The Skinny Kid Paradox

Growing up I was always the skinny kid who everyone made fun of and called all kinds of names. Luckily I could handle the name-calling and wasn’t shy to throw a few choice ones back. What I couldn’t escape though, was the self-image of being smaller, less masculine than the other boys and I carried this into adulthood.

With that skinny kid self-image well engrained I ate and drank what I wanted for most of my life never worrying about the consequences because hey, that’s for fat people. I saw my schoolmates marry, have kids, balloon and turn grey whilst I was the smug young looking skinny guy. That was, until a recent visit to the doctor.

I know my body is nowhere near what it used to be and i have picked up a few kilos, or so I thought. Along with the rest of the world I made a commitment to get fit this year and  literally hit the ground running. I’ve been running at least 4 days a week since the year began slowly building up my stamina. In that effort I started getting terrible shin splints then a fever so I went to the doctor. What he told me changed my life.

For the first time in my life I’m overweight. My legs can’t take the strain of running because I am so heavy that if I continue road-running at this weight I will start getting micro-fractures in my foot and shin bones. I could not believe what I was hearing and in a daze I stepped onto the scale again just to be sure, I weigh ninety kilograms. The last time I weighed myself I was barely eighty kilos, how was this possible? “For your height you need to lose at least ten kilos to be safe before you start developing complications” the doctor said.

I got home, went to the bathroom and had a good hard look at this overweight person in the mirror. Here’s the kicker, I still  didn’t see it. Here I am, having just been told I have a weight problem and I’m still seeing that skinny kid from my youth. It then starts to dawn on me what a number I have done on myself.

Over the next few hours I thought through how I stopped exercising, started eating more of everything, how I drank more, how it took me longer and longer to recover from a night out, the more than occasional shortness of breath and the denial. The years and years of denial. In those hours a new picture started to form, a realistic picture of who I had let myself become. When I stood in front of the mirror again, the skinny kid was gone.

Thankfully I have already started exercising and I am committed to it so I just have to adjust my routine accordingly, the killer is the diet. Trying to eat 6 small meals and constantly ingest fluids is damn hard. I have my motivation though, a little girl who’s growing up fast and won’t understand why daddy’s always too tired to play with her.

My father used to say to me “you don’t want to be the oldest dad at your child’s sports day”, chances are I’ll be amongst the older dads but I’ll be damned if I don’t kick those young bucks in the fathers’ 100 metre dash. It will be great being that skinny guy again, but this time with the wisdom that comes from letting yourself go and then fighting to get back to who you were again, I look forward to winning this struggle.

An Introduction To Curating

Recently I, for lack of a better term, came out as the administrator of two social media platforms CurateZAR and CurateZIM through which I run rotating curator twitter accounts. These accounts serve as virtual listening posts to what South African and Zimbabwean twitter are talking about. CurateZAR is close to it’s hundredth week of canvassing the online views of the nation from a broad spectrum of South Africans.

CurateZIM is in it’s twentieth week and has grown rapidly in that time. It has been a remarkable ride giving new insights into what Zimbabweans from all walks of life and ages are talking about.

Recently I was interviewed by The Citizen newspaper about Curate, you can find the article here.

If you would like to find out what the fuss is all about come and join the conversations on twitter with @CurateZAR and @CurateZIM. You can also find me on @rickyemarima.

A Different Kind Of Privilege

Lately I have read a lot in the South African media and online forums about privilege. It is not homogenous, it is varied, coming in as many permutations as there are social and professional situations. The most dominant is white privilege, hardly surprising with race in South Africa being the emotive issue it is. I have also come across pretty privilege, private school privilege, yellow-bone privilege and of-course male privilege which might actually be more of an issue than white privilege.

A recent much publicised incident at a Cape Town restaurant and hotel got me thinking about my own privilege, let’s call it black foreign national privilege or BFN. I lived, worked and studied in Cape Town from 1998 to 2003 living on campus very briefly. Within three months I moved out to live with friends and six months later I found my own place because my siblings were coming to attend university in 1999 and we needed a place for the whole family. My sister and I saw many places and soon settled on a house in Observatory but soon moved to Greenpoint before finally settling in a Three Anchor Bay apartment for the next four and a half years.

In that time I took up part-time employment waiting tables to supplement my allowance and through this met some of my closest friends to this day. I never thought much of it but people on campus were always amazed at how I got to work and live where I did. I do remember the almost uniform reaction from white interviewers, clients and estate agents when they would hear my accent.

Them: “Oh what a lovely accent, you’re not South African, where are you from?”

Me: “I’m from Zimbabwe, I’m studying for an economics degree at UCT”

Them: “Oh I see, no wonder. Zimbabweans are such lovely people.”

Not having grown up with apartheid and racism I missed the inference, “you’re not like our blacks”. This, is the BFN privilege. My accent and origins put these people at ease and i walked into and worked in places I probably would not have otherwise. In most of the places I worked I was always the only black face on the floor, be it Camps Bay, the Waterfront or the Waterfront. I admit, I milked it for all it was worth and often made as much money as my white counterparts or more on some nights. I never had trouble looking for an apartment because as soon as they heard I was a foreigner the agent assumed i must be rich otherwise I wouldn’t be looking for an apartment in that area. They would have probably fainted if they knew the truth.

Towards the end of my degree I got amazing job offers from two major financial firms but I had to turn them down to go back home. I often wonder what it is they saw in me because I had average marks but that was then. Fast forward to today. I’m older, wiser and now know the meaning of privilege. Every Zimbabwean who has ever lived in South Africa I know, knows the benefits of BFN privilege. It’s not something we ever asked for but are often happy to exploit to our ends. It gets us in places where local blacks have an issue. It gets us that seat at the table in that life-changing meeting. It gets us executive positions in previously lily-white companies ahead of local blacks. It gets us that apartment or house in that exclusive part of town. It gets us the girl or the guy leaving others to wonder, “what is it about that Zimbabwean?”. It’s a certain confidence that causes white people usually intimidated by blackness to relax and speak or behave freely, so much so they always get my name right. Call it what you like, it’s privilege.

In my time in South Africa I cannot remember being a victim of open white racist aggression or in fact racism of any kind. But that’s not to say it does not happen or that it will not ever happen. it may have been so subtle it didn’t register or it could have been totally unimportant, we Zimbabweans have a way of turning our outrage on and off at will. It’s not just a Zimbabwean thing, I know of Malawian, Zambian, Kenyan, Namibian, Ethiopian, American British and West African nationals who are beneficiaries of BNF privilege.

Now like with any other privilege, the beneficiary cannot simply turn it off, I am born with it so I must live with it and the consequences. The side glances when I walk into a room, the police officer who insists on speaking to me in a language he knows I don’t understand, the “jokes” about taking all the women and jobs her, the wisecracks about “go back to Zimbabwe”. It’s galling but it’s not xenophobia nor is it life-threatening, in time we will get to understand each other better but who knows, maybe you too enjoy some secret privilege?