revelations

I have officially been pregnant 7 months now and this experience has taught me a lot. I learned that while pregnancy is not an illness, it is certainly a condition. It has required monthly and now bi-weekly doctor’s visits. I have been on antibiotics three times and am now on them daily. I have gained 30 lbs over the course of this 7 months. My employer does not offer maternity leave, so I will have to use sick leave and even then I will only be able to do so up to 6 weeks for a natural birth or 8 weeks for a C-section. Any more time I’d like to spend with my new homie after that will be what you all know as vacation time. Fathom that I will not have sick leave left to take him/her to the required infant doctor appointments for many months after birth. And through all of this I have learned that women in the U.S. have little to no control over their reproductive rights and birthing.

This is not about the politics of the day, which has our president offering private companies the option to deny women the option to time their family planning. And this isn’t even about the politicians who ask their mistresses to have abortions, while pretending that pro-life is even a real thing (…because, it is not a real thing! To say you are pro-life, but not pro-social services to help that life throughout its life is bullsh*t. So, yea, it’s not a real thing). This is about the daily micro-aggressions of being a person who is exhausted, heavy, with limited mobility who has tried to navigate self-care and the healthcare system in our nation’s capital.

As everyone who will listen knows by now, since I arrived in DC in June I have seen three different medical practices. They all (somewhat) sucked. I say this because the idea that a patient should see 7-15 doctors in a practice, just so that the random who is on call the day you deliver has the benefit of having seen your face before, is also bullsh*t. This system is geared to the benefit of the doctors, not to you as a parent or a patient. There’s also no continuity of care in that process. How many times have I had to say, “the last time I was here…”? And, frankly, it’s insulting to think that one of the most important moments in a person’s life will be a crap shoot of audience members, treatments, and services.

Oh and the audience is large. No one is comprehensive in their care, by the way. You are expected to have a doula, have taken childbirth classes, done some form of birth breathing or massage class, and attended prenatal yoga or pilates – at the least. God, forbid your doctor/midwife actually discuss labor with you. The discussion isn’t their job, I guess, just the labor itself (which really isn’t about you at all). And there is the expectation that you will be ok with medical students, nurses, and doctors you’ve just met that day seeing you at your most vulnerable. This feels like a sporting event where you are unsure if you will be the referee, an audience member or a contender. It’s simply not up to you. And not even about you.

I have given up on riding the metro at this point, because no one gives up their seats for pregnant ladies. My fingers are too swollen to wear my wedding ring and even one of my doctors gave me the condescending look when asking (despite this having been on my chart) if I was having anyone with me throughout this process. It’s not polite for a pregnant lady to say, “Yes, yabish, the man who fathered this child and married me!” But, I’ve come to accept these looks and judgments of an expectant Black mother. The city is gentrified and I have only come to see brown people at Latinx & Black events. Finding ways to navigate self-care, without a co-pay and ignorant assumptions has been quite a feat in this town. I was the only Black woman in my pilates class, except the instructor, and the Indian girl who was my soul sistah (I don’t think she knew it though) dropped after the 3rd class (obviously she didn’t know if she left me behind). No one else spoke to me throughout the course and perhaps it was for the best.

Maybe because I’m physically less able or maybe because I’m just too tired to play coy, I’ve learned to observe and not react to the assumptions made about me, the family I am creating, and my choices as a woman. I can truly attest to the fact that there is a business to birthing and it hasn’t even pretended to care about my agency as a person. Whether it’s waiting a week to get medical results for an obvious infection, because the web portal wasn’t working (My insurance pays you $400 per visit, you mean to tell me you can’t pick up the phone to call me? #reallysandy?) Politeness does not at all indicate advocacy. And everybody is worried about an impending lawsuit that has absolutely nothing to do with you. And this isn’t just the docs, this includes the otherwise very nice childbirth instructor who said none of her doulas were allowed to do a home birth because of the insurance liability she wasn’t prepared to shoulder as a business owner. Well, thanks, that wasn’t what I was asking, but I guess your business liability is my concern now too… good to know.

All in all, I lament this moment publicly, because I have found myself feeling isolated in this space. I’ve become accustomed to seeing women and partners in waiting rooms, abuzz with other waiting couples, so excited or scared about giving life that they really do not see how they are being treated more like chattel than people. It seems that people have become resigned to this level of care and have accepted that this is what they deserve. I venture some of this is because in this area, women are having children later in life. Believing their pregnancies some miracle of modern medicine, rather than their own bodies, they assume that they should rely on, defer to, and accept any medical treatment that gets their kids birthed in tact –  regardless of what this means for their own maternal health. But I guess the same could be said for any woman made to feel as disempowered as this entire process intends. We are made to believe that the doc is our biggest asset – not our own bodies and certainly not our mental & emotional well being. Until very recently, I felt alone in the realization that this doesn’t work for me. But, I can’t possibly be the only one.

People seem so excited to have children that the “how” of the matter doesn’t seem to matter much at all. If your employer screws you, it’s ok. If your doctor can’t pronounce your name, that’s normal. If the nurses haven’t read your charts, it’s understandable. And, this is, after all, my observation coming from the privileged position of having a job and excellent health insurance. I can only imagine what it would be like to be even more financially and physically vulnerable. Multiple DC area hospitals closed their maternity wards in the last year and one can only wonder if that was a good thing, considering reported conditions.

I call this piece revelations, because these are experiences I could never have understood before this moment. Being made to feel like an anomaly, demanding crunchy granola, for asking to be seen – truly been seen – as a human giving life has been stressful and draining. I can’t say that I’ve allowed it to be degrading or that I’ve permitted it to be dehumanizing. If that ever happens, trust me, it will be against my will and I will be telling a very different kind of story here. Yet, I have fought with all my might to not have the sour business of birth diminish my own relationship to pregnancy and my body. It has been a journey. I’m sure that I am not alone in this trial and after 7 months, I know this is bigger than me. I am not asking too much.  I am not being rebellious. I am simply stepping into parenthood in the present, rather than in the “after the baby is born” future.

If anyone else out there feels similarly, I simply want you to know that you are not alone, I see you, and you are not asking too much.

Frugal, ECO, Ethical Citizen

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Photo: Washington State University

I am so excited to be back because I can finally be a more avid supporter of eco-friendly products, small & minority owned businesses, ethical spending and civic engagement. In just the last few weeks I’ve been researching options for her & home, so that I can get into a groove that I can stick with. What’s more important is that I can’t afford to do this on a baller budget. I’ve got to find a way to chop my spending by about half and to adopt a less is more approach to the items I accept into our home. Going from a 4 bedroom townhouse to a 1 bedroom apartment is sure to be great practice. Here’s what I’ve come up with…

For clothes, I’m trying to craft my life around Courtney Carver’s 333 Project, by using decluttr and thredup to shed stuff I haven’t worn in years and to restock with new fair trade, frugal and fanciful wears. So, I’m still working through getting rid of stuff that hasn’t even yet arrived in my shipments from Africa, but for now I’m focusing on fair trade PACT Organic‘s organic cotton that meets Fair Trade standards in India and The Global Organic Textile Standard for the factory workers who make the wears. At $20 a dress at their annual sale (going on right now), there’s simply no excuse NOT to buy.  And, since underwear don’t count towards the 333, I’m investing in the Black & women owned business that’s proven to be a pick me up, under my clothes. You! Lingerie is making sure my belly bump doesn’t turn me into an old maid one minute before my time. With styles & prices on par with La Senza & Victoria Secret, this ain’t yo’ mama’s maternity wear!

For food, I’m going back to my old faithfuls. Mom’s Organic Market isn’t for the paupers, but anyone on a budget can manage it and, frankly, I feel it in my gut – literally – when I’ve grocery shopped elsewhere. To balance the budget, I’ll be going back to my old ways of relying on a CSA for fruits and veggies. First, it’s cheaper than buying everything separately, but second I get everything in one box with so much less packaging than would be the case in a supermarket chocked full of plastic bags and paper wrappings. That makes me feel like there’s less waste in the world just cause of me! Because I’m moving to a new neighborhood I don’t think I can stick with 5adayCSA, but I’ll give From the Farmer a shot. At $29 per box with delivery, I can’t complain! Oh and what to do with all the scraps that come from my juicer? COMPOST babaysssss! I am committing to dropping off the waste at the old, reliable Common Good City Farm in the District.

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Photo from The Make Your Own Zone

For the house, I’m back on the non-chemical disinfectant tip – well, as much as possible without creating a bio hazard. I’m stocking up on apple cider vinegar, which can be used for everything – literally – everything. And then I’m getting Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint in bulk, in spite of its weird label, so I can “Dilute! Dilute!” (read the label – it’s weird). And finally, I’ll oscillate between Organic Eco Nuts (which are so easy to use, have little packaging, are safe for the environment and simple as hell to (re)use) for my clothes & sheets AND True! Detergents (a Black & Veteran owned business that uses non-toxic & biodegradable ingredients) for the doggie’s goods and the hubby’s sweaty stanky wears.

I can’t wait to start afresh & I’m still open to other suggestions… send ’em my way…& keep ’em coming!

 

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:

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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.

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Pinterest

 

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

January Review

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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

 

 

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

 

In Living Colour

I know it happened a few weeks ago, but I went to the Color Run…though in SA I think they really spell it British style with that silent ‘U’ – Colour… any whoo….

One of the best things about living in Southern Africa is South Africa. They say things like “shame” and “now now,” which in American vernacular means “Aww darn” and “as soon as possible, hopefully today, inshallah before the sunsets, God willing and if the Levies don’t break.” One great thing that South Africa has is the great outdoors. There are safaris and treks through the mountains and sea views. Closest to our side of the border in a town called Nelspruit, this girl walked her first 5k in about 7 years. Oh, did I mention that we threw colors on each other the whole way? Ok, well that happened and here’s what it looked like:

If every 5k I walk is this much fun, I just might be enticed to do it more often! To learn more about the Color Run nearest you, see here for the US and South Africa.

Photo and balloon styling credit to the man of the Tembe house.