Gimiwan Finds Manoomin Seeds

illustration of a man and women canoing to harvest wild rice

By Chyler Sewell

The sharp whistle of the tea kettle drowns out the heavy pattering of rain, if only for a short while. 

Mom stands up from her spot at the table, where her laptop sits open, and papers stretch out messily. She opens a new can of peppermint tea and holds it close to her nose, the smell delighting her senses.

Quick light footsteps sound from the hallway, and then, a little girl. Her black hair in two braids and her dark brown eyes glittering with excitement. 

“Can I tell you a story, Mama?”

Mom smiles, and carries her cup over to the old saggy blue couch in the living room. “Of course, kwezens.” Mom replies, patting the spot beside her.

Eagerly, the little girl skips over from the kitchen and climbs up to sit beside her mother. She sinks down, comfortable in the crook of Mom’s arm. 

“Mama, my story is about food.” the little girl says.

“Okay, love.”

“Alright, Mama” kwezens says, wiggling in her spot. “My story starts with a kid like me. This kid.” Kwezens looks out the window “I’m gonna call them Gimiwan. Mama, do you know what gimiwan means?”

“Gimiwan is rain in our language, kwezens.” Mom says and brushes a stray lock of hair away from her child’s face. As she does, she remembers the excitement, recalls the sense of infinite possibilities that is so innate in children. A fond smile, small but there, dawns on Mom’s face.

“Yeah! It’s raining, and it’s a word I like and it’s a word Grandma teached me. That’s why my story has a kid named Gimiwan in it.” 

Mom’s fond smile  transforms into a small chuckle. 

“That’s lovely, Kwezens.”

“Okay Mama. So, Gimiwan likes to garden, but Gimiwan can’t get seeds. They want to plant mano . . . manomin? Mama, how do you say it?”

“Manoomin? Like, wild rice in our language?” 

“Yeah! That’s it! Manoomin! Gimiwan wants to plant manoomin but they can’t get seeds.”

The room goes silent for a moment. The little girl stares at the wall, her head tilted, and her brows furrowed.

“What happens next Kwezens?” Mom prompts.

“I don’t know Mama . . .” the little girl trails off. “Where do you get manoomin seeds? I don’t want Gimiwan to be sad, but I don’t know where they’d get the manoomin seeds.”

“Aw Kwezens, it’s alright” Mom says, and pats the little girl’s head. “I’ll tell you how Gimiwan gets their seeds, ‘kay?” She hugs her daughter close.

“Okie dokie!” 

“So, Gimiwan needs manoomin seeds but doesn’t know how to get them. Wanna guess who Gimiwan asks?”

“Oh! Oh! I know!” Kwezens exclaims, raising her hand. After a nod from mom, she says, “Gimiwan would ask Grandma!”

“Yes Kwezens, Gimiwan would ask Grandma. So, that’s what Gimiwan does. They go and see their grandma, they sit, and visit, and have tea with their grandma. Gimiwan listens as Grandma tells them about her day, and they listen as Grandma tells Gimiwan stories. Gimiwan doesn’t interrupt– ” 

“Yeah! Gimiwan doesn’t interrupt because the old people don’t get visitors a lot, right? And Gimiwan’s grandma is an old person.”

Mom chuckles. “Right, Kwezens.”

“Oh! Is my Grammy an old person, then? Grammy has friends who visit her and go to the casino with her.”

“Haha! Yes, Grammy is still an old person Kwezens. Sure, there are many elders who aren’t visited as often as they should be, but there are also elders who have many friends. Grammy is one of those elders, kwezens.” Mom says, then pauses. “Gimiwan’s grandma has friends, but they’re farther away, so she doesn’t get to see them too often. That’s why Gimiwan stays and visits with their grandma.” 

The little girl looks down at her hands and twiddles her thumbs. “Mama, can we visit Grammy soon?”

“Of course Kwezens.” Mom says, reaching to grab her daughter’s hands. “Wanna finish this story first?”

The little girl holds mom’s hands tight. “Yeah! I want to hear how Gimiwan gets the manoomin seeds.”

Mom nods, a gentle grin on her face. “When grandma finishes talking, she says to Gimiwan, ‘So, grandchild, what did you come for?’ Gimiwan smiles, and finally broaches the question to their grandma.”

“. . . Mama, what does broaches mean?” the little girl asks hesitantly.

“Oh, I’m sorry Kwezens.” Mom awkwardly laughs. “I forgot that you’re still learning words. Broaches, hm, how do I explain broaches . . . It means to finally ask the question.”

“So Gimiwan asks Grandma where they can get the seeds!”

“Yes, they do! Gimiwan asks Grandma where they can get seeds. Grandma tells Gimiwan that they have to go to where food grows on the water. Where Gimiwan lives, food doesn’t grow on water.”

“Oh! Food grows on the water here!” Kwezens begins, excited. “But Mama, why isn’t Gimiwan here?” The little girl furrows her brows again. This time, her furrowed gaze directed at Mom.

“Gimiwan, before they were born, their mom moved far away, Kwezens. Gimiwan didn’t grow up where food grows on water.” Mom replied quickly, feeling unnerved by her child’s gaze.  

“But Mama, that’s sad. What did Gimiwan eat then?”

“Aw, sweetheart, Gimiwan still ate food. It’s not like we only eat manoomin, right?”

“Yeah, Mama, you’re right. But– but Mama, manoomin is my favourite food.” the little girl pouts.

“Gimiwan ate manoomin before Kwezens, don’t worry. But doesn’t Gimiwan want to grow manoomin?”

“Yeah Mama, Gimiwan wants to grow manoomin. Just like me!” Kwezens stands up on the couch and reaches as high as she can. “I wanna grow manoomin when I’m this big!”

“Yeah? You wanna go out in the canoes with those long sticks and harvest manoomin? Just like your cousins?”

“Yeah! Yeah!”

“Aw, Kwezens, you’ll be big enough soon, don’t worry.” Mom says, and coaxes her daughter back down onto the couch. 

“Okay Mama. What happens next?”

“Next? Next, Gimiwan decides to go to where food grows on water.” Mom says.

“But what about Gimiwan’s mama? Wouldn’t Gimiwan’s mama miss them?” Concern was written on the little girl’s face.

“Of course Gimiwan’s mom would miss them, sweetie. You know what though?” Mom pulled the little girl on her lap. “Gimiwan’s mom would also want Gimiwan to go off and learn about things that she didn’t get to learn about. If Gimiwan can heal themself, they’ll also be healing all their ancestors.”

The little girl let her head rest on her mom’s chest. “I don’t ever want to leave you, Mama.”

“Not yet, at least, Kwezens.” Mom says playing with one of her daughter’s braids. “You might when you’re older.”

“Like Gimiwan?”

“Yeah, sweetie. Like Gimiwan.”

“What does Gimiwan do when they get to where food grows on the water?” Kwezens yawns.

“Well, when Gimiwan gets to where food grows on the water, they learn how to cultivate manoomin. They learn to go out on the canoes with the sticks. They learn how to use the sticks to tap the rice off the plant, and they learn about dancing on the rice and tossing it up on a blanket during a windy day to get the husks off. Gimiwan stays where food grows on the water for a long time and learns all of these things.They even learn how to cook manoomin.” Mom says.

Soft snores leave her daughter’s open mouth.

“Aw, did you fall asleep Kwezens?” Mom whispers, brushing a strand of hair away from the little girl’s face. “I’ll tell you tomorrow about how Gimiwan brings manoomin seeds back to their home, okay? I’ll tell you about how Gimiwan reteaches his mom and his grandma about manoomin and how they share the teachings with the people. Okay?”

“Mmhmm, Mama.” Kwezens mumbles.

“I love you Kwezens. Have a good sleep.” Mom says, and places a gentle kiss on her daughter’s head. 


Chyler Sewell is an Anishinaabe-kwe youth from Garden River Ontario. Currently living in Hamilton Ontario, she organizes and facilitates events for Indigenous youth. As an aspiring novelist, Chyler also spends her free time creating fantastical worlds from Indigenous youth perspectives.

Beyond Body, Words and Time

Reviews of Billy-Ray Belcourt’s This Wound is a World and Joshua Whitehead’s Full-Metal Indigiqueer

by Kai Cheng Thom

How does a settler of colour like me – a third generation, ripped from homeland, utterly cityfied trans girl – learn real love for the land? How do diasporic people of colour learn to become responsible, to have integrity, in our relationships to Indigeneity, to Indigenous people, to the stories that bind us all? These are the questions that surface in my mind as I read the poetry collections: This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt and Full-Metal Indigiqueer by Joshua Whitehead – two recently released debut collections of poetry by queer Indigenous authors that have lit up the queer poetry scene this year.

Whitehead and Belcourt, along with writers such as Gwen Benaway and Arielle Twist, are among an emerging generation of Indigenous queer and Two-Spirit poets who follow in the lineage of groundbreakers such as Chrystos and Qwo-Li Driskill. In the tradition of anti-colonial poetry, their work – in each of their unique voices and styles – interrogates the violence of European colonization and genocide on Turtle Island though the lenses of intimacy, sexuality, and gender. In so doing, each poet also breathes new vision, affirmation, and possibility into the conceptualization of Indigenous queer identity.

In This Wound is a World, Belcourt pulls the reader into a searingly intimate examination of what it means to live in the world with an Indigenous, queer body – the narrator of the opening poem, “The Cree Word for a Body Like Mine is Weesageechak”, introduces himself in the opening poem as “a broad-shouldered trickster who long ago fell from the moon wearing make-up and skinny jeans.” Simultaneously, Belcourt troubles the notion of what it means to “have” or to “be” a body at all, perhaps most explicitly in the piece “If I Have A Body, Let it Be A Book Of Sad Poems” and in the Epilogue, in which Belcourt reflects on love as “a process of becoming unbodied.”

Tender yet fierce, vulnerable yet unrelentingly powerful, Belcourt’s poetic voice skillfully uses the confessional register in order to evoke an emotional landscape of love, loss, heartbreak, grief, and hope. Over and over again, in myriad ways, Belcourt asks the question: What is Indigenous queer love in a colonized world? Each piece in This Wound is a World offers part of the answer.

Poems such as “I Am Hoping to Help this City Heal From Its Trauma,” “The Back Alley of the World,” “Native Too,” “OKCUPID” and “There Is No BeautifuL Left” explores the potential and power of sexuality in an Indigenous queer context. Here, Belcourt does not shy away from the impact of trauma on the body. “i am the monster in the closet / your bedtime stories prepared you for / you want a man / whose body doesn’t whisper / horror stories / each time you touch him,” he writes in “OKCUPID.”

Yet there is possibility as pain in sex, for Belcourt, as the title of his collection suggests. In wounds, there is sometimes wisdom, and through the abject, there is sometimes absolution. In the gorgeously written “Native Too,” he writes:

“he was native too

so i slept with him.

i wanted to taste

a history of violence

caught in the roof of his mouth.

i wanted our saliva to mix

and create new bacterial ecologies;

contagions that could infect the trauma away

[…]

i wanted him to fuck me,

so i could finally begin

to heal”

Interspersed with the first-person confessional poems that comprise the majority of This Wound is a World is a series of third-person meditations on moments in history and current events that reflect on the collective trauma of colonial genocide and violence. These pieces, such “A History of the Present,” “God’s River,” and “Wapekeka,” ground the intimacy and emotional authenticity of the rest of the book by placing it within a historical frame. Like the shape-shifting trickster of “The Cree Word for a Body Like Mine is Weesageechak,” Belcourt weaves himself in and out of this frame, using his words to reach into and through the notions of body and time toward decolonial love.

Where This Wound is a World is an intimate close-up, Joshua Whitehead’s Full-Metal Indigiqueer is an explosive panoramic that shatters the frame: inspired by anime and sci-fi archetypes, the collection follows the journey of Zoa, a cybernetic trickster virus that infects, transforms, and rebirths everything that it touches – which is to say, pretty much every colonial literary and cultural trope – in order to re-member and re-centre Two-Spirit stories. Whitehead’s conceptual genius and technical brilliance come to the fore in Full-Metal Indigiqueer as he takes Zoa and the reader on an expansive revolutionary tour of the English literary canon and contemporary Western pop culture.

Full-Metal Indigiqueer is at once trenchant in depth and breathtaking in scope: Like Donna Haraway’s cyborgs, Zoa manifests itself from everything and anything around it, all the while remaining fixedly devoted to its mission of Indigiqueer vivification. Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, RuPaul, Mean Girls, Harry Potter – if it is in the zeitgeist, Zoa can and does subvert it with almost ecstatic zeal. Yet the human(e) aspect of Zoa remains apparent throughout; Whitehead balances meta-human nature of his protagonist with haunting emotional clarity:

“there is no safety word here,” Zoa proclaims,

“you’re on the precipice of sex;

i am unas lion; i am sansjoysanslovesansboy

i am the real fairy queene

femme-boy-fatal[e]

thegreenbladeofgrass

that castrates Whitman endlessly

do you still want to dream of me [questionmark]

tell me: “i didn’t think gay natives still exist”

The intensity continues to build as Zoa grows through the narrative, becoming at once more human and more powerful in its otherworldliness. In, “MIHKOKWANIY,” a poem dedicated to Whitehead’s kokum, or grandmother, Zoa states “to be honest / I’m im just a little brown boy / obsessed with mutants & robots / queered by his colour / queered beyond his tradition / the saving grace of ceremony / writing for a kokum he’s hes never met.” This tender, vulnerable piece is immediately followed by the “THE EXORCISM OF COLONIALISM,” in which Zoa breaks the code of colonialism and digitally resurrects a host of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The piece serves as both a heartbreaking testimony and an unrelenting challenge to the ongoing violence of the colonial legacy.

Among Whitehead’s many achievements in Full-Metal Indigiqueer is his resounding success in the creation of a map for an Indigenous futurism that breaks the colonial boundaries of English language and literature. In giving birth to Zoa, a consciousness that transcends words and time, Whitehead offers readers a new way of conceiving queer Indigeneity – or rather, Indigiqueerness.

Whitehead and Belcourt have given great gifts to the world this past year with the publication of their debut collections. As I read their words, I am reminded that stories are a pathway into the heart – into a place beyond body, words and time. In order to reach that place, we must be open to stories that destabilize us, that centre others, that push the boundaries of our sense of self. As Belcourt implies in his Epilogue, decolonial love is non-sovereignty. As a trans girl of colour far from a homeland of my own, reading Indigenous poetry on Turtle Island, I am trying to learn what that means: For me, it begins with gratitude. Gratitude for the land, for Indigenous queerpoetry, and for Indigenous poets.

I read these books, and I am grateful.


 

Kai Cheng Thom
Kai Cheng Thom is a writer, performer, healer, lasagna lover and wicked witch based in Montreal and Toronto, unceded Indigenous territories. She is the author of the novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir, the poetry collection a place called No Homeland, and the children’s book From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea.

Together & Alone: Recovering Family Histories of Healing

a photo of small area of greenery on a beach with small human statue

by Tina Zafreen Alam

trees
the dead
stand stark and defiant
among the living
twisted, pale
limbs stretched skyward
still
in seas of lush green
naked, bare
together and alone

I ask questions. If I were to think of the most notable thing about me, it’s that I ask questions and that sometimes, these are the questions that no one else around me thought to, decided to, wanted to or was prepared to ask.

In March, I went to a free workshop on herbal medicine for stress and anxiety in hopes of finding ways to cope with a violent and oppressive school environment. The facilitator/knowledge-sharer spoke about traditional and Indigenous practices in general and gave us information about Ayurvedic traditions in particular.

I left the workshop with questions. Though I have a very limited and basic understanding of Ayurveda, I didn’t know if it was the practice that my ancestors in Bangladesh would have been connected to. So, I asked.

First, I asked my Mamoni (term of endearment meaning mother, dearest and what I call my mother’s second sister) and she told me I had an ancestor that was a herbalist. I then asked my Khalamoni (term of endearment meaning dearest maternal aunt and what I call my mom’s third sister) and my mother about it and everyone gave me different answers. Finally, I asked my Nannoo (my maternal grandmother) and she told me about someone who practiced traditional healing. It wasn’t until I checked back with my Mamoni that I realized that they were speaking of two different relatives. I set out looking to learn about one healer in the family and ended up hearing about two!

What follows are interviews with two family members on my mother’s side, my Nannoo and my Mamoni. I sent them both the same questions:

What is your name and your relationship to me?

Nannoo: My name is Hasna Begum and I am your maternal grandmother.

Mamoni: I am your maternal aunt. I have been very close to you, having lived with your family in Canada for a couple of years. And you lived with my family for a couple of years, your junior and senior years in high school, in Montreal and in New Haven.

What is your personal relationship with traditional healing practices or traditional medicine?

N: I have almost no personal relationship with traditional healing practices or traditional medicine. I am science oriented.

M: I have no formal connection to herbal or traditional medicine. I do usually have a tube of Arnica that I apply to myself and offer to others for minor aches or bruises. My maternal grandmother used to have an old wooden chest of small bottles of liquids and sugar balls that she would open to treat our minor cuts and bruises when we were kids. I found this chest very intriguing and was distressed to find it gone when my grandmother passed away.

Is there a particular name for traditional healing practices and traditional medicine that is practiced in the area now known as Bangladesh?

N: Yes, traditional medicine is still widely trusted and practiced in rural areas.

M: Yes, there are terms for traditional medicinal practices in Bangladesh. The first is Kobiraji, strictly speaking, herbalism, and the second would be loosely termed as Ojha, who engages in “jhara/pura,” or spiritualism mixed in with some herbal prescription. This is when the medicine man or woman would do incantations as well as a blow on people as part of the cure. Probably more to it but I have not actually watched one. I would say that about ninety-nine percent of Bangladeshis will have gone to one or other form of herbalist/spiritualist in their lifetime (just guessing here).

I heard that we have a family member who was a healer and herbalist, can you tell me her name, how she is related to us and what you know about her practice?

N: Her name was Zohra, my mother’s youngest sister. She was a healer and herbalist too! She often visited my mother, Rabeya, sometimes along with one male healer. They sat on a mat. Lit candles in the middle and meditated for hours before starting any treatment. They chanted some unrecognizable words and brought out herbs from their bundles for treatment of the patient in front. My response to these activities is skeptical!

M: My paternal great aunt (my grandfather’s sister) was such a person. I know very little about her except that when some member of her family was really ill, some herbs were revealed to her in her sleep by an angel and when she procured and prepared these, it is said to have cured the patient. My understanding is that this happened more than once.I do not know her name but, she was supposedly very spritely and smart and picked up lessons when her brothers were being tutored. As a girl, she would not have been tutored. She married and had four children, three boys and a girl. She died at childbirth after her last child, the daughter, was born.

Did you ever receive treatment from her or through her direction? And if so, can you describe what your initial concern was, what the treatment was and how you responded to it?

N: I, myself ever received any such treatment.

M: She was gone long before I was born.

Can you let me know how her practice was received or perceived by the rest of the family?

N: Most of the family members thought that the whole affair was fake and senseless.

M: I believe her family appreciated that her herbs helped her family member. Also, I do not think that it bothered anyone that this was ‘alternative’ medicine. I believe she was very well loved and I get the impression that she was what we would call an engaging and happy young girl/woman.

Have you yourself ever felt any personal connection to her practices or have any of your children (or grandchildren)?

N: My children received such treatment and sometimes got healed!

M: Strictly speaking, I cannot say that I have. My experience has not been medicine oriented. I have had strange dreams and urges to call home when there was no particular reason to but I have not sought out any of it.So here are two or three stories when my connection to my family seems to have driven me to make phone calls to my family only to find that there was grave news awaiting me. The first instance was in 1986 when I was away in Harare, Zimbabwe, doing field research. I lived in Montreal and was a graduate student at McGill University. Most of my family lived in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In Harare, my then husband and I were renting a room in the suburban home of a Mrs. Jackson. She had a phone, but it was not one that we had access to. Also, this was a time when people wrote letters and phone calls were difficult – especially as it was still required to go via long distance call assistant to make the connection. Also, it was a relatively costly venture.

Anyway, I felt the sudden need to call home to Dhaka. Mrs. Jackson was reluctant. She only rarely used the phone to make long distance calls herself. In the end, she gave in when she saw how desperately I wanted to make the call. Also we gave her about Zim twenty dollars in advance. This was way more than the call would end up costing her.

When I called, my father answered the call and told me that a shadow had been detected  the x-ray of his liver the day before.

The second story was when I called my mother in Dhaka from New Haven on the same day that she found a lump on her breast. This turned out to be benign.

Do you feel it’s important to pass down and chronicle these stories and traditions?

N: My ignorance is responsible for not giving much importance to this particular method of treatment. But I think, it may be important to pass down and chronicle these stories and traditions for the knowledge of social and cultural heritage of a particular region.

M: Yes, I do feel that these stories are good to relate to family and let them deal with them in their own terms. I know my ex-husband completely downplayed the spiritual aspects of my dreams but my sisters do seem to value them.

How do you feel about discussing and sharing this information?

N: I find this discussion and sharing interesting enough!

M: I do not usually tell these stories to people other than to close family. Since these are about my close ties to them.

My Nanoo had aunts on either side of her family who were practicing herbalists, though she only knew of the one she told me about, Zohra.

My Mamoni only knew of the other aunt, whose name we don’t know, because her grandfather (my great grandfather, who I called Senior) told her stories about his sister. But, my mother and my Khalamoni didn’t know about these stories and thought I had misheard or misunderstood when I asked about them. So, I wonder if she, like me, was asking questions no one else was asking. I know that she, like me and like our ancestor before us, receives messages in her dreams.

The very process of trying to find this information has been a painful example of how I personally have been forcibly and violently disconnected from direct access to my ancestral knowledge through colonization, assimilation, loss of language, genocide, displacement, migration, and the valuing of certain man-made ways of understanding the world (science) through simultaneously devaluing other ways of understanding the world (everything else). Yet, traces of those traditions live on in me and in my Mamoni, and maybe in other family members as well.

Whose knowledge is positioned as truth and fact? Whose knowledge is revered? Whose knowledge is taught? Whose knowledge is passed down? Whose knowledge is shunned?

The barriers I am facing might have started out as overarching structural forces, but they are being perpetuated by many factors on a personal level as well.

The information that we are given is often directly tied to the questions we ask and who we ask them of. If we want ties to our cultural knowledge, especially as Black, Indigenous, People of Colour or diasporic people that might mean a lot of digging for clues and work as these disconnections are here by the design and intent of white supremacy. The traumas and traditions of my family are buried somewhere beneath the surface and I am trying to uncover them, one question at a time, following the wisdom that already lives in my bones.

Tina Zafreen Alam
Tina Zafreen Alam is a poet and a member of the Bangladeshi diaspora living in Toronto. She looks to name and illustrate the ways that transgenerational and intergenerational trauma have marked her life, while also affirming the wisdom that has passed down along with it.

Divine Liberation

illustration of a moon with floral inside

by Sharrae Lyon

The night was cold and Tamara Wilson walked through the rough terrain of the forest with fear and relief. It had been three days since she left the Wilson Estate. She had not yet heard any dogs barking after her, no dogs had yet been trained to track her scent, or so that is what she chose to think. Leading up to Tamara’s escape, she feared greatly the consequences of being captured. It had taken Tamara two years to muster up the courage to leave the plantation of Massa Wilson. No one from her memory had escaped or even attempted, though there were stories of other folk finding liberation in the mountains from neighbouring plantations.

Jamaica was a small island, but moving from the center towards the mountains was

no simple feat.

Tamara had to pass by many plantations before reaching the river that separated the

mainland from the mountains. If it weren’t for this circumstance and needing to travel by night,

she probably could have made it to her destination in a day’s time. But alas, she was searching for refuge. And it wasn’t her first time doing so. Tamara Wilson was a new name that this woman of slender-build, brown skin, and piercing eyes was given. She had become somewhat of an expert of escape. Her first attempt was when she was enslaved in New Orleans, but she was found and sold to a slaver from the Caribbean who had connections with Massa Wilson in Jamaica. Tamara could not tolerate being owned by another person, no matter how well they

treated her, or how scary it was to walk into the dark abyss of uncertainty, Tamara had a core sense of true liberation, that she experientially was not of aware of, but sat in the structures of her DNA. She could not muster the ability to conform to the brutality that she and her people have had to endure for the past 300 years. But it had also been so long since she heard her original name, the name that her mother gave her, that she succumbed to the name Tamara Wilson. She hated herself for it, but after being whipped numerous times when she demanded

that she be called her true name, the humiliation created a blockage in her memory.

In fact, Tamara Wilson forgot so much of who she used to be. She forgot who she loved, who her family was, what their names were, what their faces looked like. All brown she was certain, but that was the only thing she held. It felt like nothing. She felt empty, but despite this, she still felt like she had a purpose much stronger than being a slave girl, who laid for her master each night. Tamara felt nauseous each morning, she knew that she was now carrying the child of her Master, her abuser’s seed. It was then that she decided that she would not bring any child into a world of enslavement. Before she left, she had tried to convince her closest friend Winnie to join her. Despite Winnie’s terrible temper, she was the closest thing to family for Tamara and she could understand after witnessing some of the trauma that she had to endure, why she was the way she was.

Although fear had dissipated from Tamara’s consciousness and submerged into the depths of the oceans of her being, Tamara felt utterly alone. She looked up at the star-lit sky. She wondered to herself how it could be so beautiful up in night sky, but be so wretched on the ground that her feet didn’t allow her to lift up towards the sky and join the stars. She had the tendency to speak to one star in particular. It wasn’t necessarily the brightest star in the sky, but it had often called on her in times of loneliness. It was as if the star had wished to join her and keep her company, but because there were other laws and forces preventing the night sky and the Earth below to merge, it wasn’t physically possible to comfort her.

She often imagined what it would be like to be enwrapped in the embrace of her favourite star. Hot perhaps, but she often dreamed herself in the middle core of the star and what seemed like angel dust encircling her. Colours of red and gold surrounding her, dropping lightly on her golden brown skin. She deeply took in the fresh air and let out a moan. She had forgotten what it was also like to have her skin gently touched, caressed. Tamara was lost in her vision traveling in the star-filled sky, until she realized she heard footsteps in the bushes only meters away. Tamara’s heart started to panic and race as she quickly jumped off on the side of the road and hid behind a bush until the person appeared.

Look through the lush leaves, she could make out a figure that was round, and a bit taller than her. The figure was a woman, she almost screamed at the girl, but then the thought came to mind that it would be kinder to approach Winnie without scaring her. As she began to emerge from the bush the dreadful thought that Winnie could have been instructed by Massa Wilson to find her came to mind. ‘No,’ she thought, ‘I will not allow him to make me fear my friend.’ Tamara then slowly emerged from outside the bushes and walked gently behind Winnie and playfully pounce.

“Don’t you dare!”

“Huh?” Winnie turned around and playfully winked at Tamara.

“How did you know?” Tamara said playfully

“It’s only been three days, did you think we’d already forget to read each other’s mind?”

It was true, ever since Tamara arrived on Massa Wilson’s plantation, Winnie and Tamara seemed to have this uncanny and unspoken ability to understand each other on this deep psychic level. It was as if they could read each other’s minds. Tamara could not believe it was only three days since she left the plantation, it had seemed like three years.

“Thought I wouldn’t come, didn’t you?”

“Well yeah, you seemed to not budge.”

“I wanted to keep you surprised.” Tamara knew Winnie was hiding behind the humour, Winnie knew it too, but neither felt it was necessary.

“I needed to leave. You were right.” Tamara walked to Winnie and hugged her tightly.

“We have to keep moving. Was there anyone tracking us?”

“Not that I could see…”

“Wait what was that?” The bush nearby began to shake and Tamara’s heart began to rattle, but then a young boy, no older than the age of five poked out.

“Child! What are you doing here!?”

“That’s Bullah’s kid. Bullah was killed by Massa Wilson the night after you left. Blamed him for

not keeping proper watch” Winnie explained.

“Bullah…he…he’s dead?”

Tamara dropped to the ground in front of the young boy. Tears began to form in her eyes as she placed her hands on the little boy’s shoulders. He looked much like his father: round face, light skin, and light brown eyes. The young child wore a white cotton shirt and shorts with his father’s brown hat. The hat was too big for the child, but it was the only memory he had of his father. If she had known that her escape was going to cost Bullah his life, she would not have asked him to help her escape.

“Bullah would have been held responsible either way, don’t worry your head with such foolish thoughts.” Winnie mindfully comforted Tamara.

“My child you are with me and Winnie now. You are safe. We will protect you.” The young boy sombrely walked into Tamara’s arms and began to softly cry.

“Yes child, shed the tears for your father. Tears are the pathways to healing and remembering.”

“We better keep moving. Three of Massa Wilson’s slaves are missing, there is no count he’ll have a team after us by morning come.”

“Let’s go. We ain’t no slaves. The stars will guide us.”

Without notice Tamara, Winnie and the young boy were surrounded by three black dogs. Dogs who were trained to individually track each of their scents, dogs who too were broken and enslaved. It was clear that Massa Wilson’s men were not too far away. Tamara had experienced a similar situation back in Louisiana, but she was more fearful of what would happen to Winnie and the young child. With the boy still clutched around her, Tamara had the impulse to crouch down to the ground. As she did, she emptied her mind and began to chant what was an old language that she had not spoken it what seemed like lifetimes.

“Sha ro lay, ma et

tomah shengo,

shengo, shengo

tuet lohm meh.

Mahsa shemeoneh,

Shango

Shang”

As her voice raised from a whisper into a strong bellowing call, the wind began to pick up, a fierce wind that circled around them, leaving the three of them unaffected, as the wind that was being conjured began to push the dogs against their will. A heavy set of clouds began to cross the sky, making the stars that were just visible moments ago, disappear. A heavy grumbling bellowed in the depths of the Earth. The ground beneath them began to shake.

“Gaiath mahyo,

shango, destsa.”

Tamara’s eyes had gone blank, and when she awoke from her trance she had found that all three dogs had been struck dead. Winnie grabbed Tamara, and they began to run, but Tamara had become too weak. Winnie quietly hauled her over her shoulders, with the young child running quickly by her side.

“Guide me, which way do we go?”

Tamara had lost most of her strength, and all she could muster was raising her hand to the sky and she pointed towards the moon.

“Wait, this must be it.” As Winnie looked up towards the moon, she realized she was in standing at the bottom of a large mountain. Without any hesitation, she began to climb up the path that was created.

She then began to see other people who looked like them; seekers of freedom. Dark, brown, and red skin; people that had features she had never seen. They did not try to stop them, they were on watch for any others who had escaped the brutal plantations.

They finally reached what looked like the opening of a cave. A man stood strong and tall at it’s opening. He looked to be about seven feet tall, muscular, his chest showed his status, he was a leader of the people. He skin was a mixture of reddish and chocolate brown, and the fire torches held by those around them, shone a yellow glow. His face was serious, yet calmly he had his gaze on Tamara. His eyes were dark brown, almost black and it appeared like two pearls were sitting in the middle of his eyes; the reflection of the moon. He motioned to his companions sitting around Tamara, Winnie and the young boy. One of the companions approached Winnie who was wearing a brown cotton dress, and he extended his arms to carry Tamara.

“Where will you take her?”

The companion looked at her with an understanding look and gently took Tamara from her grip. He then carried her, over to the chief of the community.

Tamara now lay at the feet of the tall man. He then began to extend his arms in front of him, his eyes were now closed and his breathing became very heavy. Tamara, although still alive, appeared lifeless. His hands were extended over her body and he began to speak a language that sounded very similar to the language that Tamara spoke while she had conjured up the storm. His eyes then opened and the two pearls began to float from the centres of his eyes, they drifted over Tamara’s body, leaving his eyes now completely black. Winnie lifted the young child, and felt the urge to run away, but a young woman approached her and calumny eased her fears by simply holding her hand. The two orbs began to cross and dance over Tamara’s body, as the man continued to mutter words from his lips. Tamara’s breathing began to become deeper and more full and she finally got up, walked towards the man and placed her hands on his, her eyes became white once again, and the caves now became lit by the torches along the walls of the cave.

The two began to levitate and the companions began to sing, drum and dance as they whirled upwards in the cave. Tamara’s face began to brighten with a smile.

“Welcome home, my love, my Tamraha we have been separated for too long. I left you a star to remember my love, our love. You had been so alone. You’ve endured so much. I can never forgive myself for not protecting you how I should have, so long ago.”

“No Onek, my love, there was nothing that you could have done to change the circumstances that led me to this point. We are now here together, reunited. I have taken care of myself, the ancient ones shared with me our teachings. I did not forget. Your star had become my companion. Now it is time that we change what has been done to our people.”

“Our time is returning. We shall free our people from the bondages that have been placed around them.” Time seemed to slow, the wind that had been roaring transformed into a light breeze, and Tamraha and Onek began to descend to the ground. Winnie was stunned at what she just witnessed, but there was a memory that lived deep in her bones; a memory that alluded to the normalcy of what she witnessed.

Tamraha, her true name, as reminded by her long lost love Onek walked towards Winnie, grabbed her hand. This time Winnie could not read Tamraha’s mind, she was blocking her out. She had become more powerful.

“My sister, We suffer no longer. We are free. We must now free this island.” Tamraha placed her two thumbs in between Winnie’s brow, and Winnie began to see visions of her people being placed on ships, of vast oceans, she began to smell the decaying scent of flesh and feces, and was transferred back to the lush forests, the red soil of her ancestor’s village. She began to remember her true nature, a free woman.

“Whatever it takes, Tamraha. I am with you.”


Sharrae Lyon
Sharrae Lyon is a transdisciplinary artist, writer and facilitator. She believes in the powerful role of science fiction and futurism to answer the spiritual and internal questions around “Otherness,” with the curiosity to redefine what it means to be human. Through the engagement in ancestral healing, Sharrae is driven by unleashing personal and collective power in order to create futures that are sustaining, life-giving and affirming.

Ayelen’s Arrival

Scene of performers Lido Pimienta, Ximena Huizi and Manuel Rodriguez Saenz dancing and singing in traditional clothing and face paint. The text reads "El Renacer no es facil tu y yo nos conocimos donde la oscuridad imploro mi llegada re elegi eres producto mio y yo tuyo momento de sangre, carne y amor"

By: Fiya Bruxa

Above: Scene from Ayelen featuring performers Lido Pimienta, Ximena Huizi, Manuel Rodriguez Saenz, and costume design by Shalak Attack. Photo by Akipari. 

Ayelen, a love story in the midst of mining exploitation, in which the only way to find peace was to heal open wounds. Ayelen was a script I wrote and directed by piecing together images of spirits, animals and scenes that had appeared in my dreams. It was a story that trespassed dimensions and arrived in this realm to be heard. It was a journey manifested into magical realism.

Over a span of five years, a female eagle came to visit me in dreams. Her name was Ayelen. She always arrived when I least expected her, sometimes months, even years would pass without hearing from her. Little by little, as moons passed and I slept, she came to tell me her story. By the time her last visits came around, she spoke so clearly that I could no longer deny her voice. And so began the process of gathering all that she had shared with me and writing it down.

In a back and forth dance between the dream world and this world, began the transcription of ephemeral imagery. And because dreams are not binary, nor dialectical, I simply had the task of revealing them in written form. Ayelen spoke; the first step to creating this story was simply to listen. Between colourful wings and tied wings, cries and freedom, she told me her story of trees and rivers, of caves and skies, of love and loss. The challenge here was not knowing if I had chosen the best literal interpretation of the abstract images I had witnessed while asleep. I simply had to trust that the story would manifest in its most authentic state.

I chose to weave the dream imagery into a tapestry that also included factual research reflective of this realm planet earth, more specifically the mining industry. It is here that the dream images of caves and birds were woven together with mining exploitation. Dreams are not defined in morality, and therefore my intention with Ayelen was also not a moral one. Ayelen was simply a poetic reflection of our humanity in the context of our ever lasting obsession with mining and the effects it inevitably has on our ecosystems. Ayelen was a manifestation of oppression, love and healing.

We are a frenzied society validated by our utility, where our happiness is measured in economic terms. We move full speed ahead with consumption, and appease our egos with every purchase we make. With a constant outward gaze, whether it be via consumption, commodifying our “success”, or obsessively giving ourselves labels in order to categorically feel empowered in the gaze of others, we often don’t let ourselves sit still and reconnect. We are told to move quickly and to produce quickly, in order to be constantly validated. Since it is difficult to commodify authentic spirituality, we are also taught to ignore the ephemeral, the magical, the esoteric. Yet, there is something priceless and infinitely reflective of love, when we trust a creative journey.

Above:“Kemé” by Fiya Bruxa, 2014, from the painting series Ayelen [

In a timeless space of dreams, where utility is obsolete, we may find magic that awakens our centre. With no rational explanation other than simply listening to an ephemeral dream world, a vibration is felt, a fire is lit, and a story is told. Ayelen was this vibration, this wave that shook an equilibrium and by doing so brought healing. I use the word healing, because I felt my inner growth in relation to the creation of this story. I was also witness to the emotive feedback from audience members who expressed healing from watching the production of this story. Being classically trained in theatre, and having worked for years in the industries of theatre, television, and film, I am aware of the formulas, of the rational calculations, and of the formatting that is required to satisfy industry norms. And yet, when Ayelen arrived she was not the status quo. She came as medicine, as a healer. She did not come as a rational package or linear storyline. She came in abstract form. And she did not give up, returning time and time again, until her story had manifested in this world. It is this essence of unexplainable fleeting magic that is a reminder that medicine comes to us in different forms.

We all travel to the realm of dreams and witness unique images, and if we so choose to embrace this journey and share that vulnerable state with others, something magical can happen. Sometimes we have to trust that creation falls outside of time, utility, and commodity. It is delicate, and we must be careful, as with all creation, that it contribute to good medicine, so that we may all heal together. En un mar de sueños, donde todos los dormidos, con ojos cerrados y almas despiertas, viajamos por dimensiones surrealistas, es posible lograr escuchar los susurros de verdades eternos y sanar nuestras heridas.

Thank you to the numerous dreams, and to the various theatre companies, festivals, artists and elders that have supported this script. Thank you Alameda Theatre, Aluna Theatre, Native Earth, Nightwood Theatre, Criminal Theatre, SummerWorks Festival, Caminos Festival and Theatre Ontario, Rosa Laborde, Solange Ribeiro, Ximena Huizi, Lido Pimienta, Marcelo Arroyo, Ohm Shanti, Manuel Rodriguez Saenz, Andre du Toit, Shalak Attack, Bruno Smoky, Brandon Valdivia, Omar Cito Perez, Rodrigo Ardiles, May Truong and Ale Monreal. Thank you Ayelen for trusting me with your story.


Fiya bRUXA
Fiya Bruxa is an international award win- ning visual artist, actress, lmmaker, and writer. Her artistic vision pays homage to those who have, or continue to, overcome adversity.

Darkness – The Void of Possibility

Excerpt from the upcoming e-book “Quantum Healing: Changing the Stories We Tell Ourselves.

by Sharrae Lyon

Illustration by Eli

When I think of darkness, two things comes to mind. That of the Hindu goddess Aditi and the many nights I spent as a child afraid of the bumps, the eerie shadows. One representation of darkness is expansive, the other an experience of fear, replicated in other life experiences portrayed as real dangers.

I’ll start with my nighttime childhood experiences.

Actually, I wasn’t entirely afraid of the dark. I never wanted to go to sleep and spent my nights watching television with my mother. When I would retire into my room, I would lie in bed, staring up at the ceiling where glow-in-the dark stars would reflect back at me. I liked nothing more than standing under a starry sky and feeling so tiny and insignificant, but in total awe that I could possibly exist.Night was in some senses, enjoyable. But it also unearthed many fears of being kidnapped and alien abductions. This probably didn’t help that I watched The Learning Network’s (TLC)’s primetime programming that always talked about serial killers and aliens! I remember lying in bed, unable to sleep, recounting the possibilities that something bad could happen. I’d look over to my wall, and I would see a shadow bouncing on it’s surface, my ears told me that there was something rustling out my window. I would lie there, frozen, petrified. But I decided that I needed to see for myself what was dancing on my wall. I slowly took off the covers and sat on my knees and gently peered through my window. To my total relief there was nothing but a tree outside my window, and of course it was its branches that were playing on my bedroom wall. I would sigh in relief and my ever-pattering heart would slow down and I would drift softly to sleep.

I think as children we all had these monsters in the closet type scenarios. We live in a society that conditions us to fear the dark. In fact, our obsession with escaping the dark can be seen in our need to always have artificial light to make us feel safe and comfortable. It almost seems that we as little children have actually not grown up. This is the case for those who live in urban. For those of us who live in the country, the darkness covers like a blanket. A moment to retire, to slow down and regenerate towards the next day.

Indigenous cultures all throughout the world have remarkable understandings of the rhythms and purposes of the sun and moon. All of which align with their own community connection to the cosmos. In no way is fear and darkness synonymous entities, but the darkness, much like fear are lessons, messages for us to look deeper at who we are, and what drives us forward.

Aditi, The Hindu Mother of the Sky, the Mother of all the planets, galaxies, she is the Mother of all Life. It is through her dark womb that all is dreamed and born. She is the embodiment of Time and Space. The Mother of what we know to be the zodiac. She is the Darkness, the Void and within her endless black darkness of space, lies all possibilities. She is the Mother of the Past and the Future and it is through connecting to the dark reaches of our soul, that we can birth the Light.

I have lived with anxiety and depression, having many bouts and episodes. As I’ve aged and deepened my spiritual practice, some truths have come to light. Three of which will be the premise for this e-book.

  1. Our fears are actually clues to our deepest desires 
  2.  We do have the capacity to control our mind, and thus impact our feelings and lastly change our behaviours.
  3. Love transforms all.

When we are moving in and out of our days experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety, we are in essence living unhappily. We feel that we don’t have control over our lives. We look at our defeats and lose all confidence that we are able to deal with the complexities of life. We may look also at our triumphs and accomplishments and they may make us feel better for some time, but something just doesn’t seem to stick.

Many spiritual traditions talk about the importance of learning how to transcend our circumstances, to ascend to a transcendent consciousness, one that builds our mental, emotional and spiritual resilience.

But how the hell does one do that?

Starting With Self — So within, So without

Indigenous traditions understood that we as humans have the power to self-heal. We once lived intimately with nature, understanding that we were one with nature. We didn’t see ourselves as separate or above plants, animals or other creatures. Instead, we had a great respect to the many beings that existed, and found ways to co-exist. When we needed the meat for survival, or to pick plants and herbs we always expressed gratitude in the form of prayer, not only to whatever name of the Creator we had, but also to the animal or plant that sacrificed themselves to us.

Of course there has always been periods of history where this was not the case. It is so important not to essentialize indigenous cultures or to blame solely European colonization for the ills that we have today. However, the events of European colonization and enslavement of indigenous, African, Asian peoples plays a more vivid role in our contemporary means of existing. But even with this being said, there are others who may not function from this lens. In order for us to move forward towards a harmonious future, we need to develop the capacity whereby we do not force perspectives on each other. Though, because there does exist pockets in our society that desire to spread fear and division, it is important to name it when doing the work of undoing unhealthy patterns to come back to our communities more strong and capable of standing to the values of truth, love and harmony.

However, to change our circumstances, we must do the difficult work of traveling within. In indigenous understandings of the intricate relationship between the individual and the external, they all say that what is experienced in the Self, is experienced without.

But what exactly is the Self?

If we are to accept that we are Human, which is by no means a low status of being, we will need to start to recognize the powerful role that we play in this natural world. We have to begin to challenge the notions that we have been fed of limitation and constraint. To be human, is in fact to be a representation of divinity. However, because we live in a high consumer culture that would rather have us dumbed down and distracted with junk that doesn’t feed or nurturer us, whether that be in food or culture of consumption, we have to struggle to remember who exactly we are. You are not your possessions, you are not what you do, you are not an identity, you are a Being that is consistent of the ingredients of the five elements: water — your blood, semen, saliva, fire— , earth—-, wind—your mind, thoughts, and metal. You consist of a body, a mind and a Soul/Spirit. When we are fed things that do not feed our minds, or bodies and spirits, we become sick. When we are surrounded in environments that do not nurture us, we become sick. When we are sick, we descend into a darkness, we land in perhaps the most fertile soil. The soil of change and transformation.

The first step to healing our lives is by taking responsibility and acknowledging the fact that all the things that seem to consistently be misshaping comes down to us. We cannot blame anyone for where we are, because we are where we are due to the ways that we have respond to all that happens to us. In fact, we cannot even blame ourselves. We have to just accept where it is that we are and give ourselves the permission to move forward. There will be days that will feel like you are going backward, but just keep on moving.

Stillness in motion. Motion in stillness.

I speak from experience. I have felt beaten down after losing jobs, being betrayed, surviving toxic and abusive relationships. It wasn’t until after one particular relationship that literally threw me in the ring when it came to psychological and emotional trauma that I had to say — “wait one minute, how did I get here? To this place where I would allow someone to literally come into my own home and dump upon me all their own warped traumas?” I had integrated their false claims of who I was and identified with it. I had lost a sense of who it is that I truly was. It was tough and it influenced many areas of my life. However, what I didn’t know in the moment that I was experiencing it, is that it actually was preparing me for an entirely new chapter of my life. A chapter that I am only beginning to surrender to and unfold. If it were not for that relationship, I perhaps would still be living my life, an artist not practicing her art, living in a city that didn’t inspire her. Since that relationship I have gone up and down in establishing balance within myself. I still have bouts of depression and anxiety, but with each episode I learn more skills of not only how to cope, but also how to gain balance and solidity. In my dive into my mind and emotions, in addition to establishing a spiritual practice, I learn the teachings of the powers of love, the interwoven co-existence of light and dark, and the ability to greatly transform.

All we gotta do, is let go.

When I realized that it is the pillars of beliefs that I hold and the attached thoughts that are used to uphold those beliefs that were dictating my life, I took it upon me to dive deep and challenge these beliefs. I’ve recognized that many of the beliefs that I have been operating under actually were never mine to begin with, but were adopted by family conditioning, a current friend group, or absorbing other elements of society. I consistently have to challenge my notions around purpose, love and relationships, what is possible, by asking myself the question: what is it that I want to believe? What is that I want to create?

It is there that we begin the journey of healing our lives. It is then, that we realize that we are our own medicine.


Sharrae Lyon
Sharrae Lyon is a facilitator, writer, filmmaker and public speaker. Her work is grounded in  reframing mental health as transformation. To inquire about current workshops, contact her at sharraelyon@gmail.com.

Eli
Eli is queer artist residing in Toronto. They are an aspiring illustrator and writer. You can contact them at piscesprincx@gmail.com. Check out their bigcartel: @piscesprincx , or their instagram, twitter and tumblr by the same names

Yerbamiel

by Melisa Prieto

Remember what you’re learning. Turmeric, lemon, ginger, honey. Make a paste with turmeric and honey, lick the spoon, twice. Feel the thickness trickle down your throat, massaging the discomfort. Water’s done. Pour it up, pour it up, add the ginger slices and let it rest for a bit. Let yourself rest. As if it were that easy. It’s been four days with bronchitis, I look at my medicine books. Some have dried herb remnants, some have fingerprints of cayenne. I am trying everything. Grab a pot, boil water. Add drops of eucalyptus, lavender, and tea tree essential oils. I clear my desk off. Bills, to the side, ‘Cien Años de Soledad’, to the side. Sticky note with a reminder to call a financial advising service, to the side.

I put the pot on a towel and stir in the oil. Oil and water move together. In my feverish haze I stare at the ripples, it smells so good. Blue, magenta, metallic yellow; oil is oil. It reminds me of the car oil I would see mixed with the rain in Bogotá. Carrying the dirt in the streets, downhill, into the alcantarilla. Never mind that; all that is far way. Sixteen years later and I’m here, still here, reconciling what home is, where home is, with bronchitis and oil.

I feel the burning of the tea tree open my bronchioles. lt tickles. I cough until my ribs hurt. I’m tired of this shit. It feels like I’ve been intentional about this grief work for two years now, and am grateful for its purpose, but I’m tired of this shit. It began as a necessity to go inwards. Alone, on my own, to sit with myself. That was year one. The digging I did in that year was painful, and I grew, read, breathed, was silent, patiently letting myself weave in and out of sickness. Learning that trauma became too comfortable in my body, and forced migration settled in my lungs. In those years, I began to study Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and learnt to connect to my body using roots, herbs, and through my relationship to food. TCM teachings share that the lungs hold grief, they support the throat, and direct energy down to the intestines. I try to find the connection between loss and bronchitis. Between the grief I am holding in my body from my recent breakup and death of my paternal grandmother, all in the same week, I’m shook. I breathe into the aches in my body and the tightness in my chest as I inhale the steam from the oil-water, water-oil. Healing yourself has a way of forcing you to go back; all the way back. The abusive methods of the English language flattened my tongue, twisted my throat to close up my vowels, cut up my liver, thinned my intestines, and bruised my legs- making sure I could never go back, but couldn’t move forward. Stuck, I continued. An immigrant child, older sister, unprofessional translator, expert weight bearer.

I remember the first time my mother taught me to pick eucalyptus hats. The rough texture of wood lined with wax or hardened sap. Fragrant, brown and cone shaped, painted white on top. We used to collect them off the side of the road, after eating arepas y jugo de mora on the days she was able to pick us up from school. Bogotá traffic, sun shining, horns blaring. Everybody is trying to get home. I never really minded the traffic, it gave me more time to take in the trees that lined the streets. The bright magenta flowers arching up walls into roofs, and, most importantly, enough time to go through each grocery bag in the back seat. I grabbed a mango, perfectly ripe and warm, begging me to peel and devour it. The heat of the car slowed that moment down, as I slowly peeled the skin, and bit into its flesh . Sweet juice running down my chin. Just then, I saw my mother fling open her car door, run to the side of the road, bend down, and begin to quickly pick up small pieces from the grass into her hand. This woman, wearing brown transparent stockings, in a pencil skirt, was almost on her knees in the grass, on a busy street in Bogotá. Her child alone in the car; hands full of mango. She ran back to the car, smile wider than her face, hands full of twigs, branches, and eucalyptus hats. She threw them into the passenger seat, locked the door, and sat in silence. My home. Eucalyptus and mango.

When I was 7 years-old, I was admitted into emergency care with pneumonia. I had been fighting a nasty bronchitis for a week, before my mother rushed me to the hospital with insuficiencia respiratoria. I couldn’t breathe. I remember the nurses taking me to a room where I was instructed to put on a mask and breathe; a cold vapour quieting my cough. I was on antibiotics to fight the infection overstaying in my lungs, sticking to my throat, making my eyes too hot and my feet too cold. My mother slept in the hard chair beside my bed for a week, taking turns with my aunts during the day. After a week, the fever had gone down, but my cough had gotten worse. Nothing the doctors tried was working. My mother went to the market and got some Yerbamiel, a sweet syrup made of eucalyptus, honey, and other medicinal herbs. Secretly, she would give me a spoonful, sometimes two, when the room was empty. After a weekend of her rebellious healing with herbal medicine my cough became softer, wetter, my body started expelling the infection, and the doctors sent me home.

As I had struggled with lung infections my whole life, my mother continued to soothe my cough with this sticky sweet sap for the next two weeks, combining it with natural fruit juices in the morning, and sitting with me to drink bone broth in the afternoons. Agua y aceite para que suelte. Water and oil, so it flows. She hung a bundle of eucalyptus branches on top of my bed. She hung a bundle on the shower head, so the steam would be heavy with medicine. She calmly boiled water with a bundle, in a pot. My mother, the medicine maker, healer, birthing calm and helping me breathe. Back then, without knowing the medicinal properties of eucalyptus, I understood this pant as my ally, with great respect for the trees that lined the mountains.

Eucalyptus has supported and healed me through a recurring core health issue. Time and time again, I have come into contact with it in different forms, first as a plant in my home land, then as a support for the respiratory system in the form of syrup, and now in the form of essential oil, inhaling it as steam when I am ill. This process of reconnecting to myself and my identity in the diaspora after migration, as a settler on stolen land, is entrenzado; braided, with my process of decolonization, of rejecting the medical industrial complex and actively choosing to honour and learn to heal with plant based medicine. The medicine dispensed and sold to us by the medical industry is stolen from the medicine in plants with no respect to the connection to land, the story of the plants, or the connection to emotions in the body. My work as a healer, as an advocate of children, and my commitment to healing myself is an act of political resistance. It resists capitalism and the attempts of corrupt governments in Abya Yala and Turtle Island to continue the macabre project of colonization. Although i don’t have access to eucalyptus trees like I did in my home land, growing wild on the roadside, my reconnection to it here in Toronto bridges this diaspora gap.

Medicine making to heal myself and my loved ones is a commitment to transnational healing, crossing borders and rooting here. I recognize that working through lung infections with grief work is also root work. I am starting to understand that grief work is continuous, and dealing with grief and trauma is not limited to this lifetime. It is a strange realization to have. The trauma I carry in my body is from many women before me, as relentless violence against Indigenous, and Afro-descendent women continues in Latin America, and machismo and patriarchy takes a toll on the spirit and the body. Every time I get sick, I pay attention to the emotions stored in that part of the body, and study and spend time with the plants that will support the healing of that area.

Use what you have. Every remedy I have sought in this period of illness I already have in my home. This idea that committing to plant medicine means buying expensive products at the natural health food store is just as synthetic as the medical industrial complex itself. In my process of connecting with plants and learning my body I have understood the importance of listening to the subtle changes, the aches, the weight, and the space within the body, and getting creative with the medicine that is already around me. Part of knowing my body and my innate ability to heal myself lies in knowing that I have knowledge in my bones trapped under years of forced silence.  My struggle with my health is a path to clearing the blockages that trauma in this lifetime and past, has had en mi cuerpa; my body. It’s painful to know that because of the effects of colonization, genocide, and forced displacement, I don’t know what region or people the traditions I feel and use in my medicine come from, but in this intimate process I trust that my ancestors passed it down to me. That is my resistance.

In these two weeks of healing my body from infection, I supported my lungs with essential oil steams, soothed my throat with the medicine of honey, and nourished my intestines with bone broth to support the immune system, strengthening my intestinal flora. I used onions,carrots, celery, garlic, rosemary, sage, thyme, potatoes and chicken legs. To support the lungs energetically, I stretched every morning after waking up, some days longer than others, and breathed in a low hum that tickled the lungs. I screamed, cried, wept whenever it rose up out of me. I stretched my chest, my back, and especially made space in my ribcage with strong exhales through my throat, sometimes sticking my tongue all the way out. I wrote stories, wrote letters, and slept in as much as I could. I payed attention to what I was absorbing, stories, ideas, and news from the media and the people around me, massaged my lower abdomen with warm oils and breathed deeply during sex. I meditated on the connection between the ideas I feed my body and how they support or hinder my relationship to myself, as they enter my throat to my mouth, cushion my heart, fill my lungs, sit in my stomach, reach into my intestines, and swirl back out with my breath. I understood that this grief work and the congestion in my lungs became easier to break through when I forgave myself.


Melisa Prieto
Melisa is a Colombian born, Toronto raised, fat, queer, mestiza woman, unapologetically loving her body as political resistance. She is a Child and Youth worker, herbalist, artist and workshop facilitator on conversations of sex and pleasure.