on grief – a meditation in 3 part harmony

GRIEF AND REST

“Rest? Grief? I don’t have time for that” she said to me.

Collectively we are in awakened deep generational pain. Awakening to the ways colonialism never truly ended. Awakening to the thieving of the colonial State both past and present. Awakening to the ways in which we are made disposable. Awakening to the places where trust and community are broken and need to be rebuilt.

Even for me, it is sometimes easier to run from these pains. Or to push them down and cover them with addictive tendencies: overworking, overgiving, social media scroll, numbing television, chocolate cake everyday… We’ve all been there.

These tendencies are not bad per se. I acknowledge them and myself for when this is all I had access to. However, they do not get me closer to a vision of wholeness. They don’t enable me to redesign life in healing and regenerative ways.

grief and rest are linked to healing and the work of decolonising, reindigenising and redesigning life

If we stopped pushing hard, or running, and are supported to do this, we might be able to lay our burdens down and rest.

This year (counting from Sept/Oct, the start of the indigenous year in East Afrika) has been a year of grief and rest on personal and collective levels. It has been a year in which I have recognised that grief and rest are linked to healing and the work of decolonising, reindigenising and redesigning life.

It has been a year in which I have learnt *what* it means to be in grief. And *how* to grieve.

Rest, among other things, is what supports me to meet my pain and grieve.

Some rest practices I have been gifting myself with recently have been:

  • Truthtelling: noticing when I am not OK through the signs in my body, environment, emotions, etc and acknowledging this truth for myself. It’s the opposite of running away from pain, and creates internal space for me to be able to do something else.
  • Saying no, and holding myself with compassion when I forget to say no, and going back to say no afterward
  • Literally moving slowly
  • Sleeping more, and waking when my body wants to
  • Exiting spaces that brought me more anxiety and worry than rest
  • Being in community spaces where I am witnessed and rest is honoured.
  • Laughter
  • Laying down the urge to over-explain when I say no or leave or otherwise take my rest.

**I also acknowledge that many of us are not yet able to rest, while looking to a time when we have the support and safety of community around us to rest and heal together.

If you could gift yourself a bit of rest today, what might it be?

GRIEF IS NOT THE SAME THING AS SUFFERING

Walking the decolonising/reindigenising path comes with challenges.

Some of the ones I hear about over and over, and experience myself, are the loneliness, lack of community, your family not understanding why you choose certain things, colleagues and former classmates wondering why you’re “wasting” your education not getting that high paying job at the UN… your teaching and offerings don’t land with the people you’re trying to reach, they say its too expensive, they don’t think any of it has value, they tell you to market in ways misaligned with your soul’s purpose….

Did any or all of this resonate?

Breathe. Breathe again.

This is my reality in many ways as well. It is painful. In it I see the result of years of colonial education, western aspiring brainwashing, capitalism squeezing possibilities of life to minimum, religiosity cancelling our cultures, family traumas drowning our self love….

For a year or more now, while I have been back home and committed to doing this reindigenising work at home, I have been suffering from this painful reality.

But I realised recently that I don’t have to.

When I gave it bodily expression in different processes, suffering looked like shaking my open fist, or shaking someone back and forth. Frustration. Control. (Aside, notice moments in your life and in people around you when shaking your head, fist, or open hand is the response to something). I wanted things and people to be different. And they weren’t.

I have learnt over these past weeks, that how I am in relationship with the reality around me and the pain it creates, is a choice I can make. Where I stand in relationship to realities that are frustrating, painful, and which I wish were different, is up to me.

If I stand in one place, I am suffering from the pain, angry at it, resentful, judging it, wanting it to not exist. From this controlling place, I can’t move, and I definitely can’t bring anyone along with me either.

I can move
and I can
invite others
to move with me

If I stand in another place, I can witness (see honestly), be present with the pain and grieve, and it will teach me how to transform myself so I can invite different realities to exist in the world. Here I release control, and am in empathy, love and desire. I can move. And I can invite others to move with me.

Grief is truly not suffering, it is the opposite. It is how to be with pain in ways that transform and expand capacity for something else.

BELOW IT ALL IS LOVE

A mountain of feeling. These past months have awakened grief like no other, and thankfully also brought with them numerous lessons on how to grieve. How to be with grief.

This is how I think of my anger or frustration (also insert other feelings like bitterness, disappointment that may be a more common manifestation for you), and my grief about the realities that I live within locally and globally. The colonised Western/Whiteness aspiring reality, the unaware of continued coloniality reality, the intentional placing of Afrika at the bottom of a world system reality, the “what good is the past anyway” reality, the “we’ll speak decoloniality but not live it” reality, the “we’ll use you, your traditions, your labour as a means to our ends” reality, and all the pain brought up by encounters with these realities in my family, on the street, in the matatus, in collaborations, etc.

I think of anger and grief as a mountain (please appreciate my attempts at illustrating this). Anger and frustration are visible as hot lava, smoke and ash eruptions. If they have been suppressed for too long, they can quite literally blow the top off the mountain with their power. Hot lava, smoke and ash destroy as well as build. They will cover everything, but eventually the mountain grows and new soil is formed. The eruption enables what is in the core to come forth.

Grief is for me the immensity and depth of the mountain. The fecundity of darkness that can feel thick, heavy and enclosing, and at other times thick, wrapped around and nurturing.

When I have been in grief and supported to truly be in grief about the painful realities I live within (not suffering, see above), it has felt like being within this mountain space. The mountain sits there, it IS. It isn’t moving, it commands my presence and attention.

I break down often, and realise my breaking down is a breaking open. To love.

Below my anger, frustration, bitterness, etc. Below my grief. When I am able to and supported to be open, through rituals of various kinds, I meet the centre of the Earth. I meet my love. My love for myself, my love for my people, my love for ancestors, my love for the Earth. In the messy myriad ways in which we are lost, in which we are finding ourselves, in which we are finding each other. I love us.

I sink into this mountain so that when I rise out of it, my anger knows where it’s coming from. It comes from love. My grief knows where it is connected to. It’s connected to love. From this space my anger and my grief are powerful manifestations of love. From this space, it doesn’t matter so much how others stereotype and put down or try shove into boxes my anger or my grief. I can go down and get more love for myself, for my people, for Earth, for ancestors.

Àşe.

~~ p.s. if you hang out on Instagram come follow me there for the latest @_fromtheroots

my afrikanness is embodied and alive

When did you realise you were Afrikan? What does it mean to you?

If you’re like me and grew up in an Afrikan country, you may not have realised your Afrikanness early on – you may not have had a reason to. Growing up in my small town outside of Nairobi, Afrika did not have as much salience as my neighbourhood and town. In honesty, even Nairobi was an excessively huge thing to grasp while I was still young. Never mind that I could identify and name all Afrikan countries and their capital cities on a map from the age of 4. It still didn’t mean anything to me. I had information, but information is not knowledge.

My consciousness and embodiment of Afrika and my Afrikanness would come later. After I left the continent to study abroad. There I shared daily life with the other members of the African Students Association at my school. Finally there was a delicious texture to Afrikanness. I could imagine and empathise with life lived in places I had never been to through the stories we shared. I would travel through my taste-buds into kelewele, redred, kapenta, mulawa, misr wot, groundnut stew, baobab fruit, bissap and so on. And be inspired by style, colours and clothes including learning to wrap my head from West Afrikan sisters.

Afrika was also present in the misconceptions, the stereotypes, the things passed out as “compliments” which were anything BUT! The lazy use of Afrika as poster child or thought experiment for everything wrong in this world in classes.

Encountering these 2 sides of Afrika pulled me in different directions. It could have been easy to react to the stereotypes and negative views, and adamantly insist that Afrika was actually great doing better than Western countries on their own metrics, i.e. insist on the opposite being true. Some version of “actually country X has a growth rate of 7%”, “actually country Z has a more progressive constitution”, “actually….” which often showed up in our evening conversations around a plate of jollof [just as a by the way, Ghanaian jollof, that is all]. Or I could have shrugged it off and kept moving. But I wanted something more than sapping my energy in counter-speaking that may never land, or ignoring the existence of the stereotypes.

It’s clear in various forms of media today that young people from the continent are (more and more) aware of the negative ways the continent has been and still is portrayed and conceived of by the rest of the world. We are tired of this and are doing things to challenge the misperceptions.

But there can be something too easy in the content of this “Africa Rising” wave. It brings up the rock and hard place of Afro-pessimism and Afro-optimism. These are brands of the same thing. They have the same foundation in using foreign visions, ideals and metrics to assess Afrika. They both don’t see what is, and are stuck in reaction to one another. One insisting all is bad and ignoring everything else, the other that all is great and hiding everything else.


My spirit was not at peace with the pessimism, but I didn’t always know enough to say much different. I also was not fully resonating with the optimism, because I knew the realities I was coming from that were at odds with the photo-ready optimism. What was it grounded in? And below the great optics, was it actually offering anything different to the foundations of the pessimist world, or only stuck in a race to measure up to foreign standards?

I put my energy into a journey of inquiry. My journey invited me to look deeper than what is immediately visible, or easily consummable in a media-friendly “Afrika is as great as you” wave. It invited me into a questioning to find out what exactly the descriptive Afrikan means for me, and to determine what about the hegemonic discourse on the continent I didn’t agree with and why, and how then I would respond.

For me to claim Afrika in her fullness, Afrika had to mean something.

My responses were fundamentally about me – not about the rest of the world. They were about redefining, and redesigning my life to be in line with the aliveness I was discovering Afrika to be. I sought stories from other countries in this continent. I began to educate myself about matters that affect countries outside of my own on the continent through the news, books, music, etc. I began to speak up about issues in class, with friends, on blogs, in dance and poetry, etc. I reclaimed and reimagined ideals of beauty outside of Western ones in my dressing. My natural hair journey deserves a series unto itself because it was fundamentally tied to my journey to Afrikan spirituality.

My journey also included finding out everything I can about life in the past that can be applied to life in the present. And questioning life in the present and it’s unspoken assumptions and ideals, and where I find the roots of these to be fickle, doing away with them.

I now identify as Afrikan – but not necessarily for the reasons that others might identify me as the same – which are the reasons that I at first resisted the definition. I learnt to make space for my own narrative of what being Afrikan is and means and entails.

I love how Ṣoyinka speaks about Tigritude (in the Negritude-Tigritude debates). He says, a tiger does not stand in the jungle and say I am a tiger, beating it’s chest – it does what a tiger is supposed to do – so that if you pass by and see a dead antelope, you say “some tigritude happened here“.

How I reconciled Afrikanness beyond the surface pessimism-optimism, the curiosity, the fascination, the deliciousness, the colours, which is to say, how I embody Afrika, is to get to the roots, and then live from the roots. Reconstruct life from the roots.

The evolution of my journey is that my Afrikanness IS. Without being in face to face confrontation and toe to toe matches with the people and spaces that claim it isn’t, and without waiting for affirmation from these. My Afrikanness is alive and embodied.

My Afrikanness is about us seeing ourselves at our core. Not about making the people who unsee us, open their eyes. They may or they may not. I am not waiting. Some Afrikanness happened here and continues to.

So tell me, what does Afrikanness mean to you?

>>> adding this too <<<

Some people have issues with being considered ambassadors or representatives of places or groups. The fact you are from one ethnic group or one part of a country or continent doesn’t mean that you are representative of the whole. I get that. There’s also the tension that, yes you are not representative of the whole, but you are part of the whole so you still count. It’s a mixed bag this “ambassador” thing. Not everyone wants to be one. It can sap your energy to be one depending on where and with whom. There are times when you honestly cannot be one. Not everyone should be considered one inherently…

My way of being with this mixed bag is that I choose to take up the task of being a good ambassador for all the things I identify as. Even though in myself I am not representative of the whole, I am actively engaging with everything that that whole is, so that if I need to I can speak about the whole while recognising that there are a lot of things that I still don’t know, and being humble and honest about that. And honouring and being in gratitude for all the ways and people I have learnt (from).

the seed thief resources + study list – afrikan reads book review

I have begun doing Youtube book reviews in a new series titled “Afrikan Reads”. Check out the first video on my Youtube channel, a review of the book “The Seed Thief” by Jacqui L’Ange.

Let me know how you like it, subscribe for more, and here is an accompanying resource and reading list on many things seed.

various indigenous seeds and seed accoutrements in Tharaka-land.

on seed – a resource and study list

“Many familiar foods—millet, sorghum, coffee, okra, watermelon, and the “Asian” long bean, for example—are native to Africa, while commercial products such as Coca Cola, Worcestershire Sauce, and Palmolive Soap rely on African plants that were brought to the Americas on slave ships as provisions, medicines, cordage, and bedding.”

“A major argument of the book is that multiple innovators – rural communities, healers, scientists and drug companies – contributed to the shaping of scientific knowledge concerning therapeutic plants, but they benefited differently. The six plants in question were used medicinally by healers and by lay communities. However, the patents developed from the plants recognised only the intellectual efforts of the colonial and postcolonial scientists.”

“Reviving seeds as commons, through a telling of seeds as story, we move from seed as object to seed as relation, making visible that which has been concealed and hidden from sovereignty.”

Streetscape in Salavador da Bahia, Brazil where much of the action in the book The Seed Thief takes place

 

“Synthetic nitrogen use, they argue, creates a kind of treadmill effect. As organic matter dissipates, soil’s ability to store organic nitrogen declines. A large amount of nitrogen then leaches away, fouling ground water in the form of nitrates, and entering the atmosphere as nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas with some 300 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide. In turn, with its ability to store organic nitrogen compromised, only one thing can help heavily fertilized farmland keep cranking out monster yields: more additions of synthetic N.”

“seeds in a seed bank are locked away, not reproducing, waiting for plant scientists or a planetary food emergency to call them into action. This is why, to their proponents, seed libraries occupy an important (if still small) role in that bigger story: They actually bring plants into circulation, town by town, encouraging local variety and even potentially developing new strains. “The more seeds you can get out into the field, the broader the base of conservation… In the gene bank, evolution is frozen, there’s no more natural crossing.”

  • Utviklingsfondet, ‘Banking for the Future: Savings, Security and Seeds. A short study of community seed banks in Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Honduras, India, Nepal, Thailand, Zambia and Zimbabwe’ [report]
  • On the history of the state of global patenting and seed breeding: Carolan, ‘A sharing economy for plants’ [article]

“As a result, the majority of commercial crops and garden plants in use today were developed by agricultural companies, to the point that three companies – Bayer Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta – account for roughly 50 percent of all global seed sales.”

Let me know what you think about this new series on the video or in the comments below 🙂

 

 

the memory of seeds and indigenous resurgence in tharaka, kenya

“In the global North, it has become more common to declare that indigenous peoples hold the solutions to the climate crisis. Such rhetoric risks being only lip-service if solutions don’t recognise and resource indigenous-led work to repair damage to indigenous cultures, commit to indigenous resurgence and integrate the wisdom of indigenous values.  After decades of shame, suppression and devaluation, much indigenous knowledge held by groups like the Tharaka has been forgotten, hidden or impaired. Tharaka women commented that it seemed like “everything was going to disappear”. Facing this eco-cultural crisis, remembering and restoring indigenous women’s knowledge and practices, grounded in a paradigm of respect and collaboration with the Earth, emerged as a pathway to resilience.”

As part of the inaugural Climate and Environmental Justice Media Fellowship run by FRIDA, the Young Feminist Fund and Open Global RIghts, I am investigating the intersections of gender justice and climate and environmental justice. For my first article, I travelled to Tharaka, in the central part of Kenya to speak with women who are remembering and reinstating their eco-cultural practices thus regaining their value and roles in community, restoring the Earth, and rebuilding resilience through indigenous African wisdom and practices.

Read the full article on Open Global Rights here. Also available in Spanish and Portuguese.