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.

Can We Still Be Friends?

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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.

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.

It’s Too Late Now

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“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.

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.

Black Lives Matter

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Yesterday I took part in the peaceful protest for the Black Lives Matter movement, in Manchester. Thousands of people showed up for the cause, today we are all facing a huge backlash for attending. Today we are blamed for a possible second peak of COVID-19. People are missing the point, they don’t want to see it, they are happy in their own ignorance. Ask yourselves, what is so important that thousands of people took the risk of exposing themselves and loved ones to a virus during a global pandemic? Racism is a pandemic.

I get that for a lot of people it is uncomfortable to talk about racism, but how do you think those experiencing it for generations feel? We live in a time where the information really is out there if you want to find it, if you want to educate yourselves. I’m not claiming to be some sort of expert on the situation, but perhaps the point is more that I am doing something about it. I am learning everyday. You can read books, watch youtubers, listen to podcasts and documentaries. You can and must do more.

Here is the thing, you don’t have to like George Floyd, you are entitled to think that he was a low life for holding a pregnant woman at gunpoint, while five of his buddies ransacked her home. I think so too. But that is so beyond the point. I didn’t march for Floyd. I marched against oppression, against systematic racism. Yes George Floyd was a criminal, a violent criminal in some cases, but he was still murdered by a racist cop, using police brutality, in a inhumane manner. And if that doesn’t move you, then you are part of the problem, I’m afraid.

In the past few days I have deleted so many people from my facebook friends, granted some of those people were simply that, facebook friends, but I have zero tolerance for ignorance now. Yes, this a conversation that must be had, we must keep talking, educating and enlightening where we can. But this is our problem, it is not up to the black community to fix it. We are the oppressors, we are the racists, we have to change. And I have no time for “All Lives Matter” people. If all lives mattered, then black lives would matter.

Forty Days and Forty Nights of Lockdown 2020

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No matter what corner of the world you are from, currently we are all in the same boat. Except the boat isn’t really a boat, but a raft, made from soaked branches, fallen from rotten trees. There are multiple holes in the raft, water seeps through, and we are sinking, slowly, a couple centimetres each day. I hope you can swim. Some people have drowned already. Don’t look in the water.

And this is how morbid I am feeling in relation to Lockdown 2020, day 40, today.

But one day is not all days.

Looking back now, I feel like I wasted so much positive energy during the first three weeks of lockdown. I had the umph, the motivation to be productive and creative. I took on extra jobs, seeing as my job is on hold right now. I drew, I read so much, I started a bookstagram (insert shameless plug here), I wrote everyday, and I dedicated some time to my photography. But by the time the second lockdown was announced, I was consumed by an enormous anxiety.

I fear the return to normality, yet I crave it enormously.

I have found a really effective and positive coping mechanism for the times that I start to feel claustrophobic, oppressed by the confinement of isolation. This may not work for all, but for me it works a treat. It’s so simple, I just take a step back to count my blessings. I am alive, me and mine are all healthy. I have a roof over my head, and hot meals on the table every night, and most importantly, I am isolation with my family, in a loving and supportive environment. I really have no reasons to complain.

Yes, isolation sucks. I’d like to be able to meet my friends for a coffee, to go into the library to do my work, I’d love to go to a bookshop, which reminds me (as the postman delievers yet another package) I need to stop buying books. But for the vast majority of us, it could be so much worse.

Stay safe, stay sane, and most importantly, have a little more patience and stay home.

*avert your eyes now, massive cliche coming up*

This too, shall pass.

International Women’s Day Appreciation Post – As Mulheres Valerio

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First and foremost, Happy International Women’s Day. I wish you all strength and love. This post is dedicated to the women of my family, past and present, the Valerio women. Women of strength, resilience, women of faith. Women who have helped, knowingly and unknowingly, shape the woman I am today. Women to whom I owe my life.

The biggest appreciation has to go to my mother of course. My mum is the strongest, most inspiring, and most influential woman in my life. If not for her, there is a very strong chance that I would still be living an unhappy, unhealthy life, prisoner to career which made me mentally unwell. I used to think it was too late to go back to the drawing board and start again, I thought I was too old to learn a new craft.

That was until the summer of 2018 when I attended my mums graduation. At 50 years old, my mum graduated from a Bachelor Degree with a 2:1, and I was in complete aw of her. If she could do it at 50 then there was no reason, no excuse for me not to do it at 28. And so shortly after her graduation, I enrolled at university, and am not midway through my second year in a Creative Writing Bachelor Degree.

I could go on and compile this whole post with reasons why my mum inspires me, but I will just say this: after raising three children single handed, leaving everything and everyone she knew behind and migrating to a whole new place in search of a better life for us, and then beating a horrific bout of depression and going on to complete a BA Hons degree, she is my HERO.

I would also like to mention my auntie, Rita, who was a late child, and at only 32 has lost both parents. She was left to stay behind and look after my grandparents at the end of their lives. Being countries apart we can only offer limited support and Rita was the one left on the front line, dealing with my grandmas premature, sudden death and my grandad’s long battle with cancer. And she never complained, she just kept fighting on. Even over seas, Rita has taught me what resilience really looks like, and I don’t think she even realises that.

Next up, my godmother and auntie Sandra, who I always thought would always be the cool aunt to travels and brings you back cool gifts, but is now a wonderful mother to three beautiful children. Big up auntie Sandra for migrating first, and then talking my mum into doing it too. Thanks to her, we have a quality of life we never would have had back at home. And she practically was a live babysitter for some years, so there’s that. Lastly I want to thank her for my love of Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

And lastly, I want to shout out my grandma. I can not list all of the things she has taught me throughout my life, but the most important one has to be unconditional love. She didn’t understand my life choices, especially regarding my sexuality, she was a woman of tremendous faith, and I guess her god didn’t accept me. But despite all of this, my grandma loved me unconditionally and she never, ever, treated me any different. She may not have understood the person I was, but she accepted me, even though that went against everything she stood for. And that speaks volumes to me, I miss her dearly every single day, and I will lover her eternally.

I Learn With My Hands

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Oh hello, sorry I didn’t notice you there. Don’t mind me, I’m just sitting here in the corner, alternating between rocking back and forth and hitting my head against the wall repeatedly. I’m not at all academic. I was never that way inclined, even back when I was an innocent, intelligent and applied high schooler. I do like learning, I love learning new skills, and learning about all the things I’m interested in, but I don’t learn from reading dense text books. I just can’t. I learn by watching and doing. I learn with my hands.

Doing a degree in Creative Writing is amazing. I get to explore my creativity in so many different ways and it has really awakened a huge passion inside of me. But there are times where I doubt my abilities, and whether I am capable and worthy of being here. Those times, I want to drop out. But no matter how tough it gets, this is the one thing in my life that I am determined and fully committed to seeing all the way through. I will graduade. Even if it not with the grade that I want.

I make the grades in the creative modules without much effort really, balancing a full time student/full time employment life is tough and I don’t always have the amount of time I’d like to dedicate to my creative projects, but still my grades show that I am a good writer. When it comes to the academic side though, as a mature student, out of education for over a decade, I’m struggling. Although not failing by a long shot, I also can’t seem to be able to attain the level that I want to reach. Academia is my nemisis.