Colonial Legacies of Policing in Nigeria: Why We Need Abolition Everywhere

Over the past week, we have witnessed a global uprising in response to violence against Black lives. Black people everywhere have rightfully expressed their rage and the rawness of their grief. While downright exhausting, the release was necessary for our survival.

Within the last week, mayors have committed to reducing police budgets, white supremacist monuments have been taken down and conversations on abolition have taken centerstage. While there is still so much work to be done, I have savored each step forward and rejoiced for all of the Black people who have labored to make such change possible.

Watching these events happen across the globe, I have oftentimes forgotten that I am geographically located in New York. Mentally and spiritually, I locate myself over the Atlantic, monitoring matters in the U.S., U.K. and Nigeria simultaneously.

I have sat in awe watching tens of thousands of people protest in London. I have also sat  in awe watching protests of less than a hundred people in Lagos. Regardless of the physical size of the protest, the magnitude has been great. As I read protest signs for  George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, I imagined how many other people the person holding the sign dreams of justice for. I thought of all of the names of people who were recently murdered by the police both in the U.K., like Sarah Reed, and in Nigeria, like Tina Ezekwe. The sign in the hands of the protestor gained extra weight.

For these reasons and more, I believe that the movement for police abolition should not be restricted by the myth of borders. In order to talk about abolition as it pertains to countries like Nigeria, it is important to analyze colonialism and its legacies.

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During the colonial era in Nigeria, a system of indirect-rule was enforced — the British ruled Nigerian people through pre-existing traditional rulers. This wasn’t the case in all colonized countries. For example, the French directly ruled their colonies, which meant that they placed themselves at the top of governing structures and only allowed indigenous populations to participate in the lowest tier of the colonial government.

In Nigeria, the British framed indirect-rule as a means of respecting indigenous cultures and traditions. However, if we look beneath this illusion of benevolence, we see that indirect-rule meant that the colonized were used against each other while colonizers slid behind a veil of invisibility.

To uphold colonialism in Nigeria, law enforcement was tasked with policing labor. This included suppressing worker strikes, enforcing direct taxation and clamping down on profitable indigenous industries. From that time to the present day, there has been a justifiable association with the police and subjugation rather than safety.

Today, the British hypocritically assert that Nigeria is corrupt. We respond that colonialism is its source. The West laughs, armed with the weapon of indirect-rule, and says that it was never there.

Conditioned to believe that our enemy is within, it becomes easier for some to believe the concept of the Western world as a sanctuary. Indeed, many Black immigrants migrate to the Western world in search for safety only to realize that they have arrived at the source of the violence that they were escaping from. For some, this realization has just set in this week. For others, it was a realization that they were born into. In either case, realization brings us closer to the abolitionist work that is necessary for our liberation. 

This realization is at odds with forgetting.

When we grow into this realization, our knowledge of local, indigenous practices that were used to resolve conflict in precolonial Nigeria overshadows the fact that we are conditioned to believe that this form of policing always existed. This is not to say that our previous methods were without their flaws – violence and other forms of policing existed in precolonial Nigeria too. However, it is to make us remember our history and how the police were used by colonizers to ensure economic gain…that colonialism, capitalism and corruption are married.

A deep hope of white supremacy is that we will not step into the realm of our imaginations. If fully tapped into, our imaginations are playgrounds that would allow us to dream of and implement the community-based safety practices that will save us.

Truthfully, many of us are unable to articulate a single moment where we received safety from, or felt safe around, the police. Similarly, when we ask our parents of their experiences with police back home they meet us with blank stares or nervous laughter. Behind these seemingly dismissive responses, there may be memories of bribery, sexual assault, kidnapping, and, or murder.

Intergenerationally and globally, we struggle to think of positive interactions with the police and yet they absorb incomprehensible amounts of money that could be used to meet the needs of our people.

So, when we talk about police abolition in countries like the U.K. and the U.S.,  we also have to talk about uprooting it from countries that were formerly colonized and that are still navigating colonial legacies. We get free by realizing that our freedom is indivisible from the freedom of Black people everywhere.

The Urgency of Softness

There is no hiding place. The current pandemic has freed some of my deepest anxieties from the confines of my mind and allowed them to walk in the global sphere. I have been forced to sit and negotiate with my fears — to understand when they were born, when and why they grew wings… to thank for the times they protected me, and to ask them for mercy when they overwhelm me.

On a daily basis, I speak to the child in myself who has been re-traumatized by this moment. I strive to offer her the soothing that I know she desires from a parent. I speak to my adult self who is oftentimes overly analytical, self-critical and anxious. I offer her a safe space to rest, cry, and discover herself outside of the confines of productivity. I speak to my future self whose image is oftentimes obscured by the seemingly endless present. Through meditation, I call her into existence. She gifts me with stories of hope, dreams fulfilled, abundance and longevity. She holds the me of today, and the me of yesterday, and, for a fleeting moment, we are a trinity. Individually, we are broken, but as a singular body we have discovered the joy of completion.

The sweetness dissolves before it is savored. Soon, the voice of my future self is swallowed by the sound of sirens. I am forced to locate myself in New York in the middle of a pandemic. I can no longer see the face of my future self. Her body is taken by flashing lights. My current and younger self mourn. They collapse into each other.

In speaking to loved ones, I speak as someone who is 50, 25, and 16 simultaneously. I have learned to celebrate, rather than critique this coexistence. In a time of great loss, death and grief, what does it mean to recognize that I am alive not only in one form, but in several? The knowledge of this gives me the opportunity to not only to tend to my immediate needs, but the needs that I have always had.

I’ve learned how important this in my worst moments of panic. In moments where fear has gripped me so tightly that each word has become a separate sentence. Typically, I try to use logic to calm my nerves, but there are times where this strategy falls flat. When I have the capacity to listen closely, I frequently discover that it is my younger self who is panicking. She isn’t asking for rationalization. She is asking to be listened to, for compassion and companionship.

Sometimes I fail and feel like I have prematurely entered motherhood at a time where I am most fragile. At other times, I accept the challenge, perform an internal needs assessment and gather enough strength to do something beautiful like write this blog.

In any case, this time is teaching me that my need to be soft is urgent. It cannot wait. I have to be soft, so that I can hear and feel all that is happening inside of me. My softness is not cute and, or presentable. It’s unpredictable, messy, and sends me to the depths of my personal traumas while it simultaneously introduces me to the possibility of healing. My softness does not allow me to answer “how are you?” with pleasantries. It requires a rawness that may scare those who have never made room for me, or any other Black woman, to experience emotions outside of strength.

While it sometimes feels like I’m doing this work alone, I am aware that I’m being held tightly by loved ones who consistently show me that distance does not have to be the enemy of intimacy. Loved ones who have barely found their footing, but are still confident enough to support my collapsed body. Speaking to them reminds me of outside and tomorrow. I wrap their warm words around me like a shawl and the trinity outlasts the sirens.

[The featured image is “Self Soothe” by Abi Salami]

 

3 Months In Nigeria: History, Spirituality & Connectedness

I travel the world, but rarely go home.

I have vague, surreal memories of my time in Nigeria as a toddler. I have vivid, recent memories of my time in Nigeria for my sister’s wedding, but no memories of exploring Nigeria as an adult who studies and adores the country from afar.

Although my primary reasons for being in Nigeria this summer were to conduct research (on literature, human rights and national identity) for my MA thesis and to be in a Yoruba language immersion program, I decided that I would be a student of all things – led by humility and an unwavering curiosity for the unknown.

My journey started in Lagos where I had one of the most emotional and educational experiences of my trip. Before I left the United States, I decided that I would visit sites associated with the transatlantic slave trade during my time in Nigeria. I felt that this was important given that I have visited such locations in the United States and Brazil, but none in my own country.

In Nigeria, I went to the compound of Seriki Abass Williams (born Ifaremilekun Fagbemi) – a Nigerian man who was sold into slavery twice and then, after being freed, returned back to Nigeria where he collaborated with slave masters and became a slave merchant himself. His compound has 40 tiny cells – each cell held 40 enslaved people for 3-4 months. Overwhelmed with grief and confusion, I realized that I will never be able to truly understand the circumstances that led a man who lived the horrors of slavery – twice – to inflict that same horror on others. He sent enslaved Nigerians to Brazil – the same country where he had been enslaved. The details deepened the wound. I learned that he exchanged 40 people for an umbrella…an umbrella that was only used as a sign of social status. I saw the tiny mirror that he received in exchange for 20 people and asked –  is seeing your reflection worth more than attempting to rid 20 people of theirs?

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Tour guide holding the umbrella mentioned above.

I carried my unanswered questions with me on a boat to Gberefu Island. I walked to a well where it is believed that enslaved people were forced to drink a liquid that temporarily made them forget their identities. Beside the well there is a burial ground for those who refused this command…

Those who survived were taken to “the point of no return” where they were forced into ships – a point where the majority took their last glimpse of Africa.

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I retraced the footsteps of over 550,000 people who were sold into slavery.

Each step felt like a funeral.

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I carried this sadness with me to the Bring Back Our Girls Lagos chapter’s weekly meeting. I learned about the 112 schoolgirls that are still missing. I also learned that this group has met every weekend since the girls were kidnapped in April 2014 with some members traveling hours just to be there. I heard them share heartfelt comments on their efforts and the obstacles that they have faced over the past 4 years. As they spoke, I reflected on the global momentum that there was around the movement in 2014 and how that energy is dwindling today. Still, I looked at this multigenerational group who have remained dedicated to this cause and saw several candles amidst darkness.

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Bring Back Our Girls Lagos Chapter’s Meeting.

I carried these heavy feelings with me to the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove – the home of the orisa Osun.  The grove is populated with shrines and statues that are connected by winding paths and water. Standing in the grove I felt a deep sense of peace. I was both alone and surrounded. It’s rare for me, as a Black woman, to be able to stand in an seemingly empty space and feel secure – comforted by a presence unseen, but undeniable. I walked every path in the forest until I circled back to the beginning feeling baptized.

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Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove.

Truthfully, my time in Nigeria was a continuous baptism with all of my most significant experiences revolving around water. Climbing Olumo Rock, an enormous outcrop of granite rocks in Abeokuta (my paternal hometown), literally felt like an ascent to my ancestral plane.  Olumo has a dual-meaning “God moulded” and “God put an end to our suffering.” In 1830, Olumo Rock served as a refuge for Egba people who were fleeing from war. After they consulted the Ifa Oracle they believed that this rock was their safe haven, which gave them the confidence to live under this rock for 3 years…3 years. The city “Abeokuta” literally means “under the rock.”

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Olumo Rock.

Today people still live under the rock – including Iya Orisa who is 133 years old. There are shrines and sacrifices given to the orisa of the rock…people still climb the rock just to touch its holy water…

I also bathed in the holy waters of the Olumirin waterfall in Erin Ijesha. These waterfalls were discovered in 1140AD by migrants from Ile-Ife who walked for seventeen days in hope of finding a new home. At first they were fearful of the waterfall, but when they learned that it was a manifestation of God they immediately settled and began to worship.

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The theme of finding refuge by water followed me behind the palace walls in Ile-Ife.

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Inside the Ooni of Ife’s Palace.

In the palace, I learned about Yeyemolu and visited her shrine. Yeyemolu was the wife of the first Ooni of Ife (king of Yoruba people). She was unable to conceive so she told the Ooni to marry another wife. After a while, he did as she asked and had a child with a new wife. One day Yeyemolu told the Ooni that she was going to surprise him – he had no idea what that surprise would be. Days later, Yeyemolu went missing and a servant searched all of the palace grounds for her. After a while, the servant found an unusual site…there was a large opening in the ground that had not been there beforehand. The Ooni consulted the Ifa Oracle and learned that Yeyemolu had entered the ground. The Ooni had a conversation with Yeyemolu and she confirmed that she is in the well and that she will grant the wishes of all those who come to the well to talk to her and to drink the water.  Since that day the well has been producing clean water. People visit the well, which is now regarded as a shrine, to get their prayers answered. When a new Ooni of Ife is selected he has to go to the well and take Yeyemolu as his first wife.

I stood in this sacred place, feet raking the earth (shoes are not allowed on most of the palace grounds – including some of the outdoors), imaging the footprints of those that have come before me.

As I washed my hands and feet with Yeyemolu’s water, I recalled the water in Irin Ijesha, Olumo Rock, Osun-Osogbo and I imagined all of those waters rushing over me.

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My encounters with Yoruba religion were important given that over the past year I have been on a new course in my spiritual journey. It has been a time of questioning. I am in the process of distinguishing between my beliefs as an adult and the beliefs that I inherited as a child. There are some overlaps and there are some differences. It has been a project of understanding my own personal concept of God.

As I have been contemplating these large questions, I have been increasingly drawn to Yoruba religion. As a child the images that I saw of Yoruba religion were centered on demonic possession, curses and blood sacrifices. I was ignorant to the ways in which Yoruba spirituality is woven into the fabric of my homeland and that by understanding the beliefs of my ancestors I can develop a better understanding of myself. In Nigeria, I was particularly drawn to the power that I saw devotees of Yoruba religion embody. Seeing them masterfully handle fire, water, and air made me believe that I am also in possession of such magic. The magic of heightened intuition, the magic of healing, the magic of summoning…weapons against daily acts of violence..weapons that I was born with…weapons that have been waiting to be discovered…

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Sango Devotee.

Beyond the parts of my trip that were overtly educational, I went out and simply enjoyed myself. I went to Fela’s New Africa Shrine twice, I watched the world cup with a bar full of passionate Nigerians, and I went out to lounges that made me feel like I had money, but really I was spending the equivalent of $5.

I scouted out natural hair salons and had fantastic experiences at Lumo Naturals (Abuja) and Jenniks Salon (Abuja) . I observed the art of gele tying and wore mine like a crown. IMG_4137.jpg

But more than anything, I simply valued having one-on-one conversations interactions with people. From interactions with my aunty who taught me how to pound yam in Ilorin, to conversations with my host-brother in Ibadan about his impressions of America, to hearing about the struggles that propel people to leave Nigeria and the love that encourages people to stay…

There were days when we had no electricity. I sat in darkness and had conversations with myself. I thought about my status as the children of migrants and what it means to occupy a liminal place between being Nigerian, British and American. I thought about the different ways that people in Nigeria may perceive me and I thought about how I perceive myself. In my case, I dealt with the emotions of not feeling “Nigerian-enough”, which led me to often feel that I needed to prove my “Nigerian-ness”. In the end, I stopped considering external perceptions and I chose to see myself with my own eyes. I recalled the words of Audre Lorde who said:

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”

One of the best decisions that I made on this trip was to be self-defining.

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I consider this post a working document if not physically at least mentally. I look forward to returning to Nigeria with one hand full experiences and the other hand waiting for more.

Until then, I’ll have to imagine eating yam and egg everyday for breakfast, hearing Afrobeats so often that a playlist gets created for my dreams, and engaging with the distressing and beautiful sides of my people’s history and present in a way that is both tangible and transformative.

Travel Journal: Exploring the Beauty of Blackness in Bahia

As tired as I get of airplanes, airports and TSA, having the ability to travel is a privilege that I truly hold dear. For this reason, one of my personal goals is to figure out ways in which I can commemorate my travels, so why not start with blog posts?!

As a child I remember sitting on a tiny stool in the kitchen drawing airplanes – yes, I truly believed that I could manifest an aircraft from paper. I also remember my chemistry teacher in high school stating that she could tell that I will keep on traveling for the rest of my life – “Catherine you’ll never settle down.” As you can imagine, I, who at that time had not travelled since I was a toddler, was perplexed. Today, I understand that she was reading my spirit – she realized my nomadic tendencies before I did.

I was blessed to begin 2018 in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil with a group of incredible students from Yale. I am pretty sure that I won’t be able to fully articulate the awesomeness of this trip, but I feel that it is important to at least try…

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Part of this trip’s meaningfulness stemmed from being able to celebrate my Yoruba identity and spirituality in a new space. Although I knew that enslaved people who were taken from the African continent to Brazil found masterful ways to preserve their cultures, I was unaware of the extent to which these cultures are celebrated in the public sphere today. It seemed that everywhere I turned there was a sculpture of Yemonja, the Yoruba Orisa/deity of the ocean, staring back at me. I realized how visible Yoruba culture and spirituality was which made me as an individual feel seen.  I gravitate towards Yemonja in particular because although she is depicted as being a healer who is caring and protective her rage is destructive. I appreciate her multidimensional characteristics and how they challenge the toxic notion that women must swallow their anger. So to be in a place where I was surrounded by representations of her affirmed my ever-evolving perspective on my own womanhood.

During the Transatlantic Slave-Trade enslaved people were prohibited from practicing their indigenous religions. In South American countries like Brazil some people preserved their indigenous practices by fusing Yoruba, Fon and Bantu beliefs with Christianity – a process called syncretization which formed the religion known as Candomble. This meant that while it appeared to their slave masters that they were only worshipping Christian figures they were also secretly praying to their own gods. For example, in the Candomble faith Yemonja is syncretized with Virgin Mary.

In Bahia, we were fortunate enough to attend a Candomble ceremony, which had a lot of personal significance for me. Personally, it is hard for me to reckon with the ways in which Christian missionaries imposed their faith on Nigerians before and during the colonial period. Although the situation in which Christianity was imposed in Brazil was very different to how it was spread in Nigeria, being able to see people navigate believing in both Christianity and the Yoruba religion impacted me deeply. Here’s a picture of getting ready for our first Candomble ceremony: 26756597_10215278558146334_2039892934793777250_o.jpg

In an elongated Instagram caption, I described how complicated my feelings were towards being on the beach and submerging my limbs in the Atlantic Ocean – waters that were once used to transport people like goods from their homes to a life of enslavement.  While I knelt at the shoreline I thought of Yemonja being the Orisa of the ocean, which therefore meant that she was present in those waters. From that moment on I thought of the rising waves as being symbolic of the spirits of enslaved people in ascension. I thought of the infiniteness of Blackness and walked away from the water stronger. Honestly, I think that I have only just begun feeling what there is to feel about that experience.

I experienced similar feelings while we were in Pelourinho, which is the historic center of Bahia. In Pelourinho there is a building called Mercado Modelo (pictured below) and the first time we entered it I thought of it simply as a market where tourists could go to buy art and souvenirs… A few days later we learned that enslaved people were kept in the basement of  Mercado Modelo before they were auctioned.

There was no indication of the previous function of the building, or the lives that were destroyed between its walls. Learning about the Mercado Modelo served as a reminder that I was visiting Brazil as a tourist – as someone with limited knowledge on the country’s history and present – and that it was necessary for me to be mindful of the land on which I walked.

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Close to the Mercado Modelo is a statue of Zumbi (pictured below) who was a warrior and the last king of Quilombo dos Palmares – a settlement of people who had liberated themselves from slavery. The juxtaposition of Zumbi standing tall above a building that enslaved people were crammed into reminded me of the importance of resistance – the importance of hope.

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We also were able to participate in Capoeira, which I also see as a practice of resistance. Capoeira is a fusion of martial-arts, dance and acrobatics that was created by enslaved Afro-Brazilians at a time where martial arts was prohibited. Through mixing martial-arts with musical elements and rhythms enslaved people were able to mask and therefore preserve their traditional practices.

Honestly, I was terrible at it and yes that’s me on the floor, but I promise that’s a move and not just me giving up on everything.

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One of the most beautiful things that I noticed at Capoeira practice was the non-verbal communication demonstrated by participants. The second that an instrument broke someone who was sitting on the floor noticed and exchanged it for a new one. The adults held the children and the children smiled in response. After having heard disheartening stories on the way in which Black children are criminalized in Bahia, I wondered if the  children and and parents in Capoeira class viewed it a safe space. They seemed to have created a family while engaging in this sacred practice and it inspired me to think about my non-verbal communication and my desire to ensure that the cues that I give off are signals of love.

A lot of my joy on this trip also came from the people that I travelled to Brazil with – the Yale squad. Each person brought their unique backgrounds and experiences as well as a true openness to learn. They reminded me of how much knowledge to be gained from group interactions and how much healing we can receive when we are in community with each other.

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So now, after getting all of the sand out of my suitcase, it has dawned on me that this transformative trip is over, but that its impact is something that I will carry for ever – to me the memory is significant enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As We Approach New Year’s Day My Main Prayer is for Clarity

2017 has come to end and for many of us this is a time of deep reflection. While some are preparing resolutions, others are taking on the new year with a different approach. Personally, I have never been big on new years resolutions. I know a lot of people say this but… if I wanted to change something I would have probably made that shift during the previous year. However, I do appreciate how the high energy that surrounds new year’s day could assist people in making the changes that they desire.

I pray for clarity on a daily basis, but I do so even harder as we approach new year’s day.

Praying for clarity is asking for the ability to see myself truly and fully. It is asking for the ability to not only know my worth, but to embody that knowledge. Embodying the knowledge of my self-worth means strengthening my inner magnetism. The more I realize myself the more I repel energies that try and subtract from that realization – the more I attract energies that build and strengthen the clarity that I desire.

The revelation can seem abstract unless you have first gone through a period of being invisible to yourself. This invisibility is often caused by our vision being clouded by insecurities, the impressions of others, and the impossible demands of the societies in which we live.

In 2017, after such a long period of invisibility, I saw myself… how my tired heart continued – how I held onto life with any part of my being that had grip – my joy – my love – my patience – my perseverance. The adjectives that my loved ones have kindly used to describe me in the past became words that I assigned to myself. I saw/see my beauty with my own eyes and it was/is glorious.

One of the most loving prayers that I can give to you, if you are not yet at this point, is that you receive this clarity. In return, I ask that you pray that I maintain my own.

Praying for clarity also means asking for the ability to see situations for what they are instead of what we dream them to be. For me, this form of clarity has always been the most difficult – how can you go back to being comfortable with a place, position, person etc when toxicity has been revealed? This year, I realized that even though the art of unseeing is difficult it was something that I was subconsciously striving for. Unseeing is not just for comfort – it is for coping. Our minds are magical in the sense that we can create whole lives for ourselves that quite simply do not exist. This function of our imagination can be useful temporarily, but there typically is a moment where it crumbles. How long can your dream of your life and relationships live alongside the reality of what is? Reality is great at infiltrating our imagined world(s). It will make you mad at first, but in hindsight you will be grateful for the saved time, and energy. The truth will hurt you and grow you simultaneously.

The clarity of the internal is complimentary with the external because when you truly see yourself and truly see what you are surrounded by your standards will change. People go to psychics, psychologists, and healers for clarity. Unfortunately, in each case the search for clarity often comes burdened with stigma, stereotypes and false representations in media. Not knowing is normalized because it is profitable and useful for those who survive off of our inability to see ourselves.

If you look closely at your own life you may realize that there is someone who “is always right” – an attribute that we often regard as wisdom, but could also be called clairvoyance. In my life, this clairvoyant figure has always taken the form of Black women. In some cases they receive their knowledge in dreams and at other times it has come to them in waking. I remember vividly the times where my mother would ask (tell) me not to go out because she had seen something that caused her to worry. I remember how despite being fully dressed and ready to go out I dropped my keys and sat back down. It is a clarity that you do not question. It is a clarity of protection.

I think many of us possess this power, but we ignore it, or are simply unaware that it exists.

Having clarity does not only mean being able to see negatives as they are – it also means being able to embrace the positives.

In 2017, I had so many moments where I cried simply because of gratitude. Even on my worst days, there were acts of beauty that restored my hope. I became so thirsty for life that each moment became worthy of celebration. Waking was a celebration and so was sleeping. I grew older and younger simultaneously. I looked at people longer and found people who, like me, were tired but determined to continue. Through exchanges as short as a moment of eye contact, or as long as 4 hour phone conversations, we carried each other –  it was beautiful.

I was able to see all of this because I had clarity.

These are some of the many reasons that I hope that next year is a year of greater clarity for all of us.

Clarity in how we see ourselves.

Clarity in how we see others.

Clarity in our relationships.

Clarity in our careers.

Mental clarity.

Spiritual clarity.

Happy new year everyone!

I am so glad that you are here and I am hopeful that this year will bring us even greater clarity.

Going Backwards To Go Forwards: A Tool Of Remembrance & Transformation

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the death of my grandfather – Ali Jibril-Ellams. To remember his life, my family members met in Nigeria this April for prayer, fellowship and celebration.

Due to a variety of reasons, I was unable to go. I felt compelled to ask my mother to bring me sand from his grave, so that I could establish a connection with the place where they lay his body.

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His death was my first memory. He died when I was two years old and I still remember everything about that day. I remember the color of the walls, the building that we were in, and I remember my proximity to my mother when she received the call notifying her of his passing.

Since then I have continuously felt his presence in my life. When I use the word presence, I am not describing presence from a distance e.g. “he is looking down on my me.” Instead, I am explaining presence in the sense of feeling him holding me. It is always unexpected – one second I am walking down the stairs – the next second I am in tears. Those of you who have experienced this presence know that it is unmistakable.

This summer, I bought a pendant and I asked my mother to put some of the sand from my grandfather’s grave inside of it. After inserting the sand she added holy water. Before the pendant was sealed, my mother, my 4 year old niece and I held hands and said a prayer over it. After prayers concluded, my mother closed the pendant and put it around my neck. This little, gold heart contains intergenerational blessings. 

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This pendant is the most important item that I have ever bought for myself. It allows me to contemplate the things that truly matter and do away with the things that exist merely as distractions. I am immediately reminded of my ancestors – their struggle – their resilience – and how all of their actions/inactions influenced the being that I am today.  I am reminded that my journey did not being with my breath and with that knowledge comes an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I cannot tell you how many times that I have felt overwhelmed – how many times I have felt myself slipping – only to find my hand on this chain that was waiting to catch me.

This pendant is a reminder that the present as sacred. 

I am reminded that now is the time that I must walk in my purpose. Now is the time for me to dare. Now is the time for me to give and welcome love.  Now is the time for joy. Now is the time for joy…

There is nothing like the reminder of how temporary our existence is on this earth to strengthen our understanding that now, despite all things, is the time for joy.

I often shy away from writing things that are overtly personal, so for me this post in an overcoming. I hope that this post ignites/reaffirms the importance of remembering ancestors in your life and I hope that you are able to find ways to draw power from that remembrance. Your thing may not be a pendant – it may be a photograph – a stone – a color – a feather – a smell – it may not even be physical. In any case, I hope that whatever tool you choose to go backwards becomes the guide that you desire and require to move forwards.

“He did not have to teach me to believe in God; I saw God in him.” – My mother reflecting on her father. A way in which I think of my mother. A way in which I wish to be remembered.  

R.I.P Grandfather – thank you.

 

HOME

It is October and the cold is calling me home. Over the last few weeks, I have spent long periods of time reflecting on what home means to me only to discover that my definition was greatly centered on people. In the past, I liked the poetry of people referring to others as home, but the more I have lived the more I have become aware of the danger of such an ideology.

Given that people are not places or property, I questioned why and how I could still hold onto my flawed concept of home. I realized that although I mentally and morally opposed the idea of perceiving a person as home, I was spiritually attached to that way of thinking as means of survival.

I am a migrant and I often joke with people that I have moved more than I have stayed. My movement has compromised my stability and my relationship with land. This, in part, influenced my subconscious draw to look to people to anchor me.

I realized that even though I outgrew the idea of a home being a house I still held onto the idea home being stagnant. I found comfort in thinking that amid the hectic-nature of my life that there was something still and waiting. I had to be honest with myself in order to realize how selfish it was to look at people like they were home. It is strange to consider that even though I was changing, I wanted a constant – something that people can never be.

It takes a lot of introspective thought to realize that you may view people in this way, but if you break down some of the things you expect from particular people you may realize that you are using language that resembles what people would use to describe a house – sounds weird, I know, but it’s real.

As I write this I am thinking of mothers who are told that they are their baby’s first home and then are made to feel like they can never stop being pregnant with their children. Who are made to feel like they must tailor their entire existence around motherhood.

I am thinking of the times where I have felt like I had to be home for someone else and the ways that attempting to assume that role made me suffer.

I have always believed that love is liberation, but what good is belief if it does not transform thought? What good is thought if it does not transform action? What good is action if it does not transform the being? 

Guided by these questions, I am re-working my old definition of home.  I am taking what I desire and leaving what is harmful.

And I realize that what I truly desire is an exhale. 

Although this exhale can happen with particular people, I cannot survive if my breath is dependent on them.

I am learning to be ok with home moving from the physical to abstract world. And the more I get used to the abstraction of home as a feeling the more I experience it.

The process of dismantling this definition means honoring the difference in my journey and the journeys of those around me  – even if they are moving out of my life. I believe that this process will help me understand absence and change this holiday season and beyond. I want to see if this new definition survives when I am in the presence of particular people that I once saw as home. I want to be aware of how my feelings struggle. I want to notice which feelings die – which feelings win.

This, like most other things, is an experiment. 

This process will also help me better appreciate presence. The presence of others who are not ‘home’, but encourage me to feel it.

The beauty of perceiving home as living beyond walls and bodies is that you remain open to its unexpected arrival. An arrival for those of us who are in a long-distance relationship with our native land and closest loved ones would welcome right…now.

 

 

 

Self-Care After the Incense Burns Out: Giving Myself Back to Me

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Lately I have been preoccupied with exploring and dismantling my old definition of self-care and building a new one that is tailored to my own experience. This exploration was in part sparked by  a dissatisfaction for the typical framing of self-care as being synonymous for pampering. I also grew tired of conversations about self-care being solely linked to some form of meditation.

The title for this piece was inspired by imagining ways to care for myself after my incense runs/burns out. By incense I mean both literal incense and incense as a metaphorical representation for all of the items that I turned to for self-care.

Along with these thoughts also came the realization of how companies, that directly contribute to violence against Black lives, were feeding on the grief that Black folk were experiencing and re-branding their products as remedies – a form of self care. Simultaneously, I acknowledged the discomfort that I felt when I realized that my idea of self-care was dependent on consumerism. I asked myself this simple, yet humongous question: what does internal liberation look like? Immediately I knew that my answer involved not having to search for things outside of myself.

And I appreciate that my answer probably sounds a lot like a romanticized, unattainable concept of independence, but it does the spirit good to at least dream. Having this dream, I was drawn to explore practical avenues of self-care that involved all of me, but  little to no money – everyone knows that I like things for $free.99.

I decided to start with touch. Yes, touching my own body.

I realized how much miseducation there is around touch – the misconception that touch only equates to sexual touch – the erroneous idea that our hands belong to everyone and everything but ourselves. Consequently, we become ignorant to our own bodies. Unfortunately, like many people, I arrived at my desire to be more knowledgeable on my body through health worries. Through questions that I was unable to answer in the doctors office, I realized that it was impossible for me to recognize my sick body because I hadn’t acknowledged it healthy. So as I sat there in doctors office ignorant about the body that I live in, I made a promise to begin re-defining my idea of self-care with touch.

Saying it was easy and doing it was hard.

I noticed how apprehensive I was to begin this journey. I recognized that my skin had archived memories that I was afraid to trigger. At the same time, I new that it was important for me to know the places on my body that remind me of hurt while also learning the places that make me smile and remind me of pleasure. I felt that this was important not only for my own personal knowledge, but also to inform my physical interactions with others.

I developed a better understanding of my physicality through body mapping. Simply put, body mapping is a form of art and therapy where you draw an outline of yourself and fill it with words and images that come to mind when you reflect on that particular body part. I was amazed that by thinking about particular body parts like my hands, feet, or stomach I became immersed in memories that evoked all of my senses. By engaging in this simple exercise I started to appreciate my body more by acknowledging how much it has carried. I developed a deeper appreciation for the miracle of being. The way that parts of my body faithfully communicate with each other in order to allow me to wake up in the morning. I was thankful.

After body mapping, I moved on to body examinations. I worry a lot about my health, so this was incredibly hard for me – but I did it and now I can say that I “do” it. I frequently give myself a breast examination in the morning. I aim to do this ritualistically not only for matters of health, but also to develop expertise on myself. At first I found that statement weird – “develop expertise on myself” – am I not just innately an expert on myself? But when I thought about how much I change on a daily basis I realized that this whole  being an expert thing is going to be a lifelong project.

I am also a firm believer in the healing power of hands. In many religious and spiritual texts you hear about someone/something stretching its hands, which leads to healing. People have Reiki healing sessions and are transformed. People have massages and are renewed. I started believing that I could harness this same magic and that nothing was more deserving to receive this blessing than my own body. I have come to see the act of touch as prayerful.

And even though I regard this as a form of self-care I see many ways that this could lead to collective/community-care.

 It would be wonderful if more parents taught their children to be comfortable with their bodies.  It would be wonderful if this dialogue was sparked between friends. It would be glorious if our education systems and places of worship supported this kind of self-care.

And I think that’s important that I reiterate that this is a major deviation from my previous idea of self-care that was pretty much synonymous for pampering. But this moment in my calls for some practical, yet challenging, $free.99 self-loving. And who knows tomorrow may call for a spa day, or some good old incense and meditation. My joy comes from being open to this fluidity.

I still have a long way to go, but I am so glad that I have begun. I am so glad that I am giving myself back to me.