Category Archives: Motherhood

Fist Bumps to the So-Called Social Media Feminists!

A July article written by Betty Kankam-Boadu and (re)published on Starr FM made the social media rounds yesterday afternoon to the mirth and amusement of all who chimed in to comment on Ms. Kankam-Boadu’s contribution on the conversation surrounding feminism in Ghana. My initial reaction after I read the article entitled “To the so-called feminists on social media; the struggle is real!” was one I struggled to unriddle, until I went to sleep and drifted off into dreams of my children. Betty Kankam-Boadu’s (who shall at some points in this post be referred to as ‘BKB’) written attempt at shaming what she calls “social media feminists” (and it was such an attempt) reminded me of watching a toddler waddling into rush-hour traffic on a long holiday weekend. It left me alarmed and tense. Like, who let you outside of the safety of your crib and into these dangerous streets? You ain’t Barry Allen. You ain’t the Flash! You ain’t equipped to be here! Bless your heart…

In Betty Kankam-Boadu’s somewhat waffling analysis (which you can read here) she takes potshots at the advocacy efforts of feminists like Lydia Forson when she says:

“Let me give this to them, I like the fact that they get people talking about whatever issue is being discussed. But after jumping on Hamamat Montia’s viral red carpet “situation” by telling all women to get naked and do whatever they want with their bodies any day any time anywhere, how do you measure results?”

There were a few other people on Twitter/Facebook to support Ms. Montia’s choice to wear whatever she bought and paid for at a celebrity event – since she IS a sentient being and all – but they are not as visible as Lydia Forson. So yeah…It’s safe to assume that Betty was dissing Lydia specifically for not having measureable results. She then goes on to cite the work of a bunch of people with whom she has no social or cultural connection (Brandon from Human’s of New York, a barefoot Julia Roberts at Cannes, etc.) who are doing what she feels is tangible and therefore more admirable activism. It’s really disappointing (and telling) that Betty couldn’t point to a single Ghanaian/African feminist activist to drive home her argument. Perhaps our local champions are not good enough, eh? Kinna Likimani, Dorcas Coker-Appiah and Jessica Horn are all women doing the work on and offline…and more importantly, doing it with respect to our cultural context.

Which brings me to my next point.

becca1Maddddaaaaaam. Come ON! How much does Accra have in common with New York? How does Cannes even compare to the VGMAs? Sister…please. You say Julia Roberts showed up barefoot at an event in silent protest to women who were previously turned away for not wearing heels. Just this weekend, Becca showed up on the Glitz red carpet preening in a plunging neckline, greedily posing for pictures next to a grand piano until the morality police swooped in and demanded both an explanation and an apology for her attire. It could have been her moment as an African woman to reclaim agency not over just her body, but stand for women whose bodies are routinely poked, commented on and commodified all over the nation. Instead, Becca threw her stylist under the bus, blaming her for the now-deemed fashion faux pas all while playing the victim. You know who came to her defense? Those ‘social media feminists’ you so clearly disdain. Don’t try to deny your revulsion for this group. Obviously, the term – like ‘armchair researcher ‘and ‘Instagram model’ – is used as a pejorative and not meant to be complimentary… shaming people into ceasing behavior that you take umbrage with.

Here’s the reality we live in today: Our veritable lives are lived out online and often through and/or social media. Heck, it took the creation of Pokemon Go just to get droves of millennials – who spend the better portion of their day online – just to go outside for a few minutes. Brick and mortar businesses are closing shop all over the world and focusing their retail sales efforts to online channels. Whether you want to believe it or not, a hashtag CAN bring an organization to its knees. Reputations are won and lost online. For the first time in history, people can participate in the political process in real time thanks to social media. So it would ONLY make sense that there would be social media feminists who concentrate their advocacy efforts to online spaces. It’s often the only spaces that these voices are ever heard. Right now, a hoard of feminists are in Bahia plotting ways to create a feminist internet, so BKB and any other like-minded individuals had better get their minds right and their hearts ready.

The idea that these women (and men) speak up are “just in for the cheap popularity” is absolutely laughable. The sought popularity Betty Kankam-Boadu so glibly assigns to these women often comes in the form of online and threats of physical abuse. There is a very good reason that very few of Ghana’s celebrity or civilian core speaks up publicly about hot button issues in this patriarchal society. It’s more beneficial to stand with the oppressor than to number yourself with the oppressed. Wanlov the Kubolor is only one of the few names in entertainment I can think of to take such a stand repeatedly, and we’ve seen how Ghana’s music industry has treated him and the FOKN Bois duo over the years. So no: I very much doubt anyone does their social media activism for the benefit of cheap fans. If anything, it comes at a great cost. That’s why Becca and Hamamat chose to cower and cast blame on stylists and photographers: they’ve deemed the cost of seeking self-actualization as too high and therefore sought real cheap popularity by kowtowing to the whims of a fickle public..

Since Ms. Kankam-Boadu spoke so boldly about her objection to social media feminism, I expected to Google her name and find a list of great activist exploits revealed to me. You know what I saw? Some social media activism. One thing on #MarchAgainstMisogyny (a hashtag and online movement created by Philip Ashon) and…nothing. Even her LinkedIn profile is devoid of any tangible work she’s doing as a self-proclaimed feminist. She’s a journalist…period. But she admonishes others “You better get on your feet and do the hard and uncomfortable stuff.” Does SHE have a cause she’s leading and she can rally feminists to? I’m sure everyone would love to hear it. Because if BKB were to be judged by the same standard she’s upholding others to, there’s going to be Big Trouble in Little China.

To conclude, I’ll leave you all with quotes from these three brilliant women whose reactions sum up the matter succinctly. Listen, all ye who have ears, and perhaps learn.

 

Ask again oooo...

Ask again oooo…

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Prrrrreeeeaaaccchh!!!

We are all grateful!

We are all grateful!

My Girls Live in Africa And We’re Afraid to Get Our Hair Braided

South Africa…

Land of the Big Six and the Proteas. Land of Mandela’s birth. Land where edges go to DIE.

One of the things I was most excited about in moving to South Africa was the prospect of having my hair slayed every week. Compared to prices in the States, cornrows and braids are delightfully inexpensive here. You can get your hair cornrowed in a fairly intricate style for R90-120 ($6.50 – 8.50) and get box braids for around R200 ($13.50). Of course, being an America, the prices I am quoted are subject to an ‘American tax’, so hairdressers are wont to tack on an additional R50 to the prices local women are generally quoted. This doesn’t offend me. It’s just the African way of doing business. It’s the accent. Ghanaians do this to me at home as well. And in the grand scheme of things, I AM making out better paying these prices than I would in the States… except when I’m not.

There is always a price to pay when you’re getting goods and services at a discount; and in South Africa, that price is your edges.

9 out of 10 Black women (in this part of the country) are not in possession of their edges. The numbers on TV are not much better. It is truly a heartrending vision to behold. Every whisper of hair has been snatched, tucked or ripped from Black scalps across the nation, as if they were wayward truants being punished for escaping their internment. Black hair is to be seen… but not seen… if at all possible, ya dig? In other words, tame your nappy knots, they’re offensive.

The idea that Black hair – especially and even on the African continent – is offensive is one that is ingrained in large swaths of society. Black women are not permitted to love their hair. Overwhelmingly, they can’t (and therefore don’t) take pride in it. I have yet to see a Black woman just let her hair be. Curly weaves and wigs are the order of the day where I live on the Garden Route. That sewed in or glued on artificial hair floats and catches the wind as women sashay by. And yet curiously, I have not seen a twist out, an Afro puff or braid out in these parts to date. Even my locked sisters have their tendrils tightly wound, tucked and folded on itself. Black hair is not free in South Africa!

This was something we discovered fairly quickly once the girls began school.

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Last month I wrote about the veritable angst and frenzy our school’s administration had worked itself into over the styling of the girls’ hair. To Amana Academy’s credit, they do not police Black hair in the tyrannical ways I’ve heard other schools in and around Atlanta do. Girls are also allowed to wear hijabs at Amana without fear of reprisal. To attend school, hair simply has to be clean and neat. You know…a standard most parents have for their kids. As a result, the girls learned to be creative with their hair, were willing to explore new ideas about their hair and have conversations with their peers about all types of hair. In third grade, Aya and her friends formed The Hair Club, where they would sit at recess and positively “talk about hair.” Now, this may seem prosaic, or even silly to the ordinary observer, but these girls were participating in truly a revolutionary act; an act that was only made possible because their school fostered a permissive and safe environment.

Switch to the other side of the world: New school, new culture.

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 4.44.53 AMI’ve been thinking about (and doing) a lot hair lately because a line item in their elementary school’s code of conduct says, “false hair pieces or braids are prohibited”. The first day I read this rule, I prayed for God to save me from the massive stroke I felt coming on. How can you prohibit braids…in AFRICA? What kind of colonialist/apartheid/Jim Crow hellbroth is this and who brewed it? And more importantly, why? You want to kee me and all the Mamas?

Whatever the reasons for the policy, I now find myself washing, blow drying and pressing three heads every weekend (with midweek touch ups required thanks to the humidity) in order to be in compliance with this “no braids” standard. However, I have come to the realization that I am the only dummy adhering to this rule, as I’ve seen dozens of Xhosa girls skate around the school’s premises with extensions and cornrows.

But ain’t a single one of them in possession of their edges; a reality that petrifies my kids and me. We were all witness to the aftershocks of the one time I let a Cameroonian woman get a grip on my follicles. The incident left me with a headache, scalp irritation and hair loss for days. It’s not a scenario I am eager to repeat or subject my girls to.

See the sides of my scalp? Edge banditry!

See the sides of my scalp? Edge banditry!

Why is it so hard for African women to learn to properly care for their hair?

I have long maintained that the deficiency harkens back to the trans-Atlantic responses to racism, education and all its systems. I think what’s happening in Pretoria is partial evidence of that.

In the years following Emancipation when African Americans could legally get an education, schools were segregated by race. Economically disadvantaged white children who lived in close proximity with former slaves would sometimes attend these schools. But for the most part, the environment was Black. The teacher was Black, the administrative board (if the school had one) was Black, and Black mothers saw to the care of their children’s hair which would be neatly plaited and perhaps have a ribbon tied into if it was a special day. Finally, their kids could take pride in their hair and not have to subdue it with a rag to facilitate fieldwork. Black women were experimenting with new ways to nurture and style their hair. (Enter Madam CJ Walker.)

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On the other side of the Atlantic, education was facilitated largely by white missionaries and European stakeholders. Girls were made to chop off their hair in boarding and day schools alike, because African hair was (and still is) considered a distraction. They intimated that girls would spend too much time doing their hair, and not enough studying. It’s a nonsensical argument that holds no water and cannot be backed by any study or empirical data, but it stuck. And as a result, we have a whole continent of women who are just now learning how to properly nurture their hair and not see it as a threat or the enemy.

In either instance, Black pride and ability has been made to bow to whiteness. Where there is integration, there is always – often coerced – assimilation. When African American girls integrated into white schools, society and entertainment, lye made a triumphant strut onto the scene. A conk was considered a Black male right of passage. Straight hair signaled that you were grown, and more importantly, successful. This is why it frustrates me to no end when otherwise well-educated folk like Whoopi Goldberg confuse cultural appropriation with assimilation. One is oppressive and exploitative and the other is for survival!

No rule in school is JUST for school. It follows you and becomes an extension of your character and shapes your view of yourself, the world at large, and your place in the world. So when we’re telling girls like those who attend Pretoria High that they must chemically straighten their hair and “fix themselves” in order to be in compliance with school ethics, and then further bar them from speaking their native language(s) because it is also a violation of the code of conduct, the idea that their Xhosa/Zulu hair and heritage is inferior follows them long after matriculation. It has taken African women years of rehabilitation to get over this hurdle, only to have their daughters experience the same needless, harmful trials.

Pretoria High Students protest racist hair policies

Pretoria High Students protest racist hair policies

My alma mater, SOS HGIC, had (and still has) a very open and supportive hair care policy. Girls could wear their hair in cornrows, braids, weave or perms. We learned about hair care from each other. And guess what? Our studies were not affected in any way. In fact, HGIC female graduates are arguably the most successful, well-rounded and effective influencers in Ghanaian society today.

…And ALL of us are in possession of our edges.

 

What? You thought this post was about equality and education? Nah mehn, this is about keeping these African edges safe!

Does your school have a discriminatory language or hair policy? Has a lot changed since you were in school, or remained about the same? Are you of the opinion that policing hair is a valid approach to positive outcomes in education? 

There’s an American Woman Walking Around Plett with a Vibrator in Her Handbag

Honestly, I forgot it was there.

Just wait! Let me explain.

August is Women’s Month, and last night I went to our school’s annual ladies get together: Fabulous Women. Fabulous Women…what? Dancing? Eating? They said, “Haibo! We said ‘Fabulous Women.’ Finished! You just buy your ticket and come. And so I went.

The event was hosted at White House and catered by Nguni, two of Plettenberg Bay’s most iconic brands. Walking in there was like being in a medieval Viking fairy tale. The room was lit by ornate wrought iron chandeliers, the light of which reflected off of shiny, sable wood floors. 20-foot long dining tables were adorned with the colors of fall – rust colored foliage and wild berries of blood red.

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It was definitely intimidating, but there was a cash bar that aided more than a few women with their quest to secure liquid courage. Many of them became far more sociable with a mojito in their hands. Soon the room was filled with chatter, albeit polite and tepid.

The guest speaker for the evening was a local entrepreneur whose name I didn’t catch. She’s the owner of Elixir Skincare, an essential oil and aromatherapy line produced in South Africa. The importance of this will become apparent enough and soon.

Elixir Lady had set some jars of some of her potions and lotions at each guest’s seat – scrubs, facial oils, lip balms and heel repair serums. She told us to dig and play with the items before us as she spoke passionately about the benefits of essential oils. One of those benefits is how they positively affect mood. If I had to guess, I’d say there were about 100 women in the room, each releasing an aromatic cornucopia at different intervals as they scooped out product from the jars. Within minutes, the atmosphere in the room was altered. It was charged, electric. Women were gasping and “on my!”-ing and touching each other everywhere. It was like participating in an opium-fueled stadium rave…but without the vomit and ever-looming threat of death. We were all glistening and oily and smelling and feeling good. What was even better? Some of my favorite TV characters were in the room!

I felt GREAT. Better than I have in a long while… Which is how everyone in the room found out about the contents of my purse.

A few lucky women (I was not one of them) had numbers stuck to the bottoms of their seats. Those numbers afforded them gifts or vouchers to redeem at stores all over the area. There was more (moderate) shrieking and polite applause as ladies went up to the MC (known as the Mommy of Ceremonies) to collect their prize. The Mommy of Ceremonies broke the momentum by asking each woman to pick up her handbag and counting the items inside.

“Please raise your hand if you have 5 or more items in your hand bag.”

Hands shot up all over the room.

“10 or more.”

“20 or more!”

“25 or more?”

There will still a few of us with our hands raised. Eventually the MC reached the 65 item or more mark. One girl stared me down menacingly, as if to doubt the veracity of my claim that I had such an enormous haul in my handbag. I mean…come on. I’m a mom for FOUR kids who just moved here from Atlanta. I have at least 65 merchant cards and snack bags alone in various parts of my purse! I confidently kept my hand raised until I and two other women were instructed to come to the podium to prove we had as many items as we claimed in our bag.

I unzipped all my compartments and began to empty them onto the table. Chop sticks, a fork, a shot glass, 3,000 receipts and a sanitary napkin made an appearance. And them something blue tumbled out…something I hadn’t seen in quiet a while.

“A vibrator…? Dude. I have a vibrator in my purse!”

A sampling of the many items in my bag.

A sampling of the many items in my bag.

The MC turned red and her co-host did a back bend, slain under the weight of her disbelief and laughter. Vanna White was there handing out prizes for the raffle. I saw her whisper something to the co-host, who whispered something back which then prompted Vanna to double over in laughter.

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I was rewarded with a bottle of wine and a bag of body scrub and body potion for being one of the winners of this challenge. Score!

As the number game continued, the MC broke the pattern again by asking if “the woman who had worn her animal print thong to the evening’s event would please stand.”

That’s when Brienne of Tarth got up, dug her hand into her backside, hollered “Whoop whoop!” and revealed the top of her we albino leopard thong – to the horror and amusement of all in the room.

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“Ooooh, no!” gasped some.

“Haaaa HHHAAAA!” chortled others.

Brienne ain’t care. She ran up and claimed her prize letting haters hate and choke on their bobotie.

indexI was engaged in conversation with Doris Day, my daughter’s new teacher when I heard Mommy of Ceremonies issue a dare.

“If there are any ladies brave enough to come up here and sing…”

I pulled out my chair and leapt to my feet. “ME!”

“But you haven’t even heard the song yet!”

“It doesn’t matter. Me!”

banoomaint-2f6a636e544229fMy friend Divyanka Tripathi stared at me wide-eyed. “Can you sing?”

It was more of a statement than a question, probably borne of the stereotype that ALL African Americans can blow…and play basketball.

“Girl, naw I can’t sing,” I replied. And then I ran to the podium to get the mic.

“The song choices are I’m Too Sexy and Rochelle.”

“I don’t know Rochelle.”

I’m Too Sexy it is then!”

Now, to be quite candid, I don’t know the words to I’m Too Sexy either – which I announced unabashedly, because as I said I was feeling GREAT by this time of the evening – and proceeded to croon a list of things which did not match me in sex appeal.

I’m | too sexy for these seagulls | too sexy for my jumpsuit | too sexy for this twist out…

White women went screaming everywhere, caught up in rapture. Is this what it’s like for the brothas? If so, I get it. You can be TOTALLY mediocre and be the darling of the party. And the darling I WAS.

…Or at least I was until Axl Rose’s twin sister came forward and gave a raunchy rendition of Rochelle, a Euro-pop rock ballad I have never heard and am not likely to hear again. The judges couldn’t decide who sang the best (or worst) so we split the prize: a hamper from some boutique and another bottle of wine. YES!

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By this time, all these teachers were turnt up. They’re ready to let loose. Someone has my purse and is discretely showing my vibrator to anyone who cared to look. 7/10 women cared to look.

Just as I was preparing to leave, I felt a tap on my shoulder. The tapper is the co-host for the evening.

“You are SUCH great fun!” she gushed. “Would you open the dance floor with me? It wouldn’t be right if you didn’t.”

I stared at her with tears in my eyes. No one has EVER asked me to open the dance floor. You know why? Because it’s on the list of Black Things (cornrowing, wrapping hair and singing) I can’t do! Did you think I let that stop me?

You shoulda seen your girl flopping around that dance floor. My new friends were flopping with me.

After I exhausted myself, I went home with wine, essential body oil, tissue and my vibrator, all of which Divyanka Tripathi’s mom told me should “make for a really good time with my husband.”

A few people have told me they’ve heard I’m an author, which is surprising because I’ve only mentioned it to two people. By next week, I expect that my butcher will greet me with a sly smile and make some cunning comment about meat and electronics.

Not Just in Africa: A History of ‘Hyenas’

An article on BBC about a man hired by a community in Malawi to have sex with children went viral this week. Eric Aniva, the man featured in the story, is locally known as a ‘hyena’ and is paid approximately $6.00 to have sex with girls once they reach puberty. The members of this community, and others across Malawi, believe the ritual cleanses the girls and has the added benefit of protecting their families from the wrath of the gods. If the girls refuse, their families could be stricken with pestilence, crop failure and/or death.

As these published pieces often do, this article elicited much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth by anxious Africans terrified of earning the reputation that we are ‘primitive’ as a continent, willfully bucking against the glories and benefits of human evolution. They swooped into the comments section on social media to condemn the practice (rightfully) and cry out to God, wondering when-oh-when we would see the light and be saved from our backwardness ( to my surprise). You can read the entire BBC article HERE

source: bbc.com

source: bbc.com

Beyond provoking an ick response in me, this article served as a reminder of trivia I’d picked up some time ago. Eric Aniva was not the first ‘hyena’ I’d read about. The first time I’d heard about a man using his erection to ‘cleanse and protect’ the community was in the church. Yes, you heard that right. In Jewish, Roman and Greek customs, women’s bodies were considered ritualistically unclean. Her menstrual cycle – or any issue of blood – was considered an abomination.

We women bleed for all kinds of reasons: when we’re on our periods, when we’re stressed, when we’re giving birth, when we lose our virginity. That last order of business was what powerful, despotic men were most interested in…and somehow successfully convinced entire communities that their personally handling of that particular women’s issue was in everyone’s best interest. Church leaders persuaded (and eventually mandated) that every new bride be brought to the priest – God’s representative in the earth – in order that he dutifully deflower her. You must understand; his phallus was consecrated and therefore protected from her demonic first blood. Now, voila! No more Bloody New Brides in the realm for newlywed hubbies to have to concern themselves with.

It was kind of like a magic trick, except in every instance the trick ended in rape.

The practice of powerful men using their influence and authority to coerce women and girls into having sex with them is one longer than memory. It cuts across race, cultures and continents. The privilege of droit du seigneur – the right of the lord – is well documented and was practiced across medieval Europe. It gave feudal lords, land and title owners, men of noble birth and other rich scoundrels the legal right to have sexual relations with newly wedded brides on the first night of their union. You might recall the scene in Braveheart when King Longshanks gathered all his noblemen to discuss Scottish malcontent and the uprisings mushrooming in the north. He said,

“Perhaps it’s time to re-institute an old custom – prima nocta. First night. If we cannot route them out, we’ll brrrrreed them out.”

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Or something like that.

Point is, prima nocta was a real thing and poor red headed girls all over Scotland were made to spend their wedding night with some unctuous, obese English lord. *Shiver*

The English adopted prima nocta from the Romans, who had invaded and conquered Britain under Caesar. It was all fun and games until these jokers took the practice to a whole new level, when lords began charging men a fee for the ‘privilege’ of sleeping with their new brides. Men who could not afford to pay could not marry.

In the end, all this pretense about using old man cock to ‘cleanse’ a woman’s body, ward off potential evil events and the imposed idea that this is all very honorable comes down to one thing: Agency.

Who owns women’s bodies?

If we were to track the timeline of the human experience as a whole, there are only faint whispers of time when women have ever truly belonged to themselves. Cultures where women were given the same rights and privileges as men – including sexual agency – have been destroyed by crusaders of Abrahamic religions and replaced with the gender disparity we see now. If you’ve ever wondered why ancient Egypt was considered such a den of iniquity by the modern church, I would hazard that the culture’s permitting a woman the ability to rule as a Pharaoh would be a good place to start. And yet the land of Egypt served as a safe haven for prophets, kings and even young Jesus Christ Himself for a time.

Say what you will about feminism, but the movement has given young women and girls a powerful tool: the right to say “NO”. Where women are concerned and when I think about the church, Islam and the shadowy, ubiquitous myth known as African Culture, I think about obedience first and foremost. But rights? That’s somewhere down the line long after go and marry, if it even makes the list at all. Speaking as a former Muslim and a born again Christian, I confess that I have had to unlearn and reject almost everything I’ve been indoctrinated with as far as my gender is concerned.

When we teach young girls that they have the right to say no, we give them authority. They should be able to say no to female genital mutilation; no to dropping out of school in order to serve male whims and destiny; no to hyenas who are paid to ravish them just as they are entering womanhood’s doorstep.

That brings me back to my surprise at the responses of a good many people on Facebook who typed out their cries to God, pondering when things in Africa will change. The answer to that is simple: When WE decide to change them.

When we decide that women are full human beings.

When we decide that girls are not objects that we can physically mar for culture’s perverse pleasure.

When we decide to give women their place as influencers – not just through tokenism – in society.

When we decide to educate not just ourselves, but our communities about the benefits of a healthy, thriving female population and the positive generational ripple effects.

All of this requires a dynamic shift in power structure. What did it take to end this practice in churches, fiefdoms, kingdoms and remote outposts? Was it easy? Doubtful. The dominant classes do not relinquish their hold on power easily.

Even in different parts of the continent where we think we’re doing okay with gender politics, there is still room to grow and improve. I think about Africa and the type of girls self-proclaimed progressive men raise, but would never marry themselves. Girls who are assertive, intelligent and driven make impressive daughters but are not considered wife material. Now why is that? Perhaps this is a hyena tradition of a different sort.

I’ll Never Be Able to Make My Children Happy in Africa

Not that that’s a problem.

I’ve all but abandoned the quest to guide and ensure my children’s happiness.

That doesn’t mean that I won’t do everything in my power to make sure that they are healthy individuals, equipped with the tools to lead sorta successful lives at some point in the future. But happiness? That’s not something I can do for them. It took going to Shack Church to realize this.

Our family goes to worship at a church in Kwanokuthula (Kwano for short), a township just outside on Plett in the direction of Cape Town. In township hierarchy, Kwano is where Soweto was in the 1980’s before Blacks, now armed with middle class income, moved (back) into the township and gave it an economic shot in the arm. There is another township called Qolweni that is about 2 miles down the road, westward. The folks in Kwano call Qolweni a bad place to live. It’s kind of like the pot calling the kettle black, but not really. This pot has some shine to it, ya dig?

Anyway. That’s where we worship.

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Like any township, Kwanokuthula is subject to extensive power outages. These Sunday mornings without electricity don’t bother me. In fact, I prefer going to church without power. EVERYONE has to participate in praise when there it no electricity. There is no competition between the praise leader, her microphone and portable loudspeaker and the children in gumboots stomping their feet with the lights are out. It’s great. I love it. My children don’t.

The two Sundays that we have attended church in Kwano (two weeks ago we were in Port Elizabeth visiting at a colored church) my children have sat sullenly in their seats, their spoiled little faces curled up like sour milk, looking aloof and eager to do nothing else but leave.

They are not used to ‘doing church’ this way. In America, every charismatic church has a similar format: You have praise and worship in the main sanctuary, collect the offering, and send the children back to children’s church where they will be instructed in Biblical half truths and perhaps watch an episode or six of ‘Veggie Tales’. Then they’ll draw a picture of a cross with crayon and present it to their parents. It’s their reasonable service.

Ain’t no children’s church in the township. Ain’t no crayons and TVs. Ain’t no graham crackers in exchange for feigned obedience. Here, you have the word of God, some hymns, and for the next two hours, it’s all done in Afrikaans and/or Xhosa. If you’re lucky there might be a guy who speaks English in the congregation called up to translate a portion of it.

The first time my kids sat frowning and hunched over in their chairs after being so warmly greeted by our new church family, I felt sorry for them. This was new for ALL of us, and my husband was the only one who rushed into service with gusto and authority. I tried to soothe them with promises that it would all be over soon and we’d be home before they knew it; We couldn’t possibly sleep here, right? The guarantees did nothing to console them. They became more and more drear until the final song was sung and the township disappeared from view once we piled into our car. It was only then that the spirit of life filtered into their bodies and their attitudes became bearable again.

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The second time (this Sunday) I was having none of it. They had just eaten a warm breakfast and had plenty of time to laze about until we announced that it was time to leave for church. It began with the youngest caterwauling the moment we pulled up in front of the building, protesting about the length and decibels of worship. I ignored her, but she’s a persistent Muppet. Eventually, she got a reaction from me, although it was not the one she was hoping for. The other three were sitting stone-faced yet again and I began growling under my breath as the spirit of revelation hit me.

“All right y’all,” I snapped. “New rule: When everyone else is standing, YOU stand. When everyone else is clapping, YOU clap.”

Did they like that? Not one bit. Did I care? Even less.

Because in that moment – the moment where everyone else was singing joyfully about stomping Satan under their feet, complete with pantomime – I came to a divine understanding. If you can’t find happiness in a place where you’re within 15 minutes walking distance of a clean beach, have access to a river where you can fish and canoe, a big ol’ field to run around in, cable TV, snacks on demand and internet access (even if it IS sometime-y); and all it costs you is some obedience and/or gratitude? Then there’s nothing I can do to make you happy. That kind of joy is something you’re going to have to invoke from within yourself. In the meantime, you better sit up in this Shack Church and fake praise Him until you make it!

MOM Squad, can I tell you how free I feel now? I anticipate experiencing many moments of this sort of freedom.

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Now that summer break is officially on for everyone is the northern hemisphere, how has it been going for you? Do you feel pressure to keep your kids entertained every moment of the day? Do your children’s cries of “I’m booorrrred!” stir an unsettling emotion within you? Discuss!

Get free, MOM Squad! Get freeeeee!!!!

A rainbow and a sign of God’s covenant. Get free, MOM Squad! Get freeeeee!!!!

My Personal Choices From My Previous Life Lived in America Have Come to Haunt Me in South Africa

*Note: This is not a lament, nor am I disparaging my host country. These are simply musings based on my observations.

Today as I sat in the lobby of the local branch of Standard Bank and found my senses assaulted by the glare of LED lights that bounced off the newly waxed floors, I felt a small wave of nostalgia wash over my feet. (Not enough to engulf me completely, you understand. I do enjoy this new life on semi-permanent vacation.) I was reminiscing over the days when I worked in a corporate environment just like this one: One that required me to slip into pinstriped trousers, a conservative blouse and side- part my permed hair before scooping it into a ponytail. In those moments, I missed looking and feeling important. I missed office chatter. But above all, I missed my check.

The only thing I love more than living in semi-permanent vacation mode is a fat, direct deposited check.

The husband and I were there to add my name as a co-signer to this new house account. In the past and with a job at which I spent 40 hours a week, I was a regular contributor to that account. And then with the birth of each additional child, each needing more attention at home and daycare costs depleting the entirety of my earnings, I volunteered to sacrifice my 8-5, my 401K, my health insurance and in-depth analyses of America’s Next Top Model with my co-workers in order to stay at home with the kids. That’s how I joined the ranks of the SAHM’s in 2008. Being in the bank in a different country brought all of those memories of that decision into focus for some reason.

Let me not fib. The recollection wasn’t “for some reason”. It was for a very specific one. As I was being added to the account, it was incumbent upon a very sweet account manager to ask me a series of questions in order to determine my eligibility.

Do you have proof of address? (I didn’t, because my husband’s name is on the lease of the house we’re renting, not mine.)

What is your occupation? (Self-employed, I said confidently.)

In what industry? (Literature. I’m an author.)

For how long? (Since 2009.)

And what is your monthly income? (*Crickets…* I’m racking my brains to provide this woman with an answer, but all I keep seeing is the big fat $0.00 in royalties because I’ve sold NO books this month. And the crickets just keep on chirping…)

It is at this point that my husband snaps me out of my deer-in-the-headlights trance and informs the Sweet Account Manager that my monthly income is the same as his: $x,000. I make a wise crack about what’s his being mine and we all laugh. The uncomfortable moment seems to have passed, but it hasn’t. All I can think about is how I’ve failed the cause of women everywhere because not only have I earned no money this month, but I CAN’T earn an income here because I am an immigrant/expat on a volunteer visitor’s visa. A host of historical wrongs smack me in the face, unbidden and unwelcome.

I was reminded of the indignities women in the early part this century have had to battle; limits put on them based exclusively on their gender and marital status. The moment harkened back to the Depression Era when the dependency of marriage was taking shape, as societal attitudes about women working outside of the home were so negative that it affected federal policy. (Section 213 of the 1932 Federal Economy Act prohibited more than one family member from working for the government, barring many married women from federal employment.) Sitting there with my husband benevolently giving me access to HIS money in what is frankly HIS account, I was reminded of the horror stories I’d heard about married women being unable to open up lines of credit without their husbands approval, and single women precluded entirely. I thought about immigrants, both legal and undocumented who all have the very human instinct (and need) to earn a living in order to provide for their families….or damn it…just keep themselves occupied during the week, and all the laws that prohibit them from maximizing their (and my, now that I’ve joined their ranks) potential.

None of this internal struggle was my husband’s fault. We discussed the implications of becoming a one-income home and I’d made the choice voluntarily. It’s just that when you’re covered in smashed bananas, watching Yo Gaba Gaba(!) in 2009, you don’t see yourself in a newly built bank tussling with these emotions in 2016. I didn’t realize how much I was affected until I was interviewed by a PhD doing an analysis of non-conformist Ghanaian feminists later on this evening.

I was explaining that if I were forced to categorize myself, I’d call myself a “womanist”, rather than a “feminist”. My issues with white, liberal feminism a la Patricia Arquette are well documented. The Good Doctor seemed rather miffed that I would not call myself a feminist until she assured me that she was not. Out of nowhere, she hit me with:

“Do you work?”

The question sucked the air out of me. Again, it was as if my absence from the traditional workforce diminished my value. A value that’s intrinsically tied to a paycheck or summons to meetings in Prague or TedEx Talks or whatever activities women/feminists of “worth” engage in.

I muttered that I cannot work because I’ve just relocated to South Africa.

“I can’t even sweep the street for pay.”

“Oh. So you’ll just have to be a stay at home mom for a bit,” she said. She took the tone of someone who’d just discovered pond scum on her lover’s scrotum and advised him to wash it off. “Well, since you’ll have plenty of time on your hands, there are some Black feminists works you should read. I’ll send them to you.”

I resisted the urge to cackle at the notion that I’ll have – or will ever have – “plenty of time” because I’m a SAHM. I opted to thank her instead.

At the end of the day, I recoil at my present reality because I KNOW how tough it is for women who have been out of the workforce to re-enter after a certain period of time. It is assumed their skills have atrophied and therefore make more of a charity case than valuable contributor to any corporation’s cause. I’ve seen their resumes rejected and have in turn been instructed to reject their resumes by my recruiting manager(s). I’ve seen them come in and struggle with opening an Excel document after being given a shot a position. I’ve seen them escorted off the premises because they’ve oversold themselves in the interview and it has become apparent after 2 days that “this isn’t going to work out”. What becomes of these once promising lives…women who can’t open lines of credit or bank accounts or Microsoft based programs because their earning potential is no greater than $25.00 a month selling homemade hair gel or books about trapping things in baskets for that matter?

 

You tell me.

 

I peddle books on Amazon and StoreFoundry.com

Why I Let My Girls Jump In the Frigid Pool Waters at the Holiday Inn

We were stinky. We were cranky. We were happy to have the cylindrical flying ship that had borne us from one hemisphere to another at our backs. Finally! We were in South Africa!

After making small talk with the man at the reception desk at the Holiday Inn in Jo’burg and tipping our very happy porter R50 (about $3.45 or the price a one piece meal at KFC), I instructed the girls to get washed up so that we could go to bed.

“But we’re hungry,” they said.

How could they be hungry? We had just spent nearly 24 hours doing nothing but eating, sitting and watching outdated films! Whatever. If they wanted to stuff a few more items down their already engorged colons, so be it. The sooner we ate, the sooner we could get to bed, and the sooner I could get my swollen feet elevated.

Dinner was a buffet that night. There were two types of rice, a curried fish, some sort of red meat in gravy and a spicy chicken. The vegetables were oily and the salad fixings were dull. But the desert table? Whew! That was on fleek! I allowed the girls to have their fill of sugar, knowing that I’d regret it later. It didn’t matter. We were outchea now! In the middle of a mouthful of chocolate pudding, Nadjah spied the hotel’s outdoor pool just beyond the lobby’s glass doors.

“Can we go swimming tonight, Mommy?” Her voice was sodden with hope.

I sighed, mentally running down a litany of reasons why it was completely impractical and utterly unlikely that they would be swimming that night. Finally, I decided to allow them to employ reason and self-determination, rather than enforcing my own will.

“Go outside and put your hands in the water. If you think it’s warm enough, then yes. You can go swimming.”

Nadjah’s jaw scraped the floor. She asked me to repeat myself. I obliged, to the disbelief of all.

“Really?” said Aya, her voice a squeak.

Yes. Really. I assured them that it was okay. The three girls walked hastily to the pool to test the waters while I waited at the table, knowing what the verdict would be. It was 56 degrees in Johannesburg that night, which meant the water was no warmer than 50 degrees. That’s mighty cold. The receptionist had already informed them that the pool would not be heated, but they were welcome to swim if they wished. They rushed back to the table with their discovery.

“It’s COLD!” they whispered loudly in near unison.

“Are you still going to swim?”

Initially, they were all down to take the plunge until Nadjah changed her mind. She would rather sit in the room and watch TV, she announced.

Really? You’re just going to plant this ridiculous idea in your sisters’ heads and then back out? I see how it is now.

Aya and Liya were still game. They rushed back up to the room and changed into their swimming suits, swathed in the hotel’s enormous white towels to guard against the chilly air. I followed behind, taking one apathetic step after another. All I wanted to do was go to sleep and rest my swollen feet! However I knew that if I were patient, the elements would do the work of getting them back into the room for me.

Aya was the first to leap into the water. She broke through the surface with a mighty splash and let out a yelp when she re-emerged. Liya followed after her, screeching as soon as her feet touched glassy water.

“AAARRRRRGGGHHHH!!!!!”

“SSSSHHHHHH!!!!” I hissed. “You wanted this! Don’t yell and disturb the other people resting!”

They giggled and reiterated how COLD it was. I leaned back in my lounge chair, stifling my laughter until the exercise became futile. I don’t know what was so amusing about watching my children punish themselves again and again by submerging themselves in the frigid liquid, but I was thoroughly entertained. (I suppose it’s for the same reason we laugh when the athletically challenged darn near destroy themselves on America’s Funniest Home Videos or Ninja Warrior.) We weren’t out there for more than 5 minutes. 5 minutes of self-flagellation was enough for my girls to test their limits.

As we re-entered the hotel, we found ourselves subject to stares both quizzical and disapproving. It was for that very reason that I allowed my girls to do something as “foolish” as jump into the pool on a mild winter’s night in South Africa.

Because Black people don’t do that sort of thing.

Because ‘Black girls don’t swim.’

Because Black girls should have more moments to live carefree.

Because my children should not find my reactions so predictable.

Because their father never would have let them.

Because their grandmother would disapprove.

Because I don’t remember if my own parents would have let me or my siblings.

Because they were perfectly safe in my presence.

Because everyone should have fond memories of a crazy incident or daring do.

Because they were not afraid to try.

Because they should never fear a challenge, especially one of their own making.

Because it was out of character.

Because we outchea.

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