Saturday, February 22, 2014

Should You Do Things For People You Love?

My friend, Dean Leysen, posted a video a few weeks ago and it was focused on whether it is appropriate to change something about yourself because of someone you love. 

I surmised from this video and other conversations over the last few weeks, that I'd be comfortable changing certain things about myself for the people I love, to a certain extent.  If at any point, I feel as though a certain change will negatively affect my self-image, or alter my identity in ways that make me feel uncomfortable, I cannot make such a change--no matter how much I love the person asking for the change. 

As someone who tries very hard to please everyone else, it is natural for me to change myself in order to suit my family, friends and especially my partner, even if it means I'm a bit unhappy.

In the past pleasing others meant wearing a lot of makeup, weaves, relaxing my hair, trying to change my skin color, losing a lot of weight very quickly through crazy diets and workout routines, etc. At one point, I had changed so much physically that I didn't recognize myself when I caught a glimpse of face in the mirror at a store. I actually thought: "That girl is trying so hard." When I looked closer, I realized I was seeing my own reflection!

Lately, as I attempt to live authentically (kinky chic lifestyle woot!), I can see how pleasing everyone is unwise and painful. 

For example, most of my siblings believe that the Bible (KJV) is God-breathed and they live according to the Bible. I love that about them and I cherish learning from them this discipline, commitment and faith.  This doesn't mean that I agree with them completely; I believe that the Bible is inspired by God, but I don't believe God stopped there.  There are other books, people, prophets, etc. that are inspired by God that are not included in the current, popular version of the Bible.

Recently, I tried to explain to my sister that my faith is more than just the literal translation of the Bible but also in discerning for myself and through my spirit, books that are written and people that are living today that enlighten--who lead, direct, inspire.  But I felt misunderstood.  I think my sister was worried that because I no longer attend a church regularly, I no longer had faith in God.  But I am actually closer to God now that I don't have to pretend in front of other people at church that I'm faithful and that I worship God.  This doesn't mean that I refuse to attend church ever, but I like that my new faith doesn't require a regular church to work.

Now, I feel like I no longer treat God as a vending machine... My prayers are not about simply receiving but about listening and connecting with my God.  This makes me feel more like myself! I want to commune with my God, not just demand.  I feel like I'm living like Jacob now--like I've always wanted.

As I live authentically, I know my decisions will bother some and I'm secretly happy that it will, because maybe it will encourage those that are bothered to examine their hearts and their lives more deeply.  Maybe it'll cause them to wonder if they are truly living as their best selves, or at least trying to live as their best selves.

At the end of my time here, I want to know that I lived as best as I could.  Not for anyone else, but between me and my God.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Pako (Chewing Stick)

I miss Mama.  "Mama" is my maternal grandmother and I spent a lot of time with her growing up because she lived with us on and off.  I would pretend to (un)braid her hair and we could talk about nothing for hours. She passed away in April of 2010.  Every so often, I think of something that reminds me of her and I miss her.

Mama was a huge proponent of traditional remedies, from agbo (tastes like death) to using efirin in everything (smells and tastes great).  But the one thing she used on a daily basis was her pako a.k.a. a chewing stick.  I don't think I ever saw her use a toothbrush, and she had a full set of pearly whites her whole life!

They usually start out like this:

In about a day, they look like this (because people chew on the sticks all day):

Lately as I try to reconnect to traditions that I grew up with, I think of small ways that I can honor those traditions again.  Pako is such a simple way... Especially since I use a toothbrush multiple times a day.  (I'm lying by the way--I hate brushing my teeth so I tend to brush only once a day.  Sue me.)

According to Afro Style Mag:
Once used by the Babylonians (3500 B.C.), Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, the chewing stick of old was simply a small wood "toothbrush" used in our predecessors' daily oral hygiene. Although Europeans once took advantage of this simple method, the chewing stick fell out of favor with them over three hundred years ago. Although the most common source of the chewing stick is the saltbush (also called toothbrush tree) in the Middle East, in West Africa, orange and lime trees are used, while the neem tree (neems) is the main source for chewing sticks in the Indian subcontinent. Astonishingly, nearly three hundred different species of trees and shrubs in East Africa are used in making chewing sticks! Chew sticks are usually nothing fancy--they are simply made out of frayed twigs.

Through Africa or Asia, you may come across people casually chewing on a stick much like people may have a toothpick in their mouth. The twigs are generally cut to a thickness of a pencil; and are chewed until the end of the stick frays. The frayed end works like dental floss cleaning in between teeth keeping teeth and gums healthy. Once the end of a chew stick is frayed it can be rubbed on teeth, much like using a toothbrush, scrubbing food and plaque off teeth. Chew sticks are much less expensive than traditional western toothbrushes making them much more accessible.
More than just a brush, it was discovered that the twigs and roots of certain plant species used in making the chewing stick, contain chemical compounds that slow the formation of plaque. In addition, extracts of other sticks have proven to possess antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. For instance, the twigs of the aforementioned toothbrush tree have been found to help prevent ulcers. And in Namibia, chewing sticks made from a plant known as muthala, inhibit the growth of pathogens that cause gum disease, tooth decay, and sore throats. Chewing sticks possess the ability to prevent cavities, as well as strengthen the users' roots and gums. 

And Wikipedia states:
Teeth cleaning twigs can be obtained from a variety of tree species. Although many trees are used in the production of teeth cleaning twigs, some trees are better suited to clean and protect the teeth, due to the chemical composition of the plant parts. The tree species are:
  • Salvadora persica
  • Sassafras
  • Gumtree
  • Tea Tree
  • Neem
  • Gouania lupuloides
  • Cinnamon
  • Dogwood
  • Olive, Walnut, and other trees with bitter roots.
Curious to try it out? Africa Imports has a selection of chew sticks with a range of colors and flavors.
She's wondering why you aren't chewing on a chewing stick.
Side note: My locs are in! I'll make a post about the experience after having them in for a few more weeks.