My choices are about me…not us

We need to have a discussion about how when other people make life decisions, they’re not about us. They’re about them, and what they want to do. This is something I have been pondering a lot lately as a somewhat carefree black woman in Harare, skirting many notions of respectability. People seem to often be under the impression that the way in which I choose to live my life is not about me, it’s somehow about them. Nope. It’s about me. I’m the protagonist in the story of my life (yes, I really did just write that.)

In Zimbabwe we are really good at groupthink and being offended when it seems as though the group has been insulted. People seem to find it personally offensive when I do not accept the societally condoned notions of good living and good decision making. Further, they seem to think that opting out of said standards means that I am now judging them and thinking less of them. This stance seems to be further underpinned by the fact that as a society we don’t seem to think that women, especially young women are particularly good at deciding things. Only exceptional women are decision makers and leaders. Infantilisation continues to be the order of the day as though I am just inherently ill equipped to have any form of autonomy let alone life/ bodily autonomy. Apparently in order to assuage others’ qualms I must either fall in line with the mainstream narrative of productive living or I must be apologetic for making different decisions and concede that I am not of sound mind.

Case in point: I just had a run in with a guy I met at a programming hub who seemed to be under the impression that my decision not to train with said hub – that I found to be sketch at best and exploitative at worst, was somehow about him. He genuinely got miffed when I told him why I ducked out and attempted to engage me at length on why I had missed out on an opportunity of a lifetime and that really it would’ve been worth it in the end. The line, “That’s the problem with you lawyers,” was actually said. He seemed to be very much under the impression that I was somehow judging him for his life decisions and contemplating a crusade of mockery for all those who made choices different to my own. Nope. Whilst I wasn’t trying to offend him, I also wasn’t about to pander to his fragile ego and inflated sense of self, by acting as though my ability to make decisions for my life was somehow compromised. So I told him straight up, that though the skills were indeed desirable, I was certain I could acquire them in a way I found to be ethically tenable. We had both made decisions and both of us had made said decisions with the best possible understanding of our lives and our individual values. That is perfectly fine. We must all be left to make our decisions and live our lives (with the standard caveats re harming others). Could we kindly stay in our lanes.

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Dear Zimbabwe: “exposure” does not pay bills

I have been identifying very closely with the #fuckyoupayme movement because quite frankly I was tired of being screwed over by people who used my labour and refused to remunerate me for it. It seems to be a disease that the world is increasing being infected with but Zimbabweans have a special brand of this disease reserved for creatives and people within the creative industries. See, Zimbabweans only ever seem to want to pay creatives via “exposure”. I’m particularly livid as we don’t seem to understand that creative labour is labour and when someone labours they should be paid for it. This means that when you ask a rapper like my friend D-Blok Keislim to perform, offering to pay via “expensive t-shirt” just doesn’t cut it. An exception could potentially be made if it’s for a charity that’s not part of the non-profit industrial complex AND I have consented to donate my labour. Beyond that, refusing to properly pay is horrendously offensive and exploitative. It needs to stop. Zimbabwe: pay your creatives. Perhaps I need to break this down a little:


1. Say it with me: “Creative labour is labour”

We seem to think that creatives are at the disposal of people with “real jobs”. Let us get this point clear, just because you may consume our labour whilst you are at leisure does not mean we are at leisure. Creating is a force of both physical and mental energy. Crafting perfect sentences, moving rhythms or taking pictures that speak into people’s soul is labour. People are not entitled to consume it for free or for a pittance. Pay us what our work is worth. Simple.

2. Exposure does not pay bills

We are constantly complaining that our artists are not performing up to the standards we want them to but refuse to create the climate that will enable them to afford to focus solely on artistic endeavours. Whilst exposure might be a way to get your name out there when you’re getting started, the cold reality is that few can afford to labour for exposure. Exposure does not pay bills. It’s like how we’re constantly expected to volunteer and intern (often at corporations that operate for profit) on the odd chance that you may one day get a job out of it. Apparently eventually getting paid for labour makes the fact that you were exploited not that big a deal. Wrong. Yes attempting to consistently pay in “exposure” amounts to exploitation. Think on that.

3. Talent or enjoyment does not nullify labour

Also, can we please stop making the idea of loving what you do that stick with which we beat people who are trying to get their dues. Just because I happen to enjoy the work that I do does not mean that you get a free pass to said work. What is being paid for is work product, the experience, the poetry or the set that my travails have produced: the output that my labour has wrought. It’s not payment in exchange for suffering. One of the most ridiculous arguments I’ve heard presented for why artists are paid so little – if at all – is because work is a result of the innate talent of the artist. Yes, the artist is talented but they have opted to use said talent in order to produce a work that you are then consuming. Sounds a lot like they laboured and then you used their labour doesn’t it? So pay for it. Also, you don’t see us walking around asking doctors and lawyers for discounts or pro bono work on the basis that they happen to be inherently suited to their professions do we? Come now.

Now enough of this madness. Paying for labour really should be a given.

A quick hello :)

Happy Friday everyone! I hope you’ve made it through the week largely ok, and all that good stuff. I have, this is me enjoying the Zimbabwe winter sun, whilst researching my next blog post (potentially a mini-series) on respectability politics.

 

Photo on 11-07-2014 at 14.38 #2

 

As I blogged earlier this week I’m opting out of my usual Friday post but do have a read of my latest article on Feminspire on what feminist transnational solidarity should look like (find it here). Also if you don’t already do follow my twitter account for occasional musings: @TCKFeminist

Hope you enjoy all the…stuff haha

Anthea xx

Tongue tied: experiencing a language barrier in my home country

Happy Tuesday everyone! So I’ve recently been pondering language barriers. As a TCK I’m quite familiar with the challenges that come with being unable to communicate with the people in whose country you live. This tends to be because, at least at the start, we don’t speak very much of each other’s languages and so hand gestures become our friends. As language barriers bar effective communication, integration into a society can become quite difficult. However, I’m used to the type of language barrier where there is a lack of capacity to speak the same language as opposed to a lack of desire to speak the same language. Enter Harare.

Now, Zimbabweans are by and large bilingual. We’ll tend to speak our native language (usually Shona or Ndebele but there are others) and English. The most widely spoken indigenous language is Shona and so there is a sizeable minority of people who are trilingual and speak their native language + Shona + English. English is so widely spoken it is generally the language of business and foreigners will have absolutely no problems getting around. What I have noticed however is that we’re not fans of speaking English with people who can or should be able to speak Shona. I actually heard someone say once what a burden it was to have to speak English all the time. My first language is English, so it’s not quite a sentiment I can echo, however it has become apparent that in order to integrate back into my home country I have to become more than conversationally familiar with Shona and properly familiar with Shona culture. I’d rather not be held at arm’s length indefinitely. This seems to me to be a classic third culture kid woe – how do we manage reintegration into our home country cultures?

One of the things that I have found really tricky is asking questions about things that I don’t understand that fall into the category of things that are deemed basic or self evident. It sometimes looks like I’m just being a smart aleck. My parents are at a point where they sigh at me, look imploringly at the sky and wonder where they went wrong. Furthermore very often people won’t necessarily have the answers to my questions because it’s the culture/language they grew up with so there was never really a need to dissect things. It’s the standard situation of someone having better English grammar than a native speaker because they learnt it as a second language. So how do we find out the information that we need, the answers to our questions when we’re trying to move past the language barrier and learn our home languages/ cultures? Solution: academic articles. Seriously. It’s the best idea ever.

Very often when we move to new countries we read up on them, we try to learn everything about them so that we’re prepared and will not offend. Do that. Additionally look up articles that go into the semantics of the language and analyses the culture. I like academic articles, people explain things and form arguments – give examples and all that good stuff. It’s thorough. It might seem a bit odd to have to work to understand your home country and pervasive culture but it does help deal with disorientation so entirely worth the effort! Also whilst I’d like to take all the credit for my light bulb moment, it’s actually the work of my boyfriend. That’s right he’s getting a shout out.

All year, he’s been trying to encourage me to speak it more to help me get comfortable speaking the language (and by extension navigating daily life) so I don’t have the self conscious pauses at the start of each sentence, where I’m attempting to ensure that any sentence I make is grammatically correct and that all verbs have been perfectly conjugated ensuring that I am not opening my self up to mockery. Zimbabweans can mock. He came across (i.e. went looking for) Zambezia which is the journal on humanities that’s published by the University of Zimbabwe. It is also currently my favourite. He then forwarded me an article called “Terms of address in Shona: a sociolinguistic approach” which walked me through terms of address, answering some questions that had been lingering in the back of my mind and giving me fun facts. I am a very happy camper indeed. There may have been a happy dance involved when I got the article.

In conclusion, going back to our TCK research-y ways is a go.

[Okay, so the boyfriend is now an ex, but he was useful in his time]

When organising is…unorganised

I contemplated calling this article the road to hell is paved with good intentions but then I thought I’d tone down the dramatic tone just a bit. I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this article for the past two weeks, since the fateful day I attended the 263chat “tweetathon”/meeting/networking/what-even-is-this event that was on child “marriage”. (I put the marriage in quotes as a point was legitimately made that we are glorifying these abusive unions by associating them with unions that are considered to be happy things.) This was a very topical, erm, topic, given that the AU had decided to launch its campaign on the end of the practice. How wonderful that our nations are finally getting their act together, but I digress.

I did not enjoy the event. That is not to say that interesting or insightful things weren’t occasionally said. They were. Rather my problem was that the event was disorganised. Now, there weren’t any logistical issues (that I am aware of), it was fairly well attended and other people seemed to have a ball just tweeting away. I disliked many things about the event but today I will focus on one: the event lacked a clear direction or agenda. Why were we gathered there?

When I got my Eventbrite ticket with “#263chat tweetathon on Child Marriage” little did I expect that that was apparently as far as the topic had been narrowed down. What about child marriage were we supposed to discuss? Furthermore there seemed to be a lot of indecision as to whom the event was really pitched. Was this supposed to be a discussion for the average Zimbabwean about a practice that we very often hear about, tisk at, and do nothing about? Or was it supposed to be a strategising event, where Civil Society Organisations, Government Ministries, Academics, Legal Practitioners were to come together, exchange knowledge and come up with best practices to be implemented in their work be it lobbying, reform or daily legal practice? Who knows? The purpose was entirely unclear, instead the learned panel made rudimentary statements on an area they are very familiar with, giving the impression that they too had been inadequately briefed on the nature of the gathering. Some tweets were then read, which were generally along that lines of – “child marriage is bad”. Questions/comments from the floor were then asked for, these – when coherent were also generally along the lines of “child marriage is bad” with a side serving of “we/you/someone needs to do something about it.”

This event was like the poster child for ineffective engagement. It was on par with attending a business meeting, where nothing is decided but many people speak a lot – what’s the point? It is not enough to have events/meetings so you can feel as though you’re doing something. It’s an utter waste of time and energy. Because there are so many stakeholders at work in the area of child marriage, and because society at large has a vested interest in the practice’s eradication, we (the vested) need to be organised in tackling the issue. Properly organised. We really need to be aware of who we’re trying to reach, and when, and pitch the topic accordingly. It is important to be aware of our audience and ensure that the human capitol in play is properly engaged. There needs to be a clear agenda. We need to know what we need/want to say. What are we hoping to get out of this gathering of people? What are our objectives? This is not to discredit free flow conversations rather it is an assertion that we need to ensure that we are having constructive conversations. These conversations must be purposeful, not merely commiseration parties. Furthermore we must find a way to inform our actions by the lived experiences of children married off at a young age, and the communities that seem to condone such actions. We the privileged must not attempt to act alone. We will get it wrong. We must not be lulled into thinking that media platforms, social or otherwise are the only ways to engage this issue. That in and of itself would be deeply exclusionary.

The event was a hot mess, organised with good intentions. Perhaps, all my complaints do is to further emphasise my gaucheness. It is possible that I haven’t quite gotten the hang of these events. Maybe rudimentary statements being made on complex issues, followed by a comment/ question segment full of tautologies is all that activists, and concerned citizens really have to look forward to when it comes to discussions on social ills. Perhaps no one else felt as much at a loss. The foreign dignitaries in attendance got to go home with the knowledge that they’d discharged their duties. The NGO representatives were already aware of the work that they were or were not doing as regards child marriage. The Honourable Minister – who frankly, was very very nice about having her extremely valuable time be so unceremoniously wasted, also knows how her ministry is tackling the issue. So they all felt comfortable being good sports and sitting around for hours, occasionally saying tweetable things before returning to their very important work. They were then also able to ignore and or forgive a moderator insufficiently familiar with the topic on hand to be effective in his role.

I on the other hand – face-palmed.

It’s okay to have nothing to say

Happy Friday everyone! My pondering mind has been at it again but this time I am contemplating silence amongst people who would usually be labelled vocal advocates. I’m not talking about the dark type of silence that occurs where people don’t speak up in the face of some injustice, or even silencing (the mechanisms through which the status quo suppresses or ignores minority or subversive voices), I mean, just having nothing to say.

 

I like to refer to myself as a loud quiet person. This basically means that I’m quiet with a dose of goofiness, and have the ability to make myself heard – if need be. This means that I do have a tendency to really have at in voicing my opinion in the face of prejudice, injustice, bad television, poor customer service, the deliciousness of ice cream, enjoyable books, great rugby and the like. What I have found quite interesting however, is the continuous expectation that I must have something to say or a fully formulated opinion on virtually everything under the sun, partly because I am so willing to use my voice in other situations. When it transpires that actually, I have no particular opinion on, say, which side of the road it is better to drive on, I have noticed some people become taken aback. It’s almost as though by virtue of having been heard to shamelessly cackle in the middle of First Street, I have forfeited my right to have a complex personality – if I have often been loud I must always be loud. Thus any silence on my part should be perceived as being related to negative moods or negative emotions. I’m apparently not allowed to just have nothing to say.

 

There is nothing wrong with having a loud personality, or being loud on occasion, or anything in between. My fundamental issue lies in the need to categorise people, and strip them of any flexibility when it comes to how they go about performing their personality. I also have a problem with the fact that such categorisation denies the importance of context when considering a person’s personality and behaviour. This implies that not only are we often loud people incapable of being multi-faceted, we apparently also lack the powers of introspection and reflection or really – brain use, which would allow us to choose how to behave. There is also nothing wrong with asking after someone if they seem different or under the weather to you. What is annoying however, is when people refuse to accept a response that indicates that a personality is not what they thought it would be, as though they necessarily know you better than you know yourself.

 

The problem I have with the expectation of across-the-board opinionated-ness is the same one I have with people who are considered experts in one area being used as experts in another area that has absolutely nothing to do with their actual area of expertise. The problem is ignorance. I find it very odd to be expected to have an opinion on something that I am not particularly familiar with. (Given the breadth of knowledge in the universe, most things will fall under this category.) This unease is particularly apparent, after having had a few foot-in-mouth type gaffes of my own, and after having had my mind opened up to an intersectional world. The fact remains that there are some things that I am not going to know about or fully understand and sometimes I need to just keep my mouth shut and be taught some things or at least withhold judgment until I have more information to work with.

 

Availability of information aside, there are some things that simply fail to pique my interest – say, soccer that isn’t played at national level, or the technical aspects of cars. When such topics arise, I tend to opt to go to a lovely place in my head where I can ponder whatever I like, to my heart’s content. That should be considered a perfectly legitimate way to spend my time. Being outspoken in one area should not create an obligation to speak all the time.

 

Other times, I simply have nothing to say, and that’s okay.

 

Inside Anthea’s head: I’m on the road again – pondering travel writing

…Not really, I wish I were though. Happy Friday everyone! Thank you for your patience the last few weeks, I’ve been really ill. Although I wasn’t actually on my deathbed I felt like I was, and now that I’m starting to be up and about, I feel a bit like Lazarus. Being bedridden made me feel extra-wanderlust-y and as the travel loving third culture kid that I am, I started to miss travelling. Yes, even the airport waiting bits. I genuinely enjoy airports, more so now that free Wi-Fi seems to be thing. But I digress. The renewal in wanderlust led me to attempt to travel by proxy, looking at lovely visual travel blogs (The National Geographic Travel Tumblr is awesome) and mentally inserting myself in all manner of landscapes. I also experimented with reading travel writing. It’s never been a genre I have really been into, and I have to say I was struck by the lack of diverse voices in the area, particularly when it comes to off-the-beaten-track travels. Granted I didn’t exactly carry out the most exhaustive search for alternative voices but I did have to wonder: where are all the other people and why aren’t they travelling? Ponder with me.

Travel writing as a genre isn’t new, nor is the lack of global/diverse voices. There were women travel writers in the past and they were by and large privileged. Male travel writers also tended to be wealthy young men whose travelling was supposed to be a key component of their education. Mary Morris asserts that in modern times ‘travel literature awaits its full range of multicultural voices and perspectives’. What’s interesting to note is that these women by and large travelled with large entourages, yet their accounts are not filled with how their companions or their servants or their helpers coped with the varying hardships that would later form part of the backbone of tales they would regale their home audiences with. So it’s not that others weren’t travelling it’s that their travels went undocumented and unremarked upon.

In modern times the nature of the travelling that we like to hear about my also serve to narrow down the pool of potential writers. We (myself very much included) seem to be interested in consuming tales of the unencumbered leisure traveller who goes off exploring and maybe along the way finds (very often) himself, makes unlikely friends and feels that the world is a beautiful wonderful place. However, not many people are sufficiently unencumbered. Not many people are able to spare the time off of work/ families/ other obligations in order to have a good wander around in some wilderness, even if the funds were forthcoming and the desire to do so was there. It made me realise what a privileged position leisure travel and travellers for leisure and self-discovery hold. The mainstream isn’t filled with accounts of an average migrant worker making their way to work in exploitative and often dangerous conditions, or those whose travel is triggered through forced expulsion and deportations, or through the outbreak of war, natural disasters and the like unless of course this information is supposed to trigger a sympathetic response.

The internet does seem to be chock-full of advise about travelling on the cheap, finding deals or travelling to some lesser known places however the people doing the writing and exploring tended to belong to the global North, be white, able-bodied and fairly well off, with the extra security that powerful passports seem to be accorded. Diversity in possible travellers/ consumers of travel information tended to only be mentioned when in the form of a blanket caution that did not delve into the intricacies of travelling whilst not a card-carrying member of certain forms of privilege. There was a lot of “women should be wary of travelling in dangerous areas which are dangerous” type of reasoning or what Kristi Siegel calls the “rhetoric of peril”. This is the idea that women really shouldn’t even be permitted to venture out of the confines of their backyard alone as they will meet a sorry end. Siegel compares the modern conceptions of Little Red Riding Hood (starting with the version by the Grimm Brothers) with the older versions to tease out some of the assumptions that come up when it comes to women travelling. She says that Little Red Riding Hood’s messages to young women are ‘…destructive: we are easily distracted and disobedient; we are not safe alone in the woods (travelling off the beaten path); we are fairly stupid; we get ourselves in trouble, and we need to be rescued by a man.’ Popular culture seems to actively be of the opinion that women are too weak to travel by themselves and/or we risk getting confused/ lost/ hurt etc.

I wonder if the lessons of Little Red Riding Hood continue to influence the idea of who should be travelling and who should be travelling in order to write about travelling? If so, then it seems a shame as in many ways things like race, class and gender are relevant when it comes to navigating other countries. I cannot tell you the number of times I have been assumed to be the help in some European resorts, or the number of times people in rural Europe i.e. places with not that many black women around, seemed a little distressed/ uncomfortable with my presence. My point being my travel experiences are going to be very different from someone else who may be similarly situated in terms of how much they are looking to spend but is male/white/disabled. These perspectives need charting too and it is very inappropriate to assume that white/male/citizen of global North will cut it as the yardstick of the good traveller.

Now, violence against women is unfortunately a very real thing, and I find it very interesting that it seems to be a thing that is particularly highlighted when going into the great beyond as though this isn’t an issue that cuts across cultures. As Siegel asserts ‘ultimately, it is impossible to determine what degree of danger travel poses for a woman’ and I would add that that is true in much the same way that it is impossible to determine what degree of danger staying at home and walking down one of my own streets poses. There seems to be an added element of racism, when we assume that “they” are more likely to cause harm to “our” women than “we” are.

Just a thought.

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