Writing Our Stories

Nomada Labamba Si in Barcelona with her art work.                 Photo Credit: African Press Club

Dateline: El Raval, Barcelona

By Chiogor Constance Ikokwu

I met Nomada Labamba Si at an event organized by an organization called Black Barcelona some months ago. She was tucked away in the corner of the city hall, with more than a dozen other creative people. There’s a butt naked young man on the podium, whose body is being meticulously designed with paint by an artist. I salute that man’s courage. He was wearing absolutely nothing. The audience followed the delicate hand of the artist as she methodically worked her way from his upper body downwards.

Further to the left, there’s a beehive of activities. A makeshift restaurant is bursting with customers waiting for their turn to savour some African food. I can smell the fresh medley of aromatic spices just like you would from Mama Iyabo’s Buka (street food) in Lagos, Nigeria.

I struck up a conversation with a Dominican hairstylist selling her wares. I promised to visit her salon to get my hair braided as long as it won’t cost me an arm and a leg. Braiding African hair in Europe costs a fortune. The first time I was asked to shell out 100 euros for braids, I quietly said “bye Felicia.” What???

Nobody advised me to learn how to manage my hair at home. I realized that I had been living a life of luxury in Africa by visiting the salon two or three times a month!

Next, to the Dominican, there are racks of clothes for sale made from African fabric. Then, there are other Afro-themed items including bags, shoes, slippers, and jewelry. I find my way back to the outer hall where I start talking with Nomada.

Speaking with her reminded me of one of the things I enjoy most about writing this blog. It’s hearing people’s stories; their journey; struggles; pain; fears; hopes; joy and unique experiences. It’s so informative and enriching.

Nomada was born in Portugal. Her parents migrated from Guinea in West Africa a long time ago. They were hardworking people. Like many migrants from other parts of the world, they just wanted a decent life. Nomada speaks of how she was brought up in a household that emphasized hard work and education. “I was told that if I study and work hard, I will be fine,” she recalls.

She went to school and work hard, she did. But the reality of life was different. It was harsher than she had imagined. Nomada remembers graduating and being unable to find a job. She could not understand why. She was smart, young and intelligent. Anybody would want to have her as an employee. That was not the case.

In her encounter with people, she remembers noticing prejudices. According to her, the rejections she encountered were often nuanced. She was disappointed. Soon, her disappointment turned to anger, then frustration. This wasn’t the life she was hoping for. Nomada says she was so angry at the injustice in the system that she felt like “starting a revolution.”

She wanted out. Her life in Portugal had become unbearable. She mooted the idea of further studies in the United Kingdom. Her parents supported her wholeheartedly. She bought a plane ticket and left.

Living in the UK was not easy because she was juggling work and studies at the same time. Nevertheless, a deep yearning to succeed was the fuel that kept her going. Besides, she was studying a subject that speaks to her – art restoration. Her desire was to bury herself in the restoration of art, particularly African art, upon graduation. Help also came when her sister moved to the UK specifically to work and support her financially.

The years passed by pretty quickly. Nomada worked at one or two jobs after school including at the African Museum. Her experiences were not pleasant. She noticed that the same prejudices she was running from manifested in other forms in her new environment. It was difficult for her to stomach it. She’s a woman that wears her heart on her sleeves. Pretending or looking the other way was a quality she could not imbibe. She ultimately resolved that it was better to work for herself.

Again, Nomada packed her bags and left the UK. Her next point of call was Brazil. She was attracted to Brazil because of the history of resistance by Afro-Brazilians. Enamored by their religion and culture, she fell in love with the place. In Brazil, she found something that fed her soul. Her connection with the people was immediate. It was there that she discovered photography and painting.

Nomada met lots of women who had so much to say. She grasped how important it is for people to write their own stories. As a result, she started making notebooks to encourage them to write. Her products are personalized with pictures of the owners on the cover. Now she travels widely, sharing her art with interested parties. She feels her life today has more meaning.

I think this story ties to a similar theme that I’ve treated on this blog before: identity and purpose. Fulfillment comes from knowing who we are and finding our purpose in life. I’m delighted that Nomada shared her story with us. I hope you find it interesting.

Do have a great week!

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  1. Nomada’s life story of struggle and prejudice fueled by constant rejected is actually not different from what many people experience in the world today. I share the same experiences even after graduating from the university, with high hopes of getting good job, living the good life of Independence, while socially and professionally amassing one’s self in the system that will ultimately open more doors, but at a point I just felt like a big dreamer. Nothing was working in my favor. That’s the hash reality of life, but creating an identify for one’s self
    just like Nomada brings in that closure. That is the high road I have chosen, haven created my own Human Resource firm.

  2. I hope you succeed Blessing. It is always troubling to hear when racism rears it’s ugly head and particularly here where it is institutionalised. My heart goes out to Nomada and Blessing and I really hope both their courageous decisions to be real to themselves results in much better outcomes than would be the case by following the typical employment route where there are so many pitfalls, biases and prejudices in an ever increasing meritocratic system.Where Christian graces of humility and kindness were valued it is now more likely to be self-promotion and personal success. There are benefits in pursuing identity and purpose in a kindly manner.

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