Category Archives: Thoughts

Joy When It’s Hard

SHE

She was looking for silence, like one would their pulse upon being told of their own death. In a panic, beginning with the chest and moving to the wrists, searching for signs of life more devout than beads of sweat on a forehead, or movement of the hand that is raised to wipe it. Silence borrowed from pauses in speech and the unannounced touching of shoulders or elbows by hands that do not know to chime on contact with the other. She found chaos. I grieve on this day for all the things she’s not. I recount, revise, reanalyze, revisit, recall, replay, remember, and it’s hell. It’s sin.

A friend of mine told me a few weeks ago that we exist to be joyful. It is the first time in my entire life that anyone has ever said that to me. I know life is supposed to be hard because it has been. I know sadness, however long it lasts, is inevitable because I feel it still and frequently. I know that there are peaks and valleys and that both these things are subjective. But joy? Where is it promised that there will be joy? What amazed me more was that I could read it on him. Joy leaks out of more than just his smile; it is the attitude of his soul. It is the pigment of his candor. He lives joy and so deliberately does he speak it, even when it’s not being spoken. “It’s because of Jesus,” he said to me.

In the Bible there is great mention of good things. Not proof of our worth, but confirmation of His. The One who chose us (John 15:16)

All this time she thought joy a fickle schedule of man, when instead it might be that it is a feature of the divine. Real magic we can call down from the skies. It’s dangerous to say these things in the midst of a pandemic when so many suffer this new performance of life and living. But in John 15:11 Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete”

She fell back in love with Jesus last year. So this year is for joy. Finding it. Claiming it. Bleeding it. 

It’s what I want for her.

It’s what I wish for you.

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Music + Food + Him

Sometimes the soundtrack is just scoring the spinach, fish and mango- not life. Not an entire existence. Just healthy food on a plate accompanied by Gallant in all his soulful glory. Easy. Monday. x

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Just Mercy

“In debates about the death penalty, I had started arguing that we would never think it was humane to pay someone to rape people convicted of rape or assault and abuse someone guilty of assault or abuse. Yet we were comfortable killing people who kill, in part because we think we can do it in a manner that doesn’t implicate our own humanity, the way that raping or abusing someone would.” -Bryan Stevenson Just Mercy 

Bryan Stevenson is my most prominent living hero. I’ve had Just Mercy for a while but I haven’t had the energy to open it up. I knew it would be a beautiful and moving memoir, but also challenging and heartbreaking to get through. This week I finally worked up the courage to read it, and it delivered on its promise to be nothing short of everything.

I grew up wanting teachers in my life but never really got them. I’ve sat in the classes of authoritarians who thought the only way to teach pupils was to denigrate them when they struggled; break them at their weakest. Human beings so damaged by their own limitations that they seemingly sought to trap vulnerable targets in their insecurities. Curmudgeons who demanded respect not knowing what it meant to offer it in equal measure. Women who would encourage the demoralisation of other women. Men who endorsed gender inequality. I remember on several occasions trying to get my parents to switch me to a home school in high school because I did not want to become a sheep; complacently digesting what was being fed to me- barring all curiosity for what character I might birth with silent acquiescence. I feared I would lose my capacity to form independent thoughts and dismiss acts of impunity because I was told to simply not worry about it.

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Unfortunately, my parents rejected the idea of home school, displeased with my inability to confront growing pains more pragmatically. So instead, I think I started to read non-fiction to learn from the teachers I wish I’d had. People who commit themselves to the very purpose for which they were born and have the audacity show up on time. This is where books are my closest companions- lessons from real teachers. The ones who do not give out homework assignments, but force us to acknowledge our inherited duties to someone or something on this earth that we owe our best efforts. The ones who are patient enough to listen to the voices of children when they cry out, and speak to them from a place of true consideration. Bryan Stevenson is my ultimate teacher.

In Just Mercy he talks passionately about his remarkable work, while driving a narrative of lamentation for what indiscretions the American judicial system ought to remedy. Be it the release of the wrongfully convicted, a reduced sentence for a lifer or the abolition of inhumane legislation (including capital punishment)- his words are not choked by despondency but rather inspired by resilience. It is a tragedy that none of my living heroes are men or women I know, but such a relief that the written word has allowed me to find educators in script.

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We may not be able to touch the hands of those that inspire us, but what a gift it is to know of their work, and thus know their hearts.

I don’t believe in a lot of things/people anymore.

But I believe in Bryan Stevenson.

On many days, that’s really all I need.

People of color in particular please read Just Mercy.

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Does anyone know which way Jesus went?

I have so many questions for God. The past few years of my life, I have struggled to trust the weight of His promise to never leave us nor forsake us, as so often I have not been able to feel his presence or recognise the work of His hands. I find myself drowning in thoughts that we are not all tantamount to His plan; that He has abandoned some us in favour of others. I have wrestled with the temptation to renounce my belief that He lives and that He is. How desperate I am to realize His grace, to know again his unending love, to feel once more the comfort of His promise. Jesus, I miss you.

“Help me, Lord my God; save me according to your unfailing love.”- Psalm 109:26

“La soledad es de piedra/ Sorrow” by Isaí Moreno

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Tasting Freedom

Photo Credit: Little Zoker

I’m looking at a tree and it’s waving at the sky. What has been decreed by the wind, so the leaves and branches must obey. They are slaves to something free; attached to limbs, fastened to bark rooted in the earth. If the wind blows one way these leaves must bow without thought as to what they are offering passive acquiescence. This tree has no mind, only movement, and even that is governed by something separate from itself. As human beings we live to become a version of ourselves that can be substantiated by our experiences, our capabilities and perhaps even our dreams. But I believe it is our limitations that shape what we ultimately become. I believe they are the roots that keep me grounded like the tree; my failures, proof of what I am not and reason to continue the search for my independence and identity. When I am hopeless, in my own way I demonstrate my compliance and lose a little bit of myself. But when I have hope, it is more a dance than a bow and in that moment, however long the privilege lasts- I feel free.

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She, The Ocean

There is an ocean I fear.
The waves are strong,
And the water is shallow.
The coral reefs are sharp,
And the salt stings my eyes.
She is beauty packaged in lies,
Floating stories written in blood,
She is uncontrollable and inconsistent,
A wild, rebellious wonder,
A callous, unforgiving punisher,
A beautiful, inviting stranger.
She breaks hearts and bones,
Her consumption unexpected,
Love her and she will be the medicine that mends your soul,
You will learn why they fall deeply, quickly,
Into her arms, into her whole,
And when they rise, if they rise,
… May they rise.
This ocean.
The monster that loves,
The heart that beats and pounds,
A raw crash on unstable ground.
Wave after wave.
Waves and more waves.

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Surely He Lives

“Whoso has felt the spirit of the Highest,
Cannot confound nor doubt Him, nor deny,
Yea, with one voice, O world, though thou deniest,
Stand thou on that side, for on this am I!” – F.W.H. Myers

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I very rarely get it right. Most days I grapple with the idea that a Being so great would live and love us so completely as to let us choose. Most mornings, I wonder why I have to endure the task of a day’s worth of everything that goes against the rationale that God could exist. But He must. For me to live, He must. And if the day should ever come when I find He doesn’t, so my life will reach its end.

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Lies we told in 2014

There is a story I was told as a child that made me believe the world is good; that most people are kind; that all love is pure. It was a story of freedom and justice, where all actions are aptly met with punishment or praise. Where colour is representation of heritage and not an indication of worth. Where opportunity is owed every being and not bought at a detriment to those who sleep hungry. It was a story that promised healing and security to the sick and vulnerable; one that swore the compassion and integrity of those we call leaders. But I was lied to. Greedy men bought the world through carnage and deception. This so-called ‘humanity’ found a way to own and package our liberties as well as limit and cripple our progress. This world is not very good; most of us are not so kind; and not all our love has proven pure. 2014 marks another year that we continued to lie to our children. On to the next one.

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Ebola and the Price of Africans

The thing about Ebola is it’s effing awful. It has an incubation period of 21 days and its symptoms include fever, severe headache, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pain, and unexplained bleeding or bruising.

Perhaps what is worse still, is the world’s response to Ebola. The first cases of infected persons in West Africa are recorded to have been in December 2013, so it is astounding that it has taken, arguably, several months for the rest of the world to take Ebola seriously. This point is further exacerbated when more recent projections show that as many as 1.4 million people in Sierra Leone and Liberia could be infected and potentially die by January of 2015.

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Since the first diagnosed Ebola case in the U.S., there has been much more discourse on the state of affairs surrounding Ebola. In a CNN segment, Tara Setmayer, a conservative political commentator expressed her thoughts regarding Ebola. See below:

There are several issues I take with Tara Setmayer’s words. Firstly, when she addresses the issue of the Ebola patient (Thomas Eric Duncan) in Dallas she is quite candid in her view that someone coming from Liberia is likely to lie about their possible contact with infected persons in order to travel abroad. This introduces the idea that one is ‘guilty until proven innocent’ which goes against the presumption of innocence. Not only is she making assumptions she cannot aptly justify, she is making Duncan out to be some kind of villain who purposefully contracted this dreadful virus with some evil plot to further spread the epidemic purely because he’s African.
On the contrary Nima Elbagir had a differing opinion. See link below:

http://edition.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/bestoftv/2014/10/08/ac-nima-elbagir-on-liberia-ebola-timeline.cnn.html

So what can we establish from this. Not only does this suggest that Duncan was unaware that he may have contracted Ebola, his biggest flaw was being compassionate enough to help a pregnant young woman up after she collapsed. What a villain!
Setmayer isn’t the first person to think in this manner. In 1998 the U.S. Embassies in the cities of Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were bombed by terrorists. Hundreds were killed and thousands were wounded (locals and expats). It was reported that locals in the Nairobi area moved to assist in whatever way they could, only to be turned away by American marines and personnel, who were under the impression that the locals would take advantage of this tragic event to steal from the embassy. Not only could this have been at the expense of the injured, but it further perpetuates the idea that it is okay to make Africans out to be unfeeling, menacing beings. As an African, this is simply heartbreaking.

Why must we always get involved?
Setmayer also insinuates that she is unhappy with the necessity for foreign aid in West Africa and doesn’t understand “why the U.S. (always) has to be at the forefront of it.”
To make my point, I want to begin by addressing the shared history between Liberia and the U.S. In 1816, a group of White Americans founded the American Colonization Society (ACS). With the number of free blacks growing, they were trying to figure out what to do with them. In short they decided to colonize Liberia and ‘return and or dispose of’ some of the free slaves. Some abolitionists opposed this for moral reasons and some people opposed it because they wanted to retain some of the black folk for labour and military purposes for the future. Colonization and enslavement took place on the continent of Africa. Among the colonialists were the British and French who had occupied several territories in West Africa and seemed to encroach on the territory the ACS wanted to retain possession of. So in order to have Liberia recognised as a sovereign state capable of retaining its borders, the American settlers declared independence from the ACS. We can’t ignore that there were some black Pan-Africanist’s that romanticised the idea of ‘coming home’ so to speak, but as Richard Wright and many others, they had been kept away from their roots for so long, reintegrating was not only hard but disheartening.

“Where the rubber meets the road”
In the 1920s, the U.S. began searching for rubber resources. The U.S. Secretary of Commerce at the time, Herbert Hoover, in conjunction with American business magnate, Harvey Samuel Firestone (owner of Firestone Tire & Rubber Company), wanted access to natural resources that were being constrained by other colonialist governments- that would be under America’s control. In 1926 the Liberian government granted Firestone the right to lease up to one million acres, creating the world’s largest plantation in Harbel, Liberia.

What’s been happening since?
Now it has been argued that the 99-year lease at 6 cents per acre, while liberal to Firestone, was also beneficial for the Liberian government who needed the money they made off of the rubber market to keep from being taken over by other colonialists. More recently, in 2005, Firestone signed a 37-year lease with the government of Liberia. That same year, “workers at the Harbel plantation filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court under alien tort claims act, charging Firestone with using forced labour and child labour.” A United Nations Mission in Liberia report supported many of the workers claims, while Firestone also admitted negligence concerning its own policy prohibiting child labour. One of the reasons found as to why children were working on the rubber plantation had to do with a “pressure to meet unrealistic company quotas”.

Firestone and Ebola
In the past few days we have learned of the effort Firestone has made to keep their territory Ebola-free, by establishing their own clinic on a rubber farm where they isolate and treat victims within the Firestone community (consisting of approximately 80,000 workers and their families). Firestone’s is certainly an admirable initiative, even if the wealth and resources available to the company is what has enabled them to be so proactive. It is worth noting, however, the somewhat volatile relationship that Firestone has had with Liberia. During the Great Depression when rubber prices fell, Firestone wanted the U.S. government to send a warship to Monrovia (capital) to enforce debt repayment and protect Firestone’s investment in the country. Additionally, given the history of Firestone in Liberia as far as possible human rights violations, we cannot escape the opinion that Firestone could merely be protecting its financial investment. Quite frankly, it is not often that large corporations see their employees as more than faceless numbers. Nevertheless, one cannot dismiss that their advances are somewhat avant-garde as far as this Ebola outbreak goes.

Inconsequential Colonization
Something, as an African, I have never been able to comprehend is this idea that we are supposed to forget what was done to destroy us by greedy, merciless colonialists, and yet we are not afforded the right to claim that the weak institutions in Africa are in part due to the repercussions of enslavement and colonization. As children we are all taught that our actions have consequences and yet it seems colonization, according to some people in the western world, is inconsequential. This cannot surely be the case, as prior to Scramble for Africa we certainly did not have 54 countries and weren’t engaging in civil war after civil war. A negative in insisting on the enforcement of accountability, is admitting where you have royally screwed-up; economic and social stability should not be a prerequisite for who is extricated from this reality and who is subject to it. So while we cannot entirely blame the west for Africa’s lack of desirable progress in the strengthening of her institutions, I cannot reconcile the idea that so many western nations have used her (for instance for rubber) and continue to use her, in her vulnerable state, for their own benefits while passing off the dollar-a-day campaigns as making a positive difference. All this, only for an epidemic like Ebola to unveil how long it would take for the western world to make an ACTUAL difference when it truly counts.

CNN correspondent Isha Sesay conveyed the following message:

So what is my point? The irony of Setmayer’s frustration over the U.S. involvement in Liberia is how closely tied the U.S. is to the African nation. Not only is her pernicious attitude towards people who are not dying of their own volition of ill repute, but her blatant lack of empathy for people who have only recently emerged from a second civil war, leaves me wondering what her definition of humanity is. At what point do you look at a man and tell him that because he fell below the standards of humanity set by the western world, his death is justifiable?

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Depiction of Pre-colonial Africa. (Photo credit:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/01/13/40-more-maps-that-explain-the-world/)

For many years the rest of the world has de-humanised Africans. This is why the tear-jerker TVC’s and ‘poor-nography’ will never play a positive role in progressing Africa’s nations. Africans are seen as helpless, primitive, undetermined, unattractive, illiterate, shameful, barbaric beings, that don’t even really qualify as human. People may not expressly say these words, but it has been communicated by conduct for so many years that we may have started to believe this of ourselves; perhaps morale plays more of a role than the western world realises. So before you chastise us for being ill-prepared to deal with an epidemic none of us asked for, please acknowledge the role you played and in some areas continue to play in the weakness of our institutions.

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Photo credit: Steve Evans (https://www.flickr.com/photos/babasteve/3423517521/in/photolist-nMMip-koaRAz-5tg2Ez-5nYYKy-5tSqje-5t5nwH-5uqxs9-ptgHQT-6dwqua-oDXNYx-69YXTN-8LH4pr-7EjtE-brDb7M-Su9eY-scqvP-bxED7X-e3fHSc-aghHr7-vPpZt)

Finally, perhaps the biggest oxymoron about Setmayer’s words, is the fact that the woman herself is what society may term an African American. Now of course she may not identify with this title, similarly to Raven-Symoné who just this week said that she does not identify as an African American, but simply an American. I take no issue with this at all. Congratulations to anyone who can identify him/herself so decidedly. But the fact is Setmayer’s black. And whether she likes it or not, it is probable she has some ties to Africa, even if they are so remote that she could live more than comfortably having never set foot in the motherland. Black Americans gain nothing from the denigration of black Africans, so why do it? The mere fact that your ancestors were put on the Aurore and mine were put to work in a field in Africa, should not be a justification for your lack of empathy. This isn’t an attempt to play the supposed race-card, it’s a choice to address what could be seen as an ethnic inequality.

The great James Baldwin in his critique of Uncle Tom’s Cabin said “Our passion for categorisation, life neatly fitted into pegs, has led to an unforeseen, paradoxical distress; confusion, a breakdown of meaning. Those categories which were meant to define and control the world for us have boomeranged us into chaos; in which limbo we whirl, clutching the straws of our definitions.” The struggle against Ebola cannot so easily be classified as West Africa’s problem. It is everyones problem. As long as we are living we owe an implied duty of care to each other, not by law, but by virtue that we share this earth. That we- all of us- are human.

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To Pity the Birds

Sometimes I wonder if birds got a raw deal. They come closest to heaven but every cloud is a red herring for the real trapdoor into the supernatural. They can take short breaks from humanity’s indiscretions but ultimately they too must be part of the dance. So while they whistle songs of the free, they only move to the tune of the enslaved. The strings that keep them in flight; the Puppeteer in all His glory ensures that they will never fly higher than what was intended. They may spend their days in the skies but their bodies will inevitably rest on the earth. So home is where they nest because even for them, paradise is met with great limitation.

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