thought of at one point or the other. At least I have, and seeing it on paper made me chuckle. Case in point: “He had at first been excited about Facebook, ghosts of old friends suddenly morphed to life with wives and husbands and children, and photos trailed by comments. But he began to be appalled by the air of unreality, the careful manipulation of images to create a parallel life, pictures that people had taken with Facebook in mind, placing in the background the things of which they were proud.”
However, it would be a severe injustice to portray Americanah as a collection of heavy themes, political commentary and satire. It is more than all of these. Chimananda Adichie wrote a story that is honest, unpretentious and very realistic. It is exquisite literary fiction that explores a lot of the things people, more so expats experience and does it with a very careful hand. It is a very well constructed novel worthy of every minute spent reading its 477 pages. Quite honestly, I am tempted to disclose more of its content; the lighter, laughter inducing stuff. But that’s a disservice to you. On the other hand, I will admit that the ending is a little unbelievable. I thought the conclusion was a little too easy and that in reality, it might not end that way. Nevertheless, Americanah will be one of my all time favorites because, as one of the characters said, “The human stories that matter are those that endure.” And this one definitely mattered.
May 3, 2013 § 2 Comments
The worst feeling in the world is the homesickness that comes over a man occasionally when he is at home. –E. W. Howe
It is weird the unrelenting ache and longing for a place you’re very much in, more so than when you were not there. Ever since my return home, I’ve been missing it. Some days I look out the back window of what used to be my grandmother’s bedroom before she died. I do this for no other reason than the fact that it and I happen to be here and that simple reality is a buoy. Sometimes I’m drawn to the mundane; the tamarind tree I religiously visualized while living in New York for fear that I would forget how many yards to the right of the cherry tree it was, and how many to the left of the lemon & lime trees that are no more. A lot of things are as such and yet so much are as my memory clutched for. My German Shepherds are gone while my mother’s puppy is now an adult Pitt who has mistaken me for chow and the birds he keeps trying to catch in the backyard. This is not how I envisioned my first piece of writing about this visit. I thought it would explore the emotions of coming home after a long time, followed by a series of exciting snippets about a fun-filled vacation, and punctuated with a satiated piece about returning to the US. And even with a cache of amazing, fun-filled memories, sun stained skin, a few extra pounds and a new trajectory to explore, I’m not quite satiated.
Mind you, there is much to return to the United States for. A whole life; wonderful and round in the truest and most literal sense, and it calls me, but an indescribable sadness begs for more days, moments for more memories, and time here. Almost a decade after my previous visit, everything floods into me; the heat whose harshness is rivaled by the cool of the winds that consistently blow from the Atlantic, experiences that either bowled me over with laughter or were so perfectly serendipitous that they will stick for a lifetime, along with the beautiful people who either etched or shared in those moments. And of course, foods that are constantly on repeat that had the circumstances been different, I would have been sick of by now. I’ve been imbibing all that wasn’t but now are, and doing a lot of it.
Before I left JFK, several promises were made; for the next 35 days I’ll do only what I want to and exactly as I want every single day, I’ll be present in every moment, I’ll have fun, and will write about it daily. The latter I’ve failed to accomplish mostly as a result of the other three promises. After all, won’t there be enough time for writing back in the US? And who’s writing when they’re drowning in a particular moment? So like the last visit, I have no regrets but unlike then, I can hear a bell toll for the end of my vacation. The sadness is awful, coarse, somewhat bitter, and threatening to take the joy out of the remaining days of my vacation. Mostly because back then I didn’t have a personal concept of how swiftly one’s life can change. I know now that circumstance(s) can build barricades, and that particular piece of knowledge may be the root of my forlorn feelings. I’m seeking consolation in the promise of a return that won’t be as far and wide as this one is to its predecessor. Still, sometimes there is no balm for, as Maya Angelou puts it, “the ache for home [that] lives in all of us.”
January 1, 2013 § 3 Comments
I’m not one to make ridiculous and extravagant resolutions, or any resolution for that matter. After age 10, I refused to set myself up for any end of year disappointments and have long since come to grips with my inability to fix every shortcoming. I will not call as often as you’d like, will not write enough entries in my blog, will not meditate every day, and will not… You get the gist. However, at the end of each year, I still take stock of my life; will assess my behavior, decide what gears are in need of shifting, and which short term goal needs adjusting. It’s a reflection of sorts, a checking in with me. What have you done with your life? Where are you going? Are you where you should be? Are you on the right path? Are you surrounded by the right people?
In the past, I had to sift through piles of pros, cons, and experiences before the correct conclusion/answer for those questions could be found. This year the answers came so quickly that I chose to reflect once more just to be sure they were accurate. In the wake of my walk through 2012 was a myriad of situations, people, and their convictions, that I’ve discarded. And if I’m to be honest, I began wondering if this lighter version is really on course to the best me, or am I letting go of too much and too many.
It is safe to say I’ve never had a problem with goodbye. But as this year closes, I found myself questioning if it’s too easy for me to get rid of people. Yesterday, a friend inquired about the best and worst moments of 2012, and the answer to my worst was “the unexpected demise of a friendship/sisterhood.” Initially, it wasn’t a conscious decision to let go of that person and quite frankly, the whole ordeal might have been avoided if our egos weren’t involved. But I hate people challenging my resolve, or my willingness to be okay with their silence. So the distance grew and I refused to offer a log to build the bridge back to what we used to be. If she wasn’t willing, neither was I. I simply held my ground until the tragedy of walking those emotional miles apart took its toll, and before long, we had gone days and months, and milestones in silence.
On the other hand, I believe in an attempt to be Renatta 28.0, I may have reopened doors to folks who aren’t willing to accept that we as individuals may never agree on all things, some of which the other may feel passionately about. People who don’t recognize that even in light of our differences, we must respect each other’s right to their belief system, opinions, and to act accordingly. I’ve learned that such tasks require a level of maturity that sometimes even age doesn’t bring. More importantly, I am even more aware that in my friendships mutual respect is the most important tenet. . A lack thereof is a deal breaker and at this point I stand firmly behind my unwillingness to accept disrespect in my life.
But that’s the easy part. Like I said, I’m pretty good with goodbye. I can shovel experiences and memories like silt and dispose of them without a backward glance or much regard. However, each year I strive to grow and after 2012’s reflection and a few cousins inquiring whether I was willing to let the years of love die in a clash of egos, I had to look at the former friendship I spoke of in paragraph 2. The catalyst for growth would be to challenge myself; push beyond my ego, even break the first word, and try to resuscitate the pulse that used to beat so beautifully between us.
It wasn’t that long ago that we were each other’s tandem and knew that one could freefall and never crash because the other has their back. But times have changed and we’ve shifted and calved like icebergs. Admittedly, I don’t want to put a friendship on life support, or keep someone in my life long after their season has ended. But every so often a birdie would sing a tune that either fastens the belt around my resolve and refusal to engage that person, or in rare cases, would drop a seed of doubt. Is this truly the end? I may never have the answer. Maybe the years would answer it either with our ongoing silence of consent, or something else. For all I know, this may well be added to the list of things that may never fix.
On the other hand, I’ve had a beautiful group of people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of sharing space and time. 2012 has been one of my better years in almost all aspects of my life. It has truly offered more joy, peace, love, renewed hope, and a load of amazing memories than many of its predecessors. As it closes, I pray for the best of everything in my life and yours too.
Happy New Year!!!
For peace is. Knowing we are a work in progress.