GRIOTS REPUBLIC - An Urban Black Travel Mag - Jan 2016

www.GRIOTSREPUBLIC.com - An Urban Black Travel Mag. It's the stories you want to hear in a voice you recognize.

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W H E R E T H E R E ' S T R A V E L , T H E R E ' S A S T O R Y<br />


RACE<br />

<strong>Travel</strong>ers discuss<br />

identity politics<br />

27<br />

Scavenger Hunt Participants,<br />

9 Teams, but only 1 Winner<br />



THE<br />



A family<br />

adventure in<br />

Equador<br />

JAN <strong>2016</strong> | ISSUE 01

JOIN<br />

US<br />



ad<br />


Archivists Note<br />

From Brazilian Favelas to the streets of Brooklyn and over to the<br />

front lines of conflict, this issue celebrates identity and community<br />

and the many ways they and we interconnect.<br />

What are we? Who are we? What do we stand for? These are all<br />

questions we've had to ask ourselves over the last year while creating<br />

Griots Republic. Take issues surrounding race, ethnicity, gender,<br />

nationality and whole host of other identifying markers and layer on a<br />

rabid case of wanderlust and you easily begin to realize that things are<br />

never just black and white. So let's dive into the grey.<br />

We gathered urban travelers from different walks of life and asked them<br />

for their stories. What we received was a gift. <strong>An</strong> idea that no matter how<br />

far we travel or how complicated our Identity is, there is single thread<br />

that connects us all... The need for community.<br />

So in the spirit of community we bring you Griots Republic, the digital<br />

magazine for urban travelers. We look forward to exploring more of our<br />

world together, rooting out travelers you want to know and capturing<br />

stories you want to hear. In the interim, welcome to our inaugural issue.<br />

T H E A R C H I V I S T S<br />

Immigration and the<br />

<strong>Black</strong> British experience,<br />

Jendella Benson's view<br />

should not be missed.<br />

Foodies should love Kelis'<br />

book... Rodney did. Check<br />

out his review in this<br />

issue as well.<br />

We have been stalking<br />

photographer Matika<br />

Wilbur for a minute. We<br />

finally got her to sit long<br />

enough to learn more<br />

about her project.<br />



For full bios and social media links to all of the writers, photographers,<br />

and editors from this issue. Please visit www.GriotsRepublic.com.

IG photographer<br />

R E A D I N G L I S T of insight into the psyche of this<br />

creative force of nature. At some<br />

points, this professed introverts<br />

shedding light on her life almost makes<br />

the reader feel like they are intruding<br />

SAY 'YES' TO<br />

A NEW YEAR<br />

Is this the next book to add you your reading list?<br />

"YES!"<br />

By Rodney Goode<br />

and that makes the reader respect<br />

(even treasure) the gift she is giving<br />

you within its covers.<br />

Without revealing too much, The Year<br />

of Yes begins when her sister mutters<br />

six words under breath:<br />

You never say yes to anything.<br />

From that point, Rhimes walks the<br />

reader through the impact of those<br />

words and all she must overcome to<br />

begin to say 'yes.' She tells the tale of a<br />

lying introvert (this will make more<br />

sense after reading) who says 'yes' to<br />

meeting the President of the United<br />

States, to appearing on Jimmy Kimmel,<br />

and 'yes' in some more personal and<br />

private ways. In many ways the tale is<br />

honest, sobering and sometime<br />

humorous. Rhimes simply wants to do<br />

better, be better.<br />


THE GIST<br />

There is something intriguing<br />

about the close of an old year and<br />

the onset of the new. For some it<br />

signifies the end of twelve<br />

months of successes and the<br />

mystery of newer and greater<br />

things ahead while for others, it<br />

means putting 365 days of<br />

arduous challenges behind and<br />

the hope of better things to come.<br />

Regardless of how you look at it,<br />

the New Year means just that, a<br />

new year to try again. That’s<br />

what makes the first book, “The<br />

Year of Yes” is perfectly timed.<br />

Reading this book with no<br />

knowledge of who Rhimes is will<br />

be a challenge because without<br />

understanding her celebrity, the<br />

journey outlined in this book may<br />

not have the same impact.<br />

However, if you are a fan of Grey’s<br />

<strong>An</strong>atomy, Scandal, or How to Get<br />

Away With Murder, this book<br />

provides the reader with both<br />

fascinating and interesting tidbits<br />

The Year of Yes will probably be<br />

heralded as a “Self-Help” book, but<br />

arguably it’s just an opportunity for<br />

Rhimes to publicly purge, declare her<br />

victory, and celebrate her success.<br />

The best part is it’s not preachy like so<br />

many books of this type where the<br />

author, because of their success,<br />

proclaims to be a guru of sorts and<br />

gives the reader a sense that if they do<br />

not learn from the writers errors, the<br />

reader will never be successful, nor is<br />

it a guidebook that gives the reader a<br />

step-by-step process for<br />

improvement. The Year of Yes is simply<br />

an account of an incident that sends<br />

the writer on a different avenue in her<br />

life’s journey.<br />

Rhimes’ openness is the reader’s gain.


5By Cabral M’rithi Miller<br />

©Peter McConnochie<br />

Very few statement accessories are<br />

as universal as sunglasses. Since<br />

travel, especially amongst today’s<br />

urban millennials, is on the rise,<br />

people are looking to accessories<br />

as the perfect travel companions.<br />

Considered the “AMEX of <strong>Travel</strong>,”<br />

because one should not leave home<br />

without them, sunglasses can<br />

make or break your experience and<br />

elevate your selfie game!<br />

Here we break down the five types<br />

of sunglasses that are perfect for<br />

your next vacation, whether you<br />

visit The Caribbean, Europe or<br />

choose to luxuriate right here in<br />

The States.

Wayfarer<br />

Perfect with any other outfit or occasion,<br />

the Wayfarer is the travel companion you<br />

cannot afford to leave home without.<br />

Tip: Perfect for those avoiding trends and<br />

complimentary for people with small,<br />

oval faces.<br />

Oversized<br />

By Dwayne July<br />

Offering more protection from sunburn<br />

and perhaps the paparazzi, this pair of<br />

ostentatious sunnies are usually round<br />

with a strong feminine brow line and<br />

used to minimize the arch of your noses.<br />

Tip: Works with almost every face type<br />

and great for hiding from your fans or<br />

frenemies.<br />

Aviator<br />

Versatile, with a military vibe, these<br />

pieces are outfitted with bayonet<br />

earpieces and are designed to prevent<br />

light from entering the eye from almost<br />

any angle. Tip: Round or smaller faces<br />

are ideal.<br />

<strong>An</strong>imal Print<br />

A departure from the basic black these<br />

sunnies are perfect for frolicking on<br />

beaches, perusing down city streets, and<br />

hanging out in fashionable spots around<br />

the world. Tip: Oval faces are benefit and<br />

the pattern brings out the ultrafeminine<br />

side of every woman.<br />

Embellished<br />

Considered works of art, embellishments<br />

are a fast trend that everyone is adopting<br />

especially the accessories and apparel<br />

worlds. Tip: For those who dare to wear<br />

this risky trend these tend be more on<br />

the larger side so try on before<br />

purchasing.<br />

20 20 squats<br />

20 push-ups<br />

1 minute plank<br />

30 secs of rest<br />

Repeat<br />

circuit 4x

I G P H O T O O F T H E M O N T H<br />

It was one of the least visited places I have ever<br />

traveled to, but I consider myself a true traveler and<br />

really thrive off the intrigue of undiscovered places.<br />

I've been living in Brunei Darussalam which is on the<br />

large island of Borneo for 4 months and have been<br />

taking advantage of the opportunity by exploring<br />

everything I can in the area. I've traveled to Indonesia<br />

a few times before and realized there's so much more<br />

out there than just the popular destinations like Bali,<br />

Jakarta, and Yogyakarta.<br />

I was in the province of West Papua which is also<br />

known as Irian Jaya for close to a week trekking<br />

through different villages without a guide. There are<br />

about three different tribes who inhabit the villages<br />

around the highlands of The Baliem Valley. In this<br />

photo I was visiting the Dani Tribe.<br />

On the last day of my visit I hired a guide to take me to<br />

a specific village where they perform traditional<br />

war dances. My guide was a local Papuan who<br />

spoke the language and broken English so he was<br />

able to translate. At the end of their dance he told<br />

me that they would allow me to take a picture with<br />

them.<br />

There is only one way to get here which involves a<br />

series of flights and a special travel permit called a<br />

Surat Jalan. There is always a sense of<br />

accomplishment and gratification I get when<br />

arriving to such a remote location that can’t be<br />

matched. From staying the night in the local straw<br />

huts which are called “Honais”, to shaking every<br />

locals hand I encountered along the path during<br />

the trek, to handing out candies to all the children<br />

of the villages, to the incredible views of the<br />

surrounding mountains of the highlands, this was<br />

one of the most memorable and picturesque trips I<br />

have ever had and am incredibly fortunate to have<br />

had this experience.


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New Year,<br />

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SOAR TO<br />

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Phenomenal Speakers<br />

Excellent Discussions<br />

Great Food<br />

Live Music<br />

More than 20 Vendors<br />

Much More!<br />

Saturday, <strong>Jan</strong>uary 9, <strong>2016</strong><br />

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© David Loftus.



A weekend of cooking and reading and here's a review of my<br />

favorite recipes from Kelis Rogers' "My Life on A Plate."<br />

Besides her career in<br />

music, Kelis is a Le<br />

Cordon Bleu trained<br />

chef with multiple<br />

television cooking<br />

specials, and a<br />

burgeoning<br />

entrepreneurial streak<br />

with her Bounty & Full<br />

organic sauce line.<br />

© David Loftus.<br />

It is no surprise in this<br />

entrepreneurial age we live in, that<br />

Rappers and Singers want to be<br />

Actors and Actors want to be singers<br />

(and sometimes Rappers). On<br />

occasion these endeavors are<br />

successful but rarely do you see any<br />

of the above leaving the glam and the<br />

glitz of celebrity to become an<br />

accomplished chef or cookbook<br />

author. Kelis Rogers is the exception.<br />

The ex-wife of superstar rapper,<br />

Nasir Jones a.k.a Nas, Kelis is quite<br />

the accomplished musician herself.<br />

She plays several instruments and is<br />

probably best known for her hit,<br />

“Milkshake.” Her recent labor of love,<br />

however is far removed from that lifestyle.<br />

“My Life On a Plate,” heralds her successful<br />

ascendency into the ranks of the culinary<br />

royalty.<br />

My Life On a Plate is a global culinary<br />

journey that tells the stories of a world<br />

traveler who enjoys good food. Her<br />

fondness of hole-in-the-wall eateries<br />

combined with her Le Cordon Bleu<br />

education is evident throughout the book<br />

and clearly serves as her inspiration. She<br />

adeptly captures the sights and sound of<br />

exotic locales and provides the reader with<br />

easy to follow instructions that allow you to<br />

taste her journeys via her refined palate.<br />

Foodies who travel will certainly<br />

appreciate her cookbook and the recipes<br />

will transport you there. This is a recipe<br />

source that is sure to be used over and<br />

over again. Two recipes of note that are<br />

certain to be favorites of traveling<br />

foodies, due to their taste and ease of<br />

preparation, are Kelis’ Beef Sliders and<br />

Shrimp Alcapurias.

Fans of Kelis may be surprised to know that during a<br />

musical hiatus, she worked on a food truck (yes, a food<br />

truck)! In the book she share this story, as well as her<br />

delicious recipe for Beef Sliders. Sliders can be found on<br />

menus in practically any modern eatery, but what makes<br />

Kelis’ sliders a new standard for home cooks is not in the<br />

preparation of the beef. Kelis stays true to her roots and<br />

utilizes a traditional Caribbean method of preparation in<br />

need of little improvement. The recipe calls for the<br />

braising of shredded flank steak seasoned in spices<br />

endemic to the region. So what’s the game changer you<br />

ask? It is the sauce.<br />

Kelis, a culinary entrepreneur in her own right, has a<br />

unique line of sauces and provides her recipe for a Root<br />

Beer Espresso BBQ sauce that can only be described as<br />

simply delectable. Kelis’ Beef Sliders are perfect for a quick<br />

hand-held meal in front of the television or can be easily<br />

used for either a hors d’oeuvre or snack platter.<br />

The second recipe noted is for Shrimp Alcapurias. As an<br />

introduction to the recipe, Kelis shares glimpses of her time<br />

in Puerto Rico and anyone who has been there is certain to<br />

be whisked away again to sand and sun to reminisce of this<br />

beach food favorite. Alcapurias or fritters are a handheld<br />

delicacy from Puerto Rico and while they are quite common<br />

throughout the Caribbean, this version is made with a<br />

batter of taro and/or green bananas. They are usually<br />

stuffed with meat or seafood and the latter, shrimp to be<br />

exact, and are what Kelis utilize in her recipe. Prepared to<br />

her specifics these fritters make a perfect snack or side.<br />

Leftover, they are a welcome addition to any lunchbox.<br />

My Life On A Plate is a cookbook that will make you want to<br />

see, feel, and taste the places Kelis has been for yourself<br />

and if you have been to any one of her destinations<br />

already, be prepared for a wonderful (and tasty) trip back.<br />

Bon Voyage and Bon Appétit.<br />

© David Loftus.

Born and raised in Harlem, New York, Kelis<br />

Rogers, better known by just her first name,<br />

first came to prominence singing the hook of<br />

Ol' Dirty Bastard's hit Got Your Money. Years<br />

of chart dominating songs and thrilling,<br />

boundary-pushing music followed resulting<br />

in millions of albums sold and numerous top<br />

10 hits.<br />

She has released six albums, won Brit, Q, and<br />

NME Awards, and been nominated for two<br />

Grammy Awards. Her latest album Food,<br />

made with a live band and horn section,<br />

mints a sound that is rootsy, raw, and soulful<br />

without ever being retro. Upon release the<br />

album was praised as one of her most<br />

adventurous works yet.<br />

Kelis has toured every corner of the world,<br />

performed at every major festival, and<br />

shared the stage with the world's top artists.<br />

A fashion icon and designer muse since the<br />

early days of her career, she is celebrated for<br />

a personal style which is often as creative<br />

and forward-thinking as the music she<br />

makes.<br />

© David Loftus.<br />

Besides her career in music, Kelis is a Le<br />

Cordon Bleu trained chef with multiple<br />

television cooking specials, and a burgeoning<br />

entrepreneurial streak with her Bounty & Full<br />

organic sauce line.<br />

“My Life on a Plate” by Kelis copyright 2015 Kyle Books


01<br />


RE:UNION Music Fest is a global music<br />

festival aimed to assemble the music of the<br />

African Diaspora into one unforgettable,<br />

unique experience. Hip-hop,<br />

R&B, Reggae, Kompa,<br />

Cuban, Salsa, Afrobeat,<br />

South African House,<br />

and more will be<br />

brought together<br />

on ONE stage to<br />

celebrate our<br />

narrative.<br />


RE:UNION<br />





<strong>GRIOTS</strong> <strong>REPUBLIC</strong><br />


Written by Jeremiah Myers<br />

Since I was a child,<br />

I’ve been taught<br />

that“<strong>Black</strong> people<br />

everywhere are<br />

one in my family<br />

would impart, “The<br />

only difference between<br />

<strong>Black</strong> Americans and others of<br />

the Diaspora is that they got off<br />

the boat one stop before us,”<br />

(referring to the route of the<br />

Atlantic Slave Trade). This<br />

message stayed with me<br />

throughout my youth, and now<br />

as an adult fully resonates with<br />

my spirit.<br />

This greater understanding is a<br />

result of two characteristics: I’m<br />

a <strong>Black</strong> Man and a World<br />

<strong>Travel</strong>er. As a <strong>Black</strong> Man I’ve<br />

learned that resilience and<br />

creativity are my best assets in<br />

the face of struggle. Moreover,<br />

as a World <strong>Travel</strong>er I’ve met<br />

countless people from the<br />

African Diaspora that share this<br />

same view. The Rastafarians I<br />

met at “Rebel Salute” in<br />

Jamaica, the South African tour<br />

guide (now friend) who<br />

discussed Apartheid with me in<br />

Johannesburg, and the women<br />

of color living as expats in<br />

Colombia all viewed the world<br />

and our place in it similarly.<br />

That’s when I realized something<br />

very simple, yet powerful…<br />

We have a shared story.<br />

That’s the reason I decided to<br />

create RE:UNION Music Fest.<br />

We have used music to tell our<br />

shared story for generations.<br />

Hip-hop was born out of the<br />

impoverished housing projects<br />

of underserved black youth in<br />

the Bronx, New York. Bachata’s<br />

origins are rooted in the daily<br />

realities of the rural Afro-<br />

Dominican population of the<br />

early 20th century. Kwaito<br />

came to rise during the struggle<br />

of Apartheid in the black<br />

townships of Johannesburg,<br />

South Africa. All of these<br />

sounds are unique<br />

autobiographies telling the<br />

African Diaspora’s story of<br />

resilience and creativity. They<br />

are a living (and oftentimes<br />

lively) testament of our<br />

collective experience.<br />

Music has the power to bridge<br />

our worlds – and our people. It<br />

has the power to RE:UNITE. It<br />

is in this vein, RE:UNION Music<br />

Fest finds its inception. By<br />

blending various international<br />

music genres into one amazing<br />

experience, “The World’s<br />

Greatest Family Reunion” will<br />

reconnect the African Diaspora.<br />

We’re more than music,<br />

we’re FAMILY.<br />

This powerful statement<br />

represents RE:UNION Music<br />

Fest. It signifies that while<br />

music will always be a vital<br />

element to the storied culture<br />

and strength of the African<br />

Diaspora, we must never forget<br />

that Family Hood will be what<br />

sustains us. I’m looking forward<br />

to meeting you, my family.

On<br />

Familiarity<br />

& Otherness<br />

<strong>An</strong> insight into Immigrants and Expats:<br />

<strong>Black</strong> Brits at “Home” and Abroad<br />

Written by Jendella Benson

To be <strong>Black</strong> and British is to have a<br />

strange relationship with<br />

immigration. Not too long ago we<br />

were stoically soldiering on in the<br />

face of cries of “go back to where you<br />

came from!”,” spat at us by red-faced<br />

yobs. But now, in light of recent<br />

waves of immigration lapping against<br />

the shores of this small, entitled<br />

island, our otherness is somewhat<br />

more familiar. Our former harassers<br />

have fresher targets for their thinlyveiled<br />

violent and racist rhetoric.<br />

These new immigrants absorb the<br />

frustrations of a beleaguered<br />

working class, whose communities<br />

have been undermined by successive<br />

governments, but have instead been<br />

sold a convenient scapegoat in the<br />

form of immigrants.<br />

While faceless mobs scream about<br />

immigrants stealing jobs, living off<br />

the state, and taking up all the<br />

housing, government ministers<br />

quietly pass legislation to cut state<br />

benefits, sell off affordable housing<br />

to the private sector, and increase<br />

the amount of low-paid, insecure jobs<br />

to add a superficial boost to<br />

employment figures.<br />

If we’re honest, some of us <strong>Black</strong><br />

Brits are just glad that the heat is no<br />

longer on us and our families. There<br />

are those who try to cement the limp<br />

embrace offered by White Britain by<br />

naively parroting nationalist<br />

sentiment to ward off the asylum<br />

seekers and migrants. It surprises me<br />

how easy it is for some to regurgitate<br />


ˌīˈden(t)ədē/<br />

noun<br />

the fact of being who<br />

or what a person or<br />

thing is.<br />

“No,<br />

where are<br />

you from,<br />


G R I O T S R E P U B L I C | P

the weak justifications once offered in<br />

order to keep our own parents out of<br />

the country. However, there are also<br />

many of us making our own plans to<br />

leave out of choice.<br />

One of the advantages of being in<br />

Europe is the Schengen Agreement.<br />

Back in 1995, an agreement came into<br />

full effect that created an essentially<br />

borderless state within mainland<br />

Europe. People within the Schengen<br />

Area became free to travel between<br />

countries without border controls or<br />

passport checks. While unsurprisingly<br />

the United Kingdom has opted out,<br />

travelling between here and the rest of<br />

Europe is more or less painless anyway,<br />

and once you’re over there further<br />

travel is seamless. For many of us, once<br />

we get over the fear of being racially<br />

abused in foreign languages, our<br />

globetrotting dreams begin with<br />

Europe. We refresh our high school<br />

level French, German, or Spanish,<br />

book our budget flights and set off.<br />

Most of our parents never travelled<br />

anywhere but “back home”, so for<br />

once we are not the children or<br />

grandchildren of immigrants trying to<br />

carve out an identity from a tangle of<br />

cultures, nor are we the awkward<br />

Westerners temporarily lodged in our<br />

ancestral land for a Christmas or<br />

summer. In these previously<br />

uncharted territories, we are tourists!<br />

Real tourists with cameras, and maps,<br />

and hotel bookings instead of<br />

mattresses on the floors of extended<br />

relatives. What an upgrade!<br />

While the privilege that comes with a<br />

burgundy passport will take you<br />

anywhere, many of us still have our<br />

failsafe tucked away in a drawer<br />

somewhere else. The fact is that<br />

while you may be British, you are not<br />

white and you will never be allowed<br />

to forget that.<br />

“So where are you from?”<br />

“London.”<br />

“No, where are you from, really?"<br />

This exchange is so common that<br />

many of us run through it on autopilot.<br />

With our “real” heritage never<br />

far from anyone’s mind, it makes<br />

sense that as soon as we were old

enough, we gathered the necessary<br />

proof and got ourselves a passport in<br />

new colours for our respective “home”<br />

countries. We often joke amongst<br />

ourselves that when the inevitable<br />

happens and Britain bombs its way into<br />

World War 3, we will avoid the<br />

compulsory military draft by hot-footing<br />

it back to Nigeria, or Kenya, or Jamaica.<br />

You’ll find us tweeting armchair<br />

commentary on dispatches from BBC<br />

World Service. “Rah, Big Ben got<br />

bombed? #MadTingSadTing :(”<br />

Once upon a time, being “shipped back”<br />

was a threat ominously wielded in the<br />

face of bad behaviour or poor grades,<br />

but such homecomings are now<br />

voluntary. I have friends who have<br />

already beaten the crowds and have<br />

relocated back to the motherland,<br />

reacquainting themselves with their<br />

heritage and culture. I follow their blog<br />

posts and Instagram feeds out of<br />

curiosity and mild envy.<br />

Globalisation means that the motherland

19<br />

is not the same motherland from<br />

claustrophobic trips back as a child.<br />

There are marble-floored shopping<br />

centres, red carpet events, socialites<br />

snapping for social media at gallery<br />

openings, and cocktails at sunset. It's<br />

hard not to mentally convert currency<br />

and realise that for what you make here<br />

to scrape by you can go and live the<br />

high life “back home”. Forget that half<br />

of your kinfolk still live in abject<br />

poverty, “believe me, there's money to<br />

be made here!” a once-forgotten cousin<br />

tells you.<br />

<strong>An</strong>d even still, we have other options.<br />

Studies, work and play have some<br />

venturing even further afield, outside<br />

the circles of familiarity in Europe,<br />

Africa or the Caribbean, and to<br />

countries where wide-eyed children<br />

stroke brown arms in the street. Those<br />

whose previous experience<br />

of blackness has been limited to the<br />

distant but omnipresent force of hip<br />

hop, or Beyonce, are often astounded at<br />

an actual black person standing before<br />

them.<br />

While the term “expat” was clearly<br />

coined by white people trying to avoid<br />

the stigma they spent years burdening<br />

the word “immigrant” with, young <strong>Black</strong><br />

Brits have hijacked the term and ran<br />

with it, setting themselves up in the<br />

Middle East, Australia, Asia and<br />

everywhere else in between.<br />

To b e black and abroad is to inhabit a<br />

very particular space, people will often<br />

assume you’re either a poor African or a<br />

rich American, so to be <strong>Black</strong> and British<br />

is something else entirely. While the<br />

innocent and not-so-innocent ignorance<br />

of strangers may initially be enough to<br />

make your mouse cursor hesitate while<br />

After all, our parents were<br />

the original “expats” – we<br />

learned from the best.<br />

booking your flights, the average <strong>Black</strong><br />

Brit will take this all in stride. I mean, we<br />

are from Britain. If we can survive the<br />

passive-aggressive, gas-lighting of the<br />

British stiff upper lip at home, I believe<br />

that we can survive anywhere. We can’t<br />

pretend that the international arrogance<br />

that had Britain raping and pillaging its<br />

way across the world hasn’t rubbed off on<br />

us. Wherever we land, just give us a bit of<br />

time and we’ll have worked out where<br />

to buy our plantain and hair products<br />

from. We do this relocation and adaption<br />

thing very well, and why would we not?<br />

After all, our parents were the original<br />

“expats” – we learned from the best.

01<br />

‘16<br />


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The Galapagos Islands are an<br />

archipelago of volcanic islands<br />

straddling the equator in the Pacific<br />

Ocean. They were declared a<br />

province of Ecuador in 1973. About<br />

25,000 people live on 18 primary<br />

islands and 3 smaller ones.

The natural beauty, serenity and<br />

mystery of Galapagos juxtaposed<br />

against the sometimes comical and<br />

occasionally frustrating obstacles we<br />

faced during our tour of two of the<br />

islands quickly became the major theme<br />

of our trip, a trip we all agreed was well<br />

worth the inconveniences.<br />

The members of my international crew<br />

included my Ukrainian-American<br />

mother, Christina, who had retired to a<br />

seaside village in Ecuador a few years<br />

ago. Her Ecuadorian friend, Maria,<br />

came up with the idea to make the trip<br />

to the islands (which sit roughly 600<br />

miles off the Ecuadorian coast). It turns<br />

out Maria’s parents had actually lived<br />

on one of the islands, Floriana, some 70<br />

years ago when her father worked for<br />

the government. Yet neither Maria nor<br />

my mother had ever been.<br />

Maria’s husband, Washington, knew<br />

the Galapagos. He’d been stationed<br />

there while serving in the Ecuadorian<br />

military in the 1970s. Our trip would be<br />

his first time back. Maria and<br />

Washington’s adult children, Cristina<br />

and Santiago, were the fourth and fifth<br />

members of the entourage. Cristina<br />

attends university in Germany;<br />

Santiago works in Quito and had visited<br />

the Galapagos as a boy. I flew in from<br />

Washington D.C. and Cristina’s friend,<br />

Louis, traveled from the United<br />

Kingdom to make it a lucky seven.<br />

The plan was to spend ten August days<br />

island-hopping, with the goal of seeing<br />

as many of the famously unique species<br />

as we could. According to the<br />

Galapagos Conservancy, about 80<br />

percent of the land birds, 97 percent of<br />

the reptiles and land mammals, and<br />

more than 30 percent of the plants<br />

are endemic. One of our guides,<br />

Dario, said our timing was superb as<br />

the best months to visit are August<br />

through November. “Galapagos is<br />

very beautiful,” he told us. “It is one of<br />

the natural marbles of the world and<br />

a wonderful experience to live here<br />

and watch nature.”<br />

While the weather in August can be<br />

slightly rainy and the temperature a<br />

tad less tropical than one might<br />

expect (mid- to low-70s), according<br />

to Dario the migratory patterns of<br />

just about all the animals, birds,<br />

reptiles and fish bring them into view<br />

on the islands during this window.<br />

We began our journey in Puerto<br />

Ayora, the most populous town on<br />

Santa Cruz. There we began our love

18<br />

affair with Galapagos snorkeling. The<br />

biodiversity was astounding, though<br />

not always what I’d expected. I’ve<br />

done a lot of snorkeling in warm<br />

water, including the Red Sea, where<br />

colorful fish and plants live among<br />

stunning coral formations. In the<br />

frigid waters off Santa Cruz, the<br />

colors were muted and the sea floor<br />

crowded with starfish, sea cucumbers<br />

and various non-tropical fish species.<br />

In the deep water areas, sharks swam<br />

stealthily below us.<br />

Las Grietas, off Santa Cruz, translates<br />

to The Crevices. It was unforgettable.<br />

After a water taxi ride to Finch Bay<br />

and a 20-or-so-minute hike past a<br />

swanky hotel and idyllic lagoons, we<br />

swam between tall cliffs with rock<br />

walls that plunged deep into water so<br />

crystal-clear you could see right<br />

down to the bottom.<br />

The plan was to spend ten<br />

August days islandhopping,<br />

with the goal of<br />

seeing as many of the<br />

famously unique species<br />

as we could.<br />

affair with Galapagos snorkeling. The<br />

biodiversity was astounding, though<br />

not always what I’d expected. I’ve<br />

done a lot of snorkeling in warm<br />

water, including the Red Sea, where<br />

colorful fish and plants live among<br />

stunning coral formations. In the<br />

frigid waters off Santa Cruz, the<br />

colors were muted and the sea floor<br />

crowded with starfish, sea cucumbers<br />

and various non-tropical fish species.<br />

In the deep water areas, sharks swam<br />

stealthily below us.<br />

Las Grietas, off Santa Cruz, translates<br />

to The Crevices. It was unforgettable.<br />

After a water taxi ride to Finch Bay<br />

and a 20-or-so-minute hike past a<br />

swanky hotel and idyllic lagoons, we<br />

swam between tall cliffs with rock<br />

walls that plunged deep into water so<br />

crystal-clear you could see right<br />

down to the bottom.

A few days later, on Isabela, we<br />

visited the shallower waters of the<br />

Tintoreras inlets situated just off the<br />

island. On the short Panga ride there,<br />

we saw penguins posted up on<br />

volcanic-rock islands and bright red<br />

crabs basking in the sun. Once in the<br />

water, we spotted decades-old sea<br />

turtles floating gracefully near the<br />

sea floor, and sea lions swimming<br />

close enough to grab. “I wasn’t<br />

expecting to see the animals so<br />

close,” Louis marveled. Louis (who<br />

was half-French) turned out to be our<br />

Jacques Cousteau Jr. His Go-Pro<br />

camera was always pointed at<br />

something and with Cristina’s help,<br />

he documented everything we saw<br />

above the water and below. Though<br />

we could get very close to the<br />

wildlife, we respected the admonition<br />

not to touch any animals. Human<br />

scent can cause an animal to be<br />

alienated from its group. That being<br />

said, while snorkeling one day,<br />

Cristina was practically assaulted by<br />

a sea lion determined to play.<br />

“I wasn’t touching him…he was<br />

touching me!” she laughed, as we<br />

peeled off our wetsuits.<br />

While on Isabela, we stayed in Puerto<br />

Villamil. It is a sleepy town compared<br />

to Puerta Ayora. On the Sunday we<br />

arrived, all the shops were closed and<br />

it felt nearly uninhabited. We were<br />

lucky to find cold beer and a local<br />

woman under a walkway bridge to<br />

the beach frying up and selling the<br />

most delicious homemade meat or<br />

cheese empanadas. She made them<br />

using cassava dough, which is gluten<br />

free, instead of the flour dough I am<br />

used to in the United States.<br />

We gorged on empanadas as we took<br />

in the spectacular Malecon Cuna del<br />

Sol, a long white-sand beach<br />

surrounded by palm trees and<br />

brackish water lagoons. As I strolled<br />

along the shore later, the black lava<br />

rock barrier between the sand and<br />

surf appeared to move. As I got closer<br />

I saw hundreds of land iguanas<br />

blending right in and sunning<br />

themselves.<br />

Day after day, we ticked off items on<br />

our Galapagos bucket list. We visited

Rancho Primicias, a private farm and<br />

tortoise sanctuary where the giant<br />

reptiles have free range. We strolled<br />

barefoot along the beach at<br />

Garrapaterro, where flamingos nest in<br />

the surrounding lagoons. We hiked<br />

nearly 45 minute to Tortuga Bay’s<br />

beaches to kayak and watch birds and<br />

iguanas. <strong>An</strong> 8 mile round-trip walk<br />

brought us to the Wall of Tears, a 20-<br />

foot stone wall stretching more than<br />

300 feet that was built by prisoners at<br />

a penal colony that once existed on<br />

Isabela Island.<br />

We walked nearly everywhere. It<br />

reminded Washington of his days as a<br />

solider on the Galapagos. Weighted<br />

down by a backpack full of gear and a<br />

gun, he recalled using his machete to<br />

hack his way through raw vegetation<br />

to get from shore to shore on just<br />

about all of the islands. Today, long<br />

trails leading to many of the beaches<br />

are laid with paver stones. Other<br />

paths are made of packed earth with<br />

wooden bridges across lagoon<br />

marshes. Though traversing the land<br />

is much easier than when Maria’s<br />

parents lived there, or when<br />

Washington was in uniform, one of<br />

the takeaways was that a Galapagos<br />

vacation is an active one. My<br />

mother, who is nearly 70, is in pretty<br />

good health and full of energy. She<br />

observed that many of the activities<br />

may be too challenging for families<br />

with small children or people with a<br />

physical infirmity, even a slight one,<br />

due to some of the terrain like steep<br />

steps, long walks and the need to<br />

constantly climb in and out of small<br />

boats.<br />

While tourism may be the one and<br />

only industry on the islands, the<br />

attitude toward actual tourists can be<br />

uneven. The owner of our hotel on<br />

Santa Cruz barely apologized for<br />

canceling one of our three reserved<br />

rooms, forcing me, my mother,<br />

Washington and Maria to be<br />

roommates for a night.<br />

“The main income for Galapagos is<br />

tourism,” Santiago explained, “but<br />

they are not focused on the service<br />

aspect of tourism. Many of the guides<br />

try to trick you in order for you to<br />

hire them for everything, and they<br />

charge you whatever they want.”<br />

Unanticipated costs were an


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ISLAM IN<br />



At approximately 9 pm in a favela, an urban<br />

slum south of Sao Paulo, I was walking with few<br />

of my hosts to buy meat from the butcher. I was<br />

filled with that sense of adventure one gets in a<br />

new environment.<br />

“Hey – this looks safe. Isn’t it funny, everyone scared<br />

me of coming to the favelas?,” I asked confidently yet<br />

looking at my hosts for confirmation. “You are safe<br />

because you are Kaab’s guest. People know that. Just<br />

stay close to us,” they said without breaking their<br />

smile.<br />

Back in the summer of 2011, my wanderlust brought<br />

me to Kyrgyzstan. While there, I witnessed a Muslim<br />

family asking God to bless their vodka shots. This<br />

paradox struck a very personal chord- how to define<br />

my own identity in light of conflicting expectations<br />

between my faith and the many cultures that define<br />

me.<br />

So, in the summer of 2015, I decided to travel around<br />

the world visiting lesser-known Muslim communities<br />

to answer my questions about faith,culture, and<br />

personal identity. Brazil was the first stop of 6<br />

countries: Brazil, Senegal, Bosnia, China, Malaysia, and<br />

Japan. I had many plans for Brazil, but at the top of my<br />

list was visiting Kaab Abdul.<br />

Kaab’s story had recently taken the Brazilian media by<br />

storm. Major news outlets visited his musalla a prayer<br />

room, at least once a week. He was a former hip-hop<br />

musician and rapper turned Muslim community<br />

leader. I had to meet him, despite the many logistical<br />

challenges. He lives in a favela, generally not known to<br />

be safe for visitors. It is at least an hour bus ride from<br />

Sao Paulo. <strong>An</strong>d most challenging, I don’t speak<br />

Portuguese. Kaab does not speak English.<br />

Luckily, I connected with a Portuguese-speaking<br />

Muslim-American PhD student on a field study trip in<br />

Brazil. I asked him to accompany me for the trip.<br />

Getting to Embu das Artes, the favela that Kaab calls

ammar asfour<br />

©Ammar Asfour<br />

home, was a challenge. We arrived at the bus station where<br />

we were supposed to meet him after a lengthy bus ride.<br />

After waiting for approximately an hour at the bus station<br />

during which we visited a nearby grocery store to buy some<br />

delicious Brazilian persimmon fruit, Kaab finally met us with<br />

big hugs and genuine warmth that immediately eased any<br />

worries we had.<br />

We just wanted to talk to Kaab, and we were ready to head<br />

back to Sao Paulo a couple of hours later. But Kaab had<br />

other plans.<br />

He first took us to the musalla. He was wearing a black shirt<br />

with a Malcom X picture on it and a journalist vest that had<br />

patches of Middle Eastern countries’ flags. The musalla was<br />

a single room at the ground floor of the building Kaab lives<br />

in. It was a humble place, yet it is taken care of meticulously.<br />

A red carpet covers the ground with many individual prayer<br />

rugs around the place. The front wall had a large electronic<br />

clock that keeps track of prayer times and the back wall had<br />

a large flag of Saudi Arabia. “Have you been to Mecca?”<br />

he asked pointing at the Saudi flag. “Yes, I have been!” I<br />

said.<br />

“I have been to hajj. Allhamdulillah,” he told me. We<br />

prayed the second daily prayer of the day together, and<br />

then he walked us upstairs to his home.<br />

Kaab was humorous, animated, and energetic. He told us<br />

how his curiosity about Islam was triggered when he<br />

heard the athan, the Muslim call to prayer. In 2008, he<br />

became Muslim after learning more about Islam through<br />

talking online to someone from Egypt. He continued to<br />

rap. He even tried to infuse Islam into his music.<br />

However, he found it conflicting to mix hip-hop and his<br />

newly found faith. He now only performs poetry with no<br />

instrumentals under the name Fragmentos de um<br />

Muçulmano (Fragments of a Muslim).<br />

We sat at the patio of his house overlooking the favela.<br />

Kaab was engaging and captivating. When he was not<br />

sharing deep thoughts about his faith and passion for the

ammar asfour<br />

©Ammar Asfour

community, he was making us laugh. When it got<br />

dark, we went downstairs and we prayed maghrib,<br />

the first evening prayer, together. We went back<br />

upstairs after that and continued talking. Meanwhile,<br />

many of Kaab’s friends began trickling in. Almost<br />

every 30 minutes, my friend and I looked at each<br />

other contemplating leaving, but we were so<br />

entrenched in the conversation that we didn’t want<br />

to leave.<br />

Positiv ity, hope, and faith in a better future were<br />

generally the emotions I felt from Kaab, except when<br />

he discussed the challenges he faced learning his<br />

faith. It was clear to me how difficult he found it. He<br />

points to the tattoos on his arms as an example. He<br />

didn’t know that tattoos are not permissible in Islam.<br />

For at least a year after he became Muslim, all the<br />

resources he had about Islam were three book s that<br />

his Egyptian friend sent to him. “I don’t want others to<br />

face the same struggles,” he said with a sense of<br />

responsibility.<br />

“Ammar, we will have churrascaria tonight. You have<br />

to stay the night.” Kaab told me.<br />

“Oh. Brazilian bbq?” I asked.<br />

“Yes!” Kaab and his friends replied.<br />

“I love BBQ,” I said probably too enthusiastically. I<br />

was sold. We were staying the night at Kaab’s.<br />

Honestly though, I enjo yed being there and the food<br />

was a mere excuse. The community was preparing to<br />

celebrate the wedding of a couple of their own the<br />

next day. So many friends and family were gathered.<br />

They tried to teach me Portuguese with very little<br />

luck. They practiced their American accents with<br />

extremely entertaining results. My lack of knowledge<br />

of American hip-hop music heavily disappointed<br />

them. <strong>An</strong>d most of all, the y made fun of my obsession<br />

with taking pictures. All while Kaab was taking charge<br />

of the BBQ pit, producing mouthwatering grilled<br />

beef.<br />

©Ammar Asfour<br />

ammar asfour<br />

These friends made up a tight community of about 20<br />

Muslims- most new to Islam. Some live in the favela. Some<br />

were visiting him from over 3 hours away, because they felt<br />

more welcome in his community. At night, 5 or 6 of us were<br />

to sleep downstairs in the musalla. Kaab stayed up with us<br />

joking, laughing, and stealing our pillows or blankets for<br />

whatever reason. It was clear to me that Kaab was the<br />

anchor of this community. But, how could he do it?<br />

It was then that I understood why. It is because not once<br />

did he assume the role of a religious teacher. In fact, he<br />

made it a point to not lead the prayer every time we prayed<br />

together. He acted only as a humble community servant<br />

leader.<br />

Earlier in the day, I was puzzled by Kaab’s emphasis on<br />

helping his community at large. I had asked him if at any<br />

point in his career he thought of leaving the favela. He<br />

responded with an emphatic no. This is his home. “But how<br />

would Kaab heal this community?” I thought to myself. I<br />

knew he<br />

©Ammar Assfour

©Ammar Asfour<br />

cared. He genuinely wanted to help not only the<br />

Muslim community, but the larger community of the<br />

favela. But was that enough to make a strong<br />

community?<br />

So, I asked him about his vision. He told me it was to<br />

build a school for the youth in the community. I was<br />

surprised. “Why a school?” I asked. “Most Muslim<br />

community leaders would seek a mosque first!”<br />

He laughed and smiled. But his eyes were serious. He<br />

held my arm and walked me to the edge of the porch,<br />

pointing out at the favela …<br />

“Their way out of here is education not a worship<br />

place,” Kaab Abdul pointed at the sprawling houses in<br />

the urban slum. At that moment, a light bulb turned on.<br />

“Their way<br />

out of here is<br />

education not a<br />

worship place.”<br />

I’ve traveled to over 40 countries, and I hope to travel<br />

to more. I will never forget Kaab nor will I forget that<br />

particular moment. It taught me that future<br />

gener ations will struggle with their identities unless<br />

they are empowered through learning. That moment<br />

and that thought shaped the remainder of my trip and<br />

my current curiosity.

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01<br />

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ammar asfour<br />



©CamaraClayton<br />


©CamaraClayton<br />

L I F E<br />

L I M B<br />

L E N S<br />

It usually occurs at the oddest<br />

hour of the day. You’ve spent<br />

the last eight hours of your<br />

life waiting to board a plane<br />

intended for a foreign country<br />

you cannot pronounce<br />

correctly. You are hungry,<br />

uncomfortable, tired, and<br />

anxious to start out on this<br />

journey. You have trained for<br />

months for this mission, left<br />

family members behind,<br />

missed a few birthdays,<br />

anniversaries, and other<br />

important events.<br />

Nevertheless, this is what you<br />

signed up for, an adventure<br />

like no other to see the world,<br />

interacting with people with<br />

diverse values and cultures.<br />

The adventure you are about<br />

to embark on, even though<br />

exciting, may cost you life or<br />

limb; but despite it all, you<br />

gather your courage because<br />

you are an American Soldier.<br />

For Soldiers across the world,<br />

traveling to distant lands<br />

becomes a modus vivendi.<br />

We can visit countries or<br />

places closed off to the<br />

worldwide public. Since<br />

we frequently operate off<br />

of the beaten path, we see<br />

things that the average<br />

traveler does not. Our<br />

view of the world may be<br />

different from most; after<br />

all, we see humanity at its<br />

extremes, both good and<br />

bad.<br />

I joined the military over<br />

twenty years ago for<br />

patriotic reasons and to<br />

witness history. I picked<br />

up a camera with the goal<br />

of narrating Soldier's<br />

stories through the lens.<br />

It was, also, my way of<br />

safely bringing family and<br />

friends with me on these<br />

risky ventures.<br />

Despite the hostile<br />

environment, I tried to<br />

capture its beauty, the<br />

inwardness of the people<br />

and their culture. I

©CamaraClayton<br />

Our view of the world<br />

may be different from<br />

most; after all, we see<br />

humanity at its<br />

extremes, both good<br />

and bad.<br />

attempted to get the viewers to put<br />

themselves, not solely in my shoes but in the<br />

shoes of the subject. I’d hoped that they’d<br />

empathize and relate to a culture and a<br />

lifestyle that is different from theirs.<br />

Despite the social, economic, and religious<br />

differences, I hope my lens is the conduit in<br />

which people can discover that we are<br />

uniquely similar and allow the bond of<br />

humanity to bring us closer together. When<br />

the aforementioned occurs, it allows the<br />

Soldier a way of escaping the hardships of war<br />

and brings them to a place of familiarity.


The morning<br />

after my marriage<br />

was consummated<br />

I didn't feel like it<br />

was something<br />

to celebrate.<br />

A shy smile sneaked from the side<br />

of the clay brick structure. A round<br />

and flawless deep brown face with<br />

mischievous eyes that squinted<br />

whenever she laughed at my<br />

broken attempts at Nyanja. She<br />

held hands with a little boy,<br />

barefoot and eager to run with the<br />

other little children in the distance.<br />

He tugged on her arm and she<br />

finally let him go. She told me his<br />

name was Jacob.<br />

“Is that your brother?” I asked.<br />

Her eyes squinted and she laughed<br />

again. “No, he is mine.”<br />

<strong>An</strong>d then it was over. When she<br />

turned, I saw the baby- a lump<br />

beneath red, orange and yellow<br />

printed chitenge material. It was<br />

asleep and all that peeked from the<br />

cloth was a tuft of kinky hair. The<br />

girl I took for an older sister,<br />

somebody’s daughter, dutifully<br />

caring for her siblings was in fact a<br />

wife and second time mother, at 16.<br />

This was my introduction to child<br />

marriage, 568 kilometers from<br />

Zambia’s capital city of Lusaka. I<br />

was at the end of a seemingly<br />

endless stretch of dry, brown road<br />

that took me to Luangeni village in<br />

Eastern Province’s Chipata District.<br />

It is rural, with clusters of mud<br />

brick, thatch-roof homes spread<br />

out between kilometers of miombo<br />

and acacia trees..

18<br />

On the drive back, I passed<br />

more villages and the<br />

landscape gradually changed<br />

from rural to town back to the<br />

highway home. I thought<br />

about my childhood dreams of<br />

marriage, a Cinderella-esque<br />

fairy tale long since dissipated<br />

with age. Every young face<br />

and baby-laden frame I<br />

passed now made me wonder.<br />

How old are you? How did you<br />

get here? How has this<br />

changed your dreams?<br />

This was my<br />

introduction to child<br />

marriage, 568<br />

kilometers from<br />

Zambia’s capital city of<br />

Lusaka. I was at the end<br />

of a seemingly endless<br />

stretch of dry, brown<br />

road that took me to<br />

Luangeni village in<br />

Eastern Province’s<br />

Chipata District.<br />

Three months later, I met Musu<br />

and she told me everything.<br />

Musu Bakoto Sawo stood<br />

amidst a crowd of dignitaries<br />

and delegates from over 40<br />

African nations telling her story<br />

at the first African Girls’<br />

Summit held in Lusaka, Zambia<br />

in late November. She pleaded<br />

for the

<strong>GRIOTS</strong> <strong>REPUBLIC</strong> | JANUARY <strong>2016</strong> 19<br />

end of the tradition and when she<br />

finished and took her seat, she tucked<br />

into her friend’s shoulder and cried.<br />

"Let us not call it child marriage<br />

because it's not marriage,” said African<br />

Union Goodwill Ambassador and<br />

secretary general of the Young<br />

Women’s Christian Association<br />

(YWCA) Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda<br />

from the stage. “It is abduction, rape<br />

and a criminal act."<br />

Musu was 10 when she developed a<br />

love for activism, joining the child-led<br />

advocacy group “Voice of the Young” in<br />

her native Gambia.<br />

At 14 years old, her family told her she<br />

was to be married to a man of 27. A<br />

patriarchal society, Gambian fathers<br />

and uncles make these decisions while<br />

most mothers remain quiet- bound by<br />

tradition and often, internal conflict.<br />

Musu was in junior high and thought<br />

her world had come to an end. She<br />

didn’t eat for weeks.<br />

"The morning after my marriage was<br />

consummated I didn't feel like it was<br />

something to celebrate. I was hurting,”<br />

she said. “I felt like all my activism<br />

didn’t matter since I became a part of<br />

what I was advocating against."<br />

By the age of 22, she was a widowed<br />

mother and a student- a law graduate of<br />

the University of Gambia and then LLM<br />

graduate student at the University of<br />

Pretoria. Her husband died in her third<br />

year of renal failure. This tragedy and<br />

her mandated time of mourning made<br />

her degree completion seem<br />

impossible.<br />

“Never in a million years would I have<br />

It is a double-edged sword of<br />

young advocates opposing<br />

the customs and the older<br />

community seeking a space<br />

for long-entrenched<br />

tradition.<br />

thought I’d come this far,” said Musu.<br />

“At 14, I was forced to grow up; I<br />

became someone’s wife, but education<br />

was always the main priority of my life.”<br />

The social activist and lawyer has now<br />

made it her life’s mission to show girls and<br />

women in Gambia that they too can<br />

succeed no matter their circumstances.<br />

Currently the program manager at Think<br />

Young Women, she speaks and works<br />

throughout the country advocating for<br />



Think Young Women<br />

It is in her country, Gambia, that 36<br />

percent of women are married by age<br />

18 and 76 percent of women are cut, or<br />

victims of female genital mutilation.<br />

During the conference, the country<br />

made headlines after President Yahya<br />

Jammeh banned female genital<br />

mutilation (FGM) saying it is not<br />

required in Islam. The ban is not a law<br />

and many advocacy organizations hope<br />

the proclamation will lead to a domino<br />

effect amongst other countries on the<br />

continent.<br />

Besides governmental law, the law of<br />

the land makes fighting the issues a<br />

sensitive matter. It is a double-edged<br />

sword of young advocates opposing<br />

the customs and the older community<br />

seeking a space for long-entrenched<br />

tradition. When Musu returned from<br />

Zambia, her mother-in-law was not<br />

interested in discussing child marriage<br />

and specifically FGM.<br />

“You have succeeded in bringing an<br />

end to a culture that we so value,<br />

something that we are religiously<br />

obligated to perform,” said her motherin-law.<br />

At Think Young Women (TYW), Musu<br />

and her board advocate for ending<br />

child marriage and FGM in addition to<br />

working women leadership through<br />

outreach and mentoring. It is when<br />

venturing into Gambia’s provinces that<br />

they are met with the opinions of older<br />

women.<br />

They are reluctant to talk, seeing TYW<br />

and advocates like them as harbingers of<br />

change and immorality. To these women,<br />

child marriage is tradition and customs<br />

like FGM reduce female promiscuity.<br />

Despite the dispelling of the myth that<br />

FGM is a religious custom, these women<br />

still believe it is an obligation- the<br />

distinction between culture and religion<br />

long ago blurred.<br />

The negative effects of the customs are<br />

undeniable and visible from The Gambia<br />

to Zambia. Girls who marry before age<br />

18 are more likely to experience<br />

unwanted pregnancies and less likely to<br />

complete primary and secondary school.<br />

Musu threatened suicide if her husband<br />

and his family, whom she moved in with<br />

after marriage, didn’t allow her to<br />

continue her studies.<br />

The health consequences of early and<br />

forced marriage range from a high<br />

percentage of physical, mental,<br />

emotional and sexual abuse within the<br />

union to obstetric fistulas- a common<br />

condition in young mothers where a<br />

hole between the vagina and rectum or<br />

bladder caused by prolonged<br />

obstructed labor leaves a woman<br />

incontinent of urine or feces or both.<br />

The four types of female genital<br />

mutilation further complicate sex and<br />

delivery.<br />

Practiced in at least 28 countries in sub-<br />

Saharan Africa, the Middle East and<br />

parts of Asia. The circumcisers are<br />

often community women and relatives,<br />

who have themselves been cut in youth.<br />

Although FGM also occurs among

“Never in a<br />

million years<br />

would I have<br />

thought I’d<br />

come this far.”<br />

Christians, animists and Jews, the<br />

prevalence amongst Muslim-majority<br />

countries had led to the false belief that<br />

it is tied to Islam. FGM actually predates<br />

Islam and the majority of Muslims do not<br />

practice the tradition.<br />

“The Quran preaches peace, not bringing<br />

harm to another person,” said lawyer<br />

and author of “Delinking FGM from<br />

Islam” Sheik Ib rahim Lethome. “I cannot<br />

keep quiet when Islam is being misused.”<br />

Every time she has a platform, Musu<br />

speaks. She speaks for the 14-year-old<br />

child bride she was and for the young<br />

girls listening who think their marriage<br />

equals the demise of their futures.<br />

E D I T O R I A L<br />

<strong>GRIOTS</strong><strong>REPUBLIC</strong>.COM | <strong>Jan</strong>uary <strong>2016</strong>

NOMAD<br />

NESSTM<br />

#WhatsNext in <strong>Urban</strong> <strong>Travel</strong><br />

@nomadnesstribe<br />



01<br />




captures through her lens and every story that is<br />

shared with her has a sense of beauty but also<br />

urgency. Beauty in that there are people working<br />

to keep the culture thriving, and urgency in that<br />

there are many obstacles in preserving the culture<br />

and educating others about its true history.<br />

When Matika Wilbur set out on her journey across the<br />

country in an RV, her mission was to visit places not<br />

marked on the typical American sightseeing map, to<br />

chart the places filled with just as many artifacts,<br />

culture, and stories waiting to be heard. These are the<br />

stories of a people that make up the 562 Native<br />

American Tribes federally recognized throughout the<br />

United States. Over the course of three years, Wilbur<br />

tasked herself with capturing images of Native people<br />

living in Western Society and exhibiting them in the<br />

aptly named, Project 562.<br />

Throughout her travels the old adage, “There are two<br />

sides to every story” rings true. Every picture she<br />

As cultures are fighting to be heard, to matter, and<br />

for their history not be washed over with stories of<br />

peaceful exchanges rather than the first steps of<br />

erasure, acknowledgements like the recent push to<br />

rename Christopher Columbus Day as Indigenous<br />

People’s Day is a step in a different direction.<br />

Wilbur’s art makes the Indigenous voice even more<br />

public.<br />

When it comes to the mission of her photography,<br />

Wilbur “always believed that it would be necessary<br />

for our voices to be heard in massive media.” Her<br />

work has garnered attention but she insists on the<br />

spotlight being on the work and the issues<br />

effecting Native communities such as student

Juanita Toledo (Pueblo of Jemez), 2015<br />

dropouts and the disproportionally<br />

higher rates in which Native women are<br />

sexually assaulted.<br />

“I’m just this girl from the Res exposing<br />

truths from the Res,” she said. “I think<br />

that it [the exhibition] has gotten a lot<br />

of exposure because the people need<br />

that.”<br />

In an upcoming exhibit, debuting at<br />

Harvard on April 28, <strong>2016</strong>, Wilbur will<br />

honor Native women and “give life to<br />

some of the beautiful, powerful, and<br />

profound women in the community<br />

working hard to maintain our<br />

connection to the mother earth.” There<br />

will also be a small book that will be<br />

published to coincide with the exhibit to<br />

honor Native women. Other projects<br />

include documenting the work of<br />

the Sierra Seeds Company; a Native<br />

company cultivating Native seed<br />

“Our identity is primarily in the land<br />

and when we respect the mother we<br />

also honor and respect our women,” she<br />

said. “What I found all over the country<br />

are stories of people raping and<br />

pillaging the mothers. Lack of access to<br />

clean water, and all of the ways that we<br />

are exploiting the mother earth, I think<br />

is directly connected to the way we<br />

exploit our native women.”<br />

Through her art, Wilbur also aims to<br />

expand the education of Native and<br />

non- Native people. It’s crucial to not<br />

only to reverse negative images, but<br />

alleviate the pressure of most Native<br />

people who find themselves being the<br />

only representative of their culture in<br />

most educational settings. “A lot of<br />

native people don’t go to school<br />

prepared to be an ambassador or<br />

educator to those who are supposed<br />

to be educating them,” she said.<br />

Though her mission is selfless, she did<br />

note the physical effects the project<br />

has taken on her. “It’s really hard<br />

what I’m doing; the toll that it has<br />

taken on my body to live on people’s<br />

couches and in an RV for three<br />

years,” she said. “I developed<br />

allergies, I’ve aged, I don’t get to work<br />

out as much as I would like to, but I<br />

see it as there isn’t any other option.<br />

We need it. People’s minds have to<br />

change about Native America in<br />

order to affect public policy, and<br />

that’s something I can do.”

“What I found all over the country<br />

are stories of people raping and<br />

pillaging the mothers. Lack of<br />

access to clean water, and all of the<br />

ways that we are exploiting the<br />

mother earth, I think is directly<br />

connected to the way we exploit<br />

our native women.”<br />

Matika Wilbur<br />

Darkfeather, Bibiana and Eckos <strong>An</strong>cheta (Tulalip), 2014.

Dr. Mary Evelyn Belgarde (Pueblo of Isleta and Ohkay Owingeh), 2014.<br />

Wilbur also points out that paying for<br />

her trip was no small task. She turned<br />

to crowdfunding to make it possible.<br />

Her project was not only fully funded,<br />

she exceeded her goal, yet it was still<br />

a humbling experience, according to<br />

Wilbur. “You’re asking people to<br />

believe in your dreams,” she said.<br />

Crowd funding allowed her to<br />

continue working to capture and<br />

highlight the identities of Nat ive<br />

people. In regards to her own identity,<br />

Wilbur describes it as “complex.” She<br />

represents her mother’s tribe<br />

Swinomish and her father’s tribe<br />

Tulalip but is enrolled as a Tulalip due<br />

to a federal policy that allows only<br />

one tribal enrollment.<br />

Despite the hardships associated with<br />

her project, she insists that the people<br />

she has encountered on her journey<br />

have strengthened her resolve, in the<br />

fact, that th ere are many more steps<br />

to be taken in order to educate others<br />

about Indigenous peoples. She<br />

contends that Indigenous people<br />

must also be able to accurately<br />

identify with their own culture in<br />

safe spaces, on and off the<br />

designated areas sanctioned by the<br />

United States.<br />

A long term goal for Wilbur includes<br />

more traveling to discover tribes<br />

around the world and also bringing<br />

her art directly to the public. With<br />

funding, she is looking forward to<br />

the creation of a traveling long<br />

house exhibition, a “nomadic<br />

exhibition that would look like it<br />

belongs in a space of sacredness.”<br />

She wants the exhibition to feel<br />

authentic, complete with a “dirt<br />

floor and fire, and stories that are<br />

going to stay with us in a setting<br />

that feels really safe to Indigenous<br />

people."<br />

She dreams of an exhibition space,<br />

"where we can invite kids to see<br />

She wants the<br />

exhibition to feel<br />

authentic, complete<br />

with a “dirt floor and<br />

fire, and stories that<br />

are going to stay with<br />

us in a setting that<br />

feels really safe to<br />

Indigenous people."<br />

it and they are not going to feel like they<br />

are being pushed by white-walled<br />

institutions with track lighting.”<br />

To find out more about Matika's art or<br />

to help her create her exhibition by<br />

donating to her project, please visit<br />

MatikaWilbur.com or Project562.com.<br />

You can also follow her journey on<br />

Instagram @MatikaWilbur.<br />



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