- Interview by
- Rama Salla Dieng
When you click on the front page of the blog, Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women, you are greeted by headlines as diverse as “I Thought The First Thing I was Going To Do After Lockdown Was Get a Brazilian,” “Sex Drough,” “West African Tales of Sex and Love,” and “How can you tell when a woman orgasms?” The founders of this blog make no excuses that they are trying to demystify and educate on how African women talk, think, and write on sex and sexuality. As they write on their “About” page: “… the blog provides a safe space where African women can openly discuss a variety of sex and sexuality issues with the intention of learning from each other, having pleasurable and safer sex, and encouraging continuous sex education for adults.” Below is a conversation with one of the founders, Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah.
Hello Nana. I met you for the first time in Accra in 2009. This was the very year you launched Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women to “share experiences of sex and our diverse sexualities.” Can you please tell us about what motivated you to create the blog?
I co-created Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women with Malaka Grant, the woman I call my BFFFL (Best Friend for Freaking Life). In January 2009, I went on a girls beach trip to Axim in the western region of Ghana with three other African women. We had the best time and part of that was because we spent so much time having really frank open conversations about sex. It was also the occasion of my 30th birthday and I was really struck that it had taken me up until that age to feel that I could talk to other women about my sexual experiences, desires and fantasies without feeling judged. When I got back to Accra, I called Malaka up (she lived in the US at the time) to tell her about the amazing experience I’d had and that I wanted to start a blog to talk about sex. She told me that she’d been thinking about writing a book called Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women. I convinced her that we should collaborate on the blog together and later turn it into a book.
Analyzing how women organized online in Kenya, Nanjala Nyabola explains that most feminist campaigns tended to be countered with resistance articulated around “decency” or “morality.” Did you experience these tensions and how do you navigate threats made to feminists on online spaces?
I am really good at ignoring people who try and tell me that I’m a bad role model, or that the people who read Adventures are going to get AIDS and die (the person who made that comment on the blog immediately got blocked). I don’t expend energy from those kinds of folks. They are not my target audience.
You invite both submissions based on creative non-fiction, fiction, and erotica, but I notice you created “heterosexual” and “lesbian” content. What led you to this choice?
We created these categories in 2009, it’s probably time for us to update them. At the time I wanted people to recognize that African women’s sexuality was not limited to heterosexuality, but as I have grown in my feminism I now recognize that having only these two sexual orientations is limiting. If anyone wants to sponsor a significant redesign and update of Adventures please holla.
You also illustrate some of your stories with mmh … how to say this … very sensual and beautiful visuals … did you feel this innovation contributed to increased online engagement with the blog?
Ha ha. I’m glad you think so because this is actually one of the content types that I’ll like to improve on the site. We created a beautiful set of illustrations depicting a range of sexualities and sexual experiences with HOLAAfrica and Francis Brown of AnimaxFYB Studios. I love that series and would love to do more. I’d also love for us to be able to commission a number of African women photographers to create original images for us. Pictures definitely help drive engagement, especially when you can share the post via social media with a suitable visual.
I was recently having a conversation with Tiffany Mugo of HOLAA, and she was explaining how your labor of love, a sex positive feminist blog, inspired her. Indeed, Adventures is now a veteran in the African digital landscape (happy birthday to the blog by the way!). Do you know of any other African or non-African work similar to yours?
I love Tiffany and I love HOLAA. She’s like my perfect little sister from another mother. I think there’s a lot of African work that creates space for African women to think, talk, and reconsider the age old ideas about sex and sexualities. Those works may not necessarily be similar to Adventures but they are complimentary in the sense that we’re all working towards the same vision, a world in which African women have ownership over their bodies and have pleasurable sex lives. Across the continent HOLAA and all their publications and associated platforms are definitely a fav. I was recently listening to an episode of The Spread by Kaz from Kenya featuring Magic Dyke which I really enjoyed, and I loved Nnenna Marcia’s (she’s also an Adventures contributor) West Africa Hot, an erotica collection. I also can’t forget about Queer Africa and The African Sexualities Reader. To me all these works are part of the same ecosystem, we just do the work differently.
If you were to cite three lessons that you learned from curating Adventures, what would those be?
One, collaboration is everything (this is also something I’ve also learnt from working at AWID). If Adventures didn’t have all these guest contributors, I doubt that we will be as popular as we are. Two, telling your own story is important. The vast majority of stories I’ve written for Adventures are based on my own life and experiences, even the fictional stories. Writing is how I process my thoughts, and for me is also an act of healing. Three, just do it. I did have a slight hesitation before starting Adventures. I wondered whether I should write under my own name or not. I decided that it was politically important to me to do this publicly, as myself, and the backlash I feared has never come. On the contrary, Adventures has actually helped me get to greater heights in my personal and professional life.
What are your plans for Adventures? Any future collaborative work?
We’re working on too many things. Malaka and I are currently working on an Adventures series with US-based filmmakers Nosa Garrick and Li Lu. Famia Nkansa and I have been working on an Adventures Live! series which we run via the Adventures Facebook page. Myself and an entire community of friends and activists put together the first Adventures Live! event, a one day festival on sex and sexualities, which took place on the 16th of December, 2019, in Ghana. We’re also hoping to start a podcast and finally get the book version of Adventures going.
How do you reconcile your work with Adventures with your other activities including your writing?
It’s a question I get asked often and understandably so 😊. To me everything I do is interconnected. I’m a feminist activist, so the work I do with Adventures is about heart work, which is also how I feel about the work I do with AWID. I’m also very disciplined. At the moment I wake up at 5am so I can write for an hour on my book which has been acquired by Dialogue Books, an imprint of Little Brown in the UK. And then I’ll walk my dog, or go to the gym, or go for a swimming lesson. Mondays to Thursdays I usually work from about 9am-7pm for AWID. I don’t work for AWID on Fridays so that’s also another day that revolves around writing. Sundays are for hanging out with my family. Everything gets planned in my calendar well in advance. My friends all know this about me.
Nanjala Nyabola’s recent book explains that social media sometimes perpetuates existing power structures and dominant narratives when it amplifies the voices of a happy few, mostly not-ordinary citizens. You use social media a lot in your professional activities, especially your work with AWID. How do you make sure to engage with ordinary feminists and join their struggles offline?
I guess I question the idea of who an ordinary feminist is. To me, a feminist is an ordinary person who recognizes that we live in an unfair world, and works with others to create a more just world. My feminist struggle and engagement is both online and offline. The virtual world and the physical world are both real to me. As much as I can (although not as often as I’d like to), I commune with my feminist sisters in person. I used to convene Fab Fem, a space for feminist women in Ghana, but as I’ve become more and more busy that’s something I haven’t been able to continue doing. I try to make myself as available to my various communities as much as possible, so I’ve been a resource person/facilitator for collectives like the Drama Queens and the Young Feminist Collective in Ghana. I’ve hosted LBQ gatherings in my home, and when I can I support various causes financially.
With AWID, we’re a decentralized organized network, so we have staff in 16 countries all over the world. That’s an advantage in terms of keeping connected to local struggles. When we have staff meetings, which we rotate and host in different countries, we always make sure to connect with local activists and communities. Plus, every three to four years we host the AWID Forum, which brings together about 2000 feminist and social justice activists to learn from each others’ struggles and successes.
What acts of radical self-care do you practice to keep going as the busy Director of Communications and Tactics of an international feminist organization?
I don’t think my self-care is very radical, but it’s simple and works for me. I do some form of exercise every day and I only do fun things that I enjoy like pop step classes, walking, and playing squash. In the middle of my working day, I’ll usually take a break to go and play with my puppy Kiki. If I need professional help to think through a personal issue, I’ll book a session with Frances Williams, a coach I’ve worked with when I’ve needed the extra support for several years. This year AWID also invested in coaching for its director team, so we can strengthen our collective leadership. That has also been super helpful. Lastly, I have a super supportive family and I’m especially close to my Mum. She’s super wise and pragmatic and if I’m ever upset about anything she’s able to shift my perspective by saying something like, “so what are you going to do about it.”