Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The greatest gift of all

December is a fabulous time to be in South Africa. Popularly called the festive season, there are some interesting traditions around. It’s the height of summer and the rainy season when on most days the intense heat is punctured by beautiful thunderstorms.

It’s also the season when people take a full month off and go home, out of the cities, to spend time with their loved ones. So, in December, Urban spaces, usually bustling with activity, become tranquil havens of clear roads, no queues and basking weather. This welcome lull comes after the frenzied spending sprees of everything from trinkets to groceries for the families ‘back home’.

As in many other countries, December is the time for giving whether you are celebrating Christmas or not. Gifts come in all shapes and sizes, be they shop-bought gifts or heart-made gifts.

Gifts bring joy! You see it on people’s faces –they are more expansive, smile more and you can literally feel the heart-swell of loving energy. It’s a beautiful experience which demonstrates the universal principle of giving and receiving. Through giving, we are all elevated to a higher sense of joy and happiness. The energy is palpable. It’s a shame we’re not able to share the lurve on a sustained basis.

It’s no secret that gift-givers are feeling the pinch more than ever this year. The plastic is not so flexible anymore and cash is in short supply. So, inevitably, we are forced to make choices. Buy less and give less? How so? Surely there’s a way we can buy less and give more?

The Jamaican community living in Johannesburg have decided to gather together on Boxing Day (26 December) and give heart-gifts of love to children in a shelter. Remembering that it takes a community to raise a child, the gesture highlights the plight of children whose parents are not there to give them life’s heart-gifts.

On considering gifts and all things material, how is it that so many fall unwittingly, into the trap of buying gifts to make themselves and the receivers happy? Will the credit crunch leave you feeling empty or unfulfilled because you weren’t able to buy what you’d hoped to give?

Love Gifts
It’s like eating chocolate – giving gifts lifts you to a temporary happy high. For many, not being able to give gifts is akin to sucking lemons. Why so? What happened to your love gifts? What is the greatest gift parents can give to their children? We’ve heard the answer love. Yes, but let’s scratch beneath the surface love of, love to, love for; all of the above?

Surely, the greatest gift from parent to child is a sense of purpose through service? By using our special gifts, we are able to give endlessly to the world by actively defining our life purpose. Let’s not wait till life begins at 40 to claim this gift! Package it, wrap it and unwrap it with your children. The more you give, the bigger it becomes, truly, the greatest gift of all.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Yes we can!

How often have you heard parents lamenting the fact that their children have gone off track or that they are wondering aimlessly through life with little sense of ambition?

Frustrated parents of those children who have dared to go against the grain and eek out a unique space in the world often also harbour a sense of failure in not having accomplished their vision for their child.

Recall the words penned by the much feted Lebanese poet, Khalil Gibran, in his seminal work, The Prophet, first published in 1924.

He wrote: ‘Your children are not your children. They are the sons and the daughters of life’s longing for itself. They come through you but they are not from you and though they are with you, they belong not to you’.

The angst is understandable; it’s only natural that we would want the best for our children but maybe we set ourselves up for disappointment by typecasting our children’s lives from the minute they are old enough to recite the alphabet?

What ever religious doctrine you may subscribe to, the source books all speak of a parent’s responsibility to shepherd our children through life. So, it is widely accepted that a parents role is to love, guide and protect their offspring.

So, relentless efforts to instil strong moral fibre, a robust work ethic and a sense of community register as a good success rating in the parenting realm. However, if, as Gibran states, our children represent ‘life’s longing for itself’ then where do you draw the line? Who holds the destiny chalk, you or your children?

Gibran went on further to say: ‘you may give them […children] your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls for their souls dwell in a place of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams’.

Fittingly, these words, when set against the gloomy backdrop of current global financial crises, serve as an invitation for us to review our perspectives of parenthood. Gibran’s tomorrow is now!

Speak to the ‘wayward’ children; those who respond to ‘life’s longing for itself’ and you will hear stories of a journey deep with conflict as they wield a double-edged sword of respect for their parent’s desires countered against their soul’s yearnings.

This leaves many tossing out passion in search of steady incomes no matter how soul destroying the career. Those brave enough to stick their neck out are often confused as they navigate through feelings of betrayal to the parental vision to pure joy as they touch their dream.

Is there room for a happy medium? Parenting styles that seek to nurture the soul vision while building the foundation blocks of ambition, drive and passion? We better get ready to find it, because today our children say, yes we can!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cultured Sex Talk

It seems sex education in our homes is still a touchy subject. Even against the backdrop of the ravages of HIV/AIDS, nurturing healthy attitudes around sexuality in our children remains a culturally sensitive minefield.

Globally connected, yet rooted in our heritage, issues of sex and sexuality in our families are taking centre stage in our world – like it or not.

As the world reflects on the impact of HIV/AIDS, celebrates successes and shares ideas about how do deal with the evolving challenges of the pandemic, young people are seen as the key driver in turning the tide of HIV infection rates, through attitudinal and behaviour change. How? - By taking personal responsibility for their lives and by being in the know. Information, education and dialogue are the fundamentals.

Touchy subject
So, where did you learn about sex? Who helped you navigate through the confusing maze of puberty as you discovered your body through tingly feelings and strange body odours? In some families, discussions about sex and sexuality are, even today, a no-go area.

Some claim it’s a cultural issue saying we, (read: Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora), do not believe it’s appropriate to dialogue with our children about the fuzzy details of sex and their bodies. Still, we agree on the importance of instilling moral values of chastity, abstention from sex before marriage and self-respect.

How so? Is it possible to paint the rose without allowing our children to smell it?

Side Stepping
Are we using culture as an excuse to side-step the ever more complex responsibilities we have as parents?

While we’re nurturing values and ideologies through our cultural mores what is holding us back from collectively devising approaches to bridge the dialogue gap between us, the way our parents taught us and the new generation?

Young people are gasping for information. No matter the geographical location, young people across the world are part of a global youth culture. In a technologically advancing world, access to sex in all its forms is a click away on a cell-phone or a computer.

From Rianna’s sensuous hip-rolls and 50 Cent’s ménage-a-trois video scenes to the pastor’s Sunday morning sermon about the virtues of abstinence; youth are hit by conflicting messages of sex and sexuality from all sides. The very cultural icons they adore threaten to erode the roots we, as parents, strive to plant in the home.

Let’s face it; even our homes are not what they were. For many caught up in the frenetic activity of life, the idea of a Sunday dinner with the family has become a luxury – but that’s for another day!

The statistics speak for themselves. With one in three people HIV positive in some regions of South Africa, sex education in the home and the community is at the sharp end of the wedge in HIV/AIDS management.

The call is to stretch our parenting role from technical ‘birds and the bees’ information to developing a cachet of life-skills that will empower our children to confidently navigate through the barrage of sex (mis)information. For it is skills of negotiation, listening and assertiveness that will enable them to make informed choices when faced with making a decision that could irrevocably change the course of their lives.

Our culture doesn’t allow us to talk openly to our children? Enough said.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Teach your children well

During a recent gathering, a number of 30 something Diaspora women lamented about how disciplining their children today is a more difficult job than in their parent’s day. Apparently, children then were much more ‘compliant’ and understood that whether it was the belt, slipper, switch or love-stick that punishment meted out was in their best interests and certainly not up for discussion.

Fast forward to current day and we as mothers and our offspring, have evolved to a space where we question whether our parent’s tough love approaches designed to keep the children on the straight and narrow are exactly that – too narrow? Would you call it evolution or quiet terror as the goal posts move have we lost our footing in a world where discipline is regulated by government authorities and the sharp end of child-rearing has become a much publicised human rights issue?

Disciplinary Methods
Sade, a London-based Nigerian sista believes the disciplinary methods her parents used have stood her in good stead. As far as she is concerned, their early versions of ‘time-out’ where she was told to kneel in a corner, hands on head till her arms ached while she ‘came to her senses’ worked wonders. She emphatically assured us that such methods work equally well on her children today.

Some sistas agreed, some didn’t – so, were we, as children, really more compliant? Truth is, it’s a new day! Three decades ago, both parents and children were insulated from new fangled child-rearing ideas and sometimes misappropriated rights driven by media pop culture.

Our parents and their parents shaped their cultures of discipline, child rearing and community building on long-held notions of values systems informed by history.

Jamaican Discipline
Nadia, a Jamaican 60-something mother of three shed some light on issues of discipline back in the day. She recalled how she shudders when she thinks of the ‘mistakes’ she made as she was bringing up her children in the USA during the sixties, seventies and eighties.

A gentle and sensitive soul, she had been brought up in a God-fearing, tough love regime where hard work and stern discipline were the order of the day. The oldest of nine children, she remembers her father as playful but firm and her mother as the strict no-nonsense disciplinarian.

Nadia told of how the daily trek to fetch water before school may today look like child-abuse, but how she and her siblings enjoyed the responsibilities given to them at a tender age. They may have had less idle play time than children of today but they made the most of the time they had together and made fun out of the chores.

The much feared belt reared its head often and in hindsight she agreed that the thought of the belt was probably much worse than the few occasions when she actually felt the lick of leather on her skin.

Such experiences, she says, have undoubtedly shaped her resilient yet temperate personality today. Her husband, a Trinidadian retiree, also came from a similar disciplinarian regime. So, together, they had no qualms in following similar approaches in their child-rearing years.

Nadia’s describes her ‘mistakes’ as the dilemma she and husband faced as they wavered between the zero tolerance approach they grew up with and the experimental free expression of Montessori and others.

In reflection she cautioned the mothers at the gathering of the increasing need to clearly reframe approaches to discipline which do not annihilate our sense of being, our culture; while also being courageous enough to slaughter holy cows if deemed necessary.

In distilling the task of parenting clearly, we seek to do what our parents also sought to do – to teach our children well.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mama Africa Miriam Makeba

In Loving Service

"Some people call me 'Mama Africa'. At first I said to myself: why do they want to give me that responsibility, carrying a whole continent? Then I understood that they did so affectionately. So I accepted. I am Mama Africa", said Miriam Makeba in an interview in 2005.

When news of 'Mama Africa's' passing hit us last Monday, the world was reminded of the mantle that she humbly carried to the end. Poignantly, Mama Miriam had just finished performing at a human rights protest concert in Italy before she collapsed and later died.

Moving Tributes
On reading the numerous obituaries, and hearing moving tributes of special memories left with those who were close to her, it is clear; Mama Africa's love for humanity and dedication to her life's purpose never wavered. Hers was a gracious walk along a path which called for much personal sacrifice and for the deliberate use of her colossal singing talent, to illuminate human rights inequalities around the world and specifically to the land of her birth, South Africa.

Her generosity of spirit was legendary. While living in exile in various countries around the world, Mama Miriam provided a home of warm solace for fellow musicians and freedom fighters. An open-door policy at home meant pots were always on the boil and her kitchen fed many on not only good food, but spiritual sustenance.

Mama Miriam's love-centred approach in her relentless fight against injustice touched people's hearts at home, onstage and in political circles.
She chalked up an array of notable accolades and awards in recognition of her work. Mama Miriam's clarity in her sense of purpose had been honed from a tender age.

Her matriarchal legacy serves as an inspiring reminder for us to take a closer look at our personal commitment to service. Whether Mama Miriam was offering a plate of heart-warming food or heart-rending insights into the tribulations of apartheid, her gifts were offered to the world.

In this age of rampant consumerism, the focus on individual gratification (no matter how fleeting) is eroding our sense of community and dedication to serving our fellow brothers and sisters.

Values of respect
It's never too early to start! As mothers, biological or otherwise, we strive to nurture values of respect, compassion and love for others in our children. It would seem that in a world where 'what's in it for me' is rapidly dimming our commitment to service, the sooner we orient ourselves in 'how can I help' mode, the closer we'll come to achieving fulfilment and advancing humanity.

May you rest in peace Mama Miriam and your life's work lives on as a beacon of inspiration for us all.

Friday, November 14, 2008

In search of perfection

When President Elect, Barack Obama stood victorious, delivering his acceptance speech, he thanked his entourage and the most important people in his life for their support. His face glowed as he spoke of his wife of 16 years, as his best friend and partner.

Now best friends come and go, and with statistics in South Africa revealing that one in two marriages ends in divorce, it seems marriages are becoming disposable baggage too. It begs the question, what is it that keeps the love fire burning?

Sisters around the globe complain at the seemingly impossible task of finding the perfect man! We become more bewildered as we stumble from one failed relationship to the other. Have we lost sight of what it is we’re looking for in Mr. Right? Who sold us the mirage of the perfect other? Did you buy into the dream?

We’ve seen and heard it all too many times before. The packaging looks good but before you know it, life on the inside is not feeling so sweet. From emotional ice-blocks to serial philanderers, the stories are woeful. They leave us with a gaping hole of hurt that festers if left unattended, transmuting into fibroids and other feminine dis-ease.

It would seem many have chosen to accept that there is no such thing as Mr. Right. Get real they say, man is man, they’re all the same! In allowing such possibilities to be reality we self-sabotage our own desires, opting, disillusioned for stagnant unfulfilling unions.

We’ve lost sight of what we’re looking for because we’re looking in the wrong place. Furthermore, wounded and defensive, we often place responsibility for our happiness in the hands of our unsuspecting and yes, sometimes ill-equipped mates.

So, is there hope for those who are not prepared to wallow in relationship mediocrity? Most definitely! Our creator fashioned us for a mate and so, in optimistic spirit, we relentlessly seek that perfect relationship. It is possible!

Seems to me, it’s high time we evolve our skills set, re-set our perfection perspectives and re-orient ourselves to an internal focus. It really is all about us!

We’ve spent centuries honing nurturing skills and cultivating Amazonian stamina for whatever life throws at us. The current world order calls for a similar bouquet of skills, but packaged differently.

In terms of our partners, we struggle to sift through conflicting images of who and what we are meant to be as modern women. So, when our relationships unravel, in desperation we misdirect our energy by focussing on the ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’ drama. With emotion blurring our vision, it’s difficult to introspect but that is exactly what’s called for on a regular basis whether its sunshine or rain.

The answer to our search for perfection in others lies within us, not in our loved ones. Can you truly say you invest as much time and energy in giving to yourself as you do for others around you. Part of your evolved skills cachet includes the ability to create ‘love me’ time and space in your life without apology knowing that it is in loving you that you perfect the art of loving others.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Rising in love

Picture the scene: you and your chocolate dream meet, date and now enjoy significant other status. Then, there are children in the picture and soon, life has become a busy schedule punctuated by joy and ecstasy, heartache and pain and all the consolation bits in-between. Falling in love was fabulous and now this part?

Twelve months of happiness
Relationship psychologists report that the bliss of the honeymoon phase will last for a maximum of 12 months. So, according to them, like the addict’s first high, we spend the rest of our lives striving to recapture those times. Those days when nothing could dim the euphoric of love-rays which lifted us, soaring, to cloud 9.

Of course we experience moments where we skydance in happiness; the birth of a new born baby, the graduation, the joy of a birthday surprise, the warm fuzzy feeling of living and growing as a family.

Wouldn’t we be short-changing ourselves if we brought into the one year scenario? Surely, our creator would not limit our capacity give and receive such beautiful gifts to each other to only 12 months? That said, we don’t have to look too far to see couples weighed down with responsibilities and emotional baggage. To the extent, they hardly communicate and live as strangers who share the same bed every night. So, how do we recapture those heady days? Is it possible to experience rapture on a constant basis?

Rising in love
Blissful living is in closer reach than we may imagine. It starts with our love anchors – our love orientation. I’ve often heard my beloved matriarch say that couples should focus on rising as opposed to falling in love. She teaches that by simply replacing falling to rising in love, we zone into a rapturous paradigm of thinking, doing and being with our loved ones.

According to her diverse wisdom, we get carried away in the thrill of early romance and literally do as the blockbuster movies teach us – fall in love. While falling we lose our grip of reality and begin to make completely irrational decisions based on illusions of fiery lust driven connectivity.

Taking time to work out whether this partner is an asset that will grow your family investment portfolio is the discussion to be having. Checking whether his finely toned body will make for handsome children is, of course, also a consideration but before all of that know where your love ship is anchored.

Is your love-vision set on a path that can articulate what a true partnership looks and feels like? One that values giving and receiving as opposed to giving and taking? Are you ready to be what it is you want to see, to give and allow yourself to receive? In exploring these questions the answers will reveal joyful dreams, spread out as wings as we rise in love.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Abundance: Female nature or nurture?

It’s official! The banks are cashing in us! It’s less about our pay checks and credit cards, and more about our nature. They love us because we’re women! It’s our innate ability to nurture, indelibly built into our nature that they want to tap into.

Bank research amongst rural women in the Far East and in Africa reveals that women who loan money almost always pay it back, on time. Not only do they honour their deals with the bank, they honour themselves and their communities by making the money go further. Often, women will naturally spread the spoils far beyond their nuclear family. The banks have picked up on this and so are targeting women as key drivers in their business.

Our nurturing qualities are renowned; after all, most women glide effortless through our various nurturing roles without thinking. We’ve probably been socialised that way and so we slot into pre-ordained spaces from corporate hot shot to wife, mother, sister, sista-friend – the list goes on.

But let’s be real. We love it too! Even though we sometimes stress over our (in)ability to cope, our heart swells at every nurturing opportunity we get. In fact, it feeds our soul! In the giving, we are also receiving.

So, if we are born with such fabulous rainmaking talent, how come most of us are still seeking abundance? Abundance is a slippery concept at the best of times, even more so when we’re faced with doom and gloom news about global economic meltdowns at every turn.

When you look back, how did our mamas raise families of eight or ten children on one or inconsistent income? It probably has much to do with creative money stretch strategies formed on pillars of love and faith that it would be enough.

Maybe it’s because we generally look outside ourselves for ways to create abundance as opposed to tuning into our female-essence as the key. As divinely gifted rainmakers, we possess incredible power to multiply whatever we touch. Seems though that the more we touch each other, the more abundance we’ll create. So, how far do we go in offering nurturing gifts in service of each other as women?

Now that’s power! Imagine what would be possible if we consciously cultivated abundance by caring, sharing and taking time to be with each other in nurturing spaces on a regular basis. Yes, we spend time together doing a range of every-day things that may nurture our immediate needs. But imagine what focussed nurture time could create?

It’s time for us to cash in on ourselves! The banks have seen the multiplier effect, have you? When last did you give thanks for your nurturing nature as one of the most potent forces of creation? Create nurture circles and invest in collective prosperity. It’s ours for the making.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Ubuntu: Movement of da people

When I think of random acts of kindness, I recall beautiful childhood memories when unexpected rainfall brought visitors to the house. They were not always known to us, often arbitrary people, taking shelter on my grandparent's porch while the rain passed. No permission needed. No one blinked an eye; it was the most natural thing in the world.

Thankfully, there are still places where such experiences are commonplace. After all, it's woven into our sinew, the need to give and receive and to really care. It's a basic part of who we are, isn't it? Such exchanges speak to love and simply being human.

Reclaiming humanity
The world is waking up to speedily reclaim what was rapidly becoming undervalued - our sense of community. Have you noticed how many movements are gaining momentum these days? As we read about the global slow food movement, do we heed the call to trash the quick-mix pasta sauces and cornmeal porridge in a microwave and swiftly return to savour rich aromas usually reserved for the Sunday table?

Some currently riding the wave in South Africa, the self-descriptive slow thought movement, and the moral regeneration movement, speak volumes about a growing need to redefine how we engage with one another, be it at home, at work or in our leisure spaces.

At one of the many Heritage Day events celebrated in South Africa on the September 24, the third Ubuntu Award was presented to retired Cuban President Fidel Castro. Created by South Africa's National Heritage Council, the annual award honours people who consistently embody humanitarian values which anchor the African philosophy of Ubuntu. Former President Nelson Mandela and Former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda have also been recognised as beacons of ubuntu.

Ubuntu is notoriously difficult to explain in English without losing the nuance of the philosophy. Ubuntu principles are deeply rooted in a lifestyle framework where every person is knitted together in a behaviour code which upholds community and culture over individuality.

Essence of ubuntu
The essence of ubuntu emphasises hospitality, tolerance, appreciation and respect for one another. The spirit of Ubuntu is what anchors genuine acts of giving without asking, 'what's in it for me?'

What's in it for you and me is the chance to rescue our collective living values and reframe them in our everyday lives. It's an opportunity to move away from lifestyle trends that are fast eroding our soul. In placing humanity at the centre, we embrace the opportunity to revive harmonious relations with one another. So, yes, come join the Ubuntu movement where we chose 'we' over me, knowing that without you, I cannot be.

Email: d.empressheart@gmail.com. Blog: http://femail heart.blogspot.com.

Love: the body politic?

Who’s your best friend in this world and why do you love them? Is it because they’ve stood by you through some of life’s most exciting and challenging times? How do you express your appreciation for their friendship?

I did a quick impromptu poll around the room recently and everyone cited a person as their best friend. No one could begin to consider their body as their best friend. My body!?! I hear you cry in disbelief. Yes! Your body as your best friend - think about it.

Your body reflects everything you are feeling, going through and believe from deep within. When you live excessively, it shows. When you live a balanced, joy-filled life your body responds with super energy, great health and emits a magnetic glow that everyone notices.

You could say the body is a no-holds barred mirror that never lies. Can you truly say the same for any of your relationships with friends no matter how loyal? They love you yes, but they could never love you the way you could love yourself.

I know two people (living in two continents) who came to learn this simple truth through their amazing weight-loss journey. Both were vivacious, highly successful career women who had the world at their feet. Both decided they wanted to radically change their curvaceous body shapes. So, they lost over half their body weight and have, against the odds, kept it off. A success story on the surface but deep down, both devastatingly reveal they lost not only the weight but some of their ‘closest’ friends.

Their friends, who come packaged in various body shapes and sizes from and walks of life are united by a shared but muted desire. All of them, women, wanted to change something about their body. Only some however, were courageous enough to voice and reflect on their deep seated woes as the body shift they saw in their closest sista friends sparked uncomfortable and unexpected feelings of resentment. Others veiled the same issue as caring concern for health, not stopping to realise that they never showed such concern when their friends were double the weight and at increased risk of heart disorders, strokes, diabetes and the like.

As they saw their friends rapidly morphing into beautiful butterflies and becoming (in their eyes) even more successful, the friendships suffered strain. Through tear-filled eyes, both women caution that such responses were unforeseen and they have never felt so alone. Intense as it was, they came to the radical conclusion that nurturing their love for self and their bodies was the not only the catalyst that changed their friendships but ultimately, was also the only way to diffuse the pain.

So, to the question; statistics show that dieting is the highest ranked obsession for women over 25 years of age. We also know that over 95% of diets fail. Ever thought about the possibility of loving yourself slim as opposed to starting from a basis of rejection?

Think about how many times you’ve insulted, abused and hurt your soul by storing up heavy and negative emotions about your body. Would you do the same to your best friend?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Taming the beast

I'll never forget the triumphant smile of a poet who gazed into space as she rubbed her belly, inviting us to pause with her as she recalled sweet memories of how her pregnancies had emblazoned beautiful stretch marks across her stomach.
That moment captured the pride she felt as the woman whom she affectionately described as her warrior-self. This woman, brandishing stretch marks - red streaks on her caramel skin - chose to call them warrior marks.
During her performance, she stripped bare notions of public decency and took us below skin-deep as she delved into spaces and places many would care not to go with the lights on.

Warrior marks
Taking her time, she propelled us along her lyrical journey as she lovingly told us how the warrior marks on her stomach were a daily, joyous reminder of childbirth.
To her mind, her rite of passage from young woman to motherhood elevated her to undeniable status affirmed, literally, by her warrior marks.

Clearly, what we see as beautiful is a question of interpretation. In framing our codes of beauty, consider for a moment how our culture shapes our beauty filter.
In some West African countries, lines of gentle skin folds which ripple every time you turn your neck are seen as the epitome of beauty. From Kinshasa, to Lagos, to Kingston, a smile which reveals a gap between the two front teeth is delightfully powerful and captivating, often reducing the most composed suitor to blabbering distraction. A potent symbol of beauty, I've heard many stories of how dentists have been coerced into creating a gap by filing away a 'perfectly good' tooth. Urban legend, perhaps?

Ample or fluffy

Now let's get to the ample body shape. Fluffy, I hear them say in Jamaica? African cultural nuance associates size 14-plus women (and men) with affluence, good health and desirable social status. When we talk of desire, a shapely, 'good-hold' woman is regarded as an enviable catch.
More than urban legend, it's a cultural heritage that many young people today recognise but challenge and disconnect as they become increasingly confused by beauty barometers set by the media that conflict with their upbringing and value systems.

So, as we saw last week, yet again, the beast of self-deprecation silently rears its dreadful head. It lures us into forgetting that the power source for holistic self-acceptance and nurturing of self-love actually lies within us.

The catch 22: as matriarch poet, Maya Angelou asserts in her classic poem, 'Phenomenal Woman', and South African trailblazer new, generation poet, Lebo Mashile, dreams in 'Tomorrow's Daughters', women will stand tall, strong and proud in resistance. Also, that we accept the invitation to holistically develop modern-day beauty codes which celebrate our kinky, voluptuous spots as we reframe our heritage lens and firmly place it in tomorrow. All this, of course, as we lovingly stroke the beast into submission.

Lebo Mashile Tomorrow’s Daughters
http://lebomashile.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=33&Itemid=57 –

Maya Angelou:
www.mayaangelou.com / http://www.feminist.com/resources/artspeech/insp/maya.htm

Monday, September 15, 2008

Beauty and the beast

As I flip through the pages of glossy women’s mags, I’m overwhelmed by the relentless fire of ads that tell me my skin is not smooth enough, how to reverse the aging process for fear of wrinkles, how my hair is not shiny sleek enough and how at 30something, only surgery will flatten my stomach to its prepubescent splendour.

What is interesting is that the very industry, (yes see $$s!) that consistently manufactures and churns out the latest version of universally acceptable ‘cause-they-say-so’, airbrushed images of beauty is turning in on itself.

It seems there’s a new beauty code that is being subtly infused into our psyche through the very same ads. Now, they tell us – all that that they said was beautiful is no longer en vogue. Infact, quite the opposite!

What does this mean? During a recent chat with a casting agent friend, she, a buxom beauty herself, gleefully told me that the ad creatives are now looking for regular looking people. There’s a trend in the ad industry to place people that look like, guess what? You and I!

At last, I hear you cry, as your heart leaps – at least now there’s a chance that you may just be socially acceptable? Now surely, more of us can play the glamour stakes? Are they saying that cellulite orange peel skin and stretch marks are no longer such a vanity offence after all?

In South Africa, many women naturally possess what are probably the most sexy genetically enhanced hourglass figures on the planet. Natural hi-riding bumpers that would send J Lo running to the surgeon, trimmed with neat shapely waists are the inherited beauty of many this side of the world.

However, as the diet and beauty industry tightens its grip, women from girlchild to the 40somethings try to shear off nature’s inches as they squeeze voluptuous thighs into skinny drainpipe jeans- all the range in the fashion world yes– until they tell us its something else!

Meanwhile, the sisters are burning up on the inside as they edge further along a self-effacing path to never being good enough. How much longer are we going to allow the beauty industries to dictate our standards of beauty and raise the insecurity bar while making so much money out of us?

Yesterday it was waif-slim, today, its regular Joe and Jenny and tomorrow- who knows?! Just where is this beauty and the beast syndrome coming from. Is it all imposed on us or are we making poor judgement calls when it comes to packaging and asserting our God-given assets as beautiful.

Seems to me that every time we invest in a new anti-cellulite cream or decide to follow the latest fad diet we co-sign on the agreement to keep feeding a beast called unworthiness within us. Do we really need the beauty industry to package ‘real women’ for us to consume all over again? A resounding NO! We’re already the real deal and we love us!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Simple Pleasures

The other day as I sat at the salon quietly observing life go by, a hot 80s, Kool & the Gang tune playing on the radio took us back to the 80s, had us all grooving and reminiscing about when, according to my salon friends – times were sweet.

I heard (and remembered) how those were the days when we used to go out dressed to the nines, knowing we looked hot and whoever had the privilege of crossing our perfume laden paths –well, they knew tonight was the night!

We laughed as we recalled the dance moves and lamented about the days when life seemed to be more fun, more enriching and ironically, more simple.

Ok, so some things haven’t changed, maybe the S-curl and the hi-gloss lipstick has been swapped for bling and more bling. So, we still love looking good but valuing and appreciating beauty in simple things is a rare quality these days.

Maybe we’re just getting old, chirped a sister in the corner. Not so, according to my locktician twisting my locks through his fingers. He pointed out that in ‘the good old days’, life’s simple pleasures were as basic as being able to go out and have fun without fearing for our safety. He added that young people these days have so much to deal with. Alcohol, drugs and the constant battle of competing to be the world’s most cool, switched on, connected but worse still, being alive to see their 35th birthday.

Seems the bottom line is, life is cheap these days. For all the gadgets, access to technology and information designed to enhance our lives, clearly we are dangerously close to becoming completely devoid of life’s so-called, ‘simple pleasures’.

So what are simple pleasures to us these days? Consider time - a fast evaporating commodity? – some say there is never enough! When last did you take time to feel the juice of a luscious mango run down your chin? Whilst on our never ending treadmill of must-do, have to and where to next, it seems we have to plan time to just be.

We are feeling the heat and the call to unclutter our lives abounds from Oprah house makeovers, to the health gurus who warn that clutter, the unending quest to acquire and consume is the biggest threat to our lives. Read: stress! Stress that comes from worrying about keeping up with the Jones’ and the fear of never having enough. Truth is, what ever we have will never be enough.

In our love-hate relationship with cosmopolitan modernity, we love the experiencing and consuming shiny new things, however, deep down we yearn for the worn, comfortable ‘old’ things.

When we look back, generations before us never had facebook but they were deeply connected to each other. They took time for and with each other. They experienced life’s luxuries from a different perspective.

It’s a calling and some are heeding the call. Imagine the collective power of a global reality which prioritises time spent being instead of time spent doing in the quest to raise the stakes of consumerism. Simple pleasures – Taking time to feel, to love, to listen, to be, will pave a road to everyday ecstasy.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Soul banks – the wealth option?

Money makes the world go round, or so we’re told. In today’s world where the cost of living is spiralling out of our stratosphere, money, the lack of it or the desire for more of it is a permanent discussion topic.

Even before the price of a bag of rice tripled, dreams about chasing sweet money pots at the end of rainbows were key talking points from the liming spot to the beauty salon. Is money the real deal? How many of us talk of wealth as opposed to money and, how many of us have dared to imagine what true wealth looks and feels like?

It seems we automatically associate money with happiness whilst knowing the so called ‘rich and famous’ are often amongst the most insecure, unhappy people. I wonder whether the focus on money as opposed to wealth actually steers us along a long road with pot holes called broke, going anywhere but to a comfortably space of knowing and believing we are wealthy no matter the bank balance.

A few days ago, I had the dubious delight of attending a Soul Session hosted by Old Mutual – a South African financial institution. The Soul Sessions, hosted by two of South Africa’s it celebs – Fezile Mpela and Sophie Ndaba featured motivational talks, speed networking (yes, like speed dating only with above the waist business in mind), fashion, topical discussions and saving and investment tips. It was an engaging afternoon.

A chat with organiser, Lebogang Mkhize revealed that Old Mutual is reverse engineering money management for us, their clients. Being in the wealth creation business, they believe that events like the Soul Sessions address our lifestyle needs while propelling us further along the road to unlocking wealth. They are convinced the link to wealth is deeply embedded within us – in our souls. Food for thought? They are definitely on the money!

Ever considered your soul as your private wealth bank? Is the concept of being wealthy something that resonates, excites or is it scary, indulgent even? Possibly, it boils down to the way we’ve been brought up? Were you raised to expect an abundantly wealthy life as a birthright no matter your social-economic standing?

Or, maybe yours was to seek an education in the quest to work and modestly provide for your loved ones? Maybe neither, maybe both and where was your soul placed in the picture?

What shapes your wealth space? Is it soul anchor or a consumption orientation? Many of us grew up seeing grandma hiding money under the mattress, in books, also heard about keeping vex money or saving for that rainy day. We’ve probably also internalised notions of money being the root of all evil and so, consciously shunned the idea of being wealthy.

By shifting our focus away from money and living our soul-inspired journey, we may see that the eyes are the window to our soul and the soul is our window to life-enriching wealth for all.

Monday, August 18, 2008

History, herstory, our stories

Three pebbles worn smooth by the lapping waves from a favourite beach evoke precious memories of home for Jamaican poet, Donna Smith. In her bruisingly candid poems laced with a healthy dose of dancehall energy and lascivious humour, Smith opened the floor at the Women in the Arts festival in Johannesburg last weekend.

The pebbles, a parting gift from a dear friend, hold joyous memories which Smith often uses as a source of strength when homesickness sets in. Three simple pebbles hold precious memories and emotive images of good times gone by.

How is it that we are able to infuse such intense emotion into innate objects? A dear friend recently emigrated to the Middle East. The reality of her move set in when 91 packing boxes later, through tear-filled eyes, she watched her life being loaded onto the moving truck. The boxes, some to be shipped, some to be stored, held rich cornerstones of memory, life histories now in transit to another destination. Her tears, painful but cleansing, were clearing the way for new chapters in her-story.

Stories form the bedrock of our lives, shape our identity and invite us to imagine. Through dreams, memories and visions, we are transported back in time and if we wish into the future.

So, what stories will you tell your children and their children? What keepsakes that signpost significant people and moments in time are you gathering? Consider unleashing your creativity and take thoughtful moments to gather symbols that personalise your life story.

Over the past decade in Africa, memory work has become a powerful healing tool for families living with and affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In creating memory boxes and memory books, families and particularly children, are more easily able to process the reality of death and the trauma of loss.

By creatively encapsulating life-stories through personalised notes, photos and quirky mementos, the essence of life is captured for posterity in boxes which are as varied and colourful as the owners. The process of creating memory boxes also helps children shape their identity and more freely talk about their feelings through cherished attachment to symbols representing loved ones, hope and ultimately peace.

Our history as Caribbean people tells of movements, forcibly or otherwise, which uproot our collective memories. I often wonder what our parents who emigrated to the US and Europe in the 50s and 60s would have put in their memory boxes.

In these days of quick fire, instantly accessible and instantly disposable experiences, the call to document personalised textures and nuances of our very life source is becoming more urgent.

By creating time capsule memory boxes, we can all be storytellers weaving valuable threads of life into history, herstory, creating our-stories for generations to come.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Will the real queen please stand up?!!

When last did you meet a queen? Sure, we know of queens in folklore and fables, and in mythical tales told in dreamspaces, too often reserved for children. In history, we’ve also heard of conquering lionesses - from Nanny of the Maroons of Jamaica to Nana Yaa Asantewaa of the Ashanti nation in Ghana. Both are renowned queens; women who led their people to conquer mighty powers, their prowess and virtues remain poignant affirmations as we celebrate them as national heroes. But, when last did you meet a real-life queen?

As we pause for breath after Emancipendence celebrations in Jamaica, we remember and honour our ancestors who fought and won liberation struggles of the past. Across the Caribbean and the African Diaspora, our recognition of Emancipation Day (August 1) offers us an opportunity to celebrate yes, and also, in the jubilation take time to reflect, define and engage a renewed sense of liberation.

Though we could probably count the number of documented and celebrated female warriors of fame and stature on one hand, we know that the unsung heroines of our past continue to serve in quiet accomplishment. Also queens, their crowns are often intangible and their works, indefatigable.

As for real-life queens, in our urban, cosmopolitan realities, we now talk of dancehall queens and even male queens. Somehow, the respected status of the queen mother is now veering towards media driven superficiality quashing any notion of serving a community.

Take the Rain Queens of the Modjadji female dynasty who have reigned over six generations, originating in Zimbabwe and then in Limpopo, South Africa. Amongst their other duties, the Rain Queens are revered for their ability to invoke nourishing rain showers especially in times of drought and hardship.

In her 2008, Emancipation Day message, Leader of the Opposition, Portia Simpson Miller notes how Jamaica is suffering from the global impact of soaring prices of basic consumer goods. She says; “rain a fall but dutty tough” and calls for action. MP Simpson Miller goes on to say that by building families and strong communities we can create abundant futures.

Rain is a powerful life force that symbolically parallels the significant works of service offered by us women, the real-life queens in our communities. Inherently, women are incubators, nurturers, and gatherers. So as you go about your daily activities, consider for a moment what kind of rain queen are you?

170 years after the abolition of the slavery, the emancipation celebrations present important opportunities to consider the meaning of liberation in our current realities.

As women shaping legacy for future generations to inherit, we are all members of communities at home, in our jobs, social groups and the like. Let us proudly reclaim our queenships and fiercely craft stories which create nurturing and dynamic communities for the future.

So, real-life queens step up!!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Re-engineering the brand ‘good man’

Imagine if you could re-write the story of creation? What would you change about the formation of man, our esteemed and beloved soul mate? Close your eyes and imagine we are in the garden, but this time, our creator made you, the woman first and then asked you “so, what kind of companion would you like to have?” How would you fashion him?

A similar question was the subject matter of an email joke doing the rounds recently. However, in that story, God created woman first and (as the joke goes) found a good-for-nothing previously discarded item to make man. Apparently, it sparked much mirth but also left twinges of deep pain.

Why would we laugh at effacing jokes about our significant others? Why would we choose to play an active role in dehumanising and belittling those who we claim to want the best of? Given the current status of man/woman relations, it is far from a laughing matter.

Truth is, we hear it everyday, on both sides of the Atlantic and all the stops in between! Less than loving descriptions of our existing and potential soul mates from light hearted jokes to persistent diatribes between us and our long-suffering sisters. All lamenting about how ‘there are no good black men out there’. I sense an element of a self-fulfilling prophecy at play.

I wonder how our children are processing such negativity heard as a constant background track in our homes. Just what kind of brand called man are we creating in their minds?

In the build up to South African women’s month which kicks off this week, I happened upon a talk radio show and heard a concerned man emotionally describe the state of bewilderment he believes men are in.

He admitted that he and other men he knew were mightily confused about what the notion of a ‘good’ man was. He suggested its time men took the situation in their own hands and began to re-brand themselves as clearly, they are being misrepresented.

Re-engineering a brand called good men, what a thought! Any takers? Successful brands clearly present their core truths exemplified through their attributes (values and virtues). So, brothers, in considering the offer to re-brand yourselves, know we (your consumers) are keen to connect with your core truth – your hearts.

Sisters, maybe we should also consider re-engineering our brand? In the quest for a good man, have you defined your value proposition?

Through out the following weeks as we are mindful celebrating emancipation and Jamaica’s independence and Women’s Month in South Africa, let us free ourselves from the ‘no-good men out there’ mindset and joyfully usher in heart-centered, soul boosting visions of the men we intend for ourselves and the women we intend to be.

Monday, July 28, 2008

What’s love got to do with it?

I’m still reeling from a not-so-gentle and well intentioned scolding that I recently received from a beloved matriarch. She had enquired about my plans for the day. After listening, she told me in a flash that my two hour schedule would need at least double the time and so I would be running late before I even step out of the door.

My matriarch’s no holds barred approach, jolted me into the re-evaluating the phenomenal superwoman legacy I inherited as a mind-condition and a tradition that likely requires re-orientation. The fortitude of our foremothers is to be acknowledged, respected and admired – yes, but in our times, it is apparent that a different type of strength is needed for survival.

After advising me to simplify my life, my matriarch’s closing words were: ‘what ever you think you are doing by consistently over charging your day, it is not love’

What’s love got to do with it, you may ask? Well, everything! In our increasingly pressured and busy lives, the culture of being busy is something we as women use as a yardstick to measure our worth.

The side-effects of juggling families, careers and all that makes up ‘life’, spell one word – stress! In our stress addiction, we become trapped in a paradigm of doing rather than be-ing present and taking time to live and be love. We complain about it, yet we perpetuate it. So, we can change it!

August is women’s month in South Africa. It’s a time when odes to women abound through numerous celebratory activities. We mark the month in recognition of women’s courageous role in the fight for freedom in apartheid South Africa and continued role in creating a new society.

In an admirable bid to recognise and reward women, a slew of South African award ceremonies like Woman of the Year, Women in the media, Women in Government in Business and others, spotlight women who are transitioning society. What links them all? A core virtue - service in love.

While basking in the glow, I ponder when last we took time to taste every morsel of food in a delicious meal, when we just stopped to breathe, and when we will realise that loving ourselves first has everything to do with be-ing. Does it follow that the more we do, that the more people who are touched by our love cloaked as busy-ness (often to the point of martyrdom) the better?

According to my matriarch a resounding NO! She believes our creator had other plans for us. She often reminds me of a simple philosophy directed by nature. As the sun goes down, so it is our time to slow down. Her matriarchal wisdom goes as far to suggest that at night time we should not turn on lights or use electricity, as it is precious time, an invitation to restore, replenish and rebalance.
Lights out, love in!

Monday, July 21, 2008

It never fails to amaze me how the fashion industry has grown to be so influential in every sphere of our lives. Every season the style mercury rises set by hot heeled Fashionistas and pouting models and iconic musicians.

Hi-gloss catwalks from Johannesburg to Kingston, from New York to Paris, seduce us into believing that if we are not in tune with the latest hemline, we are somehow less than we could be.

As world spaces evolve into global villages, it begs the question whether our grandmothers and their mothers enjoyed greater freedom to just be. I imagine life was far simpler back then. What influenced their style expression?

Our apparel speaks volumes about us before we even open our mouths. Power dressing, hip hop, bling are all potent symbols and images of power. The choices we make in presenting ourselves to the world are pawns in a power game, a dance of smoke and mirrors.

Over the ages, gender activists marched, burnt bras and many died in the quest for equality. After the blood, sweat and tears, just how free are we to just be as women? Some might say, we, multi-talented, multi-faceted, multi-tasking queens never had it so good.

South African society has walked a long road in the fight for gender equality. There is still a long way to go. In a country where incidents of abuse and rape are alarmingly high, power dynamics between the sexes is a burning issue. Freedom of expression, be it through voice, dress, the media or otherwise, is a human rights issue.

Earlier this year, women wearing mini-skirts were assaulted by men at a taxi rank because their clothing was said to be provocative and inviting rape. Fittingly, this event sparked outcry, protests and swift moves from government and civil society to denounce such behaviour as unacceptable.

Last month, research figures exploring people’s feelings about whether revealing attire contributes to the chance of being raped were released. In this, the second study (the first in 2006) there were significant drops. In 2006, 33% of South African metropolitan adults as opposed to 23% in 2008 agreed that women wearing revealing clothes were asking to be raped. That men are taking it upon themselves to beat women into conservative attitudes of compliance indicates there are still many battles to be won. Rape and violence being issues of power rather than sex is really where it’s at.

From mini-skirts to pant suits to midriff exposing lo-rise jeans, who or what influences our dress and what does it say about us? Women of this millennium have more opportunities than ever before to define their iconic style sensibilities. Let us consciously embrace our alluring chameleon like nature and create engaging, sometimes mysterious, sometime brazen expression in honour of our evolution. Let us be.