She takes a sip of her coffee, unruffled, she begins to share her story. “My parents didn’t want me growing up resenting my skin. And I think that was the best decision that they could have made for me. I felt the weight of it, I felt so heavy because of it, but I’ve never resented it,” she passionately utters. And at the drop of a hat, she captures my interest, drawn by those words that seem to come out effortlessly. A woman of substance – the first few words I get to type in my notepad.
I’m sitting right across from her with my laptop on, as I suppose to take down significant keywords and to capture the nuances I can use for her fast talk and bts clip that we are going to produce. At some point, I stop. I realize that I am having a hard time looking for the right words to describe her. I may never be able to justify in words how extremely admiring she is and how inspiring her thoughts in life are.
As I continue to gather my thoughts around, think fast, and pick up essential details from the conversation, I notice that the exchange of commentaries suddenly slows, distracted by a quick silence after she is asked about the stigma against black people. It’s the kind of quiet you feel more than you hear. I have never been so good at describing excruciating situation, but I seem to recognize this one. It’s the type of silence that speaks loudly on how she wants to address the subject matter, but somehow gets worn out by having to speak about it in the most part of her life.
There are a lot of layers within her that are as beautiful as her skin, but they seem to be overshadowed by prejudice. I can’t be more certain that there is something beautifully painted around her, if only the majority are genuinely willing to drop all pre-conceived notions about black people.
This is not about her wearing the color that has been in the centre of offensive contents we encounter in the mainstream; I wish to put that right at the onset. This is about her – a very special woman who has a lot to offer, so much more than most of us.
So, we try to dig into every astounding layer she possesses. A closer look to what most people tends to overlook.
Iwani Mawocha is a performer and a writer who takes a stride and bravely conquered a shift from Zimbabwe to Singapore to pursue her academic studies. At a young age, she knew what she wanted, not as clear, but she has the inner drive to go and chase her goal somewhere. She shares a story about how Asia won her heart amongst any other countries that presented her with an immense opportunity, one to mention is her acceptance at Princeton University.
“I remember the distinct moment when I knew that I did not want to be in the US. It was in May. I was in my thigh-high socks and my combat boots, it was like a rainy drizzly gray day, I was freezing,” she vividly recalls. It is at this time when she gets me locked in, I slowly forget that I am supposed to take notes of the significant events in her life. I set my ears and continue listening.
“I just stood there and I kind of started crying about the idea that this could be my future for the next four years. It’s a beautiful campus, but I didn’t have that connection in the same way that I did here (Singapore),” she resumes.
Coming to Singapore didn’t transpire as a walk in the park. Despite all the roadblocks she had to go through, she managed to pull luck out of her pocket. It was two days before her flight, just about having a mix of excitement thinking about all the possibilities she can encounter, when she received a phone call from the Dean’s. Her visa got rejected. The news should have made her overwhelmingly upset, make her take a step backward, but it didn’t.
“I decided to go by faith anyway, and still packed my bags, still was going to get on my flight to Singapore. Worst comes, what I get is a two-week holiday. Then three hours before my flight, I got the call to say, ‘we’ve appealed the visa, and it’s been approved,’” she recalls.
“Looking back, was there any regret?” a quick follow up given. “There have been ups and downs, of course, but ultimately, I think I chose the right place. Here. And it was that feeling of being part of a community here, which I think not a lot of foreigners get to experience. I don’t take for granted having studied here because of the friends that I was able to make and have a genuine connection with and show me a different side of thing,” she happily answers. Her tenacity and persistence to pursue the things she wanted to do is admirable, to say the least.
Iwani grew up on stage. This is undoubtedly where she acquired her impeccable skills in acting and performing. She is a model, an entrepreneur, an artist, a writer, and a multilingual. In addition, she sings and plays musical instruments – things that add to the long list of who she is and what she is capable of doing.
“Is there anything you cannot do?” I want to keep this question in my head, but it slips off my tongue, triggered by my admiration. She just smiles.
Aside from the things we know about her, the ones that come from our internet search, we still want to know more about who she is as a person behind the curtains, “I’m someone with a lot of creativity, creative energy, sometimes more than I know what to do with. So, my weekends normally look like a little bit chaotic, but in a very good way, ranging from making a new outfit that I’ve been thinking of, to dyeing a wig that I’m trying to recreate or working on art pieces. I’m somebody who thrives from having an outlet,“ she enthusiastically shares.
“From the person that you were, who did you become?” we ask. “I become a person I don’t always recognize. And I haven’t figured out yet whether that’s good or bad. There are ways in which I’m less assured of myself. But that doesn’t discourage me. I think right now, what it’s doing is pushing me to be more sure of myself,” she explains.
To her, the key is to use ambiguity as a reason for positive improvement. I wonder if she has always been like that, someone who can easily turn tables to encourage herself more, using her own uncertainties.
All her exemplary skills are without a doubt leading to a spotlight. We ask about her take on being famous and she answers after letting out a deep breath, “I’m realizing now that I don’t like the spotlight in the same way that I thought I would. It’s not that I don’t want to be successful. The more popularity I’ve gotten, the more I realize how empty it is.”
This didn’t come as a surprise as the world we see now tends to sort of equate success with popularity, it can take its toll on someone, otherwise known as price of stardom. This is one of the layers within her that people don’t get to see unless you take a conscious effort to dive in. I can only praise her for her honesty.
The concept of going viral is not new to her after writing an article that acquired an enormous scrutiny. A piece that stirred up so many opinions and emotions from people in Singapore, discussing racism, prejudice, and her personal take on being a foreigner in the Asian land. Another release that has gone popular is her vlog discussing about black people and the fact that Africa is not a country, rather, a continent (Title of vlog: Africa is not a country). It revolves around all the stereotypes, misconceptions of people from Africa, and how they are being singularized by Ebola and genocides. To this date, the vlog has gone up to 68k views.
She expresses that she is no longer interested in virality, but rather more into validation from other people; the type of validation that tells more about the work she produces and the result she delivers. Her goal is to establish a name, distinct of her own, that will eventually create a positive impact to people. We can’t help but love how she uses her own platform and skills to educate and be the promoter of what this world seems to need more than ever; a good change.
A strong woman who knows what she wants to achieve in life, a fierce force of nature, independent and resilient – some of the several qualities she has that I am intending to write in my notepad.
As we delve into her story, we can’t help but ask about her greatest fear, too. “My greatest fear is getting to the end of my life, and regretting not having done things. Time passes so quickly. Now I see and there’s so much that I want to do. The fear of like, just looking back and saying, I really wish I had gone and lived in Japan for a month or that I had worked harder at writing limited amounts. There’s a lot of things,” she answers.
“Because I think of so much sacrifices to get me to where I am which I don’t take for granted. So many people from where I’m from would love to be living in a cosmopolitan Asian city and love to have the level of education that I have, and that’s been building towards where I am,“ she expounds.
In 5 years, Iwani describes seeing herself as the person who lives her best life. She understands the amount of work and the tangible actions she must do to get to that stage. Ultimately, she wishes to be at the level where she can sit and look back to the things she did without any regret. The greatest prize is having a peace of mind and being comfortable with what she has achieved as an actor, an artist, and as a person.
The clear message we are sending across is to stop defining a person with his color. Learn to appreciate beauty beyond all pre-conceived ideas and prejudice, to take a step back and genuinely see someone as a person who is capable of contributing something good to make this world perhaps, a much better place to live in.
I’m on the last sip of my coffee, staring at my almost bare notepad, and then I realize that I perceived things I never think I need to hear.