Finding Your Navel String

Every year before Christmas – in one of many attempts to get economic activity underway – parents are told what the hottest toys are. As a result, “Tickle Me Elmo”, numerous Elsa’s, beyblades, hoverboards and drones have flown off the shelves. If one didn’t have kids, a person could always Google what the top ten presents to buy were that year – or they could just look at what Gwyneth or Oprah said were their favourite things that week/year.

This year apparently, the hottest thing you can give is the gift of finding out who your people are. The notion of knowing who someone’s “people” were was first introduced to me as a teenager, when bringing someone home to meet your parents meant that they would inevitably ask the question – “Who are your people”? If the name of the prospect’s parents or grandparents elicited a lightbulb moment – in other words, they were known to your parents – then said prospect was in the clear.

Since then, knowing who your people are has taken on a deeper meaning. I’m aware that there has always been a push – at least on the part of people of African descent to know where exactly we came from. Since the publication of Alex Haley’s “Roots” in 1976 and the subsequent movie made from the book a year later – there have been numerous trips, journeys and pilgrimages back to the Motherland. Knowledge about our heritage has manifested in any number of ways – including renewed interest in African food, dance, names, fashion and birthing practices. and 23and are two popular companies that have taken advantage of this interest many have in finding out where, as the old people used to say – our “navel string is buried”. There are many more providing these services, but these two have elevated it to stocking stuffer status this year. The commercial for one company shows a family gathering that begins at the door with primarily Caucasian members and ends at the dinner table, with some other races mixed in.

Naturally, since some of our ancestors are not from the areas where we now live, finding our DNA make-up is a gift that any of us could use – as long as we have approximately $99US dollars ($69US if you take advantage of the special Christmas offer) and some extra spit.

“Who Do You Think You Are” and “Finding Your Roots” are two TV series where celebrities discovered who their family members were and where they came from. The programme was so popular, that when one participant discovered that he had a slave-owning descendant – he wanted to cut that part out. I guess he thought it made him look bad.

Birther controversies and Meghan Markle’s family tree aside, I’m a little fascinated by this push by some companies to mainstream DNA testing and make it seem as simple as 123. Are we hoping for proof that we all come from the rib of that first man or that we really all belong to the same family tree? Is it secretly a genetic world-mapping exercise? Or is it (as some have suggested) a clever way to divulge information that you wouldn’t otherwise have or dream of giving to people you don’t actually know?

I’ve been encouraged to find out who my people are. A free starting point involves talking to the oldest family members and listening to what stories they have to tell. Bibles, title deeds, marriage certificates and other documents can provide names that can help in the search. For us in Antigua, one of the first things we may find out is which plantation our great grandparents “worked” on. The National Archives may be able to provide further information if given a name or two. From there, it may be a few hops, skips and jumps to find out where in Africa they – and by extension I – come from.

I’m not sure how far the information that I have will take me, so I may just have to hawk one up for science.

I know… Sorry.

Playing Dress Up

When I used to blog a little more regularly (read: a post every week), my year-end post would be a round-up of some of the posts that I had written during the year. Actually, I would re-visit the ones on which I could actually provide updates, and let my faithful readers know what had transpired since I last wrote about the topic.

I first wrote about the subject of this post three years ago. It was all about Halloween and how the decorations in a supermarket actually took me by surprise. Since then, more people have gotten on the bandwagon and there are actually Halloween-themed parties complete with costumes – because we Antiguans love a fete.

I remember that one had been planned, and apparently permission had been granted to have it on the main road outside of the public cemetery, with sound system, tents for the necessary food and drink, and portable bathroom facilities – because all that liquor has to go somewhere. There was an uproar of course, but I can’t remember whether it actually came off. Since then, the party or parties haven’t exactly gone underground, they’ve just chosen less controversial locations.

Antigua’s Independence celebrations are also celebrated in the month of October, culminating on November 1st with a ceremonial parade and food fair. In the week leading up to it, there’s a church service, a choir festival, youth rally and a fashion show showcasing local designers. After years of everyone wearing his/her own version of a cultural costume, a competition was held to design both male and female outfits which would thereafter be known as our “national dress”. I gather that much research (in terms of what our ancestors wore), went into the designs, which are worn by quite a few people on National Dress Day.

Heather Doram, the designer of Antigua and Barbuda’s national dress.

Similar to national outfits that can be found in Dominica, Grenada and Martinique, the outfit features a dress made of madras fabric. It is overlaid with an apron of white with ribbons of similar hue to the colours in the fabric, which dress up the apron at its base. The dress is usually tea length, but some women wear it longer. The male wears black pants, a long-sleeved white shirt, a waistcoat of the same madras fabric and a straw hat with madras trim.

I’ve never owned one of these outfits, but I have, on occasion, worn an incomplete version of the male costume. It seems the easiest to wear, because my research showed several variations of the original dress design. But if I’m to be honest, that is one of the things I like most about Independence time – as we call it – seeing the creative use of the madras fabric, because we women like our styles.

One other thing I like is the fact that most schools on the island have what are termed Independence programmes where the children sing, recite and dance their way through two hours or so of national songs and ditties. It is also a chance for them to dress up in their national outfits. It’s not required, but clearly the mothers get creative because no two girls ever look alike. At my son’s secondary school – by dressing in his national outfit, he had the chance to earn merit points – the easiest ones he’s ever gotten.

Pictures then abounded on social media of kids in their versions of the national dress after their school programmes. Interspersed among these were pictures of kids who went to school as witches, fairies, cartoon figures and indeterminate characters. What? And then I remembered. Ah yes – there’s another form of dress up. Three years on, and it’s clear that Halloween isn’t going anywhere.


What’s In a Name Two?

Most little girls dream about their wedding day and the princess gown. I leapt ahead to the naming of my children. Talk about putting the cart before the horse!

This post had a part 1 to it, where I wrote about the names that some parents saddle their children with. If I’m going to be really honest, the thought about what I would name my future children started around the age of 16 or 17 – waaay before I was interested in marriage though. I remember well, because while attending the local college, I met up with a girl who I last saw in grade school and she had a name that I really liked.

However, 15 years or so later I ended up choosing something else.

I’m reminded of that time in my life because of a video I viewed recently that featured Uzo Aduba, actress in the hit HBO show “Orange is the New Black”. After telling the audience her full name – Uzoamaka, and it’s meaning – “the road is good”, she went on to relate that time when she asked her Nigerian mother to give her another name because everyone had such a hard time pronouncing the one she was given.

Recently, my daughter (who has asked on more than one occasion whether the name I gave her was my first choice), inquired about the possibility of changing her name. In answer to her question, I unwisely (I see that now) answered that it had not been my first choice and again unwisely, I told her what had been my first pick. Of course, she liked that one better.

The name she was given is short and easy to pronounce – the vowel that introduces her name is short, not long – but some people don’t listen, can’t hear or simply don’t care. Some of them get the pronunciation right, but decide to add on another vowel because the people at the passport office will take it either way.

I informed my daughter that it was possible to change her name if she used a lawyer and went through the courts and she seemed about ready to save up for the expense. But her father wasn’t having it. Neither was Uzoamaka’s mother who said that if people could learn to say “Tchaikovsky”, “Michelangelo” and “Dostoevsky” – they could learn to say “Uzoamaka”.

And that resonated with me. Most parents give their child a name because it has a particular meaning or significance. Surely it’s not too difficult to learn to pronounce a name that someone is given to identify them in this life? Aduba has learned to love her name and says that she wouldn’t change it for the world. Hopefully, after correcting them multiple times when people get it wrong and being patient until they get it right – my daughter will want to keep hers too.



What’s Going On In There?

I knew that I would always be my mother’s child regardless of how old I was, but at a little over 40 years old – okay – a lot over 40 years old, I never thought that I would have been scolded by my dentist.

I don’t know if you’re one of them, but I know that there are lots of us who don’t go to the dentist until absolutely necessary – which is what happened to me a few months ago.

What do you do when you can’t chew certain foods on one side of your mouth? You chew on the other side, of course. What do you do when consuming an ice cold beverage? You tilt your head so that the liquid flows to the other side.

Fast forward through several months of oral gymnastics after which I finally end up in the dentist’s chair. For reasons that I won’t get into here, I ended up going to a dentist who was totally new – but had been recommended – to me. My last visit (to a previous doctor) was not as long ago as you might think, but that too had been a matter of cure not prevention.

I wasn’t able to reach the dentist by phone, but assuming his office to be a busy one (and being within walking distance of my location) I decided to hoof it over there to see about an appointment. After climbing a flight of stairs to the office, I was met with a closed door, a “CLOSED” sign, and no information regarding office hours or any explanation as to why they were not open on a perfectly good day in the week.

Maybe I should have taken that as a sign.

Nonetheless I was determined to see the good doctor, so I called and left a message requesting an appointment, or a reasonable facsimile. Happily, my call was returned and although expecting to be classified as a walk-in with the lengthy wait time that was usually required, I was given a time for the following day.

Maybe I should have taken that as another sign.

My appointment was around 11am. Now I’m not saying that I live for food or anything like that, but thinking that the dentist might have to get right down to business when I explained my dilemma, I decided that I should probably eat my lunch before I got there – since I didn’t know when next I’d be able to eat solid foods.

I climbed the stairs again. This time the door was open and I was transported back in time. To several Christmases and Easters ago. The waiting room was cheerfully decorated with plastic flowers of every hue and it was clear that Christmas was celebrated every day of the year, because a few ornaments had never made it back into their boxes.

The single patient in the waiting-cum-living room was occupying herself with one of the fairly current magazines that were placed on a coffee table. I identified myself to the receptionist who greeted me and after selecting some reading material, I scanned the walls that contained (as one would expect) information relating to teeth, annotated diagrams of the mouth, diseases of the mouth and a published article of a study conducted by the doctor who was about to look at my teeth. All were several years old.

I didn’t actually get a chance to flip through the pages of my magazine because I was called into the inner sanctum. The dentist’s chair and equipment seemed fairly new and modern, and unlike the waiting area, the office was blessedly cooled with air conditioning. I could see the familiar street outside the window – of course from a different vantage point, and the dentist busied himself while the receptionist culled from me some information for her files. When she was through with her clerical duties, she took up her doctor’s assistant duties and I was invited to sit in the chair and to explain my problem.

He sat next to me and listened intently. He asked several questions – actually he asked lots of questions including some about my general health and lifestyle choices – well habits, really. His face hid nothing and after the interrogation (including a joke at my expense, which the receptionist/assistant found incredibly funny as well), I got the distinct impression that I had done something wrong – and he hadn’t even looked in my mouth yet.

That came next. He took one look and could tell not only that I had recently eaten, but also what I’d just had for lunch, so a mouth rinse was in order. Out came the grains of quinoa that hadn’t quite been washed away. Good thing I couldn’t see the look on his face because I was spitting in the sink. After that bit of distatsteful-ness, he dove back into my mouth, admonished me while he was in there and read me the riot act when he came out.

The issues were many. It was at that point that I realized that this was purely an exploratory session to determine what needed to be done, the options for doing what needed to be done, and how much it was going to cost for it all to be done. He seemed eager to help to get me back on the straight and narrow and advised of his surgery dates, payment plans and a pending relationship with an insurance provider that didn’t apply to me.

I left the chair, assuring him that I would look at my finances and make that treasured appointment as soon as possible. Since the pain that had led to this visit had subsided long before, I was thinking that maybe I’d wait to see if my teeth would appreciate the effort I’d made to have them looked at. ‘Cause I wasn’t really in the mood to be taken to task again.

What Grade Did You Get?

The second most show-off-worthy time for parents is upon us. After graduation and prom pictures, the CSEC results are the most popular Facebook postings out there. Proud parents (and god-parents) declare how many 1’s or 2’s their child received, and then wait for the congratulations to pour in. The parents are posting for their friends to see how great their children did – but clearly others see them too.

Apparently the ones who didn’t do so well in the school-leaving exams might have been haunted by these posts and the eventual comparisons they elicit because some – disappointed with their results – fell ill and had to be taken to the hospital.

Back in my day, there was the unspoken understanding that all subjects were to be passed, and there were some who did better than others, but I don’t know if the expectations of today’s parents (or the children themselves) are so high that low marks call for bed rest and a few bags of “drip”.

There’s been much talk about the enormous pressure that students are put under which now begins around Grade 5 when the students are told about the impending Common Entrance Exams (or whatever they’ll be called next year). Getting into the Top 100 is of utmost importance seeing as how it gives students a chance to get into one of the “better” government schools.

The comparison of grades when the results come out is expected. In my day (before results were posted online), we’d call around to find out how we stacked up against our peers. Unfortunately, these days everything is put on show. The newspaper article that highlighted the incidences of “bad feeling” experienced by the youngsters, quoted a counsellor as saying that professional help should be sought for the children who were disappointed in their results – as there may be other factors at play.

Whatever will they be told, I wonder?

Some kids aren’t great at taking tests, which is a shame when they actually know the material. And some kids don’t respond well to threats, otherwise known as motivational speeches. And some kids just need an extra week – to study.



No Alchemy Here

We gathered in the space carrying our welcome drinks and wearing our coloured dots like bullseyes. We were encouraged to mingle outside our circle of friends, but it was clear that most felt comfortable with the people they already knew.

It was difficult to tell whether the hum was due to anticipation or feedback from the audio speakers. And as more people came, the attempt to set the mood for the evening resulted in having to compete with the singer just to be heard.

But it was easy to share in the two virtual expressions of excitement from around the kitchen table, when the numbers gathered there were seen.

The group of women who were chosen to inspire mingled only after they told their stories – before that they stood apart, and the tales and their deliveries were as varied as the women who told them – unlike the identical musical crescendos that followed each one.

“Like” did not follow “like”, that evening – at least, not in the way it was intended. At least, not for me. It was, however the perfect opportunity to renew old alliances, just not to make any new ones.

It’s kind of hard to find alchemy if your “connection” doesn’t show.

Should Peter pay for Paul?

It’s graduation season. A cursory look at various social media accounts will show tons of pictures of young people in graduation gowns and prom dresses, in commencement photos and make-up sessions. Signifying the end of one stage and the beginning of another, the commencement exercise here is a rite of passage that starts (incredulously) upon leaving kindergarten.

Last week, a local school made news when the principal made good on his promise not to have a graduation ceremony if the students persisted in behaviour that they had been warned about. After the dust had settled – and to hear some people tell it – it appeared that the behaviour of the students warranted the unprecedented action. But I’m gathering that it wasn’t the entire class – so what about the rest of them? Like others, I could talk about the guilty ones and how it serves them right and question where their parents were in all of this, but what about the rest of them?

I’m trying to rack my brain for a similar example from when I was much younger, and I’m not coming up with anything. I’m thinking that there must have been some story that I can relate from back in the day that parallels this one. You know – where the innocent had to suffer for the guilty, but it taught us a valuable lesson, nonetheless? But I’m drawing a blank.

I could, however, relate some recent examples involving my own children.

My daughter is a Brownie and a few months ago, the Girl Guides celebration of World Thinking Day was marked by several activities – one of which was a hike of several miles. I decided to go along, and donning my walking shoes (because I hate sneakers), we traversed some areas where I hadn’t actually been before. Along the way, the girls attempted to get to know about their counterparts in other companies – but it was really to see who could make it back before the others.

The hike was to culminate with a bonfire around which the girls would sing campfire songs while roasting marshmallows. My daughter was out of her skin when she heard that part. I had to buy a whole pack of those sugar bombs which she shared with a classmate who had a stick, but no marshmallow. Returning to camp after the walk, we lined up for food (some of which ran out), while some leaders started the bonfire.

Each company had to make a presentation in song and there were twelve or so groups. Darkness was descending quickly. The girls were getting restless, and admittedly, a little loud. A bull-horn was used to quiet them down, but it didn’t work very well. By the time the sixth or seventh company had made their presentation, you couldn’t see the face of the person across from you. I was ready to go, but with the bonfire well underway now, there was no way I could even think of leaving.

Another round of presentations. Who knew which company this was? The bonfire roared and the girls inched ever closer. The bull-horn told them to step back – and to be quiet. It was officially night now and the flames from the bonfire were the only source of illumination. Company leaders began to call out for their members because they certainly couldn’t see them. Some left on the waiting buses before it was all over, because they really had to get back. There was a constant hum of anticipation. Finally, the last company made its presentation. The girls had their marshmallow-topped sticks at the ready. After one last entreaty from the bull-horn, the flames of the bonfire were doused. The campfire was over. The marshmallows remained untoasted – because, as we adults like to say, “who don’t hear will feel”.

It was dark, but you could see (and hear) the disappointment. I guess that was the level of quiet the bull-horn had been looking for.

And so, World Thinking Day ended on a sour note because the actions of a few (who I don’t think could have even been pinpointed), warranted punishment for all.

When we got home, I fired up the stove and we had our roasted marshmallows. I’m not a fan of those spongy balls of sugar – but we made the best of the situation and had our “bonfire” after all. Maybe those parents should do the same.