Bling-Bling in Bida

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Bahagadochi

(praise and respect for His Royal Highness) 

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His Royal Highness, Alhaji (Dr) Yahaya Abubakar CFR, ETSU (King) NUPE and the Chairman of the Niger State Council of Traditional Rulers

Above: HRH ETSU NUPE examines a piece of raw ‘bikini’ glass.

Once again, Yacubu, the best driver in Nigeria, and I took the journey from Abuja to Bida. It takes 5 hours to cover this distance.  The roads are hot, dusty, and broken and can only be described as ‘rutted, rough, and dangerous’. It is Ramadan; people are fasting from dawn to dusk which incorporates a sense of restless urgency to arrive at one’s destination before sunset.

I have an audience with the ETSU (Emir) His Royal Highness Alhaji Yahaya Abubaker. My request was granted for Saturday, May 18th and my goal was to present the Emir with catalogues from the exhibition Bida Glass at MuséoParc Alésia, France where the story of Bida glass is displayed prominently.

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photo credit: Joëlle Rolland

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photo credit: Joëlle Rolland

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photo credit: Joëlle Rolland

Traditional crafts are threatened by cheap, mass imports. Handwork is, more and more, considered to be degrading among the youth.   Yet, in Nupeland, people honor their culture and traditional crafts in a way that is rarely seen today.  And, the ETSU leads his people with his deep commitment to preservation of heritage and in doing so, strengthens the community as they face the pressures of technology.

In a very small way, I have been allowed to participate in documentation of Bida glassmakers. I am deeply honored to have had the opportunity to meet the Emir and his proud and capable craftsmen. It was wonderful to sit on a bench in a simple workshop under a mat-covered mud hut and watch the skillful hands of a glassmaker. Again and again, I admired the calm, the ease, and the dedication with which they work.

https://nomad4now.com/articles/bida-bracelets-ancient-art-of-glassmaking/

https://nomad4now.com/articles/bida-glass-bangles-and-beads/

My gratitude to the ETSU for his patience with me while learning about the NUPE culture and the craftsmen who continue their trade, day in and day out, will remain cherished moments in my daily life.

Bahagadochi

(praise and respect for His Royal Highness) 

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Bida Glass at MuséoParc Alésia, France

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“In this great chain of causes and effects, no single fact can be considered in isolation.” – Alexander von Humboldt 

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Are you in France this summer from April 6th to September 22nd? If so, a trip to the Alésia, ancient town situated on Mont Auxois, above the present-day village of Alise-Sainte-Reine in the area of Côte d’Ore, France, is well worth adding to your agenda. It is a chance to take in the Gallo-Roman ruins but also visit an unusual and first of its kind exhibition of Celtic glassmaking that does not only demonstrates medieval times but traces the path of glass making from ancient times through a series of seemingly unrelated connections to a fundamental and essential aspect of the modern world…glass bracelets.

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https://www.alesia.com/lieux-de-visite-en/#centre

The exhibition studies the connection of migration of glassmaking from Egypt to Gallo-Roman era and its connection to modern day Nigeria. Joëlle Rolland PhD, researcher professor, at Maison de l’Archéologie et de l’Ethnologie, René Ginouvès has spent the last year organizing this exhibition about the production of Celtic glass bracelets.  As Joëlle Rolland expertise is Celtic glass, her research spanned Egypt, Nepal and the glass makers of Bida, Nigeria. She discovered the work of Elisabeth Thea Haevernick who publish in 1960 her thesis on Celtic glass bangles and, the ethnologist,  René Gardi who also researched Bida glass in the 1970s and wrote articles with comparisons with the work of Celtic bracelets. As well as, Leo Frobenius  in 1911 who visited Bida also illustrated the techniques of fabrication with the famous illustrations Celtic glass.  All of this, by chance, led Joëlle to my documentation of the glassmaking in Bida, Nigeria. Read: Bida: Bangles and Beads.

During the last four years, we have stayed in close contact sharing information. Joëlle invited me to participate in the upcoming exhibition on Celtic glass at MuséoParc Alésia. Joëlle will be demonstrating the manufacture of bracelets with the glassmaker on the weekends of April 13-14 and also in September, the weekend of 21-22.Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 1.41.12 AM

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For those of you who might not be able to visit, below is my contribution to the catalogue and the table of contents;Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-001Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-002Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-004Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-005Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-006Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-007Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-008Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-009Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-010Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-011Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-012Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-013

NUPE DAYS – Merit Award

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I am sitting in my garden late in the afternoon on a December day in Lagos. A cool, dry harmattan breeze blows across the terrazzo patio.  I hear the garden gate squeal as metal rubs against metal. I am aware of someone entering. A security guard hands me a white envelope with the words neatly embossed:

OFFICIAL

ETSU NUPE’S PALACE

Wadata, Bida, Niger State, Nigeria

Surprised and intensely curious,  I am careful not to tear the envelope so as not to damage the contents.  I pull out a beige, one page letter. It reads:

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I had not a clue that I had been considered for a community service award in Nupeland, After a short time, I realized that I had 48 hours to get to Bida where Nupe Days and the ceremony was to be held. Airline tickets to and from Abuja had to be organized, drivers, food, appropriate clothes, money, accommodations …. so many people to call upon to help me put together this trip. Everyone pitched in to get me to Bida on time!

Arriving in Abuja, there was another 5 hours to drive over broken, rough, potholed roads.  After checking into Bab Hub Motel and changing my dusty clothes, I visit the glassmakers of Bida on my way to the palace and give my respect to the ETSU.

The programme laid out each days activities:

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Horse stables throughout Northern Nigeria—Sokoto, Kibbi, Niger—and from Burkino Faso came to Bida to race their best horses. The prizes ranged from money to generators. The races only began once the ETSU was seated. P1040525

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Dusk is short-lived in this part of the world and during harmattan season, the dusty air envelops everything. As soon as the sun sets, all activities come to an abrupt end and everyone rushes to get to the road as soon as possible.

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From the race ground, I return to the motel and change clothes for the award event. There are cultural shows, music, and speeches before the awards are presented:

Then I hear my name being called to stand in front of the high table to receive the Merit Award.

I wish to express my profound appreciation to His Royal Highness the ETSU Nupe  for the award. I also extend my appreciation to all the Nupe Traditional Rulers of Niger, Kwara, Kogi and the FCT Abuja. My profound gratitude also goes to the entire Nupe Kingdom, all Nupes within and outside Nigeria for the honor. A special thanks goes to Alhaji Abubakar Mahmoud (Dangaladima Nupe, Hakimi Etsu Audu) who has been a friend of the family for his role in coordinating this recognition.

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**Most photos were taken by my driver, Yacubu, with my camera. The first photo of the ETSU is a photograph from the royal photographers. The last 4 pictures of receiving the award was taken by royal photographers. ***All Photographs and text are under international copyright laws. No re-use without the permission of Lesley Lababidi 2019.

 

Red Walls of Bida – Revisited 2018

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ETSU of Nupe
Emir His Royal Highness (Bahagadochi) Alhaji Yahaya Abubaker greets people with the traditional royal gesture. The umbrella is significant as it provides shade to spotlight the Emir, the symbol of authority and the seat of traditional power.

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The people of Bida greet ETSU with raised right hand, closed fist in the traditional salute: Ranka-shi-deddy – May your life be prolonged!

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ETSU of Nupe
Emir His Royal Highness (Bahagadochi) Alhaji Yahaya Abubaker

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Our entourage presents gifts to the ETSU and praise his wisdom and thankful for his time and attention to our visit.

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In 2015, I took my first trip to Bida. The reason for this trip was to offer condolences to the family of our chief protocol officer, Alhaji Essa Ndagi, whose many years of service in our company was appreciated and still today, who is sorely missed. I decided to stay on a week and explore the area. The series of reports from that trip can be accessed at the end of this post.

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NIger Sate – Wikipedia

From Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, it takes a sane driver five hours of hard driving over extremely poor road conditions to arrive in Bida. An exhausting, dusty trip but well-worth the effort.

Bida is the second largest city in Niger State, in west-central Nigeria, an area with which I am fascinated. It is an area inhabited by Nupe people who are renowned for traditional industries that include blacksmithing; aluminum, brass and silver smithing; glassmaking and beadwork, weaving and cane weaving, woodcarving, and carpentry.

Nupe glassmaking, beadwork and brasssmiths (tswata muku) are found mostly in Bida.

 

Brass and glass-making traditional crafts have a long history in the area along with reed weaving and carved wooden stools. The Niger River runs through the state from which it is named providing an abundance of reed for weaving.  The woodcarving tradition of the Nupe does not depend on the ceremonial or ritual use of artifacts.

 

 

Except for cloth weaving, the traditional crafts are guild-organized crafts in which membership is largely hereditary, and are done by men. Only textile weaving on a vertical loom is a traditional craft by women.

The colours are the traditional colours of Nupe, weaving done by women.

Glass making can be traced to the Ancient Egyptians about 3,500 years ago. The earliest archaeological finds of glass objects in Egypt date back to the reign of the Pharaoh Thutmosis III (1504-1459 BC). The most famous of these is the illustration in the Annals of Thutmose III at Kar- nak. (Paul T. Nicholson ,”Glass Vessels from the Reign of Thutmose III and a Hitherto Unknown Glass Chalice,” Journal of Glass, Vol 48, 2006.)  In the last century BC, glass blowing (see Egyptian glass blowers here) was invented in Syria or Mesopotamia which gave rise to a variety of glass objects during Roman times. Glassmaking, the process of making glass from sand and soda ash, is said to originate in Egypt. However, there are those who disagree that the first true glass was made in coastal north Syria in the kingdom of Mitanni, Mesopotamia and brought to Egypt. (Paul T. Nicholson). 

The Bida glass makers in oral history past down over the centuries repeat that their ancestors came from Egypt via Chad, the Bornu Empire and migrating from Kano to finally settle with the Nupe area thus bringing with them the knowledge of glassmaking.

The actual process of glassmaking is considered a secret to the glassmaking guild in Bida. However, I was given a sample of the glass and description of the process was explained. Below is raw glass, processed once a year from sand and soda ash brought from Lake Chad or now, Kano. The fire in the ground bakes the sand and soda ash and takes two weeks. Also, recycled and melted glass bottles are used  to make beads and bangles. For full process, READ Bida Glass

 

 

Road to the workshop of the guild of glassmakers called Masaga.

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Bead and bangle makers atelier. DSC_0261

 

Before any bead making begins. Wood has to be chopped to make the fire. The clay oven is made of the red clay from Bida. It is repaired or built again once a year. The bellows operator carries on the rhythmic air flow into the furnace by a constant push and pull of the wood staves.P1020037  Pre-warmed glass is melted onto the iron rods. The long tongs are important. The man spreads out the melted glass with the tongs. The broad lamelliform knives are used to form the lumps of glass. Iron rods, tongs, and knives are the only tools that are used.DSC_0279

 

The tools are coated in the red clay of Bida and then the iron rods are heated and the clay bakes. This allows the bead to slide off the rod with relative ease when ready.

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Glass Bangles

 

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Below from left to right: Ayo Kuti, me, Allah Omar (bangle maker), Eba Mustafa (bead maker), bellows man, Alhaji Galedima, and two elders, young boy.

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Read: A Memorial to Alhaji Essa Ndagi, here.

Red Walls of Bida – Introduction here and here.

Bida Glass: Bangles and Beads here ; Bida Brass-work here : Bida Blacksmith here.

Roman Glass in Britain and in Bida here.

 

(All rights reserved, copyright 2018. To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required)

Princess Odiakosa, Chocolatier, a passion and a protest.

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“We have failed ourselves if we are waiting for the government to tell us the way our lives should go.” – Princess Odiakosa

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Princess Odiakosa, founder of Kalabari Gecko Fine Chocolates

7C6016D5-354A-4AF4-87FE-4656A5098D1CImagine a box of chocolate truffles on Valentine’s Day handcrafted in Nigeria – sourced from the highest quality cacao beans in Osun State, home-roasted, ground and tempered, then mixed with pure cacao butter, sugar with artisanal techniques to capture the essence of a totally made in Nigeria chocolate experience! A pipe dream? An impossibility? Under the brand name, Kalabari Gecko, Princess Odiakosa has thrown down the gauntlet to take the challenge that one day Nigeria’s name will be synonymous with chocolate.

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I met Princess on a Legacy trip to Calabar in 2012. On a bus going to visit the Calabar Museum, we introduced ourselves. Princess, a financial consultant and manager of the training department, direct sales and marketing, at Dbrown Consulting, shared her dream about making hand-made chocolate from Nigerian cacao beans. “My dream is to see a chocolate fountain in the airport and every mall.” I saw the seriousness and determination in Princess’s eyes. However, I knew to produce cocoa from the cacao bean to luxury market in Nigeria was a radical aspiration. There are problems that chocolatiers in other countries do not face such as continuous power outages that ravage Nigeria. Most people would advise: ‘don’t give up your day job’.

In 2014, Princess travelled to Sweden to learn the art of chocolate production. Before she began the course she was passionate about the idea of making chocolate but as she learned about the process, sourcing the cacao bean locally, her passion transformed into a different kind of love affair, loving the many stages of the process. Princess sources the beans from farmers in Osun State where they have been fermented, dried, and cleaned then she roasts and grinds beans to a liquified state and mixes the raw chocolate with her special recipes. “I love experimenting Nigerian cacao bean, Forastero; it is really dark and low in bitterness.” Step by step she researched, developed her brand, and opened her company.

Cacao pods, Forastero, a tree from the evergreen family. Forastero means ‘stranger’ or ‘outsider’ in Spanish. Ordinary, everyday cocoa with strong, earthy flavours. Found in Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast.

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Osun State in Nigeria – Wikipedia

Princess has not given up on her dream nor has she given up her day job. Recently, I visited Princess at her newly-outfitted kitchen and asked, “Why do you think in past decades that no one has had the interest in developing the cacao bean into luxury chocolate in Nigeria?” Princess explains:

“In primary school, we were told to draw a map of Nigeria and within each region draw natural resources, minerals, and cash crops. We colour-coded each product – limestone, yams, groundnuts, palm oil, kola nut, cacao beans, tin, etc. Ten years later that changed, when we drew the map of Nigerian resources, we just slapped a big a barrel of oil in the middle of the country and that was it.

At one point, we [Nigeria] were getting it right. But then, we got distracted. We are people that grab by the stem and not begin at the roots. Cacao bean export was the mainstay of Nigerian economy before the oil boom. The moment oil was discovered, cocoa farming was abandoned. We have oil; we send it overseas to be refined and then [they] sell it back to us as fuel. Same thing happens with cacao beans. We sell our cacao bean at a cheap rate and buy back as cocoa and chocolate which is expensive; it is a multi-billion dollar business outside Africa. We love chocolate but we don’t want to make it.

Yet, in our conversations we blame the government. We say the government is not doing this or that but at a certain age, we have to stop blaming the government. We need to do something. If we all keep talking about a negligent government until we are very old, I think we failed ourselves waiting for the government to tell us the way our lives should go. So, I said I can’t refine petroleum products but I can refine cacao to chocolate. Making chocolate is my passion and my protest.”

Last summer Princess was in England to meet a well-known chocolatier. The woman was late to the appointment. Apologetically, she explained that the summer heat ruined their confectionery and they had to move everything into a tiny, air-conditioned room and then the air-conditioner, itself, quenched. “I looked at her and said, ‘Guess what? The way you are frustrated today, this is my every day!’” Princess emphasises what all of us are aware of in Nigeria that the major obstacle of productivity is lack of constant electricity and the expense/maintenance of generators:

“When I was traveling back from my last trip, it was very difficult to think about electricity. I asked myself why am I stressing myself over electricity? I have a good consultancy career and a generator to run my refrigerator and television. But then I reminded myself that if I had electricity what would be the next excuse? My commitment is beyond a refrigerator and TV, I want to change the rhetoric about Nigeria.

Making chocolate gives me freedom. Freedom to talk. I am doing something for my country. I am making something for Nigerians to give…something sweet and delicious, something of our identity…chocolate, the sweetest part of Nigeria.

Tomorrow, when my children ask me, ‘what did you do?’ I can show them that I left a trail for them to follow, so they can say,‘this woman did her best.’ Making chocolate is for my children; it is for my freedom. This is my journey; I can’t stop.”

Instagram: Kalabari_gecko    Website: Kalabarigecko.com

*Photographs are the property of Princess Odiakosa, who kindly allowed me to use them for this article. Do not reproduce or copy without permission from Ms. Odiakosa.  All rights reserved, copyright 2018 .To copy or re-produce  writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is requiredcopyscape-banner-white-160x56

Olatoun Williams: Reviewer of African Literature and Founder of Borders Literature for All Nations

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“Initiative needs well-being.” -Olatoun Williams

Olatoun, a real Yoruba woman off to a wedding (1)

I met Olatoun Williams at Felabration, an annual festival of music and arts commemorating Nigeria’s musical icon, Fela Anikulakpo Kuti.  We were there to attend the “The Fela Debates”: Movement of the People, The Fela & Bob Marley Perspectives (2013). Like most lectures, one remembers little but what is clearly vivid in my memory is Ms. Williams astute questions for the panel. She was the only person who delved into the subject of the debate with a balanced and studied comment as one would expect from a seasoned reviewer.

Ms. Williams is comfortable in the arena of debate as well as a literary reviewer. She promotes reading of African books on television, radio and on-line platforms. Her broadcasts span: Channels TV “Sunrise” and NTA 2 Channel 5, “AM Express”, “Close Flow”, “City Lace” and Smooth Radio’s “Smooth Review”. She was TV host at the 1st Nigerian Cultural Trade show held October 2nd 2014 and organised by the Nigerian German Business Association, AHK (Delegation of German Industry & Commerce in Nigeria), Goëthe Institute (German Cultural Centre) and the Consulate of Germany in Lagos.

From a young age, Ms. Williams loved reading; she loved books and let’s face it, one must read lots of books to be a reviewer of books. Although born in Lagos to a well-known Lagosian family, Oshikanlu-Williams, from the tender age of ten, she attended boarding school at Northwood College and then to Bristol University in Britain.

After her schooling and university in Britain, she returned to Nigeria where she struggled to find her place in the Lagosian society. She was a child of a teacher of history who rose up the ladder to have a distinguished career in Nigeria’s Federal Government, Dr. Abisola Oshikanlu-Williams, and father, Dr. Gabisiu Ayodele Williams, a physician and public health pioneer. Her ancestors were prominent textile merchants; and her well-known grandmother, Al Haja Dosunmu—Mama Gabi, who married three times, educated all her children and sent them abroad for higher education. It took Ms. Williams a while to find a sense of belonging but it came in 2003 when she became a mother at 35 and then, at age 38,  opened a foundation for children: Sponsor A Child Nigeria.

Olatoun's parents - Dr. (Mrs). Abisola Williams and Dr. Gabi Williams

Olatoun’s parents – Dr. (Mrs). Abisola Williams and Dr. Gabi Williams

(L) Dr. Gabi Williams, Federal Director, International Health and Disease Control (R) Late Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, Federal Minister of Health at a conference of the World Health

(L) Dr. Gabi Williams, Federal Director, International Health and Disease Control (R) Late Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, Federal Minister of Health at a conference of the World Health Organisation.

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Olatoun’s mother was variously Director -General at the Federal Ministries of Finance (Exchange Control), Police Affairs and Transport, Aviation & Communication. In this photo, she is presenting a paper to Nigeria’s President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (1985 – 1993)

My grandmother, generous, sociable and kind, Mama Gabi

Olatoun’s grandmother: generous, sociable and kind, Mama Gabi.

 

 

 

“I wanted to do something good with my life, I wanted to be useful. I felt I was just existed. It coincided with me becoming a Christian. (Of course, you don’t have to be a Christian to want to help others).  I joined a society in the church, Christian Circle, and we went to visit an orphanage, and I knew that this was where I wanted to give my focus. I went back the next week, got to know the staff and the children. I saw the kids had no focus and staff said they could not get sponsors to put kids in school so that is when it started, within 10 days I got sponsors for two children.

People are ready to overlook the fact that you don’t sound like them because I was giving back, I was giving value. Anything to do with advocacy, on television and media, helped me feel a sense of belonging that I never felt before. Life got better and better, my self-esteem increased, getting around Nigeria because of charity work. Getting out of myself. Initiative needs well-being. “

From the work that she did in educating children with Sponsor A Child Nigeria, she began to see a gap between literature and readership in Nigeria. As many publishers and book sellers know, what is lacking in African literature are readers. To bridge the gap between a plethora of literature and the reader, Ms. Williams took on the challenge “to promote the reading culture in Nigeria and promote the reading of African books worldwide.” To accomplish this goal, Ms. Williams founded Border Literature for All Nations. http://www.bordersliteratureonline.net

I asked Ms. Williams how she became interested in writing reviews as a profession.

“In university, I saw that my professors enjoyed listening to my reviews. I noticed they would put down their pen from marking and listen. I didn’t know at the time that a literary reviewer was what I was being called to do.”

The description of her instructors as intent listeners rings true when reading a book reviewed by Ms. Williams; prose flow and her passion is evident.  Her well-researched study explores the themes of a book, balanced and entertaining, as if she is discussing the book with her closest friend.

“No matter what the book is about, when I approach it, I look at principles, things I can take away from the themes that I want my readers to imbibe because it makes the world the kind of place I want to live in, which is the world dedicated to God’s principles: equity, justice, all those things, sharing, loving, inspiring, encouraging. When I am reviewing a book, I take from it those messages that I want to convey in my review: to have a greater understanding of one another, to have a far more generous perspective. I believe in a world that wants to understand, to have tolerance, and diversity. I would not bother to review a book that I could not share those values with people.”

Recently, Ms. Williams has been involved in yet another foundation: The Gabi Williams Alzheimer’s Foundation, the first foundation in West Africa to address Alzheimer’s disease. With the support of long-time friends such as, Buki Akintola and Fola Adeola, the Williams’s family celebrated the 80th birthday of Dr. Gabi Williams who had, in 2007, started to exhibit symptoms of memory loss. Now in the late stages of the Alzheimer’s disease, the family decided to launch a foundation in honour of Dr. Gabi Williams on his birthday, September 11, 2017. Read about their mission at: http://gabiwilliamsalzheimersfoundation.org and at https://guardian.ng/features/gabi-williams-set-to-launch-alzheimers-foundation/

The last time Ms. Williams and I got together in Lagos, we spoke about identity and belonging. She pulled from her handbag a favourite poem and read it to me:

Love after Love
by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome, and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

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  • Photographs are the property of Ms. Olatoun Williams, who kindly allowed me to use the photographs for this article. Do not reproduce or copy without permission from Ms. Williams. All rights reserved, copyright 2018 .To copy or re-produce  writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required.copyscape-banner-white-160x56