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Chapter 1 – A Name and Naming

I nearly died when I was six weeks old

I've been searching for life every since...

I was born in Durban, South Africa, on my paternal grandmother’s birthday. Everyone called her Tink – short for Tinkerbell – because of her small 5 ft statue and light that shone from within. And that’s how I got my name – Nina – which means both ‘little mother’ in Zulu and ‘little girl’ in Spanish.

In a double bid to name me after the strong, wilful, independent matriarchs on both sides of my lineage, my second name is Carmen – my maternal grandmother’s given name. She was a war-serving, husband-proposing, sewing-maven and all round domestic-goddess. She took great pride in her appearance, always telling me not to squint in the sun (to avoid fine lines) and shoving her knuckles gently between my shoulder blades to encourage me to stand up straight, stick out my chest and carry myself with pride and poise.

Tink, tailor, soldier and on we march.

Oh the power of a name. I am both mother and little girl, nurturer and searcher, wise woman and curious child.

Six weeks after I landed earth-side my heart was suddenly overwhelmed. My intuitive mother knew something was wrong. The first doctor she took me to said I was fine. She knew different. She went in search of a second opinion from the gynaecologist who had delivered me. He took one look at me, listened to my heart and rushed us all to the hospital.

My heart was beating nearly 300 beats a minute. I was lethargic. If they couldn’t get the heartbeat down, I would die. They couldn’t get it down. I was dying: beating too fast for this world. I was all heart.

An ice cube, trickled across my upper lip, was the magic that kicked me back into a normal rhythm. To this day I love iced water.

I was too young to remember any of this. But the body knows. The body remembers. Every experience is etched into our cells, emotional chemicals, chemical emotions, and the building blocks of who we are.

This has been my STORY. The one I have been told. And the one I have told my whole life. As a seeker, dreamer, storyteller, wordsmith and alliteration aficionado (thrown in at this point to prepare you!) I find this concept fascinating. Are we our stories? Who is the narrator? Do we embody these narratives or just re-play them in our minds and with our voices?

The beautiful thing about a story is that it can be written and rewritten, edited and embellished, lived and even lied.

This is a version of mine, viewed through many lenses: moment and memory, reality and reverie, self and other. A snapshot of highs and lows, what defines and debilitates. A drop in the ocean and the resultant ripples…


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