I live for,
That rare moment when you instantly connect with someone through
The grip of genuineness that strips you both of preconceptions
Stripping each other of stereotypical connotations
eroding in a silent inflation of candid injections
making way for deeper exchanges
This article is originally written for www.africanfeminism.com as part of the ongoing “What Feminism Means to Me” series of writings by different African feminists.
“I wonder though, as a feminist are you always expected to be vocal? It doesn’t seem like an easy way to live life.” That was the concern a friend shared with me a week ago. Although I did not have a fully formed answer to his question, I responded by sharing with him a quote from an article the President of the United States, Barack Obama, wrote recently on feminism in which he shares “Michelle and I have raised our daughters to speak up when they see a double standard or feel unfairly judged based on their gender or race – or when they notice that happening to someone else.”
I remember attending a pan-African women’s conference in 2013 convened by the African Union Commission Chairperson, Dr. Dlamini Zuma, where she boldly stated, “we will have enough women leaders when we no more have to count them.” The large hall echoed with the applause and cheers of hundreds of women from all over the continent. Her statement then stayed with me for the last three years as it embodied a truth that I have grappled with for a very long time; women in key leadership roles are still a rarity in our modern world and institutions, that hearing of one traverse the plains of a normatively and historically male domain, always stirs a novel excitement.
I was taken by this wave of excitement in 2006 when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first African female President of her country, Liberia. Closer to home, Amsale Gualu became the first female airline captain in the history of Ethiopian Airlines in 2010. The continental victory of a female head of state was once again met in 2012 when Joyce Banda became the President of Malawi. Dr. Dlamini Zuma herself, assumed the role of Chairperson of the African Union Commission in October of 2012 – the first woman at the helm of the African Union and its predecessor –the Organization for African Unity (OAU). Later in the same year, I learned of the first African female bishop that had risen to religious leadership in a very conservative continental culture. Ellinah Wamukoya was consecrated as bishop of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, with a followership base of more than 45million across the Southern Africa region. 2012 it seemed was a year of many firsts for women in leadership in Africa.
There are great adventures we encounter by accident. And then there are epic adventures we design and participate in, which are fraught with danger but we take them anyway. What is an unexplored life worth anyways? These are the type of ‘once in a lifetime’ exploits. For me, this type of adventure came in November of last year in a visit to the hottest place on earth and one of the lowest points on the planet. The irony in that is perhaps that the trip coincided with one of my personal low points in life. In essence, travelling to explore Earth’s core also enabled me to explore my own core.
The four-day adventure, which felt like weeks, started in the town of Mekelle in the company of three great travel companions, as we made our way through winding roads into the Afar region. The main itinerary consisted of witnessing the hundreds of camel caravans coming out of the Danakil with their salt loaded camels; sunset visit to Lake Asale (one of the salt lakes in the Afar region); walking amidst the colorful sulfur springs in the Danakil Depression; seeing potassium and sodium lakes; and last but not least, hiking up steep volcanic rocks for three-hours in the dark to come face to face with the contents of earth’s belly – the very active Erta Ale volcano, spewing burnt orange lava.
Citizen Leaders are the men, women, young adults and teens who take stock of the kind of world they want to help shape for the people they care about and act to make it so. ~ Peter Alduino
There are certain junctions around town where without a traffic police in sight, navigating through the frenzied interlocking of cars quickly turns frustrating for any driver in Addis. Many a day we may have encountered a road where the congestion is beyond the benevolence of a few drivers who may try to make way for others to pass. And in such an instance one can witness the complexity that can arise in any given system.
Consider it a metaphor for many blockages within our system, which at times can be created by one individual and the many others that fall prey to follow. For example, a few weeks back a car pulls to a complete stop in the middle of the road so that the driver can buy sheep parts being sold on the other side of the road. The driver engrossed in his or her own needs completely oblivious to the bottleneck created as a result of that behavior. Or perhaps, not so oblivious but uncaring about the impact of his/her decision. Now consider the many times when each of us are engrossed in our own needs within various spaces and multiply that by the many that dwell our city and the effects of that nonchalance on our systems – our social system, national system, family system, etc.
*I originally wrote this piece in 2013 for a mindful living portal but I’m reposting it here again as I recently had the chance to scratch off one item from my bucket list which I had postponed for 2 and half years. I’m becoming more aware of these pebbles and would like to share with AWiB readers their story. *
Have you ever thought of your life in terms of the summers you have experienced and the summers you have left ahead of you? If you were to travel the journey of your life according to the number of summers you have left, how would you live it? Would it give you the perspective and courage to begin living out your dreams?
During a past work trip abroad I met a man who shared with me an inspirational story of Kingsley Holgate, which left me quite moved in terms of how I wanted to lead the rest of my life. Now the story of Kingsley Holgate is quite fascinating. He is a South African explorer who is considered the most travelled man in Africa and author of many books on his expeditions. To many who dream of the freedom that travel and exploration provide, he is an icon of such adventurous possibilities. Holgate and his family have travelled from one tip of Africa to another – the Cape to Cairo route – navigating Africa’s waterways. They have left their marks circling the Tropic of Capricorn through African and Australian deserts, the Andes and South American jungles and many more breathtaking explorations that have been captured on National Geographic.
The journey that many put off until retirement, until the children go to school, until a job is secured, until…The truth is the stories we keep spinning and telling ourselves about why we cannot realize the dreams we have will continue being justified by a vicious cycle of story building, unless we take ownership of our lives and do it despite our circumstances.
The story that moved me is that of Kingsley Holgate giving advice to one of his close friends. His friend, a 57 year old man, was one who had done well in setting up a business yet went through life unfulfilled of that accomplishment. The story goes that Holgate took seven pebbles as they sat on a beach, and placed them in a row. The seven pebbles, Holgate told his friend, represented his life. He then took the first four pebbles and threw them away, as the four presented each decade of his friend’s life that have already been lived right up to his late forties. He then picked up the fifth pebble and threw it away as well, as the fifth symbolized his fifties that were quickly coming to an end as well and nothing could be done about that. Holgate then threw the sixth stone away, saying “your seventies, too unpredictable and maybe too old to do anything meaningful”. With one pebble left, Holgate handed it to his friend and shared “this is the life you have left: ten years.” He advised his friend to keep that last pebble in his pocket, put it next to his bed at night, and constantly remind him of the few good summers he had left.
When Holgate was later asked what happened to his friend, he declared that the 57-year-old businessman had sold his business a year later and began living the life he was putting off “until things were just right”.
The morale of this true story is that life is not waiting for anyone. As a journey waiting to be explored, time will not stand still waiting for us to figure out when the “right” time is to become our full selves. When you calculate the number of summers you may have left to lead your life with purpose and impact, does it not want to make you get up right now and begin watering the seeds you have planted in dreams?
Billene Seyoum also blogs at www.africanfeminism.com.
“Every renaissance comes to the world with a cry, the cry of the human spirit to be free.” ~ Anne Sullivan
The word renaissance finds its root in an old French word that translates into “rebirth” or in the modern French word renaître, which means, “be reborn”. The historical significance of the word is attached to the period referred to as the great revival of learning and classical art in Europe of the 14th century. In its broader definition, it is noted that the European Renaissance finding its origins in Italy, was an era of great intellectual and cultural growth that paved the way for practices, ideas and norms of the Middle Ages to be replaced by those of modernity. Some shifts attributed to the Renaissance include invention of the printing press and weaponry; realism in art captured in the works of the great Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci; booming of trade and commerce; exploration of new continents; the growth of humanism and its contribution to reforming the education system, rural to urban migration; growth of a middle class based on trade and manufacturing et cetera. One of the features of the European Renaissance that enabled the many sweeping changes and growth to occur is the disposition and will of the people to embrace intellectual curiosity and the space to challenge dominant and outdated mindsets.
Born from love
Grew in love
Breath of love
Built up love
Gave away love
Died with love
An embodiment of love left this earth today
Delicate - to touch
Unafraid - to be touched
So many hands - he touched
Removed layers covering hearts and – touched
On tattered spirits he sewed a love patch
Generous at soul
Soulful in expression
Expressive in love
Loving in nature
Nature of Zen
May Zen gardens
Be his final resting pasture
An embodiment of love left this earth today
- For Haliye, a kindred and unusual spirit. May you rest in eternal love (6/16/2015).
I find the experience of death to be an amnesiac certainty. There is no doubt that all that has life will experience death. Life embodied in a person. Life embodied in an experience; in an encounter. Each with its own cycle. Each death a reminder of the life that exists and the death that is pending.
In the death that is inherent to all forms of life, I find we also experience it with a certain sense of amnesia. A temporary amnesia you may call it. Until another form of death takes hold and we become aware once again that everything is fleeting. Including human life. And we are reminded again to be more present; to be less busy; to be more grateful. The strongest of such reminders coming in the loss of a human life.
*This poem was written for AWiB’s 5th year celebration and performed at the annual leadership forum on May 7th, 2015.
I was getting a manicure and pedicure in my local hair salon when the news channel flashed updates of the Saudi Arabian led coalition’s bombing of the Houthi’s in Yemen. In the brief exchanges with my manicurist, a statement she made about the ensuing attacks caught me off-guard and had me embark on a complex reflection process on the concept of “othering.”
I love the country of my birth, growing and knowing - Ethiopia. My roots here of course run back for generations extending between the North and South of the country in an eclectic mix of traditions and values. Though the extent of my heritage based on the facts that my parents and I know is limited to a North – South divide, I don’t rule out that roots can intertwine beyond the binaries or singularities which we are often boxed in and are keen in boxing others into.