Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Shap Shap: My final post in South Africa

One of my goals in life is to ensure that I almost never do things that are so predictable and expected. Not sure if I've really succeeded, but I've certainly tried. 

Since I arrived in South Africa, the top 2 questions I've been asked include variations of :
1. What the hell are you doing here? And
2. When are you leaving?

Neither of these questions had simple answers per se, but I tried my best to answer with something like "because of the World Cup" and "whenever you kick me out", respectively. A few months ago when I decided that my time in South Africa would come to an end (for now) at the end of May, the general reaction was a slight bit of shock, but a whole lotta: "yeah, I kind of expected that" or "what took you so long to make a decision we've suspected for so long?". Great friends I have, huh?! (Also shows how much South Africans appreciate the beauty of their country)

So I'm not sure what was tougher, making a decision to leave a place I've sincerely called home for the last 5 years or realizing that I was somehow acceding to the expectations of so many. Had I become so predictable, my actions so expected?

Regardless, the day finally came and here I am at the Heathrow Airport for my 4 hour layover before making the final leg to Washington, D.C. By far, this was the hardest move I've ever done in my life, and I hope they don't get much harder than this.

In the run up to the move, I started a top 30 list of things I'll miss about south africa...things and people that I have deeply enjoyed over the last 5 years. See the list in the post below. It really wasn't that tough to come up with 30 things I'll miss about South Africa; I could have come up with many more. Someone asked me if I mentioned my friends as one of the things, which I didn't. I explicitly left them out mostly because all of them featured in so many of the other items I mentioned. For example, I went hiking, went on road trips, organized and attended braais, spent birthdays, etc. with friends, some so close that they are more like family to me than merely friends. So infused in all the 30 things mentioned are special times spent with those I love dearly...you all know who you are. You will be sorely missed.

In one of my very very early blogs, I admitted that one of my stated expectations when coming to SA was that I would leave a markedly different and much more mature person than I was in 2007. I was not talking about average growth that happens whether you like it or not, but the kind that I would almost feel like a new man. Looking back, I must say that I did not expect the level of growth that I have experienced. In pretty much every part of my being, I have experienced significant growth and some outright change from what I used to be. My relations with others, my faith, my view of myself, my views on life, of love and of God are only a few areas that have grown exponentially. This ubuntu adventure has taken me to heights I never expected to reach; it has brought me into contact with people that have blessed and probably will continue to bless me immensely.

As I enter a new adventure, I have to say that I'm a bit anxious that it will not live up to the previous one. However, something tells me it will be just as adventurous, and maybe even more so. On the flight out of Johannesburg, as I gazed out of the window into the clouds, unsure how to feel and perhaps longing to change my mind one last time, I remember feeling consumed with a feeling of ease and expectation. It was as if something was telling me: "just wait till I show you what I have in store for you". As I tried to conjure up sadness and regret, I could feel an equal and opposite reaction that wouldn't let those negative feelings through. There is a season for everything.

So I'm eager to see what the new adventure has got for me. I've left behind some of the most important people in my life, but I know there are greater things waiting for me...

I stalled in posting this blog, so it's a bit outdated. I'm now in DC and have been for a couple days and it still feels surreal. It's been good to hook up with family and friends and I hope to continue to do that over the next couple of months. It'll be nice to remind them of what i look and sound like and be reminded of what they look and sound like as well!

This blog will now be officially retired; who knows, another may take its place in the future. For now, I will try to focus more on my other website which has not been getting as much attention as it deserves. Check it out, you won't regret it: www.karoafrica.org

Top 30 things I'll miss about south africa

In no particular order (except for #1!)

Top 30:
30. Tuesday eve life group...is everything really meaningless??!
29. Wednesday night #parkhurst community group. What awesome guys/gals!
28. Warm days and cool nights. mostly. regardless of season. At least in joburg!
27. Braai's! it's more than just a bbq!
26. The privilege of sharing my birthday with the whole country on freedom day. I always knew SA and I were meant to be!
25. 26 Dorset Place, Parkwood with Craig Campbell! #nodrama@26!
24. Cape Town. Yes, even with its horizontal rainfall, anti-human winds, and village-like cliquish backward-ism, it's still got the beauties of table mountain, lions head, 2 oceans, wine lands, muizenberg beach, Olympia cafe and a *few* good men and women!
23. Biltong. Beef jerky, whaaat?!
22. 1st wednesday film club at atlas studios, auckland park. Though couldn't go today, 1st wed is always good times, especially with Mophethe Moletsane, Marcel Tsholofelo, Dolapo Adejuyigbe and many others! -->; (http://www.atlasstudios.co.za/filmclub.php)
21. Sunrise, sunsets, and sundowners! [wish i could say #parkhurst church community group again, but that's been used!] anyway, driving home from work today (finally at a reasonable hour) i realised how gorgeous the sunsets are in this country. like this:

20. The NEPAD Business Foundation. Saving the developing world one private sector company at a time.
19. Service! shockingly bad service! ok, i wont miss that at all, but will miss the very few restos with shockingly good service, like posticino's in sea point (cpt), cafe del sol (jhb), thomas maxwells (jhb) and i'm sure 1 or 2 others.
18. Arts on main at maboneng! Love Jozi!
17. Wooden spoon/private open mic nights at chez folu-craig
16. Mangoes! big, juicy, organic, *african* mangoes!
15. My joburg-MBA crew. Will miss u guys dearly!
14. The drakensberg! When God created the world and thought to himself, "how do i show these people a glimpse of my beauty", he created the drakensberg mountains! truly amazing..
13. Local comedy shows... e.g. trevor noah
12. Insanely large mugg and bean muffins
11. Neighbourgoods market, the post, market theatre and many more places in the rapidly evolving braamfontein, newtown, and Jozi CBD
10. Concerts and concert 'halls' like the former house of nsako in brixton! Special mention to jazz on the lake and joburg day..
9. Game parks. and the big 5. I'll never step inside a zoo again!
8. A helper. I've been so spoiled! How am I gonna survive cleaning after myself..
7. Long weekend mini-road trips and drives...and those who accompanied me! Some favourites: groot marico, waterberg, sterkfontein dam, Kruger, pilanesberg, magaliesberg, sabie, tower of pizza, Pietermaritzburg, and on...
6. The beauty in the chaos of a developing country. All the crap we complain about (cops, traffic, bad service, construction, politicians...) actually keeps things quite interesting!
5. Tumi, Bliss, Kaelo - my nieces and nephew - and of course their respective parents! Marcel Tsholofelo Adam McKendi Mpho Tshweneyame
4. The motley crew with Mina Demian and Vije Vimage Vijendranath! Not racist, just real!
3. "Eish", "heita", "ja ne", "voetsek"...sad that in 5 years this is pretty much all I know of the local languages and slang, but hey, it's taken me far! ... and of course "shap shap"
2. Afro-jazz! "...I may be walking in the streets in a city called London (or New York, St. Louis, Chicago, DC...), but the dust on my boots and the rhythm of my feet and my heartbeat say Africa..."

  • Those lyrics are from "Say Africa" by Vusi Mahlasela. Others that I'm quite fond of include: Oliver Mtukudzi, Hugh Masekela and Zonke

1. My name-sake, my God-send, my love! ... I certainly did nothing to deserve you or your love and feel so happy and blessed to have you in my life. Missing you like crazy every day you're not around...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

nigeria burning

unless you've been blinded by the new hampshire primaries in the states, and mitt romney's mitt, you probably have heard some sort of news about nigeria this week. while boko haram is burning up the north with threats and gunfire, protests are burning up the rest of the country. i want to spend some time considering the protests. since monday, the labour unions and other organisations including #OccupyNigeria have taken to the streets of Lagos, Abuja, Ife (even London, Atlanta...), etc to protest the governments decision to remove fuel subsidies that have been hampering economic growth, depleting the national budget,  and further enabling corruption. at the same time, these subsidies have allowed nigerians, ordinary nigerians, to benefit in one aspect from the god-given natural deposits of oil. that priviliedge (or is it a right) was taken away by the jonathan administration on january 1, 2012. happy new year!

admittedly the minute i heard about the fuel subsidy removal, i was elated. from an economics point of view, the subsidy never made any sense. it was eating into at least 25% of the budget and the rest of the budget was used for recurring costs. if any developmental projects are meant to happen, the subsidies needed to go. i looked at the subsidies, as well, as a hamper on downstream economic growth in the oil industry. its a national shame that nigeria produces and exports some of the largest amounts of crude oil in the world, yet still has to import oil for its population because it has no (zero, zilch) facilities to in which to refine oil. the subsidies do not help bring in that beneficiation investment however. think about it: what incentive does a company have to set up a refining plant in nigeria and hire nigerians, if it can set up a plant in another country (perhaps a neighboring country...), buy its oil in nigeria for the subsidised amount, ship (or smuggle...) the oil outside the country to where the refinement plant is, refine the oil and then turn around and sell it back to the nigerian government at the much higher market prices? no incentive whatsoever. hence i was for the removal of the fuel subsidy.

as i debated with my friends and with the majority of the online community about the subsidy, i started to understand the arguments that i was missing. [big side note here: i still and will continue to vehemently disagree with those that demonise the current administration (i.e. the presidency and the cabinet) and prefer to overlook the good things that sanusi, okonjo iweala and others have done in nigeria and to side with the cracked-up, crooked-up, more-blatantly-corrupt-than-400-bernie-madoffs-put-together congress (house of reps and senators). how that makes sense in people's heads is beyond me. i typically have a rule of thumb: whatever side nigerian representatives and senators are on any issue, run (dash, flee) to the other side, and fast!]

what i do understand more clearly than ever is how this affects the ordinary nigerian. they have been discarded and lied to for most of their lives (if not all). promises turning into lies. lifestyles destroyed. hopes dashed. people are poorer now in nigeria than they were 30 years ago. there is no reason to trust the government. i get that! now government has made it harder to live, to go to work/school, to go shopping, to buy food, etc. i really do empathise. empathising for the people does not however mean that i am against the fuel subsidy removal. however, i think it could have been implemented in a different way (i'll get to that later).

this was not the first time time that fuel prices have been hiked. our buddy president, obasanjo, during his eight years hiked fuel prices about 9 times, including 2 days before leaving office, a move that would later be reversed by his successor, Yar'Adua. In all, the price of fuel was 275% more expensive when OBJ left office in 2007 (N75) than when he came in in 1999 (N20). Thats, Two hundred and seventy five percent!! the current price hikes are a little over 100% of the previous price. we all praised okonjo-iweala when she came to nigeria (then went around the world) saying that they were going to make the nigerian budget and spending very lean, given the tough economic times and nigeria's history of wastage and corruption. what did we think she meant? removing subsidies is simply part 1 of that plan, no?

so with the president claiming there is no going back on the subsidies and the organised protests threatening to halt the economy, what gives? who do we expect to blink first. i believe there will be a compromise between the president and labour, if the president can play his cards right. throughout all of OBJ's price hikes, labour threatened to halt the economy and did organise several strikes. one was  effective in getting the president the reverse the hike, but most were effective in getting the two sides to compromise on a less daunting price hike. so i believe there is room for compromise. in fact, the govt should have looked to phase out the subsidy removal, instead of removing it all in one go.

so then what happens when there is a compromise. this is where i see the value of the strike action and movements such as #OccupyNigeria (thanks to BTC-Africa for pointing out). To further compromise with the protestors, the government ought to have a clear plan of action that will ensure removal of the subsidy (which we all agree is needed) as well as removal of corrupt elements in government (which we all agree is needed) and improvements in education, employment and industry development (which we all agree is needed). There ought to be benchmarks and checkpoints that are required before we can move on to the next phase of the fuel subsidy removal. If, for instance, the government says, we will remove 25% of the subsidy now and couple that with developing refineries, privatising the electricity sector, and prosecuting corrupt politicians. If then targets are set to prosecute 1 high ranking politician, or bring in 1 private investor to begin operations in the electricity sector by the end of the year, then they can remove another 25% of the subsidy. Targets and milestones should be no stranger to the finance-heavy reform team in the cabinet! This shows not only a give and take attitude, but a government that is serious about making a social contract with the people and getting back the trust that has been severely eroded over the last 50years.

the government is asking nigerians to trust them to do the right thing without much basis for this trust. its time to wake up, president jonathan! nigerians have woken up in all corners and your credibility and livelihood is fearfully at stake. i have been on board with this administration and continue to be because i believe they've got the right ideas and the right people and the right processes. obviously they could use more people and process, and a bit of common sense. nigerian people are demanding accountability by the government. show us you're serious about development, about jobs, about schools, about roads, then we can trust you more when it comes to raising prices of everything. and to the nigerian people, lets try to be constructive and stop with the demonisation of the presidency and the name calling; its un-becoming of this nation. lets be better than chavez, than south africa, than the US. lets come together in building a better nigeria and not a worse, more fragmented one. that's the spirit of revolution.

Monday, December 26, 2011

the day after christmas - nigeria on my mind

yesterday was december 25th, christmas day. This day used to be known as a day for family, a day for giving, sharing and, for many, a day of celebration of the birth of Christ. instead, yesterday, in nigeria will be known as yet another day of brutal massacres by cowardly murderers. today, december 26th, used to be known as boxing day. gone are the days when today was used for gathering up the trash from shredded gift wrappers and taking down the christmas tree, or collecting gifts for those less fortunate (UK), or going crazy at shopping malls (Aussie), or sitting in front of the tv set all day to watch sports (US), or performing general acts of kindness/goodwill (SA). today, for nigerians, is a day of sorrow and despair, a day to literally sort out and bury the dead, a day to ask more questions and seek more answers.

3 bomb attacks rocked northern nigeria and the capital city, abuja yesterday and left at least 40 people dead (in nigeria, counting the dead is a highly politicised exercise, so to get the exact number remains a tiring exercise). the christmas day attacks targeted churches, seeking to further provoke religious sentiments and divide the country along those lines (don't be so easily fooled). the group claiming responsibility for the attacks, as with several other bomb attacks in nigeria this year is boko haram (meaning western, or non-islamic, education is a sin/forbidden). this minority extremist group, so far out of the main stream of its own stated religion and despite having been denounced by islamic leaders worldwide, have wrecked so much havoc in nigeria this year.

so what makes yesterday's attacks so special? judging by the outcries on online news media as well as social media, one wouldn't be blamed for thinking this latest bombing cleared whole villages the way the violence immediately following elections in april did in northern nigeria (in kaduna, zaria...), or the way floods cleared entire communities and structures in western nigeria (in lagos, ibadan...). perhaps it was special because it happened on a sacred holiday or it was carried so prominently by international news outlets. however, to those of us who have been following events in nigeria, this was only one of at least 26 attacks or bombings that has been carried out by boko haram this year alone! while each one is touching and heartbreaking and we must never forget that these are individual lives being lost, we must also put it in its proper perspective.

scouring the social media spots yesterday, i became increasingly annoyed, agitated, and worried, as i saw where the conversations were headed. my nigerian friends have often listened to me question the true identity of a nigerian ("what makes you nigerian" is my favourite question). but i think they all know that i ask this not out of disdain, but rather out of genuine curiosity, in a way to make nigerians start to think of what unites us and not what divides us. for some reason that i can't explain adversity, pain, disaster, tragedy seem to unite a nation more than most things. however, yesterday, instead of seeing signs of unity, coming together as one nation in remembering the innocent lives that were lost (lives that did not know why they had been taken so abruptly), i saw mostly signs of division. not usually one to back off of political discussion, i found it inappropriate to turn a tragedy into a political game of who's more to blame (the president or the people) and, even more worrying, why nigeria is still one country and when it will be split. This was the most tragic outcome of the day. instead of speaking of unity, we, nigerians, cower under the clock of the boko haram cowards, and scream out for division, and division now.

a group has already been set up on facebook with over a thousand members calling for a national conference. this same call was made years ago under obasanjo's reign and he brushed it aside as yet another talk soup which would come up with no real actionable solutions and only seek to divide the country more than make it a more cohesive union. when violence and tragedy strike, instead of calling for justice, including the prosecution of perpetrators of crime as well as addressing the causes behind the spates of violence, we call for division. and how exactly would we divide? into the 3 main cultural groups (hausa-fulani, igbo, and yoruba)? the ijaw people (4th largest people group) might have something to say about that. then what about the tiv, the nupe, the ekoi, or the rest of the 370 or so diverse ethnic groups? even within a people like the yoruba kingdom, there are so many diverse groups that rarely get along, for example the people from ife and those from modakeke, living literally next to each other but in conflict for the past several centuries. so then do we split up the yoruba kingdom to avoid conflict? in that case, i would need a visa or be outright denied entry to visit my grandmother who speaks a language completely different from mine, but is considered, at the moment at least, yoruba. where do we stop with the divisions? when do we begin to forget about the arbitrary lines that were drawn in 1886 and begin to build a nation?

nigeria has tried to divide once in 1967 during the biafra war. one of the main factors that led to the end of the war, amongst many other factors, was the inability of biafra to get even all of south-east nigeria to go along with it. this cry for division at the close of 2011 is an issue that should have been put to rest a long time ago. nigeria is not the first or only nation to be fighting terrorism within its borders. spain has been fighting a terrorist group, the ETA, in the basque region in northern spain for more than 45 years. The FARC guerrilla organisation has terrorised colombia for more than 50 years and controls large amounts of its land as well as the drug trade. These two groups have almost become a fact of life in these countries. every successive government seeks to stamp them out one way or another. yet, despite its ongoing war, these countries are not falling apart because of security concerns, there is no national conference on whether to split or to remain one. yes, spain is under-going tough economic times, but that is as a result of irresponsible borrowing and not due to ETA. a few years ago, spain was one of the economic hotspots of europe. colombia has seen steady economic growth and is being billed as the next growth spot in south america.

nigerians cannot allow an extremist group to dictate the future of the country- its identity, society, economy, politics, etc. yes, the government must act swiftly to prosecute and address the underlying issues of corruption, lack of education, lack of basic services, etc... but are we not playing into the hands of the terrorists when we seek to divide the country due to insensible and tragic acts? should we not rather show a sign of solidarity in the face of opposition and despair?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

merry christmas!

This time of the year has always held a special and dear place in my heart. growing up, i don't remember having a tree in our house, but im sure the abundance of trees we had growing in our yard was more than enough. even in the absence of trees in our house, my parents made sure we decorated the house inside and out for the festive season. we had lights everywhere, those little paper circle rings that formed some kind of decoration, all sorts of drawings, and, on christmas eve, we left out shoes out for 'father christmas' (not santa claus) to put our gifts in!

When we got to the US, we adapted to the celebrations there. the little paper rings were still done sometimes, but we started buying ones that were pre-decorated and looked much better. we got a christmas tree (sure it was fake and we loved it that way!) to go inside the house and started decorating the thing with countless ornaments, those silly singing lights, and other keepsakes. no more shoes to hold our gifts, they now went under the tree. and from right after thanksgiving when the tree went up, we kids watched with painful anticipation how the gifts grew under the tree in number and size. every once in a while, the heavens blessed us with snow and we would wake up very early and go sliding and sledding, making snow angels and snowmen, if there was enough snow.

When i moved out by myself, i tried to recreate a bit of the spirit by buying some decorations, even considered buying a tree, but then my no-admin-side kicked in. nevertheless, i would be off to my parents where trees and decorations were boundless during christmas. for the last couple years, ive left the snow and the family and have celebrated my christmas in SA which is a bit challenging, different and tough, but also been rewarding.

Beside the physical depictions of christmas, it's always been a time for me to reflect at the meaning of christmas, as well as reflecting on the year almost gone and the one ahead. as a christian, christmas is a special holiday, celebrating the birth and life and christ. i'm also not one of the trendy masses that preaches against giving gifts for christmas. yes, i think consumerism has taken over the true meaning of christmas; however, even in small doses, we should continue to give in creative ways, precisely to exemplify what God did for us when he gave us his son and what christ did for us by giving us a path to God.

This year, while thinking about this christmas and this season, I couldn't help but look back at the events this year and compare them to years past. Last year, as I wrote in this space, was extremely tough, emotionally and otherwise. I experienced the death of 2 people dear to me, experienced pain and conflict in my family and attempted to complete my studies full time. I prayed that i would never again go through a time like that. Well, this year, was almost as challenging, but lots more rewarding as well. This season, as joyful as it is, for me will always be laced with a bit of pain. In addition to the joyful celebrations, i think of last year when only 2 wks ago, a dear friend of mine passed away at such a young age, after battling cancer for 3 years. a few years ago and a few/several weeks after christmas, my grandfather passed away. in 2003, another dear friend of mine lost her battle with depression only a few weeks after christmas [~God only knows...why you'd leave the stage in the middle of a song~]. this year was not as challenging, but i will never forget those christmas' (and thereabouts) past.

This year, I chose to focus on the amazing things that happened. I gained a new sister and family when my brother got married. I added a title to my CV when i formally graduated with my MBA. I welcomed my mom and dad to south africa (my dad for the 1st time). I received a promotion from work and was blessed with favour from my superiors. In about 3 days, I will become an uncle (technically for the 1st time)!!! I shared meals and fellowship with some of the most awesome guys on the planet and got to watch them grow. a guy that very quickly became one of my closest friends is getting married in 2 days. 6 of my closest friends have found the new exciting jobs they were looking for and left their old ones. and there's so much more. despite some challenges and pain, i was so blessed this year. my greatest gift then, as this year concludes and as i look forward to the next one, is to be as much of a blessing to others (even those i dont know) as I have been so richly blessed.

Here's to a fantastic and safe christmas and new year season and an exciting start to 2012!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

are you inspired?

i'm inspired.

back in my younger years (eons ago), i used to go to church camps every summer. the camp that i went most was called neotez (some native american word that means youth, i think). i loved neotez and anxiously looked forward to this 1 (or so) week every year. anyway, this neotez camp, somewhere in the middle heartland of america, was set on a beautiful piece of land, (almost) untouched by man. the massive trees, fields of grass, hills, valleys, rivers, lakes in the horizon just made this spot a perfect spot for a getaway (and also, of course, ready-ground for trouble making by teenage boys!). on this piece of camp land, there was a spot which was probably the favorite spot for most people. it was called inspiration point. i'm not sure how much inspiration went on at that spot, but only a 15-minute walk from the major camp grounds, lay this amazing spot of nature. if you liked a girl and wanted to impress her during a short recess, you would sneak her off to this spot and gaze at the amazing wonder (not that i did any of that, of course!). it was essentially a cliff (and not that high either), overlooking a river and some grass and trees. on a clear night the stars were most beautiful at inspiration point. on a stormy evening, the lightning was most pronounced there. daytime or sunset, dawn or sunrise, inspiration point was the place to be.

i went to this spot almost every summer from middle school until even after college, and tho i'm not sure how much inspiration i got, it definitely helped to put things in perspective and provided an opportunity to marvel at how awesome nature really was. hence i typically associate inspiration with nature.

a couple blog posts ago, i blogged about a blogger's crisis, not knowing what to make of this blog and not having the necessary inspiration to continue to write about myself. well...i am proud to say that i have not yet found an answer to what identity this space should take. i am equally proud to note that at least for this post (and maybe a couple to follow), I will continue to write about what interests me and things going on in my life. what's a blog if not self-indulging, no??! so in this search of inspiration, i of course went to the woods, watched the stars, took a walk around nature and arrived back at the same spot i was before. refreshed of course, but back to the city grind, having found no answers. what fun is life if answers are easy to find, right?

failing to find my inspiration in nature, i had almost given up, when i attended a work seminar and was treated to a guest speaker, professor nick binedell, dean of the gibs school of business in joburg. he was told to speak about his inspirational life and his journey as a white south african, very much involved in the struggle against apartheid. he spent about 4 seconds on that and decided he wanted to talk about other things that he's more passionate about than his life. he then spent the next hour encouraging us to find what brings us joy and doing it. in a room full of ambitious business/corporate types ("future leaders of SA!"), he challenged us to do what brings us joy and only then can you do "great work". and great work, he added, is often voluntary. some balls this guy had to tell a bunch of us looking for the next quickest way to make money, and tell us to go find something voluntary to do that'll make us great and potentially radically change the landscape of south africa. i loved it!

he spoke about only needing 2  things in life - a mirror and a map. the map tells you how you got into the room; and the mirror reminds you who you are and what brings you joy. he left us with a couple inspirational quotes:

1. in your lifetime, you can make africa work or crumble.
2. the world is your oyster, but you gotta go fetch it.
3. the most important thing is curiousity.

now none of this was earth shattering or groundbreaking. i'm sure at one point or another i have heard these saying before. but for some reason at this place and this time, it resounded to me. perhaps it was the search for something inspiration in my life that gave his speech meaning. perhaps it was my year-long itch to get back to doing meaningful work (both voluntary and otherwise). or maybe the discussions that i had with 2 south africans who gave a rather daunting evaluation of south africa's current standing. these 2, whom i deeply respect, told me in complete honesty and absolute sincerity that they would be leaving south africa soon because they honestly felt that the country was on a familiar collision course for disaster. maybe it was all of the above. whatever it was, i left that room wanting more. i went to speak to the prof in the hallway after his speech for another 30 minutes and i still wanted more. i was inspired!

so what now. i'm still inspired. but i still want more. more than just inspiration. how do i find what brings me joy? south africa is not my country, but i feel compelled to work to ensure that the dire and negative evaluation of some people about the prospects of south africa never come true. im not american but i want to do the same in america. im not african (cuz there's no such single thing...), but i desire to do the same across countries in africa. i'm inspired to do something. but what that thing is, i haven't a clue yet. i leave it up to fellow readers and bloggers to hold me to that inspiration. and to those who may have recently found their inspiration as well, lets get to work! lets find that map and mirror.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

baseball, gadaffi, occupy wall street

i don't have much to write at the moment, but wanted to share a few things that are trending through this blogger's mind!

  • Baseball : for the last couple of weeks, i've been infatuated with baseball. actually ive been infactuated for the last couple of (10 or so) years. but ive been watching american baseball at the oddest of hours (start time 2AM in joburg) for the last couple of weeks. many people have remarked at the amount of dedication that takes. i think its mostly stupidity, but i dont know any other way! the reason i'm paying special attention this year is that my team, the st. louis cardinals, are in the playoffs (now world series). they won the world series last in 2006. and i still remember every moment of that memorable time. this year's playoffs/world series has the potential to match or eclipse that storied 2006 season. see, this season the cards were hit with so many injuries to key players. sometime in august, after a string of heartbreaking losses, i stopped intently following them (a bad fan i know). many that i knew (as well as other teams and media) left them for dead as they continued to pile on loss after loss. but sometime in late august or early september, something clicked. they started winning a whole bunch of games. mathematically, however, they were only a couple losses to being completely eliminated from playoff contention. but something strange and magical happened. as they continued to win games, the team they were chasing for the extra wild card spot, the atlanta braves, started losing a massive number of their games. these two teams, moving in opposite direction when once they were far apart in the standing, finally closed the gap and were tied on the 2nd to last regular season game. it would take a win by the cardinals and a loss by the braves, several hours later, to clinch a playoff spot in magical fashion. after they (barely) made it to the playoffs, they went ahead a beat the best team in baseball (philadelphia) with their imposing pitching staff, then they beat the team that beat them in their division (milwaukee) with their imposing lineup or batters. now they face a very difficult team (texas), tied 1-1 in a best of 7 series. a win would be just way to magical, way too special, for a team who everyone once gave up on.
  • Gadaffi : someone asked me what i feel about his death. after not a lot of thought, i responded: relieved, its about time. it seems that after the prolonged fight and the many friends and networks that gadaffi has across the world, the only resolution that remained was to kill him. interestingly, the misguided south african government put out a statement by the president saying that it wouldve prefered that he be put to trial by the ICC instead of killed. hmm, SA foreign policy never seizes to amaze me sometimes. wrong on cote d'ivoire, wrong on egypt, wrong on libya. again. first SA votes with europeans on the air attacks. then says, no they were fooled and the air strikes have gone beyond the agreement (this of course, after they were scolded by the BRIC countries, most importantly China). then they refuse to side with the so-called "rebels" or recognise them. then the bad man is killed and they say he should have been tried by the ICC. this is the same international criminal court that they complain of being too one-sided in its witch hunt of bad african leaders. this is the same court that they could partner with to bring the sudanese tyrant of a president, omar al-bashir, to justice after being accused and wanted for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, embezzlement, etc. but they refuse to. right. anyway, back to gadaffi, while i am relieved that the man is dead, i refuse to celebrate his death like others do. i'm not saying they are wrong to do so. perhaps they have very good reasons to rejoice. however, just like the death of bin laden earlier in the year, this to me is a solemn moment, a moment to reflect, and more importantly, a moment to consider the future and what it means, a golden opportunity to re-build.
  • Occupy Wall Street :  this movement is fascinating, to say the least! I couldn't get enough of reading about this, especially because every news article, every person interviewed, has a different view on what is actually being protested and the merits of it. ive always thought of myself fully business-oriented. at the same time i would also like to think of myself as people-oriented. ive argued many times that it shouldnt be mutually exclusive that what's best for business is best for people. i still believe that. which is why on the one hand i can sympathise with those who feel that wall street has screwed them over with bad (to put it mildly) investments of their money, shady dealings, and bailouts that at times simply went to  the pockets of the perpetrators through bonuses. on the other hand, i can sympathise with those on wall street or in 'the corporation'. many are simply trying to make the most money for their clients (as they have been charged to do). yes, without wall street or big business, we wouldnt have the massive collapse in world economies that we've experienced over the last few years, but without wall street, many would also not have jobs to lose in the first place. big business has created a lot of job. yes, even manually-created bubbles such as the housing bubble or the internet bubble created millions of jobs and many are grateful for it. bill clinton would not have won a 2nd term if not for it. what is disturbing about the occupy wall street movement, however, is in its very nature. it was conceived at the grassroots- a movement largely leader-less, addressing the concerns of the masses and not of the few. i love it. i really do. but at some point you need a leader. you need a clear message. in search of that message, many have turned to a single word: anger. we're angry so we protest. ok, that'll get you noticed, but then what? look at the COPE party in south africa. the leaders were angry that their voices werent heard so they formed another party. that party was doomed from the start, as it could not decide on a platform or key positions on key issues and is now largely in the background. and now occupy wall street faces the same hurdles. many across the US and across the world have taken advantage of this movement and now have made it their own. ive got no clue what SA is protesting (one account says its protesting against capitalism. borring. another says it seeks a different approach. what approach then? and approach to what? gimme an effing break.). but this is inevitable. when a movement is ill-defined, it risks the real possibility of being hijacked by other movements, or other individuals, in hopes of self-gain. i look forward to seeing what comes of this movement. my opinion: i think people in the US should be thinking seriously of how to break this constitutional "barrier" against a third party. i would love to see a third party in the US that addresses real issues and does not cater to the norm and the tired arguments of the 19th century! i do not want the tea party; i don't want the green party or the reform party. i want a party serious about thinking intellectually and outside the linear line of american politics. a party not afraid to side with another party if ideologically-sound. a party that address the real issues in real and practical ways and not one so far fetched that only crazy people would follow. i'm tired of stalemates. time to check!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

blog(ger) identity crisis

this blog is going through an identity crisis. this blogger is going through an ideas crisis. a crisis, not to be confused with a block. see a mental block only last for a few hours, days, weeks. a crisis, on the other hand, is a symptom of something much deeper, stemming from lack of desire, lack of passion, or simply just a lack. of everything. sounds pretty sad (read: lame) doesnt it? but in the spirit of glass-half-full, i may just stick to what some of my friends have been saying to appease me. to them, its a lack of time, i.e. working taking too much of my time or im so interested and involved in so many things that its hard to focus. suuure. i'll buy that. for a minute.

i've written a couple times about identity crises amongst my friends and how much a loathe the feeling of inadequacy based on failure to identify with one sole group of people (although admittedly a very real feeling). but what about a blog identity crisis? how does one get past that? in finding possible answers, perhaps its worth looking through the history of this blog. so thats exactly what i'm gonna do.

(by the way, this may not be interesting to most people, but its a bit therapeutic for me). i wrote that preceding caveat before thinking of what i was writing. but it actually brings me to my first point. when i started this blog, it was really entirely about me. my adventures in the "mother country" of south africa coming from the states with my western education and western world view, funny accent and funny way of dressing. i wanted a way to connect with people in the states, without writing individual or mass emails. i wanted to share my experiences, photos of wild afreeka, adventures and thoughts. i wanted to keep in touch. lay hold of the memories for one day when i return (then the plan was a 2yr stay!).

now things have changed a bit. 1, i don't know when i'll return anymore. i've fallen in love with south africa and its many many faults. but my first love, the US, can never be forgotten and is always there, waiting for me. my other first love, nigeria, albeit a forgotten love, or a back seat lover, or a mistress - open for quick firey affairs every now and then - lies waiting as well. or maybe its time to try on another strange lover? anyway, back to the blog...the blog shifted at some time to not simply discuss my adventures, but a bit about my views on different topics. another metamorphosis occurred when i realised that my stubborn views are not always the right ones (or the only right ones), so i skewed this blog to more so questioning many things, inviting readers to assert their views, to contribute to my learning and expansion of my knowledge. i acknowledged that there are many things that i dont know. i have a view on many/most things, but mostly i use that as a starting point for discussion, a way to bring others in to influence my views or me their's. a true debate. when i wasnt entirely satisfied with the learning from the blog, i joined the scary world of twitter - in search of the lost art of debate and shaping views through exposure to different sides of the same story (chimamanda  adichie would call that the dangers of a single story).

the recounting of the history of this blog leads to one realisation. its always been about me. whether explicitly or implicitly, even as i invited others to join in the conversation. i wrote about me or about what i did or what i enjoy(ed) or what i thought. but this begs the question: is that a bad thing? many topical blogs or newspaper opinion pieces may not be explicitly about the author; however, implicitly they tell the story of what the author likes to write about, how he/she thinks, what his/her views or stances are on important issues. its pretty boring to write a story with no slant or no bias, isnt it.

but alas, this is where i stand. do i continue a self-gratifying blog about me, cuz u know who doesnt wanna hear about my life. continue questioning ideas and thoughts and inviting others' views (i must admit i like this kind of engagement). do a choose a couple/few topics that really interest me and harp on those (entrepreneurship, african development, politics, baseball (!), e.g.). i dont have an answer. this blog is in an identity crisis.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

what's in a heritage?

so today is the youngest of South African national holidays, Heritage Day. Or is it? Some refer to this day as Shaka Day. Others, actually most people, refer to it as National Braai Day. Listen to the radio shows, read the newspaper articles, and hear people speak about this day this week, and you would not be blamed for thinking that South Africa dedicated an entire day to celebrate braai-ing, or bbq-ing (for my non south african buddies). Although we saw almost no sunshine today, i'm sure this did not keep thousands, millions, from braai-ing and preparing potjies (pronounced "po-i-keys"). So why are south africans celebrating braai meat? What heritage are they celebrating?

I managed to come across this unbiased (i think) background of heritage day:

In KwaZulu-Natal, the 24th of September was known as Shaka Day, in commemoration of the Zulu King. Shaka was the legendary Zulu King who played an important role in uniting disparate Zulu clans into a cohesive nation.  The Public Holidays Bill presented to the Parliament of South Africa at the time did not have the 24th of September included on the list of proposed public holidays. As a result of this exclusion, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a South African political party with a large Zulu membership, objected to the bill. Parliament and the IFP reached a compromise and the day was given its present title and seen as a public holiday.

So are we then meant to celebrate the Zulu kingdom today? and how does braai-ing fit into the culture of the zulus? i spoke to a few south africans about my many questions and they gave me many interesting responses. most agreed that it was a day to celebrate sa's many diverse cultures and its ability to understand, tolerate, and share in others' cultures. 15 years ago, former president nelson mandela stated that the reason for declaring this day a holiday was to acknowledge that the rich and varied heritages in sa have a profound power to help build the new nation. He added that in order to rise from the ashes of division and conflict, it was essential for sa to acknowledge the sacrifices and talents of all the cultures residing in these borders. Yesterday, many organisations encouraged their employees to come to work dressed to showcase their cultures. At my client i saw several people dressed in full indian attire, zulu and xhosa wear. there were even some in "other" african wear, from east and west africa.

However, i didn't see anyone in afrikaans gear or british gear. those from british descendants claimed they hardly have a culture to display. i guess i can't blame them for that! however, the afrikaans have a very rich and celebrated culture. why were they not participating in this national holiday. ask many of them what they're doing to celebrate the holiday and they would give you a stare like you were the dumbest thing in the world, and almost in unison tell you they were going to braai, all saturday. of course. in all fairness, quite a few/a lot of blacks, indians, etc also use this day to braai and affectionately label the holiday as national braai day. but how did that come to be? how did heritage day become braai day? seems to water down the significance of the holiday no? or perhaps, it seeks to find some common ground, as with rugby or cricket, that most south africans can cling to in hopes of finding some sense of commonality - a hope for a nation striving to come together?

For the all-too-educated blacks i spoke with, this watering down of an important holiday to something as meaningless as burnt meat did not fly too well. one replied to my questions by stating:

"first we need to reflect on what we have inherited before creating a new so-called heritages of a new consensus. And truth is that what we have inherited this far is causing discomfort to those that stand to loose from the critical review"

That's deep and powerful and all-too-personal for so many. He added:

Braai day is a good idea, they just need to find a separate date for it and not undermine the significance of what brought about heritage day. People died a people suffered for this day to be symbolic.

other bloggers and twitter-ers shared similar sentiments. everyone loves to braai or to go to a braai in sa. that's a national consensus! but should this "new heritage" overshadow the real significance of heritage day? on a broader note, shouldn't we as a society be careful not to lose historical significance of our history, lest we forget where we came from and where we're going? do we all wanna end up like the british decendants who seem to believe they have no heritage? my father loves to remind his children to never forget whose we are and where we come from. he was reminding us in a way, not to lose our heritage, perhaps knowing full well how easy and convenient it often is to forget.

Happy Heritage Day South Africa! and in the words of a twitter-er that i fully respect: "Celebrate your roots but let other people braai too"

Monday, September 12, 2011

never forget

Maybe because its the 10yr anniversary. maybe because Osama bin laden was brought to justice this year. maybe because death, and near-death experiences, had been on my mind particularly much this past week. I'm not sure but for some reason, this 9/11 felt a bit different from the rest. 

10 years ago, benjamin netanyahu, former and future prime minister of Israel, after what had been the most shocking, surprising and devastating attack on the US on US soil (at least of my lifetime), declared: "Today, we are all americans - in grief, as in defiance" Many around the world would go on to echo that sentiment, including the influential french (yes, french!) newspaper, le monde. but what does this seemingly hyperbolic sentiment really mean? Was it simply europe standing by its long lost brother in a sign of profound solidarity, the same way the US had stood by it in 1962 when JFK declared himself a Berliner? maybe. i'm not sure. but i can remember at the time, in the fall of 2001, it felt good to know that america was not alone. others would rally behind it in a time of mourning, of grief, of loss, and of pain. 

10 years ago, i remember being shocked and horrified, more so speechless, at the sight of the towers collapsing live on television. in tears of God-knows-what as friends and classmates tried desperately, and mostly unsuccessfully, to reach loved ones in and around new york. i remember the following day, trying desperately to think of what good could come out of this. would the country rally together like we've never seen before, the way schools *almost* rallied together after columbine? would the country use this as a way to reach out to foreigners and those of other faiths and embrace them in the way the country was built to do? or would it bar down its doors, live in fear and isolation, reach new levels of intolerance?

10 years ago, i remember discussing this with my friends, lecturers and family. no one had the answer, but everyone wondered the same thing. there were so many directions to take, and we only hoped the country would take the right one. not content to wait for someone to tell us what to do, we began to conjure up ideas of how we would remember this moment. as someone too-conservative-for-my-liberal-friends and too-liberal-for-my-conservative-friends, i decided an appropriate response would be one of tolerance and love, giving back in any way we can. i campaigned for and advocated teach for america, peace corps, missions work...anything to show that while some may despise the way america does business, the genuineness and philanthropy of americans cannot be denied.

10 years ago, i, and many of my friends, felt what the new york times described as a "heartfelt desire to be changed", to change things. we wanted to be called on to do more for our country, to make this "senseless horror count for something....there was courage and unity on the streets of the city and all across the country". truly, on september 12, this feeling of unity was felt around the world. 

so maybe, that was what netanyahu and many others meant by "we are all americans"? that the world was unified with americans. not simply that, but perhaps, also, the world was at a turning point, ready to be changed. ready to embrace the change that was apparent on september 12. the bombings of 9/11 affected more than just americans. 372 is the number of those that lost their lives in the trade towers who were not americans. the wars that followed 9/11, the bombings, the attacks, the fighting made this a global fight on all corners of the world. it wasn't long before my family would feel the effects of 9/11. because we are all americans, my uncle, my nigerian uncle, chose to join the US army. he was sent to afghanistan shortly after. leaving behind a daughter and pregnant wife, he went to serve a strange country, yet one he believed in, this time in iraq. now, he's in north korea, still serving this country, because we are all americans.

uncle serves as an example of how we wanted to remember and commemorate 9/11. ready to leave his family behind to serve a cause greater than himself. to show others in his unit and across the globe that americans can be a force for good. he didnt go to war to kill. he went to serve. one of the most humble people i know, he went to counsel, to teach, to work, to defend and to learn. politics aside, there are lessons to be learned from this attack, just like there are lessons to be learned in any act of violence or terrorism. i just hope its not too late.

"may God bless the memories of those we lost"

post-post: i was overwhelmed to the point of numbness with the coverage of the 10th anniversary. I sat glued to the cnn and al jazeera, with my laptop on my lap shifting from the new york times to cnn.com to pretty much anything else i could find. so i share some with you:

My Unfinished Business: Keller, a news writer, turned opinion editor, turned executive editor recounts his and other journalists' defense of the defenseless war in Iraq and questions what he would/could have done differently.

Loss and Hope: Remebering life on September 12.
The 9/11 Decade: The most complete, indepth and surprisingly fairly balanced coverage of the 10th anniversay. Al Jazeera is on a league of its own! 

Portraits of a Changed America: Perhaps this should be portraits of a changed world. One could argue it needs to include photos of atrocities caused by american troops in the world after 9/11. Also a good story:  http://us.cnn.com/2011/US/09/10/911.changed.america/index.html?hpt=hp_c1