Can I Call You Ribena?

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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.

Child Prostitution Is NOT a Thing!

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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.

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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.

Stop Telling Me To Get Over My Grief

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Grief, it’s a funny old thing isn’t it? I firmly believe that once you have experienced gut-wrenching, soul-destroying levels of loss, grief will forever live inside of you. It never really goes away.

People always tell you that it will get better, easier, and other things that they believe you want or need to hear. You’ll have to excuse me, but I call bullshit on that. I lost my grandmother, very suddenly, almost four years ago. I’m still not over it, nor do I think I will ever be. I’ve accepted the circle of life, that people get old and die, but I have not gotten over the loss of her life. I’ve not gotten over the big hole left in my heart, over all the things we both left unsaid. I still think about the funeral, clear like it was only yesterday, I still feel incredibly guilty for being the only woman in the immediate family that could not cry.

People close to me at this time did not understand my grief, old people die, they’d say. Life comes full circle to an end. But my grandmother was a second mother to me, she brought me up from ages 0-10 y/o as her own child, and the loss of a parent is not one which you get over, which gets easier to bare over time.

What people don’t tell you about grief is that, in fact, it gets harder with time. Nobody told me that as the sound of my grandmother’s voice becomes more and more distant in my mind, the last sounds that I heard from her, in the midst of a violent asthma attack, become louder and louder, echoing in my dreams. I can still close my eyes and see her coffin being lowered into the ground, in high definition. But nobody told me that sometimes, suddenly, I would have to rush to a photo to remind myself of the features of her face, the lines on her forehead.

Nobody told me I could and would grieve for a sister I did not meet in life. My mum has one single polaroid photograph, taken in an incubator, of my sister, born in January 2000 and deceased three days later, when I was 10 y/o. That photo is the closest I ever got to meet her. Nobody prepared me for the enormous guilt that consumes me every time I forget to add Sara to the list of my siblings.

These two losses are completely different. But they are valid and as much as I learn to accept and live with them, I will never get over them. They have left holes in my life and heart, and no matter how much the pain dulls with time, it will always hurt deep down. We need normalise grief, and stop rushing people to “get over it”.

Lockdown In Bolton In Photographs

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Le Mans Square, Bolton

During Lockdown 2020 I had to venture through the town centre one day, and I was actually quite surprised at how pretty Bolton can be when its completely stripped back and naked. As towns go, this town is not the best, it has landed in the top five of worst northern towns to live in, more than once. But the Bolton that I found on this day, is one I had not yet had the pleasure of meeting in my eighteen years living here.

Bolton Interchange

The eerily empty Interchange station even had its own little charm, a few bus skeletons lay resting at their stands, and I walked past one single cleaner who jiggled his keys as he hummed a little tune that sent a shiver down my spine. The place was so spacious and empty that just the sound of my steps created a small echo. Cool, but creepy.

Victoria Square, Bolton

When I moved to Bolton eighteen years ago, Victoria square was probably one of the first places that I visited in the town, and it is now one of the only places that remains the same. The Market Place is unrecognisable, Newport Street, The Train Station, The Old Bus Station, The Water Place, so many landmarks have either changed or gone altogether, its comforting to still have one place that reminds me of such a huge milestone in my life. I will always hold a soft spot for Bolton in my heart.