“Van al my liggeel dae
teken ek hierdie een op;
dat ek later kan weet hoe swerms
duiwe van die dakke waai,
en dat ek, as ek wil,
later kan lees van ‘n liggeel
dag en van jou hier langes my.”
~ Wilma Stockenstrom
It’s a misty grey day in Porto and I was just listening to the above poem (set to music by South African singer, Laurinda Hofmeyr). Freely translated it reads:
Of all my light yellow days
I take note of this one;
so that later I can know how flocks
of doves are blown from the rooftops;
and that I, if I wanted,
later could read of a light yellow
day and of you here beside me.
A few days ago we celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary: a light yellow day.
And for this day, I made my partner a “happy memory jar” filled with light yellow notes of significant moments we shared.
But I have also been thinking about everyday yellows, even on grey afternoons, how fleeting they are, and of our attempts to capture them. Already the cherry trees are moving from blossoms to leaves. And now I am trying hard to recall being taken by a moment today, yesterday, last week… and I imagine the many scraps of yellowing images flying from the red-tiled roofs of this city (ours among them), unnoticed…
(How) do you document your days?*
A full moon hangs over the bridge. The last gleam of twilight shines over the river Douro. On the riverbank, a small group of women are arranging candles, stones, flowers and shells, a gentle excitement among them. Each of the women picks up first some stones, then dried flowers and finally fresh ones, and tosses them into the water. Words are spoken, laughter and Port wine shared, while the moon watches, and the river carries it all away and carries on.
This is what I did, along with other members of GATA, on the eve of International Women’s Day. We wanted to celebrate spring and the full moon, for us symbolic of revitalization and passage. And so we let go of the heavy, tear-tightened things (represented by stones and pot shards of clay), and old ways that have outlived their usefulness (in the form of shells and dried leaves) and released renewed hopes and dreams (many many fresh flowers!) for ourselves, those close to us and women everywhere.
I am still looking for words to describe what it was like to take part in this, to somehow have all the emotion and meaning held, and to have what we have been through, what we relinquished and regained witnessed – but it has something to do with movement and gladness, with bearing and…with grace.
* (How) do you mark or celebrate passages in your life?
I have always had this tendency to refuse to dress the part, or to confuse by dressing it up. Being petite is commonly mistaken for being fragile, and I’ve had my share of cutesy nicknames (referring mostly to all things tiny and supposedly easily squashable). I could have gone for power-dressing, in fact, I was encouraged to do so – instead, I would flaunt the girlie look in pretty dresses and frilly skirts. I showed up for my first day as an intern psychologist in a psychiatric clinic dressed in a tie-dyed t-shirt, flowy pants, and electric blue platforms and was requested to go home and to return in appropriate attire. And so I stomped off in my platforms, and bristling with defiance, called my mentor who, wise as ever, said the following words: Deidre, there will be many battles to fight, so choose carefully. I chose a long, matronly dress in floral print and sensible shoes, and was welcomed into the clinical fold. I have long since left the clinic (and not because I did my first big presentation in the hospital resembling Scary Spice…again). But I continue to be intrigued by questions of self-presentation, of appearance: how do we appear, that is, how do we become visible to others as Others, and (how) are we recognized?
These questions persisted when I moved to Portugal, or to my imaginary Europe of the elegantly knotted scarves. I felt as if I just could not look right…that I could not make my-self appear. And it was as perplexing as it was annoying: my uncharacteristic desire to want to fit in, or to at least stand out in a way that would be acknowledged here. I took it as a great compliment when, a few years (and many different haircuts) later, a friend commented that I looked more European. (The red light of “trying to pass” did not even flicker.) At the same time, I would feel stronger, somehow more grounded whenever I would wear African beads, aware of constructions of the “ethnic” or “exotic”, but less wary of them, as they were co-opted accessories in my significations of belonging and rootedness.
It took some time (though I am not sure that is all it takes…), but now I am open to shape-shifting again, to showing my hybrid selves. I still catch myself fretting about the impression I will (or will not) make, but then I’m also reminded that there are yet many battles to fight.
*What makes you appear?