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

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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.

My FEMNET journey – Six Years Ago Today

BBOG - NebsSix years ago today, April 18, 2011, was my first day of work at the FEMNET Secretariat. New city, new position, new challenge. Little did I know that my four plus years would mean I would criss-cross the earth, deepen (and question) my pan-African and feminist politics, be an active participant in game-changing global, continental and regional policy making processes, lead campaigns and take to the streets (on numerous occasions), be in the same spaces with presidents, movers and shakers, incredible and passionate activists and idealists who put everything on the line to make sure the earth would be better than the way they found it.

We made magic happen, with sisters (and brothers) from across Africa and across the globe, and for those experiences and more, for working with colleagues who became family, for being allowed to build wings and fly, to innovate and renovate, to imagine and deliver, to be challenged and to grow exponentially, both professionally and personally, I am forever grateful.

My FEMNET journey will always be a part of my story, and all of you characters who populate it. Thank you for fighting the good fight, for your love, your warmth, your passion, your courage, your persistence and so much more. I miss you, on a day like today and on many days.

Harar

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Living museum of a
World upside down
We’ll just get lost
Amidst more than
368 narrow streets
82 mosques

We’ll find ourselves
Between the five gates
Of the walled city,
On the street of reconciliation
Megera wa weger
And make up

There’s no black & white in this city
Colors, in all hues and textures
Decorate walls, homes, baskets & clothes
And proceed to pour out into markets and streets

Lucid 112 year old
Exemplifies power of
Persuasion and persistence
Breaking spontaneously into prayer and song

Understanding (her)story
Female Emirs
Tadin binti Maya
Dil Wambara
Running an autonomous empire
Before it was fashionable to do so

Posing in hareri attire
Feeding friends of the city;
hyenas & falcons
Hilbet merekh

Love letter to Nairobi

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Nairobi,
I’ll miss you

I’ll miss your ‘I’m fine’s’ to my hellos
Your ‘imagine!’s
Your Swa(g), sheng and silences
Your kenyanisms;
Last week but one’s
You really tried!

I’ll miss
Taking to the streets
Candle lit vigils
Solidarity with Busia, Palestine, Chibok, Garissa
Ranting on the airwaves
Inter-faith iftars

Paying for artists who never showed
Shows where artists never got paid

Your hustle
Your politiks and scheming politikers

Your mats screaming for pedestrians to get off sidewalks
Being duped explaining the dupe
Being held at (toy) gun point

Your social media suave
Your (tech)novations
Your witty hashtags and comebacks

Your sema’s and subsequent woiyee’s
Your kesho’s and majaliwaa’s
Your sawa sawa’s
To my ‘kidogo tu’s’

Your kuku’s and samaki’s
Nyama choma I never quite caught on to
Your Java’s and Ankara’s
Dawa and masala

Self made designers
Your local brass, wood and fabrics
Dressing my fingers, home and shoes

I’ll miss your boda bodas
And your matatu wisdom’s:
“Don’t lose your temper, nobody needs it!”

I’ll miss your bookstores and kahawa spots
Your cinemas and green spaces
Your KICC rooftops
Your Pawa’s and your hub’s

Your book clubs and writing collectives
Movie nights
Karaoke
Lost friendships over taboo

Your hollowed and patched streets
New as they be, making no room for walkers
Your low lit alleys
And moody askari’s

Your wordsmiths and music makers
Your tear drops and Mufasa’s
Your Sarabi’s, Fena’s, Suzanne Owiyo’s

Nairobi,
I miss you
Before I’ve even left…

Lamu’s Shella

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Breezy Cushioned Rooftops
Canopied by darkened skies
Lit up by constellations and maybe even whole galaxies
I couldn’t seem to trace
Or even attempt to begin to count

Shooting stars (and drones?)
Overlook as
Flirting winds
Kiss blushing trees,
Applauding oceans
Create waves
Romantic spell broken only by speedboats
Rushing noisily to get nowhere

A solo trip
A 12 room house to myself
Yet I’m almost never alone

Startled in the middle of the night
By sad brayings of donkeys
Creaking of open windows
Banging of open doors
As the wind negotiates past…
The night whispers its sweet lullabies
And yet I’m unable to fall asleep to its tune

Waking up to the sweet rising of a sun
I saw setting from a dhow the eve before
A breeze I would buy and bottle if I had the means

7 Muathins call the faithful to prayer from every which direction
Like a staggered chorus,
Echoing each other’s “Allahu Akbar’s”

Business/Entrepenurial tips from
Stranger turned suitor
Announcing news of our unagreed yet impending wedding
Mind you, a self-confessed former playboy

Women
Strikingly absent
Is that why they look at me so?

Marriage/Relationship tips from masseuse turned confidant
‘You’re getting old, you must get married!’
Says host/receptionist/assistant/caretaker adamantly
He’s an Omer-do-it-all sort of Jack who’s been around for close to two decades

Henna painting by a mother turns into
Convo with child about academic pursuits, dreams and how far one should persist
She promises to keep pushing

Collecting shells and stones by the seashore
Getting increasingly excited with every find
Omer indulges my unbounded and child-like excitement
I keep picking until his pockets begin to jingle and sag with the weight

Her/historic visit
First Ethiopian
First meal where host and guest sit together
Feasting on fresh fish neither had caught
Sweet potato mash suggested to chef
Now to be part of menu permanently as ‘Nebila mash’

Transport by all means
Donkey and bare feet tread the land
While sail and speed boats alternate the water ways

Bats hang, as they do, upside down
From the balcony
Watching,
As I attempt to transform memory into floetry

Addis

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I’m nostalgic for a city
I know in my thoughts
As though my absence for over a decade
Has meant nothing
As though the characters that populate my memories
Are as I left them
Although many are long gone

The city of now is no longer as was
The present has left little to imagine of its past
Whole neighborhoods created and destroyed
Homes, his/her stories crumble with bulldozers
Giving rise to high rises

Our meetings, though frequent, are fleeting
I am yet to acquaint myself with what you’ve become
To relearn who you were
And who I was with you

I fear feeling unhome at home
Of feeling more comfort in places that are not

Is it possible to be outside one’s own world?
Or perhaps it was never mine to claim?
Perhaps notions of home and world wax and wane and take on meanings of their own?

New flower, I wonder if I will grow old with you…or if you will age with me

España

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Bubble poppers and feet dippers
Ferenji atali’s & Zembe taher’s

8AM sunrises & 9PM sunsets
Confused body clocks
Hola’s, gracias, & adios

Trains & planes
Window seats and middle seats
First class seats and no seats
Horse led carriages
Parachuted boats
Metered cabs
Rented bikes
But most utilised – route 11
Trusted soles & tattered maps always leading us home
No matter the hour or route

Blue grass & green waters
Clear skies and wispy clouds

Tapas & paellas
Fruits of la mar
La quinta por favor

Stadiums, cathedrals, parks
People’s streets
Intricate casas
Rebuilt mezquitas
Decorated doors

Demons
Let out on
Beaches and benches
Courtyards & Rooftops

Insatiable questions
Random language lessons
Reprimands and mockery
Contagious laughter

Bubbles and burning feet
Satiated cravings
Ice-cream – in cups, cones and sticks
Naranja & nestea
Litres consumed
By scorching heat
Expelled by sweaty bodies

Proudly dipping feet
In waterways
Waterfalls
Pools and ponds

For untold stories
Listen to me brothers!
And…(wait for it…..)
…..sisters! (sheepish smile)

España – it’s not adios
Only – asta a la próxima!

Bungee & Swing Over the Zambezi

Dec 2009. Four brave souls decide to take the leap of faith, 111 metres jump in nanoseconds from a bridge cradled between Zambia and Zimbabwe over the Zambezi, with Mosi oa Tunya aka Victoria Falls in the backdrop.

Home footage captures moments before the jump:

OFFICIAL FOOTAGE With Music & All….

Post Jump: Reactions

 

As you see, Kardashians got nothing on us! What’s on your bucket list?

Bucket List

And in no particular order, here are some of the things I would like to have done before my time on this earth is up…plan is to cross off at least one thing a year…

  1. Skydive (Proof)
  2. Bungee Jump (Proof)
  3. Climb to peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro
  4. White water rafting – preferably in the Omo River
  5. Para glide-preferably over Rio
  6. Jet ski
  7. Ride on a Hot Air Balloon
  8. Helicopter Ride
  9. Snow board
  10. Scuba Dive
  11. Surf
  12. Snorkel
  13. Ice skate
  14. Travel to 7 continents – Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America, Australia, Antartica
  15. Travel to at least 50 countries (25 down, 25 to go)
  16. Travel to 7 World Wonders- Pyramids of Giza, Victoria Falls, Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China
  17. Travel to Ancient Sites of the World- Petra (Jordan), Machu Pichu (Peru), Timbuktu (Mali) …
  18. Travel all over Africa – at least 25 countries (15 down, 10 to go)
  19. Travel all over Ethiopia – Axum, Benishangul, Denakil Depression, Ras Dashen, Lalibela, Gonder, Harar, Dire Dawa, Bahir Dar…..
  20. Pilgrimage to Mecca
  21. Read entire  Quran (both English/Arabic versions)
  22. Speak French fluently
  23. Be Conversant in Arabic/Swahili
  24. Operate a parachute solo
  25. Operate a plane solo
  26. Learn Reflexology/Be Certified Masseuse
  27. Learn how to ride a motorcycle
  28. Learn how to roller blade/skateboard/Ice skate (proper)
  29. Learn how to drive stick shift
  30. Get a Masters
  31. Publish Poetry Anthology
  32. Record Accompanying Audio CD
  33. Produce a documentary
  34. Build a six pack
  35. Build a successful business
  36. Build a family
  37. Build a home-preferably by the water or on a mountain

This list is not exhaustive, and is bound to keep growing….in all things though, I aspire to cultivate happiness, spread passion, and all in all leave this earth without regrets knowing that I have lived!

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