Shailja Patel. patterned sari border
 About/Press KitWorkMigritudeBlogNews/AwardsCalendar ShopContact Shailja
decorative pattern

Be a part of Migritude's journey.
No contribution is too small - or too large. $2 buys coffee for a volunteer. $15 rents a rehearsal studio for an hour. $100 covers 2 hours of lighting / tech / set design. $500 helps fly Shailja to international festivals!!

You can also make a tax-deductible donation by check. Please email for details.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Praise all our choices

The fundamentalist anti-choice lobby, spearheaded by the Catholic Church, is in full battle-mode in Kenya right now, against a long-overdue initiative to decriminalize abortion. Shutting down any rational dialogue, terrorizing women into silence.

Reproductive justice is one of the issues I'm most passionate about. I grew up in a world where abortion was illegal. Safe contraception was available only to a tiny minority of privileged women, and the public discourse around family planning was dominated by the dogma of the Catholic church. It's outrageous that so little has changed today.

I grew up hearing stories of women who died 'mysteriously' in what I now know were back-alley abortions. And taking it for granted that tens of thousands of young girls were forced to end their education due to pregnancy. I recall my burning outrage when I first realized, at 12 or 13, that celibate white men, living in unimaginable wealth in the Vatican, believed they had the right to dictate to poverty-stricken third world women, what they could or could not do with their bodies.

My favourite poem about choice, is The Sabbath of Mutual Respect, by the fabulous Marge Piercy.


[ ]
Fertility and choice:
every row dug in spring means weeks
of labor. Plant too much and the seedlings
choke in weeds as the warm rain soaks them.
The goddess of abundance Habondia is also
the spirit of labor and choice.
In another
life, dear sister, I too would bear six fat
children. In another life, my sister, I too
would love another woman and raise one child
together as if that pushed from both our wombs.
In another life, sister, I too would dwell
solitary and splendid as a lighthouse on the rocks
or be born to mate for life like the faithful goose.
Praise all our choices. Praise any woman
who chooses, and make safe her choice.

[ ]

.... the real abundance, is the power
to say yes and to say no, to open
and to close, to take or to leave
and not to be taken by force or law
or fear or poverty or hunger.
To bear children or not to bear by choice
is holy. To bear children unwanted
is to be used like a public sewer.
To be sterilized unchosen is to have
your heart cut out. To love women
is holy and holy is the free love of men
and precious to live taking whichever comes
and precious to live unmated as a peachtree.

Praise the lives you did not choose.
They will heal you, tell your story, fight
for you. You eat the bread of their labor.
You drink the wine of their joy. I tell you
after I went under the surgeon's knife
for the laparoscopy I felt like a trumpet
an Amazon was blowing sonorous charges on.
Then my womb learned to open on the full
moon without pain and my pleasure deepened
till my body shuddered like troubled water.
When my friend gave birth I held her in joy
as the child's head thrust from her vagina
like the sun rising at dawn wet and red.

Praise our choices, sisters, for each doorway
open to us was taken by squads of fighting
women who paid years of trouble and struggle,
who paid their wombs, their sleep, their lives
that we might walk through these gates upright.
Doorways are sacred to women for we
are the doorways of life and we must choose
what comes in and what goes out. Freedom
is our real abundance.

gang of pickpockets

swept through Nairobi's weekly Friday night queer party yesterday. It's at Olives, a bar / nightspot in Westlands. Two of my friends were among the many who had their cellphones and wallets stolen.

tremors stopped

with the eruption of Ol Doinyo Lengai, volcano on the Kenya-Tanzania border. According to today's papers, the lava flow began on Thursday night, and went on for 24 hours. A school at the foot of the mountain was damaged, and two schoolchildren hurt.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

earthquake city

Two to three tremors a day, for the last 3 days. They get bigger. They get smaller. They get bigger again. I've learned that when I wake suddenly, fully alert, in the middle of the night, it's usually a harbinger of another tremor, within the next hour. I lie awake, restless, itchy, angry, until it comes. Then my body relaxes and I sleep again.

The epicenter is at Lake Natron, 155 km away from Nairobi. The geologists say that only the 100 km zone around the epicenter is at risk of serious building damage. The architects say over 90% of Nairobi's buildings do not meet earthquake safety standards, and would collapse in an earthquake.

We forward Red Cross guidelines to each other - Drop, Cover, Hold. We forward the dissenting advice, the Triangle of Life recommendations. We ask ourselves how much of any of this is applicable - or relevant - in Kenya. We keep waiting for someone to take charge, to tell us The Plan, to give us a concrete specific set of actions to take if the Big One hits.

Monday, July 16, 2007

earth tremors

shook Nairobi last night. One set around midnight - dramatic enough to make my parents leap out of bed. Another smaller rumble just before 3am.

Apparently, they were the ripple effect of an earthquake near Lake Tanganyika. 5.4 on the Richter scale, which falls in the not-too-serious zone. But it's still unnerving to feel the earth shift under you. To realize it's actually not a solid constant.
Shailja Patel. patterned sari border
©Shailja Patel