The Woyingi Blog

Day in the Life: A Peck on the Cheek from the GG

Posted in Countries: Canada, Day in the Life, The Woyingi Blogger by the woyingi blogger on September 29, 2010

At the beginning of August I received the following e-mail:


On behalf of Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, we are pleased to extend an invitation to you to attend the Governor General’s Youth Dialogue “Can We Talk” in Ottawa.

Kindly refer to the invitation attached.

Please find below additional information on the event:


DATE: Tuesday, August 10, 2010

TIME: 5:00 p.m. (Please arrive by 4:30 p.m.)

(This portion of the event finishes approximately at 7:00 p.m.)

LOCATION: Rideau Hall, 1 Sussex Drive, Ottawa

A dinner reception at Rideau Hall and the National Capital Commission’s Sound and Light show Mosaika on Parliament Hill will follow. (Note: participants will be given VIP passes for the sound and light show).

My first response was “Why was I invited to this?” “Who is behind this?” I still don’t know; I’m guessing it was the Governor-General’s advisor on Youth Affairs, Peter Flegel, but other than a brief conversation after a play at the Great Canadian Theatre Company, and being his Facebook Friend, I don’t think Peter really knows me well, and certainly he can’t know much about the work I do with youth. Then I wondered if those who invited me actually thought I was a youth? I guess I am depending on what definition you use but really, I’m too old to be considered a youth by youth the youth I work with but I’m young enough to not be perceived as being like their parents.

But what work have I done to make be deserve to be invite to the GG’s Residence. Well, I have run an after-school program for like about 7 years in my subsidized housing community, I also run a program for immigrant and visible minority girls each day during the school year at six different high schools, and I did come up with the idea to have 15 week workshops facilitated by local Spoken Word artists for at risk (at risk of awesomeness that is) immigrant and visible minority youth. I then wrote proposal and got funding from the City of Ottawa and Crime Prevention Ottawa (There were four streams: An All Girls Stream, and All Boys Stream, and ESL Stream, and a Francophone Stream). So, I’ve done some stuff…but other people have done more…and in less time.

Shopping with an African Muslim Fashionista

So, I was invited to meet the Governor-General. What was I going to wear? My friend/auntie Semira, an Eritrean-Canadian who can’t help to be something of a Fashionista, due to her country’s colonization by Italy and a long stint in African communities in Montreal, where women know how to dress in style, with flair, and on a budget. She was excited for me of course as meeting any Canadian Governor General would be an honour but she couldn’ help but ask which one I was going to be meeting. I assured her that it was Michaelle Jean, who wouldn’t be leaving her post as GG until the end of September. This, of course added to her excitement and desire to help me find something to wear, something that could be described as “smart casual” as the invitation advised.

The Woyingi Blogger at the Mic, this is the GG's Hair! Photo by Ben Powless

For years, Semira has been advising me to develop a more elegant and more African style of dress, something that could distinguish me from other people when I attend conferences or am asked to MC functions.

I don’t care about clothing. As long as something is clean, I’ll wear it. Most of my clothes are hand-me downs from Arab, African, and South Asian friends and aunties. I seldom buy clothes. Why? A combination of poverty and a real inability to shop well. After I shop for clothes, I am seldom satisfied by what I buy so I really try to avoid the experience.

Semira knows how to dress stylishly on a budget. She is always so colour-coordinated from her veils to her shoes. The Muslim African Fashionista is a godsend to the bland streets of Ottawa, and a broke and frumpy Black Girl like me.

Semira drove me to Pennington’s in Barrhaven and picked out some clothes for me to were. We were helped out but a lovely sales associate. Semira picked out a lovely purple scarf that I could wear as a hijab that matched the long empire-waisted shirt I had chosen.  This purple scarf and be seen on the cover of Metro Ottawa, in which the Governor-General is clearly laughing at myself and a young local poet and activist. Why she is laughing at us will be explained further on:

Michaelle Jean and Ottawa’s Lack of Awesomeness

to be continued

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