January 9, 2010 § 4 Comments

picture of about six small drawings of women and girls in 3/4 profile, some with cornrows and braided hair, some with their hair wrapped in cloth, some carrying children on their backs some wearing necklaces.

we are back from aswan. it was so sad to leave. so hard to pack up.

1. in the taxi on the way from the cairo airport. the driver asked me if my husband was american.


and you, he asked, are from eritrea?

i shook my head. no. amrika.

no. he said shaking his head. where are you from before?


no, he said, like obama, his father is from kenya, and you? your family is from…

amrika. all of my family is from amrika. we have lived in amrika for a long long time. i smile at him. i am like a cat with a mouse. patient.

he points to my daughter sitting beside me playing with her shoes. what is her name?


the look of utter confusion on his face was worth it.

when we got out of the taxi, i told habibi, he looked at me like i just told him i was part of the secret service…

habibi said: yeah well, you basically did.

2.  i look like i am from the horn of africa. so the folks from the horn tell me. you look like us. at first i thought that they were just saying that i was black skin like they are. and they were saying that. but they were saying something more particular for the past year that i hadnt really considered. no, you could be my sister.

3. ethiopians in dc. will stop my mother on the street and start speaking amharic to her. she has no idea what language they are even speaking.  i have worked with african immigrant in dc who shake their heads at me when i explain where i come from.  you dont need to say all that…you look like you are from the horn.

4. its the forehead. someone told habibi. she looks eritrean because of the forehead.

5. and the cheekbones my arabic teacher told me. you have the eyes and the cheekbones.  he is fulani.  brought up in qatar and sudan. but a citizen of neither country. really a citizen of no country. the fulani are marginalized in sudan, not allowed full participation in politics, because they are a nation that spans states, always the minority, and thus their loyalty is suspect almost everywhere.

6. i have explained to more folks than i can count. in multiple languages. that i am not from the horn. my ancestors were slaves from west africa.  so most likely my roots go back to nations in ghana or ivory coast or something like that.  yeah we are cousins. but really really distant. like other sides of the continent distant.

7. my teacher smirked at me when i explained this and waved his hand. that doesn’t matter. slaves were traded back and forth through africa and the middle east. like goats. just because a goat is ghana doesnt mean that his ancestors were from ghana.  traded back and forth through kingdoms.

8. in palestine, the word i heard on the street a lot was: kushi. kushi. whispered among old women and yelled as a taunt by young men.  kush meaning ethiopia like in the bible. i took it as the word for black woman.

9. but why kush? why ethiopia? because, my teacher said, the kingdoms in the gulf bought their slaves from ethiopia. ah…so the black communities that are in the middle east are of ethiopian descent? yes. they are the descendents of slaves. when he was a child in school in qatar, the other kids would tease him calling him: abd. abd. slave.

10. the kush people were sold to the arab kingdoms. and then the arab slavers sold them at the slave markets in west africa with the european and black african slavers.  and brought to the new world on wooden boats over an oceanic maafa.

11. my first night in africa was in addis ababa, ethiopia. the second i stepped off the plane something hit me. this was africa. i didnt feel like i was coming home. i felt like i had come to place that was so easy to embrace.  a place where i found it easy to be a stranger.

12. i ended up spending five weeks in ethiopia. i liked that i could put a scarf on my head and blend in. no one noticing my strangeness until i spoke. i liked that i could pick out who was most likely from nigeria, or rwanda, tigray or amharic. honey wine. fasting meals. italian restaurants. a country that had never been conquered. that had fought off the italians and sent them running back to europe. sparkly parasols and white cotton scarves. and the foreheads. huge foreheads. just like me and my mom and my brother and well, my fam is known for our profiles.

13. minayn ana?  min amrika. qabel amrika? min etiopia qabel qabel.

before. before.

a long time ago.


§ 4 Responses to qabel

  • nakedthoughts says:

    point 12. this is something white Americans take for granted. And even when we acknowledge we have taken it for granted, we forget and do it again.

    just to be around people that look like you. I never realized how important that is until I started studying education. How, when you are young it is programmed in, and who you see succeed, determines if you think you can. It may help to hear “you can do it”, but if you never see any one who looks like you succeed… Images and actions are so much more powerful.

  • Aaminah says:

    Salaams Love,

    i’ve been waiting for you to be ready to share some of your thoughts/feelings after Aswan. 🙂 Shukran for the drawings too! They are so beautiful.

  • […] 9, 2010 btw. woops. i didnt do the drawings in the qabel post. i forgot that i have been posting up so much of my own work that folks may attribute those lovely […]

  • NaksibendiMuslimah says:

    Ha ha, i didn’t think the drawings were yours because the style is very different from what i usually see of your work. But i still think they are beautiful! 🙂

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