Live and Die in Afrika

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Photos by Kobby Waiyaki | The Skate Park: The skate park is one of the very rare things to find in Kenya .Most people don’t even know if Kenya owns a skate park since it is at an unexpected location. I chose this as my location since I have seen it grow from the very first day when skate aid-a skateboarding organisation based in Germany came to launch that they will be constructing a skate park in Nairobi . The design and all is what that really amazes me with the graffiti and all. 

DSC_0350Post Soundtrack: Live and Die in Afrika (Sauti Sol)

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MWENDE KATWIWA

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JACKET: Designed by me, made by Ally Tailoring at Kenyatta Market out of a Kanga I bought to sell in the Noirlinians store. Kangas have text on each of them and are used to convey messages at times and I realized as I was unpacking this one had a typo so I just made something for myself with it 🙂

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SHOES: I got them from my Haitian Mama Soraya who calls these her Haitian Missionary shoes

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EARRINGS: Bought under the bridge during Mardi Gras from a vendor in Atlanta HAT & SUNGLASSES: Bought from a jua kali in Kenya, I stocked up because they’re so expensive in the U.S. 😀 NECKLACE: My dad bought this for me a couple of years ago somewhere in Kenya.

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Mwende: Every time I leave the United States to go to Kenya as an adult, it becomes harder to return stateside. Growing up as a child immigrant, I realized I had a lack of choice in where I ended up due to age, but that I would eventually be in charge of my geographic destiny. I always saw that destiny in Africa, and more specifically, in the geographic region colonialism defined for us as Kenya (I’m currently at the AWID forum in Brasil which is so great and challenging so much of the language I use…I may have to go back and edit some posts lol). As far back as the 7th grade, I remember telling my parents 2 things would be sure in my life: 1. That I would get a great scholarship to go to college so they wouldn’t have to carry that financial burden after watching them struggle in the U.S. and 2. That I would leave the United States soon after going to college on scholarship and return home to Kenya. I didn’t really have a reason I gave why other than, it was home and it just felt right.

I know part of this immense longing for home I had growing up came from things I heard about Africa and Africans growing up in the U.S. that I knew were not true because of my immediate connection there. I remember growing up longing for a place I did not have to explain that part of my identity and thinking Kenya was that only place. But I also know the larger part of this longing for home was rooted in a deep longing for my family and ancestry, to be around my blood relatives, many of whom began to fade over the years, literally and metaphorically. I remember growing up (because I have a large extended family) resenting that one of my closest connections with Kenya was rooted in death, as it was often an access point to visiting home or news about it (I was unable to see the Kenyan and larger African community I was raised in in the U.S. as connections to home then). And although trips home weren’t and aren’t always planned around death, the faint sound of a funeral wail always finds its way onto the soundtrack of my visits home. I do not want home/my relationship to it to be contextualized in death and fading memories. I am tired of trips home being filled with chapatis and caskets, gatherings and grief. I know this means having to be more physically present in Kenya.

Although, if I’m being honest, death, or the prospect of it, is what urgently brought me to Kenya this summer. This summer, amongst other family members, we buried my last remaining grandfather (he lived to be about 110). I had actually planned to go to Kenya last summer, but because of various issues, I was not able to go. Soon after I made the final decision not to go, I had a dream about my grandfather.

In the dream, my grandfather and I are sitting on wooden stools facing one another. We are not inside, but we’re not in an outside I quite know if I recognize or can describe well enough (the closest I can get is saying it seemed like we were in a red blood cell version of this Earth, of my grandparent’s farm). The sky itself was a deep, almost sinister red, while the dirt was a the Earth tone red of the ground in Mwala where my grandfather is from. We were the only ones there, and we sat together for days, or what seemed like days, because a sun kept rising and falling behind us in the backdrop of the sky. This happened a number of times as my grandfather and I spoke, until it abrupty fell from the sky and I woke up. When I awoke, I couldn’t really remember what he had been saying to me or in what language (I’m not sure what languages I dream in or if I know yet how to translate it. I remember we weren’t speaking English, but he spoke limited Swahili and I don’t speak Kikamba so really I’m at a loss… but I remember waking up with the distinct feeling that my grandfather would the die before the next summer ended.

I hate dreaming. Always have. My dreams have always been too vivid and realistic to the point of blurring the lines of reality. Sometimes I would dream of days that had gone past and they were so real I would wake up thoroughly unsure what version had actually happened and what was in the dream. Sometimes I dreamt of days that hadn’t happened, but some echo of them would happen soon after and that was just as unsettling. It was really bad in high school…in between the dreams, my depression and my insomnia, I started medicating to go to sleep, but not just to go to sleep, I was using specific aids that also stunted dreaming.

It had been a while since I had a dream that lasted so long and was so clear and it bothered me on levels I can’t explain. I wasn’t sure why or what it was linked to, I just know that I stayed up for quite some days and then started to medicate again myself to sleep and avoid dreaming. After that dream about my grandfather last summer, I started to spiral into a hazy depression. I honestly felt at some point I was losing my mind. And I was in a way, I was by blocking my sub-concisous mind in dreaming. Not only was I losing my mind  though, I was also losing weight. I started to feel (and low key look) like a zombie, going through the motions of life simply because I had a body to do so, but I cannot say honestly that I was not present for much of last year. If it wasn’t for the sake of a few special people in my life during that time, and the support of my workmates, especially my boss Deon Haywood who basically threw me across the ocean (while shading me lovingly for missing 2 months of work), I do not know where I would be right now.

My time in Kenya this summer felt like stepping back into the control panels of a body I had occupied for a year but something else had been steering. Imagine riding shotgun in my own body. That’s how I’ve felt the last couple of months. And I didn’t even know I was feeling it until I wasn’t anymore.

While home this summer, at first I hesitated to tell my family about the dream. Much of my family back home is Christian and have unpredictable relationships to other spiritualities, but I decided to tell some of them anyway. When I told my cousin, she laughed and told me about another child cousin of ours who was claiming to see spirits. When I told one of my uncles, who is very much a devoted Christian, he got a bit serious and told me about how his father, my grandfather used to have vivid dreams and wake up in the mornings knowing things he could not have known given what he knew when he went to sleep the previous night. He told me not to take these feelings lightly. Hearing this from them made me remember how the last time I was in Kenya, I was driving with a relative to visit my grandmother in Mwala. On the road, he asked me if we could stop by and see my great grandmother because he just had some feeling. So we detoured and stopped by where she was. She died within the hour. She was 118.

I have a lot to figure out about my family history in order to understand myself better. And I know the only way I can do that, since so many of them are in Kenya, is to also be there myself. I’ve been talking off handedly for the last year about what it would look like to split my time between Kenya and New Orleans, but I think its something I need to seriously start to consider and map out. I’ve spent enough time in both places to feel that I won’t be able to put my whole self in either place, so why not try both. I’ve also spent enough time in both to know I have a real commitment to both experiences of myself there. And I’ve also come to a place of reflective understanding that the specific sort of duality that often occupies the bodies of immigrants has made a home in my bones and will direct my understanding of home as I move forward in life.

And I am OK letting it guide me.

PS: Also I fucks with Kobby, the photographer for this shoot, he’s only 19 years old!!!!!! #KenyanYouthGotThatJuice

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R-SHAN PHONCI SHASHA 

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Phonci: As soon as I left New Orleans, I wrote an article about the idea of “Feeling black” drawing inspiration from my experience in New Orleans and Mwende Katwiwa’s book “Becoming Black”:

 Growing up in a continent where I “Phonsi” came before my skin color and having the experience of being black in the United States; I felt the burning need to tell my own broke girl’s black story. I remember just a few days after visiting the Whitney Plantations; which is a site where slaves were brought to work on the farm and cater to their masters. An experience that still breaks my heart and for the sake of this post; I will share a few photos of the walls in which the slave names are written with the first slave being from “Congo”, pictures of how heads hung on sticks, chains, torture kits and a book of the constitution on the “Law of Slavery”. A site I wish never to go back to and force myself not to think of anymore. I save my tears for happy moments. Then, the issue of race hit me hard, the reality of it in America came to life after I read more on Sandra Bland’s case. And let me tell you; that’s just 1 case in 10 or 15 that we across the globe hear of. There is 50 more Sandra Blands of all ages and you don’t want to hear about it. Just a few days after; we had a workshop and I cried my eyes out with pain piercing through my fragile heart saying; “I don’t wanna be black anymore; I am tired of being black; I just want to be “Phonsi” Again; I wanna go home” still makes me cringe with hurt as I think about it. At that moment; I forgot what being black meant. A few days later, the statement of “Acting black” arose. Often used as a derogatory statement. I asked: “I still don’t understand what acting black is; if it is being ghetto; uneducated; uninstructed and all; it still doesn’t answer it for me; to me that is not “being Black”. So I asked myself what is being black. What really is being black when in history blacks have long fought to achieve greatness and played major roles in history? It clicked; That is being black… but wait;

We then dig dip into history, we think of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther king, those black men were the drivers of historical changes in our world and again, blacks were so smart that they were oppressed into making use of their knowledge and share their knowledge in plantations during slavery. Again, most medical drugs derive from African Methods and Africa is where people go to research and come up with certain Traditional Medecines and more. The president of the United states of America is Black; Then what do you mean when you tell me; “I am acting black” How else am I supposed to be great if I don’t act black? 

[READ THE REST OF “BEING BLACK (A broke girl’s diary)” ON PHONCI’s BLOG]

They say there is no place like “Home” but New Orleans felt like “home”. The culture, the food, the fashion and the music is like going from Africa to a more diverse African place. Despite the Open racism that often hit hard and made me look at myself as a “Skin Color” and not as the “Young African Leader” title that brought me to the United States, NOLA will forever be dear to me. Remembering my ancestors at Congo-Square, honoring black slaves, sharing my tradition, eating fufu in New Orleans and seeing how much the black community in America is fighting to keep the culture alive in the US makes me very proud to be “Black”. 

As the world is developing, Africa is developing at a faster rate; the African Culture is being colonized. Our hair, our skin color, our hobbies and our food are being colonized. It becomes such a moving experience as an African seeing African Americans in America despite centuries of not revisiting their roots feel so dedicate to keeping the “Blackness” alive. Noirlinians’s love of “blackness” and “Africanness” is an inspiration to love my roots and proudly showcase my culture any chance I get through my everyday life and blogging.

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Noirlinians is a love story by two wandering Daughters of the African diaspora 

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The Author

Noirlinians is an AfroFashion blog exploring the complex relationship between culture, clothing & identity in the diaspora. Featuring Liberian artist and designer Denisio Truitt of DOPEciety and poet and organizer Mwende “FreeQuency” Katwiwa, the idea for the blog emerged after a fast friendship developed between the two based on their African heritage and artistic interests.

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