Friday, December 16, 2016

Igbo Proverbs: Trust, Family, Friends

Taking a stab at some Igbo proverbs. Let me know your thoughts!
Proverb: Okuko ekwesigi ichefu onyeforo ya odu na udummiri

Literal Translation: A hen does not forget who pulled their feathers during the rainy season

Context: During a rainy season, chicken/hens often catch colds. In order to get rid of the cold or to prevent future frostbites or hypothermia , we pluck the affected feathers.

Lesson: Never forget the person who helped you when you were down. Always be grateful and be willing to help those who have helped you in the past. When you help someone out, they will always return the favor. You scratch my back, I scratch yours.

Proverb: Oke no na ulo aya gwara oke no na ama na azu no na mkpukuru

Literal Translation: It is the rate in the house that went and told the rate outside that there is fish in the kitchen.

Context: Since there were no (still are not any in some areas) refrigerators, we used special baskets to preserve the fish. The basket would be closed and placed on burning charcoal or wood to stay dry and stay fresh. Often times, the fish brings rats into the kitchen and the rats enter the basket and eat the fish.

Lesson: The only way someone will know what is happening outside is if someone inside is telling them. That is, the only way that someone can enter your house and steal your fish (or anything else) is if someone inside let them in or someone inside told them where the item was located. Thus, be careful who you trust and make sure your house is in order or it will come to bite you.

Monday, November 14, 2016

America, the ugly

I have written all over my social media how I feel about this election, but I am often reluctant to put my thoughts into a coherent post. It forces me to deal with the reality of last week and to articulate my feelings in a more in depth manner.

I hate to say I told you so, but America is a country founded on racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and every form of otherness. I hate that I am right about America. I hate that I am not shocked or surprised by the result. It does not feel good to know that everything about you is hated. It does not feel good to know people want you dead.It does not feel good to know how many people are invested in your suffering. It does not feel good to know that people rejoice in your sadness.

Unfortunately, Black people, especially Black women, do not get that luxury of being shocked and disappointed. It is true that I am shielded by class and “citizenship” from the everyday realities of poverty. However, my blackness and womanness informs by everyday interaction with whiteness. Every day I turn on the television, open a book, walk down the street, take down my hair, scroll social media, enter a meeting, ride the train, I am confronted with images and words that are directly opposed to my existence.

I do not have to go to the edge of the earth to know that people are struggling. I am not interested in exploiting or appropriating people’s pain and struggle. The constant images and stories are not needed for me to extend empathy. I do not need proof of suffering because I have stopped believing the lie of America. My liberation does not stop at me or my loved ones. Liberation can only come from the most marginalized and vulnerable people in this country. There are people who see things that I will never be able to see and that is okay.

This election has reaffirmed so many people’s truth, not only in America but also across the world. While I was confident that Hillary would win the election, I am not surprised that Trump won. Every day I learn and unlearn more about America’s violent past and present. Everyday history repeats itself. Everyday history spits in our face, but we keep turning our faces to the past. We keep telling ourselves what we would do in the 40s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. We keep lying to ourselves to make America more palatable; to make life more comfortable. But there is nothing beautiful about America. There are beautiful people in America, but America as a state is plain ugly. America is evil. America can never be great as long as it exists as both a symbol and architect for genocide, slavery, and domination.

America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, is a lie. We are not free and we have never been free. I get it. I get the need for us to feel safe and secure and whole. This is why I imagine a future in which these things are possible. I imagine a future where we can be all the things America tells us we are. But this is not it. America is not it.

Nina Simone was once asked, “ What is freedom?”. To which she replied, “No fear”. To me, freedom is the absence of fear and the presence of imagination, wholeness, humanity, and individuality. It is really difficult to imagine freedom outside for America’s hypocrisy, but I still believe it is possible. However, freedom will never be possible when we are moved by fear. Freedom will never be possible when we fail to face the truth.

As I get older, I am less and less disillusioned by the truth. I am less and less afraid of facing the reality of America. For me, ignorance is not bliss. Bliss does not move people to change. Bliss does not cause people to be introspective. Instead it causes people to ignore the hurt and pain human beings face every day. Every time truth knocks on the door, we run away and hide. We treat the truth like a criminal, like a stranger. Truth is our drunken auntie suffering from schizophrenia that we like to hide in the backroom or throw away to an institution. Fortunately, my truth is grounded in the Black imagination that freedom is attainable. However, I do not think I will see freedom while I am alive because I have read too much history to be so disillusioned.

America has always created the illusion of freedom and progress. I am convinced certain that every day we move away from truth telling, the harder it becomes to envision and attain freedom. But I will work every day to push our imagination and replace the America’s mythologies with a world in which every human being is free. A world in which human life and the environment around is valued.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

My anger creates a fire

Never short of confidence but always full of insecurities. Because I am black and I am woman. And to be black and woman means to constantly fall in and out of love with yourself. It means that some days I feel good, some days I feel bad.

Many days I am angry but often quite glad. It is through Black feminism that I began to articulate and embrace the complexities of my humanity. It is through black feminism that I began to practice self-love more fully and more selfishly.

But the experience has been nothing short of painful. Once my eyes opened to the different ways I experienced violence in silence and ignorance, I felt compelled to speak out. I felt compelled to yell. Yell at anyone who actively decided to dehumanize me and ignore my existence. I became angry. Very angry.

But for this anger I am grateful. Because without this anger, I could not go on. My anger is valid and necessary. My anger compels me to relate, build, and rejoice with my black sisters. My anger made me love myself unapologetically and go where I am loved always. My anger led to me say no when I wanted to and yes when I needed to. My anger guides me in ways that my sadness and joy could not. My anger is grounded in love for black women because how such amazing human beings could be hated so much and treated so poorly. How could these women be so resilient with the little scrapes of the world? Making lemonade out of lemons.

When you are pushed to the margins of society, finding no place to feel safe, you create. You create authentic versions of yourself that shield you from society's projections of their insecurities and hate.

Black girls are magic because we have been pushed to create magic. When you find someone just as angry as you are in the world, you begin to create fire. Black girl juju.  Eerie but powerful. Fascinating yet frightening. Black girls are creating fires that everyone wants to see put out. But we are deserted and dehydrated, so more and more girls are catching on fire.

We are burning incest and roots and oils for our ancestors who speak through us. We are angry for our mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers, and all the women who made fire between their palms. For all the women who found fire between their thighs and through the wave of their tongues. Their legacy will never die down as long as my anger is grounded in love. As long as I remember that love and anger are not opposites. As long as I am able to articulate and re-define my anger for myself, my anger will always be necessary. And even when I don't have the words, my actions or inaction will guide me.

I will go where I am loved. I will always remember the complexities of my humanity. I will always remember that while the love is minimal, it is ever-burning.

Fire emits light and heat and so our love and anger will emit light and heat. The light at the end of the journey is that black girls everywhere will one day know and embody freedom while the warmth and heat of love and sisterhood will reinforce and affirm this freedom.

My anger will free me, one day. Our anger will free us, some day. And all we will have left is a combustion of love. We will have the fuel to come together, the oxygen to breathe life in one another, and the energy to sustain one another.


Friday, August 12, 2016

Retelling the story of Kola Nut (Oji) by an Igbo woman

When men control the narrative and tell stories, we miss out on the diversity and richness of our ancestor’s lives.

Growing up, I was constantly taught that the kola nut was reserved for men. Women were not to look , touch, or eat the kola nut. Being a chief, my dad frequently had visitors over the house. In Igbo tradition, the kola nut is a form of welcome and hospitality. The kola nut tells a story about where you have been and where you are going. One cannot visit another's house without taking kola nut back to his people. During the breaking of the kola, the kola is passed around from the youngest to eldest and the oldest (or the priest/pastor if present) prays over the kola. During the prayer, the oldest man calls upon the ancestors to bless the visitors and wish them with long life, good health, and prosperity.

I always watched this ceremony from afar. My dad taught my brothers how to cut and pass around the kola, but never engaged me about the importance or role of women. For a long time, I assumed that kola nut was reserved for men. At parties, men would pass up all the women in the audience and give kola to boys age 2 to men aged 92. Every time I reached to pick a piece of kola, I was shunned and ridiculed.

Recently, however, my dad explained to me that women do have a role in the breaking of the kola. We were at a family friend’s house and the host brought out the kola to bless and distribute to my dad. At this time, I was sitting across from the only other woman at the table, a reverend sister who is also Igbo. We stared at each other and mocked the process by closing our eyes. After the prayer was done, she said to me , “ Don’t you know , women are not allowed to look or eat kola.”. I laughed.

My dad interjected and said, “Actually, women are the custodians of the kola.”

He continued, “Women are the only ones who know where the kola nut is located in the home. In fact, the woman is the first person to see the kola and bless the kola because they go to the market to buy it. Women store the kola and preserve the kola. A man cannot give kola to his guests unless his wife approves of it." 

The men at the table stood up angry and shouted, “That is not true. A woman cannot see the kola!”. (ignoring the fact that women also break kola in their respective woman meetings)

I was amazed (not really though) at how determined men were to create narratives in their favor. I was astonished at how men wanted to maintain control over very important and sacred cultural ceremonies. How would it harm a man to know that a woman is the custodian of kola nut?

Much of how we view gender today is influenced by western Christian ideology. We know that women had more rights and more social power in pre-colonial Igbo land. This is not to romanticize the past or to claim that patriarchy did not exist. We are all aware of the Aba War of 1929 , where hundreds of women in Southeastern Nigeria protested against patriarchy and colonization. This war is often reduced to a "riot" against taxes, but Toyin Falola and other authors have explored the multiple causes for this uprising.

To quote an excerpt from Toyin Falola’s book " Colonialism and Violence in Nigeria": 

“Our grievances are that the land is changed, “ declared a woman in an oral interview:

We are all dying. It is a long time since the Chiefs and the people who know book… have been oppressing us. We are telling you that we have been oppressed. The new Chiefs are also receiving bribes. Since the white men came, our oil. Does not fetch money. Our kernels do not fetch money. If we take goats or yams to market to sell, court messengers who wear a uniform take all these things from us." 

This passage highlights how colonialism drastically changed the economic, social, and political status of Igbo women. Igbo women were active in trade and often provided economic security to their families. Women had access to and the resources to sustain themselves. When women are empowered, communities are empowered. When Westerners came, they limited a woman’s access to education and work. Colonizers took over the markets that women previously operated and benefitted from. When women are not empowered, communities suffer. So it is important that we continue to tell the stories of the women that came before us. Revisiting the past gives me hope that we can create a better society for our girls. My ancestors give me the inspiration needed to fight for justice and equity for women, specifically Black women.

We must continue to tell our stories and ask more questions. Culture is not stagnant. Reject the statement, “ This is culture”. Culture is the way human beings react to the environment they find themselves in. As such, as the environment changes (which it always does), human beings create and/or adapt. When we present alternative narratives, people begin to reimagine a world they wish to live in. We must control our stories.

When stories are solely told by men, women are erased or reduced to stereotypes. Interestingly enough, it is my dad who told this story and he is a man.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

My hope

Note: Black women (women in general) also internalize sexism and uphold patriarchal ideas (partly because of survival and the benefits with doing so). Oppression is very much psychological and it is very difficult to affirm oneself when society consistently devalues you or rewards you for upholding status quo.

Understanding that sexism is deeply entrenched in our society and understanding that sexism is the norm, it is very difficult to find the space to unlearn and not feel isolated or ostracized. To be aware of the degradation of women, particularly black women, is a tough pill to swallow. So i understand why many women feel comfortable in reaffirming status quo; does not mean I support it or agree with it. It does not mean these ideals are not harmful for women because they are.

It just makes me sad. Especially as someone who is constantly unlearning patriarchy while still having to navigate and survive in a patriarchal society, it makes me sad. It makes me sad to see women all over the world continuously expend emotional labor convincing the world of their humanity. It makes me sad to continuously see women defend, protect, affirm, and provide for others before themselves.

But my hope is that more and more women realize the ways in which patriarchy restricts our ability to live and how much patriarchy kills us everyday all around the world. My hope is that more women find solace in other women and to not attach their worth to that of a man or that of what society prescribes to them. My hope is that women begin to be more selfish and more preserving of their energy and value. My hope is that more women become more and more self-sufficient and more confident in their abilities. My hope is that more women recognize their humanity and can recognize the humanity of other women.

My hope is that we can live a freer life than our mothers, and their mothers, and their mothers. My hope is that more of us are able to conceptualize and embody freedom.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


I just wanted to get home tonight
I just wanted to see my son off before he went to bed 
Read him a story to supplement all the lies his school told him about himself 
You're violent . You're dangerous . You're ugly . You're unruly . I needed to remind him of his value and worth .
These days ain't no jobs 
Well there's never quite been enough jobs for a black man like me 
So I struggle everyday 
Trying to live up to the force fed ideals of manhood 
Sometimes I humble myself and go post up on the block . Hoping I can get at least $20 to keep on the lights . Selling CDs was my new hustle . I know you don't think it pays the bills but we have to survive . 
My wife is expecting again and I am not sure I am ready again 
Somehow she's able to hold it all together even when I'm broken down . I hate it. I hate the way she forces herself to survive 
So sometimes I hit her . I yell at her . I blame her for all my shortcomings even when I know it's not her fault.
But no one cares about the black women 
And people damn well don't care about me . 
I was just trying to get home . I was just trying to be a good father.
But today the state wanted to end my life 
Because the function of the state is not to protect me . But to find the most discrete ways to kill me off. 
It could've been anyone .
I'm dead now so I can't send this message 
But maybe someone will hear it .
Maybe there is a God and he'll tell everyone 
It could've been you 
The state kills . In every way 
White supremacy kills . In every single way 
They broke me down and took me into the street . It broke me down and took me into rage . Sometimes my family couldn't even recognize me . But they recognized the pain . We all shared the pain . We all shared the grief . We all inherited the trauma of our ancestors .
All I wanted to do was get home .
All I ever wanted to be is free . 
Maybe this is what freedom looks like .
Death . 
But maybe this will get to someone down there . Maybe someone down there will get it . It could've been anyone . To be black is to never be free . Freedom cannot come from a state that thrives,builds,and profits  off of our deaths . 
All I ever wanted to be was free .

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Glory be to God, Circa Early 2000s

Glory Be to God.

Everyone is up and getting ready for church.
The little children walk along the dirt road singing about the kingdom of God.
A couple of them were about to catch a ride on their dad’s okada.
Four children, mom, and dad. The perfect mbaise family they would say.
Grandmas and grandpas still very active and strong
Riding their 1954 bicycles to mass
He had a handkerchief in his back pocket
She had a handkerchief on top of her head
Silly returnees , taking their huge luxurious SUV three minutes across the bumpy road
Because we were still adjusting to the time difference
And how could we ever dirty our brand new shoes we brought just for this trip
I couldn’t imagine bringing all of that outside dust inside the home we spent the first week cleaning
Since nobody lives here when we are gone and we are usually gone for eleven out of the twelve months
We park our car in no particular order
Nigerians, we make do. We make room and we adjust.
Even though we woke up early, we still ended up late
I was happy because igbo mass in Nigeria is 10 times longer than igbo church in los Angeles
The later we show up, the less time we have to spend staring in thin air since I haven’t yet perfected my igbo after thirteen years
I am trying though.
I keep telling my cousins to speak only igbo to me so I can learn during the month I am here
Finally the gospel is done and the usher is letting in all of the late-comers inside the church
Holding my mommy’s hand , I begin to walk inside the church until
Suddenly . word to d’banj
The usher grabs the living hell out of me
You would think I was possessed the way he yanked my arm and shook me


My mother tries to pull me back and at one point I feel like a rope in a tug-o-war

I had been to this church before but this year everyone was stuck on yet another bible verse.

First Corinthians Chapter 11, Verse 6
"For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head."

But a man who covers his head, dishonors his head since the man is the image and glory of God.

And so my whole trip I argued and argued and argued with my cousins.
The same chapter also said “For long hair is given to her as a covering.” But it didn't matter.

No matter how young a girl is, no matter how far away from home she is, no matter the language, no matter the people, no matter the culture

She will be silenced. She will be ridiculed. She will be restricted. She will be policed.

That day, my head covering was more important than receiving the gospel of the lord.
The day I stopped arguing about bible verses and began to liberate myself from guilt and shame; I became free.

Glory be to the gods .