Be Your Color…

This next collaboration is a modern day love story indeed. Modern day in that Maya and I struck up our friendship over Instagram and we haven’t met in person. Yet. But I can sense that we are like-minded kindred spirits and I look forward to calling her my friend for reals for reals. And it’s a love story simply because I’ve long been looking (and dreaming and visualising) for yoga wear that appeals to my African soul. Something that can cheer things up when the grey Nordic landscape lays it on a little too thick. Something with the color and celebration for life in a way that’s so unique and special to the mother continent (teeny, tiny plug: our Kenya Ashtanga yoga retreat starts oh so soon!) That down to earth swagger. That joy and happiness and art of living. And any chance I get to combine not just the things I feel passionate about, but those which are integral to my identity, feels not only like my duty and purpose, but part of my destiny to share it. With you, yes you, dear reader, the very one who’s reading this 🙂

1. Tell a bit about yourself Maya: who you are, where you’re from, where you live…
My name is Maya Santimano. I was born in Uppsala, Sweden, to a Swedish mother and a Mozambican father. I currently live in Uppsala, Sweden, but I’ve moved around a lot my whole life. As a child, I lived in Mozambique for six years. Later on I moved a lot and lived in Sweden, Lisbon, Shanghai and London. This is the rhythm of my life, moving around 🙂
2. Sounds familiar. And what about your business; can you describe how it came about?
Puka Wear is a leisure wear line of leggings designed for yoga, dance and movement; produced in organic cotton using colorful African print. Puka Wear is an extension of myself and my identity. My father is from Mozambique, but born to Goan (Indian) parents. Therefore Puka Wear is a combination of everything that lies within me: yoga – India, African print – Mozambique, with the company created and based in Sweden.
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This company has also become something bigger than just a being producer of clothes. Two years ago, the practice of Ashtanga yoga opened up a new awareness within me, where I started to question what I thought I wanted to do in life. This lead me to the decision not to continue with my studies in Political Science, where the idea was to work in aid, mainly in Mozambique and Africa in general.
The thought of being an entrepreneur was what first caught my attention. I wanted to create a life where I worked close to the core of a business, something that is not always the case when you work in big organizations and your job is to write reports and organize projects. I want to be where things actually happen!
When I worked as a yoga teacher in Casa Vinyasa  (Lisbon, Portugal)  I was always on the look out for yoga clothes with African print, but couldn’t find any. That’s where the concrete idea behind Puka came, and it was only a few months later when I decided to go for it and produce it myself. It was a huge step. Not only within myself but it also required a lot of strength in relation to everyone around me who had ideas of what I should and should not do.
3.I bet it was and that step took a huge amount of belief and trust in your intuition. You mentioned Ashtanga yoga opening up a new awareness in you which in turn sparked this tremendous career and life transformation. Tell us a bit more about your Ashtanga yoga background…
My yoga journey started in Lisbon where I was living for a year, studying Portuguese.
I had started a meditation practice and became more and more curious about yoga. When I first came to Casa Vinyasa in Lisbon I knew nothing about yoga, and even less about Ashtanga yoga. Casa Vinyasa is Isa Guitana Wong’s shala, who was one of the first yoga teachers of Ashtanga yoga in Portugal.
After my first practice I was completely in love, with the practice, with the space, with the teachers, everything! I started coming everyday to practice in Isa’s beautiful shala and with her wonderful assistants Liz, Stef and Ana. A few months into my practice, Isa asked if I wanted to assist her. I was completely blown away because it had never ever crossed my mind to teach yoga. And I was even more touched by the fact that I would be part of this beautiful shala and one of the team made up of such strong, loving women who dedicate their time and love to us students. So only a few months into the start of my own practice I was given the chance to dive deep into the world of Ashtanga, into the world of me and also see what it means to be there for a student.
Isa is my teacher and a dear dear friend. She studied together with Guruji in Mysore and continues to give the teachings of Ashtanga yoga to others. I know that one day I will go to Mysore and I am longing for that day, but now I feel strongly that there is so much more for me to discover together with Isa and learning from her.
Due to my current lifestyle I haven’t had the time and haven’t been settled enough to find space to continue teaching here in Sweden. However, now the circumstances are different and I will soon start teaching Ashtanga yoga again, here in Uppsala.
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4. What else do you like to do besides Ashtanga yoga and nurturing Puka wear?
I love cooking and reading cook books! I love adventures and everything that gives your day to day life that little extra boost: food, dancing, laughing, small projects at home, building things, being creative.
5.  What are some of the advantages to being your own boss? What about the disadvantages?
The biggest advantage to being your own boss is the freedom you have in your daily life. Being an entrepreneur makes you flexible to whatever comes that day, and for that I am grateful everyday. However, with freedom comes responsibility, which is the other side of the same coin. You are ultimately responsible for making your own money and always pushing the business forward. It requires a lot of discipline and just like you can have days of pure happiness and full power energy, you have days when you just want to quit.
Another advantage is that you can be really close to the core of a business, and at the core is where you can have visions and plan the future. This is a practice that gives a lot of energy and is so fun to be part of. You have the possibility to actually CREATE from your own source.
6. What advice would you give women, particularly women of color living in primarily white contexts, about starting a venture of their own?
First of all I would like to share that there will be no perfect timing. The time when you decide to follow your dream, there will be fear, there will be doubt, there will be people questioning you, you will be questioning yourself, there will be so much fear that you’ll feel it physically. Therefore, there won’t be a time where it just feels right all the time. I can guarantee this 100%. What you should remember though, and what kept me going, is that this is part of life as a whole. There will always be ups and downs because it’s the rhythm of life and it’s within this rhythm that things move forward. And on those down days filled with doubt, you should remember that this will pass, the fear will calm down eventually. It’ll probably also come back again, but you learn not to get too attached to it.
Secondly, I cannot stress enough the importance to start early with manifesting your dream in this physical world. In the dream, everything feels so distant, so unattainable, so romantic and this can make you passive because it seems so far reaching. Therefore, it’s important to start writing about what it is you are creating. Start writing down, talk to others about it, and start working with it in this physical world. One of the things that made all the difference to me was the amazing support I got from being a part of an incubator for start ups. What this incubator gave me was 1) they believed in me and my idea and 2) they helped make my dream real, into something workable. In the beginning you don’t really know where to start but I was given tools to work with and in this way, it was much more do-able.
Being a yogi, I will of course advise everyone to practice yoga or at least do something that is only yours, where you dedicate time only for yourself. I start most days with my practice, and I think that this grounded me in a way that was important during the beginning stages of Puka, where you deal with a lot of emotions, both good and bad.
Believe in what YOU are creating. Believe that you do not have to do like everyone else. There are a lot of ideas on how to run a business, what to do, how to behave, but many of those things didn’t feel right to me so I did it my own way. Always stick to what feels good, because when you do, you’re creating from a deep source of energy within yourself and you are working in line with your path, not against it.
7. Wow, this is so inspiring Maya! Where do you see yourself (and your business) in the next five, 10 and 20 years?
The thing with life is that you can only respond to what you have at the moment. At this moment, I want to explore this adventure that Puka is giving me because I believe that it will lead me forward and make me grow in a way that is stronger and wiser. But one day maybe something else will excite me. I am not too attached to Puka Wear itself. I am more interested in what it can give me at the moment. Therefore it is hard for me to think about Puka in 10 or 20 years, because so much can happen. In the last two years only, my life has turned upside down at least three times.
Having said that, I do see myself working creatively, with the African continent, with design, with culture. I also see yoga as a big part of my life, teaching and practicing and never stopping going deeper inside myself and exploring within.
8. As a yoga practitioner, do you feel you make choices in your business that reflect some of the values and ethics written and discussed about in yogic teachings and philosophy? What is one example?
As a yoga practitioner, you practice listening to yourself, your body, your spirit, your inner voice, and this is what I always do with my business. I probably could have made the start- up process faster and shorter and started earning money now now now, but I wanted to let Puka Wear grow organically and not force anything. On the yoga mat I know what happens if I force myself, I have learnt the hard way just like most do when they start their practice. You are eager to move forward fast, next posture, deeper, open up, more more. But with the practice over time comes patience, patience to wait for the right moment and the right decision. And trust that that moment will come, 100% sure. Of course I have days when I’m too much up my head and not enough grounded inside myself, and I want to move faster and I feel like I’m shit at what I do and nothing good will come out of this. But then thanks to my practice and my experience on my mat I have that grounding feeling in my stomach to relax and not force anything.
9. To end the conversation on a lighter note, what’s your I’m a Dope Ass Queen anthem that you listen to when you need that little reminder that you are, indeed, a dope ass queen?
Haha, I love this question! In Uppsala, where I live, everyone cycles, so pumping music in your headphones when you cycle… it’s just CRAAAZY how much energy it gives. You almost get high from it! But my choice at the moment is probably Can’t Hold Us  by Macklemore. Especially listening to it with headphones, you’re full power!
You can check out Maya and Puka wear on social media @pukawear and www.pukashop.com
The Kickstarter campaign has now reached it’s goal (good job, girl!) but you can still put your order in for the first shipment of super cheerful leggings, set to ship out in January!*
Watch the super inspiring story of Maya and  Puka Wear here…
*I’m not sponsored in any way by Puka Wear… I just believe in Maya’s vision 🙂

Binge Watching…

Hiiieeee!

So, this week’s post is just a confession to say that I’ve encountered some serious writer’s block combined with overwhelming procrastination, most likely caused by my long awaited binge watch fest of Broad City! I’ve lit-ruhly waited two years to be able to watch all three seasons and finally it arrived to Finnish broadcasting. Hurray!

Next week, I’ll be back on with my mother’s reflections on what’s it’s like to be an aging ashtangi. It’s going to be a good one, inspiring and honest so be sure to check it out.

In the meantime, Yas Kween, Yas, Yas, Yas!!!

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Ashtangi Mami Wata

Ok, let’s jump right into it, shall we friends? I promised to talk this week about how I turned melancholy into something more uplifting right? I like to think that melancholy is my expression of creativity in its potential seed form and in order to transform it into something good and satisfying, I owe it to my inherent creative self to manifest it be doing something creative.

Brene Brown said it so well on Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, Big Magic, “Creativity is the way I share my soul with the world and without it, I am not okay…and without having access to everyone else’s, we are not okay. There is no such thing as non-creative people, there are just people who use their creativity and people who don’t and unused creativity is not benign…it metastasises into resentment, grief, heartbreak. People sit on that creativity, or they deny it, and it festers. ” 

We’re all creative beings but somehow along the way, we’ve been taught to ignore and forget this in the work of surviving this serious life and tattered world. I’m encouraging that you, for the sake of us all, tap into your creativity, be it in cooking a nice meal or writing, singing, dancing, painting, making music…whatever your creative spirit finds expression and realisation in. It doesn’t have to become your full-time paying work. You don’t even have to show it to anyone for curation and display and posterity. You can keep it fully private and personal and do it for nothing but the reward of having made or done something. One sculptor makes these sculptures only to throw them into a river. Think of the Tibetan Buddhist process of sand painting these beautiful and intricate mandalas. Tibetan monks spend hours upon days upon weeks to create, and then dismantle these mandalas upon completion, as a symbol  of the transitory nature of material life.

It doesn’t even matter if you don’t feel you are particularly ‘good’ or ‘skilled’ at what you like to do. Most of us I would say carry wounds of shame from childhood surrounding our creative attempts, when you were told by someone, for example, not to quit your day job because your voice sucks. Especially for us African children growing up in the 80s and 90s, where creativity was routinely dismissed and mocked, which is like, so crazy to me as we have creativity through from our veins; where creative work was not considered to be work at all; where nonlinear thinking was not considered to be thinking at all. We have a lot of work to do to unlearn these false beliefs. That’s why I’m so happy to have someone like Lupita Nyong’o’s success story as it helps shift the narrative into more inclusive, tolerant, open-minded territory.

However, I’ll go far and wager that we can all unearth a painful memory, from childhood especially, when our creativity was shut down in harsh judgment. And this moment was so strong in its shame that the impression basically changed the way we thought about ourselves forever more. Think of a man who loved drawing more than anything else in a his life, how he found safety in it in what was essentially a traumatic upbringing. One day, as his mother was putting up one of his drawings on the fridge, his father said, “Look, we don’t want him to be a faggot artist.”* Now think how that was the last picture he ever drew until at 50, about 40 years later, he started drawing again. “Like in Big Magic, when you’re taking on creativity, you are taking on soul work. This is not about what we do, it’s about who we are”**

*Brene Brown; Big Magic Podcast; Season 1, Episode 12 ; **Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert

So please, for the sake of us all, don’t just watch and consume from the sidelines. Release the shackles of what you’ve (mis)understood and internalised yourself to be at an early age. Explore, enjoy and satiate your creative instincts either for yourself alone or to be shared and displayed, as I truly believe that much of life’s maladies can be solved or at least understood and come to terms with by using up our inherent creative energies.

Anyway, as I was marinating on the type of way feelings I wrote about last week,  I turned on the radio (Basso) and went to church for a moment. The djs on the show Radio Ouagodougou were killing it and that music felt like the sweetest balm for my parched spirit. Here’s the link to the song which spoke to the marrow of my soul at that moment. You can listen to it while you scroll through the photo shoot which has literally been an idea aching to become a reality for a good long while.

It seems like autumn is my ode to Mami Wata, the water spirit venerated in West, Central and Southern Africa and in the African diaspora in the Americas. This year, I managed to get the spectacular Bianca to join me for some nature deity celebration and black girl yoga consciousness raising (the quasi-Nordic edition). It is an offering, my narrative to show that there we are everywhere, spinning straw into gold. Black women, lift each other up and rejoice in the truth that when one black woman wins we all win. Black girl, lose yourself and find yourself again and create yourself and love yourself. Love her tenderly and fiercely, without shame and miserliness. Love her without permission. Love her without restriction. Love her completely and fully and whole-heartedly.

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Earth mala: Black onyx: a powerful protection stone; absorbs and transforms negative energy, and helps to prevent the drain of personal energy; aids the development of emotional and physical strength and stamina, especially when support is needed during times of stress, confusion or grief; fosters wise decision-making. Use Black Onyx to encourage happiness and good fortune; useful in healing old wounds or past life issues; wonderful for meditation and dreaming, recommended to use a secondary grounding stone in combination with the Onyx.

Earth mala: Labradorite: enhances the mental and intuitive abilities of clairvoyance, telepathy, prophecy; assists in communication with higher guides and spirits; provides an ease in moving between the worlds, and permits a safe and grounded return to the present; brings out the best in people, making work life more congenial; courtesy and full attention to the customer; tempers the negative side of our personality, the traits and actions that rob our energy and may produce depression or shame; helps develop the hands’ sensitivity, making it useful for physiotherapists and all who use the power of touch to heal.

fire-mala

fire-mala

Fire mala: Agate: promotes inner stability, composure, and maturity. Its warm, protective properties encourage security and self-confidence; great crystal to use during pregnancy; also helps new mothers avoid the “baby blues”; Coral: calming; alleviates depression; changes adverse mental and emotional situations, such as nightmares, anger and fear, into more beneficial conditions, including intelligence and bravery; Garnet: energising and regenerative; boosts the energy of an entire system; stabilising; brings order to chaos whether internal or external; root chakra stone, excellent for manifestation; used to ground one’s dreams in reality, bringing abundance, prosperity, and realization of those dreams

water-mala

Water mala and bracelets: Aventurite: stone of luck and chance; said to increase perception and creative insight; creates good opportunities; has a stabilizing effect on the emotions and is excellent for teenagers; used to aid near-sightedness; enhances the immune system. Amazonite (markers and on one bracelet): mint green to aqua green stone said to be of truth, honor, communication, integrity, hope, and trust; said to enhance intuition, psychic powers, creativity, intellect, and psychic ability; often associated with the throat chakra, and as such, said to be beneficial to communication.

air-mala

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Air mala: Rose Quartz with Snow Quartz marker: Rose Quartz is a rose pink variety of Quartz; stone of universal love; restores trust and harmony in relationships, encouraging unconditional love; purifies and opens the heart at all levels to promote love, self-love, friendship, deep inner healing and feelings of peace. Snow Quartz: stone that brings good fortune; calming and soothing; helpful for meditation; has all the properties of clear quartz to a gentler degree; can be considered a very yin, feminine type of quartz.

Alright lovies, this was my tale of transformation. Join me on instagram @ashtangimami as I’ll soon be starting my version of #blackgirlyogamagic. I’ll be featuring a song a day by a black songstress linked with bits of yoga in the hopes that it inspires more of my brothers and sisters to take up the practice of yoga; which, and this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the science and art of this spiritual knowledge, is the most radical and truest form of self-love and self-care I’ve ever known. Stay safe, stay hungry, stay woke.

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images om and 2000px-Heart_corazón

Bianca, sublime model and t-shirt designer at Kauppatori: @biancatmm

Eva, the perennial talent behind Heart of Joy mala beads: @eevaruotsalainen

Lars, photographer extraordinaire: @larskastilan and larskastilan.com

Black Girl Melancholy

Happy Monday morning friends. This is a day late. I was on single-parenting duty all weekend and decided not to stress out with getting the blog out yesterday and enjoy time with Sesam instead. Now the kid is at daycare and I am at Good Life Coffee in Kallio and yes, at this very moment in time, life does feel pretty good. My reward for being patient I suppose 🙂

This past week I had a bit of writer’s block and felt this post only begin to come alive at the playground on Saturday evening. I was pulled out of bed at the lonely, early hours on Sunday morning, the witching hour, it seems. 3 am and I was aflame with spirit and energy. I got quiet enough to be led through all that my guide in my dreamscape wished me to write about. It’s a long one and touches upon a range of subjects so settle in and, as the indomitable Fela says in Shuffering and Shmiling,”You Africans please listen to me as Africans and you non-Africans, listen to me with open mind…”

I wish to write about black girl melancholy. I wish to talk about the profound sense of homesickness and heartache I feel not so much for a geographic place or home, for I have had many, but for a sense of being rooted in deep soil. I wish to write about how I felt like I did a Vipassana meditation course in the daily routine of life itself. At first I thrashed and resisted and hated my situation. I searched for any kind of distraction away from myself. I searched for a way to escape this emptiness so full, so alarmingly all-encompassing because, after going down the rabbit-hole of my own mental trip, what can be at the bottom of all this discontent? Then, by and by, as my mind began to drop away, release its vice grip on the yesterdays and the tomorrows conjured in the “in a few hours, days, weeks, months, it’ll be like this”; in the “I need to be doing something anything else besides this,” a deep, gentle peace began to pervade. A moment to moment nowness and I owed to to myself to give it my full attention.

I kept social media and others distractions to a minimum. Social media is the portal to much inspiration and a diversity of voices that’s so desperately needed in this one-world, single narrative view portrayed in mainstream media: However, as a regular participant myself, both in consumption and production of social media, I find that simply because of what it is, it distorts life. It cleans up and glamourises and beautifies life in a way that is just not true and while I appreciate the number of folk who’re trying to live their social media lives and tell their stories with as much authenticity as possible, by default, social media can never really escape its own distorting self. And so, instead of seeking escape through my phone, I made full eye contact with my single parenting task and single-handedly managed that mofo as best I could. Not perfectly, not even successfully. I ditched the potty-training chart, gold stickers and all, because my kid is not yet about it. I bought some potato chips as a way to bribe my way back into his good graces and guess what? It worked! So, you know not perfect, but fun and good-enough. And if by good enough it meant I had a happy toddler who had Monday morning blues about going back to kindergarten after the nice weekend, then, actually, I really do mean successfully.

And all along, this black girl melancholy had me feeling some kinda way. It’s a special kind of longing and heartache, this craving for sisterhood and true, sustaining friendship with other women of color. I’m not saying you can’t experience it with other women. You can and I have and I do. I cherish my friendships with my women friends. But right now I’m talking about that alchemical moment when you meet a like-minded woman of color…that this may be a friendship for life kind of meeting. It’s rare and so terribly precious. Right now, I’m talking about that forcoloredgirlswhohaveconsideredsuicidewhentherainbowisenuf kinda way. It’s that WaitingToExhale… that Nina Simone dish-water-giving-off-no-reflection sorta thing. It’s that sense of recognition that hey, here is someone who resembles me, there are more of us than I knew.

Now, I came of age in late-90s America, where, for better or worse (but I would say for better) the concept and the experience of race was thrust upon my wide-eyed, impressionable self. It confused me and frightened me, grappling to terms with my intersectional identity of black and woman and not-fully American in my black- woman-mostly-Bantu African body. But ultimately, there were answers to be found amidst the difficult questions I was living. I found my community and felt my little pocket of Black America welcome me into her Boston Collegiate, Chicago house, Afro-Brazilian capoeira and samba arms. I almost never left, so entrenched was I in that part of my life story, but somehow the world abroad wasn’t finished with me yet and I felt the ache, the pull to uproot and understand life elsewhere. Now, close to ten years away from the US and I wonder if I am homesick for those specific places where I felt such a true sense of community? For people and friends that I’ve fallen out of touch with and who surely have not remained as I remember them ? Or am I longing more abstractly for a certain time in my life, which memory paints in such pleasing, nostalgic watercolours? I cannot say, but what I can say is that this need to be represented in the place in which I live grows more than ever. I actively seek out channels where I can hear my voice and see people who look like me. And while, there  are so many quality podcasts and youtube videos and web series created by intelligent, conscious and creative people of color, at the end of the day, they are there, out there, and I am here, here only. Nothing beats a real live community, a face-to-face talk, a live collaboration. Shared lived experiences.

I started to find my homesickness for black America getting bigger rather than smaller after immersing myself in the online community of color creatives. I felt my dissatisfaction with Finland and Europe grow and wished myself away. I still feel myself hovering around other Diaspora stories clamouring to get in. I would say that after the highly visible African American diaspora narratives, the closest ones I can relate to over on this side of the pond are black British narratives. Up to a point thought because I’m not from London or Brixton at the end of the day and the good people there have their own stories to tell. They have their own storytellers weaving tales of marginalisation and gentrification; invisibility and black millennial identity with complete and utter nuance. It’s been really informative to steep myself in some Cecile Emeke, Michelle Tiwo, Shola Amoo and Warsan Shire. Or in the photography of the Afropean, out to prove that Europe is more than just a single voice and colour. Or in the music of Dizzy Rascal who, in my opinion is a bit asleep on certain concepts but whatevs, his experience is his alone and I can still vibe with his infectious energy in small doses.

So all this research into more diverse, global diaspora stories was great and all but what was up with this aversion to being in Finland? What was up with not wanting to speak Finnish as I convinced myself that I am not really even that good at it. Why bother? And it’s true, my Finnish language has stalled of late since I’m Sesam’s appointed god mother of English, but guess whaaat? It’s all in the attitude and man, I’ll be damned if I didn’t put my blood, sweat and grit into attempting a crack at the well-encrypted code of that language in my early Finland years. I cajoled native speakers of Finnish to speak with me and some did, most patiently and graciously, and some didn’t, most understandably. I struggled and kicked and screamed and worked hard and gained enough self-confidence to open my mouth from time to time. My Finnish is not fluent and not grammatically correct. Not even close. I don’t practice it actively enough since I work and write in English. What’s more, I’m not physically in Finland consistently enough to really sink my teeth in linguistically and get my hands dirty. I know, I know, where there’s a will there’s a way, but you know what, my Finnish is good enough for my simple purposes. I can rattle off a few pleasantries at the playground with other mums and grandmothers. I can follow the plot of a children’s TV show with relative success. I can get along in most basic transactions of commerce. It’s like, completely basic and totally good enough. It’s enough. I can gain an entry point on some level. The tyranny of perfection comes to an end now. I stop apologising for, underestimating and diminishing my linguistic accomplishments. I will take my basic ass, good-enough, scrappy, tatty Finnish by the hand as I hold it in the highest esteem. It represents my best foot forward attempts, hopes and wishes for myself here in this land. I’m going to keep code-switching as a legitimate form of verbal communication, a veritable patois and I’ll no longer feel guilty or defeated at needing to use English. My sucky Finnish, I’m proud of you and I love you!

Besides, I’m doing my son a grand favour for life, this gift of bilingualism, and while it comes at a personal cost, a sacrifice, golly, well, I consider this yet another initiation by fire into the embodiment of motherhood. The woman is hibernating and in her place stands a mother. Mothers are the one group where, for better or worse, sacrifice is considered paramount. I find this assumption to be problematic, leaving many women and mothers at risk for wearing a martyr hat that they didn’t particularly want or ask for. However, my truth on this is that sacrifice is inherent in most experiences of motherhood. Some sacrifices are more urgent and unrelenting than others, it’s true, but the element of sacrifice, I feel, is there, be it through the biological processes of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, to the more psychological assumptions of sacrifice down to the day-to-day division of time and tasks. This is not to ask for sympathy or invoke any sort of feeling one way or another. It is what it is. That’s all. What’s more, Nordic and Scandinavian dads are, culturally-speaking, some of the most involved and proactive when it comes to rearing children. What I’m referring to here is the struggle and pull of conflicting choices that many mothers feel themselves needing to make: to work or to stay at home or to try juggling with both? To feel guilty about putting your career first over your family or to suffer career-wise when you decide to put your family first? I feel it’s taken for granted as a shared worldview, this assumption that in order to be a good mum, women will and should sacrifice more of themselves for their children and families oftentimes at the expense of other areas of their lives. Cross-cultural and linguistic limitations aside, I do feel that, more often than not, fatherhood and career is encouraged and facilitated in a way that motherhood and career isn’t. This often means putting a particular sort of nurturing feminine energy on a pedestal while shunning and even vilifying other types of the feminine mystic that don’t fit within the patriarchal ideal of femininity. And this stunted, distorted sense of masculinity and femininity serves only to bind and constrain our inherent humanity.

But now back to being a black girl abroad. I wrote this blog piece in an effort to create my own narrative of blackness and non-Finnishness here in Helsinki itself. Surely, as I watch these groups of children coming and going about their day (specifically referring to that one child of color amongst a group of white Finns) I cannot help but think that it must feel some kind of way, even with native-speaker Finnish and all? Surely I’m not making up some sense of black pride and expression of consciousness raising when I see a trendy and hip guy with an pick in his afro at the metro stop? I’ve stopped smiling at random black folk in public spaces. Actually, that’s not true. I don’t think I can ever stop smiling at black folk, especially in such a homogeneous environment like Finland. However, I’m more cautious now and will suss out the situation before jubilantly striking up contact because I did that once and gave out the wrong message: this black dude’s girlfriend thought I was making a pass at her guy. I was like, “Na girl, not even. It’s a  culture thing. Look it up.” But old dude wasn’t hip to the game either and so I took this as a learning lesson: when in Finland, do as the Finns do, at least most of the time and don’t smile at strangers. It makes me feel a little colder but I suppose this is just par for the course in a reserved society that values its private space. I guess black Finns have their unique code of conduct and culture and identity amongst themselves that is both informed by and distinct from the mighty cultural and musical behemoth of black America. On the one hand, I don’t miss the annoying cat-calling, sexual harassment on the streets and weird comments like, “Smile girl, you should smile more.” I do, however, miss those genuine moments of connection and community that you can so freely and spontaneously witness and participate in, in the US. I miss the impromptu dance circle at a New York subway station, when busy New Yorkers appreciated the street musicians enough to set up a circle and take turns laughing and dancing in the middle before disbanding and continuing on their commute, happier and lighter from the joy of the shared moment. I miss that. I miss that solidarity and shared sense of, “I see you. We’re in this together; living and experiencing this black life in this white lens together.”

And yet, within the questions often lie the answers, or a partial one at that. Next week, I’ll be writing about how I transformed the beauty found in melancholy into something uplifting and creative. I hope you’ll join me to find out how!

As always,

images om and 2000px-Heart_corazón

AxĂ© AxĂ© … Mami Wata

I have long been a fan of Fela Kuti. I remember being first introduced to him during my quest for self and identity during my heady and exciting but confusing and lonely college days. I remember dancing to his music with my unborn son five months in my womb and I think I owe it to Fela when the little foetus started fluttering and kicking around, keeping me company as I lost myself in Fela’s tragic, honest, painful lyrics wrapped in the sweet, sweet sound of his sax and  around aaall those intricate layered rhythms. And that beat. Man, that beat. That Afro (heart) Beat.

Fela was the son of a Protestant minister father and a Feminist activist mother (in the anti-colonial movement). Like most respectable Nigerian families of means, he was sent off to London to study medicine and become a doctor like his two older brothers. A rebel from pretty early on, he enrolled in Trinity College of Music instead and, cutting to the chase, essentially pioneered a new genre of music called Afro-Beat.

Fela was baad. After the completed his studies in London,  he moved back to Nigeria and set up a commune for himself, his band and musicians, his dancers and singers and called it Kalakuta Republic. He also set up a nightclub, which became known as the Shrine, where he performed his music regularly and officiated traditional Yoruba ceremonies in honour of Nigeria’s ancestral practices of worship. He also changed his middle name to Anikulapo (meaning “He who carries death in his pouch”, with the interpretation: “I will be the master of my own destiny and will decide when it is time for death to take me”),[8][5] stating that his original middle name of Ransome was a slave name.

He sang in pidgin English so his music could be enjoyed widely over Africa and as his music became more and more popular, his unpopularity with the Nigerian government grew and there were frequent raids at the Kalakuta Republic. In 1977, after the release of his immensely popular album called Zombie, in reference to the Nigerian military, his home was raided by 1,000 soldiers and Fela was severly beaten.

He was a fascinating, deeply charismatic and talented musician. You know what? Better you just read the book…

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One last thing though, to mark the one year-anniversary of the raid on Kalakuta Republic , he married, in one fell swoop, 27 women, most of which were his dancers, composers and singers! Anyway, much as I admire Fela’s spirit and music, all this was basically a preamble leading to the next topic… Fela’s Wives

I mean, these women were bad bitches. Check these out…

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Wowza! I mean, breathtaking, right?!

Dig a little deeper and a little more research led me to Mami Wata

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Mami Wata is a water spirit venerated in West, Central and Southern Africa, as well as the African diaspora in the Americas. She, alongside Fela and Fela’s Wives, were the inspiration for my latest photo art project. Whether she be called Ma Ganga in India, Yemanja along the shores of Bahia in Brazil; whether she be the trickster siren which lures sailors to meet their maker with her shape shifting melody or an alluring mermaid with silver-green fins, may the ambiguous, two-spirited energy of water (at times destructive and dangerous; at other times, healing, cleansing and life-sustaining ) be properly worshipped and revered. Om! AxĂ©!

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Big ❀ and thanks to…

Photography: Lars Kastilan

Africa Pride Mala Beads: Heart of Joy Mala Beads

Eco Yoga Pants: Kismet Yoga-Style

Hair: Saloon Two Sisters (SörnÀinen, Helsinki)

 

Bye Bye Canton & I Heart Creative Africa

Hello dear readers…that’s if I still have any seeing as my last entry was about two months ago. Oh my, oh my, while I haven’t been actively posting since October, I assure you that my mind has been abuzz with ideas and thoughts for the blog in 2015. Namely, how to stick to, a consistent, manageable editorial calender. Today’s entry serves two purposes: a recap in the world of yogini motherhood from October until now and my reaction to Lupita Nyongo’s speech she gave as the keynote speaker at the Massachusetts Conference for Women 2014.

First up: We’ve counted that baby Sesam, during his nine months of life, has been to eight countries so far. Here he is with daddy overlooking a canal in Amsterdam

IMG_3242And here he is making his maiden transatlantic voyage to America last month

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Sesam and I spent the month of November in my childhood home, Canton, NY, where I helped my mother clear out the family home. After 23 years of working and living in Canton,the bucolic backdrop to our own Coming to America immigrant chapter, my parents will be selling the family house and moving out west to Spokane, Washington, where the climate is much more friendly and accommodating for my father. It was rather an emotional month, physically packing up the place which has been HOME for such a long time. At any rate, it was a special chance for Sesam to bond with his grandparents and for family friends to meet him. Sesam began teething (four: two up, two down), which leaves him without much appetite and in an uncharacteristically cranky mood. I’m trying one of those amber teething necklaces and while it’s hard to tell if they help,  it doesn’t seem like they are much harm. He has started pulling himself up to standing. Then he gets scared that he is actually standing and cannot get himself back down. Looks like this one bites off more than he can chew! He is also getting more and more independent, able to play alone for longer stretches of time, especially with all the things he shouldn’t be getting into!

For me, I got the chance to walk down memory lane while saying goodbye to Canton and St. Lawrence University, as I have known them. I didn’t actually graduate from SLU, but I was a campus brat there from the age of 10 until I graduated from high school, taking ballet classes and theatre courses there. Looking back, I wonder why I didn’t just go there, this scenic, country club institution of higher education. I suppose after my middle and high school years in a tiny, rural town in Northern NY, I was ready for something bigger and more cosmopolitan.

 Here are some photo highlights from November

Sesam and I outside 9 Goodrich, the family home since 1994

IMG_3561        Sesam as my yoga partner for the November Instagram yoga challenge I participated in to raise awareness for the Africa Yoga Project

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The silent rural winter landscape meets with a peaceful, friendly wish at Northern Light Yoga

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And a no BS attitude to yoga and life, as seen at the Canton Yoga Loft (I taught the Saturday morning community class there, on my birthday no less!)

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Where I spent a good deal of time during the formative years

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My second Wool and the Gang workshop was well-attended at the new LYS which opened up on Main Street while I was in town

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Sesam with Cucu on the drive down to Saratoga Springs to meet with Njogu, Sara and cousins Nia and Lila

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Sesam with Buck, his babysitter during the month, and his wife, Whitni. Sesam is teary-eyed and cranky in the shot but Buck was a star with him!

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We attended a tobacco burning ceremony, held once a month, at the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne. The Mohawk Nation is a territory that straddles the intersection of international borders (Canada and America) and provincial boundaries on both banks of the St. Lawrence River. My mother has taught at Akwesasne for the past 15 years or so. The Freedom School (pictured below) uses Mohawk as the language of instruction.

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I attended a workshop at St. Lawrence University on how to paint Enso, Zen Circles of Englihtment. The lecture and workshop were presented by artist and peace worker, Kazuaki Tanahashi

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 Finland was not so far away after all. Here is St. Lawrence University’s Finnish alumnus to date, Jukka Tammisuo, class of 1987, and star athlete of the same year

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Back in Finland, we’ve been contending with some crazy jetlag at this dark, kaamos-filled time of year, so watching Lupita Nyong’o’s speech came as a welcome bit of inspiration, helping shake me out of the funk. In it, she really captures the zeitgeist of creative types who grew up in Kenya during the 80s and did not see a career in the arts as anything viable or supported by the culture at large. I’ll never forget when I went back to Kenya for a visit during my college years and a family friend, a very successful doctor, asked me what I was studying. “Theatre Studies,” I replied. “Meaning?” he countered in a tone that implied: Does. Not. Compute (this course of study tinged with irrelevance and frippery). Lupita tackles this head-on in an utterly relatable way and I find it tremendously encouraging that her platform will embolden a new generation of creative and artistic Kenyans and Africans to pursue courses of study and contemplate livelihoods (provided you got game in the field) that previously weren’t considered ‘serious’ enough. Towards the end of the speech, she offered her seven tools for fearlessly following your dreams. Not only did she have to overcome her fear in the form of self-doubt, self-hate and imposter syndrome (especially during the making of 12 Years a Slave), but she also talked openly about contending with the fear of success, which must have been absolutely bananas for her, given all the success she has received career-wise this past year. It must be a crazy amount of pressure: the projections she is facing as the Hollywood supernova, not only for her accolades as an actor, but as the face of Beauty. Redefined in her role as Lancome’s new Ambassadress. I think it’s totally awesome to have her so front and center, wearing her natural short Afro style and living in her beautiful, dark skin. Although I do have to point out that this definition of beauty is hardly new. Still, it’s great to have her representing it, out there in the white, western world. Now, if only they would just stop lightening her skin tone when putting her on magazine covers. I find it completely ludicrous and hypocritical, but this is a huge, loaded topic which I will save for another day. A fun bit of trivia: Lupita and I went to the same primary school in Nairobi (Loreto Convent Msongari). She started about two or three years after me.

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An equally phenomenal voice coming out of creative Africa is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I heard her TED talk on why we should all be feminists in February and find it most eloquent, relevant and beneficial. And while I am curious to watch Lupita’s performance in Star Wars, I cannot wait for the film version of Adichie’s book Americanah which will feature Lupita as the main character. Talk about a one-two KO punch of intelligence, talent and creativity!

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NAIROBI X HELSINKI

The other day, my friend and photographer, Lars Kastilan, and I had a fun spontaneous shoot along the streets of the Kruununhaka neighbourhood in Helsinki. Inspired from my recent trip back home to Kenya, I wanted to showcase the beauty of Kenyan and African print design using garments that would translate easily and make sense in the Northern European capital.

Here are a few of the pictures from the shoot.

Now I have an assignment for you. Comment below (where it says Leave a Comment) and tell me about your favorite aspect of African print in fashion. The winner will receive a fashion accessory featured in the shoot! 🙂 Contest ends on Tuesday, September 30th.

Stay fierce y’all. Om ❀ and Hujambo to all the #afrofashionistas out there!

#100DaysofAfricanFashion #KenyanFashion #AfricanPrintsinFashion #MadeInKenya #FashionAfrica #designingafrica #africandesign #ownyourstyle #adeledejak #africanfashion #fashionaccessories #heartofjoy #japamalas #malabeads #DIYfashionista