Can I Call You Ribena?

blog post

Hello and good morning/afternoon/evening, in whichever corner of the world you currently find yourself in, I hope you are having a lovely week thus far. Today I’m going to talk about the elephant in every room of my life, my name. I was born in Portugal in 1991, where my aunt and godmother named me Romina, and in 2002 I migrated to the north west of England, where I’ve lived ever since, with the short exception of a year spent in Ireland. I have never come across another person named Romina in my twenty nine years of life.

Recently, I had an interesting interaction with another writer over on Working Class Poetry. I thought her surname ‘Alegre’ sounded Portuguese, and as I introduced myself, as always, I stated that my name is very unusual. It turns out that she actually hails from Argentina, where, she informs me, Romina is super common, and she herself actually knows a bunch. This ignited a roaring fire, that has been slowly burning away at the back of my mind. Where does my name originate from, and what does it mean?

I asked my mum how I came to be named Romina. She told me that my aunt Sandra, at the time of pregnancy, worked for an artist couple making clay sculptures named “bonecos malcriados” which translates to “rude dolls”. The sculptures depicted adult dolls, partly naked, sometimes in suggestive positions, and Sandra sculpted, baked, and sold them. Is that a cool job to have in your twenties, or what? Anyway, this couple had a daughter named Romina and my aunt Sandra just loved the name, and told my mum, who subsequently loved the name, and that is the story of my name choice.

A couple years after my birth, my mum told me, she heard that Romina was a name the Roman Travelling community gave to women who were ready to marry. During my own research, I found that different languages claim to be the origin of Romina. It is claimed to be of Arabic origin meaning “from the land of Christians” but interestingly Italy also claims origins. Suggesting that Romina is the diminutive of Rome ‘little Rome’ and is a term to describe the people of Rome. It then makes sense that the origin is Italian, and the Arabic meaning the “land of Christians” as the Roman Empire. There is also mention of Romina as a female Persian name, meaning pure, purified.

I have always been aware that my name is unusual, since being a child I never had any friends by the same name, nor siblings or family members of friends, nor extended family. The only Romina I remember people speaking of when I enquired about my unusual name was Romina Power, Italian/American singer from the US. But at least, in Portugal, people could pronounce it, and at that point in my life I liked my name. It was when moved to Bolton, England that Romina really became a problem. It’s connotations of anti whiteness became a symbol of my foreignness, of my outsider-ness. It became one more thing that fuelled the playground and classroom xenophobia that I experienced during my first years in England.

British people simply cannot wrap their tongue around the pronunciation of the opening R, and so it trips them up for the rest of the word. Initially, I couldn’t speak the language, so I didn’t know how to translate my name into its “English” version. When I introduced myself to both kids and adults, peer students, and teachers alike, I was met with confusion and a lot of the time contempt. Contempt at my difficult name. So gradually, throughout my adolescence and early adulthood I began adopting nicknames such as ‘Meena’ and ‘Ro’ and as the title of this blog post suggests even ‘Ribena’ increasingly I began disliking my name. I became apologetic whenever I had to explain to someone new, that “yes, it’s a strange name, I’m Portuguese, just call me X”.

Until one day, a few years ago, I came across Uzo Aduba’s speech at Glamour magazine, about people in America finding her Nigerian name difficult to pronounce, and about her mother’s reaction to her request to have her name changed to Zoe. I realised then that my name might be a little strange and usual, but it’s part of my identity. It’s part of what makes me, me. I’m glad that I went in search of its origins and of what it means, and I will wear my name a little more proudly from now on. So here is to all the people who can never find their name on keyrings or coke bottles, to all of us who have to live a life of mispronunciations and “versions” of ourselves to facilitate and accommodate others. I see you, you’re not alone, love your name, wear it proudly, and cherish it because it is your legacy. This is for you, for all of us.

Speaking In Tongues

poetry

Speaking In Tongues

When I say I’m cleaning what I mean is
I’m going to cleanse, wash the whiskey sweating
out of my pores, the smell of bad decisions
and cigarette smoke ingrained into my hair.

When I say I have a meeting, I mean I have to
get out of bed this week, open the curtains
to the blinding light of disappointment,
air out the nightmares haunting my mind.

When I say I’m doing laundry I mean I’m going
to fold all of my responsibilities. I will separate
them into neat piles and leave them at the foot
of the bed so I don’t have to sleep alone anymore.

When I say thank you what I mean is I love you.
When I say I love you what I mean is don’t
ever leave me. I’ll never ask you to stay,
but when I say leave, that is exactly what I mean.

Left Behind To Get Ahead

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Left Behind To Get Ahead

“But why can’t we all just go together?” Fabiana asks again as she follows her mother around the cramped bedroom the four of them share at grandmas, while mum packs the last of her belongings away into the giant suitcase by the door.

Fabiana has spent most of her formative years living with her baker grandparents and youngest aunt, and is the eldest of three children. They are now three again. Girl, boy, boy. Fabiana was an only child for five years, and then came the first boy, and five years later came the next girl. Girl, boy, girl. But the birth was premature and then it was back to girl, boy. Then one cold winter, as mum battles a bout of pneumonia, it becomes girl, boy, boy.

Fabiana hates the thought of being left beind, now, just as they finally become a complete family of four. Like everyone else. The plan is for mum to go on ahead, to find a job and a home before the children go to join her. Fabiana does not like the plan. She wants to go and help. She can look after the boys, she has learnt enough from watching and later helping her grandmother childmind. On average, her grandmother looks after ten children each day.

“Come on, Fabi, you know you have to stay here and help grandma with the boys, amor. Time will pass by quickly, you’ll see, before you know it, we will all be together again. Just be patient!” mum reassures her, and places a small, soft kiss on her forehead.

Mum was right, those five months pass by quickly, too quickly, and before long more big suitcases are lining up the corridor of grandma’s house, and their three little lives are being packed into them. Fabiana is beyond excited! She cannot wait to see her mother again. She doesn’t even notice or care that she has to leave a lot of things behind. Like her Harry Potter books, or her tiny guitar.

After finding a Portuguese/English dictionary on her aunt’s desk, Fabiana writes her mum a letter in English, to show off the things she has learnt in English class. She writes “to my sweat mother” instead of “to my sweet mother” and she puts two O’s on every ‘to’. She writes that she cannot wait to give her a hug tight and many small kisses. She is proud of this achievement, and can’t wait to try out this new language in this new place.

School finishes in early June so Fabiana spends her last month at home at the beach, like every other summer before. Grandad goes to work, pacing up and down the beach selling his baked goods, and Fabiana stays behind to man the hut with her aunt and brothers. Between shifts of manning the hut, Fabiana and her aunt take turns watching the boys play by the seashore.

The aunt likes to sit right where the wet and dry sand meet, reading a magazine and glancing up every few minutes, telling the boys to put on a hat, or another coating of sun protector. Fabiana likes to sit with the boys, right where the waves break onto the shore. She likes to dig around in the sand there and feel for razor clams. She likes the smelt of salt on the boys hair, and the colours she sees when she looks directly at the sun without her glasses on. The beach is her happy place, the ocean in particular.

Saying goodbye to her friends and family feels more like ‘see you later’ than ‘goodbye’. Subconsciously Fabiana thinks this move could be temporary. They are known to move around often, briefly, here and there. She will, much later, come to realise that this particular move is to be very much permanent. Now, the anticipation of being reunited with mother, of their little family being together again, finally, their new home and new schools, with uniforms and everything, all makes the transition a lot easier. It helps Fabiana kind of forget what and who she is leaving behind.

Seeing her mum again is euphoric. Much more than getting on a plane for the first time, even more so than actually flying, the taking off from the edge of the earth and then landing again, for the very first time. Hugging and kissing and smelling her mum again, after five whole months is just everything Fabiana had hoped it would be. This is happiness, she is happy. Ecstatic, even. Briefly. Until, they exit the arrivals lounge at the airport and make their way outside to hail a taxi.

Torrential rain welcomes Fabiana to her new home. Torrential rain and a sky coloured in with so many shades of grey, that she feels overwhelmed. Sure, she has seen rain before, yes, even in summer. But nothing quite like this, even the worst winter days back home do not match up to this tempestuous afternoon. Climbing out of the taxi outside their new home, Fabiana hears a strange high-pitch sound, almost song like, getting closer and closer. Screeching around the corner, a multicoloured truck comes speedily towards them, coming to a brisk stop a few feet ahead.

“What is that?” Fabiana asks, frowning.

“Oh, that’s the ice-cream truck, it sells ice-cream cones, with sprinkles, would you like one?” mum smiles.

“But it’s raining!?”

She looks around, at this landlocked, strange place, at this late July afternoon, grey, and cloudy and wet and for the first time since learning of their immigration plans, she realises just how much she is going to miss home. Waking up to the smell of freshly baked pasteis de nata and bolas de berlim, to the sound of seagulls flying ahead, and the murmur of children speaking gibberish in a tongue she does understand, and to the feel of Mediterranean sun on her skin, and sand in her toes.

Can We Still Be Friends?

blog post

Hello and happy Wednesday.

Earlier this week I was listening to Olivia Gatwood and Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s podcast Say More. Olivia and Melisa are both internationally renowned female writers and poets, and you can click on the link on their names to check out their respective incredible works. I was listening to the Anxiety & Ex-Girlfriends episode of the podcast and it got me thinking about the general preconceptions that new lovers have about ex-partners and vice versa, and about the ways in which our generation deals with those.

The Girl Code 101 secret guide book says that one must automatically hate both the new lover of our ex-partner and the ex-partner of our new lover. So to break that down, we don’t like the person that made it possible for us to have a new bae, and we don’t like when our old bae is happy with someone new, especially if we, at the time, are not. But why? Must we hate another person for finding happiness where we, perhaps, couldn’t? Is it then jealousy that makes us hesitant to accept the fact that not every relationship in life nor every person that crosses our paths are meant either for us, or to last?!

I’m lucky in that I have never A) had or had to deal with a “crazy ex” and B) had a new lover obsess over an ex partner of mine and vice versa, and on top of that I am proud to say that I am still friends with most of my ex-partners, even ones where the break up wasn’t particularly friendly. But I have witnessed first hand the anxiety that girls experience over these situations, and to be honest I find it hard to understand, but I do know that a lot of the time it has a lot to do with insecurities that we may feel for one reason or another.

We may think that the ex-bae of our new lover is prettier than us, more of an extrovert, more likable, funnier. Or that new bae’s family liked them more. Or that the family or your ex-bae likes their new lover more, or that they are better looking, funnier, more likable. It’s a viscous, never ending circle. And we would be so much happier and freer if we just concentrated our energies on us, our present and future, our relationships. Too often girls become involved in this toxic competition and battle against each other, complete with bitchy group chats and indirect and sometimes direct hate on social media, when really we should all stay in our lane and keep looking forward.

I like to think that every break up is a blessing in disguise. It is a lesson learned from life experience, regardless of whose fault the break up was, if you committed one mistake or many, you learn from them, and likewise, if your partner is the one who is at fault, you learn from their mistakes too. You become a better version of yourself, once you heal from the pain of a broken heart. I really believe that. I think this is a healthy way to look at and think of break ups, I used to be the girl that got absolutely consumed by the weight of a failed relationship, and the pain of a broken heart and I can’t tell you how much quicker my healing process has become since I’ve adopted these views.

I get it, people can be toxic, relationships can be toxic, they can end badly and you may never want to see that person again in your life. Someone can treat you so badly, that anyone who loves you automatically hates them. But I think that generally, as a rule, the Ex is stereotyped and placed into all these boxes that we are just trample on and kick around, instead of leaving them to one side, in the attic where they belong. I would love to hear others thoughts on these matters, so please if you have an opinion do share it down below. Have you had any bad experiences with ex partners? Maybe you’re friends with a lover’s ex? I’d love to hear about it.

Soundless Fights In The Middle Of The Night

poetry

You say: say what you have to say!

But those words echo in my mind because you
are not ready for the deafening tone of the
words that are spilling out of my eyes and you


do not understand what I mean by your eyes
make me want to skinny dip in the ocean and you
don’t speak the language that my body speaks
when it finds itself in enough proximity of yours.

So I sigh.

But you have plenty to say, you insist.

And I do. I want to speak but I can’t seem to get
my spoken words right, I try not to mind that
my mind and heart are in a constant knife fight.

But I can’t pretend around you it’s so intense,
you make them drop their blades and open fucking
gun fire. The bullets they ricochet off my brain to
the left side of my ribcage leaving the contents
of my broken heart splattered across my face.

So I say nothing.

Child Prostitution Is NOT a Thing!

blog post

Hello there blogsphere, how are you this fine Monday? I hope you have a wonderful week ahead of you. This week is all about reading and writing for me, and what better way to start than to write a blog post? This is probably the only place online in which I don’t feel like I have to censor myself, and it’s my blog, which means I get to talk about whatever my little heart desires. So today I want to talk (more likely rant) about the term ‘child prostitute’ and why it absolutely infuriates me.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is giphy.gif

Child prostitution is not a thing. Ok? Let’s start there.

This morning, while doing my daily, morning Instagram scroll, I came across a post which talked about the language being used by lawyers and other professionals currently working on the Epstein case. If you don’t know, Jeffrey Epstein was a millionaire, who in 2019, was charged with and convicted of a bunch of fucked up crimes against minors, including Child Sex Trafficking.

Conveniently, Epstein was found dead in his cell, suicide by hanging, apparently, but I’m not here to talk about Pizza Gate or any of the conspiracy (or not) theories doing the social media rounds recently. I’m here because today I read that lawyers and such working on this case are using terms like ‘underage woman‘ or ‘child prostitute‘ to describe the victims of these horrific crimes.

I don’t know about you, but to me an ‘underage woman’ is a fucking child, a young girl, and sex with an ‘underage woman’ is actually fucking rape, because a child cannot consent to sex. Let’s call a spade a spade, here. Similarly, the term ‘child prostitute‘ is so wrong, that I cannot find a rational argument for someone who uses it willingly. How can a child, who again, cannot consent to sex be a sex worker by choice? It’s an irrational thought.

In the UK, between 2005 and 2011, a large gang of organized paedophiles were targeting an unthinkable number of young girls. Grooming and then trafficking them, and subjecting these girls to horrific sexual crimes. This was originally reported to the police, who barely investigated the claims, and afraid to prosecute these monsters due to their ethnicity, dropped the case, allowing the abuse to continue for a number of years.

This eventually became known as the ‘Rochdale Child Sex Grooming Scandal’ when years later, GMP (Greater Manchester Police) with its tail between its legs, decided to finally take action against a very small percentage of these predators. In total nine men were convicted of crimes against three victims. In reality the list of suspects surpassed one hundred, and although the number of victims was never truly identified, I am willing to bet that those three did not even make up one per cent.

How did the police get away with this, I hope you’re asking?! Actually, quite easily. By discrediting the victims and branding them ‘child prostitutes‘. By claiming that these young girls were making “lifestyle choices” by going out with men, sometimes forty years their senior, and engaging in sexual activities with them. No police officer has ever been held accountable for the failures committed by GMP back in 2005.

Never mind that the victims had their families and homes under constant threat. Never mind that these men were waiting in taxis, for children, outside of school gates. Waiting to drug them and pass them around at “parties” where sometimes, as many as ten to twenty men would be waiting to take their turn.

So yes, this infuriates me, because the systems in place to protect children, not only in this country but around the world, are so clearly, unapologetically corrupted. Epstein’s victims, The Rochdale Grooming victims, and any underage victim of a sexual crime are not underage women engaging in prostitution and sex work. They are vulnerable children, being abused beyond comprehension and failed by every protective agency in the world.

We need to do better than this.

It’s Too Late Now

fiction

“I’m so drunk” you said loosely from behind the partially closed door. I laughed, but in reality, I was quite drunk myself. You had chosen the very middle cubicle, the other four doors, two at either side of you, were wide open, and empty. We were completely alone.

I was sat up on the counter facing them, a sink at either side of me. The room was swaying a little, from side to side. Suddenly, I became very aware that this would probably be the last time we would ever see each other.

When you re-emerged from inside the cubicle, I was startled. Startled by your beauty, started by the sudden sense of losing you, startled by the proximity of your body, suddenly next to mine. Then, confusion took over.

I had chased you for months, I had slowly, subconsciously fallen in love with you. We had kissed. Three times. Very drunkenly kissed. You said, all three times were total drunken mistakes. Yet, you continued to invite me out for drinks. I thought it was because you felt sorry for me.

New to the village, no friends or family around, a broken relationship. But then, there you were that night, in all your Dutch courage glory, making the first move. First, in a very sweet voice, you asked me for a hug. I obliged, of course.

Then, you slowly pulled back, just enough so that our eyes met. And when they did, I swear tiny electric shock waves travelled up and down my spine. Then you kissed me. But this was not like any other drunken kiss we had previously shared.

No, this was your ‘I think I love you too kiss’, this was our ‘it’s too late now kiss’, it was my ‘goodbye’ kiss. We left the toilets shortly after and carried on drinking until the early hours of the morning. I walked you home, you, protesting the entire way as usual. You begged me to not forget you once I left. I told you I never could.

The truth is, a year has passed since I last spoke to you, but that night, along with a few others, are forever imprinted in my mind and on my heart. I still write poetry about you. I write about the time we got Chinese food and made a midnight picnic on the park.

We kissed that night too, a lot. You also said that it was a mistake. Now, I sit at home, hundreds of miles away from you, and sometimes I wonder if I did the right thing. If leaving was the right decision. I wonder if my poetry is ever going to be about someone else.

Dentro da Minha Caixa de Recordações

poetry, Translations

Side note: Today is International Grandparents Day. A while ago, before my granddad died, actually, I started writing this poem for him. Today I translated it into Portuguese and although this is a first draft, I’m proud of it and wanted to add it to my portfolio. I understand a lot of people won’t be able to read and/or understand it, but you can catch the English version right here.

Dentro da minha caixa de recordações

As minhas primeiras recordações são imagens de ti,
de ir à rua contigo, buscar a Rita a escola. Lembro-me
tao bem, era preciso a minha mão inteira para
segurar só num dos teus dedos gigantes.

Na segunda classe a escola levou a minha turma a praia.
Eu guardei os meus óculos dentro do saco do almoço
enquanto fui a água, mas a professora não soube a diferenciar
entre banana e casca, e os ósculos foram parar ao lixo.

Lembro de chegar a casa com uma carta da escola a pedir
desculpa, e uma enxaqueca de não ver nada. Tu não
disseste nada, apenas montaste a tua mota ferrugenta
e desapareceste dentro da noite. Não te vi mais naquele dia.

Na manhã seguinte, tal como magia, apareceram os meus
óculos, vermelhos, redondos e intactos, na mesa da sala.
Tu resmungaste que não tinham sido difíceis de encontrar
mas eu vi aquele sorriso orgulhoso, escondido atras do teu jornal.

Foi neste momento que eu aprendi a amar incondicionalmente.
E ainda tenho esse par de óculos na minha caixa de recordações.

Changing Seasons

poetry

Changing Seasons

In a city where every day is a miserable
December evening she makes me feel like July.
She does to me what summer does to trees
dresses my branches in life and colour, and
holds my proud roots firmly into the ground.

She’s the hot chocolate to my crisp autumn
morning, our fingers entwined inside my pocket
feel like handwarmers and when I drink from
her lips I feel warm and fuzzy like a million
butterflies decided to throw a party inside of me.

She reminds me of spring because when she
laughs I hear birds harmonising to my favourite
song, because her morning hair smells just like
sunshine, because her eyes make me want to skinny-
dip in the ocean, and slow dance under the moon.


I’ve never been winter’s biggest fan, but now I
queue seventeen hours out in the cold because
she wants front row seats for the first snow of
the year and likes to take long walks in the rain.
Come thunder or lightening bolts, she is my shelter.

Full Moon

fiction

Full Moon

July 31st, 2002

Today I looked at the white hammock by the bay window in my bedroom, for the first time in 6 months. You named it the ‘half-moon’ when we were kids, before you discovered the word Crescent and vowed to name your first-born child the same. Do you remember? The endless hours we spent there when we were little, it was our special private place where we could hide out from the whole world. After all this time, it was still your little escape corner, until recently.

As I closed my eyes, I swear I could see you right there, head tilted back, eyes closed, headphones turned up loud. Where did you go? Where did your mind disappear to when you sat there, zoned out, for hours on end? I made it across the room, I even touched it, but I could not bring myself to sit down, too afraid I would smell you on the cool, soft fabric and undo the last three months of therapy. Too unsure of whether I want to feel close to you or finally let you go.

I decided then that today I would finally write to you. To tell you what you have done to me, to try to cause you a measly one tenth of the pain you have so selfishly inflicted on me. On everyone that loved you. I know that I have not always been the best at communicating my feelings, but today is as good day as any to start, right? The university councillor suggested that I pack all your things away into a box, during stage 2 of my grieving process, anger. I was/am so angry with you.

I found the black moleskin notebook we bought in that quirky bookshop in London last year, because we thought the rainbow pages were in support of the LGBT community, but when the cashier scanned it the till read “children’s unicorn”. Today I dug it out and opened it to write you this letter, tears smudged the first page as my eyes came face to face with your messy, yet aesthetically beautiful handwriting. And again, clear as day, I closed my eyes and heard you say “The Adventures of Fluffypuff, the Gay Children’s Unicorn”.

It was harder than I thought, though! How can I possibly tell a dead girl that she has broken my heart in more ways than she will ever know? How can I yell at a ghost? I want to grab you, shake you violently and tell you I told you so, even though no one likes that person. I want to tell you that your funeral was the most physical pain that I’ve ever experienced even though I did not cry. Not crying hurts more, but I feel like you will not let me go. I want to hit you; I want to slap you back into life.

I saw your mum in the supermarket a couple of days ago. She looked pale and exhausted and she could barely look me in the eye, but the hug she gave me was excruciatingly tight. I wonder if she blames me. I wouldn’t blame her if she did. I would blame me. I do blame me. I could have done more! I should have done more. You were always smarter than me, your grades were always better than mine and you never really studied for them. That is why it is so hard for me to accept that you were this stupid! You were intelligent, but so fucking naïve.

You killed yourself even though you did not commit suicide, but the choices you made that night led you to that fate, and I blame you, too. I told you not to take those pills, I begged you not to get in the car with those fools but you, you were always chasing the moon and the stars. A free spirit, rebellious. Part of me wishes you had listened to me, your best friend, your soulmate. All of me wishes I had gone with you that night, all of me wishes I had taken the pills and gotten into the car with you, because at least then I would not be pen pals with a grave and my moon would always be full.