A Conversation with Filmmaker Idil Ibrahim

Idil Ibrahim is a U.S. based filmmaker of Somali descent. She is an alumna of University of California, Berkley and attended graduate school at NYU. Her award winning film projects have led her to travel all over the world. She has a passion for social issues and marries that passion to her talents as a filmmaker, actress, director, and producer. Her film projects have screened at some of the most prestigious film festivals such as Sundance Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, International Film Festival Rotterdam and Los Angeles International Film Festival just to name a few. Her extensive filmography includes films such as Fishing Without Nets, Homecoming (African Metropolis), Am I Going Too Fast?, Trece Años, and Laredo, Texas amongst many others. Her most recent project led her to Senegal to produce and direct a short film called Sega, starring Alassane Sy, which explores the issue of migration. Idil is currently based in New York City, but is often at an airport near you.

IA: Idil, it's really wonderful to have the opportunity to speak with you. What is the earliest memory you have of feeling moved by a film?

Idil: I am not sure if I can recall a specific moment, per se. What I remember most are the more immediate responses of feeling fully immersed in a film, emotionally connected, with full on suspended disbelief. The films I love are the films that stay with me and linger in my brain for a few days. But if I had to pick one film, my earliest memory of being moved by a film was probably Splendor in the Grass (1961) which I saw when I was pre-teen.

IA: When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker and what did the road to that realization look like?

Idil I officially knew I wanted to be a filmmaker at UC Berkeley when I took Professor Loni Ding’s filmmaking course. She was such a passionate professor and a practical filmmaker--she wanted all her students to fully understand all aspects of filmmaking and feel confident doing so. It is no coincidence many of her former students are filmmakers! The “road to realization” continued through various production internships, wonderful mentors, a nurturing and supportive creative community of friends and fellow collaborators and a relentless commitment to storytelling by any means necessary! Lol. Now I get to do what I love full time and I am very grateful.

IA: Are there filmmakers that helped shape your filmmaking tastes and technique?

Idil: Oh yes, of course! I proudly consider myself a film nerd and I am inspired by so many filmmakers. There are many, but a few of my favorite directors are Andrea Arnold (Wasp, Fish Tank, Red Road), Ousmane Sembene (Black Girl), Walter Salles (Central Station, Motorcycle Diaries), Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Fernando Mereilles. There are also many contemporaries and colleagues whose work inspires me on a regular basis. Teachers come in all forms.

IA: What does an average day look like for you when you're actively working on a project?

Idil: Filmmaking and production is akin to cooking. I often use this analogy because there are always different phases at different stages. At the height of production, I’m pretty busy from early morning to late at night. However, the intensity and demand varies, so sometimes there are quieter, more reflective periods and other times you are lucky to get 2 hours of sleep. The level of demand varies from production to production, so it is never monotonous.

IA: You are passionate about humanitarian and social justice issues, particularly in relation to migration and global education. Do you consider yourself an activist filmmaker?

Idil: Interesting question. I am definitely an activist at heart and a true Berkeley girl. Nina Simone once said, “You can't help it. An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times.” So I, too, always keep this in mind.  I do believe in the power of artists to reflect the times. And though I am passionate about social issues and this is often reflected in my life and work, that’s not to say every single thing I hope to create is a work of “activism” or an “activist film.” I believe in the power of storytelling to build bridges to people and effect change, at any level.

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IA: How does your background as a Somali-American immigrant influence your filmmaking?

Idil: I feel that being Somali-American influences my filmmaking in that it allows me to cross cultures and gain insight into different worlds, having grown up straddling two worlds and different cultures myself. I find I can relate to many different types of people, from varying backgrounds and walks of life and I consider it a gift.

IA: What advice do you have for younger filmmakers who are trying to get started in the industry?

Idil: My advice for younger filmmakers trying to get started in the industry would be to encourage them to continue to create and realize their artistic vision. I’d also encourage collaboration and urge young filmmakers to become a part of a creative community where one feels nurtured and supported. I always tell myself and others, do not create boundaries where they do not exist. I think the advent of new technologies and devices is a good example of this--there are so many tools and outlets that lend to storytelling, filmmaking and mass communication, for better or worse. The key is that it is much more accessible to so many people.

IA: I had the privilege of seeing Fishing Without Nets in theater when it came out. You played the female lead in that film. How did that happen?

Idil: I was a member of the crew of Fishing Without Nets as Director/Producer of the “Making Of/Behind the Scenes.” Cutter Hodierne (director) then later asked me to play the character Abdi’s wife.

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IA: What is the weirdest thing that has happened to you while filming internationally?

Idil: The weirdest thing that ever happened to me internationally was having to ride in a roach infested car for four hours at dusk in rural Uganda. I hate roaches, but I had no choice. How the car was full of roaches, I’ve got no idea! But there is a first for everything, I guess.

IA: As a filmmaker is there a particular film that you've worked on that will always be your baby?

Idil: Sega (film) is my “baby.” It’s a story that was living in my head for years before I filmed it. It was truly a dream to make and our cast and crew was phenomenal. It was a labor of love for everyone involved. In Senegal, there is a phrase “Nio Far” which means “We are one” or “We are Together.” That was the ethos for everyone that was part of the Sega film community--it truly is the film the village made. I say it’s a short film with the heart of a feature.

IA: What's your dream future project or collaboration?

Idil: I’m a dreamer. I have many future dream projects and long wish lists of people I’d love to creatively collaborate with. But at the top of my list? Probably anything related to Oprah Winfrey!!! I get chills just thinking about it.

 

Ifrah Ahmed is an Editor of Araweelo Abroad

Lisbon Travel Guide

by Sagal Abdulle

A few months ago in early March, my close friend and I decided to get away from England. We escaped to Lisbon, Portugal for a quick weekend break. It was towards the end of my dissertation season and I needed a change of scenery from the library that I got too used to sitting in. We hadn’t planned much of anything other than our flights and our Airbnb. We decided to see what we could manage to get up to without an actual itinerary. We arrived on a sunny Friday afternoon and were instantly enamoured. Just the ride from the airport to the Airbnb we were staying in was incredibly picturesque and the stress of university deadlines were soon forgotten. 

The city has beautiful cobblestone streets, pretty little cafes in almost every street, pastel colored tiled buildings and charming cable cars that make you feel as if you’re in another world entirely. The people are relaxed and friendly and there is a laid back atmosphere that seems almost alien if you’re used to the hustle and bustle of a city like London. Our three and a half days there were exactly what we needed to de-stress. 

Day One:

We arrived in our beautiful Airbnb just off Rossio Square and immediately after freshening up we went outside and just explored the streets around the square. We had some seafood and then we decided to walk just a few minutes up the road to explore Arco da Rua Augusta, a triumphal arc with stunning views over the city. After we had our fill of the fresh breeze from the sea and the gorgeous cityscapes, we went back home for a short nap before getting ready for the evening. 

We decided to visit the famous Time Out Market Lisboa for the night, which is a food hall with various different cuisines in the Mercado da Ribeira at Cais do Sodre. After settling on some jerk chicken for dinner, we sat near the center of the market and watched some of the visitors salsa on the dancefloor, after which we called it a night. 

Day Two

We woke up early and took a train to nearby Sintra for the day to explore the castles and the beaches in that area. It took us around thirty minutes to get there and the town was stunning. Palaces atop hills and exotic garden with mountains and forests nestled between them, Sintra is everything a nature obsessed photographer like myself would want to see on holiday. We visited Pena castle and explored the grounds. We also walked through the town and took in the sights in the city centre. Then, we took a cab for a ten-minute ride to Praia da Adraga, a gorgeous beach in near Sintra with pretty cliffs, golden sand and huge rock formations that had the ocean waves hitting against them. We managed to catch the sunset there before going back to Lisbon for the evening.

Day Three

We spent the day visiting LX Factory which is an old industrial complex that now locates art shops, galleries, book stores, restaurants and vintage clothing stores. It's very similar to Shoreditch in London. Then we explored Alfama, which is the oldest district of Lisbon, with gorgeous narrow streets and beautiful cafes and small shops in every corner. The sound of Fado could be heard whilst walking through the neighborhood. We also visited Castle Sao Jorge while in the neighbourhood and took in the stunning views of the city and the coast. A random side note - the castle had all sorts of pretty cats and majestic looking peacocks just running around to their hearts content. It was definitely my favourite part of the trip.

Day Four

We were flying out around 5pm so we didn’t have too much time to explore on this day. However, we wanted to go to the district of Belem and visit the original bakery where some of the first Pasteis de Nata’s in Portugal were made following an ancient recipe from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. We spent the entire weekend consuming these yummy custard treats so it only made sense to visit the bakery where it all began. It was so worth the trip! No pasteis since has compared to the ones from Pasteis de Belem. Finally, a few minutes away from the bakery is the Tagus River and the Monument of Discoveries. We  spent the last few moments of our day just sitting by the river bank and taking in the city before heading back to London. 

 

 

 

Interview with fine artist Ikran Abdille

Araweelo Abroad had the opportunity to speak with Ikran Abdille, a gifted fine artist on the rise. Ikran resides in Northampton and she primarily works with gifs, drawing, videos, and found imagery. She holds a B.A. in fine art and has successfully show her work in both group and solo exhibitions. Araweelo Abroad talked to Ikran about studying fine art, some of her favorite artists, and what advice she has for other Somali artists.

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SA: What inspires you to do art?

Ikran: I'm inspired to create art because I feel like the world is such a beautiful place that not creating would be a shame. I've seen too many beautiful things and things that may seem ordinary to others look differently in my eyes. As I'm a primarily multimedia based artist, I mostly love moving image and the greatest lens for me has been my eyes and my camera. The everyday world inspires me and also my family.


SA: Does your art have a specific focus on anything?

Ikran: My work focuses on home and the importance of what home means. Home being a person or people rather than an actual destination. My work plays with imagery and layers, creating things within things. The images I use normally are found online unless I state that I photographed them. My video works are very playful and usually capture my family doing very casual things but captured in a very abstract way.


SA: What was it like studying a fine art degree at university?  Were your parents supportive?

Ikran: It was great studying fine art because I really got to find myself and find out what I enjoy doing and what I shouldn't be scared to do. My parents have always supported my work even if the don’t agree with the arts as a career choice. They have always said to do what I enjoy because you can only come up top in something you genuinely love doing. It would be great if Somali parents didn't fear that the arts is actually something worth pursuing but I do believe some are slowly opening up to it.

SA: What difference are you hoping your art makes?

Ikran: I just hope that when someone looks at my work they are intrigued and want to know more or just enjoy looking at it. Sometimes there aren't always words as to why we like something but we just do, and with my work I want people to know that it's okay to feel that way. With my video work it's more about missing something, I feel like when a Somali audience watches my work it reminds them of home. You hear a dialogue you understand and see faces that feel familiar , it's a longing for a comforting place. It's a longing for home.

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SA: Name a few of your favourite artists or art works?

Ikran: My favourite artist at the moment is TonyGum. She's so wonderful to listen to and watch. I remember listening to one of her talks and her approach to being a artist in learning is so fascinating. I also currently love the work of Evie Cahir, an illustrator who works primarily with drawing and painting. Her layered works are something very refreshing because she plays with what she props on paper in terms of details also the use of colour being quite minimal and light is great.

SA: How do you work? What is your process like when making art?

Ikran: My process isn't really a process. I just make work when I need to or when I feel like I want to. I usually work at any time of the day, my work is usually done on my phone in terms of collages. I use basic apps to create layered works and my video work is shot on my Canon handheld camera. I usually shoot with my video camera if I see something that really captures my eye. It's mostly colour or light or hand gestures.

SA: Lastly, how would you encourage other Somalis to get involved with art?

Ikran: As a Somali artist the best thing I can suggest to other Somali artists is to go for it. Keep your day job but make art. You don't have to be broke to be an artist that statement about artists is the worst. Artists live daily lives and still make art. The Somali community isn't very encouraging about art but once they see young people bringing things to life they'll start to become more open and the great thing about Somali creatives is that they've created many platforms in terms of YouTube and Instagram and design and modelling. I really believe as Somali creatives we have to continue to push past this traditional way that Somali elders think and break conventions. I believe we will get there but young creatives need to hang in there and keep going. If Allah wills it, it will work out.

More of Ikran’s work can be found here.

Sagal Abdulle is an Editor of Araweelo Abroad.

 

The Golden City

by Katra Ziyad

In "Old Thousand and One Stories" there is a description of Cairo: "He who hath not seen Cairo hath not seen the world: her soil is gold, her Nile is a marvel; her women are like the black-eyed hours of Paradise; her houses are palaces; and her air is soft, more odorous than aloes-wood, rejoicing the heart. And how can Cairo be otherwise when she is the Mother of the World?”

Of course, as most huge cities of the world, Cairo's air is not so soft these days, but it is improving. There are palaces still, the soil still produces lush vegetation, and the river Nile never ceases to inspire me. The women are wondrous, with beauty as mysterious and charming as the old thousand and one stories. Cairo is older now, yet she remains a city cloaked in excitement and mystery, dark secrets and bright celebrations. She is a city that often mixes the many cultures of the world with the many ages of the world.

I have walked her alleyways, her living cemeteries, her markets and I have explored her poor underbelly, as well as her grand and sparkling avenues. All the while I feared no evil, because there was none. Mostly only gracious Egyptians who seem, more often than not excited by the sight of a stranger, curious, just like their beloved cats. I am welcomed, enchanted and it is beyond my understanding how anyone cannot fall desperately in love with this city and its people.

I know I shall never completely know Cairo. It is too deep, too full of adventures. I suspect even the Egyptians themselves may never fully know this sprawling city of operas and pyramids, glass towers and medieval tunnels, ancient churches and modern cell phones. But what little I do know is that those who never visit Cairo, will never know the world. 

Katra can be found on instagram under @katraziyad

Home and Free

 by Dhool Hassan

After an unexpected yet unsurprising and all much needed departure from a job that was devouring myself and my coworkers of our health and happiness, I was left in a place that was never home, a place I spent too much time in, even after graduating university and given multiple chances of leaving. 

My life was in a stand still. Days consisting of sleep and nights being of unawareness that I was also choosing to do nothing again. Was being given another chance to be free of this place I never found a connection with.

Things finally started to move forward after a chance conversation with my mother, and an agreement with my uncle. I was propelled forward in time to the land that was familiar, a country I only lived in for a few years, a country of welcoming and understanding people that didn't make me feel like an outsider. A country neighboring my birth country in the continent I grew up away from and forever belonged to. 

Now I am here, with a place of my own, in a city that I never lived in but feels more like home than the 2 decades and so in a country that markets itself as the land of the free but not once I ever felt free in.

Here I am, where the color of my skin is not the definition of my character. Where my name is more important as it states my patrilineal lineage and the many families I belong to. Where speaking multiple languages is not discouraged but cherished.

I am home and free.

Ramadan in Cuba

by Shukri Elmi

I spent the first few days of last Ramadan in Havana. I searched for ‘Islam in Cuba’ before I left. Articles I saw online said that the government had approved for a masjid to be built, but nowhere was it confirmed whether the project had been completed. I then saw a photo of the mosque on Instagram and so I noted the name and location. I also came across articles on Imam Yahya Pedro, the leader of the Islamic League in Cuba. The articles talked about how he and his wife would clear their living room every Friday for over two decades so that the small Muslim community of Havana could pray Jummah.

I first visited the masjid with my friends a week before Ramadan. The masjid was closed between the prayers so we sat in a café nearby in the outdoor area. This guy (Yusuf) walked past and told us that they would be reopening for Asr prayer. He also asked where we were all from, and when I said Somalia he got really excited and said his wife was Somali too, and that we could speak properly later. After we prayed, they made us tea and Yusuf started telling us about his journey to Islam, how he met his wife who was Somali-Canadian. After that. he started translating everyone’s story. Ahmed was one of the older men and he became interested in Islam after reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Others said they were inspired by their Muslim friends at university who came from Muslim countries to Havana to study. The oldest amongst us was named Daud and he spoke very good English. He told us about his life in Cuba before, during and after the revolution. He also told us about how he had embraced Islam fairly recently.

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After travelling the island for a week, three of my friends went back to London, so only Meryem and I were left. Yusuf told us that most of the small Muslim community breaks fast together at the masjid. So on the first day of Ramadan, after somehow finding the energy to walk around the city all day we went to the masjid around Asr. There were so many more people compared to our first visit; especially the woman’s side. One evening, an elderly woman was standing beside me in salah, and she kept looking over to see how my hands were arranged, and fixing hers accordingly. In that moment I realized how truly blessed I am to have been born into this beautiful religion.

I was so surprised to see two Somali girls, both from Djibouti studying engineering in Havana. I also met a Somali guy at the masjid, who was waiting on documents from the government so he could travel to the United States. It was hilarious speaking Somali in Havana of all places, but I live for strange moments like that. We saw these same beautiful women every evening, my Somali sisters helped translate a few conversations with them. It became such a routine that I really didn’t want to leave. I would’ve loved to see how they celebrate Eid!

One of the evenings we met Imam Yahya, he was so chill and easy to speak to. Before we left we asked if we could meet his wife and visit him in his home to see where everyone used to pray before the mosque opened. He happily agreed and Yusuf took us the next morning (our last day in Havana) and it was probably my favourite day of the whole trip. We sat in Imam Yahya’s living room for a while, looking at pictures of Eid prayers in Paseo del Prado, pictures of him in Mecca and pictures with the Turkish president Erdoğan. He told us about his travels, and the things he hopes to do for the Muslim community in Cuba such as providing local halal meat, since they currently only have halal chicken imported from Brazil and the supply is inconsistent.

After that we took a walk around his neighbourhood. He picked up bread from the bakery with his ration card and would later bring it to the masjid with him for iftar. He was so well respected in his area and it was so cute seeing all the teenagers stop to greet him. It’s only when people actually know Muslims that they can have an accurate perception of the religion. I’m sure a lot of people in Havana are clueless about Islam, but those that know Imam Yahya will probably associate the religion with him and he definitely does it justice. I always try to remember that the best dawah is my actions and character, since my religion does shape these both in some form.

More of Shukri's work can be found on her website https://www.shukriel.com/

BTS Issue 03 Cover Shoot

All of our love, thanks and appreciation goes to our friend Hadiya Abdinur, photographer extraordinaire who shot the cover images for this issue and to our stunning friends Ebyan, Iman, Amran and Shukri who modeled for us. Can't thank them enough for making this day so much fun and for being a part of this issue! They can all be found on instagram: @hxaji, @ebbyblu, @imanm, @amranzuk0 and @shukriel. Be sure to follow them and show them love <3

Artist Spotlight: Muna Abdirahman (Minnesota, USA)  

How long have you been an illustrator/artist?  

Muna: I've been an artist since middle school. But I got serious around my first year of college and really practiced and tried to get better.  

What is your earliest memory of creating art?  

Muna: When I was in 4th grade I remember drawing myself as a bratz girl because the girl who knew how to draw bratz wouldn't draw me so i picked up a pencil and did it myself!  

Are you a self-taught artist or did you have formal instruction?  

Muna: I'm a self-taught artist.  

What does your working/creation process look like?  

Muna: I liked to watch movies and listen to music while I create art. I create my best work during night time around 3am. I start with color and see how things turn out and sometimes I like to doodle and not think about the subject.  

Want to see more work from Muna? Find her on Instagram @munadraws

 

 

Foodie Feature: Hawa Hassan, CEO of Basbaas

Araweelo Abroad linked up with Hawa Hassan, a badass model turned successful entrepreneur. Hawa is the CEO of Basbaas, a line of Somali condiments. Basbaas is bringing Somali flavor to some of the best grocers in the country including Dean & Deluca and Whole Foods. Not only has Hawa been featured in Forbes, Epicurious, and Eater but Basbaas was also a Martha Stewart American Made 2015 nominee. We caught up with this busy CEO to talk about being an entrepreneur, the relationship between food and social justice, and how to best eat Basbaas.

IA: You moved to New York to pursue modeling. How did you end up with a Somali hot sauce line?

Hawa: I love modeling, but I’ve always known it wouldn’t last forever. Meanwhile, there are many other things important to me: My own heritage, my passion for women’s issues, a need to tell great stories. Over time, I was able to weave these diverse strands together into a single narrative, and that’s my business. Basbaas is the embodiment of all my interests and goals.

IA: The Basbaas flavors that you offer are pretty unique. What did the journey to perfecting the recipes look like?

Hawa: I wish I could say there was a single eureka moment. Like any good business idea, it took preparation, experimentation and dedication. I got friends and family involved, hosted tasting parties, kept adjusting the temperature and the seasoning, and basically played with it till it got to the right place. Then I needed to ensure that the lab could scale it to large quantities without compromise. I believe what we have now isn’t just what I personally love but also appeals to the new generation of adventurous foodies.

IA: How do you like to use your product?

Hawa: Freestyle! Basbaas is unique because you can use it in so many different ways—sautéed, as a dip, as a flavor enhancer, etc. For example, I dab it on eggs for breakfast and sauté veggies with it at dinner.

IA: What difficulties did you face in starting up Basbaas?

Hawa: Launching a business is difficult and scary, and that’s exactly how it should be. For me the toughest issue was probably achieving the balance between quality and quantity—finding the right temperature with the right mass of ingredients. It was definitely a challenge, but we did it.

IA: What has the response been to the product from both Somalis and non-Somalis?

Hawa: Our core consumer is a new kind of foodie: open to different tastes and flavors from around the world, as long as they’re organic and authentic.  In particular, there’s an entire generation of young people who use food as a passport to other cultures. That’s why the response has been so positive. Of course, the young Somalis I meet love it even more—they’re excited to see Somali cuisine in homes around the country.


IA: What does a typical day look like for you? Are you responsible for making your product every day?

Hawa: As any entrepreneur will tell you, there are no typical days. And since it’s only me for now, even with strict planning, I’m constantly running in different directions at once. Now that the recipe has been finalized and readied—it’s locally sourced and bottled, of course—I spend much of my time with sales and marketing. That means being out there every day, visiting every target outlet from small farmers’ markets to grocery store chains. I don’t believe in hard sell, but I also know every meeting is a sales opportunity, and I’m the one who needs to evangelize Basbaas.
IA: Do you have any plans to expand Basbaas?

Hawa: Absolutely. There are definitely more flavors coming, and they’ll be available in more outlets. Stay tuned.

IA: What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?

Hawa: I'd say that if you’re waiting for the perfect time, you’ll be waiting forever. If you’re chasing a dream, like I am, then go for it. Understand that what you’re launching is a business, not a fantasy, and so you need to stay grounded. Figure out early who in your circle is in it with you for the long haul, be prepared for tough times, and above all keep moving forward.

IA: What role do food and social justice play in your life?

Hawa: Every immigrant’s life is both universal and unique, and I’m no exception. I know how lucky I am—I came of age during a brutal war and grew up partly in a refugee camp, yet I’ve walked fashion runways and now run a boutique food business in Brooklyn. It’s vital to me to connect my business with my heritage, and to use it as a force for change. I’m already involved with several causes near and dear to my heart—including Elman Peace and Zana Africa—and in the near future I will be even more active in these initiatives.

IA: What's next for you?

Hawa: Two things in particular that are organically connected. First, keep growing the business—more stores, more flavors and yet more stores. Second, as part of my involvement in some charity projects in Somalia, I’ll be spending time there.

You can follow Hawa’s endeavors and get your Basbaas fix here.

Ifrah Ahmed is an Editor of Araweelo Abroad.

 

 

Reflections on a Vegan Ramadan

by Halima Hassan

My path to veganism was not easy. I went from faux practicing to the real deal. As a former hot cheeto addict, I am glad to say the days of replacing my meals with hot cheetos are finally over. I did not discover veganism through videos or blog posts, but instead discovered veganism due to the health complications I began having. I used to hear about Somali adults complaining about the gas and ulcers they suffered from and I would chuckle when they warned me about my hot cheeto addiction. I continued to laugh at their warnings and eat however I wanted. Until one day I was not laughing anymore: I was informed by my doctor that I had an ulcer. Upon hearing this news, I asked for the best diet possible that could reverse my ulcer. The nurse in the room told me to try veganism. I felt like she was joking with me when she said veganism. It never crossed my mind that it was a legitimate option. When she said to try veganism, I thought to myself “Veganism?! Am I a goat?”

Since my 2014 ulcer incident, I’ve slowly changed my diet to become more plant based. I didn’t immediately jump into veganism but eased my way in. I decided that if being healthy meant eating like a goat, then sign me up! I first began by replacing all my drinks with water. I also cut out unhealthy foods from my diet like sweets and chips and I stopped eating fried and oily foods. Next, I put myself on an eating schedule so I would not over/undereat and could give my body time to digest. Then, I started eliminating both dairy and meat from my diet. In no time, I was a full on vegan and this lasted for 9 months. However, I found myself relapsing and this helped me realize that although I liked being vegan, I only liked it for set amounts of time. So then I decided that I would try being vegan again when Ramadan came.  

Ramadan time came quickly and I decided that I wanted to try veganism again. Ramadan is a blessed month where you can challenge yourself and go beyond the expectations you have set for yourself. I decided I was up for the Vegan during Ramadan challenge and it was also helpful that I had a game plan this time around. I decided just eating food out of a box labeled “Vegan” wasn’t enough. In order to meet my goal of having a cleaner diet, I needed to meal plan so that I could make nutritious and appetizing home cooked meals.  

During Ramadan, my suhur meals were simple. I ate oatmeal paired with different types of fruit toppings. For afuur, I tried recreating foods I used to enjoy eating with meat but instead replaced the meat with vegetables. I also always made sure to end my afuur with a cup of freshly made watermelon and peach juice and the duas my ayeeyo showered me in.

I documented the meals that I cooked up during Ramadan on my instagram. This was my way of showcasing that vegan food could be both delicious and nutritious. I meal planned by thinking of what I wanted to make that week ahead of time and then purchasing ingredients and making note of prep time for my instagram followers. Some days I made food that I was craving and sometimes I made food based of off commercials that inspired me. Vegan Ramadan was a complete success to me because of the love and support I received from people around the world telling me that I Inspired them or they recreated the meals I posted.

I was able to accomplish eating vegan for the duration of Ramadan. I truly did THAT. I also connected with Allah SWT and felt the blessings of Ramadan.  Veganism was not something I chose to do because of religion or because of some belief about animals (although I am dying to be a dog mom). I became vegan because my health gave me a wake-up call that I needed ina isla yaabo aka get my life! How could I be a grown woman and consume no vegetables throughout my day? Thanks to my vegan diet, I’ve experienced healthier skin and hair and better energy levels. Not only do I feel great on the inside thanks to my improved diet, but I also truly glow from the outside. If you take care of yourself internally, it shows externally! Although I was not initially thrilled about having an ulcer, I am thankful because without it I might not have adopted a vegan diet and gotten my life.

Tips for Potential / New Vegans

  1. Identify why you want to be a vegan. Is it for a cause? A health reason? Knowing why you’re doing something is a good first step.
  2. How long do you want to be a vegan? Is it for a season, a day, or long-term? Setting goals is a helpful guide and reminder of what you’re working towards.
  3. Where do you feel comfortable starting? I highly recommend first following a plant based diet to familiarize yourself with veggie based meals. I went from eating meat filled meals to eating only lean meat to finally eating no meat at all. Eventually if you eat less meat overtime, going without it entirely becomes more and more possible. If you’re a vegetable hater, start by drinking green smoothies masked with fruit. This way you get the nutrients from veggies but trick yourself with fruit flavor.
  4. Take it slow! Don’t feel a pressure to jump in with no practice and go vegan immediately. Start by eliminating things bit by bit. Take baby steps and remember to do things at your own pace.

 

Halima’s Homemade Black Bean Burgers:

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Veganism is viewed as limiting yourself, but never limit yourself when it comes to what you can make! My favorite go to meal was always a burger. When I became vegan, I thought my burger days were over until I realized I could be making my own vegan friendly veggie packed patties. I researched and modified different recipes to make my own flavorful burger to serve 4 people.

Ingredients:

2 cups of drained black beans

1 cup of seasoned corn

2 cups of cooked brown rice

1 diced onion

2 red peppers

½ tablespoon of ground flaxseed

3 tablespoons of water

1 cup breadcrumbs,

Seasonings

Onion powder

Garlic powder

Cumin powder

Chili powder

Salt

Pepper

*Note* Season to your own comfort levels.

Process:

  1. First, mix water and flaxseed in a small bowl.
  2. Mash the black beans in a separate bowl.
  3. Then combine breadcrumbs, cooked brown rice, seasonings, and corn in a bowl with the mashed black beans.
  4. Add flaxseed mixture in with the previously combined items.
  5. Mix all the ingredients together and form patties.
  6. If you don’t plan on eating the burgers immediately, then freeze them and cook them when you’re ready. If you’re consuming burgers immediately, fry them on each side until they are brown on both sides. Serve the burgers with your favorite toppings!

Keep up with my vegan adventures on Instagram: @xalimoos

A Sex Life, Examined.

By Anonymous

Illustration by Mekha McGuire

Illustration by Mekha McGuire

Before

Somewhere in Kenya my four year old self lays on a table. I am in a backyard and everything is lush and green. The memory of it fades in and out like a weak signal on a television screen. Familiar faces peer down at me reassuringly but confusion is buzzing in my ear. The faces hovering over tell me that it’s my big day. Upon hearing those words my confusion melts into happiness. The faces are soothing with their big smiles. I feel arms all over my body. Arms gently holding me in place at first. Suddenly, I am filled with a sense of unease and I began to struggle. The arms hold me tighter. A man with a tool is heading towards the spot between my legs. I struggle and ask what’s happening. I struggle and I struggle and I struggle. Then there is only blackness.  

After, Part I

I first realized I was a survivor of female genital mutilation when I was 17 years old. In my household, the female anatomy was almost never discussed. The only time vaginas were mentioned was in relation to menstruation or babies. I didn’t exactly have a sense of shame when it came to my vagina; it was mostly just something I pretended didn’t exist. My vagina existed only fleetingly when I was masturbating secretly and sheepishly. In my household, you didn’t ask questions about vaginas because that meant you were having sex. Like masturbation, pre-marital sex was both a grave sin and prohibited.

Most of my peers had been sexually active for years. As a virgin, my sexual education came from the stories that my friends told me about their sexual exploits. The more I heard about their experiences, the more I began to suspect that my anatomy might be different. My friends talked about their clits and which boys were good at getting them off. I was unfamiliar with this clitoris thing they kept referencing but often played along.

One day with a mirror in hand, I went in search of it between my legs. I looked closely for a long time and sat in different positions but I could not detect it. Feeling frustrated, I sought guidance from Google and relied on text message directions from my girlfriends on how to find my clitoris. Try as I did, I was never able to locate mine. I started to suspect that it did not exist. Not wanting to share my suspicions, I lied to my girlfriends about being able to find it. I lied because I wanted to keep this sneaking suspicion to myself because I felt that a lack of a clitoris made me a freak.

Another thing that made me feel suspicious about my vagina was my inability to cum whenever I masturbated. I would often be on the edge of what I later discovered was called an orgasm, and then it would just…disappear. The promise of pleasure never to be realized. It frustrated me deeply and I became convinced that I would never be able to achieve an orgasm. This was something I began to view as a personal short-coming. I had not yet connected my difficulty attaining an orgasm with my possible missing clitoris. The pieces started to come together when I overheard a conversation between my aunties about the circumcision of a girl in our community and their own reflections about being cut. I began to wonder if I also had been circumcised.

Over the next year, I began doing covert internet searches about female circumcision. I found out that it was called female genital mutilation. There were several different levels that could be done and that it was common in many parts of the world. Most people who practiced it used religion as a justification for it. As a young feminist, it was immediately clear to me that FGM was a tool to control the sexuality of women. There was no defense for it in Islam from what I had researched and there seemed to be no health benefits to it.

I began obsessively examining my vagina in order to figure out what parts were intact and what parts were missing. I wondered if I would be able to have sex and whether I would enjoy it. Nothing I found online answered these questions for me. There was nothing online about the sex lives of FGM survivors. Only tragic facts that made me wonder if I was doomed to a life of painful and unfulfilling sex.

Due to a fundamental lack of understanding of my own body, I made an appointment with a gynecologist in order to answer some of the questions I was struggling with. My doctor was a handsome young man and I immediately felt mortified that this hot doctor would be examining my vagina when nobody besides my mother had ever seen my vagina. As he began to examine me I decided to boss up and ignore my embarrassment and instead get confirmation about whether I had experienced FGM. At that point, the idea of possibly being a survivor made me upset. I had spent 17 years mostly ignoring my vagina only to suddenly find out that it might not be in the condition it was naturally supposed to be in.

During my visit, my doctor confirmed that I had experienced FGM. I calmly asked him what stage of it I had experienced. He told me that my clitoris and one of my vaginal lips were gone but that I had not been sewn up. I had a mixed reaction of relief and shock. Relief about finally having confirmation for what I had long suspected; but shock to know that I was really a survivor. I asked the doctor if I would ever be able to have sex. He told me that I would, but that I would have to find a very patient partner who would be willing to explore my pleasure with me.   

I left that doctor’s visit feeling confused. I suddenly had this huge secret that I couldn’t share with anyone. I wondered if other girls I knew had also experienced this. I knew that it was likely that most of my mother’s generation had gone through this but I wondered if any of my peers had as well. I also began to feel depressed. Who would ever want to have sex with me? I feared that a romantic partner would take one look at my vagina and run out the door. I felt hideous.  

I needed more answers about when this happened to me and why. After much thought and apprehension, I decided to ask the person who would likely have the best answers: my mother. I was intimidated by the thought of discussing this with her for the first time. When I brought the issue up, my mother seemed unsurprised by my line of questioning. She explained to me that she had it done and so had most of her female friends and family members. She explained that she thought it was a religious requirement at the time. But later, she learned that it was not a part of our religion. As a result, I am the last woman in our family to experience the procedure. Being able to finally discuss this with her made me feel less alone and I could not help but soften towards her. After all, she was a survivor too.

After, Part II

I graduated high school and went on to university. As all of my friends continued to lose their virginity, I held on to mine. I held on to it not out of a specific belief in saving my virginity for marriage but because of the terror I felt at the thought of having to explain to someone that I was an FGM survivor. I sensed that their reaction would be one of two; pity or disgust. I was interested in neither.

I had several romantic partners throughout my time in college. I never reached a level of physical intimacy with my partners because I was always afraid. This constant fear and anxiety around physical intimacy led to many sour relationships. Each partner eventually grew frustrated by the fact that I wouldn't have sex. In response to my frustrating love life, I took a long break to focus on myself. 

After a year of abstaining from dating, I finally met a partner who made me feel incredibly safe. Unlike my former partners, my new partner never pressured me to have sex. They made it very clear that it was completely my decision whether I wanted to have sex at all and that they were interested in being in a partnership with me no matter what my decision was. For the first time in my romantic life, I felt safe and loved.

With this new partnership, I contemplated physical intimacy for the first time. I went over it in my head for months. One night, I worked up the courage to have a discussion with my partner. I had never admitted to being an FGM survivor to any of my romantic partners before. I was terrified that my body would horrify my partner as soon as I told them. However, their response was nothing that I expected. They were understanding, loving and judgment free. The pity or disgust I had been expecting to be directed at me never came. The sense of relief that I felt was tremendous.

With the newfound self-confidence and sense of safety I felt, I began to explore my sexuality. I had always assumed that sex would be painful for me. But my partner was incredibly patient and kind. They paid careful attention to my body and were utterly devoted to helping me experience a type of pleasure that I had never known before: my first orgasm. I never thought I would be able to achieve an orgasm. I simply did not know enough about my own body or what parts still had feeling.

These new experiences taught me that sex could be for pleasure and not just for marriage and procreation. I became someone that I did not recognize. I loved sex! I felt safe and I felt desirable. I explored my sexuality furiously. I also had many, many orgasms. My partner also encouraged me to explore my own body and helped me realize that I could give myself orgasms. They encouraged me to pursue my pleasure unapologetically. This is a gift that I will always treasure.

Over time, my perception of myself began to change. I began to realize that nothing was wrong with me. That I was deserving of love and of pleasure. That my body did not need fixing. Ultimately, I learned that the state of my vagina didn’t define me.

Ask an Abaayo

Araweelo Abroad is proud to announce our new advice column: Ask an Abaayo. Readers are welcome to submit questions to our email inbox. For this inaugiral round we asked our friends and family to reach out to people in their circles to submit. You are free to use either your real name, a pen name, or to ask for advice anonymously. So fam, whether you’re having love problems, school issues, or an existential crisis – feel free to write ya girls and ask for advice. After all, if you can’t ask your abaayo then who can you ask?

Hi Araweelo Abroad,

Super excited that the magazine is doing this column. Love what you do pls keep it up! Anyways, I’m writing because I have this issue that I am not sure how to resolve. I graduated college this year and since graduation I have noticed that a friend that I was super close with isn’t really reaching out to me as much. I always see her out with our other friends from college but I’ve noticed that she isn’t really hitting me up like she used to. I’m hurt because we were super tight thru college and we didn’t get into a fight or anything so I’m not sure why she’s behaving like this. I am trying to figure out what to do. How do I confront her about her sus ass behavior without making it seem like I’m being extra?

 -Anisa J.

Hi Anisa,

First off, thanks so much for the kind words! We really appreciate your support. So sorry that you’re dealing with an absent friend. It’s good that you have picked up on your friend’s behavior and can recognize that her actions are hurtful. Realizing how other’s actions are impacting your feelings or mood is always an indicator that you’re in tune with yourself. A good second step might be to try reaching out to this friend and inviting her for one-on-one coffee so that you can catch up. Maybe let your friend know that you miss her and would like to know how she’s doing post-graduation. It’s unfortunate, but people who were tight while at uni together or working at the same job sometimes do grow apart after you are no longer in close proximity together on a regular basis. Growing apart is a total bummer but also a natural part of life.

If you’re still committed to being friends with your uni friend and are willing to make time for her despite how she’s been treating you, then you’ve determined that she matters to you. So, if she does take you up on your offer to get coffee maybe you can gently bring up how you’ve been feeling. Sometimes people are honestly not aware of how they’re treating those around them. By bringing this issue to her attention, you can determine whether that’s the case or whether she’s just not interested in your friendship. If she’s just being absentminded then you alerting her to how you’ve been feeling will probably lead her to try harder and to be aware of her actions going forward. Based off of her reaction at coffee, then you can determine whether you want to continue to make time for your friendship or if you should just move on. Just like romantic relationships, friendships only feel good when you both put in the effort and genuinely want to be around one another.

good luck boo,

Araweelo Abroad.


Hey AA,

I wasn’t really sure where to take this thing I’m dealing with because my friends are lowkey very judgey…Basically, I’m queer. I didn’t admit it to myself for the longest while but I've put in a lot of work to deal with my internalised crap. That’s not the issue though - I want to start dating but I’m afraid that my friends won't be accepting of it. Obviously, our community is really homophobic but the issue isn’t that my friends don’t know that I’m queer, they do. But knowing that I’m queer and then seeing me date other queer people are two different things. How do I go about this?

- Anonymous

Hello Anon,

Thanks so much for writing us. Congrats on being able to work through some of your internalized stuff and congrats on moving towards loving all of you. We’re super bummed that you’re dealing with “judgy” homies. We agree that our community is problematic and homophobic af. We are glad that you felt comfortable enough to decide that your friends should know about your queer identity. That shows some level of comfort with them at least (if we’re being posi).

While we can’t tell you exactly what to do because we’re not in your shoes, we can say that you 100% deserve to have homies that celebrate you and are down for you. If you think your friends will judge you for being queer and dating other queer folks, then it might be worth asking yourself whether it’s worth sticking around. Your queer identity is a part of who you are and it’s non-negotiable. It might be corny to say but if your friends can’t accept all of you, then they don’t deserve you. Also, remember that you should only do what you feel comfortable with and you should trust your intuition. We sincerely hope that if you do disclose to your friends that you’re ready to start dating that they are happy for you like good homies are supposed to be.

xoxo,

Araweelo Abroad.

p.s. write us back if you need to be connected to any support groups/resources! <3

 

A Gardening Guide for Budding Plant Babes

by Ifrah Ahmed

I randomly decided that I wanted to start gardening about five years ago. It was the middle of winter, and I was bored with all of my typical winter activities. I decided that I needed a new hobby to look forward to. I had no previous experience with gardening and I didn't really know anyone my age who gardened. So as all good hobbies start, I got on the internet. All winter, I read through books and internet articles about how to start your own garden. I even read kids’ books about gardening because I felt that they would probably have the simplest information. 

Now that it's been a few years, I've enjoyed several successful harvests throughout the years. I have grown tomatoes, eggplant, corn, spinach, lettuce, onions, cilantro, pumpkin, zucchini, cucumber, broccoli, collard greens, kale, bell peppers, strawberries, jalapenos, and so many more delicious veggies. Growing your own food changes your relationship with your food. When you grow your own food, it offers you a direct connection with what you consume. I found that I was more likely to eat vegetables and was more likely to research recipes on how to enjoy them when I grew the food myself. Also, there is a sense of accomplishment that comes with growing your own food. It's resourceful and you save some money. You also get to share the literal fruits of your labor with those that you care about. 

Gardening improved my connection with nature and it improved my diet. I also found it to be a peaceful and soothing hobby that helped with my depression, anxiety, and overall mental and emotional health. Plus, I also thought of it as a political act. So many black people in the United States have complicated relationships with the food industry. Many of us don't have access to fresh fruits and vegetables because of economic injustice and environmental racism. The relationship gets even more complicated when you reflect on the legacies of slavery and colonialism. For so long black people in the U.S. and in Africa were forced to cultivate food but never reaped its financial benefits.

I am a young black woman and I grow what I want to save myself money, nourish my body, and to feed those around me. Most importantly, every time I am in my garden I am reminded of how much we need this earth to survive and how quickly we are ruining it. 

Tips for starting your own vegetable garden:

1. Plan: First, ask yourself what sort of space you're working with. Do you live in an apartment? A condo? A house? Is there outdoor space to garden in? If you don't have space to start a garden in the ground, think about whether you're interested in gardening in pots. If you don't have space for an outdoor garden or space for gardening in pots, is there some sort of community garden you can join? My first few years, I had space to garden outdoors in our front yard. Then, we moved across the country to a bigger city and there was no gardening space in our apartment. So, I got a lot in a community garden. Determining what sort of space you have access to is the first step in becoming a gardener babe.

2. Research: Now that you know what sort of space you're working with, the next step is to decide what you're going to grow and what tools you will need. You can determine what you will grow by reflecting on your needs. Are you gardening to save money on groceries? Are you gardening in order to have access to fresh fruits and veggies? Or are you gardening in order to be able to use fresh herbs in your cooking? Once you figure out your needs, you can plan what you will grow. For me, I wanted to save money and to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Once I decided that I was growing vegetables, I then had to do research on which vegetables I could start growing.

3. Tools/Spacing: After you decide what your needs are, you need to then figure out how much growing space you need. Are you wanting to grow vegetables that you can eat every day or are you growing enough to eat every other week? Is your garden complimenting what you already buy at the grocery store or is it going to replace what you buy at the grocery store? Once you decide how much you'll be growing, then you need to find the right tools to begin your gardening journey. If you visit any hardware store or gardening center, you should be able to find gardening tools. Sometimes some grocery stores such as Fred Meyer's also carry gardening supplies. When I started my garden I needed to buy organic compost, a shovel, a hand shovel, gardening gloves, a watering can, a watering hose, and a hand rake. Also make sure that you have a water source nearby whether it’s a hose connected to your house or to a fire hydrant. 

4. Choosing your plants: Before choosing your plants, you need to figure out which plants are appropriate for which season and which region. In my region, November through March is winter. During winter, you will not really want to plant anything in the ground. Towards the end of winter, its best to start what you'll plant in the spring from seeds that you keep indoors. Once the weather is warm enough, you can transfer these baby plants into the ground. Or, if you're not feeling like starting on your garden that early in the year, you can buy starter plants already grown for you in the spring. I tend to buy starter plants for vegetables that I find don't grow successfully indoors from seed. You can buy starter plants such as tomatoes, jalapenos, squash, eggplant, etc from your local gardening store. While I am there, I also buy seeds that I know that I will be able to grow and enjoy before the end of the warm season. I buy seeds such as lettuce, spinach, kale, and cilantro. There are many others as well. In the early spring, I grow fruits and vegetables that need a lot of summer sun such as tomatoes, eggplant, and strawberries. Once the warm weather starts slowing down or about halfway through summer, I plant cool weather autumn crops such as hearty greens, garlic, and pumpkin. It's great to plant through the warm season so that you have harvests all the way through the end of fall. Also, make sure you plant things according to how much sun they need. Some plants like partial sun, so you put them somewhere where they can get sun and shade. Some plants need sun all of the time, so you put them in the spot that stays sunniest the longest.

5. Nourishing your garden: Good soil is important for your garden. There is a reason that great soil is called black gold. Good soil is a major indicator of how well your garden will do. Before I start a new garden, I always test the soil. Especially if there wasn't a garden in that spot before. You can test the pH of your soil with a test from your local garden store. By doing this test you can figure out what sort of soil you're working with and what it might be missing. Another way that I take care of my soil is by composting. Some folks like to make their own compost. I haven't gotten to that level yet, so I just buy organic compost from the store. Compost isn't something that you have to do super often like say watering your plants, but it is something that I have found that improves my vegetable garden. Other ways to nourish your garden is giving each plant enough water and also weeding your garden. The first summer I gardened I didn't know anything about weeding and my garden transformed into a gigantic bush of mint in just a few weeks. It's important to weed out unnecessary plants from your garden because they can steal nutrients and nourishment from the plants that you are actually looking forward to. They can also easily overtake your garden.

6. Time and Harvesting: As you water, compost, and weed your garden the most difficult thing you'll deal with is time. You'll be impatient to see if anything actually grows. The coolest thing is coming back to find a vegetable waiting for you. Different vegetables also grow under different time standards. Vegetables like Zucchini, squash, and cucumber seem to grow unrecognizably big in just a short time. One day you'll have nothing and the next day you'll have a huge vegetable. Other plants take a lot longer to grow. Figuring out what grows quickly and what grows slowly is always interesting. But eventually, if your garden is healthy and the elements are in your favor you will have something to consume after a few weeks. Which brings me to my next point. What is the point of growing food if you can't share it with others? Gardening isn't fun if you can't show others what you grew. Please do make sure to share your harvest. It builds community and I swear your vegetables taste better! 

 

 

Recipe Spotlight: Soor with Stewed Collard Greens & Beef Short Ribs

This meal is a twist on the classic soor and maraq recipe. It's a fairly simple meal that will impress everyone from your hooyo to your friends into thinking that you regularly make restaurant quality meals. Soor is a childhood favorite to many Somalis. It is an instantly comforting food. Food for the soul, really. We love this recipe because it can be eaten anytime of the year. The hearty beef short ribs will delight you on any winter night, while the bright garlic flavor of the stewed collard greens make this a flavorful summer lunch option. While we're big fans of the stew that is usually served with soor, we wanted to add a lighter and greener option since the short ribs are so hearty. These collard greens are freshly picked from our garden, but store bought is also great. You'll need to start by cooking the short ribs first because they take several hours. In terms of the soor, some folks like it chunky but we prefer the silkiness of creamy soor. Adjust the soor to your preferred consistency.

Ingredients:

For the Beef Short Ribs

1 pound beef short ribs

1 decent sized chunk of ginger root/fresh ginger

6 peeled garlic cloves

Half a cup of Soy Sauce

A quarter of a large onion

Half a cup of Chili-Garlic Sauce (We prefer the Tuong Ot Toi vietnamese brand)

A quarter of a cup of olive oil

A little sea salt

A little pepper

 

Ingredients for Stewed Collard Greens

Half a bunch of Collard Greens (Optional: Sub for Spinach if you'd like)

6 cloves of peeled garlic

2 tomatoes

A little olive oil

Half a lemon

A quarter of a medium onion

1 teaspoon of sea salt

1 beef or chicken bouillon cube

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

A sprinkling of black pepper

 

Ingredients for Soor

1 cup white corn flour

1 cup water

1.5 cups milk

Some sea salt

3 ounces butter

 

Cooking the Short Ribs:

 

1. Start by peeling the garlic. Once peeled, crush the garlic in mortar and pestle.

2. Next, cut off and remove the tough outer skin of the ginger root.  Once you've done that, slice the ginger root into relatively thin slices. Add it in with the garlic and crush with mortar and pestle.

3. Take your 1 pound of short ribs and rinse them in lukewarm water. Then, pat dry with a paper towel. Generously salt and pepper both sides of each piece of meat. Let the meat rest on a plate.

4. On a cutting board, peel and dice the onion. Take out a pot and pour in the quarter cup of olive oil. Once oil heats up, add in the diced onion and cook until translucent.

5. Take your beef short ribs and throw them into the pot. Sear the meat on high heat for 1 minute. After one minute, flip over and sear the other side.

6. Once both sides are seared, turn of the stove and let the meat rest.

7. In a bowl, combine half a cup chili garlic sauce, half a cup of soy sauce, the crushed garlic, and the crushed ginger. Mix until all ingredients are combined. 

8. Pour this sauce mixture directly over the seared meat. Add in 3 to 4 cups of water. 

9. Turn the stove back on, and let the meat cook covered on medium-high heat for the next 2.5 hours. 

10. Stir the meat every so often and add water as needed. After 2.5 hours, the meat should be incredibly tender. Put on a plate and either eat as is or tear the meat with a fork and remove the fatty pieces and eat the rest. 

Note: You can also cook this in a crock-pot if you'd like. It can be cooked on high for 6 hours or low for 8 hours. After I cook in a crock pot, I like to put the meat in the oven for 10 minutes so that it crisps up a little.

Cooking the Stewed Collard Greens:

1. On a cutting board, dice up a quarter of a medium sized onion.

2. Peel garlic and crush the garlic cloves in a mortar and pestle.

3. Heat up olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add in onions and cook until translucent.

4. Once the onions are starting to brown a little, stir in the crushed garlic and let it lightly caramelize.

5. As garlic and onions are cooking, turn back to your cutting board and dice up the tomatoes and throw them into the saucepan.

6. As tomatoes are cooking, slice the collard greens into tiny ribbon pieces, starting from the top. Make sure to remove the bottom stems.

7. Add the bouillon cube into the garlic-onion-tomato mixture and allow it to dissolve.

8. Rinse the cut-up collard greens and throw it into the saucepan once the tomatoes have broken down a little.

9. Stir the collard greens around in the pot until the leaves fully shrink.

10. Add in sea salt and pepper as you'd prefer. Then add in cumin and red pepper flakes.

11. Add in one and a half cups of water and let collard greens simmer over medium heat until tender. Add more water as needed.

12. After the collard greens have cooked, and the leaves have grown darker, squeeze a little lemon juice over them as needed in order to brighten the flavor. There should be some liquid left in the pan with the collard greens. 

Cooking the Soor:

1. In a pot, warm up one cup water and 1.5 cups of milk.

2. As the liquids warm, throw in the 3 ounces of butter.

3. Once butter has melted in the warm milk and water mixture, turn the heat on low and start adding in the corn flour while also mixing the liquid with a whisk.

4. Once the corn flour/soor is all in the pot, turn up the heat to medium and continue to stir so as to make sure no chunks of corn flour develop.

5. Once you see the corn flour/soor thickening up, add in as much sea salt as desired.

6. Continue to stir the corn flour/soor until the consistency is that of grits. Once preferred consistency is achieved, turn off the stove.

Plating:  

1.  Immediately spoon the soor onto a plate or bowl. Spoon the collard greens and its stew liquid over the soor.

2. Once a good majority of the soor is covered in the collard green stew, place the meat on top (either shredded or whole chunks of meat are fine).

3. Enjoy with hot sauce, salad, and your loved ones. 

Around My Mother’s Mind: What is Strength for an Anxious Somali?

by sun

“You have to be strong for me, for your brothers, for everyone,” she said.

The house used to shake with our arguments. My mother and I would become enemies over my sleepless nights. I did not rebel against her out of hate. When I looked for answers to the things I was struggling with, she turned her back on me. There was always an ongoing feud about my feelings. She could not understand why I had so much to express.

I met with a therapist for the first time in 2006. My cousin accompanied me but sat next to me with a stern face. I had known her for laughing; a symbol of joy. I felt as if I had done something wrong once I saw her stern demeanor at the therapist’s office. After that experience, I never spoke to anyone about my feelings again. I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and the distance between my mother and I only continued to grow.

When I cried, my mother cried back. Her confusion and disdain for emotion spread over to me. I soon took up her concerns about my priorities. I thought: If I show emotion, which is weakness, it would not only hurt her, but make it harder for her. I had to represent strength despite my insecurities telling me that I am nowhere near as strong as I could be.

I knew I had to accept every aspect of my G.A.D (generalized anxiety disorder). I decided I had to learn how to be a support system for myself. I told those closest to me that I sometimes have moments where I cannot control myself. I informed religious people in my life that I didn’t have a jinn and to stop telling me that this was a lack of imaan issue. In this period, I felt alienated and tried to ignore my anxiety and the warning signals of depression. Years of conditioning told me my feelings were not important and that my mental illness did not exist. Staying in that mindset would have been an injustice to myself.

There was just too much that came with having G.A.D. and everyone around me was as confused as I was. I lost friends and the respect of my family members as a result of my anxiety disorder. I became too scared to show concern for myself for fear that it would be interpreted as me saying “I don’t care about everyone around me,” or “my problems are worse than yours!” It was already rare for me to take a step back and focus on myself, so this only further fueled me to keep quiet. I knew that I had to go back to being my own care system.

I am still attempting to accept myself and improve my mental health. Sometimes I would think about words like shame over and over again until I would pass out in the shower due to anxiety. One time after such an attack, my mother unlocked the door with a spoon and barged in the bathroom. After this experience of her seeing me in such an anxious state, she started to show me a different side of herself. She began to abandon the old conversations around shame and weakness. After that, my mother often held me during involuntary panic attacks and pep talked me into sleeping during times where I had been awake for 72 hours. Although she was confused, she learned with me. It took time, but eventually she was able to see that I was trying my best to make her proud.

People believe a lot of myths about mental illness. Myths like panic attacks aren’t real. Myths like being distraught is a performance. Myths like sensitivity and mentally illness is a white thing.  I was taught at a young age from habiryal that a Somali woman is to be strong so she does not burden those around her. That she is supposed to support and care for others. But I don’t believe that. We need to destigmatize and discuss mental illness. Dismissing pain due to pride is a rotten habit in our community. Young people must be made to feel like they are not alone and can seek help.

Araweelo Abroad x Poly Styrene (X-Ray Spex)

Araweelo Abroad had the privilege of virtually sitting down with Celeste Dos Santos, daughter of Poly Styrene (born Marianne Joan Elliot-Said). Poly Styrene was the front woman of the legendary punk band X-ray Spex. The daughter of a Somali aristocrat and a British legal secretary, Poly Styrene formed X-ray Spex in London in 1976. Despite their cult following, the group disbanded in 1979 after one successful studio album. However, they reunited on several occasions since 1979 and released a second and final album in 1995. Styrene also went on to have a successful solo career until she passed away from cancer in April of 2011, at age 53. However, her legacy as a punk pioneer will live on forever.

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Celeste Dos Santos fronts the band Celeste Dos Santos & The Tabloid Queens. We spoke to Celeste about the legacy of her mother as a punk pioneer, a Somali woman in music, and the influence she had on Celeste. Most recently, Celeste was at the helm of a successful Indiegogo campaign to fund a feature documentary about her mother. Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché is scheduled to be released in November of 2018.

IA: Hi Celeste, mahadsanid for agreeing to this interview. We’re big fans and honored that you’re sitting down with us! How did Poly end up being in a punk band? Why Rock n Roll music?

Celeste: Mum didn't start out as a punk. She was really into ska and reggae and her first single was a pop-reggae song called Silly Billy. It was only when she saw the Sex Pistols play in Hastings before they really blew up that she thought about starting a punk band. I think her thought process was - this looks easy and fun...I could do that!

IA: How was your mother’s music career received by her parents/family? It’s not every day that a Somali woman fronts a legendary punk band.  

Celeste: Her mum, my grandmother, was pretty bewildered with punk, it was all a lot of screaming and noise for her. But ultimately she was proud. As for Osman, my grandfather, he and my mum were estranged during her teens. My mother was protective of her mother and she felt that Osman had not been there for the family. They were able to reconcile their differences as my mother grew older. 

IA: When did you realize that you wanted to play music? Is this something you see yourself doing indefinitely? 

Celeste: I was a big show off as a kid and was always singing and dancing. But I never seriously considered a career in music as I had seen how much my mum had been burned by the whole experience. It was only as I reached my mid-twenties that I got into music...but for me it has never been a professional thing - just something I do for fun.

IA: During the early years, your mother was critical of consumerism and of a ‘plastic’ society. She was ‘eco’ before concerns about the environment really gained popularity. Was this concern about a consumerist society something your mother carried with her later on in life?

Celeste: Yes. My mother was definitely concerned about the direction the world was heading; particularly in her last days. More than anything my mother was an observer and critic of the post-modern culture we find ourselves in - where everything is disposable and fetishized... she really had a lot of foresight as to how plastic and superficial our society would become and how this would affect people's connections with not only the planet but each other. 

IA: What is the relationship Poly had with Somaliniimo, or her Somali identity and how did that paint her life experiences? What is your connection with your Somali identity?

Celeste: My mother has a complicated relationship with her Somali identity and indeed with her racial ambiguity in general. She had a difficult relationship with her father and grew up in a part of London which was predominantly white working class and Afro-Caribbean. There were no Somalis at all. She experienced a lot of racism from white people who would call her and her siblings half-breeds and anti-mixed prejudice could be found within the black community too. As a teen my mother often found it easier to pass - people would often assume she was Cypriot or Indian and she would not necessarily correct them. She only really accepted her Somali identity as her relations with my grandfather improved and she made more contact with our Somali family in East London. 

IA: How has X-ray Spex been received by Somali people over time?

Celeste: Good question! I think the younger generations are discovering more and more about achievements of people of Somali origin thanks to the internet. I certainly hope X-ray Spex has found fans among the Somali youth!

IA: Poly was the only woman in her band (other than Lora Logic’s brief stint in X-Ray Spex). She was also one of, if not the only black woman in the punk scene in London in the 1970s. Did she ever speak to you about how her intersectional identities as a woman and a person of color/black woman in a white male dominated industry impacted her experiences? 

Celeste: Absolutely. She continued to come up against discrimination as she entered the music industry. She felt her race was somehow fetishized and she refused to be defined by her sex or the colour of her skin. We have to remember that 70s Britain was still very much a place where colonialism was a recent memory and many white men saw women of colour in a hyper sexualized context. She was even described by someone in the industry as a jungle bunny- which was of course meant as a compliment! I think this is why my mum was so determined not to be sexy - she cultivated a tomboyish asexual identity when performing, even if this did not really represent who she actually was. 

IA: You are also the only woman in your band. Do you think the experiences of women in the music industry have changed between now and when your mother started X-ray Spex? What if any, challenges have you faced in this regard?

Celeste: I think women in performing arts are still under extreme pressures which perhaps in other industries play a lesser role. The obvious thing would be the scrutiny of physical appearance. Irrespective of the musical genre, female artists are still judged on their looks, age, sex appeal, etc. In many ways it seems to be getting worse - a grungy, slightly chubby girl with braces on her teeth could be a pop star in the 70s- nowadays female pop stars are obliged to push the sexual envelope further and further to gain attention and acclaim. Just one example would be the fact that even someone who claims an avant garde identity such as Lady Gaga still feels the need to appear on stage and in videos in her underwear. What purpose does this serve? In most cases it certainly does not add to the 'art'. 

IA: What advice do you have for young Somali women who want to become musicians or form their own bands? 

Celeste: Go for it! Be aware of the hurdles - but aim to break them down- don't let them stop you. 

IA: Poly Styrene was riot grrrl before riot grrrl existed. What role did feminism play in your mother’s life and what role does it play in your life?  

Celeste: My mum was a feminist without defining herself as one. She was a woman who played by her own rules. She was also not afraid of her power. She was never dependent on any man and forged her own path in life, despite the serious challenges she faced. I am a feminist to the extent that I have no doubt as to my capabilities as a human being and I do not let my having a vagina dissuade me from doing whatever the hell I want to do. 

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IA: Poly was a legend to the rest of the world, but she was also your mother. How did this impact you? Is there a sense of needing to make sure her legacy stays alive? 

Celeste: I never identified my mother with fame or legendary status. To me she was simply my mum. Now she has passed away I do feel an enormous responsibility to ensure her work and her art remains in the public sphere; mainly because what she created and what she represented is so relevant and so important that it would be a crime to let it fade away. 

IA: What can we expect from you next?

Celeste: I have taken a break from music. I decided last year to go back to university for post-graduate study and that is my focus at the moment. I am also working on some ideas to bring my mother's work to greater recognition - so watch this space X-ray Spex fans!

 All photos provided by Celeste from family photo archives.

Ifrah Ahmed is an Editor of Araweelo Abroad.

 

 

 

Araweelo Abroad x Mariane Ibrahim Gallery

We first discovered the much talked about Mariane Ibrahim Gallery (then known as M.I.A. Gallery) a few years ago at an opening event celebrating the launch of Helen Jenning's book New African Fashion. Since then we've been impressed by this Seattle based art gallery and its dedication to showcasing diverse and thought provoking art from contemporary artists who have traditionally been under-represented in the art world. The art world has begun to take notice of Mariane Ibrahim Gallery. Earlier this year, Mariane Ibrahim Gallery was awarded a $10,000 award by the Armory Show, a leading art fair in New York. We met with gallery owner Mariane Ibrahim-Lenhardt on a cool summer day in downtown Seattle and discussed diversity in the art world, the experience of running an art gallery, and what it means to be a black/Somali woman in the art world. 

IA: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us, Mariane. You were born in New Caledonia, lived in Somalia before the war broke out, moved to France, lived in London, and then studied briefly in Quebec. How did exposure to such diverse places shape your cultural palette?

Mariane: There are places you choose to live and others that you are forced to leave. I aim to adapt and to take advantage of every single opportunity in order to learn more about myself. Every person, culture and religion I was exposed to has shaped me. I have never felt too comfortable or too strange. Living this way influences you to go where you don’t belong. Diversity is not only physical, actual physical places don’t resonate much. What influences me the most are people.

IA: What is the role art has played in your life? Were you always a connoisseur of art? 

Mariane: It has a significant importance. Visual art sparked my interest much later, when I was a teenager. I have always been curious and have enjoyed going to art centres. I became more involved recently, and working in this environment made me more aware and an expert rather than just contemplating the arts. In my opinion, you have to be a frustrated artist to work as a dealer.

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IA: You created an NGO and partnered with UNESCO and archaeologists in order to protect the Laas Geel ancient cave paintings. In fact, you were successful in making Laas Geel the first Somali World Heritage site. What inspired you to do this? Do you still engage in this work?

Mariane: That was one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences. I guess I was expressing a form of cultural fatigue. I was tired of being discovered and being part of this neocolonialist discourse. I worked hard, harder than others, to share a story that was not mine but belonged to mankind. Archeologists tend to claim ownership of culture. So it was necessary to show, that we (as Africans) know our heritage, it has been transmitted from generation to generation through oral traditions. And this journey also took me to pay homage to one of the first greatest female leader, Araweelo near Erigabo, Somaliland. I have taken a step back but will for sure continue advocating these amazing sites. Ironically, these cave paintings were the first art galleries that have ever existed. It is comforting to pursue what I am doing.

IA: When did you decide that you wanted to open an art gallery? What did the road to that decision look like?

Mariane: It was an idea. I would not have imagined to open an art gallery, now that I actually have one, I ask myself why haven’t I not done this before. It has not been easy, it is a very demanding and hardworking business. My family was not surprised as I began ‘impossible’ projects. Opening a gallery was not too difficult, managing and making it work is the challenge.

IA: You are possibly the only Somali female art gallery owner and one of the few black gallery owners on our radar. That being said, how does your identity influence your work? How often do you meet other black gallery owners?

Mariane: I sometimes don’t think that I am the only one, or don’t want to think. It makes you more obnoxious. This is not where I focus. I tend to reflect on the current trends, what is going on in various parts of the world. I luckily have been connected with black artists, curators, architects who have been great supporters. I don’t see many black art dealers, many say I am the only one...I am sure there are a few out there, and a few will soon be known.

IA: In the early days, Mariane Ibrahim Gallery focused largely on contemporary African Art and you've exhibited the likes of Maïmouna Guerresi,  Soly Cisse, Malick Sidibe, and Delphine Diaw Diallo. What motivated you to open a gallery often focused on contemporary African Art, and why in Seattle of all places?

Mariane: I am still showing artists from Africa. I simply believe Africa must be heard and seen in many and different ways. As I navigated in the art world, I would notice how Africa is missing from the map. It is vital to expose Africa, and other regions. We are under-represented. My mission is to generate more visibility, so our voices are not only heard but count.

IA: In the past you’ve attended the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair. What was that experience like for you? Does a network of African artists and African gallery owners exist?

Mariane: I participated in the first edition of the fair. It is one of the most professional and friendly art fairs I have had the pleasure of doing. It is always wonderful to meet the dealers and artists. With the art dealers, we share a lot of concerns and are all putting our energy to promote the artists. We know each other, we sometimes unite.

IA: What has been the biggest challenge or joy of running your own art gallery?

Mariane: Just walking to my space and asking myself what is going to happen. Every moment is a blessing. I am grateful. 

IA: Do you have any plans to exhibit any Somali artists in the future?

Mariane: I am actually following one young Somali artist, so the answer is YES.

IA:  What is the process of selecting an artist to exhibit in your gallery like?

Mariane: There is no process. If there is a connection, it works.

IA: What advice do you have for all the black/Somali art babes out there who want to pursue a career in the art world but don't see enough representation of themselves?

Mariane: I was more or less prepared. It is a very uncertain and unpredictable career. My advice is have a plan and multi-task. The most difficult part is not to open a space, it is to run the gallery on a daily basis. And go with your feelings.

IA: What's next for you and for Mariane Ibrahim Gallery? 

Mariane: I have so many projects and am also focusing on my development both strategically and internationally. And I need to travel more :)

More can be found on Mariane Ibrahim Gallery here.

Ifrah Ahmed is an Editor of Araweelo Abroad.

A Must-See Exhibit Honors Black Women’s Resistance Art

Dindga McCannon . Empress Akweke, 1975.

Dindga McCannon . Empress Akweke, 1975.

In 1970, the artist Faith Ringgold, alongside her daughter, writer Michele Wallace, and a New York-based artist-activist group successfully pressured the Whitney Museum of American Art to include Betye Saar and Barbara Chase-Riboud in that year’s Sculpture Annual—the first two black women artists to ever show at the prestigious institution. How did they do it? With well-placed cracked egg traps and tampons inscribed with “50%” scattered around the museum, a perfectly irritating reminder to curators of their demand: that half of the artists at the show be women. “The Whitney Museum became the focus of our attention. We went there often to deposit eggs. Unsuspecting male curatorial staff would pick up the eggs and experience the shock of having raw egg slide down the pants of their fine tailor-made suits,” Ringgold wrote in her 2005 memoir, recalling their performative tactics.

A new show at the Brooklyn Museum, “We Wanted A Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85” offers a rare glimpse of this moment in time, when the Black Arts Movement dovetailed with the women’s liberation movement. One of the exhibition’s anchor images, a photograph taken by artist Jan van Raay of one of their protests, shows a fresh-faced Wallace mid-chant, holding a sign that reads “50% Black Women Artists” and marching alongside her mother outside of the Whitney. It’s a striking record, not only of the artmaking of the time, but of the struggle for creative self-determination that black women artists were challenged with, an issue they still face today.

Curators Catherine Morris and Rujeko Hockley painstakingly assembled “We Wanted A Revolution” over the course of three years, resulting in a timely collection that centers radical resistance and pays particular attention to intersections of the personal and political, private, and public that black feminists and allies were forced to navigate during the second wave of feminism. The collection is incredibly expansive, spanning many mediums, two decades, and the work of 40 artists. It’s a rare compendium of black women artists, including the work of Ringgold, Saar, and Chase-Riboud, as well as that of Dindga McCannon, Emma Amos, and Lorna Simpson—names which now signify greatness, but belong to women who had to fight their way into the room, sometimes using eggs as weapons.

Carrie Mae Weems. Mirror, Mirror 1987-1988.

Carrie Mae Weems. Mirror, Mirror 1987-1988.

Carrie Mae Weems seminal photo series “Family Pictures and Stories,1978-1984” illustrates these tensions in a neat microcosm of the entire exhibition. The photo series, a depiction of the artist’s home life in Portland, Oregon, was conceived as a direct response to the Moynihan Report, a controversial 1965 policy paper that suggested black American families were dysfunctional and unable to contribute to wider society because black women were deviant in the home.

Faith Ringgold. For the Women’s House, 1971.

Faith Ringgold. For the Women’s House, 1971.

Other memorable pieces include Ringgold’s rarely seen “For the Women’s House,” a work which the artist dedicated to women incarcerated on Rikers Island. The painting was truly made for the women, as Ringgold had asked them what they would like to see—what would sustain their spirits behind bars and what they would like to do once they were freed. The result is a dreamy collage of women in powerful stances, occupying roles that were rare for women to hold then: a doctor, a police officer, a construction worker, an athlete. Here, Ringgold’s idea of “freedom” extends beyond the prison which restrained her subjects, reaching out to all women seeking liberation from confines far less tangible than prison walls. Another particularly affecting piece is Howardena Pindell’s experimental video work, “Free, White, and 21.” In it, the artist details racism she has experienced and has overcome throughout her life. She then dons a blonde wig, assuming the position of an unsympathetic white woman listening to her complaints. The video functions as both confessional and critique; at one point, the artist wraps her head in white gauze suggesting the strictures of the white gaze.

Emma Amos. Amos’s Sandy and Her Husband (1973)

Emma Amos. Amos’s Sandy and Her Husband (1973)

That artmaking was necessarily political in a time of such tumult should not come as a surprise, and neither should the fact that the artists were successful against all odds. The lesson contained here: If there was not a way, these women would make one.


This piece was originally published in GOOD on May 3rd, 2017.

Catch “We Wanted A Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85” at the Brooklyn Museum until September 17th, 2017. 

Muna Mire’s work can be found at the New York Times, The Nation, The New Republic, and VICE. Find her on twitter at @Muna_Mire