We need new names

In her debut novel “We Need New Names”, NoViolet Bulawayo unveils a captivating story about the lives of five children in post-independence Zimbabwe. The book, which was nominated for the Man Booker Prize filters the troubling socio-political elements of the era through the eyes of 10-year-old Darling.

We first meet Darling and her gang of hungry friends Bastard, Godknows, Chipo, Sbho, and Stina as they are walking from their shantytown to steal guavas in an upscale neighborhood called Budapest. As the children dissect the difference between the tin huts in their slums to the manicured compounds in Budapest, Bulawayo employs humor to explore the socio-political difficulties that the country is facing under Mugabe.

She addresses contentious issues such as the unequal distribution of land by allowing the protagonist, Darling, to sarcastically suggest that “If you’re stealing something its better if it’s small and hideable… so I don’t know what the white people were trying to do in the first place, stealing not just a tiny piece but a whole country.” As the young friends hopscotch through the city of Harare, we get a fuller understanding of the depth of their destitution and learn of Darling’s dream to escape poverty by moving to the United States.

The challenges of this dream are revealed in the second half of the book when Darling leaves her friends in Zimbabwe and travels to Michigan to live with her aunt Fostalina. In the land of her dreams, she is confronted with culture shock and the reality that America is not all that it is cracked up to be. Using language that flows with simplicity, Darling recounts her immigrant experience by detailing her struggle to assimilate in a new country while she watches her aunt’s marriage fall apart.

As Darling wrestles with homesickness, she also struggles with the sense that she no longer connects with certain elements of her native country. In a poignant conversation with a friend who was still in Zimbabwe, he accused her of leaving a country that needs her to find a better life overseas. “Do you abandon your house because it’s burning or do you find water to put it out?” he asks.

“We Need New Names”, is a charming and engaging book that provides a canvas to view the complexities of post-colonial Africa. It uses the challenges of Zimbabwe as a microcosm to outline some of the societal ills that plague the continent. From the stigma attached to HIV, to economic discrepancy, Bulawayo brings forth well-developed characters to highlight heartbreaking stories without overwhelming the reader.

Nonetheless, there are times when the storyline seems disjointed because it does not follow a structured plot. Bulawayo would have done well to weave a thread of suspense from the beginning of the book to the end. However, that does not take away from the fact that this is a great read, worthy of all the international acclaim.

Photo credit: www.theguardian.com

Girl code

Can you please take a picture of me?” I asked a girl in a green ensemble at the Venice beach boardwalk. As soon as she nodded, I placed my phone in her palm and lurched for the rings swing.

There I was, suspended midair, legs dangling freely above the Venice beach sand. The strain in my shoulders was tempting me to release my grip but I held on. The warm pacific wind whirled around my legs, tickling my inner thigh, inching the orange silk dress higher up my hip….

In the dizzying delight of the moment, I heard a group of girls cheering.

“Go girl.”

“Work it then.” Emboldened, I willed my awkward legs to contort into an acrobatic move, but all they could do was sway and dangle. It took all of 2 minutes for my stamina to expire. I unclenched my fingers and tumbled onto the sand.

The girl in green placed my phone in my hands and reached for the swing. She fastened her hands in the rings and in a fluid movement, she somersaulted in the air. It had never occurred to me that I could use the strength of my upper body to urge the rest of my body into various positions. But before I could gasp, she had folded her body in two and flipped in the air. My jaws parted in awe. Whereas my legs had just dangled, her body inspired positions I could not even imagine… How do you respond when someone can do something better than you? What do you do when they look better than you, earn more than you or dress better than you? Does the familiar sensation of envy shoot through your veins and cause you to tear them down with slit eyes and snide comments?

As I watched the lady in green twirl and roll, a familiar sensation surged through me and made me scream: “You go girl. Work it. Higher, higher…”

When she unfurled her body onto the ground, I rushed her.

“Hey, look, I took pictures of you.” I grinned, tilting my iPhone in her direction.

“Oh wow, they are beautiful! Could you send them to me?” she replied.

For a split second, I thought of the roaming charges I would incur, but damnit! The moment was too blissful not to be shared. I hit send. Here’s a new girl code, next time you see another woman doing something better than you, applaud them. Then take a moment and capture their success it in your heart. What they did may look effortless, but chances are it took them years of training to get there. With hard work, one day, you can be just like them or even better.


Heroes of Westgate

On September 21st, bloodthirsty militants besieged Westgate mall. For about 96 hours, the world watched in horror as harrowing stories of mayhem flooded news outlets. However, buried in the debris of unimaginable carnage are faith-restoring accounts of people who shirked any semblance of self-preservation to confront the terrorists and save lives. Here are 5 enduring stories about the heroes of Westgate.

From the mouth of babes

4-year old Elliott Prior was shopping with his mum and his sister in Nakumatt supermarket when the terrorists entered and began shooting indiscriminately. In a moment of reprieve, the gunmen ordered any kids who were still alive to leave the supermarket. Elliot’s mother gathered her children to make a run for it, but little Elliot bravely confronted the men. “You are a very bad man” he scolded. The terrorists asked for forgiveness and gave the young children chocolates before the family fled.

Beyond the call of duty

A British Special Air Service agent has been credited with saving over 100 people stranded inside the mall. The officer was drinking coffee at a café when the massacre erupted. Instead of running for cover, he ran into building to save lives. According to eyewitness accounts, he rushed into the building over a dozen times to drag people to safety.

The negotiator

One of the first scene of casualties occurred at the rooftop of Westgate where a cooking contest was being filmed. When the terrorists prepared to shoot children who were participating in the cooking competition, they were met by Mitul Shah. The 38-year old marketing executive stood up and offered himself as a hostage in a bid to save the 33 children. He was shot and killed as he tried to protect the children, but by stalling the militants he saved lives

The helper

In the early stages of the massacre, the al-Shabaab terrorists, sought to execute non-muslims. Hostages who did not know the name of the Prophet Mohammed’s mother or a verse in the Quran were shot at point blank range. During this bizarre vetting process, there is the compassionate story of a Muslim man who stayed with a Christian hostage and helped him memorize a verse in the Quran so his life could be spared.

The guy in the black and white shirt

Before we knew his name or his occupation, he was simply the guy in the black and white shirt. In one image, he is seen beckoning a young child to safety. In another, he is consoling a mother, in others he has assumed a protective stance, his black Glock pointed menacingly in the direction of the terrorists. His name is Abdul Haji, son of the former Minister of Defense, a proud Muslim and acclaimed hero of the Westgage Massacre. When the news broke that terrorists had hit Westgate mall, Haji was not in the mall but his brother was. Although he has not received any formal military training, he rushed to the scene to save is brother’s life. When he reached Westgate and saw the extent of the violence, Haji collaborated with security forces and the Red Cross to escort victims to safety. In what has become an iconic image of the massacre, Abdul Haji is seen coaxing a young American girl towards safety. In an interview, he explained, “I have to admit that this little girl is a very brave girl. Amidst all this chaos around her she remained calm, she wasn’t crying and she actually managed to run towards men who were carrying guns… I was really touched by this. I thought if such a girl could be so brave, there is no reason why we cannot sustain this. It gave us more courage”

A solemn week has passed since the senseless act of violence took place in Nairobi. I salute the security officers, volunteers and ordinary people who personified courage on that fateful day.


DAAR Living

Graçe à  Senanu Arkutu, the gaudiness typical of African home accessories has been infused with a refreshing dose of simplicity. DAAR Living, the interior furnishing company that Senanu created in March 2013, pays homage to the eclectic beauty of African heritage, but it is her dedication to the fine details of art which make her pieces worthy of envy. DAAR Living is based in Accra and it provides accessories and interior styling services to the African of the World and the World in love with Africa.

Amma: How did you arrive at the name DAAR living?

Senanu: ‘Daar’ in Arabic means ‘home’ and in the case of Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania – where I was born), Dar means ‘haven’. The DAAR Living brand makes you ‘feel at home’, it is ‘warm’ and African – in all its multi-layered glory, hybrid in it’s colonial European and Arabic influences.

Amma: Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Senanu: This continent is so creative, innovative, always making something out of nothing. There is inspiration all around. More specifically, fashion inspires me.


What kind of challenges do you face?

Senanu: Sourcing, quality control and artisans delivering on time.

Amma: How do you find your pieces?

Senanu: Searching for functional art in Africa and designing my own.

Amma: What role do African designers have on the international scene?

Senanu: I believe our designers have always had a huge but silent and sadly un-paid role. This is the Continent of beginnings, pre-historic art and functional design – and we have continued to design. Our designs inform the international market, are copied, refined and manufactured elsewhere and packaged and marketed by others. We need to find a way to continue to be the designers but have that role be visible and prized in the international market.

Amma: Is there a viable market for interior design in Africa?

Senanu: It is certainly growing along with the African Renaissance and development of the property and hospitality sectors.

Amma: African interior design used to have a stereotypical safari look or animal print how things are changing?

Senanu: That is not changing as fast as I would like it to but it is and will continue to change as the whole concept of TINA and ‘the Afropolitan’ grow and interior brands like DAAR Living are born in countries where wild animals and ‘safari’ are not the norm and there is no huge tourist sector based around the ‘safari’ experience to cater for.

Amma: Do you have a favourite room/place to decorate?

Senanu: The living or sitting room.

Amma: What is the best tip for decorating your favourite room?

Senanu: Be yourself - the living room - is where we welcome friends, sit, entertain, laugh and make people comfortable… It should be warm and it should reflect your true character rather than be a showpiece.

When you are not designing (pieces) what do you do?

Senanu: Decorating or re-decorating physically or mentally, as I sit in spaces; and thinking of ways to develop and grow DAAR Living. Also… having a great life lesson conversation with a close friend over a delicious meal in a warmly designed space with music that makes you smile playing in the background.


Earth’s Angels

Hanan Waite (nee El-Mahmoud) is no ordinary nurse. Her wings of compassion spread from her home in Atlanta to maternity wards in her beloved country, Ghana. For several years, she has nursed a passion to give back to the medical community in Ghana so in September 2012, she founded a non-profit organization called Earth’s Angels to send medical supplies to new mothers and premature babies in Accra. Her mission is to raise money and gather materials for hospitals across West Africa.

On July 30th 2013, Earth’s Angels successfully completed its first project when it provided Tetteh-Quarshie Memorial Hospital-Women’s ward and Ridge Hospital’s NICU with maternal and neonatal supplies.

Hanan deserves to be lauded. Orphaned when she was just 8 years old, she was only 15 years old when she came to America as an immigrant. In spite of financial and emotional setbacks, she graduated from Georgia State University and became a registered nurse. Today, she is a passionate RN who is respected for the dedication and compassion she brings to her job. In May 2013, in recognition of her hard work, she was bestowed with the title of ‘ambassador’ for the Georgia Hospital Association.

Here’s a nod of admiration to a young immigrant who fulfilled her dream to give back.

www.earthsangelsgive.org Our Mission: “Earth’s Angels is a non-profit organization that has dedicated its existence to help eradicate maternal and infant mortality one mother and baby at a time.”


The women of Djibouti

Djibouti, an Islamic country nestled between Somalia and Ethiopia. The capital is a modest city decorated with grandiose and flamboyantly coloured houses. However, in the crevices of this cultured city are glaring reminders that Djibouti is a developing country trying to find solutions to deep seated socio-economic challenges.

One of the challenges that plagues the country is the stark inequality between men and women. This explains why I was absolutely thrilled to meet driven women who are solving some of the country’s biggest problems

Water shortage - Due to its location in North Eastern Africa, the climate in Djibouti is arid. Water is scarce and clean drinking water is a treasured commodity. Khadija Ahmed Barkad recognized this problem and made a business out of the solution. She called the company Zam Zam. A water filtration company which supplies clean drinking water throughout the capital. Khadija carries herself with an air of purpose, after all, she is one of the most respected entrepreneurs in the country.

On most days, you will find her 6ft tall stature draped in a long flowing dress which matches the hijab that frames her oblong face. Khadija’s strong sense of independence has made her one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the country. Yet before her remarkable success, she was a struggling immigrant in Atlanta. After several years trying to grasp a piece of the American dream, she left Atlanta in 1992 and moved home to start a new life. The risk paid off. Apart from Zam Zam, she has successful enterprises in the construction and sanitation industries. But above all, Khadija is a Djiboutian woman who is making a meaningful impact in her home country.

The Disabled - Amina Ahmed was waiting for me inside a walled bungalow near Boulevard du Gaulle. She is covered in a black Hijab which blends perfectly with her long black dress. Flanked by a group of handicapped people, Amina welcomed me with a kiss on the cheeks and led me into a makeshift office. On a cushion-less chair, she explained that she volunteers at this safe house for handicapped because she is passionate about improving the lives of Djiboutians with disabilities so they understand that begging for alms is not their only option in life. Everyday, she visit the safe house to educate the disabled about their rights as citizens and to teach them vocational skills that will help them become contributing members of society.  Amina has also created programs to debunk the commonly held belief that being disabled is a spiritual affliction or curse.

During these workshops, she invites parents and family member to participate in the activities. She teaches parents that it is important to educate their children who have disabilities and provide them with the same opportunities that they offer their able bodied children. Amina runs these workshops with minimal resources yet, she is challenging stereotypes within the most marginalized and underserved group in Africa.

A dying art - Hasna Maki Houmed understands that art has the power to motivate the youth. As a former journalist with experience in TV and radio, she has seen firsthand how music and drama can be used to address various social issues. When she was appointed as director of the Djiboutian Institute of Arts, she made a commitment to use the arts as a tool to mobilize the youth to become more engaged in their community. In her sunlit office she explained to me why the arts has a critical role to play in Djibouti’s conservative society.

“We are a country that relies on our oral tradition which is why we use music to communicate. Unfortunately, a lot of the musicians don’t have the training to make a serious livelihood. I want this institution to become a superior college. I want the students to gain an understanding of the technical aspects of the arts and music. I want us to be recognized globally. I want the graduates of this institute to integrate well into other sectors of the arts; music, drama, dance… My goal is to create a new generation to revive our national through art.” She punctuated her sentence by folding her arms determinedly across her bosom.

Yet another example of a remarkable Djiboutian woman who is trying to steer her country in the right direction


Essien’s Style

Celebrated Ghanian soccer star, Michael Essien, made it to Vanity Fair’s list of best dressed soccer players. The Chelsea midfielder is noted for his ” decidedly refined aesthetic in plaid shirts, velveteen vests, and single-button jackets.”

Essien is joined by colleagues Samuel Eto’o, Cristiano Ronaldo and fellow Ghanaian Danny Welbeck who plays for Man United. For more details on the best dressed soccer list visit  http://www.vanityfair.com/style/2013/07/best-dressed-soccer-players-photos

Photo credit: Vanityfair.com

Lemlem by Liya

The Ethiopian beauty and supermodel, Liya Kebede is using her celebrity status to make a heartfelt impact in her native county. In 2007, Liya created Lemlem, a fashion line with clothes and accessories made from high-grade, hand-woven Ethiopian cotton. With its subtle play on casual chic, Lemlem offers a fresh twist to the style scene. The reviews from fashion aficionados indicate that Liya’s creation definitely lives up to its Amharic definition of to flourish.

A fearless champion of empowering under served communities, the inspiration for Lemlem came to Liya when she realized that the livelihood of local Ethiopian weavers was threatened by a fall in the demand of their goods. Liya collaborated with the traditional weavers to provide an avenue for them to earn revenue while presenting to international fashion scene the textures and simplicity that is uniquely Ethiopian.

Photo credit: www.Lemlem.com

A bright star

My little niece has the sass and wit of a middle aged woman. Whenever I push her to see the scope of her mind, I come out pleasantly surprised. A couple of weeks ago, I challenged her to write an essay about herself promising that if it was up to par, I would publish it. The only conditions were: She could not get help from her parents and she had to type it up herself. Within an hour, she sent this piece to me via Skype. It is the unvarnished autobiography of my lovely niece so excuse any typos because she is truly a bright star!

My name is Lachante Salma Bawuah. I have parents who come from Ghana there names are Vivan and Francis. I am 7 years old old I am also in year 2 I go to selsdon primary school it’s fun.. I also have a brother called Bryant Yaw Bawuah he is 12 years old. He’s in year 7 he go’s to quest academy shcool. We all love to live in London which is in England because It’s very fun to live in England because there are lots of different places like chessington.

This is what I like about myself is I am the smartest in my class I am bright, inteligent and smart and confident.I don’t like it when  people use bad languange against small children and inappropiate words. Thank you for reading