We Are From Africa

A blue illustration of the African continent

By Donat and Lidia

We are from Africa
A continent yet so a country
The land of all
A mother of all
The land of lands
A temple for harmony
So peaceful yet so rightful
A continent that craves beauty
Yet filled with so much aestheticity
Garnished with abundant gold
Enthroned with ivory and silk
That’s our Africa
 
I am from East Africa
Where we love and cherish
Where our blood
Is a reflection of our flag
Where I am my brothers keeper
Where our anthems are blessings in disguise
Where I am from
The forbidden fruit
All of a sudden is not so forbidden anymore
East Africa! The jewel, the pearl
East Africa! Our golden trophy
 
We are from the horn
We are like lions
The pride of our own
The little star of culture
Shining deep in the heart of the continent
We seat strangers to the seas
Just as told by our Mediterranean
Just as told by our Red Sea
“The land of the barbarians”
Our peninsula…
The blessing you offer
Is the blessing you are
Shine no less brighter
But yet warmer.
 
I am from the south,
Amidst the greatness of Rustenberg
I dream of you at night
I dream of your light,
Your warmth,
Your compassion,
Is it still there?
The spirit of Ubuntu that captured our hearts
Is it still there?
Your rich soul that leads me through the road of Jozi
Oh my South Africa!
I dream of you at night.
                                                                                               

Donat and Lidia are grade 11 students at Our Lady Of Lourdes Catholic High School. They both left Eritrea at the age 4 and 5. Lidia went to Uganda and Donat went to South Africa. Donat immigrated to Canada on the 13th September 2018 and Lidia on the 24th April 2017. They are both cousins who love each other so much.

Divine Liberation

illustration of a moon with floral inside

by Sharrae Lyon

The night was cold and Tamara Wilson walked through the rough terrain of the forest with fear and relief. It had been three days since she left the Wilson Estate. She had not yet heard any dogs barking after her, no dogs had yet been trained to track her scent, or so that is what she chose to think. Leading up to Tamara’s escape, she feared greatly the consequences of being captured. It had taken Tamara two years to muster up the courage to leave the plantation of Massa Wilson. No one from her memory had escaped or even attempted, though there were stories of other folk finding liberation in the mountains from neighbouring plantations.

Jamaica was a small island, but moving from the center towards the mountains was

no simple feat.

Tamara had to pass by many plantations before reaching the river that separated the

mainland from the mountains. If it weren’t for this circumstance and needing to travel by night,

she probably could have made it to her destination in a day’s time. But alas, she was searching for refuge. And it wasn’t her first time doing so. Tamara Wilson was a new name that this woman of slender-build, brown skin, and piercing eyes was given. She had become somewhat of an expert of escape. Her first attempt was when she was enslaved in New Orleans, but she was found and sold to a slaver from the Caribbean who had connections with Massa Wilson in Jamaica. Tamara could not tolerate being owned by another person, no matter how well they

treated her, or how scary it was to walk into the dark abyss of uncertainty, Tamara had a core sense of true liberation, that she experientially was not of aware of, but sat in the structures of her DNA. She could not muster the ability to conform to the brutality that she and her people have had to endure for the past 300 years. But it had also been so long since she heard her original name, the name that her mother gave her, that she succumbed to the name Tamara Wilson. She hated herself for it, but after being whipped numerous times when she demanded

that she be called her true name, the humiliation created a blockage in her memory.

In fact, Tamara Wilson forgot so much of who she used to be. She forgot who she loved, who her family was, what their names were, what their faces looked like. All brown she was certain, but that was the only thing she held. It felt like nothing. She felt empty, but despite this, she still felt like she had a purpose much stronger than being a slave girl, who laid for her master each night. Tamara felt nauseous each morning, she knew that she was now carrying the child of her Master, her abuser’s seed. It was then that she decided that she would not bring any child into a world of enslavement. Before she left, she had tried to convince her closest friend Winnie to join her. Despite Winnie’s terrible temper, she was the closest thing to family for Tamara and she could understand after witnessing some of the trauma that she had to endure, why she was the way she was.

Although fear had dissipated from Tamara’s consciousness and submerged into the depths of the oceans of her being, Tamara felt utterly alone. She looked up at the star-lit sky. She wondered to herself how it could be so beautiful up in night sky, but be so wretched on the ground that her feet didn’t allow her to lift up towards the sky and join the stars. She had the tendency to speak to one star in particular. It wasn’t necessarily the brightest star in the sky, but it had often called on her in times of loneliness. It was as if the star had wished to join her and keep her company, but because there were other laws and forces preventing the night sky and the Earth below to merge, it wasn’t physically possible to comfort her.

She often imagined what it would be like to be enwrapped in the embrace of her favourite star. Hot perhaps, but she often dreamed herself in the middle core of the star and what seemed like angel dust encircling her. Colours of red and gold surrounding her, dropping lightly on her golden brown skin. She deeply took in the fresh air and let out a moan. She had forgotten what it was also like to have her skin gently touched, caressed. Tamara was lost in her vision traveling in the star-filled sky, until she realized she heard footsteps in the bushes only meters away. Tamara’s heart started to panic and race as she quickly jumped off on the side of the road and hid behind a bush until the person appeared.

Look through the lush leaves, she could make out a figure that was round, and a bit taller than her. The figure was a woman, she almost screamed at the girl, but then the thought came to mind that it would be kinder to approach Winnie without scaring her. As she began to emerge from the bush the dreadful thought that Winnie could have been instructed by Massa Wilson to find her came to mind. ‘No,’ she thought, ‘I will not allow him to make me fear my friend.’ Tamara then slowly emerged from outside the bushes and walked gently behind Winnie and playfully pounce.

“Don’t you dare!”

“Huh?” Winnie turned around and playfully winked at Tamara.

“How did you know?” Tamara said playfully

“It’s only been three days, did you think we’d already forget to read each other’s mind?”

It was true, ever since Tamara arrived on Massa Wilson’s plantation, Winnie and Tamara seemed to have this uncanny and unspoken ability to understand each other on this deep psychic level. It was as if they could read each other’s minds. Tamara could not believe it was only three days since she left the plantation, it had seemed like three years.

“Thought I wouldn’t come, didn’t you?”

“Well yeah, you seemed to not budge.”

“I wanted to keep you surprised.” Tamara knew Winnie was hiding behind the humour, Winnie knew it too, but neither felt it was necessary.

“I needed to leave. You were right.” Tamara walked to Winnie and hugged her tightly.

“We have to keep moving. Was there anyone tracking us?”

“Not that I could see…”

“Wait what was that?” The bush nearby began to shake and Tamara’s heart began to rattle, but then a young boy, no older than the age of five poked out.

“Child! What are you doing here!?”

“That’s Bullah’s kid. Bullah was killed by Massa Wilson the night after you left. Blamed him for

not keeping proper watch” Winnie explained.

“Bullah…he…he’s dead?”

Tamara dropped to the ground in front of the young boy. Tears began to form in her eyes as she placed her hands on the little boy’s shoulders. He looked much like his father: round face, light skin, and light brown eyes. The young child wore a white cotton shirt and shorts with his father’s brown hat. The hat was too big for the child, but it was the only memory he had of his father. If she had known that her escape was going to cost Bullah his life, she would not have asked him to help her escape.

“Bullah would have been held responsible either way, don’t worry your head with such foolish thoughts.” Winnie mindfully comforted Tamara.

“My child you are with me and Winnie now. You are safe. We will protect you.” The young boy sombrely walked into Tamara’s arms and began to softly cry.

“Yes child, shed the tears for your father. Tears are the pathways to healing and remembering.”

“We better keep moving. Three of Massa Wilson’s slaves are missing, there is no count he’ll have a team after us by morning come.”

“Let’s go. We ain’t no slaves. The stars will guide us.”

Without notice Tamara, Winnie and the young boy were surrounded by three black dogs. Dogs who were trained to individually track each of their scents, dogs who too were broken and enslaved. It was clear that Massa Wilson’s men were not too far away. Tamara had experienced a similar situation back in Louisiana, but she was more fearful of what would happen to Winnie and the young child. With the boy still clutched around her, Tamara had the impulse to crouch down to the ground. As she did, she emptied her mind and began to chant what was an old language that she had not spoken it what seemed like lifetimes.

“Sha ro lay, ma et

tomah shengo,

shengo, shengo

tuet lohm meh.

Mahsa shemeoneh,

Shango

Shang”

As her voice raised from a whisper into a strong bellowing call, the wind began to pick up, a fierce wind that circled around them, leaving the three of them unaffected, as the wind that was being conjured began to push the dogs against their will. A heavy set of clouds began to cross the sky, making the stars that were just visible moments ago, disappear. A heavy grumbling bellowed in the depths of the Earth. The ground beneath them began to shake.

“Gaiath mahyo,

shango, destsa.”

Tamara’s eyes had gone blank, and when she awoke from her trance she had found that all three dogs had been struck dead. Winnie grabbed Tamara, and they began to run, but Tamara had become too weak. Winnie quietly hauled her over her shoulders, with the young child running quickly by her side.

“Guide me, which way do we go?”

Tamara had lost most of her strength, and all she could muster was raising her hand to the sky and she pointed towards the moon.

“Wait, this must be it.” As Winnie looked up towards the moon, she realized she was in standing at the bottom of a large mountain. Without any hesitation, she began to climb up the path that was created.

She then began to see other people who looked like them; seekers of freedom. Dark, brown, and red skin; people that had features she had never seen. They did not try to stop them, they were on watch for any others who had escaped the brutal plantations.

They finally reached what looked like the opening of a cave. A man stood strong and tall at it’s opening. He looked to be about seven feet tall, muscular, his chest showed his status, he was a leader of the people. He skin was a mixture of reddish and chocolate brown, and the fire torches held by those around them, shone a yellow glow. His face was serious, yet calmly he had his gaze on Tamara. His eyes were dark brown, almost black and it appeared like two pearls were sitting in the middle of his eyes; the reflection of the moon. He motioned to his companions sitting around Tamara, Winnie and the young boy. One of the companions approached Winnie who was wearing a brown cotton dress, and he extended his arms to carry Tamara.

“Where will you take her?”

The companion looked at her with an understanding look and gently took Tamara from her grip. He then carried her, over to the chief of the community.

Tamara now lay at the feet of the tall man. He then began to extend his arms in front of him, his eyes were now closed and his breathing became very heavy. Tamara, although still alive, appeared lifeless. His hands were extended over her body and he began to speak a language that sounded very similar to the language that Tamara spoke while she had conjured up the storm. His eyes then opened and the two pearls began to float from the centres of his eyes, they drifted over Tamara’s body, leaving his eyes now completely black. Winnie lifted the young child, and felt the urge to run away, but a young woman approached her and calumny eased her fears by simply holding her hand. The two orbs began to cross and dance over Tamara’s body, as the man continued to mutter words from his lips. Tamara’s breathing began to become deeper and more full and she finally got up, walked towards the man and placed her hands on his, her eyes became white once again, and the caves now became lit by the torches along the walls of the cave.

The two began to levitate and the companions began to sing, drum and dance as they whirled upwards in the cave. Tamara’s face began to brighten with a smile.

“Welcome home, my love, my Tamraha we have been separated for too long. I left you a star to remember my love, our love. You had been so alone. You’ve endured so much. I can never forgive myself for not protecting you how I should have, so long ago.”

“No Onek, my love, there was nothing that you could have done to change the circumstances that led me to this point. We are now here together, reunited. I have taken care of myself, the ancient ones shared with me our teachings. I did not forget. Your star had become my companion. Now it is time that we change what has been done to our people.”

“Our time is returning. We shall free our people from the bondages that have been placed around them.” Time seemed to slow, the wind that had been roaring transformed into a light breeze, and Tamraha and Onek began to descend to the ground. Winnie was stunned at what she just witnessed, but there was a memory that lived deep in her bones; a memory that alluded to the normalcy of what she witnessed.

Tamraha, her true name, as reminded by her long lost love Onek walked towards Winnie, grabbed her hand. This time Winnie could not read Tamraha’s mind, she was blocking her out. She had become more powerful.

“My sister, We suffer no longer. We are free. We must now free this island.” Tamraha placed her two thumbs in between Winnie’s brow, and Winnie began to see visions of her people being placed on ships, of vast oceans, she began to smell the decaying scent of flesh and feces, and was transferred back to the lush forests, the red soil of her ancestor’s village. She began to remember her true nature, a free woman.

“Whatever it takes, Tamraha. I am with you.”


Sharrae Lyon
Sharrae Lyon is a transdisciplinary artist, writer and facilitator. She believes in the powerful role of science fiction and futurism to answer the spiritual and internal questions around “Otherness,” with the curiosity to redefine what it means to be human. Through the engagement in ancestral healing, Sharrae is driven by unleashing personal and collective power in order to create futures that are sustaining, life-giving and affirming.

In Our Own Words

Re-writing the Dialogue on FGM

By Galme Mumed

Let me start off by saying a few things about myself. My name is Galme Mumed and I am 24 years old. I was born in what is known as Ethiopia. I came to Canada when I was 8 years old after my mom sponsored me. While I was in Ethiopia I was raised mostly by my grandmother in a small village called Karamile. Once I moved to Canada I grew up in Toronto, specifically Scarborough and moved to Guelph to study International Development at the University of Guelph. I recently graduated and am now living back in Toronto.

Even though I was born in Ethiopia, I am specific about identifying as an Oromo woman instead of identifying as Ethiopian. Ethiopia is a colonial state that exists on the oppression and genocide of Oromo people, who are the indigenous people of Ethiopia, and so it is important for me to make this distinction.

Getting into my experience with FGM (female genital mutilation), I actually got the procedure done right before I came to Canada. I think my grandmother strategically did it because she knew that I would be coming to Canada. I think she kind of panicked and made me go through the procedure because she didn’t want me to leave without me getting cut. A lot of women in my culture believe that if a woman is uncut she is unclean and no one will marry her. I think she wanted to protect me and for me to carry my culture going into this new place that would be so different than where I came from. I have always remembered everything from the procedure but it was never explained to me why it was happening or the reasons why it was done. There was never a conversation about it.

When I came to Canada I kind of just lived my life and forgot about it. It wasn’t even a thing. I just figured it was something that happened that one time. I didn’t think it was something that was going to follow me or something that made me different than other women. It wasn’t really until high school that I thought about it for the first time. In grade 10 I started having an intimate relationship with a girl. We started off as friends and we were together all of the time and eventually we were a thing. When we first started getting intimate, I realized that things were different. Obviously I know that every vagina looks different but hers had extra parts that mine just didn’t have. In terms of the clitoris I was looking at hers and was like woah what is this. That was really the first time I made the connection.

You know in the movies when someone sits there and their whole life is rewinding and replaying? That’s what it felt like. In that moment I rewound back to that day that I was cut and was like, okay, that’s what that was. When they held me down and did that all those years ago it was because they were removing this thing.

Before this moment I used to watch shows that had survivors of FGM who would talk about their experience and I always use to feel bad for them. I never made the connection that it had also happened to me. Once I realized what had been done to me, I told the person who I was with at the time but she didn’t really know how to respond because it was something that she had never really heard of it. No one else knew. It was overwhelming because all of these thoughts started coming in. Being in high school you are very limited to the information you have about this stuff and it is mostly just from what people tell you. So I was thinking that I’d probably never feel pleasure sexually or be able to have a good intimate relationship with anyone. Later on I found out that this wasn’t actually true but at that time I believed all of those things because that was the information that I had access to.

So I started to do research. I was googling everything. At that point I didn’t even know that there were different stages or levels of FGM. Like sometimes the lips get sewn together, sometimes there is complete removal of all of your parts. It was so much information. Googling it was helpful in some ways but the problem was that most of the information was coming from white people who were going into these communities and creating a specific narrative. I mean I did find out that it was banned in countries all over the world including Ethiopia and that it was condemned by the UN but I was like if it is illegal than why is it still happening. A lot of things didn’t make sense. Finding out almost felt unfair because I was like well if it is illegal then why did it happen to me. It hit me that even though so much research was going into this issue; the policies were being passed and statements were being made by the UN, none of these things were actually reaching the communities that were doing FGM.

Also there were so many articles that just talked about the negative results of FGM. The fact that you’d never feel anything again after the procedure. I knew that they were doing it because they wanted to make sure people understood why it shouldn’t be legal but only having one narrative sucked for me as someone who had already had the procedure done. I’m sure it sucked for others too because it paints the picture that this is the only result you’ll have which is actually false information. A lot of it depends on the type of procedure you’ve had done.

Illustration below: Quiet girls are seeds by Mia Ohki 

Initially I did all of this research but after I graduated and got into university I kind of just stopped and continued to live my life. At some point I became intimate with someone again and felt like it was something I had to share. It felt like such a big thing and I was ashamed of it. I felt like I was missing something important and it just weighed on me. I also felt like any intimate experience I would go into I’d have to have this conversation which I didn’t really want to have. I didn’t want to keep having to be vulnerable with people. On any other day nobody would know but all of a sudden I am intimate with someone and am having to reveal this thing. I tried to forget about it but it was always something that was in the back of my mind.

One day I couldn’t sleep and was thinking about it all night. I got up and was like you know what, I am   going to start researching again and focus more on if something can be done to fix this. In highschool that had was actually my first thought but when I was researching, everything I found said that reconstructive surgery was impossible. That it was impossible to get your clitoris back.

So I just started over with researching. Eventually I found a website that talked about this doctor named Dr. Marci Bowers who is based in California. She is a trans woman who is a doctor who did a procedure to change her own sex. After that process she came up with this whole concept that there hasn’t been enough research done about the clitoris and re-constructive surgery to say that it is impossible. Basically she says that the clitoris is not just this small piece that once it is cut it is gone. It goes deeper into the sexual organs than the parts that you can see. Once you remove the scar tissue the clitoris would still be there.

She was basically proving all the people who said it was impossible wrong. I ended up watching a Vice documentary about this Somali girl who underwent the reconstructive surgery through Dr. Marci Bowers and it showed that the whole process was a success. After watching the documentary, I initially was like woah this works but then got a little bit hesitant and wondered if it was fake. You just never know with the internet. I ended up talking with a bunch of my friends to see what they thought and we realized that it was legit. My friend Shabina and I sent the organization an email and they explained to us that the surgery was free but that we had to pay to rent the room for the surgery and pay for accommodation, travel and a $500 deposit to book the appointment. Also one of the requirements was that I had to go and see a gynecologist to confirm that I had actually undergone FGM.   They had this requirement because girls were showing up to get the procedure but actually still had their clitoris intact. Because it is something that is never talked in our communities, they had thought they had been cut when they hadn’t. So to tackle that they now had this requirement.

Going through the process of getting a note from the gynecologist was a rough experience for me. I went to the university campus clinic to get a referral for a gynecologist and even just trying to explain to them why I needed the referral was awful. They didn’t know how to respond to what I was telling them or what to do and here I am already feeling awkward because it’s the first time I am saying this thing out loud to anyone outside of my close friends. So the whole thing made me feel more uncomfortable because I had to repeatedly explain what I needed. There was a lot of back and forth and finally they gave me the referral.

Going to the gynecologist was even worse. I went with two of my friends Mina and Savannah who came into the room with me to support me. The gynecologist was really just supposed to examine my vagina and give an assessment of whether I had or hadn’t been cut. At first I was excited because he was Muslim but then I remembered that a lot of this stuff has to do with men in our culture not thinking we are clean if we don’t have the procedure. Even though he is a doctor and has gotten an education here, he still thinks like that. Basically it turned into him saying I didn’t really need the surgery. He was insinuating that it was purely for the purpose of having pleasure which wasn’t really necessary in his eyes and that I could still pee without issues and give birth with what I had so I was fine. My friends and I started to argue with him in his office that it wasn’t up to him to decide, his job was just to give an assessment and in the end he just refused to write out the referral.

I ended up emailing the organization and explaining what had happened and how the gynecologist had treated me. They responded saying that if I could just take a picture of my vagina and send it to them that that would be okay. I was approved right after they received the picture.

The next thing was raising the money for the surgery. Shabina suggested I start a GoFundMe. So she made the page and at that point my name was not mentioned because I wasn’t really ready for that so it was anonymous.

Through the GoFundme, this reporter named Jayme Poisson contacted Shabina. She said that she was trying to do a story on FGM in Canada. At first I was like, hell no. I didn’t want my name out there and everyone in my community to know all of these aspects of my life. Plus generally I am so against the media and how they move. It’s just such a complex and touchy subject so its like if it’s going to be done it has to be done properly and with a lot of care. I didn’t know if I was ready to do that.

Shabina did some researching on the reporter and realized she had done some reporting on police brutality in Toronto, carding and BLMTO and had done a good job. So that kind of changed my mind and I decided I would give it a chance.

When I was thinking about it something hit me. I was thinking back to high school and remembering that when I was researching, I never saw women who looked like me. There were never any black, Muslim, East African women who grew up in this culture here in Canada and were publically talking about it. So I felt like I needed to do this and that this was a part of my journey. I was like, this isn’t a coincidence that this opportunity is happening when I am a lot older and understand my sexuality and body a lot more. I wanted to do it in case there was another girl just like me waiting for someone just like her to shed light on this. I was worried I would get some backlash but I dunno at the same time I trusted that my community would really see my story and understand.   I felt like it was about time that we controlled the narrative and that it would happen with us talking to each other and that this would be the only way that people would want to start talking about it.

I talked to the reporter and she let me know that I would have a lot of power in creating the narrative, that she wasn’t looking to demonize my culture and people and that nothing would get released without my approval. So I started to think about it and how I would present this issue in a way that was complex and created a real conversation around FGM.

I feel like I was able to achieve that and once the article did come out this girl from Ottawa who wants to stay anonymous reached out to me. She had grown up here and is in her second year of university. When she was 13 she went back home to Somalia to visit her family and they cut her. I ended up going to Ottawa to meet her and she’s actually now done her own story anonymously and has a GoFundme for her surgery. It was cool because for the story I was just supposed to be there to support but then I actually got to interview her for the story and the reporters just listened. It was very beautiful. Now I am helping her with her GoFundme and we text each other. Her GoFundme hasn’t been moving as quickly as mine, she is not part of the community that I am so she hasn’t reached her goal but hopefully she can still reach her goal.

One time I was at a restaurant eating with some friends and as we were walking out these older Oromo men came up to me and were like we are so proud of you, we are so happy you are one of our own. It was a few weeks after the article had come out and he had the article in his bag and said he had been walking around with it. So many older immigrant East African women were not only happy I was shedding light on it but also the way I was talking about FGM while showing respect for my community and my people. One of my friends’ mom told me this was the first story that she really connected with.

Before all of this, me and my mom weren’t talking (we have a complicated relationship), but after the article she reached out to me and left me a message saying that it takes a lot of courage to come out and talk about this. She said she was really proud of me and said she didn’t know that it impacted me the way that it did and let me know that she would stand beside me in anything I needed. She was just so supportive about this thing coming out. She also felt like we need to stop walking on eggshells about FGM, that the practice should be stopped but for that to happen it means we need to be actively talking about it.

None of this would have happened if I didn’t do the article and work to be honest and complicate the narrative. It feels so good because my people are always the ones being demonized and it’s like just because people don’t circumcise women in Canada doesn’t mean that men here treat women any better. Patriarchy is everywhere, it has affected every part of the world. It’s not just a Muslim and African problem. If anything we learnt gender inequality from the colonizers…

I hope that the dialogue continues in this way. I want to hear more of us taking control of the narrative. I want to hear more of us talking about our experiences about ourselves instead of being studied. Right now most of the research and conversation is being led by people who don’t even know anything about our culture. It makes a huge difference when you hear the experience of someone who has actually gone through it. Why is it always people who study it have the most to say about it? It’s also so crucial to mention that all of these NGOs like UNICEF are so big on making it illegal and eradicating FGM but they have their own agendas. A lot of the reasons why they create this narrative is to justify Islamophobia and anti-blackness. I feel like the more that you tell people look how Muslims are, they are so barbaric we need to save these women. It justifies them going in and invading and doing what they’ve always been doing. It’s the same narrative as when they went to go colonize black people in the first place. It allows them to justify going in and taking all of our resources with the guise of helping but like I said their policies are not doing anything on the ground to begin with.

All in all this a family issue so it should be handled that way.

In terms of resources, through my experience and the research that I have done, Canada has a long way to go. To begin with, they need a doctor here who will do this type of surgery. I shouldn’t have to travel all the way to California. There are surgeries like this in France, in Kenya, the UK why not Canada. Apparently there is a doctor in Toronto who was trying to start it here but for some reason it has been a lot harder for him to set up. For me, I was very lucky that I am very well connected in a lot of communities which helped me reach my fundraising goal but not everyone has that. I know a lot of people want this surgery but could never afford to go to the states or might not have papers to get there. If we could even have people who are trained to deal with women who are FGM survivors in the healthcare system, or more affordable resources that people can seek out that would be good too. Things like sex therapy specifically for FGM survivors so that people can have a different relationship with their bodies or just therapy in general. Ideally there could be some sort of organization that people can connect to that has a physical space. Even if you have something as simple as training gynecologists and doctors so that they know how to respond when someone comes to them that is an FGM survivor.

There is just nothing right now so anything would help

Link for Ottawa Woman’s GoFundMe 


Galme Mumed
I was born in Hararge Oromia. I came to Canada when I was 8 years old but my heart and my memories are still in Hararge Oromia. I believe I am here in Canada for a reason and have a purpose to serve both here and in my home. I am proud to call myself Oromo and Muslim and Black. I feel like my ancestors have left me with many teachings and gifts that I’m constantly trying to listen to. I am a revolutionary because that’s the legacy I was born into.

Mia Ohki
Mia Ohki is a Metis Japanese-Canadian artist, born in Connecticut, USA, and raised in Alberta, Canada. She presently lives and works between Edmonton and Calgary, AB. Mia primarily illustrates with black pen on white paper to convey ideas surrounding the social, feminine and cultural influences in her life, however her art is mostly influenced by her background, with Japanese and Metis culture frequently appearing in the subject matter.

Words of Wisdom from the Grandmothers in Three Movements: Past, Present and Future

watercolour of cotton flower

by Karen L. Culpepper 

(With a Lyrical Soundtrack from Jill Scott)

Content note: This Article discusses sexual violence and abortion 

Past: Once upon a time…

To the indigenous grandmothers of African descent that survived the middle passage, to the Black women and girls who endured the horrors of slavery in the US and to the grandmothers of the Jim Crow era, like Recy Taylor, who did not receive reproductive rights or justice, we welcome your presence. You endured the burden of physical cruelty, mental torture and psychic attacks, a resonance that is coded, and sometimes expressed, in the present day by way of intergenerational transmission of trauma. May you continue to share your stories from the other realm, so that we may continue to acknowledge your experience in this realm

“Tell me how you feel if I was, if I was gone.

Tell me how you feel.

What if I was gone forever?”

How It Make You Feel

– Jill Scott

“I believe if slavery would lasted much longer the negro race would have depopulated because all the negro womens they had become wise to this here cotton root. They would chew that and they would not give birth to a baby. All of their Masters sho‘ did have to watch them, but sometimes they would slip out at night and get them a lot of cotton roots and bury them under their quarters. If they could just get enough that root to get one flower that was enough to do what they wanted it to do” ~Dave Byrd of Texas, an ex-slave, recounts his experience of cotton root bark, Federal Writers‘ Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA)

Baby I am not sure I can put into words the horrors of slavery. It was brutal and inhumane. The slave owners were primitive savages. What kept me in the midst of it all, you ask? Two things: the wisdom of the ancestors and love.

Don’t ever forget: you are the descendant of brilliant African people enslaved in the United States. Those white folks did not know a thing about the crops we cultivated in South Carolina. We were brought from Africa specifically for our knowledge of agriculture, but folks don’t usually claim that as fact. We created fertile ground for crops like tobacco, indigo, rice and cotton. While we worked the land, we planted seeds of hope, strength and possibility and watered those seeds with our blood, sweat and tears.

I give praises to the ancestors because ironically we were the growers of the very plant spirit medicine that allowed us to have sovereignty over our bodies. I was told stories as a young child about how Mandingo woman had established a deep relationship with cotton root bark to regulate reproductive outcomes such as preventing and terminating pregnancy.   Honestly, we would have had cotton in the United States whether they liked it or not because my Mama told me a story of how some of the women tucked all kinds of seeds in their hair before they were stolen from the Motherland. Who would have thought that the plant we worked with year ‘round would enable our bodies to be the site of resistance?

As a young enslaved woman, I found myself at the intersection of providing physical labor and the expectation to reproduce, literally create more property. My Mama tried to protect me as best she could. One day while Mama was off completing a task, the Master’s wife, Miss Betty, encouraged her son to rape me, which he did. I was so ashamed. I jumped up, fixed my clothes and went back to watching the youngers. I didn’t have the courage to tell Mama. The next morning when I went to the big house, Miss Betty forced me to drink a concoction of black haw (Viburnum prunifolium) to ensure the arrival of her grandchild because Mama knew all about plants from catching babies with Big Mama.

About a month and a half later, Mama witnessed the concoction routine as she prepared breakfast. She pulled me aside and without saying a word, I burst into tears and hung my head in shame. Mama knew my truth. Although she was devastated, she just held me close and kissed me on my forehead. Little did Miss Betty know, cotton root bark is a force to be reckoned with and I had seen it in action many nights when Mama would help other women terminate a legacy of suffering. She gave me a decoction of cotton root bark and cotton seeds that night and within a few hours, I delivered a huge formed clot. Mama laid hands on my womb space and gave me another tea to tone down the bleeding because we had to be up in a few hours. She was off to the river to perform a ritual and release my baby back to the Earth. Mama held me all night.

From that day forward, Mama taught me everything she knew about plant spirit medicine and had me chew on cotton root bark every day moving forward. We were emancipated a few years later. I stopped chewing on that root bark once I met my beloved. I never knew choosing to love someone could be such a beautiful act of resistance. He held my hand and treated me so gently. I had never had that before that moment. I never wanted to have a baby before meeting him. His love kept me here and he gave me something so sacred to love: your great, great grandmother.

Present: 45: A menace to society

“I wonder if I gave you diamonds out of my own womb, would you feel the love in that or ask why the moon? If I gave you sanity for the whole of humanity, had all the solutions for the pain and pollution. No matter where I live, despite the things I give, you’ll always be this way.”

Hate on Me – Jill Scott

“A BOLD vision for reproductive justice means trusting Black women to determine our future.”

– Monica Simpson, SisterSong

Matter is neither created, nor destroyed. Same script, different cast, new day. Has much changed in the realm of reproductive freedom and sovereignty when it comes to the bodies of Black women and girls? The same wicked frequency of white supremacy and privilege is alive and well today. The only thing that has changed about plantation life is that the “Last Plantation” is in the center of Washington, DC.   White men are STILL making critical decisions about women’s bodies through the creation of legislature and by eliminating funding to programs that directly impact their ability to make safe, critical choices about their own bodies.

Can Black folks and other folks of colour in the United States truly ever feel whole and complete under the suffocating frequencies of capitalism and corruption? To be Black in America is to exist in the presence of racial and economic injustice and emotional, mental and spiritual harm. Is it possible to show up in our unique totality on a land that never considered our ancestors equal, whole, complete human beings? These are the days of truth, you know. One lesson we’ve learned from 2016 is however folks are show up these days–believe them.

Donald Trump, also known as 45 by those in resistance, is a chief teacher of this lesson. We cannot believe his word, but we can believe his intent. He is a threat to the very fabric of the United States and he is a threat to humanity, particularly in terms of Black women’s reproductive justice. Based on an article in the Huffington Post, over the course of one year, Donald Trump has restricted $8.8 billion in US foreign aid funding for international health programs that provide or even mention abortion. For young women and girls in Kenya, this means no access to condoms, no access to safe abortions (unsafe abortions are a leading cause of death), no access to family planning, no access to cancer screening and no access to antiretroviral medication in a country with a very high HIV population. The impact is swift and evident with young women in Kenya returning to clinic sites pregnant, some even suicidal and many resorting to unsafe abortions.

Here in the US, the impact of stress on Black women’s health is the root of many health negative phenomena. According to a recent piece from National Public Radio (NPR), Black mothers in the US die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women’s health. And according to recent data, in some areas, like New York City, Black mothers are 12 times more likely to die than white mothers.

Unfortunately this phenomena was embodied and expressed through the loss of activist, Erica Garner. Erica lost her father, Eric Garner, who suffered from asthma, to senseless police brutality after a New York Police Department Officer used an unauthorized chokehold. Erica had give birth to her son three months prior to her death and had suffered from the effects of an enlarged heart. According to the New York Times, “an asthma episode precipitated a major heart attack.”

What was the “seed” that caused Erica’s death? Most likely a combination of racism, stress, grief, and compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is a phenomenon that I have observed consistently in activist spaces where folks align themselves with the suffering of others. It often shows up as literal fatigue and can express as apathy, depression, anxiety and contributes to the erosion of vitality in activists. As a member of the Oxalis Collective here in Washington DC, we thrive to create and curate healing spaces for activists. We have worked with a reproductive justice organization to educate and introduce healing justice as a framework. This framework provides a container of principles that encourages healthy, whole activist communities and sustainable movement spaces.

Future: Possibility (For the sake of the youngers)

“When I wake up, everything I went through will be beautiful.” When I Wake Up – Jill Scott

“I am rooted in radical organizing traditions that always call on spirit and ancestors to allow us to root our political work in a much larger frame of how are we transforming on a cellular level what oppression has done to us, individually and collectively. And how will we not just survive but heal and be well and create new ideas or renew?” – Cara Page

Wise grandmothers, our elevated ancestors. We give thanks for your presence. We give thanks for the container you have created for us all. Thank you for keeping your torch lit in dark times. Thank you for showing us the way and passing along your wise teachings.

I am dreaming of a world that affirms all lives.

A world where folks can all love who we choose.

A world where we acknowledge our wretched past history and through community ritual, atone for our destructive past aggressions.

A world where folks acknowledge their privilege and leverage that knowingness to work towards justice, conscious allyship and the radical distribution of resources.

A world where the bodies of people of colour are not a canvas for harm and trauma.

A world in which access to information and economic power is not granted to the few.

A world where we cultivate a connection with all living beings, plants and creatures.

A world that encourages community and economic empowerment through entrepreneurship that is rooted in models that are sustainable.

A world where we our foods sources are fully disclosed and consist of healthy, ethically grown sources and accessible food markets.

A world that weaves in healing justice as a foundational tool to bring light and healing to our experiences, triggers and traumas in this realm and generations forward and back.

A world where we are safe in a space of our design called home.

Grandmothers, we need your guidance and protection now more than ever. May we channel your firmness and unwavering will to live. We know in our hearts that you did not survive for us not to live our best lives. May our dreams be big enough to hold us all.


Karen Culpepper
Karen L. Culpepper is a clinical herbalist in the Washington DC area. Karen’s unique herbalist contribution centers on the ways in which plant medicine can support deep healing. Her particular focus areas are intergenerational trauma and its impact on physiology and vitality. She can be reached at embracingrhythm27@gmail.com.