Saturday, June 28, 2008

Debut of My Column in Mmegi

This past Friday, June 27, Mmegi published the first of a series of columns I will be writing about issues of race and culture from an African American point of view. To read it from their website you can click here. This picture accompanied it in the paper. Here it is in full text below:

The Politics of Blackness

By Yamiche Alcindor

Henry Louis Gates once wrote, "My grandfather was colored, my father was Negro, and I am black." If I could communicate with the young Gates, I would ask him to add, "My children will be African American, but as for my grandchildren's race . . . well, that will depend on where they live."

Have you realized that getting on a plane might change your race? Until January of this year when I made the 18 hour trek from the United States to Botswana, I didn't. When I got on the plane in the US, I was black. Short of a few confused looks and questions regarding how black I was, my racial identity was something that had been unquestioned. Then, I got off the plane in Botswana and was deemed colored because of the lightness of my skin.

But, what shocked me even more than my "new" race was the relationship between being colored and being black in Southern Africa. In one incident, to my horror, I was invited to hang out at the "colored" side of a party. Confused, I looked at a group of people who would be considered black in the US demean another group of people based on the literal color of their skin tone. In another incident, I was told that saying I was black when in fact I could pass for colored was ridiculous because being colored somehow upped my status in Southern Africa.

To put this into context I must note that "colored" was a term thrown out in the 1960s in the US as blacks protested discrimination and terms seen as demeaning. Colored, to me and most Americans, refers back to a time when the US was starkly separated along racial lines. Put bluntly, the word colored brings to my mind signs reading "WHITE ONLY," which once hung from hotels, restaurants, cafes, water fountains, and other public places. The term brings images of dogs biting peaceful black protesters in the 1960s. And, most importantly, colored for me refers back the American version of apartheid, segregation and Jim Crow laws.

The issue of racial identity recently made headlines all over the world. Last Thursday, June 19th, South Africa's high court ruled that South African Chinese are now legally black. If this confuses you like it did me, I will put it simply: In SA, the Chinese are really black people. The court made the decision to allow South African Chinese who also suffered under apartheid laws to be included in the South African government's Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) an initiative aimed at reversing damages done under apartheid. My question: why change the race of a whole people rather than amend the wording of the initiative to include South African Chinese?

As I think of the term colored and issues of racial identity, I can't help but think of the ongoing issues of race in the US which stem from my country being built on the peculiar institution of slavery and grown on a system whose architects were middle aged white male slave owners. It's the reason why in 2008, as Barack Obama aims to be the US' first African American president (though he would be considered colored here because of his white mother), racist badges reading "If Obama is President…will we still call it The White House?" can still be sold in Texas. (Click here for more on racists against Obama)

However, while issues of complexion still somewhat plague African Americans in the US, it was here that I really began to dissect how even in our common "brownness," people pick each other out and attempt to separate the inferior from the superior using methods which judge people based on how close he or she comes to looking white. I asked myself one question a lot over the last six months that I have been living in Gabs: how is it that years later, after the colonization of a continent, the massive selling of black bodies, and the carnage done to black societies, can we as blacks still not find beauty and pride in our naturally dark hues?

In looking at racial identity many questions exist. What makes someone black? Is it the color of their skin, the tone of their voice, the place where they live, or the people with whom they relate? Scholars from all over the world are still grappling with this subject. As a scholar of African American history, I still grapple with these issues both academically and politically.

Most scholars agree that race depends more on an individual's identity and the society in which he or she lives in than on the actual color of his or her skin. In short: Someone "black" can have the same color skin as a tan "white" person without being considered white. However, after travelling thousands of kilometers away from my home, I have a new theory: race depends on where you are, what you identify with, and what the courts of a country legally decide.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My First Story for Mmegi!

My first story was published last Friday. Click here to read.

In case that doesn't work, you can also click here.

Heroes in Seemingly Ordinary Bodies

Images from Zimbabwe violence

Today I came face to face with what I have been talking about and studying about for the past year. As I said earlier, I am teaching HIV/AIDS and STI awareness at a high school here in Gaborone Botswana. In part of my lesson I teach about the emotion consequences of sex and the risks one takes in this day in age when living a sexual lifestyle that involves many partners. I start off by asking the class of 16, 17 and 18 year olds what they would be thinking about if they were told they were HIV positive tomorrow.

The question is one that I have wrestled with myself as I have delved deeper into the human aspect of the disease in my travels. After asking the question, the usually rowdy class goes quiet and begins to think about the question in detail. Most often I get students who say they would commit suicide, feel shame, cry, and hide their status from their family and friends. I also get students who say they would accept the disease and continue forward with their lives as ARVs, when taken properly, can allow a person to live their out their natural life.

But today was different. Today we (I teach with three other students) got a question we couldn't really answer. A student asked if there exists a minimum age that a person can begin taking ARVs. As teachers we stumbled for an answer as our research on the disease did not provide us with an answer.

And then it happened. A girl rose her hand and quietly said this: "There is no age minimum for ARVs because I have been taking them since I was five." My heart dropped. She was so young, so beautiful and living with a disease that seems like such a far away problem for some.

As the class struggled to move on I couldn't help but realize how brave this little girl had been. She looked like a typical high school student but instead she was this brave young woman whose small voice told a story of courage, persistence, and drive for life.
And then it hit me, how brave am I? How brave have I had to be and would I ever be able to tell a whole class of my peers that I was infected with a disease that carries the stigma that HIV carries? She may not have realized it but this girl challenged my goal of living a safe life.

Go to school, continue on to law school and ignore the fact that in your heart you want to write about issues others may be too scared to. That was my life plan. But,I love writing and in my heart I know I want to write about issues that effect people
internationally but will I be brave enough to do it? Will I be brave enough to really take a turn of adventure and answer the voice inside me that says "Go." Honestly, I don't know.

But as Zimbabwean opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai pulls out of what was supposed to be Friday's election day I can't help but reflect on the bravery of those seemingly ordinary people in the country which say they will vote in spite of the number of rapes, beatings, and murders committed by Robert Mugabe's ZANU PF. They're international heroes and may not even know it. But then again that's why I want to write, to tell the world about these heroes wrapped in seemingly ordinary bodies.
I want to write, period.

Monday, June 23, 2008

McCain is still looking--- No Condi VP

A quick journalist now confirms that McCain is still looking for a VP but the prospect of him picking Condi Rice is just plain out race politics.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

McCain takes Condi??

Not confirmed yet but I just read somewhere that McCain picked Condi Rice as VP. This is a low blow. Tricky.

Go Obama!

More Pictures

DRAMA (Latest as of June 22)

I moved out of my old house where I lived with boys. Mostly because the house wasn’t the nicest thing. Like the room and living room was great (nicer than Gtown actually—or at least Harbin) BUT the bathroom, and kitchen were a no no. And my mom is coming for a month on July 5
th (she’s flying to France, then Senegal then Botswana). I’m going to meet her in Senegal and spend a week there then we’re both coming back here but my mom would have killed me for making her stay with men… I can picture my mother acting up in that house. They would have kicked us out. I moved to this really NICE house with real furniture, a TV, internet, washer and dryer, DVD player, just mad stuff that I forgot existed. I hadn’t watched TV in 6 months and then boom TV, reality TV at that!!

Next, The job: I have two. I wake up at 5:30 a.m. and go teach HIV/AIDS awareness as a counselor to these students in high school. School starts at 6:45 a.m. Then I go to the newspaper at 4 p.m. and work there until about 9 or 11 p.m. It’s pretty hectic. I hope I can explain how important this summer was to me because I love doing both jobs and I really love working with the kids. I counseled a girl yesterday about having high self esteem and I actually felt like I walked into my purpose which felt great. Also when I’m in class sometimes I just feel like I know I’m doing something right. As for the paper, I am writing a column today about race and on Friday I got a two page spread of an article I did published which is great!

On Fun: I am having fun. Like I really can do this, I can live by myself in a foreign country and not cry everyday. Even though sometimes I miss my friends, AKA, Georgetown, my mom, my family, and many other things (like Chiptole, tomato soup, Haitian food, good candy, and the list goes on…).

DRAMA: So I have a definite stalker.
This bar tender at my favorite restaurant here likes me and wouldn’t leave me alone until I gave him my number. So I gave him my number and refused to answer when he called. Then he kept calling and my male friend was around and I confessed the stalking issue. So my friend picked up the phone and let him know not to call anymore. His response: I think she’s the one. She makes me look forward to tomorrow. CRAZY!!! So it gets worse. The next day, he (stalker) shows up to my job (I told him passing that I did a little work for this newspaper). He walks in and starts asking everyone if they know me and hands my supervisor flowers and this love letter/card. The card basically says he wants to get to know me and he doesn’t care if I am occupied with someone else. It continues on to say that he loves me and he hopes I can forgive him for calling at the wrong time. I texted him and said thanks but no thanks. Hopefully it works . . .

Namibia (From March Trip)

It's an international sorority, you know?

Quad biking on the sand dunes.

Angie and I on a boat in Namibia.

Pure Fun

Saturday, June 21, 2008

On Zim and Following Your Passions

I am sure you have heard a little bit about Zimbabwe and the terrible things that are happening there. Well, being in Botswana I have had the opportunity to talk to many people about the issue and feel compelled to share what I have learned.

Why has Mugabe been allowed to stay?

1) Old friends from around Southern Africa have a sort of loyalty to him because of his history as an independence hero. Finally, however, that is starting to change.

What is going on from anecdotal evidence?

1) People are being killed, raped, and terrorized for voicing their opposition to Mugabe.

2) Zimbabweans are fleeing in high numbers to escape death only to find xenophobia and mass killings from neighbors such as South Africa and Botswana. The sad thing is South Africa whose black exiles fled to Botswana and the likes during apartheid are now treating Zims terribly which is causing them to flee terribly.

Now a question. Have you ever felt like you walked into your purpose? Like someone said something to you and a little light bulb went off saying: ahhh that’s what my life is supposed to be. I was just talking to a Zimbabwean immigrant about the problems they are encountering and about the life they are living. How could she have known that immigrants all over the world face the same struggle. She told about how she doesn’t mind waking up at 4 and going to bed at 11 and only being paid from 2-9 because her employers know its her only way of making money.

Her words could have easily come from a Mexican living in the West of the United States, or a Haitian living in the middle of downtown Miami. Work hard, cry later, but make sure your children do better than you. That’s the gist of our conversation. It was that she was taught to struggle and had to work hard whether she liked it or not. But then she said something even crazier. She said something that made me know I have to come back.

She said, “Why come to Africa? It has nothing to offer you.” If only she knew how much it offered me. If only she knew how it had already offered me. If only she could read my journal and see how conversation here make life back home clearer. I don’t want to be a sales and trader. I don’t want to be an entertainment lawyer and I don’t have to be a millionaire to be happy.

I want to write, plain and simple. I want to write about things that matter and I want to write about people who think they don’t have anything to offer the world. I want to write because I rather risk my life for truth then sit by ideally and deny my passion. Period.

P.S. Michelle Obama ... too fly.

The Truth


Day Two in the New Crib: We’ll Call Him “I Need Money” (May 4th)

So I’ve figured out that I live in a “How High” type establish. These dudes are immensely happy and not really filled with too much drama—or so it seems. Except for the fact that I have as the title infers discovered the dweller among the crew. His name is Bob (not real name) and though no one really knows where he lives—as Cydd explained—he’s always around the house. He’s the dude that doesn’t really go anywhere, and probably doesn’t have a key. He watches TV most of the time and I am sure that he doesn’t pay rent because I gave the 650 Pula which is what I have to pay if there’s four people putting in for 2100 Pula a month rent. We went group shopping today and it was sweet. They (Cydd and Jones—aka The Dream) all bought MAD vegetables, a BIG thing of rice, a bag of chicken, potatoes, oil, hand washing soap, and that’s about it. It was fun.
Face The Nation, Mmegi and Immigration tomorrow. I miss having internet…It’s quite sad actually… anyways I have to be up at 7 a.m. tomorrow because I have to be at church by 8:30 a.m. I tried to get Eddy to meet me but he’s leaving the house at 7 a.m. so that’s just a no no.
I decorated my room today with pictures of different animals and some maps of Botswana. I also discovered magazine poetry where I found inspiring words and put them up on my wall as little poems. It looks really cool.

Here are the Poems:
1. Elevated / Dreaming / Suicide / Thoughts/ Infinitely /Saving /Soul
2. Delicious / Oddity. / Get/ New / Crash / Lessons in Love (Followed by my horoscope which basically says let him love you, follow your heat, and change is good).
3. 2008 / African/ New. Revelation /Write On! / Watch/ Fun, Fearless/ Adventurous/ Happy/ Kiss
4. Precious/ Time/ Disarm Them With Charm/ Funky/ Beauty

It’s a nice set up. I’ve been watching Rambo Movies. I watched 1, 2, and 4. Now I’m going to go watch 3. –Yamiche

A Short Reflection Poem (Feb 6, 2008)

A picture of me showing off my tan in the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana.

Should I take pride in my skin--the color of colonial rape?
I'd rather be Mos Def's Brown Skin Lady with Badu's fro the picture of pride of my naturally nappy grow.
I've studied the faces of people here, where homelessness doesn't present a fear.
Can you imagine a place where culture thrives, where people look forward to living nine lives?
Can you see rolling hills that tell of slave trade secrets?
Soils that have soaked up so many tears that it cries?
How can they embrace me here when I refuse the African in me there?
Have you ever looked at someone who worshiped your home?
Someone who dressed American, and said n**ger just to relate?

Move In Day (May 1, 2008)

Me and Jones (my housemate)

Well it is official I’m in living in Africa on my own with the locals. Today I moved into my new house away from the University of Botswana. I will be living with three guys from school. Two of them are these poets that formed a group called “The Movement.”
favorite is Cydd (real name Kabelo). He’s really cool. He is really nice to me and really acts like he wants me here. The other people are a bit scared of me. I’m the only girl and it just seems like I stick out and they don’t really want me around. But, I’m getting used to the idea that it might be lonely here. I am hoping to make new friends from church, work, and maybe poetry. I doubt it but hey it would be nice.

But on to my motivations for living here and why I really want to try and learn what it means to be in Botswana. I have been here for three months yet I hardly know anything about Botswana. I have never eaten in a village or made a friend who had to eat “free style sandwiches” (what Cydd called funny looking fish, bread, and mayonnaise).
Most of my interactions here were with other American students who taught me a lot about how to deal with people and how to just let people who you don’t get along with be. I really learned a lot about how some people are there for your seasons and that means they will be around for a time and then when its time they will be gone. I learned a lot from the friends I made and lost here and it was good. I think I got a great gift here. Both in my appreciation for Georgetown and the people that I met there who I have grown to love.
I also learned a lot about myself, both good and bad. I think I can look at myself more objectively and realize that I’m not perfect, not always right, hard to get along with, stubborn, and sometimes very mean. I also know that if someone loves you they love the good and the bad and they don’t try to hurt you or embarrass you when you’re not the positive person they fell in love with.

But, I think I failed where God comes in. I want to hear him more clearly and be with him more closely. I hope move in day is followed my God moved into my heart day. I want to grow and learn and appreciate what God has sent me.

And oh Gaborone, Botswana. I want to see you in your true form. (I don’t want to be robbed, or have anything go missing) but I want to feel like I came here and really tried to be part of the community—and not in condescending stay away from Americans way but a these people are good people I am happy to know way.

And, Eddy. He’s a nice kid and he really means well. But I need to be independent and I need to learn to love me without all the distractions.

A Poem Between Friends (Jan 17, 2008)

A photo of me performing a poem with Exodus Live in March.

By Sharon, Eddy Mihigo, and Yamiche Alcindor


I’ve been to a place here promised love is tainted

Where all the ink and paper were like chain for bondage

Holding me back from performing at my very best

But bondage was a means of survival.

I have been to a place where one day I was a princess

And the next day I was a gold digger.

Where not only the weather but the first face I saw determined my mood for the day.


And I’ve been to a place where life was more than a place,

Where life was more than strife, struggle, and lies,

Where hope dies.

I’ve been there, here, yes, been dared, felt the haze, cool breeze,

And still frailty, weakness, my knees fail, but mud knee high,

I rise like the tide and keep moving like herds of gazelles, not phased by predators.

I’ve been there, still there trying to flee but stuck like duck tape.

Do you know where I’ve been?

Do words alone tell stories?

Or does rhyme drive thoughts like wind above waves,

Questions embedded in my oblongata,

Answers scattered to far reaches,

Can’t reach ‘em!



Help. . . you want help huh?

I would help you but I live in a place where promised love is tainted.

Where broken promise, lonely days, and silent nights greet you like a long maze.

I’ve lived in a place where reality is best aided my alcohol induced haze.

Where people flee, too scared to speak to one another because 1 in 20 people carry HIV.

I’ve been to a place and performed for a different race.

They looked at me, once a princess, now just another black face.

I’ve lived in a place where hurricanes my mood,

Black bodies drowning, people’s hopes floating as the world watched sisters and brother die.

Yes I understand where you’ve been because I’ve been there too.

Except everyone in my place died and I was only left with memories and inherited eyes.

I’ve lived n a place where days began with the touch of a breeze on the back of your neck.

But by midday, reality set—life is unfair, too hard, and a wreck.

I’ve lived in a place ‘where life ain’t been no crystal stair’ but my soul has grown deep.

I know the place—where you want to be weak but are too strong—you’re knee deep.

You say you’re stuck like duck tape,

But I’m hooked, tied down with memories of my light skin—colonial rape.

I know where you’ve been because I’ve lived in this place, grew up staring at my attacker’s face.

I’ve ridden the waves and words alone can never tell stories.

How could you replay silent moments between mothers and daughters,

The first touch of a lover’s hand?

No rhyme could ever compromise the deepness of silent good byes.

Answers that ask question.


My First Time at Open Baptist Church of Botswana (Jan. 27th)

I should have stood.
Today in church when they asked people to stand if they were weary and believed they were far from God, I should have stood. I went to church this morning at 8 a.m. with a friend, Eddy Mihigo.
I am scared I don’t know what I am supposed to get from Botswana. I can’t place the emptiness I feel. I can’t quite describe an absence of caring. It’s as if I am forcing myself to live. It’s a funny feeling to want to want to live. Today, in church, I knew the words were for me. I knew the timing was because I had to hear that sermon but it felt like it was falling on ears that have become numb. A deafening sadness has come upon me and I think it has come with the realization that I can’t rely on anyone but God but how can I? How can I place my strength in someone I have never met? Someone I hope is listening and someone who I hope knows what’s going on? How can rely on someone who loves everyone and who doesn’t punish the people I want Him to when I want Him to? How do I come to terms with a God that would hurt me?

The passage today was Isaiah 40:27-30. "Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel , 'My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God'? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will talk and not be faint."

How could someone read this passage and not cry? How could someone asking God the same question and sharing the same feelings as the people quoted not cry and ask for forgiveness? I can’t understand what’s happening but I can say that God is in the midst of my life.

Visiting Mozambique (written February 25, 2008)

The silence of the city was deafening yesterday. I never thought of Mozambique as a third world country but then again I didn’t do my research. Didn’t care enough I suppose. Yesterday, me and Angie landed in Maputo the capital city of Mozambique. It was a shock to say the least. I am not too sure what we expected but what I didn’t expect was a picture of Haiti in Africa. They say my parents’ home country is the poorest, but I think they may not have seen Maputo. Here, people sleep in the streets next door to fancy hotels and people eating well. It's “Africa in Decay” as Angie has said many times since we’ve been here. Yesterday we paid $70 US Dollars to a cab to eat at a restaurant called Cosa de Sol. Angie lost her camera on the way back. We think she left it in the cab but we have no idea. Today we woke up at 9:45 (or at least I did). We made it out by 10:40 a.m. Had breakfast at the hotel (Pestana Rovuma). Then we went to two museums but they were both closed. After that, we went to the beach. It was a dirty beach but a beach none the less. Its called Catembe. It has the most beautiful view of the city. It was really quiet as is everything in this city. I feel like Americans are so loud that when we come to other cities we expect the hustle of our cities and its just not the same. But anyways, we went and had fun. I drank a Hunters and collected the shells Eddy asked me to bring him . . . That boy. I can’t decide whether I like him or just like the idea of him. Anyways enough about that. I have a law school essay to write. Sigh . . . so I shall go. Africa is amazing. I wish my thoughts were dedicated to her beauty.

Coming to an Understanding

So I've been in Botswana for 6 months and I have not kept a blog. BIG mistake. To the dismay of my family and friends I have been learning without sharing. Some of this is because a lot of the things I have learned and experienced have hit me in such a personal way that sharing seemed scary. In keeping my journal hidden though I have not given people a chance to learn through my experiences and see why I have chosen to remain on a continent where so many suffer but so many more thrive. This is my story of coming to an understanding. . .