Gender & Identity, Life

Survival in a time of trauma

It's a warm, brown kind of healing. Does the tea help with the loneliness? With the hurt?

When I think about the ways our bodies carry trauma, the ways we have survived, I am filled with love. I think of my aunt Aziza in Mogadishu who says even making tea is saving ourselves from war. It’s a warm, brown kind of healing. Does the tea help with the loneliness? With the hurt? She says that black pepper in tea burns all of the sorrow that makes a home in the throat.

Children, particularly daughters, carry a lot of generational hurt. And when this hurt is added to the daily traumas we endure, we become bodies of passed-down sorrow and sadness. We think that this sadness will swallow the entire room. We try to make it more manageable, smaller. We try to hide it. We say “No, no, I’m fine, I’m good,” even when the sadness arrives, threatening to take us under.

The reasons for this grief are never clear. It’s never so blatant, never so willing to reveal itself. And sometimes the body hides these reasons, in the curls of our hair, between fingers, under nails because to unearth where the grief is is to begin healing. Healing is painful – it threatens what we’ve known to be true, it threatens life, it disrupts & interrupts.

I often wonder about how much room we actually have to sit and contemplate our sorrow when we aren’t busy trying to survive. Mother says the day is short and grief can only be hot for so long. I ask her how much silence is sorrow. She says it’s painful to find where it hurts. Our entire house is left searching in dark alleys for what we’ve never seen.

We force the body to take on strength & this pretense harms us too. We are accused of strength even in spaces we call our own – our homes, in the arms of those who know our closest heart. We feign strength in dangerous ways, moulding the body into things it is not. Where did we learn to forget what made the body?

We speak to the ocean too, wondering how much of mother is in the water. I think about my mother’s mother Halima, god rest her soul, who spoke to the ocean in whispers: dotting herself around the Tanzanian coast throughout her life. Perhaps this feeling I have of my lungs being full of water comes from there. We’ll ask the ocean if Dar es Salaam still remembers us.

But usually, we want to ask about the bodies under the sea. I spoke to the ocean the night before last and I wanted to say: the red is showing in your blue. I wanted to say: it is exhausting to have to find the body over and over again. Sometimes, you do not even have the courtesy to return the bodies & we are left mourning air and tinted names. Do you not know of mercy? Have you not been taught? Grown waters like you should know better than to swallow others whole like that.

And we survive, we do, but the sadness has a different face every time: white hands cocked last week, red alarming eyes today. How does sadness keep finding the new body, the body that you carved for yourself out of  loss and loss and loss?

It took a long while before I was able to see that our truest existence doesn’t have to happen outside of sadness – it can happen in sadness, around sadness, in front of sadness.