AFTER ALL THINGS CONSIDER: LOVE

For the past seven years the word love has featured prominently in my vocabulary. I loved saying love, love this, love that, love,love,love, love. I said it as if the word was going out of fashion. As if, if I forgot to say  the word love, love would somehow pass me by. As if I was not there, waiting.

I speak here of  love in a spiritual sense and not in the romantic love between two people even though that is also part of love.

So recently as I have been meditating on love and what it means to me. I began tracing the origins of my obsession for lack of a better word  with love and thinking back now I  remember where it all began. If my memory serves me right I think I was about five years old when I began to actively search for this illusive thing.

Of course at that age I didn’t have the words to articulate what it was that I was searching for. I had never seen it. I had never heard it, nor heard anyone talking about it. I started my search by going to church on my own. I first went the Roman Catholic Church next to my primary school  in Phefeni, Orlando West, then to the ZCC because some of my relatives went there, then to several born again Christian Churches around my neighbourhood, because some of my relatives went there too. At one time I went on one of my searches  while carrying my younger sister on my back, headed to a church nearby our home at the time. We both didn’t like it.  Yet I continued the search. Hoping that I’d one day find what I was looking for. I prayed. Day and night, read the bible. In the process I became a born again christian. I continued to pray fervently for everyone my heart beat for; my parents, my siblings, for the people next door who spent their evening drinking and dancing to loud pop music. I prayed for the sick, for strangers. I prayed for my bullies at school. The teachers who hit me too hard. I prayed for a love for needlework. I prayed. I was one of those annoying children, who preached the gospel  at any and every opportunity  she got.  I read all the christian books my parents bought. I so wanted the anointing to be on me, like Benny Hinn. When I prayed I pleaded with God. Please anoint me. I want to be your servant. Perhaps more than anything in life, I wanted to serve God. To worship him, to be chosen, loved by him everyday all day. I became Jedidiah, God’s loved one.

My obsession with all things spiritual was not as result of any parental urging. It was out of my own will, my own desire. When I started high school I was introduced to Buddhism, I remember reading the story of the Buddha and his enlightenment. I remember thinking to myself that that’s it, that’s what I wanted: Enlightenment.  Even though reading about other religions was forbidden for me as a  born again christian, there was something about the story of the Buddhas’ enlightenment which resonated with me; mostly because  it was less brutal and violent compared to Jesus’ Crucifixion. The equivalent of  being enlightened  in christianity was being baptized in the holy spirit and speaking in tongues. Despite my committment to christianity and Jesus Christ I still felt that something was missing.

Then I learnt about Islam in Senegal. I learnt about the ancestors. Every path seemed laden with rituals. Things you must do, have to do, dress this way, avoid this, avoid that. Don’t do this don’t do that. Don’t go there. Sit like this. Walk like that. Dress like this. The more I looked the more I found myself  questioning my very existence. I did everything I wasn’t supposed to do.  Each time I reached a point of exhaustion, I would try to kill myself. Because I didn’t understand how I was expected to live without knowing who I was and what I was here to do, I was worn out, the rules where too many to follow. Most of the time I felt as if  I was walking on a  high tight rope, and I fell from it more often than I care to count. All this, while pursuing the material things that one must pursue in life, career, travel, money, friends, romantic love, partying anything which I thought could make me feel better even happy for a moment. After  trying to kill myself for the third time. I decided to stop searching.

Then one ordinary day I woke up and fell right in love. That’s the best way I can describe the experience. Perhaps to say I fell in love would be an exaggeration. I walked into love. I stood in love, I stood tall, alone and firmly in love.  I knew then, at that moment that while everything was the same, I had changed. I felt love. I experienced love. I was love and love was me.  I was one with the world. This was the most exhilarating experience of my life. In all honestly  I never could have anticipated how great it was to be in love. Everything was beautiful. As I got on with my day, I felt as it I was in a cloud, on cloud 9.  I could not explain it and there was no need to. It was strange for me especially because I had done nothing, zero, to earn it. I just woke up from my bed and felt different. As if I was a new being. Everything  was brighter and more beautiful, even though the circumstances of my life were exactly the same as yesterday.( this was not a drug or alcohol induced experience)

You see, before this moment in my life, I thought the way to love or to enlightenment, spiritual awakening call it what you will,  was through my own hard work. Fasting, praying five times a day, praying all day, watching my words, always turning the other cheek, doing good for other people, putting other people first. I thought like everything in life, one had to earn it, struggle for it, most importantly I thought I had to suffer for it. Yet here I was in complete love and understanding and I did nothing. I woke up  and love was there to meet me. It was  in and around me. I was so happy I stared to talk about love to any and everyone I met because that was the only word that made sense. That was the only word that resonated. It wasn’t God, or Jesus Christ, or Allah, or any deity,  it was just pure love. Of course the first thing everyone asked me was what kind of love? Spiritual love? Universal love, God? Jesus Christ? what or who are you in love with, it must have a name, it must be something we can pin-point.  What did you do, there must be a pattern to follow.

I had arrived at a place of unconditional love – I saw love reflected back at me in everything and everyone and it was amazing.  That day and the days after were magnificently blissful. My perspective had changed. This had nothing to do with anyone, anything or any event. It was a knowing  and a feeling of utter complete unconditional love in a way that I have never experienced or felt before in my life.

Since then I have been trying to get back to that place of knowing completely that despite all the things that are wrong with the world, despite every horrid thing that could happen all is well in love.  The moment I stopped working so damn hard to find love, to find peace, the moment I stopped expecting it from you, from her, from him. The moment I stopped waiting for the conditions to change, for my character to improve. The moment I stopped struggling to obtain inner peace, peace and love like no other found me.  It was in many ways like being in heaven while on earth. Everytime I strayed, the  best way to return to love was to simply surrender.

That day I learnt something very important. Love does not require worship. As radical as this might sound to those who are religious or spiritual. It is my experience that love does not require temples, churches, mosques, synagogues. It does not require one to perform death-defying acts, body contortions or anything of that nature. Love does not require hype, performance, rituals or supplications or dogma.  It does not require you to go to church on Sunday even. We, the people are the ones that need those things. Because we need to be in control.

But all of these things, the praying, the fasting,  the doing, the going to church on Sunday, the studying of holy books, the partying all of it,  led me  to a place where I know without a shadow of doubt that only through letting go of the need to control people and things, it is only then that you can truly experience what real loves feels like. It is only then that you can have the confidence to be still, to be at peace even as the world around you is in chaos. Only love is strong enough, big enough  to absorb  all the bad, all the ugly and turn  them into something so magnificent, its unbelievable. Love is not showbiz. It does not require magic, or a spell,  no ritual killings, no blood or money.  Love requires no thing. It doesn’t even require you to be perfect. You don’t be perfect. You can’t be even if you try.

It only requires you to let go,  of the need to control life, people, things.

It is my experience that only once you truly surrender, it is only then that  love  can come in and reveal itself to you. When you have truly surrendered. You will know.

Until then, keep doing what feels best for you.

With  love.

Jedi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NEWS: PRINCIPLES CAN’T PAY THE BILLS

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I’ve heard it being said a million times in the blue corridors of the embattled public (state) broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). Journalist after senior journalist and editor after senior editor giving us newcomers, the young ones, sage advice. Lay low, do your job, keep your head down and let the storm pass and it will, we’ve been through this many times. We have worked under Apartheid and under different chiefs; Mandela, Mbeki, Mbeki again, and now Jacob Zuma. We have been here since Barney Mthombothi, Matata Tsedu, Snuki Zikalala etc. They all come and go, like the revolving door.  Each one comes with their own policies and rules, but we’re still here. Unless you’re a trust fund kid, have wealthy parents or loads of money stashed away somewhere for you, a nest egg of a lifetime, unless you’re connected to powerful people in powerful positions who can intervene on your behalf  – you just better keep your mouth shut if you want to keep your job. If you make a noise, you are on your own. Stay.

There are other ways to fight the demon of censorship. Leak the story to the outside media. Call in anonymously on 702. But don’t make yourself a target. The media space in South Africa is pretty small, everyone knows everyone and sooner or later you’ll have to knock right back at the door you slammed a few hours ago. Unless you are a media demigod, insert a name of your choice here.

Are you a member of a union? Are you an ANC member? Do you have connections? So, don’t let other people’s battles become yours. Mind your own business. It doesn’t matter, you have here an opportunity to do wonderful work, to contribute to the archives of our history, to tell stories like no other organization can.  To be a voice for the voiceless.

Your story will be heard in 18 radio stations across the country, in all 11 official languages. And if you work for TV, your work will be screened in all four Television stations broadcasting in four, five or more official languages. 

SABC’s market share for audiences is still very large, even though the higher income earners in the LSM 7-10 bracket have moved on to other free-to air and or private media such as E-tv and Mnet, Multichoice and the internet. The majority of the nation still listens to SABC channels whether it’s Television or Radio. Don’t let them fool you. If you want to do real work that matters, if you want to speak to South Africa today.  This is the place.

While the actions of the SABC8 journalist who are now sadly fired are commendable they will join a long line of former SABC journalists who also stood up and took up a principled decision to walk out the door instead of doing what they were told. Some never returned, some left only to return again and again.

The SABC8 were vindicated with the SANEF Nat Nakasa Award for showing exceptional courage and integrity in their work. Donations are pouring in to assist them to weather the storms of unemployment while they fight for their jobs, in a show of unprecedented compassion for those who were brave enough to speak truth to power. Maybe the SABC8 will win their case in court and get their jobs back, maybe they won’t. Who knows, anything can happen.

But in the meantime, censorship still continues at the SABC. At least 3 thousand employees will wake-up and go to work tomorrow. Someone will fill in the vacant positions from inside, someone will pick up where the SABC8 have left off and act in their positions until the situation is normalized and the storm dies down and the current Chief Operating Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng is replaced by someone else. A woman this time.

Because in this game called life…

 iJob iJob.  Local elections are around the corner, there are other stories that need to be covered, soapies to broadcast, Somizi’s new radio show to put on air, advertisers need to be billed, programs need commissioning, slots must be filled. At the core of it all, it is about power and influence – and these potent but  invisible things are not easy to give up. 

 So then, life will continue as it does even after someone we once loved deeply, like freedom, dies. The grief subsides and the pain slowly fades away. And we find ourselves laughing again, because we must.

Nothing will change at the SABC until the day that principles can pay the bills.  Then only will the entire staff or at least the majority of it, down tools, stage an internal black-out or stay away from work in a form of protest. Just take a cursive glance at the recent events in Zimbabwe.

Until then, others will continue to live off the sweat of a few who dare to face the heat and are now faced with a future of eating principles for lunch.  This is true for most media houses across the world. Nothing new there.

Didn’t you know? That’s how democracy works. The majority rule.

Well that is,  until further notice…

 

POWER-POLITICS: DRINKING COFFEE UNDER A BRIDGE

Very little goes unnoticed when you have time in a place where nobody knows your name. Like this one time I went to the local municipality to get a letter confirming that I live where I live.   The line was longer than I expected. Even the citizens standing in line seemed quite surprised to see each other there. As if like me they expected to be the only people in the world who needed proof that they live here. Haawu, nawe? Their eyes seemed to echo.

Proof of address. The paper one needs to do most of anything (legal) in life. To open a bank account. To buy a cell phone. To open an account with any retail store. To book for a driver’s license.  To gain access to social grants. To vote. If nobody knows where you live then it’s a problem. If the electricity (utility) bill does not come in your name from your local municipality – you need a document proving that you live where you say you do.

I didn’t know quite what to expect when I was eventually called in to the councillor’s offices in room 119. “Sit” one of the councillors said to me and three others who’d just been ushered in.  While they were still busy writing letters for others which involved filling out addresses on coucil forms I listened to the conversation the other councillor was having with a fellow citizen. He was leafing through the man’s green barcoded identity document. He had asked him if he was registered to vote.  “Yes” the man dressed in blue said. “There is no sticker in your ID to prove that you are registered”said the councillor paging through the man’s identity document again. “Err… ’ the man stammered “This is a new ID book, I have voted and I am registered to vote” he replied leaning back into his chair.  The councillor didn’t believe him, so he picked up the phone to call someone, presumably the IEC. My eyes, now wide and round were fixed on the councillor. I was curious to hear what he was going to ask. I wanted to know what he was going to say. But by the time he started saying “please check for…” my letter had been completed. And I had to make room for the next person in line.

So naturally I went back, today. I arrived much earlier this time at 8am. I waited with my fellow citizens. There were many women carrying brand new babies and at least three of them came out perplexed.

“The man inside says if you haven’t registered to vote, don’t’ even bother going in” She said re-wrapping the blanket around her now sleeping infant on her back. “I don’t know what they expect us to do” Another man who had been half asleep on one of the chairs woke up, rubbed his eyes and said “vote”?

“Yes” the woman repeated to the air. “The councillor says, if you haven’t registered to vote and if you’re not going to vote in the next election, he’s not going to give you the letter”

“What are we voting for?” the sleepy man asked to no one in particular.

Silence fell between the bodies standing in  line out the corridor  as they shifted their weight from one leg to another, their eyes darting about lazily while fingers fidgeted with worn out personal documents, proving that they are who they say they are, they did what they say they can do. I hoped that someone would respond. Say something else more poetic. But for those standing in line this was not funny. No one there was willing to risk anything for anyone.

After a while a man shouted from the room “Next Four!”

It didn’t take long before it was my turn.

The young councillor stretched his arms and yawned. He was tired.

“Can I see your ID” he asked.

It was between the pages of the book I was reading on Sound Reporting.

“Are you registered?” He asked me.

No. I said.

“Why” he asked

“I haven’t had the time” I responded suddenly feeling unsure about my answer. What was I thinking?

“So you’re not going to vote in the upcoming elections?”

“Yes” I said.

The councillor looked at me with a confused expression.

“Then we have a problem” He said. “What do you mean? “ I enquired my voice flailing.

“We have a problem because in this office, if you’re not registered to vote, we can’t give you a letter. Go try room 116. Not here, we don’t serve people who don’t vote” He said motioning for the next person to come.

I walked out and over to room 116 and it was locked. I asked one of the council workers busy sorting a stack of papers outside the corridors when the office would be open. “I don’t know, maybe they are late” she said. “But you should go to those council offices, they are open” She said pointing at room 119. “I’ve just been there” I told her “but they told me that they cannot help me unless I’m registered to vote. Is this normal practice? Do they only serve people who’ve registered to vote” I asked. “No” She said. It must be because now we’re headed to the elections, maybe that’s why. But they are meant to serve everyone regardless of whether they intend to vote or not”

The experience was disorientating. As if I had been dislodged from something intangible.

As if I now exist off the grid.  While voting in South Africa is not compulsory it is considered an important civic duty and not a right. Just like paying taxes, except you won’t be imprisoned if you don’t vote like you would if you didn’t pay taxes, however your civic rights might be impinged. You might not be served.

This experience got me thinking about what life beyond the vote might look like. I suppose we’ve been fighting for the right to vote, the right to self-government for so long as Africans, oppressed black people and women that we’ve never had time to imagine a world beyond the vote. What could it look like? In a climate where voting can also result in a lack of service delivery regardless of who you vote for.  What Professor Thandika Mkandawire termed “Choiceless-Democracies’ or damned if you do and damned if you don’t  dichotomies  spreading in most African countries see: (Disempowering New democracies and Persistent poverty, 2006).  In some ways I think  voting has become much like handing over your rights (power of attorney) to a political system (party) which disempowers you while claiming to do the exact opposite. This may not be a result of malicious intent  per se on the part of any individual organization but a kind of institutional incapacity which a single individual cannot remedy.  Considering the realities we face in Africa, where we are in South Africa today as we prepare to cast our vote once again next month. I think it’s worth thinking about where we are headed beyond the vote.

Don’t you?

CALL ME A WOMAN: NOT A FEMINIST

I struggle with labels, with being labelled. I feel confined. Boxed in. Largely because I was bullied in primary and high school, and was the butt of all fashion, accent and coconut (black outside white on the inside) jokes in College. I struggle with labels because I’ve never felt quite at home in any of them. So here’s a thing. A few years ago I started dating a woman. An event which shocked many of my friends because I had never once gave so much as a hint that I was attracted to women. Curious.

I had just broken up with my boyfriend at the time and had in fact spent the entire day with him in silence at a park with a dam. He reading a book silently and I just sat staring at the still waters, my mind blank. A civilized, Scandinavian way of saying goodbye. I had misbehaved. I was not good enough, for him. I could never reverse time. This trip was my last ditch attempt at some kind of a reunion. Maybe he was just not that into me.

I was hurt and hurting. So when a friend suggested we go to a party later that evening I said why not. I only had an empty bed waiting for me. So I went out with him and was thoroughly bored while he was having the time of his life with his friends most of whom were strangers to me. I realized that I was merely his transport to a party and he was a distraction from my heart break and terrifying loneliness. Then a woman I had seen earlier amongst the crowd walked up to me and talked to me about her undying love for Sushi. She came closer and closer to me until I asked if she was hitting on me. She said what if I am. In that moment I had to think about it. It was not the first time this had happened to me. So I smiled mysteriously. I was still so bored, so I told my friend that I was about to head home, and he said one more hour. We were at the Blue-Naartjie.  So I decided to go to the bathroom. The girl, thinking I was going home, followed me into the bathroom, pinned me against the wall and kissed me.

I was shocked and intrigued. So I played along. We ended up going to her place for a night cap with others. She showed me into her bedroom because I was too tired to continue partying the night away. She put on the L Word. An American-Canadian lesbian series  which I had never seen before and then came in later to continue where she had left off. Everything was so completely new and strange. I was in a dream.

I kept wanting to tell her over and over again. I am not gay. I am not even lesbian. I might be questioning.  Actually I have no idea what I’m doing or what’s going on.  But the words couldn’t come out of my mouth. They just stayed there swimming in the ether of my mind almost making it to the tip of my tongue but I could never quite form the words. I told myself that it was temporary. It will never happen again. So the next morning she was upset, someone had stolen her camera with pictures of her life in South Africa, she was leaving the country. So I took that as my cue to leave. There was no point in exchanging numbers.

A month later I bumped into her. Or she bumped into me while I was having coffee with friends. “You’re still here” I said feeling shy, weird and slightly ashamed. She had forgotten my name. She asked for my number this time and texted me later. I went with the flow, I thought whatever this was it was safer than having another man break my heart.  We became very close and soon enough, she moved in with me and we lived together as a couple for two years.  We did everything together. She introduced me to a whole new world of the LGBTQI and Artist community in Johannesburg. Many of whom were suspicious of me. Who is she? Where is she from? How did you find her? Is she gay? Are you sure? How come we have never heard of her? (Apparently all lesbians knew each other)  What does she do? What are her politics? While my friends on the on the other hand looked at me with questioning eyes, who is she? Since when are you Gay? At first I just said I’m in love with her, that’s all. At which point some of them would ask, so how come you never hit on me? Am I not attractive enough for you?

I found that I had successfully managed to get stuck in the middle of two worlds. One in which all heterosexual men were despised and another in which all gay people were viewed with suspicion at best and despised, lusted after murderously by both men and women. There was something irrationally erotic about a woman who refuses a man. A woman who won’t be tamed or owned in any shape or form.  There was something slightly disgusting (nauseating) about straight people. There was always this tension in the air. The deeper I entered this world, I found a certain level of freedom I had not quite expected. I could be free of all my “female” roles and apparels; a bra, high heels, earrings, make up, hair, dresses etc. There was no longer a man in shining armour waiting to rescue me. I had to rescue myself.  There was no need to get married. I was finally in a relationship with someone whom I considered my equal. None of us was superior to the other. No one had to pay a dowry to no one. We could be just girlfriends to the world. Ours was a partnership and a friendship. There was nothing that was for her and not for me. There was nothing she expected me to do that she wouldn’t do. It was amazing to be free of these gendered roles and societal expectations, I was high on oxygen.  I felt so free, I started to call myself a lesbian, and began to dress like one, walk like one. Until I couldn’t recognize myself anymore. There were days I felt like wearing a dress, but felt trapped in this identity – in this persona which was becoming increasingly male.  Even though there were many other queer people I saw who wore dresses, skirts and such, I thought my particular brand of queerness or Lesbianism would only be authentic if I dressed a certain way.  But mostly I enjoyed looking at the world from a different perspective, in some ways through men’s’ eyes because I became like one at some point. I was ashamed of my vagina, of my breasts and curvaceous body, while I claimed to love the exact same things in other women. For me being androgynous felt like a comfortable way of being.

Growing up I always wondered why it was that when, in times of trouble, especially in action movies which my father loved, women would always be excluded from discussions about solving problems or even partaking in the general action. Always whimpering and screaming in the background, they were always the ones being saved, rescued, and protected or being fixed with beatings.  I always wondered why men or boys got to do all the fun adventurous stuff. How they could be so free and women so confined. Why I had to kneel down to give my father tea and men just sat on a chair. Why certain chores were for girls and others were for boys. Why I had to do needle work and boys could play soccer in the field at school.

I have often felt defiant of all of these requirements while also wanting to be someone’s princess, to wear beautiful dresses, hair and make-up. To be crowned Miss South Africa. To be held in the arms of a strong loving man.  I was suspicious and fearful of men because they had no regard for me but I still yearned, pined for their love and attention. For a while loving another woman freed me from this tension but only for a little while.

Until even that became unsustainable. Until I began to see what my eyes refused to look at. The cracks in my own heart reflected in her eyes. After trying to force a commitment from our relationship, things ended dramatically.  I started to meet other women like me who were broken and breaking, who wanted to love freely, who yearned like me to love a man in the same way they could love a woman. But found no men willing or free enough to love an equal. Women who wanted to decide, who and when and how but were silenced somehow by the walls they had built. Inside the walls which were built for them.

Trapped within some type of  circumstance. A label. Gay. Lesbian. Bisexual. Transsexual. Queer. Intersex. Heterosexual. Man. Woman. Black. White. Asian. Feminist. Christian. Muslim. Fem. Boi. Butch. Dyke. Golden Star. Activist. Wmnx.  X . XXY.XY

Yes I have issues. Don’t you?

So when  just a day ago I was having a conversation with a man who told me that my thing (meaning my vagina) did not belong to me, it belonged to men and that he could have it by force if he wants to. It brought everything which I had tried to escape about the reality of being a woman to the fore.  Being with another woman did not solve my problem. It exacerbated it.  It did not rebuild my trust. Being a feminist does not make men less Patriarchal or less bigoted. Women like men felt just as entitled to it, if not more so.

While I understand why we all should be feminist. Excuse me while while I sit this one out. It’s enough. I know who and what I am. I know who and what I am for.

In the end to any other person looking at me. Before I am Jedi.  I am a woman. A black woman. An African. Black. Woman.

That’s enough of a label to last anyone a  lifetime.

And we haven’t even had breakfast yet.

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” Audre Lorde