30 Years, 30 Lessons


It was perhaps apt that the big 30 was ushered in on three continents. Celebrated simply but beautifully surrounded by loved ones.

Here are some lessons that I’ve picked up along the way.

1. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to be goofy and have fun. If it’s pretending to be the tickle monster with a set of 4 year old twins or 8 year old munchkins, do it. Chase them, tickle them and savor their uncontained laughter that emenates deep from their bellies. You’ll find that soon you will also be echoing their laughter. Watch cartoons. Play. Unapologetically. These are the moments that make you younger and bring out the kid in you. Don’t be afraid to experience them.

2. Have a bucket list. Write down the things you think are even far fetched and impossible. You’ll be surprised how the universe conspires to make your intentions come to pass. Especially when you speak (and write) them loudly to the universe.

3. The best time is often now. Don’t leave things for later or tomorrow. There’s a Hareri saying which I’m sure is echoed elsewhere that says, ‘later is the brother of never’ or something along those lines…later or tomorrow either don’t happen or are consumed by 101 other things

4. Breathe Beauty. By this I mean that one must seek and appreciate beauty in ordinary spaces and moments. Beauty is not perfection. It simply is. We must be awake to it. It’s all around us. It’s the rays of the sun streaming into a room and resting on someone’s face…it’s the petals of a bright flower…it’s a full or partial moon that seems to light up the sky…it’s a pattern on a dress…or a colorful street…or laughter

5. I’ve realized how happy it makes me to see (teenage) kids who respect, love, appreciate and honor their parents. As parents, we must treat our kids as though they are responsible members of the family whose viewpoints are sought, heard and acknowledged. As children, we must never dismiss the difficulty of being a parent, making decisions that are unpopular and living every day for the betterment of family. Keep family ties – there’s nothing like family.

6. There are friendships that are so deep and pure and real that they turn into family. Don’t take them for granted. They don’t come along often. Treasure them and feed and care for them. They are often what keep you sane.

7. Learn to spend time alone. No matter what kind of person you are, whether ambivalent, introverted or extroverted – this is important. Learn to be ok with silence when there’s no loud company or loud music or chatter to distract you from listening to and getting to know and be at peace with yourself. If we’re uncomfortable with ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to be?

8. Go with your first instinct. Don’t second guess yourself. This is true even when the contradicting voice is external and not internal. You’ll be happy you weren’t easily swayed later on.

9. Similar to the previous one, don’t be afraid to counter the dominant or mainstream. Don’t necessarily rebel for the sake of being different but understand that being different, holding an opinion that doesn’t feature very prominently is ok. Don’t change who you are or what you think based on the crowd you happen to be or find yourself with.

10. Someone’s always watching. Your words, your actions are being recorded and observed. Even when you least expect it and by those you least anticipate to be watching. Sometimes by young kids whose thinking and values are being shaped. Act and speak in a way that you would stand by at any time. This goes for your digital footprint as well.

11. Be conscious. Whether you believe it or not, your existence on this earth has an effect. Whether that effect is on the environment, or on a community or a family. You matter. Make your existence count. Make sure that at the very least, you have left the world a bit better than you found it. That could be as simple as not throwing trash on the streets. Or trampling on plants. Or harassing animals. Make sure that if those streets, or plants or animals could tell tales about you, it’s that you walked and existed on this earth with respect. Karma is real.

12. Make time to spend time with the elderly. They were born in a very different generation and have rich stories for days. There’s so much his and her stories captured in their brains and etched in their memories that one can’t get from books. Or anywhere else for that matter.

13. Perhaps back to #1 and #12, spend time with kids. They come with a different energy and bubbly enthusiasm that’s not dampened by life and jadedness. In the same vein, don’t be the one to dampen kids imaginations. It will serve them in the future and reduce limitations they put on themselves.

14. Love yourself. All of you. Flaws and all. Understand that you’re a work in progress, and you must work on those things that are in your power to change. But in the meantime, love, respect and appreciate who you are.

15. Enjoy the present. And the journey. Celebrate the small steps and the milestones.

16. Don’t get stuck on plan a. Life often throws you surprises … and what you think is certain is not. Learn to be flexible like bamboo, which means that you’ll bend rather than break.

17. Don’t ever forget your infallibility. And your mortality. And who is really in control. It will keep you grounded and humble. Although this shouldn’t be an excuse for a laissez-faire attitude on life.

18. There’s a time for patience and a time for impatience. Learn to know the difference.

19. Impossible is nothing. Don’t be afraid to dream. And dream big. But don’t stop there. You must be ready to execute and wake up in order to realize those dreams. As a friend once reminded me, impossible itself is telling us, ‘I’m possible’.

20. God is the ultimate judge. We mustn’t condemn or critique others’ actions for we know not what is in store for us. Let us focus on improving ourselves first and foremost and that in itself is a big contribution to society.

21. Don’t underestimate the power of faith. At times it is the one thing that gets us through the night or a difficult situation.

22. Love. Deeply. Don’t be afraid of pouring your love into another. It has the power to transform and doesn’t drain your reserves.

23. Don’t underestimate the power and medicinal properties of laughter. It’s good for the soul and keeps one radiant and young. It reduces stress and adds spice to life.

24. Don’t give power to ludicrousity. If such a word exists. Don’t feed, react to or dignify nonsense.

25. Put the Almighty first, always. Stand by your faith, unapologetically.

26. Be curious. Yes they tell us that curiosity killed the cat. We don’t often hear the second part of that, ‘satisfaction brought it back’. Curiosity leads to exploring, learning and discovering.

27. Take on challenges. It leads to tremendous growth but also makes one realize just what one is capable of.

28. Feed and cater to your creative juices. Read, write, draw, imagine. Beautiful things can be created through this process.

29. The monster is often bigger in our minds than it is in real life, if it even exists. The sooner we face it, the sooner we realize it’s not spooky or insurmountable.

30. And one last one for good measure. Your best benchmark is previous versions of yourself. May we always strive today to be better than yesterday, and tomorrow to be better than today.

Disclaimer: you may have read these lessons elsewhere, or at least something similar and so am not claiming they’re original…perhaps some are lessons I’ve been told or read about and implemented along the way…but all are lessons I find to have worked in my life…hope you benefit from being reminded of them.

A Letter to my Unborn Child

There were many who came before you
Who decided that the world they were born into
Was not going to be the one they would die in
Ones who dared to dream of another future
And woke up every day to realize those dreams
They didn’t need to be told their dreams were valid
 
I pray that this is the world you will be born into
One in which you’re able to chart your own course
Without seeking the permission of others
 
I pray that you will not know of days when
Our bodies
Were fragmented
Compartmentalized along with our identities
When the dignity, integrity and autonomy
Of our bodies which house us
Was up for negotiation
 
I pray that you will not know of
Violence, abuse and discrimination
At the hands of
Those meant to protect you
Your parents/teachers/partner/police or employers
And perhaps worst of all, by the society at large
Condemning your very birth and gender
 
I pray that
FGM
Child and forced marriages
Rape, widow inheritance
Breast ironing
Honor killings,
Will be foreign words to you
A taboo to the entire community
That the only culture you know
Puts your safety and well-being
Above all else
 
I pray that you will not know of a time
When bullets were more readily available than bread
When profits came before people
When industries were mined on our backs
When our own drowned in foreign shores
Searching for a life worth living
 
I pray that
Your realities will only be peppered
By the understanding that those before you
Overcame the most horrendous of sufferings
 
I pray, my unborn child, that you will only know days
Where those who used to be at the margins of our societies
Are now at its centre
 
Where gender parity and equality are not principles
In an idealist conversation
But rather your daily reality
 
Where you have an equal say, share and control
Of the resources this continent has to offer
Where your voice and your choice
May be questioned, but never threatened
 
Where we care for the earth
And the sustenance it births
 
Where your chances of becoming the next
President
CEO
Pilot
Scientist
Engineer
Media Owner
Is equal to that of your brother
 
Where the guns will be silenced
Where justice & peace are simply
The constant and consistent state of affairs
 
Where all people, everywhere
Are treated with
The Dignity & Respect
They deserve and were born entitled to
 
And I pray, my little sweet one,
That as I end this letter
And read it to others,
 
That they won’t dismiss it as the rantings
Of a mad idealist who dreams of an impossible utopia
I pray that they will wake up from their stupor
Wake into a state of consciousness that makes them realize
We can and we must refuse to accept things as they are
We must be mad and ‘dare to invent the future’
Another reality is not only possible—
It is necessary

After all, we are reminded:
‘Africa is still waiting for its makers to re-make it’
‘We shall be the ones we’ve been waiting for’
 
Together, we’ll create that world for you
And for those who come after you
 
And when that day comes,
My unborn child,
I can’t wait to welcome you into it

©Nebila Abdulmelik, November 2014

Dear Momma

I write this to you today as the World commemorates Mother’s Day. I salute and pay tribute to you – everything you do, all you are, have been and continue to be. For reminding us that the revolution will only be sustained by love, and that we must begin by loving ourselves. For teaching us to breathe beauty. To seek knowledge. To grow and build by picking others up along the way.

I cannot wait to be a mother, so that I too may be able to pass these things on, as you have done for me. But I’m also anxious. Anxious about the world in which our offspring will grow up. Disheartened by the fact that 300 girls can be abducted from their schools, what is meant to be a safe refuge and still not found close to four weeks later. Heartbroken and enraged by the 25 who were abducted and the 50+ school boys who were massacred months prior and got little attention.  Disillusioned by the kind of governments who seem to have little if any regard for their citizens – at least those in far-removed remote areas whose socio-economic status perhaps doesn’t threaten.

Perhaps the love and the beauty that we’re taught can counteract all the ugly in this world.

Today, I stand in solidarity with all the mothers whose children have been abducted, tortured, killed, disappeared – who are victimized by terrorism and the counter terrorism efforts which seems to have the same effect. As we agitate to #BringBackOurGirls, may we never forget the thousands who are currently detained at Kaserani, whose homes are barged into every night, whose lives are  disrupted, whose dignity is trampled.

As we begin to shape #TheAfricaWeWant and the #Post2015, next development agenda, may we never forget that at the core of it all, we all want Dignity, Justice and Respect.

In Solidarity and Struggle,

The Lion’s Daughter.

 

 

Are “Women’s Rights” Dirty Words?

I was talking to someone about what I do.  I told him I work for a women’s rights organization. He raised his hands and backed away. We began to discuss why.  He told me he has nothing against “women’s rights” but that sometimes we go overboard. We should take it slow, and go with culture.

But culture is dynamic I told him. It’s not static. Culture is learned, and so it can be unlearned.

You may have heard of Liz, a 16 year old who was gang-raped on her way back from her grandfather’s funeral in Busia, Kenya. She was dumped in a pit latrine. She is wheel-chair bound and has the worst case of fistula, a condition that doesn’t allow her to control her urine and feces. Though she recognized three of her rapists and reported to the police, the police caught them, ‘punished’ them by ordering them to cut grass and then let them go. A campaign to get #JusticeForLiz has been launched – to address the wider issues of patriarchy, impunity, lack of public accountability and the culture of violence that permeates. Please sign the petition and engage in the conversations. Liz is one case – there are countless more like her.

I see my world – and among all the beauty, I do see ugly. I see a culture of violence, a culture of impunity, a culture of disrespect, a culture of absolute injustice. So my question is, do we wait for culture to catch up or do we do whatever we can to make sure that the culture our kids and their kids grow up is a culture that encourages integrity, accountability, respect and justice that allows people to live dignified lives?

At the end of the day, I think we all want respect and we all want dignity. That’s it. And my struggle for women’s rights is to do that.

If this is crossing the line, then yes, watch out – we are crossing lines.

Mathematics

Video

You’ve Reached the Couple

You have reached the man
Who is not afraid to give it all up and start afresh
Who persists tirelessly night & day
To build an empire of his making
The man who puts family first and himself last
Who is not easily deterred nor easily fazed
You have reached Nebil

You have reached the woman
Who is full of soul
Who lights up a room
With rays of her high-pitched laughter
The one who stands tall
Regardless of how many times she falls
The woman who never ceases to be anbessa ye anbessa lej
You have reached Siham

You have reached the couple
Who have criss-crossed the earth
Sought the pearls
Beat the drums to their own rythms
And chose home

May love be your waking greeting
May respect cradle your every conversations
May joy never cease to be your constant companion
May blessings line your every paths
May understanding make up your very foundation
May progress be a daily ritual
May compassion dominate  your parting moments
May peace be your evening lullabies

May you put the ALMIGHTY at the centre of all you do
For if GOD is for us, who then can be against us?

Here’s wishing you a lifetime of bliss
May your today’s be beautiful
Your tomorrows bright
May the heavens smile upon your every days
Wishing you all the happiness and blessings this life has to offer.

With lots of love,

Nebila

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