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.

One World: Lavapies, Madrid

Embajadores, isa metro stop located in the neighborhood of Lavapies, a zone notorious for being one of, if not the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in Madrid and large immigrant population. Walk down one street and you see more Arab restaurants than you can count with your two hands, ranging from Turkish and Lebanese to Moroccan. On another street, an Indian restaurant is situated next to a coffee shop and right beside it to it is a Spanish bar. A couple of blocks down is a Ecuadorian restaurant and a Senegalese restaurant co-owned by a Senegalese family and a Spanish family, with its terrace full of Spanish and African customers alike, enjoying the flavors of  West African cuisine. Walk down another street and you count no less than four tiendas de pelo and five peluquerias. The tiendas de pelo are owned by Arab and Indian immigrants who sell their products to the various African immigrant women who then sell the hair for double the price in their shops. The women wait at the doors for any women with textured hair to pass by, luring them into their shop to hand out a card and a sharp cry of “come back next week”.

Walk down another street and you can see an Art Shop filled with stones and jewels, selling price starting at 30 centavos. These same stones line the strings of the necklaces sold by Senegalese men on the streets of Gran Vía and the metro stations through out the city of Madrid. Ask where the stones come from and the response is from different countries in Latin America, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and a few Asian countries as well. What about African countries? The response is “Not that I can think of”. But looking at the craftwork of the men and you would think that they were brought with them straight from the red clay streets of Senegal or Nigeria. What does that tell you? We aren’t that much different than we think we are. We are all human, although from different parts of the world, we are all the same? The same products that come from my country could just as easily come from yours. We immigrants come from all over the world to different countries to seek better opportunities, no matter the circumstances or methods of arrival, we all want the same thing. Why do we treat each other so differently? Why is there this hierarchy? The need to differentiate and identify who is better than whom? Can’t we just all be equally as good? We are brothers and sisters in the world, luchando, fighting the big fight. We’d all be better off trying to build one another up, instead of tearing each other down.

Algunos nombres de la lucha de la mujer en África

Definitely a few authors who I will be looking into as I have yet to familiarize myself with their work. If Spanish is not a language you are familiar with… well I´m sorry
BUT, I would like to add two more authors to this list, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Molara Ogundipe, both Nigerian writer who have written about African feminism, more specifically as it relates to their home countries. Ogundipe is of an older generation, while Adichie has been in the headlines for her popular book Americanah. Adichie is a personal favorite of mine as I can relate so much to her works which relate to young women in the Nigerian culture who fight and struggle with the pressures placed on women in the Nigerian society. Particularly in her book Americanah, which I think tells of her personal experience coming from Nigeria to America, I can relate to her confusion with a lot of American customs and the struggle to find her place.

If you have free time and interest in African feminism, all of these authors are definitely worth looking into!

Afroféminas

Tsitsi Dangarembga. Foto de zimeye.com Tsitsi Dangarembga. Foto de zimeye.com

Generalmente cuando se habla de feminismo en la Diáspora se suele hacer alusión a figuras europeas conocidas como Virginia Woolf o afroamericanas  como Bell Brooks o Barbara Smith, pero ¿y qué hay de las feministas africanas? ¿acaso no existe ningún movimiento feminista en África? Pues lo cierto es que sí que hay feministas o womanistas (término acuñado por  la feminista afroamericana Alice Walker para designar el feminismo concerniente a las mujeres afroamericanas) en África, lo que pasa es que no oímos hablar de ellas casi nunca porque su voz no roza nuestros pensamientos.

Debido a esta falta de representación he decidido escribir este artículo, para hacer un pequeño tributo a éstas heroínas que sin querer llamarse así mismas feministas (porque ellas mismas no se llaman así ya que intentan alejarse de términos que ellas consideran reduccionistas y provenientes del mundo occidental) se han convertido en ejemplo…

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Are you sure you´re American? : Day Trip to Ceuta

My roommate and I decided to take a day trip to Ceuta during our stay in Morocco.

Ceuta is a Spanish exclave located about an hour and a half drive from Tangier. As an exclave, it is governed by Spain despite it’s location in Morocco and in order to cross the border you need an official European or American passport or a visa. Ceuta is one of the two Spanish ports in Morocco, the other being Melilla. Keep this in mind as a tell the story of our little trip.

We took a grand taxi for 700 Dirham (70 dollars) round trip from the Gare de Routier in Tangier, after a heated argument with two taxi drivers on prices, we were given a “deal”. As we approached Ceuta, we saw groups of men standing on the side of the winding road in the Moroccan heat, attempting to hitch hike. The melanin of their skin, glistening under the unrelenting sun, they must have all been exhausted and dehydrated but they were persistent in their quest to flag down cars. All of these men were clearly of African descent, and by African, I mean sub-Saharan Africa, as it was obvious they were not Moroccan by the color of their skin, which was akin to a deep chocolate.

After my talk with Joseph, I learned that many of those who try to cross the border fence at Ceuta, hide in the forest by night to escape the persecution of the Moroccan police, as those who were found out were often brutally beaten and taken into custody, left at the mercy of the Moroccan justice system, or lack of one. They only came out during the daytime to look for sustenance. So my guess was that these men were attempting to catch the attention a kind traveller who could spare them food, money or a a ride to look for both.

When we arrived at Ceuta, I noticed a few things, many of those who were waiting to cross the border patrol were either Spanish citizens, Americans, or Moroccans with a visa.  Also, I noticed that many of those who were Moroccan and waiting to be given permission by the border patrol were either old women dragging behind them seemingly empty grocery carriers, or young men with backpacks.

As we approached the border patrol ourselves, I took note of one last thing. I was definitely the only POC (person of color), there, and by POC, I mean black person. Given the circumstances of where we were, I braced myself for any possible reactions from those waiting to stamp my passport, as it was not uncommon for Sub-Saharan Africans to attempt to illegally pass the border with a fake passport, and considering my name and heritage I was prepared for anything. You would think that in the age we live in, I would be able to travel without doubt of where I was from and who I was, but we do not live in a post-racial society, and just because I was traveling with another Caucasian person, meant absolutely nothing.

I stepped up to the window and handed the border patrol my American passport. Before even looking at the passport, the guard gave me a funny look, one of curiosity. He opened my passport and once reading my name began to look between the small booklet and myself as if gearing up to interrogate me. He said something to his companion in Arabic, then began to ask me questions. “Where are you from?” he asked. I replied, “from the United States”. He then asked me, “no where are you really from?”. I looked him dead in the eye and said, “Excuse me sir, my passport says that I was born in Miami, Florida, I was born in the United States of America, I am American”. All qualms of being polite were gone at this point, I was livid, and people were beginning to stare. The guard continued to look at my suspiciously and speak to his colleague in Arabic, at this point I was about to lose my patience and had to actively stop myself from snapping at the guard, as not only was it humiliating to be stopped because my name was not your typical American name, but it was racist and unjust. Finally, after some moments of speculation, the guard stamped my passport and allowed me through.

Once we had passed the first set of border patrol guards, we had to walk through a security system much like that you would find in an airport. I wasn’t sure whether I would be interrogated again or left alone to pass. As we were passing through the security system, we were stopped by another guard. This one opened my passport looked at it, then looked at me, I prepared to be berated yet again with another set of questions about my identity and citizenship. However, this time the guard was interested in my hair. I had Senegalese twists in my hair which I’d paid to have done before I left Madrid. The guard asked me,”where did you do your hair?” I told him in Madrid in a Senegalese salon. I prepared to be questioned, but he simply said, “I like it, it’s beautiful.” and kept it moving. The incident left me angry and stunned to say the least, but I was not surprised. In the United States, this would have been considered racist and I probably could have reported him to his supervisor or such. But this was not the United States and me filing a complaint would only be laughed at, and dismissed. Considering that what Ceuta is known for, it would only be “reasonable” to question any person of color who tries to cross, as who known who I could have been.

The rest of our trip in Ceuta passed without incident. We noticed that Ceuta is much like a small Madrid which had been uprooted and planted on the coast of northern Africa. A totally different world from the Islamic, Arabic Tangier or Marrakech. Many of those who were walking the streets were obviously culturally Spanish. We noticed women dressed in Western fashion, from shorts to skirts to bikinis on the beach, a far cry from the conservative style of dress of many Moroccan women. Something that you would never see anywhere else in Morocco except maybe the other exclave of Melilla. The language spoken here was Spanish, I was finally once again able to use my language skills. We also noticed that Ceuta, much like the rest of Spain, had adopted the Spanish tradition of the siesta and not opening stores on a Sunday. As it was a Sunday, many stores were not open, and around 3:00pm the few stores that happened to be opened for the day closed down shop to enjoy lunch and lounge the afternoon away. We were able to find one Spanish clothing store which was open during the siesta time but other than that, nothing else.

As we left, I once again saw old women leaving with their grocery carriers, no longer empty but laden with goods. I asked Sadaf about this later on and she told me that apparently because Ceuta was a Spanish port, it was easy and cheaper to receive European goods through the city. Many Moroccan gangsters made their money by employing old women and young men to use their visas to go across to Ceuta and come back with Spanish goods ranging from alcohol to washing machines, as long as they could carry it, they were allowed to bring it across.

Ceuta was an interesting experience, although it was off to a rough start, it was a breathe of fresh air for me. I once again felt free and able to express myself, free from the leering eyes of Moroccan men and the cultural norms and regulations which surround women in so many Moroccan cities.

From the Perspective of a Nigerian Immigrant

I see them everywhere, although they are invisible to most. Dark skins, darker eyes, tired but determined. Trying to hustle for a couple of euros on the street corner, during the rush hour in the metro, in the parks. All they want is to find a way to earn a couple of coins to feed their children. To save and scrunge until they have enough to send home so that Mama and Papa can live comfortably. Nevermind the fact that they are living on one meal a day, struggle to buy themselves a loaf of bread worth 35 centavos to eat, and are living in the streets. They do what they can to take care of their own because to them success is everything and as the only ones in their families fortunate enough to have made it to “The land of promise”, they must do what they can.

The words of a Nigerian man who I came to know during my time here, “To us Nigerians, family is everything”. He told me of how he had been in Spain for 9 years and before that, he was living in Italy where he had secured papers. He luckyily, managed to secure papers here in Spain as well. During his first two years in Spain, to make ends meet, he stood on street corners and sold newspapers. His kind face and charismatic presence touched the heart of those who he greeted on the street, so much so that he managed to be given a few euros here and there, which he saved. He saved and saved until he managed to gain enough capital to open his own Internet café and Western Union center.

The dream of the Nigerian man is not to work under or for another person but to be his own boss and to have something of his own. I know this to be true as it was the dream of my own father, who aspired to open his own pharmacy and the dream of many other Nigerians I knew in the United States. This man was successul for a few years until the economic crisis hit. With the crisis and the  presence of mobile internet, he could not maintain his business any longer, as there was hardly any need for an Internet cafe and his computers were his main source of income. He was forced to shut his doors. He returned once again to the street corner, selling newspapers and depending on the kindness of others.

Talking to him I learned more of the plight of many immigrants, especially Nigerians. We, because I too am one, leave Nigeria with every intention of coming back once our goal has been fufilled. That goal in question, is to make it, by any means necessary. To secure ourselves and our families financially, and once we have fufilled this goal, we know that we will return back to Nigeria, for these Western nations hold nothing for us but grief and a lifetime of suffering. For Nigerians, Nigeria is the best place in the world, if you have money. Racism is not a thing, if you are not a political figure who do you have to fear, and once you build something with your own hands it is yours. The food is the best in the world for us, no preservatives, everything natural from the earth. Foreclosure does not exist, mortgages are a thing from a distant land. Once you have secured enough financial capital, you can live comfortably for the rest of your life. With this in mind, Nigerians come to Europe to make money, send it back to someone they trust until they can pull their own families out of the cycle of suffering and poverty that they were born into.

Usually it is the eldest who holds this burden, my mother did, my father did as well. Growing up all resources were poored into them with the knowledge that they had to succeed so that oneday they could take over for their parents and continue to support their younger ones. I too face this burden, as my mother tells me everyday, so much rides on me and my success so that my younger ones can have the same opportunity to go to college and be afforded the same opportunites that I did. We don´t come to suck up resources, we come to work just as hard if not harder than everyone else, so that we too can have something to call our own one day.