To Live in America

American flag

At the height of a restless phase in my life, I lived in The Netherlands at the time; a friend asked if I would be interested in relocating to The States. I replied that I had a teenage son and he is black. It had been years since I visited America. Where did I get the idea? Think of a country that you have heard of but never visited. What picture comes to mind? Now, ask yourself why.

Yesterday morning, during my ten-kilometre trek, S, who is black American talked about the recent racially motivated police shootings in her country. There were times we slowed our pace subconsciously to match the heaviness in her heart. She made the stories more than news I followed on social media, still they were not near enough. I shared her sorrow the way I do when I hear of bombings with casualties somewhere in the world—pain, anger, helplessness, and resignation.

My plan was to rest after the walk and then complete the short story I had been working on for my blog. However, when I sat at my desk to finish the story about two women and a boy called Yellow Pawpaw, desire had fled from me. Since writing is 80% discipline and the plot lay pencilled on post-its around my desk, desire was inconsequential. I battled feelings of irresponsibility. Do you sleep when your neighbour’s house is on fire? At least not with both eyes shut because fire is greedy for oxygen, sucking oxygen wherever it finds it.

But I had not written about the fire in my backyard either. Is it not hypocritical to write about what you do not know, a phenomenon miles and miles from you?

Here is what I know. I think about America the way I do because of what I see, hear, and read. Despite the negative portrayal of Nigeria in the news, I do not buy into all the hype because I have lived in Nigeria and interacted with Nigerians.

I write in general terms, why do white people feel threatened by black men and why do black men feel anxious around the police? Is it not unreasonable to tell people to overcome their fears when we keep feeding them fearful images?  The notion of independent thought is a fallacy. You believe what you see or hear all the time and under pressure, act it out.

So, would I relocate to America?

I should know better because I am familiar with the power of the pen or images to shape opinions and the insidious ways narratives are concretized. But fear is an irrational thing.

Perhaps, it is time for a new kind of summer blockbuster. Aliens can take a break from invading the earth; they have not succeeded so far anyway. Humans can take over IMAX screens to confront problems in our communities that resemble chewing gum stuck to the heel of shoes—messy, sticky, and tricky, and we should make superheroes of the men and women who bridge the divide.

Am I for real? Will such films require jaw-dropping special effects or guarantee millions at the box office? Why change a winning formula?

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

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Portraits of Motherhood [3]

Motherhood3

Caramel Kids

My husband John is white and I am black. Our first daughter was conceived after a lot of body heat measurements, lovemaking, and consultant fees. As a newborn, she looked nothing like me but everything like John—dark blue eyes under straight black hair, set in pale skin dusted with freckles. Twenty-two months later, her sister was born.

My beautiful girls have always seen and described themselves as caramel. They say caramel is the mixture of white and black. I also see them as caramel. However, I refuse to raise them as caramel. I am raising them as strong black African women to give them a sense of belonging.

When my seven-year old (who had played all day), wanted to play with her friends some more instead of studying, I said no despite her tears. Her friends in question are white, middle-class, and privately educated. She is mixed race, middle-class, and in a state school. In May, my daughter writes her SATs, her first exams.

Because I worry about my daughters’ academic potential, I constantly emphasize the importance of working hard at school. Only this time, her naïvety irritated me. I told her, “You will have to work twice as hard as your white friends to get where you deserve to be.”

In England, caramel is closer to black, and society regards them as mixed black Africans and not mixed white British. People see their sex and race first. They are not immune to this reality. As a warrior mum, I want them to know who they are and I want to give them every advantage they need to succeed.

Still, my main parenting ethos is to ground them in the kind of love I never experienced. Love, which is professed. Love, which cuddles. Love, which kisses. Love, which makes us spend time together. Because knowing you are loved and accepted unconditionally is a bulwark against ‘colour’ coding and separation.

Yvonne is crazy about retro and vintage fashion. She writes passionately about things that get to her at RealYvonneBlog

 

#Electiongate

E1 ran for house prefect last term. Three girls and a boy competed for the two positions. She wrote a speech and campaigned round school. After the elections, E1 came second. The highest vote was nine. She scored eight, the boy scored three, and the other girl one. E2 excitedly told her sister, “Well done, you got it.”

Imagine my shock a couple of days later when E1 reported that the other spot had gone to the boy.

I let off steam at the school office and emailed the secretary expressing my displeasure. A meeting was scheduled with the head teacher where she confirmed that because a boy and a girl traditionally filled the positions, the second post had gone to the boy.

I contended that since the candidates were not informed upfront, the entire process was a mockery. I decided to pursue the matter further as I felt E1 was robbed. Outlining my grievances in a letter, I pointed out that by denying my daughter equal opportunity the school was teaching her that gender is a deterrent to success in a society where gender discrimination is illegal.

It was a lonely and long fight. Well-meaning people asked, “What’s the big deal?” In the meantime, E1 was offered other positions. I told her it was okay to accept another position, as long as she made it clear she was still holding out for her elected post.

Countless emails and acknowledgements wearied me to the end of my tether. Then one Friday, at the close of school, the secretary handed me a letter. I ripped it open once we got to the car. E1 had been awarded the prefectship!

I turned to her, “You see why it’s important to stick to your guns and fight for your rights?” She nodded, joy brimming from her eyes.

I am trying to raise my daughters to believe that there are no limits to what they can achieve or how far they can go. They know that sometimes, they will have to fight. And I want them to know I will always have their backs as God gives me strength.

Joxy, wife, mother, bookworm, bookaholic, ardent Scrabble player, tennis fan, and foodie, writes at Justjoxy’s blog.

 

A Heart of Gold

My thirteen-year-old son is not special needs. He has special needs and barely qualifies to have some of them met in school. If you met him, you would not imagine that my well-spoken boy struggles in school. This challenge began in pre-school and has now progressed to annual team meetings with teachers.

The meetings always start with, “What are your concerns about Damon?” I exhale before I rattle off the same yearly list, lack of focus and mathematical comprehension, poor grades, etc. His teachers smile sadly and nod because they see it every day. In that moment, I don’t feel alone even though they are witnesses for only nine months.

What happens next is my favorite part and it happens every time. Sure, their faces drop when they describe how Damon hunches over his paper, so they won’t know he hasn’t written anything. But they then mention how his hand shoots up above his brown curly hair to volunteer to read; and my mind travels to the years he cried because he hated reading but persevered until he loved it. They smile as they recount his eager participation in class discussions, which elevates the conversation. We all laugh at the way he smiles and assures us that he’s, “Got this!”

And yes, Damon’s got this, this being the heart of life. He carefully scoops up infants in the church nursery where he volunteers each week. He emanates warmth as he greets homeless people whenever we hit the streets to hand out supplies. You see, I mother a child who on his best day puts in twice the effort to receive half the grade and has done so for nine years. Yet his perspective of the world and himself is untainted. Once when I checked his phone for inappropriate content, I saw a text from a friend who stated he wants to be incredible like Damon.

So yeah, parenting an out-of-the-box kid isn’t easy when it comes to schooling, but witnessing his spirit shine in the face of obstacles is better than perfect marks.

Brina Harwood, recent returning full-time student, aspiring writer, and working mother of four, blogs on occasion at My Life in Crowd Control.

 

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall

As a girl, I spent time in front of the mirror, preoccupied with what I saw; my hair, my face, my body.  As a woman, I spend less time in front of the mirror. I’m mostly satisfied with what I see.  Writing this paragraph for Holistic Wayfarer made me realise there are many mirrors in my life and the important ones are in my soul. I’d like to know, when you look at the mirror, what do you see?

A Holistic Journey

Race. The colour of my skin, the flare of my nostrils, the texture of my hair, the S of my backside. I am none of these; I am all of these. Race. My mother is caramel, my father pure chocolate, and I am hazelnut. They taught me that education and excellence would open any door. I believed it; still believe it. Race. Raised in Nigeria, I live in The Netherlands. I temper the directness of the Dutch with the verbosity I think Nigerians inherited from the British. Race. When I look in the mirror, I see a girl, a woman, a lover, a wife, a mother, a friend, a sister, a mentor, a coach, a writer, a warrior — all I have been, all I now am, all I will one day be. When I look in the mirror, I see me. What if my father were Australian and my…

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Race, Ethnicity, Prejudice, and Attitudes

Race

When the first strains of light filter through my curtains, my mind leaves my dreams to form coherent thought. I do not think of race, I rarely do.

I am aware of the colour of my skin. How could I not be? My foundation is a blend of mocha and caramel, my blush dark rose, my lipstick red, because I can pull it off. I am aware of the colour of my skin. How could I not be? I hug “white” people loosely and blow three kisses on either cheek, so I don’t stain them with my brown powder.

But when we get down to work and play and life, beyond enunciating my words with care and observing cultural nuances to accommodate the diversity in my world, I am Timi, a person with much to offer from the height of my intellect to the depth of my experience, and the width of my achievements.

Nigeria has at least 100 ethnic groups. In the state where I grew up, the evening news was broadcasted in four local languages, but I listened to the official English version because I didn’t understand any Nigerian language. My parents hail from two different minority ethnic groups and my friends from the unity school I attended reflect the federal character the federal government emphasized—Amina from the north, Ronke from the west, Chidinma from the east, Asabe from the middle belt, Onome from the mid-west, Ibinabo from the Niger Delta.

So, I did not wonder about race or racism when I moved to The Netherlands. Neither tribalism nor sexism in Nigeria, had clipped the wingspan of my dreams or that of my mother before me. We had defied the boundaries of other “isms” with who we are and what we believe, that excellence would eventually inspire people and remove barriers.

Since language, ethnicity, and race bonds people, and language in particular is like Super Glue, I sometimes find myself on the outside looking in. The English, Moroccans, Surinamese, Dutch, Africans, Turks, Americans, etc, live and socialise within their enclaves. Among the Africans, subdivisions exist for people from south, north, east, or west Africa. More subdivisions based on country, and even more subdivisions based on ethnicity within a country exist. People tend to gravitate to what is familiar and comfortable and inadvertently perhaps, exclude others.

On the other hand, many have moved beyond these confines and discovered that diversity makes for a rich tapestry and the threads of that tapestry are equal in value no matter their colour or ethnicity.

I suppose expat life abroad insulates one from common racism both in the way it is meted out and received. Once I was with a friend who drove a car with diplomatic licence plates when the police stopped us. I watched as she answered the police, with the slight arrogance of one who has options.

I am aware that underneath the bridge that connects me to my better life lie the souls of men and women who died constructing the bridge. I am grateful that although Twelve Years a Slave makes me uncomfortable, after the credits, I can shiver, shrug, and enter my normal life. Racism is real, but it is not my default setting. I choose not to see it in every slight.

Prejudice has lived in human hearts for so long it has become a gene. I remember when I drove my son and his playdate home after school. They stumbled into this conversation after falling in and out of several others.

“My mum says I can play with black people, but I can’t marry them.”

I spied her cute blonde bangs from my rear view mirror. The longer locks framed her oval face and cascaded down her shoulders. I gripped the steering wheel tighter.

“But I don’t want to get married now,” my son replied.

“Oh good,” her giggles light like feathers, carried no malice.

I relaxed my grip as I realised it had never crossed my mind to date a white man. It was the unspoken taboo. Everyone in the town where I grew up knew that only certain types of girls did.

Often when people speak of racial prejudice, they talk as if it is unidirectional, forgetting the prejudice, which also lies in the hearts of its victims so that if power changed hands, new victims would emerge. Is this the real fear that makes one race dominate another—get ‘em before they get us?

Knowledge and courage may be antidotes to prejudice. A desire to investigate the world beyond our nose and the guts to live in peace in it.

 

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

 

p.s. My blog sister Holistic Wayfarer, who has written several eye-opening posts on Race, inspired this post.

Third World: Where Culture Meets Culture

Urban development

I am a first-generation immigrant caught in a clash of cultures but I do not wallow in identity crisis. Although I know where I come from, the pieces of the puzzle that spell out where I am going are the hardest to find.

I am from Nigeria and now, I am from The Netherlands. In the Netherlands, people ask me, “Where are you from?” It is not because I speak Dutch with a foreign accent.

Waar komt u vandaan?”

Den Haag.”

Ik bedoel het land van uw herkomst…”

“I’m originally from Nigeria.”

There are layers of meaning in this exchange. For me, it is freeing to imagine that I’ve just been asked, “What’s the time?” and then to reply in the same tone and with the same emotions with which I would say, “Three o’ clock.” Chasing rainbows is for kids, adults know that when sunlight and water droplets kiss at an angle, a rainbow appears, but not for long.

Does racism exist? Does the sun shine in winter? I choose to see myself as a person, not a colour. In this way, perhaps people will also see that I am a person first; my colour is incidental. Niggling debates about the brownness of my skin, the flare of my nostrils, the strange hair plaits I call Ghana braids, and the location of my tail, would cease. Yes? Maybe not.

At the same time, Dutch people are tolerant, forgiving even of foreign traditions. They will accommodate you and help you out by quickly switching to the English language. They broadcast American TV series and movies in English and subtitle in Dutch! But until you speak the language and adopt their customs, you will be the stranger on the street admiring their beautiful homes, the view that they allow you see from their wide front windows with blinds drawn aside.

Say what you will schatje, this is as much my country as it is yours. Home is where the heart is, they say—my heart is in Nigeria and my heart is in The Netherlands. You’d better believe it, my heart is big enough.

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The uppity houses in Archipelbuurt and Willemspark, the Halal shops, Western Union offices, and neon signs blinking, Simlock Verwijderen vanaf €5, in Schilderswijk, and the international organisations in Statenkwartier, reveal the multicultural character of The Hague. I cannot imagine living anywhere else; ik voel me helemaal thuis in Den Haag en ik zal hier wonen blijven.

 

I love-hate the sun worship that is the Scheveningen beach craze in summer and the Unox Nieuwjaarsduik Scheveningen 2013Nieuwjaarsduik in the middle of winter is a feat for the brave only. Cycling past the medieval Binnenhof, home of the Dutch parliament, a sense of national pride overtakes me. They say that God created the world, but the Dutch created The Netherlands. From North to South, we have mastered the sea and our dikes laugh at its waves. This to me is the “silent” pride Dutch people wear on their sleeves.

                                                                                  Binnenhof 

Wherever I am in the world, my ears pick out Dutch from a mix of Chinese, German, French, and Spanish, a comforting sound that makes me feel as if I am wearing a black turtleneck sweater over a pair of jeans and orange clogs, and I am holding a cup of tea, watching the sun light diamonds in the snow.

Riding in the tram in The Hague, my ears make out Yoruba or Igbo or Bini. It is also a comforting sound. I feel as though I am at a party in Nigeria, shaded from the sun’s heat by bright canopies. The food on display can feed the entire street and since our conversation must compete with the music, we shout in one another’s ears.

Many times people ask me to choose. I imagine they are holding up cards, and I am supposed to pick the joker. This then is the joker: it is not that one country is better than the other is, but rather one country is different from the other. I exist in my sub-culture assimilating the best of The Netherlands and Nigeria. It is a third world where many immigrants live.

When in Nigeria, my eight o’clock is my eight o’clock. I may have been born in African time, but I have grown in European time. Time is a fixed resource. My value of your productivity and mine plays out in the premium I place on your time. When in The Netherlands, I will not deny you the pleasure of a spontaneous visit to my home. Although your appointment isn’t pencilled in my agenda, I will not open the door a crack and stare at you as though you are wearing a Martian suit.

Here in The Netherlands, I will not snap the biscuit tin shut after you take one biscuit. But, I will also not smoke fish in my oven until my eyes water and the fumes wear the extractor out, forcing my neighbour to call the housing authority and fire service. When I wake up at 5 a.m., I will hum good morning Jesus, good morning Lord, instead of singing with Pentecostal gusto, so my neighbour does not bang on my door.

It is in the marrying of cultures that I arrive at my destination. They say home is where the heart is. My heart is in Nigeria; my heart is in The Netherlands. You’d better believe it, my heart is big enough.

So, how have you found living in a city where the language, customs, and the way you look, expose you for the familiar stranger that you are?

© Timi Yeseibo 2013

Nieuwjaarsduik (New Year’s Dive):  An annual tradition in The Hague taken by some 10,000 people into the icy cold waters of the North Sea by the Pier at Scheveningen Beach.

Fast Facts about The Netherlands: http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/countries/netherlands-facts/

 

Photo Credits

Title: Urban development
Original image URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/38659937@N06/6887749481/
Photo credit: Frans Persoon / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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Author: Bas Bogers
Original image URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bogers/4790162426/in/photostream/

Title: Unox Nieuwjaarsduik Scheveningen 2013
Author: Maurice / Haags UitburoOriginal image URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/haagsuitburo/8334513758/

Description: Panorama of Binnenhof
Page URL: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AThe_Hague_Binenhof.JPG
File URL: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0f/The_Hague_Binenhof.JPGAttribution: By me (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons