I think Eat Pray Love is simply beautiful. Seeing Liz in Italy, establishing relationships with what she put into her body, taught me to see food as more than just what we need to survive and to see eating as more than just what we have to do to stay alive. It taught me to listen to my body and give it what it seeks so it can sustain me. This is a practice. A practice to eat and do nothing else. A practice to give eating and what’s on the plate, in my palms, my undivided attention because if it is going to give me life, I should at least give it every second of my time. I am an African girl whose skin writes ‘thank you’ notes to the sun. I do not have the means to travel thousands of kilometres to sit outside a restaurant in Europe and have a relationship with pizza baked in the heart of Italy. I can only sit in the small corner of my mother’s house and weave nothing but love into my body, through what nourishes me. I am listening. My body craves fruits - a lot - and she returns this kindness to me. Therefore, I am writing this for the broccoli, rolled oats, garlic, herbs, slices of burnt toast and sometimes margherita pizza from some restaurant sixteen minutes from home that continuously give us love. My closest friend believes that gratitude is important because it leads us into a space of abundance. It is because of this that I believe my gratitude will lead me into a space like Liz’s Italy, where loving my body does not feel like I am struggling to get out of bed. It feels like I am returning home, walking barefoot on our soil, conversing with the women whose spirits guard and guide ours in prose, novels, films, art and music.
It is from Black women’s wisdom that we are created, we are creating, we create. The little girls who have shared this body with me saw the women who raised me take something as tiny as a seed to sustain something as big as a village. In photographs of returning from this trip to Earth, the world will see love letters published in novels, grandmothers telling stories and feeding children, acts of love. In stills the world will hold documentations of returning Black womanhood to a space where it soared from dawn to dusk. In photographs of this trip that Black womanhood visits to Earth, we are free, not completely, but we have been lifted from the ground. We can go further. We can swim and travel to where Black womanhood drowned, bring to life. We can read and take our Black womanhood to places it was banned from entering, receive. We can drink tea and be with our Black womanhood, know stillness.
Our freedom, the little of it we have, is something our grandmothers can practice through our acceptance and honour of it. They can cook with their souls, climb mountains, write, paint and explore the Earth in our choices to live and seek life. We have to live in our freedom to free them. Offer them another trip to Earth by virtue of sharing our bodies with them. When we neglect our bodies, where do we expect our ancestors to find life within us? I think about how their bodies were not entirely their own and remember that ours have more liberty to be. Therefore, to refuse to love myself would be a refusal to give them the love their bodies were denied. When I nourish myself with the broccoli, rolled oats, garlic, herbs, slices of burnt toast and sometimes margherita pizza from some restaurant sixteen minutes from home, I allow my grandmothers to discover themselves among what blossoms under the sun in this lifetime. I create the space for them to grow up with me while I grow down in them. It would be a disgrace if I failed to acknowledge that I can create abundance from nothingness. I have the freedom to choose. Choose to eat grapes and not bananas. Choose to drink peppermint tea instead of rooibos. Choose to say ‘yes’ to loving my body. Be who they dreamed of being. Do what they prayed to do.
It is from Black women’s wisdom that we soar. I know this because while silently blessing food at a table with a friend, her aunt’s ‘do not give up on yourself’ moved me. Please do not give up on yourself because if you give up on yourself, you give up on giving life to those who came before you and to those who will come after you. The act of giving up on yourself is a denial and a refusal to choose, to love, to live, to be free and freed. So, learn to write your name, no matter how many times it takes. Learn to read and when you have, master comprehension. Walk into libraries and learn that you belong there. Spend hours looking for and when you find collections of poems, fiction, research and everything else written by Black women about their Black womanhood, pour it into yourself, let it do what it must. When we, Black women, read what Black women write, we are offered breath when the world is in the constant act of suffocating us. Without our revelatory weapons, the stories we tell and those told to us, those written for us, we would struggle to be courageous to survive in a world where Black womanhood was never meant to. Black women’s narration is a reflection of what lies at our core. It gives us the power to be and do what propels us into our recovery. When I learned to write my name, to read with comprehension, to fearlessly look for sustenance and creation in Black women’s wisdom that is shelved, I poured into myself Sindiwe Magona’s wisdom that ‘umntu sisidalwa kwindalo’, a person is a creature in creation. Her fiction handed me the tools to be a creature who creates the environment for her survival. Her fiction guided me to understand that nature and my womanhood are intertwined. When we hurt nature, we hurt ourselves. Through our daily practices, we should strive to take care of the homes we were gifted. I brought this into my mother’s home and watched how Magona’s stories created the atmosphere for me to be created for my creations. You are welcome to come watch my hands chop, slice, dice, create life with food because everything I do to survive finds its birthplace somewhere by my fingers. It is a choice to take what resonates with you from documented Black womanhood and let it do what it must. The women who fought to survive, so I can, could not walk into libraries, many of them could not read or write their names. Do you not think I should let them learn about how important the books they could never read have been in my trip to Earth? Should I not translate these words and share that Toni Morrison taught me that my flesh is mine to love and love hard? Morrison’s fiction carries the wisdom to understand that although our bodies are not eternal, the hands that created us saw us deserving of bodies. Our bodies are reminders to love ourselves. It is therefore crucial that in loving my flesh, I help it stay alive by nourishing her with foods that replenish her rather than drain her. She cannot be empty or be filled with what takes from her. Without the Black women who wrote, I cannot eat well, take time to eat and create to love my flesh and love it hard.
When I go home, I will leave with a notebook and annotations about my trip to Earth and how lovely the return to dust was. I will tell those before me about how Evelyn Audi’s writing helped me understand that Morrison’s Beloved is an assertion that as Black women, our bodies can reclaim, re-imagine and recreate themselves into intimate homes where we can rest, restore, replenish. I will reference this when I write essays on how my body reclaimed food as a source of life, re-imagined allowing food as an act of love and recreated herself as a sustainable land for my ancestors to have the health to dance in. The narration I have been given has helped me understand that overcoming oppression is a daily habit. It is personal, so personal you have to be committed to sitting down and being there for yourself by snatching back the time the world stole from the women before you. It is a daily habit of returning the time that the Earth gifted me to myself. I will discuss this when I write poems on how much time we have to spend running back to fetch what was left behind in the depths of our seas and the lands from which we were taken. There will be anthologies on how much time we have to spend on walking back to this place, to right now, with all the women whose spirits find home in ours and build the rooms to feel, release our traumas, clean up the wounds of slavery’s claim on our bodies, take back what oppression took from us. Every word will describe the screams of the Black woman’s body and how much time we have to take to listen because loving is slow work.
Therefore, I want this woman that I am, in this moment, to take the time to give to her body and receive from it with open arms. There is something life-giving that comes from this practice because the Earth is home to our homes, our bodies. We cannot practice loving ourselves without opening the door to her. Her oppression is ours. Our recovery is hers. We must be brave and let our bodies say ‘yes’ to love. We must therefore allow nature to immerse into our bodies. In permitting what nature births to penetrate our homes, we become intimate with those who found life on this planet in other lifetimes. It is these women’s wombs that housed those from which we come. Offering ourselves life gives birth to their freedom. It is in unearthing the love from the stems of vegetables, the drops of water and all that finds life under the sun that we can fill our bodies with life to the brim. Carry your little sister on your back. Stop under an apple tree and create home for the fruit in your palm. Guide your sisters to take the time to gather the life our grandmothers left for us in the seeds and the roots. Grow gardens with them, if you can. Offer them the mirror to see that their growth is a reflection of how they take care of the wombs nature carries within herself. Let them see gardens come to life on their plates. Allow them to marvel at growth. Instill in them the understanding that leaves fall in Autumn and rise in Spring, creation is a cycle, the sun rises and it sets, the moon wanes and waxes. Teach them that we cannot be careless with time in seeking life. Take the time to carry the soles of your feet to lands where you can sit in a circle and peel each other’s oranges. Eat from one bowl. Cup your hands and drink from that little body of water. Write your aunt’s apple pie recipe by hand. Save it so a little girl centuries from now can find life in what you gave life. The next time you chop that tomato, think about how your grandmother who lived three centuries ago watched that tomato grow and was denied the gift of letting it give her body life. When you search through pages and pages of a cookbook, stop and take a moment to think about how your grandmothers could only use the little they had to breathe life into a lot of bodies. Be grateful that the sun spoke to the land and she shared their conversation with the air who thought that the water deserved to learn something from it too. Be grateful that conversation is one your body listens to every time you eat. Allow the auntie who sells mangoes on the corner to hand them to you in that little bag. Let her hands nourish you. Let the Earth heal you. Drink ginger tea when your body aches. Build a home for herbs in the corners of your home. Use and use up. If your body cannot accept what is left over, offer someone else life. Remind yourself of who gave this body life before your hands could. Acknowledge them. Do not see the rain as an effort to cease finding joy in your day. See every drop of precipitation as an outpour into the rest of your days. Let it kiss the soil and bless her union with the food she lives in harmony with. Take a walk and try to find what is capable of restoring around you. Sit down to open a page and make room for knowledge to dwell within you. Read the stories written for you to find life in the words.
Lie on the ground, listen to your body.
Is it a whisper?
Is she screaming in agony?
What does she need?
Document her pleas to remember what she requires from you.
Do it again and again.
Breathe when it feels suffocating.
You are allowed to.
Practice doing what they could only dream of doing.
Be who they prayed to be.
Put your feet in the ground.
Tshedza Mashamba is a South African writer based in Johannesburg.