The goal among the international students at my uni, was to completely drop our accents – to have our words sound like they’d grown up with ice cream floats and builders tea.
We wanted to be able to go to any bar, to order any coffee, to keep any conversation going for however long a time, only to be able to slip in an “oh, I’m not from England, actually,” and watch people’s surprise.
We worked so hard, to lose our accents, the rolling Rs, the hard Gs, the lilts that gave us away; the sound of what we thought was “not good enough,” “not practiced enough.”
Oh, how wrong we were.
Accents are identity, just as much as names and clothes and the street corners you passed on your way to school. Your accent’s where you’ve come from, it’s the dotted line on an airplane map, it shows the world you dared to try.
Your accent is your family dinners, the lessons of your mum’s lullabies, the laundry songs of your house, the courage it took, to get on that plane.
It’s a road map of the people you care about, those who sat with you while you were learning, who let you spin wonders of the words you didn’t understand, and who offered their pronunciation to try on for size.
My accent grew up with snow in its boots and saltwater in its nose. My mispronounced “shower gel”, My Ds and Ts blurring into each other, is my home away from home.
So instead of dropping our accents, let us celebrate them. For all that we are, and all we’re yet to learn, and every step along the way.
I’m building a home on Tuesday’s laundry and broken light bulbs.
I’ve spent so long balancing on top of the return to sender-confidence that I toppled over and hit my head, but I’ll clean the place up before you come over – I swear.
Do you want to stay the night? I can make a bed for you! Oh, just remember to beat out yesterday’s daydreams, they like to keep people awake, you see.
And if you want a cup of tea, I make an okay ginger and lemon. But please excuse me for a second; ambitions keep dusting up the bottom of my mugs.
If you do come around, I’ll welcome you with a marching band’s drumroll, to my fort of dirty dishes and expired parking tickets. Just don’t expect too much from me, when you arrive with your shirt fresh off the ironing board and your briefcase full of documents and signatures.
I’m still trying to divide my socks from my spoons from my groceries, And I’m doing my best.
Her mother threw birthday parties on rationing cards, dressed three children in the living room curtains, and sent them to bed with a kiss on the forehead. Her father lived only in the stories, the captain that went down with his ship, the war hero.
Sixteen years later she stepped ashore where her father set sail, trying steps after crossing the ocean that took him, three dresses and a Bible in a tattered suitcase. Governess by day, she told tales of foreign forests before sending new children off with a forehead kiss, Lady in the evenings, at Dr Flemming’s dinner parties, keeping her kisses to her chest like cards.
When the words for hands and home and country were of no use anymore, they slowly slipped away.
Sixty years later, I get off the plane in the country she no longer remembers. Her memories are smoke signals no one can read, but I look to the sky to try anyway.
When I reach the sea, I put my hand in the water, I feel the cold against my skin, how it circles my fingers, my palm.
In a pocket with fraying edges I’ve still got her rationing card.
I swim through quiet waves of evening, enveloped by lazy currents. I am not afraid of the water.
As a swallow graces the surface, droplets falling from its wing, I think of all the lives lived by this fjord before me. Women wrapping their shawls tighter around themselves, waiting for sails on the horizon, for fathers, for brothers, for husbands to come home.
Young boys who went to sea, much like I went to university, clenched fists and starry night-eyes, who learnt that nothing can quell an unforgiving ocean, not even the children who challenged the shallow shores, those who never returned to their mothers’ lullabies.
Their stories are in every rock, in every seashell. in every tide that swallows the docks. Stories of islanders who read tomorrow in the skies, who knew that red clouds predicted weary storms the type that could orphan their children and starve their homes.
The water still cradles me, there is salt in my ears, my hair flows like jelly fish tendrils around my shoulders. I have no doubt that all the souls lost at sea, the stories and the children and the ocean are resting in these waters.
I’m turning 23 and I’m not entirely sure what that means yet. I’m aware it won’t mean that I’ll wake up taller, wiser or more confident. I know your birthday is just a symbolic notion and that what helps you grow are all the days in between. However, like with New Year’s Resolutions, maybe birthdays can function as a day of reflection, a definite marker of another year passing. Not for everyone and not for the world, but in your very own timeline. What have you learnt since your last birthday? What have you figured out? What new people have you met, and what new paths have you travelled down?
To “celebrate” that today is my last day as 22, I’m posting this little video. It is a poem I wrote for the OctPoWriMo challenge, last year, about all the things I’d love to tell myself at 16. In the original post I wrote “this took a long time to get right, but I didn’t want to post it before I was happy with it. Felt like I owed 16 year old me that much.”
Filmed in my bed, with a comfy shirt on and a cup of tea waiting. It felt fitting to post this on my last day of being 22, as a symbol of all the things I’ve finally figured out, and of all the things I’ve yet to learn.