Three R’s: Running, Rhinos and wRiting

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At 5.30am I stood in the relative dark on Main Road along with another couple of thousand runners – about 27000 apparently. I’d been up at 4.15am, had a cup of coffee and a banana and debated with myself about which top to wear over my vest and pinned race number. What to do with the fleece when I got warm? Would I see my hubby and kids somewhere to throw to them and if not, would it annoy me around my waist for the 2 or 3 hours I planned to be on the road?

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Then, yellow street lights and a happy announcer buoyed the runners, the smell of Arnica Gel and a sweetish deodorant wafted around and the wind nipped unsuccessfully at my fleece. I expected to be more nervous but somehow wasn’t. I smiled at the odd person next to me if I happened to catch their eye and did a few stationary steps on the spot but no real warm up if I think back on it now. At home on the stairs from my bedroom I had stretched my calves a little as imagined that if anything was going to give, it was likely to be these-they had been tight on occasion.

Figuring I was in a good spot more or less at the front of E Group so I wouldn’t have too far to shuffle to the Start once the 6.20am gun sounded, I kind of stood there, amazed that it was finally me who was part of the expectant throng. Me ! Well we all have our things we want to do don’t we? Like climb Mt Kilimanjaro or fall out the sky with a parachute or something. Personally, I prefer hearing Johnny Clegg’s ‘I’m on the top of Kilimanjaro’- it makes my heart feel profoundly proud of being African in a way I cannot explain – but running this Two Oceans Half Marathon was officially on my bucket list. For years. I had just not committed to it properly in my head but then writing it and sharing it out in the public domain last year when I was about to turn 50 made it a kind of thing, you know?

Then of course came the Rhino bit which in all honesty, was a beautiful bonus. Having decided only a month before that I couldn’t wait another year, the only way I was going to get an entry was through a charity and luckily, Saving Private Rhino, an initiative organized by the Aquila Game Reserve was something close to my heart. I was in. Then to solicit some pledges (I’m flippin’ hopeless at asking for money but family filled in furiously as usual and a few friends- THANK YOU ALL)  and it was done.

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So there I stood. My first attempt to run 21kms. All in one go! My furthest to date had been 18kms- and that was in 2002, unknowingly pregnant with my third baba. On Doctor’s orders I had been told not to run anymore, having miscarried the month prior and then suddenly it wasn’t such a thing anymore.

Now. I had been told by those in the know that one or two longish runs were enough and that I had done. One 14km and one 15km and the last 4 weeks of deliberate ‘training’  runs, twice a week, about an hour or so of running each time, nothing more than 8 or 10km at a stretch, usually a little less.

Only one wish: not to be hauled off the road at the cut –off and told that my efforts were in vain.

And that’s that.

About 10 mins to go the gun.

The young woman next to me asked me to fasten the holder thingy on her arm which housed her keys and phone. But there was little chatting beyond ‘where are you from ?’ and ‘how are you feeling? ’ I looked around and saw a banana on the floor. I stretched my foot and tried, surreptitiously to prod it, wondering if I had underestimated my breakfast requirements but it was too late now. And how embarrassing anyway to pick up someone else’s food off the pavement!

I wiggled my shoulders to Coldplay’s Viva la Vide playing loudly over the speakers and then it was the countdown and the sound and smoke of the gun.

Shuffling up the road, turning the corner, listening to the chirps and encouragement of fellow runners on the ups, feeling the breeze on the downhills, overtaking the Sub 2.30 bus at the 7km mark, it all seemed kind of surreal. By 7.50am I was at the top of Southern Cross Drive and felt that this was a thing I could do. For heaven’s sake, I had passed a few 70 year olds doing exactly that!

With beautiful chestnut strewn paths on the way up to Kirstenbosch and an easy down to the beginning of ‘Chet’s Hill’, it was my bum and right thigh which felt tight. ‘Don’t think about it’ I said to myself and plodded on. I decided to take a sip of Powerade at this point, believing that a little booster for the last 3kms could come in handy and then suddenly, the green lawns of UCT loomed large. I picked up the pace and felt my heart smiling back at me though my ‘sprint’ didn’t last the entire of that home stretch which seemed to have got further the faster I ran! But I made it past the FINISH line. In time.

And so ‘there’s it’, as Suzelle would say.

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Final word? How lucky that I have legs to run and an able body that helped them along.

#Yes, Grateful

#Saving PrivateRhino

#DOT Challenge and amazing boys that are rowing to RIO- thought of you too!

#Tracey Todd and your amazing, brave story Brave Lotus Flower Rides the Dragon

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#Running’s a bit like writing: the more you do, the further you get!

And now for more of my book…

See ya next month!

xxxx

 

What would your biggest regret be?

I arrived in Cape Town aged 17, unwilling and unexcited about the prospect of studying at UCT. I wanted to stay in Johannesburg so that I could stay close to my ‘serious’ boyfriend. At all of age 17.

Note to young seventeen year olds: Even though you may not like your parent’s advice about what you should do when you leave school (knowing of course that the decision is really yours) know that they usually have a good reason to believe as they do. They were also 17 once upon a time.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t know how else to defy the path I had been encouraged to follow so I stayed and studied at UCT. And have never lived anywhere else since other than a few months here and there.

Note to 50 year old self: This sounds extremely boring. In your next life remember to be braver and live in different countries and continents before you settle down. Why ? Just because it will make you a more interesting person.

When I finished studying, I started working immediately – never leaving Cape Town  – and apart from birthing four babies which has thrown that young 17 year old into a lifetime of ‘how the hell do I look after them AND become a super successful career woman?’ living and working in Cape Town has been a treat. It is a beautiful city with SO much to offer.

Note to new parents (especially with more than 2 children): Don’t kid yourself into believing that you can ‘have it all’. You will have to learn to make innumerable compromises either in relation to your career, or to the type of parent you thought you’d be. Probably both. You’ll learn that ‘each to their own’ but you need to know this. 

A sad but common human trait is of course that we don’t often appreciate what we have, until we don’t have. We take everything for granted: our able bodies and strong minds, our sense of adventure and self-imposed limitations, our defined and categorized tick boxes on how to make a successful live; our beautiful open spaces and incredible wild animals.

Note to all: Take stock of what you do have, and then be grateful for it.

So. Over the years in Cape Town, I have been aware of and watched and cheered and clapped and encouraged with a lump in my throat every time (from the pavement or on the couch) the runners in the TWO OCEANS MARATHON. I’ve known many who have run this race many times. Each time I have promised myself ‘I’ll do it one day’ and then it was ‘before I turn 30’ and then ‘ok, before 40’ and I know for sure that I don’t want to do it at 60! So it got onto my ‘Things to Do in my 50th year’ and then I forced myself not to think about it.

AND THEN, suddenly last week, it was only ONE MONTH away.  So now it really is my turn.

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HERE’S THE LONG AND SHORT and the UNPUNCTUATED EXCITEMENT :

Entries are long closed of course cos people plan for months and all I’ve done are irregular ordinary silly little (walk /runs) around the roads when other people do MAD CRAZY THINGS like ROW TO RIO 6700kms across the bloody Atlantic ocean  in order to raise awareness for the PLIGHT OF OUR PLANET and other mad cyclists can do the Cape Epic putting their lives and health in blatant jeopardy for a greater cause (sometimes) or just cos they want to challenge themselves (it feels better somehow when you are doing something for a greater cause that just yourself doesn’t it? ) and so NOW I am extra excited about the opportunity to support a worthwhile cause and challenge myself to run 21kms!

CHECK IT OUT

http://animalrescuecentre.co.za/

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And I would LOVE for you to SUPPORT AND PLEDGE ANY AMOUNT YOU FEEL YOU CAN.

BECAUSE THERE IS JUST NO MORE TIME FOR REGRETS.

what makes us ‘difficult’ women?

The quiet little village of Stanford lies just outside Hermanus in the valley of the undulating Overberg. A river runs through it. It doesn’t even need Brad Pitt though of course he would be most welcome. No, that it a euphemism. I would probably collapse in an unsightly heap if he ever pitched up on my porch because I think 10 children (his 6 and my 4) would be much too onerous for any single, reasonable thinking couple to consider in the long term.

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Besides which I have my own Brad Pitt.

Stanford is enticing and enchanting and I understand that Stanford choses you rather than the other way round, so lucky me, and lucky family, we have been chosen to spend special spurts of time there, in between life in the big city,  in a little cottage close to the river. It is a dream come true.

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‘Stanford choses you’ , says Annelize in her beautiful book.

 

As a young girl growing up in Johannesburg in the 70’s and 80’s, Saturday mornings were spent ice skating at the old Carlton Ice rink (the best part was when the lights were dimmed and a boy asked if you wanted to skate with him which meant, HOLD HIS HAND!) waitressing at the old Amarosa restaurant in Rosebank (I never showed much talent for that and it didn’t last long) rowing around Zoo Lake on a Sunday afternoon or walking the dog at Emmarentia dam. My best friend had a holiday cottage at Salt Rock on the Natal coast ( as it was then known (now KZN) and I imagined that this single aspect added a dimension to her young life which I would always and forever long for.

Not that I had a deprived lifestyle in any way mind you and I recall many, many wonderful memories of hiking holidays in the Drakensberg or renting a holiday house in Muizenberg or LLandudno in Cape Town, listening to Billy Joel’s “My Life” and watching the LP go round and round on the record player. It’s just that the word ‘holiday house’ has always had a certain magical tone to it for me, a place to feel held and safe and free in the beautiful outdoors and then shelter in amongst playing cards and board games when the cold weather sets in, away from the catastrophic reality of the world.

So last week when I visited my new spot and was kindly driven around and shown who lives where and who does what in a small town – ‘and here’s so and so’s house…she’s a lovely women but seldom here cos she’s Italian I think… you won’t see her much ‘ or ‘ he’s so and so… you know? Made a lot of money, owns X and Y ‘I learnt a little more about myself too. And I LOVE learning about myself.

‘So nice to meet you’, she said, as I climbed out of her aging, rattling car,’ you’re really nice…I heard you were a difficult women who had four children and was getting divorced’.

Small town talk. Misheard, misinterpreted and regurgitated. We love to do that don’t we?

So, to set the record straight: I do have four children (aren’t I lucky?) and I am most definitely not getting divorced (23 years in and just getting the hang of it, I mean wouldn’t that be a bloody waste?) but the question is, AM I DIFFICULT WOMAN?

I felt a bit offended at that. That didn’t sound very nice did it?

So I thought long and hard about what makes a woman ‘difficult’:

A woman who fights for what she believes in.

A woman who doesn’t back down just because it’s ‘easier’ to give in to a clear, legally objective injustice.

A woman who doesn’t agree to the suggestion of ‘maybe get your husband to give him (the person with whom she is involved in a silly legal issue) a call, because he doesn’t really respect women as much and maybe you’ll get somewhere with that…’

A woman who constantly questions whether there is not something more ‘worthy’ to do with her life, which is otherwise privileged and beautiful and busy in so many ways.

A woman who challenges most things and most people in their views, their ways and their world.

A woman with an opinion.

Well that’s me, I suppose. So, I MUST BE DIFFICULT.

And so? Is that good or is that bad?

Here’s my truth: The word ‘difficult’ as it applies to women is seeming and unfortunately negative. It is preferable that women, in general and even in the 21st century, after all that has gone before are more gentle, more amenable, less demanding, and yes maybe’ equal’ but only insofar as the status of men is not undermined but also beautiful and nurturing and a contributor to both the home and the general economy. Maybe even a leader. Yes, that would be good.

And I think that’s pretty difficult.

But I sought some more valuable insights for you in case you were wondering about this all as I was and co-incidentally found a brand new collection of short stories by Roxanne Gay, bestselling author (Bad Feminist ), lecturer and of course feminist called … DIFFICULT WOMEN.roxaan-ga

In an interview with Vogue http://www.vogue.com/article/difficult-women-roxane-gay-interview, she said,

“I think women are often times termed ‘difficult’ when we want too much, when we ask for too much, when we think too highly of ourselves, or have any kind of standards…I wanted to play with this idea that women are difficult, when in reality it’s generally the people around them who are the difficult ones.”

And then just yesterday I saw this little plaque in the office of our new male principal (of a brilliant all girls’ school) as I walked out of a governing body meeting last night so I’ll end off with this:

In the beginning God created Man.

Then he had a better idea.

I love it .

But here’s another for us DIFFICULT WOMEN

In the beginning, God created earth and rested.

Then God created man and rested.

Then God created woman.

Since then, neither God nor man has rested.

I dare you to BE HONEST, BE BRAVE, BE BEAUTIFUL and BE a DIFFICULT WOMAN!

sometimes…

 

Sometimes, like at the beginning of the year when every post you see talks about new year’s resolutions and how to achieve them or stick to them or make them and how important new beginnings are and you just don’t feel like quite like committing to them yet, because … because …you haven’t quite formulated them properly and you don’t wanna set yourself up, knowing that in a few weeks they’ll probably have floated away like the incessant smoke raging from fire after fire around our beautiful Cape Town, it’s better to wait until you’re ready.

Sometimes you’re never ready.

Sometimes it’s because other people seem to be doing such extraordinarily significant things that your little mission seems so entirely inconsequential in terms of human impact and Life’s greater purpose: this utilitarian approach to life is of course only one way of looking at it all.

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New Year’s Day- Launch of #RowtoRio #DoOneThing #SavethePlanet

Sometimes most of your underwear gets mixed up in the hot wash and all turns a uniform grey.

Sometimes you’ll be casually stopping at a stop street and a little family sitting on the kerb in the hot sun will ask you for a lift and you’ll pile them in and ask why the little boy isn’t at school and whether his baby sister wants a tissue for her snotty nose and it’ll be because there’s no money for school shoes and when you drop them off, even though it’s a random act of kindness, you don’t feel any better.

Sometimes you’ll read your daily horoscope and truly believe it was especially written for you.

Sometimes the same person you wake up with very morning and sleep next to every night looks like a guy who, if you saw walking in a shopping center, would make your head turn.

Sometimes you feel like you will spend your whole life looking for answers: that’s not necessarily a bad thing but it’s often a good idea to just pick up a great book to help you find them.

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Of all the books I could have seen, my eyes fell on this at a second hand bookshop. It was weird because the day before, I noticed that Braam had given Clyde the Four Agreements to read on their trip.

 

Sometimes it’s better not to think of what you’re going to do in the next instant and just tighten the laces on your running shoes.

Sometimes when your child passes you in the kitchen, you should just hug them hard without saying anything.

Sometimes, good selfishness grows out of an accurate understanding of what we need in order to maximise our utility for others. It stems from an unembarrassed sense of how we should develop our abilities, get our minds into the right frame, summon up our most useful powers and organize our thoughts and feelings so that they can be eventually helpful to the world.

(I wish I could say this is my own wisdom but it comes from a wonderful place of inspiration, http://www.thebookoflife.org/.)

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Sometimes when someone takes your parking place which, with your indicator blinking on off on off, you were patiently eyeing, just find another one.

Sometimes you are taken by surprise when you look in the mirror and that face is not the one that was there the day before.

Sometimes, a lack of selfishness turns us, slowly, into highly disagreeable as well as ineffective people. This is also what the book of life tells us and I think it’s so wonderful that I’m going to include a longer excerpt here:

We recognise that we will at select moments have to back out of doing things that people would like us to – and have no compunction about politely explaining this in good time; unlike the selfless who will dutifully smile, then one day explode in vindictive exhausted rage. We know, as kind egoists, that we may be confused with the mean-spirited, but our innate conviction of our sincerity lends us the calm to pursue our aims in our own way.

The trick is to become better ambassadors of our intentions, learning persuasively to convey to those around us that we’re not lazy or callous but will simply better serve their needs by not doing the expected things for a while. Sweet people run the strange – but highly important – risk of becoming a nuisance to others by what is only ever superficially a good idea: never putting themselves first.

Sometimes, you can live being a ‘sweet people’ for just so long.

Sometimes you spend your days teaching your children how to go about life until you realize that, often, they are the better teacher.

Sometimes all you may need in 2017 are moments of …sometimes…

HAPPY 2017 to you all !

what do you mean by ‘success’?

What do you mean, he was successful?

As the sun once again performed her magic, throwing different shades of dusty pink on the sea and oranges into a fading sky, we ended the day with some friends we hadn’t seen in a while. They live in Australia is probably why. And as we ticked off the usual stuff and caught up on which child is doing which grade and how their teeth or teenage years were faring – we have eight children between our two families, it can take some time- the talk turned to more meaningful stuff.

Or … actually, did it? (Let’s leave that one for now…)

Talk about things that happen or how they don’t, what they felt about their future plans, and how they saw the years ahead. I don’t know how it came around to this but success became a focal point. I’m slightly fascinated with this because it seems to me, that while we all strive for success (we surely all do in varying ways) it’s one of those concepts which we seldom manage to define in universal terms. And yet, if this is the thing that we all strive for, how do we know when we have got it if we don’t know what it is? And how do we go about striving for something if we don’t know what that something is?

Here’s some stuff: if success is a subjective concept (clearly: my sense of self is different from yours) then my perceptive of success must only matter to me. Which must mean that if I feel I am successful, then that I surely must be.

However, I am not only me. Neither are you only you. (I feel a sense of Dr Suess emerge) For if it were only you and me then we wouldn’t care to be, for we already are, not so?

So it must be the others that count- but that cannot be? For if you believe in your success and I believe in mine, why is it that whenever we meet, we talk about them?

This is what we say: ” I saw ‘so and so’ the other day …flip, he’s done well…just sold up, bought a boat and is sailing around in the Bahamas.

Success? (Category : material)

(Here’s the back story: he’s on his third wife and hasn’t chatted to his only son in three years)

Here’s another: “Wow, I hear Matt just finished up at Harvard and Jane married that guy that heads up xxxBank…”

Success? (Category: status )

(Back   story: two older children are still living at home, one just out of rehab, and the other taking another ‘gap ‘year. He’s 30.

Success? (Category: parenting, rating two out of four? Is it about numbers?)

Here’s another: “The church (at the funeral ) was so full, you had to stand outside the door.”

Success? (Category: popularity; a great legacy; well- connected, a person of ‘standing’ in the society, or maybe a life cut short- that’s the most tragic.)

We talked personally of our own upbringing, all pretty similar in many ways, with one so-called ‘successful’ breadwinner parent and the other, the more hands-on loving family one. Which one was it? The one who ‘achieved’ against greater odds or the mother who tried to balance it all?

So here’s some more: when does it matter then, when does it count? Is it a legacy we leave, or can it be now? Is it within only one frame of reference (the business world) or is the sum of all parts?

One of us asked the teens what they thought as we walked away. They said ‘being happy with your decisions, having no regrets’. Lovely, indeed, but a limited frame of reference, with not even two decades of life and reward.

Is a successful author one who writes bestsellers and builds a bank balance or wins awards but lives in abject poverty? Does it really matter if you have more than one marriage or does ‘success’ automatically exclude this whole bunch, statistically one in every three? Must you be a Barack Obama, Mother Theresa or the one who anonymously strives to save the planet, one little step at a time?

One of the articles I came across in my research for my new book (hopefully out in 2017!! #happiness! ) was from TIME magazine which reported on an event held at Park Hyatt Hotel New York City in September last year, entitled, The one thing I’m ambitious about is not failing.

It starts off like this: ‘Even women who believe that women should be successful don’t always agree on the nuances of the word ‘ambition’. ‘

Strange way to start, don’t you think? Doesn’t everyone believe that women should be successful? TIME and Real Simple had conducted a poll exploring the territory of how men and women define success and ambition, whether they viewed them differently and how priorities change over the course of a lifetime. While there were similar levels of reported ambition (51% of men and 38% of women defined themselves as extremely ambitious , the whys and wherefores were far more complicated. This whole topic is an interesting read I find. The bottom line it seems though is that women define success in terms of both professional and personal accomplishment a more contextual approach, in which they are less direct about their ambition and more concerned about finding the balance.

I’ve tried to understand all this stuff for some time now, I’ve written about some of it in my next book.

Still much work to be done. I keep saying the same thing…

And then I get a random and innocuous but thought-provoking little video clip, with accompanying music that stirs the soul from a beautiful friend on my phone entitled ‘ 8 things happy people do differently. Yes, all the stuff..savouring life’s joys, expressing gratitude…, but here are two worth thinking about ..

Avoiding social comparison since most of our insecurities come from comparing our behind the scenes with other people’s highlight reel.

And Nurturing your relationships: the happiest people have deep meaningful relationships

As a brand new beautiful day of infinite possibility dawns on this second last day of 2016, I hear the words of my old headmistress ringing in my ears (where the hell did that come from?) ‘think (long pause) on these things’.

But I have one more nagging thought, the real question, yes, but does success lead to happiness? Most of us strive for success, hoping that success will produce as a byproduct, happiness.

And it seems, at least according to some psychology reviews that in fact, it’s just the opposite. Happiness leads to success.

So may 2017, bring you whatever successes you strive for. And let some of that success just be happiness.

Let’s start a new conversation…

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It seems to me that the last month has consisted of at least five all in one. With the sense of a rolling snowball on it’s descent, the end of year exams loom and then before you know it, it’s farewells and valedictories for junior school for my number three, (only two years left to go now for my number four) reports and valedictories and thinking about matric (for my number two) and then the thrill of passing first year university (my eldest) amongst all the confusion of varsity education in this age of transformation and #fees must fall.

Where’s the common thread in all this?

Children. Children and their education and their futures. As an ordinary parent treading my own tracks through the maze of life to ensure that, at the very least, my children won’t be burdened with exorbitant therapy costs , or at least too many bad choices , my instinctive sense is really that I can only be present: present and available to help them to charter this course.

This is the centre of my core: everything else pales into insignificance.

To this extent, with each year that comes to a close I do two things:

  1. Survey the road travelled , measure the mileage and assess it’s worth
  2. Decide how or whether I should change the course for the year ahead

Parenting in the 21st century has taken on proportions that I never imagined when I myself was a teen. ‘Married with kids’ meant something like carrying a handbag with all your precious goodies inside it, holding it close to your body while getting on with your own life. Short-sighted I admit. Now I’m beginning to understand it differently: those goodies (aka the kids) need to be constantly checked as they move around in your handbag, seemingly heavier on some days, totally unobtrusive on others. Sometimes, like lipstick lids, they fall off and have to be put back on tightly; like lipstick, they change shape and form and leave smudges and marks wherever they land. Sometimes they even slip out when you don’t notice and you have to put them back.

But all the time, you hold your handbag tight. It is the first thing that you grab in the morning, the last thing you place somewhere safe at night.

When I went to school in the 70’s and 80’s, mothers were unseen. They fetched and dropped. Today’s parents are an indispensable part of school life: they help to serve in the tuck shop and lunch shops and arrange weekly flowers; they help with charity drives and fundraising initiatives; organize birthday and Christmas presents for teachers, spend mornings with children piled in their cars on school outings, organize school farewells for weeks in advance, sourcing products and setting up dizzy, decorative halls- all for the sake of their children. With the exception of a handful, fathers are mostly absent in all of this, though can be found lurking on school governing bodies and boards which have evening or early morning meetings rather, fitting in better with their ‘working’ day.

And that’s just the school part, not the parenting part.

Now, you can either opt in or opt out of all of this. But you cannot pretend that it happens by itself because SOMEONE is doing it.

So, why are they doing it and for who?

For the sake of our kids and I mean ‘ours’ in a collective sense because we’re all in this together, believe it or not. Because we are gregarious, social beings all lumped together in close proximity, social behaviour and conditioning is a given if we all to enjoy ourselves and our relative freedoms. My children’s behaviours and beliefs will impact upon you and your children so I have an obligation to see to it that they fit into the structure, not so?

School can only take it so far.

But for some bizarre reason, the concept of CARE in society barely exists. It counts for nothing, it has no value whatsoever. Care is something that happens behind the screen of advancement and uplifting of women in the workplace. To get to ‘equal’ in business and leadership and governance and in the professions assumes more conference time, more social networking time and more conversation than most other agendas in civil society. Gender equality or discrimination is discussed on every platform, in every boardroom, and pops up on my daily reading. (Okay, in South Africa we also have our legacy of apartheid and transformation but this is separate topic, not for discussion here).

But each and every one of these projects and platforms omits so glaringly and so essentially the second leg of the argument for it begs a profound and simple question:

‘WHO, if half of the mothers are in leadership roles sitting on boards and in the boardrooms are looking after the children? And, are we as society recognizing this value?’

Oh yes, of course, a carer.

Now.

You can jump up and down and protest violently or you can silently take off your clothes and make a stand but this is the truth- as it stands. The job of a carer has always been and will continue to be the job of a woman: primarily and instinctively and genetically and traditionally. And therefore, before we beat ourselves up about slow progress and transformation in gender studies, we need to all agree, that as it stands, for the simple reason that women give birth and feed their young with their own bodies (yes, you can feed with a bottle and yes, gay men make great mothers) the quest for gender equality stats, in the workplace is a nonsense, until such time as you recognize that care is a concept which is equally worthy, valuable and deserving of its own agenda.

It’s time for a new conversation South Africa. It’s time to talk of the value of care…care for our children, care for our youth, care for each other.

Are you with me on this?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

your one wild and precious life

BEAR WITH ME ON THIS ONE. IT’S LONGER than usual but IMPORTANT but as usual, UNEDITED.

We are living in strange and uncertain times. Isn’t it always so? We make history in some way or another every single day in relative terms which will impact someone, somewhere in a future which, today, cannot be known, is certainly indeterminable, economically unquantifiable but will impact none the less. Even if it’s just one person. Or your own child. And that’s good enough… if it’s good.

I live miles from America. In fact, I’ve never even been to America (sure, it’s still on my list, though now it’s dropped a little) but it’s clear that the impacts of 9/11 (yes, weird) have stirred something in me, which surprised me too. Because if you extrapolate the cruel absurdity of it all and look around you at the state of humanity even in your own country, you will see that there is much work to do. So much work that there is no more time to waste.

What the hell I am talking about?

I’ve read and researched and observed and heard some stuff in the last few weeks and this that has been a wake-up call for me. I wish I could find another word: ‘wake-up call’ sounds so inadequate, an epiphany too grand. We all have these ‘aha’ moments, though mostly they’re there and we merely fail to grasp them or even see them for what they are. Or we’re scared of seizing them: fear of the failure, the out- of- comfort zone, the exposure, even the shame.

We are all so small and vulnerable. Each and every one of us. Even the ones with big muscles, or small and fast cars.

I hoped that Clinton would win: she had all the credentials, policies and humanitarian ideals. She represented hope. I identified with her on many levels: I too am a white, privileged, educated women.

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(I found the new edition of this only yesterday and added it to my TBR pile)

And now?

Now is the time not to give up the fight. If there ever was a time, a call to action, it’s now, World. Please, you have to believe it. The ideals, the core, the very essence of a ‘reasonable’ man (in a generic sense not the masculine one) whether he be the religious man, the philosopher, the lawyer, the artist, the partner, father or friend, must look at that man (I can barely mouth his name, let alone have to be insulted by his arrogant, yellowing fuzz-topped face (okay that’s not really his fault, our looks are pre-determined to a point) and wonder how, after all the movements in the world over the centuries to create harmony, liberty and equality, we could possibly have dropped so far.

But I don’t live in America and I only have limited influence in what I alone can do.

So what the hell then must I do? I ask myself. What must I now do with my one wild and precious life?

At half of a hundred (yikes, that’s me now!)  I have more than I could wish for and my job as carer of my own precious priorities, my own children, can extend a little further now I believe. It must.

Why? Because there is so much damn work to do. But who, I ask, is most deserving and who can I serve? Where can my influence lie and how do I do it now?

One of the things I came across this week was an article in De Rebus by Diana Mabasa. It talks about the practice of Ukuthwala which is essentially the practice of an arranged marriage and the attendant issues of a young women’s sexual passage.

(The article won an award: see: http://www.golegal.co.za/gauteng-attorneys-piece-on-ukuthwala/)

It is entitled: Ukuthwala: Is it all culturally relative?

I’ve copied the first bit for you to see if it’s interesting for you.

One of the fundamental ideals set out in the Preamble of the Constitution is the attainment of a society based on social justice. This ideal will remain a pipedream if the dehumanisation, sexist exploitation and suffering of black women and girls under patriarchal tyranny are allowed to continue under the guise of custom, in particular ukuthwala.

The practice of ukuthwala has been thrust into the spotlight by a criminal appeal case of Jezile v S and Others (WCC) (unreported case no 127/2014, 23-3-2015). In a landmark judgment delivered by a full Bench of the Western Cape Division, the court held that ukuthwala is no defence to crimes of rape, human trafficking and assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm.

This judgment can be applauded as an example of where the experience of a black girl sensitised judges to the harm that can be caused by a cultural practice. Oppression is a beast with many faces and ukuthwala is a classic example of overlapping forms of oppression on the grounds of age, race, gender and culture. Black women are uniquely situated at the focal point where these exceptionally powerful and prevalent systems of oppression come together, resulting in gender specific, and race specific harm. It is this, multi- layered harm that is highlighted by the concept of intersectionality.

The next section briefly summarises the facts and findings of the judgment – which comprehensively deals with the meaning and history of ukuthwala. It then demonstrates the importance of this judgment by linking it to intersectionality, in particular to highlight the plight of those multiply burdened. It concludes that such rethinking will lead to significant social change and realisation of constitutional ideals for black women and children.

Ukuthwala in its traditional form is a collusive strategy by the willing lovers to secure marriage negotiations. In this form it has been described as ‘innocuous, romantic and a charming age-old custom’. Certain essential requirements must be met –

  • the woman must be of marriageable age, which in customary law is usually considered to be childbearing age;
  • consent of the parties is necessary;
  • as part of the process the parties would arrange a mock abduction of the woman at dusk. She would put up a show of resistance for the sake of modesty but in fact would have agreed beforehand to the arrangement;
  • the woman would then be smuggled into the man’s homestead and placed in the custody of the women folk to safeguard her person and reputation;
  • the father of the man would then be informed of the presence of the woman in his homestead and of his son’s desire to marry her;
  • sexual intercourse between the couple is strictly prohibited during this period; and
  • the man’s family would then send an invitation to the woman’s family to inform them that they wish to commence marriage negotiations.

 

It was highlighted by the experts that in customary law no marriage is possible without the consent of the woman’s parents. If her family rejected the proposal she had to be returned to her home along with the payment of damages for the unsuccessful ukuthwala (at paras 72 – 74).

However, over time the practice has mutated and taken on a pernicious form in flagrant disregard of fundamental rights of the girl. In what the court termed ukuthwala in its ‘aberrant’ form, young women or girls are abducted and subjected to violence, including sexual abuse and assault to coerce them into submission. This is criminal conduct under the guise of custom (at paras 75 – 76).

It often occurs with the agreement of the girl’s parents and family, who are paid a fee, improperly described as ‘lobola’ for permission to abduct their daughter. This is often the case where the family is trapped in a cycle of poverty and poor socio-economic circumstances. It is endemic in certain rural villages in South Africa.

The practice was denounced as an extreme and fundamental violation of women and girl’s most basic rights, including the right to dignity, equality, life, freedom and security of the person, and freedom from slavery. It was condemned as ‘sexual slavery under the guise of a customary practice’ – made possible only because of the patriarchal nature of customary law (at para 78).

The High Court correctly rejected the appellant’s reliance on the aberrant form of ukuthwala as justification for his criminal conduct. The appeal was dismissed.

Read the whole article if you wish to read more:

So, how does it link to your one wild and precious life you ask?

Because this is exactly the sort of thing that white, educated, privileged men and women, in South Africa must be highlighting and fighting in order to rid the rot of society where patriarchy and sexism continues to lurk.

My precious Milly walked in this morning and I said to her, “Tell me what you think about Ukuthwala”.

And she did. She told me that women are identified by having a scarf put around their necks as desirable.

“Why is it that Zuma can have so many wives Mil?

‘I don’t know, I don’t know’, she said. ‘Five wives’, she added holding her worn working hands up to show me the number. ‘Five’.

‘And the women? I asked facetiously. ‘They must only have one hey?’

‘Yes’, she said and laughed.

‘So, it’s only about the sex then, Mil? The sex and power…?’

‘What you think? You think a wife must lie with the husband and there’s no sex? There’s no love. No love. It’s like a slave.’

Last week I was chatting to Phumi. Phumi told me some of her life story. It spoke of poverty and shame and regret and abuse: in trying to find a protector and provider and escape a family where the marriage was broken by alcohol and drugs, she married a man 40 years older than she. And when she could take no more of the abuse in an attempt to find someone to care for her, she found another ‘nice enough’ guy with whom she had a child. And that ended, and now she’s with another. And he’s ‘okay, for now. Much better than the others, at least’, she smiled with her beautiful shiny taut skin and soft eyes.

There are so many masks.

So there is so much work to do. Here in South Africa, and Africa. Yes, so it turns out, still in America, let alone in places like Saudi Arabia. I don’t understand it all and maybe it’s none  of my business and I don’t even know where or how I fit in. But I do know, as did Mandela that education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world.

mandela_education.jpg

And so I’m lucky with my weapons. As are so many of you: you writers, and lawyers, and teachers, artists, singers, preachers and people of God: you women of worth who are mothers of the earth.

And all educated men too.

Now is the time to act. Now is the need to use our elite education to help the world to thrive and survive, in whatever way we can.

Each in our own vulnerable little way.

And now you tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

The Summer Day

Mary Oliver

Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean- the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down- who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away. I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

from New and Selected Poems, 1992 Beacon Press, Boston, MA

Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver. All rights reserved.

#justreadsomepoetrytosomeoneifitsallyoucando