The blogger Hawa Kebe on African food in Vienna, where the welcome culture tends to be desired, her empowerment blog “SETI” and why she sometimes thinks she should be less friendly to her fellow human beings …
Biber: Please introduce yourself to our readers.
I am originally from Senegal. I was born in Dakar and grew up in Ivory Coast. My mother comes partly from Niger, is a member of the Tuareg people and grew up in Burkina Faso. Because of this diversity, I am an open person and always try to be peaceful with people.
What is the meaning of the name of your empowerment blog “SETI”?
SETI means “women” in Amharic. This language comes from Ethiopia, a country that has never been colonized, has an extraordinarily rich and long history and is very inspiring.
What stories do you remember?
I have heard such great stories providing I asked the right question.
For example, Joana Adesina, of a woman from Nigeria, comes to my mind. She founded Joadre , a fashion company that also helps women who are victims of human trafficking . She gives the young women a job and trains them so that they can later be self-employed.
Or Irène Hochauer-Kpoda, who is the chairwoman of the Barka Barka association and responsible for event management at VIDC.
I can also mention a close friend of mine, Otalia Sacko. She supports women through her self-founded brand Sawashea , promoting a natural product called “Shea Butter”, which is quite common in West Africa. In Austria, many do not know its benefits for the health and well-being.
In the technology sector, I’m thinking of Cyndi Moyo, an engineer with a passion for artificial intelligence. She has many companies and is full of ideas. There is a lot of potential in Vienna. I want to show this face to the diaspora.
What prejudices do you have to contend with?
I don’t see myself as a victim because I was very lucky. But there are stupid people everywhere. When people see a black woman, they may be scared. Maybe they think she is going to steal something from them. I was in a shop once. A little girl was there, saw me and got scared. Maybe in response to my being black. But for the sake of my sanity, I don’t often think about what others are thinking.
Some people who have had bad experiences; I know such stories from France. Here in Vienna as well, where people have experienced police violence or even died.
But my story is different, though: I grew up in Africa and later came to Vienna. I can see a lot of people of African origin who were born here and are Austrians. But some tell them that they are not Austrians and wonder where they are from. Personally, I have a story behind me, I have my roots and a background that gives me my strength. Many people do not have that. They are less well equipped to deal with the ignorance and malice of others.
What can you do with your blog?
I can inspire people to reach their potential. There are people who are always curious, who are always interested in other cultures. But there are others who get scared when they see people who don’t look like them. You are afraid of the things you don’t know. But when they see that there is a human side, a personal story, they can connect. There was no space where African women can share their stories and experiences. SETI is all about women from the African diaspora in Vienna and from Africa, because I wanted to tell a new story of the continent. You can just intimidate people, tell them bad things and be strict. But that’s not the best choice. Inspiration has the power to do more, to do better. And I want to use that.
What makes a strong woman?
Women are very resilient. Taking a step back does not mean that you are weak. It is all about coming back. The advancement of women is very new to the worldly culture. Recently, many women have not even been able to study, do the job of their choice, or even be responsible for their own lives. They weren’t taken seriously – but they were resilient. There is a strength in this adaptability. But also in the ability to reinvent yourself under all circumstances. Don’t think I hate men. Not at all. I like this complementarity that we have. All of us have a “feminine” and “masculine” side.
What is it that inspires you the most?
People who dare to live their dreams. All of us are scared. But there are people who do not allow their fears to take away the best of them. SETI is also about talent; our voice can help others.
Do you also serve as a role model for young African women in Vienna?
I guess so. But I mean that with a lot of humility because all of us are inspiring. When I was in school, a brilliant student told me that I had beautiful handwriting and that she wanted to write like me. My writing was of no value to me, but she saw it and that inspired her. It’s that easy to inspire others.
What is African in Vienna?
There are many shops and brands like “Handmadestory” in the fourth district of Vienna, hairdressers like Afrohaar in the third district who do African hair styles. Also, a bookstore, the “Afri-Eurotext” in the second district, where you can find a remarkably diverse literature from Africa.
There are also many associations. Like “Barka Barka” by Irène Hochauer-Kpoda.
My favorite restaurant is “Lalibela” in the 18th district, an Ethiopian restaurant.
But I would like to see more African restaurants and food trucks. But it’s also our job to do that. I am very optimistic. Many say that Austria is much more open compared to the past 20 years. Rome wasn’t built in a day either (laughs).
What are you missing in Vienna, apart from the African restaurants?
There is diversity in Africa. I see my “Africanity” in a few things. We have a sense of community that does not exist in the same form in Western cultures.
In Senegal, for example, I am an independent person, but at the same time I belong to a community. I’m Hawa, but also Hawa in my community. But here applies “I am me. You are you.”. That is also a perspective.
The generosity and hospitality also differ. Especially in Senegal, for example, when we invite guests to dinner or celebrate something. Here, you simply cook the “right” portion, but when you cook so tightly with us, you are called stingy (laughs).
People in Senegal are also not as individualistic as here. I can just say hello to people at the bus stop. But when I do this here, people freeze and probably think, “What does she want from me?” Then I think to myself: “Man, chill! We are people. We are social animals! ”. Here you only interact with the people you know.
What does your ideal Vienna look like then?
To be honest, when I first came to Vienna, I was not sure if Vienna was the right city for me. But she has a certain charm. My ideal Vienna is a city where the Viennese people complain less. Just chill. People can talk to you. It is okay (laughs)! Sometimes I must remind myself to be less kind …
Hawa Kebe (35) is a consultant in the field of development and project management in an international organization. After her childhood in Abidjan, she unexpectedly ended up in Vienna at the Diplomatic Academy. The half Ivorian, half Senegalese woman has lived in the federal capital for seven years. Two years ago she founded the blog “SETI”, which brings female personalities with African roots to the curtain.
Special thanks to Tansu Akinci for this interview!
You can find the orginal version of interview in German on Eine Neue Geschichte von Afrika