The Woyingi Blog

Black Blog Review: Vitabu Books by Lango Deen

Posted in Black Blog Review, Countries: Sierra Leone, Sierra Leonean Diaspora, Sierra Leonean Politics by the woyingi blogger on March 22, 2011

Blog: Vitabu Books

Author: Lango Deen

Vitabu Books is the personal blog of Sierra Leonean blogger Lango Deen, who is currently based in the US.

This is how she describes herself in her blog profile:

I am a Sierra Leonean living abroad. I make a living as a reporter and reading is one of my passions. When I’m not reading the day’s news, I’m enjoying books set in Africa or written by Africans. Vitabu (a Swahili word for books) is where I share my thoughts on books and the news.

I really like Deen’s blog. It is quite new, only started in January 2011. She has several reviews of contemporary African fiction, interviews with writers, and personal reflections on African current affairs.

I really like the idea that Deen has conducted her own interviews with African writers and it has inspired me to do the same if I can arrange it. Here is an excerpt from her post about the spy novel The Inverted Pyramid by Nigerian writer Emeka Dike:

Here is her description of the novel:

Azubike (Zuby) Thomas, the main character, flies in from London and lands into the arms of the Nigerian Intelligence agencies – a shadowy group of spies that change the course of history. Driven by unseen forces, Zuby sets out to investigate the power structure in Nigeria. But even before he starts to find answers to the many anomalies, he gets ensnared in a tangled web of deceit where money and sex rule. Zuby’s pursuit of an explanation about what has stymied progress in Nigeria—chronic corruption and robbery of the State—ultimately leads him down a path of intrigue, espionage, and murder. Zuby makes his mark as a rookie spy, but he doesn’t become a true leader until he meets the Oba—a “king” who holds resplendent court in a prison filled with the misery of beggars and thieves, and the triumph of a framed-up man, Nnamdi.

And here is an excerpt from her interview with Dike:

Vitabu: You dramatized “The Inverted Pyramid/Nigerian Factor” in action, was there any other information you were trying to give?

ED: I was trying to analyze and understand the socio-political make up of contemporary Nigeria. I was also trying to describe the cultural and socio-political characteristics of contemporary Nigeria.

Vitabu: Who did you write the book for?

ED: Every Nigerian/ African from 18 years and above that is literate, and particularly those who have grown up in the diaspora. The book was more therapeutic for me than anything else. I was tired of Nigerians describing their problems as if they were impossible to fathom. I wanted to break it down once and for all. We need to be honest with ourselves in Africa. Too many people are on the fence hoping that their turn will come to get a piece of the pie, hence they don’t talk; they don’t rock the boat. I wanted to rock the boat, so this is my personal way of doing it. Our so called leaders are getting away with far too much. The African intelligentsia has to wake up and take them on.

Vitabu: How?

ED: The first step is a better awareness, not by a handful of educated Africans but the middle class. If it does not exist then we have to create it with education. We take so much for granted that you and I may know but so many other educated Africans do not think of. Nigeria is a tough place in this respect; the oil money is dangled as a carrot so many look the other way.

I was particularly pleased to see her post an excerpt of William Conton’s novel The African, published in 1960. I found this novel at a used book store here in Ottawa but have found it difficult to get information online about the author or the novel, other then in Mohamed Sheriff’s article Literary Arts in Sierra Leone which states that The African is the equivalent to Achebe’s Things Fall Apart for Sierra Leone (although Conton is also at times said to be Gambian).

In a post where she revisits the memoir by former Sierra Leonean child soldier Ismael Beah, A Long Way Gone, she reflects:

Baltimore, Maryland, January 2011—“Today is J6. Remember!” urged an e-mail head in my box. I opened it, but there was nothing in the body. It seemed the sender from Freetown had only found just enough time (or emotion) to type up a telegram. The short but powerful message brought back an old nightmare that’s haunted me every January since 1999: What if I’d extended my stay in Freetown from an initial 2-3 week break in October 1998 to a few months, stretching into the new year?

I was in love with an old love, and things were so deliriously good I was tempted to spend time in familiar places between Conakry and Freetown. 13 years on, I’ll never know if I would’ve survived the January 6, 1999, attack, but it doesn’t stop me wondering.

Although based in Balitmore, Deen is involved in the politics of her homeland, her other blog is devoted to the campaign of Sierra Leonean politican Kadi Sesay (who is the mother of CNN International news anchor Isha Sesay). Kadi Sesay is running for the leadership of Sierra Leone’s main opposition party the Sierra Leone People’s Party. Sesay was a professor of English Literature at Sierra Leone’s Fourah Bay College (the oldest university college in West Africa) for twenty years before getting into politics by chairing the National Commission on Democracy and Human Rights, making her the first woman in Sierra Leone’s history to chair a national commission. According to the essay Explaining Women’s Roles in the West African Tragic Triplet: Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d’ Ivoire in Comparative Perspective by I. A. Badmuss :

Kadi Sesay used her office as the Chairman for the National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights (NCDHR) to promote civil education, democracy, and human rights. Her democracy programme “contributed to preparing the electorate for nationwide participatory electoral democracy, which bore fruit in the massive turnout for the 1996 democratic elections.” (Mansaray, 2000: 150). Mrs. Sesay tirelessly committed herself to the institution of democracy and encouraged women to join in the political processes of the country.

I also searched for some of Lango Deen’s other writings online and found this great article about African American mathematician Etta Zuber Falconer, who was a Math and Science Professor at Spelman College, the historically Black Women’s College. Falconer was one of the first 20 Black women to get a PhD in Mathematics in the US. Falconer stated in 1995: “My entire career has been devoted to increasing the number of African American women in mathematics and mathematics-related careers.” Considering that Math is not a field that is seen to include either women or Black people, the fact that Falconer pursued this field to the level of Phd and then used her knowledge to educate other Black women to take on careers in this field is truly inspiring. I really appreciate that Deen wrote this profile of Etta Zuber Falconer.

My one recommendation to Deen would be to include more links in her posts. It is always great if readers can connect with more information directly through your blog than having to search on their own.

That said, I hope that Deen continues writing her blog as there needs to be more blogs by Africans that bring our literature to wider audiences and provide personal reflections on the continent’s current affairs.

You can also follow VitabuBooks on Twitter.

Further Reading:

Lango Deen’s Profile on the International Museum of Women Website

Etta Zuber Falconer, Ph.D. Spelman’s Legendary Math and Science Professor Passes On by Lango Deen (article available online)

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Black Blog Review: Constant State of Reflection by Sarah Musa

Posted in Black Blog Review, Black Canadian Blogs, The Somali Diaspora in Canada by the woyingi blogger on February 4, 2011

I haven’t kept up with reviewing my fellow Black Bloggers, which I had hoped to do at least once a week. I hereby make a resolution to do so from now on. It’s only fitting that I should start with the blog of someone I actually know.

Blog: Constant State of Reflection

Author: Sarah Musa

Constant State of Reflection is the blog of Somali Canadian Ottawa Spoken Word Artist, Carleton University Human Rights Program Student, and my neighbour.

I had watched Sarah growing up in my ‘hood for years. But I only got to know her when she began attending the Speaking for Ourselves Project for high school students from immigrant and visible minority communities who were aspiring poets. I created the Project based on the work of projects like Youth Speaks. Sarah was already active in her high school and writing poetry but I think the project helped her take herself seriously as a poet and helped her develop closer connections with key local poets like Hodan Ibrahim. Sarah has gone on to become a leader of the Spoken Word Scene locally, in particular by helping to sustain the Urban Legends Series at Carleton University.

Sarah describes herself as an old soul in a young body.

Sarah Musa shares much of her poetry on her blog. Her poems vary from the personal to those focused on social justice in relation to local and global struggles. Her poem Sand Dunes and Land Mines is a reflection on the deterioration of a childhood friendship whereas Vital Signs is a narrative highlighting issues of poverty in Ottawa.

Sarah likes to share quotations by poets and philosophers that have inspired her to reflect. In the post Importance of Truth, she shares quotes from such diverse thinkers as Kahlil Gibran, Oscar Wilde, and Ghandi.

The blog also includes brief reflections by Sarah on lectures or events she’s attended or books she has read, such as her reflection on a presentation by Romeo Dallaire about the difference between tolerance and mutual respect.

Sarah also posts videos and pics that she feels will inspire others to reflection.

Sarah, who is Muslim, often opens her posts with bismillah, this is the shortened version of a phrase meaning “In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious” used by many Muslims before they begin a speech or piece of writing, in the hope that nothing they say will be offensive to God but will instead be spiritually uplifting for the listeners or readers. Bismillah‘s most famous use in Western Popular Culture is in the song Bohemian Rhapsody by Zanzibari-born British Indian Parsi Rock Star Freddie Mercury (born Farrukh Bulsara).

If you feeling apathetic and need a dose of youthful idealism, check out Constant State of Reflection.

Further Reading:

To learn more about Ottawa’s Spoken Word Scene visit the site raiseit.ca

Black Blog Review: Ijaw Girl

Posted in Black Blog Review, Nigerian Blogs, Peoples: The Ijo by the woyingi blogger on August 31, 2009

This week, I’ll share with you a blog I stumbled up. I was interested in reading Ijaw Girl because I myself am half-Ijaw. I expected a blog about the struggle of the Ijaw in the Niger Delta against oil companies, pollution, and violence but what I got was…FASHION!

Ijaw Girl should really be called Nigerian Fashionista. The subtitle for the blog is:

-for the love of all things bright,beautiful & tailor made. -celebrating nigerians in and around fashion.

Ijaw Girl is the blog of the designer of the label AKPOS OKUDU. She is also a student. Her profile sets the tone for the whole blog:

i’m a fashion designer who loves quirkyness,couture dresses,red lipstick,photography,sewing with really loud music,dressing my friends,cocktail rings,sexy lingere,d big apple,shoes,u2,oprah,sex& d city,bags,beyonce,blush,vogue,red nail polish,the cranberries,d colour green,norah jones,playin dress up. i also love dancing in front of d mirror,bono,my beauty sleep,flats,lucite& vintage bangles,recycling trends,kate moss,eco chic[lets do our bit 2 help save d planet],thisday style,my fab. cousins[my inspiration]style.com,old hollywood movies,chandellier earrings,paris and most importantly my gap joca jellies.

This blog is about Nigerian Fashion and although I was hoping to read the blog of a politically aware Ijaw Nigerian woman, it was interesting to read about the Nigerian Fashion scene. The blog is full of images of Nigerian Fashion, as well as the blog writer’s own work.

I was fascinated to learn about the reinvention of Ankara Fabric in Ijaw Girl’s post “Nigerian Designers Jazz up Ankara“. Ankara fabric originally came from Europe (but the Turks made a cheaper version so that is why it is called Ankara, after the Turkish city of the same name). Nigerians loved the fabric and began making their own elaborate culturally inspired designs on it. But for a long time, Ankara Fabric was only associated with traditional and “frumpy” Nigerian clothing. Now Ankara Fabric has become chic, and most Nigerian fashion designers have a line of Ankara dresses and accessories. According to Ijaw Girl “An Ankara outfit is definitely a must in every fashionista’s closet”. To learn more about the history of Ankara in Nigeria read the article “Ankara: The Rebirth” in fashionafrica.com.

The Ijaw Girl blog showcases the work of some of the blog writer’s favourite Nigerian Fashion Designers. These include Folake Folarin-Coker who is the designer behind the Tiffany Amber label and Lisa Folawiyo who is the designer behind Jewel By Lisa. I really do love the designs on the fabrics used by these designers. My size is too large to fit into any of their styles (I’m much better off in the frumpy traditional Nigerian clothing which gives the “traditionally built” African woman room for her volupiousness) but I can still acknowledge that they are beautiful and as good (if not better) than anything I’ve seen come down the runways of Paris, Milan, or New York (I do sometimes watch Fashion Television).
 
Ijaw Girl sometimes just posts pictures from Nigerian newspapers and magazines of women she considers to be “Head to Toe Perfect” in terms of style. She writes:
 
Nigerian women are super fabulous; i know, i know.i could say that a million times. Your probably sick of hearing it; but come on this is a blog that generally celebrates fabulous Nigerian fashion and pretty much anything fashion related.
As amazing as i consider Nigerian women stylewise, there are lots who generally go over the top with their outfits;so when i find pictures of Nigerian women that look on point you know I’m drawn to them like a complete magpie and i get super excited.
 
It seems that the Nigerian Fashion Industry is really booming. There is even something called Le petite marche in Lagos, a monthly flee market, which provides a venue for new and established independent designers and entrepreneurs to network and sell their creations.
 
I have to thank the Ijaw Girl blog for exposing me to the Nigerian Fashion industry, something which I really knew nothing about. The writing style is far too text-message cutesy for me so I won’t be a regular reader but I wish the designer success with her label, and given the success other Nigerian Fashion designers seem to be having in Nigeria and abroad (several are premiering at New York’s Fashion Week) she will have ample opportunities to make a name for herself.

Black Blog Review: The Missing Piece…thoughts of a black adoptee

Posted in Black Blog Review, Black Canadian Blogs, Blacks and Mixed Race Identity by the woyingi blogger on August 24, 2009

This week, I am reviewing the blog The Missing Piece…thoughts of a black adoptee

The author of the blog describes herself as:

black woman, adopted into a white family as an infant; mother of 2 girls; part-time insomniac; ex-lawyer; interests include: family stories, culture, race, books, writing, art, parenting, other adoptees, gardening…

In the post “who am I?”, the author gives more details about her home life.

The author of The Missing Piece was born in Nova Scotia, Canada, and adopted into a White family. She does not know her biological parents, but she does know that her mother is White and her father is Black.

In the post, Rejection: adoptee woes in a nutshell, she writes about her struggle to contact her biological mother and get the name of her biological father. The post is a fascinating tour through Nova Scotian Adoption Legislation, for example, because her biological father never acknowledged paternity he is not legally her Birth Father.

In the post Missing Pieces, she explains her choice of blog name:

I don’t mean to characterize adoptees or transracial adoptees as ‘missing pieces’ or incomplete human beings, so just hear me out.  An old, true friend introduced me to The Missing Piece, by Shel Silverstein many years ago.  It succinctly and beautifully sums up the road many of us take to find ourselves, but especially adoptees who might feel at different times in their lives that they are missing some crucial part of themselves – knowledge of self, knowledge of family, medical or cultural history.

I really enjoy The Missing Piece blog because although I was not adopted, having a deported Black father who I had no hope of finding, and growing up in my mother’s totally dysfunctional White family, often made me feel like I was an orphan.

I can particularly relate to her struggles with Black Identity. In her post Back to Africa, she writes:

As a black girl growing up in a white family I was often on the outside of black culture and community. That is, until I entered junior high and made black friends, listened to black music, read black history and literature and deliberately absorbed black culture.  Embracing black culture gave me some self-confidence and generally helped in the quest to know myself, but a kind of doubtful self-consciousness about my cultural identity remains.  I am easily shaken if someone (black or white) insinuates I am not black enough, because I am too fair-skinned, or because I like to read, or because my family is white, or for some other ridiculous reason.   What do you care what other people think, my friends and family ask.  Intellectually I know I should not care, but the emotional need to belong or fit within family and community is strong.

I too grew up isolated from  Black communities. In someways, the author is lucky to have grown up in Nova Scotia, which has a large and deep-rooted Black community. Growing up in Ottawa, in the 80s and 90s meant that I didn’t have much opportunity to interact with Black people, until the wave of Somali immigration in the mid-nineties. I can’t say I have ever really “embraced” Black culture because I don’t think there is such a thing. I am grateful for finally learning how to manage my hair (which shows no signs of being mixed as it is quite short and course), something I only accomplished in my early twenties with the help of a friend of Afro-Trinidadian descent. Here in Ottawa, there are now large communities of Sub-Saharan African descent but they are divided by ethnicity, culture, religion, and language (Ottawa is a bilingual city) so you can hardly say there is a Black Culture here. But I do interact a lot with these communities, some more than others (for obvious reasons I am closer to Muslim communities, but I find that I get on well with both Muslims and Christians from the Horn of Africa, and with Muslim and Christian francophones. Ironically, I seem to get on the least with Nigerians of any ethnicity, despite the fact that I am ethnically half-Nigerian. I guess a sense of belonging has very little to do with bloodlines).

I think many of the author’s issues with Black Identity are the same for all of us who are mixed race but didn’t grow up with our Black parents.

They are many Black adoptees out there. The Missing Piece’s blog roll contains links to other websites and blogs by transracial adoptees, as well as a link to the Black Adoptees Group on Facebook.

I learned from the Missing Piece blog that Darry McDaniels, the DMC from Run DMC, is a Black Adoptee, as well as musician Michael Franti. I am also grateful to the author for highlighting the work of Jackie Kay, a Black Scottish writer who was adopted into a White family. Kay’s father, like mine, is a Nigerian. She had the opportunity to meet him but it did not turn out as hoped, because he was hell bent on trying to save her soul by converting her to his rabid form of Christianity. This was actually my big fear when I found my father. As so many Nigerians I had met seemed to detest my conversion to Islam, I was worried my father might reject me because I was a Muslim or make our relationship contingent upon me becoming a Christian. I am grateful that this was not the case.

I hope the author of The Missing Piece continues to write about her own struggle, as well as the struggle of others to piece together the puzzle of mixed race and transracial identities.