Eighteen years ago today, I encountered a machete-wielding, would-be rapist on a desolate rural path in Belize, Central America. This mark on my right shoulder— the memory of his blade striking my body as I fled to safety— which I proudly wear today, is a testament to my survival. It is a testament to a strength that was either inherent in me or divinely gifted to me/through me in that moment, a surge of power that enabled me to escape to freedom, to my future— to a future. How easily my life could have been taken that day…
I learned recently that a woman was raped and murdered earlier this year in the exact spot where I was attacked, the exact same tranquil bend of the Mopan River..… a chilling fact that gives me a feeling I can’t quite yet put into words…
And yet, I am still here, eighteen years later. The only bodily harm he—that nameless man I encountered—was able to inflict upon me was this machetazo, this scar written on my shoulder. The harm inflicted on my psyche, my spirit, my soul… well, that’s another story.
Today this scar turns eighteen; it has come of age.
Today, I must pause and reflect, and give thanks for all the LIFE I have been able to live and experience in these past eighteen years. I have traveled back to Belize five times, reconnected with my adopted Belizean “family” there (Azucena Galvez
and Gwen Galvez
and Mark Galvez and Linda Guerra
) at my beloved Clarissa Falls. My healing journey led me to the world of Afro-Cuban song and dance, where mentors and teachers like Marietta Ulacia
, Oscar Rousseaux Pons
, and Luis Emilio Marin
taught me a new language through which to speak my pain and my anger and my desire and loss, through movement and voice, and opened the door to a new mythology through which to make meaning of the unexplainable. That in turn led me to New Orleans and Tulane, where I am on my way to earning a PhD in Latin American Studies, with a specialization in Yoruba-Cuban song/dance/religion/philosophy (they are really all part of the same whole, and my dissertation aims to bring into conversation/“re-member” what the academy has split and "disciplined" into fragmented parts). Graduate school has gifted me inspiring mentors like Ana Lopez
, and granted me entry into an esteemed sisterhood of scholarship with the likes of Asli Berktay
, Sonya Wohletz
, Yesenia Selier
, Shearon Roberts
, Diana Karina
, Daniella Santoro
, Grete Viddal
, and Annie Gibson
, to name a few of the brilliant women I admire and feel proud to call colleagues.
My journey has not finished. No, it has only just begun.
Today, then, it feels fitting to introduce to the world my new writing project, a blog called What It’s Like to Be There <https://whatitsliketobethere.wordpress.com/
>. The part of the story that has been lived is ready to be written, and the blog is meant to be a repository for these writings, both personal and scholarly, that have emerged out of this journey. The dissertation and the personal struggle that led me to its core questions are two entangled projects, two entangled storylines, so I conceive of them as twins, Taiwo and Kehinde, who must gestate and be nurtured simultaneously, in order that they both be born. One is not more important than the other; no— they need each other. For one to grow, the other must grow. For one to be born, the other must be born too. These two bodies of work mandate that I write them into existence, carry and bear them into being as if they were my own flesh and blood. It’s time.
Ashé and thanks be to God, to the Orishas or whoever/whatever “it” is that gives us fragile humans the gift of Life, of connection, of Love. My deepest gratitude and love for my family— my wonderful parents, Elizabeth Hackett
who is more than a sister and who inspires me to keep writing, my brother John H. Hackett
who dropped everything and got on a plane to meet me in Houston eighteen years ago today, in my moment of greatest need. And countless others— you know who you are, Samantha Paxton
, Rachel Rogge Hilliard
, Mita S Patel
, Magdalena Scarato
, Ivo Arias
, Omar Cornelio
, Joy Mischley, Galia Binder
, Jolie WhoDat Préau
, Lance Ellis
, Lola Bravo
, Eloise Davis
and many others unnamed— who have helped me heal and live and love, and who are the reason I stand strong today. I stand strong, and I am ready to speak.