Today I am feeling many things. But mostly I feel grateful.
I feel grateful that once again, in my lifetime I am witnessing an historic event. There have been so many for my generation - each one different, some of them harrowing, others inspiring, but each one holding a measure of that “the-world-will-never-be-the-same-again” quality that we call history.
I have seen my country come to independence from colonial rule - stood next to my father as a child to watch one flag go up and another come down as our country changed its name.
I have been in the first group of students at my school to use computers at a time when no one had ever heard of Microsoft.
I have survived a genocide and a coup that was not a coup.
I have shed tears and held my breath as black women around the world have broken barriers, in sports, science, business, music, and demonstrated without question that this thing we call #blackgirlmagic is real.
It is a privilege to bear witness - even when the events are tough. You remain forever changed, and how you react to that change is what, in many ways determines your destiny.
In this season we have borne witness to a global pandemic and its effects on the world. We have borne witness to how countries and individuals have reacted, and had the opportunity to, in our own small way, be apart of the voices that impact the trajectory of global events: to decide whether we will be fear-mongers, spreading alarm, despondency cultural division and underscoring class divisions; or to take on the role of voices of reason, asking the right questions and making peace in our time.
To have been part of an MBA programme at ALU at this time has been challenging and exciting. From the first announcement that classes would be held online and not in person as we have been accustomed to doing every 3 or 4 months, to the actual experience of bonding over knowledge over the internet. There has been nothing like this in our past. And so there are no manuals to tell us how to do it best. But as a learning generation we are ready and willing to leap into the unknown and try new things, to fail and to try again anew.
I am so grateful to have been a part of this particular piece of history too. To have added my voice to the conversations, discussions arguments and yes, even fights around all of this. I am appreciating the complexities of life in the 21st century, and mindful fo how my one voice can change the tone of a conversation that is happening in our small groups, in our communities and in our world.
What a time to be alive. And I don’t use the word “alive” lightly.
I am grateful to be alive to witness it all.
Yes I know her.
I know her pretty well actually…(quiet)
Well, yeah.. we’ve done some stuff together.
We’ve become friends actually… over the years.(nodding)
What? Yeah. Well, of course. Yes, very accomplished. Insanely driven. Hard working, but so chilled when you get to know her…
Yes. I know, looks and a banging body too… Issa full-on package right there! (laughing)
Well, of course it looks like that on the outside, but she has her share of troubles.
No really…. You don’t know….
OK well I can tell you some really horrible stuff has happened to her.
Like crushing stuff, you know….things that would break you.
And yeah, she breaks.
She breaks. Breaks like a little girl, as they say.
I’ve seen her crouched on the floor, clutching her belly, wailing.
I’ve seen her cry for hours, seen her not get out of bed, seen her eat nothing but chocolate and wine for…I don’t know how long,
I've seen her when her eyes are red and her whole face is swollen and covered in snot and tears.
I’ve watched the crumpled tissues pile up by her bed - and not because she has a flu.
Oh she breaks. Yeah. (sighs)
I have seen her broken.
But then… then its like something happens.
You know that meme that has the quote “She remembered who she was, and the game changed”? That one?
Yeah. Its like something happens… like she remembers who she is. And then she kind of just gets up - slowly. I mean I'm not saying it's like some kind of high or anything.
Just gets up, you know. Washes her face, and starts again.
I’ve seen her start over …. So often…. Too many times actually.
Yeah I mean start over in all kinds of ways - I’ve seen her start over in business, in love, in friendships with other women. Just starting from scratch, you know? With a new project, a new man, or new people. That's gotta be hard. Especially when you’ve lost a lot of money, or your reputation has been tarnished, ego bruised, you know the deal... And the pride right? Like you have this epic massive fail and it’s like everyone is watching, and you just want to move to another country, you know?
But she doesn't flinch. Never let’s herself and the rest of us get away with it. She’ll look straight into the camera lens and start again. Take two, or seven or nineteen…whatever.
I know… I sound like I’m some kind of groupie….. I mean it’s hard not to have enough respect for a woman like that. She’s ….well… she’s something.
Sure there’s haters. Yeah… I've heard the stories…But her? I don’t think she ever even notices them, she’s so frickin focused (laughs).
I don’t know - maybe she does hear it and just ignores it all.
And you kinda have to feel sorry for those people… I mean they don’t really know what they’re talking about. Coz… her…?
She’s seen some things man.
Yeah. That’s her.
Photo by Ramez E. Nassif on Unsplash
As for me and my house, we will encourage courage.
We will be brave with our lives.
We will be brave with our choices.
We will dare greatly and go boldly.
We will walk all the way to the edge of our fears
We will try new things and constantly challenge old ones.
We will interrogate our beliefs and update our habits.
We will do the things that no one else wants to do
so that we can enjoy the rewards that no one else can enjoy.
We will work hard, and we will love hard. We will rest.
We will look to one another.
We will honour each other.
We will allow ourselves to lean on others -
even when we know they might let us down.
We will love wholeheartedly,
even when we fear our hearts might break.
We will eat with gusto. And laugh with abandon.
We will sing just as loud as we like
And dance - even when we're not sure how!
We will raise our voices. And also our eyebrows :-)
We will pursue our passions.
We will fail and try again and fail and try again
We will nurture our gifts and talents
We will forever be learning
We will travel far and read widely
We will argue fiercely and forgive graciously
We will trust a God that is bigger than ourselves
Even when he doesn’t seem to agree with us
We will chase dreams
We will believe in each other
We will be brave.
And be brave
And be brave.
It is difficult if not impossible to be a person of influence or even a person of substance without making an error of judgement. And of course one does not know that one is making an error until after the event.
It is also impossible to be a person of influence or substance without taking risks. So one looks at the job to be done and the potential impact of one’s involvement. As a servant leader one always wants to err on the side of doing too much rather than too little I think. And then one assesses the risk - potential reputational damage being the greatest.
The thing is, you don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t really know another person’s intent or agenda in co-opting you to a project. You don’t know how deep their sincerity lies when they say they need your help. But worst of all - you don’t know what they don’t know which could potentially place you both on a path you could never have foreseen. All of this not knowing puts you in harm's way.
However, if we made our choices with a prevailing sense of not knowing, our lives would come to a grinding halt. No one would get married, or have children, or enter into business partnerships or even start anything new. Not knowing cannot therefore be a reason not to do.
When it comes to helping; when it comes to effecting change; when it comes to contributing to a vision you believe in, unless one has a solid reason not to, one must take the chance and offer the gifts one has. Because whether you are a singer or a strategist, your input is valid and valuable.
So I would rather you didn’t pretend to know for sure. I’d rather you didn’t quote scripture or best selling books at me to justify your involvement. If you simply said, “To be honest with you, I don’t know. I’m not sure; but I’d like to try and help if I can....” If you said this, I would understand you, because haven’t we all been in an awkward spot at some point? A spot where we really can’t be sure of what’s going on, or if our team-mates are sincere? So if you said this to me, and if your choice turned out to be a bad one, me and maybe 13 million other people would find it easy to forgive you. If you just acknowledged that you too, are not too sure.
Kindness is gold.
When you say you want a partner who is kind, many people immediately think you mean a person who will give you gifts, create opportunities or offer you a leg up on the ladder of success. While all that may be good, that isn’t what we mean by kindness.
Because kindness is not the same thing as generosity.
Kindness isn’t about things. It’s more about thoughts.
Kindness will make you a cup of tea before you’re awake. Or reverse your car out of the garage because you are prone to attracting palm trees and pillars. Kindness will forfeit sleep to listen to you muddle through a problem that is keeping you awake, not because there is a reward at the end of it, but because its important to you. Kindness carries your problem as if it is not yours alone.
Kindness remembers to burn your favourite essential oil in your room on the day you come back from a trip. So that you come home to the smell of home.
Kindness will run you a bubble bath and rub your feet, even if you are not pregnant.
Kindness is not the same as sympathy.
It is much more alike to empathy.
Kindness will never put you in a position to be humiliated or embarrassed. Kindness will protect you and advocate on your behalf. Kindness wont play games to leave you bewildered and unsure. Kindness makes it clear who you are in a person’s life, and never leaves you wondering. It behaves consistently with what it says. Kindness gives you a place at the table and never lets anyone threaten that place.
Kindness is a quality that recognises the preciousness of others alongside the preciousness of self. It is an input that negates the usual transactional exchange of value and seeks the good of another for its own sake.
Kindness is thoughtful and tender.
Kindness in fact, is true friendship.
If your partner is a your friend, then you my dear, have gold.
Some of us are singers and some of us are strategists.
Some, like Martin Luther King Jnr, write speeches that will set your soul on fire; while others walk and wield a gun to win your freedom.
It is not the same man who pays the bill for the meals of the activists as the one who braves the gunfire to take on combat. One man marches ahead with his machete and clears a path for the soldier behind him. Another takes photographs, captures the story and broadcasts it far and wide to evoke global support for a movement. One main paints a placard, another watches over the children of those who work.
Some of us a singers.
Some of us are strategists.
The one who sings may so invoke the feelings of a nation that transformation is made not just possible, but even inevitable, in large part through his song. A song to motivate or fortify. His words give courage in the face of fear or uncertainty.
The one who builds a strategy may do so over weeks and months and years of planning. Observing, adjusting and redrawing his plans once more. And again. And then again. His effort is no less valuable than that of the man who swings the sickle in the bush.
Perhaps my part is not your part.
Perhaps I am a singer.
Perhaps you are a strategist.
What if Zimbabwe was a woman?
What if she was a divorced mother of two precocious girls ?
What if she was physically able, mentally astute and spiritually aware?
She would be a woman with a good eduction, a profession even, a means of earning her own living, a decent group of friends and deep capacity to love and be loved.
And yet she one day found herself alone, on the side of the road, her car broken down, her well-laid plans rendered shambolic.
What would l tell this woman? This Zimbabwe with everything to offer, and yet not enough to show for it; what would I say to her.
I would say, this. I would say, Zimbabwe, no one is coming. I would say, You have parked your car here on the side of the road on a hot November day. You have sat here for six hours. You are waiting. Waiting for what? No one is coming. No one is making this go away for you.
I would say, You are sitting here getting hotter and hotter. You are getting hungry. The battery on your one cellphone has died and the other is fading fast. You have laid your “Zambia” (a piece of fabric you name after another country, after children of another mother) down in the shade of a tree and lain on it because the heat inside the car is too much. You have tried to drink your bottles of mineral water, but they are tasting more and more like tea because of the heat. You are thinking in fact that if you employ your fertile imagination, you can really taste a little Tanganda at the end of every sip. Zimbabwe. No one is coming. No one will make this go away.
I would tell Zimbabwe to look to herself. I would remind her of the two children awaiting her at home. Children who are believers in her capacity to provide, to defend, and even to make pleasant and pleasure out of everything in their lives. I would ask Zimbabwe to think about the other trials she has been through. The parts in her path that seemed to be insurmountable - the birthing of a baby. The obtaining of a degree and writing final exams while 8 months pregnant. I would say remember the October heat in that exam room. Remember how you wanted to take off all your clothes and pour cold water on your distended belly. I would say, you got through that. I would remind Zimbabwe of the other baby - the one born while waiting for the gynae in the hospital. The one where the midwife insisted on issuing instructions in deep Shona because she thought you were being a “salad” and playing at not understanding when she said "gomera" and you didn’t know it meant push and your baby just remained parked in your pelvis while she had her little moment of power-playing. I would say your baby could have died but she lived and here we all are.
I would say Zimbabwe - that was Chimurenga one, and two, and we can even find Chimurenga three, This here….this is not a war. There is no life that needs to be lost here. This is a broken down car on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. I would say Zimbabwe, get some perspective. Is this unpleasant? Yes. Is this inconvenient? Sure. But it is not the end of the world or even the end of the road. It is fixable and the one who can fix it is you.
I would say Zimbabwe listen carefully: There is nothing you need to fix this situation that you don’t already have. Everything you need is already here - with you; inside you; around you. You have everything you need. Make a move, or a call, or a plan.
Be what you need because no one is coming to be that for you. Look to yourself because you are your own responsibility. That is what adulting means Zimbabwe. It mean you are no longer your father’s responsibility, nor are you your spouse’s responsibility, and even if you had a blesser, you would soon discover that you are not his responsibility either. You are the one in charge of yourself. Fix it. Fix yourself. No one is coming to carry the responsibility for you.
No. One. Is. Coming.
Having been a Twitter follower of an organization called Akili Dada for some time now, I only recently discovered, (with much delight, I might add) what the name actually means. In Ndebele the equivalent would be Cabanga Dade! In other words, use your brain, sister!
I was tickled by the cheeky tone of this expression, as well as the fact that it is a ‘woman to woman’ expression of encouragement and exhortation. But more than this, I was moved by the focused approach to helping young women develop leadership skills through education. The education of girls is something that is recognised the world over as one of the most important requirements for promoting sustainable development and economic progress.
Education gives girls options that would otherwise not be available to them, it raises their sense of self worth and empowers them with knowledge about the world around them. Educating girls is the first step in helping women become part of the larger decision making process, equipping them with social and intellectual skills that will enable them to particulate fully as citizens of the world and to protect themselves from harm.
Educating girls leads to higher wages, lower birth rates, reduced maternal and child mortality and better health and education for the next generation. It has been demonstrated that when education for girls is improved the country enjoys greater health and economic prosperity. Research shows the every extra year of schooling for girls cuts the risk of infant mortality by 5-10% and increases their lifetime income by 15%. Women invest more in their families and communities than men do, so the dollars spent educating girls are more certain to come back. Studies have shown a direct correlation between increased rates of girls school enrolment and increased GDP.
Yet in spite of all the well documented benefits that can accrue not just to individuals but to communities and countries as a whole, the education of girls remains a contentious issue in the developing world. Ita has long been reported that as many as a third of Zimbabwe’s girl children are failing to attend school because of reasons such as poverty, abuse and cultural practice.
Grants made by organisations such as DFID have increased the opportunities for girls in Zimbabwe enabling tens of thousands of girls in the poorest rural communities to enroll in and complete secondary school.
But while this seems generous and is certainly helpful, it made me wonder whether we really need to wait for the DFIDs, the UNICEFs and the Camfeds to help us educate our girls.
Akili Dada started off as a local initiative, created by a local woman who understood the local problems and local needs. While the NGO directory does list some organisations in Zimbabwe that address the education of girls, I believe more can be done by us as ordinary citizens. Whether it’s that difficult conversation with the male head of your family, that monthly sacrifice for a niece, a cousin or a sister, or a commitment to demonstrating the benefits that will accrue to your family because of your own education as a woman, we can all play a bigger part, and achieve our own individual versions of “akili dada” right here at home.
SOUTHERN SISTER- SUNDAY 15 SEPTEMBER 2013
A friend was astonished recently when I told him that I had copied a passage from a novel into my notebook several years ago. He couldn’t understand what would make a person do something so seemingly pointless! But the words I had read (and rewritten, and later reread) were so fascinating that I didn’t know any other way to make them a part of my reality. A small part of the passage, coming out of a Penny Vincenzi novel read this way:
“ …suddenly, none of that mattered. She had done it, she had made it all on her own, she was that most elusive, sought after, fought over thing - a success. Beyond anything she could have imagined. She just could not, she would not, give that up.”
In summary it was the point at which a woman had, after some internal struggle, achieved a level of success that gave her great satisfaction as well as monetary reward. It spoke of the addictive feeling that both money and power gave her and of the pleasure that came out of defiance and resilience.
Of course the idea of “making it on her own” is in many ways a myth. No one really makes it without other people supporting, making opportunities available, understanding and endorsing them. Everybody needs somebody, whether they recognise it or not.
And then of course there is that age old question of what success itself is. For some, like the woman in Vincenzi’s novel, it is all about money and power and status. Sometimes even having those things is not enough until society at large gives recognition in the form of a reward such as an award, a political appointment, a seat at the table.
For others, it is the gap between where they started and where they have come to that defines the fact that they are now successful. Many stories of rags to riches hinge on the subject’s humble roots as a point of contrast with the final radiant destination.
What we often forget though, is that success is only a point or a number of points along the total journey of our lives. Unless we are measuring a person’s success at the very end of their lives, the point before and the point after success are open to anything happenning. To have achieved success is not a guarantee of being successful forever. To quote Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Some people measure their success by the number of people whose lives they have touched along the way. They measure their impact by the ways in which they have made things better for others. In Albert Einstein’s words, “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to be a man of value.”
In the final analysis, perhaps the one thing which tops the sweet smell of success is happiness.
Southern sister - Sunday 29 September 2013
“What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?”
These words were written by Langston Hughes, an American writer whose work became famous in the 1920s, in a piece entitled Harlem.
When I was younger my elder brother whom I worshipped, told me that where there is a will there are at least seven ways. Because he was an engineering student at university, an di was an arts student in high school, I simply assumed that there was some sort of incomprehensible scientific explanation for this statement; that someone had done some complex calculations and averaged things out and come up with this brilliant and very encouraging statement. I took it to be absolute truth, and for many years went about guided by this principle.
Only when I was much older did I realize that he had popped that out randomly with absolutely no factual basis whatsoever; but it did get me thinking. Because I believed it to be true, I always looked for multiple solutions to any problem I faced with the certain knowledge that at least seven could be identified. It worked because I believed in it.
Similarly then, Zimbabweans now must be prepared to make whatever the results of the elections are, work for themselves. If you dreamed a dream of prosperity, you should still chase that dream, irrespective of what the results of the elections are.
If you longed for another child or even another wife, you should surely go ahead and satisfy your longings regardless of who wins the elections.
If you planned to travel to a faraway land, to write poetry in the sunset, to play soccer with a star, or share supper with a sheik, you have no cause to derail your plans.
We read in proverbs 13:12 “ Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true there is hope and joy.”
Because if we allow the results of an election to derail our dreams, we become prisoners of those results. And we should not give ourselves up to be prisoners of anyone or anything; not now, and not ever.
SOUTHERN EYE - 4 AUGUST 2013
I write to lend you my courage, to help you find the words for the things you feel, but are not yet ready to say. I write to tell the stories of our time, and to edify those whose stories I tell and their audiences.