American culture shock.

confused-look.jpg

Photo: PINS Daddy

It has officially been 1 week since I’ve been back in the U.S., so it’s only right that I get back to writing my confusions, my exploits and my experiences. Thanks for loving me through the hiatus. It’s only right that – 8 days fresh off the wings of a United flight – I come back  to writing with a few questions for you’se guys who call this place home. Help me understand how this place works. There are so many things I just don’t get anymore.

 

1 – Why do I have to fill out the Customs forms if I have global entry? I feel like DHS & CBP just have a lot of paper lying around and they want to get rid of it by dumping it on those of us who don’t need it, but don’t yet know we don’t need it. Keep yo’ paper, bruh! I have enough luggage to worry about.

1a. Why doesn’t every American with a passport have global entry tho’?

1b. Who has life minutes to waste in long lines in airports tho’?

2 – Why is everything in the super market in a box or a plastic bag? Forgive my amnesia on this subject, but I’m going to repeat Chimamanda Adichie, who only recently joined our sacred Barnard sistahood (we’ll keep her tho’) and is also eloquent with a writer’s pen, “EAT REAL FOOD.” I was so sad walking through Trader Joe’s this week and Whole Foods last week when I felt like I walked out with more packaging than actual food. 5adayCSA here I come!

 

3 – Why are White people moving into every neighborhood in the country at this very moment in time? I mean, literally, I could trace the eastern seaboard with a litany of Brown people tears over gentrification. I’ve been in 3 states in the last 8 days and in each town I visited I’ve heard lamentations of the erasure of people of color, the displacement of low and middle-income families, and reverse White flight. I just can’t figure out why now? I could get into the race issues here, but I’ll just settle on simply asking “why are all the White folks moving?”

4 – What are cops for anymore? People (of color, predominantly) are more afraid than ever to cross paths with police officers, so I’m kinda wondering how exactly can they be useful. In theory, yea, public safety, blah, blah I get it (ish), but really I can’t be the only one wondering… 4a. when is it safe to call them exactly? 4b. Could I live with myself if something bad happened either way? or 4c. Would I be alive after they left?

29db63001df53b33f847960f00ddd24a.jpg

Pinterest – saved by Rebecca Mendez

5- Last, but not least, how many housewife shows are actually on the air right now? There are Real Housewives of like 12 towns & 49 states; 1st and 2nd wives clubs in satellite cities; Celebrity, Jail and Sister wives. I mean, we get it, shows about nuclear, dysfunctional families will keep women with disposable income glued to the TV looking at commercials and buying stuff we don’t need to mimic people we don’t like. But, c’mon, let’s do better. I’d trade you 20 of these wife shows full of fiancees & divorcees for just 10 HGTV channels, preferably in metropolitan cities where one can purchase a 3 bedroom house for less than $400,000 USD. A real wife can dream…

Riddle me that.

Being your Black friend…

Being your Black friend sometimes feels good, but many times it’s awkward. I could go into the depths of awkwardness, but there are so many other more coherent blog options for you to wiki  or google (as a verb). So, today is my day to talk about all the things I simply don’t get about you, my non-Black friends. Today, you are the diversity in the room (how liberating it is for me to give up that seat once in awhile) and you get to educate me on things that make me awkward chuckle in dinner parties. Ok, here are a few things I’d like to be educated on… hit it…

 

1 – What is a keratin treatment? – It sounds like a high priced, less abrasive perm, but (who am I kidding?) I have no idea what that is, who uses it and why. Don’t get me started on split ends. P.S. I have dreadlocks.

2 – Why do darker skinned people call themselves Black? – Maybe I don’t get it, because I don’t call myself “Black” to describe skin color. I do it to describe ethnic origin. So, when I hear my Indian friends call themselves and each other Black, I’m like… “let’s unpack that” (before I get offended).

3 – What is so funny about SNL pre-Trump? I could barely manage a gentle chuckle, but this show is supposed to be iconic and hilarious. I just don’t see it. Only “he lookalike a man” and “Mary Katherine Gallagher” can get a mediocre rise out of me. And I can recognize the first one was pretty racist.

4 – Does it hurt to be skinny (not just thin, I mean skinny)? Since very rare is the occasion that I see women of my hue who I’d define as “Skinny,” maybe I’m biased to think that this kind of thin isn’t really our domain. Even boney Black girls have a curve or two. Meat and muscle are cushions in life. Looks painful to sit… just wondering…

5 – Do you actually like milk? Word has it that many people of color don’t tolerate cow’s milk very well. And since I’m one of those people, I’ve always wondered what it must be like to really eat Oreos with milk without regretting it for the next 5 hours. Since my body gives me cause to be averse, I’ll never know if I actually don’t like it… really. So, I’m curious.

That concludes this edition of $h!t I don’t get.

Thanks in advance for the cultural education & ignorance eradication.

 

 

Resistance is Restless

I am one of the many women who went to work on March 8th. I could say that I was in turmoil over it, but that would be a lie. That’s what I do… work. Every day. No days off (Wale voice).

I knew what I signed up for in this career and I knew this day would come. There’d be a moment when I’d be toiling over minutiae while everyone else was out fighting a good fight that I felt should be mine. This happened last year for any number of Black Lives Matter protests. It happened years before many times over. But, alas, life is not made of newspaper headlines or twitter rants. It is not the meta-narratives of history books that one lives while history books are being written. Instead, it is the particular histories of daily life that all seem mundane individually, but are collectively more than the sum of their individual parts.

In light of this, I’m sharing my mundane Women’s History Month resistance routine. The month started off with making a donation to WNYC studios so that podcasts like 2 Dope Queens and Sooo Many White Guys could continue to give me spurts of joyous laughter between monotonous policy drafts and email responses (#trypod). Luckily for me, there was an option to get Phoebe Robinson‘s (1 dope queen) new book “You can’t touch my hair..” I thoroughly enjoyed it and, as a result, snorted a few times. With that in my memory bank, I’ll be symbolically burning a bra all month long. Here’s how:

today-mom-surprise-140508-video.today-inline-vid-featured-desktop.jpg

The lady on left is looking how I’m feeling! (Today Show)

1 – Making my husband visit his mom!  – This trip is the gift that keeps on giving. My mother-in-law is the salt of the earth. She’s also very sane. Her physical presence in the life of her eldest son is very sobering for all who witness it. He, of all people, could use her grounding right now. I, on the other hand, could use some alone time, followed by girl time, followed by work like a dog time, followed by more girl time. Snowball effect accomplished.

2 – Reading Sonia Sotomayor’s biography – I’m going to read more about Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor’s life, because I hear she’s got a great journey to share. I also feel it will balance out Phoebe’s book in both heft and severity. I can’t just laugh and cuss all month long. I need to be inspired to do something positive with the platforms I have. I’m hoping the judge will remind me of  a time when public servants and leaders were actually admirable and inspiring; I wanted to be in that number. It wasn’t that long ago. It’s good to know that some of them are still around – kicking and screaming beneath very powerful robes (keep the cape). And, like me, she’s not an immigrant, so at least we have that in common.

3- Self care – Ask me why I have a physical, dental exam (w/ x-rays) and spa day booked before the end of the month ? My response is a direct quote from Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” — A Burst of Light: Essays – I won’t be undone, disarmed, minimized or placated, so long as I am well fed, well rested, well loved and able bodied. My job is to stay that way!

4- Starting a business – My amateur meanderings have led me to two very stimulating entrepreneurial endeavors. And rather than pussyfoot around any longer, I’m finalizing the LLC for one of them this month and reserving the business name for the other. Not regularizing my business investments leaves me personally vulnerable and that’s not sustainable or growth minded. See, ya’ll, I’m speaking that business-lady talk. Bossy pants all month long! #queenboss

5 – Writing an article on women of the Diaspora – In the works, as I type, is a piece I’m co-authoring with my PhD advisor on 2013 research data I collected in India. It has taken a combination of guts, cajoling, and stagnation to get me to the point where I can finally write this long overdue academic article. Hallelujah! The day (or month) has finally come. My March 24th deadline for a draft is well timed, because I’m sure that my academic sisters, mothers, and friends will help me finally execute. “We can do it!”

Even if you don’t take on one of my 5 pillars of the month, you too can create your own mundane resistance routine. I’m sure you’re wondering how to make a difference within the parameters of your daily routine. My advice? Choose daily wins and small victories with big impacts. Deliberately support businesses and development efforts of women. Affirm their femininity and their excellence. Hug a woman you love, or a man who loves a woman you love. Stop, smell some roses, and then… get back to work! There is soooo much to be done.

images.jpg

Pinterest

 

#musicamondays #MusicMondays (66)

Welcome to the 66th installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

South Africa rising has to get your day off to a wonderful start, right?

(Watch Sarafina with an ample supply of tissues only.)

Daddy Daughter Dance

 

Sitting in my living room are four very old, well bonded, childhood friends and the daughter of one. Of this group, only one has a child and she is the princess of their inner sanctum. She has stopped us from watching “Carlito’s Way” and got me to guiltily change the channel to Disney Kids. And she isn’t even watching it. She discovered some beach balls and a handmade truck. She’s entertaining herself with objects of diversion.  This has been after a few hours of sharing peace offerings – cookies, mango juice, toy elephants & lions – all placed strategically within her reach. I have watched this child grow from a quiet baby to a talkative toddler. She is respectful. She is sweet. She is intelligent. And she has fully taken over my living room.

She interrupts the flow of conversation and adult attempts to tie up loose ends over the phone. “Pai…PAI…PAAAIIII!” [Dad…over and over again with increasing insistence]. She has been climbing on him like he is a human jungle gym. She’s been talking to herself and playing with the beads in her braids, while standing barefoot on the couch by his side. We often call her his twin and she’s, perhaps, the female most welcome in this boys club. She hasn’t left her father’s side for longer than 2 minutes at a time despite his full engagement in a boys’ conversation that has long since stopped involving both she and me.

Watching Luna with her dad has reminded me of being one of the oldest girls in my dad’s friend circle. The memories of watching them watch the game (usually football), while I’m sure my mom thought they were watching me… all came flooding back. Those days when we were supposed to go play outside, but outside had no appeal and other kids were no option. It was me, my dad, and a room full of his friends. And I thought I was of no consequence in this scene that was beyond my age and my understanding, but I wonder now if I was as Luna is today – all over the place and unaware of my primacy.

One of the first times I remember feeling aware, though, was the annual ‘Daddy Daughter Dance’ in elementary school. All the girls came with their fathers or father figures, dressed up in the frilliest frocks, and had a fancy dinner in the school gym. Looking back it was kitsch. Looking at the photos it was tacky. Looking at Luna, I see why it mattered.

Before I knew what a boy friend was, I had already had well over a lifetime’s worth of memories with a dad who loved me so much so that I understood his presence as banal. What’s more impressive is that I grew up with a fraternity of uncles who all knew me as the awkward, bookish, four-eyed tag along in the crew. Until now, I didn’t realize how important their friendship was for my idea of responsible manhood. They were and still are responsible parents, hard-working members of the working class, God-fearing (different Gods too, let me say for the record) members of my extended family.

What I understand now is that it was a privilege to have my father in my life. For an African-American girl growing up an urban city, my experience was unique only in so far as girls that look like me don’t have childhoods like mine. It is an aberration for my generation and demographic, but it is portrayed as normal for so many other little girls around the world who have learned to expect so much from the men in their lives. What’s particularly unique, above and beyond the stereotypes, is the reality that I learned at a very early age to trust, love and feel safe with Black men.

With so much of the world being afraid of groups of Black men, feeling threatened by their collective presence, misunderstanding the depths of their friendships, and questioning their right to life and prosperity, I know and have always known better. Black girls like Luna who grow up to be Black women like me know that we are not asking too much of our men to be present, to be loving, to be nurturing and to be responsible. We know that not all groups of Black men are to be feared. We understand that they thrive in their friendships and their bonds are deep. We expect that they will draw strength and wisdom from their inner circle, that they will be each other’s keeper, and they will do their own social policing to make sure that they live a truth worthy of this one chance at life that they’ve been given.

Girls like us learn a lot in this daddy daughter dance. We reaffirm our love for our fathers. We know to rely on our uncles, just as much as we rely on our aunts. We are assured that they can be relied upon as much as our fathers, for they are an extension of his ambitions for himself, his community, and his family. Whether we spin in circles in front of the television, jump on his shoulders while he tries to drink a beer,  or step on his toes while dancing in the school gym, we are lucky to have lived a very public daddy daughter dance in the audience of men who saw it as their responsibility to show us their love, protection, and respect for women, including the little one screaming to the top of her lungs “Pai…viu?” [Dad… see?] in the middle of my living room, where she is safe, where she is loved, where she can take all of this for granted… forever.

 

 

 

Swaziland’s Reed Festival, Feminism, Monarchy and other Africanisms…

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

P1090220.jpgSince I moved to Mozambique, I had heard that travel in neighboring countries was one of the best advantages of adopting Maputo as home. And since I’d started traveling outside of Maputo, I had heard that one of the most fascinating cultural experiences in the region was Swaziland’s Reed Festival. In layman’s terms, it is an annual festival where all the girls and women in the Kingdom of Swaziland dance and sing for the royal family, in the hopes of being chosen as the King’s next wife. Yes, I said “next.” The current King has 14 wives and each year that he is alive he is able to choose another.

My human rights and feminist mind said this would be a sad festival to witness. After all, Swaziland is Africa’s last absolute monarchy and “King Mswati III has ruled the small country with its one million inhabitants since 1986. In 1973, Mswati’s father Sobhuza II banned all political parties and declared a state of emergency, which is still in place today. The king governs the country’s 55 administrative divisions, known as Tikhundla, through its chiefs.” According to avert.org, Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world, with 27% of their 15-49 age population infected with the deadly virus. “Heterosexual sex is the main mode of HIV transmission in Swaziland – accounting for 94% of all new HIV infections… In the context of the entire population, 31% of all women are living with HIV, compared to just 20% of men.”

So, what exactly did this festival promote? Traditionalists said it continued centuries old practices that insured clan linkages and promoted population growth to ensure ethnic survival. How could that be relevant in the context of contemporary realities? Democracy and political participation are non-starters, deadly STIs and STDs plague the country, polygamy remains prominent and partially explains the disproportional prevalence rate in women (42% of pregnant women are said to have the virus) , 63% of Swazis lives below the poverty line, and life expectancy is 48 years old.

I went in with an open mind. I knew that to most outsiders’ gaze this would be just a chance to see topless women or a condemnation of Swazi’s “backwardness” in the face of all the above, but for me this was an opportunity to see contemporary Africans performing and preserving what they considered to be an important cultural practice.

 

What I found was a mixed bag of emotion and observation, culminating in extreme gratitude. First, it’s important to know that the festival goes by multiple names, Umhlanga (officially), Reed Festival or Reed Dance. The festival is about 8 days long and it’s never the same dates each year. It’s typically at the end of August, but no one really knows until much closer to the date when the Royal Family announces the festival dates. The open space at Ludzidzini Field, the Queen Mother’s land, becomes the stage for scores of childless, unmarried, (I believe also virgin) girls and women dressed in traditional clothing, but bearing their breasts.

P1090224.jpg

Second, in the sequence of the dates of the festival, I visited on Day 6 and all photos here were taken from that small component of the entire event. We arrived at the field around 3pm to find that many of the dancing groups had already assembled and were making their way through the arena. The girls were jubilant and seemed to be having a really great time. As most people note that Swaziland is pretty boring most times of the year (except for Reed Dance and Bushfire), it came as no surprise that these young ladies were just enjoying the excitement of being together, dressing up and having something to do.

Since Swazis speak English it was a photographer’s dream! I asked them if I could take their picture before doing it and they all obliged. Some really enjoyed being the center of attention, posing in groups and staging themselves.

P1090207.jpg

Last, we left early to get back before dark. The drive from Swazi’s Ezulwini Valley to Maputo is about 3 hours, there are no street lights and Day 6 fell on a Sunday. Leaving after only an hour and a half felt like peeling myself away from something great that was just beginning to erupt. The press started to come and shoo us out of the way. More people started to arrive, including an aggressive group of Indian men who looked way too excited to be there for the festival’s intended purpose and seemed focused on a field full of breasts (…just the kind of creepy guys I expected might be drawn to such an event). More fashionable African women started to come too. Their breasts were covered, though they wore fashionable elements incorporating their traditional fabric (with the face of the King or the royal shield) with modern hipster jeans and sneakers.

As I left the festival with my 3 travel companions, we all walked away with different feelings. I was excited for having been able to take such interesting and intimate photos. My husband was sad realizing how young most of the girls were and constantly being reminded of the event’s purpose. One friend was excited to be back in Swaziland after having been gone since high school. He remembered places, recalled words and practiced recalling what he knew of Swazi. And his girlfriend observed, enjoyed and shared in the colors and styles of the fashion inspiration. So, we all left with our expectations shifted and perhaps a lot of food for thought, in all kinds of directions.

Turns out the festival is less about selecting a new wife for the King and more to “preserve the women’s chastity, provide tribute labour for the Queen Mother, and produce solidarity among the women through working together.” For me, it was one of those rare opportunities to see African people living their culture without caveats. There were no explanations or excuses, just Swazis being Swazis as they saw fit. While they spend the rest of the year shuffering and smiling, surviving in the face of historical and actual challenges, this festival felt like one of the few times they got to live out some form of vanity and celebrate themselves… in all their glory.

I was thankful to be able to catch a glimpse.

P1090231.jpg

Photos are the author’s own. Please request permission to reproduce elsewhere.