DESIGNED TO BEAT THE BENDS

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This week a man I used to love dearly  sent me a message informing me that he is married now. I congratulated him and told him I was glad he found the one for him. He said I will find someone too one day. I told him I was not looking and he responded by saying, Sorry! I was slightly amused by his response since I was not looking when we first met so I told him not be sorry, because I wasn’t.  Our conversation continued to other topics and after it ended I couldn’t help thinking about life, love and relationships and how unpredictable and deceptive they can be.

Looking back it was simply amazing to see how relationships I thought would definitely work like the one I had with him, didn’t and those I thought wouldn’t survive a day have. In many ways this year has been a year of incredible love stories – many of which I have been fortunate enough to bear witness to and even be a link to in some small ways, while others have unraveled  spectacularly at the seams others  have come together in the most exquisitely beautiful ways.

This particular  conversation touched me because it was  a moment of saying goodbye to an idea, to a life I once led, to a hope I once held so dearly and so close to my heart. I realized as I unpacked his emotional trinkets that I had been carrying him with me all this while,  I wasn’t aware that I had left the door slightly open, a little bit ajar, just in case I was wrong about him. His message was calling me to wake up to  the reality that this particular dream, the one where we end up together in the end will never come true and that it was in all honesty never real to begin with, it was just simply a mirage.

So I began this week to wash and fold the laundry of our relationship, emptying my suitcase of all items I had kept safe, pieces of colourful clothing which never quite fit, from the white sandals, the orange jacket, the pictures, the memories, the music,  the promises to have and to hold, forever. The shoes were a size too small and the jacket was two sizes too big, but I wore it anyway, hoping that I would one day grow in the jacket or that my feet would somehow shrink and I would be Cinderella.  The illusion disappeared. After packing away what was never mine and handing the items over to charity, a beautiful moment of nostalgia overwhelmed me and a memory of a clever ad emerged as if from a dream. One of the most amazing and ingenious advertisement I had ever seen between the luxury cars BMW and Mercedes-Benz.   Chrisannes Kousas a South African marketing student  wrote about it in her blog  House of marketing.  And it goes like this:

“There is a coastal road in Cape Town, South Africa, called Chapman’s Peak. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful sightseeing attractions in the whole of Africa. The road winds through spectacular coastal-mountain scenery, with cliffs sinking into the  Atlantic ocean on one side, and steep mountains towering over the road on the other side. Despite its beauty, this road is a notoriously dangerous one to drive on, as it consists of 114 sharp, meandering, bends in the road. Several years ago, a gigantic coastal cleanup campaign was launched, and a helicopter pulled 22 car wrecks out of the water adjacent to Chapman’s Peak. A well-known story in the area resurfaced: it was the tale of an Irish businessman who lost control of his Mercedes-Benz when driving along this road in 1988, and plunged 100m down one of the cliffs. Miraculously, he not only survived the accident, but crawled out of the wreckage with hardly a scratch on his body. Mercedes heard about this story, and were so impressed with the safety features and stability of their car, that they decided to base their new advertisement on the story. For the advertisement, they drove a Mercedes off the road in the exact same location. In the TV advertisement, the Mercedes plunges off the edge of the cliff, but then the driver survives, to illustrate the phenomenal safety features of Mercedes-Benz. BMW noticed this ad, and ingeniously mimicked it. A week later, they showed a BMW driving along the exact same stretch of road in the rain, however, when it reached the point at which the Mercedes plunged off the cliff, the BMW negotiated it safely, and continued driving along the road. The catchphrase” Would it not make sense to drive a luxury car that beats the Benz? The line referring both to the bends on the road and the Mercedes Benz which failed to conquer the road.”

The BMW rebuttal was a moment of awesome inspiration.  I have loved it since school days. I identify with BMW and  the fact that I have survived this and other romantic interactions so far without falling off the cliff is testimony to the fact that some people are just simply designed to beat the bends.  But more significantly  and to quote actress Kerry Washington (because she puts it brilliantly) “I realized that I don’t have to be perfect.  All I have to do is show up and enjoy the messy, imperfect journey of my life”.

And this journey, the one I’m on right now,  I’m beginning to Like it, very much :).

Watch both ads below.

Mercedes Benz

BMW 

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FACT: WOMEN BLEED. PERIOD

I  once shared an office with a liberal progressive colleague who often spewed the most vile and hateful comments against women. At one point he recoiled at the mention of the word  vagina  as if  it was something much worse than the filth he excreted in the toilet.  I found myself unable to let his open disgust go unnoticed. I asked him what he had against a vagina. He answered that he found it utterly repulsive. I responded that while he is by no means forced to love, like or adore it, he must indeed never forget that it is through a vagina that he came into this world one way or another and while no one expected him to have intimate relations with it,  his hatred for it was frankly misplaced and unjustified.   At that point I felt it to be my moral duty to defend the vagina and women by refusing to let his vitriolic comments go unchecked. We later struck up somewhat of a reluctant friendship based on our mutual adoration of the city of New York until one night I found myself at his invitation in the trendiest  district of New York at the time (The Meatpacker  District) among the most stylish, pumped up muscled gay men in the city. I was squashed between the push and pull of all types of male alter egos as they gyrated towards each other  with lurid smiles. My friend by then was nowhere to be found and I struggled to push through waves of thick testosterone to find some space to breathe. It was  most probably one of the most humiliating experiences of my life and this not because men were having fun with each other in the most hedonistic way imaginable or that I, a woman was caught in the middle of it. It was humiliating because this is where I began to understand where my initial discomfort with most men and homosexual men in particular came from. It came unexpectedly: – I realized that despite my best efforts I didn’t trust men. Because not only did they say one thing to you and do another they treated women as they treated each other, as commodities:  pieces of ‘meat”, lollipops to be sucked hard and discarded once the sugar ran low or the high came down. For me relationships with men were transient interactions which only lasted until something or someone new and better came along. The only sense of loyalty men seemed to exhibit was to themselves and paradoxically to each other.  These memories and beliefs long-buried in my subconscious were brought to the surface of my mind as I perused journalist Jack Hollands’ book  “A brief history of Misogyny; The Worlds’ Oldest Prejudice “. A difficult read by all accounts but thorough in its detailed account of the history of misogyny and its most atrocious violent actions performed against women from Plato to Hitler.

Kinder, Kuche, Kirche…

While reading, Misogyny, I needed to take breaks often, to walk off the rage, to breath in, to acknowledge that we have come a long way as a society from the days when women would be killed at birth or with multiple sticks stuck into their vaginas, their legs splayed open for display or hung to dry while blood drained off their bleeding bodies after their throats had been stuffed with hot molten tar just because they were born women. Indeed many centuries had passed since cape women slaves’ breasts were torn off their bodies with red-hot iron pincers after which they were burnt at the stake or  sewn in a sack and dropped from a ship at sea as punishment.   I had to acknowledge and be grateful that I do in many respects live in a  far more tolerant world.  But that word, tolerant/te, left a very bad taste in my mouth. Why should we speak of women as beings to be “tolerated”? As if they didn’t belong?  A world in which many women still experience or indeed  (tolerate) violence at the hands of their  own husbands, partners, lovers and brothers who  profess to care so much.  As I waded through the books’ heavy content, which left me uneasy, uncomfortable and brought me face to face with one of my biggest fears – men.  I could not help but wonder why it is that men can on the one hand  adore and worship women so extravagantly while squeezing the very life out of them with the other?

Fabulous Contradictions

This experience with my colleague was prominent in my mind because it subtly highlighted what I had suspected for a long time but could not quite define. The latent misogyny present among the (often) platonic relationships between most men ( both heterosexual and Queer) and most women ( both heterosexual and Queer). But the misogyny (the hatred of women) in some homosexual males encapsulated the dichotomy of relationships between men and women in general.  I have observed since childhood while living with an out-gay-effeminate man, how it is possible for men to one day profess their undying love and admiration for women,  to talk endlessly of how they adored everything female, how they loved playing dress up with women and doing all the cute girly things  and then utter the harshest and fiercest criticism of women and of the very same things they professed to adore and love  about them just  moments later. Yet this paradoxical relationship or this hate is not often easily detectable. It is not overt or as in your face as one would expect.  It is imbued and laced ever so lightly on benign  sugary comments and faux-compliments such as  “girl if I were you, I’d rock that body” as if providence had  performed a huge injustice by giving women a form which they clearly didn’t deserve.  These men would go out of their way to out-cook, out-clean, out-dress, out-walk, out-speak women,  to prove to themselves and the world that they as men were more woman that any woman can be. As if it was a woman’s fault that  men were born that way. Though I will be the first to admit that it is indeed not all homosexual or queer men  who behave(d) this way,  from  my experience an overwhelming  majority of them did. As an individual I  felt myself often pulled into a competition I didn’t want to compete in. I had nothing to prove. I was already a woman regardless of what I wore, looked like, walked like, behaved like and this despite my personal preferences i.e. whether I like it or not. No amount of dressing up or down could make me anymore or any less of  the woman I already am. I am a woman whether I cook, give birth, wear a dress or a mans’ suit.  But these attitudes which are by no means universal, troubled me. Why couldn’t  men be, me or gay or whatever else they wished or chose to be without the need to “stick” it to women?

“Emancipating women from women emancipation”

I have also been at and  experienced the opposite end of the spectrum, being among women misogynist’  (myself included) who emulated (envied) men or displayed what Freud and de Beauvoir call – penile envy. These women craved and desired all things masculine, “manly” and  sometimes displayed far more damaging attitudes and behavior towards women than men did.  They had the inverse ability to make patriarchy  seem more desirable and innocent in comparison.  Needless to say their outward displays of male strength and bravado did not protect them against misogyny from all men, queer and otherwise, even though overall the latter were a little more sympathetic. It became clear to me that being born a woman had far worse implications in  society than being born male. So in my effort to rid myself of my own self-hate and to understand  the origins of misogynistic attitudes in general I asked myself this question:

What in actual fact is wrong with being a woman?

While still in New York, a conversation with a cab driver shed some light to my question as he drove me to  LaGaurdia airport a few weeks later. “I’m not gay you see?” he said as if his heteronormativity was stenciled on his forehead.  “But  sometimes, yani sometimes I like to have sex with men, I mean especially these young  boys” he said checking to see my reaction.” I mean don’t get me wrong” He continued as if breathing for the first time ” I’m married, I have a wife and children at home, I am not a homosexual by any stretch of the imagination. I love my family but sometimes  I like to have sex with boys” He said talking as if having sex with men on his night shifts was like treating himself to a cone of ice-cream in winter. He  paused and I silently listened to the  car’s engine hum and purr as his hairy arms confidently turned the steering wheel.  I looked out the car window at the blurring city landscape and sensed that he wanted me to ask him why even though I had nothing more to say. So I asked. “Why do you do it then,  when you are married and you love your wife and you’re not gay as you say? ”

” Because, you see yani, you know why?” he asked raising one eyebrow. “No” I responded unsure of what his answer would be. ” Because men are clean, they smell good, different from women and they are tight”

So that’s it. The truth could not have been more obvious even if it wanted to.  The one thing that men cannot do – Menstruate.  Could it be that it is the blood that is the source of all this hatred? Women bleed, every month we shed the uterine lining through our vagina whether we like it or not. Men have emulated women from head to toe – there is nothing a woman can do that a man can’t do better, except of course the ability to reproduce. Men have succeeded to transform themselves into superwomen as Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce Jenner) has so beautifully illustrated. Yet not one of them is yet to be endowed with a period every month.  This then is the enigma, the holy grail of human existence, whose sacrificial imagery permeates most religions of the world from the Virgin Mary to Mohammed. This blood,  is something both deeply desired, feared and loathed. To be a woman. To bleed, makes all the difference.

JUNE 16: ” Entitled”

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The issue of  “title” or “entitlement” takes a different tone during the month of June in South Africa with cries by media commentators, politicians, business leaders, social activist and others claiming that today’s (black) youth has an attitude of “entitlement” and they are not willing to work for a living.  I think it is useful to remember that there is  a difference between knowing what you are entitled to, claiming it and being lazy.  But  all too often these attitudes are either confused or used interchangeably and the word “entitlement” has become a synonym for laziness. The youth of 1976 would not have stood against the Apartheid regime on that fateful day if they did not believe that they were “entitled” to learn in a language of their choice. No one can say with a straight face that black youth took to the streets because they didn’t want to be educated or that they were lazy. I think it’s important that we are careful not to discourage citizens from claiming what is rightfully theirs when those claims threaten the status quo. In this week’s blog post constitutional court journalist Candice Nolan writes about the ongoing struggle for land title in South Africa with a test case being deliberated by the highest court in the land, the constitutional court.  In this story she asks:

Who is “entitled” to this land?  

An all too familiar narrative is playing out on South Africa’s rural landscape. People are being pitted against their traditional leaders in a battle over land ownership. Numbering some 350 thousand households, the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela people live in 32 sub villages in the Moses Kotane Municipal Area in the North West Province. The chief, Kgosi Nyalala Pilane successfully won a land claim on behalf of his people, approved by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. That was back in 2006 and some nine years later the people say they are yet to see the benefits of that land claim. The people unanimously chose a Community Property Association as the vehicle to manage that land, setting them on a collision course with their chief. This battle has reached South Africa’s highest court – in a case  testing the validity and  authority of Community Property Associations (CPA’s). The court is yet to make its decision but government officials and indeed the Bakgatla Chief had a tough time answering questions during the hearing. Bridgeman Sojane the Secretary General of the Community Property Association says  the land sits on rich platinum deposits on which the Chief concluded mining deals with Anglo-American Platinum. Sojane complains that while the land is said to be owned by the Bakgatla community, they are yet to see any of the proceeds. “They are in the direct control of the Chief and his traditional council,” says Sojane, “they are the people who now, at the end of the day, decide what to do with the finances generated from this”.

Tara Weinberg, a specialist researcher on Community Property Associations at the Centre for Law and Society says this is one of the very few cases that gets to the heart of the land reform dilemma in South Africa.   Weinberg says there seems to be a general shift within government policy away from democratically elected structures in which people have chosen to hold land (such as CPA’s) toward traditional council’s or traditional leaders. She reckons that this may be because it is far easier for investors to negotiate with a traditional council or a Chief, than to have mining deals considered by democratically elected structures which are beholden to the will of the people. The Bakgatla CPA was never made permanent due to admitted bungling by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. The argument now,  is that the provisional CPA expired after 12 months and that it therefore cannot hold land. Tara Weinberg says the people are now looking to the Constitutional Court to give the final word on the matter.  Kgosi Pilane asked the Constitutional Court to order that the matter be sent back to the vote by the community. This despite the fact that a previous vote was unanimously in favour of a community property association as the vehicle to manage the land. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform backs the legitimacy of the Bakgatla CPA. But they insist that Kgosi Pilane must be part of any decision on who should manage the land. There was a spirited debate in the Constitutional Court on how to resolve the present impasse. Justice Bess Nkabinde pointed out an age-old African adage “Kgosi ke Kgosi ka morafe” or the King is  king by the will of his people. Certainly, Kgosi Pilane would argue that this does not mean that his power is subject to popular vote. He maintains that he is the rightful administrator of the land on behalf of the people. The Constitutional Court has reserved Judgment – meaning its judges will deliberate the issue and announce their decision on a date yet to be determined. Candice Nolan is a senior constitutional  court reporter with the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). Her stories can be heard on SAfm 104-107. Follow her  @Candice_Klein on Twitter.

LOVE ACROSS THE BORDER: CAN YOU AFFORD TO FALL IN LOVE?

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If food is the way to a man’s heart, 33-year-old *Thembi Nkosi seemed to have the exact Global Positioning System (GPS) co-ordinates to *Soren Adamsen’s.  The couple met ten years ago at a mutual friends’ Johannesburg home for dinner which Nkosi an invited guest and professional chef, ended up cooking from start to finish. It was shortly after taking bites of  Nkosi’s lemon chicken dish that Adamsen, a Danish national was permanently hooked on her. “Two months or so later after our first meeting he invited me to Denmark and introduced me to his family and friends” says Nkosi a South African citizen. “I guess he is only human” she says, explaining why Adamsen found her so irresistible.  After ten years of travelling between South Africa and Denmark the couple finally decided to take the plunge and build a life together in 2013.  This meant that Thembi Nkosi  and her three-year old daughter  had to  move from South Africa and join Soren Adamsen in Denmark using the family re-unification visa for entry. First the couple had to prove that they had lived together for two years consecutively in order to qualify for a visa,  an issue which presented a huge challenge for the couple.“The family unification process is a laborious one” says Adamsen, who works as a journalist for a leading investigative television program in Copenhagen.  “We had to fill out at least 100 pages of documents justifying why we wanted to be re-united or why we wanted to live together.”  He says adding that “Our initial application was rejected” Adamsen and Nkosi like many other couples who’ve had to apply for family re-unification visa’s found the process punitive and sometimes unfair. While the family re-unification laws in most EU countries require applicants to apply from their country of residence, those who do, do so at their own risk as they are more likely to be rejected from the outset. “We paid a big price for being honest, and trying to do things the right way” says Adamsen, adding that from his perspective the laws seem to favour those who are dishonest or cheat the process. The process however was even more frustrating for Nkosi as the paper work and all forms were written in Danish and she was ostensibly  excluded from the entire visa application process. Yet in the end it was not the paper-work nor the bureaucracy that would finally open the doors to a life together for the couple.  Money was the key without which it would have been impossible for them to be re-united even if they met all the other required criteria. “Soren had to get a bank guarantee loan of 50 thousand Kroner, equivalent to 100,000 ZAR  as an insurance” Says Nkosi.  Fortunately for the couple, Adamsen who is financially solvent and had not been on state-welfare in the past two to five years  qualified for a  bank guarantee  and the family was able to be re-united  six months after the initial application process.“I think it’s just another way for government to make it difficult to families to be together” says Adamsen. “For other people it may be difficult (to acquire the funds)  but for us the money issue was irrelevant. We just wanted to be together and I did everything in my power to make sure that, that happens, but it is still upsetting to know that government can have the last word on a private issue such as who you decide to spend your life with.” New family re-unification laws in the United Kingdom came under the spotlight last year  after a couple in Cornwall was denied a family re-unification visa due to insufficient funds. In 2013 the UK issued new regulations which stipulate that UK residents wanting to sponsor a loved one from a non- European Economic Area ( EEA)  should earn a minimum of 18 thousand Pounds or 311, 973 Rands a year  or about 25 thousand rands a month. The amount increases with each child a couple has.  The  British Home office staunchly defended its policy  in court  justifying the financial requirement as being part of an effort to help immigrants to integrate. When asked by a judge if the home office was suggesting that an affluent person would integrate more easily than a poor person, the response was “yes”.  London, the capital city of the United Kingdom is currently the billionaire capital of the world with a recorded 104 Billionaires  living in the city. UK officials say the new visa regulations introduced in 2012 are working as intended and estimated that the new policy would reduce family visa applications by 17,800 a year.   Under the EU directive on the right to family reunification non-EU nationals can bring their spouse, under-age children and the children of their spouse to the EU State in which they are residing. After a maximum of five years of residence, family members may apply for autonomous status if the family links still exist. The Directive only however only applies to 25 member states excluding the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland which determine their own criteria for family reunification. The UK is currently canvassing for new EU reforms which will ensure even tougher or stricter  legislation on benefits for migrants. While South African immigration law does not use money as the main criteria ( there is no financial threshold only proof of affordability) for family re-unification visa’s or family relative visas. The visa application process can be extremely tedious (littered with bureaucratic misunderstandings)  for relatives applying through the South African Home Affairs offices. *Lamya Luall, a Sudanese-American writer, married to a South African says US visa policies make it comparatively easier for families to be together. “My husband is eligible for permanent residence or green card as soon as we are married, his residence papers once issued are first on a conditional basis, to ensure people are still married but after two years the conditions are lifted and a full green card is issued which is good for 15 years.” She said.   However South Africa does not have a residency or work permit option for spouses once married. ” There’s a relatives permit, which needs to be renewed every two years pending police Clearance, a TB test, doctors clearance and a host of other requirements.” She adds “You have to hire lawyers (who don’t come cheap) to help because most people at home affairs aren’t familiar with these rules.” She said concluding “I can only be eligible for permanent residence in South Africa after 5 years of proving a marriage and/or life partner relationship. I could only apply for citizenship after 10 years”.  Lamya says marriage to a South African  does not make the process any easier. She says she will be applying for a separate special skills visa  which does not have a two-year renewal requirement.   Even though the process of applying for a family re-unification visa in Denmark would have been made  much easier had  Thembi Nkosi and Soren Adamsen decided to tie the knot Nkosi says she didn’t want to get married for a visa, she wants to marry for love. “I’m a catholic girl after all, I still want the official proposal. I want fire works!” She concluded.   *original names changed to protect identity