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The value of language

The value of language.

The value of language

My appreciation of the value of language came very early in life.

Having started my education in post-colonial Zimbabwe in the 1980s, my parents were among those who sent their children to multi-racial schools previously reserved for white children, in order to enhance our chances of success in life.

However, when we got there, the systems were still intact and the rules were strict. For instance, we were not allowed to speak our local languages within the school premises and anyone caught doing so would have their knuckles rapped with the sharp end of a ruler. That may seem like a minor punishment but not to a child below the age of 10. As a child in boarding school, I only saw my widowed mother on some weekends and during the holiday.

The shaping of my thoughts and values was left largely to self discovery and school authorities, in a system that did not promote our languages and cultural identity.

Language is central to who we are, particularly during our formative years. Credit: https://www.google.co.zw/search?hl=en&site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1525&bih=743&q=african+language+and+culture&oq=african+language+and+culture&gs_l=img.12...0.0.2.35532.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0..0.0....0...1ac..32.img..16.10.5876.2SB_ZsfTD3I#facrc=_&imgdii=_&imgrc=8eD4UJl6JPy1NM%253A%3BlzDttQcHEXtt-M%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fcdn.mg.co.za%252Fcrop%252Fcontent%252Fimages%252F2012%252F02%252F03%252Freading_7626_i2edit.jpg%252F300x300%252F%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fmg.co.za%252Farticle%252F2012-02-03-language-denied-means-citizens-ignored%3B300%3B300
Language is central to who we are, particularly during the formative years.

Like all children, I happily adhered to the school rules and only spoke English. I learnt to think, dream, feel, imagine and primarily function in English. I was quite content with this existence until the day my mother and her friend paid me a surprise visit and I suddenly realised, to my horror, that I had forgotten the basic greeting in one of our local languages.

In our culture it was rude for a child to greet elders in English as it was a foreign language. It was both prudent and respectful to greet elders first and in their language. I greeted my mother first in Shona and intended to greet her friend in her language, Ndebele, but the words failed me.

I remember standing between my mother’s yellow Renault and the imposing white washed girls’ hostel, just staring and gaping at the visitor, who was patiently waiting for me to dutifully greet her.  Try as I might, the Ndebele greeting stubbornly refused to emerge from where it was buried in the recesses of my mind.  The simple word, “salibonani” evaded me as if in a mischievous effort to embarrass me.

After a long awkward and uncomfortable silence, my mother’s friend greeted me, jolting me to remember the response. The rest of the visit was pleasant.

However, after my mother and her friend left, my young mind pondered and reflected on a few fundamentals. Although I was only eight years old, I made some decisions that I have carried into adulthood. I promised myself never to forget our local languages. A seemingly simple promise that was difficult to keep in the face of numerous challenges such as being in a society that subordinates its languages to English. I pledged to remember, despite not being able to speak the languages during the school term. I vowed to remain mindful of our languages, even though they constituted less than 20 per cent of our curriculum, with little room for practice.

Those vows were later renewed when I was on a flight to the UK around 2008. During a moment of boredom, I looked around me and started reading the titles of the novels being read by those near me. The languages were all foreign to me. It struck me that all these people were reading books in their own languages. Perhaps it was because I was on a Dutch airline. Whatever the reason, I became acutely aware of my alienation from my language. I was holding a book with an English title and the only other person with an English book was a black woman sitting diagonally opposite me. I guessed that she was Zimbabwean, and I was right. Had she not been Zimbabwean, she probably would have been from a former British colony.

Now I take time to invest in learning and practicing more of our local languages.

Although I speak both Shona and Ndebele fluently, I struggle with idioms and proverbs, largely because I was deprived of the languages early. Sadly, I speak local languages with a tinge of an English accent, which sometimes creates the impression that I can’t speak the languages. I have found ways to work around my handicaps though, by reading and speaking Shona and Ndebele as often as I can. When the opportunity presents itself, I try to learn other local languages like Tonga, Kalanga etc.

It saddens me when modern parents boast and take pleasure in their children’s inability to speak local languages. What those parents do not realise is that they are robbing those children of their birthright and depriving them of their cultural heritage. The truth is, no matter how well we speak English, we can never own it, but we can truly say we are the custodians of Shona, Ndebele, Tonga, Nambya, Kalanga and other languages that are spoken locally. Taking pride in the inability to speak one’s language is not a sign of education, but rather, exposure of painful ignorance and cultural bankruptcy.

Indeed learning other languages enables us to function effectively in a global village. It also helps to mask tribal divisions, among its other advantages. However, this does not mean we should recklessly abandon who we are and discard our heritage.

Whether we like it or not, there is an intricate link between language and identity and until we recognise that, we will float around like people without roots.

Language is a central feature of human identity[1]. There is a level of pride that comes with being able to say “I am Matilda Moyo from Zimbabwe and I am Karanga.” Beyond that, there is some pride in being able to speak the language. Indeed let us learn other languages, but let us not forget our own languages, which are central to who we are.

By Matilda Moyo

18 January 2014

Boterekwa, a fatal beauty!

Boterekwa, a fatal beauty!.

Frenemies: Protecting Yourself From Them!

When Jody Watley’s song[1] “friends[2]” topped the charts in the 80s those of us who were very young just enjoyed dancing to the tune and lip synching it without attaching much meaning to the lyrics.

In adulthood, those lyrics have taken on a new meaning and a term coined for the sort of friends she described – “frenemies.”

Simply defined, frenemies are friends who are actually enemies – that seemingly loyal friend who one day turns out to be your deadliest enemy! My dictionary defines a frenemy as “someone who pretends to be your friend but is really your enemy” or “a fair weather friend who is also a rival.”

Frenemies seem friendly yet they have a hidden agenda to cause harm.
Frenemies seem friendly yet they have a hidden agenda to cause harm.

Frenemies are extremely dangerous because they are part of our inner circle and can effectively destroy us from within, while abusing the trust that comes with friendship. In fact, they could be that one person who you trust with your life.  Consequently, the harm they cause in the long run is worse than that of people who openly show their dislike for you.

A frenemy can harm one physically, emotionally, spiritually or psychologically because we let down our guard when we are with them, assuming that they are our friends. However, their knowledge of the most intimate details of our lives make us more vulnerable to them.

While friendships are healthy and we all need friends to live quality lives that are socially fulfilling, frenemies use that to destroy unsuspecting friends.

I have been blessed with great friends, for whom I am truly grateful. They have stood with me through happy and troubled times and I know despite the physical distance between us, I can call on them any time of day or night and they will be there for me just as I am available to them 24/7.

However, I learnt the hard way that I also had frenemies. After observing the consistently cruel and abusive treatment of a few friends towards me, I had to face the reality that they were not my friends and we, in fact, did not even like each other anymore!

I am not sure when these individuals mutated from the loving, caring and supportive dear friends I’d learnt to trust, to vicious frenemies who were out to destroy me. What I do know, is that it took me time to realise the change and even then, I was in denial, making excuses for them while absorbing the abuse. It was only after some major incidents that I had an “aha” moment and realised I needed to deal with the frenemy situation.

First a doctor pointed out the initial signs of a stress-related health problem that could result in chronic medication if unchecked. I revisited my life and faced the reality that I had to deal with frenemies who were the main source of stress in my usually optimistic and happy life.

Second, after watching a few episodes of the series “Frenemies” on Crime and Investigation, I noticed that some frenemies exhibited harmful traits similar to those of my friends.

Third, I was struck by my friend’s persistently injurious treatment of me, particularly when I did something praiseworthy.

It is important to recognise frenemies so you can protect yourself from them because while some friendships may be genuine when they start, people can evolve into frenemies as their lives change and they grow apart.

Here is a checklist that could be useful in helping you recognise if your once wonderful friend may have mutated into a frenemy. These are drawn from a combination of real life experiences and research.

Do they always give bad advice?

Much as we like to think we make independent choices, we tend to have a circle of reference comprised of people whom we consult before we make major decisions. Such consultation is based on trust and the belief that our advisers have our best interests at heart. A frenemy will constantly ill advise you and enjoy the damage. Check the frequency with which frenemies dispense negative advice then simply strike them off your reference list or else you will live with the regret and consequences of the consistently bad choices.

Do they erode your self worth?

Most of us average people are generally confident and have learnt to deal with people and situations that threaten that confidence. However, if a trusted friend whose opinion matters constantly berates, belittles and besmirches you, your self esteem will suffer some dents. Erosion could be through negative words, a scornful look or contemptuous action, usually in front of other people for maximum effect. True friendships endorse and complement rather than demean and destroy. Honestly, being with friends who cannot say a kind word, give a compliment or acknowledge one’s positive qualities is like being in a bad neighbourhood. If you are in such a friendship, start packing, you need to get out of that friendship before it destroys whatever semblance of self-worth you are trying to preserve. Also, if you feel terrible whenever you meet this friend, then you are definitely in the wrong neighbourhood and it’s time to revise the friendship. Perhaps you’re better off spending time volunteering at an orphanage than being with this person because clearly, you are not having fun!

Do they always criticise you?

If you cannot do anything right in your friend’s sight, then you certainly should not be together. Indeed your friends should be able to criticise you when you’re wrong and commend you when you do well. Human beings by their very nature respond to rewards and punishments. However, if every word your friend utters about you is a criticism, there is a problem. Surely, you cannot be so bad that the closest person to you sees nothing good in you and has to remind you all the time. Also, if you are such a bad person, why exactly are they hanging around you?

As junior school children, when faced with a barrage of negative words, we often retorted with the chant:  “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” Well, that may be comforting to say but it is not true. Words can be extremely dangerous because long after the person who said them is dead and gone, they will still ring in one’s mind probably with the same sting as when they were first spoken.

Words transcend boundaries, a word whether written or spoken in America, can reach someone in Zimbabwe and still have the desired effect. That is why people will not answer their phones when a potentially abusive conversation is likely to take place, because they know that long after the conversation is over, the effect of those words will linger on, housed deep in the recesses of their minds and causing much trauma.

Psychologists believe that every time we think about a traumatic event, we experience the same range of emotions we had when the event took place[3]. I believe the same applies to abusive words and whenever we remember them, we experience the same emotions we had when those words were first spoken to us.

Whether we care to admit it or not, words have impact. It is easier to dismiss the negative words of a stranger than to disregard those spoken by someone close. The truth is, when someone close to you says something, you reflect on it and it affects you, even if you pretend not to be listening when they speak. The constant criticism of a frenemy cannot be ignored as it has far reaching effects.

Propagandists developed the theory that if people hear something often enough, they start to believe it[4]. Imagine hearing what a horrible, silly, stupid, cruel, stingy, ugly, frivolous person you are daily? You may try to develop coping mechanisms but at the end of the day if that is all that rings in your head, those words may take their toll and start affecting your behaviour. Naturally, a persistent volley of negative words will eventually erode someone’s confidence and could even become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Do they try to control you?

Human beings, by their nature, were created to be independent.  Stephen Covey in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” also speaks of interdependence which emanates from healthy relationships and the recognition that we all need each other. However, if a person tries to control you so that you become dependent on them whether emotionally, financially or otherwise, then the relationship is neither healthy nor sustainable.

Also, if they cannot recognise that you are an autonomous being who is capable of running your own life, there is definitely a problem. If your friend does not recognise your individuality and perceives you as an extension of her personality that friendship is not good for your personal growth and will actually dwarf you. If your friend wants to dictate how you should behave, when you should laugh, how you should interpret jokes, the extent of your knowledge about subjects, your career path, what car you drive, where you live or any decision about how you should run your life, then either try to address the challenges in the friendship, or let it go because it’s not a healthy relationship.

Do they compete with you?

I guess we all have a competitive edge and a little competition is healthy because it propels us to the next level. However, if your friend must always be the top dog and you the underdog, then your relationship most likely thrives on inequality with you being on the lower end.  Also, if the friendship is constantly a quest to prove who is better than the other, then it is likely that one is consistently being demeaned to illustrate the superiority of the other. Such a friendship probably erodes one’s self esteem while inflating the ego of the other and people who are deflated cannot rise to their full potential.

Do they play down your successes and magnify your faults?

Real friends celebrate each other’s successes and comfort each other when one experiences loss. A friend who plays down your successes and magnifies your faults probably feels better when you’re down and never wants to see you rise. They probably believe they are a superior being and therefore only they are entitled to success. It is also highly likely that such friends have a high degree of narcissism and draw pleasure from your failures because they feel successful at your expense. The friendship is not likely to last should you have a break and suddenly succeed. In fact, you may actually be doing well, but because the friend wants to feel better, they have to play down your successes.

Watch how people who are close to you react to your successes, it could be an indicator of whether they are friends or frenemies.

Do you need a coping mechanism to handle your friends?

Friendships should be enjoyed and not tolerated. If you find yourself developing mechanisms to cope with your friends, then it cannot possibly be a friendship. These coping mechanisms could range from giving yourself a pep talk before and after meeting your friend, to drinking and smoking just so you can deal with their negative effects. I almost sought counselling to deal with my friend but realised that it would be unsustainable, it was best to first flush her out of my life, then go for counselling to cleanse myself of her negative effects that had built up over years.

Moving on

It is important that people recognise when a friendship is no longer mutually beneficial, part ways and move on. After all, it could have been a relationship for a reason and a season that no longer apply to one’s life. Also, if it’s now doing more harm than good, then it has outlived its relevance.

Yes, making friends in adulthood is difficult and so is letting go of someone who has been part of your life. However, if they are not adding value, you are better off without them.

Letting go will save you the cost of treatment – whether medical, emotional or psychological – and time in the number of years it may take to rebuild your self esteem and subsequently your life. If the frenemy happens to be your sole friend, you may have to brace yourself for some loneliness, but bear in mind that you’re better off alone than unhappy. Find creative ways to fill up the space that the frenemy was taking, you might actually discover some new talents, or revive those that the frenemy had talked you out of developing.

Also, ask yourself what you really have in common and what is the glue that is holding the friendship? You may find that what once bound you together no longer exists hence the focus on negativity. People evolve and likewise friendships. Perhaps you have outgrown each other but are reluctant to acknowledge it.

You will have to be careful though. Breaking off a friendship with some frenemies may have consequences, particularly if they are still deriving benefits that they want to cling to. Remember, some frenemies have major personality problems and a mean streak, which is why you they are abusing you are breaking away in the first place. Brace yourself for the ostracism and whatever other social, emotional and psychological consequences may be inflicted. Bear in mind that your rejection of this friendship may not be taken lightly. In the various episodes of “Frenemies” on Crime and Investigation, some frenemies turned to arson and murder after their friendship was spurned. Note that these, though based on true stories, were also extreme cases. You probably know your frenemy well enough to understand how they will deal with the break up and the extremes to which they can go, so that should help you to strategise on how to untie yourself from their unpleasant bond.

Lastly, put together a support group of your genuine friends because you will need them as you deal with the consequences of your decision and action.

Remember that everything has consequences so just as hanging around in an abusive relationship can wear you out and negatively affect you, so too will staying in an abusive friendship.  I am convinced that the impact of staying in an abusive marriage is as bad as that of staying in an abusive friendship with a frenemy.

Therefore take action to free yourself from your frenemies!

Beauty from the Baobab

Beauty from the Baobab.

A dry, dry land

A dry, dry land.

Let’s face it, not all advice is good for you…

Let’s face it, not all advice is good for you….

Let’s face it, not all advice is good for you…

Once upon a time, we were told that advice is good, particularly if it comes from someone older and wiser. “A person who does not listen to advice is a fool,” we have often heard. The assumption is that everyone who dispenses advice is wise and well-meaning. However, real life experience teaches us otherwise – not all advice is good. All advice, no matter how good it seems and who it comes from, should be evaluated and taken in context as it is often clouded by other factors. This instalment, while not exhaustive, will assess some of the factors that influence advice doled out by people.

Temperament and personality

Who we are affects our actions. We give advice based on our perception and how we would react if faced with a similar situation. Our personalities permeate the advice we give, for example, the four temperaments of melancholic, choleric, phlegmatic and sanguine and their various combinations . When faced with a difficult situation, the choleric would probably tackle it head on, the melancholic would go through some introspection before dealing with it, the sanguine would look for a pleasant distraction and the phlegmatic would do everything to avoid confrontation. Temperament affects our behaviour and is likely to influence the type of advice we give. I am a melancholic-choleric and this seeps through the advice I give.

Background

A lot of times, our background affects our decision making processes and consequently the advice we give. Often, people give advice based on what they have seen all their life because that is all they know. In the book “The Dreamgiver ,” by Bruce Wilkinson, Ordinary dares to leave the Land of Familiar to pursue his Big Dream. However, he meets much resistance from those in Familiar who do not understand why he wants to divert from the norm. “If it is working well, why disturb the system?” or “We have always done it this way” are all too common sayings.

Personal experience

Our experience – whether past or present – affects our perception and the advice we dispense. I know of a lady who became very bitter after her fiancé stood her up at the altar on their wedding day. The bitterness colours her paradigm and subsequently the advice she gives. Similarly, someone who is undergoing marital distress because of an unfaithful spouse will likely have negative perceptions of marriage and discourage a couple who are excited about their wedding.

A naturally chirpy and optimistic person, I often find myself being discouraged by such people and have to remind myself that I need not relive their negative experiences. Once, I found myself in a heated argument with a colleague who was trying to discourage me from buying a small car because she argued that they had a tendency of going under trucks and I could be killed. I disregarded the advice, bought the cute little car and in all my years of driving it did not once find myself under a truck. My colleague meant well and had seen a number of newspaper articles about such accidents. However, it did not follow that I would be among those statistics – not all people who drive small cars will be involved in an accident and find themselves under trucks. Just because it happened to one person does not mean it will happen to all.

Perception

Whether we know it or not, whatever advice people give is coloured by their perception. This is at varying levels. First, there are people who are generally negative and poke holes in everything without advancing a better option. The optimist will encourage and the pessimist may discourage because that is the lens through which they see the world.

Second is the person’s perception of you. If they have decided you are foolish, they will treat you as such and based on the assumption that you cannot possibly think of anything intelligent. On the other hand, if they hold you in high esteem, they may encourage you to carry out a foolish idea simply because they assume that you are incapable of making silly mistakes.

Regardless of what influences their perception, the bottom line is such people will either raise you or put you down. The best is to keep away from those who either view you negatively or are generally pessimistic. On the other hand, try to be more objective with advice from those who think too highly of you. These cheerleaders could unintentionally cheer you into a disaster if you are not careful.

Also, be aware that we have such different perceptions that what may appear like the road to hell for once person could actually lead someone else to heaven on earth.

Level of knowledge

Some people mean well but simply lack the information and knowledge to be good advisers. They may want to see you rise but have insufficient information to give effective advice. Someone who is an expert in one area is not necessarily one in everything. Just because someone gave you good advice about what car to buy based on their mechanical engineering background doesn’t mean they will necessarily give sound advice about investments. Don’t be a victim of other people’s ignorance no matter how well their intentions. Some people are confident despite their ignorance and can give very misleading advice.

Also, don’t just seek advice from everyone. Once, on the way to an assignment at an unfamiliar place, the driver and I got lost so we asked people close by for directions. The first person we asked was a young man who did not say much but pointed to the north indicating that was the direction we should go. We drove northwards but did not find the place so we asked the next person and he pointed south and we drove in that direction. In a place where there was a language barrier and we did not have a map, we were at the mercy of those we met along the way. Finally, after the fourth person I asked the driver if he realised that none of the people we spoke to knew where we were going but they were all reluctant to admit it so they would just point in any direction. We nearly missed our assignment while going around in circles at the leading of people who wished to help but lacked information to do so. Our assumption that they knew the place we were looking for because they lived in that town and appeared confident was wrong. However, this is what sometimes happens when we look to people who lack knowledge and it applies to all aspects of life. Thankfully this was a minor issue but imagine if we had received misguided advice for a life-changing, long-term decision?! I know many people who made serious career mistakes because of the sources of advice they chose.

Unfounded fears

In another incident, I recently shared my thoughts about a plant I wanted at my place because I thought it would look beautiful. The person I was talking to immediately advised against it and told me it would draw snakes to my home. I have a phobia for snakes and considered abandoning the idea, but I was so in love with the plant and I kept seeing it everywhere. I wondered if all the yards with the plant were really harbouring reptiles. Finally, I worked up the courage to ask someone with a row full of those plants at her house and she was surprised at the theory. First, throughout her life with the plants at her home, she had not encountered a single snake. Secondly, it was her first time to hear that myth and third, the man who told me about the relationship between the plant and snakes does not have such plants at his home and may by some coincidence have seen a snake hiding behind the plant. However, that single incident did not translate to a tendency by snakes to gravitate towards the plant.

Misplaced judgement

Sometimes people can create a box and try to force you to fit into it based on their limited knowledge about you. When I started studying for my Masters’ degree I briefly discussed the issue with a highly esteemed gentleman who seemed progressive. At that time, I had unwittingly settled for a junior position in a regional organisation from a senior position in a national organisation. I thought it was a good opportunity to break into the regional market and did not know that employers would judge me based on the position I occupied then, rather than what I had been in the past, despite all the details being chronicled in my curriculum vitae. I was desperately trying to get out of that position and a post graduate degree was part of the solution. I mentioned my studies to this man in passing. His response shocked me and led to the instant death of what a fledgling friendship.

“You’re ok with a first degree for your position. Why on earth do you need a Masters?” he asked. The man had judged me based on my current erroneous decision rather than my potential. He saw my present, yet I was looking at my future. He saw what I was then, yet I saw what I could become. I later learnt that he had an MBA and I found it strange that someone would try to prevent me from reaching a similar goal, as though I was born for a lower station in life. Looking back I realised we had always related from the position of a horse and a rider with him having the upper hand. It both saddened and angered me that he had tried to mislead me to maintain that status. Through that brief encounter, I learnt the painful truth that not everyone who gives advice means well and some people want to maintain an imaginary position of superiority. I also learnt that it helps to believe in myself and to be headstrong when faced by such people.

Not everyone means well

Human beings occasionally exhibit a characteristic called jealousy. Sometimes it manifests through the dispensing of harmful counsel coated as advice. Not everyone means well. Some people are wicked and find pleasure in watching other people stumble and fall while others are just mischievous. Also, some people may ill advise you so that you repeat the mistakes they made and they can find comfort in numbers. The human mind can sometimes conceive unfathomable evil.

Exercise caution

Finally, the aim of this instalment is not to discourage people from taking advice. There are numerous benefits to taking advice. These including learning from other people’s knowledge, getting fresh ideas and avoiding repeating old mistakes, among others. The aim is simply to encourage people to be more objective in seeking and accepting advice, being mindful that counsel is influenced by various factors. Advisors are fallible human beings who just love to dispense advice, which can be either beneficial or detrimental. Sometimes these humans mean well but fall short. Evaluate advice and its intentions before accepting it because it will influence the decisions you make and ultimately, you will live with the consequences.

Victims of other people’s choices

Life, is a series of choices, so we have been told. The impression is that if you make good choices, your life will be good. Most of us have heard the cliché “you are where you are today because of the choices you made yesterday.”

True, I do not dispute that.  The greater part of our adult life is a result of the decisions we constantly make. However, there is that small proportion of our lives that is a consequence of other people’s decisions. Stephen Covey, in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” advises us to focus and work on what is within our control, or our sphere of influence. That’s some really helpful advice. However, sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we end up facing the consequences of other people’s decisions.

As I write this, I am an unwitting victim of someone else’s decision. Today we have no water at home, thanks to the gardener’s decision to pour all the water in the storage tank on his beloved plants. Sadly, only 10 green vegetables are still looking healthy, the rest have withered, while we have to think about how to use whatever drop of water comes our way. This is not the first time we’ve run out of water since he came. Yes, he’s a great guy and extremely hard working, but sadly, he sometimes makes unilateral decisions that place both our lives at risk, like now. The first time was exactly a month ago. I got home at 6pm to be told there was no water. I made a quick decision to get water trucked to the house by a commercial supplier and the problem was solved. My neighbours also stepped in and provided water to meet our needs while waiting for the truckers.  However, looking back in hindsight, by quickly stepping in, I denied the gardener an opportunity to learn. Consequently, he missed a key lesson about the importance of water in water-constrained city where diseases like typhoid occur frequently. Not surprisingly, we find ourselves in exactly the same situation again. Normally, I monitor water usage and advise him not to use what’s in storage for the garden. The plants can wait and it usually isn’t very long before the City of Harare remembers that we pay bills to receive water. However, I travelled last week and in my absence, he used water without restraint – to the point of emptying a 5,000 litre tank on his own in one day. I returned from a week-long trip to a home without water. The last drop was exhausted on the day I left and I am not surprised because on the day I left, I had watched in horror as he created what looked like rice paddies that appeared to drown his plants – all this from the reserve tank –  despite being told to use storage water sparingly and only in the absence of council water.

However, rather than arrange to have water trucked again, I decided to remain silent and let him solve the problem in the hope that he will also learn from this experience. His solution was to find the nearest well and ask for water, which he has been using for his daily needs. In a country bedevilled with waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid, in a city with a typhoid outbreak and in a suburb that is among those affected by typhoid, this solution puts both of us at risk of contracting typhoid. 

Much as I have tried to ensure that this house never runs out of water, and have communicated how water is to be used, the quality of my life is being compromised because I am living out the consequences of someone else’s decision. Thankfully, unbeknown to him, I have another private storage facility designed for moments like this, which he cannot access. I thank God he does not know about it because it too, would probably have been exhausted and I would be forced to use water from the unknown well for everything else. Currently, he brings me water every morning, but since it is not from a trusted source, the best I can do is use it for flushing the toilet, while praying that the man to whom i attribute our current water woes will not contract typhoid. However, i have had to temporarily halt certain luxuries until a steady supply of water comes. At the moment, i cannot wear my contact lenses, i have to shower rather than bath, dishes have to queue up in a pile and be washed once a day, toilet usage has been limited to twice a day, laundry cannot be done and mopping has to be with the minimum possible amount of water –  among other changes that compromise the quality of my life.

At least this is a minor and temporary issue. However, many people find themselves in similar positions of living out the consequences of other people’s decisions. For example, the child whose parents make foolish decisions that later shape his/her life, or the faithful spouse who contracts HIV or a sexually transmitted infection (STI) from an unfaithful partner who keeps taking risks by having unprotected sex with people outside that union. Some of these are sadly, long term and can affect the direction of one’s life.

Some years ago, when I was doing A level, one of my classmates’ mother opted to buy herself a new dress with money that had been set aside for her daughter’s examination fees a day before the fee deadline. Needless to say the girl did not write examinations and that affected the career she was forced to take up, the pool of men she became exposed to, the type of person she married and the lifestyle she is currently living. Some may say she could have gone back to school after she started working. That’s true, but could she afford it now that she had a family in her new found society where education and a career were not as great a priority as marriage?

I also know of a lady who walked out of a 10 year marriage to start her life from scratch because her husband kept making foolish decisions that were negatively affecting her and their son. The man was in the habit of unilaterally selling off family assets and spending the money alone. When she finally decided to walk out, the husband had decided to sell the family home and she only found out through phone calls when prospective buyers started calling in response to the advert he had placed in the newspaper. Efforts to discuss the matter and reverse his decision were futile, he did not respect her opinion, despite her contribution towards purchasing those assets. She finally figured that if she hung around, they would soon be very poor and she and her son would never enjoy the standard of living she was working hard to attain as long as her husband continued to make unwise choices so she left him and before two years were over, she was happy and prosperous while the husband, now reduced to poverty, was trying to negotiate with her to return.

Also, in 2002, the Women and AIDS Support Network (WASN) conducted the “Voices and Choices”  research, which looked into the sexual and reproductive health and rights of HIV positive women. What struck me among the report’s findings was the percentage of married women who were infected by  the only sexual  partners they had known and within the marital union, contrary to the common belief that the virus affects mostly commercial sex workers who are considered a “high risk” group. More than 70 percent of women interviewed were virgins when they got married and were infected by their husbands. This influenced WASN’s decision to focus its programmes on married women and women in stable relationships, who were at higher risk than commercial sex workers.  The sad reality is that such a large number of women became unwitting victims of the consequences of other people’s choices, that is, their husbands. Although the research is more than a decade old, this reality still applies to some women, particularly those who are economically dependent on their spouses and have very little say.

These examples and my current situation illustrate how one person’s decision can negatively affect other people. The people whose decisions affect us seem to have difficulty learning from life’s experiences, yet we cannot wish such people off the planet. So perhaps, the best to do under such circumstances is first to empower oneself. This may be difficult for the child whose parents make unwise decisions. However, for adults, don’t place yourself in a position of vulnerability where someone’s decisions affect you negatively. If you are economically dependent on that person, find something to do so you can earn your own money and have a say.

Secondly,  where  possible, always have a contingency plan. Indeed not everyone is a good planner and unfortunately sometimes we are affected by other people’s failure to plan. However, when we know the people we are working with, it is possible to predict the consequences of their inability to plan and therefore incumbent upon us to come up with a contingency plan so that we do not become victims when the inevitable happens.

Lastly, I hope in the choices we make, we take time to think about how our decisions have a downstream effect on other people, be it family, friends, colleagues, business associates or strangers. If we try to think of others, perhaps, in a small way, we will make wiser decisions and the world will be a better place.

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