Et Tu, Brother?

The One with Enyeribe Ibegwam - On Brotherhood and Literature

I first met Enyeribe in 2009 while we were undertaking a compulsory paramilitary training called the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Jigawa State, located in northern Nigeria. We became fast friends and managed to keep in touch since then, albeit sporadically.

Enyeribe Ibegwam was brought up in Lagos, Nigeria but now resides in the US. A writer, he has been awarded a PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize and was a finalist for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. He has received grants from the Vermont Studio Center and The Elizabeth George Foundation. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in PEN America Best Debut Stories 2019Prairie Schooner, The Southampton Review, and The Georgia Review. He’s a Truman Capote Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

It was while in the US that Enyeribe was first labeled as a “Black man.” New to the culture of solidarity among Black people in the US, he found it strange when he got nods and looks from other Black people who expected him to reciprocate their gestures and call them “brother” too. Coming from Nigeria, where everyone was Black, there had not been any need to identify himself as being Black. He was thus thrown into an identity crisis. 

His epiphany came after he read about the struggles Black-Americans had gone through in the fight for equality; he realized that he was a beneficiary of their protests. It was then that he boldly began to identify himself as a Black person.

Fist, Love, Heart, Vector, Black, Red

From our discussion, we agreed that Africans need to do more in connecting with African-Americans by giving them orientations about the culture and the Motherland. A lot can be achieved by having conversations with them, inviting them over, or even creating cultural exchange programs to provide learning opportunities about their ancestral home.

As a budding writer, Enyeribe faced numerous rejections for his first short story, which was inspired by his home-sickness at that time. The story was finally accepted and published by the Urban Avenue Journal and went on to win the Robert J. Dau Prize for Short Stories. His story, along with 11 others, was published in the PEN America Best Debut Stories 2019.

PEN America Best Debut Short Stories - PEN America

I found the plot of the story very nostalgic as it reminded me of the years growing up in Nigeria in the 90s. Enyeribe had drawn his inspiration from the experiences he had witnessed people go through with relatives who after traveling out of the country, seemed to disappear into thin air. As one who is excellent at eavesdropping, Enyeribe mostly draws his ideas from listening to older people talk. Typical of the behavior of great writers, he didn’t give a predictable conclusion to the story but instead, left it to the imagination of the reader.

Life is often like the end of Enyeribe’s book, where there are several possibilities to choose from. Whatever your choice is, make sure you remain true to your values and identity. If you want to have a taste of Enyeribe’s work, then click here.

To learn more about my conversation with Enyeribe:

🅻🅸🅽🅺🆂 to the full episode here:

  • Listen: http://bit.ly/Enyeribe2020

  • Download: http://bit.ly/Enyeribe2020DL

Best,

Mo!

On Emotions in Business

When they are NOT useful

"Don't mix business with pleasure" is a prevalent phrase we hear a lot in movies. Still, in my own experience, it is "don't mix business with emotions." Often it is not as easy as it sounds; the lines become blurry, and being objective is difficult.

Not so long ago, I found myself in such a position where I needed to cast emotions aside to make an important decision. I shared my ordeal with my homegirl, Bimpe Shode, who has now been on the show three times! It was quite an intense conversation, but trust Bimpe to make me laugh from time to time, easing off the tension.

At this point, Bimpe needs no further introductions, but I'll tell you a little about our relationship. Bimpe is the type of friend you want to have in your corner – level-headed, stays on course, emotionally mature, and the one you can first expose yourself to, thereby saving yourself from public embarrassment and rebuke. We share several things in common, including our faith, which forms the foundation of our core values.

Earlier in the year, I wanted to scale up the podcast and thus needed a Virtual Assistant (VA). I went about the process and finally hired someone based on my emotions when I found out that the candidate was a listener of my show.  But shortly into the work relationship, I wanted out! While she excelled in some areas, most of the tasks were not properly executed, requiring me to not only make corrections but to redo them myself. I was bound by contract; hence I couldn't back out immediately. I organized training sessions, but they yielded little positive results. The relationship was becoming toxic from my end, the VA was unhappy, and I was angry a lot. Finally, I had to call it quits. I remember tossing and turning at the thought of ending the relationship.

Even though it wasn't an entirely pleasant relationship, I had learned a lot from it that by the next time I went about hiring someone else, I was more critical and objective in my vetting process.

Examining the facts clearly, Bimpe stated something significant that is often overlooked. She said, "know when to call a relationship off." According to her, this is something that can be applied to not just work relationships, but to all forms of relationships in general. There is no reason to remain in a toxic relationship when you can speak up and be assertive about your needs.

Boundaries have to be defined in work relationships. You may not entirely know what you want, but you must be certain about the things you don't want. Never compromise your company's goals and standards for the sake of emotions. Business is a business!

So in whatever relationship you are in, if it isn't working, please know when to let go.

We ended the conversation by examining our relationship as friends and pointed out the virtues we love about the other person. She caught me off guard by saying, "everyone needs a Mo!" But everyone needs a Bimpe too!

Download the episode to find out more about our conversation.

🅻🅸🅽🅺🆂 to the full episode here:

  • Listen: http://bit.ly/VirtArt2020

  • Download: http://bit.ly/VirtArt2020DL

Va-va-voom,

Mo!

Han Seth Lu - The Indo-Chinese-Burmese Youth Leader

A Story about Leadership, Biracial Identity, and Mental Health

The first Burmese I met was my dear friend Nathan; we met in Boston in 2014 as summer interns at a biotech firm. When I shared his story two years ago, and we discussed, amongst other things, the similarities between our countries. Well, I have again met another Burmese whose inspirational story I will be sharing today. 

Meet Han Seth Lu!

Han Seth Lu is a senior at the University of Central Oklahoma, studying Early Childhood Education with a minor in Leadership. Not too long ago, he ended his tenure as president of the University of Central Oklahoma International Student Council, UCO Global Leadership Ambassador, and was also Mister UCO International 2019. He is a youth activist and has hosted four editions of the Myanmar YouthSpeak Forum between 2015 and 2019. 

During our conversation, Han shed light on how the military dictatorship regime in Myanmar shut them out from interaction with the outside world. This implied poor quality of education for him and his colleagues as the curricula were not only controlled by the government, but a series of protests by students resulted in the closure of schools #8888Uprising.  I could totally relate to this because I, too, grew up during the military regime in Nigeria (my home country). The period between 1985 to 1999 when Nigeria was under the military rule was characterized by dictatorship style of government, closure of borders, use of coercion in policy implementation, disregard for human rights, to name a few. And just like Han, my desire for self-development and actualization catalyzed my move to the US via the pursuit of quality education and to gain a better perspective of the world.

Growing up in such an enclosed society, Han was the subject of discrimination because he looked different. Being the biracial son of a Chinese father and an Indian mother, his physical features were characterized by dark skin and voluminous hair, making him always stand out. It also did not help that his blended cultural heritage did not fit into any of the 136 acknowledged ethnic groups in Myanmar. Reflecting on that experience now, Han says, “you are who you are, and you need to respect yourself even if nobody is respecting you.”

Now living in the US, a culturally homogeneous place, Han proposes the practice of culture in a considerate manner but, at the same time, not compromising on individual values. It took one year as an exchange student at Indiana University to make Han realize he wasn’t built for medical college and opted for a change. As expected, with most Asian and African parents who desire their kids to be doctors, his parents objected to this, thus creating a rift between them for two years. But it was also at the same Indiana University that he had his first formal introduction to leadership studies.

Being a passionate youth empowerment activist, he co-founded the Noor Education and Community Center in Bago, Myanmar, where other young people can be empowered to achieve their dreams through leadership and English language training.

This action of his in service to his community goes to buttress this quote by former President Obama:

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

As one who is involved in various human development activities, I was curious to find out how he was holding up in the areas of self-care and mental health. Han opened up about his struggles with anxiety disorders, as well as the use of sincerity as one of his coping strategies. So, rather than using social media as a tool for posting the one-sided glossy pictures, he chooses to share his vulnerable moments as well, thus making himself more relatable to his audience. Han highlighted the importance of honesty, communication, as well as having a support group in dealing with mental health issues. In his words, “being unhappy is normal,” and there will be good days and bad days.

It was a rich conversation I had with Han and very relevant to our day. From his story, we can all learn to rise above environmental challenges and pay our success forward by lifting others in a similar situation as we were in.

Catch the entire details by downloading this episode of the podcast.

🅻🅸🅽🅺🆂 to the full episode here:

Show Notes

Go do great things,

Mo!

The Year 1999 - My Life as a Thirteen-Year-Old

Inspired by my podcast episode with Aarushi Gupta – a 13-year-old podcaster and aspiring behavioral economist from Gurugam, North India

The year is 1999; I am a 13-year-old JSS 3 student of Federal Government Girls' College, Oyo. A year later, I will have my very first crush but wouldn't have known this then. Sometime in May, my country will make a seismic shift from the autocratic, military regimen to a less covert kind that will be laden with corruption.  The sky is large, and the grasses are always green, it is the year before Y2K, plantain is my favorite food, and my life is simple.

I am an avid lover of country music and R&B, listening to the greats such as Don Williams, Dolly Parton, Westlife, and Celine Dion. Children of the World and Tales by Moonlight by Aunty Nkem are my favorite TV shows, stories from books by Enid Blyton, Heartsongs, and James Hadley Chase are the subject of my thoughts and imaginations. I will get on buses to make my way to the public libraries and bookshops in Onipanu and Yaba to borrow books, study, and buy music tapes.

I also had a healthy collection of cassettes. I could sing every lyric to any of Kirk Franklin's and Papa San's songs. I have my most prized possession, a transistor radio with a cassette player, which like Humpty Dumpty, would later fall apart countless times, and I would develop skills necessary to put it back together again. My love for radio grew deeper, and I developed a one-sided relationship with a couple of my favorite OAPs. While home during the holiday, I will play games like "change your style," "freeze," "catcher," "suwe," with other kids in my neighborhood. My parents, especially Daddy Dearest, are strict disciplinarians, there is no such thing as negotiating with adults. 

Twenty-one years later, the year is 2020; everything is different. I live in the US, I speak Korean, eat more than my body weight in Korean food, and some of my favorite TV shows are Korean. Technology has evolved beyond my transistor radio, and now, there is a thing called podcasting. Social media and the internet has linked the world into a global village, and the TV stations are live 24/7. My reflections leave me nostalgic about the memories of my teenage years, as the smell of petrichor (a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather) still takes me back to a time that now feels romantic, and Dan Foster ruled the airwaves.

Today, 13-year-olds are growing up in a world utterly different from mine. I recently came across one of such, a young lady who is now 14 called Aarushi Gupta. She is a 10th Grade student from Gurugram, near New Delhi, India. What's unusual about her is that at such a tender age, she is already the host of a podcast show where she has interviewed guests from CEOs, podcasters, to entrepreneurs. Aarushi loves watching series and is a huge fan of FRIENDS. A TV series called Alex, Inc. got her curious about podcasting.

She decided to start her podcast show at the end of 2018, called "When I Was 13." On her podcast, Aarushi interviews various people, asking them about the world when they were 13 years old. In doing so, she gets to know about how people make life and career choices, the varied environments in which people grow up in, and the life lessons that they pick up along the way. Aarushi loves music, plays the keyboard and ukulele, and is even enrolled in a music class. As of now, she hopes to study behavioral economics when she goes to college, even though that may still change.

When I asked how she copes with her school work, she replies that she does most of her interview during her summer break and on weekends because excelling in school is not an option. I have been completely blown away by such an inspirational young lady who sees her podcast as a time machine and is eager to continue podcasting for as long as she can. I particularly love the perspective she is giving to young people like herself across the world.

Comparing the world I grew up in, and the one Aarushi and her contemporaries are growing up in, I realize that there's always going to be disadvantages and advantages to growing up in whatever decade you were born in, it's up to each individual to utilize the latter more than the former. Parents should do all they can to support their children's dreams from a tender age, realizing that they are guardians. As the world continues to evolve, voices like Aarushi's must be amplified and encouraged to keep speaking because, like Whitney Houston said, "the children are our future."

There is so much more to know about Aarushi, so do well to download this week's episode to find out more.

Learn more about Aarushi here

🅻🅸🅽🅺🆂 to the full episode with Aarushi below:

Listen: http://bit.ly/AarushiG2020

Download: http://bit.ly/AarushiG2020DL

Show Notes

13 over 33,

Mo!

Michaella Mutoni Talks Acculturation, Identity, and being Pan-African

A Podcast Feature

Growing up as a child, my first introduction to Rwanda was through the movie “Sometimes in April.” After that, I pored over an encyclopedia and newspaper clippings trying to gather all the information available, but it just wasn’t enough.

Sometimes in April - Wikipedia

I recently had the opportunity to chat with a Rwandan-Canadian on the podcast. We had a lovely conversation about her home country, of the ongoing inclusivity and economic growth (shoutout to President Paul Kagame), if she would consider moving back home, her identity, being a third culture kid (TCK) amongst others. She is Michaella Mutoni, a Burundi-born Rwandan who has lived in Germany, Senegal, and the US and is currently based in Canada. She is a global solution manager for a software company and also the host of a bilingual (FR/EN) podcast called “Jase Avec Moi” that highlights the stories of African professionals in the diaspora.

Jase avec Moi

Growing up for her, it was a blend of different cultures and people. Like many others who relocate from home, she faced the challenge of adapting to a new way of life and environment; but this she overcame by being active in her community and joining African groups where she met like-minded individuals who reminded her of home.

I asked the question which I am also often asked, which is if she would consider moving back home. Michaella gave an enthusiastic “Maybe!” and spoke of how her life would have been different if she had remained back home in Rwanda but highlighted the peculiarity of our individuality, stating that making an impact wherever we are is what counts. What’s also great is that she is looking to invest in Africa in the coming years.

Michaella now identifies herself as being Rwandan-Canadian as an ode to her new, rounded, and more complex views of life and her thought process. Reflecting on the multiple cultures she has experienced, she agrees to be a TCK. She appreciates the role of her parents in encouraging both her and her siblings to fully integrate into the various societies and make friends across cultures. She expressed regret at the inability of the African educational system in teaching African history in place of colonial history. Michaella proffers that we first learn about ourselves before learning about others and suggested the creation of fun content that aids learning through modern platforms such as YouTube videos, movies, and podcasts. Having bagged an MBA and gone through the rigors of obtaining students loan, Michaella doesn’t think grad school is for everyone, based on the premise that we are all unique individuals and urges everyone to follow their paths.

Concerning her purpose on earth, she summed it up as service. She believes in collective success and sees it as a duty to help those facing the giants she has already defeated. On career switch, Michaella advised that there must be a strong “WHY” as a motivating factor that will promote perseverance in the face of many “NOs.” To her, success requires not only perseverance but also patience. 

Michaella reminds us to keep the Pan-African spirit as we all look forward to our collective development and success. In her words:

“I stan anything African, I want all of us to succeed.”

Learn more about Michaella here: https://jaseavecmoi.com/

🅻🅸🅽🅺🆂 to the full episode with Michaella below:

Listen: https://bit.ly/MichaellaM2020

Download: https://bit.ly/MichaellaM2020DL

Show Notes

Be curious and empathetic,

Mo!

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