Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Belgian Experience Part 1

On the 9th June 2011, armed with my already-shelved summer clothes and an eager mind, I jetted off to the town of Antwerp, in Belgium, to attend a Qualitative and Mixed Methods Research course at the world-renowned Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM). The Institute itself boasts an international cohort of students and professional researchers on a quest to respond to domestic and international needs in the field of tropical and import pathology and HIV/AIDS.
The course participants consisted of 14 Medical Doctors and Public Health professionals from all over the world; Swaziland, Nigeria, Cambodia, Philippines, Madagascar, Peru, and Belgium, to name a few. The main focus was to introduce the team to qualitative research methods, investigate ways in which our very quantized way of thinking can shift towards a mixed methods approach, as well as to equip the team with essential high-level research techniques that will enable each of us in our different research spheres to have the capacity to plan, conduct, analyze, report and publish qualitative research. The different cultures represented contributed to a great classroom dynamic, discussion and debate was always the order of the day, and the team was often eager to identify cultural difference that could present key strengths and challenges in conducting qualitative research in Public Health.
As part of the course, we were all assigned a mini research topic as practice in addition to the theory learnt in class. I investigated why almost 80% of people who accessed ITM’s HIV testing center were either Men who have sex with Men (MSM) or Sub-Saharan African Migrants (SAM). Apart from the fact that these social groups are inherently at a higher social risk of contracting HIV, what attracts them to this testing center, as opposed to testing at a GP or ordinary clinic? After conducting several in depth interviews, participant observations, and focus group discussions with these two groups, as well as various providers of testing services, I found that the main reasons why MSM and SAM chose this center related to issues of confidentiality, low cost and a preference for “specialist” services. I had a great time meeting and chatting with members from these various social groups!
In my spare time, I made sure I hop on the “tram” for a meager €1.20 with a map in hand, and went sightseeing. I spent much time at “The Meir”, one of the largest shopping streets in Europe. I also went on boat rides, sunbathed at a manmade beach, made new friends and tried out the dozens of restaurants lined along the streets, which all had one thing in common – Belgian waffles and chocolate! I can definitely say I had the experience of a lifetime. The research skills I learnt will be of great benefit to Research at FLAS and for INTEGRA. I have grown as a researcher and as a person, and I couldn’t have spent that month at any other place but the warm Antwerp!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Relationships (I don’t have a brilliant title ‘cos I’m lazy to think of one)

I know I’m not the only one who’s pondered on the topic of romantic relationships many a time, probably nursed a broken heart or several, and called men some funny name that rings with certain animals, sport activity or unappealing human waste. I realize that being in a romantic relationship is the toughest easy thing to do, and it can be this constant battle of give-take-give, that can leave us feeling fulfilled or empty. It’s only after my 839th heartbreak that I sat down and found the familiar string through all the mess. And what has really, honestly, and truly, worked best for me.

It’s simple.

Be selfish.

I know the word selfish leaves much to be desired, but this isn’t a bad word. Let’s first acknowledge that this is one of the best words that can happen to you in your relationship.

My opinion is straight forward. For a relationship to work and prosper, both parties must SELFISHLY put their own happiness before that of the next person. It doesn’t stop there, you’ve hit bull’s eye when this happiness reflects on the next person and they become happy that YOU are happy. And the reason I say this is also simple. We reflect our inner thoughts about ourselves, and you think people don’t see what you feel inside? Wrong. People are attracted to the energy you put out, and when you genuinely are a happy person, there is no doubt that people will be happy around you. No one wants to baby-sit a moody, aggressive, snobby toddler. And no one wants to be friends with someone who’s always looking to be validated by others. And the classic one : Men would rather drink rat blood than be with / marry an insecure woman who is depressed half the time, constantly accusing, and annoyingly dependant, no matter how beautiful, smart, or popular.

I am a firm believer that the number 1 reason for most failed relationships is not because he hurt you, or you him, or that he wasn’t paying enough attention to you, or maybe he just didn’t show that he cared, or treated you like a complete waste of Oxygen. Yeah, maybe this happened. And you have every right to feel this way. But it’s only the result of this very simple concept: We are misled into thinking we ought to put the next person’s happiness first, and MAKE our partner happy, when this is NOT the case. Happiness cannot be created, it lives in us. When we struggle to make people happy, we are simply taking out a dose of happiness from within ourselves, and handing it to the next person on a silver platter. This is why, when we don’t get the same response of happiness, we start to feel used or depleted. In the perfect world where I’m heiress, we would get the same amount of happiness from other people as we give out, but we live in a world where this hardly ever happens.

When you try to make someone happy, you set yourself up for major disappointment (because we all know humans are flaky), and you place yourself on a pedestal of vulnerability. It’s almost like you’re stripping naked in front of a firing squad. The only selfless love that has existed since time immemorial, and will continue to exist for eternities to come, is God’s love. That’s it. Human beings are not capable of selfless love (and this is open for discussion or dispute). We are not capable of successfully and consistently putting the needs of someone else before ours without secretly or openly expecting some kind of return or reward, and this is why we keep getting into this painful, torturous cycle of bitterness and pain, when we are not told “I love you” as often as we would like, or hugged every time our heart beats, or even, to get to extremes, proposed to, when we feel we have given out so much of ourselves to someone else. The truth is, what you’ve done is dish out all the happiness that is meant for you, without getting it back. We want the same level of love reciprocated, usually in the same manner, and it never is. How many times have you said “I love you” and wanted to punch a nearby wall when you don’t hear it back? How often have we felt “misunderstood”, “unappreciated”? This is common vocab amongst women who constantly fight the losing battle of trying to get “right” what makes their partner happy. Nothing makes your partner happy more than him feeling he is getting what he wants from the relationship (selfishness). And he will get what he wants from the relationship when you are happy about what YOU are getting from the relationship. If you feel “used”, it’s only because the next person put their own happiness before yours, and you didn’t do the same for yourself. He wanted to spend the weekend with you, he did. He wanted to run off to some game right after, and he did. He was too tired or busy to call, and he didn’t. He felt he needed some space, and he took it. He wanted to buy you something nice, and he did. He didn’t feel like saying he misses you when he was out on a trip, and he didn’t. And that made him happy because he felt like he had the freedom to say and be what he wants, at any given time, without getting a 6 hour lecture about how horrible it makes you feel.

The most important person in your relationship is you. The minute you put your happiness in the hands of someone else, you are saying “control me – how I feel, how my day turns out, what I want to eat, my hopes and dreams, how many kids I want to have. Tell me what your dreams are and I will drop mine to support yours, tell me what you want to do and I will drop my plans for yours”. Consequently, the next step here is “I’m so depressed, I feel empty, he hasn’t called, he’s out with the boys again, I’m lonely, I’m bored, he was so cold to me today …” and when you begin to feel like that inside, it reflects negatively on your partner and drives them away even more. When you find your own true happiness, independent of your relationship, and when you get happy with the fact that your partner is happy independent of you, you build your happiness together on something solid.

The fruits of this are plentiful and delicious. Get into an argument, and you will not sit around and mope for 29 hours. Why? Because even though you do love this person, and think the world of them, you love yourself way more to self-destruct. When he leaves you, or “wants a break”, you hurt. Badly. And they know it, too. But life doesn’t stop, and your happiness doesn’t go on break with them. Why? Because you have mastered the skill of being happy and content, whether or not your partner is by your side. Most of our heartbreaks are 20% what they did to us, and 80% how we beat ourselves up about it. When he cheats, you are angry and annoyed. But you don’t look in the mirror and wonder what’s wrong with you. And you certainly don’t have the time to go chasing his sidekick-play-off to compare yourself to them. The only person you compare yourself to, is you. You are the measure of your own beauty. You know that, even if he left, it had everything to do with him, and nothing to do with you, and who the heck cares anyway, because you were selfish enough in the relationship to have gotten everything you wanted from it. When he doesn’t call for 4 days, you are a little sad and worried, and maybe you battle to call or text, and at some point you want to scream and haul the phone across the room (let’s face it, we are human), but you are not completely torn or suspicious, and you don’t sit in the house staring at the phone screen, because you have hobbies and a career, you have dreams and things to achieve. You have fun friends and the mall, and you have your favorite movie flick and song to lift your mood. You have things that are NOT him, that make you just as happy as you would feel if he were around. When you do something nice for them, and you don’t get the kind of response you were expecting (ie being lifted up and swung 10 times in the air, kissed, hugged and worshipped), you don’t really mind. You did it because it makes you happy to do it for them, not because you were waiting for their response to determine how you feel.

I understand that this is not the easiest thing to do, but it’s a skill that can be learnt through time. And it is certainly not the case that this is the one formula that will make your relationship last forever. It may not, actually, but the important thing is how you will feel when you’re with this person, and how you will feel about yourself when things don’t work out in the end. In all our life experiences, it is not about how long the feelings last, or how successful all your plans are, it is how you feel about yourself when things haven’t gone your way, and the important lessons we learn when things come and go. In my life, I have learnt more and gained more strength from the days when I seemed to be the only one loving ME, and looking out for ME, than the days when I’m surrounded by the love and attention of “friends”.

When you have things outside of the relationship that make you happy, you don’t have to rely on the next person to make your day. Develop a passion, a hobby, find friends that share interests and constantly challenge you to spend time away from your comfort zone. When you wake up in the morning, no matter how you feel, don’t leave the house without finding one thing to start your day on a happy note. It could be a great song, a phonecall, your favorite breakfast, a prayer, a new hairstyle (perfume does wonders for me), a jog, your pet, whatever it is. Before you have any interaction with your man / anyone else, find that place of content that you can always look back on when someone totally fucks up your day and leaves your jaw dropped, because people are natural-born experts at pissing others off. I like to count things that I find are completely boring, research on them, and find they are actually pretty interesting. I recently started reading on politics. I also like to write a whole lot of funny nonsense and crack myself up. I must be google’s biggest fan. I love to draw up my future and dream about the amazing things I am yet to achieve. In those happy dreams, there are absolutely no faces. A friend of mine wanted to get fit and healthy, but we were always too lazy, tired, or busy. Every time she started to get frustrated with her man, she’d go jogging for an hour. When their relationship reached the final meltdown, she not only looked and felt great, she thanked him for it.

I wish we would stop calling men dogs, kak, and losers. And realize that the only reason we think they are that way, is because they know what they want, and they go out and get it at the expense of us loving them more than we love ourselves. I wish we’d find our own hurt-remedies, and I wish we’d share them with other people. I wish we’d stop fussing about our flaws, especially the ones we can’t change. I wish we’d stop using words like “depressed”, “slow down” and substitute it with phrases like “I’m just having a weird moment that will soon pass away”. I wish we’d realize that our hopes and dreams do not revolve around anyone but ourselves, and I wish we’d trudge through the hurt and pain, to achieve them at all cost! I wish we wouldn’t be envious of other relationships and people, because if you had to be them, you don’t know how you would deal with the trauma they’ve had in their own lives, to get to where they are.

I love you, and you, and you, and you! I wish you love and I wish you happiness. I wish that you’d wake up in the morning and identify something you love about yourself. I wish you a healthy and sound relationship with yourself, and I wish that, through every hard experience filled with tears and disappointment, you start to gather the tools you need to selfishly engineer your own happiness and well-being! But most of all, through all this hullabaloo of selfish love, I hope we remember that there IS a selfless love that exists, when all else fails J

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Woman

This poem was inspired by a woman I met who had 3 jobs, a husband (job 4) and 2 kids (job 5). She came from nothing, and made something great of herself through hard work and determination. When I asked her what the best part of her long, successful, painful journey was, she said it was "To Be A Woman". So I drafted this quickly as a constant reminder of what it really means, to be a woman.

To Be A Woman...

To Be A Woman...
is to share and love
above all other...
to fight the fight
and bear the burden...
its to cry the last tear
and to give the last kiss...
its to smile brighter when
your heart wont allow...
To Be A woman...
is to carry the dying soul
to lift the flag high..
of ownership design and conception
To Be A woman
is to know the meaning of 9 months
the meaning of 10 minutes
and the meaning of a lifetime..
To Be A Woman
is to think and to learn
To educate and discipline
To hurt and smile
To die and carry
To lift higher and sink lower
To Be A woman
is something blessed of God
its to be a treasure unknown
Yet used by many
Its to be the last jewel
To be the last thought
and the first memory
To Be A woman
is to be a mirror image of all things
Because to be a woman...
is to see all things, know all things...
To Be A woman
is to give life
to combine recipes...
that give birth to eyes hands and little minds
To Be a woman
is to be a woman...
To Be a woman
is to be all this and more
Because to be a woman...
is to be a miracle

10 Things To Do Before You’re 26

So, my friends are extremely tired of my ranting and raving lately about how I’m turning 26. I mean, wouldn’t you be? You’ve been young and vibrant all your life and now boom, you’re entering a new tax bracket, and checking the next age box on application forms. (You are also applying for a heck of a lot of things : jobs, promotions, postgrad, and sane relationships). Anyway, I will rant and rave as long as it takes me to come to terms with this “late twenties” phenomenon. Isn’t it wonderful how you start noticing itsy bitsy little annoyitsies like how your cancer risk is at its max, how if you have babies any sooner or any later, you are basically doomed. And how (men) either love people way younger or way older than you. You are totally caught between a rock and a hard place. But! I am so blessed to have lived these 26 years. I have no regrets, just painful lessons. LeAnne Womack told me to dance, and though the knees may be a little less stable now, I’m still dancing! *pant*

To those lucky enough to be reading this before your 26th birthday, pay attention. These are 10 things I did or should have done before the big 2-6, and they are, my friends, things everyone ought to do before they become old weasels like myself (An old fabulously beautiful weasel *blink blink*). Disclaimer : We may all take different routes to reach the same destination. Just because you haven’t done one or several of these, doesn’t mean you should look back and sulk. Infact, be inspired to do it now, I don’t care if you’re 39 or 93.

1. Get a degree. Although some of the most important lessons of your life will be learnt outside the classroom, you NEED a sound, formal education. I don’t care if you go to an elitist private school or a state university, or if you do it in stages of certificates and diplomas, but before you reach 25, have a B next your name. Life is not too kind to people who don’t have it these days, and think about it. You get to spend some years in a place where you might meet your future partner (You won’t, but it’s great to believe).

2. Get a life. Your life is a gift, and you only have one. Live it. Do you. Take care of yourself. Teach yourself how to love you more than anyone else dares to. Respect who you are, flaws and all. Discover what your life’s goals are (you won’t know all of them very accurately but it’s good to get a headstart). Live your life for you, because if you don’t, you will have your heart broken, your ego bruised and your self esteem diminished every second month. If you make loving you YOUR responsibility, and not anyone else’s, you can only expect the best from yourself. Grab life with both hands, and live!

3. Fall out of love. Okay, so I will almost guarantee you will either fall in love in the first 25 years of life, or think you have fallen in love with the greatest person that ever lived. That is an absolute given, and yes, 25% of the time you might be right. But falling out of love is a greater blessing than falling in love. It just doesn’t seem so because it’s wrapped in tears, heartbreak, sadness, guilt and hopelessness. You will never know how bright the future is if you don’t let go of the past. No one drives a car with their eyes fixated on the rearview mirror. Fall out of love, and learn the lessons. Realize that it’s never the person that has broken your heart, it’s the situation. They were just the engine that made the process possible. And they did you a favour, because now you know better. Forgive yourself for feeling awful, forgive them for being in a situation that ended up hurting your feelings, and embrace the situation for it did not know that it was merely pushing you into a greater destiny. Find a shelter that works for you. God works for me, and in Him I can never be disappointed, no matter how disappointed I feel! (this point not only applies to falling out of love with toxic PEOPLE, but also toxic habits!)

4. Experience a different culture. I don’t care if you befriend someone from another country, date them, read the atlas, travel, watch soap operas in a different language, or learn a foreign dialect, just do it. Interracial relationship rates are fast increasing, and tolerance is a must. The global world will take you any and everywhere, in your career, and you will meet people completely different from you. Everyday. Sticking to your “roots” and allowing yourself to accept other people for who they are, are not mutually exclusive. Learn the art of appreciating the spirit of the person, and not attaching useless labels like male, female, black, Asian, short, red-haired, brown-eyed, single, or disabled. And besides, living in your little narrow one-channeled cultural corner will not land you a job with the U.N (And you know you would love a job with the U.N)

5. Meditate. For me, this translates to ‘prayer’. Some people believe in God, in a “higher power”, in a “sense of spiritualism”, however you may define your belief, it is crucial to your growth to find time each day to meditate and reconnect yourself. In our teenage years, we are often swayed from side to side, from music genre to friendships, from fashion trends to career choices. Heck, I wanted to be a pilot at some point. I flew into the USA for the first time just days after 9/11. From the same airport. And I experienced some intestine-turning turbulence over the Bermuda triangle. This was nature’s way of saying “why don’t you stick with Medicine and Dancing”. A good friend of mine really wanted to be a boxer, too bad she was 1m tall with absolutely no strength whatsoever, and had to settle for the corporate world. Meditate, think, stay silent, be you. Everyday. Without fail.

6. Be organized. Yes, this does include an organized mess, like the one I was, all through varsity. I am not talking about not having pieces of paper fly all over the place. Even the most organized people have those. Know what you plan to do, how you plan to do it, what possible setbacks you might experience, and how you will get through them. And leave room for surprises. You will never be defeated. I guarantee you. Organize your thoughts, your path, and everything that has to do with you. I used to wake up everyday and write down what I planned to accomplish on that day, even what I wanted to eat. I usually only got 50% right, but it gave me practice for the real world. This does not mean you should not follow people’s advice. It only means, when you get the advice, you are better suited in knowing whether it is wise to follow it or not. Yes, you will get disappointed. Many times. But stay organized, even in your disappointment. Like I always say, Sweat in the first 25 years, so you can chill infront of the fan for the next 50. (Don’t ask me about the life expectancy, I know I will live past 75. grin)

7. Drink Water. You have it, you live in it, it lives in you, use it. Water is the miracle we all ignore. It does wonders for your skin, your health, and your energy. Your muscles need it, your cells need it, your brain needs it. Love your body enough to give it water as much as it needs it. Research says 8 glasses of water, subsequent research says that was B.S. (as all American Scientists like to prove), but Stats don’t count on this one. Just drink water. Period. (oh, it helps with your period pains too!). My rule of thumb is generally take more glasses of water than you do anything else. Yes, that includes … anything else. *smile*

8. Get a computer, or have access to one. It is absolutely necessary to be computer literate. Look at all the Terms Of Reference in Job Adverts. See? Get well-versed with the Office pack, it will come in handy. Of course, not everyone can afford to purchase their own computer, but thank heavens we have access to public libraries where we can get to use these for free. Computers have replaced many many jobs, we live in a digital world where soon we’ll have chips under our skin telling our boyfriends where we are and who we are with. Robots are getting to be models these days, and 12 year olds are building remote-controlled curtains. Our cars can park themselves, and our meals can tell us when they are ready. We are on cellphones and internet more often than we speak face to face, and heck, those phones are getting to BE the PCs. Be well-prepared for this world, be a tech-lover. Besides, you’ll love things like Photoshop, games, mp3 players, and flight simulations (those are too much fun)

9. Play Free-Cell and Chess. I have loved games all my life (not the kind men like to play). But of all the games I’ve played, these two games have taught me a lot of tips about life. In life, you will be dealt with the most confused set of cards and you have to maneuver them the best way you know how, with a very limited space and timeframe with which you can do all this. Sometimes, the worst happens before the best, other times, the opposite occurs. If you’re going to organize 52 cards on 4 spaces, you need patience and determination. And Sometimes getting to one simple goal requires moving many cards and taking different routes. Not everyone gets to be a doctor at 30. Not every partner you meet will be the one. Some can conceive as easy as ABC (pun intended), and it takes others years to get there. Some people are millionaires the moment they are conceived, others take a different path and get there by 50. it doesn’t matter how you get there, just get there. And there’s nothing like Chess to jog your mind and teach you the hierarchies of this world (and there are many). This goes back to organization. We live in an entropy-driven world, where we are constantly fighting for control and organization over our lives. You need a mixture of strategy, patience, perseverance and focus.

10. Give. Think about all you have been given that you haven’t paid for. Your life, your breath, your body. Oxygen, water …You didn’t send an application to your parents while you were still half an egg and half a sperm and tell them you want to live past your 26th birthday. You didn’t ask to be as gorgeous as you look, and as genius as you are. You didn’t locate the other half egg-half sperm in another woman’s belly to be your loving life partner. It was given to you. By God, by the universe. As your read this, neurons are firing in the right places of your brain. Your fingers can scroll down the page. Those are things you usually haven’t worked for. Now, there are things that YOU’ve worked for, that others haven’t given the opportunity to receive them YET. Give to people, whether they are less or more fortunate than you. Help where you need to, and smile when you can. It’s hard to put new blessings into a clenched, withdrawn fist. When I was young, I never understood why we always lived with 3 cousins in the house, or why I’d have to sacrifice some of the things I loved for someone else. Giving not only opens up a new dimension of blessings for you, but it allows you to connect with someone else’s needs. And they in turn, reconnect with yours. Like my favorite book says, It is more blessed to give, than to receive. I can name many examples, but Oprah would insist I go on her show, and I am seriously too shy 

Friends, life is cruel. From bottom to top, from corner to corner, everyone has their issues. But you don’t have to be cruel to yourself. Life is a simply a set of cards that have been dealt to you without your choice, and we all should be blessed, firstly, to have had these cards, and secondly, to have the mindset and ability to make the best out of the set in our dealings with others. We take better care of our cars, our clothes and our ipods, more than the one thing we can only ever one of. Yes, you will hurt, yes, you might cry, you will be happy somedays, distraught other days. You will get disappointed and helpless. You will have a deep dark secret only you know, you will climb a mountain for your dream, only to realize it was never at the top. You will feel like not getting out of bed some days. Discover everyday, the treasures buried deep within you. Ask yourself what you really love, and identify the things you are absolutely crazy about in the mirror. Only when you release love into your own heart first, will you be able to genuinely give it away without reservation.

Happy 0 – 26!

Monday, December 1, 2008


Today, I woke up with a good feeling. That feeling you get when something exciting is about to happen, whether you know it or not. The feeling of complete wholeness, where you are in total disregard of your own flaws, or those of the people around you. That feeling that gets you in touch with you, the real you. The you only you know. And it’s an amazing feeling, I’m going to live to see what the day has in store!

Over the past few months, I haven’t had many of the luxuries I used to enjoy in the States, the constant facebooking, web chatting, you tube surfing, gossip seeking, mall sprees, Haagen Dasz Dulce de Leche ice cream (oh that thing is proof that God really does love us), 4 hours on the phone at a go, GOOD ROADS, cheap movie cinemas, student discounts, baileys, 9 thanksgiving dinner offers, 4 of them from faculty members, victoria’s secret……and the list goes on. Living in Swaziland has definitely NOT been living in the States. But it has been a blessed living. I will admit, when I made the decision to come back for a while, I knew it had the potential to be one of the most frustrating things I ever did. Do believe, I have done many-a-frustrata in my life, and I know the “What was I thinking?!?!?!” feeling aaaaaaaaaaaaaaalll too well. Ya, like the time I thought neurophysiology can be studied in one night, and when I thought he was the one. But you know how God can sometimes put u in a position where that stupid thing yre about to do, is pretty much the only thing you can do? And when you make the decision, it comes with tears, curses and “I can’t believe I’m actually moving back under my mother’s roof” comments daily. (And yes, if you’ve lived on your own for a while, please don’t ever move back in with your mother).

But the truth of the matter is this.
I love it.
Even when I hate it really badly.
I can’t even begin to think how I could have ever been an effective, surviving, strong and appreciative individual without having this experience that I’ve had. I’ve attended more funerals in my few months home, than in my entire 8 years in the States. I’ve passed by a hospital highway, thinking people were queue-ing for a bus to Mbabane, when they had all been in line since 5 am, waiting for a doctor. I have visited children who have made their own toys all through life. PS2, anyone? I have met the selfishest of men, and the humblest of grandmothers. I have seen 13 year old teenagers on the laps of old, ugly married men. I have walked the mile, and felt it too. I have learnt how to walk to a friend’s place rather than give her a call. I have learnt that when you are excited about having just enough, you are the richest person on earth. I have loved and lived, and the living has been worth it. I have met Nonhle, who lives in a roofless house in Ngculwini. The first thing she said when she saw me was “I really like your hair”. I have jammed to DJ Fresh and Church Mass Choirs. I even went to a TD Jakes crusade the other day! Funny how that would happen to me in …. Swaziland? I finally find jeans that fit my bum. I have lived, friends. I have cried and laughed, and at the end of the day, I am still living. I live on the delicious mangoes on my backyard, and the addictive chips at Shoprite. I build dreams and create the ways to achieve them. Ive experienced more than one, or two, worlds. And that, to me, is living.

And on World AIDS Day, let’s remember to live. Live to see, to help, to conquer, and to become. Let’s live to be the change, and see the change. Lets remember that even after we’ve read all the statistics, they may tell us 1 in 3, 1 in 5, or 1 in 19 … but the truth of the matter is, whether or not you are infected, you too, are living with AIDS.

RIP Cousin G. You lived your life, and lived it well.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

To Test Or Not To Test ?

The issue of mandatory HIV testing has been playing around in my mind for quite a while now. As if that isn't the understatement of the year, the idea has not gone down well with the Swazi government either. Their take on the ethical issues associated with this is valid, in my books, but who's to say there are no working solutions to get over this? I think we as a nation are far beyond the point where we can debate whether testing is ethical or not. At the rate that things are going, we may as well just go extinct! HIV is just what it is, its a micro retro virus that can't even kill you on its own! How can such an organism be destroying a whole nation? If cancer and other non-communicable, but just as chronic, diseases are on their way to be under control in other countries (ahem, USA), how are we honestly letting HIV get the better of us? Why are we still declining proposals to mandate HIV testing? First let's evaluate the severity of the HIV problem on a personal/household, community, and national level.

1. Young adults, especially women, still want to be "cool". We still want to be known for who we are sleeping with and how much money they make. We still want to be seen in flashy cars and fancy hotels, adhere to fine dining and "live the life". Excuse me, what happened to school? What happened to independence? We all know the sugar daddies (and arguably, mommies, though that is just a hilarious visual if you ask me) have no interest in you beyond what you can offer them physically. Thats problem number 1 -- our priorities are as messed up as messed up can be defined.

2. Even though HIV infection has gotten to the rate of almost 40% in adults, we still find this topic very taboo. I love my culture, I respect it with utmost sincerity, but that does not mean Im an idiot when it comes to analyzing it as well. How can half the nations most productive and reproductive people be in danger of dying and we are still afraid to talk about it? We are afraid to test. The government has made us afraid. Our society keeps us in a tight eggshell bubble that we can't escape even if we tried. U test, then what? What resources are available to you? You can't even go to the supermarket without the neighbors rushing to avoid bumping into you. This topic is so taboo that people are afraid of losing too much weight, or even saying they are sick with the flu. Soooo taboo that the newspapers' orbituary section, growing at the rate of 3 pages a month, choose to specify "minor accident" rather than "undisclosed illness" or worse yet, "HIV/AIDS related symptoms" (I want to live to see the day...). If we don't know what is going on around us, we can't help ourselves, if we can't help ourselves, we can't help others.

3. Investment is going down, down, down. The more people get sick and can't work, the less motivation businesses have, to stay in the country and keep it booming. This goes for private investors and for government franchise. No money is coming into the economy, meaning we have less to support those who are sick, or worse still, those who are not sick and want to continue working. Those who are not sick are not getting jobs, so they will ultimately turn to "trying to live the good life", and get sick. Those who are sick will get worse due to inefficient health care, and die from the bite of a mosquito or a mere cough. Who do we leave behind? The young orphans that are born into an unstable world in a vicious cycle of HIV-Economy downfall, they aren't encouraged to be better, to be different.

In my opinion, mandatory testing becomes an issue when you force people to test for HIV and then dump them with the knowledge, sans resources to help them live better with the sickness, and to help and encourage those who are still HIV-free (yes, all 3 of us). Ultimately, we can't force a nation to go out on a particular day and test for HIV. But, we can still go about it in a systemic way (Please forgive our health minister, who is a Form 3 dropout and may not be at liberty to make informed judgment). For one,
rumour has it, Swaziland is starting a free primary education for all programme starting a year from now. I think that is the perfect platform. Free primary education not only means we can all finally reach secondary level now (even the ministers to-be), each one of us will have access to a school, regardless of where they come from. If we are now offering free primary ed, what is wrong with mandating an hiv test as a requirement to get into the school?

Of course, we wont just stay there, we can then provide the education and resources for all those who test positive. We already have organizations like the Family Life, PSI, the Baylor Clinic, among others who provide free testing and support. ARVs are now (i am excited about this) distributed via NERCHA and not the ministry of health (who, for years on end, ran out of supplies because they could not manage the in-flow very well). It takes one committee to do this. Get all these organizations together and say, ok. Lets strategize a plan to help those kids who are coming into this free program (hopefully, all kids) by providing them with the drugs they need, the motivation they need, and the comfort they require. It might be dangerous to alienate them and put them in their own "classrooms with special speeches", but I certainly think there is a way to incorporate awareness and empowerment among all students, regardless of their HIV status.

The bottom line is I am tired of inefficient governments who refuse to even TRY, in the name of ethics. Are we really still debating ethics? HIV is not being ethical about who it kills and who it doesn't. It certainly isnt being ethical about our economy either.

So if you ask me, to test or not to test?
To test.
To live.
To believe.
To conquer.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Dear Mummy

Sawubona Make.

Forgive me foza, for writing this in English. Not only am I cc'ing many non-SiSwati speakers in this letter, but I am a victim of my surroundings, where I have sadly learnt to think in English and read more English in a day than I eat pap and borewors. I do promise though, that someday soon I will write to you in um-free, like-free, free flowing SiSwati. Can you believe how long it has been since I ate a nice succulent, perfectly marinated, open-fire cooked, sizzling, juicy peace of borewors? It is almost illegal. The things I would do to have that for all breakfast lunch and supper! Atleast I still have my mama to welcome me home with a braai complete with salads (real salad, not leaves put together on a dish) and fanta . Maye vele naleFanta has been versatile lately, remember when it was just Orange. Where did pineapple cherry and grape creep in? Unbelievable. But we have to accept it right? Change. And that is the subject today, of my letter to the most admirable woman I have ever known.

25 years eh? How does it feel? How does it feel to have known me since I was negative 9 months? To breastfeed me and watch me develop into a jolly girl (I was jolly), and to an imperfect young woman? What are the fondest and worst memories you have of our 25 years together? Remember the time you used to beat me atleast three times a day with a yellow plastic belt (where on earth did you get that monstrosity), or when you encouraged me to run away and but gave me the home phone number incase I felt like returning? How about the first time I learnt to talk, what was my first word? What was my fifth? Im sure it was "chicken". Remember when I first learnt how to cook? The day I came home from the usualy long day in school and made the most horrible, saltiest chicken stew that man could dare to taste? And yet you coached me on, and you forced yrself to dutifully swallow half-cooked rice and salty chicken with half a bottle of cooking oil with a smile on your face. I enjoyed the cooking lessons that came after that, and I am now proud to say my stew is lekker! And it has a decent amount of salt.

Did you ever imagine what Id look like? When you studied and taught in the US, did you ever picture me studying here? What were your dreams for me? What do you think of me now? Tell me again, the story of when I came home one day with no uniform, no schoolbag, no socks and no shoes. Did your jaw handle the drop? What about when I saw your first tear? When Mandela came out of prison, holding hands tightly with Winnie. You gave me a look of courage, and helped me develop a spirit of perserverance. You would never let me fail, even if I did. And how come you always favored my brother in our fights? First of all, he was the one that started everything, so of course me I had to burn his clothes. Where do you get your ideas from? How do you manage to raise your children with such grace?

The world is different now that we dont live together during the year. I am witnessing a presidential campaign between a black man and a white woman, I am learning everyday about my responsibility as a young (I am young) Swazi woman in this fight for survival, where we can't just think about our own survival and then turn on the TV and call it a day. I am learning more everyday, what it means to love, to care, and to be concerned, with my name nowhere in the picture. I always remember your quotes, your funny statements and your looks that say a thousand words. Many of our friends and relatives have died of AIDS, thank you for always letting me know that "the power of the mind and your faith in God is way bigger than anything you will ever see". We take small steps, but I assure u, Mama Fakudze ... that we are getting there. If we get there paralyzed and beat down, we still are. Thank you for teaching me that we can always change. Ourselves and our situations. Mostly, ngiyabonga for teaching me that we can change with grace and style.

It is hard to imagine a woman that is beautiful, an overcomer, hard-working, God fearing, most loving, holding 3 fulltime jobs of motherhood, marriage and education, continously smiling, always cracking jokes, fierce, calm, a dreamer all in the same package. It is hard to think how you raised 3 very different children and 3 grandchildren (none coming from me in a while jo) with the same morals and principles, how you know when to talk, when to listen, when to cry, when to smile, when to scold and when to comfort? I can't possibly think there is a woman out there that fits my description of a "powerhouse", a woman who, just by existing, will get me out of many troubles, talk in my head and tell me the truth even when it hurts. And yet, that woman found me in 1983. That woman is you.

Friday, January 18, 2008


-Has it ever solved anything?
-Did it invent the telephone?
-Does it provide scholarships?
-Does it promote healthy behavior?
-Is it fun?
-Does it make one laugh or smile?
-How much money is made from it?
-Does it beef up the resume?
-Do kids laugh and play about it?
-Do we pleasantly talk about it over lunch?
-How many great presidents has it brought about?
-How much trust has it given rise to?
-Can it feed the poor?
-Is it available on prescription?
-Who likes it?
-Who loves it?
-Can it be listed under hobbies?
-How often can it be played for one team to win?
-Does it unify people?
-Is it seasonal?
-Does it quench thirst?
-Is it recyclable?
-Can it be taught at school?
-Can it be taught at home?

...Is it worth it?

Imagine a world where we don't have to fight to put a point across. I can.

Friday, January 4, 2008

After Seven, Comes Eight

It's been a while.

2007 has come and gone. If there was ever a year when my life took a fun some days and not so fun some days rollercoaster ride, it must have been 07. Then again, the universe was created in 7 days. I could even say my life changed in 2007. I'm ever so grateful to have crossed over to 2008 when many couldnt make it, the hundreds of innocent Kenyans who suffered and continue to suffer the sins, wrath and greed of others. The millions of lives still claimed by AIDS, Malaria, road accidents, Pneumonia, Cancer...the thousand of other people whose orbituaries will never be known, those whose important lives werent so important to anyone else. And while some of us toasted slim sleek glasses of champagne on the midnight of, there are still those who spent nights crying in bed, looking out of windows at shattered dreams and remnants of broken hearts. Some spent the night in plastic "blankets" out in cold streets, wondering which venue would have the most leftovers thrown away the following day. Some endured hunger for the night, just to make sure someone else ate. Some might have been at work, others infront of televisions reflecting infront of fireplaces. We all have our struggles, some emotional, others financial, perhaps we struggle with who we really are, maybe we just live the day to day struggles that life brings our way, but we all must have something in common...we must never be too comfortable with being comfortable. Sometimes I wonder how many lives I touched in 07. I know I was touched by many. How many people needed me and I offered a helping hand? How often did I think of anyone else but myself...can someone tell their 07 story and mention my name?

January... Another month, another year. Except this was senior year, the time to procrastinate and get the 4 years over with. Swaziland was the highlight of this month, cant beat that. I love my family. Other than that, Immigration issues and Amarula were still the order of the day.

Feb... when others celebrated Valentines day, I curled up in bed staring at the snow outside and wondering if I was still interested in ever celebrating another valentines day again. Probably not at the time. Anyhow, I think I studied, wished God a happy Valentines and slept most of the day. As for the month--Uneventful except I began to curse myself for taking the classes I did my last semester of college. Oh well. Necessary evils, right.

March - April ... the countdown to graduation begins. As well as the occasional "what am i going to do with my life" freak out sessions. The Highlight was school of public health letters. The lowlight was no money and more brokeness. But I learnt to appreciate my friends more at this point. Jamaican food, arguments, gchat, movies and the occasional amarula saved the day. Still, God was faithful.

May ... My birthday was made special by all the special (and some less important) people in my life. Fun times. I was happy to be done and almost at the end of dream number 1. Finally all my mother's children had completed their degrees. It felt great. 4 years for a piece of paper but my family's smiles were the greatest reward. My eyes were filled with tears on the day, friends and their relatives made me feel lekker too. It was good times. Until packing.

June - Aug ... Prayerful times. Faith took over. It was a fun summer for the most part. People came into my life, some stayed some didnt, i learnt important lessons and missed home. Slept alot, bummed alot, wondered how id make it through some days. I did, by writing, thinking, crying, smiling, praying, laughing and reading. Summer came and went, and it was time for new beginnings.

Sept -Oct ... The journey to a Masters degree begins. Who'd have thought that the end of one drama is the beginning of the next. Still, I took it all in stride. Some days I just couldnt get up to go to class cos I felt demotivated or just bitter (bitterness has since been removed from vocab). Then my anchor took effect and I was constantly reminded of the greater good, the people I feel I represent, the thousands of voices who couldnt even dream of a Masters degree and most of all, the God who brought me there to begin with. Def pulled myself together and studied Biostats, Epidemiology, International Health, Vaccines blah blah and more blah. Academics were more manageable than undergrad. Timing and spacing on the other hand, wasnt. But we still pulled through. I pulled energy from the people around me, and learnt from my own mistakes. Sometimes I was just downright stubborn and had the "whatever" days. At the end of it all, I still remembered I had an anchor who renewed my strength every morning. So first term came and went.

Nov-Dec ... my godchild is supposed to be born. Some exciting news finally. More exciting news came to balance and perhaps overthrow more depressing (depressing also in the works to be removed from vocab) thoughts of "where exactly is my life going, what am i going to do in life, when will i get to my dream point!" before i realized, the dream is NOW. Im living it right now. Because whether the day went great or blah, I still benefit something from it. Im alive. And this is when I start being grateful just to live to see another day. I love my classes, I love my best friends, my family, my boyfriend and everyone else who, in a world where we are often too busy to share a smile, share more than a laugh. More prayerful times, more learning periods, more "personal development exercises (i still dont know how to spell that word)".

And it's now January, apparently the month of new beginnings. I cant say whether or not Im a better person now after the rollercoaster of 07. That may be for other people to judge, but I know Ive grown tremendously by watching role models succeed, and seeing others struggle. Perhaps even alot more by learning how to capitalize on my strengths and stay prayerful abt my weaknesses. Ive also learnt a thing or two about staying positive, genuine smiling and perservering. About never letting go of the dreams that form the very being of who I am. Important as well, are the lessons Ive learnt about love, humility and self worth. That each person I meet is a part of a greater destiny, regardless of how you see them at that point. That we are all strategically placed where we are for a greater purpose. I wont say life is at its best right now, but I'll definitely say that it's worth living no matter the weather.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Still I Rise

Shattered, but I'm not broken
Wounded still time will heal
Heavy the load the cross I bear
Lonely, the road I trod I dare
Shaken, but here I stand
Weary, still I press on
Long are the nights, the tears I cry
Dark are the days, no sun in the skies
Yet still I rise
Never to give up
Never to give in
Against all odds
Yet still I rise
High above the clouds
At times I feel low
Yet still I rise
Sometimes I'm troubled
But not is despair
Struggling, I make my way through
Trials they come to make me strong
I must endure, I must hold on
Above all my problems
Above all my eyes can see
Knowing God is able
To strengthen me...

Yet still I rise
~Yolanda Adams

Monday, October 1, 2007

From 20:80 to 2025...

-Found this in the local Swazi newspaper this morning...I did the math, and it seems like I wont exist after 2025. Hehe, no worries. I definitely plan for this NOT to happen. :-)

No Swazi adults by 2025!


MATSAPHA – The National Emergency Response Council on HIV and AIDS (NERCHA) has urged government to act quickly on HIV and AIDS as it is predicted that by 2025, Swaziland will have much fewer adults over 35. A study has found that the structure of the population will change, leaving fewer older women and men and a much younger nation because the older people are dying.

It was announced on Thursday that provisional 2007 Swaziland Population and Housing Census results showed that the total population of Swaziland was now 953 524 people.

In 1997, the total population was 929 718 people.

Out of the slightly more than 953 000 people, the census results show that at least 493 026 are female. Only 460 498 are men.

NERCHA director Derek von Wissell said Swaziland’s position on population was an incredible one because too many men and often the wrong ones were dying.

He made the observations at the S and B Restaurant when he briefed the parliament Select Committee on HIV/AIDS on Friday. He said it was disheartening that the life expectancy of many a Swazi had dropped to 31 from 61 years in the last five years.

He noted that the country was above the emergency threshold, describing the situation as a disaster. He said there was no doubt that the HIV and AIDS pandemic was the major contributing factor and that more was needed to combat the scourge in the country.

He said the cases of Tuberculosis (TB) have increased, stating that it had also remained the biggest challenge for the country’s health sector. “There will be few people over the ages of 35 left by the year 2025 in Swaziland, especially the men. If there are more women now, they should start moving into management positions. But this is a disaster for the country because too many men and the wrong ones are dying,” von Wissell said.

He further observed that while Swaziland was rated a lower middle income country, it was shocking that 80 per cent of the population was living in abject poverty.

He said Malawi and Zambia were lower income countries yet the poverty levels were not as high as Swaziland.

“Only 20 per cent of the people of Swaziland are very rich and the largest part of the population is living below the poverty datum line. Most people in this country have since stopped skipping meals but they stay for a day before they could have one. They eat one meal after every other day,” he said.

In a separate interview, he explained that the United States Census Bureau the forecast.

He said they noted that without antiretroviral drugs the adult population would be greatly reduced, especially the over the ages of 30 to 35 leaving much fewer men over the age of 35.

Friday, September 28, 2007


Is anybody else shocked by the fact that funding towards any public health intervention in Africa should be spent 20% on prevention and control measures, and 80% on treatment. And in fact, that you cannot receive funding unless you adhere to these rules. Well, firstly, I do not see how that makes any sense in a time and place run by infectious diseases. Find me a group of people in Tanzania, Malawi and Nigeria that are worried about cardiovascular disease and sense organ disorders. Yeah right. Not to downplay chronic diseases, but if we all had the billions of shillings just flying through the atmosphere, I'm sure it would be a perfect world. Seeing as we are pressed for funding, why would we want to spend 80% of Gates' millions on "treating" HIV patients? When we know that the nitty gritty virus we all love to hate will just keep spreading around our polygamous neighborhoods like ebola in the DRC. Not that we should be relying on Gates' millions for our every drop of water...but that is a blog for another day.

We always throw around words like "sustainable", "development", "longevity", "improvement". The truth of the matter is all these idealistic words we throw around are based on PREVENTION, not cure. Growing up, I was always taught "ubolibamba lingashoni", I dont know if I can do justice to the translations but literally it means hold the sun before it sets. Ok, so I didnt do justice to it, but you get the point. Yes, it is true that in some cases, situations arise where we need to find quick cures, effective quarantines etc, but the real deal is at the end of the day, we all need to sit down and be forward-thinkers. Thinking forward does not mean we think about when the next big epidemic will occur and which foreign, world-renowned doctors we will hire to find an effective cure. It's about looking at now, what are our people going through? What do they need? Are our children living in the safest, and healthiest of environments? Do we have the appropriate education to let people know what's best? And most importantly : When we are gone, will those who come after us suffer the same troubles we did? No sir! Take HIV for instance, the most obvious case...destroying millions of Africans, most of them of reproductive and productive age, not the best boost for our already staggering economies. Thousands of orphans, 15 000 in Swaziland alone (out of a million people, u do the math). Our elders are having to take care of their children, their children's children, their cildren's children's children, the neighbors, and the market. Another one...malaria. Responsible for most of infant and child deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa. Still a huge public health problem.

We do need to worry about our brothers and sisters who have contracted the virus, yes. But not to an 80% degree. Especially not if we havent found a cure yet. And definitely not in Africa. What happens to the infected orphans? Wont they grow up to be just like that too? Complete nonsense...we should be spending 80% on preventative methods, and 20% on "trying to find effective treatment". In the end, we're all dead. How we die, and what we experience in the all that matters. It pains me to see my people all over the continent living a life of doom. Ok, so we are encouraged to go for testing, lekker...its a start. Now, Nozipho goes and tests, finds out she's HIV positive, gets a little bit of counselling, but still cant afford the optimal diet to stay free of opportunistic illnesses and infections. Not only that, she will be discriminated upon like a cockroach in an urban kitchen. If she is the average African, she probably wont be able to afford the sky-rocketing price of ARVs (pharmaceutical corruption...a story for another sunset), and when she does fall ill, she will either be denied a hospital bed, or, simply, wont have access to one. Her sister Nothando...will look at this situation and go "he! i am NOT testing. Id rather not know". It may seem like crappy logic, but I tell you, its what happens and it is sad. There are many ways we can combat this. HIV? A speck of dust compared to what we're worth. Africans need to do some African work for their African people. Uganda is our glimmer of hope. They did it, everyone else can. But first we need to deal with this 20:80. Ideas?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ebola Outbreak in the DRC

News source:

Major Ebola outbreak in DR Congo
An outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been confirmed by the World Health Organization in Kasai province.

At least 166 people have died and WHO says it is aware of 372 other cases.

International agencies have begun airlifting emergency medical supplies and setting up isolation tents to try to contain the outbreak.

Ebola is highly contagious. People contracting the disease suffer severe stomach pain and internal bleeding.

'Ebola kits'

Medecins sans Frontieres has reinforced its medical personnel and has flown three tonnes of supplies to the provincial capital Kananga, to be distributed in the affected areas.

The supplies include tents and plastic sheeting to build isolation facilities. Medicines, water and sanitation materials are also being sent.

"Ebola kits" have been provided for the medical teams - they include protective gloves, boots and uniforms which are designed to be destroyed after use.

Local health authorities are helping to disinfect contaminated areas.

The fatality rate for Ebola, which has no known cure, is as high as 90%.

Specialist laboratories in Gabon and Atlanta in the US confirmed Ebola from blood samples, saying they also showed the presence of Shigella dysentery - which is hampering efforts to identify Ebola victims.

WHO has also requested additional support from the global outbreak alert and response network, and says specialised laboratories in Gabon, Canada and the US will share the analysis.

They say there could be a "possible concurrent outbreak of another etiology".


It is three months since people started falling sick from a mystery virus in several villages around Kananga, the capital of West Kasai region.

Several villages are under quarantine, but WHO says so far there is no need for any further restrictions on travel or trade with DR Congo.

The incident is the worst for several years and is likely to have serious consequences for some time to come - even if the spread has been contained.

It is thought to be transmitted through the consumption of infected bush meat and can also be spread by contact with the blood secretions of infected people.

DR Congo's last major Ebola outbreak killed more than 200 people in 1995 in Kikwit, about 400km (250 miles) west of the current outbreak.

The last major incidence of the disease was in Uganda in 2001 when more than 400 cases were reported and more than half of the patients died.

Uganda has issued a red alert to border posts neighbouring the DR Congo and has instructed staff at Entebbe international airport to be on the lookout for passengers who show symptoms of fever.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

39 and counting!

Happy Swazi Independence Day!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Saving Lives -- Millions at a time

Read this if you're interested in Public Health.
Or if you may be considering doing work in the health sector at some point or the other in your life/career.
Or, if, you just love me, cos thats okay tooooooooo.

So, we all know no one grows up aspiring to be a public health professional, an epidemiologist, a biostatician, or a volunteer. Apparently, 100% of my incoming class never thought they would go into Health. Growing up, I think I changed careers (aspiring) mebbe an average of 12 times a day. I would wake up convinced I would be a doctor one day, by the end of the day, various adults got different answers from me. Anything from boxer to pilot. Clearly, I didn't know where my life is going. But atleast I knew it was going somewhere right? So, well, had fun a la process. High School was the usual. If you went to boarding school in Africa you'll know what I'm talking about. A section for the math and science whizz kids, B section for the ones that aspired to be in the A section and weren't too far from the dream, and the C class was the class that hated the A class with a passion. No need to explain why. So, high school is the 5 years of your African life where you are being trained to want to be a doctor, an engineer or ...a doctor. Naturally, I developed a love for the biological science and hmm, wasn't too bad at it either, so med school here we come!
Things got confusing when I reached IB, where the hot kids were the art kids and econ was now the in thing. Physics was alrighhhtt, I guess but damn those English A1 higher level kids were the truth! Ok, so this was 2 years of confusion. Next step...liberal arts. We get to play around and choose a major that we will probably never use (half of Wesleyan went into investman banking, and most people were either a Bio major, a dance major or any such combination). Next thing, it's 3 months to graduation and you're wondering what the heck to do with yr life. Is thisyr story too? Read on. Not yr story? Read on.

Getting into Public Health, for most people, is influenced (at any point in their careers) by some event or experience they have, usually in a low-income, pretty messed up country/town/state/village. The first thing a professor told me when I started classes was : If you're looking for a quick way to get rich, please apply to Harvard Buisness School. Public Health is not yr place. Ok so maye u CAN be rich doing Public Health, but if it's yr number 1 goal, you'll be very frustrated for a while. Lesson number 1, if you plan on going into public health -- marry rich. Cos the income sure as hell wont be coming from you! Im now patiently waiting for my business/engineering man to come take me for a carpet ride! (while I vaccinate 30 kids in Nakuru. Where are you, my lover! I need u and I need your money. For real. (Attention men: I really do have a heart, i promise to love and cherish too neh. The bride price will be worth it).Which brings me to point number 2. Public Health is for people WITH a heart. You have to feel connected to the people that you want to reach. It's not just about medical care, its about culture too. So, if u have those 2 down, we are free to move on to the most important thing abt Pub Health (PH).

The reason I love P.H., other than that I believe it's part of God's purpose for my life and for the life of others that I will meet along this wonderful journey, is the fluidity of the discipline. I walk into a health management and policy class and there's 3 great professors there to just pour out the knowledge. An MBA, an MD and some random PHD geek who happened to work for a pharmaceutical company for 18 years. PH is not a concrete science! (I am beginning to understand why i absolutely hated organic chemistry). It's a great mixture of medicine, economics, biostatistics, engineering, anthropology, politics, linguistics, u name it, its all in there baby. And the truth is, anyone can go into Public Health, whether you are fresh out of college and you were a history major, or you are a 60 yr old doctor thats decided to go a little more global. Its about populations, social groups, countries,'s about love, smiles, solutions and dreams. And if you love Africa (and other developing regions) as much as I do, you'll realize that the health sector needs you, too! Whether you're a biochem student looking to get into law, or maybe you're a dancer and you taught some Swazi kids how to dance over a summer (I don't see how that is possible), or you're just someone with a passion and fire for a place where thousands and millions of your countryboys and girls never get the chance to see, live, talk, love, dream, smile, play soccer, feel the rain, drink clean water, get married, run in the sand...because their lives are claimed by things such as HIV, malaria, hunger, war, stupid governments, terrible decision-making, etc. You too can do something. Seriously, it's been said, again and again and again. Yes, yes, we must be the change we want to see...but really I've discovered that just saving one life, saves millions thereafter. For real though, I don't want to be the last remaining Swazi on earth (although that would be kinda cool no? Would they frame me and put me in a museum outside La L'ouvre?) I'm just doing my heal and deliver to those I love the most...and in the process, save the world...millions at a time.

Monday, August 20, 2007


In the 24 years that I've lived, I've been majorly blessed in many areas of my life. It's up to you how you define "being blessed". For me, just having oxygen to breathe is being blessed...or even waking up another day, or having food on my table, a phone that rings (even if it's bills-related). This summer, I've come to realize that my whole life is just a blessing! When you start appreciating the little things, the big things seem like miracles, and they are. I love my family, they are dysfunctional, crazy and cute. They are just right for me. My friends' smiles are my day's energy and motivation. When I look back at where I come from, and I look further into the future, to where I'm going...I realize that there hasn't been one thing I've gone through that I didn't learn a big lesson from. Life is one big test! And just like a college exam, sometimes you may get that A without ever studying, sometimes you have to spend sleepless nights and facebook-less times just to get that B-. I've had my share...I know you've had yours too. We all have our stories. Sometimes I sit in the train and look around at the faces around me. We are all at the same place at the same time...but we are going different places, coming from different backgrounds, situations, problems, we have our own lives to deal with. My biggest lesson for the summer was Faith. Yes, Manre's middle name.

The funny thing is since I basically lived alone this summer...or rather, kept to myself alot...I began thinking. Everything was thoroughly thought out. And yet, none of my plans ever materialized! I started thinking about what I do from the moment I woke up to the second I shut my eyes at night (or during the day hehe..). When I wake up and open the fridge, I know that it will be cold. I know the mail comes in at 3pm, that's why I walk out at 3:15 and check the mailbox, and I'm confident that something will be there. That's faith. When I turn the AC on, I expect the house to cool down, that's faith. When the phone rings, and I see Z's can't be anyone else but Z. That's faith. It's faith to believe the weather forecast, it's faith to expect the grocery store to be open at a certain time. I never realized how humans have so much faith! We are built on faith! And yet...the hardest thing to have faith in is ourselves. I remember whenever I studied 3 continous nights for my Organic Chemistry/Econ exams (with the aid of a couple milk-less milkshakes ... Oh, Wesleyan..). I would always push myself to study 10 minutes more than my scheduled sleeping time...I didn't have faith that I was ready. I walked into that exam room with the confidence of a....well, of something that isn't confident. Whenever I got nervous (and I got nervous alot), it was the faithless me taking over. Well, my faith is in God. And I guess I was failing Him when I stopped believing in the very thing that He believed in. So, like many things, that needed to change.

So, have faith. Have faith that you'll make it. Have faith that you're loved. Have faith that you'll make it through another day. Have faith that all your dreams will come true. Have faith in all you believe in. Never let anyone take your faith away from you. Have faith when it seems impossible, have faith when it has all worked out. Have faith when you've cried the last tear, or exhausted your smiles...have faith in people, even those you think suck. Have faith that you're the best at being YOU. And that you do the best job at doing the things that only YOU can do. Have faith that the bus will come on time. Have faith that the dirty person sitting next to you has a vision and a plan, you just can't see it yet. Have faith that you won't get your dream life partner, but better. Have faith in your emotional self, your broken self, your tired self, your heartbroken self, your silly, goofy self. Have faith that you're gonna get that A. Have faith that he will call, someday. Have faith that the sun will rise and set just as it was instructed to. Have faith in your career, even if it's not where you want it to be. Have faith in your country, your countrymen and women, have faith in the little kids that will grow up to have faith in their little kids. Have faith that anyone can change your life for the better, even your enemies. Have faith that the person working at the grocery store is one of the best people you'll ever meet! Have faith that you can do it, that you can work hard for it, that you can speak it toyrself and it will happen. Have faith even when no one has faith in you....Have faith. In them. Have faith in love, in dreams, in day to day happenings that make a turn for the better or for the worse. Have faith that no matter what you said, you said what you feel, and therefore you're not wrong. Have faith that life is yours for the making...the future is yours for the taking. Have faith in faith. That Faith will bring you through, faith will turn ideas to material, and faith will lead you to yr ultimate destination. Yes, Faith, Hope, Love....the greatest of these is love. Love. And have faith.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

This too shall pass

There is no oil, if olives are not squeezed...
No wine, if grapes are not pressed...
No perfume , if flowers are not crushed...

Have you felt pressure in life today?
Dont worry ... God is just bringing out the best in you!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

New News

The concept of "New News out of Africa" has been playing around in my mind for quite a while now. I'm not sure if it's born out of pure frustration at reading "world news" everyday, or at reading the Times of Swaziland every morning (if we're lucky enough for it to have been updated that day). Or maybe because I read this book by Charlayne Hunter-Gault for a class last semester and had high expectations only to be dismally dissapointed. It was a good attempt, and I commend the author for bringing to light such heavy issues that the world needs to be addressing. Hmm, maybe I just had different expectations.

Ever seen a picture like the one in my previous blog post and have the words "hunger, genocide, famine, war, poverty, Africa" come to mind? Ever wondered why you just didn't presume it was a kid who lost a toy on an ordinary beautiful day in Kigali? What comes to mind when you read, see or think of the word "Africa"? Perhaps images of child soldiers, starving children and helpless parents spring to vision. Or maybe you remember the heartwrenching stories told to you at a Boston Cinema by the incredible Don Cheadle, Djimon Hounsou, Leonardo DiCaprio or Forest Whitaker? Ahh...maybe you think of endless savannas, with fauna so captivating your Nikon D2X just clicks away mercilessly, pure horizons, the rich smell of Amarula. The group of kids you taught English for a summer, or how blazing the heat is!

If I tell you what I think of when I think of my motherland, the sun will rise shine set and rise again...when I tell you about the pap and chakalaka, top that with borewors and marinated chicken. I go on to tell you about the street bashes that occur every night all night, no cops involved, neighbors invited by default! I will tell you about real juice, real fruit, real onions I pick everyday at 4 pm from my garden to prepare the homecooked meal...that I prepare everyday, twice a day. I may even tell you about the jokes we tell, the languages so beautiful and engineered to perfection. I'll sip on a cup of Milo and pause, smile, pause, before I go on to tell you about the best clothes in the world, about my mother who wears nothing but Sishweshwe to business meetings and is still the most successful woman I know! I could even go on toflirt with you, sliding my hands down the crafted kente that rides my hips, the goat skin sticking to my ripe breasts in a fashion u may not understand. I'll run your fingers through the thick curls of my hair, and show you how beautiful it feels to be an African Queen! I wouldn't want to leave out the high prevalence AIDS rate in Swaziland, even when I tell you about the happiest people I've ever met! I'll laugh so hard when I tell you about my high school days, taking 11 subjects at O'Level and still not complaining! Infact, exceling! I might even sneak you into my backyard and show you the mango trees that come to life each summer, the bananas and grapes that are low-calorie without the engineering! And still so sweet....I'll tell you about the beaches of Mozambique, the shopping sprees I have in Johannesburg, I'll tell you about the Zimbabwean party scene, the beautiful women, the way our men are carved by the sweet hand of Mother Africa. Chomi, I'll spend forever telling you about the music, the weather, the heros and heroines. Not the ones you read about on CNN. I'll tell you about the brothers and sisters in our neighborhoods, working hard for their families, the ones who never got their share of fame. The children so fearless and creative. I may even decide to let you know how we made our own toys when we were young! It might be why I'm not afraid to open up my laptop...or tv, when something's wrong. I'll tell you about the funny things we see on TV. Yes, TV! The sun will definitely rise, set, and rise again when I tell you about what Africa means to me.

The truth of the matter is we have been psychologically conditioned to tie Africa to such things as poverty, genocide, war, disease etc. I am not one to point fingers. I simply want to acknowledge a problem and brainstorm towards positive action. We spend plenty of time talking about colonialization, history, the status quo and the Western privilege. I think it's time we got some new news! I want to browse some international news source one day and find positive stories about my continent. Instead of "FIFA may launch Plan B for 2010 World Cup", I want to find " Developments underway in Johannesburg and Cape Town". I am not arguing that Africa doesn;t have problems, oh there are many! I would just like to start seeing some solutions instead of the criticism. Sometimes, phrasing a headline more positively may go a long way. I wish we had more African journalists (who are passionate about the continent) in these news sources. I wish we could report more on young African educationalists doing great things all around the world. I wish we could emphasize the richness of African culture and show it off to the world. I wish some Swazi journalist could be able to report the beauty, festivities and excitement surrounding the Reed Dance every August, and not a Polish journalist reporting on the innumerable naked girls he witnessed as King Mswati smiled on.

I also wish we could develop more positive attitudes towards new achievements and new challenges. Maybe we should all be excited and encouraging when we discuss Ghana's oil, Lesotho's new flag, South Africa's hosting of the World Cup, ARVs finally being made available in public hospitals in Swaziland, Liberia's (and Africa's) first woman president. Obviously, something so psychologically crippling will not take overnight to revamp. We, as young Africans and global citizens need to take it upon ourselves to implement these changes within our respective careers, communities, countries and social spheres. It is not just up to journalists to work harder, the very source of primary information is you! Whether you are a doctor, lawyer, musician, part of an economic research team, student, entrepreneur, sexy celebrity, local farmer, orphan, or diplomat. The change is in you. The change is you!

Some good news:

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Yesterday, I cried

Yesterday, I cried.
I came home, went straight to my room,
sat on the edge of my bed,
kicked off my shoes, unhooked my bra,
and I had myself a good cry.
I cried until my nose was running all over the silk blouse I got on sale.
I cried until my ears were hot.
I cried until my head was hurting so bad
that I could hardly see the pile of soiled tissues lying on the floor at my feet.
I want you to understand,
I had myself a really good cry yesterday.

Yesterday, I cried,
for all the days that I was too busy,
or too tired, or too mad to cry.
I cried for all the days, and all the ways,
and all the times I had dishonored, disrespected,
and disconnected my Self from myself,
only to have it reflected back to me in the ways others
did to me the same things I had already done to myself.
I cried for all the things I had given, only to have them stolen;
for all the things I had asked for that had yet to show up;
for all the things I had accomplished, only to give them away,
to people in circumstances, which left me feeling empty,
and battered and plain old used.
I cried because there really does come a time when
the only thing left for you to do is cry.

Yesterday, I cried.
I cried because little boys get left by their daddies;
and little girls get forgotten by their mommies;
and daddies don't know what to do, so they leave;
and mommies get left, so they get mad.
I cried because I had a little boy,
and because I was a little girl,
and because I was a mommy who didn't know what to do,
and because I wanted my daddy to be there so badly until I ached.

Yesterday, I cried.
I cried because I hurt. I cried because I was hurt.
I cried because hurt has no place to go
except deeper into the pain that caused it in the first place,
and when it gets there, the hurt wakes you up.
I cried because it was too late.
I cried because it was time.
I cried because my soul knew that I didn't know
that my soul knew everything that I needed to know.
I cried a soulful cry yesterday, and it felt so good.
It felt so very, very bad.
In the midst of my crying,
I felt my freedom coming,

Yesterday, I cried
with an agenda.

...Iyanla Vanzant

Sunday, July 22, 2007


...Is it really impossible to miss what you never had?

I miss the times that we almost shared
I miss the love that was almost there
I miss the times that we use to kiss
At least in my dreams
Just let me take my time and reminisce
I miss the times that we never had
What happened to us we were almost there
Whoever said it's impossible to miss when you never had
Never almost had you


Wednesday, July 18, 2007


One of the hardest things I had to do the past couple of days was map out my action plan for 2007/2008. Having just left a love-hate relationship of 4 years with one of New England's prestigious liberal arts schools, it was time to reflect. Sounds exciting, I wish it were. That relationship had its A days, and its not-so great days. This 4 yr husband of mine cheated on me with such things as Organic Chemistry and Neurophysiology, showered me with gifts in the form of scholarships and awards, made me cry in the form of affecting my friendships and snatching me away from my family, seriously zapping me out of any comfort zone of sorts. But yes, we had some good days, albeit the many nights of endless crying ... And our divorce settlement was final on May 27 07. All I got out of it was a piece of paper with my name on it!

4 years was a long time, though short at the same time. This summer has been ... wow, I don't even know how to describe it. It's been great, in its own regard. I guess, alot of things happen on a daily basis that it leaves me wondering whats next. Maybe it's exciting...maybe not, sometimes U like to have that security and that plan. I love it here though...i could see myself here for the next couple of years...In the month I've been here already, I've met some pretty amazing people that have taught me alot, in some of the best, and worst, ways possible. Isn't that the story of my life ...

Sitting down with pen in hand, I had to criticize myself the past couple of days, right down to the T. And I had to put it on paper to read over, and over, and over, and over, again. There's nothing harder than to tell yourself the things u try not to face. Opening up the closet and doing all the laundry I've been dumping in there for a while...Anyway, it feels good. Ish. I know what I need to do to become a better person, I know the things I've done that I should not do again, the things I have yet to do,and do more, the things I'm yet to excel at and the failures I still need to face. I know the tears I'm yet to cry...I'm ready for them. I know there's more laughter to follow, I'm ready..I know my weaknesses, and wow, there are many. I'm my own best friend, and yet my worst critic! Its strange...I detest criticizing myself, Sometimes I like to think I'm the world's greatest. Sometimes I realize that I am. Or not. :-/

So now, thankfully, the document is done and it's hiding somewhere where I can't revisit it. The power of it though, is I remember every word. I know that even though it was hard to tell myself the things I did, now, its half the stress I have to go through when people say it to my face...Sigh. Life is some really is. Sometimes I just want to throw myself infront of a moving train, or scream until my lungs can't handle it. But the truth of the matter is there's always something bigger...something better. That's how Im here, not there. That's why I'm me, not you....

I think I'm ready for the next big thing.

Monday, July 16, 2007

For the women in my life ...

To Be A Woman -- By Me.

To Be A Woman...
is to share and love
above all other...
to fight the fight
and bear the burden...
its to cry the last tear
and to give the last kiss...
it's to smile brighter when
your heart wont allow...
To Be A woman...
is to carry the dying soul
to lift the flag high..
of ownership design and conception
To Be A woman
is to know the meaning of 9 months
the meaning of 10 minutes
and the meaning of a lifetime..
To Be A Woman
is to think and to learn
To educate and discipline
To hurt and smile
To die and carry
To lift higher and sink lower
To Be A woman
is something blessed of God
its to be a treasure unknown
Yet used by many
Its to be the last jewel
To be the last thought
and the first memory
To Be A woman
is to be a mirror image of all things
Because to be a woman...
is to see all things, know all things...
To Be A woman
is to give life
to combine recipes...
that give birth to eyes hands and little minds
To Be a woman
is to be a woman...
To Be a woman
is to be all this and more
That, and so much less
To be a woman...
To be a miracle