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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

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Positively Woman

Muslim Women Walking, Zanzibar August 2011
I have been happily inspired by all things pertaining to womanhood in the last two weeks and so have decided to add to my 3-4-10 series with a round-up.  Thought this picture I took of Muslim women walking along in Zanzibar was the perfect image to use with this post as it is a lovely visual metaphor for how creative and free women can be despite restrictions placed on them by society socially, politically and/ or economically.  Though required to cover themselves, they have found a way to let their personalities shine through by eschewing the traditional black, using African chitenge (or in Swahili kitenge) cloth to infuse colour into their wardrobe, while still adhering to tradition.

3 inspiration women of the moment:

1. President Joyce Banda

Her presidency is the result of the unfortunate death of Malawi's elected head of state, the late Bingu Wa Mutharika.  It has, however, enabled her to become the second female president on the African continent.  Not only that, we now have TWO female heads of state serving concurrently :).  President Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, the recent Nobel Laureate, congratulated President Banda with these words of advice about being a woman and a leader.  To find out more about Her Excellency, read this article: it gives great background and insight into who she is as a person and I also liked this article about her husband, who is set to be a great First Man or is it GENTLEMAN?!- he will not try to usurp power or undermine her to prove he is still the man, you know what I mean?

2.  Leymah Gbowee

I did not know much about Ms. Gbowee till she became the joint Nobel Peace Prize Laureate with her fellow countrywoman President Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkol Karman of Lebanon. Her recent TED speech is truly inspiring, and when hearing her speaking on GPS with Fareed Zakaria helped me articulate how I felt the West should be involved in affecting change on the continent, which I blogged about here.

3.  Ashley Judd

I have always liked Ms. Judd's acting and the fact that she disappears from sight when she is not working, maintaining a mystery and a dignity that few in Hollywood can muster these days.  I am currently enjoying watching her in the new series Missing, in which she is an ex-CIA agent who lost her husband due to the job so she retires only to have her son in kidnapped in Rome a decade later.  I love the strong motherly character this brings out in her.  She chop-sueys her way through Europe, kills baddies and follows clues spurred by the love of her child and she does it in a female way, not in a "the only way I can do this is to be like a man", like so many other female characters in this genre are often played.   One of my first posts on the blog was about Salt, the movie with Angelina Jolie and I had issues with how some of the plot was geared so as not to emasculate the men as is also the norm with a strong woman protagonist, but Missing has men who are men and their manhood is not defined by women having to take a back seat in some way and Judd is able to take charge without losing her womanhood or having to be stereotypically effeminate. 

I digress.  What I wanted to say was I enjoyed her recent article in the Daily Beast.  She writes about how women are hypersexualised, how our worth is essentialised to merely our physical appearance,  how we are limited by not only the paternalistic and parochial nature of our societies, but also how we women are perpetuating this discrimination and are actually guilty of fuelling the prejudices we face daily, though we like to blame men for our lot in life.  

4 songs by beautiful African women:

1. This is my theme song right now.  If you do decide to indulge in some of the recreational activities she lists, you know how I feel about when it starts to rain - please use a raincoat :)

2.  This video just makes me happy, and the song by itself is just lovely.  I really want a kaftan now.

3.  "All I know is Swagger!"  I love it.  Watched this Channel O introduction to Camp Mulla and just loved how Miss Karun is so articulate and chilled for one so young.  I particularly liked when she said that she really doesn't like to get bogged down in defining exactly what genre Camp Mulla's music is because it is inspired, draws from and uses elements across many different sounds, cultures and experiences.  I think her philosphy should be applied to gender, race, culture, religion and life really.  Stop trying to put everyone and everything in a box and just take things and people for what they are.  We are all influenced by many things, and while stereotypes and norms help us form schema to make it through the world, they are a guide, NOT strict rules and definitions to be adhered to.  There must be room and a welcome space for deviations as they are the crux of creativity, innovation, progress and evolution.

4. Toya DeLazy's style is clearly inspired by menswear (I heart very much) and she does not subscribe to your typical bubblegum pop princess "I'm cute and pretty" or the "hey look I'm sexy and edgy and different (but really still a slave to the machine)" clubs, but doesn't come off like she is trying to hide her womanhood or sexuality either.  I love that she has her own style and is making pop music without needing to be half-naked, gyrating and/ or humping the floor to get our attention and is still singing with sense, depth and meaning to  her lyrics.  She knows she has her own brand of swag and is not afraid to show it.

10 woman/ female related things that put a smile on my face (in no particular order):

1.  African Voices with John Meletse

If you are wondering why I have started off with a man, my answer to you is being gay falls in to the female category when put in the gender dichtomy paradigm of male/ female, masculine/ feminine and therefore into sister dichotomies: strong/ weak, ruler/ subordinate, defender/ defenceless etc. And disabled people in the world fall into the same category too.  He states he very much identifies more with women in society than men so I rest my case. You can watch the episode of African Voices with John here.

2. Rwanda's Parliament has a 55% female majority, the first in the world :)

Not only is Parliament mostly female, it is quite youthful and connected through social media.  Way to go Rwanda for leading the way!  I came across these lovely nuggets of trivia while enjoying an article laced with inspirational quotes from President Kagame about how we Africans need to start being agents of change on the continent, rather than limiting ourselves to being passive receptors of whatever fate is bestowed on us from outsiders. We need to stop talking and start doing because "people don't eat debates, they eat food". Love it!

3. Chimamanda Adichie

Though she has irked me in the past with some of her views, she is a badass.  Her TED talk on the dangers of the single story has really helped me process and navigate through the issues of the day in the media.

4. Christina Hendricks aka Joan in Mad Men

Saw a picture of her as Joan on Mad Men's Facebook page and the read the comments from BOTH men and women praising and enjoying her voluptuous figure without hypersexualising her undulating lady lumps and humps or hateration. This kind of positivity helps to promote healthy and diverse body images in the media and in turn in society . It reminds me of an interview I watched of hers where she responded "You've gotta eat!" when she was asked how she maintains her lovely figure. Yay for curves and being healthy!

5.  Viola Davis rocking her TWA

For y'all that don't know, TWA means teeny weenie afro.  It's so sad that she has not been rocking her natural hair for fear of discrimination on the job and I'm glad that she showed how beautiful she can be without straight hair and/ or a wig at the Oscars.  I do not have a problem with Black women rocking whatever texture hair or wearing their own versus bought hair.  What I'm all about is why.  If you are shunning your natural hair because of some sort of societal pressure or an unchecked self hate then I have a problem.  I also have issues with people thinking they are better than someone else because they have relaxed or weaved hair or when they rock dreads or a fro.

6. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigerian Finance Minister, former World Bank managing director and World Bank head hopeful

Yesterday it was confirmed that Obama's choice, Kim Yong Jim, will be the new head of the World Bank :( despite support from not only many African nations but from around the world.  She is proof that women and Africans hold powerful positions and are serious contenders on the global stage.

7. Inspirational film

Listen to and be inspired by Tunisian Nadia El Fani talking about making a a controversial film that includes a scene with a restaurant serving food during Ramadan and about how Muslims need to change their own perceptions of what they are capable of and what human rights they are worthy of.  She has made this film because she is a patriotic Tunisian and not to be a rabble-rouser for no apparent reason. I also just came across the fact that Luc Besson made a film about Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese activist who has been under house arrest for years and recently made history by being elected to Parliament.  It's called The Lady and stars Michelle Yeoh.

8. Mark Grist's spoken word piece on loving women who read

Thank God for this, I always suspected there were more men out there with such sentiments.

9.  Inspirational quotes

As always, Maya Angelou, the eternal tall drink of refreshing water has a new quote ready for me to discover and love:

"I would like to be known as an intelligent woman, a courageous woman, a loving woman, a woman who teaches by being."

"The right man will love all the things about you that the wrong man was intimidated by." Whoever said that is absolutely right :)

10. Titica, the transsexual singer in Angola

Included for the same reasons as John Meletse.  A man taking on a female persona in a Catholic country.  Courage is always inspiring :).  You can read about Titica here

Monday, 9 April 2012

My Recent Bout Of That Icky Nervous Condition...

I have been spending most of my time posting my thoughts as they come on Facebook: a manifestation of a relapse of my nervous condition, which I first became aware of in the USA when studying for my first degree.  I travelled far into the depths of despair and unwittingly allowed the media to suck me into the black hole of hopelessness and anger but have managed to navigate my way back to the light, and I am now finding peace and perspective on the stories that I have been following about the world and in particular about Africa and Black people.

This post is mainly for any of my friends who may have been confused, offended or felt ostracised by any of my statements. While I stand by everything I've said, they were not meant for to be taken personally from individual to individual and I apologise for any confusion caused.  People are not always a mirror image of their countries or of organisations and countries through the governments and organisations do not necessarily reflect the sentiments of individuals and citizens.  In the same why I believe faith and state should be separate, I believe in assessing each person I meet on their individual merits and not their country's or any organisation claiming to work in their name.  So I am not upset with my friends I am lucky to have all from around the world whom I treasure very much.  I am upset with a group of people who either are ignorant to the nuances of the world or who just don't want to see the world for what it is, that I have not had much if any contact with and that quite frankly scare me, as they seem to be able to wield a tremendous power to organise and lead people in frightening ways thanks to the power of the media and in particular the Internet!

I first came across this video thanks to MR. GIRAFFE who had sent this to me last year, and my OLDER SISTER reminded me of it a coupla weeks ago.  I commented that this video seemed to be hunting me down and retrospect it needed to.  I watched it last week to remind me:

"not to get sucked into whatever angle the media have decided to take on any story. Right now the BBC, CNN and Sky are reporting on any racist behaviour in the Western world making it seem like everyone is out for Black blood mainly due to the killing of Trayvon Martin and continued instances of prejudice against Black football players in Europe. I have posted about the Hunger games and was shocked at the abuse thrown at at Black youth being arrested in England who had the sense to record the incident on the phone. However, I have to remember that luckily, the people I know all around the world are open, loving, intelligent and committed to exposing and telling multiple stories about the world and its people. And there are many other people whom I don't know who are too, or at the very least are willing to learn and grow and shed prejudices they may harbour."

If you haven't, I'd urge you to look at my posts on Facebook over the last month as though schizophrenic, they show the roller-coaster of hope and pride as well as the despair that I have felt and how I have tried to balance out positive and negative stories.  I am not saying there aren't serious problems and that we of the world are not the source of it: what I am worried about is that the negativity is winning, and in particular that African and Black stories are being limited to tragic and/ or disheartening ones, rendering us helpless and in need of rescue by the West.  I am afraid that age-old stereotypes about we of the "dark continent". 

Today I happened to tune in just before Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, appeared on Fareed Zakaria's GPS on CNN.  She more eloquently and succinctly  made the point I have been trying to drive home in bursts on Facebook about the issues I have mentioned above, and other stories I have posted about in the last month.  It's not that I don't want the Western World to help: everyone has something to offer and when they can help they should.  It's the manner in which they do it that is important.  She was talking about Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, practices (which Zakaria really needed to clarify only occurs in certain parts of Africa, not across the whole continent) in Liberia and how her father saved her from it, (:) women's rights need to be championed by both men and women), and also how the world, particularly the West should approach lending their support and affecting change, which I feel can be generalised to how the West interacts with the continent:

She said that when the West helps, they should be supportive, waiting to hear what is needed before charging in and electing what should be done.  She said that problems with a distinct cultural underpinning are best understood by the people on the ground experiencing them, and they should be the trailblazers in finding the tools to weed out and extinguish the problem from the inside out, not vice versa.  She went on to say that outside-led interventions do not work because the people from the community who are used to carry them out are considered puppets of the West, which causes people to reject the necessary change.  Instead the West should seek out people who like herself, have taken it upon themselves to be vocal and active in changing  things and finding solutions to problems,  allow them to lead the interventions and ask them what they need to continue to do so, and then assist them when called upon to do so.

She also said about living through the war in Liberia that she realised after a couple of years that no "Superman or Nelson Mandela" was going to come and save her - she had to save herself if things were to change.  She said others in Liberia realised this too and that is  how they all banded together to bring an end to the war, and in particular for her, start the conversation about women's rights and putting in place the infrastructure to stem the tide of abuse and to find solutions to problems such as FGM.

This is the model I think that the continent and Black people need to continue to put into practice :).