Building Strength into a Nigerian Marriage

Generally speaking, the concept of what an African marriage looks like brings to mind certain clichés. African men are encouraged to avoid marriage for as long as possible for the benefit of seeking fortune, while African girls are instructed to make marriage their end goal in life. There are strict gender roles that govern the dynamics of the typical “successful” union. Women are expected – or at least have knowledge of how to cook and clean on a daily basis (even if that woman in a PhD holder or CEO of a multinational conglomerate). A man comes home from work, throws his feet on the ottoman and waits for his dinner. Thrice a week he goes out to have sexual intercourse with his mistress because his wife has become dull, moody and unattractive…presumably from all the extra duties she’s expected to carry out in order to be a “good African” wife.

By all indications, marriage is something that modern African women of means ought to avoid at all costs. Culturally, African women are not expected to excel beyond a certain level and/or are expected to stifle their achievements for the sake of their husbands’ reputation. This can only lead to discontentment in a woman, which then transfers into the marriage: Miserable wife, miserable life.

There are no concrete numbers on how many marriages on the Continent end in divorce, but in the US, divorce records are packed with Nigerian surnames. If Twitter and the comment section of the typical Afro-centered blog provide any clue, it’s not difficult to understand why. It amazes me that the concept and workings of marriage between people who identify as African have not evolved with the times. Men no longer run into the bush to hunt game, so why this obsession about tying a woman’s worth to her ability to pound yam and make soup? Why aren’t more men and women of African descent focusing more energy into building stronger, better, faster, smarter women? The evidence is clear: when women are given the opportunity to flourish, uninhibited, the benefits ripple throughout society.

It’s easy to get caught up in the negative aspects of marriage that eventually lead to an African divorce, (ooo! That sounds like a book title!) because we dedicate more time to assessing why marriages fail instead of why they succeed. That’s why it is such a treat to be able to share the unconventional way this Nigerian couple have built a strong(er) marriage by incorporating strength training into their union and busting all those cliches mentioned previously.

Funmi and Ugo have three children celebrate ten years of marriage this year. Devoted to their faith, they serve in a number of their church’s ministries, including the choir, media and renew marriage ministry. Church duties aside, the couple found a new way to connect with one another through metal and floor mats in the gym.

Funmi and I were in the same dorm at Hampton University our freshman year, so when we reconnected on Facebook many years later I was shocked to discover that the smiling girl who went to school on a golf scholarship had earned a Taekwondo black belt and was a former instructor. Perpetually smiling Funmi had also married a perpetually smiling man named Ugo and they have birth three perpetually smiling children. It’s really amazing to see – but what’s even more amazing is the high praise Ugo always has for his wife. In one of his posts, he bragged about how physically strong he knows his wife is, despite her doubts. It was a sentiment he repeated when I asked him about his motivation for pushing his wife and vice versa in the gym.
Ugo:

It took a while but it finally happened. My stomach was pressing on my belt and hurting me. I had to tuck my belly away.

Now I know I was overweight but I didn’t think it was much of an issue but my belly touching my belt?  This is a problem. I am a vain man.

Time to hit the GYM.

It took a lot of false running starts but I figured out my issue: I would go to the gym and lift heavy weights as much as possible and then spend the next 5 days​ in pain from my muscles responding to the workout.

I finally happened upon 5×5 Starting Strength. 3-5 simple compound exercises that you start at low weights. I did it for 3 months sporadically but it allowed me to get used to working out for longer periods.  I enjoyed putting on more weight on the bar to show improvement.

I was getting strong but not thinner. I figured I could jog. I declared to my wife that I will job 2 miles today!  She gently suggested that I only run 1 mile since I hardly jog. She is a wise woman. I returned drenched in sweat and hyperventilating. I knew I was out of cardiovascular shape but this tired from 1 measly mile? Like I said, I am a vain guy so I started running in earnest. 1 mile, 1.5, 2 miles then 3 miles and now and then 3.5 miles. Great way to get away and challenge yourself.

I love running and hearing my lungs breathe normally. It makes me feel like I am doing push-ups for my lungs.

I work out for mainly vain reasons. I want to look good without a shirt. The health benefits are a great bonus but I want to be able to remove my shirt and have to fend off ladies that want to lick the sweat off my pectorals.  (Don’t judge me, I am a vain man.)

My Funmi is a strong woman but I soon realized that she is stronger than she thinks she is. I push her to remind her that the weights she does are too little for her. I want to push her boundaries. I never told her the squat bar already had 45 lbs. I slapped on 25 lbs. on both sides and told her to lift. She did easily. So my job is to push her. Make her lift that heavy weight. She is stronger than she thinks she is.

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I want a woman with curves and muscles so the best way to do that is develop my own muscles. Going to the gym with Funmi used to be boring. She had her own routines and she would be in there for 2 hours. Now that I know more of what exercises to do, we are working out together and it is fun.

My favorite workout day with Funmi is leg day. She wears those sexy spandex and does squats and I like to be there supporting her all the way down and back.

Funmi

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I love working out with my husband.

Back in the day when we first got married, I was really into it, worked out 3-4 days a week, 2 hours per workout. Back then, he hated working out with me. (She laughs) He didn’t think that we needed to stay that long and would often be done in less than an hour and sit in the front waiting for me, until he just decided that he wasn’t with my long gym stints, and started going on his own.

Shortly after that we started having kids and my motivation became cyclical. Same with him.
Fast forward to 2 kids, and I got really motivated and become my smallest and strongest size ever (gift from being dedicated to a boot camp class) to my third kid and no motivation.
Too tired.

Too much wahala.

Too long a commute, etc.

Then all of a sudden my hubby became Mr. Workout King. He started running, started lifting and I started seeing a change in his body. I used to be the one that was motivated, but now he was trying to push me!

This year, I’ve had a few things too motivate me. We’re going to Cancun this week to celebrate our tenth anniversary, and I didn’t want to feel blah in my swimsuit, I wanted to feel sexy.
My brother and sister-in-law went on a trip a few months ago, and I saw how hard they worked leading up to it and how great they looked in their pictures and I wanted that.

I made August my goal month to meet my weight goals. I slacked off a lot for the winter and supporting months. I tried and spotted a number of times. Then I heard about the whole 30 program (www.Whole30.Com). My friend lost a lot of weight on it, and it didn’t sound like a “diet” per say (I’ve never liked those). It sounded more like a way to revamp my relationship with food. So, about a month and a half away from my trip, I took the plunge.

30 days later of eating delicious food, and I lost several inches, 9lbs and 1-2 pants sizes.
Now I am motivated. Interspersed in these last few months, Ugo and I have worked out together, but it’s harder to do with the kiddos. But whenever we have, I’ve loved it, and now that hubby is somewhat of a gym head. Now he can stay there for two hours.

I had gone from being confident in the weight area top being intimidated. It’s weird.
I think it’s from years of not lifting and then going to a boot camp place that only used resistance band training for strength training. Either way, I’m learning weights again and Ugo is my teacher.
He is knowledgeable about a lot of things and does research on things that he wants to learn. Weight training is no exception! Whenever we go and workout together, he takes me to the weight section and having him there makes me more comfortable. He teaches me about what weights I can use for what body parts and helps me figure out what to lift. I err on the side of weight that I can comfortably lift with 3 sets and 12-13 sets. Ugo’s not with that. He says: “You are stronger than you think you are!”

Let me be clear, I’m stronger than the average woman… I’ve always been…I was stronger that the average girl when I was growing up and that’s never changed. I used to challenge and often beat boys in arm wrestling from elementary to junior high. At that point the boys started getting bigger and stronger and I retired my arm wrestling ways!
As a martial artist for most of my life, I can do push-ups. ( Real ones…not girly ones. I can even do them on my knuckles.) As a golfer (I went to college on a golf scholarship) I hit the long ball!! If I play from the ladies tee box, I can easily out-drive most guys. When I play from the men’s tee box, I’m right there with them.

Needless to say, Ugo knows these things about me, and really knows me better than anybody. So he knows when I’m taking it easy, even when I don’t realize that I am. So, whatever I tell him that I want to lift, he adds 5lbs to it.

I groan, he ignores my protests, and makes me at least try to lift it, if I can lift it at least 5-6 times, he spots me until I get to 8-10. Only when I can barely lift it once or twice, does he remove some of the weight.

It pushes me to try harder, to try and lift more. He values my physical strength and loves it, wants to see my muscle definition again, and is not intimidated by it! He sees my muscles as sexy.

Funmi’s current weights:

115 lbs squats
40 lb barbell bicep curls
70 lb incline press
70 lb wide chest press
30 lb triceps pull-downs

So now, when I’m by myself, I walk into the weight area with more confidence. The big dudes and ladies in there don’t intimate me. I have a clearer idea of what to do and how to do it.

We won’t necessarily get a chance to work out together consistently, but I love it when we do. He’s my stud and I love seeing his chest pump out when he does his curls, and his triceps flex when does pull-downs. He’s strong and I like it!

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There are so many lessons to be gleaned from Funmi, Ugo and their fitness journey. For me, it’s important to note two things: 1) They did not start out on the same page as for as their health goals but they eventually got into sync. 2) In a time where women are competing in sports that require intense strength like MMA or Cross Fit, but are still having their body images policed, it’s refreshing to hear a woman say that she knows her man is not intimidated by her muscles.

Swoop into the comments and tell me all the reasons you adore them too! :)

 

 

 

Were There Inns in Ancient Africa?

Just hang in there with me.

I was watching a kung fu film set in ancient China called ‘Drink With Me’ earlier this week, and a wandering warrior named Golden Swallow was passing through town in search of her brother, who had been captured by bandits and was being held for ransom. Golden Swallow and her brother were the children of the local magistrate and the bandits wanted to do a prisoner swap for the return of their leader. Of course, Golden Swallow didn’t negotiate with terrorists, so she had to go in there and handle her bidness.

Anyway, her first encounter with the bandits was at an inn, which also served as the town’s only restaurant. After she single-handedly whopped up on 15 or so men and sent them off, licking their wounds, she informed the inn keeper that she needed a room and a hot meal. (Her first order of food never arrived in all the chaos.) He bowed obsequiously and showed her to her room for the night.

So of course, that got me to thinking: Were there inns, hotels, motels or traveler’s rest stops in ancient Africa? If so, what did they look like? Who manned them? How and where did they operate?

My interest stemmed from some reading I’ve been doing to try to make sense of how Africa got to the abysmal state she is now. With all this bootlicking prattle about how Africa is ‘rising’ or ‘on the move’, if you want to dress the same tired narrative in different attire, I believe the we Africans have allowed ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security about the true state of affairs with the deceptive praise of the West.

“Oh! You guys figured out how to get pipe borne water to your village square, but are still using communal pit latrines to do your poopy business? Never you mind. Great job! Africa is on the move!”

There is a wealth of information and opinions available online, so I turned to social media for a reaction – any reaction – to my query. Africans have been trading and learning from each other for centuries. I recently read that kente, Ghana’s unofficial official national cloth, did not originate from Ghana. The Asantehene commissioned artisans and weavers to go to Ouagadougou to learn and perfect the art from other weavers in the region and return to the Ashanti Empire with their knowledge. One can justifiably deduce that there was some sort of relationship between the two empires, most likely rooted in trade. If there was trade, there were trade routes. If there were trade routes between the Ashanti Kingdom – and any other kingdom – people had to have somewhere to sleep and eat along the way. So were there inns?

tents tents2

I know that these two people were half-joking, but they wisecracking still betrayed a certain mindset about African life as it was lived and conducted prior to colonization. Neither of these people, or yourself included, could conceive of the idea of Africans running a hotel-style business for profit. It’s never been depicted in film or popular culture. There are no famous (or fictional) inns or taverns sporting romantic names like The King and Cross or The Red Dragon that excite the Ghanaian imagination as these names do the Anglicized fancy; so maybe there never were any to begin with. And let’s be honest: From Cape Town to Cairo, Ancient Africans wouldn’t be smart enough to dream up such an enterprise at all, since this was the Dark Continent, waiting to be civilized by the Europeans…right?

What if I told you you were on the right track? Indeed, there were no inns or temporary rooms for rent in either Ghana or possibly the rest of Africa. (An episode of Globe Trekker (PBS) told how the Venda people in South Africa keep a vacant kraal to host the occasional traveler in need of rest.) The reason is, real, uncorrupted Africans are civilized and kind. I asked my father for his input on my query.

image source: southafrica.net

image source: southafrica.net

“No. There was nothing like that in the old days,” he replied sleepily. “It was only until these Europeans came with their concept of hotels to charge hungry and tired people that we started doing these things. If you were a stranger or a traveler from out of town, the people in the area would put you up for the night. In fact, as long as there was no war, you could even go to the chief’s palace and he would host you for the night. The people would feed you and in the morning, see you off as you continued on your way.”

“Did you have to leave a gift or a token for the chief or whoever put you up for the night?”

“How? No! It was a kindness and a duty of the people in the area. The next day, all you had to do was thank your host and they were happy. That’s all they would expect. The thanks was like a blessing.”

He then went on to tell me how as a teen, my grandmother was traveling from Larteh to the coast and when they got to Adoagyiri, she spent the night in the chief’s palace. She was terrified the entire night, but she was well looked after and obviously lived to tell the tale.

I was incredulous. Kindness without expectation of something in return? Was this even possible in today’s modern Ghana? I have lived all of my youth and teen life in Accra, the country’s capital, and the attitude of the people is nothing like that. It’s even worse today. From the president to the street hawker, everyone is looking for a way to exact their pound of flesh from their neighbor. A friend recently told me that if you really wanted to experience Ghana, “leave Accra at once.”

If this was the attitude adopted by our ancestors, that you have a duty to look after the alien once they arrived within your vicinity, it certainly explains how easy it was for the Europeans to trade with us and then eventually trade us. We were (and still are) too trusting, too hospitable and too eager to see the humanity in our fellow man. The first thing a white person does when they visit alien shores is to build walls and forts to keep danger out. They are suspicious. This behavior has been exhibited from the time they landed on America’s east coast, all up and down the West coast of Africa, and any other place Europeans have “discovered” and resettled.

So what do you think? Is it possible that in all the thousands of years of the African’s existence, there were never any pay-to-stay dwellings on the continent? As always, I welcome any comments that will lead to further enlightenment! ↓

What If We All Conducted Ourselves Like American Police on Our Jobs?

With the constant bombardment of images and videos depicting police brutality, it certainly feels like it is a trend on the rise. I don’t believe we will ever truly know how many people have died at the hands of the American police, since the force and the judicial system itself has staked their collective souls in shielding the institution from any sort of accountability. On the rare occasions that police officers do find themselves on trial for obvious human right’s abuses, the verdict frequently results in the officer(s) complete exoneration. It’s a never ending cycle.

According to the Code of Conduct for law enforcement officials adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979 where the term “law enforcement officials”, includes all officers of the law, whether appointed or elected, who exercise police powers, especially the powers of arrest or detention, these persons are required to adhere (but not limited) to the following:

Article 2:

In the performance of their duty, law enforcement officials shall respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons.

Article 3:

Law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.

Article 5:

No law enforcement official may inflict, instigate or tolerate any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, nor may any law enforcement official invoke superior orders or exceptional circumstances such as a state of war or a threat of war, a threat to national security, internal political instability or any other public emergency as a justification of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

I’ve highlighted these in particular, because they demonstrate the contravening of these international laws by the American police force as modeled through homicides of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd and hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their lives to a bullet, beating or strangling in America.

The now-accepted explanation by those invested in the maintenance of this form of social lawful disorder – as it serves either to their benefit or because it affects their communities by a miniscule extent – is that because police officers interact with criminals and a “hostile public” all day, they themselves are prone to (re)act violently, depending on who they are interacting with. In other words, a series of bad days can lead up to the ultimate bad day for any American citizen, depending on how the boy in blue is feeling that day.

cops

Oh really? Do these people think police officers are the only ones who experience stress when interfacing with the public whom they are PAID to serve? Well, what if ALL the people who work with the public had the liberty to use force when we “deemed necessary” to bring about a speedy resolution to a sticky or unpleasant situation? What if those actions resulted in the same “repercussions” that the police typically face? I’ve talked to a number of people who have fanaticized about it. Come with me. It’s time for…

 

****MOM MODE!****

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon at America’s favorite place to buy shoes. A throng of suburban moms and their caffeinated teens mills through the aisles inspecting items, sometimes putting them in their right place, sometimes not. Store associates are working desperately to keep up with the pace of the mess that is being created in the wake of the back-to-school shopping weekend. Lisa has been working at the store for 6 months, after being transferred from another location for disciplinary issues. She looks across the store and sees a woman and her young son try on 8 pairs of shoes. They have left a pile of paper, boxes and plastic all over the area.

Lisa takes a series of meaningful strides and is at the mom’s side in moments.

“Who left this pile of trash here?” Lisa asks, already knowing the answer. It’s not a crime to leave trash on the floor, but it IS rude.

“What?” asks the mom. “There was paper in the boxes. We took it out to try the shoes on.”

Lisa is miffed. Her question has not been answered appropriately. She repeats herself.

“I said ‘Who left this pile of trash here?’ I didn’t ask you about the nature of the stuffing of the boxes! You left a pile of trash here and you’re going to pay for it!”

Indignant, the mother retorts. Never in her life has she been spoken to this way by a store associate.

“There’s no reason to yell!” she screeches. “You are making a scene, and you are frightening my son!” She points to the young boy for emphasis.

Feeling threatened and irritated, Lisa wrestles the mother to the ground and grabs her by the throat, demanding that she confess to putting the paper mess all over her store floor. But the mom can’t speak. She’s having the life choked out of her.

2 weeks later, there is an inquest and Lisa’s conduct has been ruled appropriate. The mother did pose a threat, since she raised her hand and became erratic during what should have been a simple Q&A session. Lisa has been transferred to the administration department where she will spend 9 hours a day off her feet enjoying donuts and water-cooler conversation.

 

****

John works at big box retailer in its tech repair department. His shift is unpredictable. Some days he works from the time the store opens until it closes. Sometimes he only works 8 hours a week. It just depends on how much crack the manager on duty has been smoking when he did the schedule. On this day, John has pulled a double shift. He’s been in the back of the store – an area the staff refers to as The Cage – for 16 hours already.

John doesn’t mind working with laptops and cell phones. They don’t talk back. It’s when he gets called to the front to deal with customers that gets him particularly irate. Today, a man in dark washed jeans, a pale blue buttoned down shirt and a silver bangle on his wrist is standing in his line. John already knows his type: high maintenance. He sighs and calls for the next customer to come forward.

The bangle wearing customer already has an attitude when he approaches John. He drops his Blackberry on the tech desk and leans in during his conversation.

“I brought this device in 2 weeks ago, and the problem hasn’t been resolved!” the customer seethes.

John takes a step back, decides he doesn’t like either his tone OR his attitude and picks up the Blackberry. He then smashes it into Bangle Boy’s temple. It’s been a rough week already, see? John is not to blame. There is an investigation and soon media reports are released to show that the bangle wearing customer had weed in his system. How was John expected to behave when the client had weed in their system???

 

*****

Pots are banging. The floor is slippery. None of the orders are coming out on time. Food is being served cold. When Alara took the job as a waitress to help supplement her income, she never thought it would be like this. She imagined a quirky life making frivolous conversation while serving meals to sanguine lovers in a dimly lit dining room. Sadly, there are no such eateries in her small town, and her big city dreams and demeanor have made her somewhat of a misfit in this diner where she works for tips.

Uninterested, she asks two men who are seated in her section about their beverage choices.

“What will you have to drink?”

The gentlemen are doubled over with laughter. Alara assumes they are laughing at her. She takes a scalding hot pot of coffee and tosses it into one of the men’s face. He screams in agony. His compatriot jumps to his feet and demands that Alara explain herself! What does she think she’s doing! How does is laughter pose a threat! Alara, feeling attacked, pulls a knife and threatens to stab the screaming man. When the sight of the knife only makes him scream louder, she plunges it into his chest.

There is an investigation and Alara is not only given a raise, but is promoted to manager. The customers should not only have been more attentive to her queries, but should not have engaged in any form of merriment in her presence. She was trying to carry out her duty, for crying out loud, and they were interring with that! (A GoFundMe page has also been set up for Alara so that she can retire on a million dollars whenever she’s ready. She’s earned it for her bravery.)

 

Oh. Laugh! Feel free. There is a certain irony to all this that warrants dark mirth. Of course, we can’t allow this sort of behavior to run rampant in American society. We would quickly fall into total anarchy, which is why I am a bit befuddled as to why state and federal officials aren’t doing more to curb the shenanigans of the police. The ideals of white supremacy must be protected at all cost, I suppose.

Have you ever wanted to slap the taste out of someone on your job? If you could get away with it, would you? Do you think the police continue to brutalize (certain sections of) the public because they know they can get away with it? And finally, should Obama be out there chastising African nations about human rights abuses when there are clear (daily) violations of those same rights on the nation that he presides over? Discuss!

Could Metadata Solve the Mystery of the Sandra Bland Mugshot?

At the turn of the century, in the early 1900s when forensics was a fairly new science, there was an trend in and aspect of forensic photography that I found unsettling. I’m being modest. It’s not unsettling; it’s repugnant. All too frequently, forensic photographers – and sometimes even news reporters – would restage a crime scene in order to elicit a desired reaction from the public be it shock, horror, thrill or indifference. These manufactured reactions all serve a larger anthropological purpose: a gauge to determine how far certain elements in a society can carry out specific actions.

The restaging of a crime scene, particularly if it has been done at the hands of a trusted agent of our society, like a photojournalist or a police officer, presents the worst breach of professional ethics I can imagine. Admittedly, my bias has everything to do with my field of study and less to do with the nature of the moral breach. But yeah, whatever. It’s pretty a pretty disgusting practice in my books. That’s why the entire question of Sandra Bland’s mugshot and the nature it was possibly rendered has me quivering with rage, loathing and yes…fear.

Three people copied me on a story circulating on social media pointing to wide speculation that Sandra Bland’s mugshot was taken post mortem. There are alternate pictures juxtaposing her side-by-side, analysis of her pupils, scrutiny of the direction in which her locks lay. If she was photographed after she died, it’s a macabre notion indeed and one very hard to stomach, but I put absolutely nothing past the American militarized police force, especially in the South. The official report is that Sandra Bland committed suicide in her cell, a few hours before she was to be bonded out. There was immediately suspicion about this claim because:

  • Sandra Bland was a Black woman

And

  • Sandra Bland was a Black woman

As she lay in handcuffs, belly down on the ground, her own recorded words were that she could not wait to get this officer to court. That was enough for me to indicate that she would not commit suicide in her jail cell. When a Black woman “can’t wait” to do something, she won’t rest until it’s done. I don’t care if it’s a new weave or taking a dude to court for failure to pay child support or finally getting that college degree…we live, eat and sleep a singular “can’t wait” goal until it has come to fruition. (You’re laughing, but I’m so serious.)

Even though it’s hard to imagine that she would commit suicide, and I certainly don’t want to rob her of the right to her agency over her own life and body by saying definitively that the thought mightn’t have crossed her mind. After all, stories abound of Black women who chose to kill their children and then take their own lives, rather than continue through the oppressive horrors of a life spent in captivity in white man’s America.

Secondly, and more importantly, the trend of Black inmates dying in cells across this country and those deaths immediately being ruled a suicide is a longstanding one. In a follow up conversation we had about the possibility that Sandra Bland’s mugshot had been digitally altered and/or taken after the time of her death, my sister sent the following text:

chrisYeah. You read that right. This was my brother-in-law’s grandfather.

In 1987, Assata Shakur wrote about this very trend in her autobiography.

Marc

So what do we do now? Fortunately, we live in an age where there are hackers to hack hackers and film editors with a keen eye for editing. Ava DuVernay quickly pointing out the obvious edits in the released footage of the Sandra Bland video, which only points to more attempts at a police cover up. Similarly, I am hoping that the coding community can solve the problem with the photograph and put all our fears to rest. I’m relying on you techy-smarty-pants guys to tell me if I’m off mark here.

Remember back in 2001, when digital cameras were somewhat affordable and we began to do away 35mm? There were, like, sooo passé. Digital cameras were great! If you didn’t like a shot, you could erase it immediately and not waste film. But the first digital cameras also time stamped everything, and that was annoying. You’d go to print your pictures, and there in the lower right hand corner of your shot was the date AND time of the picture when it was taken. Remember? Ugh!

Soooo…did that technology go away? Did cameras suddenly stop storing metadata? I don’t think so. From what I hear, the metadata will tell you the time, date and the model of the camera used to capture the image. Would it then be possible to compare the mugshot’s synchronized metadata with the official date and time of arrest for an answer to this riddle? Now, of course, this would require access to the police department’s official, unedited version of the jpeg (or whatever backwater file format Waller County saves its stuff on), which would mean they turn it over peaceably or Anonymous gets to doing what they do for cartwheels and giggles.

In other words, if Sandra Bland died (or was killed) at 10 am and the picture was taken at 2 pm that same day, what would that implicate?

When all is said and done, I want to believe that the police department did not take the battered, lifeless body of a Black woman, undress her from her street clothes, redress her in a prison jumpsuit, lie her on the floor, angle her head, hover above her and snap a picture in order to prove she was processed “properly”. I want to believe that there wasn’t some sick necrophiliac taking pleasure in every sordid second of that encounter.  I want to believe that although it is a vile system, that white supremacist law enforcement would have at least that much human decency left in it. Nevertheless, it is hard for me to believe this, because not only does history tell me different, Twitter tells me different by the nanosecond. If I had a nickel for every time “Real Americans” and their soft shoeing sidekicks uttered the words “if she didn’t have an attitude, she wouldn’t be dead”, I’d be able to afford to take the entire MOM Squad out for BBQ chicken and ribs at Big Lou’s. It’s not quite reparations…but hey. Those are some good ribs.

So, what do you think? Could metadata solve the mystery of the mugshot?

 

Rest in power and peaceful journey, sweet Sandy. Your life mattered.

 

See The World from The Bosom of Africa

My cousin died at the age of 56 about a month ago. My siblings and I went up to Detroit for the funeral, where we had a chance to reconnect with childhood friends and old folk who remembered us fondly. My aunt Cynthia, who outlived her firstborn child, was cooling herself with a fan and looking at old photos. A framed picture of her mother, my Aunt Clara, was sitting on the shelf behind me.

“I think about Aunt Clara often,” I muttered.

Aunt Cynthia gave me a look, as though she didn’t believe me.

“I do!” I reasserted.

Aunt Cynthia chuckled. “She was really sweet, wasn’t she?”

“Oh gosh, yes. SO sweet. And so…quiet. Was she always like that?”

Aunt Cynthia made a sound that resembled a small train warning pedestrians to clear the way. It was a half roar, part whistle.

“My mother would cuss you out in a heartbeat. She smoked like a chimney. Smoked them cigarettes they rolled before there were filters.”

I was incredulous. Not my sweet, sainted, fair-skinned Aunt Clara!

Aunt Cynthia was ruthless in her mockery. “When you meet my mother, she was old. She had done all that craziness and left it behind by the time you got here.”

My interest was now piqued, and Aunt Cynthia was only happy to let me in on a few choice family secrets and divulge some shocking details of her mother’s life. I wished there were pictures or footage of all the events she talked about. And then, that’s when it occurred to me – I should probably leave some footage for my (great) grand kids to browse through as well. Well, surely they’d be interested in their ancestor, wouldn’t they? Well then, I ought to do something about that!

I made a public declaration on Facebook about my intent to create a photo album of all the places I’d been and all the feats I’d attempted. Good Lord willing, I too will have the opportunity to meet great-grandchildren and great-nieces and nephews, and if they love me half as much as I loved my Aunt Clara, I would want them to know that I was more than some old lady with huge breasts who is plagued with a chocolate and coffee addiction. I want them to look through this album and know that neither weight, nor age, gender, nor marital status or childbirth should impede their ability to get out there and attempt the unimaginable. None of those things should mean you can’t properly live, despite what the culture tells us.

Now, this album I am building is a little self-serving as well, because building it feeds into my pipe dream of becoming a travel journalist a la Anthony Bourdain or that cute, bubbly blonde chick with the pixie cut on PBS. Not Rick Steves. Gosh, he’s so dull. I’d rather watch my toenails grow than listen to him narrate a trip through the canals of Venice.

I shared my vision with MX5, who immediately dedicated to praying towards its fruition. She even came up with a name for my show: See the world from the bosom of Africa.

Check it out. So my bra size is 36HH, right? This makes it the perfect place in which to conceal a camera to record my travels and encounters with the globe. Like “Ooh, look! I’m here at the top of this volcano and the only way to get down is to repel from its craggy edge. Won’t you join me and look at the world from the bosom of Africa?”

OR

“Hey! I’m out here in Petra, Jordan where we’re filming Akua Ananse and the Last Ball of Kenkey. Won’t you join me and look at this exotic location from the bosom of Africa?”

Because it’s my bosom, and I’m African and my big breastesses will capture every thrilling moment. See? Of course you do. It’s brilliant. And if you see this show/concept on the Travel Channel feature some skinny half-co chick with a weave, know that you heard it hear first chalk it up to discrimination against fat chicks.

Here are some of my favorite moments from my travels over the last few years. As I looked through these images, I realized (again) how very blessed and fortunate I’ve been to visit these places and do half the things I’ve done. I’m looking forward to doing much more…and if I could be so bold, I urge you to step out of your comfort zone and create a precious memory for those who will follow after you. It doesn’t have to be cliff diving or shark wrestling (although that would be fantastic) but it should be noteworthy. Why should somebody else be your grand baby’s hero? Why shouldn’t your name be remembered with awe?

947064_10151457287187001_119208464_n 995725_10151457286957001_1437836622_n 10604692_10152880014006290_3267194159058689373_o 11713665_10152880014236290_4627595462347969790_o IMG_7964 Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 7.18.16 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 6.44.53 PM

If you know anyone casting for a new travel host, don’t be afraid to send them my information. I will now entertain any questions, the first of which I am sure will be “Malaka, what is WRONG with you???”

It’s So Hard to Say Her Name: Sandra Bland

 

Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed, and planted , and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And arn’t I woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And arn’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen them most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And aren’t I a woman?” – Excerpt from Sojourner Truth’s speech given at a Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, OH, 1851.

 

…and bear the lash as well.

I don’t remember the first time I read Sojourner Truth’s speech because it was so long ago, sometime in my teenage years. But that line – that singular line – has always resonated within me. For me, it sums up the condition of Black womanhood in America. It’s so perfect in its subtlety that I wonder how many folks have glossed over its implications and the truths it harbors.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with my 21 year old cousin, Sean. I used to look after Sean and his siblings when he was very young, but we were never particularly close. That afternoon, at his mother’s kitchen table, was the first time we’ve sat and talked without the presence of other family members. I wanted to discover what kind of man the little 4 year old boy I used to scold and make sandwiches for had become. What I found out both saddened and gave me cause for hope.

I asked him how he felt about being a young Black man in America. Sean told me – without using these exact words – that he didn’t really feel “Black”. You see, Sean (like Bruno Mars whom I have jokingly referred to him as) is mixed race, but could pass for anything; except white, of course. This has caused a bit of angst for him because he “feels just as white as his white friends, but doesn’t really feel accepted by them”. As our conversation came to a close, I asked him what he thought about police brutality and if he felt he would get fair treatment by the police. He made reference to some statistics about how more white people were killed by police than Blacks, and that he and his friends had concluded that the media was trying to stir up trouble.

Bill-OReilly

O_o

“Sean. The problem isn’t how many Black people are being killed – it’s the circumstances we are concerned about. We don’t know if those white folks were in the middle of a violent crime, or if they were returning fire on the police, or what they were doing to warrant being killed. If you’re in the middle of a shoot out like Cleo in Set it Off, then yeah…we expect you to get killed by the police. Our concern is when Black death happens while in the middle of doing mundane tasks, like walking through a neighborhood or standing on a corner selling cigarettes.”

My cousin is a quiet, pensive young man who nodded silently and chewed over what I had asserted before making an assertion of his own.

“Well, at least it’s safer for you as a Black woman out there, right? Black women aren’t killed as often as young Black men are.”

My heart dropped and my mouth went dry.

The faces of thousands of Black women, many of who went missing or were killed in his own state, shot through my mind in a flash. The lifeless bodies of lynched Black women swaying from Southern trees and on Northern lamp posts soon joined that mental image. My great shame is that although I could see their faces, I did not know their names. Few people do. I told Sean as much.

“No. That’s not true. Black women are victims of police and systemic brutality just as often as Black men are. They just don’t get any press.”

dailymail

And just think: there is an entire generation that has been brainwashed to believe this way. Who aren’t even curious enough to look at recent history to inform them of the truth! But never did I imagine that just a week after this conversation Sandra Bland’s death would prove to be the case study to bear this out.

It is an understatement to say that Sandra Bland’s death has shaken me. Sandra Bland IS me a decade ago. She was university educated, civic minded, empathetic and loved her people. She put herself out there and was honest and vulnerable with the public. In a Facebook post, she admitted that she was feeling depressed and now that admission is being used as fodder to insinuate that she took her own life. Her encounter with the police officer who wrestled her to the ground and arrested her has been justified because she became “combative and uncooperative”. When I tell you it is by the grace of God that I have not found myself on the cold slab her body now occupies, it’s not a melodramatic sentiment. If the right police officer had caught me on the wrong day, I too could have ended up dead…and that death would have everything to do with my Black womanhood and how I express it.

When a Black woman is irritated, angry or fed up, there is a tinge in her voice that excites a visceral reaction in just about anyone. That’s just how we talk. I experienced this just this Easter when I went to a local Atlanta church to participate in an egg drop. As I approached one of the street ushers, sweat dripping down my face and my 4 kids in tow, he asked why we did not take one of the shuttles from the other end of the park.

“Shuttle? What shuttle? No one told us about any shuttle.”

He took a step back and said, “There’s no reason to get angry ma’am! Calm down.”

I looked at this slender man, whose accent betrayed West Indian origin and snickered in retort.

“I’m not angry, sir. I’m fat, I’m sweaty, and I’m asking about a shuttle.”

His face relaxed and he directed me to the other end of the street and advised me to wait for the next car.

Many people – I included – believe Sandra Bland’s death was a homicide. She was killed to teach her the ultimate lesson. When she was approached by the arresting police officer, she did not exhibit the appropriate amount of anxiety and/or obsequiousness expected during police interactions. In fact, she was smoking a cigarette while the officer questioned her. It would have been “polite” for her to put out the cigarette, but it was not unlawful not to have done so. But as the average Black woman within a certain social strata will tell you, our impoliteness is (and always has been) a criminal offence. Remember when they beat up and locked up Sophia in The Color Purple for sassin’ the mayor’s wife? Mmmhmmm…

The awful truth about Sandra Bland’s death is that she is not the only Black woman to be killed (or to have died, for the benefit of the Negropeans and classic racist who scream ‘wait for the facts!!!’ in cases like these) while in police custody, and had it not been for social media, her death would have been tidily swept under the rug and hastily forgotten. The Fates have just deemed that her name has garnered a great deal of attention. It has been hard to find an accurate number of Black women killed by police or vigilantes, because many of them are not high profile names. Even when Black women and girls go missing, it’s hard to get public interest to focus on bringing them back home. Which missing Black child’s name is branded on your psyche the way Elizabeth Smart or JonBenet Ramsey were/are. The media won’t let you forget the name or the face of a missing white child or woman…but because Black lives don’t really matter to the mainstream, our lost (female) loved ones don’t enjoy these same privileges.

And this is what emboldens every person who preys on Black women’s bodies and polices our mobility in American society. In 2010, when 11 bodies of missing Black women were discovered in a Cleveland home, there was shock and horror. How could have come to this, so many wondered? Why did no one speak of these missing persons before? The answer is because we are invisible to American society, and worse yet, we as Black women KNOW that we are invisible. That is, of course, until the mainstream culture is looking for the next trend to coopt.

 

…and bore the lash as well.

Can I say one final thing? When Key & Peele did their Negro Town skit, I applauded them for their genius in brining humor in their portrayal of the difficulty of Black life in America. But there has always been one part that unsettled me. A trio of Black women come prancing by, singing about their ONE grievance that Negro Town has saved them from: In Negro Town where strong Black men are raining down/There’s light skinned, dark skinned, every shade/And there’s no white b*tches to take them away.

Bless Key & Peele’s little hearts. Neither of these young men was raised by a Black woman, so I wouldn’t expect them to understand Black female struggles…but damn it if that didn’t hurt. We are being KILLED out there, in every way imaginable. American food is poisoning us. When they talk about Black women’s “health” often times the industry is referring to an abortion and not finding a cure for fibroids, a condition that affects us in greater proportions than other races. We are more likely to be denied affordable housing. We are the “face of welfare”, even though white men are the majority recipients of federal aid. We watch helplessly as our children are carted away in the classroom to prison pipeline. And yes, we have fought, bled and died in the very fields and streets of the US of A with our fellow Black men. In all of this and more, do you really think our one and major concern is catching a man, Key & Peele? Puh-leeze.

 

Rest in Power, Sandra Bland. It hurts to say your name. Hurts like I’m speaking my own.

sandra-bland

 

The Ocean, Black in Belize

The only person I’ve confessed this to is my BFFFL: Going to the beach makes me sick.

One night, when we were sitting on the veranda of some James Town dive overlooking the ocean, I felt myself getting restless and queasy. Soon, I was just downright sick to my stomach.

“I don’t like coming to the beach,” I confessed.

Nana Darkoa, who I am convinced is an ocean spirit born into flesh, was horrified. She loves the beach.

“Why not?”

“It makes me sad. It reminds me of slavery. It brings to mind everything that was stolen and lost. It reminds me of families being ripped apart.”

She nodded pensively and said that she could see how I would feel that way. She looked out over the ocean from her seat and pondered what it must have been like for this to be the last thing Africans who were taken away from these shores would see.

“It wouldn’t look like this to them at all,” I said quietly, realizing this for the first time myself. “For them, the coast would be disappearing. They would be looking the other way.”

Sensing I was having a rough time, she asked me if I was ready to go. Does an Irish man like potatoes? I nodded and transported myself to the passenger side of her car particle by particle in nanoseconds.

It wasn’t always like this. When I was a child, I could spend hours at the beach, carefree in my ignorance while my siblings and I chased translucent crabs from hole to hole and collected sea shells to make jewelry. Secondary school ruined all of that for me, of course. That’s when I learned that trade winds and ocean tides brought Europeans in search of resources that are scare (or nonexistent) on their native lands to Africa, Asia, South America and the Spice Route, where their relationship morphed from being based on trade to all out destruction. The once beloved ocean became a symbol of Black oppression and white supremacy for me.

So it would seem odd that I would chose to spend six days in a place surrounded by the ocean, right? God works in mysterious ways.

As I mentioned previously, Belize is a true melting pot. The country is only populated with 400K+ people, but they are from all over the world. They identify as Belizean first, no matter what their ethnic origin. You drill down to the specifics from there: Mayan, Creole, Garifuna, Italian, Chinese and so forth. When we visit an area, Marshall and I always try to make an effort to learn as much about a place as time will allow. It’s always a special treat when a perfect stranger takes time out of their day to stand and talk with you about their human experience. I am always curious about the Black experience whenever I visit a new country or locality. The narrative we have been fed and often shell out ourselves is that present day Black life was borne from colonialism and slavery and is under siege everywhere you go, anywhere on the globe, no matter what. Imagine my surprise when Cyril, a 33 year old hotel manager, told me otherwise.

“The first thing you gotta understand is that Garifuna people was never a slave. My people were warriors. We fought the Spanish. My people are proud.”

His almond shaped eyes stared at me, unwavering in their gaze. His gaunt face looked like it was carved out of brown marble. He didn’t say another word until we had let that sink in.

We told him we had been trying to piece together Garifuna history as much as we could, but because most of it seemed to be oral history, it was difficult to verify anything.

The Belizean flag was such a surpise to me. A Black man, tall and strong...on a FLAG? How!?  They don't put "slaves" on flags and offer them the benefit of dignity, do they? I didn't think so.

The Belizean flag was such a surpise to me. A Black man, tall and strong…on a FLAG? How!? They don’t put “slaves” on flags and offer them the benefit of dignity, do they? I didn’t think so.

“Of course,” Cyril admitted. “White man don’t want you knowing our true history. It don’t serve his purpose. You know how Garifuna came to this place? On boats made in Africa. We came to trade and explore. We never come with no shackles here and here.”

He slapped his wrists and his neck to create the illusion of chains.

“Sometimes, when I look at you Blacks in Mississippi… in America, I pity you. I feel so bad for. Them sell you all like them sell chicken! But we are African people. STRONG people. We are a great people…but them not want you all to know that. Today, the chains are here.” He pointed to his head.

Cyril was excitable by now. (He was also a little drunk, as he had just returned home from Dangriga and had a difficult encounter with his mother.) He told us about how Garifuna youth of today are rejecting their heritage and refusing to their native tongue because they don’t want to be associated with Blackness.

“Them (light skinned Creoles) trying to tell us Garifuna we used to be slaves, but it never true. And because of that, our youth wanna be Creole. They wanna speak Creole. They wanna live the life them see on TV. They wanna eat rice and beans and steak instead of ground food. Our food will make them big and strong. But instead they wanna eat…”

“Pringles!” I said with a half laugh.

I told him I definitely sympathized. The trend in Ghana amongst the youth is definitely similar. So few people see the value in our traditions and our culture is slowly being replaced by some strange Judeo-Christian-Muslim- Juju anti-Blackness, anti-woman mix sheltered under the porous umbrella called “African tradition”.

There was a long, rectangular house behind us on the shoreline, made completely of thatched palm leaves. Two different people (both of Mayan descent) had told us it was a “voodoo house”, and that they do rituals and sacrifices in there. It was approaching the time of year when all the Garifunas would come for their annual “pilgrimage” to participate in the voodoo ritual. I pointed to it and asked Cyril about it. He laughed, half amused, half sneering.

“Ain’t no voodoo in there, my sister. Ain’t no animal sacrifices and so forth. You know what them talking about? A family reunion. We gather here in this temple…yes, temple…to give thanks for all that we have. And then we party. But because we have not taken the time to explain it to these people, because we speak in our OWN language and not theirs, because the dancing too fast, the drumming too fast, and because people get swept up in the spirit, them call it ‘voodoo’.”

Cyril snorted before he continued.

“It a Mayan man who said this? Was it not them and the Aztecs who used to slaughter people for them-a gods? Garifuna never slaughter no human people before. But because of this (points to his Black skin) them call it voodoo.”

We sat in silence for a moment while I chewed over his words. In Larteh, my father’s hometown, there is a fetish temple I have never been allowed to visit. We hurriedly walk by it every time we visit the town. On my most recent visit home, my dad happened to mention that that matrilineal great-great grandmother all the way down to my grandmother (who gave up her role to become a devout Anglican) served as priestesses in the house. Of course I was curious, and wanted to go see immediately, but my father forbade it. He gave some excuse about the inconvenience of having to buy Schnapps, etc.

I know that deep down, his unwillingness to visit the place is because of fear and shame. Fear that his Christian God will condemn him for entering a traditional house and that shame that almost every African has of his African-ness.

After all, African-ness is hunger, ineptitude, greed and poverty, isn’t it? Oh sure, we make great music and are superb athletes… but an African is incurious, dimwitted and illogical, isn’t he? Therefore tapping into anything that makes him/her uniquely African would only serve as a detriment to progress and development, wouldn’t it? Why else do we allow Mallams and Pastors to pray for our president, but would NEVER allow a traditional healer/priest to pour libation for his tenure? Africans are ashamed to be African… because we don’t know our history and we’ve bought into carefully crafted lies, wholesale.

This is what the conversations with Cyril, our skiff captain Steven, and listening to the leader of the dance troupe that performed for us at the resort reminded me of: that Africans are a mighty, intelligent and above all, good people. We don’t see ourselves as good.

“You know what the problem with the African is? We too kind. When the Europeans got lost on our shores, we gave them food and gold. After all, it was plenty, right? We gave them trust. But what they give us in return?” Cyril pursed his lips as he asked his rhetorical question.

african-exploitation

As “enlightened” about Africa as I am, I began to form a picture in my head of things and events long passed from memory. I remember an elementary school teacher telling our class how the Gas were descended from a group in Nigeria that emigrated to present day Ghana on boats. Of course, I assumed they were canoes, since I have never seen a vessel crafted by Africans any larger than that…but surely we had boats much bigger (and faster) than that if Africans sailed across the Atlantic 700+ years ago? We developed systems of food storage and preservation for long journeys. Surely we knew how to use the stars to navigate. Why are we never taught these things about our ancestors; and more importantly, who is responsible for destroying that knowledge? I find this particularly troubling, especially since the Ministry of Education under the NDC government has sanctioned a social studies book to teach Ghanaian children about the “benefits of colonialism” to include how it “civilized” the African.

When I sat on the beach in Placencia the first day and I looked over the water, I didn’t have that same sense of panic and sorrow that I do when I look over the Atlantic in Accra or Cape Coast. It took me by surprise, but once I discovered that these waters in this particular area were governed by a different spirit it became clear why.

At the conclusion of our conversation, we discussed identity. Marshall’s answer was the most complex: he is Black American who acknowledges his genetic roots in Africa as well as Europe. I identifies as a hybrid. For Cyril, the answer was clear cut.

“I am an African.”

My heart skipped a beat.