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One book, two paths….

A simple story about how one book influenced the lives, careers and futures of two teenage girls…

Girl reading

The little blue book was nothing to write home about, judging from its cover.

Indeed, under normal circumstances none of us would have picked this dark colored volume with a simple title embossed in gold, for its dull appearance held no promise of exciting contents and thus had little appeal to the average teenage girl, yet my friend picked it.

Thanks to the old proverb and conventional wisdom, we were at the stage when we were learning not to judge a book by its cover.

Day after day, before classes began and during break, my friend would be engrossed in the little book. One day, I peeped over her shoulder and we eventually read the together. I too, immediately became absorbed in it. Indeed it was an addictive book.

The book was a compilation of legal cases and a summary of judgments that had set legal precedents over centuries. It was indeed a riveting collection of legal accounts.

We read the book with intrigue and after every case, debated the merits and demerits of the lawyers’ arguments and fairness of the judgments.

The stories were fascinating, not only because of the outcome of each case, but because they were steeped in reality. They were all true accounts of cases that had influenced both history and the legal system. As we turned each page, we were awestruck.

We could not wait for class breaks, when we would be temporarily submerged in the next case and find out what happened next. When we were dismissed from class and went to our respective residences, my friend, bless her heart, would not proceed to the next case without me.

Most interesting though, was the profound impact the book had on our individual lives, careers and subsequent futures. Although we were equally absorbed in the book and read the same stories, we were fascinated by various aspects and intrigued for different reasons. She by the legal aspects and I by the writing.

Someone argued the cases, and someone else recorded them for posterity. We wanted to be those people. The lawyers who made and the scribes who wrote history.

The time we read that book was just right as we were at the point of making decisions about our futures. It was towards the end of high school and we had started thinking about and applying for tertiary studies.

I don’t know if it was a coincidence, or just pure destiny that influenced our the decisions we made, but thereafter she pursued law and I journalism.

Now, as I ponder, I’m amazed at how one book changed the course of two lives and led them on totally different paths. Of course other factors also influenced our career choices, like parental guidance in my case, but the book’s contribution should not be dismissed.

The rest is history. I’m still writing and am glad I chose this vocation.

The moral of the story?

Encourage girls to read widely. Whether we admit it or not, we are influenced by what we read, among the myriad of factors that affect our thoughts. The exposure girls get from reading molds their thoughts, influences the decisions they make and ultimately determines the course they take in life.

This is well known, but there’s no harm in reinforcing it as some basic facts can never be over-emphasized.

I believe one of the best gift parents can give children is exposure so they can make informed decisions. Without exposure, girls will continue to choose the same, safe, well-trodden path. However, with exposure, they can dream big and explore new frontiers. While exposure comes in various forms, books still have a place. They are still among the tools in life’s toolbox, hence the need to encourage reading.

So, give girls the tools they need, then let them fly and conquer the world.

Picture source: http://bit.ly/2ttPWWA

Of things macabre and gross cultural practices…

GhostToday I received news of a friend’s death.

Yet another friend gone. It hurts, but that’s the painful part of life.

Once again, I was forced to confront the reality of my own mortality.

Yeah, I know everyone dies, but you see, it’s not just the death that bugs me. It’s the thought of dying childless and not being immortalized through another human being. That, I must admit, freaks me out, not because of the actual death itself, but how my society and culture would treat me when I die.

My friend left a daughter, so that’s okay. It’s evidence that she once lived and her existence is somehow perpetuated through her child.

On the other hand, if I died today, I’d probably be remembered by my mom, siblings, nieces and a few friends that I impacted in an exceptional way. Since none of my nieces inherited my features, there’d be no-one to say “Oh, she’s so much like her aunt,” or “wow, her aunt lives through her!” I’d just become a memory in their minds, with static paraphernalia like photographs and the items I once owned to remind them of me.

Everyone else would say a few sad words, get on with their lives and forget about me. My real friends would probably have occasional moments of sadness when they’d miss me, but by and large they’d recover and get on with their lives.

My social media friends would probably miss me for a bit, be put off by the inactivity on my pages and accounts, and move on to more lively, interactive and interesting things. Once in a while, someone would stumble upon something I wrote and either buy the book, quote a few lines, use it for reference or like the page then move on.

However, if I had a child, that human being I’d have brought into the world would surely remember me. S/he would somehow be a stamp of permanence, evidence that I once lived and a continuation of my lineage…

I’ve observed how my deceased father has been perpetuated through his children and their offspring. His genes are particularly dominant, as though it’s nature’s way of compensating for his early departure. When I see his features in my nieces, I always think to myself “this is nature’s greatest compliment to my dad and a preservation of his legacy through their beauty, a permanent mark of his existence that transcends generations.”

I would like that too, even if it’s through one or two children – so they’d better look like me!

That’s just one reason, but there’s another gross and macabre one, which is tied to my culture.

You see, our society is generally cruel to unmarried women without children. We are insulted both in life and death. During our lifetime we are treated as outcasts and failures, women who have been unsuccessful at the only natural, biological act that is expected of them. Admitting that one has no children after the age of 25 (to be conservative) in my society is almost always met with the unspoken question “what’s wrong with you?”

Heartrending but true.

As if that’s not enough, the burial rites in my culture are different for childless and single women (and men). If I died single, and childless, I’d be buried with a rat. Can you imagine? Of all deplorable animals, the ancestors or whoever came up with that bizarre burial ritual chose a rat! A creepy and despised rodent that is of no use to society. Can you imagine a greater insult than that?

To make matters worse, I’m told the rat is stuffed into the woman’s vagina as though in a final but permanent, gross, morbid sexual act.

It’s like saying, in a rather twisted way, “you didn’t get a husband while you were living but here’s one for eternity.” Gross!

The thought of decomposition is bad enough, but honestly, rotting in marital union with a rodent is grotesque to say the least.

I’m told the rat is to appease the spirit of the deceased, who would have died with an unsated sexual appetite, to prevent the single person from coming back to earth as a succubus (female) or incubus (male) – those sexually predatory spirits that prey on people in their sleep. Can you imagine that? A disgruntled rogue ghost, roaming the earth and raping innocent souls to make up for the unspent sexual appetite that was never satisfied during the person’s lifetime.

Well, I’m kind in life and don’t imagine I’d be cruel in death but clearly the architects of the burial ritual, in their ghoulish imagination, did not think it should be applied on a case by case basis so it’s universal to my clan.

My solution to these two potential problems posed by my inevitable exit from planet earth are simple.

I have decided to guard against my legacy dying with me and have a child. That’s a simple solution to the first problem that my death would bring.

On the second matter, I have decided that I will not jump into marriage unless I meet the right person, but since the happily ever after is not guaranteed, to avoid the gross and insulting burial of a posthumous marriage to a rat, I shall clearly outline in my will, that this cultural practice should not be applied in my case, otherwise I will certainly rise from the dead and haunt the soul who administers the rat on me!

Hope this adequately addresses the problem of my perpetuity and spares me from the final insult of a gross burial with a rat!

Picture source:http://bit.ly/2tYx9jU

7 lessons I learnt from losing & regaining my freedom

Freedom of choice“Yes please.” “No thank you.” “Yes please.” “Yes please.” “Yes please.” “Yes please.” “No thank you.” “Yes please.” These were the expressions of individual young voices as the sisters at the nursery school brought the tray of triangular sandwiches with colorful fillings to the children after the afternoon nap.

We were all standing in a neat row as the tray of sandwiches was brought to us in our colorful classroom. I was in the yellow unit and my friend was in the blue unit next door. The red and green units didn’t matter to me because I had no friends there. The place was St. Pius Nursery School in Zimbabwe’s second largest city Bulawayo, and it was my first day at crèche.

The sisters who taught and cared for us, were neatly clad in navy blue bell-bottom trousers with either pink, green or white short-sleeved safari-suit like blouses depending on their level of seniority. Despite their ranks, they listened to each individual child.

My young mind quickly observed that those who said “yes please” were rewarded with a sandwich. This was quickly affirmed by the child on my right who had been around and was well-versed with the operations of the crèche.

“Yes please,” I piped when the sister got to my side of the line and as if by some magic, the tray was lowered to my height and I picked a sandwich. The class then sat down and we enjoyed milk and sandwiches while waiting for our parents to come and pick us up or board the bus that would drop us at our respective homes, depending on the package our guardians had chosen.

I later learnt that this was the daily routine at the nursery school, but my first experience was memorable.

But why is this important, you may ask?

It is important because it is my first recollection of ever exercising my freedom of choice outside the family environment. At home, that choice was given, but outside my parents’ abode, it was not guaranteed.

In this particular instance, at this nursery school, I tasted freedom of choice for the first time in my conscious life and it felt gooooooooooooood. I was allowed to exercise my right to choose within the confines of the available options. My opinion mattered and I felt valued, despite my tender age.

I don’t remember what I wore or which sandwich I chose that day, but I clearly recall being given the right to make a choice, and the choice I made being respected.

This seemingly inconsequential experience got tucked somewhere in the recesses of my mind until recently when I suddenly lost my freedom of choice and had to fight to get back.

As I grew older, I learnt that life is full of choices and is a series of decisions we make based on our right and freedom to choose. Like all human beings, I freely exercised my right to choose in my daily life. My parents entrusted me with bigger choices as I grew older, until I came of age and could make individual decisions without having to consult.

In my adult life, I continued to make choices as is the norm with human beings.
There’s a saying that: “You never know what you’ve got until it’s over” and so it was with my freedom of choice. I exercised it and learnt that it was a right that no one could take from me, so I relaxed in the knowledge that I would always be able to freely choose what I wanted.

Well, it was not to be so.

Fast forward to about three decades after my first taste of freedom of choice and I suddenly found that freedom taken from me. I did not voluntarily give it, but it was stripped from me, layer by layer, while I looked on, wondering when the stripping would stop.

I met, for the first time in my life, people who did not share my ideals. They did not believe that choice was a right and certainly did not think a woman should have a right to choose. I found myself under the wings of a self-appointed god-father when I moved to a new apartment. A man whom I had neither met nor known before, took it upon himself to take care of me without seeking my consent. It was assumed that being a woman I automatically needed to be taken care of. Never mind that I’ve been on this planet for over three decades without him. I was suddenly expected to abdicate all responsibility for my life and hand it over to a man. As a rent-paying tenant, I found that strange but being new, I was polite.

I have been told that I am very polite. That’s true, I was brought up to be polite and later in adult life, I made the deliberate choice to remain polite, after all, there is no point in being rude. Unfortunately, not all cultures appreciate politeness and common courtesy. Some mistake it for docility, and so it was the case with my self-appointed god-father. I walked into his world, where women are neither seen nor heard and was therefore expected to comply without question. That was his norm and I was expected to adapt to it. My personality, upbringing, preferences, experiences and all that made me an individual were brushed aside as inconsequential. He was to be my guide without being questioned or challenged.

Every choice possible was taken from me in the twinkling of an eye. The right to choose my apartment, the layout of my rooms, the right to decide my meals and when I would eat, the right to decide whether or not to exercise, the right to decide what music to listen to, the right to manage my time and decide what to do, when, where, with whom and why. Even my work was almost affected when he would demand to know why I worked late on a particular day and at some point threated to confront my boss, as if working late was not a choice I had made.

I was robbed of the right to make basic choices about my life in the name of some stranger being caring. I found myself having to negotiate with a total stranger on decisions concerning my life!

I was relegated to a child while he elevated himself to a father figure in my life. I found it strange because I have a partner and brothers who love me and respect my right to choose just as our father, while living, allowed us our rights.

I couldn’t understand it because I was a tenant who was paying rent from my salary just as he was, and was therefore entitled to the same rights, yet he decided to set himself above me because he was male. Such patronage was unbelievable. Mind you, there was absolutely no relationship between us, it was just a case of two people living in the same apartment block and one assuming superiority, authority and responsibility over the other by virtue of being male.

It still puzzles me how I lost my basic rights to a stranger, I honestly can’t say exactly at what point I lost that right, as the process was gradual and systematic through a series of acts that I politely tolerated. What I do know is that at some point I woke up to the realization that I would have to take back my freedom to choose and negotiation was not an effective strategy. I realized that politely and kindly trying to defend my rights, would not work, this person felt that being male entitled him to authority over me and he was doing me a favor by availing himself as my patron. It was an awkward situation that caused me much discomfort as weeks turned into months of cultural, psychological and social imprisonment.

So began the battle to regain my freedom of choice. It was not easy, but I managed to take it back. How I did it is a subject for another blog post, but what matters is that I reclaimed my freedom and learnt some lessons in the process.

So what’s the big deal?

For me, the right to choose and the freedom to exercise that right has been central to my being since childhood. This cuts across all areas of life, whether its voting, marriage, friendships, a career, undertaking further studies or where to hang out.

Also, in my world, consultation is a part of life. No one assumes anything on behalf of anyone. If you want to know how someone feels about something, you simply ask them, regardless of whether they are male or female, young or old, everyone has basic rights, including that of choice. So, generally, everything about my life is based on consultation because I do not live in a vacuum and as long as other people are involved, their opinion counts – in fact, decisions are made based on our collective opinions. What are we going to do today? Where do we want to go? What will we eat? These seemingly mundane questions are just part of the daily life choices we make. Indeed, they don’t require much thought, but hey, they are part of our inalienable right to choose and to be.

What were the lessons learnt?

After weeks of a battle steeped largely in our diverse cultures and psychological make up, I finally disentangled myself from the tentacles of my neighbor’s control. It was not an event, but a process of constantly reasserting myself, sometimes at the cost of offending him.

Here are some of the lessons I learnt from the whole experience.

  1. Be polite without giving away your power. You can be courteous and still be assertive.
  2. Recognize abuse for what it is. See abuse and oppression for what they are, no matter what cloak they wear, and leave no room for them. I gave in to abuse and politely conceded my right to choose thinking that my neighbor’s treatment of me was a passing phase while not recognizing it for what it was. Sometimes, I conceded in order not to offend him, which was a big mistake on my part. I imagined he’d get tired, get on with his life and leave me alone. How wrong I was! It almost became a way of life and he began to feel entitled. My wake up call came when I began to push back in order to assert my freedom and he would yell at me for rejecting his well laid out plans for me. I was taken aback, but that was when I knew I was dealing with a problem. Had I not chosen to fight for my rights and freedom, I don’t know how long I would have remained under his shadow and the control and abuse, neatly dressed as kindness, love and care. Clearly, the inequality was of benefit to him and he was enjoying his newly usurped power hence his reluctance to let it go and leave me alone.
  3. If something makes you uncomfortable, deal with it immediately. Don’t make any excuses or assumptions for other people’s behavior or treatment of you. Deal with the situation and facts at hand. We like to assume human beings are inherently good and well meaning, hence we make excuses for them when we see something wrong, but some people are just manipulative, controlling and will take advantage of anyone. I excused behavior I was uncomfortable with because I assumed it would come to pass, but it did not and I eventually had to deal with it. If you don’t like something, nip it in the bud before it becomes established as normal.
  4. Draw the parameters of how you are going to relate with people from the onset. Don’t leave anything to chance or hope things will work out on their own, set the tone for how you will relate. Empower yourself from the beginning.
  5. Express yourself. Don’t be shy to express yourself because it seems impolite. If you’re not happy about something, say it. Never assume people can read your mind and feelings, they can’t, and even those who have an inkling how you feel may ignore you unless you express yourself.
  6. Be wary and question acts of kindness. Finally, be very wary of people who flood you with acts of kindness, particularly if it is beyond what is normally acceptable. While most people are generally kind and well meaning, that does not apply to everyone. Some people have personality disorders and psychological imbalances that may manifest in acts of kindness, particularly when it goes overboard. Be careful of people who overdo anything, including those who are overly kind. I believe part of the reason I got entangled in this web was because I accepted seemingly harmless acts of kindness thinking it was just a single act, but not realizing how that acceptance was encouraging my neighbor to continue as I unwittingly fed his appetite to feel needed and to patronize me. One little act of kindness, became a series of acts that gradually entrapped me. It’s okay to turn down kind offers if they have the potential to encroach on your future freedom. Sometimes it is better to rather say no, offend the person and retain your freedom.
  7. Be careful of people who always want to “help” you. Nobody is perfect and we all need a little help as human beings are generally inter-dependent. However, if someone sees you as a victim and constantly wants to “help” you all the time, particularly when the assistance is unsolicited, then there is a problem. In fact, stay away from people who see you as someone who is constantly in need of “help” that only they can provide as if there is something wrong with you and they have been sent to correct it.  My neighbor tried to “help” me in every area of my life and I soon became beholden to him as my benefactor as even my right to make and learn from my own mistakes was taken from me. While it is good to accept help from other people, in this case it created an unhealthy dependence on him and had to be cut off. One of the ways to deal with this, was to reclaim my right to solve my own problems, and to look to other people for assistance when needed. That way, his control was gradually clipped.

Now armed with these lessons, I’m a little more careful about how I relate with people when I meet them and I hope someone can draw some lessons from this and avoid the pitfalls that I encountered.

A Tribute to Widows

WidowToday, 23 June, is International Widows’ Day. It is a day that recognizes widows and sets the spotlight on their plight. My mother was widowed a few days before my fifth birthday but managed to raise four children single handedly. This poem is dedicated to her and the many strong and resilient women who often have to rebuild their lives and raise children alone after the death of a spouse.

A Tribute to Widows

So, you met someone
He swept you off your feet
And turned your world
Upside down
You were madly in love
Caught up in your own world
You got married
And hoped to live happily ever after
But death’s cruel talons
Snatched him from your embrace
And took him to a world
That the living cannot access
A life built over years
Shattered in seconds
You were left alone
To face the world
Raise the children
Deal with the ostracism
Your kind often faces
And live with the cruel reality
Of his permanent absence
Yet you arose
Wounded but determined
You forged ahead
Picked up the pieces
Rebuilt your shattered world
And learnt to live again
Today the world celebrates you
Strong and resilient woman!

Matilda Moyo
23 June 2017

To learn more about the International Widows’ Day see: http://www.un.org/en/events/widowsday/

Photo source: http://bit.ly/2s31bkb

Why women should buy condoms…

condomsTwo regular women, probably in their late 30s to early 40s, clad in jeans and colorful blouses, walk into a pharmacy chatting cheerfully. The pharmacist and cashier are too busy to assist them so they look around for the product they want, but seem to struggle to locate it. Eventually, one of them calls out to the cashier, “excuse me, do you sell condoms?” Everyone in the pharmacy freezes and there is a deathly silence.

“Over there,” the cashier eventually replies.

The two ladies, who seem like intelligent, decent professionals to me, walk over to where the condoms are located and make their selection, even debating about the brand and product attributes.

“Durex is the better known brand,” one of them is overheard saying.

“But this one has fruity flavors and the ribbed design,” the other argues.

Eventually, they count about 10, combining the two brands and the qualities they want before proceeding to the till to pay. After the purchase, the cashier asks her colleague for a plastic bag to “pack the ummm.” The colleague passes a tiny plastic bag that cannot  contain the wide variety of colorful condoms. The cashier remarks that they can’t fit in the tiny plastic, and her colleague resentfully throws her a bigger bag. She first packs the condoms, rather furtively, in the smaller plastic, then into the bigger bag, clearly to hide them from the sight of anyone who will meet the two women. The two ladies politely thank the cashier, take their package and leave, unperturbed.

My friend and I happen to be in the pharmacy and witnessed all this. As casual observers, we cannot not help but notice the silence and attitude surrounding the condom purchase. We are served in silence and also leave. It seemed the purchase of condoms has colored the mood in the previously lively pharmacy.

On leaving the pharmacy, we can’t resist discussing the incident. I ask my friend if she’d noticed that the cashier could not even say the word “condom.” She had asked for a plastic bag to pack the “ummm,” as if saying the word embarrassed her!

My friend remarks that the demeanor of the three employees in the pharmacy clearly deters women from purchasing condoms. This triggers a discussion on the dilemma faced by women in taking charge of their sexual and reproductive health.

For a moment, we put ourselves in those two ladies’ shoes and wonder how we would have reacted if we had been the ones on the receiving end. There are many reasons for buying condoms, the key ones being protection from HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STI) as well birth control either within or outside marriage. It is possible that perhaps the two ladies are charity workers who want to distribute them to other women for their protection, or they could be HIV/AIDS activists who are going to use them for demonstrations to empower other women, or they could have been sent by their brothers. We’ll never know why they had to buy the condoms. We can only speculate.

However, whatever the reason, my friend and I are impressed that these women have taken their health into their hands and are willing to protect themselves, even at the risk of being judged by broader society.

Clearly these are well educated women who know what is at stake and understand their vulnerability to HIV infection and STIs. It is a well known fact that women and girls are at higher risk of HIV and STIs.

According to the Zimbabwe’s country report in the Global AIDS Response Progress Report 2016, the HIV epidemic in the country remains generalized, feminized and homogenous and continues to decline in new infection rates, prevalence and AIDS related mortality.

Zimbabwe, with a projected population of 13 million people, is among the countries in
Sub-Saharan Africa worst affected by the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Although the country’s HIV prevalence at 14.7 per cent in 2016, has been gradually declining, it is still high and is ranked the fifth highest globally. Women bear the brunt of the epidemic, constituting about 790,000 – more than half – of the estimated 1.2 million people living with HIV in the country.

To illustrate women’s vulnerability to STIs, the Zimbabwe Population based HIV Impact Assessment (Zimphia) recently reported that among adults ages 15 to 64 years in Zimbabwe, 3.0 percent of females and 2.4 percent of males have ever been infected with syphilis, while prevalence of active syphilis infection is 1.0 percent among females and 0.6 percent among males ages 15 to 64 years.

All these figures are staggering, despite the reported declines in prevalence.

On the other hand, assuming the women we encountered in this scenario had not bought condoms and got infected with an STI by an unfaithful partner, what was likely to happen?

Admittedly, our society associates certain diseases with immorality and STIs fall within that bracket, so the reaction to infection is quite predictable.

The woman could seek treatment. However, public health facilities are notorious for abusing and judging people, particularly women who turn up with an STI.

The alternative would be to go to a private doctor, but what are the costs and how affordable is it?

The likely scenario would be to live with the “siki” as it is known locally and suffer in silence because one is too embarrassed to seek medical attention or face judgment from an unforgiving society.

Indeed it’s really sad that women are judged for buying condoms to protect themselves from HIV and STI, yet when they contract diseases after failing to protect themselves, society still judges them.

It is worth noting that the decline in prevalence in both HIV and STIs, has also been partially attributed to condom use among other factors.

“Reduction in new infections is attributed to reduction in sexual partners and increase condom use in risk sexual relationship. Similar behavioral change pattern has been observed through cross sectional studies among sex workers and other key populations,” the Global AIDS Response Progress Report states.

Given this scenario, I believe any woman who is seen buying condoms, regardless of whether it’s the male or female one, should be congratulated for playing her part in preventing HIV infection and contributing towards the decline in HIV and STI prevalence. Such women are obviously responsible citizens.

References:

Global AIDS Response Progress Report 2016 http://www.unaids.org/sites/default/files/country/documents/ZWE_narrative_report_2016.pdf

Zimbabwe Population based HIV Impact Assessment (Zimphia)http://phia.icap.columbia.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/ZIMBABWE-Factsheet.FIN_.pdf

 

 

 

In good company…

Today, I was in good company. I strolled through the virtual park of other people’s blogs and encountered some interesting characters during my excursion. Here’s a sneak peek into who I met and how we spent the day.

First, I had breakfast at Becoming the Muse with @Beatonm5 and talked of Coffee with Jack of All Trades. We had a few laughs about his “twin toddler nephews who’ve just learnt the art of knocking on doors.” They sound really cute. I enjoyed the discussion on why baby clothes have pockets and was particularly enthralled by the beginning of the story rattling in his head. I’m waiting for it to be written and wonder how it will end…

While feeling a little bored later, I visited the virtual library on wordpress, where I flipped through various blogs and stopped at Debbie Gravett’s Toxic Love Affair. That struck a chord with me because I’m in exactly the same situation, although my toxic affair is far from over as I’m not quite ready to let go of my beloved chocolate.

I then figured it was time to pick up some new skills and got some ideas on 4 Ways to Learn Anything in 20 Hours from Time Magazine. I liked the suggestions offered, they sound practical e.g find a strategic way of learning and commit 45 minutes a day to it. I did the Maths and figured 20 hours broken down to 45 minutes a day comes to just under 27 days. Whooooa! I could learn Arabic in just under a month if I put this newly acquired strategy to use – assuming I do it properly. So, salaam aleikum – I’ll be perfecting my Arabic very soon thanks to these new skills I’ve read about.

Still strolling through Time Magazine, I stumbled on advice J. K. Rawlings had for her younger self. Interesting, but it doesn’t apply to me, so I moved on to another piece on whether acupuncture    works on dogs.

Later, I shed a tear as I read @Mablees’ letter to Alex on Growing Pains. A truly moving yet inspiring post.

Lastly, I strolled through AfroBloggers and read some profiles for some inspiration.

I’m not done yet. This was just for today, during those spare moments in between work and play. Unlike most people, I worked today as 1 May is not a holiday where I am.

My message to these wonderful bloggers whose blogs I visited today is a simple: thank you. I enjoyed your company. For a moment, my world was suspended as I entered yours and shared some of your thoughts and experiences. I must say the journey was both pleasant and refreshing. You guys rock. Keep doing what you’re doing, knowing that someone, somewhere appreciates your work and you can count me among the multitudes of readers that enjoy your blog.

Zimbabwe: Masking pain behind humor

Source: Zimbabwe: Masking pain behind humor

Zimbabwe: Masking pain behind humor

Boy and goat
One of the jokes doing the round on social media in Zimbabwe. Source: Whatsapp Message.

Zimbabwe, a tiny southern African that has endured almost two decades of a downward spiral, boasts of one quality – that of resilience.

In reality, the nation is seething with anger and simmering in pain but hiding behind humor while hemorrhaging within.

Once the envy of many African nations and touted as the bread basket of Africa at independence in 1980, the nation has experienced various crises since 2000 and is now ranked among the poorest countries in the world.

Throughout its descent from prosperity to poverty, Zimbabweans have remained strong and adjusted their lifestyles to suit their changing fortunes, thus earning the admirable quality of resilience.

Indeed Zimbabweans ought to be commended for their survival skills, not too many nations would survive this kind of trauma.

The question that comes to mind is: how have Zimbabweans been surviving in spite of all they have been through?

There are many answers to this question that are probably influenced by various factors. Whatever the answer, one must admit that in addition to all the other coping mechanisms, humor has also played a significant role in helping Zimbabweans to cope with the myriad of challenges that have affected the nation.

Over the last two decades, Zimbabweans have sought comfort in humor while veiling their pain and suffering. Although the methods of spreading jokes have changed over time with technology and sharing tools becoming more sophisticated, the strategy has remained pretty much the same (see http://bit.ly/2qswHHX).

While in the past, humor about current affairs was confined to cartoons in newspapers and satirists in the theatre, the advent of social media has made it possible to share information about current affairs in creative but humorous ways. The most popular current methods of sharing jokes in Zimbabwe at the moment include whatsapp, facebook, twitter and youtube.

Over the years, social media has been awash with jokes about various issues affecting the country, with the most recent being the goat for fees saga.

Goat fee structure
Yet another joke on the goat fees saga. Source: Whatsapp Message.

For example, The Sunday Mail of 16 April 2017 (see http://bit.ly/2p3LhIC) quoted Zimbabwe’s Education Minister, Lazarus Dokora saying parents who could not afford to pay school fees for their children could do so using goats or labor. The remarks were immediately rebuffed and became the butt of jokes. Admittedly, payment of fees through livestock and produce, has been done before in rural areas to accommodate students whose parents did not have cash, while in urban areas, parents who could not afford fees sometimes contributed their skills. Although the practice was not wide-spread, it was usually an informal arrangement between the school leadership and the affected parents based on their circumstances. However, in a country facing a cash crisis and a myriad of economic challenges with no tangible solution in sight, the suggestion did not settle well with the populace. It came across as yet another failure to address the country’s economic problems and a retrogressive step towards archaic barter trade, hence it was ridiculed. The minister later called a press conference to clarify the issue following the public outcry against his suggestion, which was expressed mostly through jokes

Why turn to humor?

There are varying reasons why people turn to humor instead of facing up to situations and this could, in part, explain why Zimbabweans have opted for humor as a coping mechanism.

Some psychologists have described the use of humor as a “mature defense mechanism – a primarily adaptive technique to help us to cope with tense or stressful situations. Looking for a funny aspect in an environment in which we lack control can help us to endure it, and can even be an altruistic act in helping others to better cope as well.” (See http://bit.ly/2pLuDyr).

Our social construct and the fear of the consequences revealing our vulnerability are among the many reasons we choose to lighten up situations rather than deal with them (See http://bit.ly/1FfWtpj).

Dangers of hiding behind humor

mask
Source: https://brainmass.com

While humor is one of many normal coping mechanisms (See http://bit.ly/2pLuDyr) that help us to avoid embarrassment and confrontation, it has its dangers.

First and foremost, there is always the risk of trivializing a serious matter. Admittedly, by joking about some of these issues, Zimbabweans can better cope with them. However, the humor also dilutes the gravity of the situation. Matters that should be addressed are relegated to mere jokes, so we laugh and move on. Consequently, we all laugh about the situation and dismiss it without finding tangible solutions.

Secondly, while it helps us to avoid confrontation, the risk is that our point of view may not be taken seriously because we have chosen to reduce it to a joke. We create an excuse for those we should be confronting to disregard our concerns. We have all been in situations where we did not want to be confrontational, so we turned to humor, but what was the outcome? In the cases where I turned to humor, at some point, I still had to go back and address the issue more soberly because as long as I tried to be light hearted and joke about it, I was not taken seriously.

Thirdly, although it is a polite approach that prevents us from hurting other people’s feelings, we fail to communicate effectively. By turning a situation into a joke, we give the other party the option to dismiss our hurt and pain without addressing the matter at hand – after all, we have chosen to laugh about it so why should they take it seriously?
In the final analysis, hiding behind humor prevents both the aggrieved party and the perpetrator from taking action. Humor, while good, leads to a form of paralysis as no one is compelled to act. After all, it’s all a joke, right? So why should anyone take it seriously and act on it?

The painful truth

Zimbabweans have tried to deal with the issues affecting the country through various methods, with limited success. Indeed, the efforts of all the valiant women and men who have stood up against what they did not agree with regarding the economy, policy etc, should be acknowledged. However, such actions are often taken up by a brave few. The majority watch from the sidelines while joking about the various issues bedeviling the nation.

At some point, Zimbabweans will have to regroup, wake up to the reality that humor is not a strategy, and deal with issues. The country has been on a downward spiral for almost two decades. People have been assaulted with wave after wave of negative policies and economic decline, with each wave being more brutal than the previous one.

The painful truth is that the jokes will not bring a solution. They will not address the situation. They will simply bring temporary relief but at the end of the day, Zimbabweans remain in the same situation.

At some point, after the jokes have ceased and the sound of laughter has died down, Zimbabweans will have to get together and collectively address the issues confronting the nation. The country’s future and destiny are no longer a laughing matter.

Why ‘Lameck’ Struck A Chord With Me

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