Ole time, it was a mighty good time,
Monkey chew tobacco and he spit white lime,
Bullfrog jump from leaf to leaf and…
It’s like saying I am going to tell you a tale, (Trinh Minh Ha) because all I have is a tale. Our stories are more important than our physical, earth-bound land, because they are who we are and where we live. The old story entry may not be appropriate for our stories over old tales, but they are a part of the land, a story of us in the land. On Thursday, October 3, 2019, there was a story moment organized by the “We Gatchu: Sanctuary After The Storm” initiative, with Helen Klonaris and Patricia Powell, who told stories and opened a space for healing through storytelling. Though many Bahamians choose not to remember the story space of old times, it is a cultural essential that brings us together in spite of natural disasters or because of them.
Today, while standing in the hours-long queue at the bank, I was regaled with stories of surviving Dorian. We have little shyness when it comes to sharing tales of tough times or good times with strangers in the middle of a public space. These are the oral roots of Bahamian culture. I hear and see you, you hear and see me: a conversation of egalitarian power that acknowledges the humanity, the being of the person in front, to the side, or behin’ us. In Haitian Creole it is simply, nou led, nou la, but we are not interested in Creole. In Bahamian, we would say, I dere, or I right chere, an acknowledgement of presence and being; in fact, it is a statement that I am here, I am alive and I am with you – I may not be rich, powerful, beautiful, but I dere, jus’ me. And this is all given the grace of God.
We have stories of survival and hardship: my mudda, daddy bredder done dis and he gone Fox Hill, is the story of “but I am still here”. I survived. It is an assertion of life. And this is a powerful story. It is a part of the entire Caribbean experience. We have adapted to the space and socio-economic and ecological reality, or creolized so that we are inseparable from the land and waterscape. Though many of us don’t much care for water.
I was next to a woman who stood between another man and myself. Whether they knew each other was unclear, but they experienced place and Dorian together. They had weathered Dorian, and told stories of windows popping out, doors flying open, people disappearing into the nether of the storm, but these stories buck up against the official discourse of not so many people dying and disappearing. Stories of dogs being eaten by sharks and young people getting on cars to avoid being drowned, arms coming off, as if magically, through tide pulling on loved ones at the other end of that arm. This sharing took me back to the night at NAGB with the storytelling and healing. No one in that bank queue would have said they were healing or storytelling, they would just say they was talkin’, and they certainly wouldn’t say they was talking ole story. But ole story they will be, and healing through assertion of self and my experience is normal, not some romantic notion of beauty in the tropics. It is a story of no rollers, no shoes and one hell of a rough time getting out of a house flooded by a Bahamian tsunami, and the way we made it through.
When we start tellin’ story, let the person say an’ talk. It is a catharsis that is beyond measure. Even if we interject, let us open ourselves to the story of ourselves and our neighbours.
Our stories are our identity, lodged like a ball of bile in our guts, ready to spill into the surface and not burn with acidic causticity but enlightened with the wisdom of old lives lived under thunderstorms and raging jealousies. No hay nada nuevo bajo el sol. All of our dramas have been lived before, fought over before, hated and scorned before. The personalities may be unmistakable but the dramas are similar yet distinct.
Much like the film América recounting three young men, brothers tending to their grandmother, it is a story with ups, downs, sideways turns, lefts on red, rights into chaos, traffic accidents and all the drama of corruption and neglect. It is a story of love gained, lost and re-encountered on bumpy roads and through floods. It is humanity and the dutty and hard side of life.
It has become clear that there is a coincidence of events. The healing after Dorian is significant, much like the stories being told through art in “The Visual Life of Social Affliction”, a Small Axe project (currently on display at the NAGB) that explores the very social reality of exploitation, isolation and disenfranchisement. The dispossession of nature; the stripping of homes by acts of law and mala fe are the things of stories that we tell at the cashier in Super Value, in the queue at the bank, in the time we wait to pay the bill, while we wait to get into the ATM to get money out, the travails of Bahamas Power and Light that keeps turning off the lights, of sons and brothers who have not lived up to their promise; of mothers and fathers who have been washed out by Dorian’s tsunami. These are our stories and they need space to be, and ears to listen. The epistemic violence of neoliberal governance is as much a reality as the old times, and it actively, though unobtrusively, obsequiously silences our stories.
Our stories are lodged in our minds and souls and will not vanish. We coat them with flour as we fry them down in okra soup, the purpled seeds to show that the slime has gone. These are the livings and dyings of infidelity and ugly hardships of learning to read under the street lamp, but of a community that would work together. This is the story of Dorian who blew in, sat on us for three days and destroyed all landmarks known to us. Our marks of birth are being erased, what says that about us?
Be bo ben, my ole story end,
Not sure I can ever recatch that tail again.
No lies, stories are what we have to anchor us and liberate us. We need to allow them to flourish.