Tag Archives: wisdom

#2 ~ For Colored Girls London: Reading the Foreword

One of the most beautiful aspects of putting on ‘FCG’ again, is revisiting ‘old friends’. Old poems and known characters who spoke to me with aggression when I was a fresh 18-year-old, excitement when I was 19, and now, at 20, with a depth, a caution, a humanity.

The first time I approached the script  all the words were literal. The poems, ranging from the very brief but powerful ‘Abortion Cycle 1’, to the long, lyrical lament of ‘Sechita’, were so vibrant, so forceful in their barraging voices all seeking to take centre stage, that the idea of analysing and challenging my first impressions was absurd. Of course Sechita should be a lament, she’s a washed up dancer who is serenaded by chipped coins that are dashed through the air to bounce on her thighs, which aren’t lovingly creamed with coco butter, but stained with sweat, smoke and semen.

However, as I read Shange’s forward to the second edition of the ‘For Colored Girls […]’, I see that the Lady in Purple’s persona is much more than that. Sechita’s journey is not just the degradation of a woman, but of a nation, a history and a people. It tells the story of the demise of the black African, from inventors and rulers of the Ancient world, to the chattel that powered the Industrial Revolution of the West.

I see that the Lady in Orange’s exposure to ‘mambo, tango, meringue’, in the dance halls of America, is a journey of discovery. The same discovery of other black people, communities, cruelty, misogyny and adventure that the Lady in Brown experiences when she meets Toussaint ‘in de library’.

I see that, whoever wrote the tag line for Tyler Perry’s bedraggled attempt at transforming page to cinema, was right in one respect. It is one poem, one story, one woman, one life – but told through many voices. Like the colours that form a single rainbow, it is the journey of a people, of nations, of humanity, embodied in one unified story of fractured experiences.

I look forward to the days I shall spend scrutinising these poems, these voices, and women as I seek to join them into my own cloth, my own woven pattern of a history, of a woman, of a colourful identity.

Join the journey.

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#257 ~ Ithemba Projects : Day 22

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

That was a bizarre proverb I never quite understood. How could the image of ultimate evil, be in any relationship with the concept of ‘goodness?’ It didn’t make sense. Yet so often, in aid work, good intentions when not thought through, or when not carried through with a good heart, can cause more problems than anticipated. This morning, as I was teaching at Mountain Home Primary, a shiny van pulled up with eight bright red bicycles at its back. A unanimous ‘Ooooh’ saluted the people as they stepped through the barbed wire gate into the littered playground. I was intrigued, and will admit, a slightly hostile attitude crept into my heart. These are my  children, who were these people coming here now, who were these people with their shiny-red bicycles and clean clothes who gingerly stood on the verandah and did a small wave? Who were they, and what did they want?

Community outreach is such an important aspect of aid work, especially in a country like South Africa, where affluent communities closely boarder extremely impoverished ones. The people who arrived at ‘my’ Primary school this morning, where there to present the top students with prizes. Now, I don’t want to slate the work that they are doing, nor do I wish to undermine their initiatives and incentives. The fact that Mountain Home has more than one interested party excites me. Yet, for the first time, as this group of people stood talking to the children, I found myself no longer a ‘European’ or a charity worker, but one of them,  a teacher at Mountain Home, a member of their community,I felt protective of my students, and hurt.

These bicycles, sponsored by Coca Cola, were the size of my bike back at University. Standing at 5″10, I’m a pretty tall lady, so I have a pretty tall bike. Yet these children range between 5 and 9 years old. They are, literally tiny. Not only that, but these bikes are only awarded to the children in the top grades who had achieved the best in some exams. Of course they would have, they are the eldest, they  have had the most education, they should  be the smartest. At the realisation that the whole school was standing to attention, the lady who was heading the team whispered “Oh no, I have nothing for the grade R’s 1’s and 2’s.” A great way to create incentive and to be inclusive?

Not only that, but Sweetwaters is a rural area. The roads within the community, though smooth, aren’t tarmaced and are extremely rocky. We fear getting car punctures let alone bike punctures. Throughout my month in Sweetwaters, I have very, very rarely seen anyone ride a bike. Could these children ride bikes? When you learn, often you need stabilizers. There weren’t any stabilisers on these huge bikes. Even the teachers, through pleased, found it amusing the gifts weren’t really suitable for the children. Moreover, they had to be kept within the school till Sunday when the parents were expected to come and legally sign for them. In between now and then, the school has just potentially become a prime looting arena. And what happens when these bikes are careened through Sweetwaters? Will these homes have space? What if it rains, and they get wet, and rust? How will they pay to get them fixed, will the presents even be useful at that point?

Obviously, on one hand, I can clearly see that I personally felt hostile towards the project. Having worked with Ithemba Projects and seen the ground work they’re doing, though presents are few and far between, they are working towards building a future, implementing strong foundations to be built upon. And it made me think; how often, do we have a brilliant idea to bless those in need, but don’t really think the process through. We see how  we  want to bless them, but don’t necessarily see their need. See that, perhaps it would be more beneficial to provide the top students with school equipment, pens, papers, books to read which will not only be useful, but further their education and also bless and help other students, than a larger than life bike, which they might not be able to ride (especially considering the extreme gradients the Sweetwater roads follow), may potentially become obsolete, get stolen, or create friction.

Prayer for Day 22: For relationships between the various charities that work in Sweetwaters to be strengthened, so they can work together for the best impact in the Community. For wisdom when we desire to give, bless and support outreach work, that we really see and do what’s best long-term for people, and not what makes us feel better. For a heart that welcomes others working in our areas, and to pray against hostility.

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#242 ~ Ithemba Projects: Day 9

So yesterday was an extremely raw experience. Not everyday is like that – although maybe it should be? For today’s post I would just like to keep it short and clarify some points, that on reflection have settled in my heart.

Yes, there are situations that can make us angry. Livid. Yesterday probably seemed, and definitely felt, like one of those experiences. Yet I don’t want people who read this blog, or some of these posts, to just be overwhelmed by my naked emotions. Anger doesn’t create anything. It neither nullifies a situation nor creates change. But it can be a catalyst for discerning, wise, and thoughtful actions.

Sadness and pity are also good catalysts, but weak emotions on their own. I also don’t want you, the readers (or myself in retrospect), to be overwhelmed by what might seem to be a dire situation. Because dire it is not. I have sought to stress the incredible good that resides alongside these painful experiences. The charities I have the privilege to support do phenomenal work and they are headed up by extremely wise, compassionate, thoughtful and motivated people. Change takes time. Change in our home communities takes a painful amount of time. And yes, in the interim of change a lot of pain and frustration can occur. But that is the nature of progress.

I suppose, what I would like to stress to all those who have passed through this blog is that, there is hope. Don’t just live off my righteous indignation and anger, and become despondent, faithless, wildly angry or depressed. Rather use my experiences as a catalyst to say – there must be more. There must be more than the education we are getting back home, there must be another way to conduct our National Health Service, there must be a better way to promote adoption, sexual health services, inter-racial participation, to end segregation, racial profiling, broken families, homelessness, loneliness, whatever it is that makes up the brokeness in your home community. Search out that new way.

My experience here has been all the more painful, because it is so hopeful. Because I can see the progress, the process of change taking place, and in my impatient nature I want it now. But it is coming, and that is what is beautiful. I have the hope that, in 3 years I saw creches like the Drop in Centre transform into excellent educational  play facilities, well staffed, well-managed with flourishing children. I can therefore hold the hope that, maybe in another three years, the situation that I faced yesterday may very well have drastically transformed.

So please, don’t be angry or sad, but be inspired, motivated, and encouraged to let your heart be raw, so it can catapult you into a better scenario, a better tomorrow.

And, if you have been inspired by these posts to write yourself, then a word of advice: Express all your passion as best as you can, but be wise in how you do it. The people we write about, the lives we intermingle with for a short period of time are real people. They deserve to be protected, honoured and assured the privacy entitled to them. I apologise for not recognising that in time. 

Prayer for Day 9: That a spirit of Hope would bless everyone who has come into contact with this blog. That Hope would give them an enduring strength to seek change. Hope would sustain them in the long process to change. Wisdom would govern their ways and discernment would guide their paths.

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#176 ~ Dayuuumm Guurrrl…

..you look hawt (insert numerous emphatic exclamation marks).

Every girl wants a comment like this. Deep, deep, deep down where it really really counts, even the guys want it too. It gets to another level of appreciation when someone has to physically say the words, to ensure one understands the amount of emphasis needed on the previously categorised expletive. It’s not a damn. Not even a daymn. But a Daaayyyyuuuuuuummmmm (hold the ‘M’ for as long as possible, but try not to make it sound sleazy.)

Except, the funny thing is, once you get a comment like that, it doesn’t make you feel ‘hawt.’ For a split second there’s a surprised, shocked, acceptance – someone thought that? About me?! A little glow begins to blossom in the place in your heart which deals with low self-esteem. And then you smack into a concrete wall, which, graffitied in bold spray paint, asks the rhetorical question: What the [insert unnecessary expletive that has slipped into modern communication like an eel (?)] do I normally look like??!!!

 Do I genuinely both dress and look, like an unwashed, homeless, street urchin whose suffered from the bubonic plague?

Whilst the above is a humorous, sketch, it made me really question my sense of perspective, especially my sense of self. Sure, one looks in the mirror every morning when their face is lopsided, at night when it needs to be detoxed, and occasionally before a night out when it “needs” to be painted, but generally, at least for me, I believe my features remain the same. Same nose, mouth, eyes, eyebrows (depending on them being plucked or not). The skin is pretty much the same colour, the facial likes and dislikes seem to have settled – so it’s surprising when other people are surprised at an image of you. On a superficially vain level, I was mildly concerned that, to elicit such surprise and shock from friends, I genuinely both dressed, and looked, like an unwashed, homeless, street urchin who suffered from the bubonic plague. Now, I know my style of dressing is [insert most elaborate euphemism: uncoordinated, unique, individual, poor…], and I’m not a slave to make-up, but I had assumed I was at least recognisable. That my potential shone through irrespective of whether my MaxFactor with reflective pearl droppings had lubricated it or not.

On the other hand it was a beautiful and surprising compliment, that reminded me of the potential I often forgot lay hidden. Whilst this may seem like an extremely facetious and self-centred musing on one’s external being, it does have a message that isn’t just skin deep (ah yes, extended metaphor, the degree is coming in handy).

Daaaaaayyyyyyuuuum  girl, you look like [ faeces].

I take this physical experience as an allegory for mental, emotional and spiritual situations. Having finished my first year of University, I can look back at myself and recognise my many failings, just as flicking through old Facebook photos really made me aware how much the above statement of flattery could have been inverted into a: Daaaaaayyyyyyuuuum (no long M, this is not a tasty appraisal) girl, you look like [ faeces].

Yet at the same time, I took a slow joy in realising aspects of myself that had really grown, and on occasion, flourished; the petals radiating the light and potential that had always been there, but which I only noticed in retrospect.

To have the strength to look at oneself critically but not in a judgemental or in self-deprecating manner is a true skill. To be open to allow other people to guide you into that perspective can be both a shocking experience, potentially eliciting a wave of doubt, but also a humorous way of beginning to recognise the image that is forming in your reflection.

Daaaaayyyyyuuuuuummmm guuurrrll, you’ll get there in the end.

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#175 ~ Home Sour Home

We like to paint an idyllic scene of family life. Mother is in the kitchen, father in the garden, the children are in their rooms building imaginary castles. A combination of umbilical cords, heart-strings and wedding rings bind the family together into a cohesive unit of wholesomeness. A sweetness, like the nectar that drips from Keat’s tautologically over-ripe flowers, drools it’s sucrose body over the tantalising image of family.

Yet family, the idea of strangers who may even share genetically different blood types, living together due to a fusion of a nucleic acid called DNA, is not a sweet, saccharine infused construct. It is sour, bitter, tangy, zesty, repugnant and sensual. It elicits a range of responses that, in the moment, may seem wholesome and appetising, just as teeth do when they graze into a lemon curd pie, yet as it slips down the back of the throat, twists the lips into a pleasant grimace. Family evokes a response. The frictions that rail at the boarders, within the heart, over the dinner table, are the same frictions that define the overarching presence of unity, one-ness. A wise man once said, “the members of one’s own household are their greatest enemy’; yet, they are also their greatest friends, lovers, protectors.

Returning to the familial embrace, one does not rub up against the smooth, oil of Olay soaked skin of a Lothario, a debonair or even a baby’s bottom, but the weathered, grizzled jaw line of a Father, a menopausal mother, pubescent brother or even, hormonally imbalanced sister. The irritations, grazes, and frustrations however, are the most authentic kisses your cheeks will ever incur.

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#155 ~ Free Fall into/with Me

Like the rain that pelts these single glazed window panes

The consonant rhyme helping to keep these lines in time

You ask me to free fall

With no cord or bungee support

Off the side of Control-Cliff

Expertly engineered under My high Way

Into an abyss of nothing-ness.

The optimum word in the sentence is trust

The first thought that flashes through my mind

Is that I will bust my ass on the rocks that form

the gorge pool, elaborately covered by the foams of a turquoise plunge pool.

It’s my strength that we are relying on

But these muscles are tired from

Rowing against the tide

Undergoing that long distance ride

Until massages can’t even hide

The distorted form of this bruised and blotchy human side.

My intellectual faculties of comprehension and eloquent expression

Were the tools I used to further my profession.

The basis, the foundation, the Cephas of my self-governed nation

A kingdom of grey matter, over which I am the only Father

And now you say it’s all crumbled to dust

I the Creator must become the Desecrator

Bulldozing through the temple, erasing the remnants

Till it reintegrates into the cycle: from dust to dust.

And instead of that knowledge that sometimes transpired into wisdom

I should return to a distant voice

Overpowered, under-shouted, over roared by the thunder, the lightning, the earthquakes and the ever-present heart that is thumping.

Instead – of course there’s always a stead, a steed of a different breed that will return me to the Foreign Homestead

I should bend my ear, to the faintly heard whisper

and seek to honour a Governor who controls no boarders I can see

No militant lines, raises up no National Boundary Signs

Of this here terra…

…and in giving up my desire

I will find a path that will lead me to the higher realm, design, functioning plan of your regimes prime

goal, inspired

to march through the mire, to a different drum beat, which promises to make this yearning heartbeat

secure, in His ultimate desire.

Well…I’ll try not to make the prospect seem too dire.

In the process, I’ll be she, the one that is attempting to trust in the vision which claims to be, and resolutely is

higher than mine.

The will of the divine.

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#125 ~ Pre-Eating

 My mother never trusted other mothers to feed us.

Although the invitation to a friend’s birthday party would say there was food, it wasn’t real Food. You see there is a distinction between ‘food’ and ‘Food.’ Party ‘food’ is not ‘Food.’ A stomach filled with sausages that have once been stabbed by a toothpick, ham and pineapple with mature cubes of cheddar squidged together, or even creamy birthday cake do not compare to a plate of jollof rice with grilled chicken.

After witnessing her children’s miserable faces as they traipsed back into the car after a long afternoon/evening of pass-the-parcel only to find that there was no ‘Food’ waiting for them at home, my Mother took matters into her own hands. This involved introducing Pre-eating.

Whilst many young, poor, or desperately self-conscious teenagers/young adults, budget middle-aged workers, partake in the now normalised custom of pre-drinking (drinking cheap alcohol before going out so you spend less money in da club), I instead have  ingrained a different culture into my partying mind. I cannot envision leaving my room, even when I know I am getting ‘Food,’ without eating my own ‘Food.’ Although this custom has its benefits – when your multi-cultural friends invite you over for a party/gathering/shindig and say there is food, you know from their expression it isn’t capitalised. Notice all the ethnic minority friends throwing each other surreptitious glances as they dip thin strips of red pepper into Sainsbury’s basic hummus – they are not impressed. When you, the savvy aware ‘Foodie,’ have already got a bowl of pasta, pesto, chicken strips, grated red-leicester cheese, a satsuma, some herbal tea and half a carrot (need the veggies) rubbing smoothly along your innards, you allow your self a smug smile, whilst still eating the hummus. It’s ok, you are satiated, you were prepared, you are not hungry.

Yet, it becomes dangerous when you cannot distinguish between environments when you know you will starve – an evening of canapés and champagne (canapés are not Food) – with situations when the real deal is served. Going along to a ‘tea at three party’ in your Faculty’s library, which you have already been to earlier in the week and therefore know the quality of the Food, yet eating a Snickers bar an hour before, a whole bowl of home-made spaghetti bolognese with carrots (remember those veggies) 60 minutes before that, and a bowl of Basics Muesli and Yoghurt which was consumed before that Just In Case?! – that is murky water. 

When there is too much Food sitting in the nervous belly, it turns that smug smile into a grimace of indigestion. Now I am aware that it would all be easier if people recognised and employed the Food/food rule. Food must be served around normal mealtimes: if you are asking me to ‘jam’ with you around the time normal people eat dinner, that means 7pm onwards, and you aren’t providing carbs that stretch beyond some variety of bread – then expect me to pre-eat. In fact be ashamed that you have not observed the rule and have forced me to pre-eat, and then eat your ‘fake food’ just to appear polite. Do you know the pain you are causing my fearful stomach?!

Yet, food may be acceptably served around snack and tea times, it tides one over before the real Food slots. Once people begin to observe these vital rules, not only will indigestion and constipation levels reduce, but your ethnic minority or ‘Food aware’ friends will not turn up late to your events smelling of rice, meat and some variety of curry/stew. Please, learn these rules and help us to move away from premature obesity.

Pre-eating, a smart way to prevent first-world ‘starvation.’

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