The African Queen with jazzy pipes, Harlem dreams, and Southern tang smiles in the landscape of dreams. The bemoaning Blues travel the length of that bridge that is her spine. It’s not her bountiful way, nor the way she carries herself. It’s not the humbleness of her honey-coated, roasted cinnamon, plump smile gleaming through soul-unveiling brown eyes with the grace and beauty of a dazzling Monarch butterfly. Wrapped in her dyed blue, soft-cotton Iro, she wears her matching turquoise Buba and head-gear with sumptuous lore. It’s not the way her hips swing when she dances to Yemaya, nor the way she plays the gourd to the beat of our ancestral lands. And it’s not the way she wears the added colorful Ipele over her shoulders at significant dates. Beyond phenomenal, this priestess with Black Panther moves, ceremonial rank carved on both cheeks, and white lotus demeanor defies definition. There are no words in any human alphabet from Patagonia to Siberia to describe Omialadora Ajamu, also known in the inner circles as SkyLady.
“Tonight I can write the saddest lines. To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her,” Pablo Neruda voices, bringing back vestiges of an old self concerned with attachments. Thanks to Omi, his words do not resonate anymore. Instead of the old poet’s words, Omi’s light and joy swirl inside the kaleidoscope of my mind. In the inner swampland, a memory rises.
That humid summer in the swamps, Mariel met Omi Aladora, a priestess of Yemaya. Omi invited the young college student to Ilesa Ire, the Yoruba Temple tucked behind the swampland in Archer, Florida. This encounter was not about an anthropology of religion class. Memories danced, brewing in Mariel’s nadirs. Images of rituals and life ways she had carried within since she left the pearl of the Antilles when she was a kid, rose to the surface.
“Alafia, Mariel,” Priestess Omi said while gifting the hot breeze with a soothing smile.
“Alafia,” Mariel responded, lowering her head.
Having Yoruba roots, Mariel followed the cultural protocol – bending in front of the priestess and touching the soil by her sandals to show respect. The shoulder to shoulder salute and kisses on both cheeks followed. Then, they hugged giggling.
Months later, while simmering in deep anguish about her relationship, Mariel visited Omi.
“Child,” the priestess said while tenderly drying her tears with her thumbs, “Everything will be alright.”
Omi held Mariel’s hands.
“I feel restless. What can I do to find inner peace?” Mariel asked lips puckered.
“You can get a pair of white doves and bring Obatala home,” she said smiling.
Turning amber, Mariel’s eyes shone a glimmer of hope.
After a string of heart-shredding moments, Mariel walked out of the mobile home, stopped at the verge of the swamp, sat on a rock, thought of Ota, the stone that receives the Orisha. The skies bleed magenta hues. The last sun rays filtered through cypress trees wearing Spanish Moss. Urging to become one with the lily pond, she sobbed.
Concentric waves hypnotized her as the wise bass gracefully moved through an intricate web of roots and stems. Water lilies rested in candid harmony with their surroundings. Delicate petals washed by the bountiful caress of Oshun’s red sable brush floated aimlessly among flat, round, green leaves. As if releasing a prayer of hope, each leaf rested on the water surface facing the setting sun.
That evening, Mariel left Ilesa Ire with a task, to find a pair of white doves that would bring her peace of mind. Small businesses were not acquainted with the emerging internet back then. After plowing through myriad telephone books, she contacted aviary after aviary in North Central Florida until she found a gentleman named Chuck in Putnam County, who had a pair of white doves.
Off she drove to the outskirts of brussel sprout smelling Palatka to retrieve her inner peace and gladly returned home with a beauteous pair of white doves. Ah, to look at their beauty already brings much peace to my heart. Priestess Omi is a sage. Mariel thought.
She arrived home with a large cage and all the monkeyshines needed to raise peace in her heart and named the pair Paloma and Picasso, after her favorite designer. This new distraction brought hours of labor–clean the cage every morning and every evening, feed the beauteous birds several times a day, and vacuum their mess several times throughout the day.
Too soon, Picasso became addicted to a loud male mating call, “Coo-coo-ooo.”
This little bird’s song echoed throughout the house bouncing against its walls.
Even when the cage was covered with sheets at night, the insomniac persisted, haunting the household.
The lovers covered their ears with ear plugs and several pillows. The no tail Manx Brown Tabby hid under the comforter and covered her ears with her paws. The rejected male incessantly vibrated the loud and irritating song, flapping his wings in desperate attempts to draw the female’s attention.
“They are not a good match, Mariel,” Ali said firmly one morning during breakfast.
Finally, Paloma, possibly out of exhaustion and having no other alternative being caged with this crazed mate, laid six tiny eggs.
“A miracle,” Mariel screamed, “Peace is on its way!”
The truth is that the female was not ready for motherhood either and after the chicks had been born, she threw those crying little pink creatures off the nest. White spines poked through their skin. They seemed to have swallowed a porcupine. Picasso resumed his incessant cry.
Mariel ran to the local feed store and learned anything one could learn to save these poor abandoned chicks. She purchased bird formula and syringes to feed them, built a box with holes, and added a warming clothing to keep them warm. And off she went to work with her pigeon box and fed them every two hours. Soon their pointy spikes bloomed into beauteous white feathers. Ah, what beauty! She smiled an exhausted and proud mother.
The four males among the batch of newborns promptly learned their father’s behavior. And soon there was a chorus of cooing bastards inside the crowded cage.
“Coo-coo-ooo. Coo-coo-ooo. Coo-coo-ooo.”
Paloma resigned to her fate, again laid eggs. She sat on them with a hostile look on her face. As soon as they hatched, she tossed them off the nest again.
Trapped in the cycle of self-inflicted hell, Mariel rescued the new batch of peace bringing white doves from their ill fortune. Thirteen white pigeons later, Ali returned from work one evening.
“Mariel, this pigeon business needs to end. I’m sick of pigeon shit,” she said firm.
Mariel sat facing the cage, holding the vacuum cleaner, pushing it forward to rescue feathers and seed shells as they fell to the floor. Why would Priestess Omi ever think that white pigeons could bring me inner peace? These birds need a larger place, and I need to find a way out of this predicament! She thought while swimming in her resentment.
That weekend, Mariel transferred all the white doves to Priestess Abiola’s aviary. During the transfer to the aviary, Picasso escaped. Flying to the tallest branch on the old oak tree, he sat relaxed enjoying his freedom and pooped on Mariel’s head.
Exhausted from the year-long marathon, Mariel and Ali returned home. Peace was finally restored.
Holding hands, Mariel whispered, “You know how much I love you. I think we need to go separate ways.”
“You are right. We cannot do this anymore.”
They sat in silence.
A week later, after moving few apartment units away, Mariel visited Omialadora. As usual, she touched the ground next to her feet. They touched both shoulders and kissed both cheeks.
“Omi, I had to give those birds away. It was a nightmare!” She said and then paused.
“Why would you think they would bring me peace?”
“How are you holding up?” She asked smiling.
“I feel much peace.”
“There you go,” she said smiling. “I hope you learned the lesson this time around. Peace is within.”
The priestess with long dreadlocks and beauteous lips sat next to Mariel. They laughed and cackled as Mariel narrated with detail her intrepid adventure in the land of distractions.
“How many white doves does it take to reach inner peace?” Mariel asked.
They rolled on their seats laughing out loud.
“Now you have peace and a great story,” Omi said.
Ayuba Ti Gbe Ibu Omi, Yemaya Iyawi Awoyomaye Lewo, Yemaya Konla, Yemaya Asesu, Yemaya Yalodde, As I write, Yeye Omialadora Ayamu shape-shifts into the world of spirit, she stands immortal on the footsteps of our ancestors, reaches the skies in threads of ceremonial smoke, ebbs and flows on the warm sands of timelessness, in the soothing velvet of your foam. Ase.
In the playfulness of otters swimming in the spring-fed Ichetucknee River where Oshun spins among dragonfly-driven water lilies, she whistles Oya’s song into the wind. SkyLady lives beyond life, in the beat of our hearts and drums, in the swing of our hips, in the melody of our songs, weaving our stories with each breath of our lungs and forever etched in the fiber of our souls.
I love you, dear Yeye. Thank you for your infinite wisdom.
Much love to Salewa Omitowade Ajamu, Baba Olomide Ogunlano and all our beauteous Ilesa Ire family.
Thank you for all your meaningful and wise lessons and all our many magical journeys together. This is not an ending but a commencement.
Dear Yeye, you will always Be.
Copyright 2015 – All Rights Reserved
Salewa Omitowade Ajamu and Members of Ilesa Ire have permission to share this story.
With SkyLady and Dr. Love (Circa 1997) At La Casita, The University of Florida Institute of Hispanic/Latino Cultures