A couple of years ago, I was asked to help a woman, Audrey Fernandes-Satar, who was writing a book from her PhD thesis on her and her family’s experience of fleeing their native land of Goa, and the journey from there to Mozambique and finally, Australia. She had created a body of artworks around this theme. I remember that a couple of years before, I had been to a paper she gave at the Curtin postgraduate conference, where she showed slides of her artwork and told some of her story. I remember being very moved, and standing to give her an ovation (I was the only one who stood to clap, but I didn’t care). These words are from the abstract to her thesis:
In this project I bear witness to the oppressive policies of the fascist government in Portugal and the effects of displacement and exile. I bear witness to how identity and culture can serve as a vehicle of empowerment, how experiences of belonging can germinate and take root, post diaspora.
Audrey’s book, After the Last Ship, is soon to be published by Peter Lang. I have been step by step on this writing journey with Audrey, and have found it a most moving and enlightening experience. I can’t wait to read the book in print, and will review it here.
Meanwhile, here is a lovely piece she has sent me about the experience of writing the story with my help:
I was born into language, the stories that my grandmother and other mothers passed on to me filled my life. They were accounts that defined the world around me… the stars the oceans the earth… I lived through times when these histories were broken others replaced them, supplanting them and obscuring them.
I slowly learnt how to forget what I remembered. Never imagining myself as a writer, or a poet or a storyteller.
Then I came to writing as a researcher, finding this a safe place from which to write, somewhere where I could hide my voice behind ‘ theory’. The question that haunted me was – How to write, to whom and why?
I have worked with Christina Houen for almost two years, adapting my thesis into a manuscript to be published. It is titled After the Last Ship. Her guidance has been crucial to tease out the stories obscured by academic writing. She gently posed questions and asked for more. I had to dig deeper. It was not easy. She waited to hear back from me many times. I had to wait until the anguish and the tears dried. She waited as well. The story unraveled slowly, it shaped the manuscript.
I know I was born to be a storyteller.
Audrey Fernandes-Satar, October 2013