Category Archives: Love writing

Olympics give hope to the poor

To many people the Olympics that are currently going on in Rio are just another jamboree designed to only benefit multinationals through advertising. But in truth, to millions of the poor throughout the world, witnessing one of their own take on and beat the world gives them unmatched hope.

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My Emotional Bond With Books

  About two months ago my little boy who started school in January this year looked at the wall clock in his room with a serious look on his face. He frowned a little bit. And for a second I thought my little boy is about to tell time for the very first time in his life. It’s a wall clock decorated with the animated characters Woody and Buzz from one of his favourite movies, Toy Story. As I continued dressing him without wanting to give away that I’m rooting for him to give this thing a try, he opened his mouth, carefully mouthing the first word, and it took him a while before any sound came out. “We come to play” he said.

I looked at the wall clock, right next to Woody and Buzz were the words “We came to play”. It didn’t matter that he got the tense of the middle word wrong, I was ecstatic. I wanted to shout, to scream: “My boy can read!” It didn’t matter that he’s still got no concept of time, that will come later, to me, by reading those few words he was confirming that he is getting ready to join that privileged class of people on our continent and indeed the world who can read.

I have recently been involved in social media discussions with a few friends who are consumers of the written word. I have learnt that some of South Africa’s best authors struggle to sell their books. Whatever the reason for that, I’m really concerned that our low literacy levels have indeed translated into an artificially reduced love for books. More worrying for me though is that even amongst the classes of people who are literate, our love for books, especially books by black South African authors is really low.

In my mind, our love for books should be unmatched. Yes we cannot all love books but the majority of us should. The way I see it, a people with our history should not have an option of not loving the written word. I’m almost tempted to say our love for books should be mandatory, not an optional hobby. We owe it to ourselves to discover that which we were denied for decades, or even centuries.

I have to admit, my own love for reading was purely coincidental. I grew up in a large family and unlike other people who love literature I was not born into a world rich in books. I struggle to this day to recall what Cinderella and other children’s classics are all about. I didn’t have access to those. Any of the classics that I read were books that an older cousin had for his English Literature classes. Danny the Champion of The World, The Big Friendly Giant and Oliver Twist come to mind.

But the first assault on my literary senses came in the form of a Tsonga language book, Xisomisana. I read that book at about age eleven, and even though it was a book prescribed for a class 4 or 5 years ahead of me, I learnt that a book can move you from this world we inhabit into a totally new world where you are at the mercy of the author. I was quite a sensitive child and I remember crying copious amounts of tears at Xisomisana’s fate, an orphaned girl who had so much trouble in her life because she seemed to have no one in the world.

By the time I went to boarding school to start my high school and coming into contact with a library for the first time I knew that this world, this physical world wasn’t our only option. There existed a world which could be accessed through reading books. I plunged myself into series’ like the Hardy Boys and read them sequentially that I felt that I knew their world, a world so far away from mine. By my middle year in high school I had discovered James Hardly Chase and Sidney Sheldon. Material I would not recommend for an impressionable fourteen-year-old mind but books nonetheless.

Imagine my joy when I learnt of the trials and tribulations of Mariam Makeba, Don Mattera and other South African artists at the hands of the apartheid government, their years in exile, forced removals and all that was going on then. I learnt of culturally iconic places like Sophiatown throw books. I learnt of Nelson Mandela and his speech in the dock through banned books. I escaped my depression, which hadn’t been diagnosed at the time, through burying myself in a good paperback.

I remember the sadness which would come over me on school holidays at the realisation that I was running out of paperbacks faster than I was running out of holiday time. I had no qualms about being labelled a ‘bookworm’ at some stage in high school. Books that I could lay my hands on were my life.
I regret that I had no adult to guide me towards reading material that could develop me as I grew up because young and impressionable as I was, I realise now that with more guidance I could have discovered more authors who could talk to my age at the different points in my life. I could maybe have developed a more positive approach to poetry and other disciplines.

Of paramount importance though is that books gave me the idea that world is so much more than our physical surroundings. That’s why I find it so difficult to understand that there are people who can read, and should read but don’t.

I honestly believe that the saddest thing that can happen to any individual is to be denied the opportunity to learn how to read. If there was a magic wand that I could use to transform the world I’m afraid I would use it to make everyone literate. Imagine me being asked that not so bright question that is asked of most beauty pageants winners (they still do don’t they): “What are you going to do to change the world during your reign?”, “TEACH THE WHOLE WORLD TO READ!!” would be my answer all the time. That’s why that education activist, the teenager Malaala Yousufzai is my hero. she discovered at a very tender age that books can save the world.

I have at various points in my life gone through dry patches of depression when it has become so difficult to do anything. The first sign that things were improving has always been the return of my need to read. To get buried into a good paperback and forget the world.

I hope I’ll have the presence of mind to feed my kids’ minds the right books at various points in their development and that they will develop a very healthy love for reading. I beamed with pride recently when my boy brought home a little certificate that he has completed 50 kiddies books for his age group, the little certificate states, “Today a Reader, Tomorrow a Leader”. I can’t argue with that.

I think my obsession with the written word might be clouding my judgement when it comes to a lot of what I observe about our society, mostly African society. Recently there was a discovery of an 18th century Shipwreck off the coast of Cape Town that was confirmed as a slave carrier from Mozambique headed towards Portugal, filled with hundreds of Africans destined for a life of slavery in Portugal.

The media commentary that I heard or read on the discovery labelled it as “fascinating, intriguing, a breakthrough”. None of those voices were African. They were voices of an observer of Africa. It pained me that none of our people have put themselves in a position to cry out and shout “That’s not fascinating, it’s a painful monument to the lives of all those Africans who were shipped off as slaves to continents where to this they are still fighting for full citizenship”.

I cannot see a people who have a deep love for reading letting that happen to their memory. It has been my untested observation that all the indigenous peoples of the world whose cultural heritages are disappearing have been deprived of books.

I digress. The point I’m making here is if enough of us had an appetite for books this discovery would be another chapter in those books, books that we would write with respect about our own past. Our love for books should not be optional. Our history, our continent and our future demands that we develop an insatiable appetite for books.

 
 

Mourning My Lost Creative Babies

creative writingA friend bought me a copy of the Joseph Heller classic, Catch 22, for my birthday. I had last read the book a good twenty years ago so this 50th anniversary collector’s edition was a God-sent. I had since put it away for when I need a serious pick-me-up read, and that need came up last week. As I looked through the chapter titles my excitement and anticipation kept rising. This is a state that difficult to explain to someone else but if you’ve never experienced it I can liken it to settling down to watch a live sport final, say tennis or soccer, which you ‘know’ your favourite is going to win. You are almost ready to celebrate in anticipation of the win.

Books do that to me sometimes. Looking at the chapter “The Soldier Who Saw Everything Twice” had me giggling before I could even read the chapter. The only other activity that gives me the same amount and type of pleasure is discovering a piece of writing that I had completely forgotten I had written. Like going through your files and discovering an incomplete but very well-written article that makes you think “did I write that?” You feel like giving yourself a high-five. That’s why I love creative writing, but don’t be misled, there are emotional pitfalls in this process.

Don’t let anyone fool you. Creative writing is not for sissies. There are times when I’ve felt it must be easier to squeeze water out of a rock than it is to put down two coherent sentences on a piece of paper. Creative writing is hard business I tell you. Don’t laugh or sneer now, I believe I know what I’m talking about. Don’t believe me? Well you are entitled to your beliefs, even though I know they are wrong. But seriously though, I have been going through a rather serious patch of non-creativity if you want to call it that. But despair not dear reader, my muse has returned. But she’s a little pissed off and here’s why.

My non-creative patch was brought on by two things. The first is the simple matter of having fallen victim to crime. I have joined the long list of my fellow countrymen who have had the misfortune of losing both their tablet and laptop at the same time. Surely there is a category or list of people like that? Both gadgets, stolen. In the same bag. I refuse to be the only one to whom this has happened. I have to be part of some sort of category or list damn it!

I implore you not judge me when I tell you that the theft was probably a result of me having forgotten to lock the car. Yep, say it, I gave away my tablet and laptop. Like a dear friend said to me when I told them: “Why didn’t you lock your car dude, this is South Africa!” As you can imagine, without the tools to aid me in putting my thoughts down my creative ideas were dead in the water so to speak.

It’s as though the ideas refused to come simply because they knew I had no instrument to capture them with. My butt didn’t help matters either, it seemed to conspire with my brain by also refusing to sit itself down long enough for the creative juices to flow. As 2PAC said, it felt like it was just ‘me against the world’. I had ‘nothing to lose’ too because all that could be lost was lost already. So my non-creative patch continued unabated.

Here’s the strangest thing. You would think I would be totally broken by the loss of the actual gadgets themselves. No. Not even by the loss of information that I can never really recover. I can hear you whispering back-up, back-up. I will ok. I have learnt. I know I should have known better. You are missing the point though. Just bear with me as I share the real misery of losing those two gadgets.

It was actually the loss of the half-written and sometimes untitled ramblings that hurt the most. No I did not lose a finished novel that I’m worried someone might publish as their own.

I lost random thoughts, random musings that meant nothing to anyone but me. I lost two paragraphs in certain instances. Hell, it hurts losing even a single sentence if you’ve not used it in one way or another. Those two paragraphs or one sentence might never have progressed into anything suitable for public consumption but damn, they were my creative babies. I conceived them and made sure they took their place in that world of unpublished ideas that one day might be part of something bigger.

Some of the random thoughts and writings that I lost were complete thoughts and articles that I had decided against putting up on my blog. I do not cry for those ideas that had been published already. Those are there for everyone to see. I cry for those of my creative babies that have now simply moved from a position where anything was possible into that unfathomable vortex in cyberspace where abandoned creative babies go: into nothingness. That hurts. Those ideas were mine. There are days when I have wished that they’ll find their way into the hands of someone who will use them, even if it means just reading them or passing them off as their own. See, the biblical wisdom of Solomon taught me that if you love your baby you should be willing to have them continue their life even as someone else’s baby rather than have them die.

This loss of my creative babies has taught me about the uniqueness of every creative thought and idea that I put down. A creative baby is just as unique as a real life baby. I’m certain there are people who have sought to recapture a creative baby they’ve lost and have painfully discovered that it cannot be recreated, just like one cannot recreate a real-life baby. A creative baby is a product of a set of inputs that cannot be put together in the same manner again, these inputs form part of that creative baby’s DNA.

You would never dare suggest to Michael Jackson : “It’s ok that you lost Thriller, you can just right another one” or to Steven Spielberg: “There’s more where ET came from, losing that script is not so bad”. It is bad to lose ideas that you had created and birthed. It’s painful. Ok, so I’m not Michael Jackson or Spielberg, but my ideas are just as original as theirs were and I will mourn my creative babies just as much as they would have mourned theirs, had they had their scripts disappear or get stolen.

There are thoughts I captured during the depths and darkness of depression. A state I would never wish to recreate but was part of the creative process. Those creative babies are gone, forever.

It’s been a while since I blogged on depression, not because I’m rid of the scourge but because it can feel obsessive, plus the condition itself keeps “telling” you not to bother the good people out there, your depression is your own problem. So before putting a single word down on my reflections on depression, I have to fight off that disconcerting feeling that I’m being ‘too much’, that I must shut up and curl up in my little corner and deal with my issues. But I’ve learnt that depression thrives on your backing off. It’s happy when you beat yourself up before anybody else does, and you back off. Before backing off into that little corner I sometimes manage to put down a thought or two. These thoughts cannot be recreated. And now some gadget thief just took off with them.

So you see, my tears are not about the gadgets. They are not about the contacts, or even pictures that the thief got. No, they are about my creative babies. Babies who cannot be recreated.

You’ve probably forgotten that I told you my non-creative patch was aided and abetted by two things. The first of which was the theft of the gadgets. The second one is the depression that you’ve just read about. Worry not, my muse is still on festive steroids so she refuses to allow me to bore you with stories of darkness. So I will not tell you about the whirlwind I’ve just been through or even whether I have come out of it.

But here’s the thing. It was this non-creative patch that got me thinking that the depression itself, although a source of some dark creative thoughts, it is a huge stumbling block to the development of a creative routine which is necessary to ensuring that creative babies are nurtured to a point of growing up and fulfilling their purpose in the world of full-grown creative writing.

So whilst I mourn the premature death of my creative babies in the hands of unsympathetic gadget thieves, I also celebrate that this unfortunate non-creative patch brought on by depression and crime has put my future creative babies on a trajectory totally different to the one that saw my other creative babies melt into nothingness.

I look forward to seeing my future creative babies mature and take their place of pride amongst other creative babies in the world, in my blog and hopefully media with better readership. I look forward to nursing and maturing them not only for my own gratification but also for the benefit of those that believe in the old African saying “It takes a village to raise a child”. I want my next creative children to be nurtured by villages, not just me, lest they fall victim to more gadget thieves.

Again, I assert, Creative writing is not for sissies. You must be prepared for the loss of your creative babies, and not let the pain and haziness resulting from the loss stop you from dreaming big for your yet-to-be-conceived creative babies.

One of the most gratifying things about writing is going through your unpolished creative ideas and come across one that just sparks a creative streak. That’s where the pain come from. That I cannot get the chance to go through those thoughts, ideas and paragraphs again in search of that spark that is so necessary when non-creativity rears its ugly head.

Village Blues

I don’t know why but the December holiday period tends to fill me with nostalgia. I look back at great Christmases past but also at the irreplaceable part of my youth growing up in the village. It’s very funny how I have grown up to make peace with the fact that I grew up in a rural village. Back in the day, being a village boy was an unpardonable sin in urban South Africa.

But times have changed, so much that those without a village background are now looked at the same way we look at snakes in the city: “where the hell do you come from?” So Yes, I’m proud of my village roots and the contribution the village made to my being. Elim

Village Green

Village Green

. That’s where I spent the first twelve years of my life before boarding school introduced me to electricity and showers. But the most revolutionary thing that boarding school introduced to a lot of us village bumpkins was tap water, inside the house.

No longer would we have to carry 20litre canisters down to the river and back up just to have a bath. We had water, inside. With basins and all. Damn. And wait for this one. It was goodbye the long-drop toilet. Now, for those not familiar with this form of ablutions, the idea was quite simple. Dig a deep hole in the ground: build a toilet seat over the hole and erect a suitable structure over this and voila, you a have yourself a nun-flush toilet for the next few years, depending on family size(and of course meal size and frequency). This structure deserves a blog in itself and I was reminded recently of the goings-on inside the long-drop toilet by a well-told tale of a facebook friend about his experiences with the long-drop.

There must have been a great deal of good vibes in the village for it to be the place of refuge for my mind whenever we approach these holidays. Our village, before the introduction of ‘locations’ was your typical rural African village. Everything was done in slow motion, almost. You never rushed anywhere. If you wanted to get anywhere on time, you left early. None of this ‘put the foot down’ nonsense because you’re running late. Running late was not even an option.

The only thing you could be late for in the village was school. See, your typical village had just one or two schools. The result was 80% of the students came from outside a 5km radius of the school. Depending on weather conditions, late-coming was acceptable. In extreme cases, those that had to go across a river were excused from coming to school on days that the river was swollen.

But you just never had an adult say I was late for church, a funeral, work. No. Waking up early was part of the village’s DNA. It was part of how things were done. You can imagine the cultural shock to my system when I discovered one could run late for things. But I adapted and before I knew it I too could play my part in being late. So much so that in the very few cases that a lady friend has looked me in the eye and blurted Ím late”, I have a standard answer that is rooted back in my village days: It’s not me(mine). I don’t understand why I’m usually the only one laughing at the joke.

Anyways, a boy growing up in the village and not herding some sort of animals was just unacceptable. If your family had none you found a way to help friends herd their own cattle or goats. The experience of being out in the bushes and fending for yourself is one I can never forget. It was just accepted that once you are out there you would find a way to take care of yourself when it came to food. Not that you were not allowed to go back home and eat, you were. But we just got so wrapped up in whatever we did out there that going back home to eat was a huge inconvenience.

Also you forgot about the longdrop toilet when you were out in the bush. You became one with nature. Also there was no 3-ply nor 2-ply toilet roll out in the bush. There was just no-ply toilet paper. So you improvised. And we lived, and survived and grew up to the point where we can now pamper our behinds with 3-ply toilet roll.

Being one with nature meant eating fruit, fish and wild animals for those who had the skill to catch them. But it also meant that when nature called you went behind a rock a short distance away from your chosen base spot. Of course there were one or two hotheads who never bothered with the accepted behind-the- rock convention. So it was not totally unheard of that in running after that cow or goat your foot could find itself landing in the freshest of you know, human excrement.

The most beautiful aspect of village life was that everyone knew each other. Literally. You could walk from one end of the village to the other over a two-hour period and be guaranteed that every single person you would meet knew you or you knew them. And that’s why it was said ‘’it takes a village to raise a child’’. Any adult was your aunt, uncle, grandmother or grandfather. They could send you to the shops an hour away without consulting your family as long as you were not running an errand for someone else.

The only time of the year when you got an injection of foreign life into the village was at a time like this one, when all the people who worked in the cities made their way home. Bringing with them not only money but Christmas goodies and new clothes for the children in their families.

Like in all close-knit villages strangers stood out like a sore thumb. They didn’t have to do or say anything, they simply had to be and you just knew, ‘not one of us’. Amazingly, back then this meant you had to be extra courteous because you were dealing with someone you didn’t know unlike in the city where not knowing someone means putting on your bigotry hat.

Each family had its own graveyard, usually not far from the family home. Everyone in the family knew all the graves. So it was with agonising horror when the then government decided to disrupt our nice village life by starting a settlement to provide space for people who had been moved from their own areas which were close to or in the then white areas. Part of the process meant the relocation of all graves to a common graveyard to provide space for the new arrivals.

We had grown up to know you don’t mess with people at rest, the dearly departed. But we were quickly disabused of this notion by the arrival of huge earth-moving vehicles that could dig a forty year old grave in two scoops and empty the remains into a small little coffin for reburial at the new gravesite.

The new location brought with it new people, with new behaviours that were not necessarily suited to our village way of life. But we all understood why they had ‘funny’ behaviours. Their settlement was built on the graves of the ancestors of our small picturesque village.

This new village, complete with the mall and everything, is not the village that my mind finds refuge in during times of trouble. My mind finds refuge in that small little green village that had only about three television sets at the beginning of the eighties. The little village in which we knew every car and its registration number without knowing why we knew it.

It is this village that my mind returns to every festive season. It is a village that I cannot physically return to but I guess will stay with me for many more Christmases to come. Happy Holidays and thanks for reading.

Mistaken Identity

At the beginning of 1995 I decided to get my right ear pierced. I got the piercing and chose a gold plated stud to bling my ear away. I cut my hair short and did an s-curl. It didn’t matter that the hair transformation came at a very painful cost to my scalp.

I had never applied strong hair straighteners to my head till then. The salon lady, in some dingy 7th floor flat in Central Johannesburg gave me a look of disdain when I complained about the burning pain that the s-curl lotion inflicted on my scalp, a look that said, “so you expected this to come painlessly?”. For the first time I understood where the phrase “Bontle ba berekelwa” came from. Loosely translated it means “looking good comes at a cost”. I was happy with the final look though. The gold stud and the s-curl gave me that little extra confidence boost that was necessary to carry favour where it mattered, with the ladies. Remember, no one holds a patent on vanity.

Imagine my shock three months down the line when I discovered that a stud in the right ear was an ‘underground’ signal in the gay community that said “I’m available”. I immediately cast my mind back to the few situations where I may have received unsolicited attention from fellow males. There was one unforgettable instance two weeks prior to my discovery at a nightclub in Yeoville. I had received the most beautiful smile from a gentleman as we passed each other in the passageway to the restrooms. My s-curl and stud were definitely working, only my intended targets if you will, were those of the opposite sex. I realised the stud had me assume an identity that I was personally not aware of. A mistaken identity if you will.

No, I didn’t stop wearing my stud on discovering that I might be sending mixed signals out there. It had taken an enormous amount of courage for me to overcome my shyness to get the damn stud, let alone the risk of being disowned(boys just didn’t do ear jewelry in my dad’s house). If it worked both ways, tough, I couldn’t help it. Unfortunately I got a nasty infection on my right earlobe, and had to go pierce the obviously homophobic left one as I left the right earlobe to heal.

Looking back, I just realized that for the period that I had the stud on the right ear I had led certain people to believe I was someone I wasn’t. There is nothing wrong with what my mistaken identity was taken to be, but I find it fascinating that human beings feel the need to put labels on everything so that their world can make sense to them. Sadly those labels don’t come light, they are loaded labels. Take for instance, this incident that on the face of it seems innocuous, but under different circumstances could mean life or death.

When the first wave of West African immigrants hit the streets of Johannesburg I nearly got arrested for being in the country illegally. One Sunday afternoon I was walking in Joubert Park minding my own business when two undercover cops appeared on either side of me. In the most conversational tone one of them asked to see my ID. I thought this was some kind of a joke, the need to carry Identity Documents on your person at all times had been abolished a few years before. This was a free South Africa, or so I thought. What they didn’t count on was that this ‘illegal’ immigrant could converse in near-perfect Zulu and Tswana, which they were using alternatively, obviously trying to use the languages to establish my claims to being South African.

This illegal immigrant was also cheeky, he was soon talking about his ‘human rights’ and they quickly parted ways with me. That’s when a certain person whom I assumed to be local came up to me and indicated that wearing a national soccer Tshirt in town was one of the ways immigrants used to blend in with the local population. It didn’t help that I’m quite tall and my skin colour not too fair. Add a soccer Tshirt and I was a Ghanain or Nigerian.

This is a mistaken identity I was not about to shake off. As the years went on I have grown to accept that in our country that is so conscious of physical differences, chances of me being identified as “the other” will always be there. The mistaken identity can be an innocuous little mistake. Like the other day at the Carwash.

This lady assisting customers approached me whilst conversing with one of her colleagues in a local language. She immediately switched to English the minute I rolled down my window, a sure sign that I had been identified as “the other”. When I responded in one of the local languages the shock on her face was priceless. She even called a colleague to help her witness this amazing freak of nature, a “foreigner” who spoke the local languages perfectly. The only thing is I didn’t giggle along with her to start with, and nine out of ten times people apologize for the mistake, which tells me their label was negatively loaded. I’m no meanie so I normally ease the tension by letting them know they are not alone in giving me their assumed foreign identity.

But when the ‘Xenophobia’ violence of 2008 broke out, a case of mistaken identity could have meant injury or worse, death, as was the case for 62 other people.

People are so fixated on boxing things that if they cannot get a handle on who you are, they will invent a box to fit you into. Having been a shy and very self-conscious young person, I know what it feels like to want to fit into that box created for you by people who want their own little worlds to make sense by boxing you.

In this social media age one would have thought one’s identity mattered less, as long as they are “like-minded”. But all too often, one gets those comments that make you realize that people’s urge to fit others into their own little boxes remains strong. The danger here is people’s online identities have been shown to be elastic. Online, a person will interact differently with different sets of people.

I have taken a conscious decision to not ‘censor’ my online identity as I did my personal one to fit into boxes people created for me. I mean if one cannot be oneself online and in real life when can I truly be myself in interactions with people?

I will comment on and agree with an atheist’s post as much as I will “Amen” and “Hallelujah” a post by a fellow Christian. The only requirement is that they both make sense to me. “Boys will be boys” when I’m interacting with fellow men on that sexy actress from Isibaya and I will defend women’s rights to dignity because the two do not have to be mutually exclusive, at least till I’m convinced otherwise.

I refuse to censor my thoughts simply because of what my Christian friends would say about my support for gay rights. Rather have them say whatever they want to say than go against my personal principles that tell me that one’s sexual orientation has jack to do with me. As Oprah would say, “you cannot tell adults what to do in the bedroom”. I would hate to be told what to do there too.

To adapt your identity to fit what others want you to be is to exclude a great number of phenomenal people from your life. If you are anti-Islam you have excluded several billion people from having meaningful interactions with you. To stick to interacting with one group of people is to reduce your view of the world to be very narrow indeed. And chances of becoming a hypocrite, a bigot or whatever “-ist” increase exponentially.

 

Who Am I? (Picture used courtesy of Creative Commons, uploaded by moRkiro)

Who Am I? (Picture used courtesy of Creative Commons, uploaded by moRkiro)

So when I grew my beard and the group of East African immigrants mistook me for one of their own and greeted me in Amari, I felt just as proud as I did when that gentleman at the club smiled at me in the sweetest way, thinking I was gay. The way I see it, a mistaken identity that doesn’t put you in a small little box is fine, because it has never stopped me from being who I am.

Of Diets, Cellulite and Patriarchy.

imageMy daughter stood on my tummy the other day as I lay on my back and lovingly asked me : “Daddy, can I jump up and down?” Oooouuch, who could say no to her angelic little face. “Yes, but just once” I said as I tightened the few remaining muscles in my abdomen. She jumped up and landed back gently and was quite delighted. “Daddy, your tummy is soft like a jumping castle”, she said adorably with her characteristic lisp. That’s love alright but did she have to use that metaphor? Jumping Castle? Really? The D-word started flashing in my mind. Yes you guessed right, diet. Political correctness demand that I call it a weight-loss programme. Stuff PC, I’ll call it a diet.

The women in your family have probably at some stage in their lives embarked on a diet. And men. Mostly on Mondays. It’s not me, it’s scientific research that says most people choose to embark on new diets on Mondays. And most have quit by Tuesday evening. Now I see why Monday is not people’s favourite day of the week. No one looks forward to starving, oops, dieting.

Society being as patriarchal as it is, a man declaring “I’m going on a diet” gets one of those frowns that accompany men who admire David Beckham’s grooming as opposed to his soccer skills. So I’ll be damned if I’m going to declare that my daughter’s likening my tummy to a jumping castle made me want to “go on a diet”. But I do go on diets, periodically. Nothing radical. I just ditch the sugar and its relatives and eat the way human beings are meant to eat. But then again, what is that way?

My most favourite living scientist, Professor Tim Noakes goes into a quite a bit of scientific detail in his book, Challenging Beliefs, about how and what our ancestors hunted down and ate. They obviously hunted down protein, so we must have strayed from their healthy meat(protein-based) diet to today’s carbohydrate-laden diet.

But then again man stopped being a hunter and became more of a gatherer at some point and relied more on agriculture(greens) for survival than on meat. Was this a good move or not? My kids, and most other kids I know would vote against the fundamental values of the Agricultural revolution, purely based on the way vegetables taste. I love kids so I agree with them. I too hate cauliflower. I maintain flowers belong in vases on Mother’s Day and those rare occasions when you can’t afford diamonds for your loved one, not on my plate.

Anyways, being the closet tree-hugger that I am I have a strong natural aversion to ingesting a pill or medication that is supposed to make me lose weight. It’s a science thing I guess, the simple understanding that nothing man-made can “melt away” human fat in a living body, never. Granted, one can mess around with appetite or metabolism but anything beyond that is a bunch of hot air.

Read this quote I came across recently on the often-misunderstood cellulite.

“Amazing how magic creams keep getting sold to help the world get rid of cellulite.Fact is, there is no real difference between cellulite fat, and regular fat. All of the cellulite sponges and creams designed to “dissolve” cellulite and other gimmicky devices are all ripping you off. Unfortunately, cellulite is actually caused by muscular atrophy, a condition that occurs when the layer of muscle becomes weak and undefined, and separates from the skin, making the unattractive fatty deposits visible. So the first thing you need to know is that cellulite treatment has nothing to do with your skin and everything to do with the muscles underneath the skin. And remember, cellulite removal has NOTHING to do with weight loss. Even the skinniest of girls can suffer from cellulite.
The good news is that there is a way to reverse muscular atrophy, and banish annoying cellulite forever. And no matter how much you weigh or how old you are, you can do this naturally without popping pills or using phony lotions. Exercise…”

So you are probably wondering right,if he claims to know so much about human physiology and weight-loss how come he looks BMI-challenged, with a jumping castle for a tummy?

Because, my friend, our relationship with food is not governed by our brains but by our emotions. Basic biology, sympathetic nervous system vs central nervous system. Everything you’ve read until this point comes from my brain(central nervous system) but what I eat, how often I eat and my addictions to ‘nice’ foods are governed by the not-so-logical sympathetic nervous system. I have not mastered the mind over matter technique as yet, mental illnesses do not help either, hence my little problem with accumulating body fat where others can notice it, like my tummy area.

Whilst willpower can help you whittle away the unwanted extras, anybody who’s ever gone on a diet will tell you it takes more than an iron will to keep those pounds from returning. It’s that old adage: reaching the summit is rarely a problem, it’s staying on top that’s the issue. So instead of focussing so much of our energy on losing weight and eating right we should zone in on “feeling right”, reaching our perfect emotional and mental state. More balance than perfection really.

We all know it somehow, it’s been encoded into our genes: When I feel good I eat well, I don’t binge on food, alcohol and other nerve-calming things. But upset your internal balance and you will pay through your waistline. That’s why people say “I tend to eat a lot when I’m moody”.

So, on this, my tenth day on the protein-rich diet based on Professor Tim Noakes scientific based conclusions, as I look forward to more steak-filled days ahead, my mind wonders to why I could not keep the weight off the last time I tried this diet.

I whittled away the fat like a living, walking fat-burner. The amount of clothes I gained back was really amazing. The running made it even easier to shed the kilos. But like all good things, it all came to an end. Sadly, the process seemed to reverse itself. And the fat cells seemed to come back more aggressively this time around, hence my jumping-castle experience with my daughter.

But even as I started the search for a solution, I knew deep down that the fatty deposits on various sections of my body were a result of an imbalance in my emotional make-up than how and what I ate. Yes the sugar made me a bit BMI-challenged, but I know deep down that to return to healthy eating ways I need to get my chemical mental balance right.

I could go all organic and eat cauliflower and a lot of greens or even start organic farming. But I’m not easily taken in by “new things”. See, my grandmother farmed organically long before it became a fad. She had to grow food for us to eat so we could live. Simple as that. Not much of a choice. See, it’s a bit like people who eat mopani worms or locusts/grasshoppers as a delicacy at some fancy do, I pity them. For long periods those were a major source of my protein growing up. I will not willingly ingest them now so I can feel adventurous. I had far too many of those adventures in my youth. Ditto organic farming.

Not that I have anything against healthy organically-grown food(or even organics bought from Woolworths), no, I’m just ok with them. Ok.

So if I could offer you advice on not developing a jumping castle tummy, it would be simple: 1. Get your mental health right(emotions etc) 2. Feel good about yourself 3. Eat lots of proteins, and some vegetables and 4. Some exercise won’t hurt.

Thank me later, oh you want thank me now, you’re welcome!

The (Once) Beautiful Game

Soccer - simple, yet beautiful. (Picture used courtesy of Creative Commons)

Soccer – simple, yet beautiful. (Picture used courtesy of Creative Commons)

Hi, my name is Sydney and I’m addicted to soccer. I got addicted at 8 years old. I remember the day like it was yesterday because that was the first day I got asked what my most favourite soccer club was and I responded with the peace sign and said without a doubt in my heart : “Kaizer Chiefs”. Before this particular day, I always just giggled and ran off without saying anything, but on this day, I had listened to my first full game on a “wireless”, aka the “fm” but generally known as a radio. Kaizer Chiefs had beaten the other local giants Orlando Pirates FC 3 – 1 in a Mainstay Cup Final. And that’s it, I was hooked.

Before that day I had only played soccer with other kids with a ball made out of discarded plastic bags. It took a bit of skill to get the ball together, the trick was ensuring you had enough of these plastic bags to give your ball a bouncy feel.  You also had to weave the plastics such that if the outside layer came off during the game, there were enough inner bags to keep the game going.

I don’t remember when I started playing, but I must have been six or seven years old. This was nothing special, any boy who could walk played soccer in my village. You didn’t have to be good at all. No, if you could walk you played. The older boys always assigned you where to play based on your skill level. The year I got hooked to listening to professional soccer games on the “wireless” was the year I discovered I had a gift for keeping goals. In those days, school holidays were basically just soccer playing days.

We played soccer every chance we got, interrupted only by errands adults seemed to want to send you on right in the middle of that exciting game. We only did other stuff if we couldn’t play soccer.

Then something magical happened one year. Over the school holidays my parents bought me a plastic soccer ball. It was white with black hexagonal shapes on it. I cannot forget that “new plastic” smell that came with it. I could not wait to get back to the village to become the centre of football decision-making. Look, everybody played but not everybody made the decisions. To make the decisions you had to be one of the older boys or alternatively, own the ball. Overnight, I became a decision-maker. If we had more players than we needed, I never had to wait on the side-lines. I was the ball owner. If we needed to put a few cents together to play the other team for money, I didn’t have to pop out a cent, I was a football owner. For obvious reasons the game could not start without me. And as unpalatable as this might sound, I could literally end a game. That was power I tell you.

But all good things come to an end, my black-and-white plastic soccer ball lasted a full six months before one of those abundant thorn trees decided to play catch with the ball but never returned it. It was a little miracle that mine had lasted as long as it had. I remember kids whose decision-making time was a mere three hours. For some it was days. And the thorns got it. And when it happened a lot of finger-pointing and tears followed. The poor decision-maker would be left clutching his now-deflated plastic ball and tearfully threatening the last person to kick the ball that his older brother/cousin/uncle would “deflate” him too.

My ball was actually jinxed by an older cousin. I had had that ball for so long that in my own childish mind I actually believed it would last forever. We had a game against another village that day. And as usual I was keeping goal. We must have been winning the game because I had plenty of time to chit-chat with people, including my cousin who said “Are you aware that you’ve had that ball for six months? Something will happen to it soon”. A few moments later the ball was on top of a rather large thorn tree. Had it not been my cousin who jinxed it things would have been pretty ugly for them that day, they would have had to deal with a lot of accusations and tears from me.

When I “graduated” to listening to games on the “fm” I got immersed into another world. That meant that every Saturday and Sunday between 15H00 and 18H00 I made my way across the rather lushly-vegetated fields to the homestead that we listened to the radio from. It was not every family that took their wireless outside for everybody to listen. Some families saved their battery for the evening “story” and the news.
But we had relatives who were soccer addicts and didn’t mind adding newer addicts to their group. From that day, the day of the Mainstay cup final, I learned to exercise my imagination.

Radio commentary was a skill that required the listener to have an active imagination. You had to “see” the players in your mind’s eye. Imagine their shapes and their heights and their walk and their mannerisms such that the day you saw them on TV, you could almost swear you knew them. Here was the most beautiful thing: back in those days I never questioned why an Afrikaner man, Jimmy Joubert, was my most favourite defender, or why an Englishman, Peter Balac, chose to play for my most favourite team, Kaizer Chiefs, when he could just so easily have chosen to turn his back on the beautiful game because of the politics of the day. When I was between the poles, keeping goal, I was Peter Balac. I never read Cinderella or Pinnochio as a young boy, I never had the privilege of imagining fairy tale characters or learn about Robin Hood. I learned to use my imagination visualizing the soccer skills of my heroes from listening to the wireless.

I began to live for Saturday and Sunday afternoons. However “painful” the intervening days were, Sunday afternoon was coming where the wireless could transport me from our tiny village to Ellis Park stadium 500kms away, for a full 90-minutes of using mental pictures to escape our little world. And when we returned to the soccer field on Monday following our professional clubs’ triumph, we would use our little imaginations to put ourselves in the shoes of our heroes. And the world was a better place, because of the beautiful game.

So my addiction is incurable. When my significant other complains that she sometimes feels like a “second wife” when soccer is on television and I don’t respond it’s not because I don’t agree. Soccer and I have come a long way. I have expended a lot of energy trying to find a way to explain my connection to soccer, it’s inexplicable. It’s not even a connection. It’s part of me. I cannot explain how when I felt like I don’t “belong” anywhere the only place that I felt at home was on a soccer field.

I find it impossible to explain that Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Andreas Iniesta are cut from the same cloth that I too had the privilege of hanging onto, a pure undiluted love for the game. Playing it from the heart. The magic of Maradona in ’86 only served to cement my love for the game. Roger Milla of Cameroon in Italia ’90, Bebeto of Brazil in USA ’94(the heartbreak of Roberto Baggio of Italy missing a penalty in the final), Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Zidane, the list is endless. All of these I watched on television, but a part of me thinks a “wireless fm” would have done just fine if they had found me in that little village back then.

As I selfishly wish for the poor folks of Brazil to “respect my other religion” and shelve their demands for a better life, my heart yearns for the days when the beautiful game was not as affected by greed as it is now.

When FIFA decided to bring the World Cup to my country in 2010, I understood fully that the money men would milk us dry, but my addiction, my love for the beautiful game allowed me to turn a blind eye to that. It allowed me to go and watch a Brazil led by Dunga demolish Chile 3-0 at Ellis Park. I too sang along with the Brazillian supporters, “Ade Chile”. That night had the same magical feeling that I got each time I celebrated a goal listening to a game on the wireless, a feeling that wants you to scream, “did you see that?” even though the game is relayed to you through the radio. It’s pure magic.

When a football federation takes over a country for a whole month just to make as much money as they can from the beautiful game, I feel guilty that yet again, the magic on the field of play will make me forget my problems and the problems of Brazil’s poor people. Karl Marx got it wrong when he said “Religion is the opium the masses”, football is. Ask me, I’m an addict.

My Name Is

My Name Is....(This photo is used under the Creative Commons license: Creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0)

My Name Is….(This photo is used under the Creative Commons license: Creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0)

I love it when doyens of freedom of expression such as Eminem(yes, really) compose songs that land themselves to good use in the wonderful world of literature. If you don’t know who he is or his critically acclaimed hit ‘My Name Is’  I suggest you leave it at that because obviously cultural art laced with a few profanities is not your thing, and we don’t want you blaming me for introducing you to Mr Marshall Mathers III if you are not ready for him. Just in case you are wondering, I’m only borrowing the title of his song, ‘My Name Is’, and not the lyrical content.

I’ve never really had a heart-to-heart with my dad as to why he christened me Sydney, but I’ve always answered to various versions of the name. Sidi, Masidi, Syd, and the streetwise Signature, said with more emphasis on the –nature part, Sig-NATURE. If you really wanted to prove your township street-cred to me you would call me M-sig-Naro. And lest I forget, Smith, like you would normally say Smith, no twisted phonetics there. But that’s just it, I am Sydney, I own the name, in all its varieties. So what, you are asking yourself, or you should be if you’re not.

On two occasions recently I’ve been ‘insulted’ on social networks (okay, Facebook) for answering to a ‘colonial’ name, Sydney. On both occasions I’ve simply let the insults slide because I considered the insults water off a duck’s back. Only, I couldn’t resist raising my silent (or is it invisible) middle finger to those people. For me, once a person resorts to insults in the course of a discussion then it says more about their (flawed) character than yours and it’s best to exit the discussion with your dignity and reputation intact. I find my silent mental insults more dignified. Besides, I find it a whole lot easier to apologize for a mental insult if it turns out it was misdirected, silently.

Imagine my indignation this week when a Facebook post of an acquaintance sent my mind scuttling back to those two insults. The essence of the post was “if there is a black parent in South Africa today giving their child an English name then there is something wrong with them”(read ‘mentally enslaved’). This was a third insult and I could not let it go unanswered, three-strikes-theory sort of thing. Pent up anger is dangerous, I might raise more than my middle finger if I ever meet those individuals so I decided to do what any self-respecting writer would do, WRITE about it. Cathartic I tell you.

Look, I’m well aware of the role words have played in the continued subjugation of people throughout the world. Virtually every former colony’s vocabulary has a word that when used against the indigenous or oppressed population conjures up years and years of denigration and countless insults.

Names being words could not escape the bastardization that human beings seem to impart to everything they touch or look at. Like Maya Angelou put it in her short story, “My name is Margaret”: “Every person I knew had a hellish horror of being “called out of his name.” It was a dangerous practice to call a Negro anything that could be loosely construed as insulting because of the centuries of their having been called niggers, jigs, dinges, blackbirds, crows, boots and spooks”.

The only reason I’m responding to the said insults is because the people doing the insulting have taken on a mantle of being self-appointed spokespeople of the Black Consciousness philosophy, seeing as the demise of formal structures like the Black Consciousness Movement left the philosophy without formal custodians. Like every well-meaning philosophy or religion, Black Consciousness has not escaped being twisted to imprison those that it originally sought to liberate . It’s only a matter of time before children are abducted in the name of ‘freeing black people from colonial mentality’.

First things first, the liberation struggle has its boundaries. There are boundaries that it cannot and must not cross. I’m reluctant to quote the US Declaration of Independence for fear of being accused of being a ‘House Negro’ who has been culturally brainwashed to think Uncle Sam has an answer to everything. I bring this up because the right to name your offspring is not a legal one nor a cultural one, it cannot be dictated to by a phase of struggle or life philosophy, it is a natural right, an inalienable right. The words ‘unalienable/inalienable rights’ have come to be synonymous with the said Declaration of Independence, but are available for use to everyone, even those bearing colonial marks on their foreheads or Identification cards.

Some very enterprising parents have chosen to name their offspring after liberation heroes, so a Samora (Machel) is not uncommon. Some have chosen to name their children Freedom and Liberty, using the African version of the names of course. I know you’ve focused on Samora, Liberty and Freedom but the operative word there is ‘chosen’. The right to choose a name for your offspring, be it English, Xhosa, Tsonga or Russian is a right that must never be linked to legal rights.

In the course of fighting for a people’s liberation it is very tempting to want to become a custodian of ‘their total liberation’ because they cannot see that they are oppressed. Big mistake. The total liberation of a nation cannot come from outside, like personal liberation it has to come from inside. A liberator is one who would ‘educate’ the oppressed and lead them in the direction of their choice or urging, not one who anoints himself or herself to the point of declaring ‘English names are a sign of mental slavery’.

These self-anointed exponents of Black Consciousness or Pan Africanism are always on about how ‘you’ve let the enemy live inside your mind if…1) you give your child an English name, 2) appreciate elements of western culture etc. The list is endless. Yet no one judges them when they extract what they can from Western culture but condemn others when they do the same. Hypocrites!

Personally I’ve always been suspicious of anyone who boasts about something they had no part in acquiring. Maybe your parents named you Kunta Kinte or Sandile for instance, yes it’s African, but what freaking role did you play in acquiring the name?

Lest I sound like an angry child deprived of his favourite treat, I wish to indicate to you that I absolutely love beautiful names, African or otherwise. Both kids that I have been blessed with the opportunity to call mine bear African names, more than one in both cases. But the naming of my children was never a site for the struggle of the emancipation of colonially enslaved African minds. They were simply names that meant the world to me and my family.

I might add that our first-born, in addition to his two African names also answers to an English name. The reasons for him bearing that name would never in a million years be subject to “mental emancipation rules”, I would give him the name over and over and over again and …, you get the point, right?

Like I said, I don’t know why my old man chose to name me Sydney but I absolutely respect his right to have called me what he chose to call me, political and cultural emancipation not withstanding. I will proudly answer to that name and all its versions till my walk on this earth is concluded.

For those who choose to use the naming of their offspring as a site of cultural and post-colonial struggle, good luck to them. I respect their right to ’emancipate their minds’, my dearest wish is that they could respect everyone else’s right to do the same, choose what to call their children freely. Choosing without the threatening insult of being declared a ” colonial slave”.

Which makes me think, surely there is a word in literature somewhere for one who sees the enemy in every corner they look, imaginary or real? This enemy lives in the mind of the said ‘liberators’ that they find a reason to fight for liberation everywhere: in love, in the bedroom, in the naming of their offspring. These people are seduced by the idea of a struggle, a struggle against an enemy that lives in their minds whispering, “fight, fight, fight, fight…”.

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery….

 

 

 

 

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