Self-care When Far From Home In A Time Of Strife

Last Sunday I made a list of people I have not spoken to in a while. Some of them are people who have been there for me at my lowest others recognized what I was trying to achieve creatively and inspired me when no one else did. They are not blood relatives but have at those times when I needed them, been just as important or even more so. One thing they have in common is they are all in Zimbabwe and living through this crazy time that I am seeing mostly via social media. I left Zimbabwe and settled in South Africa a few years ago seeking a new start and to make a better life for my family.

 

With my friends we went through what we thought was the worst of Zimbabwe in between 2003 and 2008. By the beginning of 2009 we were broke after being wiped out by an unforgiving economy and really wanted to believe that it was over, that we had another chance at a normal life in Zimbabwe like in other developing countries. We all know now this did not happen.

 

Zimbabwe today is going through, as the kids say, the most! My home country is seeing untold upheaval as people from all walks of life increasingly speak out their frustrations at how the government has failed them. The government is finding it increasingly difficult to control a restless population with propaganda and intimidation.

 

For many like me who spend much of our time and get most of our information on the situation from social media, it is easy to slip into an almost constant crisis mode. We can forget that life must go on, that people need to unplug from the outrage to make a living, catch a game, a drink or a moment with friends, take the kids to school or even just change the TV channel. We can forget that before anything else, we are people and as such, seek out emotional support from each other. This is why I made the list on Sunday morning.

 

There were six names on the list, two of them literally saved my life but I had not contacted in over six months. Another has inspired me as she has built a new life for her family after a major personal crisis that would likely have broken just about anybody else. Another I met on social media, he is building a business that’s gained him a lot of attention, some of which I am sure he could do without. He is also a father to a young child and a husband much like me.

 

I asked them how they were, I asked about their families, we gossiped about our spouses and shared stories about how we are secretly terrified of our kids. We did not talk about the politics or the economics. We did not talk of the corruption or the violence. We did not talk of the propaganda or the protests. We laughed together at how we had disappeared on each other but were grateful we could pick up where we left off and promised to stay in better contact going forward. We just reconnected, as people, the next day we went back to adulting as normal.

 

A random call or message from the right person when all life seems chaotic can be incredibly empowering, even if it’s just to talk about absolutely nothing to do with your challenges. Zimbabwe can depress you wether you’re there or far from home. Worrying about what role you can and should play in this fast developing situation can keep you up nights and the self-doubt can have you retreating from engaging with others. Sometimes you feel like you are just fighting air because you don’t know if the little you are doing is even making a difference. That is when you know you need to unplug from the situation, even for a little while.

 

Pick up the phone and call a friend you have not spoken to for a while. Cook a meal and share it with somebody. Go for a long walk around your neighborhood and strike up a conversation with a neighbor. Go on that date you keep postponing because you just need to get those tweets out. Do something good for somebody in your community who totally didn’t expect it and don’t tell anyone.

 

Simply reconnect with people near or far, they will give you life.

 

 

 

Please, Hold The Applause, It’s Father’s Day Every Day

Absent, active, dead-beat, superhero, occasional, abusive, caring, invisible, cold, warm. All are adjectives I’ve read used to describe different types of fathers, sometimes the same father at different times. I am a father to an amazing little girl who has completely turned my life and that of her mother’s around. I’ve been a father to this girl from the moment we found out my wife was pregnant. I’ve been a father throughout my wife’s pregnancy and I was a father the moment the doctor passed our daughter into my hands for a brief moment before they took her to the neonatal ward where she would stay for nearly a month.

I’ve been a father through every sleepless moment of wonder and fear in our daughter’s life. I have been a father still when I’ve stood up to anybody who got in my way because my life is not my own, it’s my family’s and always putting them first is what it means to be a father to me. These are some of the lessons my father taught me and I will pass them on to our daughter. My wife comes from a similar upbringing and I am lucky to be a co-parent with somebody who agrees on what’s best when it comes to our family.

We were both raised by loving, present parents who are still alive today and play a big role in our lives. We married and had a child relatively late and I believe this has been a blessing all on it’s own. We both had full lives in our twenties and thirties, when we met we were ready to settle down so it wasn’t long before we decided to get married and before we knew it, we were having a baby. I think it’s because we don’t have the distraction of trying to enjoy our youth that we are so totally committed to our daughter. It is also for this reason that I feel awkward when people comment about my daughter and I when we are out with or without her mom.

My wife is told she is lucky to have an involved father for our daughter, lucky? I get congratulated for sharing household chores & looks of approval for knowing how to change a nappy or playing with her on the jungle gym, I don’t get it. If I don’t do these things, if I am not there for my family then who is? Is this not how raising a family is supposed be? It bothers me that we get treated like the exception, what is wrong with our society that being an active and present parent is now seen as out of the ordinary? My wife and I made similar choices early on, despite pressure from family and friends  we separately made a conscious choice to live our lives the way we wanted and only have children with somebody we believed shared our ideals. I am grateful we found each other.

To me, Father’s Day is a chance to remember some of the lessons I learned from my father and other male role models growing up. Some have passed on and others I have lost contact with but all have contributed to the person, the father, I am today. My wife let’s me know I’m appreciated as a husband and father constantly and I do my best to reciprocate. Our daughter, in her own ways, let’s us know we are appreciated daily and we love her even more for that. So as you go about Father’s Day and every other day, think about what you want to be the norm in your home.

This Is A Man’s (abusive) World

It started like any ordinary day, I never would have guessed it would end with me questioning all I have come to know about what it means to be a man in this world.

It started with a video that showed the Vice Chancellor of Rhodes University, Dr. Sizwe Mabizela, shoving a protesting female student. He apologised shortly afterwards and when later that day he was challenged on this by a caller into a radio interview added, “. . .we are all human and in the heat of the moment with frustration, things do happen”. Later in the day Cell C CEO Jose Dos Santos referred to women in general and those working at Cell C in particular, as having “a bitch switch”. On Cell C hiring Miss South Africa finalists as interns Dos Santos went on to say “You know what that does to a company? The men dress better, they shave every morning”. The in-studio panel were unfazed and joined him in laughing at these blatantly sexist comments, I can only assume, in agreement. It is notable that one of the panelists, when asked for a comment afterwards said, “The mindset of the person at the top does have a dramatic effect”. Later in the day, women at Rhodes University had a naked protest to show their frustration at the tepid response of the administration to their demands for urgent action against rape culture on the campus. On twitter this was met with much ridicule and disgust from men of all ages, it was at that point that I stopped and asked myself, what the hell is going on?

These seemingly isolated incidents are part of a broader pattern of abuse by men of women that plays out across the planet daily but I will focus on South Africa because this is where I live. From crude jokes, to insults, to physical violence, this is happening all the time and we all know it. On that particular day it really hit home for me that there is a problem with all men in this country, regardless of age, race, social standing or education, we all share the problem of abuse. Regardless of wether we are perpetrators or silent witnesses to this violence, we as men are all responsible. We don’t get to say “not all men” because it is all men who are ultimately responsible for creating the society in which it is not unusual to hear the term rape culture, where just about everybody knows somebody who has been sexually assaulted or raped and this is no exaggeration.

As men we are responsible for the normalisation of violence in our societies because more often than not, it is men who are the perpetrators and defenders. It is men who, out of a misplaced sense of loyalty lead the defence of alleged perpetrators on social media simply because a guy must always be given a chance. It is men who push the perception that women can’t be trusted and will do anything to bring a guy down. It is men who, after it is beyond doubt a woman has been assaulted, will seek to identify what role she played in her own assault. It is men who dictate to women the consequences of overstepping moral boundaries that only seem to apply to women as crafted by the same men. It is men who claim ownership over women’s bodies then through this false claim feel entitled to treat women as they deem fit whilst simultaneously feigning ignorance when women reject this sense of ownership. It is men who are silent whilst this happens all around them only reacting when challenged by women or a woman close to them is a victim of this culture they have inadvertently fostered with their silence. Here’s the thing, you can’t say or do abusive things then when the people you have affected call you an abuser you say they are wrong. This is wrong and needs to change.

This change cannot come from women because, no matter how many naked protests they have or men they name, it is the responsibility of men to stop giving each other a pass and reeducate each other on, first, mutual respect. One of the first lessons we learn from birth is respect, it is not a gendered lesson, it is respect for all but somewhere along the line we start to be selective about who we afford respect. Much of this selectivity comes from mimicking the older people around us. We internalise this selectivity and soon, we too are influencing others to do the same. I have written before about how saying boys will be boys only serves to entrench a sense of entitlement in men from an early age. It is therefore a lie when any man claims not to know what women are on about when they demand that men respect them in general and their bodies in particular. It is a lie when men rise in defence of a rape accused who they don’t know and try to play Devil’s advocate because, well, “you know how these women are”. It is really because we know how men are and we just don’t want to deal, we have evolved into masters of rationalisation, we routinely justify the most heinous of acts and do anything so we never have to deal with our collective conscience.

I don’t know what it will take to get men to change or when, but I highly doubt it will be after some great leader somewhere says something. I am far from perfect but I do know the difference between right and wrong. Whilst I may not have always practiced it, I also know to respect other human beings as do we all. What I saw this week and every other day is not right and it is high time men started having this conversation amongst ourselves. If each of us were to start talking with the man next to us that would be a start.

 

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.

The Trap Of Instant Digital Gratification.

Recently I attended a two day conference at Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg called African Futures where we spoke about aliens, comics, science fiction and the pervasiveness of social media, some of my favorite topics. It was intoxicating to hear people speak with such passion about ideas that I had previously thought too far-fetched to even conduct conversations about. There was so much to take in but weeks later, one particular talk has stuck with me, speakers were asked how they use social media in their work and the answers caused me to pause.

I spend what is probably an inordinate amount of time on social media, mostly Twitter and Instagram, but of late I have been wondering how this is shaping my worldview. Asked how he uses social media, Faustin Linyekula a choreographer from the DRC, spoke of how for him it is functional but at the same time invasive. He went on to speak of how social media forces us to live in the now, not seeing the immediate past or future, how we’ve become so transfixed on the absolute immediate present, as finite as it is. A great example of this is Twitter, where it is said 9000 tweets per second are tweeted and depending on how many people or trends you follow, your timeline can become a raging river of tweets where you can easily drown in your attempts to stay current.  In Japan in 2013 this peaked at 143199 tweets per second. This is typical of other modern media sources, constantly updating the latest news story literally by the second.

We’ve become so conditioned to seeking instant online gratification that by the time we get it we are already seeking the next new shiny thing. It is a cruel, cruel irony that in our search for instant gratification that gratification itself is nonexistent. If it did exist logic follows that once we we were satisfied we would log out until the next craving.

I realized that I was as much a perpetrator as a victim of this vice. That morning I started to think critically about just how much time I spend online and what benefit I derive from it and contribute to those I interact with. How much information am I actually consuming and what am I doing with it? What is the mental shelf-life of all this data streaming past my eyes and into my sub-conscious somewhere to be pulled out in random conversation later? Do I really need to be out here as much as I am? How much of this is me actually engaging with people for greater understanding and how much of it is me feeding my ego? Retweets and those exploding red hearts can be so addictive.

I realized I couldn’t introspect whilst remaining plugged into the machine so for the first time in years, I took a Twitter break. I spent the time reading articles and instead of tweeting out every next thought, taking the time to think that thought through. Till then I hadn’t realized just how mentally trigger-happy I had become. The whole world slowed down, the immediacy ebbed away, I started having conversations with myself again.

I really must thank my cellular service provider though, without their ridiculous data charges I might never have considered tuning out as a real option. I find tuning out is therapeutic for me, I can’t live life at the speed of the next big trend, that way of life is not great for my goal-setting. Life is more fun when you decide just how fast it comes at you.

The Great Johannesburg Duststorm of 2014

Yesterday my wife Nomhle and I hosted three friends from Chicago who were in Johannesburg for the first time. We only had half a day as they had arrived that morning and were continuing to Kruger National Park this morning so are probably stalking lions and rhinos right now. We met up at Park Station, the Gautrain side, and spent the afternoon telling tales over a fabulous lunch on Vlakhazi Street in Orlando West, up the road from Nelson Mandela’s house which we visited later.

After leaving Nelson Mandela’s house we drove into the city to catch the sunset from the Roof Of Africa on the fiftieth floor of the Carlton Centre, Africa’s tallest building since it opened in 1973. On our way we noticed a dust storm building up but din’t think too much of it.

We arrived at Carlton Centre with a little help, well actually solely because of the GPS, in good time and quickly found our way to the express elevator. The elevator ride is only R15, less than $1,50, per person and in less than a minute we walked out onto the viewing deck to be greeted by the setting sun.

What looked like it was going to be an epic sunset turned out to be something totally unexpected.
What looked like it was going to be an epic sunset turned out to be something totally unexpected.
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The city seems to go on forever. From up here you could be looking at a city in any developed country.
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The legendary Ponte Tower in the distance, the re was just not enough time to visit.
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You can see the dust building up on the horizon.

Johannesburg is a highly developed city which is evident from just about any angle and the views from up here are simply breathtaking. The buildup of dust was deceptively rapid one moment we were looking across the city and the next we could hear the dust specks scratching against the glass panels carried on a shrieking wind.

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Before we knew it the sun was fast disappearing behind a massive dust cloud.
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All we could do was stand back in awe. The richest city in Africa is nothing to mother nature.
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The dust rolls in covering the city, the sun no longer visible.
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With each passing minute . . .
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. . . the city disappeared under the dust.
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By the time we left the city was no longer recognisable.

We made our way down to the ground to find a strange new world. When we stepped out of the elevator into the ground level mall it was unusually dark for 18:30 and the dust was everywhere. Carol, one of our friends, happened to have a face-mask and put it on. I went out to get the car to find dust swirling through the air, visibility was poor.

We drove out of the city headed to Rosebank in a surreal atmosphere. I have never been in a dusstorm and for hours after I was still trying to comprehend what we had been through. Impressive as it was I hope i never have to go through that again but with all we hear about climate change, this may happen again sooner than we think.