Bodies in translation

Standard

Warning – this is a brief missive perhaps full of contradictions that is not about the perambulatics of air travel but about corporeal recognition/misrecognition and translation. And the fact that the body is/may be the seat of all knowledge.

I am one of those lucky (or perhaps if you knew the real circumstances of this endeavour perhaps you would deem me unlucky) people who one week ago was able to be in three countries in one week. I left Toronto on Thursday, was in Rome on Friday night and was in Nairobi the next Wednesday morning. In all of these places my body sought to tune in to the corporeal norms, sought to lunge into the masses and move within the uniformity that was corporealy and consistently being established in each location.  My ventures in these performances were not always free of folly and failure, and I wonder if that has to do more with me as an individual or what the body and perhaps what a black womyns body means in all of these locations. I guess to elaborate more on this and finally get to my point I have to make you privy to these performances….. dang… just don’t tell my mother  and especially not her church going friends..

You see having being regimented into a somewhat Ottawa body uniformity (rather as much as my African (?) womyn body would allow) lets just say my ‘swagger’ was bit diminished.  Ok I wont blame everything on Ottawa as I usually do ( nevertheless I implore you to remember I am NOT from OTTAWA),  it was the multiple coincidences of  school, immigrant life, lots of jobs and other diagnosed frustrations… that also worked to hinder this swagger,… And so for the most part the southern/ ‘tropical’/ rhythms in my hips sounded more like a beginners first violin lesson, choppy, staccato, un-unifom,  rigid, uneasy(?)….

So check it, I am in Toronto and for the first time since my escape from Ottawa, I am seeing lots of people of colour and so my body that in Ottawa that had manifested those violin lessons, was now manifesting itself a little less staccato…a little less opera, a lot more jazz…

Amsterdam airport…. dang… only the airport and I feel like I just joined the ceremonial guard. My body feels rigid as the school chair I sat on…. is this lack of sleep or has the atmosphere given me an early onset of osteoporosis?

Italy… I get of the bus in this seaside town having forgotten crazy Rome airport, and I’m feeling lighter, more mellow mood, less ceremonial guard… more southernity.. I’m getting comfortable until… I see a black woman standing in the night, tight clothes, bleached face, cold in this night, with a countenance sad… so far from home, waiting waiting waiting for whatever will be her salvation this evening…. As I ask my friend if I saw right (he confirms indeed that I did see right).. I can feel my body going from polka dancing group back to that violin…

Interestingly the next evening having followed one of my hosts to partake in the nightlife that this little town had to offer, the course of the evening saw three men try to use their mack to give me some local nightlife and then some. My body is now back to that staccato that was increasingly made defiant by the sight of my sister on the street the night before and I resolve not to in any corporeal way respond to those advances ( if any of ya’ll sisters are from Ottawa you will know that that was pretty hard considering the absence of any kind of this love in Ottawa) because I have yet to discern what a black womyns body means in this location… and I was not going to give in to any man’s black womyn raunchy fantasy.

However  three very strong beers later – beers that somehow have channeled my ancestors back to my body – I have danced the shuffle multiple times in a very small bar on this one street and I am now making my way to the rave space for the ‘ after party.’  My body now thinks that it is a Bahian/Brazilian street party (albeit in the hills of Abruzzo) and so I dance and dance and dance… and kiss and kiss and kiss (the recipient of these kisses did not have as bad mack as the previous three men and also found me when I was manifesting my ancestors and so you really cant blame a sista…) and in a strange way find my body back again…

The next morning, the rigidity has found its way back to my body, the violin still playing in every corner … (although not as loudly and staccato as it is in Ottawa)… and I never hear from my kissing friend again.

Consequently, I begin to think that perhaps I should have been more resilient and protective of this black womyns body (even though my dancing was pretty pg 13, and the pg 13 of the 1980’s and not of the present… and also all I did was just kiss, pretty relaxed for someone whose ‘morals’ are on holiday…) until I could discern what these types of bodies mean in this location…. But… you know at the same time, I really quite enjoyed being in a Bahian street party all by myself in Abruzzo, so should I really care to think about what images I was giving out ?

In reality, as I sit here a week later I still have not reconciled myself to what I should have felt during all of these travels, and especially in Italy. My body now has for the most part attuned itself to this East African vibe, and I have even become re accustomed to seeing people walk with their whole bodies and people dancing with their pelvis’s (life is good yes!). Nevertheless, I also wonder if I am being too naïve in thinking that this abundance of body signals a pervasive self body ownership and comfortability all of the time.

What I take though from this one week of corporeal investigation is that the body, this place of much knowledge, is consistently being recoginsed and misrecognised, read and misread, constantly being translated in idioms that may not be so kind. However, at the same time I see that my own translations of my own body/bodies are perhaps not always valid and rather as a result of my own defiance, experiences… perhaps also of my own fatigue, work, stress and holiday morals…

So the question remains (finally I arrive at my point) should we be having our own street party in our bodies always (even if I truly believe Amsterdam airport gave me osteoporosis)? Or should we work to discern what our bodies mean in every location and then choose whether of not to be ourselves? Should I in a bid to feel my own body forget about the image of my sister in the street, forget about the translation of coloured bodies as well as female bodies in many locations? Or should I always aim to be responsible for the remedying of racialized stereotypes and thus refrain from any corporeal expression that may affirm stereotypes?

I am still torn, for the solution that I am more drawn to, the one that sees me defiantly tackling these translations of the body … may not always allow me to live and make my own translations of my body.

Advertisements

One response »

  1. Excellent blog post niyoa!!! I have recently been debating the politicization/re/de politicization of the bodies of women of colour. And it is interesting to consider that as women of colour our bodies are not fully our own- they embody contradictions and reflect society’s expectations, anxieties and desires. Which begs the question? As WOC do we de-politicize our bodies as a form of resistance or are we constantly redefining, re-politicizing and consciously re-affirming our politics through our bodies whether consciously or unconsciously. More on this later. Again wonderful post!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s