Seated on a bus from Arusha to Nairobi, I watch the sights of the East African corridor pass me by. Copper colored earth, roadside villages and shops, vibrant reds of Masai and their flock, yellow and pink of blooming trees, school children, women and men merge into a blur.
The small farms scattered across the plains bear signs of the laborious toil of women and bring to mind the slogan of the week before where gathered at the Women Advancing Africa conference, women from across the continent and beyond agreed to the pledge ‘Hoe no more’ — that for one, no woman shall have to use the tedious hoe to till. I smile in recollection and almost as quickly it is replaced by the weight of the work that is ahead of us.
I feel my body is weary from the non-stop activity of the last days that started with this life-changing gathering of women. My body is weak but my spirit is strong. With my last energy, I take this time to reflect and share an articulation of key learnings and how they have shaped me. I share always with the hope that it will guide your ROAR.
Filled with anxiety at the task of facilitating/midwifing the women gathering alongside Renée Ngamau, but with a clarity of trust in a purpose that will reveal itself. I took to making as much quiet space as possible to listen to the guidance within. Come it did and the message was, IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. Step aside my spirit said, trust, it is not about you but the work that can manifest through you. With this knowing, the message was instead to focus on birthing Unity. New Africa. Big Magic. Honesty. Openness. Courage.
With this in turn was the inspiration to explore mindfulness as a tool. A believer in the power of women circles since my Peru experience of 10 women that changed my life, I felt deeply into an excitement at the potential of 300 women visioning together. I also knew that this magic needed our presence and an opening that would allow us to connect and not unlike me, allow the purpose of our gathering to manifest.
I felt that the best way was to step back from business as usual and truly connect and catalyze action in this powerful circle of womanhood, and to do this with mindfulness and vulnerability.
Everyday and throughout the day we would take a moment and connect with self and each other. Everyday, the bonds grew and with it the strength of knowing we were not alone. It was on the second day that big magic and everything in between manifested. On a panel titled ‘Unleashing Our Power for Social Change’, four women wove a tapestry in their sharing that connected us all in our oneness. A motherly figure Scholastica Kimaryo opened up the space in articulating on the importance of mind, body, spirit, balance. she was seeking a very familiar language. Reverend Lunga Songca invited us all in the room to anchor ourselves in our spirituality —in that space of inner peace and in support for one another in exploring the heart and spirit of social change. Another sister, Nana Wanjau opened her soul and with it ours, in the story of the plight of widows across Kenya subjected to cleansing at the event of her husbands passing. Cleansing is a sexual act performed by a mad man or cleansers who have the job to go from village to village cleansing. A Kenyan friend would later share that the aim was to tame the widow in the absence of a husband lest she go wild with her freedom. Josina Machel on the same panel shared her own story of how her boyfriend had beaten her up blinding her on one eye. She removed her dark shades to reveal the space that was once an eye that would have sparkled with the defiance of her courage. Josina in private later shared how so many would ask with a critical tone what she must have done to deserve such a beating, as if anything any woman could ever do could ever justify violence and abuse. Ever! They all shared their resolve to stand above the pain and heal others from their own healing. We cried together. I held space, we held space, inviting and accepting the invitation to seat with all of our emotions, all of our pain, our courage, our vulnerability, all of it. In that moment, I felt and saw all that could be and within it, all that is not. We have been taught to go the distance alone though we are strongest in our togetherness.
The biggest magic of them all came at the closing when our host, Mama Graca Machel — to call her the widow of Nelson Mandela is a disservice to her power as an activist and movement builder — captured and fueled the spirit of the discussions of the days together.
“You carry your wounds, they limit your ability to continue to dream, and you fight alone. Next time we will leave more time to talk as humans and heal together our wounds which are touching all generations! There is no generation that has no wounds here. We are going to reimagine shame about talking about human experiences, we carry it, and in actuality to unleash our ability, we need to heal those wounds. And when we heal we will be even better prepared to prevent the same wounds to be inflicted on our children and grandchildren. In many instances they have been taught to suffer alone. We are going to create very safe spaces for us to heal but together! Don't do it alone.
There is no profound transformation which can take place unless it involves precisely those who have been oppressed massively to be engaged because they have to liberate themselves to liberate others.”
Women of color are the most oppressed of all. We have been told who to be, how to be, who we are not, who we could never be. On more than one occasion at the conference we shared together almost in one voice, experiences of feeling inadequate — not good enough. Is it then a surprise that we were so torn when it comes to the question, do women hold each other up or pull one another down? Should we indeed pull one another down, is it because we ourselves have been put down? Is it because we put our very selves down? We cannot give that which we don't have.
I am reminded that no one can take that which is yours away. So the question is, do you know that which you are? That which you have? Do you know the depth of your strength carved from your unique experiences? You have been through all that you have lived, the pains, the insecurities, that you might heal others from your place of knowing what it feels like to feel inadequate, but to be everything but!
“It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
That’s me.” - Maya Angelou, excerpt 'Phenomenal woman'.
Do you know that you are phenomenal? No one can usher in the magic you can. No one can be you?
Do you know how much we need you to know this?
Our roar can and will give those around us permission to roar in turn, rising from the ashes of the insecurities that shroud and cloak our light. It will usher in our power which we know already unlocks the potential of so many. A dollar given to a woman is a dollar invested in the future, imagine when you give yourself the gift of the confidence of your power and healing, how far your roar can and will be heard.
Inspired by the possibilities that are, I lean into a clarity of desire to work with women on an initiative She ROARS - Reimagining Our Africa Rising - as Led by its women, that we might unleash our full capacity to the benefit of the continent and lead the way to heal the world. Our presence in our full power is needed.
am a black woman
tall as a cypress
beyond all definition still
on me and be
-Mari Evans, excerpt from ‘I am a Black woman’.