Easy

“You live in a fantasy world. One you created for yourself. One where things go according to rules that make sense only to you and you behave accordingly. To us here in the real world, your behavior makes you look crazy. Desperate. Cheap. Easy.”

Easy.

Easy.

The word ran through her mind over and over again. Its two meager syllables heavier than they should have been. Soaked with the accusation. Dripping with condemnation.

It is really strange as few people, no one she knew certainly,  would willingly choose a more difficult path if an easier path was available offering the exact same reward and no consequences. Presented with an easy and difficult exam, job, task, with the same outcome, everything being equal, most normal thinking people would choose the easy one. Even the laws of nature are biased towards easy. Atoms, after all, always seek to achieve the lowest energy state possible and will do whatever needs to be done to get there…high entropy, low energy, perfect disorder, the path of least resistance.

It really should, and could, be easy. And moreso for something like love.  What is easier than I am my beloved’s  and they are mine?

It certainly had been easy that afternoon. She’d come back from work, tired, Tired but wired with what she knew was unspent sexual energy. She’d stripped out of her clothes and lay spread eagle on her bed in nothing but her bra and panties, letting the cool breeze from her open window wash over her skin. It was hot outside, but she didn’t turn on the air conditioning. She liked the humidity – liked how it lay on her skin almost like a lover’s carelessly thrown arm. A warm weight, no less sensual for its innocuousness. Her eyes drifted shut and instead of indulging in one of her fantasies which inevitably would have led to orgasm, her mind conjured up his face. Almost instinctively, her lips curved into a smile. She couldn’t help it. The things she felt for him had come easily. And she’d let them come. Even now, the swelling in her chest, the hesitant hope, so different from the cynicism that was her hallmark had come easily, despite herself. The moistening in her loins came the same way too. Easy.

She chuckled.

Her phone had buzzed, the sound loud in her quiet room. It was an email from work. She scanned it quickly and after determining it was nothing that needed her immediate attention, she flagged it for review later. She swiped out of her email and did her customary social media check. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Nothing new. Double click, swipe up. She closed app after app which she’d left open on her phone, apps which ran down her battery. It was an old iPhone which barely could hold juice for two hours without dying. The last app was the camera. She couldn’t remember why she’d opened it but instead of swiping up to close, she clicked on it to open.

Send me a picture. 

His demand from the night before echoed in her head. She’d declined then as she had the first time he’d asked. And the next. And the next. As she’d always done.  The thought of that kind of picture of her in the hands of another person was too unsettling to contemplate. She’d told him that and he’d stopped asking eventually. But things had progressed…or so she thought. Now she wanted him to see. She wanted to share. She lifted the phone up and snapped. Once. Twice. Thrice. Then checked. She shifted position to get a better angle, then snapped again. She repeated the process till she got a catalog. Different poses. Different views. All communicating the same thing. All showing her just as she’d imagined they would. As she had feared they would.  Open. Vulnerable.

Beautiful.

7

She sent them.

It had been that easy.

The next time he’d asked, she had acquiesced. Easily.

4

As time had passed and things had become more intimate…or so she thought, the ease had grown.

1 3

“You shouldn’t have made it so easy. No man wants easy. You should have made him work for it. Made him feel like what he was getting is of high value. That is just how men from our side are. If they think it’s easy they’ll treat it as such. Easily gotten. Easily disposable.”

This line of thinking had always puzzled her. Why the need to make a man see her value, if he didn’t have eyes to see that value for himself in the way she lived her life? And if he didn’t feel like what he would be getting was of value, why would he pursue? Was she or any other woman valuable because they created the impression of being valuable? Or because of desirable intrinsic qualities whose value was not contingent on accessibility?  What was the real attraction? The unique qualities both good and bad, that made her who she was? Or the idea that she was not easy to get? Which really was a mistaken assumption. She was easy, laughably so. But to the right person – or who she believed to be.

What then if the aura of unavailability hid emptiness, boredom, vapidity, shallowness? Was the high value maintained because it was presented as valuable and hard to get?

And if that value had to be created and maintained with carefully chosen words and actions, at what point would it be fine to relax and be messy old self, without the risk of losing value? Where then, did the idea come from that love, the ultimate expression of the value you place on another, meant acceptance of that other, for who they are…not for who the make you believe they are?

And what about when, after the acquisition of the valuable was complete, and then the opportunity to pursue something else valuable – as defined as hard to get – presented itself?

What ultimately was held in high value? The creation which may not reflect reality? Or the reality, which like mother nature herself, simply might just want the lowest possible energy state?

And why treat people like objects? Possessions?

“I say these things to you because I care about you, but you will not listen to me. You are my friend and you have stuck with me through my own rough times. No one will tell you the truth about guys like I will, because I am a guy like them. I don’t want you hurt. But the path you have chosen, the way you want to live your life, the way you give yourself when you like a guy, will result in you being hurt over and over again, because most guys will just not get it. They will not get you. The society we live in will not get you and you will get hurt because of that. You will end up with the reputation of being easy and cheap even though we both know you are not.”

She heaved a heavy sigh. Resigned.

She gave freely. Always had. Probably always would, with the enduring hope, that the chosen the receiver would not only see the fancifully wrapped gift, or get lost in notions of value,  but would see the heart of the giver. Her intentions. Simple. Uncomplicated. Easy

Because she was.

Easy.

And that was OK.

Because things should be. If they could be.

8

Photo Credit: bebeautifulla.tumblr.com

The Parable of the Flower in the Sun

The was once a flower, beautiful as can be. With petals big and soft and a rainbow of hues such as none had ever seen, it grew in the wild where all could see and admire its beauty. It took nutrients and water from the soil and enjoyed what sun it could get, each season  blooming and growing, shedding its petals to produce even more beautiful ones.

One day, the sun noticed this flower and marveled at its glory.

“I’ll go shine on it some more,” it said. “Surely, it could use some more of my nourishing light and warmth.”

And so the sun came and shone its light on this flower.

And the flower bloomed and grew, each season shedding its petals to produce even more beautiful ones. It loved the light, basked in the warmth and blinded all that came by with its magnificence.

Sunshine-Flower-High-Quality-Wallpaper

But then the sun grew smug.

“Look how much that flower wants my light. See how it blooms in my warmth! See how it opens its petals to my probing rays! See how thirsty it is for my focus…”

And so the sun, varied its focus. Some days shining bright on the flower, some days leaving it in the shade, some days never rising at all.

And still the flower grew, and bloomed and shed its petals just to produce even more beautiful ones.

Because that is what flowers do.

Letter to Chimamanda

Dear Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,

Aunty, I think I write on behalf of African women feminists everywhere when I say please, use your connections to have your husband be the first human being successfully cloned. This is an odd request I know but I have my reasons so let me explain.

You are a woman well on her way towards full self actualization. You speak your mind and you do so bravely, without much care to naysayers. You excel at your chosen career and do so with grace and power, neither overbearing nor full of that fake meekness that successful African women are expected to have. You take definite positions of controversial issues and your desire to preserve the dignity of all humans and not just some, comes through when you discuss your reasons for choosing the not so popular side.

You are a visionary. You see a better future for us Africans and you apply yourself to making this vision a reality, giving your time and resources. You are also honest about your shortcomings. Willing to lay them out so those of us who aspire to the path of empowerment have no illusions on the price we’ll have to pay.

You are formidable and intimidating and most African men will not survive the force of your personality.

And somehow, he does.

He is not bothered as far as we know by your prowess. He is content, it seems, to leave you to be the best you can be. The fact that you can be who you are and he still seems comfortable being married to you is a testament to the caliber of man he is and that caliber amongst our African brethren is rare indeed.

Some of us African women wish dearly to marry and build secure families with spouses who respect the road we’ve walked to become who we are. The paucity of that caliber of spouse leaves us frustrated.

The possibility of having him cloned gives us hope. We have dreams, that one day the fertile hills and grasslands, coasts and forests of the continent, will ring the happy sound of couples and families full of love and joy and mutual respect.

You are our brave sister, forging ahead on this path carrying the pennant of the kind of feminism that heals the wounds that patriarchy and tradition have left on our continent, so I hope you will see this request for what it is: a desperate cry for help.

Sincerely,

Find Palava Woman

Making it Happen or Taking It Too Far ?

I wasn’t going to write a blog post for Women’s Day. There is enough out there to read, see, listen to et cetera, I honestly was going to limit my contribution today to posting funny or thought-provoking memes on my Facebook page. But a conversation I have had with three different friends this week , got me thinking about something you definitely will eventually hear both men and women (especially if they are Cameroonian/African) say, if you ever were to participate in a conversation about gender roles, women’s empowerment and feminism.

“Some women take this [feminism] thing too far”

side eye

First, let me come right out and say it is all I can do not to scream when I hear these words uttered. Even worse, when they come out of the mouth of a woman. I literally want to jump up and down in frustration and don’t even dare come at me with that everyone has a right to their opinion nonsense, because in this case this opinion is organic, grass-fed, free range bullshit.

I’ll tell you why.

Often the people who say these words and their supporters, cite as the reason for their statement on the matter the “extreme feminists” – those women who for whatever reason have decided their feminism will not include men, or who have drawn some line that they will not cross. Granted there are extremists in the Feminist Movement, as there are in all other movements, but if you observe closely, however, the circumstances under which the  “taking it too far” accusation gets thrown out, especially among Cameroonian women, tend not to involve these so-called extreme, bra burning, man hating feminists. They more often than  not involve a situation where someone is demanding more from feminism, or trying to take women’s empowerment in a direction that the women saying those words are not comfortable with. In other words, someone is trying to extend feminism and empowerment beyond their comfortable little circle or idea of what feminism is or should be. What this translates to is that pretty much everything outside of education to a certain degree and employment, is “taking it too far.”  Even more so when you consider the extent to which patriarchy and its cronies – tradition and religion – are ingrained in the everyday experience of most Cameroonians.

And for that, one is taking it too far. Not making it happen. Taking it too far. Make it happen is only a catchy phrase deployed to imbue Women’s Day with the sleek coating of vision and accomplishment. In everyday life, with everyday matters, if one tried to push boundaries and run with the idea of the woman, whatever her age, tribe, culture, location or religion, as a fully empowered, realized and actualized human being, if one tried to break those barriers that hold women back from being all they can be (and note that not all barriers are the same),  that is taking it too far. The simple fact that the issue under consideration is not something the person saying “that is taking it too far”  has to deal with personally, or something that they have considered before, makes it a no go area for them.

Woman eh! Right?

Education was once taking it too far for women. I mean what did a women need education for? The kitchen and the bedroom were the only areas she needed to be seen or heard.

Then some people who were not afraid of being the kind of feminists who take it too far, pushed and pushed and women were allowed to learn ABC’s and 123’s. But just enough they could count the number of fish they had drying in the mbanda and write their name if necessary. No need to go overboard. That is taking it too far. Let them get some primary school education and that is fine.

Then some people who were not afraid of being the kind of feminists who take it too far, pushed and pushed and women were allowed to go beyond primary school to secondary and high school. But you know, so they can speak intelligently in public and not embarrass their husbands, maybe write a short letter and calculate change when they sell in the market. Nothing too complicated.University? Professional schools? Why? There are husbands to marry, children to bear, home and hearth to cater too. All that education for what? That is taking it too far….

Then some people who were not afraid of being the kind of feminists who take it too far, pushed and pushed and women were allowed access to universities, professional schools, But you know, let them be teachers and nurses and all those jobs “appropriate for a woman”. Never mind that this insults the men who have these jobs and are excellent at them, or that it cheapens what are very difficult jobs, to insinuate that they are so easy they should be left to the less able women. Advanced degrees? Doctors? Lawyers? Engineers? Those are a man’s job. And so it goes.

Same for women moving from secretaries to positions of leadership.

Same for women being able to own property.

Same for women being able to function as independent entities without the validation of fathers, brothers, husbands  or  male relatives.

Someone had to take it too far. Some one had to push the boundaries of what was known, accepted and comfortable for women. Someone had to disrupt the gender roles we so desperately cling to as if they add anything particularly valuable to our lives. What is even more maddening is the fact that a lot of the people you will see talking  about “taking it too far” are people who today benefit from the efforts of those who  were not afraid to take it as far as it could go at their time. Those women made it happen for themselves and the women to come after them and they made it happen by “taking it too far”.

So the next time you feel inclined to say a woman is taking things too far, stop and think about what it is exactly you are saying. Consider the fact that there are women very different from you, for whom what you consider “taking too far” may be baby steps in the struggle they have to face to achieve self actualization. Think about that and then for goodness sake, make it happen for them.

What’s got you scared: When Women Openly Express Sexuality

In my experience, nothing makes the average Cameroonian/African guy more antsy than a woman who is comfortable enough with her sexuality to talk openly about it. Brag even…

Take this song for example:

Ciara apparently  knows her thing (enjoys it too!)  and she isn’t afraid to say it.

I can do it big, I can do it long
I can do it whenever or however you want
I can do it up and down, I can do it circles
To him I’m a gymnast, this room is my circus

Not many, I think, would take a girl like this  in stride. I can already see the guy’s raised eyebrows were a girl to make statements along these lines.

The questions about how come she can be  so bold.

The questions about how many men she’d slept with to be so allegedly good.

E don spoil. Na ashawo

And yes, that little (or big) thrill of interest – anticipation even, as he dares to imagine that she really is as good as she says she is.

So,  all the FindPalava’s out there, male and female, whats the deal? What is your preference and why?

On Marriage Again…

I’ve ranted before about people (both male and female) without even the simplest understanding of what it means to be feminist opining on the feminist agenda. Simply defined, a feminist is a person (male or female) who believes in and advocates for social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men. 
 
Take a moment to think about that.
 
If I were to break it down further, it means a person who believes in and is working for a world where “…because you are a woman/girl…” is no longer a reason for a woman or girl, who is aware of and willing to deal with the consequences, not to do/say/be whatever she wants.
 
This does not in anyway suggest that feminists hate men, even though because we refuse to pander to the male ego and are quite often outspoken about the dumbfoolery of men, people think we are. Also, this does not in any way suggest that feminists do not want to get married. This is another conclusion that many people jump to which I find  completely bewildering. 
 
A friend recently made a comment to me along the lines of “So…I’m guessing you’re not going to get married, since you’re a feminist.” Most people who know me well know that I am not a patient person. I am prone to sarcasm and snark so it was quite an effort on my part not to roll my eyes and respond accordingly.
 
This is a bit of a silly question. A silly question because it comes from the erroneous assumption that it is the natural state of women to want to get married (it isn’t), and be subservient and without any agency and as such, being feminist is a deviation from the norm. Also, it ignores the fact that women have not yet and for the last 2000 years at least, have not been given the option of living in a world where marriage for  the sake of sheer survival sometimes, wasn’t a necessity or a requirement from society, so it is hard to define the “natural state of women” where marriage is concerned. We do know that many men choose not to get married, with barely any repercussions or  condemnation from society, because they simply can.
 
So anyway, this is what I told her.
 

Marriage is not a goal I have set for myself. If I eventually meet a guy who I get along with well enough to make that commitment, a guy whose philosophy towards life aligns well enough with mine and with whom I feel confident that we will make a cohesive family unit and raise secure and balanced children, then sure. If that doesn’t happen, I will not consider myself to have failed at life because, again, getting married is not a goal I have set for myself. Do I date? Yes. Do I enjoy the company of men? Absolutely. My female parts are in perfect working order, thank you very much. Do I approach every relationship or friendship as the first step towards finding a husband? Nope. Will I die if I never get married? No. Will it get lonely? Yes. Will I like it? Not always. But will I marry just because that’s what is expected? Nope. 

 
Did this happen automatically? Nope. I grew up in Cameroon which like many other African countries is patriarchy central, and I cut my teeth on romance novels so up until my late teens, I rolled with the age old dream of having it all : education, job, man, babies and success was defined as having all those things. It is a process I am putting myself through, deliberately, to unlearn that way of thinking.
 
Why am I doing this?
 
It is a quintessentially African thing to see women who are brilliant and accomplished, beautiful human beings with a lot to offer the world, but who are depressed and convinced that they fail at life because they have not married and have no children. I have no intentions whatsoever of becoming one of those. My worth and usefulness as a human being is not ultimately tied to whether I bag a man and bear children.
 
This is a choice I am making for myself, a path I am choosing.
 
This is hard for some people to believe. 
 
I get told, “Oh you’re young, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Once you hit X age, your views will change.”
 
Or
 
“You’re going to get lonely…”
 
Etc Etc

 

 
Right. Which maybe is why I am starting now, at this young age of  mine, to condition myself out of that mind set and into the mind set of being able to live a life and be happy even if I am unmarried and childless at said X age – to create the life I want.
 
It is not to say marriage and children is a bad thing. It is beautiful. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t stalk the Nigerian Weddings Facebook page and fantasize. I still get in my feelings when I see two people who are so in love with each other it’s like an aura around them. I attended a friend’s wedding recently and watching them make those vows to each other was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. One of my supervisors at school just had a baby boy and seeing how she relates with her baby, the love, the devotion is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Do I want those things? Of course I do. But is achieving those things a parameter by which I will judge my worth as a human being, as a woman?
 
No.
 
Hell no.

Read my first thoughts  on marriage here
 
 

Not The Struggle I Signed Up For

First of all, this is not me saying white guys are better or anything silly like that. The first and only guy who ever tried to stick his fingers in my panties – in full view of everyone on the dance floor – was a white guy. They may or may not know where his body is. 
 
Kidding… but I came close. Close. 
 
Anyway yeah, let me throw that in there before the reading comprehension challenged come at me because you see, being a black woman in this space where one constantly has to negotiate these two dynamics usually means that you can’t even criticize any thing a black guy does without the “throwing brothers under the bus” accusation getting lobbed at you.
 
But I will throw them under the bus. Heck. I will tie them up, toss them on the street and drive the damn bus myself in this case because I. Cannot. Deal. With. It. Anymore.
 
Picture this.
 
 
You and your girls are out and you just happen to find yourselves at a bar/club where the black:white ratio is a little lopsided, as it tends to be the case quite often here in the Midwest. But the music is good and the drinks are cheap and post racial America, so you go in and swing into things. You’re dancing and having an all round good time and inevitably a guy comes up and tries to dance with you.
 
This is how it usually goes down, for me at least. 
 
If he’s white, he usually just wants to dance and maybe eventually get your number. If you say no, he almost always will back off.  If he’s brave, drunk or stupid enough, he will try other shenanigans in which case he gets the “eye,” at which point every single stereotype he’s heard about angry black women probably runs through his head and he backs off. 
 
The black guys are of three kinds:
 
1. Those who are normal and respectful and out to have a good time. They will be visibly disappointed if you turn them down but they will back off.
 
2. Those who don’t mess with black girls. As Luvvie would say… “All the welps that ever welped in Welpington.”
 
3. Those who come in expecting that since y’all are the only black folks in there, it is your civic duty bestowed upon you by Martin Luther King  himself to dance with them. 
 
 
It is with Type 3 that I have a problem. 
 
These are the ones who will refuse to take a hint. These are the ones who if you dared to agree to dance with them, will never leave your side for the rest of the evening. These are the ones who will follow you around the room silently stalking you. The ones who will cuss you out for the horrible act of rejecting them. These are the ones who eventually you either have to call security, pretend to be lesbian or pretend to have a boyfriend lurking in the corners waiting to kick his ass to kingdom come if he doesn’t leave you alone (I used two of those three tactics last night). And if you turned them down and danced with a white guy, some of them will actually have the nerve (as one did last night) to come up to you and accuse you of “only liking white guys.”
 
First of all, notice I didn’t say I have a problem with Type 2. We all have preferences, whatever they are based on and I have neither the time nor the energy to dissect that. 
 
 
But I have had it with black guys who have trouble managing their insecurities and shitty behavior and want to put it on me and other black girls. No, asshole. It’s not that I only like white guys, I just don’t want to dance with you or any of your friends who would stand back and let you act like such a dipshit. Martin Luther King didn’t die so you and your boys can have unlimited access to black  girls on the dance floor. 
 
 
This body right here? It’s mine to do with as I wish. If Vulcan or Klingon or Wookiee from Kashyyyk is what makes this body feel good, Vulcan or Klingon or Wookiee is what this body is getting and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. 
 
Besides, I don’t see them lobbing accusations at their brothers who only mess with anything but black girls. 
I will fight for your right to be treated as a human being. I will ride or die for you when the law treats you unfairly and you don’t get  the justice you deserve. I will do my best to uphold you as more than what society has painted you to be. I will do all this even though quite often you brothers drop the ball in doing the same for us. But I will never hold you any less accountable for how you treat me and my sisters. If making that comparison is what will drive the point home, then so be it. 

This is not The Struggle I signed up for.
 
 

Coffeeshop Encounters

Sade’s Sweetest Taboo playing softly in the background, the rich smell of coffee in the air, animated conversations, a laugh here, a cough there, baristas calling out orders in their chirpy voices. Starbucks on a Saturday morning. Standing in the long line of  ‘bucksheads, as she’d come to think of her fellow coffee addicts, Manka’ah felt completely relaxed.  This was a familiar sight for her. She made the trip to the coffee shop almost every morning, having developed a taste for the chain’s over brewed beverage during her nursing school years when cups of coffee jacked up with shots of espresso were the main way she had managed to juggle taking classes during the day and working as a C.N.A at night.  Back then, she’d always stuck out like a sore thumb from the Starbucks crowd with her disheveled, poorly sewn in weaves, saggy, faded scrubs purchased from the thrift store which hung ungracefully from her slightly pudgy body, old sneakers and above all her tired face marred by stress pimples. She always stood completely at odds with the lean, clean, quietly expensively dressed, glowing golden beauty of the shop’s regular patrons. Ellicott City, Maryland was predominantly white and located in one of the wealthiest counties in the US. 

Today, however, apart from not being white, she would have fit right in. Her skin was a healthy mahogany brown and her face pimple free after thousands of dollars spent on dermatologists and high end cosmetics. She kept her hair natural these days, having given up on weaves or any sort of hair processing. It was currently caught a puffy afro-bun and she’d noticed several of the Starbucks patrons staring at it, the expressions in their eyes ranging from admiring to puzzled. The attention no longer bothered her as it used to. She was fit and lean from running and wore a red sundress with yellow and white flowers. It was short in anticipation of the heat the weather report had promised for that Saturday afternoon. On her feet dainty brown sandals which showcased her pedicured toenails.She took a step forward as the line moved forward.



Manka’ah felt happy. It felt good to have gotten to a point in her life when she could afford to actually live without having to worry about rents or bills. The grueling years spent working and studying had paid off. She loved her job as a surgical nurse at Howard County General and they paid her well. She loved the circle of friends she’d developed and enjoyed being part of the Maryland Cameroonian community with their never ending drama. She chuckled. The story had broken recently of a Cameroonian man arrested for trying to kill his ex-wife. The idiot had tried to hire a hit man, not knowing he was talking to a police officer. Too much action film. She thought. The line moved again and she took two steps forward.

What would make a man hate a woman so much he would actively seek to kill her? A woman he’d once been married to, a woman he must have loved at some point. What could change the dynamics of a relationship so drastically? She could understand divorce. Her own parent’s marriage had fallen apart two years ago, after her mother had gotten tired of her father’s philandering and the seemingly never ending parade of illegitimate children who constantly showed up at their doorstep. Her youngest half sister was barely a year old. The end of his 35 year marriage had not been enough to stop Henry Neba from going after anything with a skirt. But would his bitterness at her mother’s departure or the many arguments they’d had since ever make him seek to kill her mother? He’d been angry. He felt her mother owed him unconditional loyalty. He, after all had taken her from their village, Bafut and sponsored her through school. His connections in the Bamenda hierarchy had her landed her the job she had. Rose Neba had become one of the most prominent nurses at the Bamenda Regional Hospital, eventually rising to become Nurse in Charge of the Labor Room. As far as Henry Neba was concerned, he had created the woman Rose Neba had become and she owed everything to him. Their divorce had been a scandal in Bamenda. Ironically, people had been more scandalized over her mother’s departure than over the fact that in 35 years, her father had managed to father six children with five different women out side of his marriage. This was in addition to her and her three siblings.

Stories like this made Manka’ah extremely wary of marriage or any kind of commitment altogether. They also made her extremely grateful for the fact that she owed none of her successes in life to any man. She had no idea what she would do if she was in a position where she felt like she owed her education and her professional success, her most precious possessions, to a man who would betray her the way her father had betrayed her mother, repeatedly. And then to hate her so much to want her dead? 

It was her turn at the counter she stepped forward and placed her order.  Venti coffee frappucino with a shot of espresso. The iced drink was a concession to the heat. She was meeting Sarah, one of her college friends, in a few minutes for them to drive to D.C. They planned to make a day out of seeing the sights of the U.S. capital. They were both immigrants. Sarah had come from Paraguay a couple of years before on the DV lottery, the same lottery that had helped Manka’ah come to the US. They had attended nursing school  at the University of Maryland together and formed a deep friendship over their shared immigrant experience. Sarah was a charge nurse at Howard County General. This Saturday was the first they’d both had off in almost 3 months.

The barista took her order quickly.

“Name please?” she asked, running Manka’ah’s card.

“Judith.” 

She used her English name when she placed orders. Manka’ah wasn’t exactly a standard name Starbucks baristas were used to hearing. She’d learned that lesson the hard way during her first months in America.

” Would you like your receipt?”

“No, thank you.” Manka’ah took back her card.

“Coming right up!” The barista said, all chirp and cheer.

Manka’ah stepped off to the side to wait. It would be another ten minutes at least before her order came through, going by the number of people who had placed their order before her and now stood waiting. She let her eyes roam the crowd. It was a typical Saturday morning crowd. People just done with their morning run or bike ride, still dressed in their brightly colored exercise clothes. Others just like her, dressed in more casual clothes, out for a morning coffee before continuing on to whatever activity they had planned for their Saturday. Individuals, couples and families all of them gleaming with health and well being, totally absorbed in their lives and plans in the way inhabitants of an upper middle class neighborhood in America could be. Manka’ah wondered if any of the women present had husbands who hated them so much they would pay money to have them killed. Or if any of the children present had ever woken up to the sound of their parents arguing while a baby screamed in the background. If they had been informed later that day that they had a new sister. A sister whose mother, a young girl in the neighborhood, had abandoned at their gate in the wee hours of a chilly Wednesday morning, before taking off for parts unknown. Did any of the men cheat on their wives? Manka’ah snorted with laughter. Like that was even a question worth asking. Did any of the women cheat on their husbands? Would they also arrange to have their husbands killed if they could? Probably.

Her eyes had been roaming the crowd, not focusing on anyone in particular, as she asked herself these questions, so the fact that he was staring intently at her did not register at first, when her eyes swept past him. But the momentary glimpse of slate gray eyes set in a ruggedly handsome face which looked oddly familiar had her swinging her gaze back to the man sitting in a corner of the shop. His gaze no longer rested on her so she let her gaze run over him. He had what looked like a writing pad in front of him. He was focused on it, his hand moving in carefully measured precision. Not writing, his movements were too fluid for them to be those of a person writing. Drawing, perhaps. Her gaze moved up from his fingers wrapped around his pen. He wore a faded denim shirt, sleeves rolled back to reveal lean muscled arms. The shirt lay easily on his fit body. Khaki pants, hems rolled back and blue canvasses completed his outfit. His head of dark brown hair was tousled, like he’d simply run his fingers through it, not bothering with a comb. She examined his facial features, the broad forehead wrinkled in concentration, thick eyebrows, the aquiline nose, strong jaw. Why did he look familiar? Then it hit her. He could easily pass for Christian Bale. 


As she watched, his eyes lifted from his pad and focused on her, but not on her face this time.  His gaze rested in the general area of her midriff and then meandered it’s way down her body, slow and leisurely, almost like a caress. His hand didn’t stop moving as he looked. His gaze shifted momentarily to the pad then back to her, still not reaching up to her face. He’s drawing me!  The realization dawned on Manka’ah suddenly, leaving her slightly discomfited. The man’s attention had taken on a eerie edge. What did he see when he looked at her? What about her had captured his attention enough to inspire him to want to draw her? What was going through his mind as he drew? Did he find her attractive?  Who was he anyway? And why did he think he could just sit there and draw her without her permission? What would he do with the picture he drew? Manka’ah felt a frisson of unease stronger than the earlier discomfiture she’d felt. What was the etiquette in situations like this? Did she go over and ask him to stop? Demand that he give her whatever he had drawn? Was this a violation of her privacy? It was after all a public space. She had spent many a Saturday herself, sitting in this Starbucks, watching people.

“Venti coffee frappucino, shot of espresso for Judy!” 

Manka’ah’s attention snapped from the man to the barista who had just called out her order. The amusement she would have felt over the fact that they had taken her order under the name Judy instead of Judith, was overshadowed by her thoughts of the stranger.  She took her coffee and made for the door,  looking at the man one last time as she walked. He was no longer drawing. He held his coffee cup, having just taken a sip or maybe about to. He was looking directly at her, grey eyes calm and serious. When their gazes locked, he lifted the cup, toasting her, lips curving in a smile. She narrowed her eyes at him in displeasure, trying to communicate her disapproval of his actions. He seemed to understand exactly what she was trying to say because as the cup moved towards his lips, a small frown creased his forehead.

Manka’ah walked out of the Starbucks.

The sun’s intensity had increased in the time she’d been in the coffee shop but it was still cool with a slight breeze rustling the air. She looked at her watch as she made for her car, she’d been inside for about 25 minutes, longer than planned. It would take her 10 minutes to get to Sarah’s apartment but they would still make it to D.C in good time.

“Excuse me.” The voice was masculine, deep. 

She ignored the voice at first, certain the request for attention wasn’t directed at her.

“Excuse me… Judith?” 

Her head whipped around at the sound of her name. It was him. She pivoted to face him directly, automatically gripping her coffee cup and purse tighter, body poised to run if he made any suspicious moves. It was 9:30 a.m and she was in a busy parking lot, but Manka’ah made no assumptions. He noticed her actions and held up his hands to show he meant her no harm. There was a piece of paper in one hand

“I’m sorry to bother you.” He said quickly. “I just thought I should give you this.” He held out the hand with the paper.  She reached out and took it from him but didn’t look at it. It was the drawing he’d made of her, obviously. He’d picked up on her discomfort and cared enough to ease her fears.

“I’m sorry I made you uncomfortable.” He said with a shy smile. He then turned around and walked back into the coffee shop.

Heart racing slightly from the small adrenaline rush her fear had induced, Manka’ah walked quickly to her car, got in and locked the doors before looking at the drawing.

It was exquisite. He’d captured everything about her from  her button nose, full lips, almond shaped eyes and puffy afro to the slight tilt she tended to have to her head when she was thinking deeply.  He’d drawn her body faithfully, realistically, capturing her musculature but also managing to capture the curves that sat atop her muscles. He’d even noticed her butt. Noticed that it was just a little too big for her slim frame. She giggled in pleasure as her eyes took in the lines of his artistry. He’d made the other patrons in the shop into faint shadowy figures but had drawn her in such sharp detail such that it gave the overall impression that she was the only person worth noticing. 




She laughed, suddenly no longer angry at the man. His attention had been a little creepy but he seemed like a nice and polite enough person to have noticed and taken steps to assuage her fears. She put the drawing on her purse which was on the front passenger seat and started her car. Sarah would be waiting for her. The drive took less than ten minutes. Traffic wasn’t heavy. She pulled into an open space and reached for her purse. She needed to text Sarah to let her know she had arrived. She’d placed the drawing facing down so this was the first glimpse she had of what was on the back. He’d written something. Brow creased into a bemused frown she picked up the paper again and read what he’d written.

You are the most breathtakingly beautiful woman I have ever laid my eyes on. I apologize again for making you uncomfortable. Can I buy you lunch sometime?


It was signed Aaron B. Gallagher. His number was scribbled next to his name.




Why I Am Here for Beyonce’s Brand of Feminism

So, over the years, Beyoncé has gone from Destiny’s Child ingénue to a behemoth of a diva in her own right. It’s an ascent many of us are familiar with, given that her life span has run concurrently with many of ours. Nothing she has done in her career, however, has resulted in the kind of buzz that her most recent album created. On top of her being able to keep the recording of 17 songs and full length highly sophisticated videos a secret, they came with a distinct message – a message that not only says I’m a grown woman, and I can do whatever I want, it went ahead to detail exactly what she wants to do:
 
Celebrate her accomplishments
 
Thumb her nose at those who doubted her
 
Declare herself happy and proud to be a woman
 
Acknowledge complications in her marriage and the jealousy and insecurities she sometimes feels, despite her success
 
 
 
Be the best at what she does (and crush her competition in the process)
 
Love her husband and keep their marriage alive
 
 
 
Have all kinds of creative and shocking sex with her husband
 
 
Acknowledge  her errors and imperfections as a human being, which include being mean and bitchy
 
 
 
 
Love her child
 
Love those who are dear to her and remember those who have passed on
 
 
Confess how hard it is to maintain the veneer of perfection she seems to have 
 
 
Have more wild sex with her husband
 
 
 
Celebrate her womanhood in all it’s glorious complications
 
 
Above all, she came right out and declared herself a feminist, a supporter of equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women. I wasn’t a huge Beyoncé fan before this album but I developed some respect for her after I listened to all of it. 
 
So why the backlash? 
 
 
Well, so far the biggest criticisms I have seen of Beyoncé’s feminism, especially among Black women is centered on two things: Sex and Money. Apparently, those two things will strip you off your feminist badge faster than the average guy will agree to a blowjob. 
 
The first thing that confuses me about this whole mess, is why some people feel feminism and sexual liberation are supposed to be mutually exclusive, to the extent that a woman who displays an overt interest in things sexual cannot be feminist… I mean, what part of social and cultural rights do these people not get?  Women’s liberation means a woman is liberated from whatever restrictions any society may put on her and empowered to act as her own agent in her own interest. That means her whole being is free from any one’s dictation. Her whole being including her sexuality and how she chooses to express it. If you question that, then your feminism is in question as well.
 
People worry that she is contributing to the hyper sexualized image of black women. Here’s the thing though: black women have always been hyper sexualized in the media, from the days of Sara Baartman until today. We did not do anything to be perceived this way (other than not be white and covered up from neck to toe). Unless we’re planning to become completely asexual, there is not much we can do to change that misconception without entrapping ourselves in another cycle of trying to live up to unrealistic expectations. We have enough of that already. I’ve said before that as far as I am concerned, a tenet of feminism is the woman’s right to do what she wants with her life and her body. If she wants to sexually objectify herself, I’d rather it came from her choice to do so, rather than from someone else using her as an object on which they project their fantasies. There is a world of difference between what Beyoncé did on her album and what pimps do to girls they entrap into prostitution. Beyoncé is no gullible innocent being controlled by people in her life. Sure she has a marketing team and financial advisers and PR, but I doubt they lead her around meek and subservient.
 
She’s light skinned and wears weaves, and her beauty is celebrated because it is more Eurocentric, so she is propagating white supremacy? That’s rich coming from a community of women who have some of the highest rates of skin bleaching in the world. Anyone who knows me knows I am NOT team weaves or bleached skin (although I remember Beyoncé always being light skinned); no matter how good they look. I wish Beyoncé kept natural hair but I will not question her desire to see girls kick ass and become accomplished women over that. Many black feminists do have weaves and straightened hair, doesn’t make their message less potent. If the white mainstream celebrates her, it is because they like what they see. Instead of attacking her, how about us black women celebrate all the spectrum of beauty we have? 
 
 
 
These are the same people who ask: What about the children? As someone told me on Twitter, because of Beyoncé, young girls are learning about and starting to engage in “deviant” sex. Well OK. If you say so. I sure as hell know Beyoncé did not create the curiosity about sex that all adolescents experience, a curiosity that many parents fail to address, leaving the children with no recourse but to turn to pop music and whatever fallacies about sex that hearsay and gossip carry. Shouldn’t these young girls have had age appropriate discussions about sex with their mothers/female guardians already? Shouldn’t these adults be the ones ensuring that young impressionable girls not get exposed to her music and if they do (media is after all everywhere), whatever evil message they receive be met by a mind already conditioned by the beliefs and values that the adults espouse? Shouldn’t these children be getting the best possible supervision and protection? I remember a Cameroonian singer called Rantanplan. She did Bikutsi music which as any good Cameroonian knows tends to involve bawdy lyrics and some hard core waist-winding and booty shaking. Check her out.
 
 
My memories from childhood include getting warned by my mother  and the other older girls, not to dance like Rantanplan  and singing her lyrics was prohibited (of course I was the kid who wanted to…lol). We could dance all we want, but certain movements would earn you a zinging swat to the bottom or “konk” (knuckled knock on the head). These outlawed movements were usually hip gyrations which mimic sex. The rules relaxed the older I got and right now, I can twerk and sing about my ami’s (My friends. You know… my friends…) if I want. No one tells me what to do, because I am an adult who is expected to know better than be irresponsible, and who will be expected to deal with the consequences of her actions. Am I saying my childhood was perfect? No. Not at all. Was I free from the sexual traumas that are inflicted on young girls? Not even close But when it came to sexual matters, my mother and the female adults in my family tried to give me the best instruction and supervision they knew how to give. I already discussed how this approach saved my butt here. If your female child is looking to Beyoncé for cues on how to deal with sex or engaging in sex before she is ready, check your parenting communication style, check your supervision mechanism, check the environment (it usually takes at least two to have non masturbatory sex), and for goodness sake, talk to your child. 
 
Also, who exactly are the people engaging these young girls in “deviant” sex?!!!!!!!!! Surely they are not all going lesbian on each other…. Where are the efforts to protect young girls from the lecherous advances of careless boys and “uncles” who tend to be allowed to enjoy the full measure of their sexual capacity with nothing but slaps on the wrist?
 
 
She can’t be a feminist if she is making money and taking advantage of the capitalist society she lives in? Say the people who come to America chasing the American dream. Didn’t many of us leave our countries to languish in poverty and corruption and travel abroad seeking better lives?  Don’t we all go to school and acquire skills in order to get jobs? Many of us Cameroonian women become nurses just because we want to get the most lucrative job possible in the least amount of time and not because we have some desire for holistic medicine. Money is the motivator. Would that make any of us any less feminist? Can a woman not profit off the fruits of her talent and labor? Does anyone really think that Beyoncé doesn’t work hard at her craft? For her body and athleticism and showmanship? What has it got to do with anything that Beyoncé makes crap tons of money from her records? It’s not like she forces people to buy them. People buy because they enjoy her music.  Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie sells her books (books in which she talks openly about sex, by the way). Feminist leaders get paid to speak at events and many of them make crap tons of money off their books. Madonna is celebrated, Melissa Etheridge, Fiona Apple, they all make money off their albums Why is Beyoncé’s money such a problem? I mean, can a girl faroter up in here?
 
There certainly are bit and pieces of lyrics in some songs which I found questionable (Eat the cake, AnnaMae) and her Monica Lewinsky bit was unfair to Monica Lewinsky but then Monica herself is not above profiting of the scandal is she? 
 
The point is, but a for a few hiccups, Beyoncé produced an album which loudly and boldly celebrates womanhood in one of the many ways in which womanhood and the human condition in general can be celebrated – music. To question the sincerity of her desire to see women advance as a whole because she does so showing skin and talking openly about sex, is short sighted, petty and quite honestly hypocritical. I love to read and my education is such that I can enjoy a wide variety of feminist writing and engage in intellectual discussions. Many women do not have the education that I have been lucky to have or the capacity to engage in deep conceptual thought. For many of the them, the only voice they’ll ever hear that broaches feminist message is that of artists like Beyoncé’s (just as for many black men voices like Tupac and other socially conscious rappers are the only ones which speak the message of black empowerment). In the same way, for many Cameroonian women, singers like Annie Anzouer, Ruth Nkoto, Bebe Manga, Chantal Ayisi, Nguea La Route or Rantanplan and the other female singers, were the ones who talked about issues that women faced, like sex, spousal abuse, infidelity, childlessness and being disempowered. A highly intellectual discussion of Sita Bella’s importance to the Cameroonian feminist movement is likely not going to resonate as deeply with them as a simple lyric.
 
I’m not a member of the Beygency, a drone in the Bee-hive and I’m not a Bey-stan. I haven’t really paid her career more than the token attention. I just really liked that she put out an album which actually had quite a bit to say. She seems to be following it up with sincere efforts to spread the women empowerment message. She wrote a piece about pay equality (Or attached her name to it, which cares? It’s short enough she conceivably could have thought out loud and had an assistant transcribe) and threw her weight behind the Ban Bossy campaign, which tries to encourage leadership in young girls. She seems to be trying to be more than a pretty face and a hot body, to want to do something positive.  Who are the people telling her to shut up because she is just a pretty face and a hot body who apparently doesn’t fit the mould of what a feminist looks like?
 
I mean seriously.
 
I’d pull a Chris Brown and talk about women and loyalty, but that might get my feminism questioned.
Update:
(May 2016)
I wrote this 2 years ago. I have changed position since then. I am currently state rep of the BeyHive for my state. I. Will. Fight. You.