Which Olive Tree Did You Sit Under?

What compelled them?

 

I am curious about my mixed background but mostly about the Genoese and Venetian ancestors on both sides of my family who sailed the Mediterranean and landed in Izmir in the 17th century, or perhaps earlier. What compelled them to leave home, how and why did they sail, what happened to them?  

As a child I was fascinated by maps. When I got sick my favourite thing was to be in bed surrounded by encyclopaedias with colourful pictures, a large world atlas and a cold compress on my forehead. I spent feverish hours poring over maps, drawing them, running my fingers along coasts and mountains, to the point where I was able to draw the entire map of the world by memory. I became good at drawing the Mediterranean. You’d think I was about to go on an expedition or become a navigator at the age of eight. Why was I so obsessed? I blame it on the ancestors who crisscrossed those waters. Perhaps it goes even farther back in time, to Odysseus whose ship one of my very great grandparents may have boarded as a sailor or a stowaway on that voyage among the dreamy sunny islands of the Aegean. Who knows how far into the past, and how wide into the world that curiosity for “elsewhere” goes? I think of my ancestral roots as the intricate underside of a large forest made up of many different types of trees and shrubs whose life sources are so intertwined that they can no longer tell themselves apart.

The Genoese ancestor I would like to interview appears to have landed on the island of Chios first, possibly in the 14th century or earlier, and may have been involved in the mastic production and trade as well as in the political life of the island. There is a fascinating book I read a few years ago by Philip Argenti, “Religious Minorities of Chios, Jews and Roman Catholics” (Cambridge University Press, 1970) which traces the history of this island within visible distance of the Smyrnian coast, all the way back to 200 B.C.  with an emphasis on their minorities. Chios was an important source of mastic – resin from the mastic tree was used in various industries, making paint and glue etc for a very long time, so the role of the island was pivotal for this particular reason.  It played an interesting part in the power shift that occurred between kingdoms and empires in Europe in the 16th century.  Two kings, Suleyman I who ruled the Ottoman Empire and Francis I of France created a formidable alliance. This powerful and close friendship between a Muslim and a Christian ruler not only scandalized but also terrorized the rest of Europe. In that time, Suleyman and his famous admiral, Barbarossa (Barbaros Hayreddin Pasha) challenged the Genoese supremacy in the Mediterranean and when the Genoese commander Andrea Doria lost an important and final naval battle against Barbaros, the vast sea became dominated by the Franco-Turkish fleet.  Sometime in 1566 an Ottoman fleet of 100 ships arrived in Chios. The Genoese governors who until then were paying tribute to the Ottomans, were invited aboard the ship. Once they got on, they were swiftly taken into custody and that was the end of the Genoese rule of Chios. The importance of mastic in world trade began to wane in favour of rubber around that time as well.  I imagine my Genoese ancestors moved to Smyrna, in the 17th century as a result of all this and settled there. I am not a historian, so I hope I will be forgiven for this brief and imprecise account, and any mistakes I may have made.  Although the Venetians and Genoese were sworn enemies and competed for supremacy for most of their history sailing and trading in the Mediterranean, in Smyrna they seem to have settled down in apparent brotherhood and make up a large part of my ancestral heritage. I would tell them that wanderlust and love for the Aegean Sea aside, the aptitude for trade or business did not trickle down to me. I am not at all gifted that way, but I can perhaps tell a tale. I would love to tell theirs, if they could share them with me. 

Another ancestor, a spiritual one, I’d want to meet is Homer who lived both around Izmir and on the island of Chios. If I could meet him, I would stay quietly by his side and listen to his stories.  I know exactly how the moment would feel; the brightness of the Aegean light, the insistent sound of cicadas, an imbat breeze cooling our faces, the smell of clay and goat poop on dirt roads. I would hold his hand and ask, “Which olive tree did you sit under and dream, please show me, so I can find it in my own time, sit and dream there in the company of your marvelous spirit.” 

 

Leave a Small Trail

 

I hope you gaze at the world you live in with awe and wonder, tread gently upon it beside all living things and try to leave a small trail of kindness behind you when you go. 

 

 

Born and raised in Turkey, Loren Edizel  has lived in Canada most of her life and is the author of three novels, Adrift (2011), The Ghosts of Smyrna (2013), Days of Moonlight (2018)  and a collection of short stories, Confessions: A Book of Tales (2014). The Ghosts of Smyrna was also published in Turkish, in Turkey, in 2017. Her short fiction has appeared in journals in both Canada and in Turkey. She lives in Toronto.

She is currently working on a novel that takes place in Smyrna in the late 19th – early 20th century, focused on the relationship of two sisters and their lives.

Visit her website  and follow her on Goodreads, FB and Twitter to stay in the loop for upcoming events, readings and publications.

Where did you find it?

 

THERE WAS HOPE TOO

 

Marhaba, dear ancestors, thank you for all you have given for me to be where I am today. My heart aches thinking of what you endured in order to survive and, in turn, ensuring the survival of generations after you. You lived through a deadly famine during World War I where swarms of locusts and drought devastated fields of vegetables and olive trees. Blockades worsened those tragic days. As decades passed, there were more wars, more deaths, more sorrow. But there was hope too, wasn’t there? There were wedding and birthday celebrations, dancing and drumming on terraces or under canopies of grapes. Despite the tragedies, you had faith. Where did this faith come from? How did you see optimism through the dark clouds of despair and horror? Where did you find the strength to carry on? To still love and dream?

 

 

TELL YOUR STORY 

 

Descendants, we must carry on. My ancestors taught me this. Hard work and a belief in yourself will help you on this journey of creativity. I encourage those following the writer’s path to push through the rejections, embrace the conflicting feelings of anguish and joy and find your voice. Don’t give up. Our voices are unique. Don’t compare yourself to others and, above all, don’t get discouraged if things aren’t happening yet. In time, more opportunities will arrive and you’ll be heard. Tell your story and carry on. The seeds of your dream were planted for a reason: to grow, to be harvested, to be felt, to be heard. Carry on, my fellow writers, fellow dreamers.

 

 

 

Sonia Saikaley is the author of the award-winning novella “The Lebanese Dishwasher” and poetry collections “Turkish Delight, Montreal Winter” and “A Samurai’s Pink House”. A graduate of the Humber School for Writers, she lives in her hometown of Ottawa, Canada near her large Lebanese family. In the past, she worked as an English teacher in Japan where she introduced belly dancing to her students. Her novel “The Allspice Bath” was recently published by Inanna Publications.

 

Currently…

Sonia is working on a novel set in Lebanon about a young woman trying to achieve her independence despite the cultural restraints placed on her. It is also a love story between this Lebanese woman and a Jewish man. The story takes place before and during the Lebanese Civil War of 1975.

Sonia is inspired by brave women who fight for what they believe in and who don’t give up. Her novel “The Allspice Bath” is about such a woman. Adele Azar is struggling to find her place between the old and new worlds. It’s not an easy task. From the start, Adele disappointed her parents because she wasn’t born a boy. She balances two cultures yet the question remains: can she find her freedom without losing part of herself in the process? Set in Ottawa, Toronto and Lebanon, “The Allspice Bath” is a reminder that dreams are possible in spite of hardships.

Follow Sonia on Twitter & FB

Photo credit: Sylvia Saikaley

When did you cross the threshold?

WHEN?

 

My Nani once shared with me that my great-great-grandfather Pirmohamed Anand, was actually named Purshotam, prior to sailing to East Africa from the ports of Kathiawar. Purshotam means “Supreme Being” and is the 24th name of Lord Vishnu.

I would ask my ancestors what it was like to be neither Muslim or Hindu, but instead Khojas following the Satpanth, a syncretic community that adhered to a fusion of Shia Muslim, Sufi, and Vaishnavite traditions.

When did you decide to cross the threshold and call yourselves “Ismaili Muslims”?

What is it about the religion of your forefathers, that gave you the strength to hold on to it for generations?

 

What did you feel when you sailed away from the ports of Kutch and Khatiawar to reach the coast of East Africa?

 

How do you feel knowing your descendants are losing their mother tongue, sense of rootedness, and love for their own (brown) skin?

 

REMEMBER THE UNKNOWN STORIES

 

For my queer diasporic desi descendants, those who have hybrid identities that hyphenations fail to connect, I would remind them about their ancestors.

Both blood and chosen. That’s right – blood isn’t the only criteria we use to build our families. We should remember our queer ancestors who came before us but who weren’t necessarily related to us by blood – whose art, poetry, resilience, and experiences inspires generations after. But also remember our ancestors who allowed us to come into being today, even if their stories are unknown and lost to time and memory.

I would remind them that it was colonization that uprooted our connection to our third gender sister communities in South Asia and made our sexualities appear deviant.

I would encourage them to celebrate wins, small and large. My win is being able to proudly wear jhumka earrings and flowing shawls to my Jamatkhana in Toronto, irrespective of the bewildered faces and the nazar of aunties. My win is identifying allies within my place of worship that see me as a human trying to be his authentic self, a privilege not many have.

I would ask them to work on decolonizing. To create spaces for them to live, breathe, and create in and build solidarity among other marginalised communities. For them to join this legacy for their own descendants – both blood and chosen.

 

 

Zain Bandali is an unapologetically queer non-binary poet that writes on themes related to Islamic mysticism, queerness, diasporas, and where they interact. He is 21 years old and takes pride in being a Shia Ismaili Muslim of Indo-Tanzanian heritage living in Canada. Zain is in the final year of his undergraduate degree at the University of Waterloo, where he founded QTPOC KW, a community group for racialized queer and trans students. He is an avid vegetable gardener but cannot always stomach the chilli peppers he grows.

Learn more about Zain and his work here.

Upcoming Event: 

Zain be performing at brOWN//out at the Deloitte Stage (Intersection of Church St. and Gloucester St.) on June 22nd from 5-8 pm (the Saturday before the Toronto Pride Parade).

 

Show Up.

Before me…

 

Where’s home? Where’s peace of mind?  Who will be there when I arrive?

How do you revisit a dream you lost in the midst of surviving a bad scene?

What’s the trick to living in harmony with those who have harmed me?

Why do so many women I know harbour so much self-hate?

For my soular-sister who wonders: When last did freedom say your name?

 

Beyond/After me…

In order to heal you must acknowledge what hurts. The words, gestures, and rhymes for these signs are perhaps foreign at first. But I think when you are finally able to call it out, then you can change its hold on you. There’s a bona fide beauty in moving, stepping out and splitting off from a hiding place. It is not unlike birth. Simply, you ask to be found when you search.

Trust that what is meant for you is relying on you to show up. Show up.

 

 

Britta B. is a spoken word poet and arts educator. Her works have been featured on TEDx, The Walrus Talks, CBC Radio’s Day 6, Ask Her: Talks presented by The Stephen Lewis Foundation, Toronto Star’s The Kit: Compact Magazine and the Art Gallery of Ontario. In 2017, Britta was an artist-in-residence for the spoken word program at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Britta is currently a member of the Toronto Arts Council Leaders Lab.

As an arts educator, Britta develops curriculum, facilitates artist-training seminars, poetry workshops and after-school programs in partnership with organizations like UNITY Charity, Leave Out Violence (Ontario) and various school boards across Ontario. Britta is a former youth mentor for The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery and junior artist mentor for the Art Gallery of York University.

When not performing or teaching, Britta emcees break-dance battles, hip-hop jams and community appreciation events.

Learn more about Britta here. 

Social Media: @missbrittab

Photo credit: Gilad Cohen 

Kindness like water

Ancestors,

 

to m.s ramaswamy, my great grandfather who translated thamizh poems into english, whose copies of anna karenina, war and peace i’ve inherited:

periya thatha, your poems are friends i run into from other lives, when will we meet again?

 

 

Descendants,

 

kindness as the means and end. relentless kindness. an unhurried kindness. a kindness that is unconcerned with performance. kindness like water. kindness as breath, as movement, as the stillness in which you gather your songs.

 

 

my name is kayal vizhi. i’m a poet, currently based in toronto. my stories time travel, occupy many geographies, question the validity of borders and are ultimately, borderless. nothing i write will be as beautiful as thamizh and this is a solace.

i’m currently working on a collection of poems that are also essays about family and solitude. i’m reading james salter’s light years – a gorgeous, luminous novel. i’m excited to read anything by durga chew-bose.

Follow Kayal on instagram. 

 

Photo credit:  Sarah Manlapaz Suresh

I want to know

To those who came before—

 

I used to look for myself in timelines and dog-eared photos, tried to trace my body through maps that spanned the world. I want to know how you were all wildfires below monsoon clouds, flickering flames in tropical rains; how one single steady breath sparks the light in all of us.

 

To those who follow—

 

From where I stand, the path behind me unwinds and winds and winds more than my eyes can hold. The path forward is just as dimpled and trodden because we travel with others, because routes intersect to weave tapestries, because we traverse in pairs and navigate waterways with crews. I am sure in my journey there will be slips and falls, tumbles and tender missteps. Do with it what you will. Never feel as though you are obligated to take the same path. Hold your ancestors and heroes as accountable as you would your friends – after all, they’re one in the same.

 

 

Natasha Ramoutar is an Indo-Guyanese writer, academic, and storyteller from Scarborough, the eastern suburb of Toronto. She completed her Honours Bachelor of Arts in English & French at the University of Toronto Scarborough, and is currently pursuing a Master of Professional Communication at Ryerson University. Her professional and academic background is in literature, film, and communication. Both her critical and creative writing explore popular culture, diaspora, physical movement, and representation.

Follow her creative journey on instagram and twitter.

 

Natasha is currently…

working on her manuscript, tentatively titled Bittersweet, which explores cross-cultural and intergenerational communication, diaspora and transnational migration, and the concept of homeland. It examines her relationship to Guyana, India, and Canada with Scarborough omnipresent as a framing device, along with aspects of my identity as a woman, a person of colour, and a first generation Canadian.

She is grateful to have access to the work of so many impactful writers. Some of her current inspirations include: nayyirah waheed, Anne-Marie Turza, Tanya Talaga, Gaiutra Bahadur, and Dionne Brand. Most recently, She has also found a home within David Chariandy’s lyrical, precise novel Brother,  and forever moved by the work of these emerging writers: Adrian De Leon, Leanne Toshiko Simpson, Téa Mutonji, Oubah Osman, and Chelsea La Vecchia.

Photo credit: Matthew Narea

Did you celebrate?

Iethihsothó:kon, ancestors , nyàwenkowa, big thanks for all your sacrifices, resilience and enduring presence within the night sky, horizon, water, land, spirit guides, our songs, dances, languages, stories, foods, medicines, teachings and the unseen and unknown. I know you best during my dreaming; in my waking it is upon your shoulders I stand. Nyàwenkowa~

  1. Iethihsothó:kon, what was Pre-colonial Turtle Island really like? Describe for me, the abundance, contentment, and wonder.
  2. Iethihsothó:kon, why did you welcome the European Settlers? Why did some of y’all not follow the prophecies? Who sold us out, and why?
  3. Iethihsothó:kon, we are still here, doing our best to manifest your promise, your dreams, but shit is getting unbearable. Real talk…what is the way forward for our people? Most of us are done with the negotiating, reconciliating and debating. I’m done with this notion of White Ally-ship. What’s the end game here? The 8th Fire  Prophecy, is that gonna work out for us or not?
  4. Iethihsothó:kon, since receiving my spirit name,                                             Enml’ga’t Saqama’sgw (The Woman Who Walks Through The Light), I’ve been doing my best to manifest my purpose and follow my path, what three things would you advise me to do in this lifetime to keep my passion for my purpose burning bright, before I become an ancestor?
  5. Iethihsothó:kon, what are your thoughts on the evolution of Bannock?
  6. Iethihsothó:kon, what is the most sacred place on Turtle Island where reconnecting with you, my ancestors, would be a healing and spiritually enlightening experience?
  7. Iethihsothó:kon, can you please send actual Thunderbirds to vanquish all these Black Snake Corporate Capitalist Terrorists (Burn dem)
  8. Iethihsothó:kon, did you celebrate when the Bison started coming home?

 

To all my Onkwehonwe I want you to know that although you are the seeds of the next 7 generation you are more than your roots. If you’re reading this it means my resiliency manifested into legacy and that is the greatest contribution any Onkwehonwe can invest in during their lifetime. Speak Light. Speak Life. Speak words into existence. Keep our stories alive. Say our names. Live Onkwehonwe’ neha, remember our stories make us whole and we are connected to all things, and this way there can be no separation between us, even we are apart. We begin as story~live as story~and exist as stories in the after, because our stories never end, they always begin again.

 

Mahlikah Awe:ri Enml’ga’t Saqama’sgw The Woman Who Walks In The Light is an award winning drum talk-poetic rapologist, community warrior, Haudenosaunee Mohawk/Mi’kmaw, Wolf Clan, social change artist, based in Tkaronto, with First Nations ancestry from Kahnawá:ke Q.C. and Bear River, N.S. ; African Diasporic blood lines on Turtle Island dating back to the Atlantic Slave Trade and Black Loyalists in Canada since the 1700’s, as well as, Afro-Caribbean roots from the Bahamas and European roots from Ireland.

 

Mahlikah is currently…

 a facilitator for Louder Than A Bomb Toronto and will be opening the finals on May 12th at Daniels Spectrum. She is continuing to deliver workshops as part of the NAC 10 Learning Days with the AGO and Indigenous Education Centre for the remainder of the school term. She is participating in three recording projects at the moment, working with Red Slam on their second full length LP and a House EP; contributing poetry to Brick Books Publishing who has asked Indigenous Waves, Jenny Blackbird to curate stories and poems from Indigenous writers; and is featuring in the Fonna Seidu, sisterhoodmedia.net project, sharing her experiences with mentorship, creative entrepreneurial pursuits, overcoming obstacles and leadership success. She is currently booking performances and key notes for summer 2018 and arts education workshops for the 2018-2019 school year. To book Mahlikah, click here.

You can find her & Red Slam Collective on Bandcamp, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube & Twitter.

Photo Credit: Red Works and Nadya Kwandibens