For Your Daily Dose of MbA

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"Culture is the heritage of us all. some may be more interested than others in the treasures of the past, but no one can fail to take a pride in his country's participation in the story of mankind, as represented in carvings, sculpture, music, paintings and the other arts. And there is a personal commitment to this, for no man can really say he is alone: we are all joined through our identity, with the cultures which are part of the mainstream of life"
- Simon Kapwepwe, Zambian Independence Freedom Fighter

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm" - Winston Churchill

"Try to be the rainbow in someone else's cloud" - Maya Angelou

"Your time is limited so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinion drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition" - Steve Jobs

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Kisses This Christmas

If you were wondering about finding mistletoe on the continent to stir things up at Christmas have no fear. Just nip over to Mount Mabu in Northern Mocambique where some botanists found Africa's tropical version of this yuletide plant. You'll not only be taking a preemptive strike against those pesky holiday pounds you are sure to gain, but you also will be increasing your chances of holiday romance and cheer. You are welcome in advance ;}.

Forgive me, I am in a giddy mood as I leave the cold and snow behind for a sunny Christmas, which is the only way it should be.  Snowy ones are for the movies: nice to look at but we don't need to actually experience the cold and craziness that comes with it.

If you are flying like I am, I hope you make it in time to be with your family and/ or friends and aren't delayed, especially if you are flying from Europe.

To those who are politically correct and/ or don't celebrate the birth of Jesus, Happy Holidays! To everyone else, Merry Christmas :)!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Why It Sucks To Be A Young Educated African Woman Today And So On...

I know, such a depressing title seeing as 'tis the season to be jolly".  I promise this is the last serious post and from now (as in the African now now, meaning in a minute or an hour or a day he he he) till New Year it will all be "fa la la la laaaaa la laaaa la laaaa" ;}.  COMBINE sent this link to Chimamanda Adichie's essay in the Financial Times about the plight of the young, educated African woman on the continent that stirred up a serious debate, and I could not not post about it.

The depressing thing about the article is that it had many truths in it that I could related to.  People have commented on the car I drive at home and I have had to bite my tongue and play coy and 'womanly'.  I share her frustrations with the world that I live in.  But I don't just feel that way at home, I feel that way whereever I go.  Even in the West (albeit in different ways sometimes) I feel that my educatedness and self-sufficency and my womaness are at loggerheads.  And my Africaness adds further complexity and confusion to this already seemingly paradoxical combination of attributes.  I am also a bit upset by how stereotypically she framed and narrated her plight.  As LOLZ pointed out this was not an article to be published in the Financial Times. And I agree.  It seemed like a blog post to me.  It did not read like an opinion piece, it was too loaded with the vitriol of, for lack of a better phrase, a mad black woman.  Which I think detracts from what she was trying to get across.  Even though the article ends positively, with hope that things will change as they always do and have as progress has already shown, it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.  I am disappointed that Chimamanda was not able to add anything more useful to the conversation. Her acclaim gives her the power to be able to initiate change.  She could have used this opporunity to do so much more with her words :(. Why couldn't she give recent examples of things changing like how men helped elect Africa's first female president? And why is it that getting what we want means no compromise on our side?  Compromise is required on both sides to get to where we want to go...

Women's issues seem to be the topic du jour, not surprising after the 16 days of Activism to End Violence Against Women bookended by International Day to End Violence Against Women on the 25th of November and Human Rights Day on the 10th of December.  However I feel like the media really latched on to this yearly occurence in 2010. I read this disturbing piece on the BBC Africa written unfortunately what seems to be a disgruntled African man in the Expert Views section which greatly perturbed me as if he is an expert on women's issues we are all screwed. Even though I too expressed my concern about all these days and my question about condensing them into a week has been answered by the already extant 16 days, I think this diatribe went one step further and missed the point of these days entirely. Farai Sevenzo seems a smart enough guy and his interests on the continent are very exciting, which makes it all the more upsetting that he used his voice to write such a terrible piece.  Even worse than Chimamanda, who has somewhat stagnated the conversation on the particular plight of a certain kind of African woman, Farai has just set the whole conversation  on women (in general) back! In order for women's rights to be achieved, men have to be a part of the solution! If they do not understand that despite women earning and achieving more the world is still being ran by men then all these efforts will eventually be in vain.  I watched these two TED talks about how women are outperforming men and how men need to be part of the conversation for equality to really exist that offered some clarity to the issues I have raised from the two articles.


Why is it that women think they have to take over and be men to have won the gender wars?  I don't think Roisin's glee in women making men feel like poop is productive because it just makes the scales imbalanced on the other side. Her vindictiveness is no better than Chimanda's vitriol. There has to be a way for men and women to share power and not for it to have to be a tug-of-war with one side with more clout than the other.  Porter's talk made me so sad that the worst thing that a boy could think of being is a girl and how that is used to really play on little boys minds. This links to Roisin's talk as it explains why guys are feeling so emasculated by the rise of women as they are told that women are weak and can't bring home the bacon but we are proving to be strong and very productive.  This incongruity in messages must be incredibly confusing.  Which could explain why Farai doesn't see the need for all these International Days when in fact this is exactly why we need such days.  We need these days for both men AND women.  To help men and women work out the shifts going on in society and to help with understanding.  Because men are not taught to articulate their emotions and thoughts with words, and many lash out and gender violence is evidence of that.  Men will always be physically stronger than women, and showing that power to a woman is unfortunately still a preferred stereotypical way of exerting  manhood to stroke fragile egos. 

I am also very annoyed about the stereotype Roisin uses about girls being good and listening to the teacher and that's why they do well in school.  I barely sat still in class and was always told off for fidgeting and talking and not paying attention and I managed to become highly educated and the proud recipient of 3 degrees (which I am still wondering how I managed to achieve them but I'll take all the certification bestowed on me gladly he he he). I have felt very unwomaly for a good portion of my life due to this and I know other friends who feel this way due to their unwomanly behaviour in the same and other situations.  It is not good to essentialise.  Yes, there are gender differences but  not all of us fall perfectly into the normal boy and girl templates.  We are all on a spectrum and must be given allowances at times to be ourselves in order to fulfill our potential. We all have skills that are required and we need to find ways to tap into both male AND female potential.  It's not about women now suddenly being better than men.  It has always been and always should be about using the requisite skills at the right time for the appropriate situation. Noone is obsolete, everyone is relevant on some level at any given time.

Now that I have expressed myself, I take my leave to enjoy the holiday season :}!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Gyan Named African Footballer of the Year And Other Sports News...

I am so happy to report that my voting enabled Asamoah Gyan of Ghana/ Sunderland to be named BBC's African Footballer of the year ha ha ha!   With his leadership during the World Cup I am not surprised.  We Africans truly appreciated how he helped Ghana step up to the plate to keep an African Nation visible and relevant during the tournament.  I would split my pajama bottoms while in the process of falling to my knees before the nail biting penalty in front of the TV for him again any day.  He is truly a Black Star ;}.

You can watch his thank you and read more about it here.

I have not mentioned the fact that Nadal lost to Federer in the ATP Finals last month due to the fact that I don't want to dwell on that because he had such a stellar year.  However, Federer is hosting an exhibition match in Switzerland this Tuesday to raise money for his Foundation that does work in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa.  I know that it is only an exhibition match but I want Nadal to win. It will make me feel better.  And I hope he wears the purple again.  He wears my favourite colour well ha ha ha ha. And I happen to be in Switzerland so I should be able to catch it. Problem is there are so many random Arabic Channels to sort through hopefully find the Swiss one it is showing on. Federer's Facebook page also indicates it will be shown on other channels so you can check there to see if you can catch it too.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Buy Life?!

I was really perturbed when I read on Perez Hiliton around World AIDS Day that celebrities like Lady Gaga and Alicia Keys were digitally dieing and wouldn't resurrect themselves untill they reached their goal of raising $1 million for the Buy Life campaign.  There are SOOOOOOOOOO many things wrong with all of this both in terms of semantics and sensitivity.

1. You should not be encouraging people to buy life.  Save a life yes, buying life no! Life should not have to be bought it is a human right to live so really it should have been worded better.

2. Alicia Keys was spearheading this campaign through her Keep A Child Alive foundation and defended this campain by saying "Its so important to shock [people] to the point of waking up. It's not that people don't care or it's not that people don't want to do something, it's that they've never thought of it quite like that."

All I have to say is HMMMMMMMM. Telling people to make the ultimate sacrifice by killing their digital selves to help buy the lives of others just seems all sorts of wrong. And celebrities leading the way makes it cool which is exacerbating.  I know they were thinking about the clout they have, especially on social media, and they meant well but really?! It makes the people donating seems superior to those who are in need of help and it creates and "us" and "them" dichtomy that Koffi Annan was warning against. If people want to give you don't and shouldn't have to shock them into doing it, you just have to provide a platform to do it.  I guess it worked and people have donated beyond the amount requested but was it to help those living with HIV, was it just so they could get back to keeping up with the latest news on the celebs they follow on Facebook and Twitter or worse to be cool and part of this daring and sensational campaign!  Does it matter how the money was raised? Money is money right? I don't know about that...

Death where I am from is not taken lightly and I think from what I have heard from other Africans it is the same all over the continent.  So the whole "I'm going to be dead till you resurrect me" thing is just disturbing and so self important and disrespectful to me.  The people who they are saying are dying because we aren't helping don't get the luxury of coming back when things are the way they want them to be like those committing digital death voluntarily. The analogy is just WRONG! And to make it worse most of the money is going to Africa seeing as we have the majority of HIV/AIDS cases and Alicia Keys does most of her outreach on the continent.  The people recieving it will probably have no idea how the money was raised and I think that is a good thing because we Africans have pride even though we are made to seem like we just take what we are given without thought or care.  Reminds me of when the Zambian President refused to accept the GM grain sent as Aid. We have principles.

I think this is also why Africans in the diaspora are largely cut out participating and being a part of such campaigns.  They are not designed to help us help ourselves.  They are designed to guilt Westeners into giving and for them to feel good about their benevolence.  In the end it feels to me like its not really about the people in need.  Which is a shame because mobilising Africans in the diaspora is probably the key to getting proper control over helping those less fortunate and curtaling poverty and pandemics.  We are brought up to strive to be able to take care of our families and if you have the means you help there is no discussion about it, especially when you are abroad because the little that you can send is a lot back home. But we do it in silos because we do it for our families not for the community at large for the most part so those who do not have family of means are the ones who suffer. Africans overseas remitted $30 BILLION back home in 2009.  Some of that could be used to help programs that are seeking to empower and improve the lives of those who are less fortunate on the continent. However if they are like me then they probably get mad when they see a campaign call for money on TV or in their inbox or while they are surfing the net. I do not feel guilty, I feel offended and/ or angry most of the time. I don't think we should wait for Western campaigns to think of us, we need to start our own. We need to go back to the village not only RAISING but also SAVING the child mentality.

Am I just being too sensitive about this?

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Human Rights Day

Today is Human Rights Day.  Unlike other days I don't think it's widely acknowledged.  I think this is the first year I knew it existed and was reminded by an email I got today at work. As I was saying here, these days should either fall on the same week or they should be better publicised. In light of what I have discussed with regards to AIDS due to World AIDs day last week, I thought this quote from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navanethem Pillay, was rather appropriate:

Advocacy stems both from necessity and empathy, that is, the ability to identify with somebody else's condition and to feel them as one's own.  It is such empathy, regardless of distance in time or space or custom, and the common notion that all human beings are entitled to dignity and respect that have built the human rights movement and underpinned its progress. Each day the human rights movement wins more supporters, but we must not be complacent.

I read today that the Rwandan genocide archive has been unveiled.  You can view some of it here. We should never forget what happened. Especially today.  One of these days I will muster the courage to watch Hotel Rwanda again.  Watching that movie traumatised me for life.  I had a mini nervous breakdown in the cinema bathroom after viewing it.  I am not particularly thrilled to go through that again. Once was enough thanks.

As humans, as altruistic as we like to think we are, we are motivated by the things we care about.  It is scary to think that there are people who do not care for lives beyond their own, and sometimes they don't even care about themselves! We can only hope to grow into better people. More importantly, that we actually go about growing and not just talk the talk but walk it proudly!

2011 is the Year of People of African descent I have just learned from reading Navanethem Pillay's speech. Hmmmmmmmm.  In the last two months I really have been bombarded with news such as this year was the Year of the Lung and all these days that keep popping up.  I am going to have to post about this...

I just had a conversation with my sister about the fact that neither Bai Ki Moon or Koffi Annan ever had a Mr. in front of their names but Navanethem Pillay is qualified by a Ms.  She said it is so we know she is a woman and I was like I know but well why should we always assume that people are men and why don't we refer to everyone as Mr. or Ms. and she was like well men ruled the world so that's how it is. Well it can be changed. We are still being singled out if we have the Ms. People will continue to assume that someone is a man if they cannot tell unless they see a Ms. unless we change it. It is a human right not to have to be singled out so I say! And with a name that is unisex where I am from (and is qualified naturally to distinguish as a he or she equally) and that the world at large would not be able to decipher even if it was just a girl's name because of where it is from, I am particularly concerned about this. I also need to stop abusing
the world "well" in this post....and "like" for that matter ;}

Saturday, 4 December 2010

AIDS, Common Sense and Discrimination

I have been obsessed with the TED Website since a friend of mine suggested that I use it to learn when I complained of boredom.  I had viewed talks before but since finishing my masters I have been all educated out.  But learning while passively listening is addictive and now I can't stop.  I now watch a TED talk to accompany my lunch at work everyday.  I came across this talk by Elizabeth Pisani and now have a girl-crush on her.  She's so smart and witty and just cool!  Most of all she talks a lot of common sense, something that I think is lost on the world.  We do not trust ourselves to just go with our gut and what just makes sense even if you can't explain it with research, graphs, charts and formulae.  Part of life is just knowing and doing.  She is a little off-kilter so I warn you that you may be put off by the way she presents her thoughts. I quite enjoyed it, I love subversive humour and presentation but can fully appreciate how it may make some uncomfortable or could offend.

If you like her style, right now you can download her book for free here.  This offer is only good for the month of December.

Her talk got me thinking about the recent study that showed that partners of HIV+ people could protect themselves from contracting the disease if they followed a drug regimen consisting of an ART cocktail.  I am all about realistic, sensible prevention.  Let's be honest, humans are sexual beings and telling them to abstain is not the most sustainable and moreover commonsensical way of getting people to think about protecting themselves consistently.  Most people have a modicum of control at best.  I am not cynical or pessimistic, I've just lived enough in the world to know that the average person is quite illogical and careless and have little control when it comes to the bumptibump.  As you know I am a proponent of prophylactics and if you can get them to be part of the everyday routine of a person like taking a pill with their daily vitamins, I think that is great. Now we need to concentrate on halting the pandemic through transmission rather than just having it under control through treatment once positive. Both are required for success.

Speaking of the lack of the commonsensical, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga's recent speech only serves to push the gay minority further underground, further encouraging risky behaviour which will lead to this groups further marginalisation through the double-stigma borne from their lifestyle and if they contract HIV.  I am so disappointed in all the African nations, and in particular Uganda, that further are hampering Human Rights and AIDS progress by targeting the gay community with misinformation and fear tactics for political ends. Enough with the nonsensical!!! UNACCEPTABLE!

And the same goes for women.  We are just depicted as a helpless high risk group and really, not enough is being done to get to the root of the problem.  Yes our biology means that we are more likely to contract the disease  and there is nothing we can do to alter the way we have been designed, but there are social factors than be dealt with.  The typical  African story of girl raped by an uncle, grandfather or family friend to cure himself  of HIV/AIDS is something that should not be allowed to happen. UNACCEPTABLE!  Women to afraid to have candid conversations with their husbands about cheating and condoms is still rife in African society. UNACCEPTABLE! Educating people about how they contract it and what can be done to prevent or manage the disease is still something that needs to be done better.  And the issue of gender-based violence in Africa is something that needs to be dealt with.  I am ashamed that Zambia is one of the countries where men are really foolish about why they abuse their spouses, defending themselves with reasons to do with expressing love.  UNACCEPTABLE!

However, I am very happy that I received a text from my Zambian mobile service provider that read:

 "Guard against gender based violence vices and where such vices occur please do not hesitate to report to the appropriate authorities."

This pleasant surprise makes me happy as it shows how mobile technology can be used to educate the masses on the African continent.  And it is a great example of corporate social responsibility.  So easy to do and the social effects can be huge if the message is received on a regular basis.  I know a lot of people have been talking about mobile marketing and this puts people off.  I don't want to receive a text from sleazy marketer but getting a text about my well-being with no agenda is a welcome use of an opportunity to speak to a large group at little cost. I think this kind of community outreach in Zambia has been spurred by recent efforts from Government to make concrete change through a bill that is ready to be presented to Parliament. I hope that they will not lose momentum as happens with a lot of these efforts.  It made me think of Ms. Afropolitan's post and how I had no idea that there was a day for Gender-based Violence and how it just slipped by.  Some of these issues need to be tied together and maybe there should be a week that tackles all these interlinked diseases and human rights abuses rather than having them scattered about the year with some getting more attention that others.

BTW, if you happen to be in New York, the Access to Life Exhibit is currently showing at the UN Headquarters until the 17th of December.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

World AIDS Day

I have never actually ever really observed today.  I know it happens every 1st of December and I have worn ribbons at certain points in my life but I have never participated in any events or really sat down to reflect on why this day has been created.  This year I helped organise events at work and participated and have seen AIDS with clear glasses for the first time, now that I have been most graciously informed that I had rose-coloured ones on before.

I have always been passionate about AIDS and Africa. When I was about 8 years old I was deathly afraid of contracting the disease as it had been drummed into me that AIDS was a death sentence and people who contracted it had somehow done something very wrong and that's why they got it.  The vestiges of that is an acute awareness and vigilance bordering on the psychotic in my personal life because of it.  As I got older and started to understand the social aspects of it the fear that could have led to discrimination thankfully evolved into a fire that burns to be a part of doing something about it.  If I had been a better student I would have fulfilled my childhood dream (this was one of many) of finding the cure.  However this would entail what I consider to be copious amounts of school and a skill that I avoid using at all costs and that is research (I know you may be surprised  by this as my posts tend to have such depth (yes I flatter myself ha ha ha) but this pleasurable and voluntary unlike school and prolonged work related stuff which can be quite painful if you have to do it with no perceivable end) and another called discipline that I have very little of.  So I decided that I would do everything I can to help with the skills I do have.

I happen to be working for an organisation that is at the forefront in trying to reverse the epidemic and this makes me happy.  Blogging about it  helps because it is an issue at the top of Africa's agenda.  Today, at work, I heard from people living withe disease talk about particular experiences in their lives after they had contracted HIV and two things stood out to me:

1. There is no face for HIV/ AIDS.  Yes Africa has the most affected by the disease but it is detrimental to keep showing the face of a disenfranchised African woman or child whenever AIDS is mentioned, and when the media want to switch it up the faces change to gay men, because it allows people who do not identify to think that they are safe or even immune and it stigmatises certain groups no matter how the messages are presented.  On the panel there were women AND men, who were gay AND straight, who came from Africa AND Europe AND Asia AND the USA and were younger AND older.   It can happen to anyone in a manner of ways.  However, because my workmates are not disenfranchised or underprivileged it is clear that their stations in life have enabled them to be able to be empowered by their individual ownership of how they live with HIV and in being able to speak about their experience in a safe place with support and in actively working to help others have the same opportunities to live in good health and which leads me to the second thing...

2. AIDS is a Human Rights issue more than anything right now.  So the second thing I learnt was that people living with HIV are battling daily around the world for the right to be human.  For the right to have children if they choose, to be able to have access to proper medical care, to not be stigmatised, and most importantly to live, and not just in terms of the medical, but to live freely amongst the rest of "us" even though there really should not be such a distinction.

That is why I changed the amashibi (words) above to the Koffi Annan quote from World AIDS Day 2003 because his call to arms is still relevant, and maybe even more so, today:

We must continue to speak up openly about AIDS. No progress will be achieved by being timid, refusing to face unpleasant facts, or prejudging our fellow human beings - still less by stigmatising people living with HIV/AIDS.  Let no one imagine that we can protect ourselves by building barriers between "us" and "them.  In the ruthless world of AIDS, there is not us and them.  And in that world, 
silence is death.

The rest of the week I will explore certain issues surrounding AIDS.  Check out the (RED) website to see what people are doing around the world to commemorate the day. The UNAIDS 2010 Global Report happily reports that the number of new cases in Africa is going down and that this phenomenon is most acute in young people although disturbingly it in on the rise with older people.  You can also watch quite powerful and harrowing videos documenting the photo sessions around the world for the Access to Life Exhibition, a collaboration between the Global Fund and Magnum Photos.  I like this exhibition and the videos because it shows the many faces of HIV/ AIDS but at the same time I am always a little wary of documenting people's pain and suffering, I find it a bit intrusive and exploitative.  I don't think I'll ever be able to reconcile this conflict.

I was able to get these beaded AIDS pins  for everyone at work from Wola Nani, a great initiative in South Africa that provides medical, financial, economic and social support to people living with HIV, especially women. I really like programs that empower, that think about the big picture and not just about charity which I feel is usually more about the person giving patting themselves on the back for being so altruistic rather than being about the person in need. Charity is not sustainable but self-sufficiency is.  Going beyond giving a hand-out, an ephemeral happenstance to giving someone knowledge and skills, (as my father always says these are the things that no one can take away from you) is something that can be perpetuated.  You know the whole giving a fish versus taking people fishing to teach them how to catch one themselves thing.

Wola Nani is Xhosa for "we embrace and develop one another". I hope that this AIDS Day you'll think about how to do that in your community with regards to people living with HIV and find ways to incorporate those wise words into all facets of life :)