From Girl to Woman at Seven

Imagine yourself to be a seven year old girl if you will.

At seven years old, the only thing on your mind is how to get Papa to give you a biscuit even though your mom has already said no, and who your next playmate is going to be. It is hardly an age where one should have to think about anything related to their sexuality nor endure physical pain and emotional pain that will last them a lifetime

Imagine that, you live in a rural village. You have been outside playing and are growing bored. You walk into your kitchen and see Mama and Grandmama discussing in the corner, all you want is to see if Mama will give you a sweet even though it is two hours before dinner. She smiles at you and tells you to come here that she has an errand for you to run.

You skip happily to her side curiously. She asks you to run to the neighbors house and get a knife for her..

You think maybe she’s cooking something for dinner and needs a special knife. Maybe it’ll be something delicious! You agree happily to go to the neighbors, the whole time on your way there you can only thing of the delicious things that might be for dinner.

The neighbor hands you a knife wrapped in a bloody, white cloth. She gives you a funny look, at seven you can barely discern what look means what, but later on you will remember her eyes filled with pity looking down upon your small, seven year old frame.

You make off for home, eager to show Mama that you were able to do what she asked of you without fail.

Upon entering into the kitchen you notice that it is no longer Grandmama and Mama, but that they have been joined by a third woman. You greet the visitor as you have been taught to and hand Mama the knife with a big smile. As you prepare to run outside again, Mama asks you to stay. You are interested to know why and stay where she asks you. You are approached by Grandmama and in an instant both her and Mama are by your side.

You are laid down on a pallet and the next moments are a blur. You remember a wad of cloth being put in your mouth and your pants being pulled down. The next thing you feel is the cold steel blade of the knife you’ve just given your Mama on your skin and the strange woman above you. Next thing you remember is pain. And blood, a lot of blood.

In that moment, at the young age of seven, you have become a victim of tradition, you have become a victim of Female Genital Mutilation.

The sad thing is that thousands of girls all over the globe are forced to go through this traumatic experience at such young, crucial and formative years of their lives. And it shapes who they will be for the rest of their lives.

Fast forward twenty years.

You have managed to go to school despite the odds against you, and have been fortunate and hard working enough to make it out of the village and are now living in a developed nation where basic healthcare is a right. As a twenty seven year old woman, you are having your first visit to the gynecologist, and are terrified. You are terrified and ashamed of what the doctors will think when they examine you. But of course they must have experience with FGM and hopefully they can counsel you in an appropriate manner and point you toward some resources that might be able to help you. I mean, it’s the 21st century and you are living in a developed country, of course they should know how to relate to victims accordingly, right?

Wrong. You lie down on the table and wait for the doctor. The doctor finally comes in after what seems like forever and begins your examination. As the doctor lifts the sheet, her eyes are filled with horror, she looks at your face and then back down again at your lower body. But she doesn’t say anything to you. She stares for what seems like forever then leaves the room. She comes back in five minutes with three other doctors. Now they are all taking a look and discussing in a language that you barely understand. All the while, you are splayed out on the table for the world to see. You are overcome with an abundance of emotions, but the one at the top of the list is humiliation. And anger, anger at your mother for making this your life, anger at your culture for taking part in a tradition that causes so much pain to women, and anger at yourself for trusting these Western doctors, you think should have known better.

No woman should ever be made to feel this way, but this is the unfortunate reality of many.

To learn more about FGM, and what you might be able to join the fight against it, click on any of the following links:

http://tostan.org/

http://orchidproject.org/

http://www.global-alliance-fgm.org/

http://www.stop-fgm-now.com/campaign

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Words of Wisdom from the Nigerian Embassy  

As I sat in the lobby of the Nigerian embassy, I received some words of wisdom from Nnamdi Nze, the Senior Counsellor to the Nigerian Embassy of Spain. I’d walked into the embassy with the intention of obtaining the contact information for various Nigerian cultural organizations in Spain. I went to the front desk and saw a woman, without thinking, I opened my mouth and went on a tangent of what I was looking for.  Stupid me, was so nervous, I didn’t even think to introduce myself, forgetting something my mother always taught me to do, the first thing you need to do is introduce yourself. The woman at the desk gave me a blank stare, which shut me up really quick. “Who are you and who do you represent?” I told her and she said, “Why do you want these things?” I went into further detail, because of course you can’t just waltz up into a foreign embassy and start demanding contact information for people, that’s not how things work, no matter where you are from.

She pointed a long fingernail at the lobby to a group of men and told me “see that man in the glasses; ask him if he can help you”. I went over to the group and sat down until I could be seen. After sitting down, I began to introduce myself and was almost immediately stopped, apparently I was not speaking clearly enough, although I thought I thought otherwise. “You talk like an American” “Where are you from?” I told him and mentioned my parent’s Nigerian origins as well. He asked me if I spoke Igbo, and I replied “no, I understand some though”. He exclaimed in dismay and began to speak about how we are losing our children to Western countries. As he talked, he began to speak on the importance of knowing where one is from and embracing ones heritage. You see, as Nigerians, second generation Nigerians, living in Western countries, especially America, we have something that a lot of Americans don’t have, knowledge of where we come from. My parents know exactly where in Nigeria their parents were born, and have a home to go back to. A place where the color of their skin will never determine their social class, or bearing in society. A place where they are free to roam without a target placed on the back of their head because of a part of their identity that is unchangeable.  If my parents up and decide one day that America is not for them they can go back to Nigeria without a problem. Or if one day(hypothetically) America decides to expel people of African descent, or all who cannot trace their American ancestry to 200 years ago, my parents wouldn´t even bat an eyelash as they have homes in Nigeria to return to.

When he asked me why most people decide to stay in America, I pondered and replied, “because of the level of comfort they find”. He said to me “No, because comfort has to do with happiness and many of those who have emigrated to the United States or Europe, are not happy at all, often times, they are depressed.” He began to explain to me that just because you have light that is uninterrupted, running water and security, does not necessarily mean you are comfortable or happy. You find more comfort and happiness in having a home base and a family to go home to and knowing where you are from. He stressed to me the importance of remembering where you come from and knowing that no matter what you will always be welcome with open arms. He told me that he hopes that one day I go back to Nigeria, as I have not been back since I was 8 years of age. I hope it will be sooner rather than later.

He then proceeded to take out his phone and make calls to presidents of Nigerian organizations in Spain on my behalf and ask them to put out a call for help for me. He really reminded me once again one thing I love about Nigerians. Nigerians are loyal to their people, there is no me, and there is always we. That Nigerians will go above and beyond for their own people, they will make sure that you have whatever you need. They only ask that you remember others on your own way. We Nigerians are a generous and loving people and always think about our brother and sister, even if they are not blood. He talked to me that day as if I was his daughter and he was giving me advice to last me a lifetime. Because that is exactly what I am, I am a daughter of Nigeria, however removed, and everyone is a father, mother, uncle or aunty to me, because we are all family, we are one.

Home, Sweet Home: Lavapies

Lavapies is one badass place I´ll say that! It´s my third post about the neighborhood, if you can´t tell, I love it.

So the other day I went to hechar un vistazo. (That´s take a look in Spanish)

I got off at metro Embajadores and walked looking around for a cafe I´d found online to do some writing.

As soon as you exit the metro, there are beautiful murals surruonding La Tabacalera, a place where I am told that I absolutely must visit before I leave Madrid.

After wandering up and down the street looking at the murals I decided to do a little exploring to get some inspiration.

I passed multiple hair salons, walking in and asking for appointments which I had no intention of keeping. (shame on me, boohoo). Then after wandering up the street a little bit more, I happened upon this arts and crafts store! I walked in and was blown away by rows of buckets that were filled with colorful beads, seeds and various amulets of all different types. It was absolutely gorgoues.

I left the store and finally went to the coffee shop, Swinton and Grant, after getting a little inspiration. Not sure of what to order, the woman at the cash register was kind enough to suggest a couple of things that weren´t coffee but were cold and caffeine filled. I settled on a Matte-Cola and was pleasantly surprised and satisfied. For those of you who don´t know what matte is, it is a caffeinated herb similar to green tea but a LOT stronger, typically the drink of many Argentinians. Make it a soda pop and it is hell of good (:

I´d heard of this restaurant by the name of Baobab, a popular Senegalese restaurant in Lavpies frequented by locals and expats alike. My phone was almost dead at this point and I had no idea where to find it but the owner of the coffee shop was kind enough to search the restuarant for me on her phone.

I headed in the direction of the restaurant and low and behold it was closed. HOWEVER, there happened to be another Senegalese restaurant quite a short distance from Baobaba. Talk bout neighborly competition. I went to that one instead and sat down, ordered a Baobab drink, which is made from the fruit of the Baobab tree and happens to have all types of delicious nutrients (along what must have been a gallon of sugar). I ended up talking to the waitress for a little bit, who happened to be from Kenya (imagine that). We talked a little bit about her persepctive on African women in Spain, she told me that the biggest issue is that women seem to have forgotten where they came from and the cultural values they were raised with, but it´s not entirely their fault as they do what they feel they must to fit into society.

I enjoyed our talk immensely and walked out with the intention of returning another day. I was wandering off to the metro when I was distracted (what´s new) by a restaurant with windows decorated by music notes. It read in big white letters “The Love Supreme“. I noticed that it had some really cool looking black and white blow up photos and it was pretty empty, so I decided I could walk in without being looked at funny.

I walked in and asked if they were a jazz bar, and a short man with glasses replied to me, and said that they were a restaurant and held performances at night. Clearly amused at my interest and awe, he told me to go up and take a look, so I did just that. After 5 minutes of perusing, I was in love, the walls were decorated with jazz musicians from the 20th century, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, The Rat Pack, John Coltrane, and in the back there was a beautiful grand piano, accompanied by a bass and a saxophone. I didn´t want to leave, ever. The man I´d first spoken to asked me how I liked it and struck up a conversation with me where he showcased his immense knowledge and love for jazz and hip hop alike. I learned his name was Sidney and he was from Guinea-Bissau but was born in Portugal and raised in Spain. He told me he´d traveled all over Europe but had never been to the United States although he would love to visit California. I ended up meeting a good portion of his staff as he was the owner of the restaurant, all who were good-natured people. I stayed for two hours soaking in the ambiance, got fed for free and was offered an invitation to come back for a drink and to perform some night.

It was honestly one of the best days I´ve had in Madrid. Safe to say, I found a second home in Lavapies.

“Natural” Beauty: African beauty as requested by Spain

I walk out the metro of Embajadores and step out into the square and am immediately accosted by a Pakistani man, handing me a card that red “Laiba Cosmetics: Pelo Natural Africano, Latino Europeo”.

Sidenote:  I looked Laiba up, it is an Urdu name. Laiba translates to something akin to “Angel of Heaven”.

He urges me to take a left and then another left and come visit his store. I asked if he was the owner and he said yes. Curious that a man who knows probably next to nothing about the upkeeping of African or Latino hair is the owner of a shop catering to exactly that customer base. Of course I decide to go and take a look, no intention of buying anything but for the sake of research I  give in to his urging and walk over to his shop.

I enter and see a small, one-roomed store, two walls lined with cosmetic products while another wall is lined with all different types of extensions. I walk over to the extensions, and it seems to me like just any other store I would see if I were to be in the U.S. Only difference in the hair is that there are fewer colors and fewer textures, more of the texture varying from wavy to straight, and no kinky Marley Braids like I would see in the U.S, the type of hair usually used for kinky twists, crochet braids or to amplify an afro. I turn in the direction of the cosmetic products and notice two things

1. That there is a limited amount of products compared to what I am used to in the States.

2. I sit back and observe the products and realize that there are at least 4 rows filled with perms, hair straightening creams and skin lightening and bleaching lotions and soaps. Nowhere in the shop do I see anything that I would consider remotely “natural”.

Looking at those shelves, I pretty much wouldn’t have used any of those products on my hair, unless I was looking to have to cut my hair off in a month or two. Much less put any of the lotions on my skin, as I know the extensive damage that can happen as a result of using skin whitening/bleaching creams .

Even in the United States large corporations such as Wal-Mart and Target have began to cater to the natural community, offering a small but good selection of products safe for naturalista consumption. However here it is not the case. The chances of you finding anything like a curling cream, or a sulfate free shampoo are pretty much slim to none. You’re much better off making your own products here to escape the damage that you could incur to your hair by using these.

Not to even speak of the fact that all of the products I saw seemed to be geared towards a demographic who clearly desired to achieve the Eurocentric standards of beauty that plague our Afrodescendent community of women. Straight hair and even straighter extensions accompanied by fair skin seems to be what is sought after by those who would frequent the store, and that is African women in Lavapies and whoever else happens upon the shop in search of beauty products. It says a lot about the standards of beauty on the continent of Africa and outside the continent and how are women have embodied these standards, desiring to do away with their kinks and curls and no longer loving the gorgeous, glowing melanin rich skin that they were born with.