Discuss the following excerpt from Warsan Shire’s poem Home:
“you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land”
An obvious option is to discuss this within the context of the poem and its related economic, political, humanitarian and spiritual drivers. Or, one could extract it and discuss it from another perspective – something more personal to the writer – a topic of interest and keen debate over the years.
A personal essay will therefore ensue.
What exactly does it take to decide that the water is safer than the land? And, who are we to judge? Do we always have choice and freedom? What happens if decisions are imposed on us? How about the fact that sometimes we just do not know what to do? I know for sure that there are times in life that what we thought we would do/say/feel/be, we do not or did not. Reality is unique to the perceiver and a boat comes in many guises.
Adoption – a personal account of two acts of “putting your child in a boat”.
Imagine you are a 17-year old girl, in a small town, in the 60s, in South Africa – a country in the midst of Apartheid, fraught with suppression and restrictions, where way too many things are taboo – and you “somehow” get pregnant by your 16-year old boyfriend. The unthinkable lands right in your lap. (Pun intended.)
Let me take you on a journey; perhaps a very different one to the world as we know it now.
One might assume that it was a mistake – naiveté is a strange and powerful thing – but what we do know is that every action has a reaction, along with consequences that cling like parasites. I bet that while they were exploring and experimenting with their awakening senses, the dark fear of consequence was nowhere to be found. That guillotine came down when the pregnancy test showed positive. I can only imagine that horror; the fear; the terror of feeling so alone. It was in that moment that the land became a very unsafe place for that young girl, with child.
Her mother’s face pulled tight. Her lips pursed and her neck stiffened. Quite symbolic of the constricting society this was taking place in. Her body language relayed a very negative message. The entire landscape changed in that terrifying moment. Father removed himself and left Mother to deal with the mess, as he named it. Within the turmoil, driven by shame and disappointment, Mother surveyed the land, on her own, to assess the damage. It was unanimously decided that the only way to deal with these cards was to put her in a boat and sail her to a home for unwed mothers. There, they all shared the same cycles of guilt, panic, fear, rejection and abandonment. Ironically, it was in a desperate effort to save her child that Mother did this. She knew that on land, she would be bullied into a pit of shame from which she would never recover. Reputations would be smeared, through silent hissing and secret gossiping. The town would rumble with disgrace. This was the first act of “putting your children in a boat” – the unchartered sea being seen as a much safer place than the cruel, uncertain land for her “sinful” daughter.
The journey was tumultuous – waves of emotion nearly drowned her often. The repetitive crashing of blame, the invisible sneers from society peering over the swells and the haunting call of sea gulls, which echoed in the impossible silence. She had to be strong. She was a mother now – a single parent to a babe she would never know. The boy-father had been cast away, to an island of silence. Never to be spoken about, bondage became part of his land life.
Can you even begin to conceive the pain of being a surrogate mother to your own child; one whom you will never know? Can you feel the incredible discomfort and confusion of living a lie for months – being away and then suddenly reappearing? These are only some elements of the dark side of unwanted pregnancies. But, who are we to say it was unwanted? Sadly, some decisions in life are out of our hands and control it seems. The great imposition!
And so, the demand for the second “putting your children in a boat” scenario arrived. Nine months later, all out of options due to parental, societal and circumstantial pressure, the forced decision had to be executed. A death within a birth for that biological-surrogate mother. The little one had wanted to come a few weeks earlier and frozen rigid with fear, she begged her through the taut belly flesh to stay inside for a while longer. Till she could cope; perhaps an empty wish? There are some things in life we will never be prepared for. Only the scars of birth would attest to her motherhood, as, once her child breathed its first breath, she was taken away. Removed. Gone. Her young outstretched arms aching with an unknown longing to cling to her child. But no, the child was to be prepared by strangers for her “new life.” One which started at the local Child Welfare and then continued for three long months. The mother pondered on the irony of the word “welfare”, blinked and closed her reddened eyes.
And so, little Nicolette set sail, to a future unknown, in her plastic boat, on waters perceived to be safer than her birth land.