Tag Archives: africa

No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.

Mundane Monday

As  the sun begins its ascent on a new week in central Mozambique, I am not without my questions about what it means to exist and do. I am sure we all ask ourselves if what we are doing means anything…especially if you are stuck in a corporate position. The Man clamps down and holds you in his grasp, unwilling to allow you a speck of happiness.

Forget being happy. What about greatness? I am far from the glittering world of commerce and the institutions of higher order in New York, London and the like but it doesn’t change my desire for more.  I came to Africa to really do but the existential unhappiness of the doing still invades the development work. Even my work in development is a drop in one of the biggest lakes of human rights abuses throughout the world. It is enough to keep crying. Tears aren’t going to change the world though.

It is more than that. Insanity and reaching for greatness does not a great mind make.

Maybe it is because pushing yourself to achieve is not enough in life, and it doesn’t mean you are more intelligent than the next person. Calvin and Hobbes are always reminding us about friendship and the fall of humanity, albeit in humorous form. Brilliant! Calvin knows the difference between a boring everyday slave-to-school Monday and the FREEDOM of running around without clothes on. Finally~ Life can begin!

You may beg to differ that inventing Naked Mondays is hardly what a great mind would think. But who is to say?

Aristotle said that a great mind must exist with at least a touch of the insane. So if we question what we are doing because our mind feels as if it is bordering on madness should we question our mind? When we are reaching for something extraordinary … what does that mean? Could it be closer to having a great mind but still unsatisfied?

Who is anyone kidding? Insanity and dissatisfaction does not a great mind make.

Certainly I do not live a charmed life. My idea of a good day is when I haven’t found solvent paint on my face at 5:00pm or swallowed a bad piece of chicken (happens more than you can imagine). Yes I have R&R. I can visit home. I see beautiful places other people don’t dare to see. But daily life – glamorous it is not. Satisfying? Lately not even that. Greatness isn’t often charming either.

My only consolation is that if I am Calvin I have my friend Hobbes. What if Hobbes wasn’t there? I guess Calvin would have to rethink Naked Mondays for a start. What fun is that without a friend to appreciate the true inventiveness of Naked Mondays?

Do nothing. Then you are exactly that.
Do nothing. Then you are exactly that.

Perhaps the question is not about questioning the familiar, the mundane, and the boring. It is about using the dissatisfaction as fuel to change the things you can control even if it makes you go crazy. If I was Calvin, I would say Hobbes is my secret ingredient – madness, a little bit of being clever and a friend to cheer you on or tell you when you should rethink things. Criticism comes not only from our enemies, but also from the ones we love the most.

To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.

If we don’t constantly wish to be more, to change what is stagnant, we may never have to worry about the thoughts of others. But what if we do? Then we fall prey to the many bystanders, pits of vipers and those waiting for us to fail. I’ve had my share of criticism and it isn’t going away anytime soon. I’m reminded that I am surrounded by friendship that never questions my character, my passion, and who I am. An ambitious mind is one that is vulnerable, especially if your passion is on the line. Vulnerable to criticism, envy, and FAILURE.

Admittedly this can be a hard place to be. My mind is not far from misery right now. But one cannot fear what is not known – greatness is not something often achieved alone. Lately I am not so sure about my own strength.  But I do know who my friends are. If I know I am crazy, they know I’m crazy, but I still know who my friends are. So life isn’t so bad.

Maybe I could push myself over the edge to something great after all. They say that a man is only as good as the woman standing behind him. Well I may not be a man but perhaps that doesn’t matter. Maybe being female means all the women behind me make me stronger. I don’t have one; I have many! If one is measured by all those behind her, then I may have some greatness in me after all. Thank God.

I wish it was only my mind that was on the chopping block but if one’s passion is part of the motivation I’m in trouble. It is also my heart on the line.

Sometimes that is harder than it seems. Cheers to you ladies!

Here’s a balloon from Moz. Or two or three. Who said African living isn’t weird and weirder and maybe some kind of wonderful?

Nacala Juventude Drive

If you’re about to jump off that cliff, what happens when you look down?

What I write today is what what I’m not supposed to say.

A landmark Supreme court case recently ruled about one of the most controversial things in the developed world even today.  Next to Euthanasia, it is still potentially the most highly-charged subject (excluding gun control, of course).


It divides dinner parties, it separates women and highly-held opinions about mothering, child-bearing or the right to lack thereof and polarizes those with genderized images of femme fatales, love/marriage and having children.

Beatrix Kiddo goes on a "rampage of revenge" when her so-called friends are responsible for attempting to kill her and the child she carried.
Beatrix Kiddo goes on a “rampage of revenge” when her so-called friends are responsible for attempting to kill her and the child she carried.

In popular culture, certain 90s films dictated possible dealings with the choice of having a child as a teenager (i.e. Singles) but generally we tiptoe around the subject in Hollywood.  Other liberal countries like France don’t often give it a second thought, but conservative ones like Ireland advocate the right to life over right to women’s choice. Yes, even in 2014.  While it isn’t a subject two sides usually can persuade in a political forum (Ask any republican/democrat debate on the subject… ) what is often forgotten is that the individual choice is the one that matters.

Now while this decision did not change U.S. laws on the subject it did make a case that a Massachussetts law preventing anyone from standing within a 35-foot buffer zone of an abortion clinic was ruled unconstitutional.  The case decision recognizes people as agents of change.  Autonomy.  What does a woman feel before she makes that all-important choice?  No one pretends that it isn’t a bit like taking a dive into deep waters, but we try to ignore it if we can.

Autonomy in these kinds of decisions is remembered but not often discussed at least not in the circles I run.  The only honest discussion I ever had was with a roommate when we lived with another college acquaintance.  When the subject came up, we both still kept hushed voices even though it was 7:00 am and there was no one around.

“I know this is a sensitive topic but I don’t think it is easy for anyone to decide.  Well [Emily]…”

“Yes, what about her…?”

“Were you aware she had an abortion?”

“No, of course not. We aren’t very close.”

“Yes well right before Emily and [Trent] broke up they had to go through all of that.  She’s never been the same.”

“That must be rough.”

“Well she says now that it needed to be done at the time but she dreams about it almost every night and has for the last 2 years.  She talks about her nightmares and sometimes I can hear her sort of crying.”

Now I know that this isn’t what women’s rights activists want to hear.  They’ll say it was her right to choose what the best thing was for her body and she made the decision to protect her right to freedom.

What is forgotten in this conversation is that the choice itself is not just a difficult one at the time.  In fact, like many difficult decisions, they often come back to visit us years later. Whether Emily’s choice is ultimately one she will respect as her college self versus the adult self she is today, I will probably never know.  I don’t know where she is but I presume there are many ‘Emily’s out there.

Why do I think so?  Another conversation I had with a friend , [Jane] who confessed she’d been lost for almost 12 months because of the same decision she made.  Then she spontaneously burst into tears over a secret heartache no one knew about.  Only this woman was closer to 30.  It seems the choice doesn’t get easier no matter the age.

So when I read this article today about “The Last Person You See Before Getting an Abortion,” it allowed me to ponder the ramifications of such decisions.  The Supreme court (SC) ruled unanimously that there should not be a buffer zone around Planned Parenhood and other such clinics to detract those who seek to make a statement.

It was an unusual decision in a place like the U.S. which has never been conservative on this issue since Roe vs. Wade.  The SC ruling, however, was based on a protection of free speech. The clincher in this Atlantic article was not the dialogue around the first amendment, it was the conclusions about altercations which occurred (or didn’t) between women going into clinics and those standing outside.  An SC Justice, Roberts stated that Boston police were not able to show evidence for more than barely 5 arrests although they attempted to discuss police clashes:

Roberts wrote, it’s not clear that these kinds of clashes are actually happening…Indeed the facts of the case suggest that something more interesting than scream-filled protests was happening at these clinics:  People have been trying to persuade others to change their minds about having an abortion — Even though these direct, personal interactions may make some women uncomfortable, Scalia wrote, that’s what the First Amendment is all about: allowing people to speak their mind and try to persuade others to see things the same way.  This is especially true in politically charged public spaces like the streets outside abortion clinics…

So, Roberts and Scalia made the case that when people speak to others in a polite, non-threatening way, some people were actually persuaded not to have abortions.  That certainly is news.  The fact that the decision was ruled unanimously also tells us something about how convincing the argument was.

The reason this made me think of Emily, Jane, and countless other women who may have had to face this kind of decision is simple. It is that it underlines a fact we ignore.  That the choice is an emotionally-charged one and recognizing that may be something.

In a continent like Africa, where 6.4 million abortion occurred in 2008, only 3% were performed under safe conditions.  By unsafe, WHO defines this as performing a procedure by a person with the lack of mandated skills or qualifications or an environment where the minimum standards of hygiene and/or medical skills are kept.  Mozambique, as an example of one of 18 African countries where abortions are legal if the woman’s physical health is at stake.  Abortion is not permitted under any circumstance in 14 additional African countries.  As it stands, this isn’t stopping women from choosing to do so.  The average is 29 abortions per 1,000 women. As stated earlier, most of these are not remotely safe.  So living on a continent with limited access to such procedures and opportunities, I realized all over again what a gift it is for people to choose.

To choose to say yes.  To choose to say no.  To change one’s mind.  To listen.  To make a decision knowing she will stay healthy (and wake up) after going under the knife.  Or stay healthy whether she says yes. Or no.

The Bride makes her final stand against one-time close friend, O'ren Ishii in Wintery Japan.
The Bride makes her final stand against one-time close friend, O’ren Ishii in Wintery Japan.

Or to decide like The Bride that slicing and dicing your old bosom buddies and team players is necessary for anyone who tries to take that decision away from her.   Kiddo may have a point. Just saying.



Green, Emma. “The Last Person You See Before Getting An Abortion,” The Atlantic Monthly.  26/6/2014. Accessed 26, June 2014.  http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/06/the-last-person-you-see-before-getting-an-abortion/373526

“In Brief: Facts on Abortion in Africa,” Guttmacher Institute.  Accessed 27, June 2014.  http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/IB_AWW-Africa.pdf


Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

When a person loses so much sleep, there is a strange phenomenon that occurs.  It is almost as if your nightmares begin to tread with you during the day – like a shadow you cannot shake.  This shadow haunts your steps because any actual accomplishments are obscured in knowing that dark cloud is still with you.

I just departed from my time in Africa for some precious days in Ireland not 2 weeks ago where friends took a similarly long journey from Canada, Australia and the like for a wedding.  There seem to be several of these lately.  No matter: it was a much needed respite from the tyranny of the humidity that lays waste to what I call home in Nacala.  Neglecting my composition responsibilities, I have resumed in full flush deciding that these pages will require more ink than usual in the coming weeks.

What awaited in Cork was bitter cold and daily rainstorms but the latter has become a daily habit of Southern life at home.  As D always says, “It was all grand. All lovely.”  Yes, there was singing, dancing, hugging, and the depths of conversation explored – my favourite.

A private beach near Kwalala, in Nacala Porto.
A private beach near Kwalala, in Nacala Porto.

On my return, I was plunged back into a world of mud, thunder, and lightning which conveniently occurred in the middle of the night during most storms. I haven’t slept in five days.

Thus, the psychosomatic daydream I carried from the weekend may be an indicator of the subconscious just waiting to resurface. My nightmares are always the same – manifestations of weirdly real and ugly elements conjoined to my fears. All I can dream about is the NGO sector and as this is clustered with some distorted faces and chases in which I always fail.  The solution, I decided, was to go running when my dreams had no control over my chases.  Outside.

4:35am. Darkness covered the tall baobabs outside the house, and I strode towards the hill. Giving myself two minutes to wake up my mind, I quickly trotted into full stride thinking about all of the messy factors that are interrupting my natural sense of calm – the uncertainty of life in Africa, incomplete research, and job opportunities that continually appear and disappear within days.

4:44am. One shoe hit the pavement and the other followed. I could feel the callouses building underneath: the satisfaction in knowing that your muscles will be properly tired later. As my breath steadied into a rhythmic bent, the trees began to lift their branches, as if unburdened as the clouds drifted apart to let the sun begin its slow ascent.

4:53am. My eyes adjusted to the grey haze that comes from an early morning that is still truly the end of the evening, and no mosquitos or flies to be heard or seen. (That, of course, does not mean they were not there.) Why is it that calm escapes when it is so attainable?

4:59am. A figure came towards the road in a long skirt and misshapen body – it is actually the form of a semi-wicker basket type container balanced on a long, lean shape. Just a few moments passed as I turned to quickly head across in order to return before another 30 minutes had gone by. Another shape huddled behind a tree and climbing from the shadows appeared and began to materialize in the sunlight as I turned a corner.

5:05am. Brilliant in pink and yellow, the ball of light pierced the sky with its unflinching gaze and squinted at the Earth below. I think that calm is definitely attainable.

5:15am. On the floor and staring at the ceiling, I breathed in the artificial air that colors my ability to think in any appropriate manner. Hot, hot, hot. The pulse in my wrist throbbed and would continue until I could feel the cold from the floor begin to dissolve into me.

The truth is this. Living in Mozambique requires more than the average amount of patience and as one tries to build anything of substance, it slips through the fingers like grains of sand. A praying kind of girl myself, I have taken to a lot of solitary moments. It is one of the only ways I begin to feel sane and yet, my human levels of patience are just that. Human.  It is like the beauty of this country – always beautiful, always there but elusive when the thunder and the lightning mask the trees, the ocean, the beaches with its angry roars and sharp light.  Thunder and lightning is beautiful and mysterious in its own way but it doesn’t compare to the day the storms pass and the peace after resides on the shores.

When I look around at the people who work so hard and receive so little in return, it seems such a small price to pay – patience. I suppose that is what African living is actually about, at least for me: humility. Awe in light of the fact that things do not always go the way one plans. And being okay with that. Perhaps then Africa could start to feel like home. Perhaps then my restlessness and ambition could materialize …if the waiting can teach me anything at all.

Welcome back, I say to myself in dreams. Welcome.