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Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Serena Williams and the "wrong" way of supporting women

Suppose one lives in a world without social media, internet, TV, or other means of news communication not to have heard about Serena Williams, famous champion tennis player, incident and arguments at the final of the US Open last weekend. Her voice advocating that women’s discrimination materializes in all aspects of tennis and particularly in the implementation of rules and penalties given was loud and clear. In another situation, I would have sat down and cheered for her as loud as she was. But now, I was in thoughts…

We live in a world where all arguments and all difficult discussions are easily “won” by the one side if some sort of discrimination is put forward. No, I am not talking only in sports but also politics and all other facets of life.

I found myself struggling to decide if I understood deeply her agonizing “scream” for fairness or myself being a rule-follower I was upset with any breaking of rules and not acceptance of the penalty/punishment. All that in the light of women’s unfair treatment…I was troubled.
Sports teaches you character, it teaches you to play by the rules, it teaches you to know what it feels like to win and lose – it teaches you all about life. - Billie Jean KingI started playing in my mind with thoughts and examples of the brilliant book of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that I read recently called “Dear Ijeawele – A feminist manifesto in fifteen suggestions”. The main message of the book was that the moment one starts to putting women above men also gets in this bad circle of gender discrimination. Equal society supports equal and fair treatment. But you do not fix something so fundamentally wrong that is embedded in the society’s DNA, such as gender biases, by creating more wrongs.

I agreed so much with the amazing author when she discussed about the Mrs/Miss differences versus only Mr on the other side (other side? Hehe). I had my own encounter with the biases that it creates. A few years ago, I went to a shop to have my watch fixed. As I was completing the forms (with my then boyfriend next to me – or where we already married? I cant remember, and maybe that’s the point), the lady-employee insisted in asking me whether I am Mrs or Miss (as if that would change the service I would receive later). My husband stills smiles now – a bit proudly – when he describes my reaction, after ignoring her a bit “for you I am Dr”. The assumption that my title had to be between Mrs and Miss is fundamentally flawed – I can be Adv., or Prof, or Dr or whatever I want to be. Also, as the book went on saying, having a description of marital status in women’s title versus men’s being Mr whether married or single is a demonstration of historical gender discrimination. But the solution would not be to create a distinction between married and unmarried men (Mr and Msr? Hehe) because that is almost as if accepting the wrong distinction of Mrs and Miss as if something acceptable and proceeding with implementing it for males as well. That is wrong – plain and simple wrong. The suggestion is to stop the historic and in some senses enforced by tradition discrimination – not to extend all the past wrongdoing to males so that we are even. Feminism does not promote revenge against males (on the contrary, feminists were burning their own bras, not the men’s underwear – ok ok I am joking).

To link now these thoughts to Serena Williams, how do I feel about it? I am not particularly proud of a fight for women’s rights in action here.  Her actions say, "men break rules, they get unpunished so when we break rules leave us unpunished". So instead of fixing the past wrongdoing, allow us women to be wrong too. Something flawed here, right? For me, everyone that breaks rules should be punished regardless of their gender. Isn’t that real equality and fair treatment?

And because I know some of you are thinking “but this rule is nonsense”…Fair enough. Then let’s challenge the rule, let’s understand its root, let’s evaluate it, let’s change it if needs be. But by breaking it who is at fault? Does breaking a racket on the ground promote good sportsmanship (definitely a problem with this word too..)? Because I did not want my kids to see that – how will I explain to them that you are not allowed to do that when you lose at school, if that goes unpunished in an important game by professional athletes? How do I explain to my kids that at sports, we do not break the rules (whether we like them or not)? In heart, I understand partially her frustration, I hear what she says about other players doing so and left unpunished – but that was not the right time to do so and definitely not the right reason not to get a penalty.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

I am (not) Wonder Woman

“You have everything under control”

“You can do everything you put your mind on”

“You balance family and social life and work so nicely”

“I am not worried about you, you are strong, you will manage”

A few of the comments I hear every now and then from friends, family, and others. Comments that are derived primarily from my posts on social media, photos of activities with the kids, awards for work successes, running races, and check-ins at nice places. My boys call me a wonder woman that even has eyes at the back. Indeed, I live a busy life with full schedules and we are doing our best to do fun things with the boys and create memories. However, if you judge someone’s happiness and easiness of living from their facebook posts, it is as if you know all the drama that went on at a wedding by the photos in the album. When watching a movie or a play, you do not see any of the pain, effort and disappointments at the rehearsals.

I don't post about the nights that I stay awake working until dawn. That is the only time that I can focus for many hours without disruptions and without stealing time from my family. I am like a ghost the next day – especially after midday that the sleepiness hits me. But I don’t post about it.

I don’t post about the fights with the kids. Both of them are strong-minded and have leadership personalities. They break rules (that’s what normal kids do) or make rules (that’s what my bigboy prefers). But we fight and we disagree and they go to the quiet corner and to their rooms. And there are evenings that they are tired and not helpful. And there are mornings that are slow. And there are times they are fighting with each other. And there are times that neither I or their dad have any idea how to deal with them. But I don’t post about it.

I don’t post the angry and unhappy faces. When we have our difficult moments, the last thing I think of doing is looking for the camera to take a photo. There are moments that they cry because they hurt themselves. And there are angry faces because the world is too big for them. But I don’t post about it.
I don’t post how much weight I did not lose the last weeks. I don’t post about the races I did not run because I was not prepared or too lazy. There are moments that I feel terrible that I cannot even walk around the complex to get some exercise. And there are moments that I cheat with chocolate and then I feel like shit about it. But I don’t post about it.

I don’t post about the paper that got rejected. And there are hundreds of rejections of papers, proposals, and applications. And there are moments where I doubt if my work is good enough, or if I am good enough. And there are moments that I wonder where my career would take me, and what my next steps should be. But I don’t post about it.

Why don’t I? Because what is the point of doing so? I want to be a positive person, a person that inspires and a person that shows to others that happiness is a choice. Because it is. Posting about all the difficulties and disappointment can only make them bigger and stronger than they are. It can convert them to life choices. I want to look back at my profile and “facebook memories” and be reminded of the happy moments, be proud of the successes, and smile about my boys and my relationships and me growing up and maturing.

I know deep inside that nothing is easy – if you believe otherwise, you are wrong. Nothing comes without sacrifices. Nothing comes without trade-offs. When I travel for work, I expand my horizons, I meet inspiring people, I experience different cultures, and I aspire at becoming a better researcher and make a contribution to society. But at the same time, I miss out on my boys everyday life, or goals at football, or the first time they read something. I miss supporting my husband coming back from work tired. Then there are periods in my life that the motto of #becauseIcan motivates me and pushes me forward. You know what happens then? I survive with 3-4 hours sleep a day for many days. During these productive times, I am ahead at work, have time with the family and friends, and am less stressed in catching up with everything. Everything except sleep, and eventually, sleep catches up on me.

Therefore, if you have a friend that you think is a superman or superwoman, think about it again. No one has the superpower of not becoming tired or achieving everything the first time they try. If that was the case, why don’t we even bother watching superhero movies? Love those special people a bit more; they go on with the difficulties of life without complaining and demotivating others. They do it with a smile and lots of coffee (and wine). What you see of them is just the tip of the iceberg.

Maybe try to be one of them. Carry your problems and fights with pride and grace – but remember, accept a hug every now and then; the people that understand and the people that matter will be there to give it to you.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Nigerian Angels my way…

It was about time that I travelled in another African country and experience what the African continent has to offer after more than 10 years in South Africa (only travelled for honeymoon to Mauritius and Zambia). An opportunity to travel to Nigeria for a conference came and I did not think about it much – I grabbed it. Of course, the reactions of whoever heard about the trip varied from looks of concern to “oh my word, aren’t you scared?”. Scared? I cant say I was before the trip. The mechanism that I decided to use was taking everything step by step and deal with the trip as with any other trip anywhere in the world where one does not know the conditions and the system. I did not ignore the voices of concern but I had everything neatly in my mind. Maybe the Nigerian delegates in some of the courses I taught had already given me a warm feeling, and I did not have enough proof to counter that – maybe call me romantic or even better naïve.

Worse thing that can happen to every traveller is to fall sick one day before the trip. And that’s exactly what happened to me. Fortunately, I got medicine before flying and was hoping they will kick in as soon as possible. However, throughout my flight and waiting time at Ethiopia I had the worse headache and – possibly – fever as well. That, certainly, did not help the experience. But that’s exactly where the first Nigerian Angels appeared… I mentioned earlier the Nigerian delegates of short courses I had taught? Well, indeed two of the  friendliest Nigerian ladies I had met (till then) not only were at the airport lounge with me but they were flying with the same flights to the same destination. Just seeing a familiar – and friendly – face gives another tone to the trip. Even more though, by the time we were waiting to board on the second flight from Ethiopia, I had been sicker, more miserable, and more tired than I have been in my entire life – or so it felt. That’s exactly where the Nigerian Angels gave me the biggest hug and said: “come, you are with us now”. That’s exactly what I needed.

I arrive then to the airport where, as in all airports you feel a general disorientation when you arrive the first time, checking my passport, and proceed to the “merry go round” to get my luggage. Oh the chaos! Too many people – too little space! And I started questioning my decision to visit the country…after waiting for I do not know how long, I manage to get my suitcase. But as I walk to the gate, I see standing there, almost hanging at the gate, with a worried expression on his face, the next Nigerian Angel – the host of the conference. He showed me how genuinely worried he was for me for being so late. Oh, that was the welcome I needed – and that was a decisive moment in my trip; that Nigeria Angel was a catalyst. I decided then and there that I will look for, analyse and discuss only the positives in this visit.

After that, I think I was attracting Nigerian Angels for two days; that’s how I felt. The gentleman that helped me at the hotel, realised that although I did not want to make an issue for the “smoking” room I got and within 10 minutes, called me back. He had spoken with the reception and made sure I am transferred to another room. Call it good service? I call it good heart. The ladies at the conference were actually a group of Nigerian Angels –even if I was standing outside a venue, they were there next to me to ask if I needed anything. Nigerian angels found me in the session of my presentation too. I was explained that in Nigeria, another African is a brother or a sister and are treated as brothers or sisters. I was always amazing for me that I was called sister every now and then and thought that it is because of my difficult name and surname, people turned to sister. No! I was a sister; and I was not a sister only in words, I felt like a sister the way they treated me – like one of the family.

Time to go back home and after saying goodbye to new friends, we arrived at the airport. The checking in and passport control and all the rest went smoothly, until the last checking of my documents. “There is something missing, you cannot go through” is not a sentence you would like to hear 25 minutes from boarding time. The (very) young lady showed that she had practised the “it’s the rules” so many times to avoid travellers like me that want to question everything and since she had the final word to me flying back home I decided to surrender. But the stress has started piling up. I went to the lady that could help me with the document but there was a fee. No, it is not the right time to argue if the fee was formal or not… that’s another story and does not fall with the theme of “focus on the positive”. I explained to her that I have no cash so she showed me where the ATM was (all the way at the entrance of the airport) so off I go. Just imagine the stress… I try the ATM and it does not have cash…what now? I ask around and they show me an ATM OUTSIDE the airport with a queue of six people at least. What else could I do? I stand at the back of the queue and while I stress and make scenarios on missing the flight etc etc  I burst into tears. Yes yes I start crying… and that’s where the last Nigerian Angel made her appearance. A sister came to ask me if I am fine and if I needed anything (except for the big hug that she gave me anyway). When I explained, she asked all the others if I can pass the line and there was absolutely no reaction, on the contrary, they scolded me why I have not asked earlier. More Nigerian Angels I thought. To cut the long story short, I made it back to the waiting area having to walk and being checked again but this time, with big smiles and lots of assistance from every single person.

Now I am sitting here at the Ethiopian airport and my conclusion is a country is not made of its problems and difficult conditions. What makes a country is its people and only them. Nigeria has its problems (which country doesn’t?) that are intensified by high levels of poverty, unemployment, inequality, and corruption. The political instability, as well as the cash-only, in some cases, economy, the criminal activity and the high population density do not make the country an attractive destination for visitors. So I am not trying to advertise the country for holidays – I would not be able to do so after visiting only for 2 days and that for business.

But, Nigeria is the only country I have visited where you might feel unsafe to be outside in the streets but inside, you feel more welcome than your own home. And you know what? It is the genuine smiles and offers that made me love these people. The genuine care and true embraces. The immense happiness when they were asking if I will come back and I would reply “yes, and next time I will be more organised and stay longer”. They are real people not afraid to show appreciation and admiration or disagreement and dissatisfaction. 

And it is a wonderful feeling to be surrounded by Nigerian Angels...

Thursday, 1 March 2018

10 and me

At first, it was a hello and a flickering cursor….
What continued was checking for messages the whole day….
The poems, the sweet words….
Then the KISS….. expected, desired, needed for days… years?
Life started…
Life as we never knew it before…
Love…can there be more love? And more love? And even more love?
From one to two, to family…
From loving my life with you…
To cant even breath without you...
Ten years…
Feelings, emotions, thoughts, moments, memories….
All you…every day you….
My forever and my reason….

Monday, 26 February 2018

Hey, I am still writing....

Hello hello,

I have not stopped writing and definitely, I have not stopped having ideas and confusions in my mind...

The two latest have been published at the blog of the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS).

International Day of Women and Girls in Science: why not to like it! Click here.

The journey of a paper. Click here.

I will come back soon ;) Beware! :)

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Bigboy growing...

Today we celebrate “South African first day at school” day. You live in Mars (or in another country) if you have not posted or seen or received at least one photo or post with “My baby is going to school today” or “Grade 1 here we come” or “First day of Matric”.

I was one of these proud ones that my bigboy started Grade R. One of those that did not stop taking photos. One of those that put on their sunglasses to hide their tears. One of those that did not know if they should be happy or sad when my bigboy left me to go play with the friends. One of those that panicked the day before thinking that “I don’t have everything for the first day – what a bad mummy I am”. One of those that realised that her baby is not a baby anymore – he wears a uniform!!!

But it did not actually hit me today. It hit me a few days ago. My bigboy lost his two front teeth. They were loose for some time and we decided to visit the dentist to check if everything is fine, where he said we needed to take them both out. Bigboy was more relaxed than mummy (well I decided I will hide my nervousness in filling forms). And that was it… His smile changed. His looks changed. He even looked taller all of a sudden (am I losing it?). 

Yesterday, he announced that he is big now, he can prepare his own snack box. “Oh what a blessing”, any working mother would say, me included. And he did it! He chose his fruit, his biltong; he even made a sandwich with jam and butter! As I was taking a video (for proof), he told me very seriously that he needs to focus now and I should not interrupt him. Oh, wow!

So that is it. Bigboy is a BIG BOY now. Not only that but he is getting to become an independent boy. I am sitting here wondering though. Is independence a trait? A gene? Or something we develop over time and depending on our circumstances. Surely, a poor orphan that resides in Syria during war learns to be much more independent than the equivalent in a developed country with well-off parents, three chefs, and two nannies. Why though two siblings growing up in the same family have different independence levels? There must be a different cell in their bodies. Even more importantly, I am wondering why two people have a different need for becoming independent. Regardless of the philosophical wondering, though, I believe that the parents' attitude is crucial in raising independent kids. Exposing our kids to different situations and giving them the freedom to take initiative is at the same time challenging and rewarding. (How do you fellow parents do so? Any ideas?).

For my boys thus, I tend to avoid dreaming what and how they will be when they reach adulthood. They might go to University, or not, they might travel a lot, or make family early in their lives. However, what I wish wholeheartedly that they will be independent and proud. I will be there to help, to assist, to catch them if they fall, but I dream of seeing them flying high with their own wings and with a sparkle in their eyes.

Fly my bigboy fly…

Image result for fly my son quote

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Dear running shoes….2017 Life lessons

This specific race up the mountain at the borders of South Africa and Lesotho I have run twice in my life. Knowing the route one might say that fact is on its own special. Well, what is so unique about this race for me is that every single time, that run teaches me so many things about me, about my loved ones, about life itself. I had previously shared “running” lessons here but this time around, while running at the end of November under dismal conditions (I will tell you just now..), I had an internal review of the year that passed. Moreover, with this came the realisation, that many thoughts, lessons and success were taught to me by ….my running shoes.

To put some perspective… I decided to run the Sani Stagger half – marathon for the first time in 2015. The excitement was at its peak, although I was relatively scared too. I had never run off-road before and the rumours were that this is not an easy downhill. On top of all of this, it was cold – very cold. To cut the long story short (because my run is not really the reason I am writing today), at around the 4th or 5th km, I tripped and I fell. Not very hard but enough to have a swollen ankle (which I discovered only later when I took my shoe off) and quite painful especially as the time was passing. Nevertheless and mostly walking I finished the race just a few minutes before the cut-off. I promised to myself then that never again. But two years down the line, being true to a runner’s nature, and due to peer pressure or – let’s be honest – to Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO), I entered to run the race again. I convinced myself that this time it is going to be better. Well, in reality, I “played” my mind: the worse thing that can happen is I fall; I have done it before I will survive again. 

Nevertheless, I did not count on weather conditions playing along. The night before it was pouring, that resulted in the mountain being muddy and slippery. Beautiful, however, with all the small waterfalls pouring from rocks everywhere and everything as green as can be. Unfortunately, the road conditions did not allow me (us) to run faster and after running the first two kms in tears from fear of falling, we took it easy. I finished with some time to spare – definitely more comfortable than the first time and much wiser.

So, thinking of the year that is leaving us I would like to thank my running shoes for teaching me life valuable lessons.

The important thing is to set a goal and work on achieving it; fast or slow, it does not play a role but reaching it is. I have found peace in the thought that I am a slow finisher. Each person has their own pace and capacity but I am taking my hat off to people that manage to reach their targets eventually. Seeing people passing you (because they are faster) builds a character as much as working harder and harder to get to a level that you get faster than you did in the past.
Having said that, we all have heard the meaning of the famous poem Ithaca that it is not about the end destination but about the journey mostly. Well, I must say that there is something very special about the finish line too. The excitement when you see it at the horizon; when you know the achievement of all this effort is in front of you (well, yes, of course, the smell of the boerie at the finish line also plays a role…). Regardless, how much I have enjoyed both my Sani races, I will always remember the last km of both where I could see the finish line – and I will always remember passing the finish line both times. Therefore, I have admitted to myself that I am goal-driven and not always looking around during the path towards there.

Stemmed from that thought, what would help is STOPPING to breathe and look around. Only then, you take in real events in life – if you pause and absorb and enjoy them in their fullness. Pause and look at the waterfall; pause and take a photo with my husband; pause and chat with the people at the water points. Life also needs their pauses; life needs its little perfect nothings.

We are the owners of our fears and tears. We control them and we allow them. I fell the first time and fear kept me from pushing my limits the next year. Fear and my tears kept me from going a bit faster at the beginning of the race – I allowed fear to convince me I will never make it. That is what kept me back – it was not because I could not and it was not because I did not want to. It was because fear made decisions for me; because I allowed it. I want to make my own decisions for myself and not allow fear to do so on my behalf – that is what strong people do anyway (right, my friend?).

I should never reach to conclusions at the beginning of a race. It might cold, in the beginning, it might be lonely, the hill might be steep, the soil uneven, the shoes not the most appropriate, the jacket too thin, the pants itchy, the hood funny… However, as you go closer to the finish none of these things matter anymore. On the contrary, the funny hood might be the cause of laughter for days, and the shoes the reason for writing a blog post (oops!). The lesson is not to let first difficulties disappoint you and make you quit. It gets better, it always gets better; keep going forward.

Finally, yet importantly, no race, no journey, and no route would have been the same without our co-travellers. My first Sani would not have been the same without my friend with whom we sat next to each other on the top of the mountain to keep each other warm, or the friend that was there when I tripped and found myself on the ground. My second Sani would not have been the same without the teasing and giggles with the friends even from the night before about my funny hood (no picture of the hood here…no) and without my Prince that was there to hold my hands when passing through little (or bigger) water holes. But also, the co-travellers that were not physically there but in mind. My Bigboy and Babyboy waiting at home for their medals from daddy and me was the most motivating thought. I would feel disappointed in myself if I returned not having made it. That is exactly how I feel in life in general. My push-forward is my boys; that they are there looking at mummy’s successes (and failures) and they are proud of me for trying and for pushing my limits and proving (to myself first) that I can achieve any goal and target or at least, I will keep trying.

So as the year coming to an end, I am replacing my running shoes, not because I haven’t loved them or we have not had our good and bad experiences together. I am getting new ones… I am going for new experiences, for new mistakes and new successes, for new routes and new races. No big new years’ resolutions for me this year – only live life to its fullest, as I do when I wear my running shoes and I am on the top of Sani…

Many wishes for an amazing festive season for you and your loved ones.