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.

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).

 

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

Tell Me

Ancestors,

 

My question is to my Poh Poh, my maternal grandmother who was also a writer. It is often said in my family that she was born too soon. She came from a privileged family in Hong Kong and was afforded an education. Poh Poh was literate. She married when she was 15 and birthed 9 children. I don’t think she was a great mother from what I can gather from my mother, and I don’t know if she even wanted to be a mother. She smoked and wore Cheongsams every day. My mother tells me that she was scandalous as a young woman, wearing “transparent” flapper dresses when modesty was the vogue for wealthy women at the time. Before WW2, she wrote. I have no idea how this happened, but she wrote under a pseudonym and had a column in several syndicates. She wrote stories told in sequence that were updated weekly. They were love stories, set in Shanghai mostly. I don’t know anything about them, but I tried to find them on research trips to Hong Kong. I can’t read Chinese, and so I had a friend who went to the archives to assist me. Her pen name was Purple Pear. Sadly, we found that all the papers were destroyed when Japan occupied Hong Kong during the war. After it was over, another writer, a man, continued the column under her name. All that remains are his stories, and she is erased from the record. 

My Poh Poh raised me from 1 month old until I was 5 and immigrated to Canada. I remember her telling me marvellous stories although my mom says it was actually just the one story that she told me over and over again. She eventually did immigrate to Canada, and I remember long nights in her bedroom, filing her nails while she smoked her menthol cigarettes. I loved her very much. 

Poh Poh had Parkinson’s Disease towards the end. It was a long and cruel death that robbed her body a little bit at a time until she could not move at all, and even her voice was taken. At one of her hospital visits, she pointed at me to the nurse and said in Cantonese, “this one is mine”. I am hers. I am still hers. 

My question to her is this: Poh Poh, what was your happiest moment? Tell me a moment of immense joy, so I can carry it in my body, cherish it, celebrate it for you every day. 

 

 

Descendants,

I am here. I was here. There were more that came before too. You are never alone.

 

 

 

Carrianne Leung immigrated from Hong Kong to Canada at age 5. Her first novel,The Wondrous Woo (Inanna Publications), was a finalist for the 2014 City of Toronto Book Award. Her collection of linked stories THAT TIME I LOVED YOU (HarperCollins Canada) will be released March 2018.

Connect with her on her website,  tweet her your thoughts, and find her on instagram

 

Carrianne is currently preparing for her book launch…

Her book of linked stories, “That Time I Loved You” will be coming out at the end of March. The launch will be held at the Lula Lounge on March 28th at 7 PM

Photo by Sarah Couture McPhail

A New Year, A New Set of Questions

We are behind the scenes, developing a wonderful lineup of creative, inspiring humans who will share their questions with us this year.

In the meantime, feel to contemplate and reflect upon one or more of these questions as we settle in to 2018:

What will I do this year to remind myself that I have the support of my ancestors and traditions behind me? 

What unhealthy ideas/ beliefs/ways of being  have been unintentionally passed down to me?  What do I need to do to let them go?

If my ancestors could speak to me now, what would they remind me to do/be? Is that advice in line with what I want to do and who I want to be? Why or why not? 

Come back often.

Stay a while.

You’re home.

How can I?

Ancestors,

 

I have thought and thought and I don’t know if I have any questions for you. I know your words were stolen, your stories and bodies turned into sites of shame. I wouldn’t want to burden you with questions you might not want to answer, or memories you may not want to recount. So I guess I have no questions to ask of you. I only have gratitude for you. Because of you, I’m here. Because of you, my daughter is here. Because of you, we still have a small patch of land to call home, a place we can speak our languages and hold our ceremonies together to make our nations strong.

Maybe I do have a question or two after all.

How can I make you most proud?

How can I best show my appreciation for all that you’ve done?

 

 

Descendants,

 

You are worth all the struggles I’ve had to endure and will have to endure in my life.

You are worth it all.

 

 

 

Alicia Elliott is a Tuscarora writer living in Brantford, Ontario. Her writing has been published by The Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, The Walrus, Macleans, Globe and Mail and many others. Her essay “A Mind Spread Out on the Ground” won Gold at the National Magazine Awards this past May and has been selected to be published in Best Canadian Essays 2017. She has most recently been named the 2017-2018 Geoffrey and Margaret Andrew Fellow at UBC.

Follow her on twitter @WordsandGuitar.

 

Were We?

Ancestors,

 

 

Miriam, Mary, Maryam, how will my garden grow?

Mata Sindhu, were we always dancers?

How did you find and capture joy?

Peek-a-Boo!! ~ Do you see me now beloveds?

 

Descendants,

 

I learn over and over again that tuning into spontaneous expression

is the key to presence and showing up to our life.

People often ask me why I dance.

I DANCE

to reconnect,

to get out of my head

to commune with the sacred

to feel my power

to bliss out

to be with my pain

to process my emotions

to express what I can’t in words

I Dance to Celebrate,

I Dance to Create.

Why Do You Dance?

and….Tag – You`re it!

 

A daughter of the Indus River and the Sindhu people, Kanwal Rahim often weaves dance, storytelling and humour into all her artistic expressions.   Her poetry and dance reflects her nomadic and hyphenated upbringing in Pakistan, Egypt, UAE and Canada.  Drawing on her diverse experiences in performing arts, she continues to explore new body wisdom practices and healing traditions to deepen awareness and connection, with a focus on honouring the integrity of the body.  Kanwal has graced many stages in Toronto and is currently working on her first collection of poetry and songs.

Follow her on instagram here. 

Photo:  Amber Ellis ~ Creating Light Photography