The Black Expat Stories – Curtains

As an expat, there is a crazy sense of displacement that I experience when it comes to things like washing curtains. Having spent most of my adult life in the UK, it was a real ritual that went alongside pulling the furniture out and vacuuming those corners which may not have been touched for months (I am embarrassed to say). It meant wiping down all of those large pieces of furniture where the dust had been hidden. The first day of sunshine was the new high wattage bulb and It would send me to the supermarket to purchase cleaning items like nice spelling Zora disinfectants.

Now I live in someone else’s home. Their agreement states that I cannot put pictures on any of the walls, so I haven’t. Me who once had a living room so filled with African masks, family pictures, sculptures and cloth that my friend’s son, on arriving for the first time, whispered to him, “is this a museum daddy?”, now lives with bare walls.

I was young, naive and hungry for everything African. My walls were a testimony to my commitment to living a truly authentic African life. The first payment which I received for a poetry reading was used to purchase an African woman with braids who sat on my wall for many years. There were copper sculptures from Ghana, cloth from Nigeria and Ethiopia, cushion covers from Kenya and that large Ashanti stool which the authorities had challenged me on carrying as they suspected I had drugs hidden inside. Of course, with my having dreadlocks that I covered, how could they come to any other conclusion.

The new sun would make all of the carvings and sculptures expose that covering they had collected over the previous six-months. As I polished some, dusted others, ensuring that those corners were clean, the curtains would be soaking. The clean lace curtains reflected the bright sunshine and sent a wave of satisfaction of a job well done. This was my home and I had put the effort in to make it look, smell and feel good for my family and I. It was always a good day when the curtains were washed.

Now I rent an apartment, with a balcony that is hardly used due to the noisy ongoing construction of yet another apartment block which has stolen the peace and tranquillity that living next to a forest should have bought me. I watch the dark skinned men working on this building site each day and I wonder if their story is in line with those I have heard of the labour force that comes from Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. Men who work long hours, while their passports and mobile phones are held. Men with long periods away from their families who look lustily at the Chinese women who bare so much flesh in their shorts and strap tops, against the backdrop of Hindu and Malay women in their (mainly) modest attire.

The curtains were filthy. Having lived in the apartment for ten months, I could not figure out why washing the curtains had become such a big deal. Then it hit me. It was about the ritual. The history. The practise and memory of this one act. There was so much love in cleansing the winter and in welcoming in the summer in the UK

In hot countries, there are no clearly defined seasons. There are days of sunshine or cloud. Drizzle or torrential downpours. After living in Jamaica, I returned to the UK during the winter and depression had set in. I could not stand the cold, the unfriendly people and the effort that everything took once I had on my two or three layers of clothing. I remember signing up for a community yoga class and being the only student who would attend. One day the yoga teacher must have had enough of my long face. He stopped the class and asked me what the matter was. I went on and on about how cold I was, how I missed Jamaica’s heat and people and how sad everyone in the UK looked. He listened attentively, showing no sign of frustration or disappointment in the views I had expressed.

He simply said

You must really live, wherever you are. Unpack the boxes. Enjoy all there is to enjoy.

I said thank you and stopped the complaining. I unpacked the many boxes which I had walked passed every day and sorted out my apartment. I put the pictures back on the wall.

Washing the curtains and cleaning the windows took me to a place of doing things on purpose. Enjoying where I am…wherever I find myself. I celebrated the array of colours which I now have every day.  The sunshine and warmth which I now have everyday.  I have new rituals .

DISCLAIMER:

The thoughts in this blog are mine. My opinions, uncensored.  Please don’t take it personally.

Previous

The Black Expat stories – Special Occasion

Next

The Black Expat Stories – Bus time story

14 Comments

  1. Janet

    This article is so true, it gives a sense of home and also each place we lay our head as so many different rituals.
    The article brought sadness to me aswell as it felt like that where you lived you could not share your beliefs in your home .

    • MWaseme

      Janet thank you so much. There is no sadness as the life around me brings me sooo much colour and culture now xx

  2. Tai Williams

    Yes my sis, I really relate to your personal narrative; it truly resonated with me.
    More please😀

    • MWaseme

      Thank you Tai. You and I know that there is a story in each moment of our days xx

  3. Denise N

    A wonderfully engaging read moving between the personal and mundane (washing curtains) to the spiritual and social revealing the small moments as always opportunities to live more attentively.

    • MWaseme

      Denise thank you so much. Your feed forward is so valuable. i would love to hear your response to other blogs too 🙂

  4. Amenah

    Now I know where my love for writing and how easily it flows comes from! Really enjoyed this, love that you were honest and love that you adapt and make the the space your space, wherever you go. Change is always good and makes space for new rituals!

    • MWaseme

      Amenah what a beautiful and touching message. I was so bowled over that I didn’t press send the first time I read this so I am saying thank you so much again! Yes Yes Yes! We are both creatives, crafting our journey in our own voices and in our own way 🙂

  5. Natasha Lorraine

    The Ashanti stool brings back so much memories. Glad the warmth and the colours have brought you to another place of contentment. May your journies continue to bring you fulfilment wherever you are.

  6. Vanessa Matthews

    I love this story – such a great reminder. Live fully. End of . Wherever you are. Live fully.

  7. Jabari Akil

    I didn’t think of washing curtains as an reality shaping event! Once again, the mundane is spiritual with you leading the narration.

    Thanks for the grounded experience.

  8. Yvonne

    I still love net curtains. They are not as fashionable now for many. Washing them and rehanging with that fresh smell is great. It’s all about ‘home’ and belonging.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén