Little white girl II or Feeling black in a white body
How did I come to feeling black inside my white body?
Him – « What’s your name, beautiful one? » says the tall black man meeting the little white girl at the University student coffee shop.
Her – « Why do you want to know my name for? » The question made her feel inconfortable. What came next was even worst.
Him – « Because I love you! »
He seemed sincere yet his answer, for some reasons, felt like a trap.
Her – « But you don’t know me, how can you love me already! » She was used at men starring at her but not so much with this new style at being so flirtatious and direct.
Him – « Quite simple! Because I love the color of your skin! I also love the way you walk with so much determination as if you know exactly where you are going all the time! »
Her – « That does not make sense at all! How about we become friends and i interview you for a radio program i lead with Desjardins at the University Students Radio Station? I want to know about your life in Senegal and how it feels like to land in North America to study : Rimouski instead of New york or Boston must be a shock, no?. »
We started planning the interview and I soon learned that as a recipient of the Francophony Grants, for his master degree, he was not allowed to choose where he wanted to study nor the exact program he wanted to do. He wanted to study vegetal biology but there was no such programs in Rimouski where they sent him. Apparently, the recepients were divided between a certain amount of French Canadian Universities where they could pick up a program that was the closest to what they wanted. Since one has the chance to study in Canada, why argue about the location and the program? So Rimouski, Québec it was going to be for this young man.
I could not imagine what it was like to live on a continent like Africa, or may be just a bit because i had visited Morroco and seen how people in villages in the mountains or country side lived. Traveling on the back of mules, or using camels, they could cross a road no much faster then 10 km per hour, but it was a steady rythm. I had had a sense of the Arabic World, yet this was far from the Black World. Such was my limited thoughs on the subject then.
After a couple of months of more flirtatious behaviours and a kisses stolen one night at a Univeristy party, he asked me to marry him because in his culture, he said, it was not allowed to be involved with a woman without being married.
I had my doubts. Internet did not exist then to ask questions to Mr Google, Siri or Alexa, i could only rely on others who had a better glimpse at these cultures. I asked him if he really was willing to get married for that or because he wanted to have his papers to stay in Canada.
«May be you just need a sponsor and are to shy to ask me directly to sponsor you?» I asked.
He could have not say no to this. Instead, he said : «If this is what you are thinking, you are free to think what you want » How agile of him and poor thinking of me.
I understood that it was the case and married him. This was the start of my life getting transfiguring from being a white woman feeling black inside. The feeling lasted for 25 years so far, even after we got divorce 6 and half years after the civil wedding. This experience gave me a view from inside a black community leaving in a majority white community further north east of Québec City, Rimouski.
What one can do in the name of « LOVE »…
I gave this man the best of myself, of my youth, of my soul, of my intimity and of my culture and ideas. Especially this last one. Although he denied the life we created together by aborting it, he made it clear he was only interested in pursuing his faith for becoming a celebrity as such as his Aunt had predicted him. From my 27th year old high, I told him all about the unicity of French Canadian, the fabric of what make us different from the rest of Canada (ROC). I do write these texts now in English for a reason, dont be fouled by me…
If i have contaminated him with my culture, so did he with his. This marriage was a failure from the begginning as it was based on accessing to papers and to create a family. However i did the best i could to understand how i could weave our cultures to become a happier couple. Of course, the basic was communication, but isn’t it the case for most young couples with no experience in sharing a commun life and space? Today, i concluded the real failure of the common life we had to a lack of enthouiam from him to be part of our team as it needs t obe two to tango.
This is the second rock on my road on the quest of cultural knowledge. Of course, i did not know it then as i had no distance from all that I was living.
From my side, i was a very ambitious woman with dream of traveling and discover the world and a civil status was the less of my worry then! I was told once by a dear Friend, Andrée, the mother of one of my teenage friend, that as a woman, if i wanted to be free it started with money : I needed to become indepent and autonomous without thinking that husband would pay for what i wanted. I thank her today for her shared wisdom. I miss her as well, her advises, her intellectual and curious mind. Of course, my mom was a perfect example of a working woman beeing freer with her money. But this will be an other chapter of my story to come.
J’ai téléphoné Mère la semaine dernière, quelques jours avant Noël. Tout allait bien dans notre conversation où je lui racontais comment se passait ma fin de semestre au travail avec les corrections, les réunions d’évaluation des notes finales des étudiants et la préparation pour le prochain semestre. Elle écoutait sagement mes lamentations de professeur, puis après quelques instants de silence de sa part et où je lui demande si elle est encore là, elle me demanda, « est-ce que tu enseignes encore? » Tristement, je lui réponds que bien sûr, j’enseignais encore et que tout allait bien de ce côté-là. Comme j’allais raccrocher et lui offrir mes salutations finales, elle me posa une drôle de question. Lire la suite « Fêtes 2015 »→
On n’a pas tous les jours 20 ans, imagine quand on multiplie par quatre?
Quand je pense à toi, je t’imagine dans ta jeunesse en train de danser le two step dans les bras de jeunes admirateurs, la samba et le cha-cha avec ta jeune sœur Denise admirant ton savoir, folle de désir de surpasser ta souplesse et ton sens du rythme.
Encore aujourd’hui, à ma demande, tu réussis à faire quelques pas de gigue dans la cuisine et rigoler avec fierté de ta capacité à pouvoir, encore, sautiller comme à tes 20 ans. « Tu vois comme je peux encore danser?»
Je me rappelle les histoires que tu me racontais de ton enfance et de ton adolescence; les coups pendables que tu organisais avec tes frères pour taquiner ta sœur Pauline ou encore pour te sauver de la surveillance parentale afin d’aller patiner sur le ring de glace et avoir le plaisir du vent glacial rougir tes joues adolescentes. Tes récits ont construit mon imaginaire et m’ont incité à développer ma créativité.
Malgré les défis que la vie t’a fait rencontrer, souvent seule, tu as su élever tes six enfants au meilleur de ta capacité, dans la dignité et l’espoir de jours meilleurs. Au diable les ragots des voisins; leurs mauvaises langues de vipères ne valaient rien en comparaison à l’amour que tu avais et a encore pour ta descendance. À la sueur de ton front, tu as travaillé tard dans la nuit pour assurer une vie décente à tes proches. Ton mariage malheureux ne t’a pas empêché de chercher le bonheur lorsqu’il était possible et de le trouver à ta façon.
Épouse, femme, mère, collègue de travail et amie, tu as toujours su trouver le souffle nécessaire pour guider ceux sur ton chemin qui cherchaient tes conseils. Pionnière à bien des égards pour le rôle des femmes dans la petite communauté où tu as évolué, que ce soit pour le travail hors foyer, la prise de parole pour défendre tes droits et ceux des plus infortunés, l’affrontement des commérages face au divorce, tu as courageusement poursuivi ta route, la tête haute. Tu es une femme brave et un modèle de courage, de dévotion.
Pour moi, je sais que tes bras ont bercé mes nuits insomniaques et fiévreuses, cajolé mon corps et l’ont protégé contre le froid;
Que ta voix a rassuré mes peurs et éloigné mes larmes en me chantant les vieilles mélodies d’antan;
Que tes gestes m’ont enseigné une ligne droite et une ligne courbe; celle pour avancer et celle pour me défendre;
Que ton humour a teinté mes journées sombres; tes paroles ont su tissé le meilleur de ma personne et m’aider à regarder devant.
Aujourd’hui ta mémoire vacille dans le néant; quelques bribes de ta vie demeurent encore intact : tu te souviens de nos noms, celui de tes six enfants, et c’est ce qui compte. Moi je me souviens pour toi de ta vie bien accomplie, de ta créativité, de ta bravoure et de ta force de caractère. Lors de l’une de nos récentes conversations où je te rappelais l’approche de ton anniversaire et des quatre-vingt années que tu allais atteindre, tu étais enchantée d’avoir cet âge. Je t’ai alors demandé jusqu’à quel âge tu avais l’intention de vivre.
I just called Mother for a little chat and see if by any chance I could get some information on Louise, one of her guardian, friend and neighbour who has been admitted to hospital a week ago. She has full-blown cancer and six months to live. When I saw mother could not say any more last news about her friend, I decided not to ask any more question about the topic, even to the other guardian of Mother, Julienne, because a couple of days ago when I talked to her on the phone, she was crying as I was trying to start the conversation about that subject in order to know what was happening.
Mother needs guardians at home to supervise her as she does not always remember many things from one minute to the other one. She has Alzheimer. It all started fours years ago, with one of my brother and sister-in-law deciding to get mother in a Psychiatric department of the Hospital in Wolfe River for a mental health evaluation (MHE). In my opinion, she has probably been living with that disease for a while. I would say it started at least ten years ago when she started to adopt cats.
As we started the phone conversation, I asked her if she knew who was talking to her. She answered the phone herself and was quite enthusiastic, not being surprise to hear me and talking like we were very good friends. She said, Yes of course I know who you are, you are my daughter. I was happy that she could still remember my voice and my name. I asked her how she was today on this special day of Easter. She was then surprise to hear that April had already made it and asked me to hold on a minute as she goes to the wall where the calendar is officially pined and turned the page from March to April.
– And which day are we?
– Saturday the forth, Mother.
– The Forth, already?
– Yes, and Easters is tomorrow, do i confirm her altogether.
– Easters, Easters, yes, Easters.
She then changed subject and started talking about one of her cat that is similar to some other one.
Mother love cats. She used to have more than a dozen of them. Her house was some kind of a Cat rescue resource, but instead of giving them away, she was caring for them. This is my Mother’s life story : caring for others, may it be cats or human beings. From my point of view, the cats stories is linked with the beginning of her memory lost and Alzheimer. She was adopting any cats coming her way. Even people from other villages around were dropping cats in front of mother’s house, knowing she would care for them. At the end, She had cats all over the house and could not maintain the cleanliness of where she was living. The smell of cats’ excrement was more than I could support myself and she started getting mad at me because I was complaining about it arguing that is was bad for my health as much as for hers. To revenge herself, mother was insulting me by saying that because I was living in the city, I had become some kind of a Princess – know – it – all, and that her, because she was an old poor woman who had been growing up in a pig house, would always be living in one. She was exaggerating in order to hurt me because I had somehow hurt her. This is the mean mother, but she is not always like that. This is around in 2002.
So after that, my visits to her became scarcely. Every time I would try to go and get some good moments with her, trying to help her because she was complaining about the fact that she needed help with washing her kitchen and getting right of all the old clothes she had, it would end up in fights and arguing about her not willing to let me do what she first asked me come for : helping her to clean her house. If i was not arguing with her, it would be with my brother who had been living with her most of his life. Because of all this, had I plan to stay for a week visit would be cut short for a two days one.
Today, she was insisting on telling me on the phone that she had a picture of a cat sticking on the fridge and that she had one just like that. When i asked her which cat it was, she could not tell. This is when I can tell that things are not going to well on her side. She has now three cats that she cherishes more that her own kids and grand kids. She loves them and gets upset if one of them goes outside of her house. So I asked her to describe me the picture of the cat she was seeing in order to see how were her perceptions of the picture and if she was going to be able to do it. I also wanted to know which cat she was talking about. So i asked her to describe the image she was seeing.
– It has a black line on its back and some black stripes on the sides as well, she says.
– Ok and what is the other colour that is not black?, was I asking her.
– Gray, it’s all Gray with black stripes.
– I see mother, so what is the name of that cat? i kept asking her.
– I don’t remember, no more emotion than the fact that she just did not remember.
– Ok, so how many cats do you have? Have I continued.
But she keeps silent for a while, which i interpreted for « i don’t know ». I gave her the answer and started with some kind of a clue game to help her.
– So you have three cats, one of the cat has not tail, and its name start with A.
– Art! That’s Art, yes, he has no tail and likes to play all the time.
– Very good, yes that’s it. Another one’s name starts with C. it is a female cat with three colours : white with spots of black and orange. Mother kept silent once more. I add some other clues. Its name starts with a C + and o. I realized she might not be able to remember the sound of those two letters together so i say,« C +o is Co »…
As soon as i say the sound syllable /ko/ she kept moving with the whole name : « Cocotte » said Mother.
– Yes, I repeated, yes it is Cocotte. I was happy she did remember this one too.
– Now what is the name of your third cat? It starts with V add i and r – it sounds like Vir…!
– Virule? Julienne in the background repeated loudly « Virgule » but mother did not hear it and she kept repeating over and over « Virule, Virule ».
– Almost, its name is Virgule, I told her. Now, this picture you have on your fridge, which cat looks like it?
– Virgule, she says, he is a big gray cat with black stripes and a long tail.
– Great Mother, you did good!
I ended the call soon after pretty happy of myself and of my Mother’s memory.
However, when i told that story to brother Luis, he said he was the one who had brought the article about obese cats and put in on the fridge, but the picture looked like Art, not Virgule.
Keep trying Mother. The exercise was worth it. It made me happy and is part of good memories I am keeping of us and of our conversations. I am actually writing these blog entries in order to remember her, us, the stories of our family. Because I know this is a life with fast pace and I am holding to those last years like only written words can.
I had been hoping mother would be travelling with my elder sister Joe when driving back from Murès to Villemarie. She had sat mother living with Alzheimer, for the last 7 days in order to give a rest to Julienne since she is the only one able to watch over mother. As i say i was hoping mother would come to Villemarie and i would have fetch her there during last week end. It all seemed perfect for a plan, except that Mom was terrified at the idea of leaving her cats and dog by themselves. Of course, we mentioned her that either Julienne or brother Hebert. could go feed them, but she was just uneasy with the idea, not to say rude. I have called my mom at least 3 times, three weeks ago, while my brother Luis was there sitting her too, and then at least 4 times last week when it was Joe’s turn. Those 4 last times, we used Skype to communicate. On the phone, mother seemed fine, her tone was happy even though she would keep asking the same question over and over again. But on the visual screen, as she watch me, i keep wondering what she is thinking about, because she is not talking. She just watch me without saying nothing. When Joe is there, i talk with her, mom is beside and then she suddenly disappears out of the screen surface or frame. I asked Joe where she went and her answer is pretty much always the same. She went after her dog or her cats. This is systematically the same affirmation mother does also.
– I have no more cats. All my cats are gone.
And we keep telling her that she has her three cats and that they are just hiding or sleeping somewhere. But she still goes in and out of the house, going upstairs, in the basement, in the garden, repeating the same gesture dozens of time per day.
When mother was brought to the Hospital for her mental evaluation 4 years ago, it became a period of high tension in the whole brothers and sisterhood. My brother Hébert, who had been living with her most of his life, had decided to throw away lots of stuff in the house complaining about the fact that there was an epidemic of vermin and flees. So he threw every pieces of furniture of mom’s bedroom and living room, even carpets. And of course we believed him. Father, who is not living with her since they are divorce, mentioned to me later on that as brother Hébert was cleaning up things, he found out a dead baby cat mummified in a pile of clothes mother had just left there and was used as cats bed. When father was telling that story he seemed to be telling me that this did not made sense and that mother was going crazy with her cats, like how could she have left a dead stinky baby cat there? Well, at some points, there was more than 12 cats in the house and many of the females were pregnant in the summer of 2011. The smell of ammonia and cats excrement was floating in the air of the whole house. Especially upstairs. We discovered later on that the room, i have been sleeping in when visiting, had dried cat’s poo hidden under the furniture, not to talk about all the piss that must have also been drying there for decades. No wonder why i became intolerant to this smell now. I went there in July of that year 2011 in order to meet with Joe and do some cleaning of the house after the »emptying » Hébert had done. The girls would clean the whole mess up, of course. That is what women i there for, cleaning after men… But the plan changed because mom arrived in a taxi directly from my Uncle’s city where Luis and Joe had placed her in May 2011 to live with Uncle Clincey after mom was out of the hospital. This was like a choc for the two of us, me and Joe, since this was the last thing we were expecting. I can just imagine the state my mother was in. Crazy mom who paid her taxi drive 250$ to free herself from a situation she was not comfortable with. Not bad a decision for someone with Alzheimer. Overall, that summer was a very difficult one. Hard to recall those painful memories. Many thing happened that i will write in some other Blog entries later on.
So, like i was saying, i had hope that mother was going to be able to travel up to Villamarie then to Bytown, but i was just giving myself some illusions. When talking on Skype with mother last week and asking her how she felt about the possibility of coming to Bytown, she did not really say no, but was worried about the animals. In fact, what i saw was a woman with not much reactions and not being able to focus on the screen. This was my last hope. Then Joe, in one of the last face-talked we had, said that mother was probably not going to travel because it would disrupt her routine and environment and she would possibly become worried and stressed. So instead, i am the one who will be travelling to sit her but for less days that was first planned. I will go next week for 4 days.
A false promise of freedom to mother who used to love to drive along the roads from one village to the other.