Help Hyze’s Medical Fund

When I met Hyze, I didn’t know he had other names. We met at a NJ speakeasy bookstore that is no more and he volunteered to help me with my self-published urban culture magazine, Exist. We spent many hours, days and months talking through photos, stories, and basically… chilling. Trying to understand how to tell the story of where we’re from and what we live each day, though our stories, even, were vastly different. In any case, through the years Hyze revealed himself as Akintola Hanif. He and his work evolved. My magazine died. His photography grew. And his career became a combination of photo-activism, photo-journalism, and shooting the subaltern.

Months go by and he and I call, write, say we’re going to link up when I’m in town, sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. But, when it happens, my friend fills my soul. He reminds me of every artsy urban dream I ever had that I laid aside for a pay check and travel options. He reminds me that every bit of creative spirit in writing and image that I’ve produced over the years is honest to my core, because since before I was the me many people know today I was living that truth and he supported me (why, I’ll never know) from our day 1.

And so, it is with a heavy heart that I heard that he recently had a stroke. Ok, let’s be honest. I felt shock and guilt, even before I felt sympathy or concern. First, this dude is young and so shock set in before anything else. I considered that something had to have gone wrong here and that a stroke really is something that could have, should have hit a decade or two after today, maybe. Guilt came because I saw the “GoFundMe” page on his facebook account, but misread it for weeks. I thought he was starting a fund to help a friend. I didn’t realize his friend set up an account to help him. And you know how many hours I spend on facebook. I could have clicked the link and known sooner. He is my friend, a real one, seriously. I had emailed him weeks and days before with my usual two liner. “I miss you. That is all.” But, didn’t reach out beyond that. So, guilt… there you have it.

For the sympathy and concern, I could say I have a lot, but that too would be wrong. He is the second photographer in my life to have a stroke. Watching my grandfather transform into his post-stroke self was painful for him and difficult to watch, so I know the days ahead will be tough and will be different for my friend.  What I really had was fear. But, what I’ve seen in these past few days is that Hyze’s friends have come together – at least in social media land – to help support. That’s more than can be said for many people. And so that give me joy and hope. I hope it does the same for him, as he recovers and shoots new lives from a different angle.

So, he’s been many things in this life, a dancer, a single-father, a friend, a photographer, a magazine editor and founder, a son, a mentor, a whole person (with grills and glasses) with a story to tell.  #sammiches

I hope you’ll take the time to support my friend’s recovery so that he can continue to do what he does best… every little bit helps.

https://www.gofundme.com/akintolas-medical-recovery-fund

#musicamondays #MusicMondays (67)

Welcome to the 67th 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…

Chicago born, Gil Scott Heron been woke since woke was a thing… He’s probably turning over in his grave right now, but… every once in a while we need to be reminded of how far we’ve come and how far we haven’t… Thank you, sir.

And since it’s a Monday Morning, this feels appropriate… let’s call on Lady Day and make the most of the day we have in front of us!

January Review

DSCF1809

Hi friends – My birthday happened. I’m one year older. Good job mom for birthing me and making sure I’ve stayed alive this long!

As a gift to myself and with the blessing of my other half, I participated in a 10 day Vipassana retreat that kept me silent and pensive. I highly recommend it to anyone who can manage to be away from friends, family and meat for 10 days. It was a learning experience I think could benefit others.

It gave me some time to think about professional and personal goals, as well as self-care and self-awareness. I believe I made peace with myself and forgave people I love and once loved.

Since then, I think, I’ve been slower. I’ve been deliberate and mindful, and unabashedly selfish. While Vipassana helps to minimize ego by making us confront impermanence, it also makes you very loyal to yourself and reliant on your own inner peace. Whether it be our lives or minor experiences within it, nothing lasts forever. Coming to terms with that can be done with mastering 2 inevitable truths of human life: (1) we must develop the faculty and continue the practice of being self-aware to observe who we are and accept how we manifest peace and (2) we have the ability to control our reactions (in mind, speech and action) to external stimuli that may destabilize equanimity.

I’ve been tested so much since I’ve come back. Whether it be excitement over a new opportunity or my body’s violent rejection of alcohol after 14 days of abstention, small things have changed. This isn’t a miracle, just one method to practice mindfulness.

I encourage you all to read up on it, think it over, and attend a session if the spirit moves you.

XOXO

Oh, it’s free by the way… http://www.dhamma.org

 

 

 

Best Books of 2016!

Like I do every year, I signed up for Goodreads’ 2016 Reading Challenge and failed miserably. My plan was to read 52 books and just yesterday, as I read the final chapter of Paulina Chiziane‘s Niketche – a novel  in Portuguese language novel about polygamy in Mozambique – I closed the page on my 39th book of the year. Thirteen books behind, I could feel guilty, but why? I discovered audible and listened to 3.5 books (not counted), saved so many life minutes that I would have spent listening to garbage music or actually reading Mindy Kaling’s horrible book. I would say that’s a victory. And so, I will only feel, but so guilty before I share with you my annual book review…

First, I have to say that my reading heavily focused on the two areas – productivity and my PhD. So, while both may seem boring as hell to you, they were fascinating to me and really pushed me to my professional limits. Second, you can imagine why this year is extremely difficult for me to judge – naming favorites across vastly different genres is really hard to do. Third, I apologize in advance because many of the books I read are not readily available. Last, if anybody is particularly interested in reading in Portuguese, I suggest you get very familiar with wook.pt and their global shipping rates.

So, let the fun begin…

My top five are as follows:

978-0-8223-4191-8_pr.jpgLiving with Bad Surroundings by Sverker Finnstrom

You can read the book if you want to know what it’s about, but I particuarly enjoyed it for its excellent writing. As a PhD student struggling to contextualize and explain how everyday violence affects individuals and their life choices, I plan to fully mimic Finnstrom’s writing techniques and adapt them to my own study.

African Workers and Colonial Racism by Jeanne Marie Penvenne51ZX1QEahZL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

As I wrote in my amazon.com review: “I found this study to be utterly fascinating and eerily relevant to the contemporary labor constraints in the capital of Mozambique. Anyone looking for a serious text about Mozambican economic and social realities should read this closely. It is not about the countries beaches and it doesn’t wax prophetic about the Portuguese colonial system, which I’m sure damages some people’s idyllic view of Mozambique as a country and Portugal as a racially proximate colonial master. But, with Portuguese colonialism lasting well into the 1970s, anyone living, studying or working in the country could well benefit from reading this text and understanding how it affects present day realities.”

514B-YWWBmL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgOur Black Year by Maggie Anderson

While every year I have tried to become a more mindful consumer, this book taught me how hard that can be. For those of us who live in food deserts, it’s hard. For those looking to support small businesses it’s hard. But, this family’s quest to try to exclusively patronize Black owned businesses while living in a predominantly Black neighborhood really showed me that the economics of poverty and patronage in the U.S. context are more complicated than I thought. I, for one, am taking a second to check the owners and competitors of businesses and products that I buy regularly. Entrepreneurship is to be praised and supported. Now, many years after this book was written, it’s even easier to support – no excuses. Your funds fund corporate ideologies and empires, the choice is always yours, consumer.

This Present Darkness by Stephen Ellis* 41y5BdSQ5sL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

This book was written by a dead man. Really! He died while doing the research, but the study was so valuable and fascinating that his team continued his work. The study focuses on Nigeria’s black market scams and underworld. If you know anything about my interests, you know that mob movies and illegal activity are my schtick, so this story strikes a chord in my intellectual and entertainment soul. You’ve got to read it!

Essentialism by Greg McKeown514M9KlQKQL._AC_US218_.jpg

I have become a productivity addict and while listening to Asian Efficiency’s Productivity Podcast, I heard Mr. McKeown speak. Basically, he takes a 100 years after your death approach to prioritizing what you should do daily. By his definition, you can throw away half the stuff on your current to do list and never look back. It’s very freeing to pay attention to your legacy rather than your inbox, but it’s also a lot of responsibility. Once you figure out what you want your contribution to humanity to be, there’s really no looking back.

The bottom dwellers:

The Smartest Investment Book You’ll Ever Read by Daniel R. Solin

The 7 Secrets of the Prolific by Hillary Retig

The Americanization of Goans by Ladis da Silva

Actually, all of these books suck, so I won’t waste more time on them than is necessary. They all have great premises and are about really riveting subjects, but they are poorly executed in my opinion. So, read them if you must, but don’t say you weren’t warned.

I look forward to a 2017 without a goodreads challenge, but still with a lengthy reading list…

I welcome your suggestions. Leave ‘em in the comments.

Are we THAT couple now?

Turns out, after two years of wedded bliss and occasional blunders, a lot of my friends have now decided that I’m one half of an old married couple. I’m not sure when it happened, or why. But, I find now that my husband and I are often the most senior married couple in any room of our peers. Weird… Some of this is because here in Maputo the couples we know have been together for ages, but haven’t gone through the cumbersome feat of planning an African wedding. Most of my friends in New Jersey are singling and mingling. In short, we get asked about relationship and marital advice a lot. By no means, should we be asked. We don’t know anything about relationships, we just know a lot about each other. But, because I know we’ll get asked many times over the next year, as our friends and siblings get married one by one, here’s a short list of lessons I can share about transitioning from girlfriend to wife.

1f803ad34b2dd53f6f0ac81417fb88e5.jpg1 – Living together isn’t the same: Remember, girl friend, when it used to be exciting to sleepover at his house? The joys of the scent of his cologne on the sheets. Or better yet, before he said he’d come to your place, you cleaned up and put flowers everywhere. Oh, the staging! Staying in to cook dinner together was sweet and cozy then.When we were dating it was like sleeping over was the equivalent of staying in a nice Air BnB with benefits.  Now, wife, no matter where you go – he’s there. All the time. There’s no prep time. No down time. You’re not sharing his space and he’s not sharing yours. You’re both entitled to the same space. EEK! I died a thousand deaths at the beginning of our genuine cohabitation. I thought it’d be the same as before and it wasn’t. But the silver lining is that once it dawned on me that we’re both entitled and both responsible for the space we share, I stopped thinking I had to be the keeper of the house. His household chores have mounted! I’m his wife, not his maid.

30a1988f60fe3a530e297ac5520e9c4c.jpg2 – Honesty is the best policy: It’s so much harder to lie when you’re married. Remember, girl friend, when you would spend days apart and just meet up a few days a week for dates or cuddle sessions? You both had separate lives then. He was busy. You were busy. You both were broke.  You casually omit that your ex drunk dialed you, because you were in bed alone that night any way. You could say with a straight face, “I didn’t spend that much on shoes yesterday,” because you didn’t go over your household finances regularly. He could say, “I was at soccer,” and you wouldn’t have a clue if he actually went. You didn’t experience the confirmation funk after he came home from a friendly match. Now, wife, you both know too much. Even little white lies are hard to tell and personal secrets are hard to keep. We have managed to keep a pretty uncensored relationship and I don’t know how anyone could survive any other way. “I know your grandmother doesn’t like me. The feeling is pretty much mutual,” has been heard at our dining room table with multiple furrowed brows. “Quit complaining about being fat, you aren’t doing anything about it” has been said about 3 times in the last month – not that I’m counting. In any case, there’s a bit of thick skin that’s acquired, but the active listening skills improve. When you’re married you’ve got to listen to and live through the whole truth, not just the pretty parts.

4fed46be6744ee5704980e3718161437.jpg3 – “You’re on the same team”: We have 2 married couple role models, both couples were families I worked with in India and whose advice has been absolutely invaluable. (#couplegoals that are attainable and proximate are important for us.) This nugget came from the husband of one of these patron saints. And he said it to me, not us. At a farewell dinner, he said (with caution), “you have to remember that no matter what, you’re on the same team. I know you, and you’ll need to remember this.” And he was right. Not just right, but really right. Remember that honesty thing I said before, well that’s hard to stomach. It’s so much easier said than done. When somebody tells you things you don’t want to hear or when their support doesn’t look the way you planned, it can definitely feel isolating and oppositional. I’ve learned over the last few years that being on the same team doesn’t always mean being in agreement or even in sync. Sometimes it means being complimentary, using each other as force multipliers. What a relief it is to learn that marriage is like running a relay race together rather than competing side by side at a marathon.

b90ffe3084d263ae588576f23004322b.jpg4 – Be prepared to act a fool together: We struggled at the beginning to have fun together. My husband’s idea of fun sometimes goes too far and I feel like I have to be sober to make sure he doesn’t throw up in the pool. My idea of fun is best described as “0 to 100 real quick.” Either I’m absolutely boring (seriously, listening to productivity podcasts and watching paint dry boring) while recharging my introvert battery OR I’m double fisting at any bar that will let me in without a cover (after you do this enough, the bar access eases). What this means is, we have seen each other at our worst – in the pursuit of trying to let off steam and let our hair down. Work hard, play hard has landed us next to each other the next day often with one of us having absolutely no recollection of the 15 hour period before. Girl friend, you might feel the need to discuss this in depth. Ask and be asked about your motivations. You think this behavior is an indication of a problem. This wife does a thorough physical check that no one has shed blood over the night before, confirms that no one has incriminating photos in their phones, says a prayer to the patron saint that keeps all fools safe, and makes a hearty breakfast to sop up the alcohol belly and shame accumulated over the night before. And then, we laugh about it and move on. Remember when I said you’ll have to “listen to and live through the whole truth, not just the pretty parts,” embarrassing yourself in front of your partner is just part and parcel.

58957daf33441420612215b7310ce537.jpg5- There are things I still don’t understand: This list is an abbreviated version of the long list of things I still don’t get about my own relationship, much less anyone else’s, i.e. farting around each other, managing finances, when/whether to have kids, intimacy, making the bed in the morning (hint: i don’t give AF about making anybody’s bed), attendance at family functions, working together, cross cultural union, inter religious union,  bilingual union, deciding where is home, retirement plans (yes, i’m thinking about it already), exes as friends, platonic friends, definitions of fun, managing a social calendar, managing my introversion, managing his extroversion… I could go on, but can you see why we’re so uncomfortable being the old wise couple in the room? We don’t know anything except our own experiences, most of which we haven’t even worked out yet.

My guess is 10, 15, 25 years down the line, the same will continue to be true. We still won’t know much, but we’ll have a lot of experience with trying to figure it out.

Stupidest things I did this year while trying to be smart…

Broke Life - https://www.pinterest.com/resumeedge/jobresume-funnies/My husband, my friends, people who know me well and people who met me yesterday all know that I am the queen of doing too much. I think I deserve a medal OR a dunce cap to remind myself of this, because I am always biting off more than I can chew. I’m studying and working at the same time. I’m not just studying actually. I’m basically trying to write a book. And not only am I working, but I’m supposed to be people’s boss all day long. This is all while being an expert doggie mum, a new batch cook, and an aspiring CFR fellow. In preparation for the end of 2016 and in an effort to put all this mercury in retrograde behind me, here are my confessions.

money blog1 – I changed my retirement withholdings to $1 per pay period. Yup, I did that stupid $hit! Why? You might ask. I’ll tell you why. I thought I was going to overpay the maximum withholding last year. So as to avoid this, I dropped down the withholding to bare bones on the last pay period of the calendar year. And then? You might ask. I just forgot. I forgot for 10 whole months and didn’t realize until I went on vacation, came up for air and looked at my pay stub without work fog in my eyes. And so… I did that.

2 – I drove up the offramp from Kenneth Kaunda street. If you don’t know anything about Maputo what you should know is that there are no real street signs. Actually maybe there are 3 or 4, but they just popped up in the last few months. In any case, there was road construction, I was late to work and rather than just stopping for a sec to see which way traffic was going, I kept going straight up the ramp until I saw a car heading straight for me. Then, I turned into the UNHCR driveway to turn around and head back the way I came and start all over. I remained late.

image13 – I ordered a bottle of Veuve Clicquot at Oktoberfest. Yes, I meant to order champagne. No, I did not mean to order a bottle. For some reason, while sitting in a large tent filled with drunken Germans in Stuttgart, I conveniently forgot that the 95.00 price tag was in Euro (and not South African Rand). Why would I think in Rand? Well, because the only times I end up in a big party full of 20something White people, I tend to be in South Africa. In any case, 95.00 Rand is about $8 USD, which is about how much any bottle of anything in South Africa costs, so there was also a bit of wishful thinking to it too. I messed up, mixed up countries, mixed up currencies and a shameless friend sent back the bucket and made me order a glass of some cheap fizzy stuff. It cost about $8 per glass.

14581584_10102690261571042_941430723435017587_n4 – I bought and read Mindy Kaling‘s book “Why not me? – This book is horrible, but it sounded like a great idea because I love “the Mindy project” and I had free downloads on Audible. So I’m not sure if I’m more upset that I had to listen to her voice for 5 hours OR if I’m thankful that at least I saved hours of life minutes I never would have gotten back if I had read it myself. In short, her retelling of her life experiences is boring. Maybe she does fun things in real life, but she didn’t talk about them in this book. And then she gave a revisionist telling of advice about being a confident woman years after actually having been asked. And even after years of rumination… her answer was still lackluster. I want my money & my life minutes back.

5 – Batch cooking – Ok, so this is actually smart. But, since we have no legit tupperware (just old plastic ice cream containers), I have no place to store the food except in the pots I cooked them in. They fill up my fridge and seem appealing & edible for dinners (though they were intended for lunch) and by Wednesday at 11am, I have officially ran out of meals for the rest of the week. I’m still working through this one, because I think it’s redeemable. I’m trashing the repurposed ice cream tubs and investing in glass containers with snap on lids… I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

Hope you enjoyed my  “doing too much” calamity confessions. Laugh @ my pain…

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.