In 2017, I met Linda Kugblenu in New York City. Linda came with a flurry of positive energy, her favorite hat, a mind full of wisdom and a heart overflowing with adventure. Bonding over the fact that we both went to liberal arts colleges in the state of Maine (Bates and Colby), we dissected shared experiences at our respective institutions. My relationship with Linda has since blossomed into a beautiful cherished sisterhood and I am honored to be in sync with such a wonderful woman.
When I first got the idea of "Daughters of the Motherland", a series on Flowers & Moondust where we dive deep into meaningful conversations with Black women on their personal wholistic wellness journeys, self-care routines and the importance of African ancestral wisdom in the wellness space, I knew I wanted to feature Linda. Linda is a daughter, sister, scholar, global citizen, a well of knowledge and an inspiration to many, including myself. So during her recent visit to Accra, Ghana, I reached out to Linda to see if she wanted to meet. She did me one better by inviting me to dinner at my favorite restaurant!
The conversation that ensued embodies the essence of Flowers & Moondust: a long evening spent around delicious wholesome foods, Black women connecting over the wisdom and healing of our Motherland (Africa), and the kind of conversation that leaves you feeling seen, optimistic, and inspired.
Below is a Q&A I did with Linda. Hope you enjoy this new series!
Who are you, what do you do and why?
My name is Linda Emefa Kugblenu. I hail from Accra, Ghana by way of Harlem, New York. Currently, I am a Fulbright fellow living and working in Kampala, Uganda. My research focuses on how women entrepreneurs in Kampala achieve financial independence through Savings and Credit Cooperatives, popularly known as SACCOs. I do what I do because I want to understand the nuances of African women entrepreneurs' access to financial resources (and ultimately financial freedom and upward social mobility) to better shape policies that empower them. Growing up in Ghana, my mom owned her own business but had to close shop due to a lack of institutional financial resources. How do we understand and shape policies that give African women the capital they need to grow economically? That's my work.
You love to travel! To name a few countries, you've lived in Ghana, United States, Morocco, South Africa, and India. You are currently living and conducting research in Kampala, Uganda. How has traveling shaped your identity and your purpose?
One of the best ways to experience the world is through travel! I credit my love for travel to my father, who in his younger years, saved the little money he had to explore various cities in Africa. As time went on, he embarked on adventures in the middle east, moved to Europe, and finally settle in the United States. I inherited his spirit of curiosity at a very young age and began to travel as far back as 15 years ago. The ability to travel is a privilege I recognize and do not take lightly. Traveling has shaped my identity and purpose. As a young black woman, my experiences on the road and outside my comfort zone have taught me resilience, courage, adaptability, and self-sufficiency. From interviewing South Sudanese Africans during the Arab Spring in Morocco to conducting focused group discussions on safe sex negotiations among Zulu women in Durban, South Africa, I have learned the importance of and the need to take ownership of our narratives and to share stories that truly reflect who we are. I have built personal relationships with people who have challenged my thoughts on global political issues and met fellow travelers whose definitions of failure and success have directly challenged my own. I have mastered the art of discernment and active listening and can sniff deception from miles away (to put it blatantly, I am master at calling out the bullshit!). But most importantly, I understand the human obligation of open-mindedness, cross-cultural exchange, empathy, and service. All of these cumulative experiences have inspired me to become a global citizen and build a career rooted in service and the intersectionality of various identities.
We are big fans of Meejo Africa, your African travel company. What is the story behind that?
I started MeejoAfrica before traveling to Africa became popular. The idea first came back in 2011 when I found myself in London schooling at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). In London, I had the opportunity to reconnect with a childhood friend. We both studied as middle-schoolers in Ghana, and given our love for travel, my experience in curating trips for friends and family, and his business acumen, we figured we’d create a partnership to help others, especially Africans in the Diaspora, travel to the African continent. Unfortunately, our business partnership did not work out and disappointment led me to shelve the idea. Life got in the way and I became busy with my career development and various projects. In 2016, I met Tiffany, a business associate (now a beloved friend!), who inspired me to trust my instincts and reclaim MeejoAfrica. Thus MeejoAfrica was rebirthed the following year (2017) and has been a powerhouse since! This goes to show how important it is to have a positive and encouraging community of sister-friends!
How do you understand and connect to African ancestral wisdom?
A recent trip to Keta, a town in the Volta region of Ghana, got me thinking about the importance of learning, connecting and preserving ancestral wisdom (which is sadly being lost in our generation). On a walk through the town, one particular house drew my attention to the power of naming the ancestors or simply acknowledging their existence. The grandfather of the house died years ago, and his image was memorialized in the form of a statue in a mausoleum carefully placed in front of his house as a symbol of protection and ownership. His memorial plaque detailed his legacy as a revered father, son and a voodoo priest who is forever remembered for his bravery. I was inspired to dig deep into my own ancestral past as I value ancestral wisdom. I am slowly working on connecting more to my roots to truly understand who I am and the benevolent ancestral gods that love and protect me.
Who is Mawuena and what does she mean to you?
Mawuena is the name of my scar. Yes! I've absolutely personified my scar! Mawuena is a testament to the battle I fought and won. She starts from my chest, just below my chin, and runs to the center of my heart. Mawuena in the Ewe language means God’s gift. She is a lifelong reminder that I survived a 10-hour emergency open-heart surgery and to always prioritize my self-care. Mawuena is now a part of my story and I am proud she chose me to adorn. On January 10th, 2019, I looked in the mirror and Mawuena smiled at me. I stared at her in disbelief. My face slowly turned pepper red as I tried to process how she settled on my chest so quietly. Unbothered. Mawuena smiled at me once more; a smile so genuine it melted my worries. I smiled back and we’ve been best friends since! Whenever I feel down, she becomes my personal cheerleader, whispering words of encouragement.“You got this Linda! Listen to your intuition. Trust it. If that’s really what you want, go for it!”. She is truly a gift from God and a constant reminder that life is too short not to strive for the things you want.
What is your favorite morning wellness ritual, how do you start each day?
I am a boxer! My favorite morning ritual is to train at my local boxing gym. I live within walking distance so every morning I walk over at 7 am to train (and sweat!) before I begin my day. I actually have an upcoming match so I'm focused on that. I also like to balance my boxing workouts with afrobeat dance classes. Boxing, dancing, and exercise in general, are great for my health and gives me energy.
What are your favorite Flowers & Moondust products?
I love every single product on the Flowers & Moondust website but my favorites are the superfoods! As a health fanatic, I value every single product offered in the superfood sampler pack, because they each provide different health benefits and flavors. Of late, I have been testing out different food recipes with the Moringa Powder, which I put in my shakes and smoothies for breakfast and post-workout boosters. My boxing coach highly recommends Moringa because it is a good source of iron, calcium, vitamins, and minerals. Moringa also supports detoxification and tissue protection, which is excellent for very active people like myself. As a budding conscious consumer, the fact that the superfoods are ethically sourced from Ghana and support local Ghanaian farmers makes it even better. I highly recommend it!
How can readers get in touch with you?
I'm not big on social media these days but I check my emails during business hours from Monday-Friday! You can reach me by sending me an email through my website www.lindakugblenu.com!