Dear Ntozake Shange, (For Colored Girls, A Tribute)

Ntozake_Shange,_A Tribute For Colored Girls

Dear Ntozake,

Eight years ago, at the height of my teenage years – I was eighteen and fresh out of high school – one hot afternoon I made my way to the house of a new friend of mine. Her name is Beatrice, but we like to call her Soni, a nickname that bounces off her second maiden name “Muthoni” – which is a Kikuyu name which means a “shining star”. Soni and I met in Church during those long and lazy youth meetings held in the afternoon after Mass, and we picked a friendship almost spontaneously. One cold Saturday morning in July, five years later,  I would be bequeathed the responsibility of being the Godmother to her months’ old daughter – a responsibility, I am afraid, I am not sure I know well how to fulfil. But all the same, this is love, and this is how it grows and refines itself – in the slow beat of time.

So on that afternoon, after we had caught up and had a quick lunch, of beans rice and eggs, we sat down to watch the television that had been running all through – the heat I had escaped outside still hounded me through the corrugated iron sheets that crackled under the afternoon heat. So we could not watch much, instead, we ended up flipping through the movies she had in her flash disk. And there you were, in the film for Colored Girls, you in your regal beauty so well hidden that at first glance one would think this was just another film. We did not watch it together, but she said – “This is a nice one, you need to watch it, especially since you love arts, and poems, and stuff like that…”, and so I carried it home with me that evening, unaware that I was about to fall in love.

***

I am sure you have had in your lifetime, moments when you sat down to watch something, oblivious to the fact that by the time the film runtime is done, your life will have changed to some degree. There are many films that are utter nonsense, a cheap thrill to kill time and loose the mind of its preoccupations, and there are others – like the film adaptation of your book that grip the heart and tear it open, and make one think, really think about the state of their life, about the state of the lives around them, about what it means to be alive.

When I sat down to watch it, like with all films and pieces of art, I did not know what to expect. But I was curious, I have always been curious – perhaps too curious for my own good. Regardless, I have always held the notion that the more one knows, the more aware they are of what is around them, and the more one is aware of what is around them,  the more their life blossoms and bursts forth into entrancing myriad of colours like a kaleidoscope.

***

Needless to say, the following weeks and month, after watching Tyler Perry’s film adaptation of your book, I was neck deep in the internet scavenging for your work. Back then, I had a small Nokia that I had bought myself with prize giving money for scoring an A of 81 points from the provincial public high school I had attended.

I used to scroll up and down that tiny screen, read your work and then write mine – and this is no particular order. I had been writing poems for more than four years by then – and the mere fact that you were there, with your work, making me aware that I could also write, and come into my own being, made a world of a difference.

Now that I think about how I sought to imitate, and how well I thought I hid that, I chuckle and laugh at myself – a tender laugh, for it was not until five years later that I wrote something I actually felt spoke my truth.

It’s funny, really, how even in the naivety of my teenage years, I could still see some aspects of myself in your work. I could see my younger self who had learnt that not all flowers grow, and those that grow, not all bloom; my younger self who had learnt to turn what at first glance seems like rejection, to a chance for self-love and care. And that’s why, when I saw, Juanita recite her monologue, with her potted plants – saying “it was an experiment to see…how selfish I could be’ I could relate.

***

I am African, born and raised in Kenya, Africa, the shade of my skin is what they call brown chocolate, and being in my own country, I could say that what you wrote for your African American women applies to me as well – and I think, regardless of colour.

I have often found myself laughing at myself when I aspire too high, and reality wakes me up; it is then that I see myself “in the melodious-less-ness ” of my song and it is falling off my shoulder, draping my being, my body, but oh, how far I have come from back then, and how much more relatable your work has become in these years.

All those women are women I have been or women I have known – abused women who face or were brought up in homes with domestic violence, women who have suffered sexual assault, betrayal, left alone when the world turned its back, known death and grief, known what it means to hope, to despair and then to hope again, to long for love from others and to discover that love must first come from within, and who have slowly found ways to heal and to begin again.

***

It was not until 2015, that I held your book in my hands. My cousin was studying up in Syracuse University, she’s a brilliant lady, and when her mother in law passed away, she brought her home to lay to rest, and along with her, she brought a copy of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.

I took that book with me everywhere that month, reading it and rereading it, memorising the poems, often surprised to find myself in a line of a poem.

When I scrolled through Facebook this Saturday and found out that you had taken the long journey all mankind must take, I sat down on my couch, and paused a moment, and was surprised really, that you were that well advanced in age. All along it had never occurred to me to check your age or to check up on you and find out what you have been up to. After I had sat a long while and caught my breath, I picked up my phone wrote to my cousin and said – This news could be of interest to you, sad news for me. She who for months now has as her Whatsapp status a quotation from your work- I found God in myself and loved her fiercely.

***

So I write to say thank you – thank you for being you, for writing those poems, for allowing yourself along with other women to sit still with their feelings, and emotions and drama of life and to ask themselves – but who am I? Thank you for the hope you instilled in me to continue writing, even though as the years go by I find I have less and less to say. Thank you, really, thank you and have a safe journey home.

Rest well.

 

2 Comments

  1. Wow! Words fail me. This is a tender and moving tribute.
    I remember when I watched the movie as well. At the end of it I was a different person. It had allowed me to feel all those hurts that I and women around me had experienced. I felt the anger, sadness, shame… I also felt the hope, the joy of loving myself and other women fiercely. I cannot justifiably capture the experience in words. Ntozake could. I hope to read the book one day.

    Like

    1. Asingwa,

      Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

      I find writers who can vividly articulate raw emotion and experiences to be particularly dear to me (for instance Ntozake). Through their writing they let me know that what I am feeling, experiencing, observing has been experienced by another person too, and that validates my experience. Good writing gives me permission to be myself, and to navigate my life knowing I am not alone.

      I can lend you my copy of the book, and your hope to read the book one day will become reality. 😉

      Like

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