When I was a child in the early 1990s, I used to wake up with the rising sun to catch anime before the TV moved on to the national anthem and redundant post-civil war news. I remember how the animated flag of Lebanon and the national anthem in the background, which almost always startled me, were the signal for me to run over to my grandparents who lived in the building next door. Entering my grandparents felt like entering a magical space of intentions and rituals. I could feel the incense and the melodies that ranged from old Egyptian songs to Eastern church hymns as I ran up the stairs. Throughout the seasons, my grandmother would hum as she burned incense into the corners of every room while my grandpa moved the prayer beads he kept under his fingers and smiled my way. Mindfulness and love were intertwined.
Moments later, the older women would start making their way in through the door that was always kept open. Sometimes in couples and at times one right after the other: it was their time to gather. They sat on the long balcony for sobhiye, their morning ritual, their women circle. Salwa, Latifa, Lucy, Siroun, Leila and Julia, who were longtime neighbours and friends, would share stories of what was happening at home, what their health was like, the economy’s nonsensical state, and at times retell funny and tragic stories of the civil war. The little resources they had were shared, as they generously held space for each one of them to unpack what was burdening her. I remember how easy it was for them to check in emotionally and spiritually while these women in their 60s and 70s had gone through horrific years. I would only come to realise the tragedies they had witnessed as I got older. With the years, the group grew smaller, and names returned to the balcony as memories released with sighs, as toppled coffee cups waited to be read. This daily ritual was my initiation to women circles.
Circles came back to being a regular part of my life when we started hosting them at LocNet.* In 2019, there were around 14 of us who gathered in a cozy space in Kenya. Over three consecutive nights, we exchanged thoughts and feelings, drew henna on each other’s palms and comforted one another as we shared and made room for experiences of women in community networks and in tech. Since that first circle, a number of us have now hosted them in local, regional and online spaces over coffee, cake and soundscapes. Our solidarity circles were one of the ways we maintained the relationships when the pandemic struck. They also became the rituals of liberation and reflection of what lays beyond our roles, who we are as people in communities, what and how we live and what our attention gravitates towards. The circles became spaces where we experimented with what brings us joy and pleasure and supports us in finding our true natures. A break from all that we are immersed in during the day to day.
Each time we sit in circles I am reminded that crafting relationships is as vital as crafting the tech for community networks. Communities that nourish one another, where feelings are held and where we become witnesses for one another. These letters are an imagination of the 2021 circles we co-crafted as a community of women and gender-diverse and queer folks in community networks in the global South. A tribute made by Bruna and me, to all women holding their communities in compassion and fierceness together. They are also a tribute to ancestors who transmit the gifts of circles and community resistance as sustenance.
* The Local Access and Community Networks (LocNet) initiative, led by APC in partnership with Rhizomatica, aims to directly support community networks and contribute to an enabling ecosystem for the emergence and growth of community-based initiatives.