Egyptian-Sudanese-American novelist and poet Kola Boof has been an agent for Sudan’s SPLA and was the National Chairwoman of the U.S. Branch of the Sudanese Sensitization Peace Project. She has written for television and her many books include, “Flesh and the Devil,” “Long Train to the Redeeming Sin,” “Nile River Woman” and “Virgins In the Beehive.” She blogs at Kola Boof. com
Modeling sucks if you’re a hyper-intelligent woman. But we’ll go deeper with that in a minute. First—I want to share with you some really funny shit.
I was twenty-four and relatively “dumb” when this happened. You must picture Tel Aviv, Israel circa 1994; seaside resort for the jet set, totally secular—Israel’s young and rich; the happy and the sinful. A forty-something gay male friend (and Sissy Spacek look-alike) who we’ll call “Swan” had rescued me from being an older man’s mistress in Fairfax, Virginia and taken me across the ocean to Israel with the bright idea that me being over six foot tall and slender with an angular face would instantly translate into Naomi Campbell’s millions as a supermodel. Swan knew a Jewish photographer in Israel and both were comfortable in that culture, so off to Israel I went. The photographer indeed trained me, bedded me! (haha), sent me on “go-sees” and got me steady work as a pose model. But my dearly beloved Swan turned out to be a lot more adventurous and dangerous than anyone could have predicted. He almost got the both of us put in prison for life!
Using the money of some rich old Jewish politician, Swan opened an “exotic eatery” called “WHO’S GAME” where we served ultra-expensive delicacy meats such as kangaroo, antelope, elk, boa constrictor, cobra, ostrich, wallaby and crocodile—Swan cooking and me playing the glamorous, charming hostess. I swear on a stack of Bibles…I never knew that we were actually serving chicken thighs, white-dyed chicken thighs and more chicken thighs with egg plant pieces, different sauces and food colorings dribbled over it to make it seem like exotic game meats.
The authorities arrived one day and arrested Swan. Not only was he high on marijuana and face beat (meaning made up a like woman; androgyny) when they busted in the place—but he tried to deny that the highly expensive plates warming over rock-fire grills were nothing more than cheap chicken cuts. He insisted it was real exotic game meat and I had no reason not to defend him, to insist right along with him.
“This is no crocodile and bison!” hollered the police. “The shit tastes like chicken…and it is chicken! Arrest them both!”
Suffice to say, I had to leave Israel. The photographer and other prominent Jewish people who’d gotten to know me spoke on my behalf, insisting that I was innocent, and T-Swan went to jail by himself. Year later, after sending him money in jail, I managed to secure a lawyer and get him out; mainly because I knew his heart and loved him regardless of the scam. But our friendship died the day he got me entangled in that mess and I swiftly departed Israel.
Being the daughter of noted Egyptian archaeologist and activist Harith Bin Farouk (and speaking Egypto Arabic fluently), I returned to my father’s country, Egypt. This too, was illegal, because they don’t allow people to travel freely from Israel to Egypt without special permissions and stacks of paperwork. I basically fucked a Judge in Jerusalem and was sent over with an Arab politician in six days flat for free.
Hired as a model for “Seychelle”, a Greek firm, I immediately became a “paid party girl” at Egypt’s top resort, “Sharm el Sheik” (I got to meet Colin Powell!). A paid party girl is not quite a prostitute. You must realize that in Arab Muslim cultures, the majority of women cannot go with their hair uncovered or any skin showing. So foreign women (models, actresses, singers, dancers) are paid money to come and be “wall candy” for political state balls and government affairs. Our job was to look “western,” glamorous, sexy and anything else from there was up to us. Some girls did prostitution raking in hundreds of thousands in months; some only accepted the check for appearing at the party, and many others, like me, sought what I call “parity”—a mistress position with powerful and wealthy men. Within months I was working as a “hostess” for Egypt’s President Mubarak at both Sharm el Sheik and on his private yachts in the Mediterranean. I never had sex with President Mubarak (frankly, he isn’t sexually attracted to Black women who look Black). But it was while working for him that the world of modeling, acting and being a “kept woman” opened up for me.
Quickly—in case you’re unaware of my bio, I’m Sudanese born but adopted and raised by Black Americans since the age of 8 or 10 (there’s no way to know my age for sure). My Egyptian father and Oromo Charcoal-colored mother were murdered in my presence for Pappuh speaking out against the building of Lake Nuba, slavery and genocide in Sudan. Couple that with me being “raised” by American Blacks in Washington, D.C., and you begin to understand what made me so intriguing and exotic to Arabs, Africans and Jews alike. I was chocolate colored with the long angular Nilotic face, the large forehead and the wispy frame. I could speak Arabic. But I was also very American in appearance and spoke English flawlessly without an accent. I wore weaves, was assertive and bold and I could mimic the slang of an American abeeGoddessa (hot chocolate)—Pam Grier, Vivica Fox, Donna Summer, Diana Ross, Condoleeza Rice, Whitney Houston—the kind of Black women Arab men fettish in those countries, mainly because there are none over there.
Who can forget the pandemonium that broke out in Vienna, Austria in the mid-1990’s when 300 native Austrian men showed up at a Video Rental Shop to purchase a VHS motion picture that featured Vivica Fox. It was crazy and violent fighting over such few copies; but they don’t have women who look like Vivica over there, so to them, she’s an alien dream fantasy.
As much as racism worked against me in Israel and the Arab North African world; it was this exotic status that also benefitted me.
Though I’m definitely not claiming that I’m an exceptionally beautiful woman or even beautiful—what I do know is that I am outrageously tall with a striking face, DD natural breasts, a nice booty and 50-inch legs. Add in my Sharon Stone attitude and being a great beauty was not important. I appealed wildly to Arab men’s race-specific lust (the belief that black women are insatiable panthers waiting to be ravaged) and their hate.
I was never the type of Black Woman who gave a shit about other races seeing us as “sexual athletes” or hyper-sexualizing us. Frankly, I think that’s where a lot of us go wrong—trying to prove shit; trying to prove that we’re decent and clean; trying to prove our humanity to people who can’t stand the birth of us no matter how docile and respectable we act. It’s also why I hate Men’s religion (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, all of their “woman is impure/needs to be shut away on her period” crap). Since I was a child, there was always a part of me, a huge part of me that believes I’m the best thing in the room; it’s also how I see other Black women—so I’ve never really been able to care what other races of people think about my sexuality. I feel that my sexuality is mine, for me to enjoy, and that’s what I did and do. I live my life.
I modeled and eventually moved to Libya and Morocco where I became “actress Naima Kitar” doing television commercials and over forty Arab B-movie comedies (always cast as the topless African girl prostitute, usually the only Black in the whole film). In one commercial, the punch line was having my wig snatched off by my little boy. Arabs love to see African women demeaned or portrayed as overweight. In the one and only film that I was ever the lead star, “Al Sitar” (The Curtain; made in Morocco), I got to sing wearing beautiful gowns. But I was still naked for most of the movie and had sex with three Arab male characters that I happily called “sayiid mu-allim” (master) before dying in an alley from a venereal disease. It ended with the male love interest announcing my death from “dark demons” and him marrying a nice Arab Muslim girl to cleanse him of my seduction.
I know I’m talking a lot. But what I really want this piece to do is two things. One, show African-Americans how Blacks are treated virtually the same everywhere in the world (the “brown brothers” Camel shit that Black Americans spew claiming anonymous, invisible solidarity with “others” sickens me to no end—the average Black American can’t even relate to Alek Wek, so how on earth are they thinking Arabs, Spaniards and White Latinos are their brothers and sisters beyond “surface affection”?). And two, to tell those of you who are women about one of the moments in my life that I started accepting the fact that I need feminism as a force and protector for myself.
I woke up one day and realized that male models are called “male models.” But that we females were simply called “models.” Women who prostitute are simply called “prostitutes” while men who prostitute are called “male prostitutes.” The wording indicated a lack of expectation for womanhood’s ability that morning. It indicated a long history of women being powerless and oppressed by men’s privilege—men’s right to own our sexuality (own it!) via marriage or dowry. And then demonize it provided a woman chose the ultimate freedom, prostitution (which frees the woman from loving and catering to one man and allows her to make a career out of many men). Granted, I believe most of the world’s prostitution is the result of women being desperate, uneducated, unloved and lost. I don’t think it’s something that most women want or see as a good career choice. But I do think it’s a woman’s right; and a lucrative career choice for smart women who know fully what they’re doing. The wording though—model; prostitute; stripper—and then society adding “male” as a prefix whenever males did it, gnawed at me.
I was born the observant analytical type; the chief components of a good writer (which I hadn’t realized back then); so the more I modeled, the more disturbed I began to feel about how I was allowing my body to be used. For us Black models working in North Africa or Spain, there weren’t any hair care products or makeup that flawlessly matched our tones. In fact, unlike the lighter-skinned girls, we had to do our own hair and makeup. Black American girlfriends in Anacostia Park, Lanham, Hampton University, Harlem and Brooklyn sent me Crème of Nature, Ultra Sheen and bottles of foundation I mixed until I got near the Chocolate Gold coloring of my face. Less care went into photographing us. Hours could be spent on lighting and photographing the White, Arab, Spanish and occasionally Asian model. But African girls were just thrown against a wall or posed across a table. They often put us in animal prints and gave us a spear. The clothing that the White and Tan models didn’t want to wear went to us; lesser time and detail went into us. And we were paid less money. Some under aged African beauties were photographed, raped and not paid at all.
I was naturally skinny black then, so I never had to starve myself. But this is how the White and Tan models suffered, too. At times one of them (almost always a blond) would come up missing and be found weeks later dead. They did starvation diets and myriad drugs to stay thin. Everything was about being ultra-skinny, tall and boy-like. Several African girls “skin bleached” and took the Michael Jackson Pill to try and attain a lighter complexion and they felt no shame about it. In fact, they considered me stupid for cherishing my color and wanting to look like Angela Bassett in my photos. One of the blond girls had her vagina infibulated and circumcised like us African girls to be “closer” to us (dumb bitch). She was suicidal about it, and to this day lives in agony, but she ended up making literally millions off the men, because of course, in Arabic Africa, that’s what the men prefer above all us—a properly cut and permanently tightened vagina. And then always, the men booking, choosing and photographing us made it clear that we were to use our beauty as a punishment against other women—our skeletal glamorexic images invoking a reminder that for not looking like us or trying to look like us, they deserved whatever was dished out by the men in their lives. Quite literally, the men talked openly about how they wouldn’t “smile at no ugly girl” and didn’t have to be polite women who they found unattractive. A few even boasted about how they’d made some ugly girl’s day by gang-raping her. They saw it as charity.
It was nice with most of the British and French photographers, though. What I despised was working with the Arabs or the ones from Barcelona, Sicily or Portugal. And if you were an African girl modeling on that rare occasion for a Black Western male or auditioning for something that a Black Male had a vote in, it was typically your worst nightmare, because they, our own seed, hated us the most.
Black men in the industry, unless they were homosexual, always made it clear for reasons I’ve never understood that Black women should be invisible; should be unloved; should be grateful to live in the shadow of everyone else. They were horrible to us but couldn’t kiss the asses of White and Tan girls enough. Unlike other races of men, African males judged us almost solely on how dark or light we were. Having African hair (ie. Nappy) absolutely revolted them. The lighter and more European you looked, the more Black men could see you as a human being or admit out loud that you were pretty. So along with the Arabs, they were the rock bottom worst.
But overall, the whole modeling endeavour sucked.
I was too much of a critical thinker not to laugh at how absurd and demeaning my job was. Each day, I felt dumber and dumber standing posed in grass in high heels and a leopard sheath pussy-cover (what I call mini-skirts) with Prince Charles painted over my bare tits and a wig made of long dog-smelling hair cascading down my back.
“Stop thinking so much, Naima—it’s showing in the camera. Stop thinking! We don’t need you to think! You’re supposed to give us a fantasy—not a real person! If the sun is too hot and mosquitoes are biting you—do what Naomi Campbell would do—make love to it! You’re supposed to be the ultimate goddess in these shots. You want every man to worship you don’t you? ”
I just really wanted the money back then. Nearly twenty years later, I realize that I’ve never once missed modeling, and on occasion, even denied that I ever used to do it.
I never felt like a woman when I was modeling.