I AM THIS PERSON: WHEN YOU ARE ENOUGH

“Only those who truly love and who are truly strong can sustain their lives as a dream. You dwell in your own enchantment. Life throws stones at you, but your love and your dream change those stones into the flowers of discovery. Even if you lose, or are defeated by things, your triumph will always be exemplary. And if no one knows it, then there are places that do. People like you enrich the dreams of the worlds, and it is dreams that create history. People like you are unknowing transformers of things, protected by your own fairy-tale, by love.”
― Ben Okri

Today’s  blog post is inspired by my three-year old niece who  has this ability to sneak up on me when I least expect it and say “I am following you Auntie Jedi”.  She doesn’t just say it, she literally follows my every step while watching my every move.

Her statement which she says from a place of innocence and playfulness spreads a smile across my heart and orders my steps in ways that no other  human being can. I have to think about where I’m going and what I’m going to do there and if that is a place I would like her to be in with me. It is a  huge and  humbling experience. But more than the responsibility that comes with it, it makes me joyful and  happy. In those private moments I have this insatiable desire to be a  better person because I know without a shadow of doubt that she’s following me for real.

It never seizes to amaze me how much power we have as individuals. The realization that I, myself and I  just by living my life, minding my own business have the power to influence someone else’ choices without my knowledge is astounding to me. It is incredibly humbling to realize that even then when it seems to you that you are alone, searching for clues on your own  in the dark, in reality you are not alone at all. There are eyes watching you. There is an audience which is listening, watching and following you whether you’re aware of it or not. But this is not an audience you choose, prefer, want or know about. It is an audience that chooses you. The audience  that decides that you are the person they want to follow and you have no control over it.  You can’t say don’t follow me or don’t look up to me. You can’t say, I am not worthy.

LIFE AS A RUBIK-CUBE

I am an 80’s child. And in the years after my birth the world was obsessed with a new game among many other inventions. Solving the Rubik’s Cube.  Even though it was an invention created  by a Hungarian sculptor and architecture professor in the early 70’s. I think  Rubik’s Cube is a perfect analogy for (my) life, because just when I think I got it, I have to start all over again. And it is only in understanding clearly where I have gone wrong, when and where or why I have made all the wrong moves.It is then that I can learn which moves I need to make to solve the  puzzle.

So it was during an unguarded moment  with my niece this afternoon when she said something which added another piece to the Jedi puzzle when she said, “Jedi, I’m not this person”  it is after she uttered these words over and over again that my squares started to align.

I’M NOT THIS PERSON

Is the key to who I am. In the past two weeks I have met with several old friends and had the opportunity to update them on my life so far. And while it has been a whirlwind adventure it has  also been an incredibly challenging time for me and with each disappointment, with each experiment I have found myself growing frustrated with the process. Wondering how many times I have to fail before I get it. The answer was with my niece. What I have been doing all along without knowing is an essential  process of elimination, and with each elimination I have come closer and closer to finding out what I am not actually. My adventures and experiments have helped me to peel off all the masks I’ve acquired over the years  and have gotten me to a place where I can look in the mirror and say. I am this person.

This person that I truly am is completely flawed in all the right ways.  When I  first took a look at her, all her mistakes  popped to the surface. They screamed at me. There’s something missing. You’re all wrong.  It’s not working. If your teeth were straight. If you’re hair was longer. If you’re nose was straighter. If you’re skin was baby smooth, caramel, coffee-coloured, dark chocolate, maybe. If your smile was more like this. If your hair was softer, if your voice was deeper, if your English was better, if your French was excellent, if you were more stable, if you didn’t give it up so easily… if.  Then everyone starts shouting all the my wrongs back at me.

You’re not what we’re looking for. You don’t have command. You’re too independent. You can’t follow instructions. How’s your maths? You don’t have confidence. You have potential but…  You want things the easy way. You don’t have the right  mindset. You like doing things your own way. You’re selfish, Self-absorbed. You don’t believe in yourself. Over and over. From all sides until I decided to turn the Rubix cube and discover the answers for myself.

The flaws were still there but  with each twist and focused attention on each problem I found that I could eliminate what I was not; a doormat, a slave, ignorant, selfish, inconsiderate, lazy or unmotivated.  While doing this I discovered other fun things about myself like the fact that I was playful, easygoing, open, sympathetic, forgiving and kind.

Then I started enjoying the twists and turns. That works, I have this skill, doing this like this makes me happy. Okay maybe this trait doesn’t work well here. But I could use it over there. Then I discovered that no one else but me is tasked with completing my puzzle, they can help me find clues, they can be my sounding board, they can walk some of the way with me, but the responsibility of completing my task is solely mine and mine only.

But the most surprising thing about discovering or exploring the real me is that all the character traits  I disliked most about myself, the quirky things which I could have changed already if it was possible are not only what makes me unique and different but they are exactly what I need to complete the puzzle.

So even though this person whom I have always wanted to be, the person I have given my all to be like, to emulate and imitate, is truly beautiful, truly intelligent, charming, sexy and everything I have ever dreamed of being as a woman and human being. Even though she is all wise, alluring, enigmatic,  insightful, oozing charm, even though she’s so deep I drown at the sight of her eyes. Even though I will admit that she is quite frankly a genius, a multi-talented can do most things with equal brilliance – type A person. Even though she has been my everything, even though I have tried everything I can to come just an inch of being half the  woman she is.

It gives me such a great pleasure to finally say in the most positive way possible that  ” I am not this person “- as wonderful and brilliant as she maybe, I am not her and that’s a huge relief. I don’t have to try to be her  or like her because only she can be who she is.

This person whom I have always looked up to and wanted to be all my life, this person who I have always wanted to impress,  will always be a part of me. But I don’t have to be her.  I can admire and love her for the brilliant one of a kind person that she truly is. But I’m not this person. And that is exactly  how it is supposed to be.

I am grateful to my niece for telling me who she is not,  because it  is only through this process that I could find out who I am. And the person that I am at this moment  is not so bad after all. She makes me laugh. And that’s enough.

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COPING IN COPENHAGEN: 10 THINGS I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT DENMARK

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Before I tell you my list of ten things I didn’t know about Denmark,indulge me as I tell you a little story. A story I was told by an old friend of mine over dinner during my recent visit to the Scandinavian country which boarders Sweden and Germany.
The story concerns an erstwhile Danish-American chef who wanted to cook a traditional Danish dish it could have been dessert but I don’t remember exactly. He searched the web for a recipe and found one written in the Danish language, which he duly translated into English.
According to the recipe the dish required sweet milk, written as sød mælk in Danish. So off went the American-Danish to purchase condensed milk and then preceeed to add it to the ingredients which resulted in a less that perfect dish. The Danish-American soon found out that while sød mælk literally translated from Danish to English means Sweet milk – sød mælk – in Danish actually means full-cream milk.  Which means that in the Danish language sweet-milk is not sweet even if it is called sweet milk. This made me more curious about the etymology of the term or word, a curiosity which sparked a series of questions which led my friend to retort with some irritation that: ‘I didn’t invent the language.’ So perhaps there is a reason for this perhaps there is no reason – but this particular story sums up my overall impression of Denmark.  But as with most things, places and circumstances in life things are often never what people say they are nor are they what they seem. So Denmark in this context is not in any way peculiar. So without wasting any more of your time here are some fun facts about Denmark. Yes it’s an odd country.

1. THERE ARE MORE PIGS THAN HUMANS IN THE COUNTRY

Denmark produces approximately 28 million pigs a year, that’s five times the Danish population of 5.6 million people according to 2013 populations figures. The pigs are reared in around 5,000 pig farms, most pigs are slaughtered at the co-operative abattoirs Danish Crown and Tican. In addition, a substantial number of live piglets are exported, mainly to Germany. Exports of pig meat account for almost half of all agricultural exports and for more than 5 percent of Denmark’s total exports.

2 . FOREPLAY IS KEY TO THE FLOURISHING PIG INDUSTRY

I’m sure you’re wondering how it is that Denmark’s pig population is larger that the human population, the reason is quite simple. Researchers found that if female pigs are aroused before insemination they are likely to become more fertile or produce more piglets.  So farm workers are tasked with performing professional foreplay on the animals before they are inseminated to increase fertility rates. You can check out the actual video here to see how it’s done.

3. ANIMAL BROTHELS ARE A POPULAR TOURIST DESTINATION

Laws in both Denmark and Norway are fairly open when it comes to a person’s legal right to engage in sexual activity with an animal. The law states that doing so is perfectly legal, so long as the animal involved does not suffer. According to the Danish newspaper 24timer, this interesting gap in the law has led to a flourishing business in which people pay in order to have sex with animals. On the internet, several Danish animal owners openly advertise their services. The newspaper contacted several such individuals and was told that many of the animals have been engaged in this kind of activity for several years and that the animals crave the sexual stimulation. The newspaper found that the cost charged by the animal owners varied from DKK 500 to 1,000 (USD$85 to $170).

4.    AT HEART DENMARK IS A GREEN COUNTRY

Denmark is well-known the world over for its progressive environmental policies and sustainable living. From cycling to work and recycling of waste products but within Denmark’s capital city Copenhagen, there’s a different kind of green living. In Christiania, Copenhagens’ worst kept secret, is a free green zone. Meaning once you enter, you can buy and smoke  weed, marijuana, or cannabis, freely without fear.  You only have to obey three rules: Take No pictures, Don’t Run and just have fun.  It’s a fascinating place. My friends took me there one night at my request. It was as if I was walking into a western-cowboy movie set at Universal studios in Hollywood without the proverbial image of the bumble weed floating aimlessly against the piercing sun. The lighting was dim and the walls were illuminated with green lights which made the place suddenly feel like a ghost town. Being winter, there were braziers lighting the way to the main eating areas.Vendors sold their products behind camouflaged tents which looked like set-dressing from low-budget horro movies.

Everyone spoke in hushed tones and whispers and is speaking anylouder will alert the the police. No music could be heard, only the faint sound of money exchanging hands and the thick scent of purple haze which danced around nostrils on pusher street. Christiania had a distinctly illicit-lane feel about it, far from the breakfast at Tiffiney’s boutique or silicone valley start-pu image I often associated with the free or ‘legal’ consumption of weed. 

It’s a place for the city’s hippies, for stoners, it’s off the grid, or rather it is a town withing a town. It an autonomous city because by  law it’s allowed to exist. Police conduct raids once in while but it’s not frequent. The last time they tried to close down Christiania, drug peddlers scattered around the city increasing crime rates in an otherwise peaceful city. They caused choas in a well ordered environment. So authorities changed their minds. This way it’s all under control. Everyone knows everyone. It is crime but it is also organized so for the most part it’s fine. Everyone raises their eyebrows in shock at the sound of the word Christiania. Most people would rather pretend it didn’t exist. Everyone has a relative like that.

5. DEMOCRACY WORKS IN DENMARK

Not far from Christiania is the country’s parliament, the Christiansborg Palace –  the only building in the world to house three of the countries executive branches of government. The country is proud of its democracy, because as residents like to say, Democracy works in Denmark. I imagined it would work but what I didn’t know was that until recently the Danish parliament was the only parliament in the world to offer free access to the public. You can still walk through the building but since the cartoon incident – Denmark has earned the wrath of the Arab-Muslim world which has necessitated the screening for those wishing to attend parliamentary proceedings. There are sporadic bomb threats in the city every now and then.

6. CHRISTMAS IS NOT CHRISTMAS WITHOUT SNOW.

‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” is a song almost every Dane sings even if they may not know the words or had never heard the song before. This is because in Denmark, Christmas is not Christmas without snow fall. I was quite surprised when people openly expressed disappointment at the warm temperatures (+5 degrees Celsius). Many lamented at the possibility of not having snow in the winter. It is beautiful, pretty and everyone looks forward to a white Christmas every year. People were downright depressed that they would not after–all have a white Christmas. Apparently when it snows it’s not so cold. Anyway it made no difference to me. The air was always fresh and crisp. There’s a euphemism for everything.

  1.  YOU CAN PARK YOUR BABY OUTSIDE WHILE YOU SHOP

I forgot about the chills beneath my feet for a moment when I noticed that parents routinely parked their baby strollers and prams on the pavements outside before going inside shop buildings. Perhaps there is nothing strange about that, except that they left their babies in the prams/strollers parked outside while they continued to shop inside. No one seemed to worry that their children would disappear or get cold, because no one steals in Denmark. Children learn to live with the cold from a very young age. It took me a while to get used to seeing that. I had wow moments each time. Possibly the coolest thing about Copenhagen if you love shopping. You don’t need a baby sitter! You can just leave your child outside!

8. FOLK HIGH SCHOOLS ARE COOL

There are approx. 70 folk high schools spread across the country, most of them are situated in rural areas or smaller towns, and they are typically named after the local district. In the early 1800’s, thoughts of enlightenment in Denmark were peaking and the tradition of national romanticism were developing. Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783 -1872) was deeply inspired of these thoughts, and after personal experience from the Trinity College in England, he developed the concept of the folk high school. Grundtvig identified a growing democratic need in society – a need of enlightening the often both uneducated and poor peasantry. This social group had neither the time nor the money to enroll at a university and needed an alternative. The aim of the folk high school was to help people qualify as active and engaged members of society, to give them a movement and the means  to change the political situation from below and be a place to meet across social boarders. Key feature of folk high schools is the fact that there are not exams or age restrictions with two or three exceptions to the rule. Some schools are specialized ( film, music or sports) while others are more general and any community can start a folk high school which is funded and or subsidized by the state.

9   THERE ARE HOLIDAY TAX RETURNS

Though Denmark maybe one of the richest countries in the world its citizens are heavily taxed in order for the government to afford social services such as free health care and education among a host of other benefits. But what surprised me most is that there is a holiday tax too. Government deducts a certain amount from your salary every month and then refunds it when  you go on leave or holiday.  Many Danes use the money to travel the world; having a Christmas office party at a Michelin star hotel in Italy over the weekend is not unheard of. It’s par for the course.

  1. IT’S BASICALLY THE LAND OF FAIRY TALES

Fairy-tales have a huge following in Denmark, especially those produced by Walt Disney. They feature prominently on people’s TV screens around Christmas time. The Danish National broadcaster screens a series of Walt Disney Movies and the latest animation film for that yea each christmas. It is now part of the Danish tradition. The fairy tale reaches its zenith on Christmas eve when families join hands and dance around the Christmas tree while singing traditional Christmas carols. Christmas would not be Christmas without singing and dancing around the Christmas tree. Most adults acknowledge that it’s a strange practice – but they do it anyway, wherever they may be around the world because it is their heritage after all.

WAAW! A CULTURAL SHOCK

In conclusion these are ten things I didn’t know about Denmark until I went there.  But the most interesting thing of all, the most heart-breaking thing I didn’t know did not make it on the list, simply because the headline says 10 things I didn’t know not 11. Another reason is because technically speaking the 11th thing is not a Danish thing necessarily.

IT’S JUST  ANOTHER BUS SCENE

Picture it.  My friend and I caught a bus on a sight-seeing mission around the city. We sit opposite a man who immediately looked to me like a West African, because he was very tall, very thin and very dark. He was speaking loudly on his mobile phone. A white old woman sat next to him looking quite distressed by his loudness. I listened to the conversation and discovered that the man was speaking  a mixture of Wolof and French, which led me to assume that he might be on a long distance call to Senegal. My friend and I were thoroughly amused by the scene as the man seemed quite oblivious to the discomfort he was causing around him. Soon the old woman  moved seats as soon as one was available, and this seemed to free-up the mans’ lungs. He spoke with free abandon now that no one was sitting next to him. He laughed and said sweet nothings between exclamations of Waaw! Wolof for yes!
My friend and I laughed and I was secretly glad and pleasantly surprised to hear someone speak Wolof in Denmark, I mean what were the odds? He reminded me of home. It had been two long years since I last heard those words. Soon another black-African passenger who was sitting at the back of the bus approached the man and told him to keep quiet, to keep it down as he was disturbing the peace in the bus. The man went silent, as if he had been shot with a silencer. Even even though he continued on the phone his hello? hallo? waaw… had become lifeless. For the first time he looked around the bus and our eyes met briefly, I quickly looked down in mutual embarrassment because I had never seen the face of a man seconds after being stripped of his voice. ‘That’s a first’ my friend commented ‘seeing another African tell a fellow African to keep it down, not to embarrass us in public.’  

It was an ordinary day, in an ordinary bus, no big deal. But for some insignificant reason, in an insignificant moment my heart broke. Because for some reason, I think a man died that day.

Godt Nytår! That’s Danish for Happy New Year!

PROF ALI MAZRUI: A MEASURE OF GREATNESS

This weeks’ post is in honour of the late Professor Ali Mazrui.  In another time I would have been ashamed to publicly admit that I did not know about this towering intellectual until his death this week. He was 81. Today I don’t mind acknowledging my ignorance because today I am wise enough to know without a shadow of doubt that I don’t know (everything) and that each day brings with it limitless  opportunity to learn.

IN MY FATHER’S FOOTSTEPS: PUTTING THE BREAKS ON EXPLOITATION

Let me first start with a personal example: Last night my father taught me that brake fluid has two uses in a car. First for the brakes which is self-explanatory and that second it is also used for the clutch. He said “come” to the garage, opened the bonnet of my mother’s car and showed us where to put the fluid for the different mechanisms. The hand brake light in my mother’s Toyota Corolla had been flashing for several days, the brakes worked fine but the light continued to flash so my mother ( being the wise woman who knows she doesn’t know about cars) asked my father who did know a whole lot about cars and how they worked. “So what do you think is the problem?  It was the first time in a long time that my father, who has been working with all kinds of engines and parts for the past 30 years or more, invited us into his world. He then explained that brake fluid is used to lubricate both the breaks and the clutch showed us the different containers.  He also explained how the signal worked, there was a sensor on the lid which monitored levels of brake-fluid and when it was below the line, caused the break-light to turn on.

I used to my marvel at my father who spoke a language I couldn’t decode. He would explain over the phone to his colleagues how to dismantle the engines caterpillar machines, and put them together again, as if he was standing right in front of them. I was always impressed by his descriptive  knowledge of each part and where it was supposed to go from memory. I admired his tone and even handedness when he explained each stage of the process without patronizing the other person.  He hardly ever raised his voice or shouted and he always asked questions in order to understand what went wrong. Moreover he always seemed to have a solution for every conceivable problem the other person at the end of the line came up with and when he didn’t know he’d say “let’s leave it for now and see what to do tomorrow”.

I admired him and still do but because of my inherently independent nature I never went to him for advice when I found myself in sticky situations. I thought the best way to impress my father would be to learn to do things and manage my life all by myself instead of asking him for help or seeking wisdom from him.  But last  night I saw how eager he was to share his knowledge with us, how happy he was to see us willing to learn  from  his vast  know how (skills)  of cars and machines. Only then did it dawn on me that the best thing I could have done in times of trouble or uncertainty or whatever hard decision I was facing was not to try to prove to him I could do it by myself. The best way to impress him would have been to do the exact opposite, to go to him and ask for his advice, opinion and counsel.  After all he is a man who deals with solving problems every day. I realized that my father would have been more impressed by a daughter who knew that she didn’t know (everything) and was willing to draw on the wisdom of those who loved her and who wanted to see her succeed. I realized that he would have been so happy to hear me say “Dad I don’t know how to do this, can you help me? What do you think?” Instead of me trying to do it all by myself and falling and hurting myself in the process as if he wasn’t there or willing to help me. Even if it was just to listen, which he does wonderfully.

I realized that admitting you don’t know and seeking the council of those wiser and more knowledgeable than you is probably the most intelligent thing I could do for myself. I realized that intelligence or wisdom is not measured by knowing or pretending to know everything, but intelligence is about being open to not knowing and then committing to learning every day and applying that knowledge to real life situations. It is only by knowing that you don’t know that you can learn new information – because essentially, even if we get to a point in life when we think we know a lot about something  – we still don’t know everything.  And it is precisely this arrogance and belief that we know better than everyone else who has been here before us which is responsible in large part for the failed states and or downfall of Independent Africa for hundreds of years – a subject which Prof Mazrui dedicated a large part of his academic scholarship to.

THE DUAL MANDATE: NEW FORMS OF SLAVERY

After I discovered the passing this towering legend through a wise friend of mine on Facebook. I spent the whole week listening to his teachings. I realized that I had been searching for a teacher like Dr Ali Mazrui’s who was essentially a romantic like me, but understood the roots and anatomy of  Africa’s present day challenges without being frivolous, superficial or reactionary about solutions to those problems. I was drawn largely by his calm, clear and balanced authority which spoke of wisdom beyond my own years and a mind seeped in the excavation of knowledge. He was a man who had learned how to listen and I could hear it from the way he spoke. In  short, when I watched a video clip posted by my friend, I realized that I had finally found my mentor.  I sat at his “feet” and listened as he decoded the illusion of African Independence, in a way that was fresh and empowering.  And rings ever so loudly true for  Africa today than ever before.  Instead of telling you about him I thought the best way to honour him would be to let him tell you the story of Africa. So I spent time transcribing part of his documentary – Tools of Exploitation in Africa – which is the best analysis, explanation and account of the current challenges facing the continent today.  You can find the complete version in the video on youtube or click the title below to watch it.  I hope you will be inspired as I have been to continue where Prof Mazrui, who published more than 30 books and articles and was written about and published in 50 others – left off. “To whom much is given much is given, much is required”.

TOOLS OF EXPLOITATION IN AFRICA – BY PROF ALI MAZRUI

“Many centuries ago man in this part of Africa went into partnership with termites to process copper. The  Balunda, the Baluba,  the Basanga of ancient Zaire ( Democratic Republic of the Congo) used the clay produced by termites to  help smelt copper and produce implements of agriculture, weapons of war sometimes decorations and money for exchange. A long, long time ago, a strange partnership… and then the Europeans came. Did they want to learn from the technology they found here? Oh no! At least the Baluba and the Balunda had consulted the technology of the termites and benefited from it. But European technology was more arrogant more self-confident and less compromising. It abolished the old technological order and in its wake it left new forms of desolation in Africa.”

“Yes the West arrived in Africa with a bang. The soil recoiled in a whimper. Britain’s colonial policy Policy maker lord Lugard argued that Europe had a double mission in Africa. One was to develop Africa’s resources for Africa’s own benefit. The other was to use those resources to meet the growing industrial requirements of the western world. Lugard called these two goals the Dual Mandate. Our story is about this dual mandate. This intended partnership between Africa and the west and how far it’s been fulfilled.”

THE DUAL MANDATE

“Europe’s’ new technology has descended upon Africa in search of the continents virgin wealth. The African landscape will never be the same again. And so they dig up Africa faster than they have ever done before. And yet it’s one of the cruel ironies of the world economy that a continent so rich in natural resources should at the same time be so poor in living standards. The factories the furnaces of the world are clamouring for African manganese, African copper, chromium, platinum you name it Africa produces it. The romantics amongst us would prefer to think of Africa as God’s treasure chest of diamonds, after all we produce more diamonds than anybody else, we like to think of Africa as a golden continent, we produce more gold than anybody else.  And yet the same rich continent, this vast Treasure Island is inhabited by poverty-stricken inhabitants. Why? Something has gone wrong, tragically wrong in the partnership between western technology and African resources. And yet the digging continues: Dig, Dig, Dig, is it for wealth? Or is it the collective burial of a people”

A FACADE

“Some would argue that the west had brought development to Africa. Perhaps by the Dual Mandate, Lord Lurgard meant an exchange of African resources for Western technology. A new civilization on wheels is now vibrating along African streets, from Dar es Salaam to Dakar. In all my travels in five different continents. I still continue to be astonished by the great variety of African skylines, every African city is a miracle of transition. The mixture is between the foreign and the indigenous, the old and the new, the natural and the artificial. But much of it is a mirage and half of it is a façade.   In Africa the glittering goods are more a symbol of imported consumption than of genuine local prosperity. We in Africa are buying goods from other nations rather than making them ourselves.  The West has given African only the shimmering illusion of technological know-how in exchange for the solid substance of Africa’s resources. In what continent am I? Africa or Europe if I am confused it’s because it’s all a façade, a façade of a western style skyline behind which lies a very different story. Westernization without real modernization Appearances reminiscent of the West behind which lie the realities of Africa. What have we got to show here in Africa, for 300 years of contact with Western technology?  We have acquired western tastes, but have we the skills to make them work?”

HUMANS FOR GUNS

“More  sad than the death of Kings is the death of ancient skills surrounding them.  Once upon a time African Kings and Chiefs were patrons to great artists and craftsmen. Civilizations in gold and bronze were maturing. Techniques had been evolving since the 12th century.  The most famous African sculpture is from Ife and Benin in West Africa. Some outsiders scoffed claiming that the bronzes came from the lost continent of Atlantis. By the time the Portuguese arrived the art had become so realistic that it portrayed the visitors in remarkable detail.   But the Portuguese and other Europeans hadn’t come to admire African skill, their eyes were on a new and fearsome trade, not in African products but in the very African producers themselves.

Slavery was not simply a denial of freedom for those Africans actually captured, it was also a denial of development for the continent they left behind. Europe not only refused to develop Africa, it savagely disrupted skills already in the making. The most symbolic western institution in Africa at the time, was the fortress. An impregnable trading factory, the factory’s merchandise human beings.  The slave trade rapidly transformed Africans into the most humiliated race in human history. Within two centuries alone over  12 million Africans were exported to the new world, the Americas.  It is estimated that for every slave who reached the America market, another died in transit.

Those who survived proved to be more durable than the Indians or Poor whites. Ironically the African Slave trade persistent partly because Africans were so tough.”

Africa had exported to the west men and women, potential implements of production. Africa had imported from the west, guns – by definition instruments of destruction. Indeed the slave trade and the gun trade were interlocked, in some cases guns were the currency with which slaves were bought. Slaves in exchange for guns. Africa had helped to enhance the industrial revolution of the west through those very slaves sent by force there. And yet the guns out here initiate a whole new culture of violence. That culture of violence extends right into present day Africa”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Girl Who Believed in Fairy-Tales

The Perseid Meteor Shower
The Perseid Meteor Shower 

Once upon a time far far away…

“I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true” he said drawing her close to him. She felt herself melt in his arms, she drew her breath as if breathing in for the first time. She listened to her heart beating in his chest, it calmed her. She didn’t want to think. She didn’t want to think about clichés, myths or fables and fairy tales which sometimes came true.  Just the other day she saw a shooting star.  She was sitting up, staring as she often did at the dark blue sky. She routinely looked at the sky on most evenings as if trying to see if her heart would be reflected in just one of those stars which littered the infinite sky. Why she continued to do this she didn’t quite know. Perhaps she was keeping a promise she had made to her 13-year-old self. A promise she made every night to her imaginary soul-mate at the time. Because when she was 13 she believed in fairy tales, in dreams coming true, in clichés. She truly believed in the words of a romantic ballad which an unexpected friend taught her in her first year of high school. Her Taiwanese schoolmate sang it to her in Mandarin Chinese and though she didn’t understand the language she enjoyed watching her friend sing it. Her eyes would close lightly while her tiny lips puckered together like a red Lollypop. Her head would tilt from side to side in time with her off-key melody, strands of her black hair flickered, browning in the glow of the yellow sun – the girl who believed in fairy tales would watch her friend sing, transfixed.  Fortunately the original song was in English and when she found the words and learned the melody, she would sit outside her veranda at night and sing to the sky. “Somewhere, out there, someone’s saying a prayer, a prayer that we’ll be together somewhere out there, our dreams will come true…. And even though you know how very far apart we are, we might be sleeping underneath the same bright star!!! Somewhere out there, love will see us through…. Somewhere out there our dreams will come true”.

Two decades later and after thousands upon thousands of nights spent star-gazing – this shooting star was unmistakable. It was something she had never seen before.  It happened without fan-fare, with no dramatic introduction. No drumroll preceded it. It happened as if it was a natural, everyday occurrence. And yet it was magnificent. Beautiful.  She actually didn’t realize she had been looking up at the sky until she saw it, there, beaming across the horizon so bright it took her breath away. It was as if it was meant only for her. At that very moment she felt she was at the right place at the right time, and had been purposed to sit right there facing the exact spot where the star would beam across like a magic wand. In that split second the star seemed to say “hello, is it me you’re looking for?” It happened quietly, peacefully, softly. Unexpectedly. There was no tremor, no earth quake. It flew across like a gentle breeze.

“I just saw a shooting star!’ She said excitedly jumping up and down on the couch like a little girl. He looked at her curiously, his eyes smiling, no words passed his lips.  “I have never seen a shooting star before” she said smiling. She felt like the luckiest girl in the whole wide world. Suddenly she realized that she had forgotten to make a wish, as traditional folklore dictates. People said one must always remember to make a wish at the sight of shooting stars. So she sat there with a wide smile on her face thinking about what she could wish for. The evening was sensuous-ly warm and the night crickets were singing loudly to the calming charms of flowing water. She could not think of a single thing to wish for at that very moment.  The evening was perfect. She was fully and wholly content, even happy. A kind of happiness she had never known she could feel or have. It did not feel as fleeting or as temporary as a sugar high.  This time it felt as if joy had arrived and had come home to stay with her, forever in the form of a shooting star.  But somehow the girl who believed in fairy-tales still wanted to make sure, she wanted to be sure that she wasn’t dreaming this time. She wanted to be certain that she was not making this remarkably beautiful moment up, this feeling of being complete, of being completely one and whole.  She somehow wanted to be certain that she was not escaping reality and moving into a world of make-believe, just as she had seen thousands of stories play out in  movies and the many books she had read. This time she wanted some kind of a guarantee, something that will show her that what was happening to her was real, this time she wanted to know without a shadow of doubt that she was not exchanging reality for a world of fairy-tales and shooting stars and knights in shining armour riding gallant horses from palatial castles far, far away. She was too old for fairy tales. Had seen too much to know better than keep her pre-pubescent, childhood dream alive.

“I looked it up” he said the next day at lunch. “Hmm? What” she said trying to remember if she’d made a request for information. “I looked it up, your shooting star, apparently it was a night of shooting stars, it was meant to happen, there were several meteor- showers, it happened everywhere” he added resisting a smile. She wondered if he meant to say it didn’t just happen to her. “Oh that’s great!” she replied “it makes it more special that I shared it with millions of other people” She thought dismissing his logic. As it happened the girl who believed in fairy-tales was quite lucky to see this shooting star. Astronomers call it the Perseid Meteor Shower from the comet Swift- Tuttle. She was lucky to see it because not only was it rare and sought after by astronomers and star-gazer alike, one could see between 60 to a 100 showers an hour. Without planning, wishing or even hoping to, she saw the biggest and brightest of all meteor showers  expected in that year.  It was so large, she was glad someone had documented it’s falling, otherwise she would  have led herself to believe, in time that what she saw was just a figment of her imagination or an image she had seen somewhere online, in books and or Television and not something that she had actually seen with her own naked eyes.

“I don’t want to say it because it does not make any sense” he said hesitantly, turning his face away from hers. His arms outstretched on the bench in total surrender. “What” she probed “You don’t want to say it because it would seem crazy to say that….you’re falling in…”

“I’m falling in love with you” he said interrupting her. While staring  into the distance.

“I knew you didn’t want to say it so that’s why I had to say it first, one of us has to be grown up about it!” she replied playfully.

“No I said it first” He said.

“No I said it first” she retorted.

They laughed.

“You know I said it first…. And it’s crazy to say that just three days after we first met…” he continued slowly.

The girl who believed in fairy-tales smiled, laughed and nodded. “It is crazy” she agreed looking at him and feeling remarkably calm and surprisingly completely sane.

“I know it may sound like a cliché but in this case it’s true… I think I’m falling in love with you” he said.

“Me too” she replied “it’s not a cliché, it’s a fairy-tale”. She thought to herself.

“I think I love you more than you love me” he said shaking his head

“No that’s not possible” she said laughing incredulously.

“I love you” she said amazed at her confidence.

“I love you” he said

“See I said it first” she said

“No I said it first” he said drawing her nearer.

They held each other and in that moment. They both knew.

They were home. Together.  In the great somewhere out there.

That night she turned the page of her yellow notebook and re-read her own words, written in prayer five days previously. She had forgotten about them, the words, her prayer, just as soon as she finished writing them in black and white.  Now they read like a dream within a dream:

Thank you for the love I have had in the past, thank you for all the angels that you have brought my way. Thank you for my companion, a lover and friend who is kind, generous, courageous, intelligent, strong, affectionate, disciplined, adventurous, caring, funny, fun-loving and simple. Thank you for giving me a companion who loves me. Who is not afraid to show it. Who can express his feelings and emotions clearly. Who will fight for me. Thank you for a companion who will inspire and encourage me to be a better and more loving person. A companion, a lover and friend who will bring out all the best of me and love me even when I fail. Thank you for a lover and companion who will love Only me. Who will only want me as his sexual partner. His only wife and the only mother of his children. Thank you for a lover and companion who will meet my needs even before I know I need them. Thank you for a lover and  companion who will truly be a friend, who won’t mind listening to me, engaging me on work and other topics of interest to both of us. Thank you for a companion who will open up a new world to me. Who is not afraid to share himself, to open up. A friend who can teach and learn.  Who will support my work as fiercely and passionately as he works on his own. Thank you for a companion who will be my help mate and someone who loves to play. Thank you for the fun and beautiful amazing life that we have together.  Thank you for making it easy for us to find each other, see each other, and accept each other and to never leave each other’s side”.

She realized. For the first time, she wasn’t dreaming.

SA ELECTION 2014: THE CLOSER YOU LOOK, THE LESS YOU SEE.

SA ELECTION 2014: THE CLOSER YOU LOOK, THE LESS YOU SEE.

IEC National Results Centre Pretoria. Pic Demotix.com
IEC National Results Centre Pretoria. Pic Demotix.com

“ The floor plan for this place looks like a trading floor” one  newspaper journalist remarked. We looked around with renewed eyes and yes it did!  He had just come out for a break from doing spread sheets calculating which party is likely to get seats in parliament after the IEC had concluded its “mathematical calculation to allocate seats, a two stage process.”   There are left over seats? “Yes but you can’t use words like that, you have to be careful with how you word this practice – I wanted to say you can “buy” votes but  my newspaper would not allow it. It would be wrong to say that. All that you see on the board amounts to 400 seats in parliament, and the “left-over-seats” will be allocated to parties who are closer to the 45 thousands votes needed for the them to get a seat in parliament, so for example, though AGANG didn’t do that well they might end up having a three seats in parliament according to my calculations.”  He said. I asked the IEC guy in charge of doing the actual calculations to explain the mathematical equation to me. His eyes were bloodshot and he looked extremely tired, he didn’t want to be recorded. “It’s a mathematical calculation” he said as if expecting me to turn away. “We calculate according to decimal points. You know a decimal point… so if a party gets x amount point something, the figure after the point we go by the highest number after he decimal point, x point 6 is higher than x point two for example and we do that in stages” He said. So it’s possible that my vote for a smaller party could end up being allocated to another party in this rotational mathematical calculation system? “No, no that’s not how it works, be patient we’ll give you a press statement, today if you’re lucky” he said walking away. I was still none the wiser.  But here’s the formula, which happens in two stages:

CAN YOU TRANSLATE WORDS INTO NUMBERS?

The Seats in each province are apportioned according to the largest remainder method. In each region, a quota of votes per seat is determined by dividing the total number of votes cast in the region by the number of regional seats, plus one (the IEC determines the number of seats allocated to each province before the election). The result plus one, disregarding fractions, becomes the quota of votes per seat for the region.  To determine how many seats each party will receive in the region, its total number of votes is divided by the quota of votes per seat. This will produce a whole number, which is the number of seats initially allocated by the party, and a surplus. Once this calculation is performed, the sum of allocated seats is obtained. It this total is smaller than the number of regional seats, unallocated seats are awarded to the parties according to the descending order of their remainders. The seat distributions from all provinces are aggregated at the national level to obtain the number regional lists seats allocated to each party.”

THE SECOND STAGE: THE LOTTO

This stage begins with the proportional distribution of all 400 seats in the national Assembly. A quota of votes per seat is determined by dividing the total number of seats in the National assembly, plus one. The result, plus one, disregarding fractions, becomes the quota of votes per seat. To determine the number of seats each party will receive, its total number of votes is divided by the quota of votes per seat. This will produce a whole number, which is the number of seats initially allocated to the party and a surplus. Once this calculation is performed for all parties, the sum of allocated seats is obtained. If this is smaller than the number of seats in the National assembly, unallocated seats in the National Assembly are awarded to the parties according to a descending order of their remainders, up to a maximum of five seats. Any remaining seats are awarded to the parties following the descending order of their average number of votes per allocated seats.  The regional list seats are then subtracted from the total number of seats allocated to that party list, and the remaining seats are filled by the candidates on the national list in the order determined before the election. In the event a party does not present a national list, the seats allocated to it at the national level are filled from its regional lists.

DENUMERACY

“wow” I exclaimed feeling my brain expanding for the first time since I arrived at the IEC National Results Operation Center – “so it’s like gambling” I said, feeling instantly wide awake.  Yes agreed the newspaper journalist “it is”, “in fact” he added “it’s pretty much how corporate shares work, that’s why it’s often hard to for companies to know who gets what and it’s all about rounding it off the next 1000.” I had never heard it explained that way before. “So does that make the process more or less democratic?”

Well it depends said the newspaper guy, for one : smaller parties with 1 to 7 members can’t have a presence in all 53 parliamentary committees which meet on an almost daily basis. And they are more often than not out-voted. Yes their objections will be duly noted but it will not change the outcome of a vote if there is a cohort. You have to be strategic about how you use the parliamentary process in order to be effective.  You have to choose which committee you are likely to be most effective in or have the most impact. When it comes to voting bills into law (one of the jobs of Members of Parliament is to legislate) The DA for example employs various strategies. Thursday is the most important day in parliament, that’s the day when most bills are voted in, and it’s also the day when MPs from other regions want to go home early (for the weekend), so many of them are already on their way out, if 200 ANC MPs go home, and the DA is left with a 100 members who stayed they can in effect vote a bill into parliament or walk-out to delay the process if there is not cohort. Not all parliamentary members need to be in, you must have at least 200 cohorts’ votes for a bill to be voted into law. It’s a tricky game but I love it. From his description it sounded a bit like being back in school or university except this time you re not judged on personal merit but on the political party you belong to. But I guess it’s all the same.

“HISTORY IS A SET OF LIES AGREED UPON” Napoleon  Bonaparte

So there you have it, democracy (majority rule) in a nutshell from a journalist who has been doing this job for 13 years.  This conversation left me animated, so infused renewed understanding I wished I had met him five days before the elections.  It left me wondering what an “actual” multi-party “democracy”, or more or less equal distribution of diverse voices (political parties) and opinions in parliament would look like. If you had five seats per party for example, laws might take longer to be enacted, but would it on the other hand make the process fairer? And more importantly could it still be defined as a democracy? Did you know that political analysts  are yet to agree on what democracy means. The word originates from the late 16th century. From the Greek words demos (people) + Kratia (power/rule) =  Demokratia, which was became the word democratie in French and gave us Democracy in English. Searching for meaning? There is no “majority” in the word democracy. People is plural, but you only need one more person (plus one) to have the word people. Meaning people with power will always rule. How? Power is attractive, people will  vote for someone who  has the means to do something. i.e If one household has  electricity/telephone in the whole village – the majority will automatically vote for them.  When everyone has electricity, then voting becomes about who has more houses with  power. What I got from it? I understood Democracy as a vehicle for capitalism in the same way that Christianity or organized religion is a vehicle for capitalism) No wonder the ANC calls itself a broad church. No church pays taxes, only church goers do and that’s not a moral judgment, it is  just how the system works. The way it is.It’s either you buy into it or you don’t.Does it makes sense? I sure hope so.

ERROR: MIND YOUR LANGUANGE(S): NKANDLA IS BEAUTIFUL!

THE WEEK THAT WAS:

For two days last week I reported from the front-lines on what many in the media call Nkandla-Gate. But in reality I have been standing on the side of the road leading to South African President Jacob Zuma’s Private Homestead in Nkandla, in the KwaZulu Natal Province on South Africa’s East Coast.   You can see the house a kilometre or so from the road which the president constructed to make his 3hectare home easily accessible by road.  But what you don’t hear about Nkandla in the media is how beautiful it is. The luscious green rolling hills, blue skies and wind-swept landscape is breath-taking. The exquisite quiet and serene atmosphere seems to slow the ticking clock down as if silently saying: here everything is well and in order.  School children, goats, donkeys and cows all stroll languidly on the main road in no rush to go anywhere in particular. Chickens feast on abandoned plates of livers at a nearby Chisanyama (meat barbeque). It is an Idyllic rural landscape surpassed by none I have had the pleasure to visit. The environment is so fine that even South Africa’s official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance’s youth league leader  Mbali Ntuli couldn’t help but exclaim “It’s Beautiful! Though!” to her delegation which included an alarmed DA’s National Spokesperson Mmusi Maimane who asked her softly “do you really think so Mbali?” This was after all a scene of a heinous crime, Nkandla. The party has just laid eight charges against President Jacob Zuma on Thursday. They want President Zuma impeached and held personally liable for monies spent upgrading his unassuming kingdom. This comes after the country’s Public Protector Thuli Mandonsela on Wednesday released a report which found that South African president Jacob Zuma materially benefited from (none) security upgrades at his private residence which were initially projected to cost 27 million rands when the project started in 2009 but ballooned to more than 200million to date.  The Public Protector said without a hint of humour in her voice that “what started as a humble project to upgrade security ended up becoming a project to build a township”.

Tax-payers money or Public funds were irregularly used to renovate President Jacob Zuma’s private residence which was declared a National Security Key Point to expedite more security installations.

WHAT WE CALL GRASS ROOTS

The day the public protector Thuli Mandonsela released her report I was doing some kind of a door to door campaign myself, speaking to President Jacob Zuma’s neighbours, telling them what was going on and asking for their opinions. Most of them didn’t see what the fuss was all about. “He is the president, he deserves to live in a house better than ours, how can you question the president? He is the president. I’m not president.” Said an old man who has been living in Nkandla with his wife and 11 children for more than 30 years. “What’s wrong if the president builds a house, we see it, it’s beautiful and it makes us happy to see progress: are you suggesting that the president must come and build my house too? I am happy here, we have water, look we farm, we have livestock even though the drought has killed our crops for two seasons now. We can’t blame Zuma for the sun! All we can do is to be grateful for this life and just wait till the good lord decides to take us. You can’t hate someone for his God-given talent, that’s what God gave him and you can’t fault him for that” He said. I tried mentioning the money but he interjected “would you ask your neighbour where they got the money to build their house from? Would you? So? It’s none of my business where he gets his money. It has nothing to do with me”. His wife who was standing by the fence listening to the conversation volunteered to share her views on the matter.” I’ve lived here since I got married” She offered “then,   there was nothing in this village but since President Zuma came back we see things getting better and better, now we have a road, now we have schools and a clinic, grants for pensioners, things we didn’t have before. We have electricity, we have water.  We don’t see any fault in what he is doing building his house because we have seen what changes he has brought here, change doesn’t happen all at once simultaneously,  we have to wait our turn, we hope that one day his good fortune will extend to us too ” she concluded.

HOW CAN A THATCH ROOF HOUSE COST 215MILLION?

They were not the only ones who held this view. “What do you see wrong with the house? It is just a simple thatched roofed homestead, there’s nothing fancy there. Nothing to it. The president has built his home the Zulu way, it’s how we build our homes too and please you tell me what is wrong with that?” they asked one after the other.  I told them there are features to the house such as swimming pool, a helipad and amphitheatre they can’t see from the road side. But they wouldn’t have it.  Some even looked at me blankly as if I had gone completely mad when I told them how much money was spent on building the President’s beautiful home. “How can a house with a thatched roof cost 215million? Ihhaba lelo Impela. It’s an exaggeration. They shook their heads one after the other, Ihhaba  lelo. Indlu yotshani Ayikwazi ukubiza imali engaka.  A house with a thatched roof can’t cost so much money. “Amanga” It’s lies. It became clear that I had my work cut out for me. “If the president uses tax money to build his home… what does he do with his salary? I mean he earns a salary every month” Mr Shezi who I found sitting under a tree opposite the satellite police station wondered at me. “He earns a salary every year, millions, so what does he do with his money? What does his salary do?” he wondered to the distant hills. “It’s just lies sister, because the media lies, I don’t believe what the media says, they make things up all the time. I don’t believe it” He said.

MIND YOUR LANGUAGE AND TELL A GOOD STORY

I have been to two African National Congress (ANC) campaign events in the President’s hometown province. On both occasions the President was the guest of honour.  At one of those events held at the University of Zululand, President Zuma was honouring his friend and little known fellow Robben Islander, Riot Mkhwanazi. He announced that a stretch of road in Zululand will be named after his friend and to prove he didn’t come empty-handed, a fridge was wheeled into the auditorium, “this is to make sure that if you want a cold one you can get it” he said to him. Throughout his two to three-hour long speech he never once uttered a word in English. He told stories surrounding time spent with his good friend in exile. This is where I discovered the magic of President Jacob Zuma. He is a consummate storyteller. He has a sweet tongue and a way of communicating in isiZulu that makes sense. He sounds sober, considered and completely charming when he speaks his mother tongue. In fact he is someone you can trust.  He comes across so sincere and honest that you almost can’t fault him. He sounds like a man worthy of his word. President Zuma was the chief of the ANC intelligence operations underground for the party’s armed wing Umkhonto WesiZwe or MK.  So he is not as many would like to believe stupid.  The president knows what he is doing and how to play the game. He has the right speech prepared for everyone but his best speeches are in isiZulu which is so immaculate it borders on being perfect. And this is where the break down happens, between the middle class which is well-educated and pays taxes and the people living in rural areas governed by a Chiefs or  Amakhosi under whose traditional leadership they must abide. There are ways of speaking to the elderly, there are ways of talking and even criticising leaders that are understood based on the dominant hierarchy. Everything and everyone has their place and under this traditional system. Here there are no “constitutional rights” only laws which govern kings and servants.

So while Thuli Mandonsela’s report is damning on President Jacob Zuma’s character…the timing for the release of the report, contrary to ANC’s protestations works in favour of President Jacob Zuma and his campaign for re-election come May 7th. Because at least in Nkandla and in KwaZulu-Natal, this report is only just lies, an exaggeration on the grandest scale. A political campaign by all concerned including the public protector to discredit the President ahead of the elections. “They never probed Presidents Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela’s homes why? It’s because we’re heading to towards the elections that they come and make trouble. We will vote for Zuma, he’s been with us through thick and thin.” Said one woman.

At a fresh produce market adjacent to the police station women sat selling fruit on bare tables. They were suspicious of us. “oh you’re here because it’s elections!” they exclaimed unwilling to give interviews. “Poor Mongamenli (leader)” exclaimed one trader paging through a daily Zulu Newspaper “every day all you see are pictures of his house, Nkandla this, Nkandla that, they just won’t let him go” she said putting her hands on her head in mock horror. “we are all suffering here, we live in rural areas we are all not having a great time” said one man in blue overalls peering out of darkened doorway “what do you want to know? Zuma loves his country, that’s all I can say” a cynical smile spread across his lean bearded face “when he invites to his parties, we all go and drink and be merry. No problem. He comes out dressed in his traditional gear, he dances for us and all is well. They must just leave him alone. “Some people are afraid to talk” offered a boy in school uniform quickly adding “I know nothing”

I KNOW NOTHING.   BRUSH UP ON YOUR ENGLISH MAN!

Why. It felt as if there was some kind of conspiracy. It seemed to me impossible that people knew nothing as they so easily claimed. I couldn’t accept this. Yet I could not force people to speak either.  Everywhere I went, people were talking, whispering, but the words were empty. Hallow. Why. The radio was playing at full blast at the Chisanyama. The young proprietor sat outside under the shade listening to Public Protector Thuli Mandonsela as she delivered her report. She was indeed eloquent, soft-spoken. Her authoritative whispers blended very well with the slow quiet green landscape in Nkandla, her voice hovered patiently over the hills in harmony with a cool gentle breeze as if she was God. Yet even I found it hard to follow her delivery of the summarized version of her 400 odd page report which took two years to compile in the midst of the humid sun. She has perfect diction, her grammar immaculate she can’t be faulted with her command of the English language, a perfect mix of beautiful and cute. I wished I studied law, literature, economics, I wished I was all-knowing.  I listened, I heard, I understood each word. But what does it mean? I was searching for meaning with every sentence she uttered. I would have to read it to fully comprehend I, I thought to myself.  Yes my editor was right I needed to brush up on my English. But if I (and I may not be a great example here) could not fully comprehend everything Ms Madonsela was saying, how was everyone else doing?  I listened to the Zulu Summary at the end of the broadcast and found glaring gaps. “What is intela? (Tax) “One woman asked another at the fresh produce market “everyone must pay it” she responded “have you paid intela?” she asked in isiZulu. They all looked at each other. No one had paid tax amongst them, therefore they could not understand – what is meant by tax, public funds or how government works. And most critically they did not know where all the money comes from? If you have never drafted a budget in your life, your understanding of what budgeting actually means would be limited. It will forever remain something that other people do, that is ultimately of no relevance to you. Which means you will have no real sense of what goods and services actually cost – how much you spend on what and how. But perhaps they did understand and were – like everyone, from the police to the opposition party, in Nkandla – just playing their role in this elaborate stage play called Nkandla-Gate. I found myself feeling annoyed. Because for the first time what I heard and what I saw, and what I read made no sense. I was lost in translation. Here in Nkandla English and isiZulu became foreign languages to me. The police man could pronounced my surname fluently. He is also from Limpopo. He knows of my father’s village. . The president is not seen a Public servant, a custodian of public’s trust and well-being, but as a King… who can tell this one to go there and he goes or this one to come  here and he comes.  Had Thuli Mandonsela delivered her report in at least two official languages isiZulu and English, would that have made any difference to what people in Nkandla knew? Would it change their understanding of the meaning of the word President? Good governance. Public? Would they be critical? “You know” they said pointing at me “the media knows what is going on”. Would I be a better communicator if I brushed up on my English, and could use the correct word in the right context?

Suddenly I realized. All of it. Is simply a matter of Interpretation. The one with a better argument, not facts, wins.

THE GLOW OF BLACK WOMEN

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”– Maya Angelou

Lupita Nyong'o  at the 2014 Academy Awards.
Lupita Nyong’o at the 2014 Academy Awards.

I have been more than a little disconnected from recent news and current affairs surrounding the commencement of Olympic Medalist   Oscar Prestorias’s murder trial and the film academy awards in Hollywood otherwise known to many as the Oscars. I have observed both news events on the periphery through status updates on Facebook. I have not had much time to think about the Oscars or Oscar Prestorius’ much publicized murder trial ( which I will not mention again in this blog) because I have been searching through the corridors of my mind for a way to become effectively… a “successful” human being.  I have been trying to figure out once and for all what it is that I love doing  actually so I can do that  and do it  so well  that people won’t be able to keep their eyes off me just like African-American writer Maya Angelou says.

I have been staring at myself in the mirror in an effort to unlock the answer.

Writing this down now makes me feel extremely vain and self-absorbed. This is something  which does not sit well with me, however I do find it a necessary exercise at this  stage in my life when I’m not exactly sure I know what I’m doing in it,  but then again who does?  So I have been meditating on how to make this life of mine work. I considered that if joy and fulfillment come from doing what you love then I should waste no time in  doing just that.

WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?

It has also just simply dawned on me in the most crystal clear way now that; whatever challenges I’m dealing with in any given month become elevated and assume paranormal if not supernatural  importance in my life when I am in a pre-menstrual state or entering the menstruation cycle. I know that women in general myself included are quick to retort to those closest to them saying “don’t you dare say I’m pmsing!’  And though I will concede that some people do use that excuse against women at every opportunity.  I now truly believe that a major shift does take place within a woman around that time.  Often you don’t even know that you are pre-menstrual {over reacting} until the evidence arrives which makes finding creative solutions to manage the blood on the floor somewhat of a challenge. Having said that the menstrual cycle does not negate the validity of my concerns which are all very legitimate – what it does though is to make my response to them essentially primal. Issues which I would otherwise approach methodically in a calm, rational manner suddenly become uncontrollable tornadoes and epic tsunamis. Yes I have had to accept this as part of being a woman – we are creatures not unlike nature itself; nurturing, calm and beautiful one day and wild, moody, and unpredictable the next.  Yes I say this as we mark marking International Women’s day this weekend. I will no longer deny myself the luxury of PMSing. So this conversation with myself takes place within this context. The world will end any minute now if I don’t figure out just what I love doing and do it now, because after all everyone will surely benefit from such a grand epiphany and one more happy person will surely do the universe a world of good!

THE GLOW:  “God Please, Please, Make Me White”

Last night I had a chance to catch up on news and get updates on Oscar’s trial which though I haven’t paid much attention to has been hard to ignore ( I did say I won’t mention Oscar again, I won’t promise). Lupita Nyong’o Oscar win has similarly dominated all my social media channels, I just could not escape her.  Breath taking pictures of her draped in spectacular gowns on the red carpet suddenly threw me into that weird place where the only word I could find to describe myself in the mirror was – inadequate. Ah what have I achieved in my life? What have I contributed to this world that is noteworthy (am I not enough?)….oh here I go doing it again comparing myself to all kinds of people and judging my life based on someone else’s one night at the Oscars. Her  one  moment to shine after a gut-wrenching performance  (in the movie  12yrs a slave) and years and years of praying  and bargaining with God to “ please please, make me white, when I wake up in the morning”.  Finally God has approved. Lupita Nyong’os’ story has turned from one of self-loathing to one of self-love and public – international validation – with everyone singing in a harmonious chorus that says yes – you are worthy, yes you are beautiful Lupita! Though her skin may not have changed shades she has finally received the validation she’s always yearned for in the form  of an Academy Award.  God and all the white and coloured people of the world approve. But life continues and the next day she was pictured dressed in a neon bright oversized t-shirt a nondescript jacket, greenish blue jeans and flat shoes… her hair all messed up and straight from a recent perm. She is standing next to a man thought to be her Ethiopian/Somali boyfriend or brother ( the rumour mill is now well oiled with the latest on Lupita) holding the Oscar possessively next to her. She looked so ordinary, like a long-lost friend I suddenly felt like jumping through the internet and giving her the biggest warmest hug.  Pictures are but a split second freeze frame in a persons’ life, which makes photography such an amazing art-form.  One cannot in all honestly judge one’s entire life (or that of the person being pictured) based on a moment. That is totally crazy and yes completely irrational but it does not stop it from happening.  I suddenly thought about what one of my mentors said to me once, matter-of-factly. He won the title of best journalist of the year in his country (something close to a Pulitzer) after he broke a story which changed environmental laws in Norway and possibly even the world. After 50 years in the profession he says that award which he received aged 26, was the beginning of the end for him. How far would I go to win a prize or be validated….I wondered what am I prepared to sacrifice for a moment of glory on any  carpet?

THE WINNER TAKES ALL:“It was ALL DOWNHILL from there…”

He said. What do you mean? I asked. He told me that though there were study opportunities following a breath-taking year of publicity nothing nearly  as extraordinary has happened to him since – being the African Bureau Chief for his media house (country) was not much of an award for him.  He was effectively saying that winning that award was the end of his career in journalism as he understood it. I found his outlook on this and the concept of “award-giving” or life after winning quite intriguing. It made me think very carefully, deeply and again about why it is that I am still a journalist, why I am doing this job, writing even. What are my truest motives? Why am I doing it? What is the meaning of this that I am doing now, writing on a  Sunday Night? what is the point of  being journalist?   with so many of us doing it all the time in different ways, is my profession still relevant? to me? Am I still relevant? to you? How would winning an award change my life?  Do I want to win? Why?

The Oscar for those in the film world is like a Pulitzer for journalists or the Nobel Peace prize for note-worthy individuals of the world. What do you do after you’ve won an Oscar for the first movie you’ve ever acted in at 31 years of age? Two things, either you keep winning more and more Oscars every year or as my mentor said it’s all downhill from there. In Lupita’s case one hopes it’s the beginning of great things to come. She’s been raised by a strong woman, and has been through more than one Ivy League University, she has produced documentaries {investigating prejudice or discrimination based on skin colour},   she is a polyglot and the list goes on.  Perhaps now that the pressure for an Oscar has been taken off her shoulders so to speak she can relax into roles and movies she loves to do with less pressure and more time.

RISE AND SHINE!

Maya Angelou’s poem– Still I rise encapsulates the glow of Black women as realised in Lupita Nyong’os now iconic status in Hollywood – a moment never to be forgotten by critics and lovers alike.  I don’t think I have ever understood her lyrical poem quite so poignantly before. The glow of black women lies in the fact that no matter how badly we are treated – by all and sundry,  as slaves, caricatures, dolls, idols, sex objects, or as insignificant things to be tossed and turned, used and discarded at will. No matter what challenges are heaped, stacked on our door step for fun… just to “see” how much we can take – we still manage to smile, to love, to laugh, to give unconditionally, to be kind,  to forgive over and over again, to be generous and so understanding of other people’s inner and outer struggles even if those struggles make our lives much harder than they could ever imagine. We still manage to be ravishing while mopping the floor or cleaning up people’s underwear. Even when people don’t think, we’re beautiful, we still  rise everyday like the morning sun to claim our place in the centre of the world. Whether we’re acknowledged with awards or Oscars is neither here nor there. Because there is no one walking on that red carpet who hasn’t been loved, cared for, embraced, or served by a black woman in one way or another. There is no garment, diamond, shoe or skin that has not passed through a black womans’ hands. Black women do it all – lay down the whatever colour carpet you want to walk on, deck out  tables, cook  any meal at whatever time you want it, do the laundry,  look after  children. They council; tell you is beautiful, you is kind, you are great, you deserve good things, you are worthy, you are valid and valuable even if they have never  been told those words before – even if they have never received that love and understanding.  Even if they deserve all those things which you consistently denie them just as much as you do. They don’t complain even if  they have every reason to. I am in complete and total awe of black women, not only because they are black – but precisely because black women always Rise above colour lines. Because we are at your service, black child, black man, white man, white woman and every other shade… we serve you all with the same loyalty and care we would give to our own children if you allowed us enough time to spend with them. We still accord you the respect you deserve even as you spit in our faces and make us seem worth less than the carpet you wipe your shoes on. We continue to care and to serve you whether you acknowledge us or not. That is why we are such a wonder –” how can you be so kind, so beautiful, so understanding ?” you ask ..”after all I’ve put you through? After all I’ve done to you, don’t you give up? Why don’t you retaliate? are you not upset? or angry? Even while you think you’re using us as pawns in a chess game – we already know that we are queens. And nothing you do or don’t do will take that away from us. That is why people wonder. How do you do it Mom? How do you do it sister –child? We are born of love. And therefore we can only do loving things for you. I am in awe of black women…by an overwhelming majority you inspire GREATNESS in me and once more and again I will say…

 Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

In honour of you my mother Joy, in honour of you my loving sister Victoria, in honour of you Madidimalo, in honour of you who have served me – tirelessly – over and over again without ever complaining.  Still I will Rise and Shine in honour of all the black women who have wiped my tears, hugged me and rocked me to sleep at night, who have listened to my stories, and laughed at my jokes, provided me with shelter, words of advice and  life lessons that made me stronger. Still I will rise in honour of those  who never gave up, who never gave in, who never stop loving, believing, hoping, creating, inspiring, caring, fighting for love, being Peace for generations upon generations. Each day I will rise knowing that I stand on the shoulders of great women who may have never walked on any red carpet, and yet, these women, when they walk    every corridor, side street , pavement, gravel, mud path including the red carpet turns into pure GOLD.  Precisely because  it’s not the outside that counts. 

Thank you all so  very much and  Happy International Women’s day Every -Day!

 Love. You.

“SECRETLY WE ARE GAY” – MY ANC, MY SWAG CAMPAIGN

One of the Embassadors of the" My ANC My Swag" Campaign  being Interview i n Umlazi  at the Weekend.
One of the Embassadors of the” My ANC My Swag” Campaign being Interviewed in Umlazi at the Weekend.

Did You know?  That back in the 1960s a new word  emerged. Swag. An acronym used by those  in the know to communicate  that aha   ” Secretly We Are Gay” and the word/slash acronym soon became a popular word used world-wide to  describe  really cool people who more often than not tend to dance to their own tune and possess copious amounts of style  and were more often than not – quite simply fabulous people to be with.  So it was with a great sense of irony and (private  humour  on my side) that I observed  that the African National Congress’s Youth League (ANCYL) has adopted this term for this year’s election campaign in an effort to lure  young voters  to join and vote for the party.

It was actually quite hilarious to watch  the ANC’s General Secretary Gwede Mantashe, former National Police Commissioner (a man with a lot of “swag” read style ) Bheki Cele,  KwaZulu Natal Premier – Senzo Mcunu and a host of other ANC provincial and national officials literally shaking their bosoms to the South African hit song and now the MetroFM  song of the year “Y-Tjukuja ” by Uhuru, next to skimpily clad young girls wearing the Yellow Black and Green  T-shirts with the tag-line “MY ANC MY SWAG”

They all clamoured on stage  and  jokingly tried to out-do each other with their skillful dancing: shaking hips, waists, bottoms and stamping their feet at the launch of the  ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal “ANC Friday ” campaign. It was meant of course to be a hip cool event with the goal  of projecting the  ANC as a current and relevant professional party, not stuck in old traditions and customs , but a party  which is truly moving with the times; one which is relevant and accommodating of young people’s love for fashion, accessories, music and the good times.

I mean it was really funny to observe because though the ANC was at the helm of ensuring human rights and dignity for all including LGBTI (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Transexual and Intersex) people;  although both party and government policies are quite progressive on that front: I  honestly doubt that the ANC would have approved such a campaign in aid of the LGBTI community.

The ANC and government have maintained a very  contradictory (if not schizophrenic) narrative when dealing with issues pertaining to the  LGBTI community.  Two cases spring to mind.  Comments by the former Minister of Arts and Culture Lulu Xigwana in 2010  after viewing  Photographer Zanele Muholi’s work at a collective art exhibition held  at the Constitutional Court’s Women’ Goal labeling her photographs; portraits of women in same-sex relationship as  ” non nation building” as she angrily walked out of the exhibition co-funded by her own Department  of Arts and Culture. She was indeed quite disturbed that she had been made  party to such “wrong behaviour, which disturbed core  South African society, it was simply not nation building”.   We can also  similarly recall hateful  comments made  by South African Ambassador to Uganda Jon Qwelane in his July 2008 article  published in the Sunday Sun titled: “Call me names, gay’s not okay”  which he skillfully penned at the height of brutal killings of black lesbians in the country. Though the Human  Rights Commission (HRC) launched a case against Mr  Qwelane for Hate speech. Mr Qwelane stood by his words asserting that he too has a right to freedom of expression and those rights are guaranteed by our constitution. Not surprising the Department of International Affairs and Corporation (Dirco) said in a statement responding to President Museveni’s draconian  new  anti -gay law  would see  queer people being sentenced to life in prison, that  ” The South African Government will adopt a quiet diplomacy approach on the Ugandan issue”. Constitutional Court expert Pierre De Vos says there is untold danger in this particular type of quiet diplomacy:”

Sometimes absolute silence becomes politically impossible. Those who are not prepared to embrace the full humanity of fellow human beings because of prejudice or self-protection will then hide behind impersonal statements or will make hollow declarations devoid of any real compassion.

It is the absence of any words or actions that display true solidarity with the oppressed minority that is usually the dead give-away. Such statements impose a different kind of silence – even as it pretends to speak about the love that “dare not speak its name” – which can often have equally devastating effects. This silence – which hints at but never names or describes the oppression of gay men and lesbians and its often devastating effects on fellow human beings in full – is the silence of the hypocrite and the closet homophobe. This, unfortunately, is the quality of the “half-silence” of the South African government about the horrors faced by many people who experience same-sex sexual desire in South Africa and elsewhere in the world.

So while this may have given me a chuckle and some much-needed comic relief,  it left me with more questions than answers. I wondered if they would have danced and jived, with such glee had they known what  Swag actually stands for. I wondered if they would have approved the SWAG campaign had they  known  that SWAG is in actual fact an acronym declaring that they are secretly gay.  Imagine if  Secretly We Are Gay was an actual ANC election campaign – what difference that would make to so many people on the continent….  but the ANC’s SWAG is all about appearances as concept developer (pictured – far left)  explained on Friday that the  campaign was to lure  young people who love fashion, to express themselves in ANC colours. The MY ANC MY SWAG  Facebook page states:” MY ANC MY SWAGG AIMING @ KEEPING ANC MEMBERS ON A SWAGG ESPECIALLY YOUNG PEOPLE THIS IS A ONE OF BIG CAMPAIGNS MOVING TOWARDS 2014 N BEYOND THAT WILL KEEP ANC IN THE MINDS OF THE PEOPLE THIS WILL ALSO ASSIST IN KEEPING BORN FREE GENERATION MOBILIZED ”

One can only sigh at the missed opportunity.  More than anything though,  the recent events both in South Africa and in Uganda make one thing crystal clear: Those in power will do just about anything to get votes and  remain in power for as long as it is humanly possible. They will do so by any means necessary even at the expense of minority groups, the poor , the young and the uninformed. They will hold on to power even at the expense of everyone’s most basic human rights.  Which means we must equally stand up and  defend minority rights and the basic human rights for ALL  by any means necessary. Because power plus love equals Peace.

Ends

Featured

THE ERECTION SEASON AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR US…

Ooozing Sex Appeal: DA Gauteng Premier Candidate - Mmusi (ruler) Maimane
Ooozing Sex Appeal: DA Gauteng Premier Candidate – Mmusi (ruler) Maimane

In the past five years I have spent a considerable amount of time in the company of men from all walks of life and from all regions of the world. And by a considerable amount of time – I mean considerable… day and night all the time, hanging out with them  chilling just doing stuff that men do when they are not in the company of women or more specifically for me women they would like to ideally have sex with or are “attracted”  to.  I was so to speak – one of the “boys”.   During this time I was given a very rare opportunity to observe their behavior and attitudes and outlook towards life. And while I am no wiser than most people and will not in no way attempt in this blog to box men into any category, at the very least  this time offered  me an opportunity to ask questions  or have candid, open and honest conversation about  relationships of all kinds –  with no strings attached.

The most revealing observation for me has to be about sex.  Seven days  is the most  an average healthy  man can go without sex. Every seven days on average, a man  needs, must have sex.  Preferably with someone they love… but once the deadline is over – and it if it’s going on to more than seven days, anyone will do.  The natural, biological  clocks kicks in and it has nothing to do with who they really love, care about or want to marry Ideally. It’s like being hungry or thirsty or even needing to pee. A man must have sex after seven days or things just don’t work out. It’s not personal and actually they don’t mean to hurt you. It’s a  human basic need they cannot go without, so either you make yourself available or you move for someone else who is be available.

At the end of the day sex is going to be had – with or without you. Finish and Klaar.

I want to use this analogy for elections  – any election season – anywhere  which is quite apt. Every 5 years we need to vote.  But this time we the nation ( female ) are in the powerful position.  All the men and women of politics need our vote and as many of them as they can get.  Many of them now are campaigning like men, who say vote for us, but if you don’t there are many more fish in the sea.  That’s the attitude…. but it belies the truth.

There are no more fish in the sea for them.  This is the one time we can use the biological clock to our advantage and give our  vote or power to someone else . We are the men in this scenario. It should not be an emotional decision. We have needs and our needs, need to be met, and if those in power have been unable for the past 20 years  give up the goods as it were, to make us “dance” then well there are many others who are willing to do just the same  thing  right now today.

Now is our time to spread our seed far and wide… to any and everyone who is willing.

Those who really, love us and really care, will show up and despite the clicking biological clocks all round they will fight to remain relevant and useful in our lives.

It’s their turn to work for it. Don’t fall for the sweet-talk and charm, they must show you the goods or forever remain silent.

We have options too, they may not shake us to the core, with earth-shattering- tremors  of utter ecstasy but they will get the job done. Which is basically what we need.

So let’s relax and enjoy the ride.  Let’s stop working “hard” for it.

As American Actress Betty White said ” Why do people say – “grow some balls”? Balls are weak and sensitive! If you really want to get tough, grow a vagina! Those things take a pounding!”

I think we’ve had enough pounding ….  let’s take a holiday   sit back,  enjoy some  Champagne. and the Grand Parade.

Happy  Champagne Thursday!

DAILY-LIFE AS PEFORMANCE

Long Live The dead Queen by Mary Sibande Pic: Arthrob
Long Live The dead Queen by Mary Sibande
Pic: Arthrob

A Couple of days ago I was invited to a gig at the Drill Hall downtown Johannesburg, opposite the notoriously crowded and busy Noord Street taxi rank.  We arrived fashionably late as always in time to hear the last band on the line up blasting its tunes to a half full glass gallery. It was strange to be out among former party people and friends.  The music performed by a new up and coming Afro-Rock-band BCUC, was too much to bear.  I stood between bobbing heads and watched as the band members sang their lungs out as if it were their last performance on earth.

FO MO…

Orange juice in hand, I went out to the balcony, for some air. The city streets offered some quiet room for idle contemplation.  Then Suddenly, as if listening to a documentary narration on the National Geographic channel I heard a beautiful baritone say, “Look at her, picking up, bag after bag, rubbish after rubbish, and no one is paying attention her, she does her work, quietly as if she’s performing” he mused and waited to let his words linger on the woman in blue overalls and a reflective jacket plastic bag in hand bending-over. “It’s a kind of performance.”   I searched for the voice with my eyes and found it coming from the mouth of the artist friend who invited us to join him on a night out to fend off a common condition among hip Jo’burgers called FOMO or the Fear of Missing Out.  I wondered if this woman, someone’s grandmother, mother or aunt, wife, sister, friend, thought the same about her work as a municipal worker for Pick-It-Up (a municipal refuse collecting service).  A performance. His languid narration brought to mind a memory from childhood.  Bear with me as I connect the dots.   Here’s the story:

EMAKHISHINI BABY…

Domestic work in township slang is called – emakhishini – a Zulu word meaning Kitchens. I knew that my grandmother woke up every day as early as four in the mornings to catch the train and go to work Emakhishini, a place I imagined to be a massive large kitchen full of dishes and plates and my favourite: Shiny silver pots, pans and all manner of utensils.  In my mind’s eye my grandmother would report to work and fall in line next to other women and begin the task of washing dishes all day as if in a factory until it was time to come home.  Then one day my grandmother told me the unthinkable she said “today I am going to take you to work with me”.  “Really?” I exclaimed with all the excitement and enthusiasm an inquisitive, I’ll go anywhere as long as we’re on the road nine-year old could master. “I will get to see the huge kitchen that you work in?” Yes she said. Oh boy was I excited, finally I would have a story to tell to the other kids when schools re-opened.  Since I was petrified of trains, we took a mini-bus taxi.  I must have pelted her with questions all the way from Soweto to one of Johannesburg’s leafy Suburbs. We arrived to a cream-white  house with a pool  and yes I was a little disappointed at the size of it, since I had imagined that it would be some place huge and magnificent. The moment I entered the space – I felt as if I was walking into a movie set. Two younger white children (toddlers) sat on the carpet floor watching cartoons amid a river of toys strewn everywhere. The Mother crisscrossed down the passage, kitchen and lounge while shouting orders to Lefina, my grandmother. “Stay here, and play with the children” My grandmother instructed me while she went in for more instructions from her madam.

After the Madam and her husband left the house for work, I followed my grandmother into the kitchen where I was confronted with the biggest shock of my life.

WEEK-END SPECIAL…

Still today as I write this I am still trying to figure out just what was going through my mind and how I rationalized my imaginary majestic silver kitchen with  the reality of what  “emakhishini “  work actually  was.  I still don’t understand why I was so shocked by what I saw. Pots, plates, dirty cups, mounds of plates with half eaten dried out food  and sauces, mountains and mountains of Tupperware, some even fell to the floor, whose cream-white tiles were covered in black soot; it was so disgusting my head spun. I had never seen a house as filthy as that kitchen in my short life, with the exception of the beer house at the top of our street. But even they managed to wash the dishes once in a while. I couldn’t understand how grown people could live in such filth for days on end. The day of the week was Monday. “Wow “I exclaimed “don’t these people wash the dishes? “ I asked my grandmother “So all this time, Friday, Saturday, Sunday they don’t wash the dishes?” Why? I asked her, “Because it’s my job to wash the dishes” She replied already starting to clear out the dizzying mess. “They wait for you? for the whole weekend??”  I asked. Yes she said “that’s why you’re going to help me” she said. I immediately wished I had never said yes to my grandmother’s invitation. I couldn’t think just where I would even start to help her, the kitchen was such a mess; it was as if a hurricane, coupled with a bloody world war had taken place in that kitchen. Plus in my imagination my grandmother never worked alone, how was I supposed to help her?  The prospect of having to clean up brought tears to my eyes which I tried  desperately to hide from mama.

THE SHOWER

My grandmother consoled me and told me I shouldn’t worry she would clean up the kitchen herself; I was to help her with one small favour she said. “It won’t take long, and then you can join the other children and watch TV” she said, we didn’t own at a television set at home.  She said I would like you to help me clean the bathroom baby as she led me to the shower.  She said see these tiles, they used to be white but now as you can see they are almost black, if you can scrub them clean for me you will have helped me a lot she said as she cleaned one corner of the one inch by inch white tiles whose ridges had become black from decay and grime in demonstration. “Every single one of them?” I asked my heart sinking with each syllable. “Yes my baby” my grandma said with such a sweet pleading voice, I couldn’t disappoint her. The minute she left the bathroom I started crying, as I scrubbed every inch of that shower as if it were the last thing I would do. I had been in that bathroom for-ever, when my grandmother arrived and told me I had done a sterling job, better than she would have she said. “Now come eat and look after the other children” I followed her to a transformed kitchen, as if an angel had come and did a miraculous make-over. I was proud of my grandmother. But I missed her more, she had disappeared into the children’s bedroom and was now ironing their clothes,  she looked so lonely and alone I had never missed someone alive standing right in front of me like I did then. I lost all and any respect I had for white people. I resented how my grandmother told her madam how well I had scrubbed the bathroom making it look almost brand new. She was so proud. The Madam smiled at me, but all I wanted was to go home, with my grandmother to our little house with music and radio stories at 7, where she didn’t have to wash mountains of dishes.

Life as performance…

Maybe I have trouble with the idea because of that experience. Because I know that my grandmother was not engaged in some form of artistic Performance for the benefit of galleries or artists bored with their lives looking for a muse or inspiration.  It was not a performance scrubbing those tiny little tiles inch by inch.   The artists’ job is meant to challenge the norm, reveal new perspectives, ways of seeing the other but I suppose I have a problem with easy fantasies and eloquent conclusions.   I have a problem with world-renowned artist Mary Sibandes’ Glorified “Sophie” character in her critically acclaimed work “Long live the Dead the Queen” a domestic worker – maid – dressed majestically in regal, aristocratic, stoic yet still domestic uniform. I had never truly understood why until now.

Here’s the thing…

While I admire Mary Sibandes’ work and artistic talent and vision: I am just simply tired of efforts to try and glorify abusive behavior in the name of art.  I am just simply tired of being forced to make do, accept the inhumane working conditions which are simply put – an act – of continued slavery perpetuated by both the former colonial masters and increasingly the new African black bourgeoisie or middle class.  I simply just can’t stand it anymore, to watch and listen as people pontificate, subvert and what not with what is essentially people’s lives.  Here’s the thing, I don’t look down on Domestic work, or people who do this type of work. It is work. There’s nothing wrong with cleaning people’s homes and offices who can’t do it themselves, there’s nothing wrong with working as a municipal worker for Pick It Up, picking up refuse, cleaning the sewage etc. – work is work and as some would say, “someone has got do it” Restoring order in chaos is a talent, a skill which includes – all the skills required for you my learned friend to land that plum job at that corner office. Time management, organizational skills, project management, conflict management, people skills, culinary skills, child care abilities etc. So those who do this type of work must be paid and compensated with salaries consumerate with their skills, experience and hours spent at a job.   I think it’s high time that domestic workers are paid a living wage, and no that does not amount to the 150 bucks you spend on a dinner in a restaurant.  Domestic workers must be paid real wages,   close to what you would expect to be paid for a day’s hard labour.  A minimum of 6 -10 thousand rand a month, for picking up your soiled panties that you leave lying around or the tread marks of last night’s dinner that  you neglected to use a toilet brush to remove.  If you want someone to clean up after you and wipe your cute little behind you must be willing to pay and pay well for work well done, otherwise don’t patronize people by expecting them be grateful, for the change you give them for a full day’s work. If they need training, you as the employer must foot the bill, send them for further education and skills and pay them what they are worth. So that they too can plan ahead, advance their lives, send their children to school, buy a home, have choices and not live from hand to mouth in perpetual slavery to you.   Respect is not a platitude of fake smiles, hand me downs, hug and fake benevolence. Show respect by paying people a decent salary. Pay them money so that they can buy the clothes they want to wear, not some hand me down clutter and rubbish you pull out from your wardrobe and dump it on them because shame they are so poor. You must pay; otherwise learn how to clean up after yourself.  There’s no shame in domestic work, the shame is from you, you must feel ashamed that you expect someone to clean up your shit and then turn around and spit on them by disrespecting them and looking down on them.  You must be ashamed because you know you wouldn’t, would never do what you expect your domestic worker to do at the price you pay them.  (Please don’t say that’s why I went to school and got an education crap, you should know better by now, surely)

There are countless examples of people around the world who make money from organizing people’s homes and offices doing the cleaning, the dusting etc. There are even shows about it. And you expect “Sophie” to do it for free for you, giving her just enough money for transport and brown bread.  You are a slave-master. If you insist you must not complain when it’s not clean enough to meet your very high standards, you get what you pay for. Empowerment does not begin with some government policy or legislation, do the math oh you educated one and tell me if you could “live” on the pennies you give another. It’s not rocket science; failure to do this is slavery. It means you too are part of the problem not the solution. Start by recognizing that, that woman who cleans your house is a human just like you.   And treat her as you demand to be treated by your employers, give her the benefits you so righteously deserve too. Then maybe you can afford to “care-less” about their personal “issues”.  Anything  less than that is pure slavery.

Life is not a GOD-DAMN performance! Even that you pay good money for.