Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Raising Activists

Growing up in a household with five brothers, patriarchy was not just an abstract concept and I became conscious of differing gender roles early in life. My father made all the important decisions and mother always complied even when she grumbled about the decision. My brothers stepped out of their beds and left their shorts literally squatting in the place they walked out of them leaving mother and I to make their beds and tidy their rooms. In academics my father expected me to perform as well as any boy, but outside school I was not to climb trees or get into fights, instead I was to complete my homework and help my mother in the kitchen where the boys were not allowed in to 'disturb us!' She never spoke up but I grew up 'feeling' my mother's dissatisfaction with the status quo. Naturally, I rebelled, whenever I could. Today am a female head of household and still rebelling against the 'traditional' upbringing of the girl child - and I think am doing a good job. My younger daughter recently told me she can do anything a boy can do 'and do it in heels.' I smiled with satisfaction, happy that I have contributed to a new generation of activists to challenge gender inequality and all injustice the way I did in my childhood, youth and adult life.

At 50 I know that our upbringing shapes our values and who we become in life. My mother may not have been a role model for defending her own rights but her quiet grumbling unwittingly laid the foundation for my loud activism against many forms of injustice later in life.

— feeling proud.

Monday, March 30, 2015


If you have heard of BFFs then you most likely have heard of 'Frenemies,' They seek you out for friendship and cling like leeches waiting for opportunities to poison your thoughts and to watch you fail. The childhood friend who let you play with her toys when you visited her home but laughed the hardest when boys bullied you at school. The teenage 'partner in crime' who helped you sneak out of your home for a disco and then smirks with glee when she hears you were caught trying to get back in. The bombshell whose looks attract serious stares from all the guys yet she will do anything to ruin the relationship with your one true love. The one who brings the most expensive gift to your baby shower and spends the evening talking about the high mortality rate in your country's labor wards. Oh, they also come crying louder than the bereaved when they hear you have been laid off at work or that your spouse is cheating with a mutual friend. They will of course be on hand to tell you when your kids are hanging out with the wrong crowd. All in the name of friendship!

At 50 I know that 'Frenemies' may come into our lives by chance but we keep them there by choice.  Don't wait another day before you cut them out of your life ...for good.

— feeling relieved.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Friends Forever

They wear pendants shaped in half the heart and the other half is gifted to their BFF. The deal is sealed - Best Friends Forever! Three months later the pendant is no longer a favorite but now your daughter is wearing bracelets of the same bright color as the neighbor's niece and they are all emblazoned with the magic letters: 'BFF.' So you ask discreetly, 'whatever happened to so and so?' The answer is not as ominous as you thought: New school = New BFF! A look at the list of BFFs over the years is like a kaleidoscopic tour of who your daughter is and how she has become who she now is: A little bit of Monica in her hair, a little bit of Jessica in her walk, a little bit of Erika in her talk, a little bit of Sandra in her mood...

At 50 I know that forever is a very, very long time and a close look at past BFFs will help you understand your values over the years. If you want to know which of those values you really treasured, the ones that have survived the test of time, then look at your friends now.

— feeling loved.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Humble Pie

When things come easily in life we start getting cocky. Take this girl for example. At four she is taken to school to pass time long before kindergartens and pre-schools were invented in her land. She passes P.1 and by age 11 she finds herself in secondary school. Before her 18th birthday she has completed High School and goes to University as the best Arts student in the country. Then the real lessons in life begin but she chooses to ignore them. Before she graduates she is a teenage mother. At age 23 she has a Bachelors and Masters degrees, plus two postgraduate diplomas. So she is academically astute but is flunking really badly at motherhood - not that you would notice! She focuses on her success and expects more good things in life. And they come -a good job, a nice car and what appears like a good life. She moves from job to job and can't understand why people complain about unemployment. It all seems so easy. She quits working for others and tries going it alone in business. Flunks! She knows she was born to succeed and if business is not her thing she can always do other things. She tries politics and flunks! Wait a minute, what happened to Lady Luck? There must be a lesson in all this flunking but Missy is too cocky to acknowledge it because you see, she is not and never was a loser. The problem is not her: it's the business environment and the political environment because all things being equal she should be winning at anything and never losing. Right? Nope: wrong. After deep reflection she finally acknowledges the nagging truth that life is not all about her. That there are other in the equation. Kids, Family, Friends - and she needs to take time off from tooting her own horn and look at the people she has shoved aside to prove her worth. She struggles with admitting that she may be wrong about being 'The Lucky One.'

Life gives you many opportunities to learn humility but each time I have encountered a lesson in humility it still feels like a smack across the face.

At 50 I know that one of the hardest lessons to learn, even for the brightest of them all, is humility. Do yourself a favor and learn something each time you eat humble pie.

— feeling bummed.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Golden Years

The golden years are not a period that we consciously live through and celebrate as they happen. The problems of the day occupy our minds as we go about our mundane tasks and dream of a brighter future. I remember a happy childhood when I walked to school through a green lush valley that today is unrecognizable because it is a built-up city suburb. My biggest worry was stepping on a snake in the tall grass or being late for the first bell. During my youth we enjoyed visiting cinemas that were accessible for a paltry price and discos that blared loud music during the day avoiding night time when a dictator's wolves hounded innocent citizens. As college students we crawled the bars at night enjoying our first taste of freedom from parental rules and only worried about finding a clean, working toilet during a water crisis. Then we became adults and could finally pay our bills at proper restaurants. We traveled abroad and returned to tell tales of far away places but we also spent a lot of time planning friends' funerals and wary of navigating a love life without catching HIV/AIDS. One day, maybe, I will look at these years when am working in a war-torn country and think, 'Yeah! Those were the days!

At 50 I know that nostalgia comes after surviving imminent threats long enough to remember the good times that were blurred by the dangers of a particular time and place. So perhaps these are your golden years, embrace them!

— feeling nostalgic.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Forbidden Fruit

Even when I was too young to complain I already hated vegetables. That was the first indication that most of the things I would hate in life are actually good! Conversely, any sweet snack had to be taken in tiny portions or not at all. So by association, everything I found desirable was probably bad for me but it was also likely to be wickedly delectable. So alcohol is bad, but hey, the high must be worth it! Good guys are no fun so bad guys must be really BAD (as in great!) I got really mixed up at that point and am still wearing the scars. Looking back now I can tell you, the 'high' from alcohol is followed by many bad hangovers, the girls who desisted from sugary snacks are still looking good, the good guys matured into fine men and the bad guys are still really bad (not BAD.)

At 50 I know that there is an inclination in many of us towards the forbidden but I have learnt that the joy of the forbidden is often short lived.

— feeling naughty.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Have a Little Faith!

In the beginning faith was easy. Having been born into it, we trudged along to Bible Class, Crusaders, Koranic school, or perhaps to the family shrine and performed religious rituals. By the time we made it to youth group we had probably heard that the neighbors had a different way of worshipping but they were wrong and we were right. The seeds of doubt started sprouting during science class when the crazy professor taught evolution and we couldn't reconcile the story of Adam and Eve with the theory of evolving from ape to man. By the time we were adults we could not fathom whether we would be going to heaven as soon as we died or whether we would remain buried in the ground until the 'last day.' But we put aside these lingering issues as we went about the important duty of imparting our faith to the next generation. Eventually these questions were abandoned altogether because the closer we get to the grave the greater the need to believe in the hereafter. I find reprieve from the confusion in the difference between religion (a man made institution organized around rituals) and spirituality (an innate consciousness that is developed by an individual.)

At 50 I know that religion was forced on me but I fully own up to my spirituality because although planted in me by religion, I have chosen it and nurtured it myself and will continue to develop it until it finally all makes sense during eternity.

— feeling perplexed.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How Times Change!

The things my mother would never have tolerated that my teenage daughters take for granted - and why I accept them:
1. Talking back to authority - Authority is not always right and must be questioned
2. Speaking at the dinner table - This is perhaps the only chance we get for quality time
3. Piercing their ears twice in the same lobe - I have seen piercings in more unsavory places
4. Wearing short hot pants or short anything - A woman should not be punished for having great legs
5. Going to a 'Dance' with a strange boy - This is an innocent activity as long as it does not lead to grandchildren
6. Discussing boyfriends - Better to learn of him through my daughter than any other way
7. Discussing sex - Better to learn of it from me than from the boyfriend.

At 50 I know that my parents' understanding of respect and good manners is different from mine.

— feeling cool.

Empty Nest

They come into our lives with ferocious force and inflict such bodily harm that a mother can never forget the day their child was born. The moment is seared on your memory with the same tenacity that the child leaves your body. They are such cute babies and adorable toddlers then they become bright school girls or boys before becoming strange teenagers. You feed them, you nurse them, you nurture them. I remember with fondness when the youngest at age eight, looked me straight in the eye and said 'Mom, I can't wait to become a teenager so I can drive you crazy!' How was I supposed to know it was a prophecy? Now my son is a man and as I watch my daughters become young women a new fear grips me. Soon they will all leave home and go off into the world. When they went away before their absences were short and I never rearranged my life. Soon they will become visitors in my home, their first home. I will downsize from family-size to 'single again!' I can't even remember what it was like to live alone. I recall fantasies about 'getting my life back' after the kids leave, but now the idea is daunting.

At 50 I know the empty nest is inevitable but I will still not be ready. I will miss their love around me, even the arguments and battles. Raising kids as a single mother is hard but it is not that bad in hindsight

— feeling worried.

Feeling Lucky

Many people will say they are not gamblers and do not expect to make a fortune from playing cards or the lottery. Secretly, though they are waiting for their numbers to come in. If you are waiting for your man to build you a house, or your rich girlfriend to buy you that dream car don't deny being a gambler. If you are waiting on an inheritance to give you your big break, you are gambling. If you are lining up for a visa at every Western Consulate to escape your country and make it abroad, you are gambling. In fact whenever you speculate with minimal investment and insignificant or unknown risk - but expect high returns, you are gambling. A gambler counts on being lucky. The honest gambler walks into a Casino and spins that wheel. Others sit around spinning fantasies in their heads, waiting to be lucky.

At 50 I know that the odds are in favor of those who invest in hard work instead of a lottery ticket. The reward for gambling is always uncertain and the frustration of waiting to get lucky leads many to self destruction.


There is the journey and then there is the destination. Everyone hopes that at the end of each journey lies Nirvana. Our journey through school should lead to academic success and we would experience Nirvana. But you arrive there and it is only an intersection so you must choose a route to your next destination. Nirvana you decide, is a successful career in your profession. But perhaps a lack of opportunities frustrates that route and you find yourself at a new intersection. You dump the career decide to become a successful entrepreneur but on that path you find new convictions and you opt to become an idealist, a philanthropist, an activist, or a pastor! The path of love ended in marriage and there too, you did not find Nirvana. As the years pass you reflect on the different routes that you have chosen and wonder why you have not experienced Nirvana at any of the destinations. The map looks so muddled, and many roads still lie ahead so you must soldier on to your next destination.

At 50 I know that you cannot retrace your steps and restart the journey. Nirvana may be waiting at the final destination, but the journey is happening now and you can still choose a route that you will enjoy on the way to eternity.

My Home or Yours?

Home is the cozy, comforting setting into which you were first brought as a tiny bundle. The first faces you recognized turned out to be your family. And when you left home to start your own family you sought to make a brighter and better replica of that first home and family. Unbeknownst to you, so did your partner. Your idea of family was shaped by hardworking parents who both had full time jobs and shared their earnings. His idea of family was shaped by a single mother who worked her way to an early grave and he decided there and then that his wife would never work. So he tells you to stay home and rear the kids while he works hard and controls the dough. Your parents had a joint bank account, he doesn't let you anywhere near the check book and only wants your list of groceries. The reason he works so hard is so that you do not have to do anything outside the home. It's his way of loving you. The reason you want a job and a joint account is to share the responsibility of running a home. Your parents are confused when you say that it is not working.

At 50 I know that there is no standard way of caring for someone and there is certainly no standard definition of family. So when he says he loves you and wants to start a family ask him to describe exactly what he means - in specific detail.

— feeling curious.

Who am I?

Discovering who you are is a lifetime project. At a very young age others take charge of moulding you into what they want you to become. Before uttering your first words, a man in long robes pours water on your forehead and voila! You are now a Christian. Most babies cry out when the water touches their face, probably their first sign of protest at being defined by society. Earlier on your parents may have made the trek to a government registry to name you and you will most likely be called that name for the rest of your life. Once the State and Church are done with you, then your community performs its own branding rituals. In some places strange men or women take you to a dark place and use a knife on your most intimate places to certify your cultural identity. When they are all done, you have a legal name, an official religion and you belong to a certain culture for better or for worse - and you had no say in the branding process. When you are finally old enough to question this pre- ordained identity you either embrace it or spend a lifetime trying to rebrand yourself.

At 50 I know that many people are threatened by anyone who refuses to conform to identity rituals, but those who later in life have the audacity to define themselves enjoy the singular freedom of discovering who they really are.

— feeling incomplete.

Love is Sharing

My mother taught me that 'Love is sharing' but when it came to snack for school break she said snack was not to be shared with anyone. She wasn't being mean, she just wanted to be sure that first and foremost, I was never hungry at school. I learnt that harmless sounding adages could be double edged. 'Turning the other cheek,' turned you into a bully's punching bag, much like 'cowards live longer.' 'Love one another' works well if the other party is of the same mind. Then one day I introduced my messed up girlfriend to the man of my dreams. She took one look at him, turned to me and repeated my mother's advice: 'Love is sharing!'

At 50 I know that prescriptive advice should be dispensed with a warning: 'Interpret carefully and decide wisely when to apply

— feeling thoughtful.


You can tell a woman's age by the way she utters the word: 'Men!' Of course at first it was:'Boys!' (Frustration and anger) - At the awkward creature with uncoordinated limbs that pulled your hair when the teacher wasn't looking and dared you to cross a line on the playground. Then it was 'Guys!' (Sad and resigned) - At an even more awkward teenager with a breaking voice and a forehead covered with pimples who thinks the two hairs on his chin are a beard! But before you knew it they became: 'Men!' (Your heart throbbing loud enough to pop your ears) -No longer awkward at all, they now spot six-pack abs that are 'to die for' - the frog just became a prince! 'Men!' (Broken hearted sigh) They will never get it! - The heart-stopping idiot decided to marry your best friend! 'Men' (Anger, just plain anger) - Your mother was right! The two-timing fool you married before you run out of child-bearing eggs is cheating on you again. 'Men!' (nostalgia and confusion) - Your father was right! You left him in haste before that 10-year 'quarantine' period after which everything settles - and he becomes 'like your brother.'

At 50 I know that am still trying to figure them out - 'Men!' (sighs)

Where did the Time Go?

Our concept of time changes as we grow. When I was young the days between my birthdays were an eternity. It took forever to get to 18. Then 18 came and I was so busy living I did not notice the days, weeks and years passing. I became a mother and time was measured by my children's birthdays. I noticed them growing but seemed to forget that I too was growing! Now am nearly 50 and my birthdays just keep coming and coming. Yet my plans - the ones I set every year since I learnt to set goals (get fit, learn French, own a waterfront house) - are still pending. Where did the time go?

At 50 I know that a lifetime is not long enough for anyone to complete their business on this side. We can only do our best.

 — feeling satisfied.

Failure Creates Opportunity

By age 50 you have failed at something. The reason it may not spring to mind is because we conditioned ourselves to tell and retell our success stories while hiding our failures far away in the sub conscience. A failed exam or relationship, a botched task or neglected responsibility may haunt us in private but publicly we pretend they never happened. Yet picking ourselves up from failure always makes a great learning experience for ourselves and for others. The deeper we bury our failures the less likely we are to learn from them.

At 50 I know that however hard failure hurts it also creates opportunity.

— feeling optimistic.

Acquiring Wisdom

Our children do not know the panic attacks that hit us when they ask us questions that should be answered by a sage. If only they knew how terrified we were by the complete trust and confidence that they have in our decisions. They 'totally' know that we are doing the right thing for them. Sometimes, a flash of wisdom uttered by my teenage daughter puts my own ideas to shame. I asked my Aunt ten years ago: At what age will I feel 'totally' wise? She told me not to hold my breath because at 56 she was still waiting for wisdom to happen.

At 50 I know that wisdom is a function of experience rather than time.

 — feeling perplexed.

An Independent Mind

As children we had a questioning mind and asked the question 'why?' - many times a day. Then family and society conspired to take our free mind and we learnt to conform. You asked an innocent question and your mother gave you 'The Look,' or you got a sharp kick under the table. We learnt that there were questions that must never be asked, questions that would never be answered. By the time we became adults we had learnt to 'fit in' perfectly - our minds were closed, we neglected to learn new things.

At 50 I know that an independent mind is not acquired with age. It is something you fight to keep as you grow.

 — feeling determined.

Peace of Mind

We start with a clear conscience and our dreams are uninterrupted by guilt. Then life happens, temptation comes in many forms and innocence fades. The rewards of temptation seem sweeter and instant. The crook takes a bribe and builds a big house, the boy cheats on his test and goes to a better college, the athlete uses drugs and wins the big prize, the girl who sells body and soul to the highest bidder drives a Hummer. Life presents many opportunities for us to choose between instant gratification and delayed fulfillment, between immediate accolade and future validation.

Whatever your choice, however large the reward, at 50 I know that peace of mind is priceless.

— feeling content.

Happiness is a Frame of Mind

As little girls we loved toys and collected dolls, balls, skipping ropes - and we were happy. As teenagers toys lost their allure and we dreamt about the guy who would sweep us off our feet - we would marry him and live 'happily ever after.' Then we became adults and discovered that we still loved toys - only bigger: big car, big house, big job, big money. We accumulated things to make us happy.

At 50 I know that happiness is a frame of mind - we choose the context.

— feeling happy.

Education and Success

We were brought up in the strong belief that education is the key to success. No one questioned the idea and we had living examples of parents who escaped poverty through education. Times changed, population growth exploded, technology changed, the business environment changed but the education curriculum and our mentality did not keep pace and soon our Degrees, Diplomas and Certificates brought little or no success.

At 50 I know that success is not only learnt from emulating the past but also by adapting to the present and anticipating the future.

Till Death do us Part

If you are lucky at my age your parents are still alive, talk to each other and may even still live in the same house. Perhaps they passed on and you share fond memories of their love with your kids and tell them how they were separated only by death.

At 50 I know many of our children think their grandparents were from another planet.

Still a Man's World

When my mother left school to get married at 18, women stayed at home and made good wives. Those who worked were paid less, women's rights were trampled on, domestic violence was rife and women needed affirmative action to participate in public life.

At 50 I know: 'No change.' It's still a man's world!

— feeling disappointed.

Spanking was OK

Back in the day, poor grades at school were a punishable offense that attracted a good spanking. Bad behavior on your school report was even worse than poor grades and punishment could be meted out by teachers, family, or even a stranger in your community!

At 50 I know that the system worked!

— feeling grateful.

Shades of Grey

Early in life we are taught right from wrong and everything seems so clear. You are either a good girl or bad girl, naughty or nice and in our first schools we are surrounded by bright primary colors, blue, yellow, green, red. Later as we start learning about colors in between, (peach, mauve, turquoise;) we also learn uncertainty.

At 50 I know: Life is not lived in black and white; there are more than 50 shades of grey.


By age 50 your heart has been broken, too many times perhaps; and someone you love dearly has died. The pain is enough to make you think you will never recover, that life will never be the same again.

At 50 I know: We are resilient beyond our own realization. Even though life may never be the same after a broken heart or the loss of a loved one, you will recover better than you ever hoped.
— feeling positive.

Mother Knows Best!

When I was growing up my mother claimed she saw through my dubious schemes, observed my moods, monitored my behavior, read my mind and could therefore accurately predict my life as an adult.

At 50 I know: Mother was mostly right!

 — feeling thoughtful.

Maiden speech

Six months to my 50th birthday, I will write a thought each day (when I can) of what I know for sure after 50 years on this side. Many of these are mundane everyday thoughts that you already heard or knew so you don't need to comment, (or roll your eyes,) this is my lazy way of keeping a journal. 

Here is number one:
At 50 I know: It's easier to have children than to raise them