Confessions Of A Late Bloomer. How I found wellness at 40.

As some you get deep into your Christmas indulgence, let me tell you what happened to me this year. In January I wrote here about how traumatized I was after visiting the doctor and coming to terms with the fact that I was overweight.

It’s now the end of the year, a few weeks after my fortieth birthday and I am in the best health of my life. My training story is probably not unusual so I won’t bore you with details but it has it’s own quirky milestones. I joined a gym in February after moving house but only started going in March because, procrastination. I hadn’t been in a gym in so long I didn’t recognize most of the machines they had on the floor. The last time I was in a gym mobile phones had five lines of text and polyphonic ringtones were a thing. I decided to get a trainer before I hurt myself, enter Monika Human.

After my initial assessment we set out a training schedule and I chose to train at 05:00 because I’d be up anyway and I thought it would be a great way to start the day. The first morning was a disaster. I didn’t eat before training and halfway through I didn’t know if I wanted to pass out, throw up or crap my pants. I   ended up on the floor of a toilet cubicle watching my life flash by and waiting for Satan to take me. He didn’t and I made it back to training the next day and weeks after that. My twin goals were to lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle so I can keep up with our daughter as she grows up. If you’re going to work with a personal trainer, find someone who you can relate to. Training is something deeply personal, you want somebody who is going to understand and motivate you when you’re at your most vulnerable. Monika has been that person for me and after four months I started training on my own. I was travelling for much of this year and this is likely the reason I didn’t progress as quickly as I would have liked.

I always knew that being healthy starts with eating healthy but I had been eating whatever I want for so long I didn’t realize the mental shift it would involve to make healthy eating a part of my life again. Monika designed an eating plan for me that I really had trouble following in the beginning with family and travel. The trick at home was to get everyone else eating healthy so I wouldn’t have to make separate meals for myself.  On the road was a different story. On my last trip I spent two months away from home and picked up some weight, don’t ask me how much because I couldn’t bring myself to step on a scale. I knew then something had to change, it was early October, I vowed that by December 31 2015 I would have hit my goal weight and fitness level.

I have experienced tremendous personal growth over the last ten weeks or so both physical and mental. Two weeks ago I surpassed my goal weight and whilst at the time I felt such a sense of accomplishment, it’s gotten better as I continue to lose body fat and get even healthier than I could have dared imagine just a year ago. Another thing I did the last year was interact with other people who are also on a wellness journey, two of them have been great motivators. One ran the Paris Marathon earlier this year and the other is currently training for a half Iron Man next year after having summitted Mount Kilimanjaro a few months ago.

I don’t know how I am going to test myself next year but the priority now is to at least maintain the goals I have achieved. Anything more is a bonus because being healthier at forty than I was in my twenties is a gift to a late-bloomer like me.

We Need To Stop Saying Boys Will Be Boys

A few weeks ago the internet went into meltdown when a photo of barely teenage boys simulating a groupsex or rape scene surfaced. There were the expected outcries about how this could happen, shock, horror and disgust were trending. Without delay, there were also those who said the whole affair was being blown out of proportion and all this attention would do more harm than good to the boys.

I went to a boarding school with very similar traditions to the school these boys attend. Both schools are founded on the English public school template designed then to produce future leaders for the British empire. Too bad nobody told these schools the empire no longer exists. Much of what was standard practice a hundred years ago was still unchanged when I was in school twenty five years ago. It is disturbingly apparent little has changed since then. Effectively, boys are still being boys and this is a problem.

In my day we called it seniority, a strictly enforced heirarchical system that positioned the school prefects and head-boy at the top with the youngest students at the bottom. The teaching staff maintaining a laissez-faire attitude as the boys effectively managed themselves only stepping in when there was some sort of crisis. It was a veritable animal farm with minimal supervision. Looking back on it now, this was clearly a recipe for disaster far beyond the gates of the school. This was a breeding ground for troubling mysogynistic attitudes, we arrived as impressionable boys and left as damaged young men.

Much as the boys who trended, we engaged in acts of sexual miseducation and violence that in most cases, were directed by seniors. These seniors were boys barely three years older than ourselves and we replicated this as we moved up the seniority chain in an effort to be seen as part of the collective. We were conditioned to be go-getters but along the way became aggressive, vicious, callous even. We were also trained to be loyal to each other to a fault, nothing was more disgusting to us than ratting out fellow students to anyone in authority. For a long time I didn’t realize how much this last lesson had affected me.

I know now that it is this code of silence that caused me to look aside when I saw questionable behavior by my peers. It was because of this that I knew I could get away with being abusive to younger boys because nobody would say anything, besides, it was expected because that’s what had happened to us. After leaving school this bond remained, growing stronger in some cases. It even led to some boys committing crimes together.

I know that this is pervasive across other men who have gone through the schoolboy system and plays itself out in everyday life in the most unsettling ways. Guys give each other a pass because of an unspoken allegiance which they cannot even fully explain. It can be traced back to how they were socialized in high school. This skewed code of silence is the result of boys just being boys and needs to stop. Saying it’s all part of growing up is wrong and destructive.

More men who went through the system need to speak against it. I wonder what one would find if they studied the ratio of violent offenders amongst men who went through the schoolboy system. We cannot, in 2015, still be raising boys the same way as we did a century ago and expect them to be better men than we are. We know better now, boys cannot be left to their own devices as the lessons they draw from each other mark them for the rest of their lives.

The Law Of (Un)intended Consequences

Much has been said about South Africa’s new Immigration Law and regulations, most of it negative. As someone who has been directly affected, I have read as much on this as I can in the hope when I need to interact with the Department of Home Affairs, I am fully informed. Yesterday, I encountered the painful side of these regulations.

I am a Zimbabwean citizen and for almost two years, it’s our anniversary in a month, I have been married to my South African wife. We have been blessed with a beautiful daughter who was born at Sandton Medi-Clinic sixteen months ago today. We always joke about how we had three weddings and so three wedding anniversaries, the first in her hometown Kimberley on 21 September, the second at my home in Bulawayo on 28 December and the third on 14 February when we signed in Johannesburg. I swear the last was pure coincidence, it just happened to be the first available date and we have no photos.

With all the controversy around the new Immigration law and regulations, we decided to wait for clarity on the regulations governing the status of foreign nationals married to South African citizens. This is why three months ago I started putting together my application for a relatives’ visa as the spouse of a citizen. Amongst the requirements is a police clearance, in my case I had to get one each from South Africa and Zimbabwe. Now I’ve had what can only be termed a colourful life so I was a little nervous going into a criminal records office to voluntarily ask if they were not looking for me. Thankfully, I am a law-abiding citizen and have not one but two police clearance certificates to prove it. Both SAPS and ZRP were exemplary in assisting me.

After compiling my documents I then consulted Home Affairs via their customer careline on various aspects of the application and they were extremely helpful every time. I had some difficulty getting information out of the South African embassy in Harare where I had to submit my application and eventually just went to Harare anyway. Upon arriving there were some complications and I had to wait a week before submitting. As happens with matters of such a delicate nature, there was some back and forth but at 3:30pm yesterday my application was accepted, just in time for me to check in for my 6:00p.m. flight back to Johannesburg.

That’s when they dropped the bombshell.

My passport was required as part of my application which could not be processed without it. A process that takes eight weeks. I thought they were joking, when I realised they were serious, the ground fell out from under me. My mind fogged over, I couldn’t hear the words coming out of my mouth as the strength just left my body and I had to sit down. People were speaking around me and to me, I was responding but I can’t tell you the details of those conversations. All I could think was, what was I going to tell my wife? She was expecting me back in a few hours and now I had to tell her this? I pulled myself together and went back to the counter, just in case I had heard wrong, no, I had not. The consultant told me I could take my passport, get on my flight and come back when I was ready but my application would not be processed without it and I should choose to either spend eight weeks in Zimbabwe now, or then. I called my wife and we decided I should submit the application and we will figure out what to do.

I consider myself a pretty thorough person when it comes to perusing documents and complying with regulations, I cannot for the life of me, explain how I could have missed this most important detail, assuming at this stage, that it is indicated somewhere in the requirements I read. I remember asking if there is not some exemption from the eight weeks for those with infant children, they said no. I walked out of there broken and confused. The anger came later and passed, I knew it was not going to do anything for me but make me bitter about a situation I could do little about in the middle of the night.

I understand that Immigration have to be thorough in their processes and whilst some are tedious, I am willing to comply. Coming to Zimbabwe leaving my family behind to apply for a visa that allows me to better provide for them is that important to me. What I don’t understand is, why I must now sit in limbo away from my family for eight weeks, what purpose does this serve? Everything that matters in my life is in South Africa and I feel hurt and confused that I cannot be with them for that long, in the name of compliance. With so much that I had planned now out the window, I am seized with trying to rearrange my life around this new reality. The whole of last night my wife and I were planning how my family can come and spend time with me here, wether she can get time off work and if she should take unpaid leave. In addition to the emotional trauma of all of this we now have to go through a financial one.

I considered consulting a lawyer but I don’t know if I have the stomach for a fight with Home Affairs, my family and I have faced worse things than this and we are still here. This is not by any means to say I am not going to do anything about this but I will find a way to approach them, I know they are slow but they come around eventually. In the meantime, with the looming prospect of spending our second wedding anniversary apart, my heart breaks every time I think of my daughter and what she must be going through, earlier today when I asked after her, my wife sent me this message:

“. . . She knows you’re not here and is wondering where you are, I can see. Matilda (her nanny) says every time she hears footsteps in the corridor she runs to the door to see if they are of someone coming here.”

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.

A Centenary Of Childhood Memories (Part 1)

Over the last four weeks I have travelled to various parts of Zimbabwe and South Africa on  what started out as a trip to Kimberley to see family but has evolved into quite an adventure. One of these adventures was a visit I made yesterday to Centenary Park in Bulawayo Zimbabwe.

The last time I went to the park must have been over twenty years ago despite driving past it numerous times over the years. Growing up in Bulawayo in the eighties Centenary Park was an integral part of our life with many a happy Sunday family outing spent there enjoying the numerous attractions for all ages. I could write to no end about the mini train that took you on a ride around the park or the mini-golf course I never got a chance to play because I was too young to be interested. There was a sailing pool for model boats where I remember watching those who had them sail them as I wondered to myself why I didn’t have one. I remember the skating rink which I never got to try because I never owned roller-skates. I remember the life-size chess board and pieces in the gardens that we would imagine were real and came alive at night to do battle before becoming statues again just before dawn. I remember the wishing well and the many people I saw cast coins into it making silent wishes, meanwhile my brother and I would scheme on how we could fish out all those coins and be rich, rich, rich. I remember the zoo with impala and zebra, the aviary with all kinds of wonderful birds and the amphitheatre though I can’t tell you of a single event that happened there.

I remember all these things but what I remember most of all was the place where I spent most of my time, the playground. The sound of the swings and merry-go-rounds as they swung and spun. The thud of hundreds of feet running in all directions, the joyous sounds of youth unleashed. The inevitable tears when somebody got hurt that were quickly forgotten when the next game began or your turn on the slide was up. I remember the tank we used to play in, yes a military tank, I even remember the smell inside it when we would pretend we were at war blasting away at an invisible enemy.

That was many years ago now and although I knew the park was now run down nothing could have prepared me for the state I found the playground in.

There used to be two train engines here but now there is only one. The paintwork is fresh though.
There used to be two train engines here but now there is only one. The paintwork is fresh though.

The train doesn’t run here anymore but the station and the track are still there from what I could see.

The railway line is still there but I have no idea when last it was used.
The railway line is still there but I have no idea when last it was used.
I remember this tunnel being a lot more imposing, but then, I was nine.
I remember this tunnel being a lot more imposing, but then, I was nine.

Bulawayo is known for it’s tree-lined streets, most famous are the jacarandas that bloom in late October. The park was always home to many different trees and thankfully they are still there for the most part.

Dawn breaks behind a dying tree that has probably stood here longer than anyone in Bulawayo today has been alive.
Dawn breaks behind a dying tree that has probably stood here longer than anyone in Bulawayo today has been alive.

In the playground you could be a King, a general or the lord of the jungle, your only limit was your imagination.

The castle fort where many a battle were fought in an effort to be King.
The castle fort where many a battle were fought in an effort to be King.
The highest of highs upon the tallest slide ever built, or so we thought.
The highest of highs upon the tallest slide ever built, or so we thought.
One moment you're on top of the world the next you're picking yourself up off the ground, dusting yourself off and getting ready to go again. Just mind the jagged rusty edges.
One moment you’re on top of the world the next you’re picking yourself up off the ground, dusting yourself off and getting ready to go again. Just mind the jagged rusty edges.
what games did you play when you were growing up?
what games did you play when you were growing up?

In the years since I became an adult I have often wondered about the intention behind putting a military vehicle that had literally killed people in a children’s playground. Was it some effort at mental manipulation, some plots to desensitise us to violence? I don’t know but i think for the most part we turned out alright.

There used to be a tank here. I remember the cannon and the caterpillar tread. Also, this vehicle is sealed so you can't get in, unlike our tank in the eighties.
There used to be a tank here. I remember the cannon and the caterpillar tread. Also, this vehicle is sealed so you can’t get in, unlike our tank in the eighties.
It all looks so innocent and playful, the children are none the wiser.
It all looks so innocent and playful, the children are none the wiser.
All broken dreams once gave someone hope, meaning. Some broken dreams can be restored and realised.
All broken dreams once gave someone hope, meaning. Some broken dreams can be restored and realised.

This playground is in fact a microcosm of what has happened across Bulawayo, a city that is today barely a ghost of it’s past. It pains me to see the playground of my youth reduced to a dusty field of broken children’s toys, their dreams broken on the rusty iron of military surplus junk, but I live in hope that the glory that once was Centenary Park can be restored. It honestly wouldn’t take that much but for now I fear the imagination of children is lacking in the City Fathers.


The Light

Some of my most vivid memories are of me smashing a blue toy gun at age five and about a year later my younger brother throwing lit matches into a closet full of books, burning, amongst other things, my early art-books. I also remember we each got thoroughly disciplined for our transgressions. 

Around that period I got my first audio book, Winnie The Pooh. The truth is our Dad took my siblings and I to a record store one Saturday afternoon and whilst everyone else was in awe of Michael Jackson’s newly released Thriller album I wondered off on my own and noticing the Winnie book, I took it off the shelf & off we went home. I thought it was just a book, imagine my surprise when I found a record inside. Dad didn’t notice until we were almost home and whilst I don’t remember my explanation I do remember we drove back to the store where I mumbled an apology and he paid. By the time we got home none of us kids cared for MJ as we were all in awe of this book that came with a record, or was it a record that came with a book? Either way, it was a day that I will never forget.

My next vivid memory was winning a book award at age seven, one of the proudest days of my young life. The book is long gone but my mother has my medal stashed away somewhere. One day at age ten, I think, my brother and I were at my friend Mehluli’s house and after seeing a wire-car I decided I wanted to make my own. His parents’ garage became our workshop and for what seemed forever, we churned out all sorts of ever more elaborate creations. It was 1986, Knight Rider and The A-Team were all the rage so you can imagine what our cars looked like.

My school years were full of such contradictions. When not getting into all kinds of trouble I did have the occasional moment of academic achievement, if I may call it that. What some may see as destructive or anti-social behaviour was, I believe, the source of my most defining and vivid lessons.

Had I not smashed that toy-gun open I may never have learned to look closer at how things work, from wire cars then, to studying and developing alternative business models today. My parents were unwitting mentors in this regard as the more they told me not to do certain things the more I wanted to do those very things.

I am more curious than courageous although those who know me may insist I’m stubborn, and it is that curiosity that allows me to keep learning. Curiosity allows me to do things or go places just to see what will happen and that’s taken me on some of the most rewarding adventures of my life. Curiosity is how I met my beautiful wife and whilst my antiques may occasionally drive her crazy, she knows it’s all for a greater good.

The hardest thing for me has been to understand that every day is the sum of all my previous actions, good or bad, what makes me different is how I choose to apply yesterday’s lessons today.