Covid Chronicles: Somewhere between Acceptance and Annoyance

10 weeks ago when the first cruise ship landed in San Fransisco with Corona Virus patients, I made the decision to work from my Oakland home and not go into my SF office to protect myself and the people I love from potential exposure to the virus. I could never have anticipated that 10 weeks later I would still be sheltering in place, back in Alabama, with my whole life turned inside out.

These days I live somewhere between acceptance and annoyance, between grief and gratitude, between feeling responsibility for our collective wellbeing and selfishly wanting to live the California life I worked so hard to create for myself.

Somewhere between week 2 and 3 of the virus getting into the U.S, I talked to my brother, who lives in China. He convinced me to go shelter in place where I would feel the most safe and supported before borders starting closing up. I didn’t think it would be that serious, but I decided to get clearance from my job to work from home in Alabama, instead of Oakland. I packed a small suitcase with a couple of weeks worth of clothes, only my favorite cant-live-without skin care products, books, and personal items. Fully intending to only spend about 3-4 weeks in my Alabama home with my family. Its been 2 months of being in Alabama with no return date in site.

Somewhere between week 4 and 5, I transitioned out my job. Turns out doing social justice law and policy work is excruciatingly more difficult during a pandemic when people want to rush to solutions without fully understanding the nature of the beast. It dawned on me that in the middle of a pandemic, my tolerance for stress was really low and my need to remove myself from any space that didn’t prioritize my emotional wellbeing was at an all-time high. Unfortunately this meant leaving my job. I was very sad to leave, but very proud that I choose myself. I started writing poems again, hosting virtual salons, calling old friends for long chats. Started to decipher what I wanted to do next with my life. Committed to replacing afternoon zoom calls with daily midday naps.

Somewhere between week 5 and 7, Spring transitioned into Summer. I realized I had no summer clothes in my family home and all my skin care things were gone. I began shopping for new clothes, decided to stop living out of my suitcase and realize that maybe I’m here for the longer term. I changed my mailing address on all my subscriptions things to Alabama instead of California, that made me sad. I bought some cute new summer clothes. Spent way too much money on makeup and exfoliants. That made me happy. On one random Friday afternoon when I felt really happy, I made my brother take pictures of me so I would have documentation that there were really good moments even in the middle of this pandemic.

Somewhere between week 8 and 10, I realized that living like I was on a perpetual vacation was not working for me. I decided to start incorporating routines and rhythms into my day. Step 1, have a bedtime that is earlier than 2-3am. Step 2: Talk to my therapist about the angst I’m feeling that I have no language for yet.
Therapist says I should make a list of all the things I’m missing from my California life and see how many of them I can incorporate into my current routines. It is working. I am feeling bit more at ease. More often than not accepting this new reality. Other times really annoyed to be living through it but committed to finding pockets of connection and shared humanity through it.

It’s the 11th week. I am the designated family grocery shopper. I am really enjoying spending time with my family. Wearing a mask out in public feels like second nature. I am finally putting together the pieces of what I would like to do for work. I feel ready to contribute in a substantive way to the healing and wellbeing of the collective, mostly because I’ve spent time tending to my own angst and anxieties around the virus. I am inspired by our resilience as a species, but I still miss being out at my favorite Afrobeats club in Oakland grinding up on somebodies son with my girls gassing me up. I look forward to being able to do that someday in the future again. 😁

The sensual woman: A Poem

She moves slowly
Takes her time to really enter a space.
She is not careless, but her vibe is 
CANNOT-BE-BOTHERED.

A soft gaze reserved for her lovers.
A stern gaze for all others.
Her love is not unconditional
She makes no apologies
Fueled by 2 parts love, 1 part rage
Her hair holds history
her hips hold mystery
She is not to be possessed.
She is not your mule.
She is not your mule.
She is not your mule.
She will not be your salvation
she will not be your rehabilitation
She will not be your expectation
She is not yours.

Her body is hers to own
Her intellect is hers to enjoy
She belongs to herself
Enjoy her while you can
She will not always be here.

Story behind the poem:

I’ve been trying to capture what sensuality means for me into words for the better part of a year. It feels like an ethereal quality, a presence that can sometimes be confused for barely there-ness…but the reality is you are observing and taking things in. Noticing everything. Sensuality to me feels like enjoying myself. Like self ownership. Like indulgence in love, pleasure, passion and intellect.

Writing “sensual woman” was a reminder to those who try to possess her that she was never theirs to possess – only to be enjoyed.

I struggled with writing this poem a bit because these days my sensuality shows up as more loud than muted. I’ve been allowing myself to be seen more. More cleavage. More words. More real time access into my thoughts, and yet I wanted to writed to write about a more muted sensuality. The core parts of what sensuality mean to me. So I tapped into my ancestral wisdom. Specifically to my maternal grandmother Affiong. The firs few lines pay homage to her. A sensual woman who never really was showy or the loudest voice in the room.


“she moves slowly
takes her time to really enter a space”

Anyone who knew my grandma knew this to be true about her.

After I embodied her, it became easier to talk about myself. I became conscious of the ways I move through the world embodying my own sensuality, her sensuality, and my mothers sensuality. Three generations of women. Who show up in the world in completely different ways but have the same thread of sensuality flowing through them.

Join me on Patreon for content all month long for content around being a sensual, self loving woman.

Recovery looks good on you: A poem

To you, still healing from a theology of self denial: 

Maybe you over correct sometimes and give yourself everything you want. 

Maybe that’s how you teach yourself the new way – that God delights in your joy.  

Maybe indulgence is the cure to the venom shoved down your throat time and time again. 

Maybe gluttony is how you unlearn starvation.

Maybe one day you’ll wake up and no longer see scarcity.

POEM STORY:

I wrote this from a very personal place a few months ago. I am still in recovery from all the ways a theology of self denial buried itself so deeply into my subconscious mind and shapes the way I moved through the world. I had been doing the work of unlearning for sometime and this time it just felt like I was moving to close to indulgence. Almost like I needed a season of my life where I could indulge for all the times I was deprived. That concerned me a bit so I wanted to write something to a version of myself that felt anxious at how much I was just letting myself live in freedom. In reality freedom can feel too expansive when you’ve been caged for a while. So I had to remind myself that this freedom. A normal part of the recovery process.

Grace, peace, and freedom to all of us unlearning theologies that taught us that the only currency we had to access goodness was self deprivation.

cultivating self love as a practice

Someone asked me recently how I cultivate self love and self compassion, here are a few things I shared about my personal practice:

  1. Seeing myself as someone deserving of tenderness and gentleness
  2. Being honest with myself about how berating myself isn’t a productive way to bring about growth and change. All things need light, patience, and kindness to bloom, including us humans.
  3. Going back in time and writing letters to younger versions of myself. I realized that in retrospect I was actually really proud of those versions of myself even though at those times all I could focus on were the things I didn’t like about myself. I never want to look back in 30’s and feel bad about how I treated myself in my 20’s.
  4. I wanted to become a safe person for myself, someone I could trust with all the extremes of my emotional depth

What I will tell my future daughter about Love

Baby, when two souls actually connect? It’s a magical thing.

Souls connect for a variety of different reasons, with a variety of different intentions, and varying intensities. But a moment of connection is always something to be grateful for. If you live in a world that mirrors mine, your reality is that you may often feel isolated and othered, but a moment of connection will serve as tangible proof that you are seen, that you matter, that you are less alone. So I hope you never take moments of connection for granted. Whether those connections last a moment, a lifetime, or fizzle shortly after.

The connection is the God-part, the unraveling and decoding of the connection is the you part. 

Remember when I said souls connect for a variety of different reasons and with different intentions?

Some connections can be trauma bonds, some can be there to remind you of parts of yourself you miss, and some are there to journey with you. This is your work to unpack.

And baby, this requires bravery.

This requires a strong foundation of self assuredness, to know that no matter what comes from this unpacking, you will be okay because you have yourself.

Baby, I don’t know much about romantic love at this point in my life. But I do know love well. I know heartbreak well. I know the art of nurturing connections, of interrogating connections. I know the joy of seeing a thing bloom from a shy “hello” to  a million inside jokes. I also know the pain of going from a million inside jokes to “someone I used to know.”

What I do know for sure at this point is that love requires a continual investment in connection. It is in the unpacking of these connections that you will be led to love. But this part is not for the faint of heart, and you don’t have to take this on until you are ready. Even when you are ready, you don’t have to risk your heart for every connection, only those ones which feel intense enough to make you want to put your heart on the line.

Be grateful for the connections but prioritize the softness of your heart baby girl. 

You are loved, you are love herself, and you will always be loved.

25 and rebuilding my confidence

I didn’t expect to greet 25 with the high levels of insecurity and fragility I currently feel.

And yet I find myself here.

I did not realize I was here exactly until I spent some time with one of my 13 year old cousins in Nigeria.
She is so self assured. So confident. Smiles brightly. States her opinions with such passion and fearlessness. Takes up space unapologetically. Being in the same space with her took me back to a time when I was exactly that – self assured, confident, unapologetic, loud and boisterous.

I do have moments when I feel these things but it isn’t my default state of being. And I want to get back there.

It’s almost as if the 24 year old version of me knew I would need reminders of my own magic and gifted me with the insight to ring in the first few weeks of my 25th year with incredible gifts to myself – a boudoir photo shoot, brunch with my closest girls in the Bay Area, time with my mom, a complete self care package, tickets to West Africa for the holidays to spend time with my extended family, and sister friends.

Settling back into myself after all these amazing treats has been a gentle reminder that I internally need to do some work to rebuild my confidence this year. Things like professional gaslighting, rejection from romantic interests, not being set up for success in general in different spaces I have found myself, loss of friendships and a spiritual community have added up into the cumulative effect of slowly eroding my sense of confidence.

Just the general business of living life can have an eroding effect on confidence. Coupled with some very specific experiences, its no wonder that I find myself here without the self assuredness I had always hoped would be my lifelong companion. But I have a plan to build back up my confidence levels this year.

My Three Step Plan:

Reaching out when I need support: In a moment of vulnerability this week I told a few of my friends I was currently sizing up myself against a woman one of my exes is currently with, and I felt like she was more impressive than I would ever be. They stopped in that moment and reassured me of my own magic, reminded me that I was deserving of someone who really saw all the magic in me, and that his preferences had nothing to do with me. That felt really nice. So more moments of reaching out to people who love me when I needed to be reminded of why I am special. Knowing my mom and Elias, my most affectionate brother, will always be ready at any moment to express a million and one reasons why they love me.

Find spaces that allow me to showcase my skills and celebrate them: My natural tendency for improvement has meant that much of my life I have chosen to be in spaces that always require me to be better without celebrating where I currently am. And alternatively, I’ve spent less in times in spaces where I was celebrated for my natural skills. This year I want to lean more into spaces that allow me to do things that come easy for me and to be celebrated for them.

A couple of weeks ago I went to an open mic night and performed one of my poems (that was rejected from a publication I really wanted to see it in), the reception of it was so deeply moving to me. People loved it. People responded to my words in real time, and that was powerful for me to take in. Folks came up to me afterwards to talk about it. It felt like redemption particularly because the rejection of my pitches over the past year had finally made me internalize that maybe I just wasn’t a good writer. I am a taking a break from always having to choose the hard thing.

Stop giving away my power: As much as external validation feels good, I have realized that it is a form of outsourcing my power to rely on other people to be the building blocks of my confidence. I suppose the ground zero of rebuilding my confidence is a great place to train my brain to place my voice as the primary voice of validation I need. I would like the foundation of my confidence to be rooted in the fact that I am worthy. That at the end of the day even if no one sees me or tells me I did a good job, or celebrates me, I want the fact that I saw myself, and celebrated myself to be enough to sustain me. To seek the support of the people who have proven themselves loyal and caring to be the secondary source of validation. And slowly detach from a pattern of seeking the validation and approval of those committed to misunderstanding me, dishonoring me, dismissing me, or ignoring me.

So that’s my plan!

I am excited about where I will be by my 26th birthday.

Any additional things that have helped you in rebuilding back your confidence levels?

Surveillance & Invisibility

(A testament of the ways our bodies move through space simultaneously hypervisibile and invisible).

Children are seen not heard. 
You tuck yourself into a corner.
Trying to make yourself a wallflower.
No one pays any meaningful attention to you. 
Until you are 6. At your grandma’s house.
That older uncle pulls you into the closet.
Takes off your shirt. Rubs on your growing breast.
You are confused. You yell.
You are surprised by how loud you sound.
No one comes running at the sound of your yell. 
He apologizes. Tells you to not tell anyone.
That no one will believe you.
He never comes around again.
You never tell anyone.
You’re in school now.
You’ve started bringing home report cards.
You are learning a kind of worthiness 
measured by letters of the alphabet. 
A is good. F is bad.
You will be left to your peace with an A.
There will be yelling with an F.
You get A’s as an insurance policy for peace.
You are an A student.
You’ve worked very hard on your grades.
Your friends dare you 
to sneak out to a house party.
You decide to do it!
You're wearing a dress that hugs your body
It makes you feel good.
Sexy even.
You are dancing.
You notice hungry eyes on you the entire time.
It’s the first time you feel real power.
You also feel unsafe.
You leave early to come back home.
You meet your mom at the door
Wearing a mix of worry and anger on her face
She is more upset about what you wore 
than the sneaking out.
She calls you a bad girl.
She cries.
She slaps you.
You are afraid of this side of her.
You wish you could talk to her about
feeling both powerful and unsafe. 
You tell yourself you can never trust her.
You will later find out she was raped 
the first time she snuck away from home.
You are now in a professional program 
At a prestigious University. 
You can't finding mentors within your program.
 Professors don’t offer support.
You are always requested when pictures are taken. 
Their token of diversity.
You finally decide to take this up with the Dean. 
How you feel used and unsupported.
He says you are overreacting.
You need to stop being so sensitive.
To consider it a privilege to even be there.
“Our ancestors weren’t allowed to be here” 
he says. He is biracial.
You think "we don’t have the same ancestors."
You are angry at his gaslighting.
You swallow your words.
You internalize powerlessness.
You’re the only Black Woman at your organization.
Your colleagues notice when your hair changes.
They don’t notice when your face wears exhaustion. 
Or maybe they do and just don't check in.
You’ve worked there for 10 years.
You still have to show your ID to security. 
Tom has been at the organization for 2 years
Everyone at security knows him.
He is being groomed for the promotion
you've had your eyes on for years.
It’s your 33rd birthday. 
Life hasn’t shaped up how you wanted it to be. 
And yet. Life is good. 
You have more than a few “happy birthday” wishes.  
Lots of people proclaiming their "love." 
Including the love of your life. 
Who broke up with you because
he wasn’t ready for a serious commitment.
He is currently engaged to a white woman 
He met her 3 months after your breakup. 
It's been a year. 
Your bed is still empty. 
You haven't stopped hoping 
he will come back.

Poem By Salem Afangideh
Copyright reserved. 2020.

My highest values for 2020

Happy New Year from the Motherland, where I’ve spent the past month frolicking under the sun, in warm bodies of water, in markets, with family, friends, at home in my First World.

Ending the decade and beginning a new decade on this note has given me the space to introspect, be quiet with myself, have challenging conversations with the people I love, and process my despair.

Here are things I am choosing to focus on in 2020

Peace.

Simplification.

Leaving room to be surprised by life.

Prioritizing goals that I find joy in the process of achieving,
not just in the outcome of achieving said goal.

More clear communication of my boundaries.

I wish us all a year (and decade) where our needs are met, where hope feels stronger than despair, and we are loved in the ways we want to be loved, by the people we love.

Readyness, Imposter Syndrome, and being a 20 something in Trumps America

“Just because you can handle something doesn’t mean you are ready for it.”

This is a philosophy I’ve been pondering lately.

The connection to imposter syndrome, which is best described as the feeling that you don’t belong and are one step away from being discovered as a fraud.

Does our willingness to forgo that intuitive pause which may actually be our own knowing telling us that we are not ready actually set us up to feel imposter syndrome?

People these days expect too much from 20 somethings. We are supposed to know all the things without anyone mentoring us. We allegedly have lots of energy and passion and folks feel entitled to our passion being in service of them. We care about justice and equity which somehow means it’s up to us to fix messes we didn’t create. That is a lot to hold and for our own sanity, we have to know what feels too much and walk away from it until we feel ready.

Interiority in a politicized body

I’ve been thinking a lot about interiority; what it means to nurture and pay the most attention to the internal space within us without any need to draw attention to it. Especially for those of us whose mere existence raises political questions (women, immigrants, Indigenous people, queer folks, black people, differently abled people, fat people).

Listen to my thoughts on interiority here.