African Girl in the Prairies

Hello friends! I trust you all had a pleasant and restful holiday. Mine? A riot in the best way possible. While I had been out to Calgary twice before, this year an adventure to Saskatchewan was in the cards. Allow me to chronicle the journey:

1. Meeting Bram in Montreal

Reunited and it feels so good

Reunited and it feels so good

It was great to hang out on the old stomping grounds for a few days before heading west. Bram worked everyday, so I had time to engage in meaningful, personal projects (Frozen, Grey’s Anatomy and House of Lies). I also paid a visit to McGill University, which had been my home for four years. Unsurprisingly, everything had changed and I set off an alarm trying to enter Redpath Library by what is now an emergency fire exit.

Cue: “She doesn’t even go here!

2. Flying to Regina

Landing in Regina, SK

Landing in Regina, SK

Bram and I flew to Regina to meet up with his dad. We all then drove one hour south to Weyburn to visit Bram’s grandma, Mabel. The first thing I was struck by in Regina was how small and quiet the airport was. I suppose being African has brainwashed me into thinking the capital of a territory, province or country always has a busy, nice airport. False.

Nevertheless, I went about trying to blend in, despite not seeing a single black person in the airport. We met up with Bram’s dad and went to pick up our bags. That’s when it happened. My seemingly flawless assimilation strategy blew up in my face when a broadcaster from a local radio station approached to ask me a few questions about “visiting Saskatchewan for Christmas.” It was pretty funny. I laughed a lot as I tried to explain what I was doing in the prairies. She seemed genuinely interested in what an East African girl was doing on her way to Weyburn, SK. It was an amusing experience for all.

3. Weyburn, SK

Mabel is 95 and pretty remarkable

Mabel is 95 and pretty remarkable

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit with Mabel. Not only is she surprisingly sharp for 95, but she is a pretty hilarious person. She is social media savvy, with Facebook being her platform of choice. I made sure to upload and tag this one of us.

I was also able to spend time with Bram’s aunts and uncles from Saskatchewan, who were all exceedingly warm and lovely. Special shoutouts to Brenda and Rena! I hope to visit and ride the combines in the warmer months.

On the second day, we visited the family farm in Oungre which is close to the North Dakota border. I was surprised by how little snow there was even though it was freezing. I was even more surprised by how flat and unpopulated most of the land is. I know a certain Tanzanian man (cough, my dad, cough) who would have had a lot to say about that.

I didn’t see any black people in Weyburn, but I did see a Filipino lady – score!

The first oil rig I've ever seen

My first oil rig!

Flat lands as far as the eye can see

Flat lands as far as the eye can see

4. Christmas in Calgary

Driving to Christmas Dinner

Driving to Christmas Dinner

Calgary Zoo

Calgary Zoo Lights

I had a wonderful time in Calgary. The weather was not too unforgiving, the food was plentiful, and I got to see more of the city than I had before. It was great to spend time with Bram’s family. Given that most of the initial awkwardness from last year has worn off, I’d say we are making the appropriate strides. Special thanks to Curtis & Johanna for your phenomenal generosity. I get teary thinking about it. Also, thanks Patrick for the DavidsTea swag. Sippin’ on some prime vanilla chai as I type this. It was lovely to meet up with Calgary friends, old and new.

5. New Years in Toronto

NYE 2014

NYE 2014

We made it back to Toronto just in time for NYE. I’m not a new year’s fan, but I appreciated being able to spend it with my favourite person and some of our friends. I’ll be doing a post about my 2015 convictions (not resolutions) in the days to come.

Happy new year! Stay tuned 🙂

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I Wish I Were White

token

I vividly recall having this thought for the first time at the age of seven. I had fallen in love with a popular white boy in my Grade 2 class. As the months progressed and my friends and I shared our crushes, it became apparent who everyone thought should marry whom.

Whitestone School prided itself on being a model for post-colonial Zimbabwe. Black, Indian, coloured and (mainly) white children all attended school together, united by their mutual respect and shared values of nondiscrimination. As we sat side by side in our favourite tunnel in the playground, we reflected on our chosen soulmates:

“Mandi and Nicholas

Chantal and Jonathan

Megan and Jack

Susan and…Nyasha”

“Nyasha?” I asked the ring leader. “I love Jonathan, not Nyasha. I want to marry Jonathan,” I announced defiantly. “Well you can’t because you’re black,” she said matter-of-factly. “You can marry Nyasha instead.” That was it.

It wasn’t as if I didn’t know I was black before then. However, the incident was the first time I became aware that this thing, this “blackness” could prevent me from being equally considered for opportunities. As the years went on, this disconnect manifested itself through fantasy and child’s play. My sister and I donned brightly coloured head scarves that we called our “hair” and fought over who got to play with the blonde, blue-eyed barbie. My parents responded calmly and began buying different kinds of dolls. When my dad returned from a work trip with one black and one brown barbie, my sister and I spent the night fighting over who got the lighter-skinned one. As the younger sibling, I won and named my “Indian” barbie Monique. Although she was not white, she was lighter than me, and I knew that meant she was better.

I started having dreams about the older version of myself. She was smart, successful, tall and…white. Back up a second, what child dreams about growing up to be white? Perhaps one who had been obsessed with Michael Jackson and thought people could magically grow up to be a different race. One day, puzzled by this repetitive dream in which I took centre stage at the MTV Music Awards, my long brunette hair flowing down my back, a twinkle in my (blue) eyes and a firmly gripped microphone ready to serenade the audience, I asked my mother if I could be like Michael Jackson. She laughed enthusiastically and said luckily, I would be black forever.

token 2

I’ll give you $10 if you can spot me in this photo

Somewhere along the line I moved to Toronto: a hub of multiculturalism. A city as diverse as sugar is sweet. I became much more comfortable in my blackness and began to believe it was more than okay.  I noticed in Canada an excessive politeness where the topic of race was concerned (read: “I don’t see race, I just see people” and other pathetic arguments). I saw a willful ignorance about race politics and a need to make comparisons to its failing neighbour, the US. Meanwhile, similar injustices are happening on our very own Canadian soil.

When the grand jury delivered its verdict in Ferguson, many in my social circle expressed their dissatisfaction with the decision not to indict Darren Wilson for killing Mike Brown. Many ask us not to focus on race, but rather class when examining issues like the militarization of the police. Whatever the case, it reified the sentiment that many of us have been fighting not to internalize all our lives: black isn’t good, therefore black lives don’t matter. 

Earlier, I read a powerful piece on Medium about white supremacy and the privileges afforded to white people. While I am not an advocate of “white guilt”, I believe white people being involved in meaningful racial dialogue is crucial. I have many friends and acquaintances who do not engage on these issues, not because they don’t have opinions, but for fear of being branded racist at the extreme or horribly misinformed at the very least. To that, I say we welcome and need your participation. If you are worried about how to begin, try THIS APPROACH before choosing not to share your views.

Most days I love being black. I love my dark skin and my newly natural hair. I am proud of the short, afro-haired, black woman I have become. When society shows us we are not worthy and the system meant to protect fails us miserably, it can be hard to believe in our worth. In times like these, I call on a personal favourite and I rise

Terrorism is un-Canadian

A little over a week ago, a senseless act of violence was committed at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Corporal Nathan Cirillo was killed by a shooter who then proceeded to enter the parliament building. The man, identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, continued to open fire, injuring others. His rampage came to an end when he was shot and killed by Kevin Vickers, the sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons:

**MAY BE UPSETTING TO SOME VIEWERS**

While much has been said on the attack, I would like to speak specifically to two key points: 1) the meaninglessness of the words “terrorism” and “terrorist” 2) the assumption that violence is “un-Canadian.”

1) What is terrorism?

Who is a terrorist? Websters’ defines terrorism as “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal.” But these days the term continues to be used loosely to describe almost any act of violence where the perpetrator’s motives are not readily understood, as well as in situations where they are. Leader of the Official Opposition, Tom Mulcair has said he does not consider the act a terrorist attack.  While the shooter may or may not have had political motives and he may or may not have been struggling with mental illness, I think we can all agree that it doesn’t diminish the horror of what happened that day. That being said, the word “terrorist” holds meaning only for those who wield it to further their own political agendas. This man committed horrific criminal acts and is therefore a criminal in the eyes of the law.

2) How is violence “un-Canadian?”

In the aftermath of the attacks in Ottawa, many people took to social media to voice their concern over what happened. While this outpouring was heartfelt and showed why Canada is a truly remarkable country to live in, it also revealed a gap in our personal narrative. The inherent idea that violence and attacks of this nature are not Canadian and Canada is an innocent bystander on the global scale is simply untrue. For example, this poignant article details Canada’s involvement in recent wars. To put it plainly, this kind of violence is not native to any country. Saying what occurred in Ottawa is “un-Canadian” demeans the suffering and tragedies taking place in other parts of the world i.e. Syria, Nigeria and Israel. In these countries, violence is also un-Syrian, or un-Nigerian. No country condones such attacks and to assume otherwise is ludicrous and insulting to those who suffer from them.

 

The Hairy Truth

Hair is an integral part of every woman’s life. However, as most women know, the standards of beauty set by the media often aren’t realistic. When it comes to hair, black women are particularly affected as our hair is anything but “straight and silky.” As a result, we tackle a variety of styles. Allow me to take you on my hair journey:

Washing woes

grade 2     fro

There is no time in a young black girl’s life more feared than washing her hair. I cannot explain the crippling anxiety, pain, and tears I experienced. It is not the washing, but rather the detangling that strikes fear in the hearts of black girls everywhere. My mother would chase me through the house, eventually dragging me to the bathroom, where my fate was sealed. Twenty minutes later, I would emerge red-eyed and raw-scalped. “Beauty is pain, my dear,” she’d always say.

The relaxer diaries

relaxer   relaxer

Getting my hair relaxed for the first time was incredible. I’ll never forget running my fingers through my hair without them getting stuck or tangled. I was struck by how much more manageable my hair was. This was soon replaced by anxiety about when my next appointment to tame the natural growth would be.

Weaves

stjamespark1    bob    weave

Over the past few years, I’ve experimented with weaves. Weaves are carefree and fun, but at the three-week mark, your scalp begins to itch like no other: pat your weave, ladies. While weaves added variety to my look, they were financial headaches that deepened my insecurities about my natural hair.

Au naturel

current fro 2     current fro

In May of this year, I decided I’d had enough of the obsession with relaxers, weaves and long, straight hair. One day, I asked my sister to do the big chop. While it was terrifying, I instantly felt closer to my truth as a black woman.

Black Women and Identity: What’s Hair Got To Do With it by Cheryl Thompson, is a great read for anyone wanting to learn more.

How To Be In An Interracial Relationship

1.  Visit each other’s hometowns

snow2    bramtz1

I don’t like winter. In Zimbabwe, winter meant a high of 17 and a low of six – yikes! While dating someone from Calgary has its perks (still waiting for them), its gorgeous weather is not one of them. Here is a photo of me making the most of an arctic day. In contrast, my significant other (SO) enjoys a beautiful day on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania). Which would you prefer? Nonetheless, it is awesome to take in each other’s lived experiences.

2. Be engaging despite feeling awkward

token3   token

If you have an SO, chances are their family gatherings are enough of a struggle. Add the elephant in the room and prepare for a legitimate hoot. Honestly, I enjoy these situations more than your average person. Everyone is tiptoeing around trying not to overdo it. Give enough attention, but not too much, lest the guest feel uncomfortable. I find it both fascinating and hilarious. Your job is to be friendly and engage even though you may be out of your element. I guarantee everyone’s praying you are having a good time. Do yourself a favour and just relax.

3. Embrace the differences

susiehat bramkanga

I know what you’re thinking. Wearing a kanga (traditional Tanzanian wrap) cannot be equated with wearing a winter hat. Or, why is winter a recurring theme? Couldn’t I find a photograph of myself doing/wearing something more Canadian than a trapper hat? That’s neither here nor there. I have an XXL-sized head that looks awful in hats and the key message here is: step out of your comfort zone. Embrace each other’s cultures and rock them fully.

4. Create a photo of your potential baby using this website.

baby

We all know everyone in an interracial relationship is in it for the scrumptious, mixed baby they may have one day. Look at her (him?). How positively terrifying does (s)he look? You’re welcome.

Godspeed and keep me posted along the way. I’m sure I’ve equipped you well.