Ghosts Of Girlhood
Akua Antiwiwaa (@akua__antwiwaa), Accra, Ghana / Providence, USA
Tight fist, tight fists
a kiss into an open mouth
open wide for
open wide for
There is an old, hazy picture laying in front of me. In it I am dressed in all white, from the pearl beads fastened into my hair and tucked against my ears, to the ones that trail loosely around my tiny wrists. The ankle length dress I am wearing sits comfortably over my white laced-up shoes and frilly socks. Clasped obediently and steadily in anticipation for the photo, my little fingers barely wrap around the colorful floral arrangement I hold. It is my first time as a flower girl, a duty I love, and I look immaculate.
What do little girls dream of, and how do they inhabit their own worlds? As I sit with this photo, it feels as though I am looking at a stranger and a friend, vaguely familiar and yet unknown. I love her, but she does not know me. Yet I remember this day – the tautness of the dress around my waist, the way my socks itched, how my eyes searched for my mother, tall and beautiful, at the end of it all. Girlhood is such a tricky little thing. I feel her peering eyes lunge back at me.
Out here there isn’t enough
for you to hear a breathing child
and call it your own
The little girl reminds me that I used to think about my feminist life as linear; it had a starting point and an end goal.
This sequence began as I slowly recognized all the things about my childhood that were unjust and binding, things that took me out of my body and turned me into stone. Then I read, I reflected, I felt, I thought I had reached enlightenment. I apologized to the little girl. I told her sorry, I sang many songs to her, I whispered to her just how much I wished I could have protected her. I hugged her deep into a soundless night. I wept for her, and with her. I said kosɛ. And then I let her go. I thought of her as a mirage from my past, a bird singing so very early in the morning, right at the moment the night cascades into a mollifying dawn, and high up in the rosewood trees of a place I would never know. In my mind, she would be safe there. I had finally arrived, arms full with knowledge, experience, stories, arguments and lies – safe lies, good lies. These were grown arms, ones that were long and steady and strong enough to clasp anything that was deep and wide and rough.
In the time between putting my child away and emerging as the one who would save her, I left home. Finally away, I was free to become all the things I thought I could never be. I was also alone. I paused.
open wide for
a soundless consideration
How does one shape restorative childhood memories into a feminist practice? How does this become a reality?
This time alone taught me many things, but more importantly, showed me that I did not have to let go of the girl inside of me to feel free. Rather, relating to her in this way, casting her to the realms of dreams and memories was hurting me. In only thinking of her as lost, broken and in need of saving, I was detaching myself from the parts of me that I felt deeply ashamed of. I needed to bring her along with me, to the present.
And so, in embracing the loneliness that often surrounds us, either by choice or fate, and the distances that engulf us via the land or sea or death, I turn to cultivating a memory of girlhood that is sustaining, one that is not only bruised by the violence of narrative. I cultivate this practice not only through my own memories, but through film, visual media and the gift of stories from friends.
Girl characters in films, especially, become a way for me to dream a million and more dreams, the way they dance across the screens as the script unfolds ahead, a journey with as many endings.
Sɛ wogya me hɔ kɔ a, medane mframa na mayera wɔ awia mu, na mahwehwɛ wo
If you leave me I will turn into the wind and look for you everywhere.
This is a promise, and Esi fulfils it. The forerunner in Blitz Bazawule’s stunning film, Burial of Kojo, Esi (Cynthia Dankwa) is a little girl who travels through the spirit realm to save her father after he goes missing. Armed with visions of the ‘crow who ruled the land in-between’, Esi is brave and moves like a child who has not internalized the idea that bodily presence is everything. Following the messages and clues of the spirit world – revealed in exhaustive dreams that leave her weary – Esi follows the path to find her father, Kojo (Joseph Otsiman). In Esi, I am reminded of the fearlessness and fire of childhood, in the ways she recounts her dreams with calm conviction and curiosity. Although the task she is faced with is one that transcends both the physical and temporal realities of her world, Esi’s trust in her own vision is what brings her father back. The relationship that Kojo and Esi share displaces ideas of the father as the protector and savior of the daughter. Because Esi’s story is told in fantastical form, and that of her father, Kojo, is shown in the hyper-real – his struggles with money, his agony over going back to galamsey work – it is easy to imagine that Esi’s world exists outside the material challenges of adulthood. In the end, however, we find out that Kojo himself is haunted by the ghosts of his past – a dead brother, who wants his soul. It is Esi who opens the door for these haunts to be attended to. It is Esi, whose care is abiding.
of what might have happened
had it not fallen into silence
As I watch Ada (played by Mame Bineta Sane) and Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré) kiss against the rough walls of an unfinished building by the sea, I feel a familiar anxiousness rise up in my chest. When he unbuttons her shirt, I wish that he would stop. Almost immediately, and on the edge of my anxiety, an older man discovers them and tells them to get out. ‘This isn’t a whorehouse!’ he yells. It is a pity that their make out session is cut short, because in ten days, Ada, already engaged, will be married to businessman Omar (Babacar Sylla). Hoping to see him later that night, Ada says goodbye to Souleiman. This is the last time she will see him. Frustrated by the wage theft they have endured for months, Souleiman and his fellow construction workers board a boat to leave Senegal for Europe. Ada is distraught. On the eve of her wedding a mysterious fire occurs, and strange things begin to happen. The lovers and sisters left behind by the men fall sick with a mysterious disease that turns out to be spiritual possession – the men have died at sea. Using the bodies of the women, these men return to seek retribution from their boss, demanding payment. Souleiman is among them – but he returns, instead, for Ada.
Resonant in its title, Atlantique, Mati Diop’s film is a somber reflection on labor exploitation and migrant death. It is also, however, a meditation on female sexuality and the labour extracted from teenage girls to appease a world in which their true desires come last, or never at all. Surrounded by the girls she hangs out with – ‘the sluts’, their short skirts, glitter and eye makeup dancing against the lights of the nightclub they frequent – Ada is tasked with deciding the kind of woman she wants to become. After being forced to take a virginity test, and sick with the loss of her love, Ada breaks off her marriage with Omar. Finally reunited – Souleiman in the body of another man – they make love under the blue lights of the club. The mirroring of Ada and Souleiman’s opening scene with their final one, is for me a lesson in teenage freedom and sensuality – something that is often eclipsed by trauma, by shame. Indeed, Ada makes a mockery of respectability – she picks a lover of her choice while betrothed; she finds the courage to leave a man she does not love; she makes love with the one she chooses, even in death. At the end of the film, Ada, alone, turns to watch herself in the mirror. Looking herself in the eye, she says to the viewer: “Last night will stay with me to remind me who I am and show me who I will become,” she says. “Ada, to whom the future belongs. I am Ada.”
a girls word
a girls breath
The fading picture in front of me is not the actual photo, which is in Accra, which is where I am not. My thumb sits on the edge of the photo print. It rests on the edge of the picture I now stare at through my phone screen. I have looked at my young self many times, tried to capture her. Through mediums of print and digital screens she remains the same. She is unknowable. But she is here.
“Cultura Negra” [Black Culture]
Astrid Milena González Quintero (@astridgonzalezq), Santiago, Chile, 2016
Citing the artwork Pelucas Porteadores [Portable Wigs] (1997-2000) by the artist Liliana Angulo
African traditions which are conserved in Colombia, especially along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, contain mythical figures of wise women: carriers of oral tradition and memory who preserve the hidden discourses of rebellion. Women who escaped slavery and washer women politicize memories in a fight against being forgotten.
“My Home” & “Sisterhood Secrets”
Suhad Khatib (@suhad.izm), Palestine, Amman, San Francisco
Hi, I appreciate you allowing me the chance to interview for this position.
First, let me introduce myself: my name is Suhad, as in: Sue had coffee. You know, like the coffee your corporations stole from my people. I’m a single-mom, because war economies killed all the men I know.
Fun facts? Well, I’m named after an aunt who survived a massacre at the age of 4. Who wanted to overcome her family’s forced diaspora, by flying overseas to see me, her brother’s first born, but died on the way, with her 4-year-old. So my fun fact is that I won’t allow a single person in this room to pronounce our name incorrectly.
Strengths: I forgot how to be pragmatic. Experienced at burning bridges. Budding with theological knowledge. So I now know that I am everyone who was before me, and will continue to be in everyone who will live after me. I’m from a holy land that was fought for by ancestors I’m sure you heard of like Mariam and Muhammad. I keep wanting to go back but entire armies and war systems stop me. So here I am, neither here nor there. Trying to find courage to reclaim sovereignty over my social media posts.
Education? Well, my father taught me how to be a Palestinian, which might be why I failed at it in the past. My mother taught me how to be a Palestinian-woman, which might be why I succeed at it in the future.
I speak three languages: Arabic the language of the holy book, English the language of the colonizer, and art the language of the free.
Summary: I am no doubt a valuable addition to your diversity & inclusion brand. I’m still here despite all the obstacles capitalism put for me. Imagine how much I can achieve without obstacles. I have the emotional intelligence it takes to lead teams better than all of them foreigners you stacked against me in this skyscraper.
So I look forward to hearing back from you.