THE ARGUMENTATIVE INDIAN: A LESSON IN SELF-WORTH

The Argumentative Indian

The Argumentative Indian

My parents have always told us as children that we are special, good enough and deserve the best in life. They have always told us never to forget this – no matter what happens, no matter what people say, no matter what our circumstances look like, we should always remember that we are all precious, loved and deserved all the best that life could offer.  They showed us our worth by giving us the best money could buy.  I may have had one pair of shoes growing up, but they were always good quality shoes. As these things go, one day life presented us, as a family with a challenge to test this theory, did we actually believe? This time it was us kids who had to remind our parents that they too were: precious, loved, worthy and deserved the best. Here’s the story;

WE’RE GOING ON HOLIDAY!

Our parents announced one day, out of a clear blue sky! We had just moved to the Kingdom of KwaZulu Natal  and were slowly settling into this dry little town called Newcastle. Our move happened in the middle of the year, and we were all still adjusting to a new life, new schools, and new jobs in the middle of no-where. Newcastle was for me like the wilderness… a place which had no reference to my past, present or future. As always home was my refuge – there I had friends, family and endless entertainment all in one. So the holiday announcement brought much excitement following a rather difficult crossing from the province of Gauteng – A place of gold.

We proceeded to bombard our parents with questions as usual, where were we going to stay? How come we’re going on holiday now? How long will we stay? Will we see the beach? My father assured us that everything was taken care of; we would be staying at a hotel. A hotel? We all gasped in amazement at our good fortune. How come? My father told us that through his new job he had met this man, generous and kind  me he said. This man offered to give us a holiday out of the goodness of his heart! Our entire  family of Seven. Wow… now this was truly  was amazing. We had never been to a holiday by the beach  before – let alone a stay at a hotel, so needless to say we were all very excited by the news.  Soon the appointed day came and we packed our bags and settled ourselves in the back of my father’s Toyota Hilux van.  Our trip down was full with much talk about what Durban would look like, the hotel, the sights and smells…. We basically couldn’t wait to get there.

Our first stop was at our benefactor’s house…a mansion, double storey, luxurious home.   We were told that our benefactor, an Indian  man was very wealthy and ran a successful family business with his brothers in the construction industry. They also owned the hotel we’d be staying in, and judging by their home, we imagined the hotel to be just as amazing! My father told us that he lived in this mansion with all his family and relatives…something which we found very curious. We all imagined living separately in our own individual mansions when we grew up, besides our family history had taught us that living with ones’ extended family or relatives did not always have the best outcomes. We waited in the car outside this mans’ mansion for hours and hours  after our arrival,  for some mysterious reason he would not come out of the house –  and we were growing more and more restless, hungry and thirsty with every passing minute. Eventually the man emerged from his large mansion and led us to his hotel nearby where we’d be staying.

YOU MUST BE JOKING!

We arrived to this non-descript place on the outskirts of no-man’s land. The hotel was a far cry from what we had imagined in our heads. From the outside it was dirty, and was in an area of town which did not inspire the holiday spirit. It was run down, dirty and pretty dodgy for a lack of a better word. We took one look outside and I proclaimed to the troops at the back of the van: “I’m not sleeping here” they looked back at me and said “ja maybe it’s nice inside” We all looked out in dismay… it looked like one of those badly run motels/hotels  in Hillbrow where shady things happen, with prostitutes, gang-stars and everything else illicit. “Maybe this is not the place” I said trying to find a silver lining “ Maybe we just stopped here for something, and we’re still going to the hotel”, no sooner had I said that, my father arrived and opened the van door, saying “guys come out  – we’ve arrived”. We couldn’t believe that my parents were agreeing to stay here in this place, which was far from the best they told us we deserved. “You all have your own rooms” he said. I felt like punching him in the face or crying which is what I do when I’m really angry! We were all tired and hungry and were looking forward to resting in a nice hotel. “Come out” My dad said emphatically. All four of us climbed out slowly from the back of the van, intentionally leaving our bags behind to go and have a look at this wonderful hotel. From the entrance, it was dark and dingy, there was no receptionist to speak of, everything  in the room has seen better days… it was cheap, broken and dirty. The hotel owner had disappeared to find keys to our rooms.  We went into  my parents’ room   which was  already open, from the floor to the linen, the place was filthy… I couldn’t even stand being inside let alone staying the night. My mother had found a place on the bed that looked vaguely clean. “Mom, where will Immy sleep here?” I asked her looking at my younger brother who was just a few months old. I thought at the very least she could consider the baby. “Everything here is dirty” we all said in our different ways. My parents replied, its okay, the guy said he’ll bring news sheets etc. “We are not sleeping here” we told our parents, “and if you want to sleep here, we are going to sleep in the van” We told them without wavering. We went outside and laughed at the situation – us children. My parents were still inside the hotel, which stuck of sex, alcohol, mould, decay,  it was stuffy in all the unpleasant ways. We couldn’t breathe..  For the first time we all didn’t care what our parents thought, or what they would say to the nice Indian man. But we were not going to sleep at his hotel.

We stood outside and waited while our parents and their benefactor spoke and negotiated. When they came out – their faces were pleading with us. This nice man had offered us a holiday for free, let’s try and make the best of it. We said no. By night-fall they were still trying find a solution to the problem. Eventually they booked us into a self-catering hotel room overlooking the beach in Durban… which was a hundred times cleaner… nicer and much brighter!  we all laughed in  relieved victory when we arrived. We proceeded to enjoy the weekend by the sea, bought swimming costumes, ate ice-cream, fought with each other… and went back home with so much to talk about after our adventure.

THE MORAL OF THE STORY?

I am reminded of this story because I am facing a similar situation in my life. I understand why my parents were reluctant to look a gift horse in the mouth – things can be rather complex when one grows up. But we were there to remind them, that though the man meant well and gave us a much needed gift when we needed a holiday, something we could not afford at the time, the gift was too costly to take. They were expecting us to be pleased and grateful to  sleep in a place they would never sleep in themselves or expect bring their loved ones to,  a dump, for those they looked down on. for those they believed deserved less.  desperate prostitutes and drunks… with stained dirty linen, no windows, no service…. And because it was free we were supposed to smile and say thank you.

But our parents had taught us better…. And this place was not it.

Just by our refusal to even step further into the hotel, proved to our parents that we believed them when they told us that we were: precious, good enough and deserved the best that life could offer.

Sometimes one needs to show people what you are worth. Just because someone else thinks you are worth – less does not mean you should accept it.  Sometimes people accept less because they don’t believe they deserve anymore. In the past three years I have gone through times when I thought I was worth whatever anyone thought I was worth, and found that people will give you what they think you deserve and that is always much less than they would accept for themselves. I have often heard people call others “Divas” “ Arrogant” “ you think you’re “better” simply because they dared demanded to be treated with respect, fairness and would accept nothing less than the best they truly believed they deserved.  No one will give you  the best, I’ve come to learn, you have to treat yourself like the best and demand the best when people expect you to take less – all within reason of course. But people will always find a reason to hate you when you know your true worth,  they will find anything to put you down, to convince you that you are less than you think, they will say bad things about you when you demand to be treated like the best.  They hate you  because often they themselves have cheated, they’ve settled for less in some area of their lives, so they expect you  to settle for less  too because they did. They decided to accept-less for themselves for whatever reason. So in the end I understand why my parents kept telling us this over and over and over again: It was because they knew that in the world in which we were born people didn’t think we were precious, good enough, worthy and deserved the best that life could offer. We needed to know this for ourselves so that we’d accept nothing less than the very best.

Growing has been hard, and for while I forgot what my parents told me, and believed than I was less… and this is where the battle is lost.

Love yourself. Spoil yourself. Not at the expense of others. But because you deserve all the love as much as the next person.

Love IS.

I’m glad that I now know my true worth.

Priceless.

LICENSED TO KILL: DON’T SENSOR HIS DREAMS.

 

sniper
I was recently assigned to cover a story this week that went against almost every fiber of my being. As most stories do, it started of with good intentions.
A SAD STORY
This 12 year old little boy has cancer, most probably terminal. Through The Wish for a dream foundation he was asked to name three of his dreams which the foundation  would help him realize in this life time, as a positive affirmation to help him continue on the fight against disease. He only named one thing:  ” I want to meet a sniper” he said.
Seven months later… his dream came true.  Reach for a dream through the help of the South African Police Service (SAPS) was able to answer his dream. Instead of just arranging for a simple meeting between  a real-life sniper and the boy, they figured to go all out for him  and offer him a much richer experience.
They invited the young boy on a special mission: “operation – damsel in distress”. Where he would be part of the the SAPS’s special task force – a team of professional snipers – simulated training exercises which involved… jumping off a plane… parachuting down into the bush… going to simulated “battle” in the bush with real bombs going off real guns being shot. We the media “hand-picked” as we were asked to stay in the army Caspars – because it was a “dangerous’ outside.  Even my colleague and camera-man got a fright while shooting the simulated battle scene and ran away with is camera.
There were parts of the simulated exercise which we never got to observe as the media, to prevent national security breaches.  Inside the “hostage’ house one could hear, gun fire .. loud noise and screams.  While inside the boy was given a real rifle to fire a real sniper gun”
He came out poised, confident with a  smile on his face. His moment had arrived and he was ready for it.  I asked him how do you feel ? He said “this is the day I will never forget” soon after he jumped off a chopper and was greeted by his parents and younger sister who watched on as the boy lived out his wildest dreams. The Special  Task Force stood in Salute to the little boy, who was congratulated by the Head of the Special task force for completing his “mission” successfully.
I watched on and I could feel the war  brewing inside me. I was dreaming in my head that I would get a chance to speak to him, and say hopefully you’ll grow up to be a sniper of a different kind – like a camera man – when he said ” When I grow up I want to be one of them” . I asked him why he wanted to be a sniper  and his answer was more calculated that I had imagined ” It’s silent- you can never be seen, and you can shoot from far”  What did you like about the experience another journalist asked ” there was guns, bombs  everything you can ever dream of” he said nodding with such confidence I was sure he will definitely grow up to be one of them. What can you tell others about your experience she continued ” All I want to say is, don’t forget your dreams and I really liked it, very much”.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE
I was so conflicted I was on the verge of telling my editor that I really can’t do the story as for me that would amount to advocating for violence. A sniper is not just a nice sounding smooth English word. A sniper is a professional killer. A person skilled and trained to shoot at others from a concealed space.  ” To be a sniper you require, discipline, it is  highly skilled profession” said a senior journalist when I asked her about my ethical dilemma, “Would you say the same of a doctor who  does botox?” she asked  ” A doctor who insertsbotox into adult men and women who one assumes are mentally ready and stable to deal with the consequences, and you’re not killing people” I responded, already feeling that I was attempted to fight a battle I had already lost. “Yes but we need snipers to protect governments, to protect the state, we can’t have a state without snipers, its not the shooting that’s the problem, it’s the ideology”  she said “You are censoring his dreams, it’s not your dream, it’s his dream, you can’t choose his dream for him”. “Just treat it as a light story” said my editor insisting that we cover the story.  I had asked the boy where he got the idea of being a sniper from – from television he said.
TWO STEPS BACK
I was told to “take a step back” remove yourself from the story. I had a number of problems with it. I wondered if we as the media should not hold ourselves accountable for what we present on television. If a 34 year old man said his dying wish was to be a killer we might think twice about it, but not with organized violence – licensed violence – and a little 12 year old’s dream. The army and the police have a license too, then it’s fine, then you can dream about it and we’ll all go out of our way to make sure that your dreams of killing people are fulfilled.
I really don’t want to sensor anyone. It’s not my place that is true.
But what does this story say about us, the media, the police, the reach for a dream foundation, , society, his parents?  That a 12 year old’s “dying” wish is to “kill”?
 I thought that I  probably don’t/shouldn’t do the story – because I don’t support violence, i’m against exposing children to violence, to guns, to bombs, to war. “Maybe you’re judgement is being clouded by the fact that you’ve been to war” .  ” This is a positive story” we were told by police and army officials, so be mindful. We probably didn’t need to broadcast his experience…because the would have meant free advertising ” join the country’s top killers” or “Protect Your Country – Join the Army”  unless we need more Snipers. The Major General said they’re not too busy… they train everyday just to stay current and be among the best snipers in the world. “objectivity is the aim of journalism “. “Our job is to Observe and Report” not to have views or to “think”.  I started to wonder if I’m not perhaps in the wrong profession.  “Don’t judge – just  let the story tell itself” . “think of yourself as a little 12 year old with a dream”
Yes I would very much like to be rescued by trained professionals where I to find myself in a hostage situation – operation damsel in distress.
So I removed myself from the story and told it as it was, a story about a boy whose dream came true. But this experience left me with more questions than answers.
What do you think?

GET USED TO IT: “IN GOD WE TRUST”

In God We Trust

In God We Trust

My first experience of organized religion took place in my first year of school.  Up until then I had always understood religion from a distance, something other people do and not as a lived experience. I prayed our father at school when I remembered but that was as far as it went. I was five and curious about this church next to my school, Thloreng Primary School in Orlando West Soweto. I told my grandmother one Saturday that I was going to church the next day. My demand aka request came out of no-where for her, since going to church was not a part of our lives as a family. She asked me why I wanted to go to church when no one went to church in our family. I told her that I wanted to see what church was like since I had never been. She asked me who will take me there. I told her that I would go on my own.  I wanted to see what happened inside a church.   She said fine, you’ll find me right here when you get back. I still remember that day as if it was yesterday. I went to the Roman Catholic Church next to my school, and saw there were many children outside who I didn’t recognize from school. They were all strangers. I went in anyway and said I was there for Sunday school.  Later we went inside for mass… and  I now remember my tiny little fingers perched on to the shiny wooden pews. They sang songs I didn’t recognize and then it was time for the offering. I didn’t have a single coin in my hand a fact which raised concern from adults for the first time, who asked me where my parents were and why I had come to church alone and without money. I will never forget the song they sang during the offering, it was quite catchy: “droppings, droppings, droppings, droppings, here the barn is full, everyone for Jesus, he shall save them all, when the barn is full, he shall save them all” sung beautifully in tune with the piano which I had never heard before.

The service was of course too long for a child my age and I was thoroughly bored and eager to go home and tell my grandmother about my experiences when I got home. I had mixed emotions about the whole experience, but was evidently more excited about having seen and heard before. Then, church was  nothing more than just an adventure for me.  It was a hot Sunday, and I arrived home to the delicious smell of rice boiling on my grandmothers’ two plate electric stove. Behind the door a white plastic jug with iced blocks of flavoured water in plastic … was just what I needed to quench my thirst.  My grand-mother took one look at me and said “ no ice before you eat, I don’t know who told you those are for you… So what did you find at church?” I proceeded to tell her about the song, I sang it for her, and told her the mean remarks by the older folk who rebuked her in her absence for letting me go to church on my own and without money.  I never went back to that church again, and much preferred my grandmothers’ way of spending Sunday drinking beer and smoking cigarettes with her boyfriend and siblings amid clouds of laughter and talk about the latest news in the family. I returned to my favourite past time of hanging on my favourite one and only apple tree and observing leaves, ants, rotting raw apples and making up stories with my older sister.  Through that experience I was given a first-hand lesson in the intricate, sometimes subtle but always inseparable link between religion and money. The state of any economy.

INSHA-ALLAH

Two years ago, I had a similarly vivid and unforgettable experience of organized religion in Dakar Senegal. It was a hot Friday, midday, and I was on my way back to my flat after having breakfast with friends. As I walked down the sandy streets of Ouest Foeis I marveled at its emptiness. Where had all the people gone? Soon I found my answer, when I realized that I was the only person walking amidst a sea of bodies kneeling in prayer. It was one o’clock. And every knee was bowed towards the sun everywhere I looked. On the sides of the street, on pavements, shops etc. in worship of Allah the most high. It was the most surreal experience of my life. I had read that story in the bible of the three men who refused to bow to a God and were sent to be burnt at the stake or to be eaten by lions. I realized then that I was the only one standing and could easily be burnt at the stake for refusing to acknowledge Allah as the only true and living God when an entire nation bowed in worship –what I experienced was a mixture of adrenalin, fear and excitement.  I didn’t quite know what to do, or how to walk anymore but continued anyway because it was too hot to do otherwise.   I was often asked the question “are you Muslim or Christian?” to which I always answered – neither. Many responded that it was impossible to live without faith or religion.

I had a number of tense discussions with my best friend in Senegal about Christianity and Islam  and sexuality. It didn’t make sense to me why I would convert to Islam if I didn’t agree with Christianity, religions which in my mind are different variations of the same concept. One gives a more solid structure to  how you live your life on a daily basis, it is written… you must pray five times  a day, marriage is pre-determined as is sex, what you eat, what you do with your day, what you wear, who you hang out with,  is all there in the holy book. You don’t have to think about it – just do. While the other has the same rules which are flexible depending on which denomination you belong to. One has never changed the other changes and continues to be updated each year. Both are meant as a manual from which to live your life.  A way of life to organize society into a well-oiled, productive functioning machine; where there’s order and generally accepted rules and regulations to create a coherent society.   Both serve only ONE GOD.

WHY GO AGANST THE GRAIN.

When the colonisers arrived, they told our ancestors that their way of life was wrong. They had better technology and a better way to form a functioning society. First they introduced the Bible or the Koran depending on where in the world you live.  They said, this is how God wants you to live. By going to Church a new form of faith was introduced which vilified every aspect of life of the original peoples.  Through the education system which entrenched the principles of religion they were able to produce a compliant work force which would entrench and spread the gospel of the good news. There is only one God. And the God of the bible or Koran required people to make endless offerings and sacrifices. Through religion the concept of money was easily introduced as a form of trade or exchange for goods and services.

MONEY: THE GOD OF ALL THINGS.

They arrived and introduced a new belief system of a ONE man ONE savior.  Money saves. You need money to live, how you get it is a matter to be fought over in courts or through bullets.  You must pay for your existence. You needed to pay for the hut you lived in that you built yourself with your family using the soil on which you were born. You needed to pay because it’s in the bible,  It is written…GOD said – it is written you must pay ten percent of your monthly income.  First he wanted human sacrifices; your first born to be burnt at the stake, then your fattest cow, then ten percent of your money which you have to pay in order to live. You needed money and or paper and since you didn’t have any you were required to go work at the mines in order to pay that ten percent.  If you refused, you were evil and you will die in hell, and life became hell for many people making it simply illogical to live otherwise. Send us your first born or strongest, healthiest, cleverest child as an offering. God will be merciful to you and your generation. Disobedience, aka sin, aka lack of payment results in disease, poverty and ultimately death. Who in the world would choose otherwise?

THE RULE OF LAW: GOD IS MERCIFUL

But if you change your ways, aka mind, aka the way you think and abide by my word, you shall prosper. You must be like sheep. Unquestioning, just follow my rules you will be fine. All your sins  (non-payment) will be forgiven. I have given you a choice. But if you choose anything other than what I tell you to choose (credit) you will surely die; of hunger and poverty and disease. Doesn’t matter how good you are.

POLITICS. RELIGION. GOD AND MONEY.

Go hand in hand. Those who tried to fight against this new system, were killed mercilessly, or died of hunger, loneliness and disease. The new system requires one to have money in order to live and buy food. We are still living in the same system today. We’ve lost the means of production, we don’t own the land on which we live, and in order to live we must trade our lives for money. We need to work for the money that will enable us to buy food and have a roof under our heads. We have to be only yes men and yes women. Don’t THINK. It makes perfect sense. So why not eat grass if God will smile on you for your obedience and give you a job and money and a car and everything you need. Why not? “I will not lose my job because of principles, I have a bonds to pay” A friend said once upon a time.

SHAME

No one wants to suffer, and live in pain and anguish or poverty. And for as long as you are obedient, abide my rules, you’ll be fine.  Those who are not: domestic workers, miners, cheap labourers, unemployed or unemployable etc. Must have done something wrong – they didn’t abide by the rules of the only One True God… Hey, it’s not personal, it’s just business, leave your “emotions” at home. “I don’t care about your personal issues”. Those who suffer deserve it, they don’t deserve any mercy … they must have disobeyed,   ” we managed to work our way out of poverty! so can they!” if they can’t well…. I mean…therefore they deserve every inch of suffering and pain that comes their way. Why walk when we’re all kneeling down in prayer and worship? Why come to church if you don’t have an offering? Money is the way the way, the truth and life, without it you shall surely die.