Friday, January 28, 2011

more hair tales: hairdresser turned activist takes down oga

I saw this 45-minute film last night at the Berkeley African Film Fest. One Small Step is absolutely HILARIOUS and INSPIRING (especially if you know Nigeria or Pidgin)! From the HOWLS of hysteria around me (and coming out of my own mouth), the old and new world Africans in the audience clearly did.

Besides being well made, it's a fascinating, effective blend of documentary footage and re-enacted drama (the clip makes it look more tragic than it is) produced by The Orderly Society Trust, a civic participation group headed by women! Who knew?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Though I'm African and I'm American, I'm not African American

Here's Mukoma Wa Ngugi's clear-eyed op-ed on Africans in America that appeared in The Guardian 2 weeks ago. It's sort of a primer to one of the issues my new memoir will cover - Africans in America used as a buffer between African Americans and Anglo Americans. (You may remember that I introduce myself in the PBS film, My Journey Home, with the provocative statement, "Though I'm African and I'm American, I'm not African American.")
Africans who live in America do not share the history of struggle for civil rights, and indeed, even today, do not experience racism in the same way – the 'African foreigner privilege', Mukoma W Ngugi calls it. Photograph: Corbis
I love his term, "African foreigner privilege." I remember a Nigerian boyfriend, who generally was pretty boorish, telling me in a rare moment of insight that, "If you let them, white Americans will keep telling you that you're special. And if you're a naive African, you'll keep believing them."

Friday, January 21, 2011

mixed chick hair tales

So I'm at the hair salon, an eclectic Brazilian-owned place where I see an African-American stylist to whom my Lebanese-American fairy godmother introduced me. We're multiculting-up my curls - copper, blonde, and brown highlights, while I surf film schedules on my CrackBerry. (I'm consoling myself at not being at Sundance with San Francisco's Film Noir Fest 9 and Indie Film Fest, and the African Film Fest at the Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley.)

The last time I was here my stylist nearly died laughing when I told her about trying to get my hair cut in Nigeria over the summer. Flashback: I got my current twisty-curls style there in 2005, though they were baby Buddha snails back then. My sister took me to a male barbershop, where 2 guys eyed me skeptically, then scooped honey onto my head, covered their hands with plastic mesh, and vigorously rubbed my honey-hair in circles until clumps formed and I had a mild concussion.

I looked like the village madman. In time, as promised, my sugary crazy-clumps separated into tiny swirled buds that I twisted each evening, much to the distress (inexplicably) of American friends. Within 6 months, the curls were permanent, reassembling themselves as soon as my hair dried.

This summer I flew to Nigeria the minute I filed year-end grades, looking sorta ragged. My favorite cousin Nkem, a tall, hilarious law student and killer dancer who instinctually understands my strange American ways better than anyone in my family, took me to a fancy salon. More dubious looks. The stylist picked up the clippers. I shrieked. Nkem leapt up. More stylists came in. The first one was demoted, another deputized. A flurry of Pidgin English was exchanged. Then finally the pronouncement: "She has to pay the White Price. This White Hair is a headache!"

Nkem roared. "She's not white!" he shouted indignantly. "Her people are from down the road." So I was granted Honorary Black status and got a trim, closely monitored and directed by Nkem.

"Tell it again!" my African-American-but-same-color-as-me stylist begs, wiping away tears of laughter. "Tell the one about paying the White Price!"

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Friday, January 14, 2011

Pacific Northwest Scandinavian Mixed Chicks Rule!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Baby Eats Tattoo!

When Mum was in town for the Holidaze, I dragged her along on baby-visiting rounds, thus ensuring that there would be at least one individual to feign interest in feeding and sleep schedules, someone who could be trusted not to drop said babies on their soft heads. (It's also a cheap way to give her the baby fix I sure ain't providing.)

First off was a friend who'd inexplicably given birth to a fat-cheeked Chinese baby who grunts a lot (inexplicable because Mom is of South Indian descent and Dad is Anglo - and neither grunts much). But, as the little girl is less than 8 weeks old, there's hope that melanin, that tricky stuff, will kick in. 

Next up was a sister Igbo/Anglo-European whose technically quarter-Igbo daughter is all Igbo. That is, she wants to walk before she can sit; she wants to have that over there; she won't give up. From the moment I walked into the place, Li'l Igbo couldn't take her button eyes off me, forgoing even The Breast to watch me over her shoulder. 

Once she got close, Li'l Igbo grabbed my two red wrist strings (a Senhor do Bonfim fita from my trip to Bahia this summer, and a Buddhist sai sin from an event with Alice Walker & Jack Kornfield) and yanked me to her. She then proceeded to try to gnaw my tattoo off my wrist. 

Now, her mum is not one of those obsessive anti-bacterial parents who thinks the world will come to an end if her child comes in contact with, well, the world. Fortunate for me, as the tot kept launching herself off her mum's lap and onto my arm, mouth open. Now, granted, the tattoo is rather delicious-looking, but consider this…

Though nearly every traditional society thinks my tattoo is theirs, it’s actually Igbo. I (along with the famous Nsukka Group of artists) have long been a fan of uli art, the temporary painting done by Igbo women for auspicious occasions on their bodies and buildings. In some regions of Igboland, women made body stamps by carving designs in bamboo, and in the absence of a trained free-hand uli artist, I decided to use an old stamp design.

Traditional artists used the 5 pigments readily available: black from charcoal or the uli plant itself; red from the camwood tree; yellow from soil or tree bark; white from clay; and indigo from uli seeds or laundry bluing. As yellow and white tat ink wouldn’t show on my skin, I ended up with a red, blue and black tattoo, the colors ordered to evoke the Igbo philosophy of duality (more on this in my forthcoming memoir).

And though I got the tattoo (and personalized uli stationary created by book artist Shari DeGraw) to heal my chi (spirit double), who missed out on the traditional birth rituals and planting of a natal tree, my young Nigerian sister was shocked at my “devilish” markings (thanks, British missionaries!). On the other hand, my elderly, extremely-proper, extremely-Christian stepmother was mesmerized. During my last visit to Nigeria, she kept grabbing and caressing my wrist. “So beautiful,” she'd say, fingers trembling. “It reminds me of my mother back in the village.”

So, gnaw on, Li'l New World Igbo!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

eating identity: come out for tuesday's feast of words

Read the Feast of Words Blog & Learn About the Chef!
Culinary guest Peter Jackson is the executive chef of Canvas Underground, a supperclub that aims to bring people together for great food and cool art in ever-chaning venues. The collective is a port of the Ghetto Gourmet dining party network, which is continuing the Bay Area's guerilla cooking tradition. Past Canvas Underground dinner parties have inculded a "Depression Dinner" and a four course meal in a foreslosed West Oakland Victorian.