Friday, September 21, 2012

An ethical advertising agency

Simply put, this is exactly what we should be doing. This is what we need. Alain de Botton knows. He just knows...

You can read more on this here.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Things Fall Apart

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere ANARCHY is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

- Excerpt from The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

Monday, August 6, 2012


Never in all my life has linoleum held such a profound fascination for me as it did on my first time volunteering   at the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital. As my eyes bore holes in the floor I found my feet shuffling uncontrollably while at the same time anchoring me to a single spot like a ton of lead.

This was a bad idea, a voice in my head announced.  I can't stand that particular voice in my head. She is a smug know-it-all who sounds like the narrator of Desperate Housewives and is only ever present when things are going badly.

She was right though. I am not a people person, I hate hospitals, am repulsed at the thought of germs and sick people and I am scared of real life children, particularly babies. I had no business being at a children's hospital and thinking I could be put to any kind of use. As one by one the other volunteers around me were assigned to various duty stations, some to sort through donations, others to play with sick children I became increasingly aware of the rapid and powerful thudding of my heart against my rib cage. I swear that traitor was trying to escape. My own cardiac tissue would have preferred to leave me for dead than witness the next few hours of what was sure to be a resoundingly disastrous attempt at doing some good in the world. Unbelievable!

The nurse handing out the assignments was nothing short of a force of nature. The magnitude of this woman was both terrifying and awe-inspiring like a raging weather phenomenon or an impossible geographical feature. She was massive and when her no-nonsense eyes locked with mine it became clear that I was doomed.

You. You're coming with me.

Oh heck no, I thought and slid behind a girl in front of me. There were only two of us left.

I realized she still had me on lock. Curse you skinny, short girl!

Tarryn, they are waiting for you in the garden. Wena (pointing at me) let's go!

As we walked through the corridors, me with my feet of lead and Sister Hurricane with the power of a gale force wind I began to nurture hope that perhaps I would be relegated to a windowless room at the back of the hospital somewhere and made to sort through old patients' records or some such innocuous activity. Anything but human contact would have been great.

We stopped walking. I looked up from the linoleum. A baby in a crib...barely audibly whimpering in a sea of soft fluffy bright yellow bedding. When I saw a pair of tiny feet clad in peppermint green woolen booties poking through the bedding I knew that I was done for.

The Hurricane handed me a feeding bottle.

The thing is, I- I -I don't really know how...

It's fine he knows what to do. I'll check on you later.

I gingerly offered the bottle to the baby.

Don't be silly. Pick him up and sit in that chair! 

Oh. Er. Yes. Of course. That's what I was about to...

Tsk! She was already gone as I lifted the soft mass of peppermint wrapped preciousness and then proceeded to freeze in mid air.

Do not screw this up. Do not drop the infant. What are you doing? Do not grip him so tightly, you'll smother him! Calm down. That's better. Everything is fine. Everyone is okay.

Little wrinkly hands reached up to my chin while hungry eyes drank in my apprehensive face and examined me closely. It felt like a moment between Gertie and E.T. I was definitely the E.T. Steadily the contents of the bottle were gulped down and as I looked into the eyes of this helpless human being who had trusted me, a total stranger, to provide him sustenance, I was humbled. I suddenly felt connected to the pulse of life and I was simply grateful to be a part of it. I marveled at him: such a beautiful, warm and peaceful baby...What could have brought him here and why was he alone?

Will my baby make it? said a frail, shaky voice breaking into my thoughts. She was tiny, drowning in what appeared to be hospital robes and she looked like a rag doll as she struggled to move her wheelchair closer to us. Her eyes were bulging giving her a look of bewilderment and her skin was covered in lesions while her hands shook uncontrollably. I immediately recognized the signs.

Is he all right? she whispered the words in Xhosa through her bright pink quivering lips. It wouldn't be long for her...

I looked down at him. His skin was the colour of savanna grasslands at sunrise in the dry season and as he stared up at me, oblivious to his impending orphan-hood he flashed a toothless grin that pushed hard against chubby, dimpled cheeks tinged with pink. Oh dear. It was my treacherous heart again, swelling against my rib cage and exploding with a feeling I cannot articulate...

I heard her lungs wheezing beside me. Argh! Why? Why, why, why was she asking me anyway? I wasn't a doctor, I was just a kid for goodness sake!

Yes, I mumbled.

You could at least have the decency to look at her... said the narrator of Desperate Housewives.

I turned and fixed my eyes somewhere in the middle of her forehead.

Yes, he will make it, I said hoping to God this wouldn't turn out to be a lie.

She sighed, Enkosi. I looked away.

Thank you? Why on Earth was she thanking me?

He likes you. Do you come here often? Her wheezing was escalating.

Y-yes. A lie.

Will you come back tomorrow?

Yes. Another lie.

Enkosi. 'Nkos' ibusise. (Thank you. God bless.)

Nothing wounds me as much as the gratitude of the poor and helpless. It pierces straight through my spleen and leaves my soul haemorrhaging guilt and a deep sense of failure and inadequacy. Because let's be honest. Can we ever do enough? Do we ever really extend ourselves as much as we could? I know I don't. I could definitely do more.

I do not remember what his name was. I don't even know exactly what he was sick with. If he did make it as I told his mother he would, he is ten years old this year. I imagine he can do fractions and decimals and loves playing soccer with his friends. I imagine he gets three solid meals a day and is happy and well adjusted. I force myself to imagine this because the chances are as one of over 2 million children orphaned by AIDS in South Africa, the alternative reality is far too dark and depressing for me to live with and actually be able to sleep at night.

Peter Pan, the immortal child. There is a statue of him at the entrance of the  Red Cross Children's hospital.

Video: Mary J Blige, U2 - One 

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Lost Years

I recently realized I do not have any photographs of myself between the year 2000 and 2007. Between people helping themselves to my prints and me changing laptops several times and losing data thanks to viruses even the digital record of my existence in those years is very sparse. Pictures are a great way of documenting one's life and are great for remembering what one was thinking or feeling at a certain point. While I do not really have much of a pictorial record I did find my "big green forever book" which is kind of scrap book I've kept since I was 14 years old and in which I have been recording the contents of my mind and the things that interest me over the years. The Lost Years is a timeline in which I have selected some of my writings from the big green forever book. I may not have visual evidence of what I was doing, with whom and what I looked like during those years but it does give a glimpse of what I was thinking about around and during my coming of age.

Photo credit:  CSU-Pueblo Today

Friday, July 6, 2012

Always you wrestle inside me...

Life. Gotta love it.  You've just got to. Like when it gives you a taste for certain things and then proceeds not to equip you with the tools you require to enjoy them fully and abundantly. Do you know what I mean? It gives you the kind of hapless personality in which you have an insatiable affinity for certain things but throws in an aversion to the manner in which those things are acquired. And you're always aware of the tension, always aware of your weakness and you are always confronted with choices. Overcome this cognitive dissonance or watch the these things pass you by and spend your life in a state of inertia and dissatisfaction. Yep. Gotta love it. Always throwing illogical curve balls at you just so you don't just cruise through feeling like a million bucks, so you're always feeling a little bit on edge, a little off balance and so you don't get comfortable and arrogant. Life. It keeps you humble. And in awe. And grateful.

So life has given me a penchant for human beings, a deep interest in their welfare and a desire to know their stories, to give them a voice and a space to be heard and seen. I get a kick out of discovering the stories of strangers, my natural inclination is to recognize people and help them know that they matter and are worthy. The things they have experienced, what they want and need and who they are matter. I love that. Here's the problem. I am an introvert. I have a rich and solid inner life that energizes me and I'm largely put off by large-scale social interactions, my definition of large-scale being anything involving more than two people. But in a world that idealizes extroversion this is seen as a weakness of some sort, a thing to be overcome. So I struggle on many fronts. On the one front I genuinely care about people and I am apparently a decent listener and good to be around; but I find it draining to spend time with people and often feel a sense of having lost something when I over socialize (by my standards) so that battle rages constantly. On another front I reject the societal notion that everyone should be an "out there" people person, that group brainstorming is the best way to foster ideas and creativity and that extroverts make good leaders. I reject  "group think". It's not for me. I think teams only work when people have clear cut roles and responsibilities and are given space to just run with them. I think when everyone is supposed to think with a collective brain we miss out on the potential that is sequestered in individual brains afraid of disrupting "group dynamics." But this is the world I live in and I want to move ahead in it so many times I fake extroversion. I can get away with it too because I'm high in empathy and I'm good at reading people. 

So I am a system in dynamic equilibrium, a pendulum oscillating to and fro. The original me is Version 1.0 and the extrovert is Version 1.1. Whenever V 1.0 loses and I force myself (kicking and screaming) out of my head and actually give people my attention I am surprisingly good at teasing out the thing about them that makes them special. And I'm often glad I did. Because the stories I've discovered are astounding and inspiring. V 1.1 is emotionally responsive and fun to be around. She is good at winning people over. Be that as it may it still feels like I'm stabbing myself in the back when I let her take over and sideline the needs of V1.0. While I appreciate her usefulness, I have a stronger affinity for V 1.0 who is an eccentric and deep, analytical thinker who works with machine-like efficiency and a fair bit of creativity when left undisturbed. She is a very interesting character and is probably the only reason why anyone's even remotely interested in getting to know V 1.1. 

And so it goes on. I live on a precipice, a tug of war raging with no end in sight. Sigh...

"Always you wrestle inside me; always you will..."

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Being Swept Along Is Not Enough

She followed slowly, taking a long time,
as though there were some obstacle in the way;
and yet: as though, once it was overcome, 
she would be beyond all walking, and would fly.

- Excerpt from Going Blind by Rainer Maria Rilke

I generally dislike ranking things but I think I can safely say Rilke is my favourite poet (sincerest apologies to Neruda and Wordsworth) and the poem below is my favourite poem of all. Admitting this leaves me in paroxysms of guilt. While I can almost see all the other poems I dearly love skulking off dejectedly and as much as this pains me, I simply cannot pretend to be poetically polyandrous anymore. Allow me to introduce to you: “the one.”

As Once the Winged Energy of Delight

As once the winged energy of delight
carried you over childhood's dark abysses,
now beyond your own life build the great
arch of unimagined bridges.

Wonders happen if we can succeed
in passing through the harshest danger;
but only in a bright and purely granted 
achievement can we realize the wonder.

To work with Things in the indescribable
relationship is not too hard for us;
the pattern grows more intricate and subtle,
and being swept along is not enough.

Take your practiced powers and stretch them out
until they span the chasm between two 
contradictions... for the god
wants to know himself in you.

- Rainer Maria Rilke

Monday, May 7, 2012

Just another manic Monday

All about change and shattering old ways in exchange for new adventures. As the Kings of Leon say, "Pony up, we got a ways to go!"

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Kindness is Timeless

Sometimes you just need someone to believe in you, to take a bet on you and invest in you. Sometimes all you need is for a stranger to buy into you and decide you are worth their time, their attention or their help and cut you a break. I think we all deserve to be considered worthy of a hand up once in a while and I think it is unfortunate that in this world, because of limited resources, you have to prove yourself to be worthy, you have to earn recognition, respect and support and I think it is really unfortunate that the world is set up such that we are all in competition with each other. So no matter how fast, smart, gifted or good looking one is there is always someone faster, smarter, more gifted and better looking, and that’s the person who impresses the panel, wins the prize, and receives support to get even further ahead in life. From a primordial perspective of survival of the fittest, rewarding natural excellence is a tried and tested strategy that works for the good of the species. But in this present day, not being good enough is a really hard pill to swallow if it means that it costs us a shot at realizing our dreams or it costs us a chance to get past difficult circumstances.

I first encountered Energy in 2007 at the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) where he was performing as a marimba player and backing vocalist of a musical ensemble named Liyana. All the musicians in Liyana are living with some form of physical impairment and a number of them including Energy are wheelchair-bound. They have had to adapt themselves to operating in a world that is largely designed to fit the needs of the able bodied and life for them demands an additional level of strain and effort that others do not have to experience. I was impressed by the band’s ability to dominate the stage, draw the audience in and have a rocking time of it. 

My second encounter with Energy came in the form of an urgent and impassioned plea for help from a dear friend of mine who has a penchant for helping people and the sheer enormity of whose charisma is only matched by her magnanimous sense of humanity. She had a history of working with and supporting King George VI, the school for physically challenged people in Bulawayo which is the home of Liyana. Energy had written and passed his SATs and been offered a scholarship to study in the USA but he didn’t have the funds to cover his living expenses. Unfortunately, in order to be granted a study visa he had to demonstrate proof of finances to the tune of $10, 000 which for someone with an impoverished background in Zimbabwe, is absurd to the point of hilarity. Except it wasn’t a joke. It was real, urgent and necessary. A young man’s dreams hung in the balance and my friend set up an online fundraising page, appealing to her vast network of friends and connections to donate what they could so that Energy could get his visa and go and begin a whole new chapter in his life.

I nearly didn’t do anything about it. There are so many reasons not to give. I deliberated the issue thus:

The Scrooge in me: I’m not rich.
Me after realizing that my most priceless possessions are the incredible people in my life: So what?

The Scrooge in me: I already give. I send money to my family in Zimbabwe. Isn’t that enough?
Me after a particularly fine glass of merlot:  There is no quota for how much I should give. I can give as much as I please. Damn it, I can do whatever I want!

The Scrooge: I don’t really have the money to spare.
Me while washing club smoke out my hair after a costly night of wining, dining and dancing: Next month why don’t you NOT buy a new book or CD to add to your sky high pile of non-essential things, and instead, give the money to Energy so he can go to school? Or you could cook instead of going out to eat for a month and give Energy whatever you would have spent on food and beverages and tips so that the guy can go to school. Food vs Education. Really? Do we even need to think about this?

Scrooge: I’m awesome but no one ever gave me money to go and live and study overseas. I’ve had to make things happen with whatever resources were available to me and as a result my life has followed a completely different trajectory from that which I had envisaged originally. If this guy can’t afford to go to school then he must make another plan like the rest of us have had to!
Me after a very grounding conversation with my mother: Sure, he could make another plan. Or you could help him… And yes you are awesome. Always have been and probably always will be regardless of where life takes you or where you choose to go. Your ability to handle the setbacks you have faced is further testimony of your awesomeness. A pat on the back and a big high five to you. Five Noddy badges and a gold star in fact! Now, are you going to help Energy or not? You know you want to…

So I did. I asked my friends to help him too and a couple of them did. In fact one of them, a very talented emcee in a band posted the link on his fan page and mentioned Energy in his blog asking his followers to donate or spread the word. And then I realized that I was getting high. Yes high. Intoxicated. Helping someone in need has that effect on the brain and as I watched the numbers creeping up towards the $10 000 target as more and more people donated, I must say I felt like a million bucks for having contributed in my small way to a web of compassion that would change somebody’s life for the better. Yay for me!

I hope Energy is enjoying himself in Florida. I know he is filled with humility and gratitude and wants to make us all proud and show us a very high return on our investment in him. But I don’t expect him to go back at the end of his studies and change the course of history in Zimbabwe. Being the young dynamo that he is, though, it will not surprise me if he does go home and do some utterly amazing things, however if he does he will have exceeded my expectations of him and he will have gone over and above what I hope for him to achieve. For me, if Energy uses his time abroad to grow his mind and skills, gain experience and exposure and expand his horizons beyond the confines of a small life in his homeland then that is enough. It’s worth it all and I am glad to have helped.

Ear worm of the day: Timeless - Sergio Mendes ft India Arie

Monday, March 26, 2012

Jozi - The City of Blinding Lights

Nelson Mandela Bridge

Telkom Tower

Constitutional Court

Constitution Hill Prison Precinct

N1 Motorway

17 Movies worth geeking out to in 2012 | memeburn

17 Movies worth geeking out to in 2012 | memeburn

I am as eclectic in my movie tastes as I am in my music taste - I love a good, emotional drama, will do thrillers, can tolerate action-comedy, have rom-com days, perfectly happy with indies and am an attentive documentary viewer. But I was surprised by how many of these straight up geek flicks I was genuinely excited about. I suppose this is indicative of the fact that I am a geek. I forget that I am a geek. And then it hits me. And then I am pleased.

Image: Socialphy

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Brené Brown explores vulnerability, authenticity, courage and shame


This is real. 
This is what being alive is about. 
This is why I write this blog:
To learn this. 
To interrogate this. 
To understand this.

I randomly found Brené's talk this this morning, having mulled over these very ideas just last night. I have noticed that the Supreme Being has an extremely fast turn around time in answering my questions and queries about life; I tend to get my answers between an hour and a couple of days of having posed the question, or as more often tends to be the case, had a good whine about the pointlessness of life. Even arriving at the point of reflecting on vulnerability, authenticity and worthiness happened as the result of some highly compelling Jewish teachings I had been reading which I also randomly stumbled on a mere couple of hours after I was wondering how to be an excellent human being. 

So, in addition to what Brené shared, I guess my lesson for the day (or maybe just the morning as who knows what the rest of the day holds in store for me) is for goodness sake, think about stuff! Don't ever be afraid to ask questions. Lots of them. Big questions, little questions, stupid questions, embarrassing questions, questions you've asked before, look around you, pay attention and ask what stuff actually means. The answers will come. And when the answers come don't just sit on them, use them! As an analyst, this is how I make a living and as a human being this is how I make a life worth living.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Studying sky

A photo study of the sky. Mostly taken on the road.

Someone punched a hole through the clouds to let the sun out:-)

Coucher du soleil

Sunset reloaded

Little farmhouse at sunset

 Sky through sun roof
Morning sky and sea