Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Going back to her roots


STORYTELLER: Jamaica-born Canadian writer and storyteller Janet Campbell shows a copy of her book Kafiya Meets the Moon launched last Wednesday at the National Library. —Photos: CURTIS CHASE

Mark Fraser

When Janet Campbell says she is a storyteller, she is not lying. Stories on multiple themes seem to tumble out of her with ease.  Like her entrance into writing which was born out of her late grandfather’s many storytelling sessions when she was a girl.

 “We had no electricity; the moon was our light. Papa used to make up stories and as soon as he finished a story I used to beg him to tell us more.”

The St Catherine’s born, Canada-raised author of the children’s book Kafiya Meets the Moon, launched at the National Library earlier this week, also had a colourful story to tell about her entrance into hairdressing.

She was 13 and living in an apartment complex that housed a lot of Ghanaian and Nigerian families.

“While their parents were at work these unsupervised children used to come out into the streets and play. I always found that their hair was so messy.”

Campbell used to take the children into her parents’ apartment, bathe them and wash and comb their hair before their parents came home.

“One day the mother of one of children came knocking on my door asking me if I combed her daughter’s hair. I was so scared.

“Then she told me that she would give me two dollars to corn braid her daughter’s hair and that she would spread the word to other parents.”

Campbell worked as a dental assistant and a social worker but still the calling to do hair was too strong for her to ignore. 

“There were days I would call in sick just to stay home and do someone’s hair,” she said with a laugh that made her small eyes even smaller. She started Nanni’s Natural hair salon 18 years ago with one chair, one mirror and one client. It now offers clients natural hair care products and advice on how to maintain their locks.

Kafiya Meets the Moon was a result of the many stories told to her in her youth. It tells of a little girl growing up in Canada who finds out from her Caribbean born aunty Yaya that the moon has a face.

The book sat around written and unpublished for 12 full years mainly because of fear. It was only when she began to see her writing as a gift that had to be shared, rather than a money making tool, that she released the fear and the book. “I was afraid of being judged and that held me back. When my grandson Jeremiah was born I knew that I had to document these stories so that they won’t die when I do. I also wanted the children in the diaspora to have a sense of self.”

Campbell said she would never forget a conversation she had with her late grandfather some years before he died. She was missing him and his stories and he encouraged her to share them.

“As I look back now my papa was preparing me for what I am doing now.  He used to say Mitzie, that’s what he used to call me, tell me back the story I just told you.

“He is dead now but his spirit lives in me. That’s why I am able to tell and write these stories,” she said, her eyes welling up.

The storyteller in her returned again: “My grandparents were different you know. My grandmother used ride around the village on a bike and sell fish that my grandfather caught.

“She taught me how to budget using colour-coded socks to store the money for certain bills. I still budget this way. I just use envelopes instead.” Campbell dedicated Kafiya Meets the Moon to her grandparents for the contribution they made in her life. Her tour for the book will go to Barbados and Jamaica next but she would never forget her first visit to T&T.

“People here are so warm; and the food. I love the roti here. It’s not  the tough, tough thing they selling in Toronto.”

Campbell has stacks of notebooks with stories that would eventually come to light. In the meantime, though, she is working on two other children’s books—My Curly Hair (which was written to help young girls celebrate their tightly coiled locks) and Purpose Gift , written to help children to identify their gifts.

“The violence we see in today’s young men is partly because they have lost a sense of their purpose.”

She intends to continue writing children’s stories because it is important for children to embrace reading. “I would even go as far to say that parents should read to their unborn children in the womb. It encourages bonding. I always read to my grandson and now when he sees me he say book, book.”

Kafiya Meets the Moon retails for $100 and is available at RIK Bookstore and Paper Based Bookshop. Online, it is available on . Plans are also in the works to turn the book into a cartoon. 

(See Pages 18,19)