Diary of a mothering worker
DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
IT WAS entirely an old familiarity, recalled by the smell of airplane fuel in morning heat. You know when a drifting scent or shade of light suddenly puts both your feet back in the past?
As I crossed Piarco’s tarmac, I glanced up into the brightness and the yellow-painted side of the airport made me look twice, the first time mistakenly seeing a waving gallery, and the second time, vividly remembering the old one, from the old airport, as if it was there in front of me. I breathed, feeling goosebumps, maybe because of the hot wind blowing along my arms or from being momentarily caught convinced by this mirage.
As a child, I’d marvel at so many beloved families and friends crowding that second-floor verandah to share an experience of travel, to emotionally wave at their loved ones until they disappeared through the plane door, or excitedly identify them from the line of rumpled travellers as soon as they disembarked.
Something in the new airport design, whether for modernisation, security or cost-cutting, lost sight of this Caribbean custom or never understood or valued ordinary Caribbean cultural expressions of connection and community, and the narrow, barricaded gate at which one now says quick goodbyes has shut such a space for sharing into the past.
I was coming home from commemorating the 25th anniversary of the UWI’s Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the Cave Hill campus in Barbados. The three founding professors of the IGDS, Patricia Mohammed, Rhoda Reddock and Eudine Barriteau, were being honoured, and I sat at the conference with graduate students who, in just two years’ time, would never have these Caribbean feminist foremothers on the campus with them. After near 40 years on campus, such passing of a generation that built scholarship, institutional strength and academic activism from scratch was at the end of an era.
For 20 years on campus, I was under their wing, gaining invaluable guidance, compassion and protection. Looking through the shimmering above the tarmac, and blindly seeing a memory instead of the present, I thought about the past and what makes it live on.
These women understood, or at least valued, Caribbean customs and cultural practices, treated them like the true richness of theory and the deep wealth of scholarship and, in so doing, created a homegrown feminism that connected countries and generations in our region, crossing from one tarmac to another.
This homegrown Caribbean feminism’s head cornerstone was the one that the builder refused. It looked for what was ours, found the everyday ways ordinary people cared and created citizen coalitions, and built that into the design that my graduate students and I inherited.
The head cornerstone’s strength was its grounding in gendered analysis of the region and its realities; women’s rights histories and stories; mothers’ and grandmothers’, godmothers’ and aunties’ ways of raising up and nurturing; daughters’ aspirations to improve on the past; and the solidarities of male allies. None of these are yet taken seriously or valued in economics, social sciences and political theories in the Caribbean today.
Yet, somewhere, that window to our lives as they crisscross the Caribbean hasn’t disappeared. Twenty-five years on, in IGDS, it’s still here. Honouring these three women, I treasured the homegrown feminist foundation laid for us to remember to examine and empower the ways we make time and space for love, family, survival, connection and equality as well as the little traditions through which we recognise each other’s heart and humanity.
As I entered the airport’s cool interior, the past, present and future walked through with me. I thought about whether we educate both for Caribbean transformation as well as recognition of what most matters to Caribbean people, whether in terms of how we design in our built environments or our social policies.
I thought about how few places teach another generation to understand and protect, from new ideas about modernisation, foreign models or almighty profit, the spaces and practices that can be so easily relegated to obsolescence even when they have value for care, connection and community. Now we get to decide what to keep.
Honouring the professors and the past would live on in our design for a future of Caribbean living and loving. For, one bright morning, the right hazy mix of scent and hue could fully return an old, familiar flutter of emotion and eagerness, along with nostalgia for what was simply deconstructed out of our collective memory.
It’s such an unnoticeable thing, the disappearance of that waving gallery.