Thursday, August 7, 2014

Anti-slavery Campaign Interview Series. Woré Ndiaye

The Witness of a Muslim African Woman

Wore Ndiaye was born in the Republic of Congo and raised in Senegal. She has been living in the United States for over a decade. As a consultant in Social Responsibility and Sustainability specialized in the sales and promotion of Fair Trade Products, she has spent many years in the retail industry. She did her undergraduate studies in International Relations at the City College of New York (CCNY). In her book “Nous Sommes Coupables” (“We Are Guilty”) published in French by Phoenix Press Publishing in April 2011, she uses her writing skills to be the voice of African Women while conducting a thorough analysis of various factors infringing the development of the African continent. She has published a number of  articles related to Peacebuilding and Women’s gender issues. With a Master’s Degree in Conflict Transformation and Development, Wore is a Program planner specialized in Community Development and environmental sustainability. 

Yago: Wore, you are welcome to this blog that is becoming a reference-resource for people dealing creatively with today’s slavery and especially with the subconscious energies of enslavement that support and empower it. You are invited to share and to open your heart on your own liberation journey as a Muslim African woman who has lived in the States for the last 16 years. I believe that we all shall benefit from your life experience. You have written a very controversial book in French translated as “We are Guilty” published in the US by Phoenix Press Publishing and it is about African women. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Wore: The book is about the role that women play in the development of the African continent. It is a way for me to make them get a better understanding of their part and to tell them that they should not let our male leaders decide for us any longer. They should get involved in any way possible, certainly by building trust and peace amongst themselves through open-mindedness, communication, understanding and tolerance. Mostly by overcoming the barriers that have been set and also by identifying what does not work for us within our societies. I love to write articles in the same theme to encourage women. When I wrote my book, I emphasized a lot on the fact that we need to focus on developing our countries and of the importance of peace and how we can seek for it through the way we live our lives daily. I even went further by proving how pivotal it is for women to get involved at the peace table for international and regional negotiations. I did it based on assessments and experience. But I always knew that I needed something deeper on an academic level to support my points. So as of last year I have been focusing on research and analysis in the Peacebuilding field to support my findings.

Furthermore, I want to create awareness among youth in Africa that peacebuilding is not just an abstract concept or strategy that leaders turn to when a country is experiencing a conflict of any kind. It is rather a state of mind, a choice and recourse, a way of life. I want to create that understanding. My dream is to see my continent developed. I believe in tangible development and it really can happen in our lifetime. Instead of focusing on the macro level, it is important to go back to the micro. Focus on small communities and I think that is where the spark is going to happen. 

Yago: What is your vision as a whole in the liberation of African women?
Paulo Freire
Wore: Education is a great formula that is important in the liberation of women. But it is not enough on its own. We use the term “liberation” very often when we want to paint the idea of freedom. But it is only recently while writing a paper related to Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed that I realized that there is a huge difference between being free and being liberated. Working on the freedom of women is one thing, helping them get liberated is another. That only suggests that one can be free without being liberated.

So educating women contributes to freeing them. It frees them from the structural systems that have enchained them and kept them from contributing to the advancement of society. It is improving though. More and more women are getting ahead, breaking barriers that have been set for many years.
They are Presidents, prime ministers and leaders and thanks to UN Resolution 1325, signed in October 2000 urging member states to give more leadership roles to women in the peacebuilding field, they are getting invited to the table for peace talks and negotiations.
However, many of us have yet to be liberated. That liberation happens within. It is important to work on achieving one’s goals not because one wants to prove that she is able to do it, but just because it is a passion that needs to be fulfilled. That is a challenge that many African women who live away from the continent are faced with. Just like many women around the world, the educated African woman who has emigrated is always torn between her culture and that of the new place she lives in. We want to blend in without losing a part of who we are. It is oftentimes very tough, especially because we carry in us a part of every minority that has ever existed.
Yago: Why would such a constructive and empowering message carry a title as controversial as “We are Guilty”?
Brené Brown
Wore: Well, it is a long story. Brené Brown will be fast at explaining to you that there is nothing negative about Guilt. Guilt is different from shame. I did not say “we should be ashamed of ourselves”, which would imply a sense of unworthiness: Rather I used the word “Guilt” which raises a notion of responsibility and self-awareness. To be guilty, one must have assessed oneself and leveled out what needs to be improved or changed. The feeling of guilt comes when one has accepted and owned their failure. Maybe the questions that I raise would really invite a deep thought around that failure. I think of genocides like Rwanda, Burundi and wonder if they are just the work of governments and rebel groups.

Take for instance the Rwandan genocide. For eight hundred thousand people to die in four months, you bet that almost everyone must have been a part of it. The 25 year old young woman who was trying to understand that at the time through my book blamed mothers as well for not having said anything when the machetes they used to slice the Easter dinner were disappearing from the kitchen. Now with thorough analysis with the lense of the peacebuilder, I understand that it was more than that. The social identity, the group identity in Jolle Demmers’ theories of violent conflict for instance is great at explaining it.
Yago: I have to admit that African women are not usually portrayed with a power that would induce them to guilt for failing at exerting it. How did you come up with the concept of the book? How was the idea originated? What kind of logic brought you to that conclusion?
Wore: I wrote the book over 10 years ago. At the time, I was pregnant with my first child. I was lost in the joy that accompanied the event while remembering the lessons that I had learnt from my mother. At the time, I had just turned 25 and thought interesting to start jotting down all the lessons that I learnt in a quarter of a century which I thought I could pass on to my daughter.
Yago: What kinds of lessons?
Wore: Very basic lessons. Things like “be fair”, “stay honest”, etc… As I went along with the exercise, I realized that it was getting pretty lengthy. By the time I was done with the major points, a minor event made me think deeply about what we really call priority. A relative of mine who was also pregnant called me one day to express how stressed she was about the preparations of the party that usually takes place a week after the baby is born. I felt sorry to realize that while she was expecting a human being that she was going to bring to this very complicated and tumultuous world, she was neither worrying about what she would feed the child with nor the road to his or her education. Rather, she was being obsessed with the mundane: what she would wear for the party to impress her in-laws, how she was going to feed the guests and how to purchase the accessories needed to keep up with the weakest facets of our traditions. All that was even stressing her out. The child was not even born yet and she was already passing on to him an inconceivable trauma.

I came up with an amazing light bulb: I realized that these questions that I was asking myself served as the layette and the baby shower for the welcoming event of a child. The tragic events of September 11th only added to my quest to understand what creates such hatred in a human being and in which way a mother can without realizing it, participate in the disequilibrium of society through the lack of education of her child who happens to be a microcosm of the universe. By education, I do not mean only the academic education of a human being which to me accounts for half of the knowledge of the individual. I also mean the social education which is absolutely important. In Africa where millions of people have never been to school, our society is held grounded by values and norms that are universal. It is even funny that when we usually say that a person is educated, we do not mean the degree that the person holds.
We refer to the values and their social upbringing that give them a holistic approach to life. You see, I feel that we are all interconnected. At the time, just like any other expecting mother, my state of mind showed a strong willingness to bring to this world an individual that would be useful to society. I understood our interconnectedness. I was pondering on the fact that when we have children, we just want the best for them. We want to protect them and give them the best of the best.  Every mother, from the ghettos of South Africa to the slums of Mumbai to the palaces of Dubai wants the same thing for her child. Yet there is a sense of self-education that must be done before. To educate anybody, one must first educate themselves. And when we are not even aware of what we are not aware of, how can we even start planning anything balanced and constructive for our offspring?

Yago: And the book went from just jotting down life lessons to tackling great existential, social, economic and political questions that haunt the African continent.
Wore: Exactly. You have to watch out when you want to start something because you never know how it will end. When I started the book and realized that it was taking me to a whole different level, where I was even blaming women for not getting involved at peacebuilding tables, I did not know that in Liberia at the time, hundreds of women had sat in a field for two years urging for peace. It is many years later  that I found out about it, when Leymah Gbowee won the Nobel Peace prize and that the publishing company agreed that I was right in the theory that I had developed but had been refused by few other companies which could not grasp the concept.
The truth is that when people hear “we are guilty”, they think “how can you blame the poor women who are usually raped, victimized, poor, abandoned? But yes, Leymah and her crew understood rightfully that there is indeed a power in us that must be taped into. And if anything, we are even guilty for not trying to challenge our systems. Those systems are made of our brothers and sons and nephews. I invite them all to question how we have raised them. Leymah herself would even declare in Mighty be our Powers that “you can tell people of the need to struggle, but when the powerless start to see that they really can make a difference, nothing can quench the fire”. And that is exactly what we are guilty was meant to do, to remind the powerless women of Africa or their power.
Yago: Wore, indeed this is a powerful vision. It is also an extraordinary challenge to bring it into concrete reality. Now I would like to shift from Wore as a writer to Wore as a mother. How about the fact of being a mother, in which way has it made you a different human being?

Wore: Oh wow!!! I will never be able to explain it properly. Being a mother has opened my eyes in numerous ways. It has made me understand the responsibility that I have not only to my children but also to my neighbor’s children as well as to earth. It is when I had a child that I understood our connection to every being on this planet. I even understood that the co-notation that we have given to our relationship to earth has been misleading. Earth is not our Mother, it is our daughter. It is precisely because we consider it our mother that we have such a bad relationship with it.
Isn’t it funny that the societies that are most prone to sending their parents to nursing homes are the ones that are so fast at stripping it from its riches?  We take our mothers for granted and have used the earth the same way that we have indulged from our parents. Wangari Maathai suggested that “we owe to ourselves and to the next generation to conserve the environment so that we can bequeath our children a sustainable world that benefits all”. That is why it is also time to change the relationship we have with the environment through the way we even label it. It is about time that we looked at earth as the child we need to take care of and to whom we must leave a legacy. 
Being a mother has also forced me into advocacy. It has unleashed in me the need to question and challenge our systems. I want to know for sure that I did my part in making the world a better place for my grandchildren because it is not only about saving the environment, it is also about making sure that we set good governance.

You know, before I had a child, I used to try to lift up weights more often to supposedly get the strength I needed to push the baby. At the moment of pushing, I realized that the muscle that pushes a baby is different from the one that you need to lift up weights. You push a baby almost with your guts. It made me realize that there is fundamentally a reason why men do not give birth. Is it possible that we have more guts than they do? Guts, the powerhouse that Asians consider the center of the human being where the entire strength lies, is exactly what I have gained when I became a mother.
Yago: You have already mentioned two wonderful African women, Leymah and Wangari, who are a living reference for the liberation (emancipation) of womanhood in Africa. You also talked about the insightful experience of being a mother. You are a woman very committed to your African inheritance. What role has played your mother and the African woman as a whole in your value system? 

Wore: I am overall inspired by the resilience of the women in my family. Women in Africa have a strength that must be tapped into. They know how to stand up with dignity after having been knocked down numerous times. They embody the greatest example of the survival of the fittest, which makes me doubt that we are as vulnerable or weak as society has portrayed us. Although many of them have no academic education, they carry degrees in life education, the social education I mentioned earlier. 
My mother has particularly been of great inspiration to me. She was very calm, did not attend secondary school, but had great knowledge of the world. My friends who came to visit me enjoyed sitting with her to discuss everything and anything. She loved reading newspapers, followed the news and could tell you a bit of everything that happened around the world. She enjoyed serving people and I learnt from her what an honor it is to serve. Serving those who have chosen you to lead them is the first mission of any leader.

I learnt it from my mother through her actions and later read it through Robert Greenleaf who would say that “Good leaders must first become good servants”. To lead, one must understand the needs of the people.  My mother was very involved in my education, extremely attentive to each and every one of her children. She set a rigorous daily routine which was centered on our education, encouraged us to go as far as we could in our studies, yet made it clear to us that education was nothing if we could not embrace womanhood.  I still remember my sisters and I being in the kitchen cooking the evening meal with our books on our laps. And that was as normal as normal could get. She taught us that cleaning, cooking, doing the laundry, dusting off, organizing the home are not chores but activities that go along with giving you an enjoyable living space. It gives you satisfaction and wholeness. Later on when learning about meditation and Buddhist practices, I found out that these are daily practices that are part of embracing who we are. They are different forms of meditation, valuing everyday mundane things.

Gloria Steinem
And I think that it is exactly what many feminists are struggling with. I am so grateful for the work that feminists have achieved. Gloria Steinem would suggest that “the first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn but to unlearn”. As women, there are so many things that we need to unlearn. For instance I can see how hard it is for many women to engage with their roles as caregivers because they somewhat feel that once they bring the bread to the table, they cannot be expected to assume another role in the household. I think the point that was missed in the feminist movement is that being part of the professional life was supposed to be a plus to who we already were as caregivers. It has been misinterpreted along the lines and as far as I know many of my fellow sisters think that they must choose one or the other. And there go the imbalance and anger and resentment that arbor us when we come home after a long day at work fighting for equal rights and proving that we can also be over productive to find that there still is a second or third job waiting to be accomplished. I learnt from my mother humility, respect for all and simplicity as well as the art of embracing the multiple facets that make who we are as women.

Wangari Maathai. Nobel Peace Prize

Besides my mother and the few women I grew up with, the one woman I just love so much and admire tremendously is Wangari Maathai, whom I mentioned earlier. She is the first African woman who has received the Nobel Peace prize. Wangari is also the first woman to have received a Doctorate Degree in Central Africa. I appreciate her strength and the determination with which she fought for women to have a better life. It is through her that I have understood the importance of the environment. When Wangari passed away a year ago, I cried. I wondered if we will have more women like her to fight for environmental issues. I have always been a very determined person and sometimes got the message that it was not good to be that way. But I learnt through Wangari’s life journey that determination is just an outcome of the clarity of the vision of the individual. People around us doubt us often because of fear. Without determination, we can easily allow ourselves to be sidetracked. Dreams are easily left under pillows and forgotten for the sake of blending and pleasing those who do not have the courage to stand up for their own ideas.  Paulo Coelho did warn us that the fear of failure is the only thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve and it seems to me that that fear can be one of the worst forms of slavery: that which enchains the individual who also finds a way to get others stuck. Wangari was fearless and “unbowed”. Her courage makes me realize that you have to stand up for your ideas and be ready to fight sometimes a whole government, an entire system. That is how important being grounded is. 

Besides Wangari, I am absolutely humbled by Leymah who is quite a powerhouse to me through the way she has empowered women in Liberia and in the rest of the world. She has inspired me greatly to be part of the conflict transformation world.
Yago: Wore, I find interesting that you mention Wangari Maathai and Leymah Gbowee. Both Women came to America and had the external exposure and both of them kept rooted with profound dignity in their being African Women; both of them also went back to the African continent to exercise their struggle for liberation. Do you know that you remind me so much of them? 
Wore: Oh Wow!!! I never thought about it that way. I guess we, just like millions of African women out there, have the same aspirations and dreams for the continent we love so dearly.
Yago: I am also touched by how strong your vision is about uplifting African women. After so many years in America you are still so decisive about helping your continent and speaking up for African women.
Wore: I did not measure how strong that feeling was coming out of me. I cannot go around it. It is there and I cannot stop myself from speaking for my sisters and participating in peacebuilding and development.
Yago: Now I can see that all this global awareness that you have acquired through meeting people from all over the world in America and writing your book has strengthened you. You are able to articulate the structures and free yourself. In which way has it empowered you to participate in the development of your continent?
Wore: I think that it has strengthened my vision in regards to the road I must take from now on. I am eager to participate in the development of the continent on the micro level, particularly on the community level. I have visited remote areas in Senegal and am outraged by the way villages are so usually left behind in projects of development. Cities take much of the chunk of money allocated to projects while in rural areas people still lack the most basic needs. We are not even talking about cell phones or infrastructures. We are talking about water to drink and seeds to plant and harvest. Sachi Tharoor, the former under-secretary general of the UN used to say that Human Rights start with breakfast. How can our leaders say that they fight for the rights of their constituents if those people do not even have the resources to eat? That bugs me deeply. The laws that facilitate access to land to the majority of the population are problematic, when you realize by the way that over 70% of most Africans live in rural areas.
Yago: Not long ago, I heard you say something that has touched me about you: you were talking about what it is like to be a black woman in America and said that you never took a racial comment towards black people personally. You said the fact that you have lived your childhood and adolescence in Africa has granted you a profound sense of dignity. Can you share more about that? In which way do you then connect to slavery?
Wore: Of Course. I recall that instance. I particularly said that I never felt black in America. I particularly remember a class that we were having in the mid 2000’s at my former university in a course called Women in Politics. We were working with Professor Eileen Mc Donagh from Northeastern University who was drafting a book called The Motherless State that was to help study why a country as liberal and democrat as America has never had a woman as a president while countries as conservative as Pakistan and England had Benazir Bhutto and Margaret Tatcher as Prime Ministers. Even countries like Rwanda have a considerable number of women in parliament. At the time, then Senator Barack Obama wasn’t even in the public sphere. I particularly remember this instance when I told one of my professors that history has the tendency to repeat itself and that it would be really interesting if Hillary Clinton ran for president against a black candidate.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama
Just like 1920, when Americans were going through the dilemma of choosing which minority they wanted to first enjoy the right to vote: Women or Blacks? My professor had explained to me that it would never happen. If Hilary ran for president, she would represent the democrats and that would suppose that a black candidate would run for the Republicans. In her own words, she declared that it would never happen, at least not in 2008. The republicans were still too conservative to allow a black person to represent them. She then asked me who I would vote for if it ever happened: a woman or a Black? I was very fast at replying to her. To me there was no ambiguity in her question and I was prompt to answer that I would vote for a woman. Because I am more my gender than my color. A woman, I responded, would know right away how to represent me at the table. She knew my preoccupations and my priorities as a mother and woman.

Not only did history repeat itself in its own unpredictable way because indeed the democrats had to choose if they wanted a woman or a Black to represent them first, but when it did I changed my vision. When I listened to Barrack Obama, I knew that I had missed a major clue: I am neither the color of my skin nor my gender. I am a human Being point blank. Circumstances always try to force us to choose a color, a gender, a group. We must constantly make a choice and I always choose to not let myself be defined by any structure that was set to box and create a minority. And out of the two, I was charmed by Barrack, not because he was black, but because he embodied the best of humanity. While Hilary Clinton used the same demagogy that has been around for centuries to prove that she could be reliable, he reminded me of what we all have in common and that is I believe why millions of people around the world have cheered when he won the first time. 

I do not deny the ravages of slavery and the way it has destroyed the world in many ways while helping in the wealth of numerous countries. Less than two centuries after slavery has been abolished, people still suffer from its impact. I cannot say that I am living it however. I have gotten over the vulnerability that lies in the person who feels insulted by a comment or an allusion to the color of his skin. I grew up in a country led by Africans and even though our leaders had their own complexes, our traditions and culture gave us the ground, the foundation that makes us so aware of who we are. You see, that is exactly what Africans have that makes them different.
The poorest can be the proudest. Pride in that sense is not a default, it is not vanity. It is a strong sense of identity. And when you walk around with the dignity that is forged by the pride of knowing that you are loved by your parents, by their parents and by an entire community you can count on, what does it do to you that someone makes an allusion to the color of your skin? You understand that only the one who has a problem with his own identity finds a way to belittle others.

I just have not been able to pay attention to anybody who thought they could hurt me by waving the racist or gender card, the person who thinks that the best way to heal themselves of their own traumas is by pocking into one of my identities. I am too busy loving and nurturing and thanking the universe to pay attention. I just don’t notice. And if or when it has happened, I feel like telling the person: my name is Woré. I am the daughter, the mother, the sister, the friend, the niece, the wife of so and so. How about you, who are you? You see, when you know who you are, no one can call you what you are not. We say in Senegal that only the person who does not know you calls you “hey”. Hey can be the derogatory name. It is the way you call a person you have not yet taken the time to open yourself to. But once you have taken the time to push the barriers and know them, you will stop yourself from calling them with a name that you would not even use for the worst skunk that pesters the forest.

Yago: Thanks for your profound words on identity. Gender and race put aside, Wore, you belong to the Muslim Tradition. I would like to know what has it been like to be a Muslim woman in America post 9/11?
Wore: First of all, let me tell you that 9/11 is an event that rung home. I did my first 2 years of undergrad at BMCC, which is just a few blocks away from the World Trade Center. During cold winter evenings, after long days at work which ended at school, I could not wait to get to the World Trade center. I can still feel the warmth of the building which, like a goose, took me under its wings to shelter me. My train station was just underground. And so it is with great shock that I, just like millions of people around the world, watched the towers crumble. They fell down 2 hours before I was to get on a train that would also stop there.
And being Muslim in America has not been easy ever since. I cannot say that it has been particularly difficult for me, because nothing in my appearance tells you that I am Muslim. I do not cover myself. It has nothing to do with the time that we are living. It is just a choice that I have made. I used to cover myself when I was 18 years old, but made the decision not to after a few months. For now, my religion is in my heart and in my actions and practice. The requirements that go along with covering one’s self do not stop there. There are many more things that must go along with it and those requirements I felt were contradictory to who I genuinely am. One must be subdued, lower their voice, not give their hands to men, keep their faces down. I have never been successful at keeping my voice down while my father reprimanded me many times for having a laugh that you could hear all the way down the block. I love to hug people and have more male friends than the religious structure would allow me to. So I am just embracing who I am while practicing my religion very intensely on the side. Maybe I will soon take the plunge and will decide to wear the Hijab and remold myself to fit the context. And then I might have many stories to tell you as to how that fits in the American context. 

Yago: Beautiful words, you are indeed a very courageous woman! Now, what from your faith has inspired you to be a peacebuilder?
Wore: Resilience. It is the resilience you gain by surrendering to the flow of what already is. It is the resilience that is there when you open yourself to what you see and want to bring peace to. Opening one’s self to understand.
Yago: Is it to heal from that giant wound that you still fight for the well-being of African women? You recently created a website, Awinews. What does it stand for and why did you come up with the idea?
Wore: Every day, we consult the news to get the information for the day. The major news sources we count on do not give us all we need to know. Cruising the major websites, I was always feeling a lack of news pertaining to African women.  I have been hungry for more positive news pertaining to African women. Having complained about it for quite a while, I thought one day that I might as well create what I have been looking forward to seeing in the news. That is how I came up with the concept of AWINEWS, which stands for African Women’s Information Network. I wanted it to be a platform that African women around the world can rely on for objective and fulfilling stories. I also want to be a tunnel of information for all the NGOs, Christian and religious based non-profit organizations that are on the ground and are doing an amazing work. I am so proud of women like Leymah and am looking forward to unearthing all the Leymahs we have on the continent. One feature that I am really excited about is the three languages that are offered for each article: French, English and Portuguese. It is a way for me to break the barriers that are set among African women, which make us be strangers to each other. The first barrier is communication. It is unbelievable to me how we oftentimes must count on western languages to be able to communicate. And I feel that with a woman at the head of the African Union, once we try to reach out to each other, it can be a first step towards the unification of the continent which is a dream that we hope will come true. It is pivotal that with Awinews, women get to see the achievements of other women on a daily basis so they can be immersed in the idea that African women can and do indeed achieve great things in areas like science, technology, medicine.
Sylvia Bongo, Gabon First Lady
I also found important to have a topic on our First Ladies. They are barely known; most of them are silent and almost non-existent, which to me is not only unacceptable, but also regrettable. They just are so unaware of their roles in their countries and of the impact they might have in making women believe in their potential. Even though I must give much credit to First Ladies like Sia Niama from Sierra Leone and Sylvia Bongo from Gabon who do an amazing work.
Yago: The theme developed on this blog is about Modern Slavery and the energy of enslavement that subconsciously supports it. I must be honest with you and tell you that when I was interviewing you, I was looking forward to hearing you talk about the notion of enslavement that you may have experienced either as a woman who has grown up in a patriarchal African society or as a black woman or even as a very religious and practicing Muslim woman in America. Wore, you show to be a very resilient woman. I can’t cease to be amazed by how much you have found a way to not let yourself be bound by neither of those identities that make who you are.  How is that possible? Where is the source of this power? How do you do that?

"Survival Instinct" (Yago, Dublin 2012)
Wore: Yago, you are making me laugh so much. The giant wound does exist. What you sense in me is a survival instinct. It is something that has been in me. It is the negation of the social identity. We are what we are not. For a very long time, I could never tell you exactly what I wanted to be. But I could give you a long list of what I did not want to be. It was all I saw or sensed around me that I knew I just did not want to become. It is as if the energy of life gave me just that. I knew I did not want to be like the intellectuals that I saw who had become the products of imperialism, were so busy to assimilate the Europeans that they forgot about who they were.  I never wanted to be locked in a bottle. But that is exactly where I draw my theory from of being free without being liberated. There is no structure around me that has bowed me to what I did not want. I have been very fortunate in so many ways to have people around me who understood me and supported me in my free spirited self. I was fortunate enough to have an African husband who backs up my vision and helps me stay grounded. However, that is where my giant wound lies.

Although free from structures, I have yet to liberate myself from the tie I have personally knotted with my past. I am not sure I am willing to undo the knot anytime soon. You see, for once, I have created that wound and carry it proudly. It is my way to stay tuned to my people. I deliberately carry the load to stay connected to those I left behind exactly to reach the freedom that I now value so much.
Whenever I feel the wound, it is a reminder that the fruit that I am enjoying came from a tree that was planted by many other women. The plant was watered with tears of hope, sweats of resilience, hums of sorrow, behind closed doors where women could never even dare tell a portion of their dreams even in the most encouraging circle processes. My giant wound, I walk around with it and it is a reminder that there are millions of women on the Mother land who need my strength and I must also support them.

Yago: I believe that when we are able to deconstruct, to name, to bring light into our wounds (individual and collective), to embrace them… then compassion and empathy towards the other can emerge from the depth of ourselves. Without that we shall always be enslaved deep within. It is the healing process that will allow us to be grounded in love and connected to the suffering masses.

Wore: At least I can say in light of your powerful statement that I have been able to identify it, name it and embrace it. Have I healed? I am not sure. I will try to dig deeper.
Yago: What skills do you gain from your faith to breathe forgiveness and to embrace the giant wound?
Wore: Islam means submission. It is all about forgiveness. There are many ways that you can understand the word “submission”. To me when you submit yourself, you accept what is. You submit through respect of what you are submitting to, acceptance and belief. When I hear faith, I realize that I must include in it my religion and my spirituality. My religion is to me what I learn from the book. My spirituality is what I draw from the book, the energy that connects me to every single individual on earth and makes me accept them the way they are while valuing their traditions, practices and beliefs. It is the connection that I have with every person. My spirituality is to me what I have chosen to do with the texts that I have and the lessons that I have understood make me be aware of my surrounding, of each being that has been created. It is through the door that I leave open to learn and keep growing knowing there is very little that I know.
Painting of Rumi meditating
I am very hungry to incorporate the teachings of all time mystics like Rumi, Hafiz, Shams of Tabriz, Al Ghazali, and many others. All these have given me the skills to embrace my own self and my own struggles and in this case, the giant wound. Talking about Rumi, I particularly love one of his quotes on forgiveness when he warns that it is the economy of the heart and that it “saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred and the waste of spirits”. It seems to me that it is only through forgiveness and making peace with oneself that one can go further in their lives.

Yago: Finally Wore, I would invite you to think creatively about how you could contribute to today’s Anti-Slavery campaign.
Wore: I would love to participate in this campaign by talking more about the giant wound which must be identified within each one of us. The giant wound does not always manifest itself in the way that we expect it to. It is there and must be dealt with however it forms itself. It must not be ignored nor treated with a band aid. It must be faced and challenged and reconciled with and loved somehow. That is the only way one can go forward. It is the only way the individual and society can be whole with nature and with the universe. That is the only way slavery in its raw meaning can disappear once and for all.
Yago: Wore, thank you very much for your wonderful insights and time granted to this interview.
Wore: Thanks to you, Yago!