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.


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.

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

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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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.


Two African photographers, one Ethiopian and the other Congolese, embarked on a project to document the immense changes taking place in the new flower, a birth city for one and a city that the other has come to love as his own – Addis.

For those of you who’ve been following this blog, you know I’m the Ethiopian. The one who was birthed in what is referred to as the capital of Africa. Addis Ababa is not only the city of my birth, it’s the city I grew up in, left and came back to 14 years later. It’s a city I’m relearning and getting acquainted with. It’s the city that has safeguarded the remains of my ancestors, but sometimes also thrown them up whole to make way for ‘development’. It’s a city that accommodates both old and new – although much of the old seems to be giving way to the new.

I’ve wanted to put on a photo exhibition for a long time – it’s been one of those items on my bucket list I wasn’t ever sure I would cross off. Then John comes along and pushes this idea of capturing the skeletons of Addis. Why not? If I had to start somewhere, it should be by paying tribute to the city that birthed and raised me. So there you have it – the birth of URBAMORPHOSIS!

As we took these images, we journeyed through Addis, conscious and witness to its past, its present and its looming future. The Addis we knew, or even know today is not the same Addis that will be tomorrow. The only constant being change.

This project forced me to see the city differently. Everywhere I looked, I could see the cityscape dominated by new high rises, even the most iconic of Addis’ treasures was framed by construction – and destruction.

This project aims to capture some of the rapid transformation taking place in this city. For both of us, it is a tribute to the people who are constantly negotiating their place in this new flower and to the city which is forever trying to outpace its name.

URBAMORPHOSIS kicks off a week from today on Thursday, May 11th, 2017 at Dinq Art Gallery in Addis Ababa. We hope you’ll come out and experience for yourself.


11 Rules of the Streets

1. Don’t look in the direction of the approaching car. If you must, and you see a car coming, cross. Particularly when not at a zebra crossing. That’s the only way to assert oneself and gain respect on the streets of this city.

2. Occupy as many lanes as you can. Swaddle, at a minimum, between two lanes. You know you’re doing what you’re meant to when you’ve frustrated the living daylights out of the driver behind you.

3. Don’t indicate. If you do, do so at the last minute when you’re already making a turn. How much advance notice does one need, anyways?

4. Put your hand out of your window for a guaranteed yield from drivers behind and to the right of you. You can throw in a thumbs up if you please, but that has less to do with their volition and more to do with your bullyish behavior, which we encourage.

5. When stopping to pick up pedestrians, feel free to stop your vehicle where you see fit. Don’t bother yourself looking for a space closest to the curb so as not to hold up traffic. In fact, try and aim for the middle of the street. It’s always fun seeing cars trying to maneuver around you.

6. Don’t give way to another car, particularly one driven by a woman. Hurl insults at her, both subtle and explicit depending on the situation and your mood. None of them know how to drive anyway. They should’ve never been allowed on these streets. As long as they’re there though, make their driving experiences hell.

7. Don’t allow pedestrians to cross the street, even if they’re at a zebra crossing. Show ’em who’s the boss of the streets.

8. If you’re a diplomat or have a diplomatic license, or that of the defense forces, drive like a maniac. No-one will dare stop you, and even if they did, just flash your credentials. Don’t they know you have license to disobey?

9. Once you’re done with a bottle, or a banana, feel free to throw it out the window. The streets will welcome your trash, with open arms. Be warned, though – the streets will sometimes throw it back at you – especially if your window is still open.

10. As you pass a driver that’s been acting a fool on the streets, stare him/her down. Glare as hard as you can. That will be sure to get them to act right on the roads.

11. If you’re a pedestrian, don’t limit yourself to the pedestrian walkways. The streets are your oyster baby. Claim them. This may be the only place you can!

9 Rules of the House

1. Pick up the phone when it rings. Don’t let it ring too long. Interrupt whatever you’re doing, be it eating, having a deep conversation, bathing, driving to answer. If you miss the call, call right back. Don’t allow time to lapse. That would be irresponsible.

2. Be perky and upbeat at all times. What reason have you not to be? You have not been scolded or beaten. Don’t give anyone reason to.

3. Always be doing something. Rest only when sick or incapacitated. Or if you’ve just given birth. Then it’s allowed. Otherwise, idleness is the workshop of the devil. Some part of your body must be moving – your hands, your feet… Something!

4. Be available at all times for whatever may arise. Work hours are the only exceptions. And even so, only formal work hours between 8 and 5, Monday to Friday. The work that you do beyond those hours is your own doing and is still factored into your hours of availability.

5. Eating is obligatory. Skipping meals is abomination. Eating greens only insults our culture and our ancestors. Meat must be consumed, and in hearty proportions.

6. Show emotion and empathy. Failure to do so is demonstrative of your inability to be human or tap into your humanity.

7. Laugh, but not too loud. Everything must be in moderation. Don’t speak too loud, but not too soft either…You’re not a mouse. Speaking of which, the walls have mice so don’t go around saying whatever comes to your mind. Be tactful in your speech. Know who’s in the house when speaking and even who’s not as our walls are thin.

8. Wake early. There is no known or proven benefit to staying late and waking late. Just as idleness is the workshop of the devil, so is laziness. The world must not pass you by while you snooze your life away.

9. Trust no-one. No further explanation needed but keep rule #7 in mind

2016 Reflections

As 2016 comes to a close, it’s hard to believe that another 365 days has sped past.

It’s been a year of many firsts. First time on the third floor, first trip to Latin America, first paraglide, first short story being written for publishing, first hot air balloon in Ethiopia, first time to The Gambia, Tunisia and Nigeria, first time back in Harar since 2008…It’s been a first full year in Addis after having been away for 14 years. Although that year has been punctuated with many hours in the skies zig zagging across the globe. From Banjul to Abuja, Vegas to Rio, Foz do Iguazu to Cape Town, Tunis to Delhi, Dubai to Accra, Jinja to Nairobi. Arusha to LA.

It’s been a year that has witnessed the death of a family member, as well as a stroke in one side of the family and confirmation of breast cancer on another. Still I count my blessings and am reminded to care for our health and never take a day for granted – though I must confess I still do.

Many lessons learnt in 2016, but here are six:

1. No condition is permanent – let this be a reminder when we get arrogant and complacent in good times, and a way to lift our spirits when we despair in bad times.

2. Count your blessings – we can either choose to moan about the thorns on the roses or delight that thorns have roses. We will never run out of things to complain about or be miserable about. But we must always step back and count our blessings, they’re equally countless.

3. Never say never – life has a way of making you eat up your words. We plan but the Almighty plans better. We should be prepared to roll with the punches and punch back if need be, floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.

4. Stop procrastinating. Don’t wait for tomorrow’s which may never come. Do what you can now. As a friend keeps reminding me, time is more than money.

5. Explore. The world has so much to offer. The more you trot, the more you realize how much more there is to discover. Be hungry for more but find contentment along the way.

6. Breathe, and better yet breathe beauty. The news in 2016 has shown us how ugly this world can be. We realize however that it is equally beautiful. May we counter all the hate with love and all the ugly with beauty. Do this in small and big ways. Don’t wait for extraordinary, celebrate and appreciate the small things, all day every day.

May we live compassionately, love passionately and breathe beauty for the rest of our days. Happy 2017.

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