On February 21, 1965 this beautiful man was shot down in a ballroom. 53 years later, we still feel the ripples of his words and actions.

Malcolm was an orator, an organizer, a man of the masses. He was a self made intellectual, schooled on the streets and stayed on the streets to lead and inspire others to believe in themselves, instill some pride and self-respect.

He was a man who wasn’t stuck. He wasn’t stuck in his own time, or in his own ideology or in his own beliefs or ways of thinking. He was willing, not only to confront and challenge others – but also himself (particularly previous versions of himself).

His legacy will forever live on.

In the words of Ossie Davis:
”It is not in the memory of man that this beleaguered, unfortunate, but nonetheless proud community has found a braver, more gallant young champion than this Afro-American who lies before us – unconquered still. I say the word again, as he would want me to : Afro-American – Afro-American Malcolm, who was a master, was most meticulous in his use of words. Nobody knew better than he the power words have over minds of men. Malcolm had stopped being a ‘Negro’ years ago. It had become too small, too puny, too weak a word for him. Malcolm was bigger than that.

…Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people. And, in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves.

…Consigning these mortal remains to earth, the common mother of all, secure in the knowledge that what we place in the ground is no more now a man – but a seed – which, after the winter of our discontent, will come forth again to meet us. And we will know him then for what he was and is – a Prince – our own black shining Prince! – who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so.”

If you haven’t read his biography, and if there’s one book that you must read this week, this month, this year – let it be that one. Here are some excerpts:

And some excerpts from the Spike Lee documentary played by Denzel:

Rest in power, peace and paradise X.

You’re forever loved.


18 life lessons you taught me daddy

It’s been eighteen years since you passed daddy. And though we miss you more than words can do justice to, you live on in more ways than one.

Every time they ask me my name, every time I sign Nebila Abdulmelik, I’m reminded whose daughter I am. You live in our memories, our dreams, our prayers, our thoughts, our poems. You live on in us and the munchkins who have your blood running through them – one who took your name as well as your ears and your countenance.

You live on in our mannerisms, the way we talk and walk – in our characters that seem to mimic yours.

You live on in the way we live our lives and who we are and who we’ve become – because of all the lessons you and Mommy have instilled in us. Here are eighteen in honor of the eighteen years you’ve been away.

1. Humility – that it doesn’t matter how high I get in school or wealth or status, you taught me to keep my feet on the ground, stay humble and never look down on others

2. ‎To look up. To see the stars. To appreciate the workings and magic of the Almighty.

3. ‎To be good to others – to be kind. That ultimately that’s what we’ll be judged on. Not how much money we have or how many degrees or how many acres but how we treat others.

4. ‎Not to be afraid of the dark. And in doing so, to allow our own lights to take shape.

5. ‎To be comfortable with silence.

6. ‎To fear nothing and no one but the Almighty. That ultimately it would just be Him and me

7. ‎To give the best of ourselves and the best of what we have to others.

8. ‎To love and devour fruits, in all their various shapes and sizes. To become a fruitaholic.

9. ‎There was nothing I couldn’t do because I was a girl. You kept reiterating that I was anbessa, ye anbessa lej. Perhaps my first lessons in Feminism.

10. ‎To be a father was to be present.

11. ‎That love could start in the womb. That a parent could love a child even before it was born.

12. ‎ Kelam faregh. That sometimes words are not enough.

13. ‎That you can’t always get what you want. That you must sometimes wait till Alghefra zezelema sa.

14. ‎That our prayers are not about the words we utter but rather our intentions

15. ‎What true, meaningful and deep friendships look like

16. ‎That there’s such a thing as more than a whole. More than 100%. Gobez we nus.

17. ‎That children can be confided in too. To spend time with both young and old.

18. ‎To be generous – with time and money – and quietly so. To make sure the left hand doesn’t know what the right is giving.

Thank you for raising us to be strong, grounded women, the daughters of lions. For these lessons and more, for all the love you showered us with, we’re forever indebted. Rest in paradise daddy.

17 Books to Devour


In no particular order, some books that have left me feeling inspired, hurt, moved, blessed to be able to read and left in me an insatiable thirst to keep devouring and consuming. Much gratitude to the authors who wove together such beautiful stories.

1. Dust, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
A bit of a difficult but worthwhile read. Set in Kenya – telling of the politics of greed, but also of love, kinship and the search for truth, no matter how painful it is…

2. A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest J. Gaines 
A very painful but powerful read. Set in the US in the 60’s.

A black man in the South of the (not-so-united) States of America finds himself in the middle of a shootout in a store that leaves one white man (store owner) and two black men dead. His own defense describes him as a ‘hog’ to the jury who sentence him to death by execution. The story is of another black man, an ‘educated’ black man, a teacher – who is tasked with turning the convicted into a ‘man’.

A book about deeply rooted injustices, but also about seeking and reclaiming dignity, love, resistance and triumph.

Read here for excerpts of the book which stood out to me.

3. Homegoing
I’ve never read a book where each chapter (all 20 of them) introduces a new character and a new generation. Spanning a number of generations and traversing two continents, the author manages to tell an incredible and very personal tale of slavery and what is passed down from generation to generation – both figurative and literal.

4. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
My best friend and soul sister wouldn’t stop raving about this particular book. I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it and confess it wasn’t an easy read but it still makes this list because it’s written in such a unique way and has an intriguing storyline.

5. Born a Crime, Trevor Noah

This was a truly beautiful, funny and poignant read. I read this on my phone through the kindle app and would read late into the night snuggled into bed – soliciting laughter at all hours and making family members wonder if I had gone loco.

Just as he is on stage, Trevor’s wit, street smarts, intellect and insight came out in his storytelling. You will have so much respect for him and his phenomenal momma after reading his story and his life journey. He’s talented on many fronts – my only complaint would be that it seems to target an American audience. Trevor, you know there are countless of us here on the continent who still consume your content voraciously. Don’t forget us. Otherwise, I’m already looking forward to re-reading it!

6. Blood Brothers 

A fascinating back story to the friendship, brotherhood and fallout of two incredible men – Malcolm X & Muhammad Ali. It’s a story of conviction, camaraderie, black pride, love, alliances, discoveries, deception and pure history. It’s also a telling story of human beings turning on each other…Especially when blindly following a figure to the detriment of the cause. A must read.

7. Ghana Must Go, Taiye Selassie 

Taiye keeps us engaged from the first page to the last. About love, family, shame and the lengths to which we’ll go to cover it, betrayal, abandonment and redemption.

8. Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri 

A collection of short stories. Jhumpa has a way of making ordinary stories extraordinary. Each story is it’s own, taking you deeper into the craft of Lahiri’s mind and imagination.

9. The House Girl, Tara Conklin 

A fascinating and intricately woven tale centred around two women separated by close to 200 years. One enslaved and the other, a corporate lawyer pursuing a reparations case. A story about the pursuit of freedom, truth, redemption, purpose, ancestry and a life worth pursuing.

Definitely worth a read and even a reread.

10. Letter to my Daughter, Maya Angelou

This was amongst the first books I picked up in a long while. I had almost forgotten how beautiful it is to read. To get lost in another’s world and to relate to a reality that is separate from ones own by decades, oceans, miles, circumstances. But to still be able to experience a multitude of emotions while at it, laughter and joy, anger and sadness, beauty and triumph.

11. Born on a Tuesday, Elnathan Jonathan

Elnathan Jonathan’s debut novel. Unputtdownable. Very relevant, raw and real.

12. I can’t make this up, Kevin Hart

I’ve always loved Kevin Hart but reading this book made me respect and appreciate him and his momma so much more. His drive, work ethic, hustle, persistence, wit and groundness deserve much respect. A good read – highly recommend.

13. The Fishermen, Chigozi Obioma 

A heartbreaking story of what can unfold and break what seemed like unbreakable brotherhood bonds following a prophecy. Dark and raw – difficult but a worthwhile read. Amazing particularly considering its a debut novel.

14. We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo

I loved the way NoViolet writes and undoubtedly thinks. A story of Zim told through the eyes of young kids and one girl in particular who ends up in the US after ‘change’ disappoints. A great read.

15. The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen

An intricately woven tale of history, (mis) representation, pride, nationalism, love, friendship and shifting allegiances in times of war. Brilliant story that transports the readers from Vietnam to the US and back.

16. Tomorrow I’ll be Twenty, Alain Mabanckou

I was curious to read this book considering Mabanckou was my former professor and had  won numerous literary awards  but I had yet to read any of his books. This book is a depiction of life, love and politics from the eyes of a young Congolese boy, Michel. A beautiful and easy read.

17. Animal Farm, George Orwell

It was only in December 2017 that I managed to read this classic that has been translated and taught and studied the world over. I found myself getting increasingly distraught at the events that unfolded – as well as some of the characters and their blind faith in the face of the rewriting of history and narrative. It’s so telling that decades since he wrote this book, it rings true in so many ways and is a warning for the pitfalls we must avoid as a people.

Even if your pick is not in this list, pick up a book people, and get lost. And get found.


17 Reflections of 2017

It’s been a whirlwind of a year. Two family weddings, complete career shift, travels to new destinations as well as seeing previous ones with new eyes, birth of the first boy in the family, namesake of daddy, conscious investment in creative parts of me, including my first photo exhibition and photography residency, lots of reading and learning and growing as well as saying goodbye to someone I’d never met…

Some of what I’ve learnt this year:

1. There’s no such thing as tomorrow. We don’t live forever. Do the things that you have wanted to, aspire to, plan to – today – it is all we have. Be with and see and spend time with the people that you cherish. Don’t put off the important things – there may never come a time again.

2. Take that leap of faith – if it works, well and good. If it doesn’t, dust it off and try again. You’ll be surprised at how the universe conspires to ensure providence. When you take steps in a certain direction, the Almighty makes sure those doors and windows along the path are wide open, awaiting you.

3. Point of life is not to be fearless but rather to acknowledge your fears and work to overcome them – sometimes over and over again. Appreciate the many work(s) in progress.

4. ‘Pluck a feather from every passing goose, but follow none absolutely’. Like this Chinese proverb suggests, listen to what others have to say, weigh their words and advice carefully but ultimately make and own your decisions in life. Don’t worry about what appears to be crazy or irrational as long as you are at peace with it.

5. Don’t be enslaved by a paycheck. There are lots of things money can buy – don’t ever let your sanity or your dignity be something someone can put a price on. Gibran’s words ring so true here: ‘they deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold. I deem them mad because they think my days have a price.’

6. Keep growing. Or stay hungry as a friend says. As long as we’re alive, we should strive for growth. When we think we’re all grown, that’s when we have the most growing up to do.

7. Believe in second and third impressions. Give a person and/or a place a chance beyond your initial or first impressions of them. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how wrong or off you are sometimes. Perhaps the benefit of hindsight or the rewards of digging deeper.

8. Be comfortable in not knowing. Be curious and open to find out and be surprised by whatever you learn or find out. Life is about discovering everyday.

9. There is power in beginning things. Begin today. As the African proverb goes, ‘the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The next best time is now.’

10. Your body is your first and most permanent home. Treat it right. Respect it. Be good to it. Care for it. Don’t litter. Same goes for the streets.

11. Document. To allow the coming generations to have a little bit of an idea of the kind of lives we led and the cities and communities we inhabited and were a part of. For posterity.

12. Don’t seek validation. Be comfortable with disagreement. Learn to stand your ground even if contrary to popular belief. Trust your instincts. Don’t second guess yourself. 

13. Don’t put your life in other people’s hands. 

14. Step outside of your head often. Test your assumptions. Challenge your conclusions. 

15. Be proud. Be humble. 

16. Don’t give up your power by believing you don’t have any. We often hand over our power – consciously or sub-consciously. We must reclaim it. 

17. Remember that this too, shall pass.


Death, dying and waiting

So lose not heart, nor fall into despair: For ye must gain mastery if ye are true in Faith. Quran 3:139

It’s the oddest thing
Discussing funeral arrangements
For one who has yet to breathe his last

And waiting, breathless
For news of his last.
When at least, he’ll be at peace. And rest.

Convincing oneself
Mourning is selfish
He must rest now.
In a better place,
Away from the cruel hands of this world
Surrounded, insha’Allah, by the fragrance of jannah

Over. And over. And over.
Losing track of where one ends
and the other starts
Not sure what to pray for.

Settling on this:
May our endings be beautiful.
And peaceful

La hawla wa la quweta ila billah
Inna lilahi we ina ilayhi rajeeun
To Him we belong and to Him we return


An African city – through a neighbor’s lens

Khartoum Exhibit Flyer - Arabic - w logo

I came to Sudan for a photography/storytelling residency as part of the East Africa Media Lab. Initially my plan was to do a follow up to an URBAMORPHOSIS series that we had begun in Addis. I came and realized however that it might not be as meaningful in the context of Khartoum as I had thought. So I struggled to answer that question. What was I doing here and what angle would this project take? What questions of socio-cultural/political importance would it interrogate, if any? How would I, as a non-Sudanese come and add value to a space that had a rich array of storytellers and documenters capturing everyday Khartoum? I felt stuck and anxious.

On one hand, I argued with myself that as a pan-Africanist, this was my city too. I should feel home in any African country. On the other hand, I couldn’t be audacious enough to believe that I could capture and investigate as I had done with Addis. My reference points – cultural, historical, social, economic and political were nowhere near the same and I was just beginning to learn about everything. I soaked in all the tales and viewpoints that were offered to me, making a mental note to cross-check ‘historical’ references to see if they corroborated or contradicted what I was hearing. I asked many that I met endless questions about this city.

I got a range of responses but most were nostalgic references to a more beautiful, clean, green Khartoum that had character and class. Most seemed to want to return to this time and place before the current regime assumed power and war followed, ravaging the country and leaving it split into more than two pieces. Crippled under sanctions that has frustrated but not prevented people from moving forward.

As this residency comes to a close, I will leave with a deeper appreciation for this country and its people who have endured decades of civil war, a separation of their own and yet still manage to maintain a level of warmth and hospitality that is unmatched anywhere in this world.

What I settled on was a story told through my viewpoint  – Khartoum – through the lens of a neighbor. If you are in Khartoum, make sure to come out and experience this one day exhibit that will be taking place at Impact Hub Khartoum on 117 Street in Riyadh from 2-10PM. See you there.

Khartoum Exhibit Flyer - w logo


unfinished thinkings: justice as afterthought

We have not finished thinking…..


Is it justice that Michael Dunn will go to prison for shooting a 17 year old because that young man played his music too loud and was black? No, it isn’t. Justice would be if black kids stop getting shot.

-Aaron Bady, Waiting For

in the wake of many happenings, i have been thinking incomplete thoughts about women and justice.

oscar pistorius killed reeva steenkamp. yesterday, justice masipa sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment, with a minimum sentence of 10 months.

following the sentencing, #thingslongerthanoscarssentence was trending on twitter. many, many people are not happy with judge masipa’s leniency.

many, many people have been demanding justice for reeva steenkamp.

the loss of life can’t be reversed. hopefully, judgement on sentence will provide some sort of closure for all concerned.

Judge Masipa

does justice look like five years in prison? does it look like ten? twenty, or forty or a lifetime?


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Grumpy Old Men

Lots of old grumpy (English) men on this train. There seems to be a mix-up with reservations and they’re having a go at each other when they come to claim their reserved seats. It’s quite amusing except it’s getting a bit out of hand.

An elderly woman passes by, brushing an elderly man to my left who is attempting to put his suitcase away in the overhead compartment. He shouts ‘you stupid woman!’ to her as she passes. She either doesn’t hear him or completely ignores him as she doesn’t even turn to give him a second look. His wife, on the other hand, is completely exasperated and very cross with him. She turns her face and her body away from him, facing the window after telling him, incredulously, that he can’t talk to people like that.

Another set of elderly men in front of me, ones who hadn’t reserved refused to get up for those who had. One of them assures the other who is getting visibly upset not to worry as he’ll go get the guard. He comes back a few minutes later with a train conductor. He leaves unsuccessfully a few more minutes later unable to get the man out of the seat and returns with a second conductor who cajoles the man out of his seat.

Wonder what will come of us as we age? Will we become grumpy old folks who insult all in their way?

The icing on the cake – I of course was sitting in a seat I hadn’t reserved, but no-one had come to claim it so I thought I was safe. And it was a nice seat too, a single by the window. Anyhow the ticket conductor came by and took my ticket. It took her a bit of time to give it back to me or say anything to me. Wondering what the problem was, I asked her if there was a problem. She tells me, quite annoyed, that my ticket is for 2nd class and this is first!

Of course the grumpy old men had a field day as I walked past them with my luggage. I’m sure they were shocked at the audacity of this girl, decades their junior, without a reservation, and one class down, who sits unmoved in a first class seat while seniors battle it out.


No such thing as the future

Agi and her six year old nephew

Agi: Do you think I can be a writer? Do you think I can write a book?

Ezu: yeah, you just need paper.

Agi: so you think I can do it?

Ezu: yeah, I can do it too.

Agi: OK good, I’ll do it.

Ezu: so, are you going to do it today or tomorrow?

Agi: umm, in the future

Ezu: There’s no such thing as the future.

Agi: what do you mean?

Ezu: you can’t press a button and go to the future like in the movies.

The wisdom of kids is something we must heed to. Raw and real. Things we often forget as adults. 



Today, on the 31st, I turn 31.

Following 30 lessons over 30 years posted this time last year, here are thirty-one lessons learned over the years and reminders for the years to come insha’Allah:

1. Put the Almighty first, always.

2. Don’t dignify nonsense. Regardless of its source.

3. It’s scary. Jump still. Headfirst.

4. Some things can be bought with money. Don’t let your dignity be one of those. Or your sanity.

5. You’ll be surprised at how unimportant something is when it doesn’t happen and the world doesn’t crumble. Don’t sweat it. 

6. Your capacity to come back after being beat down is much more than you imagine. Believe in it. 

7. Don’t allow your worth to be measured by others. Something so important shouldn’t be at the whim of anyone other than you.

8. Be kind. Most of all to yourself.

9. That thing you think is undoable…go and make it happen. It’s possible.

10. Master your mind. It’s more important than any other organ in and out of your body.

11. Bring all of you. Every part. Even when you think it’s not appropriate. No entity or person is worth only pieces of you.

12. Failure is good. It keeps us humble and grounded. Keep at it.

13. Games are essential. Play them often.

14. Laughter keeps you young and fresh. Laugh and do so out loud. Unapologetically. 

15. Exercise not only your body but your mind. Linked to #10.

16. Be present. Wherever you are, with whoever you are, be there and nowhere else. Multitasking is an overrated skill. The true skill we must master is the skill of presence.

17. Know your limits. Don’t compare your limits to others. Our bodies are built in a way that we know when enough is enough. Respect that.

18. Appreciate that everyone has differing value systems, ways of thinking about and understanding the world. A hareri saying goes: an kut khunu baytee, jenam khunu bayteenta. Asking for people to be like you is asking them to be crazy. Require of no-one to be crazy.

19. Allow people to be who they are. Expect of them and yourself nothing more or less.

20. Listen. Even to words unspoken.

21. Chase the sun. Sunrises and sunsets are daily miracles that most of us miss, either because we’re asleep or because we’re not alive to the beauty around us.

22. Seek storytellers. Travel is also possible through their tales.

23. Stop making excuses. Stop hiding behind the pretence of ignorance or bewilderment. Own your actions.

24. Declutter. Constantly and consciously. Our homes, our offices, our lives and most importantly our minds.

25. Use the best of what you have today. It’s only now that we own. Everything else that we get beyond now is extra. 

26. Find and breathe beauty. Even in the most mundane.

27. Fear none but the Almighty. Ultimately it’ll be just you and Him.

28. Devour knowledge voraciously. Read. Listen. Absorb. Share. 

29. Document as a way of preserving culture, history… Recipes. Duaas. People. Places. Moments. Keep #16 in mind as you do this.

30. Make time for the things and people that matter. Be both selfish and generous with your time. Discern carefully how and with who you spend precious time you’ll never get back.

31. Love wholeheartedly. Yourself first.


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