by Melissa Kiguwa
Last year I moved in with my cousin- sister and her two daughters. We are the palace… a den of womynly queens taking care of one another. And since I moved in, I have found the most beautiful home. These grown and baby womyn have become my rock, support and medium for belly aching laughter, heart to heart stories and continuous gestures of unselfish love.
I didn’t expect any of this. Actually, I expected awkward miscommunication and frustrating breaches of boundary. I’m not used to sharing space with others, and so, am adamant about me-time and needing my own personal space to have it (you can imagine how frustrated this makes potential life partners).
But in this new home of mine, I found solace and community. My own little slice of humble welcoming in the middle of Kampala. But mostly I’ve been inspired. In wondrous admiration actually. My nieces have become my life in a way i never expected
As I watch my one year old niece slowly take on the never ending changes of development, I find myself completely unabashedly in awe of her. Of life. Of growth. Of change. One day she has little white baby teeth budding from her gummy smile. The next day she is putting consonant to tongue mouthing recognizable words and phrases.
She is a sphinx to me. A riddled warrior lion that changes face depending on the day. Changes mood depending on nap time. She is mighty and holy, sacred and magnificent captured in a body shorter than my rickety writing desk, smaller than my luggage case and yet when she enters a room, we give her her rightly welcoming as baby queen of the house.
And when I think of this world. All the scary that is to come. The men- friends who will charm and seduce her only to betray her trust. Breach her physical boundaries. Scar her emotional. I become terribly frightened for her. I think of the other womyn who will cut her down. Who may siege vendettas against my baby girl simply because they never knew love themselves. I think of the bosses who will silence her or undermine her capabilities. The jobs she will not get. The night walks she will avoid knowing what rapes in the dark.
I think of the teachers whose hands creep up school uniform skirts. The uncles with alcohol on their breaths who like cornering pretty young brown girls in floral dresses. I think of the things she will be too ashamed to admit to her mother or me. The things she will blame herself for. The things she will think her mother and I don’t know, don’t understand, and can never forgive.
Every morning before I leave for work and every night before they go to sleep I hold onto my nieces. Both of them a part of the thump my heart beats every nanosecond of every day. I think what have I done to make this world safer for them aside from writing poems about scary men and unforgiving social taboos?
In my own story, I know my struggle. I know my journey. And within my knowing I acknowledge there are things I’ve forgotten. The infamous amnesia of the traumatized. But I know the long tedious journey I had to take to love myself. To unlearn messages and memories of not being whole enough, or beautiful, or smart or good enough or anything enough.
Of being too black, too big, too assertive, too loud, too everything.
And all of it negative. All of it bad.
There are very real and painful ways this world tries to silence and put into place womyn who are deemed invaluable or a threat.
Like when my mother and I, immigrantly foreign to a white community that had never seen a black like ours, moved to this little farm town in U.S.A. We were both young and searching for something that could be ours. Her in search of the milk and honey promised from colonial tall tales, me in search of loving hands outside my mother. We survived the whispers and cold stares in the market, the little girls who had to put gloves on when they were forced to touch my hand during school activities, the older neighbors who threateningly complained our presence brought down the property value of their homes.
Or a few months ago when I arrived at a hospital in the middle of the night. Crawling on all fours in pain, I yelled from an ache deep within my abdomen. I thought I would die that night. The doctor who saw me told me my pain was psychological because it was somehow related to my cycle.
The next doctor I saw refused to do gynecological lab tests because it probably wasn’t as bad as I was saying.
Another doctor said maybe I should deworm.
Not one asked me about abortions in back rooms or unprotected sex with men. Not one asked me deeper questions about the pain or my cycle.
Not one asked.
And yet all were male. All looked at me as if they were all knowing. All tried to give me medicines they did not (and when asked) could not explain why they were prescribing.
A neighbor friend of mine went to a doctor around our neighborhood. She has a lump on her breast that needed examination. Her doctor told her she had cramps and gave her Panadol pain medication. I insisted she go to another doctor for adequate care. When she went to the same doctor (as she could not afford others), he scolded her. Reprimanded her for having the audacity to question his omnipotent authority.
They reprimanded me too. All those doctors i saw. For asking them what medications they were giving me. For asking them which pharmaceutical company gave them that particular medicine. For asking why they did not ask me more questions. For asking about the other womyn who enter their offices with similar symptoms due to (insert any ovarian disease here). For asking how many other womyn had walked away spending money on medications they did not need and lab tests that were unwarranted simply because these womyn were afraid to speak.
For a month I lived on pain medication slowly irritating and destroying my stomach even more. I was too disillusioned to go to another doctor. Too broke to afford the scans I wanted. Too tired to deal with being discredited and insulted when all I wanted was help.
But I survived.
The funny thing about survival. It never leaves you unwounded. We all carry the weight of Atlas. Regardless of our beautifully painful and painfully beautiful stories and the ways we survive them.
We carry. And we hold.
I know…I know how I had to bite, kick, scream, cry, laugh, hug, prune, push, pull and love my way to healing.
(You ever peel a festering wound back open? Allow it air, sunlight, and the stinging sensation of old pains come new?)
Most days I’m called stubborn/ wild/ difficult/ aggressively assertive/ honestly free.
I will tell my nieces nobody traverses those dusty roads to pain and heartbreak with you. But there are those that seek relationships outside antiquated oppressive gendered boxes and those will see you tender/ loving/ open/ vulnerably beautiful.
I will tell my nieces—they will call you everything bad. Some may try to beat you. Rape you. Hurt you for being unabashedly you.
But I will remind them even when you try to fit within the confines of respectable and good-mannered– this world will still call you everything bad. May beat you. Rape you. Hurt you for being not you.
So you might as well be as wildly whole/ as brilliantly honest/ and as lovingly stubborn as you want to be. You might as well celebrate you because no one else will do it for you.
Audre Lorde told me my silence will not protect me. She was right. My silence will not protect my baby girls either. So as I sit here writing I ask myself, again, how am I making this world safer for my baby girls?
How are you making this world safer for yours?