I can’t believe it took me almost 26 years and an extra 20 pounds to realize how beautiful my body is. As a young girl and now a young woman I have battled with my body image, and of course this is a struggle that many women face. It was not not until I took a much needed personal trip to South Africa did I have the opportunity to sit, reflect, appreciate and embrace every single part of my identity in the physical and spiritual form.
Although it was only a month away from my current surroundings, it was enough time to acknowledge my presence on this earth as a messenger of peace, love and understanding. And this helped me come to terms with some aspects of my life that I had not come to peace with, that I did not love completely and pieces of me that I was reluctant to understand.
Every morning or evening that I sat by the Indian Ocean to reflect I would think of one thing that I wanted to fix, change or strengthen. I realized in the end that majority of the things that I wanted to fix, change or strengthen were physical things and blessings that could not be fixed, changed or strengthened; rather it was my mind and the way in which I thought of those things that needed the work.
As I began to shift the way I was thinking about my physical presence I realized the beauty of my spiritual connectedness to the world and the beauty in the mind that I carry. One day I had an epiphany that left me crying for hours. I woke up and felt so beautiful, I went to the mirror and examined my body, my face, all the blemishes and flaws I have, yet I still felt so beautiful. I had been trying get used to telling myself how beautiful I am and how much I love who I am, yet that morning I didn’t even need to say anything, because I truly felt it. It was so overwhelming, the feeling was so new and I bursted into tears. These were tears of joy, but also tears of sorrow as I wish I had embraced myself sooner.
As I continue to embark on this journey of self-love, appreciation, understanding and acceptance I want to honour all my previous experiences, because if it weren’t for them I’m not sure that I would have pushed myself to look at my heart and mind in order to love my body.
Although I know I am not perfect and that there will be times where I don’t feel as beautiful, I know that I have a built a foundation of self-accountability and a level of appreciation of self in all forms that will help me stay grounded.
It’s growth yall.
I don’t always cover my hair
But when I do I feel just as beautiful.
It’s not about modesty or fear of my curls
But more so about what I use to cover my hair.
The relationship I have with my head wraps
Is one of the most important relationships I cherish.
Because every time I get a new wrap,
With the various colours,
And intricate textile designs
I see Africa singing to me
and I feel closer to home,
regardless of how far I may be.
It is not about covering my hair
It is about holding my identity,
Cherishing my culture,
And loving my people.
It is self-determining.
I have this love hate relationship with technology.
The more technology advances, the more I see how hard it is for people to have every day interactions.
Interactions like speaking to the person beside you on the city bus
Or asking a stranger a question without being asked to ‘google’ it
Human interactions where you meet and connect with people in line at the grocery store and find out how an inspiring life story of a stranger can change your life.
Or simply, introduce yourself to your neighbour on your first day of post secondary and having that person become your life long friend.
Technology in ways has shifted the way in which we feel safe to interact
We have become so comfortable hiding behind our devices that those awkward moments where you choose between looking out the window or speaking to the person standing so close to you on the bus, to the point where you feel their breath on your shoulder is saved by…instagram stories.
But as much as the way in which we socially interact has changed
I have acknowledged the strength of social media and technology in it’s way of bringing people together…in a different way.
I’ve written before
I am a South Sudanese, Born in Egypt, Raised in Canada
Part of my reality is that I have not had the privilege of meeting many members of my extended family.
I scroll through my instagram timeline and smile at the clips of my friends sharing the memories of them with their grandparents.
Those snapchat stories where you can’t tell whether your friend and their cousin are twins or not because they look and act totally the same when their together.
These are all experiences that I’ve always admired.
What would it feel like if I could just drive over to my haboba’s (grandma’s) place?
How awesome would it be to surprise my cousin on her birthday with her favourite desert?
Those human interactions.
A couple hours ago, my mom called my brother Tamurie and I over and said “hay, we’re going to have a Facebook video chat with your grandma; they finally have access to a smart phone”.
In my mind I’m thinking, video chat that sounds normal…haboba, uncle Elia…Sudan..
Something is going to prevent us…if our phone conversations are already in and out, what makes you think their data is going to work.
I was in denial.
But five minutes later…guess who I was seeing through the screen of my moms phone?
Ya rab…de haboba.
The first thing I could utter out of my mouth was “omg, she’s moving…”
My mom glanced over at me like…what?
All I have ever known of my grandmother was her voice and the still photos we have of her.
But now she’s moving, and her voice is matching her movement’s…. “mom…omg”…
I just smiled, smiled, smiled
I could see how much my mother really resembled haboba
Where she gets her dimples
And where I get the gab in my bottom teeth
Where we get our humor from because haboba was cracking up at my attempts to speak Arabic
And comparing her braided hair to my brothers twisted hair
She even showed us the wooden cross Tamurie sent to her in 2007 that she still wears around her neck
Haboba kept saying she wishes she was with us
Uncle Elia saw that I cut my hair and called me a “tom boy”
We just observed each other
Transferred our love to one another—from one screen to another
From one continent to another
Across the world
Those short seven minutes before the signal cut out
….we were together
I got my first visit with haboba and uncle Elia
I have the first ever moving memory of my grandmother
Her photos came to life, thanks to technology.
So now when I see those lovely family stories on my instagram or snap chat
Though I’m not physically together with haboba ou unlce Elia
At least I now kind of know what it feels like.
Inshallah in the near future, not only will I get to see haboba move
Maybe I’ll get to touch her too.
In South Sudan
Most Christian households
Give their children
An ethnic name and a Christian name
Some go by their ethnic names and others by their Christian names
I went by my Christian name
I love it
‘Emanuela’ = Emmanuel
meaning: God is with us
I have an interesting story
Just as many people I’ve crossed paths with do also
But you will never know ones story unless you engage
I think my name reflects me well
I believe God is walking with me wherever I go
Part of loving ones ‘self’
Where you come from
On my journey of self-actualization
I’ve unlearned the fear of being different
Growing up in the west
Challenges of acceptance placed a burden
On my step and speech
On how I introduced myself
I’ve always known what my ethnic name meant
But for some reason
I didn’t like the challenges
In the ways people pronounced my name
I wasn’t ready to correct them
I was still learning to love myself, my name
I’ve learned so much about my individual/personal history
I learned about how I was named
I understood why I was named
I’ve appreciated every piece of Love
Poured into naming me
And I have embraced
My ethnic name
A blessing to be called as such
‘Dobi’ = From
‘Joki’ = God
Dobijoki = From God
On our second night in Pakistan we heard some devastating news, there was a flight that crashed only a few miles from the Islamabad airport. There were forty-seven people on the flight, all of them passed. This was a tragic event that not only affected a few families but ultimately the whole country. Due to this tragedy the summit was rescheduled to begin two days after the original start date in order to allow people to mourn.
During the two days that we had to spare before the summit began, all the delegates were asked to write a speech, this speech would be presented on the first day of the summit. Writing my speech was a very important experience for me, through writing I was able to analyze the realities of my identity. I was representing South Sudan and have never been to the country, yet it is still considered home to me. I was raised in Canada and also consider it home. I am a continental born diasporic African and I felt it was important to mention my experience. Along with this I decided to discuss the water crisis in South Sudan and the importance of intervention to the falling nation.
The day came, it was time to present my speech on behalf of South Sudanese youth both in the country and in the diaspora. The room was full of local youth delegates, youth international ambassadors, global governmental ambassadors, and a very distinguished panel on the stage. This panel included the World Chairman of the International Human Rights Commission, Dr. Khan, Former Prime Minister of Nepal, Mr Jhala Natha Khanal, Former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousuf Raza Gilani, and Former Prime Minister of Tunisa, Hamadi Jebali. Not only was speaking at such an important event a nerve-racking experience but on top of it all, I felt like I had to impress the panel. A few delegates presented before me, then it was my turn. The chairman announced my name and in the introduction he mentioned South Sudan being the newest country in Africa and the importance of my voice being present at the summit for my community. I thought I was nervous before, but after my introduction I was even more nervous and felt the pressure. As I was walking to the stage I was followed by claps so loud I could feel the ripples move my feet. I knew that my nerves would take the best of me if I did not take my time with my speech, and so I did.
Though I wasn’t satisfied with my presentation, after I watch a recorded film I then realized that it was probably the most valuable presentation I’ve ever made to date. I say this because I was not only looking at my speech delivery; rather I looked at everything I had gone through in order to make it to that stage to deliver my speech. From hard work and dedication, to personal challenges, to the GoFundMe campaign, to issues receiving my visa and to building the courage and confidence to feel qualified enough to represent my country South Sudan.
I thank the Most High for guiding me through this whole experience and reminding me of how important it is to stay focused, have hope and push for what I want.
You will see the clip of my speech below. It only goes up from here.
There is so much that I want to share with you, but before I begin I would first like to thank everyone who contributed in any way to get me to Pakistan. Though there are thousands of GoFundMe pages for various causes, for me it was still very hard to ask for help. I put myself in a vulnerable position; one that I was not used to but I am grateful for the love and support that was shown to me.
For those who may not know, I was appointed Youth Ambassador of South Sudan for the International Human Rights Commission and represented my country at the World Youth Summit for Peace from Dec 7 -12, 2016.
When I spoke to people about me going to this summit many people were excited, yet that excitement turned into worry when I mentioned the location in which this summit was taking place. The World Youth Summit for Peace took place in a country that has been stigmatized in the media as a nation of violence and terrorism. I am not going to lie; I too began to be a bit worried once I heard the confusion in the voices of my friends and family after the third or fourth time. Regardless of what was said, I knew that the International Human Rights Commission would not plan and organize an international event four youth regarding human rights and peace in a location that they knew was unsafe. I went with my gut and worked to get there anyway.
When I got my visa and my ticket it became official. Everything was finalized only a few days before I was to leave to Asia for the first time. Though I love to travel, I hate long flights, I felt as though I was sleeping for ages. Finally we arrived and I was greeted at the airport from a distance by four amazing program coordinators who were excited to receive me. I also met a lovely woman by the name of Diana. Diana was a Goodwill Ambassador from Bulgaria who was actually on the same flight as me. We drove about thirty minutes to our accommodation and because we arrived so early in the morning we had the day to sleep. A few hours after our arrival I got a knock at the door, it was another delegate by the name of Ainura coming from Kazakhstan. Ainura also became my roomie. This was the beginning of an unforgettable six days. Let the selfies begin.
Because we had a day to kill before the summit would proceed we got a chance to explore a bit of the marketplace. You will find images below that speak to a bit of the experience I had my first day in Pakistan. There is so much to write about and share, so please look out for another blog post next week.
Peace and Love,
This is not the end of but just the beginning. Preparing to leave South Africa was about a three-month process. Three months to settle and three months of preparation to leave, but not forget the people, community and environment that I have grown to love. Traveling to South Africa had always been a dream of mine as a young girl; I had this major obsession with Nelson Mandela. I think my obsession mainly drove from the fact that all my other inspirational leaders had passed yet Mandela was still alive and living his legacy vividly for us to watch and learn. It was of privilege to see, hear and follow his transition yet still learning impeccably from him.
I grew up knowing that I was African first and then Sudanese. I am first a product of the continent, a descendent of Nubia and a child of Bilad-Al Sudan. I am Emanuella Dobijoki Nicola Khalifa Bringi Uweri Baokute. I know exactly where I come from and know who I am; this is something that can never be taken away from me. I confidently hold my values close to my heart as it is represented in all that I do and practice. Regardless of how proud and confident I may feel now, this would not have been a possibility if I did not actively seek to learn and love myself, my culture and history. Those who know me personally or even on a blurred scale will recognize me as an African, Sudanese woman.
While in South Africa, there were certain places I had to go and places I had to see and feel in order to know that I took full advantage of the opportunity to reconnect with my people, and to find the space to reflect and experience the battle that my elders and ancestors encountered in order for us to live decently. I was not going to leave South Africa without touching foot on Robben Isalnd. I remember writing about Robben Island in the seventh grade and saying that one day I will not only meet Nelson Mandela, but I will be on his soil. Unfortunately meeting Mandela did not happen, RIP; but Robben Island did. I landed Wednesday, Thursday morning I woke up anxiously knowing that it was the day for me to live that dream I had always wished for. I took the city bus in busy Cape Town, it took me about an hour to get to the loading dock and catch the ferry to the island. It was a dull excitement I was feeling if that even makes sense. In my mind I knew that this was a big deal, yet reflecting to myself about the struggle of my people had me quiet. The ferry ride was horrible, I think I got seasick; I had to tightly hold my eye shut for 30 minutes until we got to the island.
As I got off the boat I did not see a major difference in setting, you can still tell it’s a tourist attraction because of the numbers of people running around and the shops that are in front of you. There was someone who then directed those who just arrived to a bunch of buses; these buses were going to drive the visitors around the island. I attended by myself by the way; this was something that required me to be in my own space. As we were being driven, I realized that people were hopping from one side of the bus to the other taking their perfect photos, yet I was seated peacefully glancing out the window and ultimately picturing what the reality would have been for these prisoners. At times I felt like I could only hear the tour guides description and feel the bumpy bus; I was dazed staring at nothing yet thinking about everything. I was thinking of what it meant for my people to have struggled as they did and I thought about the struggle that us Africans still face directly and indirectly every moment of our lives; I more specifically thought about the bravery of my people, the passion and pride they carry to not let things just be as is, but rather be just and equitable.
After the bus ride we were met by an ex-prisoner who gave us a detailed tour of the prison. There were times where I felt emotions constantly running under the surface of my skin; to hear the stories and descriptions in first person was even more remarkable and intensifying. We were shown the cells of prisoners, the food menu that was significantly of lesser value for a “Bantu” prisoner; we were shown Mandela’s garden, which has a history of its own, and lastly we had the privilege of seeing the cell of Mandela. Unlike the other cells you could not enter the cell of Mandela, it is ultimately a sacred space that must be respected. It was not until that moment, after five months of being in the country that I felt that I have successfully been in South Africa. I took a photo in front of Mandela’s cell and like others I was confused as to whether I should smile or not, it was joyful as it was the closest I would get to meeting Mandela, yet highly painful at the same time.
When I went to Johannesburg for the second time during my six-month stay I got the chance to visit the infamous Soweto. I saw Mandela’s house on Vilakazi st and passed by the homes of Desmond TuTu and Winnie Mandela, who actually still reside in and own those homes. It was the best opening closure to the journey I began when coming to South Africa. I say opening because it is just the beginning of my legacy that I will leave, but closure as this was needed for me to be at peace with that portion of my identity.
In 2013 I took part in the Miss AfriCanada Heritage Pageant. This pageant was not about physical beauty, this pageant was unlike others as it was focused on the knowledge of self as African women and your ability to project and embrace that in the most affective way. I represented South Sudan and did extremely well for myself and my community. I earned the title of 1st Runner Up (second place). Initially my reaction was to be okay and know that I tried my hardest because I earned awards that reflected my personality and efficiency in my participation. I earned the awards of Best Traditional and Most Dedicated. This then made me feel at ease; but there was still something that I was never able to get over and that is how I answered my final question. I was doing so well until the final question when my nerves kicked in and I did not give an answer that made me proud. The final question was along the lines of: knowing what Nelson Mandela has accomplished in his lifetime what does his legacy mean to you?
Now, after three years of growth and experience this is how I would answer:
Nelson Mandela is known to be a Freedom Fighter; to me he is the epitome of what it means to be a just, loving and civil human being. Many people want to be remembered when they pass on, Mandela is not one to be remembered only at passing rather he is one to acknowledge and respect the existence of every day as he paved mountains alongside others for the lives of Africans and minorities. Nelson Mandela may have been laid to rest but his existence is represented through his legacy; and that, will surely never die.
Mandela, this is the name of my older brother. Mandela Ukele Nicola Bringi, the name was not just given by fluke, it was given through honour. Though I never got the chance to meet Nelson Mandela personally. I have been blessed to have Mandela as a name a call every day. Now this, is a legacy.
There is so much to write about that I cannot seem to write about anything. I just want to be able to share my whole experience and have you see and feel all the amazing moments I’ve had while being in South Africa …but I can’t. I mean, I can easily show videos and photos of some of these moments, but in order to understand what it really feels like to be surrounded by selfless children; children who care for you and appreciate your attention, it is only your presence that will allow you that experience.
As you know, I am currently working as a Social Worker/ Youth Development Worker. I love my role and I am very excited about introducing some projects that I’ve initiated at the school and with Ukulapha.
I love my girl groups, I’ve been a part of so many that I myself along with a few other girls created our own in Toronto, Ontario; Generation of Leaders. Generation of Leaders is currently focused on the South Sudanese community, a program built by Africans for Africans in hopes or reestablishing unity within our communities. We focused on women because there is an important and powerful force created, driven and embodied when women come together. Now through Ukulapha here in South Africa we’ve organized a Generation of Leaders: South Africa at Slangspruit Primary School and will be hosting a Women’s Summit before I leave back to Canada. This has become a great leadership program, which is meant to be sustainable and done for the community by the community. My mission before I leave is to make sure there is consistency and that we have leaders in the community working together with Ukulapha to maintain the program.
We didn’t leave our boys out either. I’ve come up with a Boys Leadership Group that has a smaller number of participants than Generation of Leaders. We are working with troubled boys who are at risk of being involved in gang activity and other various issues in the community. All the children we work with have strong personalities, yet are very different. These boys have hopes and dreams but surely need guidance. With cases like these it is important to have someone who can relate to them and their experiences to facilitate the process effectively. We officially have a co-facilitator by the name of Clement Ntuli. To describe and speak about how amazing Clement is and how influential and remarkable his story is, it would require a full lengthy blog post. My next blog will feature Clement!! The hope is to create an art based leadership/mentorship group and involve boys from the community and neighbouring high schools to be mentors.
Sustainability is key when entering positions like international internships. Remaining conscious that you will not always be there is important. In order to encourage development we must engage the community and allow them to build and work for themselves, then they will truly thrive and prosper.