Your World Your Rules

When I read the Girl Boss slogan; My World My Rules, from my desk every now and then I imagine myself as the feminine ruler of a formidable empire. Maybe, that’s the Leo in me. According to astrology our secret desire is to rule the world…

What does being a girl mean to you?

Our society functions on a set of social rules called gender norms. Gender norms are the codes of conduct that people belonging to a certain gender are to conduct themselves by. We’ve all heard the, ‘a girl doesn’t sit like that’, ‘boys shouldn’t wear pink’, ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘girls are delicate and shouldn’t play soccer with the boys, but rather play with dolls’. These are examples of gender norms. They are also linked to culture. How girls are to behave in one culture could be seen as inappropriate in another culture. Religion also plays a role in how the spiritual leaders from a certain religion define a virtuous woman. Being raised in the Christian faith, for example the Bible speaks of “do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewellery, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.” 1 Peter 3: 3-6.

It is believed that the ideal girl isn’t opinionated and doesn’t speak out of turn. She follows the direction given to her by her parents and then by her husband when she is married. A virtuous woman, wants to get married. Where she will submit to her husband. She is modest and puts the needs of her husband and the household above that of her own. She wants to have children and doesn’t express dissatisfaction. This is the ideal woman.

Photo by Joanna Nix

The influence of gender norms begins even before we are born. For example, toys and outfits for a baby will be chosen based on their sex. Maybe even the aspirations for a babies life will be envisioned by their parents based on a child’s sex. Some may argue that gender norms are outdated and toxic. Rather, we should let children decide for themselves how they want to present themselves to the world. Instead of verbally disciplining them on what is the manner they are expected to behave according to their prescribed gender.

The thing is, these heteronormative rules can be sexist. For example, a woman is to keep the home tidy, cook and basically be the support system for the man as he should be the bread winner. The man’s role is to financially provide for the household, is another gender norm. These norms can be restrictive as, what if the woman has her own career ambitions? Why should her career come second?

“We teach girls to shrink themselves
To make themselves smaller
We say to girls,
“You can have ambition
But not too much”
You should aim to be successful
But not too successful
Otherwise you will threaten the man.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Photo by Philip Boakye

Gender norms also become problematic when they don’t allow for diverse sexual orientations and expressions of sexuality. They’re a breeding ground for homophobia and patriarchal notions. The ideal woman is straight for example and an ideal man isn’t gay. If you are different from the societal norms then some people may think there is something inherently wrong with you. If you don’t conform to the norms you are seen as abnormal. Gender norms encourage conformity and that you must conduct yourself in a way that maintains societies structure. The belief is there is a natural order in our world.

“There is a natural order to this world, and those who try to upend it do not fare well. This movement will never survive; if you join them, you and your entire family will be shunned. At best, you will exist a pariah to be spat at and beaten. At worst, to be lynched or crucified”

Cloud Atlas 2012

But what if the power structures of a given society are oppressive? We see this in the prevalence of sexual violence against woman and the LGBTQI community. Rape for example is a form of patriarchal discipline on the bodies of woman and the LGBTQI community. A woman that presents herself as being too free with her body by wearing clothes that a ‘virtuous woman’ would consider as too revealing and therefore provocative, is disciplined by being raped. As the showing of skin is an expression of freedom and sexuality. The queer community faces the phenomenon of corrective rape by toxic men. Where they are targeted and sexually assaulted in order to discipline them to conform to societies heteronormative gender roles.

Photo by Joshua Mcknight

It is your life and you should live your life in a way that makes you happy. Granted you are not infringing on the rights of others. Therefore, I encourage you to navigate gender norms consciously. Examine them and see whether they are in alignment with your truth, if they are not, then you don’t have to conform to them. For example, you can be a stay at home mother if that is truly what you want to be.

Don’t let society dictate to you how you should present the truth of who you are to the world. Stand in your authenticity. Live with integrity and honor who you are. Let them judge because they also judge themselves inadequate. You can be a feminist and enjoy cleaning and cooking, it’s up to you. As long as you are being truthful to who you are on the inside. You can also not be sure if you even identify as a girl. When you choose the rules, you live by you are happier because you are free. Look at the state the world is in, people are chronically depressed and anxious. These norms haven’t given us the happiness we deserve. Be aware of the reasons why you act the way you do. It’s your life, live by your rules.

Photo by Bestbe Models

For The Love of Home: African Decor Ideas

We love our African continent, from her iconic shape, majestic forests, beautiful people and epic wild life. Our home continent has a lot to offer, pristine beaches, numerous natural resources, precious minerals and metals. The origin of the human race is in Africa, South Africa to be specific. Africa is the mother land. I love our African cultures, we’re ancient and wise. Our rich history and cultural aesthetic is everything, people travel from all over the world to come to Africa. And, when they leave they go with beautiful African decor and art to decorate their swanky homes.

Yes there is a problematic history of Europeans stealing African artifacts and having them on display in their museums. Its almost as if they’re saying look at the work of these mighty cultures and look at how we were able to dominate the African people…

If you watch Top Billing you see some of the fanciest homes in the country and the interior designers mostly uses home decor that’s on trend. So like the copper light fixtures that dangle in the air. Many of the decor that we use in the home is from European culture. From the colours we paint the walls of our homes, the furniture in the home even down to the plates and mugs we use, all have that European sensibility.

I’d like to think, as we are living in the post-colony that there will be a remembrance and celebration of our dynamic African style. You can already see this in how African girls and women are embracing their natural hair texture. And how more and more people are wearing formal clothes made from materials with African prints. This reflects that Africans are considering their culture as sophisticated and elegant. Whereas in the past we were indoctrinated to see our culture and customs as inferior to that of Europeans. But right now, African aesthetics is absolutely on the ascent.

Photo by Oladimeji Odunsi

One way we can take back power is to decorate our homes with African elements. I’m sure you could go to some homes in South Africa and they will be decorated in exactly the same way in which homes are in England. You wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. This is of course a result of the colonial enterprise, as they took raw materials like wood from us and sold us processed goods such as dining tables and chairs made from that wood in an exploitative economic relationship. In order for us Africans to spend what little money we had on their processed goods was because they convinced us through oppression that theirs was superior. As well as stamping out the African competition and making it virtually impossible for African businesses to exist as Africans were to be the cheap labour for their businesses.

The shift has already began, we see the Chinese manufacturing companies have already started making clothes, furniture and decor that have the African feel to appeal to South African customers. If you walk into Mr Price home you will see African inspired decor. My suggestion is that we buy our African decor from African vendors and businesses, in that way we know that the money is coming back to fertilize the soil of African entrepreneurship.

Photo by Max Brown

So, for the love of home, the African continent and our literal homes, lets celebrate our super cool African artistic taste.

Here Are Some African Decor Ideas

Photo by Orlova Maria

I love this hall way for example. From the colour of the walls and the clay pot that is on top of the wall unit, holding the green reeds, is just a vibe. Embracing African cultural style is akin to embracing the organic as lot of our decor is made from wood, straw and clay, all sourced from the natural world and therefore are environmentally sustainable. As you can see the indoor plants, create a natural ambiance. In our culture we embrace nature and see our indigenous plants as beautiful. In African culture there is respect for Mother Nature.

Photo by Hutomo Abrianto

This outdoor furniture set is goals, for example. Realistically though, this furniture would have to be in a lapa or have a big umbrella over them because you wouldn’t want them to get rained on. Or you could go the more colourful route for outdoor furniture as displayed in the picture below. How epic? I can definitively can see myself doing my African Queen things like playing an African musical instrument on those cushions.

Photo by Annie Spratt

I also love the idea of having indigenous flowers in our vases when we get treated to some flowers. Next time you have guests over or you just like beautifying your space, try indigenous grass flowers like in the picture below.

Photo by Alexander Gorn
Photo by Janine Joles

If you keen for colorful native flowers, you can try South Africa’s national flower the Protea, seen in the picture above. Alternatively, there is also the funky bird of paradise flower, shown in the picture below.

Photo by Dan Yosefi
Photo by Annie Spratt

For a more durable and cost effective house plant you can try South African succulents pictured above. The geometry of the petals is so beautiful and there is a definite sense of calm you get when you look at the beauty of nature.

Photo by Connie Hiles

You can have an African print carpet like the one above, but you know what would be cool? An Ndebele geometric print carpet. Wouldn’t that just be fabulous? If you’re into vibrant colors it would be perfect but if you’re into a more monochromatic theme then something like the a bedroom carpet in the picture above is more suited for you.

Photo by Sarah Dorweiler

Why have a regular American style washing basket when you can have a stylish African straw basket? Sure the normal washing basket will probably last longer as it is made from plastic. But we know we need to decrease our plastic consumption, as we have the massive problem of plastic pollution.

Photo by Andrew Itaga

How about this African candle for your bedside table? Candles are a cost effective decorative item. Also with our load shedding woes it would be nice to have sexier candles than the tall, thin white ones we normally use.

It’s time for us to embrace our Africanness, it’s not only paying homage to our Ancestors. It is liberation.

Photo by Faith Es

Losing Her

It’s just over a year since my beloved mother passed away and it’s still unbelievable as I write this, that I haven’t physically seen her, touched her and had a conversation with her for that long. I was never ever prepared for how losing her would feel and how it would change me. A lot of the time I sit in disbelief, struggling with the reality and tangibility of her absence.

The experience of losing a parent; from hearing the news, to preparing for the funeral and to the aftermath, is none that can be generalised. So I can’t even begin to tell you what happens when this situation befalls you and what you can expect. This loss was the first one for me, the first that hit home, the first that was personal, painful and hard.

A friend of mine, about two months after mama’s passing, shared an article from herzimbabwe.co.zw titled “Nobody Tells You How It Really Feels To Lose Your Mother” (I have been trying to click through to the website and it seems to be down, I, unfortunately, do not have the name of the author). And it’s true, nobody does and even if they did, there’s no guarantee that you’d ever be prepared for how your insides will flip and turn and twist to almost threaten your own existence. I was glad to have been sent the article, firstly because I was desperate for any and everything to help me survive each day. Secondly, the title was very specific to speak about losing a mother. Not a parent in general, but a mother and that was appropriate for me. Thirdly, the article was written by a woman which was comforting in so far as finding someone to relate to. Although much older than myself, as far as I can remember, and 3 years on, she was still feeling, dealing and healing – which wasn’t so comforting because I was in a space in which I didn’t want to feel and needed to just stop crying!

Perhaps it’s a good thing that I cannot access the article anymore because I was going to end up quoting the writer throughout this article and I’m still learning to express my thoughts and feelings with regards to my loss, even today, because often what I can muster, are plentiful of tears. So let me focus… I learnt of my mother’s passing through a text from my brother. It simply said, “Usishiyile make sisi” (“Sis, mother has left us”). 05 February 2018, 20:29, was when I received the text. I was watching TV with my housemate, also in conversation with her about boys probably and simultaneously on our phones. Having read the message I sensed my world spin and running short of breath I managed to whisper, “What? No”. Not noticing my crumbling world, my housemate repeated whatever she had said. I whispered ‘no’ again, and dropped my phone on the floor. I went after it, sat myself back on the couch and dialled my father. Whilst the line was connecting and noticing my housemate’s panicking face, I told her what the message said and added that I needed to confirm with my father. As soon as he said, “Hello sisi”, I shrieked, “Uphi make?” (“where is mom?”) and by the time I was asking him the second time, I let go. His fumbling for a response put a stamp on it. I wailed and wailed. I’d occasionally stop, disbelieving of my reality and off I’d go again. Calls kept coming in from relatives, nothing but crying over the phone. About two hours later, I messaged my brother and told him I’d be on my way home the next day (I live and work in South Africa, home is in Swaziland). I never slept that night, a friend of mine drove me home the next day.

Then the real work began. The week of preparing to lay my mother to rest was the most hectic week I have ever experienced in my life. No time has ever drained me physically, emotionally and mentally. I will go on forever if I dare tell you what each day presented as we prepared for the funeral. But all the while I was learning things and meeting people as though for the first time. The whole time I was learning how to manage feelings; functioning and grieving at the same time. Losing her initially broke me. I felt too much, I cried a lot, like, a whole lot! It threw me into new realities, into a space where I had to confront myself, my thoughts and everything that I knew and didn’t know. Which led me to the place and space I was left in, without her.

After the funeral, there is still life to be lived, so I learned, and that part has been the most difficult for me. If you are open to it, there is a lot of learning. The days after the funeral came with all sorts of realities and there are a couple of pointers, I’d like to share about my experience of dealing with losing my mother. Although I’m unable to quote anything from the article I mentioned, I do want to recognise it for its helpfulness in encouraging that I mourn and grieve in whatever way and for however long. My friend helped me too in sharing what she got from the piece and her hopes for my journey. I’ve since jotted down a couple of points that I hope you will find helpful as you grieve your beloved (mother), as you continue to exist and function among people. Your experience of ‘dealing’ may be completely different and that’s okay. Kindly share yours for someone else who may relate to them and find them helpful.

  1. People quickly move on and you can’t blame them. They have lives to live, purposes to fulfil and things to do. I mean, they don’t know any better and even if they did, how much more of themselves can they pour out, what are they to do for you, with you and for how long? Be strong baby, don’t be mad.
  2. You will withdraw from people, deliberately and consciously. You won’t be able to help it and even when you think you can, you won’t want to. Sometimes you will struggle to get your energies up to be with people.
  3. You will be an emotional wreck but you will keep it together. Everything will be a trigger and you will cry. You will cry about everything and sit in the pain of your loss. Sometimes, out of nowhere, you will cry and cry and cry.
  4. But with time, they say, and you will learn that it does get better. Learning to live without mom will be very hard, so allow for time to adjust.
  5. The pain will not always be as sharp, as acute, as raw and as devastating. It will get better.
  6. You will remember her at odd times as you do stuff but they’ll come a time when the memory will not take your breath away. It will still pang and maybe even make you tear up but eventually, it will also make you smile and feel loved.
  7. Memories will not feel like missiles assailing you but like hugs that remind you of her love but it may be years before you get there.
  8. And even as it gets better, you will have days where everything feels like it did the first time. Cry again. Breakdown. Let go. You will be fine, I promise.

There’s Something Poetic About Not Knowing What To Do With Your Life

I can’t tell you if I’ve ever certainly known what I fancied as a chosen career but I was however clear on what I wanted to study in tertiary, political studies.  Growing up, I was quite the vocal child, inquisitive and always wanting to know more than what was on the surface level. My second option was Law. To tell you the truth, a friend of mine was so passionate about pursuing law that I figured it was something I could also do, had enough interest in, so threw it in as a second option. I was also interested in an English degree because, quite simply, I wanted to be a poet with an English degree, and I loved reading so why not?

When I was in high school, I was certain that I was going to be a performer of poetry. I wrote a lot and performed my poetry, the way I was so passionate about it made me believe like I was called and destined to light up stages with what I deemed were electric performances. So I figured I would add on English as a major in university and pair it with Politics, which would accommodate my inquisitive and political mind (I just happened to often find myself asking hard and sometimes unwelcome questions that would have whichever elder convinced that I should consider politics as a career path). By the time I was 20 years old and in my second year of university, I had become less passionate about being a performer of poetry and had become more interested in the world of politics. I liked being ‘in the know’, challenging thought processes and arguing over the current state of affairs. I was going to make a difference in my country, as a young woman I was going to stand with men and be heard and bring about visible change in communities, I was feisty! When I got my undergraduate degree it was a done deal that I was going to do my honours degree in politics. By the time I began my Masters’ degree in politics still, I had already started working for a communications company.

During my masters’ degree year, I just remember barely existing, what a lonely and busy year! I worked full time at this communications company whilst enrolled on a full time basis for my degree. My interest in politics waned as I opened up to a world of communications. And how I got into it was quite simple: my boss was enrolled at the same university for a master’s degree in politics too. It had been a while since she had been in school and requested my help with initially getting sources for her paper and then assisting with referencing. I was doing my honours degree at that time and in the following year started working for her. Winile was flamboyant, an impressive lady! She was clearly not just an older student but one who was doing well in business. So one day, I asked her to check with any of her friends (whom I just assumed owned multimillion Rand generating companies), if they needed extra hands to handle some work for them. She immediately requested that I help her with her paper and eventually I got into her company. A year later, and after graduating for my masters’ degree, I left Winile’s company and joined an entertainment company, which converged the world of television and social media. I worked there as a writer: social and online. I created content for websites and engaged audiences on social media pages and ensured that they were kept enticed and talking on the pages till the next episode of their favourite show, and the next, and the next… It was interesting enough until two years later. I then joined a television production company as a writer. When I was called for the job I immediately said I’d be able to do it and went on to speak to friends in the television industry who helped me with putting together a mock script. And that’s how I got in. I became a script writer and when the show ended, I joined another production company as a writer and researcher, still doing scripts but dabbling in other spaces too which has kept things interesting for me.

So that’s how I got to where I am today. I rolled into each job and I didn’t kick and scream my way into each one because I was quite thrilled by the prospect of learning something completely new and deciding for myself what space(s) I’d exist in. I had studied politics and English and went further with politics and that was that. I was never ever gung-ho about a specific career and I have come out pretty alright. Some people discover what it is that they want to do; they embark on that path and stick with it. For some it takes longer, it takes changing courses, changing jobs and trying out different careers to find that one thing that gets them leaping out of bed every morning.

If you haven’t decided on what it is that you really want to do, I say don’t be too hard on yourself. Explore. Move around. Try out new things. And if you have discovered your ‘thing’, if you know exactly what you want to do even for the next two years, do it. But don’t be too hard on yourself either, when you feel things change, when you find you lose interest where you are and develop curiosity over another field. Be open to things shifting and finding your ‘happy’ in a different space. If anything, it’s freeing.

All the best!

Nqobile ‘Billz’ Mkhatshwa

How I Spent My Gap Year

In 2012, I graduated from high school, and never have I been so confused about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. High school doesn’t necessarily prepare you for such choices. I mean, it’s a serious commitment. You basically commit to a specific path for the rest of your life (ok for a good, important few years at least). It is also an expensive choice because you spend at least 3 years at college if you decide to pursue a diploma or degree.

December 2012 was a pretty intense period, especially as my peers seemed certain about the fields they wanted to pursue. There I was, as confused and lost as ever. I didn’t know all my options, and I didn’t know what I was passionate about, I hardly knew whom I was. Other than that, I didn’t do so well academically, I got university acceptance grade but I had wanted to do better.  I was especially bummed with mathematics, I really wanted to do well in that subject, but it did not reciprocate. Needless to say, I had not applied to attend any institution.  So I opted to take a gap year.

A gap year is something you take after high school to gain some experience before deciding what to study at college.  Taking a gap year has been in the news these past few years as high profile teenagers have taken gap years, think Malia Obama, Yara Shahidi and Ming Lee Simmons.  These American teens have gone on to amazing and enriching experiences before heading back on to college.

2013. I honestly had no plan about what I was going to do during the gap year; I was just a confused 19 year old. I actually think my parents were worried about the direction that my life was headed. I was too. All I knew was that I wanted to improve my math score, because I didn’t know I could get into varsity without a math grade.  And then I convinced myself that I needed to do a BCom to get a decent job. I just assumed all the courses, which were BCom related, needed a good math grade, and they did, and that is what I thought I wanted to do. So I registered to retake 12th grade math, and in the meantime I was working for Verimark at Makro as a salesperson. Not long into the job, I was fired; I mean I knew nothing about selling gym equipment.

Because I had no specific goals as to how I would spend the year, it was pretty much ‘anything goes’. Fast forward, I started my tertiary journey 5 years later after I left high school. Crazy right? Not really, but I couldn’t have asked for a different journey today. Although at the time it may not have felt like it, today I’m somebody who is certain about who they are and what I want to accomplish.

Here are some things that My Gap Year(s) taught me:

It’s okay to not know – you’re only about 18 when you graduate from high school, and I commend those who knew exactly what they wanted to pursue straight after high school, but it’s okay if you don’t know. Being that young you have time on your side, and stupid or silly mistakes are allowed. But you must never get comfortable being in this position; it should be a temporary state. This is where you should do most of your research about topics you’re interested in, not just subjects or courses, what you find yourself speaking about the most, your passion, what makes you light up when you think or do it. What kind of conversation arouses emotion and passion when speaking? Do as much reading as possible; educate yourself, even if you aren’t officially enrolled in a formal institution. This was the time when I took the opportunity to read the book Rich Dad Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki, and it was when I entered my first awakening stage. Awakening in a sense that there is a lot more knowledge in the world to be acquired that we will not necessarily learn at school.

Pressure is good – it is inevitable that if you ever find yourself in a predicament similar to mine that you will feel the pressure. It will come at you from in from all directions. Transform this negative feeling into something positive. Pressure should drive you to want to do and be more. So even if you enroll for a diploma/degree that you are not 100% sure with, it’s okay. What pressure should do is keep the fire and desire to grow at a constant, but then that fire and desire should be from within yourself, not external, otherwise you will burn out trying to satisfy others. This was a hard lesson I learned when I enrolled in 2015 then later dropped out in May 2015. Basically, I quickly burnt out, I enrolled for a course because I felt pressured to start studying and I enrolled for a course I thought guaranteed me employment when I was it was not anything I enjoyed at the time. But it was only after that experience that I slowly uncovered my passion for a certain cause. A cause that is external to my own satisfaction. And that is what is really important. What and who are you about? This is a constant undying fire.

Take this time to learn about yourself – My biggest lesson to self here was that, “If I Don’t Know Who I Am, People Will Tell Me Who To Be”; obviously I was not okay with this. So I took this period to learn about many truths, including my true self. This has been by far my most personally challenging experience, lonely and depressive. I was confused about a lot of things, and decided to take time taking them on, one by one. Once I was on this journey I slowly started meeting people who made sense, who spoke my language. This ultimately gave me clarity about who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do and whom I wanted to do it for and importantly that I don’t have to try fit into any box of what I think people expect me to be. I still live by this vision it is what motivates me. Finding a purpose higher than myself.

2017, I started varsity. As you have read, a gap year can also take you on an adventure you never subscribed to. But to have a successful gap year and also to limit the time of years spent trying to figure yourself out, set clear intentions about what you wish to achieve during that period. That will make all the difference, setting clear intentions from the onset. Ask yourself important questions like who you are? What drives you? What are passionate about? How would you like to make a difference? What issues do you care about? Also, don’t forget to educate yourself, keep reading and having conversations with people you look up to, there is also a lot to be learnt from the streets of life outside of structured schooling.