Month: September 2018

Talking about families…

I have been studying families since I started my Ph.D. in 2016. In fact, I am now fondly known as the “family” girl because I am always either speaking about the topic of family, holding a family theories book or something closely related to that. The study of families has become my life in a way, such that I find myself always thinking about things in a family-focused lens. Although my study focuses more on family meanings and definitions, I will not bore you with all that academic stuff in this post.

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When you study families in the way I have been studying it, you kind of stop focusing on being a part of a family, but rather shift the focus onto how “family” as a concept is being practiced every day.

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In Africa, families are a big deal, we include the whole clan when we talk of family. Certainly, our totems legitimize our place with a certain kinship group, which is like one big family. “Family” practices such as gatherings for important family events like a funeral or a wedding are still the norm. We used to go all out for important holidays such as Christmas, but that has declined due to family disintegration, most families have members living in other countries now. The effect of economic decline and in a way a deterioration of the social fabric. These days, each family is just trying to make it on its own, without the added extended family pressure. In some way, there are a few relatives who are still a safety net in times of need. Some, not all! In most cases, it is just a competition to see whose kids will get into the best schools, who drives the best car, whose kids are in diaspora and sending foreign remittances. Sound familiar?

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Weddings are the one occasion that seems to bring out whole families, including the extended family. Weddings are a real big deal in Zimbabwe, such that people invite the whole clan in most cases, including people you have never met, but they are invited because they are related to your father’s uncle. I remember when I was back home, I  was forced to attend a wedding of a distant cousin and I didn’t even know her before that day. I felt really uncomfortable sitting on the bride’s side of the family because I did not know most of those people. But my mum did, so in a way that was fine. Even if you say you want a small wedding, the logistics of planning who or not to invite will be such a stress for you that you will end up with a big wedding. Everyone’s uncle will want to be there even if they only saw you as a baby.

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Unfortunately, funerals in Africa are another family affair that brings distant relatives together. Although not a good time to get together, these days it appears as if people gather more for funerals than celebrations. Although we mourn together, we are still as distant as ever.

Last note, I do wonder if our families still provide the socialization of norms and cultural values that they used to in the olden days. This used to be one of the biggest roles of family. Nowadays, I just see young people relying more and more on social media for their social and cultural norms. Gone are the days when we used to sit with our grandfathers or uncles and aunts to get much-needed life advice. Now, we pay life coaches or speak to random strangers on the internet about our issues. There may be exceptions, maybe there are still young people who still seek out their elders in the family for guidance, but most are just running from ancient wisdom and seem to prefer the trendier ways, i.e. twitter know-it-alls and SnapChat advice gurus. I will tell you a story about how I once downloaded an app to talk to some online assistant (think Siri) who provided therapeutic advice about how to deal with stress and how to sleep.

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I truly wish we could take back some of the good things about the family before it became just another thing that went out of fashion. I love my family, but to be honest, I only ever speak to my mother and siblings. Those are the people I call family, with a few cousins here and there whom I relate to because we are the same age. What can you say about families in your country? What are the kinds of things you used to do as a family or still do? Let’s talk.

This post was inspired by fellow African blogger Bex’s post African families.

Day 13 Blogtember Challenge

#MyAfricaMyWords

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Africa, the land of the educated?

I have been pondering lately on education and our beautiful African continent. Look, it is no surprise that Africa is full of intelligent and really bright young minds. But, I am not sure if  I still have that much confidence in our education system. Why is it that for one to be taken seriously on the global platform, they need to have added some form of overseas training to their CV? What is it that makes our academic qualifications less recognised in most disciplines? Why are our graduates at home, unemployed?

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Without pulling the race card and thinking back to the role played by colonization and Bantu education (South Africa), what has stopped the African nation states from improving the quality of our education system? Zimbabwe is, according to some reports, the best-educated country in Africa, with literacy levels over 90 per cent – putting it ahead of South Africa, Kenya and Namibia. However, its population’s access to higher education is about 8 per cent, far behind South Africa (with 18 per cent access) Source

The higher education system in Zimbabwe took a huge blow in 2017 when it became public knowledge that the University of Zimbabwe, which was the country’s first and most respected university, granted a PhD to the wife of former President, Robert Mugabe, who had no formal educational qualifications, had not attended the university nor written a thesis. Apparently, she registered two months before she was granted the degree. Now, as someone struggling with a PhD myself, I know that does not sound right. Acts such as these from an institution of higher learning taint the whole reputation of the education system.

Higher education in Africa faces the challenge of high percentages of unemployed graduates. Graduates are losing hope because they cannot turn their degrees into gainful employment.  In August 2016, Zimbabwean graduates took to the streets to protest under the banner #thisgown, the gown being the graduation gown they wore at graduation.

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Source:ZiMetro

They were angry and frustrated at the reality of graduating and sitting at home for 3-5 years or even more. After years of struggling with tuition and accommodation fees, graduate families were left worse off than before; yet there is no relief.

I have been fortunate enough to study abroad and have not yet experienced unemployment (touch wood), and when I think of my fellow mates back home, I cannot help but wish there was a solution to the hopelessness. I picture a continent where young people feel confident about their pursuits in life. If higher education is one of their goals, that they feel confident in that someday their hard work will pay off. We come from a continent where very few of us inherit wealth from our parents or grandparents. Being educated used to be our way out of poverty and, but is that still the case? Someone said:

education is a tool to eradicate poverty, but it needs to be of a high quality.

I still believe in the power of education to change lives, in fact, it has changed my life. But the reality is different for a lot of people back home.  What can we do? If anything…

In our own small way, with the aim of giving back to our society, my friend Uchechi from Nigeria and I have started a research network. We hope to provide mentorship services to younger people seeking to get into academia. Young people aiming for a research degree or already pursuing one can benefit from information such as scholarships, proposal writing, academic writing workshops and general career guidance related to research. You can get in touch with the Global South Research Network on IG, Facebook, Twitter @GSRPGroup.

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We start with what we know how to do and hope that one day, our goals of making the world a better place will be realised.

Day 12

BlogTember Challenge

 

A culture of silence.

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We have a culture of silence within the African society. We have become accustomed to brushing things under the carpet. Things that when revealed would shock the people we try so hard to impress with our decency. We are so used to pretending that we are decent instead of actually being decent.

We are concealing the ugly truth. Children are being abused by their own fathers and told to keep it a secret. Even when the mother finds out, she protects the ugly secret. Who are we protecting when we conceal the truth? A woman is abused by her husband, she is asked not to wash her dirty laundry in public. Even to call out a cheating husband or partner is frowned upon. These issues are concealed so as to protect the family’s integrity. What integrity?

Stigma is a social construct created by shame and discrimination if you dare to speak out about what should be kept secret. HIV/AIDS became a shameful disease,  when one found out they had acquired it, the first thing to do was not tell anyone. For fear of what others in society will say or do if they knew.

Our society judges so many things so we would rather live in a culture of silence. Our culture of silence advantages those who commit atrocities and abominations; it protects their dignity whilst they continue to take away the dignity of others. We do not name and shame our abusers which frees them to continue abusing at will.  Our culture of silence normalises violence and abuse of women and children.

I wish I lived in a world were we were free to talk about the indecency in our homes and families, the abuse from intimate partners and all the ugliness we try to conceal. Why should it be kept a secret?

Day 11

#MyAfricaMyWords

Dealing with short-term illness during PhD

Falling sick during a Ph.D. is one of the most frustrating things. Unavoidable and completely out of our control, but the fact is sometimes the body just gets tired. Short term loss of sleep and short periods of heavy mental work can lead to fatigue. Chronic fatigue symptoms are similar to the flu and can last for up to six months More Here 

When you have article deadlines, teaching duties and data analysis to conduct, falling sick is the last thing you need. Usually, the remedy required is bed rest and lots of relaxation time. How does one cope with this?

  • Get rid of the guilt. I know the pressure to want to work will be great, but you are probably falling sick because of overworking and stress. Learning to let go has been the biggest challenge for me. I was feeling guilty because my to-do-list was getting longer every day I was cooped up in bed. I just had to tell myself that the work will not go anywhere, it will be there when I get back. My health is more important.
  • Run your own race. You will be tempted to think that you are going to lag behind all your colleagues just because you took a week off work to recuperate. I had to remind myself that I am not running a race. The work I am doing is my own and if I fall behind, it is behind my own schedule. Try to control the need to compare yourself with others. It just adds more stress when what you need to be doing is getting better.
  • It happens to everyone. You are not the first or the last to fall sick. This happens to all of us, as long as we are human. Sometimes we exert too much pressure on our bodies and we get sick as a result. I have learned to take better care of myself, knowing that I am responsible for my health. When my body needs rest, I comply with it instead of pushing it beyond its limits.
  • Rest is needed for productivity. Killing yourself with work is not smart. Yes, the schedule is full and there are lots of expectations on your time. But, learning to rest in between will actually boost your productivity. Working for long hours without a break is only going to make you lose focus. I learned to do the pomodoro technique when I am reading More Here. It has helped me to work smarter, not harder.

The Girl in Cape Town: Love & Hate

He was such a handsome man, with light brown eyes and a smile that would light up a room…it surely lit up my whole life. I loved him so fast, there was nothing to hate about him. I must admit that a part of me felt lucky to be with him…he only ever dated the hot girls when we were back in college. I felt validated just by being with him.

Within a month he asked if we could move in together, how could I have said no? I thought this was our way to get even closer, I was already naming our children in my head. It felt like the next logical step to take. I was 23 and felt ready to take it to the next level.

He was romantic…he made breakfast for me, egg omelets with I LOVE U carved on them.  Looking back, that was really corny, but I was over the moon. I kept asking myself, how could I have been so lucky. He was perfect and he loved me. He made romantic dinners which we ate by the balcony, talking and looking into each other’s eyes, under the stars.

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Image from en.lustration.me

Every evening, we would watch the sunset together, he loved the Cape Town sunsets. He bought me gifts and pampered me with so much love. I would get a kiss every morning when he left for work and I would be welcomed with a warm bath and a foot massage. He was everything I could have ever dreamt of and he was mine.

Until…one day.  We argued and I thought it was normal, couples fight and make up all the time. I went to bed after and I thought we would deal with it the next day. He also came to bed, but we slept with our backs turned against each other. No cuddling or romance that night…

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Image from rescu.com.au

Around midnight, I woke up with a start. I felt pain on my face, someone had slapped me in my sleep. Drowsy with sleep, I did not understand at first what was going on.  Was I dreaming? But it felt so real, so painful…I opened my eyes and saw him (my beautiful man), hovering over me on the bed, his face transformed from the beautiful one I was used to; his smile was gone and my favorite light brown eyes looked dark and ominous. I winced and held my cheek where he had slapped the sleep out of me and asked with all the innocence in the world “what’s going on, why did you hit me?” It was as if he could not hear me, he was screaming some words at me. In my confused state, I could not comprehend any of it. Another slap followed and that is when I realized he meant business, so I tried to get up and out of that bed. Slaps turned into fists and I started screaming because clearly, this man was on a mission to harm me.

I managed to get out of the room we slept in and ran into the adjoining room heading for the door. He was right behind me, that is when I realised he wanted to seriously hurt me. Gone was the man I thought I knew. He was replaced by some violent replica of him, who was currently kicking and shoving me into the wall. Why was no one coming to my rescue? I could hear myself screaming, why was no one coming to see what was going on? I opened the front door and ran outside to the security man of the complex we lived in. He followed me outside and caught up with me. Like literally ran after me. Now, I was being beaten for running outside. At least people finally came out to see what was going on because at that point I was crying to save my life. I could hear people asking him what was going on and he was telling them to mind their own business. Finally, I felt his weight off me, someone had stopped him. It all felt unreal, I was still sleeping and this was just a nightmare. He wouldn’t do that to me.

Meanwhile, I felt like I was no longer there at the scene. It felt like I was not in my body and I was observing all this as an outsider. I had thoughts running through my mind at a crazy speed, trying to make sense of it. How could someone so loving, gentle and romantic turn against me in such a violent manner? How could the love I know he was capable of showing disappear and be replaced with this hatred? Was the love even real or I had imagined it? How could he look at me like he didn’t know me? How could he find it ok to hurt me the way he just did? I heard my mother’s voice in my head saying “my daughter, never move in with a man before marriage“, was this my punishment? I could never forgive him, I told myself. NEVER…

It is a thin line between love & hate.

Day 10 Blogtember Challenge

#MyAfricaMyWords

 

 

Sounds of my childhood…

 

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Bob Nester Marley

 

I remember Friday evenings and Saturday mornings as days when my parents would play their select reggae LPs. I can picture those two dancing and having a good time and that is one of my fondest childhood memories. It was always a reggae party at my house (minus the marijuana, of course).  The sounds of Peter Tosh, Gregory Isaacs, Bob Marley, Lucky Dube, Jimmy Cliff, and others, practically raised me at the same time my parents did.

Music is a form of socialization and it does so in ways we often take for granted. Most reggae songs were and still are a form of silent protest against the brutality of the Jamaican government. There is a whole history of reggae as a social movement Read it here. Although the origins of reggae music date way back into the 1960s, the culture of reggae and Rastafarianism has spread to the rest of the world. Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Ghana are some of the few African countries that I know love reggae music. Zimbabwe saw the wave of reggae music after the visit to Zimbabwe by Bob Marley in 1980, reggae music,  almost every young person adopted the Rastafarian culture at the time (Source). Most reggae music writers emphasise, however, that this form of music should never be confused with dancehall music, and I definitely concur. I have nothing against dancehall music, but in my opinion, the essence of the message in reggae is kind of lost in the fast-paced rhythms of dancehall.

For me personally, reggae music represents freedom and spirituality. The message of love and unity resonates with each song I have listened to since I was a young girl. Even though it is the music of my childhood, I am still an avid reggae listener. I still love the old school reggae of my parents but also appreciate the contemporary sounds of Morgan Heritage, Etana, Sizzla, Luciano, Jah Cure, Beres Hammond, and Tarrus Riley (this list is not exhaustive, these are just some of my faves). I listen to Etana ~I rise on mornings when I need a pick-me-up I rise.

In my family, two of my siblings have dreadlocks and it was an accepted hairstyle without question because of the music we grew up listening to. Also, my parents were always really unconventional and non-conformist. Those of us who do not have dreadlocks always quote the Morgan Heritage song,

You don’t haffi dread to be rasta, this is not a dreadlocks thing, divine conception of the heart.

I must say though, that I have never been tempted to have dreads because my sister’s ones will put me to shame if I tried, plus the patience I definitely lack.

 

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my sister has had her dreads for 13 years now

 

We do not practice Rastafarianism as a religion in my family, but we love reggae music. I am not sure whether it was my parents’ plan for us to end up loving reggae the way they did, but we definitely adopted it. Of course, there was also Tracy Chapman and some jazz music my dad loved, but reggae was dominant and it stuck.

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I wonder what music my children will be listening to in their time, but I want them to know that their mother was raised on a solid and positive message of love, harmony, and freedom. I leave you with another Etana song which just gets to my soul…

Reggae

What kind of music was in your childhood and how has it shaped your adulthood taste in music or beliefs? Drop it below.

Day 8 Blogtember Challenge

#MyAfricaMyWords

Do you believe that pain is universal?

When we are going through some sort of pain, it is tempting to think that we are the only ones going through it. As for me, when I go through stuff, I feel like the world is ending and I am the only one whose life is ending with it. My painful moments are always catastrophic, huge earth-shattering events (in my mind of course). When I go through stuff, I always think that I am the only one who will ever go through it and that my problems are the worst in the history of mankind. Generally cannot deal with my emotions, to be honest…

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sad face…gotta love SnapChat

I made a new friend just recently and as we have gotten to know each other, we started swapping stories about where we come from, our countries of origin (we are not from the same country) and general things about our families and past relationships. What really struck me was just how much the statement that we are all going through some sort of pain really rings true. The other day, we were having a general discussion about our family members and it is really funny how every family has that one sore thumb, that one black sheep and that one issue that they are constantly dealing with.

I will give an example of African families because they are the ones I have experienced. You often hear stories of generational curses such as poverty, that follow the whole family line. Every family seems to also have that broken marriage, that in-law relationship that just never worked out, that aunty that can never keep a husband, that witchcraft accusation,  the illness in the family, the story of the family member who never made it and is a burden to everyone else in the family, the rags to riches story or the riches to rags story, the wealthy uncle who somehow never parts with his money to help others……the list is endless.

 

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The common trend is that there is a story of pain in every family. I have come to realise that pain and trouble are indeed universal human experiences.  For instance, the pain of absent fathers in South Africa is felt in the USA too.

In trying to find a common ground as human beings, I feel most times, our pain brings us together, unifies us in a way. As women, when we talk about heartbreak, it is almost as if we have dated the same guy. The stories sound so relatable, don’t they? I wonder if there is a way to use our universal pain as people, whatever it may be, to be kinder and more compassionate to one another. Food for thought.

Day 8 BlogTember Challenge

#MyAfricaMyWords