flowers* for Andaiye

“Heard that one of your Red Thread women died..” This from my brother and then my father- two coolie/ PPP-friendly Guyanese men now living in the diaspora. My mother, sister, and sister-in-law are still blissfully unaware, consumed as they are by child minding and related duties more than politricks and news from the homeland. I can just imagine what she would say about this..

pink weed flower2

People older than me called her aunt, but not me. She was not like any aunt I ever had or knew; she was in a league all her own. I still have only an inkling of all that she did during her life, but I know enough to know that when around her, I was in the presence of greatness. Brilliant, bold, hilarious, provocative- when she talked, you listened. And learned. About meaning and words and language and power. About commitment and solidarity, politricks and principles. About men, mothers, and madness, love, loss, self, and struggle. About revolution- then, now, and the ones still to come. Words were important to her- meaningful, but action equally- if not more, so.

It’s hard for me now, one week after her passing, to find the exact words to explain how I felt around her- somewhat intimidated, immensely grateful, always stimulated and supported, encouraged when working on an issue together, challenged to keep on going when I might have wanted to call it quits. She understood when I had to cuss or leave the room or meeting before imploding, or take refuge in a cold Guinness. She was shero, mentor, friend.

purple wildflowers

We first met at Red Thread and then later at her home, after her physical challenges multiplied. Sometimes there would be email and phone calls- “Can you come now?” I stupsed to myself at first, then grinned and went. That was the only possible response; I couldn’t tell her no, never wanted to. It always felt like an honor and privilege to be in the same room with her. To be a quarter as bold, an aspiration.

Not that she demanded worship or anything like that- you were free to disagree, to be yourself. She welcomed and invited the sharing of ideas and opinions, especially from younger people. Her dry humor was especially awesome to witness- especially when it wasn’t aimed at you. I know people who quailed just hearing her voice over the telephone. I soon learnt not to ask her how she was doing; she preferred to spend the time and energy she had on the work that still needed to be done. Earlier this year, we worked on a solidarity statement for sistren pushing for the decriminalization of abortion in Jamaica. Although I consider myself a passionate pro-choice advocate, the statement I drafted paled in comparison to hers. As always, the voices and experiences of grassroots women shone through- her commitment to those who make up the bedrock of society crystal clear and unwavering.

white wildflowers

Two Decembers in a row she tasked me with book buying for the children in her life. It was something I looked forward to- browsing in Austin’s for books that showcased brown and black characters, instead of the pink and blond images she and I had been fed during our childhoods. It felt like winning to present her with these treasures which she would then gift to the lucky children. She bought my own minor literary offerings and urged me time and time again to write more.

Eighteen months ago, at a time of immense personal turmoil, she was one of a few, precious handful of people whose counsel I sought. Her response restored my calm and sense of self and sanity, something for which I will be eternally grateful. Weeks later, when we spoke again, after yet another unexpected turn of the Universe, her empathy lit up the then dark night of my soul.

I am better for having known her. She was and will forever remain an inspiration and role model.

Keep resisting, keep organizing. A luta continua. Rise in power, Andaiye!

Please use the comment section at the bottom of this page to share your remembrance/tribute/thoughts. If you are on the “Tributes” page, please comment at the bottom of the “Remembering page.”

bounty of lilac lavender flowersAndaiye at PP

* These are mostly weeds/wildflowers I noticed around the place this past week. I remembered her liking a picture I had shared a couple of years ago of the flower of a weed I’d seen in the yard in Lusignan..

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