The Tricky Biznis of Giving…

valentines-day-bad-gifts_thumb-275

On my 26th birthday I received a good dose of karma. All my years of giving ‘bad’ gifts came back to bite me where it hurts the most. And so, as I sat down to unwrap a nicely wrapped package from my mother, I recall having the biggest grin on my face since I had not anticipated any prezzies. And now that it was wrapped up like that?! Whoa!!!

I could feel the water works threatening to erupt, exposing my ultra-sensitive side. Just as well that they didn’t flow before I discovered that my gift was a wall clock. What do they say about not judging a book by its cover? Yikes! Gee, how ironic! What a funny way to remind BigGirlthat she is four years shy of thirty! Tick tick. Tick tock. Mother of me!

With a tinge of disappointment expertly hidden from mom, I politely thanked her for the gift-silently grateful that I had not cried in vain; otherwise I would have embarrassed myself. I would have also been the unfortunate subject of my sixteen year old brother’s mockery forever. Phew!

Thanks to karma, I had flashbacks of all those times I had bought people gifts and all the feedback I got were puzzled looks on their faces. My mother, for one, gave me such when I gave her a book as a gift years ago. I guess it’s a bit of consolation that she eventually learnt to love that book. See? Some gifts are like red wine…yeah?

When I gave my father a pack of socks after a trip to the sea side, I never stuck around long enough to read his reaction. He said a polite, “dankie!” Another incident was when I had bought an ex-boyfriend a mini clay sculpture from a flea market. Not being the one to beat about the bush, he chuckled, stopping only short of asking, “What’s this, sweetness?” When the sculpture fell and broke into pieces the next day- which I still suspect was done on purpose- he looked and sounded relieved, with an awfully bemused twist of his lip; much to my dismay.

In all honesty, there is nothing that gets my palms more sweaty, my pulse racing and my head pounding like buying gifts. It completely frazzles me and makes me look like an anxious junkie every time. ALL.THE. DAMN. TIME. Those who (think they) have it all figured out often brush this whatever-phobia off with the assertion that it can’t be “that bad”. Well, bad gift giving happens to good people as well…and I’m a victim of circumstance.

Theoretically, it’s simple. When you are in tune with what people like then you are most likely to get them gifts they will love and cherish. However, with the many symbolic days on which marketers blackmail us to buy gifts for loved ones, it can simply be overwhelming for those of us who are novices. The less faint hearted aren’t too squeamish to stack cupboards with mugs with “Happy this and that”; mugs that change colour when hot and good grief, even mugs that sing. Then again, who am I to judge? LOL.

I have learnt that one can never go wrong with jewellery, music or even a date (those are, of course, some of the stuff that I personally like. Nudge nudge. Wink wink…hey!) Yet, I’m also of the opinion that perhaps it is better to not give a ‘bad’ gift at running the risk of it not being appreciated. It’s also a bit of an insult to receive a gift that wasn’t well thought out.

So, dear karma, I’m still learning the ropes. Easy does it.

Advertisements

When Home Is NOT Where The Heart Is…

It is always humbling to witness reunions. No, not those superficial high school ones that people use to size each other up: I’m talking about reunions of long lost families and friends; of abducted children being safely returned to their parents and of parents who, despite years of self-imposed absentia, finally reconcile their consciences to take responsibility for their children. It is the stuff that makes some of us cry-babies water at the eyes.

missing_011

While cynics may decry people showing up during late stages of their children’s lives to assume their parental role as being ‘a little too late’, there really isn’t a comparison to the intimate familiarity created by family bonds. Apart from the legitimate reasons for disappearance such as kidnappings and abductions resulting in murder or otherwise, other causes for disappearances include disillusionment with families; feuds and even the pursuit of personal freedom (read: Monate)

According to CrisisOnCallwww.crisisoncall.co.za/ a child goes missing every six hours in South Africa. It is reported that a staggering 80% of those are runaways, while 15% get lost in crowds and 5% are victims of crime. There aren’t clear statistics on how many adults go (are reported) missing in the country. However, the International Rewards Centre reports that in 2012, Gauteng had more than 1 700 cases of missing persons.

It would be an understatement to assert that when people go missing; those left behind are confronted with an emotional and psychological burden. In most instances, families welcome closure in any form, whether favourable or not, though the preference would be to have their loved ones returned safe and sound. We witnessed, among others, the case of the late Constable Francis Rasuge whose family only found closure when her remains were unearthed last year, several years after she went missing.

518080-missing-1362802839-631-640x480

So, reality TV introduced us to Khumbul’ekhaya which has been airing for years now. One reality show that I think is actually important. Through my TV viewing history-however limited- I have seen reunions of all sorts; emotional, dramatic, detached and even cringe worthy ones. That is, those so embarrassing that one could actually get off the couch to go hide under a rock somewhere. But of course it is NOT about any of us couch spectators, ready with our “Ooh’s!” and “Ah’s!” -it is ultimately about the families involved.

Now, about those reunions that leave an unsavoury taste in one’s mouth; those of people who just do not want to be found. There is a couple that come to mind, the latest of which aired this past week. This lady who now has eight children (that she can’t feed) left Khayelitsha in the Western Cape donkey years ago, leaving behind an infant. The boy is now in his teens. Her sister gets a lead through the show and they are able to track her down in Soshanguve outside Pretoria.

The reunion is albeit…lukewarm, with the drifter making a clear statement that she would go back home of her own accord (and at her own time). She cites financial problems as the main reason for not going home all those years and fails to acknowledge the now teenage boy that she left behind. His disappointment and confusion is evident at the end of the insert and one can’t help feeling sorry for him.

It is truly heart breaking to watch as genuine concern and love from these people’s families is met with nonchalance, to the point where one can see the irritation, if not bewilderment, on the former’s faces when reunited. Oh, and the money excuse is fast becoming a classic!It is my assumption that families experience some level of denial because it is truly unsettling to face the fact that while the disappearance of a family member created sleepless nights, endless prayers and fruitless searches- the person being sought couldn’t be bothered. It’s a painful reality that.

Evidently, family has different meaning for different people. While some may live up to the values that home is where the heart is, some are only too happy to buy empty symbolic crochets so they can lay them on their tables and sofas. End of story. We learn, through action and ideology, that family is important; that family is a safe sanctuary that will always offer unconditional love and support. We learn that the family, as an institution, is not perfect yet it is the most enduring of relations.

At the same time, it would be a mistake to assume that the family comprises of homogenous individuals- therefore, blood being thicker than water will make more sense to some people than others. This is evident in some rather unfortunate reunions we witness.

Being Missus Down Low…

mistress

Of all the songs out there about the ill-fated love affair between a married and his mistress, none quite cut as deep as Amy Winehouse’s “Tears Dry on Their Own”. None quite detail the often dark and undignified persona that is THE MISTRESS. None quite capture how much the mistress is a hopeful, pitiful and albeit hapless participant in the enthralling game of deceit.

The song’s lyrics will probably bite just a tad deeper when one has been there and done that; probably through the memory of feeling quietly disgusted with oneself after spending yet another sexually charged but empty night with him. He was probably not the first (unavailable but available man), who knows?

Unfortunately there isn’t much sympathy out there for the mistress, irrespective of whether one knowingly or unwittingly entered into a relationship of this nature. Perhaps your bosom buddies might assist by lending a shoulder to lean on and offer ears to listen AND forgive you because, well, you are friends. What is the likelihood that when confronted with a third wheel in their own relationships, they will be as forgiving?

I surfed a few websites by mistresses of all sorts; those in distress because they aren’t getting the validation they require from their so-called Married Men (MM), and those who are quite happy being number two (or whatever number) as long as they don’t have to wash piles of dirty socks or put up with morning breath on a daily basis.

Nobody gives a hoot whether the mistress is perpetually caught between a rock and a hard place because her romanticized expectations are not materializing. Her self- destructive nature probably renders her a deserving candidate for a melancholic, pathetic existence.One has to wonder whether she likes herself all that much either.

Yet, the woman who cuts a lowly figure; coming across as an all-consuming and greedy,spineless creature isn’t always one seeking material benefits from a man. She is a highly intelligent and sophisticated woman. She clinches deals by day and is a mother (or not). Some other man calls her his wife. To the world, she is proper. Sometimes she is an open book. She is probably not the best looking woman yet. She is most women.

I would say it is a truly brave feat to pursue the affections of a man even with the open secret that they are reserved for someone legitimate.One would have to walk a mile in her shoes to get an idea, at the very least. Yet, it is very unlikely that many would admit that they’ve been there themselves for the purpose of self-preservation. Others will breathe a sigh of relief that “at least I didn’t know”, as if that makes for a better class of mistress. Ignorance certainly is bliss!

Being the mistress is arguably one of the most difficult jobs in the entire universe. In line with keeping up appearances, the mistress has to master the art of discretion. She ought to know better than to call the man at crazy hours of the night. Her job is to stroke the ego to the max, gently please! Knowing her place and sticking to it comes highly recommended since there can’t be two missuses. Dreaming of picket fences and sunny skies is not encouraged. In addition, asking too many questions is an exercise purely reserved for the main girl. Not forgetting being the goddess in the- you-know-what…

In a perfect world, the mistress would be a misnomer. She would be an urban legend because women would be far too discerning to be consumed by the pointless exercise that the affair truly is. They would also be less compromising of themselves and their values. In a perfect world, the mistress would realise that not every action is based on love, therefore love isn’t everything and neither is it always practical.

We don’t live in a perfect world.

Good Fences. Good Neighbours

It is a tingling pleasure to listen to Clarence Carter as he sings about giving his neighbour’s wife some much needed “service”. One certainly hopes that the neighbour’s missus got a good dose of that service; with the right size…err… tools. Everyone needs a neighbour as thoughtful and generous.

They say good fences make good neighbours. Good fences can make sure nosy folks can’t see more than they need to. They can also shield one from the condescending opinions about whether slaughtering chickens with one’s bare hands is an abomination. Good fences can also give one a false sense of security.

Pity I cannot recall having a neighbourly conversation with anyone since the move from my childhood township home. Welcome to the ‘burbs ma’ am, where the closest interaction you will have with your neighbour is when they drive past your house or when they bring two pals in uniform along with because your Maskandi is a tad too loud.

It is largely accepted and known that people who live in the suburbs keep to themselves and are quite happy to mind their business. So it was rather surprising that during the fatal shooting of Oscar Pistorius’ late girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, it was the neighbours who alerted the police about the commotion in the house. Kudos to the neighbours!

The other extreme was that in the late Steenkamp’s hometown of Port Elizabeth, some neighbours admitted that they were not even aware that she had lived there, which begs the question, just how important are neighbourly relations?

While my family has always been on the reserved side even before the move to less dusty places, we nonetheless enjoyed good and mutually respectful relations with our neighbours. I have recollections of my sister and me running around in the dark one evening en route to the neighbour’s house to watch the eight o’ clock drama on her TV when ours had broken down. Even those days when my mother and another neighbour were both expecting and they would be chatting over the fence. It was rather amusing to witness the sight of their distended bellies.

CJohnstonPicketFencesL

It was therefore a minor cultural shock coming from a place where one couldn’t pass elders in the streets without so much as a greeting, to a place where people search their feet awkwardly (maybe, that’s me) or stare into unknown horizons until out of earshot and sight. This is not to suggest that a sense of community is absent in sub (urban) areas; it does, in its own form. However, the migration of former Bantustan settlers to the urban areas and the consequential cultural mix may be a contributing factor to the locked-in behaviour of urbanites.

Let’s not ignore that there are benefits of keeping to oneself. There are many people who can attest to having sour relations with neighbours for one reason or the other. From perceived voodoo (Serious stuff) to money issues, gossip, jealousy…the list goes on. As with any other relationship setting clear boundaries is important, through action or verbalization, to avoid people stepping on each other’s toes. It needs to be managed because let’s face it, you might be stuck with the same neighbour your whole life!

Whether the sense of neighbourliness in black communities was created by the historical demarcation of land –which means that if the guy next door trips, he may very well end up on your door step- or because of an entrenched sense of community integral to African communities, it is an essential part of building inter-personal relations.Body corporates in gated communities also serve the same purpose.

Ultimately, it feeds into the notion that no man is an island; therefore neighbours (regardless of location) can be one’s best allies. How about some tolerance, folks?!

Is Africa Self-defeating?

ami_jpg_410x270_upscale_q85

The month of May kick-starts the commemoration of the 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of the OAU, as well as the African Union which was founded little over a decade ago. It is also a good time for the Union to reflect on how far it has come in its mission to “promote an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena”.

A McKinsey report reveals that despite the obvious challenges such as conflict, a shift in economic and social policy could see Africa making headway in the long run in terms of development.

The report classifies African states into three categories: Diversified economies; South Africa forms part of this group along with Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. These countries are said to be the most developed, with the least volatile GDP.

The second categories of states are those in the Transition phase; countries such as Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya are included in this group. These ones are not nearly as developed as the first group, though exhibiting potential for growth. Pre-transition economies such as the DRC, Ethiopia and Mali constitute the third category of countries with the lowest GDP and are still very poor.

This is the state of Africa fifty years on. The truth is that the continent remains generally poor relative to its abundant natural resources. South Africa has played a key role in many developmental endeavours (such as NEPAD, SADC) both in the Southern African region and the continent at large through the contribution of financial and human resources.

Therefore, it is not surprising that recent reports of negative statements by Zambian deputy president, Guy Scott about South Africa (and South Africans in general) put a damper on things for some of us who believe that despite our country’s internal discord- within the international arena-South Africa has proven itself to be a force to be reckoned with. While I believe his statements were lacking tact, the level of truth in them cannot simply be swept under the carpet.

One of the statements made by Scott was one pertaining to the historical (under) development of South Africa in comparison to other African states. While at face value it appears that Scott is ignorant of the structural development in this country; the reality is that the rampant corruption, looting of state resources and abuse of public funds is undermining economic growth. Other areas compromised include education and health care and sanitation, which South Africa should, ideally, have under control.

In the eyes of Guy Scott and others who share his perspective, South Africa is a lot like the self-absorbed and ignorant spoilt brat of the continent who has most things at her disposal. In most instances her people refer to the greater Africa as the ‘other’ and suffer from severe xenophobia. This is despite the fact that her children have one of the lowest ratings of literacy and numeracy skills at basic education level- ultimately resulting in an inadequately skilled workforce.

Having listened to many ‘comic’ yet equally alarming conversations by some ladies on regular commutes to work, passing the snaking queues at the Home Affairs branch in Marabastad; it is clear how ignorant ordinary South Africans are to the harsh realities faced by fellow Africans. This is often revealed in statements that suggest that the demise of Mandela will signal the mass exodus of all immigrants. The snaking queues on the other hand, reveal the stark reality that, for many refugees and asylum seekers, South Africa is a beacon of hope.

Without seeking to justify our obvious short-comings as South Africans, the large influx of our fellow Africans is a burden on the economy of the country, and the scramble for scarce resources a direct consequence of that.How does Mr Scott suggest resolving this?

Truth hurts. Naturally, when confronted with absolute and unadulterated truth the first response is denial. However, the revelation of truth offers one the opportunity to reflect positively on what the implications are and how to best go about managing change (if any). So, the truth really acts as a necessary control measure to ensure that we don’t get caught up in our own illusion.

Of course South Africa has its own demons, but so does the rest of Africa.The latter, whose citizens make up the numbers of refugees and asylum seekers in the country, need to do some introspection of their own. The Guy Scotts of this world also need to be part of the solution and not merely criticize at will.Now is as good a time as any, especially within the context of the 50th anniversary of the OAU.

When We Can’t Afford Silence

 

Speak No Evil2

Where I come from, an air of mistrust exists towards people deemed to be “too” quiet. These people, otherwise known to you and me as introverts are faced with the perception that they are too deep and secretive. Dropping bombshells when people least expect is their speciality. Perhaps this is what irks people; that they don’t know it all hence the discomfort.

A few frustrated outbursts have come my way once too often particularly from my mother. She, of course knows the introvert in me all too well. ‘Still doesn’t understand her, me…it. As it would occur, introverts not only like their words at a minimum, they like their space too. I have settled for being ‘misunderstood’.

There’s an old song titled “Silence is golden”. While the high pitched melody can be confusing irony, the phrase in itself is true. Silence, in comparison to noise and much ado about nothing, is dignified and  can reveal more about an individual’s sense of integrity than anything else. Let’s rememberwhen he was ‘recalled’ from office, former president Thabo Mbekiremained silent while the rest of us bemoaned the treatment rendered to him by his own comrades. It was silence that also hurt KgalemaMotlanthe’s chances in the presidential race preceding the ANC elective conference in Mangaung.

Who knows how things could have turned out had Motlanthe been vocal enough? Possibilities abound, however, we will never know. Of course some will insist that one fakes in until he makes it. In this case, being strategically silent until the crap that hit the fan dissipates.

 I reckon our dearly beloved President Zuma is one of those who believe in this tenet. How can one assume differently when all but the man spoke out during the many scandals of his career? Corruption trial  –silence. Rape trial –silence. Concubines –silence. Nkandla –silence. Guptagate…

This kind of silence is not of a golden nature, I’m afraid. It is one that is actively pitting one South African against the other. It is of the kind that says, “I’m out of my depth and God, I don’t even know it!” Hence when something is uttered, statements like “The problem with South Africa is that everyone wants to run the country”are first in line. Oh well.

Over the past week social media has been abuzz, as has been traditional media with the Gupta clique landing their jet at a National Key Point (without proper customs procedures being followed and with absolute disregard for the sensitivity of our national sovereignty by those who authorized the landing) and receiving high level escort to the wedding venue.

While the president has not been implicated in this storm-in-a-tea cup, his ties to the Guptas go far beyond acquaintance level. The loyalty exhibited by his loyalists is admirable but I reckon it is time some took off their rose coloured glasses. This current scandal is a clear indication that our country has been sold to the bearer of the deepest pockets. So, which Master do we really serve?

Silence is not golden. It is fatal. A collective silence from the masses to the decline of our country into a state that does not command respect in all the necessary arenas, demanded by those who are against criticism of those at the helm of government, is an active reversal of the strides made by others in the past. Our silence will be the vehicle ensuring that the narrow interests of a few continue to flare corruption and rot in our society. We cannot afford to keep silent.