black denmark, Black Girl on Mars, black Scandinavia, Our Voices

Introducing the ‘Our Voices” series – From Denmark, Black Girl on Mars

Our Voices

I have been, if not a friend, a friendly acquaintance and fan of Lesley-Ann Brown, a.k.a. Black Girl on Mars since 2006 or so. Her writing is so compelling I am grateful she has agreed to let me share her work here in a new series of blog posts titled ‘Our Voices’*. Her first contribution in this series was originally published on The Murmur.

Right. Wrong. Right. Wrong. Right. Wrong.

Two knitting needles and a ball of yarn – that’s what I used to integrate into the Danish society. Sitting together but separately, I wove myself into the fabric of this culture, though it was my fingers that did all the work.

Right. Wrong. Right. Wrong.

No, I am not being indecisive.

Right. Wrong. Right. Wrong. Right. Wrong. That’s me learning how to knit as, hunched over two knitting needles, I struggle to “capture” the “free” yarn into the stitches already cast onto my needles.

Although the rest of the English speaking world learns to knit purl knit purl knit purl, my teacher Anni, is Danish. She teaches me to ‘ret og vrang’ instead, but all I hear is ‘right and wrong, right and wrong’.

After all, I don’t speak a word of Danish and her English isn’t fluent, but together we are moving into uncharted territory. While I patiently learn to knit, I start my timid journey of learning Danish. And through me, Anni gets to practice her English. It is no wonder that I could read Danish knitting patterns years before I could actually speak the language.

At the time, I am four months pregnant and a new arrival in Denmark. Anni is my mother in law, and I spend hours with her while my then-husband busily prepares for the arrival of our child. During this time together, Anni and I manage to cultivate our own authentic relationship, based on love – a relationship solidified through knitting.

There is perhaps no greater show of love than teaching someone to knit. It requires patience and presence – virtues held by my Danish mother-in-law. Although I am no longer married to her son, she will always hold a special place in my heart. Her teaching me to knit plays no small part in this.

It was through Anni that I was introduced to a tolerant Denmark. An open Denmark. Through Anni I met her Tante Liv, Anni’s fiercely independent aunt. We got along famously. She introduced me to the herbal flowers in her garden and taught me how to make natural teas. Once she leaned in and whispered, “There is something about a young woman moving 6000 miles away from her place of home.”

Tante Liv’s husband, Onkel Per, was a character. He took my pregnant South African friend and me to his boat club in northern Denmark. You could tell he got a kick from all the stares he received, an elderly Danish man with two young, pregnant and very foreign women. I still laugh when I think about that day, the way his big blue eyes twinkled as we sat in his boat, out at sea, and the other boats passed us by.

Tante Liv, as well as the rest of her family, treated me with nothing but love, respect and openness. It was a family of women who read and think. I was in my element. We were of the same tribe, brought together through the craft of knitting.

I had always wanted to learn how to knit. Whenever my grandmother from Trinidad visited us on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn, smelling like peppermint and airplane, she would always have a few knitting and craft magazines with her.

They were full of knitwear masterpieces and patterns I had not yet learned to decipher. Despite being a renaissance woman of sorts, my grandmother did not know how to knit. She offered other lessons, including her deep, unwavering commitment to me. “You are here for a reason,” she’d whisper in my ear. Her words would soothe my unsettled soul like a cool Caribbean breeze.

My great grandmother Beryl Nunez died from “the draught,” a reference that could just as much allude to the cold as to racism, I suppose, in Canada. She made lace. My other great grandmother, Frances Lopez, also made exquisite handkerchiefs, delicate lace curtains and tablecloths. But despite my burning desire, there was no YouTube back then and no one to teach me. Don’t feel sorry for me; the 80s furnished me with plastic bubble jackets and roller skates. We played ‘run, catch, kiss’ and I mastered Double Dutch. I was happily distracted from myself.

Fast forward. I meet my Dane. We court. I meet his mother. It was love at first sight. My ex-husband and his mother ushered me into Danish culture with love and patience. And I know it was love, because she took the time to teach me to knit.

I have now gone on to teach three grade five classes how to knit and I stood back in wonder as I watched the children teach each other. I saw how boys want to learn how to knit as much as girls. I simmered with joy as the students worked together but separately, sitting quietly and knitting.

When I hold the yarn in my hand, I feel as though it connects me to my great-grandmothers. But it was Anni who brought out that creative energy. Knitting is magic, knitting is healing. Knitting is immeasurable. When you knit, your brain produces beta waves. No matter what troubles me, if I catch a whiff of wool, spy a ball of yarn, or hold a pair of knitting needles (bamboo preferably), I’m in bliss.

My time here has been sustained by the energy knitting has given me. When I returned from my last trip to the States in the autumn, I knew that I wanted to incorporate knitting more into my life. When I was in Rhode Island at the Rhode Island Writers Colony, I went to see the writer Anne Hood read from her latest book, “An Italian Wife”. She saw me in the audience with my knitting needles and yarn, stopped what she was saying and called out to ask me what I was knitting. A baby blanket for my friend’s newborn baby, I replied.

That’s what I love about knitting: it brings people together. So when I returned to Denmark, my intention was to start a knitting group.  I shyly put out a call of interest on Facebook and, to my delight, the Geeky Knitter’s Club was borne. Every week, a group of other expat women and myself gather to knit, talk, and offer support. It is one of the best ventures I have embarked on.

And the kids? Although I am no longer teaching, I still knit with them. All of this I owe to Anni Bomholtz – the most loving of ex-mother-in-laws.

Lesley-Ann Brown
Lesley-Ann Brown

A Trinidadian American freelance writer living in Copenhagen, Lesley-Ann studied writing at The New School, NYC.
Read Lesley’s full bio. It’s fascinating!

*”Our Voices” aims to provide a platform for writers to share their work. The stories may have been published previously and are posted here due to their relevance to the black women’s experience in Europe.

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