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All the world in one face
The amazing thing about watching Ziya blossom is seeing the family features that she has inherited appear and disappear on her face.
Some days, her eyebrows look exactly like my grandmother’s, some days a side-look makes her a little replica of her dad’s mother when she was younger. Her eyes sometimes seem to be like my mom’s and, at other times, like mine, which look like my dad’s.
There’s more. Even in the womb, she had her dad’s profile, his chin, lips and nose and yet sometimes her lips seem astonishingly like mine for a girl that looks almost nothing like me. She’s got my great-grandmother’s ears and, when they stand next to each other, she looks exactly like a tiny version of Stone’s sister. In some lights, her skin colour blends seamlessly with mine and, in others, she’s a shade that exactly mimics that same aunt. One little body looking today like one family group and tomorrow like another, whose genes would locate them many thousands of miles from each other. Such a complex legacy, interwoven with the inheritance of more than three continents, reflected in one tiny face.
Afganistan, Africa, India, Europe and who knows where else are all hers to call her own. Her ancestors crossed a multitude of waters, from all kinds of positions of power, and in a country like T&T, she doesn’t have to choose. My great-grandfather, Abdul Aziz came from Afganistan in 1883. Stone has African as well as European blood brought together through the conflicts and consummations that were part of colonisation in the Caribbean.
The rest of my family came, through indentureship, from India and it’s in Trinidad that they came to identify as Indian, with all its contemporary, local and politicised meanings. My family has long been Muslim, Stone’s Christian and I have a feeling that Zi is going to be an inventor of her own traditions.
She has neither of our names. She has both. I wanted anyone anywhere to know she’s from someplace where the currents of many dark oceans cross–and her mom was a feminist and her dad supported an idea he knew was important. Stone thought that Hosein-Livingstone was too long for your typical form, but Ziya’s ancestors all travelled on long, long voyages.
Those 17 letters and that hypen are hardly enough stepping-stones to trace back the paths that led to who she is today. If forms don’t provide enough space, well, she’ll just have to continue writing her story in the spaces outside of the boxes and in the margins of the page.
Because I spend the majority of the days of the week at work, I come home in the evenings and sometimes think that Zi’s face has completely changed. I notice the little shifts like seeing a seedling sprout in stop motion.
Recently, I visited Zi’s great-grandmother for her 89th birthday, and for the first time the four generations were together. I wished then I could connect her tendrils to the twisting vines of every one of her ancestors, just so she could trace the stories, experiences, knowledge and selves that spring to life as she grows into a unique embodiment of our world.
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