Something a little different this week. This is release week! And it’s with great pleasure that I can introduce someone very special to me, and special to my book, Blood & Milk.
Santa Aziz first contacted me a little while ago as a reader, to express her love for my books. She mentioned she was from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and I was instantly intrigued! We exchanged a few emails, and I was floored that my books had reached someone in Africa!
Skip ahead a few months, and in our conversations I mentioned my WIP (work in progress) and how it was set in Tanzania with the Maasai people. I also explained how I was so unsure whether publishing the book was even going to happen because I feared I would be wrong, or worse, disrespectful, in some way. I mean, research is great but pales in comparison to experiencing first hand, or having ever been there.
Then Santa shared with me her history and experiences, and I almost fell off my chair! I begged her to read my first draft – not that it took much begging because she was super excited LOL. And beta-read she did. Her feedback was fantastic and heartfelt, and any reservations about publishing Blood & Milk were gone. After spending weeks wondering if I should/could/would publish it, I read her email telling me my words give African LGBT people hope, and I sent the manuscript to my editor that very day.
Blood & Milk, without any doubt in my mind, would never be published without her input, her experience with Maasai, and her encouragement so the people she knows and encounters daily could have a book they identify with.
So please let me welcome Santa Aziz S. to my blog! I hope you don’t mind my gushing introduction LOL Please tell everyone a little bit about yourself…
SA: Hi N.R, wow, this is like a dream come true. I am very honoured to be the one you picked among your countless fans! Thank you for all!
Soooo, I am Santa Aziz S., I am a Congolese citizen from Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa. I am a mother of a beautiful, adorable (drive me crazy) 14 months old girl; I’m straight and a LGBTQ activist which specialized in orphanages and homeless shelters. I am the General Director of a local NGO, Maisha Mazuri, A Better World for all of us, (also known as ABW). Maisha Mazuri is Swahili which means “a better life”.
I L-O-V-E to read! Fiction or non-fiction altogether. I am French literate so please, excuse me if I rumble a bit…lol. But I grew up in English speaking countries which are an added bonus.
My passion to help LGBTQ centre comes from the fact that I have great grandparents from Portugal on my mom side and great grandparents from Pakistan from my father side, I am Muslim and live in Christian country, I am a woman and believe me, all that is a good combination to be at the front of discrimination. I tend to believe it is because of that I can easily relate to those who are discriminated based on their sexual orientation.
NRW: Wow. Your work is phenomenal! And helping so many young LGBTQ people is a remarkable achievement. <3
I spend my week working and looking after my two kids, driving them to and from their sporting commitments. If I do have some downtime (which isn’t very often) I love to spend it reading. Explain a typical week for you.
SA: I wish I could be like you super mom, but noooo. My typical week is….mmhhhh…. from Monday to Friday I have work. On Thursday, I go to a support group to help with logistic on karate lesson for women. On Friday I might go out with my friends. On weekend, I am 90% at ABW and 10% chasing my daughter around.
NRW: I think it’s safe to assume you’re more than a super mum!! LOL You’ve lived in many parts of Africa, and spent two years in Tanzania? What was it like? What was your favourite and not-so favourite thing of your time there?
SA: let me start with the least favourite thing! Well, you know how everywhere people have their customs and habits? In Tanzania is gossip! It’s like their hobby or something. I hated it, still do. They ask so personal question even if they don’t know you and like to gossip…much more than corrupting! Ooppss.
I have spent 2 years straight in Tanzania, and I kid you not, it is everything that you see in pamphlets and travel agencies brochures. It was a blast and so much more. I have drank so much “madafu”, coconut water… eating seafood in various cooking style (from Indian to Arusha style). It was there I had to perfect my Swahili. I travelled inside the country up to Ujiji in Kigoma. And my eyes almost fell out my eyes when my aunt house was opposite to the legendary museum, where David Livingstone met Henry Morton Stanley in 1871! If you are wondering who are those dudes… well, thank God Wikipedia and Google are there for that hahahaha.
NRW: Speaking of food, as part of your feedback for Blood & Milk, you mention ugali. It is something Damu and Alé eat a lot of. You even showed me pictures which I added to this post. (It looked delicious, I might add 🙂 It reminds me a lot of Indian food, which we see a lot of in Australia) Is ugali a staple in your diet? Can you explain to our readers what it is? And what other foods are traditional for you?
SA: Ugali is a must in my diet! A MUST!! It can be cooked with maize flour, cassava bread flour, sorghum, semolina, soy and even better corn flour. Typically, is like a hot bread without yeast and not cooked in the oven. The flour is dropped into boiling water and we stir it up with a special spoon called “mwiko” for a dough shape like consistency and it is eaten with hands (right one of course). Better to eat it with vegetables, sauce, meats etc.
Other traditional foods:
- Beans: cooked with palm oil
- Caterpillar: yes, yes…but yummy, typical for DRC
- Sukuma wiki: it is a vegetable commonly eaten in Kenya
- Bokoboko: it is rice, overcooked rice like a porridge which is mixed with camel meat or sheep meat or even goat meat eaten with a “sour/bitter/sweet” sauce composed with goat fat, dry grapes, sugar, garlic, vinegar, onions and cinnamon ( muslim)
- Chapatti: made with corn flour in dough, then rolled flat in a circular form like a pizza and fried with a quarter spoon of oil in a pan for 10 to 20 seconds. Eaten with vegetables/ beans/ eggplants/minced meats/duck gizzard
- Futari: it is a combination of tubers boiled with salt, palm oil, tomatoes and onions, sometimes we can add beans or peas.
There are so much traditional foods but nothing is really good without a good hot “pilipili” (various kinds) which is pepper.
NRW: Something a little more serious: In Blood & Milk, both Damu and Alé are subject to discrimination and are ostracised for being different. In your feedback, you explained this is very common in Maasai culture. In real life, Damu may or may not have been an outcast for his mother dying during childbirth, but for other reasons like being born with birthmarks, and being born with hair. This is fascinating to me, if not concerning, as these are things the newborn child cannot control, like their sexuality. In Australia, same sex marriage isn’t legal here (yet) but you said it will never EVER be allowed in Africa?
SA: It will never be allowed. I wish I could be wrong, I wish there will be a day that my statement will be proved wrong. But, with what the community is facing in Zimbabwe, Uganda or even here in DRCongo and Kenya…I doubt that it will be so soon.
When I say Africa also, I mean those remote places where beliefs are still so strong and where the outside world ways of living will never reach. Since 30 November 2006, same sex marriage is legal in South Africa. I have been in Alexandria where there are hidden gay clubs, in Kenya too even though it is ILLEGAL to be gay in those countries. But those are big cities.
What I am talking about is the rest of Africa, those remoted places where there isn’t even access roads, electricity or running water, those places like where Damu lived. Those are the worst. I have testimonies and stories that are heartbreaking.
NRW: Oh no 🙁 *cries*
SA: Yes, the families and the entire community, sometime, force into the mind of gay people that they are devil, that it is an abomination to be gay. Unfortunately, some of them believe that, commit suicide, run away…because they can’t comprehend. And I won’t even start with the whole AIDS it’s because of gay people stuff.
I can only hope that one day, people like Desmond Tutu, Charlize Theron, Glen Relief, Kizza Besigye, Frank Bwalya ( both in the LGBT portal on Wikipedia) and so many more will do something that will help us all. I know that homosexuality is a death sentence here, I know that gay people don’t have the necessary resource, support and even the will to do something about it… but that is why I do what I do, sneaking your book to them, roughly translate them in French or Swahili for them to read to understand that there is nothing wrong with them. ABW will share stories of those people in our website soon.
NRW: I think it’s incredible, everything you do. Your work and commitment to helping LGBTQ people in Africa, is incredible and inspiring! I wish too, for change and reason.
You told me something once that will stay with me forever: you said “…that i have to sneak some of your books to some of my friends so that their family member will not know they are homosexual!!! ( cause of course they can’t have smartphone or tablets which is the devil work) this era is really bad for our people ( knowing that in some other countries gay marriage is allowed while they cant even fathom the idea of kissing a man or a girl even in dreams) they are struggling like hell…and in books, they find some sort of peace. and this story Blood & Milk….I know….in my heart, will help A LOT! cause they will relate…
P.S: by publishing that book you will save people from their daily nightmare, you are a good person! May God bless you!”
It was this message from you that made me realise I *had* to publish Blood & Milk. If I can help one person, then I absolutely will. But it got me thinking, are there any LGBTQI support groups, that you know of, in your area? Do these people have anywhere/anyone sympathetic to their emotional needs?
SA: yes, there are “hidden” LGBT group like mine, but for my local NGO to be legalized, I had to hide our main objectives, it shouldn’t appear in our status or otherwise we couldn’t have been granted the go ahead from the government. So we are just a NGO that help orphanages and homeless shelters.
In Kinshasa, where 7 million people lives, there are only 3 LGBT support group that I know of who are credible and supportive. We have a total of 14 volunteers and doing 2 to 4 jobs altogether. I, myself, work in orphanages because that is where the worst cases are found, mainly tortured kids from 8 to 17 years old. We are doing all we can to help them, but we are faced by many challenges. Barrier language being the first (word like depression become difficult to explain in Swahili), financial support and of course our own educational background and experience in the matter. I have a master degree in HR and others have in economics or engineering. No one has a background in counselling or psychological need or any remote area.
We are working blindly but if we don’t do anything, I don’t think I can live happily. I have hope and faith and I am strong and stubborn, for now, that is all I need!
NRW: And that’s what makes you a truly wonderful person! It’s hard enough in countries where this work isn’t illegal, and doesn’t have to be “hidden”. Given the secrecy, and given the persecutions, how did you start reading M/M books? How did you find it? And what was the first book that introduced you to this genre?
SA: ok, one of my favourite hobbies a part from travelling is reading. I started to read since I was 2 year old and still do. I have over 3 thousands books in my kindle and more than 5 thousands on paper backs. Cartoon, fiction, non-fiction, some I wrote myself, I have poems, Shakespeare etc, the range is so wide. I love to read, usually 4 books at a time hahahaha.
In 2012, I was in Wageningen in Netherlands with some of my friends and we were traveling to Marseilles in France, and I happen to see my mentor with a book and the cover struck me. It was one girl and two men and the title was kinda obvious: the Rule of Three by Kelly Jamieson! My friend had it with the original cover and was proudly, shamelessly reading it and enjoying it. I had to read it on the spot of course. It isn’t the typical M/M book, but that was the closest thing gayish I ever read my entire life at that time. It was E-P-I-C. I couldn’t believe such books existed.
NRW: Now for some quick fire fun questions: Idea of the perfect date?
SA: Lol, tall, brunet and fit dude in a beach at Mombasa, bare feet, siting in the sand at night eating skewers of seafood!
NRW: Favourite food?
SA: this is the part where you want me to say ugali? Hahaha, but its French fries with beef stroganoff
NRW: Favourite song?
SA: WOW, this is tricky… how can one choose? I have two favourite songs: Castle of glass by Linkin Park, and You will be in my heart by Phil Collins
NRW: Favourite book?
SA: should say the old testament, but I will go with the one that changed me deeply. And although it’s a fiction and a bit “ are you kidding me?” I still go for it: Cronin’s key 2
NRW: Aww, I’m so flattered and humbled! Especially now I know the reason behind this answer. *hugs you and Marta* Okay, next question… Number of countries you’ve visited?
SA: No need to count for this one, its 12! Because I have a tattoo of each country I visited! Symbolic tattoo lol
NRW: Dream holiday destination?
SA: Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. I know it’s weird, but hey…that is my dream! lol
NRW: On a deserted island, you can take three things. They are?
- Duct tape ( too long to explain)
- My kindle ( if it comes with a solar panel charger)
- A butcher knife
NRW: You find a magic lantern with a genie who grants you one wish. What is it?
SA: OMG! I have dreamt all my life to be asked this question. I can wish for no more wars or hunger in the world, or peace or something like that, stop climate change…or better yet, same sex marriage everywhere…but, I will ask for a magic ring that will grant me every wish.
Awesome!!! Thank you so much for being here and sharing a little bit about yourself with my readers. Thank you for your input and help with Blood & Milk, and most importantly, thank you for the wonderful work you’re doing to help LGBT people in Africa.
I hope everyone loves Heath and Damu, and I hope those who read the book learn a little about Maasai culture and Tanzania. I also hope the African people who read Blood & Milk can relate and find a little peace in Damu’s story.
Thank you too Nicole, I am so happy about all this and I am confident Blood and Milk will be a blast. I would like also to add something about the names.
Heath? You might think it’s very common but I am not even sure I pronounced it right. I wanted to share some DRCongo, Kenyan and Tanzanian names:
-Numbi Muhima Edher, Mwangaza Mutonda Sylvie, Wanjiru Mumbi Michelle, O’chollah Bryan, Kongolo Mweshi, Abdi Ramji… those are common name people relate easily. And I confess that, sometimes, depending of my audience, I have to Africanise the names of your character to fit easily. (I better not start explaining how the whole Alec – Ailig translation went hahahahaha)
LOLOL No, I couldn’t imagine it’d be easy haha. Thank you again, with all of my heart.
Thank you so much for this. ABW moto is “be kind to one another”. You have been so kind! Words fail me to express my gratitude! Be blessed, forever…and always!
I’m sure you will all agree that the work Santa does in Africa is beyond incredible. Her non-profit work for orphans and homeless children and teens, secretly helping LGBT kids, is awe-inspiring. She has shared with me a few stories of those she translates/reads my books to and their personal life stories are so, so heartbreaking (and utterly horrifying). And to hear my books make their days a little happier and bearable is truly humbling. Kinda puts a few things into perspective, yeah?
Her help with getting the Maasai aspects right, and also the governmental issues, in Blood & Milk were invaluable. I had a few different African beta/pre-readers, but it was Santa’s input, her stories, her experiences, and her encouragement, that made Blood & Milk what it is. And I will be forever grateful. In case you missed my earlier posts about how much Santa has helped me and the charity I’m donating to, you can read that HERE. I am donating part of Blood & Milk royalties to African Human Rights Coalition who are a proactive group on the ground in Africa, actively helping LGBT people.
The pre-order link for Blood & Milk on Amazon is HERE
Until next week…