Monday, September 14, 2009

Of cocoa tea and cappucino

You've often heard me talk about my favourite matriarch. We are not related but she co-occupies that precious space in my heart reserved for the lineage of female wisdom keepers in our family.

She's an elder, yes, but neither aunty nor grandma would suit her, for being a matriarch is not measured by age alone. Grandmothers are warm and fuzzy and smell of cornmeal porridge and coco tea (mine did - may they rest in peace).

Matriarchs are all of that and then some! I use the term matriarch because it bestows a certain status which could be overlooked if they are slotted into the 'warm and fuzzy' recesses of our minds.

In truth, there are many matriarchs around me, including my mother. I feel a connection between my matriarchs and my inner being - a link which is commonly experienced but rarely articulated among women. The title matriarch speaks of understated grandeur. The notion of a matriarch is a ranking that has lost currency in our current day experience of womanhood.

The matrilineal society is now almost mythical, except for a few far flung places. In such communities, women hold the axis of power. Theirs was a community-based power accorded through lineage and inheritance. Much like the king or queen status, but not as individuals for there can be many matriarchs in one community.

My journey to the zone of matriarchy has helped me understand and appreciate our female elders more. Being the urban nomad that I am, my grandmothers were mostly a nostalgic reverie. As first-generation JA-Brits who grew up between the United Kingdom and Africa, our holidays 'back home' provided the all-too-rare chance to huddle up close to grandma's bosom.

The magic of her serenity and the way in which she just always knew what we needed on that deep soul level preserved grandma's image as a deliciously warming comfort.
Now, as a grown woman, scanning the contested ground of women's liberation, women's rights and issues of so-called equality, I seek the matriarch's voice. Not only as a voice of reason but as an anchor to the modern mindset.

Hers could tell us, remind us, of who women were back in the day. For now, as we navigate corridors of power in a corporate jungle, the steaming coco tea has been replaced by cappuccino.

No longer relevant
Does it mean that now we're all grown up and working, the world of our matriarchs and their deep well of wisdom are no longer relevant to our reality?

I wonder what our matriarchs would say to us and how we'd reshape our world on the backbone of their life stories? For, as we are constantly evolving and redefining our world, they, our matriarchs, could hold the keys we need to unlock our future.

Build it now!

A few days ago, my heart skipped a beat when I heard the world renowned South African hornman, Bra Hugh Masekela express his desire for the new generation to hold on tightly to their heritage. It was a bitter-sweet moment when during an interview, he said: “I’m scared that when my grandchildren grow up, they will say to each other – they say we used to be Africans”.

His familiar wry laugh was ironic as it was startling. As much as his comment drew much mirth, I certainly felt a tinge of sadness.

Bra Hugh and other South African music icons are celebrating 70 years on this planet this year. Bra Hugh, a veteran activist is more aggressive than ever as he launches his latest project – 100 years. Still in development, the project is a musical which traces the migration of peoples across and into South Africa through music over the past 100 years.

His is a beautiful vision, which is proving quite difficult to sell to potential sponsors in South Africa’s private sector. Maybe they just don’t get it! Music – the universal language – tells our stories in multi-dimensional texture, it ignites our soulfyah as it roots memories of those who walked before us.

Pandora's box
In shaping the past 100 years, Bra Hugh is thinking of those coming in front of us and preparing a Pandora’s Box of treasures that remind us of who we are.

Stories of migration and the memories passed from one generation to another are a valuable and in many cases diminishing heritage. As I imagine Bra Hugh’s grandchild, I think of my children and how their children will identify themselves. For their heritage, like most across the Caribbean is a glorious tapestry – I choose to affirm my enriched heritage status - of an ancestry that criss-crosses the globe.

The Afropolitan
What Bra Hugh’s commentary is probing is the vexed question of how one generation after another shapes its cultural identity in the journey of evolution. As we easily slip from one cultural expression to another, is it true to say we’re losing our culture. On this side of the world, the it-generation, upwardly mobile, accessorized to the hilt and worldly-wise, are branding themselves the Afropolitan.

Converging an African heritage rooted in a cosmopolitan – read European/other world – mélange which carries with it an underlying message saying: ‘now we’re really making it. We’re connected across the globe, we’re influential but make no mistake, we’reAfrican! So, if we follow the Afropolitan principle then perhaps we are on a slippery slope heading to non-distinct identity and hazy cultural expression.

A vexed question indeed with no easy answers! For, as we ponder the cultural integrity of our grandchildren’s world view, we, like Bra Hugh would do well to build on the foundation stones of those who came before us. Whatever ‘politan space you may inhabit, how will your footprints shape the future?

View from the top

Women and their role in socio-economic development is a hot topic on the African continent. With the 2015 deadline for the actualisation of the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) looming, there is much talk about the slow rate of progress.

The UN MDG framework, created in response to the world's main development challenges, called private and public sector and civil societies together in partnership to eradicate poverty, ensure the safety of children, create gender equity and the like. Most would agree that in principle, the approach makes sense. Trying to wade through the slew of reports, campaigns and projects to grasp just how far we have come is an arduous task.

The MDG 3, which focuses on women and calls for the 'promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women', is the pertinent focus for Women's Month in South Africa this year. Like the MDGs, shaping fresh approaches to the 24/7/365 challenge of creating equal spaces for women is a lofty goal. After all, the quest for equality has been a perennial quest spoken of for my lifetime and for those who came before me.

Access to education
Scrolling through the data, major advances in specific areas such as increased access to education for girls in Africa are revealed. Clearly, there is still much work to be done and the 2015 timeline is a daunting challenge.

As with most development initiatives there is a focus on rural communities. Given that rural communities make up the majority of the population in most countries across Africa, the emphasis on rural development is clearly necessary, but it also results in a skewed picture of development.

Muted voices
Glaringly muted are the voices of women themselves, especially those who have made it out of the grips of the poverty trap and are languishing in positions of influence, access to resources and choice. Where are their empowered voices?

The empowered woman's voice is strikingly absent in the MDG discourse and project activity. As we read about targets to 'enhance women's participation at all levels of government and other decision making positions', the question remains what happens when they get there?
Is there an assumption that women in urban areas are already so advanced in terms of access to resources and education that they are automatically empowered and by implication do not need further 'developmental' support?

Development issues
The glossy sheen of the luxe vehicles and high life covers up the real story and development issues among women in urban spaces. The stories I hear in my daily interactions with urban women in powerful corporate positions, influential political spaces, accomplished homemakers, entrepreneurs and the like, often tell a tale of disenchanted solitude. It is lonely at the top!

So, in addressing the gender equity development imperative, we need to ensure the views from the hot-seat are shared, distilled and the lessons heeded. Let's make our voices heard in the development debate. For as we strive to upskill, upgrade and upscale our lives, we have a responsibility to ensure that our 'empowered' spaces are adequately receptive to growth, nurturing and sustainable transformation for women across the urban and rural divide.

In pole position

Ever since the first democratic elections in South Africa, principles of empowerment have been enshrined in the constitution which governs the new South Africa.

With Mandela at the presidential helm, images of the rainbow nation blurred at the edges in a neat picture frame of an ideal society where the priority was to re-balance inequities in race, gender, cultural and economic status among the black population of South Africa.
Following 50-plus decades of an apartheid government, trans-formation and empowerment became the buzz words of the day after the elections in 1994.

Women's Day
Women's Day in South Africa commemorates the day in 1956 when women from all races and walks of life marched to the Union Buildings in mass protest against oppressive apartheid laws. It was a historic march that became a turning point in the history of women's role in the struggle for a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.

This courageous act, fuelled by the injustices of the apartheid government, was a public demonstration of women united in a cause and determined to make their voices heard. Their accomplish-ment continues to ignite the flame for women's empowerment today.

The theme for Women's Month 2009, 'Together Empowering Women for Development and Gender Equality', is a big one to unpack. The newly created Ministry for Women, Children and People with Disabilities signals interesting developments ahead. However, translating empowerment policies into a tangible reality continues to be a challenge.

Activities have been remarkably muted this year. Possibly, reduced budgets from the economic crunch meant the money simply wasn't there for a fanfare! No doubt, the buzz ebbs at a lower frequency. For many, the public holiday was an opportunity for a road trip over the long weekend.

Refreshingly, some (mainly men) told me Women's Day was every day, so what was the fuss about? Even fewer told me about how the day wasn't of any significance to them as women or men who love women and the word empowerment were, let's say, off the radar.

Pole dancing
As one of the more popularly celebrated public holiday months, Women's Month programmes are hosted by government, private-sector institutions and organisations in every sector imaginable. From the more serious, usually government-led activities to a special employee treat at the spa and pole dancing lessons, interpretations of what empowerment means is somewhat elastic.

Now, when pole dancing becomes a measure of empowerment, something is clearly amiss. I'm sure wrapping one's body around a pole in lewd, semi-acrobatic positions could be fun for some and, at best, a good workout, but empowering?

So what of the women who marched back in 1956? In our relatively cushy mod-con, empowered lives, how are we picking up the baton and ensuring that we follow in their footsteps? Sure, empowerment is a matter of interpretation and clearly we have a long road to walk.

Goddess Arise: M - (R)evolution II

The M (r)evolution caused quite a stir last week. Not surprisingly you may say! Apart from the novelty of the menstruation cup, the ructions were more about the M-word itself!

It strikes me that much female talk about menstruation is usually in reference to PMT, fertility issues or at the other end of the spectrum - menopausal hormone challenges. All real, no doubt, but often tinged with a backdrop of pejorative notions and sensibilities around our sacred time – menstruation.

I’ll never forget the look of pain and regret when a 40something Johannesburg mother, Ntombi, told me about how sorry she was that she ‘missed’ her daughter’s first period. She was travelling on business and received a call to say that her daughter had seen her menarche. Ntombi efficiently organised some sanitary towels and told her daughter they would talk when she returned home.

Tears welled as Ntombi recalled her own menarche remembering how her mother and aunts joyously honoured her in the rite of passage from girl-child into womanhood. She told me about a special ceremony, the words of wisdom and the empowerment boost she felt as she was welcomed to a new world of female accomplishment.

Her lament that day, was not only her absence but she confessed that even if she were at home, she wouldn’t know what to do. The matriarchs who had birthed her evolution into womanhood were no longer around.

Ntombi felt she had failed her daughter and as we spoke, she became even more angst-filled as she acknowledged that she had underestimated the value, beauty and power that her matriarchs were celebrating at her menarche ceremony.

As she spoke my mind flashed back to my matriarchal circle and how during a family holiday, my aunts recalled their introduction to womanhood. Light years away from Ntombi’s ceremony, theirs was closer to her daughter’s experience. They told me of the indignity they felt for years as each month, they hung their seven pieces of cloth, duly scrubbed lily white, on a line in the yard against the backdrop of the green hills of Trelawny, Jamaica.

Some of my aunts were in the midst of their own private summers (read: menopausal hot flushes) and so theirs was a tale of at least forty years of nestling shame around their menstrual period.

As I learn more about the rituals in menarche ceremonies across the world and the folklore, mysticism and sanctity linked to our menstrual cycle, I’m stunned at how detached we’ve become from the potency of our menstrual time.

Rites of passage
There are many reasons why ancient cultures in Africa and around the world honoured the menache (the first menstrual period) as a rite of passage. Many still do.

So what of our contemporary culture? Our monthly gift which the sages tell us augurs new life, prosperity and blessings has been relegated to a biological function spoken about in hushed voices. Ntombi’s story, a short generation ago, illustrates a diminishing heritage of female-centric power that we will lose at our peril.

We may not all have access to indigenous knowledge of time-honoured rituals but we can all create space for revivication each month as we renew the goddess within.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The M (R)evolution

What is it about the M word – menstruation – that sparks fear and even shame amongst so many women? I’m talking about menstruation. It’s that special and spiritual time every month, when our spectacular female reproductive machinery cleanses and restores our internal incubator ready to nurture life.

The life force was in full flow last week as masses of women gathered at an expo designed to celebrate all things womanly. The annual Women’s Show in Joburg promised a fuschia-pink oasis of female-centric products, candid talks, and the latest innovations to super-size women to be even more phenomenal.

They delivered on their promise and more as an eye-opening experience that was tagged onto the fuschia-pink extravaganza revealed.

This year, the organisers tagged on a mini-expo called the Natural & Organic show. Much the same set up, but the invitation was different. The recycled shopping bags they gave out said: ‘Go Natural & Organic or go home!’ – tongue- in-cheek maybe, but the witty branding speaks to a deeper connection that we are all aware of but often hide behind.

Women are a powerful life-force! The major earth shift that have manifested as a global ‘economic melt-down’ is a clarion call to men and women of the world to return to source – and fast!

So, as I moved through the tempting array of organic beauty soaps and healing products, I met the most amazing people. The hard sell typical of such expos was replaced by invigorating conversations about farming, plants, superfoods, solar energy and more. We crossed a bridge forging the life force connection between earth, choices and guess who – women!

Quietly nestling amongst the recycled packaging was an unassuming product called the menstrual cup. Made from silicone, it’s an alternative sanitary product that allows women to do away with tampons and pads and replace them with a menstrual cup that gently collects the monthly flow.

Statistics reveal that over 160 million tampons are thrown away in South Africa alone every month! When I consider the environmental impact of packaging and producing pads and tampons, not to mention the landfill sites, I’m compelled to connect with the life enhancing option offered by the menstrual cup.

We’ve been duped by messages of ‘convenience’ and modernity from disposable sanitary wear manufacturers for too long! Amongst the two m-cup products available in South Africa at the moment, I believe the Mpower menstrual cup captures the essence that women seem to continually strive for – power! It’s within us!

The life force in the earth was created by the ultimate power. In making empowering life choices, we can embrace the life force that flows through us as women and honour menstruation with grace and dignity. It is high time for the M (r)evolution!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Not my daughter! ARISE Africa Fashion Week

I'm just recovering from the emotional charge of the ARISE Africa Fashion Week that rocked Joburg over the past two weeks. It was eight days of glossy pouts, big hair, funky catwalk struts and all the glamour of the fashion theatre.

As with all fashion weeks, the designers on show presented a myriad of inspired statements. What was so endearing about the ARISE Africa Fashion Week, was the promise of a creative volcano presented by over 50 'elite African designers'.

This was Africa's story of contemporary, mostly female expression, told through fashion, to the world. Predictably, some of the characters were a literal cut and paste from fairytales of the West. Joyously, some designers 'dared' to reignite African folk tales, bringing recognisable cultural motifs and silhouettes to the stage.

Dresses were all the rage. All styles, shapes and lengths. From Alphadi's sultry, flowing kaftans to African Mosaique's take on a micro-short rouched kaftan, they were all ultra-feminine, asserting a female sensibility of gentle but powerful grace.

One dress from Egyptian-based Tunisian designer Soucha, sparked much controversy. All lace and not much of it at that, as the model set out on the ramp, her naked form became the talk of the AFW. Without so much as a leaf to cover her modesty, her total exposure was nothing short of gratuitous.

At that point, many who were loving the collection, wrote him off as a sensation-seeking misogynist, disrespecting the very women he claims to adore. As the storm brewed, I asked Soucha who he is designing for. With a breezy smile, he told me that women who wear his clothes are 'sexy, modern and free'.

Well, one thing Soucha definitely did do is strike a match against one of the key issues that fashion designers this side of the world are grappling with. African values and identity, versus commercial appeal are perennial challenges.

One outraged veteran fashion designer, Sonwabile Ndamase, couldn't understand why the crop of the 'elite' African fashion designers on show were so shy about expressing their roots. For him, the problem was deeper than creative inspiration for a collection. He said Soucha's decision to parade a nude model in lace was "as if he is forgetting that models are people and that she is someone's daughter!"

Leaders and pioneers
Clearly, modernity offers the new generation of Africa's fashion vanguard the opportunity to be just that - leaders and pioneers in a world renowned for its fickle nature. However fickle, no matter what era or world space you look at, fashion is always a pulse indicator for a nation's head space. So, where do questions of morals, ethics and values stand in the heady crucible of Africa's fashion visionaries?

At the ARISE Africa Fashion Week, the hosts created a continental fashion week on the wings of Obama's rise to the White House and other landmark achievements for black people that they cite as Africa's big moment. Clearly, emotions are riding high as we proudly embrace our Africanism. What we need as a parallel process are spaces where we can dialogue and debate what kinds of dresses we will make for our daughters in the new world order. As they say in Nigeria, 'who no know go know'!

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Art of Luxurious Living

Lately I’ve been pondering the notion of luxury and what it means to us in 2009.
The global economic slow-down that has literally knocked the world sideways and while some are in recovery mode, many are still reeling the shock.

Some would say it’s almost immoral to think of luxurious living in the current climate! Of course, redundancies and pay-cuts are no joke but still, life goes on. Human beings have an inbuilt desire to live an abundant life.

So, what does luxury mean to you? Is your expression of luxurious living peppered with designer labels and hi-cost commodities?

The pundits say, that while there is much less money around, people are still spending but now purchases, especially high end indulgences, are much more – let’s say – considered.

The economic slow down is forcing the world to do just that – literally slow down! Great news for those of us who permanently live in rush/hectic/exhausted mode – or so you’d think?!

I much prefer the concept of a slow down to a crisis. An economic crisis signals blind panic and despair whereas an ‘economic slow-down’ - even just reading the words - immediately takes you into more contemplative space.

No matter what job you may have, adopting a rush-mode lifestyle always boils down to a question of choice. Put busy on pause for a minute and you might actually get to taste life itself.

Similarly, adopting an always-busy-always-buying mode is also a lifestyle choice that anaesthetises our sense of reality. So in this space, the symbols of luxurious living are often mistaken for luxury itself.

The earth shaping moment that we are experiencing as an economic slow down is an invitation to re-evaluate what‘s in our lives and what is no longer serving us.

It takes us back to the question, is your sense of luxury based on symbols rated according to a price tag or is your luxury based on one of life’s most precious resource – time?

The silver lining in the doom & gloom clouds is that the slow down is likely to be just what we need. Less of everything else and more time!

Pregnant with promise, time seems to be an increasingly scarce resource that is slipping away from our grasp. We have made it that way so we can change it.

Africa and the Diaspora countries around the world have always enjoyed a more diffused approach to time than the narrow paradigm set by our cousins in the West.

Across the African continent, time is captured in the simplest gestures like taking time to greet each other and really mean it. It’s about a soul connection and collective evolution by honouring the spirit.

So, in the quest for sustainable livelihoods and a life of higher consciousness, it’s high time we revise our definition of luxury. For, in the art of luxurious living, time is the most valuable and precious centrepiece of all.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fatherhood: A spiritual journey

As we celebrate Father’s Day in 2009, I salute the fathers featured here for their deep connectedness with their children. The joy that radiates through their every word speaks to a keen sense of kinship and bonding.

From the delivery room to the first day at university and other important steps in a child's life, the fathers featured today all mention the importance of 'being there' for their children. Not just for these milestones, but participating fully in their everyday lives. By developing rituals based on a commitment to responsibility and legacy, their voices on fatherhood will resonate for generations to come.

When days like Father's Day come around, I feel an uncomfortable shiver running down my spine. Crass commercialisation dims the evolving character of fatherhood in modern times and often shrouds the real reason for all the hype.

It will be a beautiful day when ritual celebration of our fathers is frequently expressed as tangible accents in our lives and not reserved only for special days. Today, we honour them; we listen in recognition of their soul-deep gratitude for the children in their lives.

African perspectives
TV producer and presenter, Christophe Bongo is a proud father who relates the story of how his daughter's entry into the world was one of the most poignant moments of his life.
He shines with a bitter-sweet smile as he reflects on his approach to fatherhood.
"It's about responsibility. As Africans our responsibility as fathers is so profound. It's not only about financial support; it's about relationships and full involvement in our children's lives. From the way I relate to my wife, the way I speak to my mother, I teach values through the way I behave.

"Fatherhood is also about leadership. I'm handing over the torch that I received and passing it on to the next generation," states Christophe.

Marc Gbaffou, a food technician and chairperson of the African Diaspora Forum, echoes Christophe's sentiments about leadership and responsibility.

"At a young age I was taught that to be a man means assuming responsibility. Don't wait for people to do things for you, lead and show the way. I'd like to see my children being decisive and accountable for the decisions they take by seeing the way I run my life."

The notion of legacy is a golden thread that runs through Marc's dialogue on fatherhood.
"I would feel very proud seeing my children achieve things I couldn't achieve. The biggest challenge for fathers in Africa today is also the biggest opportunity, [it is] to build Africa. In teaching our children how to create resources through building communities, we will all be stronger across the African Diaspora.

"In Africa, the family is a social and divine institution," says African patriot, academic and former Senegalese Ambassador to Southern Africa, Samba Mburi Mboup.

As he describes his experience of fatherhood, Samba recalls how he bathed, massaged and sang lullabies to his children. He remembers how he also carried his children on his back. He fondly attributes his strong bond with his children to an inherited approach passed on from his late father.

"My father was a patriarch and while he didn't carry us on his back, he had a soft heart for his children. Often, we (men) make the mistake of thinking our children's education sits with their mothers. Neither one can do it alone! Both should work together in a spirit of unity and stability."
Strong relationships
When comparing his role as a father to that of his father's era, Samba states that strong relationships with children of today are more important than ever before.

He cites the works of Martiniquan philosopher Frantz Fanon as he asserts that each generation comes with its own mission. They may live up to it or betray their mission, but they have an evolved awareness that can also teach a parent who is open to learning from their children.

"Fatherhood, in my experience, is a unique privilege and spiritual journey," he says.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sisters of the soil

The title of my column in The Flair magazine (Gleaner) often intrigues people.

Fe-mail Ties, what does it mean? I'm exploring the ties that bind women across the waters, via the Internet. It's a conversation that spans our experiences, our nature, our joys and life's challenges. It's about a female bonding culture that brings us together as women, no matter where in the world we may be.

The ties that bind us also speak to an innate connection, encoded in oestrogen and travels soul deep. When strong, our female ties provide for solid, stable relationships. More than a shoulder to cry on, I mean a friend who will look you in the eye and tell you the truth you might not want to hear. I have girlfriends with whom six hours race by as we sit, face to face, drinking tea and simply bonding. We thrive as we honour and nurture our female bonding culture.

As we look across the globe, we can see communities are fragmenting more deeply than ever before. Often the divisions are based on culture - our ways of seeing, being and doing.

Issues of identity and belonging
In the African-Caribbean Diaspora communities, issues of identity and belonging are becoming even more poignant as, three generations later, migrant Diaspora communities struggle to bridge the divide between our ties to home and the place we called home.

So, in this pervasive reality, where are the female ties located? Do they still exist or are they spooling out of kilter as we attempt to grasp new dimensions of belonging?

For it is the women who typically grow and nurture a community. Of course, men and boy children play a valuable role, but as you shift from successful businesswoman to homemaker, to mother, to wife, are you doing all you can to tighten your female ties?

While pondering the question of unity during the recent Africa Day events, I explored the female dimension to this question. A few weeks back, I came across a young Ghanaian woman, Afua, who was sharing appreciation for her South African sister-in-law, Thembi.

As we sat drinking tea she described her Diaspora journey. Growing up between the United Kingdom, Tanzania and other countries across Africa, Afua had hardly spent any time in her native Ghana. Though her parents did all they could to maintain a connection to her heritage, she lamented the fact that she didn't really feel Ghanaian.

Joyfully, it was through the birth of her nephew that Afua was able to reconnect to aspects of Ghanaian culture that she had never witnessed. Though the child was born in South Africa, Thembi wanted to follow traditional Ghanaian rituals for naming her newborn child.

Affirming role
Afua glowed as she spoke of how she, affirming her role as aunt and sister, had become after she participated in the ceremonies. She was able to touch a deep part of her heritage, a gift presented through a female connection, her sister-in-law, Thembi.

Afua and Thembi now share a bond woven tighter than ever before - a bond expressed through culture but which has always been deeply ingrained in their souls. What is your female bonding culture?

Celebrate Africa

It's Africa Day today!

We've been celebrating all weekend! In Jo'burg we've enjoyed a feast of Africa-related activities and events which has nourished our souls and fed our minds.
It was on this day 45 years ago that the founding fathers of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) articulated a commitment to building Africa as a continent that was united, independent of colonial powers and economically stable.

Judging by the literature available, the notion of the unity in African diaspora was a key dimension of the vision. So, in a nutshell, Africa Day is for those at 'home' and abroad!
I wonder how many of Africa's sons and daughters in the diaspora see Africa Day as an opportunity to reflect on their heritage and tighten the umbilical connection to the Motherland.

From where I sit, I don't have to look too far to encounter richly diverse African diaspora communities who have settled in Jo'burg. Known as the 'cross-roads of the continent', Jo'burg city boasts African communities and cultures from all over the continent and the world.

Jo'burg's diversity
Jo'burg's heart beats to the rhythm of its diversity. Historians proudly tell of the city's migrant history which dates back to almost a century ago. This was just before the Gold Rush in 1886. People from all over the world literally rushed to cash in on her precious bounty.
Even today, the majority of newcomers to Jo'burg are people who come to cash in on the dynamic economic activity of the city.

From a Diaspora perspective, some would say it's an exciting time to be in Jo'burg. However, I've seen those who skate by on the periphery, heads low and minding their own business.
It begs the question: How significant is Africa Day for the melting-pot city of Gold? A year on from the 'xenophobic attacks' that mired many South African cities, attempts to engage communities in social cohesion come from the highest office in the land.

Important celebration
Closer to my backyard, I hear the Director for Arts, Culture and Heritage of the City of Jo'burg, Steven Sack, speak of Africa Day as a key event for the city. He and a number of partners sit at the helm of the diverse Africa Day activity programme.

He believes Africa Day is an important celebration and an opportunity to spread Africa's good news stories, profile wonderful arts and celebrate Africa's diversity in the city where all cultures meet. His ultimate vision speaks of an Africa Day programme that is able to catalyse action.
Action indeed! Clearly, there's a call for diaspora communities from Jo'burg to Jamaica to pick up the baton set out by the founding fathers of the OAU which finds itself at our feet today.
If we are able to move collectively from being sideline spectators to taking ownership and contributing to the process, that will be a good step! If we don't lift up our own voices, then who will?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Your children are not your children

As their characters and personalities emerge, I'm inspired and directed by a text written by Lebanese philosopher Khalil Gibran on children.

He says: "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.

"You may give them your love but not your thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams."

I consider myself privileged to be raising two gregarious, inquisitive, caring and hilarious boys; both still under age five! They offer me unconditional smiles, hugs and cheer every single day.
As a mother set on nurturing self-affirmed children who are fully equipped to deal with tomorrow's world, I draw upon my heritage and ancestral cultures to provide a strong foundation for life.

Diaspora family
Living as Diasporan family on the African continent, we share a myriad of cultural heritage which we use to construct life-nurturing and community-building experiences.

Through the many valuable lessons learnt from my mother and all women in my female lineage, I remember they always gave me freedom of choice built on strong values and knowledge of self. This provided a strong backbone which enabled me to spread my wings and fly through my life journey.

As I spread my wings as a mother, I, too, make conscious choices in cultivating my children in an 'enriched heritage' community. This makes for a world view rooted in their multiple histories. This approach shapes balanced, loving and giving people who are able to live in and fully participate in the global community of diverse cultures.

As I look to the future, I remember Khalil Gibran's words and dream of tomorrows world where children of the African diaspora boldly affirm their enriched heritage in multiple, fabulous and notable contributions to humanity.

As we celebrate Mother's Day, I remember and honour the matriarchs whom I have known and those I am still getting to know and thank them for enriching my life with love.

What's playing in your head?

Judging from the impassioned responses I received on the man scarcity column last week, it’s clear we (sistas and brothers) need to engage each other on a deeper level about what’s really going on.

It’s so easy to get distracted in the drama but should we but step out of it for a moment and dialogue to future truths; we may be surprised at what we could create. For whilst we wallow in self-pity, we remain locked in a scarcity consciousness that is all pervasive.

Look around you, the energy circulating through the earth is laced with scarcity consciousness. It’s difficult not to get sucked into the vortex because it’s a global phenomenon. The thorny subject of ‘good men’ or the lack of them, is just one facet of a roughly cut diamond life that seems to be slipping out of reach.

The pessimism about the economy, life being tough and the other current laments, escapes from panic-stricken tongues to permeate our daily thoughts and terrorise us while we sleep.

From the lady at the supermarket till to the newspaper vendor, it seems most people are finding it almost impossible to grasp the zest for life that seemed so readily available just the other day.

Last weekend I spent time with my favourite matriarch Mama Toni. As she spoke to a gathering of women about what it takes to be a ‘sister keeper’ – one who looks out for her sisters - she also told us about the power of one.

I learnt that by simply raising our ‘frequency’ to a more loving space, one person can positively impact multitudes of people. Citing the works of author Dr. David Hawkins, Mama Toni pointed out that it takes just one person who is optimistic and chooses not to judge others to counterbalance the negativity of 90 000 people who vibrate on lower, pessimistic levels.

It gets even deeper and more scientific! In a nutshell, what Mama was showing us was that we all have the capacity to make the decision to be kind, show love and see beauty in all no matter what our circumstances. By doing this we collectively create positive energy.

Easier said than done when you’ve just been made redundant you may say? What happens so easily and often unnoticed are the stories of lack, pain, and injustice that are with us from the moment we open our eyes and terrorise us in our sleep.

We hear of scarcity consciousness but it’s probably more accurate to speak of scarcity un-consciousness. We can force our lips into a smile through despair but if the story in our in our hearts and minds are wet with tears then the disconnect can be devastating.

Take some time to tune into your headspace and listen to the narratives that shape your truth. Do they still serve you? In these times, it is important that we are clear and deliberate about the stories we tell ourselves for scarcity is a state of mind.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Man scarcity

A few years ago, a well known South African rabble rouser, Eric Miyeni, published a book called, The only black at the dinner party. Not surprisingly, the book caused ructions in certain circles too scared to look issues of race in the new South Africa squarely in the eye and deal. It was much easier to down the bubbly than stomach the aching issues of race relations.

This week, a London based brother told another dinner party story which caused ructions at our dinner party here in Jo’burg. His story was about a group of 40something women who had gathered to celebrate a birthday party in high style.

The story goes like this: picture an uptown swanky London restaurant, jewels, gloss, beauty deluxe, lots of champers and a long table of black women, highly paid, highly powered and highly single.

So, what was wrong with this picture? Amongst the 30 highly eligible women at this dinner party, 28 of them were single. Not by their own doing but definitely by choice. Confused? Their choice of rolling solo was informed by the usual sad song. Black men are simply not available! Sorry, let me rephrase that, good black men are an increasingly scarce resource.

Professional husband
Our brother (the storyteller), seemingly an endangered species was one of the two men at the table. As everyone introduced themselves, he proudly presented his credentials as a professional husband. Tongue firmly in cheek, he knew he’d touch a raw nerve. He’s a man, gainfully employed with two jobs. His day job and his 24/7/365 job as a partner and soul mate is his badge of honour and his lifesource.

The gloss began to melt as his partner was interrogated about where she found such a gem. As the long table bowed beneath unyielding anecdotes about the scarcity of black men and reasons; ranging from wukliss, no ambition to ‘no sugarmama here’ talk, our professional husband looked on in bewilderment.

Confusion reigned as poison arrows missiled by harsh tongues landed in hearts already pierced with pain. As he tried to anchor the issues, he told us the sistas were clear. No surrogate motherhood for them! If it means being single and childless in their 40s, then that was better than carrying a deadweight partner for the rest of their lives.

Start with forgiveness
Reeling in disbelief and horror, one key question emerged from our dinner party table– how did we, black men and women get to this point?

Of course its complex and there’s no simple answer. It could not be as simple as sisters getting too picky or men just abandoning the sistas? Is it really an issue of man scarcity or are we still too scared to deal? For in dealing in truth, the requirement is that we’d have to start with forgiveness, ourselves before others, in order to build bridges of healing. It seems tongue-lashing is far more appealing. Meanwhile, what happens to our communities while we put our lives on hold through fear and blame? Man scarcity? I’m not convinced.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tune out your noise

The ice caps are melting, the global economy as we knew it has melted and have you noticed how people seem to be melting down as well? Quite literally! People across the globe are coming down with all manner of unheard of viruses and illnesses that are confounding doctors and so healing with the generic medicines they often prescribe is not so straight forward anymore.

What is going on? I’ve heard myriad explanations from global warming and climate change to aliens sitting as the unseen guests at our dinner tables. Now, these stories, some incredulous, some scary, may well have merit but when you boil it down they also create a cacophony of noise in our daily lives.

Thriving on it
We don’t even have to wait until we’re struck down with illness, the sound tracks that we tune into vibrate with such intensity that it becomes difficult to distinguish one from the other.

To make things worse, we seem to thrive on it! From distressing stories in the news, drama in the house, stress on the job to even running on the treadmill; one track merges into the other until our head hits the pillow.

So, we are rarely able to be still. Of course it’s a choice we make. The constant media diet of violence, murder, disease and scarcity propels us through the day with relentless fear-filled energy.

Physical meltdown
Which station are you tuned into? The Quiet Storm FM or Drama Unlimited FM? Do you really need it all in your life? What would happen if you were to tune out periodically to simply regain some balance and repaint the picture?

The physical meltdowns we experience are largely due to the poor choices we make when it comes to controlling the noise. The fear that dominates our lives these days is all pervasive and somehow totally addictive.

It all boils down to a deafening noise. Fear created by the violence soundtrack – noise; fear perpetuated by the gossip sound track – more noise; we become numb from the negative vibrations yet we continue to tune in.

The fear of knowing
Is it the fear of getting to know ourselves that is the daunting part of this conundrum? It’s so easy to plug into the busy groove and dance uncontrollably to the noise. By so doing, we abdicate our personal responsibility for creating a world where we can collectively create a deeper sense of calm and tranquillity.

For in allowing ourselves time, away from the noise, we might just hear our inner being speak. Reflection demands accountability, for when we listen, we hear sounds of the healing shelter we all naturally seek. Sadly, the fear quicksand sucks us further away from the enormous capacity we have to heal ourselves and armour our souls against the corrosive noise pollution which prevails today.

Seek out your sanctuary and play your part as we collectively turn the dial towards Peace FM.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The gift of healing

In a few days, South African musicians will lead people from all walks of life in a day of reflection and prayer. The purpose? To use the power of song to invoke healing in us all.

These are not gospel musicians on a crusade. They are musicians representing all genres of music using their gifts in a collective exorcism of society's ills. Fittingly, the healing vigil, called 'Forgive and be Forgiven', will take place in the Freedom Park - a purpose-built monument which marks South Africa's journey to democracy.

South Africa is heading for an election in April, and the campaigning is in full swing. Not surprisingly, one party after another assaults our consciousness with slogans and slick talk. But I'm yet to hear any of them speak to the fundamental need for healing.

Oxygen Boost
Almost like an oxygen boost, I see the musicians and their healing vigil moving not for political gain but in accordance with the life essence which courses through their veins.

They, not the politicians and their mounting campaign rhetoric, will strike the chords which will touch us most deeply. Who better than a group of musicians to lead us in a clarion call to forgive and be forgiven?

It's a deep and pertinent request in these times where so many are focused on what is 'happening' to them in passive affirmation of the tough times touted by the gloom merchants.
The simplicity and power of the musicians' healing gesture reveals the capacity we all have to do something positive about the life we're experiencing each day.

From retrenchments to fears of debt collectors knocking at our door, a dangerous inertia is creeping into our consciousness. Left to fester, it blurs vision, erodes faith and disables our compassionate nature. So, what is it that you have to give?

Moral fibre
Sibongile Khumalo, the visionary behind the 'Forgive and be Forgiven' campaign, is an acclaimed South African opera singer and arts activist. A mother and a nurturer, she speaks of how the growing intolerance and degeneration of the nation's moral fibre drove her to use her gift of music to effect change.

She called on her community of fellow artistes and they have come together in potent response to the disease and anger that is stripping our hearts of love for ourselves and each other.

The healing power of song
We have all been touched by the healing power of song at some point in our lives, but when I close my eyes and imagine the spiritual combustion that will take place at the Freedom Park on Friday, March 20; I can feel divine fire burning brightly.

When you look at what's happening in the world, you realise that it's not only South Africa that needs healing. It is clear that our Earth is in dire need for us all to rediscover our gifts and to use them as an offering of gratitude to each other.

Still Trying

Last week's piece about the chocolate dream sparked much debate. The issue of satisfaction touched a raw nerve! The concern seems to be over whether satisfaction is a destination or the journey itself. Are you satisfied with your life?

We're all striving for total satisfaction but most of the time the torrent of complaints and negative thoughts in our heads put us far from nirvana. They say satisfaction equals happiness. If it does, then, seemingly, there are many unhappy people out there. Something's wrong with this picture!

Strikes me that a lack of clarity about what motivates our journey is the reason that we (often unconsciously) opt for mediocrity and satisfaction evaporates into the ether.

Getting there
Here in South Africa, there's a phrase you will hear often when you ask people how they are - 'oh, I'm trying' or 'we're getting there'. Well, that says it all!

It's true to say that we're all 'getting there' as we ebb and flow through life's journey, but each time we say 'I'm trying', there's a tape that plays 10 times over in our heads repeating the same phrase. Hardly surprising then, when I meet the same person next week, she's still trying.

Trying to do what? Trying to be what? The problem is that vague, open-ended thoughts end up in murky waters called depression. Being specific is vital to our very being in this world. In that specificity we automatically jump from trying to being, from visualising to actualising our dreams.

Unbridled consumerism
Yes, you've heard it all before but are you listening to your heart? Having nurtured a culture of unbridled consumerism, the external messages saying 'take me!' often ring louder, resonate deeper than those that are within.

Some may argue - it's not our fault. After all, we've grown up in cultures where consumption is literally ingrained into our psyche. Unless we're consuming and demonstrating our capacity to consume, we somehow feel inferior - even within ourselves; forget the Jones family next door!
When you check it out, happiness will continue to elude us because often we're so lost in the act of consuming that we lose our grip on the reason why we wanted it in the first place.
Culturally speaking, whether our life spaces are in Africa, Europe or the Caribbean, the philosophical orientation impacts our understanding of consumption and satisfaction.

Combat desperation
In various parts of Africa, I often hear the message of acceptance in the face of gloom. 'It wasn't meant to be', 'it wasn't for you' and 'God didn't want it that way'. However you slice it up, it means the same thing! Some things in life are tough, but it needn't be the end of the world or your cue for desperation.

This culturally reinforced anchor keeps people strong. Strength is gained from living in the now. Total satisfaction may still be a milestone away but in acceptance, the vision is reinvigorated.
I'm for effortless ecstasy on a never-ending street called desire. Here's to you knowing your hearts desire and daily satisfaction!

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Chocolate Dream - satisfaction guaranteed?

A suggestive and thought provoking e-mail joke that is doing the rounds caught my eye recently.
It speaks of three of our favourite things; men, chocolate and money. Now, we can safely say that at least two of the topics will consume some part of our thinking during any given week. Suffice to say that the delicious high that makes chocolate so irresistible is probably what makes men and money equally desirable.

If none of the three appeal to you, well, you’re a rare woman! If you find all three are an enticing combination then maybe the email would tickle your fancy. So what did it say?

Truly satisfied
These words were pasted against a rich chocolaty brown background framed to look like a sign that might hang on the back of a public washroom stall door. It said: ‘No woman will ever be truly satisfied because, no man will ever have a chocolate penis that ejaculates money’.

Well, if you, like me had to take a second take then walk with me further. Once we get past the hilarity of the image conjured up in this potent sentence does it strike a deeper chord?
If you had a direct request line to your creator at the genesis when he was creating man would you have dared to request such an intoxicating package in your perfect man?

So why is the e-mail joke is bouncing back and forth across the world in such mirth? Let’s be truthful with one another; whether we package ourselves as demure, vivacious, powerhouse, party-girl or earth-mama or a fiery combination of them all, we all like a little sweetness, pampering, comfort, luxury, good loving and well, I could go on…..

Deep seated desire
Does the joke speak to deep seated desires that we probably feel is too much to ask of ourselves (forget anyone else!) on a sustained basis? A desire to be truly satisfied with where we are with what we’ve got, right now?

The question of satisfaction and whether we’re ever able to get to a space where we’re truly satisfied with any sphere of our lives is a vexed question. For it seems we intentionally embark on never ending mountain hikes, trying to improve, make it better, trying to get there.

Consider why it is that once we accomplish our vision, we duly congratulate ourselves but the satisfaction we imagined is fleeting. So, in no time at all, we charge up our inner resolve and quickly vision another mountain peak to climb. So, most of the time, we’re exhausted, fatigued by the stress and pressure we’ve created for ourselves.

Capacity for change
As creative, reflective and responsive human beings, we have the capacity to change, right now! It’s as simple as allowing yourself to accept what is and break the chain of resistance that creates the pressure cooker of life. In that moment of acceptance, peace will propel you to joyfully create what will be.

For it is likely that if the chocolate man did appear, even for just one night, you’d be too tired to gain any satisfaction. It doesn’t have to be a joke nor a dream. Make your satisfaction the real deal.

It's our time! Women in leadership

Everywhere I turn I hear this is the year for women in leadership! From women in politics and business to women in the arts, word has it that the time has come where women are gaining ground in the leadership stakes.

Does this mean that the women who have always been there are now being publicly acknowledged for their contributions or is there a tangible increase in the number of women exerting influence in our daily lives and evolution?

Women in the driving seat
South Africa’s political track record is cause for much debate these days. With an impending election due in April this year, the campaigning is at its height. In terms of women however, the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) has demonstrated worthy accomplishments in their executive ranks. Significantly, since 1994 (the year of the first democratic elections in South Africa), the ANC has increased women’s representation in parliament from 27% to 42%. During this time, South Africa has also had two female deputy presidents; Phumzile Mlbambo-Ngcuka and Baleka Mbete-Kgositsile.

Recently, former South African president Nelson Mandela’s wife, Graça Machel, a prominent human rights activist in her own right, was an influential humanist voice next in the Zimbabwe negotiations towards a coalition government. Her voice was assertive, empathetic and caring.

A feminine touch to the soft diplomacy stance taken by former president Thabo Mbeki and other African leaders, Machel added a heart-felt dimension to the plight of the people that many had uttered but somehow, her message rang loudest.

So what is it that women bring to the table in politics, business or otherwise? Could it be our celebrated female intuition laced with a little love? Perhaps it’s knowing that working from the heart in fact strengthens the bond to your word and so your intention?

Your heart at the centre
We grew up hearing that the heart has no place in business and that the most effective businesswomen had to behave like men (read: no emotion) to crack the glass ceiling of the gender divide. The past decade has shown business that a people-first approach is more likely to nurture loyalty, trust and ultimately increase productivity. So, maybe it’s no surprise that 2009 is being heralded as the year that women rightfully take their place as leaders in the new world order?

As the world is being recalibrated, we sense the palpable need to do everything we’ve been doing differently. So, the question is; are we women leveraging our God-given advantage with clear purpose and in-depth understanding of the potential we have to change our world, at this time, for the greater good of humanity? We are often credited with being closer to the mystical powers of intuition but do we really know how to access it and use it well on a sustained basis?

Fact is, we women have always been leaders in our personal spheres of influence. If the world is waking up and taking note, that’s great! Now, the call for enhanced leadership of the feminine kind is all pervasive. Its time to sharpen up by tuning into the world more often through the heart and less systematically through the brain. In this way, our love-logic will holistically channel new healing energy into the world and enable both male and female shaped intuitive, heart-felt leadership to higher heights.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Activate your love muscle!

Can you feel it? The love heart – the colour red, the shape, the symbol, the nuance – is in vogue. I was browsing through one of my favourite décor and homeware stores today and I see that the love heart has evolved into more than the typical jewellery and chocolate fare. I was deluged by heart shaped bakeware, the most desirable fondue sets and of course the expected pamper-me bath accessories.

While you’re probably still basking in the red haze of Valentine’s Day fun now, soon, the memories will become a glimmer. Just like the heart-shaped mineral bath essences melt, our collective bliss of celebrating love this month will also soon fade away. Why?

When I think back to the delightful heart shaped bakeware in the shop, I whizz forward to a vision of creative joyfilled moments spent baking and sharing. I ponder on how we can make the hearts a more permanent fixture in our lives.

Amidst the doom and gloom of stimulus packages and recession talk, I realise that the real love muscle, the heart, is the only way we’re going to get through this.

What does your heart look like? Do you vision a perfect red two-fold love dome or something more like the biology class diagrams? How does your heart feel? Is it sentimental, soft and warm? How do you use your heart – as an intuitive guide, to manipulate, as a holistic life management tool?

Let your heart be your guide
So, how can our heart guide us through the harrowing economic downturn? By continually focussing on money, making money, the lack of it or having too much money (even in these heady days!) we freeze the gateway to our hearts. What we believe is a logical brain-centered approach to our financial wealth management is probably the most illogical route to take.

For when we are scared of what the future holds and worried about mounting debts, we process life from a basis of fear. Fear of failure and not making it through paralyses us and often prevents us from remembering our heart.

We have a tendency to be so hard on ourselves. Probably an over-hang from the ‘tighten your belt’ philosophy – sentiments which choke any possibility we have to be creative, magnify opportunities and call in the abundance we claim we want.

If we took the lead from our hearts, we would anchor our behaviour in acceptance (no resistance) and responsibility, allowing the possibility of change. This era calls for us to nurture and use the inbuilt tool that we all have – the heart.

It’s interesting that the heart offers such capacity for healing, resolving and regenerating yet; we make limited use of it. When last did you stop to check your heart rating when faced with a tough decision? It’s easy when life is good, but when the going gets tough, our faithful hearts stand by, ready to work.

The invitation
If we accept the heart-felt invitation to seed opportunities in these turbulent times, then by re-channelling our energy away from worry to the ultimate love muscle, our hearts, we will be stepping firmly along the path to tranquillity, harmony and abundance. It’s ours for the taking and what’s more, it’s within us all.

Will the real men please step up!

As we race into the luurve month, hearts pumping, spirits soaring, the love theorists say we should be more alluring than ever. Scientifically, physically and well, even spiritually of course, it goes without saying that when you ignite the inner glow, it’s magnetic.

Now, I’m all for the glow, before, during and after, but maybe we need to think a little longer about the baggage the magical love connection brings.

As for magnetism, the negative attracting the positive or vice versa is a tricky conversation in South Africa these days. For when we think of love; rising in love, being loved-up, loving each other and its inherent risks , the positivity is tinged with that difficult question – is he or isn’t he…HIV Positive? Is she or isn’t she HIV positive? Statistics show that only 1 in 10 people here know their status which leaves the scary reality of Russian roulette as we consider running through the love rain with or without a rain coat.

The Soul City Institute – a health promotion and social change project based in South Africa, uses innovative television dramas, radio programming and more to work at the heart of the matter – behaviour change.

Just yesterday, I heard one of the Soul City senior executives eloquently outlining the task at hand on a local radio talk show. Her thoughts stopped me in my tracks. She outlined how the ABC of AIDS management (Abstinence, Be Faithful, Condomise) has failed to work because people are inconsistent in applying the rules. So, condoms might be part of the mix in the early heady days of romance but after three to six months of sexual relations, the condom is often relegated to those on the prowl. A negative HIV test not withstanding!

Soul City operates across eight countries in Southern Africa and the clarion call is for the conversation. The talk show guest presented an idea which I found fascinating because it was so simple and at once ludicrous! But what if, it could be done?

Mr. Philanderer's story
This is what she proposed as a way forward: Picture the scene; Mr Philanderer calls his multiple concurrent partners together a meeting. Let’s say he has four sistas in tow. He is concerned about his sexual health and he wants to make sure he’s spreading the love responsibly.

So, says the Soul City executive, given the fact that he’s rolling with four regular partners, he should consider the conversation. A discussion about how they can all work together to protect themselves as they share the love.

I’m still working on Scene 1 of this almost farcical scene. But maybe it’s not such an impossible thought. It probably begins with how he starts the conversation before the sistas become bed partners. The moral arguments aside, let’s face it; most concubines know and often accept that they have company.

Woman enough?
Would they be woman enough to be upfront and speak collectively about how each would protect the other? Would the brothers be man enough to step up to the plate? If so, I see room for many more fascinating conversations in the luurve month and way beyond.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Each One, Teach One

The transition from the industrial era to a knowledge economy over the past decade, has spurned many developments. From the business world to our intimate social spaces, the ways in which we go about our daily lives have evolved to greater heights.

As we strive for optimum efficiency and better connectivity, the advance of technology sends us spiraling into hazy spaces where it's all about 'me'. The focus on the up close and personal has morphed into exactly the opposite!

You can sense the growing thirst for a more personal touch in our everyday business; the need for bonding time and focus re-anchored in quality not quantity. It's the humane response to the fallout that we're experiencing in the Information Age.

We are all players and consumers in the knowledge economy, but how far do we actively craft a brave, new knowledge culture to support our souls in this evolution?

Not surprisingly, one of Africa's greatest knowledge cultures is currently undergoing a revival. What does the word Timbuktu mean to you? For many in the Western and Northern hemispheres, Timbuktu is a mythical, unreachable place that languishes in a mindset tarnished by colonial (mis)education.

In fact, Timbuktu is a city in the West African country of Mali. Boasting a rich cultural heritage, Mali is cited as one of the poorest countries in the world today. Located in midst of the Sahara Desert, Timbuktu is home to what remains one of the world's greatest knowledge centres and one of Africa's most valuable riches - the Timbuktu Manuscripts. Over the last three years, the South African and Malian governments have worked in partnership to revitalise the knowledge heritage of Timbuktu.

Beautiful documentation
Far from being a twilight zone, intellectuals and scholars wrote tomes about all aspects of life from astronomy to civil law, dating back as far as the 15th century. Thought leaders of the day scribed their works in beautiful hand-crafted leather-bound books on handmade paper in beautiful calligraphy. There was a veritable industry created through the documentation and preservation of the word.

Apart from the knowledge economy of the day, the ways in which knowledge was cultivated was defined by a culture of dialogue, debate and contribution from all who cared to participate. Often scholars refrained from naming (owning) their works as they saw their manuscripts as a contribution to the greater good of society.

The manuscripts were read in discussion groups and the insights and conclusions gleaned were systematically documented, adding to the body of knowledge. While the craft of manuscript making has been eroded through the passage of time, the culture of knowledge sharing and evolution continues to exist in the arid sands of Timbuktu.

Brandishing BlackBerrys
Maybe it is we who, brandishing BlackBerrys and high-octane lifestyles, are the ones who will continue to feel bereft and adrift until we are able to drink from a life-enhancing source of knowledge. A fountain that we have crafted in a deliberate effort to create a 2009 knowledge culture devised for our common evolution? As they say, each one, teach one. Let's start there.

Obama Fever

One of the most significant upside effects of the Obama fever that is sweeping the world, is the high-octane optimism that you can literally touch, smell and feel everywhere.

As I looked at America's first lady, Michelle Obama, glowing with pride, awe and humility as her husband took the inauguration oath, I wondered which cloud she was floating on; how high did she dare dream as a co-creator in this magical moment?

Obama vitality
As we pinch ourselves, many are wishing they could stay in the 'yes we can' dream space which offers such comfort to our souls - three words which salve our wounded psyches while invigorating our spirit. Sadly, I've heard one too many question how they can sustain the optimism. Point is, once we've touched it, we probably could bottle the energy if we but allowed ourselves to reframe dream space from ethereal realms by shaping the Obama vitality into our everyday reality.

Creating the vision is the first and probably easiest step. What the self-help gurus often forget to tell us is how we hold the vision. A week will not cut it! Sometimes it takes years of fortitude and faith. There are clear lessons that can be gleaned from those who have changed the world through dreams.

Clear, unwavering picture
World leaders like Mandela and Gandhi both speak of how they focused on a clear, unwavering picture, painting, embroidery and broadening day by day to see their visions manifest.

It's also a question of orientation. Are you casting your vision from a ship navigating treacherous open seas or are you in a tranquil cove? Where your mind is at is a critical factor.

When we say the sky is the limit, what are we really saying? That the sky is boundless and so everything is possible or that it's impossible to touch the sky and so, in effect, any blue-sky goals are unlikely to be accomplished?
On scratching beneath the surface, we'll see that our mindset is influenced by the most unassuming and subtle things. Take the phrases and sayings that punctuate our language daily with little thought about how they impact our sense of boundaries and what is or may not be possible.

Sayings like 'Don't hang your hat higher than you can reach' and 'don't put all your eggs in one basket' made much sense in a time when it was important to consolidate and secure resources for sheer survival.

I imagine those who coined those phrases also battened down the hatches in the wake of the storm in an attempt to cover their heads and shelter. They called it common sense and no doubt there is merit in that thinking.

As we open 2009 soaring on Obama fever, we're being called to look the storm in the eye. It's not a question of reckless abandon, more an opportunity to run towards our fears and create deliberate, calculated visions based on principles of tenacity and faith rather than the illusion of 'knowing'.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Higgler Times

This is the first of a three-part series titled 'The Art of Living'which focusses on new approaches for accelerated evolution.

Creative Enterprise
The era of creative enterprise is upon us. Higgler, hustler, entrepreneur or sitting duck - which one are you? Let's break it down. When you size it up, the higgler, hustler and entrepreneur all part of the same package. They are all businesswomen armed with an arsenal of skills requisite for operating in the most demanding business spaces.

We know them well, but how often have we stopped to consider what it is that keeps them in the game? The higglers - female, enterprising, courageous and tenacious - are a firmly entrenched Jamaican trading tradition. Their history in Jamaica speaks of origins in slavery days where rural slaves tended crops to feed their families and the surplus would be sold at high traffic crossroads that became Jamaica's first markets.

Small-time trader
Over the years, the higglers have become a cornerstone of a wealth-creation network that is less prone to recession battering than other so-called 'stable' jobs.
Generally, however, despite their sizeable contribution to Jamaica's economy, the higgler is typically regarded as a small-time trader. Even those who travel overseas to buy and sell wares, named: informal commercial importers are quietly assigned to a lower-calibre level of businesswoman than her suited peer rolling in an SUV.

Not to be outdone, some of our modern-day higglers have evolved their outward appearance and are on level pegging with the SUV crowd but they retain a fiercely independent core. The SUV businesswomen are probably regarded as a different class of entrepreneur because of the business school certificates, access to formal trading sectors and a different approach to doing the business itself. No doubt, those that are successful are also resilient, hard-nosed and intuitive.

So, apart from the obvious infrastructural differences - an office to a market stall, a computer to manual counting system - what sets the higglers apart? Self-reliance.

This side of the world, the higglers find their equals in the 'Mama Benz' a.k.a. the market mammies, who have garnered a reputation for rigorous business acumen and an unmistakable, flamboyant style. Like their sisters in Jamaica, they also run things in their marketplaces through various countries across West Africa, stretching from Senegal to Cameroon, down to the Democratic Republic of Congo and across to Somalia. Southern Africa also has a network of female traders who work on all levels informal, home industry to import and export.

Skilful creativity
In these times of economic instability, they are riding the storm with skilful creativity. The fact is, taking on the challenge of free market trading is a voyage into the unknown, no matter the size of your pocket. The risk of fallout is, of course, the rub.

However, what anchors the higglers/Mama Benzes is an approach which is incisive and calculated and built on a foundation of self-reliance. They have abandoned notions of secure employment or other illusions of security in order to exploit the boundless possibilities available to entrepreneurs who create their own realities.
In these times, in the quest to create economic survival mechanisms, we could learn a thing or two from our beloved higglers.

Flowers of the (R)Evolution

An avid Flair Fe-Mail Ties reader, once chided me for undervaluing the youth of today. Just shy of her 20th birthday, she lamented the fact that I almost always place more value on generations gone by and traditions of old, and more often criticise modernity. Her stance was that young people today are doing the best they can and that they should be applauded for the strides they're making in these challenging times.

Pause point
As the first few days of the New Year roll by, her words echo in my mind. Word is that New Year resolutions are démodé; but nonetheless, the end of the year is certainly a pause point where it makes sense to stop to evaluate where we've come, in preparation for where we are going.

Amid the celebrations, I observed many well-intentioned people planting new seeds of hopes and dreams for the future. As the struck 12 on New Year's Eve, showers poured down on Johannesburg. As the good-wish SMS messages came in, many prayed that the rain would wash away all the bad memories of 2008, rinsing the slate clean for a new day. If you could start all over again, what would you change? How would you operate in the new day without the lessons of yesteryear? I always look to the past in affirmation of choices that I can make today with a view of tomorrow.

A few days into the new year, I hosted the first 'Earthseed Matriarch Dialogues' for 2009, where a group of Jamaican mothers and daughters gathered to talk about their evolution as women. As the circles of life from daughter to grandmothers spin, we searched for anchors which grounded our life evolution as women in the 21st century. These were always found in the past.
As we explored various facets of the journey to womanhood, we squirmed as our mothers shared with us how they handled their 'monthly' bulky squares of white cotton unimaginable in today's high-tech age of G-string shaped sanitary towels complete with wings!

Public exposure
As we considered the indignity of the public exposure of the squares on the washing line, we noted with reverence the dignity with which they shared their memories. We saw the joy in their faces as they described some of the tougher moments and the skills they have honed into nuggets of wisdom that only age and experience can bring.

So when we, 'matriarchs-in-training', some now mothers, spoke of our journey to womanhood, we all noted with interest the cyclical nature of life. Our challenges were their challenge, a different era, a different solution - or so some thought. We saw that from mother to daughter, those seeds of hope sometimes only blossomed a generation later.

So as we attempt to wash our troubles away, take time for a moment to consider the valuable insights those who have walked before us can offer. Take time to consider also that those bad experiences are the seeds which flower into your personal evolution. So let it rain and nurture but not wash away the seeds planted in celebration of life.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Chalking up de dutty tough

So, we made it through to 2009! As we herald in the New Year, many are breathing a sigh of relief as the curtains go down on 2008 – and what a performance it was! In truth, it was a roller coaster ride which tested us all to the core.

As we look back, was it ever as bad as the economic pundits said it would become? Granted, it was tough but the world hasn’t come to an end. If anything, 2008 was a year where we had to dig deep and (re)discover aspects of our character that rarely see the light of day because life is so, well – great!

I remember the rash of 2000&gr8 (great) messages that flooded my inbox twelve months ago. Six months down the road, I recall the 2000&gr8 energy had evaporated. I asked the question then as I am now, what will make this year greater than any other?

The doomsayers were having a field day; telling us to tighten your belts and calling us to revert to almost frugal living. They sent hoards of people spiralling into quicksand.

Collective meditation
Almost paralysed with fear, the world began a collective meditation through anxious sleepless nights of what ifs. Baffled as to how we got to this space, as the established world order crumbled, it was all the more scary because we were ill prepared and worse still, ill equipped.

If you think about it, we’ve been here before, in our lifetimes and in our fore parents’ lifetimes. Furthermore, we survived! We came through to triumph because we were forced to learn new skills and re-discover our true ourselves.

Out of 2000&gr8 came the US President Elect Barack Obama. He speaks of the audacity of hope. How audacious are you when it comes to assessing how great 2008 really was.

Would you dare to see, even if for a minute, how resilient and resourceful you have been forced to become? In those 60 seconds, could you glimpse incredulous moments, the endless possibilities of a new dawn that you could create?

As we hurtle into 2009, ushering in a new cast of actors brightly dressed in unfamiliar costumes, are you seated in the front row, gasping for air from scene to scene, or are you writing the script?

Whether we like it or not, we’re all writing our own scripts no matter the economic backdrop or the curtain call.

Looking across the oceans from Africa to the Caribbean, I see and hear a call to retrieve our creativity. In seeking to author our destiny let’s reclaim our deep seated passions and take guidance from our soul.

It starts with acceptance of what is. For it is through the stillness of acceptance that we are able to release pent up angst which blurs our vision and literally incapacitates us. Take it head-on! Chalk up the dutty tough experiences and capture the opportunities that turbulent times always offer.

I’m hearing it already, now 2009 is 2000&shine or 2000&mine. Whichever you choose let your life script nurture seeds of rampant possibility. It is ours for the making.