The Young and Disenchanted

Sometimes I crave the taste of pepper on the tip of my tongue. Maybe it’s my West African upbringing, but there is nothing more satisfying and sensual than that hot-fire-burning-sharp-but-sweet sting of a cayenne seed grazing my taste buds. No meal ever tastes quite right without a bright red smear of hot chilli paste on the side of the plate (a habit I picked up from my father), especially if it’s a meat dish. Oh Lord, and meat: the tender flesh of a curry-yogurt-marsala-simmered chicken breast, that juicy, burst-in-your-mouth satisfying bite of steak or the fatty succulent depth  of slices of pan-seared duck. .. Mmm. Heaven. And all the other good stuff: squidgy sweet plantain, sweet slippery mango, bread fresh out of the oven that’s crisp on the outside and so so soft on the inside with butter dripping off its edges….

Just in case you hadn’t noticed from my little soliloquy, I LOVE food. Someone once said that in every fat man there is an even fatter one trying to eat his way out – well, my inner fat woman is one insatiable beast. Food is my fun, my comfort, my high. I love preparing it, I love consuming it, I love exploring it – I recently discovered that NPR has a food section which, essentially, has made my life complete. I recognise that, generally, people enjoy eating (you know, with that whole staying alive aspect of being a human being and whatnot) but food goes beyond that for me – this shit is on that spiritual tip.

Let me expand.

A couple days ago I was in a foul mood for no understandable reason. I was throwing my stuff around my room, stomping on the floors and blasting my de facto angry song (Nas’ “Get Down” from the God’s Son LP) and probably pissing off my neighbours. I had promised a friend I would make him lunch, so I grabbed a knife and got to chopping some onions. As I started heating the oil and gently sautéing the chicken, I could feel the tension easing out of me and transforming into a spicy peanut stew in a vibrant reddish hue. By the time my friend came over, I was considerably calmer – and my stew and coconut rice hit the spot so correctly that it gave my friend the itis (as in, he had to legit take an hour long recovery nap). Something as simple as cooking a meal has the power to transform my mood (and knock out lanky Bolivian men). I’m not sure, but maybe it has to do with the act of creating: anger tends to be a pretty destructive emotion if it’s left to fester. Channelling it into something productive, whether it’s painting à la Jackson Pollock or carving racks of lamb like Gordon Ramsey, sublimates all that negative energy into something deliciously beautiful. Or at least, that’s how Freud described it to me.

More than being a mood-changer, food and its preparation also serve as a uniting force. A day after the peanut stew, my roommate and I turned our apartment into a dumpling-and-chicken-yassa factory to celebrate Chinese New Year (and the fact that I’m African, which is always cause for a party). We had a good twenty people over all eating and cooking at the same time, Fela blasting in the background, folks breaking out into a two-step in between bites of vinegar-soaked-doughy-meatiness and sipping on some apple cider… The only part we planned was the food, but like bees to honey everyone gravitated together and arranged themselves into a busy little hive of happy productiveness for a few blissful hours.

Certain foods also invoke specific memories. Apricot jam takes me back to the age of five, visiting my grandmother in Benin City and getting a jar to take back home to Lagos with me (she used to keep it in this fridge outside her room – standing on the pink carpet waiting expectantly for that little glass vessel that contained that magically fruity sweetness is a memory that will stay with me forever).  Roasted potatoes soaked in gravy remind me of boarding school Sunday lunches after Mass – so perfect on a cold February afternoon. Milkshakes (chocolate preferably, although I have recently discovered the sweet tanginess of banana) recall late night conversations over hip hop beats and hookah smoke.

These three aspects of my relationship with food – its mood-soothing properties, its community-building power and its role in my history – take it far beyond the physical fulfilment of a bodily need. It’s part of my emotional make-up too. Both aspects are closely intertwined, because to me it only makes sense that something that feeds your body in some way feeds your soul too. And my soul is hungry, and craving that hot-fire-burning-sharp-but-sweet sting of a cayenne seed just as much as my tongue.

P.S. Taking it way back with the title.

As a college senior so much of my time is supposed to be focused on my future. Everyone keeps asking me, “What are your plans for after graduation?” “Are you moving back home?” “What about grad school?” And it’s funny, because when I think about how best to answer these questions and, course, the ultimate, “Who are you?” I feel the need to seek recourse in my past and in my home. As much as I have loved my college experience and living in New York City, sometimes I worry about the fact that there’s a disconnect between the person people see on my campus today and the person I see looking in my mirror when I’m home in Lagos. A friend once told me that we all unconsciously (or perhaps consciously) project a certain image that aligns with how we would like to be perceived, but that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story of who we are. Yesterday, I had a moment like that when I started speaking pidgin English to someone and they remarked that it seemed like my whole demeanour had changed. To me, I hadn’t “changed” – it was more like the “me” that exists outside of the context of American college society broke out in the middle of the library.

But I’m leaving that context in a few short months. My self-projected image may change again depending on where (or if) I move, what job I get and the people around me. But where I’m coming from remains constant, and that dominates more than any other factor the way that I see the world. Yes, I studied literature here but that seed was sowed when I was a 3 year old living in Lagos – not in the USA. My understanding of culture and tradition is rooted in Africa. This kind of refers back to my post on identity, but I do find it interesting that because the people who know me best would probably describe me in a totally different way to acquaintances. Yes, I am loud and prone to making violent threats but I can also be quiet and still when carrying one of my nieces. This “misunderstanding” of where I’m coming from isn’t anyone’s fault but my own, but when your mother tells you that the world is set against you succeeding, you choose to go out swinging because failure isn’t an option. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I have to articulate myself differently in the context of the USA because it’s an environment that’s still relatively new to me, as opposed to when I’m in Nigeria.

This isn’t really a full post, but rather what’s been going across my mind lately. Part of this is remembering stuff about my childhood and my life in Nigeria and England, stuff that I haven’t really shared with that many people but which, I think, show a slightly different side to me than what people normally see. Stuff like how I loved Enid Blyton books as a child (ultimate form of escapism – reading about the green English countryside while sitting in the dusty heat of Lagos), or how my father the first person to introduce me to hip hop, but it was my older sisters who nurtured my love for the music when we moved to England, or how I unconsciously became an athlete when I went to secondary school, playing on a school team for a solid 7 years. Small things I need to work on sharing…maybe because in order to figure out where I’m going, I need to come to terms with where I’m coming from. Or some other such clichéd phrase.

Anyways, I overslept and need to read Othello, but I’ll be back soon with some more ramblifications on Nigeria/retarded men/food.

This entry has actually been a year or so in the making… Recently I’ve been thinking a lot more about my relationship with religion. I was raised Catholic and although I believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I’m not so sure about little-boy-rapists, thieves and hypocrites. I’m not saying that any religion is perfect, but rather that one should strive for matter over content – that is, to seek spirituality rather than to constantly apply rules and labels to what some call “faith.” With that said, allow me to ruminate.

A year ago I went to a discussion on my campus about Islamophobia. While listening to the other people present (all of whom had grown up in the West), it became clear to me that the word Islamophobia can have very different connotations depending on the geographical and cultural perspective of the person talking. Most people think of the words “jihad” and “terrorist” in this post-9/11 world when the topic of Islam comes up, which makes perfect sense sitting in a brownstone on New York’s Upper West Side. However, as the conversation went on and the participants were asked to give specific examples of Islamophobia that they had witnessed, I realised that as a Nigerian my experience of this phenomenon was considerably unlike that of those who weren’t from my part of the world.

I was living in England at the time the September 11th attacks took place. I was there when the London bombings of 2005 happened. I had seen the television reports and heard the hostile comments that painted a picture of the average Muslim as a rabid fanatic hell-bent on destroying the values of democracy that make “Western civilisation” the best of all human societies. Although I could go further into the problems of this level of stereotyping, I think I may save that for another entry. The discussion actually made me think for the first time about the ways in which Islamophobia works where I come from. Because Nigeria wasn’t directly affected by 9/11, the whole “terrorist” discussion didn’t initially come up with regards to Islam (again, thanks, panty-bomber). What does seem to be a problematic issue back home is the relationship between Muslims and Christians. Nigeria is split roughly 50/50 in terms of religion between these two groups. The Muslims live predominantly in the northern part of the country, whilst Christians occupy the south. My city, Lagos, is probably the most diverse in the country because of its status as the commercial centre, and for the most part Muslims and Christians happily coexist side by side there. In other parts of the country, however, this isn’t necessarily the case.

The news has been filled recently with stories of “deadly religious clashes” in Plateau state, which is in the “Middle Belt” of Nigeria (the dividing line between the “Muslim North” and “Christian South.” The violence was horrific – burnt babies, men mutilated by machetes, women wounded in indescribable ways. Although this violence is labelled as religiously-motivated, other factors such as scarce resources, a lack of education and the consistent failure of the Nigerian government to build a cohesive national identity over the past 50 years are probably more central to the issue. Many people on both sides of the religion line see each other as so fundamentally alien, despite the fact that we are all citizens of the same country and the many intersections in our history, cultures and languages. I’ve heard Christians I’m close to call Muslims “uneducated,” “polygamous” and “close-minded” like these are terms exclusive to Islam. My cousin has told me stories of being called an “infidel” by her Muslim classmates as a child, classmates who just a day earlier had sat next to her and called her a friend. And when you’re struggling to scrape by as a farmer and water gets scarce, it’s probably easier to take your frustrations out on the person from a different tribe and village than on the gun-protected officials who don’t perform the tasks they were “elected” to do.

I was just reading an article by David Goodhart for a political science class in which he argues that the more diverse a society, the harder it is for it to be cohesive. This may be true, but I find it impossible to accept that Nigerians are so dissimilar from one another that they cannot possibly find a common ground. Islam and Christianity are no more radically different from one another than a Yoruba is from an Itsekiri. A friend invited me to Friday prayers on campus last week and listening to the lecture, I heard nothing that I hadn’t heard in a homily at a Sunday mass. I can’t speak for other places but in the context of my country, I think that these supposed “differences” between us – whether distinctions of religion, ethnicity or class – are being exploited and exaggerated by leaders seeking support for their kleptomaniac ways and bullshit “ideologies.” Of course, this is only politics as usual but seeing a man sob after his wife was buried in a mass grave with his children nowhere to be found, one may have to start rethinking some things. Nothing will ever change in the country if its people don’t have a sense of community with one another, regardless of whatever superficial differences we perceive among ourselves.

P.S. This Jill jawn right here is beautiful… even though it really doesn’t have much to do with this post, that line always stands out for me. Sura 31:18, by the way, reads: “And swell not thy cheek/(For pride) at men/Nor walk in insolence/Through the earth/For Allah loveth not/Any arrogant boaster.” Good advice to live by.

I have made my season of migration back to the heart of darkness. NYC is as cold as I left it – a sharp arse contrast to the balmy Harmattan heat of Lagos and Dakar. It hasn’t all been gloom and doom though – I’ve hung out with friends, touched Mos Def (yes I saw him – and it was amazing) and had that deliciously decadent molten chocolate brownie with ice cream from the diner across the street from me. However, it’s my last semester as a college student aka Knuckle Down Time. I have a thesis to write, a job to find and classes to ace so I can graduate with a decent GPA. This means that I will be spending the majority of my days locked down in the library – kind of depressing, but as I love pretty much everything I’m reading and writing, I’m actually very content about the whole life situation.

Except for this job business. Part of the issue is that I enjoy making life complicated for myself. When I first got to college, I thought I could be an econ major, enjoy the perks of investment banking upon graduation (aka wild money) and retire filthy rich at the age of 32 to pursue a life as a nomad photographer. Alas, I discovered that my brain was suited better to analysing literature than manipulating formulae, so I traded my calculator for a stack of novels (at last count, close to 200 of them) and chose to study English and Political Science. This made the past 2 years in particular incredibly fulfilling, but now the honeymoon period has worn off and reality has hit. I have to find a job – a good job – and generally try to figure out what the hell I want to do with my life. For a while now I’ve been fantasising about becoming an English professor… I could absolutely dedicate my life to the study of post-colonial African literature, get tenure someplace fabulous and school the yung’uns on Achebe and Senghor. Yes, it will take a long time to get there (and I will be pitifully destitute while getting there), but deep down I know that an intellectual/academic/creative path is for me. I need to be surrounded by mountains of books and papers, to have arguments over the smallest nuances of a sentence and most importantly, to continue to learn. This all sounds so incredibly perfect, and yet I am full of doubts.

You see, this little break for freedom I want to make hasn’t exactly come with precedent as far as my upbringing goes. My parents are both professionals, as are my older two sisters (although one is also trying to be a professor). While growing up I was given free rein to indulge my intellectual curiosity (something my father probably deeply regrets now), but it seems that as far as Nigerians go, I’m an exception in terms of the things that interest me. Most of us are taught to focus on what will provide the money to take care of your family: be a lawyer, be an engineer, work for an oil company. The glory days of Soyinka and Azikiwe are long gone – the leading Nigerian intellectuals are predominantly elderly men and in a country where civil society and intellectual debate have been decimated and restricted for so many years, it doesn’t surprise me. Being a professor at a Nigerian university doesn’t pay (literally) – working for a bank does. Why then, would anyone want to study African literature over Accounting? Ah – because they were unlucky enough to stumble across a comparative literature class their sophomore year, read A Season of Migration to the North and were unable to resist the germ of a deadly disease that assailed them a thousand years ago. I’m trying to make a life out of what most Nigerians would call a hobby. This means that if I really do want to go down this path, I may have to do so outside my home country.

However, this isn’t so simple. Although I love learning about other cultures, the problems that haunt Nigeria are tugging at me, forcing me to look closer at this place I call home and decipher just how much I know about it… which is actually pathetically little. I need to learn more about the complexities of Muslim-Christian relationships in the Middle Belt, where horrifically violent riots have been taking place, about the variations in rural and urban life in the North and South, about which societal structures survived colonialism and which ones are a product of it. But Nigeria hasn’t become a sexy topic for academia yet – as far as African countries go, Sudan is probably what’s hottest in the corridors of intellect, or countries like Senegal that have a rich legacy of scholarship. I’m not saying that there aren’t brilliant Nigerian scholars, but it saddens me that the vibrant academic communities that thrived at Nsukka and Ibadan (my parents’ alma maters) 40 years ago have falling victim to the systematic rot that plagues everything else in Nigeria.

But somewhere in the hot mess that is Nigeria, I sense opportunity. I see potential teachers and students on every street corner in Surulere. It’s not that we don’t have the resources to do better – to expand our horizons not only in terms of development, but also to rebuild our public forums, improve education and encourage political debate at the grassroots. It’s just that we don’t have leaders who have the inclination, bravery and balls to step up and actually improve the country. And that must change. We’re sometimes called the “sleeping giant” – maybe it’s time for us to wake the fuck up. And maybe, just maybe, with other people who feel the same, I could be the alarm clock… as long as I can get some decent moolah out of it (just keeping it 100). I think that would make for a pretty awesome life.

Now back to Mamdani and this chocolate muffin.

P.S. Not that it has a lot to do with this post, but I love this Erykah Badu jawn.

Le sigh – and another stay at home comes to an end. In 3 days time I’ll be sitting in the Atlanta airport after a vigorous patting-down and grilling by airport authorities (thanks, underwear bomber) waiting for my flight back to NYC and my last semester of college. Although I’m excited for this final stretch and to see all my people back on campus, I’m really going to miss home. The thought of trading jollof rice and the heat of the equator for greasy pizza and North-Eastern snow is wild depressing, especially because this trip home has been particularly enjoyable. My father, feeling adventurous, decided that we should make a trip to Senegal. Yesterday we returned home after spending 6 days in Dakar, which is officially one of my new favourite places in the world. It’s where the French Riviera and the West African savannah had a love child raised by a North African nanny. It’s considerably less chaotic than Lagos, and much more of a walking city. I loved the fact that the buildings were so close to the roadside that you could reach up and touch one of the brightly coloured shutters. It was fun practising my (rusty) French with market traders. And poulet yassa with un peu de pili pili? Heavenly.

Of course, it being a city, the hustlers were out in full effect. Every time we walked out of our hotel, we would be approached by an Abdul/Amadou/Yuyu who would smile and hail us with a “Bonjour!” hoping that we hapless tourists would be persuaded to take him on as our guide (for a few thousand CFA, bien sûr). If only they’d known that we were Nigerians: mon cher, you can’t scam the original scammers. But that was the interesting thing – they didn’t seem to know that we were Nigerians. I got asked if I was everything from Senegalese to Ethiopian, but never my home country. Given recent events, I’m sure most would tell me to be grateful that people don’t think I’m Nigerian. It’s been an interesting pattern since I’ve lived abroad, people thinking that I’m not from West Africa. I’ve been asked if I was from the USA, Kenya, Botswana and even Fiji (yeah, that right there got the side eye). I don’t think there’s anything about the way I look that suggests that I’m not a Nigerian. And as I grew up here, it’s even more baffling to me. Maybe motherfuckers just aren’t that perceptive. Or maybe I have a “non-African” air about me that throws people off – perhaps I don’t come across as your average African.

This is something that has plagued me increasingly throughout my life. What is it about me that makes people think I’m from Brooklyn rather than Ofagbe? Why don’t I come across as “authentic”? I guess the ideal place to begin answering that question would be to figure out what the “typical” African is like. Let’s begin with appearances: according to an African-American security guard at my college, African people are black.  As in, we’re all on that chocolate/ebony/midnight type skin tone. I guess my brown skin fails the first test – thanks, Scottish great-grandfather. Second of all, African women don’t wear their hair the way I do. In Lagos, I stand out when my hair is fro’ed – most women here have their hair relaxed, in braids or in weaves. If they do wear it natural, it’s cut short like a man’s. Second fail. What about the way I dress? West African women are supposed to wear ankara (traditional cloth often sewn into dresses or a skirt and blouse), and love them some gold jewellery. I guess my skinny jeans and wooden bracelets fail this authenticity test. Other ways in which I don’t measure up: I don’t speak any African languages. My accent has lingering traces of South-East England and New York City. I didn’t go to secondary school in Nigeria. I’m not poor. I like Russian literature… the list continues. Everywhere I go, from the streets of Dakar to the sidewalks of NYC, people seem to enjoy reminding me how I’m not really African. Yes, I have a Nigerian passport, but because my appearance and experiences are not typical, I’ve somehow lost my African-ness (if, indeed, I ever had it) and fallen into a no-man’s-land (after all, with a name like mine I can’t possibly pass for a real Westerner or as being from any other part of the world but West Africa). As a friend once told me, my “bourgeoisie” background which enabled me to fly home 3 times in as many months for my sisters’ weddings undermines my claim to being a “real” African. Mon Dieu! – I am, vraiment, in the position of being a member of the colonised elite that Fanon and so many others have written about. Caught between the world of the colonial power, which my education has given me some level of access to, but to which my skin tone denies me full entry, and the world of the colonised subject which my socio-economic status has moved me out of reach, what am I to do?

Following along this reason, I guess Leopold Senghor, Chinua Achebe and other intellectuals like them are also not legitimate Africans. Neither are any of the Africans that attend my university. Although some of them pass more “tests” than I do, surely their failure of others means that they too are condemned to flounder in the frustration of being an undefined hybrid, of not being fully able to “belong” to their respect homes.

Just in case you haven’t noticed, I think all of this right here is bullshit. To all the people who have questioned the authenticity of my West African-ness: are you fucking serious? The fact that you define “true African-ness” just highlights the extent to which your mindset is dominated by colonialism. In case you forgot, when the British, French and Portuguese came it was them who drew a line between the “native” and the “citizen.” Your denial of my African-ness is you repeating the exact same ideology. Here’s the wonderful thing about identity: it’s fluid. This means that it doesn’t follow a set of rules or fall under a single list, especially in the context of Africa. I have the freedom to shape my own African identity, to accept what I was given, change what I don’t like and embrace the new. Just because it doesn’t match up to your personal definition doesn’t make it less valid. If you tell someone that their Western education makes them un-African, you are suggesting that Africans can only learn within the context of Africa. If you tell someone that their clothing makes them an outsider, you are saying that Africans can only dress in an African way. If you tell someone that speaking English instead of Wolof highlights a colonial mentality, you are claiming that Africans are only truly African when speaking “native” languages, and underscoring your own colonial mentality.  In other words, you are making a monolith out of the people of this incredibly diverse continent and reinforcing the very stereotypes that are keeping this continent down.

I think it’s important to make it clear that I am in no way, shape or form privileging my own experiences as an African to those of others: my American education doesn’t make me “better” than someone who went to the University of Lagos. Although I’m not going to engage in the “Western” vs. “non-Western” debate here, I’m definitely not okay with the privileging of Western ideals and standards over the many African ones. What I do what to emphasise is that difference – even when that difference comes from outside of the African context – is what makes Africa so vibrant and beautiful. Part of what I love about being African is the fact that you can see so many different cultural influences at play within our societies – for example, the way Dakar is a totally different kind of African city to Accra because of their histories.

In summary, I don’t believe judging people according to how “African” you think they are in order to make yourself feel better is doing anyone any favours. We’re ALL African, period. And especially to those who tell me these things as we both sit in an American university classroom – c’mon son. Fuckouttaherewiththatshitson. Africans, “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery” and fucking do better.

And with that said, let me go find some rice and beans to eat. I’m starved.

P.S. Title is from Fela’s “Gentleman.”

I’m finally home. And it’s fabulous. I’ve been back on the continent for 5 days now and I’ve been soaking up all the heat and family love and good food that I can. Obviously, this is Africa and it’s not perfect – as I’m writing this the generator that was providing our electricity has cut out and because there’s no mains supply at the moment, it’s dark as hell and hot in the house. The road leading to said house is paved only directly in front of us – otherwise it’s a sandy, pot-holed filled “adventure” ride to and from the rest of the city. And, of course, a fellow countryman just attempted to blow up a US aircraft meaning that the Nigerian global public image is going to be even more shat on than it is already (not only are we scammers and militants, now we’re terrorists on top? Walai talai!)With all that said and done though, I’m still so incredibly glad to be back, away from the cold and gloom and exams of NYC and enveloped in the dusty warmth of Lagos, watching the sun set through an open balcony door with a cool drink in hand and Fela on the speakers.

But yet, I am not completely content. Off that same balcony I can see families squatting in the compound next door, living in impromptu shacks while I am surrounded by cement and metal and granite. My parents tell me about the stresses of African city living: road building projects left unfinished for months, spawning 4 hours of go-slow for already overstressed workers; power problems that have made businesses fold up and which burn up the petrol that is my country’s economic lifeline in generator engines; the continuous poverty most people grapple with day-to-day that is only further exaggerated by the excesses of wealth shown in glossy magazines, shaded by tinted car windows and cushioned by the finest imported jacquard and Swiss lace. In summary: this shit is problematic. A couple days ago, I was in the car with my mother and my sisters listening to Original Sufferhead, a Fela album, as we drove to visit a family friend. My mother frustratedly remarked how the problems Fela sang about over 30 years ago – lack of water, food, house – are still present today. The same names Fela mentioned in the 1970s – Obasanjo, Buhari, Yar’Adua – are still enjoying the wealth of the nation today. The same colonial mentality that Fela warned against is still in control of the minds of so many Nigerians today. Despite all the “progress” that has been made, all the malls that have been built and all the oil that has been sold it’s still the same old shit. I guess it’s like Homer said: the homecoming is inevitably bittersweet.

I was incredibly fortunate to have been born into the position that I was. I have benefited from good nutrition, a supportive family and a quality education that means that I have the chance to go far in this life, to fulfil the name that was given to me at birth. I have far more than most of my fellow 1 billion Africans were given. But all of this protective padding isn’t enough to shield me from the reality of life for so many in my home city. Just because I live in a bubble of sorts doesn’t mean that its walls are too opaque for me to see out of and to observe how much injustice there is on this continent – injustice that could be so easily rectified if only enough people cared and were willing to do something tangible. I’ve been concerned about these issues for a long time, but the classes I took this semester at college (my “black fist” classes, as I like to refer to them) and reading Gandhi (not a fan, but still), Fanon, Achebe, Senghor, Lamming and Tully have me more fired up and critical than I’ve ever been. Things have fallen apart – they need to be put back together again, but better than before. This time there has to be real change.

Unfortunately, I feel limited by what I can achieve. After all, I’m only a college senior. As one individual I don’t have the resources or strength to challenge the forces of neo-imperialism in a meaningful way. I alone can’t solve world poverty. More importantly, I’m not even sure if I’m the person to do that: for two reasons.

One, I have other obligations. I owe certain things to my family, to my social position: getting a good job, marrying a good man, giving birth to good children. These are the things that all the support I have been given for so long are meant to culminate in. And these are things that I want for myself too. I do want to go into publishing, and maybe go back to grad school after a few years of working life and get that PhD in literature (as long as I’m surrounded by books, I’ll be happy). I do want to find someone to spend the rest of my life with. And I do want kids – especially after spending the past few days with my adorable and beautiful nieces. But I wonder if that will be enough for me – if I won’t find myself wishing that I could have done more, been more, seen more by choosing another path.

Another part of me wants to say, “Fuck it – you only get one life to live” and pack my bags and travel somewhere and do.  Forget Jeffrey Sachs-style pontificating from the comforts of the Upper West Side, I want to fight and build and save and live among the wretched of the earth, rising to reclaim it for their own. But then that second nagging thought creeps into my mind: “Who the hell are you to do that?” It seems so incredibly egotistical to think myself capable of being a campaigner, a warrior woman sans frontières, the kind of person who could change history. No seriously – I’m sitting here saying to myself, “Really though? You really think you could do all of that? C’mon son. Fuckouttaherewiththatshit.”  Not only do I have no semblance of a game plan, my cushy bougie life hasn’t exactly prepared me for the realities of the “real world,” especially not the African real world. My inner revolutionary was cultivated in classrooms and libraries, not on plantation fields and mountainous jungles. Who am I to speak for the masses?

But even though I’m not certain that abandoning everything that I’ve lived thus far wouldn’t smack of insincerity, deep down I feel like if I don’t try to make a difference, I’ll live regretting it from the comfort of my air-conditioned safety net.

Realistically speaking, I know that this dichotomy isn’t the only option: I can create a middle path for myself that balances out what I owe to the home and the world. I’m just one of those people who believes in going hard or going home, which is why I’ve presented it as so black and white… I don’t know. Like my sister said, I have more than enough time to figure this all out. So I’m going to take my time with it, enjoy the rest of my holiday and prepare for the challenges of the new decade.

P.S. The title is kind of random, but I remember loving this N.E.R.D. album so much way back when…

I’m in the middle of writing a paper for my Jazz and American culture – the last of the 5 papers that have defined my finals period (no exams, hamd’llah). I was flicking through Morrison’s novel “Jazz” for a quote to use to describe some concept I’m trying to articulate (I won’t bore you with details) but this quote stood out for me. Ponder, and enjoy. I’ll be writing more on the other side of the Atlantic:

“Black women were armed; black women were dangerous and the less money they had the deadlier the weapon they chose. Who were the unarmed ones? Those who found protection in church and the judging, angry God whose wrath in their behalf was too terrible to bear contemplation… Who else were the unarmed ones? The ones who thought they did not need folded blades, packets of lye, shards of glass taped to their hands. Those who bought houses and hoarded money as protection and the means to purchase it. Those attached to armed men. Those who did not carry pistols because they were pistols; did not carry switchblades because they were switchblades cutting through gatherings, shooting down statutes and pointing out the blood and abused flesh. Those who swelled their little unarmed strength into the reckoning one of leagues, clubs, societies, sisterhoods designed to hold or withhold, move or stay put, make a way, solicit, comfort and ease. Bail out, dress the dead, pay the rent, find new rooms, start a school, storm an office, take up collections, rout the block and keep their eyes on all the children.”