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A Woman Who Reads




‘If you meet a guy in a bar and go back to his place with him, if he doesn’t have a bookshelf, don’t sleep with him!’

I love this quote by John Walters …

When Multi Award-Winning Zimbabwean Designer, Pam Samasuwo-Nyawiri recently launched her book and global brand, A Woman With No Country, AWWNC she very kindly asked me to give a talk on ‘A Woman who Reads’

Books are sexy, I argued.

A woman who reads lives a thousand lives, she is reflective, globalised and has travelled the world through many characters.

My grandmother lived beyond a hundred years, she never new her date of birth. A lioness of her kind, she born nine children, uneducated, yet she was the sharpest woman I have ever known.

Every night after a meal of sadza and vegetables, always vegetables because meat was for special occasions, we would huddle around the smokey fire, our weepy wooded eyes glaring, roasted nuts tossing in a chipped mud pot. Grandma would be begin the stories with:

Paivapo‘ which translates to ‘once upon a time’ in our Shona language.

And so the stories unfolded, some fictional, humorous and always cultural. Most were flavoured with superstition, designed to instil a childhood fear that still haunts me.  To this day I am petrified of snakes and darkness. These elders pitched their stories around their long lived experiences and cultural exposures. In many ways they wanted a better life for the children who sat around them in those dark nights, they dreamed of a better tomorrow. All this was communicated rather artistically in African proverbs, rituals and the highest regard for our cultural values.

There were no writers or publishers in my village to capture these moments,  the stories are documented in an oral history that touches the core of my heart and spirit. In many happy and sad moments I return back to that fire place in search of clarity, peace and providence.

I love reading, I love the feel of books, the  crispy turn of a page, I love dribbling over my book when I fall asleep, my life synchronised into  these characters that I have grown to love and loathe.

I can never loan my books out, I struggle with that, I miss my books, those characters who have become friends beyond the pages. I would rather buy you a book than lend you one.


The world is too often a stressed out space,  we have over complicated the simple construct of humanity.  Although we have made remarkable progress in science and technology,  our attitudes to the value of life are still ancient. In this agitated world, it is poetry and yoga that ground me. I often come back to Ben Okri work, I adore Warsan Shire writing.  I come to Warsan’s poetry for  validation of my feminism, strength and silence. In this poetry, Warsan nails down the mood of the world:

“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
Warsan Shire

Over the years, I have loved reading so many books but a few stand out. To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee blew me away it still does, I come back to that book so often in search of justice, The Poison Wood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is one of the finest books of our time, I read Facing the Congo by  Jeffery Tayler at a critical time in my life, forever loved it,  We need new names by Non Violet Bulawayo is a beauty of a book, its humour is a necessary as the harrowing stories behind it.

I always have two books on the go, I am currently reading ‘The other woman’ by Yewanda Omotoso, stunning read, so well written and Mars His Sword by Philani Amadeus Nyoni, a sparkling poetic infusion of love and humanity.

As the famous writer Mark Twain said, ‘The secret to getting ahead is to get started’

Let’s get reading!


To order Philani Amadeus Nyoni’s book, email dgwata@tribalsands.com

Dorcas Gwata
Director Tribal Sands

All rights reserved


Exclusive with Film Director and Broadcaster Farai Sevenzo.

There is an African story to be told, the story of a continent that is as thriving as it is challenged, a story that is too often told by others who reduce the narrative to a tale of a billion people holding a begging bowl. Just who should tell that story is a matter of constant contention. The danger of contention of course, is that some stories may never be told at all, because whilst we fuff about, time simply whisks away the storyteller  and everything else that could have been.

Farai Sevenzo is a renowned  leading Zimbabwean journalist, he has a thing for Africa, cameras, pens and lessens with a track record of covering knife edging stories. In a continent that oozes colours, rhythm, flavours, dust and conflict, Farai has captured stories from the Ebola crisis, to elections in Gabon, the plight of child soldiers in Uganda, to the every day lives of an ever resilient people.  He understands the context and sphere in which  film directorship and journalism operate. He explores difficult and complex issues and balances the  truth of the story with exposure and forecast.

Farai Sevenzo speaks to Dorcas Gwata, Director of Tribal Sands:

Farai you are a leading journalist, writer and film maker, take us through your career path and why the focus on Africa?

I wanted to make films, mainly films for the cinema, since I was ten. I went to a boarding school in Makumbe Mission, in the early evenings the Catholic priests would screen old Hollywood westerns on a white sheet with a projector on the roof of a Land Rover. My studies – English and Drama at the University of Zimbabwe, Film and Media at Stirling University and a Masters from the National Film and Television School in the UK, were all about helping me reach this goal. I focused on Africa because Africa needs its own storytellers.

The African story and narrative is invariably told through western lenses, what do you think needs to shift?

A shift is needed but it’s a difficult proposition. It’s very odd how ‘foreign correspondents’ are never foreign to the people who read and watch their stories, and that has been the nature of that post throughout history. It would be great if every China correspondent was Chinese and all Africa correspondents were African but that rarely happens in the top echelons of the world’s media. On the other hand, African governments are reluctant to tell the African story without tampering with the independence of the storyteller for their own political messages. We must rely on individuals rather than governments.

Farai 2

Journalism is increasingly hazardous, how can it be better viewed synonymously with freedom of speech, art and creativity?
Journalism occupies its own space, which is closer to freedom of speech than art and creativity I think. There is no doubt that it is a hazardous profession especially in the so called ‘Third World’ where writers have been killed and jailed in increasing numbers for doing their jobs. There is a fundamental misconception in some African states, that frown on questioning and investigative reportage as an act of treason and that is a gross distortion of the profession’s function.

Technology and social media has changed the way we capture our stories, we have all become overnight journalists and judges, how are you observing this trend?

It is more than a trend, I think it’s changed the landscape forever. Revolutions are tweeted, citizen activism can be Facebooked and presidents can turn back the violent tide of a coup with a FaceTime phone call. But just because you can tweet a picture of a riot does not make you a journalist – without doubt what has suffered is context, quality and accuracy. Real journalists have to now go deeper into the story – and write more books.

Globalisation comes with huge benefits and challenges, how did you observe and document the Afro-phobia or xenophobia attacks and conflicts in South Africa?
South African xenophobia pisses me off. I’m old enough to have seen the ANC living in exile in London, Zambia and Tanzania. My best friends in Harare before the end of apartheid were PAC cadres. African nations were bombed because they were harbouring South African refugees and politicians. Communicating this deep history to common people has been an abject failure of the Zuma government and while I wrote about the Afrophobia in many articles, I think this shameful episode needs to be documented in books and films so no-one forgets the damage it caused to all Africans.

Some say African journalism is gendered and masculine, why are we not seeing more African women directing films and running their own media houses?
Firstly we mustn’t group journalism, film direction and media ownership in the same space. They’re different disciplines requiring different talents and offering different trials and tribulations. Having said that, I don’t think it’s true that women suffer proportionally from being underrepresented. If you truly seek out African films you’ll find producers and directors who are women and are simply brilliant at their craft, I would even venture to say Africa has more talent in this regard than anywhere else on the globe. And I know next to nothing about creating my own media house, but I hear they’re a few moguls out there of the African persuasion.

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What advice to a young person aspiring to walk in your path?

If you have something to say, learn how to say it well and say it with all your being. If you make films or write for the money you’ll be wasting your time because the money is rubbish and your work will be rubbish because you’’ll always be chasing a buck instead of the truth of your world.

Three random things we don’t know about you?

I’m a fantastic cook,  I can play pool very well,  I can’t swim.

Two favourite holiday destinations?
Zanzibar and The Victoria Falls.

Farai thank you for talking to me on Tribal Sands



Dorcas Gwata. Director, Tribal Sands

August 2016. All rights reserved.

‘No one will talk about us’ Tunisian artist, Mouna Karray


Mouna Karray 1

Mouna Karray’s art sits within the intimate space of the Tyburn Gallery in Central London. Her art captures fascinating images of bodies enslaved in white sheets, randomly yet strategically placed in  desolate places, embodying a silent resistance and a desire to be heard.

In her collection ‘No body will talk about us‘ Karray takes us  on a road trip to her south western roots in Tunisia, travelling on dusty lands that reveal images of a lifeless desert that once was and is now no more. The viewer’s attention is arrested by body movements that  occupy enslaved and entangled spaces pushing against confinements that remind me of the history of the African  slavery. The strong images are haunting, laborious, and perplexing. Masculine bodies linger in desolate, dusty spaces revealing a people’s resilience that  has as much potential as the poverty that surrounds them.  I am reminded of my travels in Northern Ethiopia and Egypt.  In her first UK solo art show, the artists shares a collection that has long been in the making, with its first residency at the Dream City Biennial of Contemporary At in Public Space in Tunis in 2012.

On the opening night of the collection, the artist’s warm introvert character is observable, Karray is reserved and shy, her conversation is whispery, the depth of her personality played out in the drama that she creates in her art work.


Oh, but the world will talk about Tunisia, a country that gave birth to female artists and allowed them to flourish because that is the right thing to do. A country appraised for its reasonable stability even after Arab Spring waves.

On the opening night, I strike a conversation with a Tunisian woman who sheds light on the country’s history.  It is said that the Tunisian first President, Habib Bourguiba, who fought against French colonialism focused on women’s emancipation, health and education and in doing so fostered an educated nation that is today proud of its identity. When Bourguiba died, he did not have a house or a car in his name, which speaks to his dedication to the country and public service, a rarity in our modern days. Tunisians have always had a light take on the role religion in their everyday lives, she adds.

mouna K

With this historical background of equality, Tunisian women therefore played an equal role in the Tunisian revolution. Women were very much visible in street demonstrations, many occupying high level positions in law and journalism and therefore shaping the Tunisian narrative of freedom and equality. This stability however remains very fragile in the wake of new global threats.

Mouna Karray 5

Mouna Karray’s art speaks to the hard issues encompassing our everyday lives and reveals the variances that are possible within a nation. She is busy shaping the Tunisian narrative, whilst shedding light on that,  that has been forgotten. This collection is as much about the everyday lives of the people of south west Tunisia,  as it is about her journey, and with each image she seeks to remind us again and again of the social and cultural values embedded in her fellow Tunisians.

Through Karray’s art, we learn so much about her country Tunisia, and that a country’s history and progress is best measured by its progress in women’s development and freedom of expression through art.

Mouna and Dorcas

I am grateful to the Tyburn Gallery and to  Ms Ihsen Fekih for her insights onto Tunisian history and to the artist, Mouna Karray for allowing us into her artistic space.

Mouna 10


Published with permission from Mouna Karray.

The Tyburn Gallery features work by African artists

The gallery is located in St Christophers Place, London


Dorcas Gwata

Director of Tribal Sands, May 2016


Ghetto Poetry, Exclusive with Philani Amadeus Nyoni (PAN)

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Now and again, a Zimbabwean writer comes along and transcends readers minds with the offerings of their writing. Philani Amadeus Nyoni’s (PAN) poetry knows no boundaries, his voice is established and he handles his work with care and authority.

I met PAN for drinks in Bulawayo, on a day when the long awaited rains had finally given way. Our conversations are grounded and humorous, our silence is comfortable and thoughtful. He has clout, plenty of it and he is boldly fearless. I want to cocoon him in an impenetrable fortress, but his poetry is as free as the African eagle that looms over Matebeleland, and he asks that we, his readers let him be, because at his best he is writing poetry. Philani is as feisty as he is controlled, he is ahead of his time and he chooses to write within the bounds of his homeland, surrounded by the spirits of those who came before him and paved the way for intriguing writers and readers alike.

PAN talks to Dorcas Gwata, Director of Tribal Sands:

PAN, your work, your art is a readers treat, how did you find the pen, or did the pen find you? 

Thank you, I do what I can. My relationship with the pen was a gradual courtship. I was wooed at an early age; in fact, I can remember the first time I said it out loud that I wanted to write. I was ten, talking to Babili. Even then I was deeply aware of my ability to use words in a unique way. In fact when I changed schools in third grade, I was supposed to repeat the second because they felt I was not ready for their vigorous curriculum. One of the interviewers strongly opposed the motion on the basis of my exceptional reading.

Five years later I wrote my first poem. I will not go into the details of who was who, but there was a writer on a park bench, another walked with me. He is dead and somehow I was aware of his presence and absence. He was narrating something to me about the other writer (they were great friends in this life). The words kept ringing in my head when I woke up. I wrote them down and stood back and said, “wow, I can write poetry!”

Your personality, and sense of  freedom stand out as much as your writing, do we as readers understand you in the light that you want to be understood?

The funny thing about that is I hadn’t noticed this until I got a signed copy of “More Than A Woman” by Ericah Gwetai (Yvonne Vera’s mother) signed. The MC had arbitrarily decided I should read a few pages at the launch and I happily complied. She wrote something similar to what you are accusing me of being and now I have to sit back and wonder.

I am a liberated person, I have always had a terrifying imagination and that wasn’t always my best friend growing up. It was always scraping against society, authority, religious prescriptions everything else. At some point I hated myself because of the ease with which I seemed to get into trouble. When we are younger nobody wants to be different; some people never grow out of it. My liberation came from the acceptance that I am what I am; I should not be afraid to be.

Yet I try not to be the artwork, once a writer becomes too recognisable then he cannot be a writer, a writer should be read not heard, or seen.



Many are comparing you to the late Dambudzo Marechera, and your writing reflects that quality, does this come with a sense of responsibility?

Yes indeed it does. Marechera represents different things to different people. When my mother makes the comparison it’s an unequivocal insult, when John Eppel, Dr. Drew Shaw or Memory Chirere make the comparison it’s probably the highest compliment on the Zimbabwean literary landscape .

Being compared to genius is not easy, but what I know is that I have to break away from the negative stereotype associated with Marechera and uphold the positive. The world (worse off  Zimbabwe and Africa) was not ready for him; he was a couple of decades premature. I think ‘Mindblast’ best argues his life, especially after a return to the newly founded Zimbabwe.

The biggest responsibility I have is to redeem his name and those of all writers. when I am done, the names of writers will not be used as insults.

They say your first book is in fact your biography, in this regard was ‘Once a lover, always a fool’ your story and your vulnerability?

Writing is a lot of things including catharsis. The best stories are written in blood. In fact when I started writing it I was writing a long letter to a lover. I would sit on the fire escape every night and write one or three poems about her. This was the source for The Light Pages. Essentially I wrote it over three years but to turn it into a book, or an Opus (Lord forbid I should write just ‘another book of love poems!’) took three months. For trivia’s sake: parts of the first two sections were once distributed at a pamphlet called ‘My Love In Black And White’ which could fit in a shirt pocket. My friends liked it but I felt it had no soul. I spent three month carving a soul for it and what came out was ‘Once A Lover Always A Fool’.

John Eppel wrote a beautiful introduction of you in your latest book ‘Mars his sword’, how did you come to work with John?

John and I first encountered each other’s work some eleven years ago, at least I encountered his then. I was studying literature at O Level. One of my set books was ‘Many People Many Voices’ and John wrote a commentary to it. I was a year into writing poetry then, John’s interpretations were so familiar to my spirit I felt he had found the words I was aching to put out, I had found a kindred spirit. A year later he would judge the Girls College Literary (inter-schools) Competition. I would submit and be awarded ‘First Class’ for poetry. The following year I received ‘Honours’ and the ‘Best Poem’ award in the seniors category for a poem called, ‘Shakespeare’.

I suppose we will save the rest for the memoirs, but right now, let me say John has been the strongest influence on my writing. Our views on writing and the writer are very similar it was refreshing to work with someone who understands. It was also an endorsement of sanity when I began and in recent years he has been someone I could turn to when I had doubts or radical ideas. He has been part of every work I have produced, from editing, to co-writing and now providing a blurb. I am honoured to work with him, most importantly learn from him in this life.


You write within the bounds of your own country, and push the very boundaries that contain you, why have you chosen to live and write in Zimbabwe?

Choice is an interesting word when one must wear the title ‘Zimbabwean’ on one’s tongue and name wherever one may wander. I was born here, I lived here until I was nineteen and returned at twenty-few. I suppose the question becomes ‘why come back to a rathole’?

If I ever leave Zimbabwe again it will not be because I was driven out, but because I chose to pursue something which Zimbabwe could not give me. I never worked well with bullies, even those with uniforms or fancy offices.

Our home-girl No Violet Bulawayo blew us away with her book ‘We Need New Names’, and she continues to flourish in so many ways, what does her success mean to you?

I have nothing but love for Nonviolet, although one my characters fired a shot at her in ‘The Sonneteer’, a short story in the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing anthology and some people ascribed that opinion to me. No Violet’s personal recommendation is the reason why I was in that book; why would I shoot the hand that fed me? It was my mischievous way of shouting out. Besides, the other character (whose opinion I think matters more) comes to her defence!

I have my reservations on ‘We Need New Names’, naturally because I am close to the source so a voice in my head will keep interrupting the story. If she had written the first part from Zimbabwe and not in foreign residency Darling’s story in Paradise would have been very different. No Violet acknowledges this in her writing style; she leans more on technique and abstraction in that part than in the second. Ultimately it’s a story and as it is deserves to contend the biggest writing prize in the world and make the history she made. You cannot take away the finesse of her writing, the emotion in both the writer and the reader. Reading ‘Names’ is as close to a religious experience some will ever have.

What disheartens me though is the architecture around her. How long shall we have to move to the West to tell our stories? How long shall we have to receive ‘education’ in the form of MFAs in Creative writing before we actually write our stories? And why must we always thrive on the painful ones? This is an African problem, the tag of ‘African literature’ and all its insinuations. In this regard, ‘We Need New Names’ is nothing new.

None the less it’s a story of hope, it’s a whisper saying, ‘Zimbabwe, we are not forgotten’.


Some say, to read well, one’s belly must be full. How do we foster a reading culture in Africa in the midst of all our challenges?

First we need to break down the elitism that exists in literature. When we begin writing and publishing for the community we will change that. A copy of ‘We Need New Names’ costs $25 in Bulawayo, isn’t that a tragedy, when people can’t afford to read their own story? Yet, I can provide distributors with my next book, slightly thicker for less than half of that on the same paper.

It’s not her fault, it’s the infrastructure around her. But I am sure her publishers have sound justification. For those of us who feel there is a problem in that setup the onus is on us to devise new architecture. The question is ‘contemporary reality’, who are we writing for? When that is said answered everything else will fall in place.


You have received many Awards over the years including the 2016 National Arts Merit Award, what is your greatest achievement?

My greatest achievement has to be setting a World Record with what has been compiled into the book ‘Mars His Sword’; doubling the sonnets left by William Shakespeare at half his age of death. A naive interpretation would be ‘killing Shakespeare’ but anyone who knows old Billy knows he is more than a few sonnets. And anyone who knows me knows I do not stand on the bones of giants but on their shoulders.

The process took a lot of discipline, it wasn’t intentional but I turned around one day and realized I had gone that far. I had pushed myself beyond what any human being has ever done, at least on record, and that’s a comforting thought. At my death I will fall like the pugilist sinking beneath a knock-out blow but content in losing the match because he has knocked out his opponent’s tooth; knowing that because of him, he will never be the same, even if he wears dentures.

What is your ideal writers retreat?

The make-up of a writer is against the concept of a utopia; I will write wherever I find myself.

Philani Amadeus Nyoni, thank you very much for talking to me on Tribal Sands.


Philani’s books are available for sale in the UK and beyond. Please contact Dorcas Gwata on dgwata@googlemail.com for sales.

Dorcas Gwata, Director of Tribal Sands, all rights reserved.

April 2016.

On culture and cremation in Nepal

“Most Hindus are cremated as soon as they die, usually within twenty four hours” said my guide as I huddled under his umbrella to escape the tail end of the monsoon rains,  red-dotted God-seeking Hindus streamed in and out of the smokey temple, their singing drowning out parts of our conversation. Scores of people moved along, the helpless, the homeless, disabled, the sick, touchable and untouchables, as though on pilgrimage.

“Many bodies are brought here at the Pushnapanath temple on a bamboo stretcher” he said, leading my gaze to two lifeless bodies draped in white and orange colours, their naked feet dangling on the edges of the river as male relatives fussed over and around them in cultural and religious rituals. In the near distance a distressed young woman is led to one of the bodies, possibly her husband. Inconsolable, she is allowed a brief moment with the body, and then ushered away by female relatives.

Historically, women were not allowed at these ceremonies: they were deemed too emotional and hysterical. Crying is not permitted at the cremation ceremony. In Hinduism, death is embraced as a passing to the next stage of life, not a loss. Tears they believe will dry out the lights of the deceased soul and compromise their eternity.

Nepal pose

All Hindu funerals are conducted in a similar away but there will be variations according to sects, regions, caste and family traditions. The eldest son normally presides over the ceremony accompanied by a Hindu priest called a Bhramin. Before the cremation takes place, the body is brought back home, where the Bhramin alongside the family chant mantras, with a diva lit (candle made from cotton wool and placed in ghee) at the side of the body at all time. The Bhramin puts some drops of the holy water in the deceased mouth alongside bhasma (scared ashes if a Shiva follower) or sandle wood across the forehead, so that the soul attains liberation.

In Hindu culture when a husband dies, the woman wears white for a year, a change from the usual red sari, she will not drink milk for six months and must avoid salt for thirteen days. She may not remarry, although this is now changing with time. The death of a husband often has a negative effect on a woman’s position in society particularly in lower castes, so women go a long way to ensure their husbands live a long life. At the festival of Shiva, married woman fast for a few days and pray for their husband’s long life. The ancient sati practice in which a widow, embodied with her dead husband’s spirit would immolate herself on the funeral pyre and burn to death with her husband. The sati was widely practiced across the Asian-Hindu communities until it was abolished by the British in 1829.

Nepal cremation

We strolled along, the midday sun now winning over the monsoon rains. We walked past the colourful Buddhists who also linger round the temple, their mysterious meditation caves tucked into the walls of the banks. Hinduism and Buddhism co-exist here in an admirably healthy fashion. The heavily pregnant river which eventually feeds into the Ganges river in India, whisking away bright orange flowered petals which moments ago were hanging around the dead bodies. Playful young boys dive into the swollen river to recover coins offered by grieving relatives upstream. On our right, four bodies individually lie in cremation, fire raging through them as men in white robes spread butter and firewood to speed the process, the damp monsoon air whisking away the burning smell of bodies. All notions of privacy are overthrown here as camera clutching-tourists zoom their lenses into the scene, daily lives around us soldiering on.

Cremation smokey

The Nepalese Royal family was cremated here, upstream in an area preserved for the better off. In a love story with a catastrophic outcome, the older prince wished to marry an Indian girl, whilst the family wanted a Nepalese girl. The love crazed intoxicated young prince then shot dead eleven members of his family before taking his own life. The sum of their collective lives now lies in a grand and dusty museum a short distance from Pushnapanath Temple. Following a national grief, conspiracy and political instability, the country became a republic.

In recent years many young Nepalese men have passed away in far away countries where they migrate for work. Their bodies are brought back in coffins and cremated here. Migration, social adjustment, disconnection from their cultural and religious norms with added tough working conditions have contributed to their deaths. For Hindus the birth and death of a son is highly symbolic. Boys carry the forward the family’s names. In rural areas and mainly amongst the lower castes where young men are more likely to migrate for employment to countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia the death of a son, mostly likely the breadwinner of a large family, will have a grave effect. Suicide rates are particularly high amongst the Nepalese men who migrate to work in Qatar, in fact every week 2 bodies are brought back from Qatar to Nepal. In booming economic countries where labor markets remain high in demand, grief and cremation among the Nepalese is likely to continue for some time.

Dorcas Gwata

Tribal Sands 2014. All rights reserved.

On why I decided to work with vulnerable people

I am a Zimbabwean Public Health Specialist, writer and news analyst. I have worked and traveled across Africa and an active member of many global health platforms.
I studied Public Health and Gender Violence at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and have a specialist interest in gang culture, mental  health and HIV.  I was awarded Nursing Standard Mental Health Nurse 2015 (Please Click here details)
I was awarded Vodafone World of Difference award in 2013 and worked as an Mental Health Advisor for AFRUCA Charity, providing consultation on communities affected by FGM, Human trafficking, witchcraft brandishing.
I am a African Affairs News Analyst for Arise TV and have appeared on BBC Africa, ITV, BBC London Radio and Press TV.
When not running grassroots programs, I am likely to be found reading, viewing art, scanning African fabrics,cooking African food, on adventure travels around the world, in yoga,or, capoeira or cycling across London.
I am a Bantu woman and am well versed on many Bantu cultures and languages.