Who is Jane Musoke-Nteyafas
"For a long time beauty has been characterized by constricted stifling stereotypes. The time has come to change that and challenge that. I am challenging that through my art and writing."
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First published: July 26, 2007
You have read the articles she writes on www.ugpulse.com, or several other newspapers and magazines. You may have seen her artistic drawings at an exhibition or at her website www.nteyafas.com. May be you have read her plays, poems and other works. To call Jane Musoke-Nteyafas truly multi-talented is not an overstatement.
Today, Jane is a recognized poet, author, visual artist, playwright and soon, you will be listening to music from Jane. While you may think growing up in a multi-cultural environment might make one lose their identity and sense of self, Jane, who was born in Russia, lived in Uganda, France, Denmark, Cuba and currently resides in Canada has taken every advantage to grow into a better global citizen. Jane is an inspiration to many people, especially those looking for what to do to earn a living or wish to look at themselves more closely, identify and utilize their talents as well as know and love themselves (positively) as the best person there is.
Jane believes the best way to empower oneself is through education and self-love, which she has given herself in adequate amounts. Many people think that to be special and to achieve success in life; you need to act like a celebrity. Jane, however, says everyone is special and can achieve what they want if they set their goals and targets right, and put themselves in the right frame of mind. This applies to beauty too, a major area of her works.
Interviewing Jane makes you think you are talking to an interesting professor. She gives perspectives on world trends, personal development, and exudes a positive self-image. You find yourself hanging onto her every word as Gerald Businge found out in an interview with Jane last week.
Gerald: Who is Jane Musoke-Nteyafas?
Jane: Good question. I often wonder myself because I find out new things about myself every day. For example, in the last few years, I "discovered" that I am musically inclined. I am, among many things, a visual artist and writer; meaning I write articles, short stories, plays, novels, poetry, lyrics, essays and whatever else can be written. I have also been in a few dance groups including one called Nouvel Expose and choreographed the moves in other dance groups I created in Cuba. If I had to sell myself, I would say I am a multilingual, multi-talented, multi-faceted artist living in a multicultural country (Canada). I have lived in Russia, France, Denmark, Uganda, Cuba and Canada. I went to international schools except in Uganda where I went to Gayaza High School and Namasagali College where I wrote and directed numerous plays and won awards for that.
After living in all those countries, where exactly are your roots? Tell us about your heritage.
If you live in Canada, a highly multicultural country, you get that question a lot. I was born in Russia, so I see myself first as a black Russian like one of my great role models, Alexander Pushkin. My parents are Ugandan and my mother is deceased. She passed away during my early teens. I am a Canadian resident too. In essence, people always have trouble figuring out what my heritage is because I am an amalgamation of all the countries I have lived in. I am a global child.
How was it like growing up in different countries? How has this shaped your life?
It was a great blessing because among many things, it made me a global thinker. I fit into different societies very easily because I get immersed into their cultures easily and understand them. For example, people here in Canada do not believe that I was not born here and it was the same case in Cuba. At the same time, I am very proud of my Ugandan ancestry. Living in all those countries also enabled me to learn many languages including Russian, Danish, Spanish, French and of course Luganda and English. However, I understand some Portuguese, Italian and German too. At some point, I was learning Chinese. It is only a matter of time before I master them like my father has. He is a master of languages.
What do you like/dislike about life in Uganda?
I will focus on what I like. Where do I start? I like the sense of family, friendliness and hospitality Ugandans have. There is also the food, music, nightlife, nature and wildlife, the rolling hills, lakes and rivers, the old-world cityscapes and architecture, the markets, the Indian culture, the traditional fashion (busutis and omushananas), the ornithology, the affordability of living there among many things.
What do you think about the African Women's Week?
African women do not get that much attention when it comes to the media, so it is great to be part of a celebration of our achievements such as in African music. With people like Monica Arac de Nyeko winning the Caine Writers Prize, Doreen Baingana winning The Commonwealth Writers' Prize for The Best First Book Award in the African region, Dorcas Inzikuru winning gold medals in international meets, and so many more, we are achieving a lot, and we are finally getting our dues. However, many talented and hard working women are not winning any awards or accolades, and need to have their efforts celebrated.
There is an actual African woman's day, but at UGPulse we had just so many women that we could not limit ourselves to a day, and so we coined African Women's Week and as we speak, we may need to may extend it to two weeks because of the bevy of admirable ladies that are out there. Africans in general are not portrayed well in the media. Often times, we are associated with words like primitive, savage, victim, ignorant, etc. To have a week where achievers, specifically African women, are being highlighted is a beautiful thing.
Do you think women need special attention in terms of special days? Why?
Before I go further, let me say that I love men. I am not a male basher and I have many poems and songs that celebrate and embrace my brothers, so I hope that does not get twisted. Now getting to your question about women getting special attention in terms of special days, I could get very political but will leave it light. There is a day for fathers; where men with children are celebrated, there is a day for lovers (Valentine's Day), and so on. All human beings like being shown that they are appreciated so I do not see the harm in having special days for women. We seem to appreciate them more than men anyway. African women are the thread that keeps many African economies afloat financially, given that they are the majority employees in Africa's agricultural sector, which is the bread and butter source of many African countries. Do they not deserve a pat on the back too?
Would you describe yourself as a woman/gender rights activist?
Not necessarily the word activist. Nevertheless, I have strong opinions on women's affairs and I will speak out on them. When I was in high school, I always thought that I would be a lawyer defending women and join the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA.) The course of my life changed but I do express my views through my writing and my art. I think it is important that women are not left behind when it comes to education, because they are the ones who spend most of their time with the next generation (children). Women have the brainpower to make powerful contributions to society at large. We may be weaker physically but intellectually we are just as capable as men are. We too can be astronauts, neurologists, pilots, chemists, policy makers, computer engineers and so much more.
In addition, it is important that women have love for self, because as I mentioned earlier, they are the uncelebrated silent educators of the next generation. So, when for example, as a black woman, you send your son mixed subtle messages that black beauty (which includes our kinky hair, dark skin, full lips and wider noses) is something to despise, be ashamed of and hide, you should not be surprised when the chickens comes home to roost. Your son may grow up and hate black women. As women, we have the irreversible and colossal power to influence children. There is nothing as sad as a black child that wants to be another race because they have not been taught the virtues of their own race and instead believe the lie that blacks are inferior. We are simply not. Blacks built the pyramids!
Have you ever wished you were born male?
(Laughs) No, I have not. That could be because I had a progressive kind of father who treated all his children equally and gave all of us equal opportunities. My father always stressed education and pride in self and encouraged all of us to make something of ourselves, with special emphasis on myself as his oldest child. Women also have the special and miraculous ability of bringing another human being into the world. No matter what pains are involved, I would never trade that in.
In your opinion, what makes a good woman?
That is like asking a man what makes a good man. I do not mean to preach, but I guess the Bible states it well in Proverbs 31; 10-31. I will quote some of it: "A capable wife who can find? Her value is far more than that of corals. Strength and splendor are her clothing, and she laughs at a future day. Her mouth she has opened in wisdom and the law of loving-kindness is upon her tongue. She is watching over the goings-on of her household, and the bread of laziness she does not eat. Her sons have risen up and proceeded to pronounce her happy; her owner [rises up], and he praises her."
Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and so every woman will be beautiful to a man somewhere. Some will even have their beauty universally appreciated and recognized. In some lands, women with curvy bodies, big hips, thighs and behinds are considered attractive; while in others thin and willowy is right. In others, olive skin and wavy hair, or blue-eyes and blonde hair, or slanted eyes or jet black skin are considered beautiful. Therefore, every woman is beautiful to someone.
You have won the Miss Africanada beauty contest. What would you say to people who think that beauty pageants are a waste of time and resources? That showing off one's body, some parts bare is no hard work that no one should be proud of?
Having been in the beauty pageant world, I will say that they consist more than showing off your body parts. Music videos do that and people still watch them. It takes a lot of courage for those women to go in front of hundreds or thousands of people. I would dare many of the naysayers to manage that. The women in pageants are not judged solely based on beauty, but intelligence as well. In my case, I represented my country and I won. Pageants are a good way of boosting self-esteem for the contestants and judging from the number of people who go to support them, they are a form of entertainment. Beauty pageants, in essence are part of the entertainment world. They are lucrative and that is why you have people like Donald Trump endorsing them. Besides, in many parts of Africa, women walk around with exposed body parts and it is the norm. No one bats an eyelid.
Who is a beautiful woman according to you?
If you want me to give names of beautiful women in my opinion; I'll say Kerry Washington, Jill Scott, Gabrielle Union, Natasha Museveni, Liya Kibede, Alek Wek, Princess Bagaaya, Sylvia Awori, Beyonce Knowles, Halle Berry, Lauryn Hill, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Angelina Jolie, Lisa Ling and so many more.
Talking about beauty, are your dreadlocks real?
They are called sister locks and every inch is real. I have never permed my hair. It has always been natural.
You have argued that it is only through self-esteem that one can celebrate one's beauty. What do you mean?
When you have self-esteem issues, you will believe in the hype that there is only one type of beauty. The magazines and beauty industry are pushing an unachievable, unrealistic standard of beauty, which has many women and girls feeling invisible and unattractive. For example, big-hipped women, an attribute that most women have, are not promoted except in the plus size category. Black women do not see a lot of themselves out there either and I am referring to black women with no additions, extensions and western enhancements.
Therefore, it is important to promote self-love and self-appreciation by promoting a positive, realistic sense of self. Black people are beautiful and we need to unyoke ourselves from the vilification and denigration of our natural all-African looks. That fallacy came with slavery and colonization as a way of justifying both acts. The Most High did not make mistakes when he created us. We were made in his image too, and we need to celebrate and embrace it some more.
How does low self-esteem affect someone?
Lack of self-esteem affects people in many other ways as well. It gets in your way if you want to follow your dreams and life mission confidently. For example, we have millions of girls in African villages that are systematically programmed and taught that they will never amount to much. Now, because they lack role models and do not know any better, they believe it. That is a terrible waste of resources for a continent that repeatedly says it has more women than men! Therefore, I applaud what Oprah Winfrey did in South Africa with the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for girls that she created. If only more of that could happen! Only when you live in Africa or visit it, can you understand the dire plight of the African girl in the villages.
What do you think is the best way to build self-esteem?
The best way of building self-esteem is to start young and give children hugs and affection, praise their achievements, listen to them, encourage a sense of pride in themselves, as well as instilling self-acceptance, self-reliance and a positive self-image. We live in a world where products are sold by preying on peoples insecurities and highlighting their perceived 'inadequacies'. The plastic surgery world and the beauty industry thrive on promoting an idea of beauty, which has many women and girls feeling inadequate, unattractive and unsexy. They, in essence, promote this singular, unrealistic image of the ideal beautiful woman, and negate most women's positive outlook. Therefore, you find all kind of eating disorders and self-esteem issues because these women feel that they do not measure up to the unrealistic projection of what is beautiful. They do not look like the women in the magazines who are photo shopped to 'perfection' anyway. However, with a heightened sense of self-esteem, one can see it for the fallacy that it is. We live in a 99% lies and 1% truth world.
How is self-esteem important to the empowerment of a person/woman?
It is important because the opposite, low self-esteem, feeds on negative messages and thoughts and does not do anyone any favours. When someone believes in themselves, they are empowered to take responsibility for making their own choices and being a more independent human. They are also better communicators, problem solvers and go-getters. They will achieve more out of life and not develop a helpless, dependency syndrome.
Why do you dwell only on women?
While I paint men too, I have a passion for women. With the death of my mother, I lacked a tangible female role model and this inculcated a love for what I did not have. I create images that I would like little black girls and women to look at and identify with; images that reflect who they truly are. They are images that I did not have when I was growing up. Because my mother left me with a strong foundation, I did not necessarily need them. However, I understand that they are desperately needed now. I would love to see them in schools all over the world, and banks, museums, community centres and so much more.
Tell us about your values in life.
Family, friendships, spirituality, love, meaningful work and helping others are important to me. I make an effort to treat others the same way I would want to be treated.
Many people know you as a writer and as an artist. Which of the two professions makes more money for you? Where does making money fall among your life's goals?
I am in this, for the love of the craft. Sometimes the art makes money and sometimes the writing does. I love what I do and would do it for free. In fact, I have done a lot of the writing for free in the past. In the arts, there is a lot of earning your dues involved. You often have to do work for free as you climb the ladder. However, like other artists, the money is the icing on the cake and it is always a wonderful bonus when I am rewarded monetarily for my work. I look forward to the days when my creativity becomes a full-time gig.
Why would you describe yourself as an achiever?
It is in my genes to be one. I come from a line of diplomats, doctors, chiefs and businesspersons.
What should someone do if they wanted to be Musoke-Nteyafas?
(Laughs) Nothing. God does not create duplicates. But on a serious note, I encourage those who want to be me to discover their own artistic way, because we all have our unique identities and we are all brought to earth to explore that and share it with the world. We are all sophisticated and unique enough as human beings to contribute our own artistic experiences without wanting to be someone else.
Would you say you are living your childhood dream?
I am still young and in the prime of my life. There are so many experiences I have never gone through that I would love to go through. So many things have to happen before I can sit back and say I am living my dream. Come back 10 years from now and ask me that question.
What are the things that you love most about yourself? What about in life?
Wow! Things I love about myself. I appreciate the fact that God gave me all the talents I have and gave them to me in the particular package that is me. He blessed me with so much! I feel that I have to take what he has given me to a higher level and share it with others. It was given to me for a reason. I used to downplay the fact that I am multi-talented because it intimidated some people. However, I have come to terms with who I am and have learnt to embrace, love and appreciate it. I am proud and happy to be me! I am also proud to be a black woman.
Would you like to share with us your current goals in life?
To be an established and published book writer, to work in the television/radio/entertainment industry, explore my musical side, continue to sell my art, do charity work, be happily in love, and be financially independent.
Do you have any role models?
My parents, Oprah Winfrey, Condolezza Rice, Nelson Mandela, Queen Nefertiti of Egypt, the Queen of Sheba and Alexander Pushkin, the Russian poet.
How empowering is having a role model to young girls?
Very important, and this is not just applicable to young girls only, but to boys as well. They all need to have people that they can look at and see the possibilities of what they can be. However, they definitely have to have someone they can relate to. Any given Ugandan child, for example, would excel in western schools because the standards of the education system are a lot higher in Uganda. Nevertheless, we still have fathers who will send their last-born children to school over the first-born children simply because the former is a boy.
Many young girls today are faced with challenges in choosing and practicing a career. Apart from few job being available, many are expected to and do get married only to find that mixing family and career is really hard if you are not financially well off. What advice do you give to such females?
I am no expert. I will only go by my own experiences and those that I know of. Balancing a career with domestic duties is VERY challenging, especially if you live in the Diaspora, where hiring a maid is a ridiculously expensive option. Nevertheless, millions of women do it worldwide. I guess you just have to get your priorities in order and it helps if you have a man who helps domestically. The reality is that in 2007, it has become increasingly necessary to have double incomes and so the woman often HAS to work too. That makes the boundaries of the traditional woman's "role" and the man's "role" very sketchy. In the past, the man brought home the bread and butter and the woman took care of the home and children. However, it is no longer the case, so both have to cooperate and lay down viable and realistic rules that work fairly for the family.
What do you think is the best way to empower women, especially women of Africa?
Two things; education and promotion of self-love.
Tell us about your works: Art, books and articles.
I write for Uganda's Daily Monitor, UGPulse, Bahiyah Magazine, Chickenbones, Uganda's African Woman Magazine and Afrotoronto. I will also be writing for the new UK-based Karama Umuntu Magazine. My work has been published in anthologies and I illustrated a children's book called I am not Brown, I am human. I am currently looking for publishers for two poetry books and a novel. Therefore, all people who have their eyes peeled, well, give me a shout. I am going to the UK and Sweden this weekend. I will stay there for the next two months or so and I hope to get inspiration for my newest art collection.
If you were the President of Uganda, what changes would you introduce in the country?
What changes would I Introduce? Uganda has more than enough resources. I would work on ending the war in the north and focus on bringing in tourists with the diligence you find in a country like Cuba. I would copy Cuba's format because Uganda has so much to offer: We have the source of the Nile, the biggest lake in Africa is located in Uganda, are endowed with Lake Albert, one of the few salty lakes in the world. We have the Mountains of the Moon, Kabaka's tombs, not to mention the beauty of our women, countryside and our animals. But we cannot use the same selling points as the other African countries. Being at the source of the Nile is our trademark. No other country has that and we need to market that aggressively. The national parks and gorillas are not unique to us.
I would also create special affordable travel packages for people from the Caribbean, African Canadians, African Americans and other blacks in the west to visit Uganda and market it as their home. They have the spending power and many of them dream of visiting Africa but see it as an expensive, unattainable goal. Uganda needs to target them. Finally, I would invite Ugandans from the Diaspora to return home. I would create viable opportunities for them and foster an environment where the rest can create their own opportunities. Most Ugandans outside the country would come back in a heartbeat if given the chance.
What is your typical day like?
My days are hectic. I live very intensely. I am up late to work either on my laptop or on my easel. I am not a morning person at all and I sometimes work up to three in the morning, working on my creativity. I then go to my 9-5, get home 10 hours later and do a few domestic duties and then work on some articles (which entails calling up people, e-mailing and putting it all together) or draw art. Many times, I work on several pieces at the same time. I chat with my friends in between all that and check the New Vision and Daily Monitor to follow what is going on in Uganda. I read a book before sleeping, religiously write in a journal daily and squeeze in a workout before or after work.
Do you think a woman's life is incomplete if she does not have a man in her life?
Not at all. You do not need another human being to complete your life. They should really compliment your life as a partner, not complete it.
What do you look for in a man?
Spirituality, creativity, intellectual stimulation, artistic and moral support, generosity, patience, understanding, love, loyalty are all important factors.
How does Musoke-Nteyafas spend her time when she is not writing, drawing or painting?
I hang out with my family and friends. I also enjoy going to cinemas, art galleries, theatres, operas, concerts, poetry readings, lounges and wine bars, I read like crazy - at least four books a week, listen to music, travel, chat online, surf the net, shop, etc. I spend lots of time in China Town looking for deals. I also like playing brain stimulating games like scrabble, crosswords puzzles etc.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Retired from the corporate world and getting financial rewards for my talents.
Any final words?
Yes. Have the courage to follow your dreams.
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First published: July 26, 2007
Gerald Businge is a media practitioner and features Editor at Ultimate Media Consult in Uganda. He is a graduate of Mass Communication and several journalism and leadership certificates. He has been a practicing journalist since March 2001 and has worked at The New Vision as features writer, and has written extensively for different newspapers, magazines, newsletters in Uganda and internationally. He currently does fulltime media communication consultancy work as well as writing and editing at Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd where he is a founding member and CEO. You can get his attention so long as you are interested in and you are working for a better world.