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.

Advertisements

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

Praying.
Fervently
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…..

ku[to]starehe

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?

justice…

View original post 325 more words

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. 

31

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.

The birth of URBAMORPHOSIS

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.

Flyer - URBAMORPHOSIS

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

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries

%d bloggers like this: