“Take the first Step, everything begins with the first step.”
At Mum Life Stories we are passionate about helping women (especially mums) to discover their own true identity and to develop the confidence they need to pursue their dreams. Discovering your identity is all about embracing who you are, your personality, your character, your body, mind & spirit, your culture, your background and all the experiences (good & bad) that make up your unique ‘life story’.
Sometimes life can take us out of our comfort zone or put us into situations where it can be difficult to maintain a sense of belonging, which in turn can foster a detachment of our self-awareness and identity. Knowing who we are and where we come from, is very significant in developing that sense of identity and helping us to embrace ‘who we are’ so we can start journeying toward ‘who we want to be’.
Emily Joof is one woman who knows who she is and is passionate about teaching her children and other children about discovering who they are and where they come from. She has recently self-published her first book ‘Mangoes & Monkey bread’ in the hopes of bridging the gap between her family’s life in Sweden and their heritage in West Africa. She was kind enough to share the inspiration for her story and the process behind it with me, so I could share it with all my awesome readers.
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A couple of months ago you might remember me posting a Mum Life Success Story about a lady who opened a Cafe in Africa (Cassy’s Cafe: A Mum Life Success Story)? That lady (Cassy) grew up in Sweden and now lives in The Gambia but Emily grew up in The Gambia and now lives in Sweden. I just thought I should clarify that in case the details seem a little familiar but you can’t quite put your finger on why, haha.
Emily was born in Nigeria but grew up in The Gambia. As a young adult she moved around Europe for study, but eventually settled in Stockholm, Sweden when she got engaged to Charles and they decided that greener pastures and a family friendly city was the life they were looking for.
Emily is a Mother to two brilliant children, Ella (6yrs old ) and Louis (3yrs old). She is an Education Advisor who works in international development. She told me “I have always been passionate about development work, specifically working with children and youth and have been lucky enough to build a career doing something that means so much to me.”
Inclusion has always been at the heart of everything Emily does “but I only recently linked it to children’s literature. I blog about diversity in children books and try to provide some nuance to the larger conversation. It is important for me to remind us all that inclusion is a human right, one that we promised children everywhere through the United Nations Convention on ‘The Right of the Child’. So we don’t only do ‘inclusion’ from the goodness of our heart, or when we have time, or when we have room for diversity, we have an ‘obligation’ to every child that they feel reflected, that they feel loved, cared for, protected and heard.”
Emily says her next book in 2020 will be for children and their parents to celebrate these rights.
The Birth of Mangoes & Monkeybread
As parents we want what is best for our children. We want them to know and love themselves, to have a positive self image so they can face the world with confidence. Most of us are also willing to go to great lengths to make sure they have every opportunity to achieve this. Emily is certainly one of those parents. “Diversity in children’s literature became the answer to one of my most challenging moments in life. Like all children, my daughter then aged 4, struggled to find a space where she felt she belonged. She didn’t feel part of the norm, she felt unpretty, she didn’t want to be brown, she didn’t want to be different anymore.”
Being in a country outside of their cultural heritage did not make it easy for Ella to feel like she belonged. “This universal experience of otherness was amplified by a mainly homogenous Scandinavian environment, and the one thing that lifted her spirits and got her singing again, was books. I had spent hours ordering in books, talking to librarians, reading to her, reminding her of the beauty in her brown, and sparkle in her curls. The message got through, one page at a time.”
Reading these books became their ritual and their remedy. So together they read more and Emily blogged more. “One spring after a wonderful trip to The Gambia, filled with amazing moments with their grandparents, my kids asked for a bedtime story that had mangoes in it. Ella wanted to see the ‘spiky fruit’ she had eaten from grandma’s tree. She wanted to see the frozen green ditakh, that had been ordered just for her, so I started my search again and realised there wasn’t a single childrens book out there, that showed some of the fruits native to west africa that I myself had eaten pretty much every day when I was their age.”
This lack of availability of relevant children’s literature is what inspired Emily to launch her career as an author. “So I compiled our memories and discussions and ‘Mangoes and Monkey bread’ was born. I realised there must be generations of children from the West African diaspora who couldn’t find themselves in the narratives available.”
Emily was moved by the obvious need for not only her children and other West African children to learn about their own heritage, but for children of the world to discover the diversities of another culture. “I want to share our stories as far and wide as I can. In my house we read about galaxies, about sushi, we learn about nomads and Latin American festivals, we open up our children’s world and encourage to discover. We want African diasporan culture, colors, stories, to be part of that journey of discovery for all children.”
Something I always ask my Mum Life Success Story Mums is “How do you find balance, if you do?” Emily answered “Last year a friend asked me if I had a new year’s resolution for 2019. I said I didn’t, but I hoped to learn how to do one thing at a time. I can tell you now, I have failed miserably. I want to do everything, all at once, motherhood, parenting, writing, publishing, mentoring, traveling, inspiring, everything! Perhaps I simply find balance in the imbalance.
In reality balance to me is more about a feeling of fulfillment which I see in my daughter’s eyes when she tells people, ever so proudly, that she is a character in a book, or my son pointing at the illustration saying ‘mummy its me’..everything in my life is balanced perfectly knowing they feel that self worth.”
I asked Emily where she saw herself in 5 years. “In 5 years, I hope to be a happy mom, with independent self-assured kids who still come to me with their secrets and for cuddles from time to time. I hope to be a person who has inspired someone to believe in themselves and take a leap towards whatever that dream is that makes their heart beat, that little bit faster. I think the biggest obstacle for me is time. Time to do it all, fit it all in 24 hours a day, everyday.
Emily’s advice to anyone who has a dream they are not sure how to chase, is short and sweet but to the point and so simple it’s perfect. “Go for it, reach out to me if needed. Take the first step; everything begins with the first step.”
You can read Emily’s blog Here
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