SORRY

I listen to a number of podcasts. This is fast becoming one of my most time consuming past-times. This is the era of podcasts and there’s an over saturation of people with opinions and access to the technology that allows them to share them. Often. I’m not mad at all – it’s just that I’m just incapable of multi-tasking so I have to carve time out to listen to my podcasts. Being unable to have them play in the back ground as I work or drive means that I often listen to the things way after their release. I stumble upon most of what I listen to (shout out to streaming services algorithms). One of my new top 5 podcasts is one that I didn’t stumble upon though. My friend (yes, I’m about to name drop) Natasha Fuyane of Twitter fame, together with her friend Xoli, started a much needed soul-food filled podcast that speaks directly to the diasporan Zimbabwean experience.

Nat and Xoli started #GirlInSkies this year and with each episode, they address the politics of being Zimbabwean – a bottomless rabbit hole filled with sadness and entropy. I think their message resonates particularly with Zimbabweans who find themselves displaced and building what looks like home is countries other than their own. Each episode has required those listening to ask important and increasingly complex questions about their existence, the diasporan life and the likelihood that all the Zimbabweans who are far-flung may never get the chance to return home.

The episode that hit home the most for me so far was centered around apologies. That’s it. That’s the podcast.

Girl In Skies Podcast

Critical questions were asked. They were all tricky. A lot of honesty was shared by the ladies but in the same breath, required of the listeners. The first question that floored me was “Who taught you to apologise? If I’m being absolutely honest, I don’t know. I know that being a Ndebele girl raised by two African fundamentalists, it’s unlikely that I ever heard the word “sorry” from my parents at a young age. I’m 28 now, and that has only changed marginally, and from one parent.

There’s a story my father loves to tell at large family gatherings where he has no business sharing it. The first house my parents ever lived in was in Morningside, Bulawayo. It was suburbia, but middle-class suburbia. This meant we had large enough yards to lend the semblance of privacy, but not so much that we didn’t know our neighbours. It so happened that one of the children from the family living opposite us had a birthday party, and of course, my siblings were invited. At some point, I assume I was wronged violently, I retaliated by throwing hands. That, or was a vile miscreant who enjoyed beating other children. I prefer the former.

I forgot to mention that the highlight of this story is a jogger short. Mind you, this is in the early 90s and velvet jogger shorts with off-setting piping were the in thing. I had a pair. I was wearing said pair when my father was promptly notified that I was physically harassing someone’s child. Up until that point, my mother had been the resident disciplinarian (so I hear) and my father had yet to spank me. Now, it is important that I tell you that my father was gaining marriage weight as was no longer as nimble of foot as he had been oh, say, five years before this. Regardless, he collected me from the party and informed me that I would be receiving my inaugural hiding for my bad behaviour. I’ve never been a fool, so I bolted. (It is at this point everyone starts laughing uncontrollably at this memory I do not possess). He chased me around the house and eventually gave up, because well, nobody is a match for a 2 or 3 year old with self preservation on her mind.

The point I’m trying to make is that I don’t know if I was ever required to apologise to Pokie. I was simply removed from the party and would have received a hiding. I don’t know if I was required to make amends to this child. Were my parents merely blinded by the embarrassment of being responsible of such a poorly heeled child? Or was I made to publicly apologise to her? It was only later in school, that I learnt that there was another way to deal with bad behaviour. You know, other than the threat of immediate violence. The teacher would hustle the culprits of whatever break-time kerfuffle was on that day, and force apologies from the parties involved. Whether or not they meant it, the words were important. Symbolic. They meant all must be forgiven and we could all now carry on though the battle had not taken place. Save for the money blood applied to scraped knees and elbows, of course.

Now that I’m older and I know myself, I know that mere lip-service is inadequate for me. But the duality of being Ndebele while raised and currently living cosmopolitan, means that I know there are spaces where I will NEVER hear the words or receive the acknowledgment that I need for healing.

My person once told me a story about an incident with his father which involved his sister, a boy and a high speed chase (I kid you not), after which his father recognised that he had wrongly accused his son. His father spoke to his mother and his words were “manje umntwana ngixamxolisa njani?”(how do I apologise to a child?) What struck me was that his father didn’t even consider that he could, you know, look his child in the eye and say “I’m sorry mntanami”.

The idea of apologising to children is a foreign concept in my culture. In many cultures. Then we grow up and become ill-adjusted humans who mistreat others and get surprised when they are hurt by our conduct or won’t “just get over it”. We become master gas-lighters because apologies require introspection and the acceptance that we are imperfect. It requires humility and remorse. Something was said in this episode stuck with me. (I paraphrase) “A child who was never taught to apologise grows up to say let’s debate Gukurahundi“. But the point is, if you were never taught to apologise for something as small as bumping into someone, you can never apologise for massive crimes against humanity. It’s that simple.

A series of other questions followed that had me searching (sometimes with futility). Did anyone ever apologise to you? How do we give apologies? How do we receive apologies? I had never interrogated how I relate to conflict. Really tried to comprehend my response to tension, particularly with people I care about.

I KNOW how to say “I’m sorry”. I think it stems from knowing how dejected I felt when I was wronged and never received an apology. Whether this was from my parents, siblings, friends or lovers. I am intentional in my sorry. I also know that sometimes I say it to end conflict, and that I don’t always mean it. At that time anyway. I also understand that I would say sorry because I have abandonment issues. I would apologise in arguments with men who treated me badly because requiring them to acknowledge their wrongdoing, could result in them leaving me.

I now know why I require conversations. I need to understand, and be understood. I need to know why and how we got to this ugly place. I need to understand you. I need to be understood. But rarely do two emotionally mature people meet each other at that red line. I carry a lot of resentment towards people with whom I’ve been in relationships with – romantic or otherwise, simply because there was no acknowledgement of the damage done, or perhaps there was. It just wasn’t satisfactory. For me. (See what I mean by “complex”.)

I have been told time and time again that I am a good person. So I suppose I became complacent. I started hurting people without recognising it. My flippant (I now recognise them for what they were) apologies were doing more harm than good. I am relearning how I understand apologies. I am present when I apologise. I am patient because I know that I require more than just one word, often from people who are unwilling or simply unable to articulate the experience to my satisfaction.

We live and we learn.

Forgotten Summers

never more than this

Excited, she wrapped a dark brown sarong around her waist and paired it with a matching vest. 37 degrees outside meant it was impossible to wear much else. She yanked on her only thong – a pink lacey thing that cousin Nathi had smuggled her during the Christmas holidays. She had spent an hour wondering how she was supposed to wear it as it sat in between her but cheeks in the most rude manner. The thing rode up her buttcrack and annoyed her to no end, but the smut she and her dorm mates read under the duvets with the lights from the screens of their contraband cellphones after lights out told her that this is what men liked.

They had slowly progressed from stolen kisses behind houses after parties to similarly stolen caresses in corridors or outside each other’s gates. Family friends. Nobody would’ve suspected anything untoward was going on when the phone would ring and he would asked for her after politely thanking her father for the lift home earlier that day.   “Never more than this”, he would whisper, whilst lifting whatever t-shirt she was wearing that day.

She made short work of the one and a half kilometre walk to the dams and giggled as he sauntered up to her, gave her an aggressive kiss, circled her waist as he always did, and pressed her smaller body against his. She imagined one day she would enjoy the exchanges as much as she enjoyed the way his hands felt when they slid into her panties. She grimaced inwardly until the exchange was over. She’d gladly endure this to feel that pleasure. It was the height of summer in her second last year of secondary school  and sun rays were dancing in between the trees, dappling the undergrowth and the well-worn footpaths. Her pulse quickened as they approached ‘their bench’, forcing her to direct extra effort at answering his questions about her day.

The bench was a solitary one, placed there as if for sneaking lovers who had nowhere else to share their secrets. It was positioned in the most confusing manner, facing neither the water nor anything else worth staring at. The shrubs and trees that surrounded the space served as a private enclosure. He gently but emphatically pulled her onto his lap, straddling him, face to face. Her resolve to breathe easy failed. Dismally. If her dark skin could blush, she was sure she would be the colour of the slightly ripe tomatoes weighing down her mother’s plants in the garden. He tugged her head down and kissed her again. She counted in her head as she waited and like clockwork, 22 seconds later, his right hand snaked into the parting which opened over her left thigh and stroked that soft place. Gently at first, then with a strange urgency that he had never exhibited before. He didn’t even notice the pink underwear she had so deliberately donned to impress him. He tilted her back and reached into his tracksuit bottom’s waistband and pulled out his ‘friend’. She had never seen it before and almost fell off his lap at the reveal.

He must have sensed her fear and withdrawal and quickly rubbed her lower back and whispered the familiar “never more than this”.

When she felt the sharp pain she knew what had happened. The fog of confusion and pleasure immediately cleared and she jumped off his lap and battled with the tears and the knife of betrayal slowly twisting in her gut. Her heart. He mumbled what could have been words of remorse or comfort, but she heard nothing through the roaring in her ears. She pulled her underwear into place and as she raised her hand, saw the evidence of her trauma on her fingers. She wiped vigorously on the flimsy material which clothed her as he stood up and righted his trousers.

“You should go home.”

She did. He walked with her in silence until the entrance to the nature reserve and disappeared the way he came. The cars driving past were a blur. The barking dogs which yelped from behind high gates and walls did not register. Even the customary catcalls from the neighbourhood gardeners did not make her skin crawl the way they usually did. The tears had long stopped as she entered the house. The renovators were still busy so she could not shower for at least another hour. She changed panties and wrapped the soiled lace in newspaper and plastic, the way her mother had taught her to wrap her blood every month and deposited it in the outside bin.

As soon as the last visitor had left, she took a tepid shower and checked that she was clean a thousand times before shutting the water off. As she applied Vaseline to her skin, she looked into the mirror, perhaps expecting to see signs of what had happened to her. She saw nothing. Her forehead was still slightly round, made interesting only by her widow’s peak, the only thing her mother had passed on to her. Her black eyes, deeply set, still twinkled with the youth she had felt slip away on that bench. Her teeth were still evenly lined in her mouth and when she smiled, she was still the prettiest girl her father had ever seen.

She stepped into the kitchen and started helping usisi with supper. She played the old radio which sat in the corner next to the bread bin loudly, the way she always did and laughed when usisi cracked some joke about her grandmother’s antics. Like she always did. And the next day, she woke to make breakfast for her siblings, like she always did. She continued with her life that way the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that.

Friday Night Lighting

I like to tell stories about nameless people who live pseudo-mundane lives. Simply because there are days in everyone’s life where they feel boring and uninteresting. Where the most fascinating thing you do is change clothes, and climb right back into bed. Days when nobody says your name yet you are not any less a person. Or relevant. This is a short story about a girl who goes somewhere. But nowhere particularly special. She does some things, but nothing particularly earth shattering.


She walked quickly through the small apartment as she checked to make sure the clasp of her worn watch was properly fastened. Another crack on her favourite timepiece could not be afforded, which prompted her to make a mental note – for the fifteenth time – to pass by the repair shop during her lunch break to have it checked out. As she bent over to check the contents of her handbag, her extra long dark braids fell forward, temporarily blinding her. She cursed as she fumbled with the hair-tie which she kept permanently fixed to her wrist for moments such as this. She tied up the inconveniently long hair with much effort, made another mental note to never get braids this long ever again, then went back to her task. After ensuring everything she needed was in the bag, she practically sprinted out of the house to the waiting carpoolers, three floors down, barefoot, bright yellow heels in hand.

This was her routine. Wake up on time, dilly-dally, cue up a playlist for the day and eventually dash out to her lift of perpetually annoyed travel mates, whom she would further annoy by applying her make up in the car in between begging the driver not to drive too fast for fear of poking her eye out with her mascara wand, and yelling for more volume. And as usual, after half an hour of navigating traffic, they parked in the musty basement of their building, which to be honest, needed to be abandoned before they all were buried alive beneath it one day. Whilst the rest of the passengers disembarked (yes, it is a car not an aeroplane, but when 8 people exit a soccer-mom’s car in relative order, it counts as disembarking), she crouched to buckle each shoe, starting with the left and finishing with the right. When she was done, she straightened up and admired her latest purchase and the way the strappy sandals complimented her bright blue toenails. She strutted (because in 12 centimetre platforms, one can only strut) towards the elevator and squeezed in just as the doors eased shut. As she psyched herself up for the day ahead by imagining a large gin and dry lemon waiting for her at her pit-stop before she headed home, she was vaguely aware of the chatter behind her as well as of the kaleidoscope of smells ranging from what had to be green tea to the driver’s pungent cologne.

The day flew by and before she knew it, she was the waving goodbye to the last of her colleagues from behind a precariously balanced stack of hard cover files filled with manuscripts. She felt across her desk for her now cold cup of coffee and took a careful sip of the awful stuff before turning another page in the book she was busy editing. She scrunched up her face at the futuristic descriptions and forced her mind to imagine barcodes emblazoned onto forearms and struggled to reconcile the use of medieval English with the robot-esque voices now speaking in her head. She glanced at the watch on her wrist and shut down her computer. She softly padded, heels now abandoned beneath her table, to the windows which overlooked a sparkly skyline, and further, the nothingness of the ocean in the night. A light sheen covered the ground below and she immediately regretted her choice of outfit. She focused her eyes on her dim reflection in the glass. The braids she had fought with earlier now fell in an elegant waterfall around her shoulders and down her back. Her black eyes stared back at her underneath layers of mascara, and her pouty lips still bore the telltale signs of the dark plum shade she’d applied in the car that morning. The predominantly red ankara dress she had had made in a kiosk in Ghana by a chatty fellow named Francis, touched her in all the right places without telling too many of her secrets. It fell down to below her knees in a subtle ball gown style. She reached up to the top button which gave the dress some modesty, hesitated for a second, then shook off the uncertainty and unbuttoned it. And then the next one. She reached into her left pocket and pulled out her lipstick and re-coated her lips, then squinted at the girl in the window to make sure she looked presentable.

Satisfied, she walked back to her desk and checked her handbag again before putting her shoes back on and ignoring the slight pain she felt from traipsing to and from the printer and kitchen and bathroom. She did a quick sweep of the office and turned the alarm on before locking the door behind her. She double checked it as though she had not just turned the key in the lock. As she waited for the elevator to make its way up to the 11th floor, she hummed Grandma’s Hands to herself in a bid to calm the rising nerves. Negro spirituals were for some reason, what her childhood sounded like, despite growing up on the outskirts of middle class suburbia in a landlocked country. The unfriendly grouch who sat at the eyesore of a security desk on the well-lit ground floor every week night, rubbed his face vigorously as the ding signalling the elevator’s arrival sounded. The sleep practically fell from his tired eyes as he caught sight of her – all hair and red dress and train of pitch black hair peppered with tiny golden haircuffs. He grunted a greeting and she waved a twinkling goodbye, the light catching the rings adorning her fingers, positive she could see the saliva drip from his mouth.

When she arrived at her destination, she pushed with practised strength against the massive wooden door that marked the entrance to a hidden basement bar, three blocks from her office building. She stood at the top of the stairs to collect herself after running like she was being chased by screaming banshees through the old neighbourhood, teeming with gentrification masked as development. Every corner had an artisanal restaurant which charged too much for too little and forced those who worked in the 5 block radius to carry food to their spaces of work or forfeit their housing. Or both.  And if one didn’t watch where one was walking, one could easily find oneself faceplanted after tripping over rubble or an abandoned tool. She took one last deep breath, sniffed her armpits and stepped onto the narrow staircase, shut the door, and made her descent towards the large room at the bottom, careful not to snag her dress on the splintered bannister. The walls on either side were lined with gold and black art deco wall paper which reeked of old cigarettes and reminded her of old movies set in the 1920s.

She pursed her lips and added extra swing to her hips as she pushed through a set of swinging doors and was met with exactly what she expected – Miguel on just the right volume, brown beautiful bodies either swaying to the music, carrying on around tables and velvet-lined couches, milling around at the bar or yelling orders at the friendly (and equally beautiful) bartenders dressed to the nines behind the bar. Her skin pimpled with goose bumps when she recognised a white, hand-stitched Prada purse thrown without caution, onto the floor beside one of the couches closest to her. She resisted every urge to seek out the big brown eyes that belonged to its owner and continued on her trek to the bar.

Fortune smiled upon her and she grabbed the remaining free barstool and dragged it to the far end of the wooden bar. She plonked herself on its shaped seat and dangled her handbag over the damp bar-top. It was quickly taken from her by the youngest of the barmen – a Turkish fellow with an unlikely Mohawk and the thickest eyelashes she had ever encountered. He deposited it under the bar and immediately busied himself with her usual order. She risked what she thought was a discrete glance and the owner of the Prada bag and allowed her eyes to drink in the neatly done high-bun, faux fur jacket and the newly manicured hands which moved as she regaled her group with what must have been an entertaining story. She shifted her gaze back to the barman before she got caught gawking and took a healthy chug of the gin. She leaned over the bar and picked up an extra slice of lemon, plopped it into her drink and nodded at the DJ booth, signalling the short, bearded artist to raise the volume and get the party started.

He started playing one of her favourite mixes – an old school vibe featuring Craig David in his prime and the newer sounds of GoldLink and Xavier Omar. The crowd shook out of the lazy energy that had gripped it and a few “whoop-whoops” were heard as some migrated towards the middle of the room to what had long been designated as the dance floor. She now sat with her back to the bar and her yellow heels swinging. She sipped her drink and gazed out at the show, feeling like a puppet master- controlling her puppets from the sidelines with the music she knew they loved so well.

The night progressed without a hitch and she even sent one of the bouncers home early. As she pressed the brown envelope filled with his wages into his giant palm, she giggled and kissed his cheek. He whispered sexy French things into her ear and she swatted at his behind as he walked off. It was easy to be disarmed by the hulking man – looks and height, married with charm and dreadlocks that looked like the gods themselves twisted them whilst he slept. She was still staring at his back as he swaggered away when she felt someone press up against hers and her skin came alive again at the familiar Burberry scent. She didn’t turn, but rather, leaned into the warmth and started moving to the music. After a brief hesitation, Burberry and heat joined her and two songs turned into four. Hands on the waist and light kisses rained on shoulders. Eventually, they turned to face each other and join the dancers in the middle in sing-shouting the lyrics to a Rihanna tune.

As the song seamlessly merged with another, she noticed a slight change in her dance partner’s energy and followed her gaze to the balcony door where two men stood to one side. One wore a fitted, grey three-piece suit that could probably pay to keep the lights on in her apartment for a month, easily. He had the haircut to go with it, and the beautifully maintained beard to go with it. The other wore a white shirt and loosened tie with dark slim-fit pants. His black brogues complimented the look nicely and the matching black tie almost brought out the blackness of his eyes even more. She let out the breath she forgot she was holding when there was a clearing of a throat beside her. She had the grace to blush and offered an awkward smile as an apology. They continued dancing, but not alone for too long. The duo from the door had placed their glasses down and joined them and she was positive there was a connection she was missing.

More gin and slick RnB led to more dancing and eventually, a corner set up with a bottle of Bollinger- the last one to be precise. The clientele was more whiskey and wine than champagne. She silently thanked the universe for preserving this one last one as she made her way back to the table after kissing the Turk too enthusiastically on the cheek when he announced that there was indeed a bottle available. She popped the cork to a rather loud celebration from the threesome facing her. They clinked glasses and made increasingly more salacious toasts with each sip. The bar was emptying as closing time drew near and the music softened. The lights got brighter to discourage exactly what they were trying to accomplish – chasing sunrise in the seats they occupied. The DJ signalled to her this time, indicating that he was ready for his envelope. She excused herself and handled her business. After the last of the staff had clocked out and the floor was gleaming, she paused and watched the corner table argue over what could only be something to do with where they were heading from here. She rubbed her lips together to check her lipstick and satisfied that she still looked good, she crouched to unbuckle her shoes. Leaving them where she removed them, she settled back into the chair she had curled up in before- in between Dark Tie and Burberry.

The sun had begun its ascent into the sky and first rays were peeking in through the open balcony doors. The empty bottle now stood upside down in the ice-bucket next to similarly empty whiskey glasses and champagne flutes. The gentlemen stood up to make their exit. Grey Suit pulled Burberry aside and after a brief exchange, they turned to her and the other one with looks of expectation on their faces. She unfolded herself from her seat and slowly stepped towards Dark Tie. On the tips of her toes, mentally cursing the loss of the height her heels gave her, she kissed him with a kiss she knew he wouldn’t forget and one that she knew would guarantee that Burberry would be here again tomorrow night and perhaps finally allow her to give her the same. As she pulled away, she chuckled softly at the look of what could have been shock or satisfaction on his face. She gave the remaining two a quick hug and cheek peck each and made a beeline for the exit. She motioned for them to follow her as if they wouldn’t know to do just that. At the top of the steps, she turned the key in the door and shoved hard.

Final goodbyes said and after a coy refusal to give her number, she ran downstairs, unfastened and refastened her watch, secured the windows and doors, double-checked the locked the safe, collected her belongings and made her way back up to wait for her requested ride home. All the while planning her outfit for the coming night because, Friday nights like these always led to the kind of Saturday nights which always led to the kind of stories aunties whisper to each other on Sunday afternoons, in deserted car parks after church, where they asked for forgiveness for their sins.

Naming Names

Names are central to the identity of most people.

I feel like not enough people in the world understand the concept of nomenclature, particularly in African countries. Or, perhaps I mean, in my city. Or in my circle.

Let me start at the beginning.

A year or so ago, I attended an event with a friend. This event is championed by black creatives in Cape Town and is an incredible space for sharing and learning from black excellence in a city where black creativity is known to be stifled or sidelined. I could tell so many anecdotal stories from the three hours I spent in this space, but the most relevant one for this discussion, was triggered mostly by my general extra-ness. In isiNdebele – my mother tongue, I suffer from a condition known as ‘amawala‘. I don’t think before I speak, I don’t know my place, and I am most likely going to be sent back to my parents after wreaking untold havoc in my marital home because I am generally ungovernable. Perhaps the word I am looking for is ‘impetuous’. I don’t know.

Towards the end of the session, the programme director asked for my name after a brief exchange (which won me a bottle of alcohol, so point one for amawala). My name is Rebecca. Nobody calls me that. I go mostly by Becky. I have answered to Becky since I was a child and only as I grew older, did I realise that there were people who had no idea that it was a nickname. So, when asked for my name, I answered, without a thought, ‘Becky’. I was unprepared for what followed.

There was a collective eye-roll from the room which was vocally expressed by the programme director when he laughed into the mic and said something along the lines of ‘your name is Bheki‘, and if I remember correctly, something that had connotations of ‘don’t be fancy’. My heart sunk a little and I went into defence mode and immediately explained, tripping over my own tongue – after the laughter had died down, that my name is Rebecca – ergo, Becky. But the damage was done and my spirit was annoyed.

Let me break it down.

By altering my name to vernacular phonetics, he was insinuating that I, as a black person, was somehow embarrassed or colonised, so much so, that I was not proud of the ethnic name I had been given by my parents. So, I altered it to ‘Becky’ to sound more ‘white’, for reasons ranging from identity politics to spinelessness. Who knows?  And this assumption is not unfounded. There are people all over the black (non-English) world who, because of factors such as where they went to school, have altered their names, to make them more palatable to the foreign tongue.

Samkelisiwe becomes ‘Sam’. Bajabule becomes ‘BJ’. Qhubekani becomes ‘Q’. Because the tongues which mould us, or influence the spaces in which we grow, cannot wrap themselves around the rich languages which name us. And that’s not OUR fault. But we can remedy it by REQUIRING them to learn how to. Because the same tongues which stutter at ‘Nomthandazo’ – a fairly easy name, can learn how to pronounce expensive French desserts after hearing them once. It’s disrespectful. It’s a constant micro-agression that we have to endure and it permeates every space we occupy. Think of work related emails. A person will sign off an email with their name and the reply will have the name misspelled.

ALL YOU HAD TO DO WAS COPY AND PASTE.

It speaks to the disregard that is carried by certain races for the significance of getting names correct. CERTAIN names. The names of their childhood friends and classmates. The names of their teachers and coaches. The names of the women who helped raise them. The names of the neighbourhoods in which they grew up or the names of the streets along which they rode their bikes. The names of their favourite rugby players.

Then they applaud when a white person speaks a vernacular language fluently. Non-English speakers have been breaking their tongues and cracking their lips for centuries to pronounce words they do not know the meanings of. Where are our news headlines?

It’s even more incensing when you consider that, (at least in Zimbabwe, my home) the same people attended Ndebele (insert alternative compulsory language) classes from grade one to at least Form 2 (that’s grade 9 for the muggles). It means that those classes were so unimportant that the basic language lessons that could have equipped them with the tools needed to pronounce a name correctly, flew in one ear and out the other. Because, ‘when am I ever going to use isiNdebele’, right?

Back to my story. I was upset and annoyed because;

(a) If you do not know a person, whatever name they give you, is their name. You have no right or reason to question the name of a stranger. Get off your entitlement horse and say, okay. That’s her name. Deal with your misfiring braincells quietly. Don’t challenge me on my name. Don’t do it.

(b) The exchange required me, the affronted, to explain myself. To explain my name. Something I don’t know that many people have to do. It is also something I experienced for the first time when I moved to South Africa. I would meet a person and we would introduce ourselves. I would then be asked ‘don’t you have a black name?’ To which I would automatically respond ‘Nomthandazo’. It too, is my name so, I don’t mind being referred to that way. My problem is, why must it fall upon me to position myself favourably within what is clearly, YOUR bias? However validly (or perceived to be validly) founded, it’s not  my problem. What about the person who only has English  names? Must their identity now fall short of this acceptable blackness standard?

(c) Black people can have non-vernacular names, because nomenclature varies from region to region. For example, millions of Zimbabweans (and other nationalities) who were colonised by Britain, still give their children very English names. It’s not uncommon to find a black boy from the back of beyond whose name is Edward. Edward may not even speak English. Also, religious communities will name their very Ndebele daughters Rebecca. It isn’t uncommon. There are a plethora of nomenclature influences and just because they are unfamiliar to you, does not mean you can use your ignorance to chip at my identity.

I was also frustrated because his ignorance and arrogance centred  ME as the problem, when in actual fact, it was him. A room of educated black excellence didn’t even register that it was not abnormal for me not to have a ‘black’ first name. In South Africa. In 2018. In a room where I was not the only person with a non-‘black’ name.  It didn’t register that in the middle of a cosmopolitan city like Cape Town, there would be foreigners whose names would sound unfamiliar. I don’t know.

Perhaps I’m overthinking it (I assure you, I am not).  Perhaps the nuance of this encounter means that I should have laughed off the dig because it was made in jest. Perhaps (insert all the reasons touted when black women are angry for no reason). The irony of this entire exchange was that the programme director has a ‘black’ name but his nickname is ‘English’ although derived from the former. *sigh*

I have two beautiful names and I weigh them the same. Names are central to the identity of most people, myself included. To some, they are simply a means by which to differentiate. I challenge you to sit with each time you have mispronounced someone’s name, misspelled it, asked them if they had a nickname so they could accommodate the laziness of your tongue.

And change.

Be mindful.

The Empress.

Puzzles

How does he make you feel?

Her: How does he make you feel?

Me: Today? Today he made me feel like I was the only spot in the world where the sun shone.

On Tuesday, he made me feel like it was okay that I forgot my umbrella although the rain was pouring.

He knows I’m a hurricane. And he comes with a raincoat. One of those two piece ones that come with a cap. Kind of like a little yellow fireman.

Her: How does he make you feel?

Me: Inadequate. Like he’s missing a piece of his jigsaw and I’m trying desperately to be it but I won’t fit.

I won’t fit.

Of Notions of Masculinity and Chipped Nail Polish

I love them. They test me, but I love them.

Disclaimer: This is a really long post. Good luck.

Another disclaimer:  My thoughts on all /most things are not my own. I have read and read and read to try and inform myself on these things. My utterances are often regurgitation of the thoughts of others, contemplated and altered or added to, to explain my understanding.  I dislike people who speak authoritatively on issues they do not have enough information on. What is enough? I also do not know. I stay cautious though. Of commenting on black masculinity. On anything really. This is where my head is at right now.


I never let my nail polish chip. well, I never used to. My OCD dictated that I had to paint them every Sunday with optional touch-ups every Wednesday and Friday. This was the one ritual I never flaked on and so it went on undisturbed, until I discovered bell hooks. (Her pen name is stylised this way on purpose.) Anyway… .

bell hooks is an American feminist and social activist. She is also an author. I stumbled upon her during my “find your feminism” phase. Because, contrary to popular belief, most feminists are not born with a clear understanding of what being a feminist is or means to them, or where, in the multilayered fabric of feminism, they lie. Like many young, African women, the fruit of conservative families and diluted histories, I had to embark on the journey by myself, for myself. I too, subscribed to the heteronormative patriarchal tendencies spouted by religions and cultures in my immediate world. Even when I questioned them internally, I acquiesced, because surely, the elders knew better than I. (Insert eye roll of appropriate intensity). I still read and have conversations with women and men in a bid to solidly locate myself somewhere in this fabric. What I do know for sure, is that equality and choice are the foundation of my feminism.

I digress.

I stumbled upon bell hooks’ “We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity” on a Sunday afternoon. I was day drunk (of course) and looking for something to learn as I painted my nails. I was probably looking for some light reading on why Hollywood refuses to pay female actors the same as their male counterparts, or whatever happened to so and so (insert former child star of choice).  The book is collection of essays on how white culture marginalises black males. Because she is American, it is obviously Afro-American-centric, but many of her thoughts can be extrapolated and understood in the context of our own brothers, fathers, friends. She suggests that black males are forced to repress themselves in white America and that the ways in which racist and sexist attitudes developed in America criminalised and dehumanised black men (and boys), have harmed the black community.

Throughout the book, she explores the economic exclusion of black men and their fetishisation. I could go on for days about the mindfuck of oppression and dehumanisation of slavery and its effects, but then, I would never make my point. It’s a difficult book to read, but not because of the subject, but rather, because of the way in which it’s written. There are numerous thoughts and the anthropological background needed to fully grasp all of them is daunting. (Also, it’s extremely long and there are no car chases).  It took me a good 7 months to power through. It left me tired and unable to fully immerse myself in my nail painting ritual. Because when I wasn’t earning my monthly SMS, I was reading this book, printing pages, highlighting passages and trying to understand things (there were so many things), conducting research and reading the works of writers in response to the essays. I doubt I committed this much effort to my dissertation. I deserve (more) wine.

As I read, I often thought of African men and the way history has been unkind to them and the effects of said history.  I read about the shortness (height) of certain ethnicities, particularly the men, because of the advent of imperialism and mining. Labourers were sent underground for unhealthy periods of time and exposed to chemicals without protection. This resulted in health complications, one of which was stunted growth in the men who lived and worked in mining towns. No wonder mining is called the male version of prostitution. (non PC term, I know). Then we make jokes about how South African men are short like they voted to be. (Yes this is a generalisation. I am making it in relation to the above, don’t come for me). There are hundreds of examples of threads that run through black men that contribute to their conduct and understanding of the space they occupy today.

So I started asking the men in my life about their perceived roles in the world they find themselves in. And the more we spoke, the more my heart broke. The angrier I got. The more I empathised. The more helpless and jaded I felt.

My conclusion is that men don’t even realise that they are problematic. Despite all the noise women have been making. They don’t get it. But then again, some men do. Through willingness to open their minds and come to the table, they get it. Or are beginning to. That’s when I get mad.

If some men can do it, what’s holding the rest back? (insert hysterical laughter)

A very tangible example of this is sending a girl to school and encouraging her to be anyone she pleases, until she gets home and has to don her humble-submissive garb and be the exact opposite of the person you’re hoping will enter the working world, and behave like an equal. We’re creating people with complexes who don’t understand why the world gets mad when they don’t exercise the agency they are taught to doubt. And I see this everyday on social media where men you laugh with say things that give you whiplash.

I went a step further and turned to social media to try and get a sense of where my generational peers stand. How they understand themselves and the spaces they navigate. In world where they are bombarded with information on feminism, equality, mental health, gender role-redefinition etc.. I used three of my personal favourite content producers.

The first is The DojoSA Podcast. The Sensei and Archbishop are two uncensored men, living in Johannesburg who talk about it ALL. I appreciate their candour, and although I don’t agree with them on a lot, their open invitation into the mind of the average man is a breath of fresh air. What I particularly like is listening to the growth. They don’t think the same way today, as they did when they started, particularly when it comes to interaction with women, and it’s testament to the fact that opening your mind won’t disappear your brain.

The second is Broke Niggaz – a vlog produced ANARCHADIUM. The series follows a group of young (early twenties – you know, when college and life are blurry and you’re just trying to figure yourself out) black men. They have conversations, they groove, they collaborate. It’s some dope footage. I wish I’d had them when I was 23 and trying to get uguy from around the way to state his intentions and be a supportive, present adult. (Laugh with me). It’s relatable and authentic. None of it perfect but I get the sense that it isn’t trying to be. They talk about interpersonal relations and how navigating humans is a minefield. Sometimes the answers aren’t black and white. I find their self awareness refreshing in a way that isn’t like going to church, but like hearing an unedited version of your favourite song. They check themselves. Listening to the Broke Niggaz discuss wokeness, #FeesMustFall, and general febaring, feels like all the things the world is throwing at them are being met with an informed, world view. Again, not perfect, but welcome.

My final source is a mini documentary from back when I was a Tidal user. They went and cancelled my subscription and hiked their fees so I’m now like the rest of the muggles – receiving my JAY-Z and Beyonce information a day late. The mini docu is entitled “MaNyfaCedGod“. It features Jigga, Chris Rock, Meek Mill (yeah, the dude that shouts all his raps and gives you anxiety. He also had a kind-of beef with Drake, LOL) and even Trevor Noah. In it, black men discuss their conceptions of masculinity and how these have evolved over the years. Lots of buzzwords and tooting-of-one’s-own-horn about how far they have come. Which is understandable and laudable, but in the same breath, draining, because these are grown men. By the time you are in your thirties or fifties, you’ve left a trail of poor decisions that can be excused by your fragile, toxic masculinity and unawareness back then. And perhaps they only saw the light because their actions were so amplified. A luxury so many do not have.

These platforms are important. Important as a glimpse into the black man’s understanding of his place, role and trajectory. They are the beginning of thousands of offshoot conversations which interrogate the meaning of masculinity. They why, particularly. And perhaps they won’t go far and the conversations will turn into a drink-up that nobody will remember. But maybe, just maybe, if men understood WHY they have been socialised to relate with the world the way they do, feminists would have less to shovel.  Because wow, the shovelling is trying.

I’m conflicted after all of this, because men are indeed, trash. It’s bigger than they are. And arguments that women can be the sole change of the relationships between groups stand weakly beside those that require more from men. To have voices as loud as those of the women they victimise. Or louder. Not to speak on behalf of, but with. Next to. And my conflict lies in the desire to understand my personal role in this world, whilst taking time out to listen to the men I love. Perhaps over wine, late on a Sunday afternoon. Whilst they paint my nails and I read some smut about Justin Beiber’s abs.

Fresh manis and patience.

The Empress x

Blood on my hands

this life thing is not a fair enterprise

Today, while scrolling down my timeline I stumbled upon the most astonishing news: Chris Brown’s latest offering-‘X’, may be his last. For an entire 12 seconds my world came to a screeching halt and I had flashbacks of my teenage years and how I memorised lyrics to dozens of his songs and drooled as his ink increased. Then I was distracted by another tweet about incompetent call centre workers who seem to have no training in customer care-or any knowledge of the services they claim to offer-and I nodded a vigorous ‘amen!’.

27 minutes later I was trolling the internet for Chris Brown news (I couldn’t help it), and lo and behold, an Irish online paper had published an article about his alleged resignation from the music industry. Further down the Google hits page, another (significantly less classy) webpage insinuated that his actions were influenced by his long-legged on-again-off-again Bajan lady friend. (I rolled my eyes so hard my head, hurt).

Anyway, the point is this: other people threaten to quit via twitter and obscure gossip mongers who are paid to mong gossip (I really don’t care that that isn’t English), type frantically away and make it headlining news. You become the first child in your family to graduate-you get a goat in your village and sunburn.

No, this life thing is not a fair enterprise. And today was a defining moment for me. In less than six months I will finish law school and click my shmancy new shoes into the real world. And the world will not tilt on its axis, neither will birds drop from the sky, but, a thousand voices will cheer when I get to do what I love.(yes these voices are in my head but that’s irrelevant) And the day I quit (touch wood), the internet addicts may not know about it, but I pray that my hanging of the proverbial towel will be for more than just billable hours and face time with high court judges (tingles all over my body).

Chris Brown and I have a few things in common though-we clean up nicely, love fast cars and are generally awesome. He’s just had a head start and the internet presence thing.

Love, peace and the early arrival of the long weekend!

Load it, cock it, aim it, boom

It’s funny how many people moonlight as busy bodies policing the actions of others. Let people live.

Whilst trolling the internet the other day, I came across an article about the scandalous content of the ‘Blurred Lines’ video starring the Black White Boy (Robin Thicke), the Fountain of Youth (Pharrell Williams) and T.I ( I couldn’t find a pseudonym for him because let’s face it, he has an unattractive-to me-wife and a boatload of children-he doesn’t need a nickname too).

The writer went on and on about the sexist, misogynistic and derogatory manner in which the women in the video were depicted. Made to prance around practically nude with strips of material strategically placed for the benefit of prime-time TV. Granted, feminism is all about causing a hullabaloo when women are mistreated, spoken down to or portrayed as objects whose only benefit is sexual stimulation or putting a hot meal on the table. (Don’t get me started on how they feel about the idea that women’s only contribution to society is as incubators who function 9 months at a time)

Anyway, what grabbed my attention is the shock and horror expressed by this learned author when she referred to how one of the models (video hoes-excuse my French), articulated that she felt liberated whilst having her tush (and other parts of her lithe body) flaunted and various angles in very visible lighting. She said she had a great body image (she would, she looks like Naomi Campbell and Lenny Kravitz had a baby) ergo, she didn’t mind gyrating provocatively for the directors.

I was struck by the uproar this seemed to cause. Why are people so surprised by this video?? It isn’t the first or the last time women have been stumbled upon baring skin whilst their male counterparts are decked out in their full attire with only a tattooed arm visible with loud, mildly offensive lyrics are thumping in the background.

I say mildly offensive because, although the lyrics are extremely vile, we sing along to them everyday like it’s nothing-so nobody gets to be upset about that. If you are upset-have a seat-nobody cares. Music videos are about advertising and sex sells. Naked women are attractive-more so than naked men (here I beg to differ, but I digress).

It is up to us to change the channel should images that offend us jump up at us out of the big screens. It is our responsibility to shield the impressionable youth from the atrocities the music industry spews at us. We should not judge the sexy naked girl for showing us her very supple legs all day everyday. We should rather, encourage each other to make informed choices. If your best friend wants to be a video girl-don’t hate, appreciate.

I will be sitting here shaking my head at her, but hey, she doesn’t know me, I’ll probably never meet her and guess what, you’ll love the song she’s in 10 years from now.

Peace, love and many sexy legs.

The life and times of a student with student issues

Becky spent an undisclosed amount of money on them and walked out of the store walking on water in anticipation.

This week Becky is looking for a bed. And this is all because Becky used the money her parents sent her for a bed last year to purchase shoes she did not need, but because they were so pretty and whispered to her how fabulous they would look with her black 70 buck dress and about the memories they would make together, Becky spent an undisclosed amount of money on them and walked out of the store walking on water in anticipation.

Of course the shoes delivered. I met a boy and had a ridiculously epic night dancing the night away in an equally epic party spot with an extremely “bad-influence” crowd with whom I’m sure spectacular memories were made (I have little recollection of said epic night). The shoes also left Becky with aching soles but who cares?

This week however Becky finds herself exhausted from pumping an uncooperative airbed every night before visiting la-la land. (I have also developed very attractive biceps from afore mentioned pumping-the single bonus to be gotten from this activity.)

Moving into an unfurnished apartment has left this lady with regrets. Today I spent over 3 hours trolling gumtree searching-to no avail-for an affordable double bed possessing inexplicable stains. It has proven to be the second most tedious task on earth ( after grocery shopping because I’m afraid of supermarkets) and I’m getting very frustrated.

The above information is advice to other shoe-loving reckless spenders about the perils of walking into malls on sale weekends and picking out the most beautiful shoe and swiping for it blindly.

Much love and painless sleep to you all.

Xx

Of chocolate cake and copious amounts of liquor

I a woman of many talents but none of my numerous gifts are as impressive as the wonders I conjure up in an apron

Today I baked a cake. A pretty scrumptious looking one if i do say so myself. And my handy work tasted even better. People say it’s bad manners to toot my own horn-i disagree. Vehemently. I a woman of many talents but none of my numerous gifts are as impressive as the wonders I conjure up in an apron and earphones blaring Ryan Lesley-he’s my cooking mate and we shall have many children he just does not know it yet. I’m a bit scared to let him know in case scare him off..I hear baby-talk does that to the male species.

As always, I digress..and as I was saying, I am a BEAST in the kitchen. And if my ghetto lingo (remember them?) does not articulate to you just how amazing I am when standing in front of a stove let me break it down to you; you know the stirring in your loins you feel when you see a beautifully sculpted human being and said human being is striding past and away in slow motion much like they do on the beaches of Baywatch? Now imagine that feeling in your mouth and imagine that being achieved without the assistance of aforementioned human being (let’s face it, it wasn’t gonna happen anyway-that’s what my dark chocolate cake will do to you. Well that’s what it does for me and my family members – although they wouldn’t describe it as being orgasmic because that might be a bit awkward coming from mother dearest…but I see it in their facial expressions. They are as happy as they’ll ever be with a spoonful of cake in their mouths.

A friend of mine is baffled by how I can be a law student, love to party and guzzle wine like I do and yet still find time to cook hearty meals (she’s always at my house eating said meals). She calls me “the last of the Mohicans”, which I quite like because it makes me feel like a rhino that might be going extinct and the world is trying to save me except I don’t have to run from poachers.I don’t like running much. I lie. I don’t like running at all but a girl has to do what she has to what with all this food consumption. She (my eating friend) likes to insinuate that I will be a great wife because I cook voluntarily and with love except, she doesn’t think the Ryan thing and the ever present bottle standing almost ceremoniously at the end of the counter (Ryan sometimes takes breaks and the red keeps me company) will fly with husband. She feels that advertising my vice will reduce my points. My argument is if he”s full and happy, he wont notice.

At the end of the day I know I am no super model and if this lawyer business doesn’t work out (which it will because I’m good at that too but that’s a story for another day) at least my family will not go to bed hungry or upset because dinner went terribly wrong. Few things make me happier that a room full of the people I love and know dirty secrets about with bellies stuffed with my creations, smiles on their faces and a glass of red in my hand.

Peace, love and niggeritis

The Empress

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