Binti, a woman of earth and stars

Binti and Binti: Home, by  Nnedi Okorafor
The above incredible image was sourced from DestinAsian 

I really want to write you a review of the novellas Binti, and Binti: Home, it’s a long time since I read such real science fiction. But I find I’m not sure where to begin. Instead of finding words or images to share with you, a story line to attract you, instead my brain is still and I can feel earth, coarse damp earth, rough wet clay on my skin. I want to smear it, rub it onto myself. This is unusual for me, I am a woman of water. But the scent of living soil is in my nostrils, minerals seeping into my blood. Enervating. I feel grounded. Real. Growing, alive, but still and stopped. I want to go outside and bury my hands in the soil, feel its pulsing life. To stand on rock and earth. I don’t want to appropriate her culture, to claim for myself otjize, the culture of the Himba women of Namibia. I just want to inhale that grounded life. Maybe I want to reach out and touch that warm supple skin. To taste transcendence in immanent earth. That is the gift of Binti.

Binti is a young woman of colour, the first of her people to be accepted into university on a far planet. She leaves alone in the early morning. By leaving she is exiled. She is the sole survivor of a massacre. She is a harmoniser, a woman who weaves mathematical patterns of meaning and peace. She is powerful. Transcendent and deliberately immanent. Woman.

I don’t think Binti asked me any profound questions, other than why she should be the first woman of colour to have a science fiction series of her own. I love that this is a book written by a woman, about a woman. A book about a woman who dared to defy social strictures that would have held her at home, told her who to be, how to be a good woman. Instead she journeyed away, redefined the meaning of being a good woman. Took the earth from which she came and healed others. Created earth with the power of womanhood and healing and home, although the distances of space ached between. Returned to find change for all life is change. To find something new of herself and her people and her universe. To find echoes of time.

Not since my earliest readings of Ursula Le Guin’s Rocannon’s World some thirty years ago have I felt so connected to a science fiction culture, a science fiction character. And I love science fiction. So that is the highest praise I can offer. Neither Binti or Binti: Home are long, they leave you aching for more. And to be honest, I don’t think I liked the end of Binti: Home. But I desire, long for the next instalment Binti: The Night Masquerade. I’m holding a deep hope that Okorafor doesn’t fly Binti away into unreality, when she has been so grounded, so real to date. And so sniffing earth, tasting ground, smelling stardust with our toes, we wait.

 

 

Going West from Bangkok

So after the market on the railway line, and around the most important thing I did in Thailand there were these “other” bits, that I want to show you before I wrench your hearts with the most important thing I’ve done in terms of being an Australian for a long long while. But more about that later.

I’ve not yet been to a so-called floating market that bore any resemblance whatsoever to the advertised images, so as you may see, along with my highly camouflaged companion I was suspicious. I was right. The lengthy, smelly (the fumes of outboard motors is a theme of this post), uncomfortable, knee breaking journey that went no-where, was less than fabulous, and apart from a great view of a temple and Buddha, was not resembling the advertising materials.

Gorgeous bougainvillea. Continue reading “Going West from Bangkok”

I Can’t Keep Quiet

Soundtrack: MILCK Quiet

Had a crisis of confidence this morning. Is the India of my hopes and expectations a place only of my imagining? It looks so different out the hotel window. Am I indulging in some white colonial fantasy even thinking of coming to live here? What right do I have to speak? Should I shut up, go home, stay in my place. Could I do that?

But no one knows me no one ever will
if I don’t say something, if I just lie still

Since the global Women’s marches last week I’ve been listening to MILCK Quiet. A song written about finding the confidence to talk about mental illness. A song performed in Washington proclaiming that Women cannot keep quiet when politics abuses. It’s an anthem for anyone who has ever  doubted their right to exist, their right to use the planet’s oxygen to speak, to breathe.

Can I keep quiet about what I’ve learned, seen? Should I? Could I?

Maybe it’s time I left my 4.5 star luxury and went out to find the India I love, to find my smile. To find my muse, Karthik’s daughter, and Kali with her sisters.

Febuary 2014
There is a Castle on a Cloud

There is a bookmark on my pillow this evening… “All that we are is a result of what we have thought.”

Today we reached Chennai, last stop on this three week temple tour. I’m in 6 star luxury high up in the sky feeling like the Queen of Sheba (no glass floor or hairy cloven foot, thank you Miss B) and I’m a little sanguine.

I get very close to India each trip, and the occasional luxuries I allow myself become more incongruous each time. We’ve talked about change and India in the IT age is different but it’s not the India I love and seek. The ordinary people I come here to encounter, Malar and Yoda, the people in the villages and temples and markets, they would never see inside a place like this. And from here I cannot hear their voices. After 3 weeks in their world the pretension here chafes.

Today as I ate a 2500 rupee ($45) lunch in splendid isolation, Karthik waited in the car outside the hotel. On the road he lives on a 500 rupee per day allowance. I used the words of Monty Python on Facebook: “Luxury! We had box in middle of road!” He has a car by the side of the road, and even that is not his.

At 3pm Karthik collected me for our afternoon walk (I took him the fruit bowl from my hotel room to ease my conscience) and we went to the beach.  Just walking and watching for a couple of hours outside my golden handcuffs… come, walk with us:

There are breakers crashing on a long white beach, the air pregnant with salt and spray. The sun lowering in the sky creates long shadows, we slide away from profane time through the shimmering mists to another between world.

Let the salty mist cloud your harsh vision and tint your dark glasses. Stop looking at the rubbish and poverty. See the human not the beggar. Slide out of knowing on a beach on the edge of time. Feel with your soul.

Not in my castle on a cloud

Through the mists the hotels to the south flatten into a single silhouette turreted by a/c towers and elevator blocks. The radar post looms a high watchtower over the mists. Sand castles guarding, watching the sea.

day-19-img_0914-castles

What horrors they watched on 26 December 2004 as tsunami ripped this beach clean… on the feast of Stephen, when the sand lay round about, deep and crisp and even, uncountable beggars and slums washed away.

For millennia we have been drawn to the edges, to the deep, above the waves, beyond these shores. Into the unknown. Here we pause out of time. In the interstices, the beginnings of life.

I feel safer out here with Karthik than in the locked hotel with its security gates and guns.

Stay out of time with us: boys ride bareback on horses along the beach, gallant knights their sand castles fallen into the sea. Off to find a princess or a kingdom to save. The shell seller blows his conch, troubadour echoing a haunting call across ages, percussion by the thump of the waves. There is a castle on a cloud.

The fairy floss seller a splash of color. Madam madam, Karthik gives a few rupees to a small girl begging with a monkey. Is he thinking of his own little daughter?

Rubbish and crows. Wind all wind. Coconut shells tangled in red cloth, “From cremation” Karthik says. People put the ashes in a mud pot, inside a coconut shell. Wrap it in red cloth and cast it into the sea. Fly, be free… I like that.

Walkers make their way around colored fishing boats pulled high onto the sand. Nets formed in tidy piles like a thousand tumbleweeds frozen in the moment. Men sit and talk, repairing nets by hand. Stand on the sand cliff between the boats and lean into the wind. Embrace the spray. Timeless, safe, at home on the shore, the space between. On one side a road of cars and motorbikes and took tooks race, humanity seethes. On the other the sea roads take massive container ships stately plying the eastern ocean, waves crash and propellers drive. Both made Other in the spray filled mists. Stand safe in the space between, be the liminal. Lift your arms into the wind, for 20 rupees hold a balloon above your head and fly.

Drink the spray. Inhale the timelessness.  Stalls and chairs available for the serious moneyed consumer. But drink time not cola. Breathe.

We perch on the side of a small fishing boat. No more than 5 logs lashed together. Laughing as our weight tips it over and us off onto the sand. We sit. Silent. Different worlds, separate, souls touching. Alive.

day-19-img_0915

The sun breaks through a hole in the sky, spotlights girls dancing along the edge of the waves, sari ends like froth on the waves.

Breathe. A chai wallah walks past. Then ice cream wallah. Coconuts and driftwood litter the beach. Even the rubbish glistens in piles on the sand.

Walk, walk with wind in your face, sun on your back. Walk north. Walk.

The inland flattened hotel castle-scrapers are replaced, now behind the cars and busses and haste are crazy, voluptuous, ice-cream shaped exotica of silhouetted Victorian British architecture, the railway station and university. More continuous motion frozen out of our still silent space. Their world of knowledge, progress and speed.  Here all is timeless and without form, slipping in and out pulsing with the waves, adrift on the spray.

A group of fully clad swimmers laughing and giggling full of joy and salt. Splashing at play. Beach cricket on the edge of the world. “Water is very wet” says Karthik.

Wind blows away words. Wind and tide and time. Shadows lengthen. Long shadows. Walk, walk. Time to turn madam. Which way? Follow the tractor tracks back to the real world. What is real? What is dream? What is in between? He is my guide, and nothing will ever be the same.

 I know a place where no one’s lost,
 I know a place where no one cries,
 Crying at all is not allowed.
 Not in my castle on a cloud.

Though I feel inadequate,
my heart not big enough for the love, the pain,
the hope…

I can’t keep quiet, for anyone, not anymore

 

There’s no place like home… India

India is the land of my soul, the place where I feel so at home my heart aches with joy. No, you smarty-pants people, not indigestion, it’s heart-warming joy and belonging. I know every trip is different, it was just that leaving Brisbane this time was so rushed with preparations and distractions it hardly felt like I was supposed to be enjoying myself. But when the plane tilted turning to come into Bombay Airport and I caught my first glimpse of India, well my heart soared as Mata ji, Maa Durga, mother earth goddess, welcomed me back. I was grinning like, well a lot! Couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

When the plane touched the tarmac I realised the random selection on my phone was colluding with the universe: it was Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral that was reaching it’s enormous, brass filled crescendo in my ears, reverberating in my being. I knew I was not alone.

After a couple of hours in Mumbai meeting a dear sister-friend in person for the first time, it was into a car for the three hour drive to Pune, and the 6th National Bioethics Conference.

img_6593No the traffic hasn’t become any less traumatic, I just photographed a quiet bit!

To be honest I didn’t see too much of Pune, and not only because of the terrible pollution that shrouded everything and made breathing a chore. I spent a huge amount of time eating dhosa for breakfast, preparing for the conference, or at the conference, or getting to and from the conference in took tooks. In some ways, after 12 or so trips to India, this has been a trip of firsts. It was my first time in Pune. It’s my first time here “alone.” I’ve always been here for work or as an affluent tourist, and in both cases have had a hired a/c car and a driver. And now here I was standing on the road flagging took tooks, giving directions in my limited  Hindi. When I went out of the hotel there was no uniformed Karthik (name changed) waiting for me, I just walked off into the surrounding streets to explore. Continue reading “There’s no place like home… India”

Melbourne Town, coz there’s no place like home

Soundtrack: Hmmm might have to think about that a bit…
ok, Dire Straits, Walk of Life

So here I am, back in Melbourne for a couple of special family birthdays, to catch up with some amazing friends, and for Christmas, so I thought I’d better show you around. The image above is of the Yarra River (the only river in Australia that used to run upside down, but it’s much cleaner these days) and the spires of the CBD. The City of Melbourne is located on the traditional land of the Wurundjeri people. I was so proud to be able to buy my nephew a beautifully illustrated children’s book, produced by the Wurundjeri people called, Welcome to Country (Black Dog Books, 2016). I hope with his multi-ethnic background he can grow to be a custodian of his land, the land cared for today and over thousands of years by the Wurundjeri.

welcome-to-countryI bought the book on my first nostalgic stop at The State Library of Victoria. When I was finishing high school I used to come here to study. Truth be known it was more that in the building I felt smarter, and it seemed so grown up to be pretending to study and drinking coffee in the cafe of what was then the Museum. Today renovations have made a magnificent space for researchers and visitors alike, the light, the atmosphere, it still makes me feel more learned, more wise. You can inhale the journey of knowledge. I wished I had some Foucault or better yet, some Australian female philosopher to imbibe slowly, clearly my subconscious was thinking of Michelle Boulous Walker. But instead I sat back, breathed slowly and let the learning seep in the pores of my skin, let my mind wander up the layers of shelves to the enlightenment of the dome. Continue reading “Melbourne Town, coz there’s no place like home”

The Anti-hero you need

I need to tell you quickly (because I should be writing) about a book I read yesterday – total inspiration, made me walk taller: The Blue Place by Nicola Griffith. Look I have nothing in common with the hero, Aud, other than we are women living in a world that can be really hard. I mean she’s tall, Norwegian, an ex-cop, rich, a master of martial arts. She has woodworking skills and an incredible girlfriend. She has killed, I haven’t! But like all of us she’s damaged, she’s loyal, she takes no shit or prisoners. And while I was reading that book I walked proud, believed in myself, felt less overwhelmed by life: that positive feeling has lasted into today.

blueYes Aud steps outside the law, she does things that make her anti-hero not heroine, but to me that just makes her more real. There are quite a few reviews that rave about JJ, you  know that new Marvel series they think is empowering and feminist (umm not in my world) and how she’s the new anti-hero that women need to aspire to be. Well Aud would be a much better tv series female anti-hero than JJ! That show annoys me – as if women get superpowers to stand up against violence! We don’t get external superpower mojo when we are oppressed, when men manipulate and control and emotionally abuse. We have to find courage in our ordinary humanity, if we can we find other women, and then we get up and keep going. Hoping for superpowers or flopping hopelessly waiting for a superpower saviour won’t save abused women. I also feel like its a show that profits from rape culture & intimate partner abuse of women. End of sermon!!

Sadly the Aud series publishers are, well odd, so in Aus only books 1 and 3 are available electronically, which means that I’ll have to wait for book 2 to arrive in paperback from distant shores. And that well known web-publisher named for incredible women, well the product description for these books is “xx” hmmm, not very helpful! Luckily my electronic goggling skills found more details and I risked “purchase now”.

While I’m waiting for the delivery person you’d thing I should get back to my writing, but luckily Nicola Griffith has also written some interesting looking sci fi and historical fiction so procrasti-reading can continue. Have a look at the Blue Place, it really is worthwhile.