Relationships

Big Girls Don’t Cry

I used to recite the last line of Fergie’s 2006 hit song every time I was hurt and overwhelmed. There were days when I locked myself in a bathroom stall at school or at work and repeated those words to myself over and over, grasping desperately at the million pieces of my heart as they fell. Of course, it did not take long for me to realize that reciting ‘big girls don’t cry’ to oneself is not the same as calling candyman in front of the mirror five times. A hook does not appear out of nowhere to wipe away your tears or replace the pain in your heart with warmth. I am not even sure if the candyman thing works, but with a Jordan Peele movie in the works, I am not about to test it.

I quickly accepted that tears were an unavoidable part of my journey and heck, they were refreshing. In the years that followed Fergie’s song release, I stopped believing I was weak whenever I cried. On several occasions, I left my desk and purposefully strolled to the bathroom to have a good cry. As tears rolled down my face, I would say words like “breathe”, “it will get better”, “this is not the end of you”, “you can do this”…. and many more affirmative phrases that could get me through difficult times. But as I grew to accept this side of me, I started to realize that the world was not ready to.

I am not supposed to cry. But I do, and I have found that not many people can understand how a strong woman like me can have meltdowns

You see, I look nothing like teary-eyed Demi who stands in front of a bathroom mirror to affirm herself. I am what the world refers to as a strong woman. When I open my mouth to speak at meetings, I speak from a point of comprehension. Except for social gatherings, I hate speaking just for the sake of speaking. I have been told that my resting face is intimidating. I am the world’s description of a strong woman. A machine. A boss lady. A woman who slays all day every day. I am not supposed to cry. But I do, and I have found that not many people can understand how a strong woman like me can have meltdowns and be heartbroken when things turn sour or are overwhelming. This perception is hurting me and women who are like me, especially when it comes from the people we love or people we expect to see us beyond our steel exterior.

I remember sitting with a love interest once and expressing my fear of the future. I was at the tail-end of my masters degree and unsure of what to do next. I told him how terrified I was and how I just felt unsure of myself. His response to the outpouring of my heart put an end to that kind of conversation between us. He said “I thought you were supposed to be a strong woman.”

Last year, I was sharing my anxious thoughts with a person I have known intimately for seven years. I was again at crossroads and on the cusp of making life-changing decisions. As a single person, I needed a sounding board, a person I could express myself to without reservation. His response took me aback and left me feeling unsure of myself. “I have seen a different side to you since this conversation started. A side that’s driven by anxiety and fear.” He didn’t say it was distasteful but his facial expression told me all I needed to know.

Recently, a friend shared how her boyfriend always said she was not confident whenever she expressed any kind of emotional response to work, life or love. “You are supposed to be confident”, he would always say.

There is a perception of strong women that the men who date them fail to look beyond. They see the steel exterior, the slay warrior, the boss lady, the machine, and they think that is all there is to her. They believe she always has life on lockdown, and often become shocked when this mean machine needs a shoulder to cry on. How can she cry? She’s supposed to be a machine!

Here’s something to bear in mind: machines, no matter how excellently they function, always need maintenance. Without consistent, top quality maintenance, machines break down. Now, I am not saying women are machines. We are not work horses who simply receive instructions and churn out outputs. What I am saying is that it is important for the men who date and marry strong women to realize that they need care, love and sometimes, cushioning from harsh realities. We don’t always have life on lockdown. Many times, we have questions that have no answers. We cry when a boss says something mean or when life does not make sense. We feel anxious when we are making big decisions and we sometimes question our approach to situations.

In these vulnerable moments, we do not want to be told we are not confident or strong. We don’t want to see or hear expressions of distaste that make us wonder if we are letting down the entire human race. We simply want to be seen for what we are – complex, multifaceted, human. Yes, we go out on some days and slay the devil to hell. On other days, we want to sit with you on the couch and cry about how horrible work is while eating a tub of salted caramel ice cream. We want the men who care about us to see the vulnerable, the unkempt and the ugly. They are the different parts that come together to make us the strong slay warriors you love.

So, next time your strong girlfriend has a meltdown and starts to open up, don’t shut her down with Fergie’s “big girls don’t cry”. Instead, be a shield and a cushion, and believe that Sia was on to something when she sang “big girls cry when their hearts are breaking.”

XOXO

Featured image: bustle.com

Relationships

Love is Enough

For years I bought into a fallacious ideology. I repeated it to myself day in, day out, telling myself it was the only explanation for the beautiful stories that turned sour. I preached it from the rooftops and did not miss an opportunity to enlighten everyone I came across. I did not want them to walk around with flowery thoughts of love, thinking it was all that they needed to feel seen and known, so I told them, with the greatest passion I could muster, that love is not enough. I argued it could never be enough, and when people seemed to be optimistic, I gave them all the reasons why it could never be enough.

It has been years and through no direct effort of my own, I am coming to an enlightening – an enlightening to the sufficiency of love; an awakening to how enough love is. So many times, we say love is not enough because in our human-limited minds and due to our selfish nature, we cannot fathom the idea that something as simple-sounding as love is everything. We assume love is about the butterflies in the tummy, and that when those butterflies fail to flutter, it means love has left the room. But what we fail to understand is the depth to which genuine love runs – how it fills every encounter with respect; how it empowers and releases us to be greater than we ever thought possible; how it searches deep within to reveal joyful parts of ourselves that we did not even know existed; how it takes us from a selfish stance to a position where we desire to please the one we love, not with the aim of convincing them to love us back, but with the desire to see them smile.

I have spent a lot of time in November reflecting on my beliefs and the ideologies I peddle out, and this one is one that really stuck out for me. We often say love is not enough in two situations: 1.) When love is not mutual and we are too afraid to accept this fact and 2.) when love is not genuine and to make up for this, we try to split it into many independent parts.

When love is not mutual, it hurts, and because it hurts, we say it is not enough to build anything substantial. When love is not genuine, we split it. We say love is not enough. We claim it needs respect, support and a partner who puts in the effort as accessories. But how are these things independent of love. If respect, support and effort are absent from love, is it really love? If our relationship decisions are from a selfish standpoint, to satisfy our selfish desires, can we really say it’s love?

Love is all-encompassing. It is gentle and kind even in the most heated moments. It does not give up. It sees the flaws but chooses to focus on the flawless parts. It makes us grow. It makes us feels feel seen and known. It brings us joy. Yes, even in love we are not always happy, but deep within the cloud of unhappiness, we know there is joy, genuine admiration, support, respect, and peace. Love feels like home. It’s where we give and give, but never feel like we are losing anything, because just as much as we give, we are given in return.

I have come to the conclusion that love is enough because it has everything we deeply yearn for.

Personal Growth

Why I gave up on bleaching my skin

Last night, I was at the Poets in Autumn tour in Johannesburg. I really enjoy attending Poets in Autumn because the poems and the poets themselves remind me of how deep God’s love is, how real life’s struggles are,and how gracious God to us. But last night, there was something, or should I say someone else that caught my attention – Ezekiel Azonwu, before his first poem, introduced his wife to the audience and mentioned that she teaches African women how to love and grow their hair. Surely, more African women are returning to the beauty of their natural hair and it made me smile to see yet another amazing woman dedicate herself to teaching young women how to love their hair.

It took me down memory lane, to the days when my hair and my skin were my biggest battles. I was born and raised in Nigeria for the first 16 years of my life and during that time, two messages were clearly communicated to me:

1.) Relaxed straight hair made a woman more beautiful and sophisticated while natural hair made her look poor and in distress

2. ) Dark skin on a woman is unattractive. It looks blotchy, does not light up the room and certainly does not attract a successful crop of men. People desire dark, tall and handsome. There was no such thing as dark, tall and beautiful. Well, if there was, it was not mainstream.

For the longest time, these were beliefs that were drummed into me at every family event. My aunts did not hesitate at every opportunity to mention how much I looked like my father and took his complexion. Often times in Yoruba, they would say “wo bo se dudu bi baba e” (look at you, as dark as your father), their facial expressions indicating that they were sad on my behalf. To put things in context, my sister is a lighter complexion and no one ever said “wo bo se pupa bi mummy e“. No one looked sad or worried for her. She was fine and they did not hesitate to praise her beauty. The message was clear – my dark skin was undesirable and well, if I did not like it, it was up to me to change it.

So the experiments began. With my hair straight and relaxed, the only giant left to conquer was my dark skin. I purchased my first two bottles of skin lightening lotion and expected the best. They were serum-free products because I did not want the results to be drastic. As much as many people expected me to fix the problem my God-given skin represented, I wanted to ease them into the transformation. I watched as my skin went from dark to a light brown, with some parts remaining stubbornly dark. I told myself I was not lightening my skin, I was ‘toning’ it, ‘using the lotions to get an even complexion, only lightening areas that were unusually dark like my forehead…. and all those other lies darkskinned women tell themselves when they are unsure of why they are doing what they are doing

Some of my friends praised the transformation. It was a step in the right direction. My foundation was a shade lighter, photos looked ‘better’; if I kept it up, I could be flawlessly light-skinned, attracting the right kinds of people into my life and being noticed in the right spaces. Afterall, in Nigeria, it is hard to find a successful man with a dark skinned wife.

But there was a problem. The lighter my skin became, the more I detested my looks. Everytime I looked in the mirror, I saw more blemishes than I ever did. I saw the areas where the lotions had failed to be effective. I saw the dark spots and lines. It was like slowly peeling off a mask to a new identity, an identity I was beginning to realize I did not want. Even though I was only a shade lighter, I felt like I was no longer me. I craved the shine of my dark skin and how bright it made my eyes every time I smiled, I missed the fact that I could simply put on sunscreen and step out on a beautiful sunny day. Now I had to be careful of green veins popping through my skin and burn patches revealing the harmful effects of the lotions I was using. To make matters worse, the chemical smell of the lotions in spite of how perfumed they were did not give the comforting aroma of attained beauty. The smell stuck to my skin, and sometimes during the night, it felt like my sweat had been contaminated with these toxins. I needed to stop and stop I did.

I had only used one bottle of skin lightening lotion when I quit and told myself that I would never go down that route again. But it would take many more cycles of me trying to attain the light skin standard of beauty and returning to my God-given complexion for me to finally quit. Everytime I went to a family event and was reminded I looked just as dark as my father, I ran back to my lotion. When my friends and acquaintances spoke about how they would bleach their babies if their babies ever came out dark-skinned, I was tempted to attain that level of being one shade lighter than my original complexion. I fought the urge every time and on the occasions when I lost, I did not stay on the skin lightening path for long.

It has been four years since my last attempt and I am happy to say in spite of the many pitiful looks at my dark complexion in social gatherings and the constant reminders of how people are more attracted to light-skinned women, I have grown to love my dark skin even more. I realized through self-reflection that the desire to be light-skinned was never mine to start with. The fear of being unattractive, going unnoticed or being seen as ugly was never mine. The fear of not being pursued by a Nigerian man who wanted to ensure his collection of beautiful things was made complete by a light-skinned wife was never mine. My actions were the product of a society that taught me to criticize the earthen jar in which I existed for the sake of meeting deeply contorted definitions of beauty.

I had never been taught to see beauty in my melanin-endowed skin so I became a fertile soil for the seeds that taught me to fear it. Realizing this made me resolute in my love for my skin. I fell in love with it anew and like lovers dedicate themselves to life-long learning about each other, I have dedicated myself to learning about my skin like I would learn about a lover.

Now I know to use my homemade sugar scrubs during the winter for moisture, to mix my Shea butter with glycerin and bio oil during the summer, to get rid of impurities using a mud mask once a week and to apply that vitamin c mask for a beautiful glow. Learning to love my dark skin has been more difficult than lightening it, but now when I look in the mirror, I no longer see a mask that’s slowly being peeled off. I see me. Just me. Glowing. smiling. complete and secure. The fears that were planted in me have since been uprooted and the smell of chemical sweat is long forgotten and never missed. This melanin jar which encases my bubbly spirit and carries my beautiful soul was given to me because it was perfect for me. I was woven by God, fearfully and wonderfully crafted, and I would not like to look any other way. I see beauty in the dripping perfection of my melanin sauce and I hope you see yours too.

Random Musings

We are not OK

Yesterday, while hanging out with friends, one of them let it out that something in her died a while ago. She mentioned working in a toxic culture that killed her zest for life, and leaving that culture for a place she hoped would be better, only to find herself sinking helplessly into what seems like a dark abyss. Her words were poignant and brought back unpleasant memories of going through a depressive state myself and seeking something to hold on to.

As I reflect on the words of my friend from last night, I am reminded of the importance of prioritizing mental health, not just at home, but also at work, at places of religious worship, in our relationships, in our families and in every other aspect of life we engage with. I, personally, am particular about prioritizing mental health at work considering people spend most of their adult lives there. From my experience, toxic work cultures, bosses and lobbyist colleagues can create room for deterioration of mental health. Work cultures where qualified people are unseen, unheard and exploited can easily set the platform for despondency and apathy. Work cultures where expectations are not well-defined and employees find themselves constantly chasing waterfalls can lead to pent-up frustration,feelings of inadequacy and a strong desire to escape reality.

A few weeks ago, a lady tweeted about the overwhelming anxiety she felt about going to work, and asked for excuses she could give her manager for not showing up to work. While I was glad that she was aware of the state of her mental health and the trigger of anxiety and despondency, it broke my heart that she had to cook up excuses to have a mental health day. It is important for employers to prioritize employee wellness by creating healthy workplace cultures where employees feel valued, heard and appreciated.

It is also important for us as individuals to know our triggers. We should learn the situations and behaviors that push us into depressive states and those that push us out of them. We should learn to tell people we are not OK. We should accept that although “vulnerability is the least celebrated emotion in our society” (Mohadesa Najumi), we can find our own people in society – people we can cry to, people we can express our frustrations to, and people we can share our deepest feelings with.

For me, I learned to find these people during the course of my PhD. Well, I did not have to look too far; my parents, sister and brother were right there. I cried to them when my experiments were not working, lamented to them when I was unable to sleep and cried even more when I became uncertain of my ability to succeed in the program. At work, I have learned to build relationships with people I can call my friends outside of the workplace. I can cry to them, vent to them and just tell them when I am in a depressive state. I know many people say the workplace is not the place to build friendships; but let’s face it: the fact that we spend more than 70% of our weekly time at work is proof that we need to build happy and meaningful connections in these spaces.

We should not be ashamed to say we are anxious, not coping, in pain or uncertain and despondent. We should not be ashamed to cry when everything becomes overwhelming, when our plans don’t work out, or when we are hurt by something seemingly insignificant. As I reflect , I realize it is important that we provide spaces and build relationships that enable us to expressly state that we are not OK. It is our reality and we should be able to share it with the people in our spaces.

And, when we are giddy because the stars are aligned and life is meaningful, we should not forget to ask those around us if they are OK.

Featured image: talkspace.com

Random Musings

Us and the Environment: A Case of murder-suicide

This is a bit of a long read and I hope you learn something from it. I would like to ask a few questions and I hope you answer them honestly.

What exactly do you know about your immediate environment? What do you know about the land, the water quality and the air quality? How polluted does the air feel during the summer? Can you confidently drink the water that runs through your tap? If you can, is it because you are certain the water is of excellent drinking quality or because you have been told it is and haven’t bothered to investigate it yourself? When was the last time you wondered about the impact of your actions on your environment, or even asked yourself how the household products you use, the foods you consume and the wastes you dispose affect you?

Yes, that’s right. When was the last time you asked yourself how your actions towards your environment affect you?

It is needless to say that we exist, whether we like it or not, in a symbiotic relationship with the environment. How that relationship has played out has left very much to be desired. For many of us, land, water and air are not elements we give much thought to as we go about our daily lives. We invest in environmental degradation on a daily basis when we head to the stores to buy water bottled in plastic. We encourage deterioration in air quality when we purchase our fancy SUVs with high emissions, alleviating our guilt by telling ourselves that the carbon taxes we pay should be enough to take care of the problem. We consistently purchase household products made with the most unfriendly chemicals and dispose them into the environment without any thought to how these chemicals end up in water resources and travel back to us.

We are certainly not aware that as we continue to contribute to environmental degradation, abusing the power we have over the environment, we are also killing ourselves. In other words, we are murdering the environment and at the same time designing our own suicide.

Think about it: how often are we feeling ill? feeling betrayed by our bodies? feeling lethargic for no reason? scratching our eyes because there’s something in the air? treating endocrine conditions? and contracting chronic illnesses? Have we stopped to consider that as we strangle life out of the environment, we are inadvertently strangling ourselves?

I know climate change is the buzz right now. To be honest, in my professional circle it has been the buzz for years. But now that teenagers are protesting across the world, it is a bigger buzz. Greta Thunberg’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is causing more people to take note and pay attention. And while climate activism can create the necessary awareness, it is important for us to understand that for many people, climate change is the least of their worries.

Indeed, climate change will lead to frequent droughts, loss of homes due to flooding and will likely drive migration; yet, for millions of people, these mean nothing. Their everyday lives are already a battle for survival. They only have access to polluted water resources, are the victims of the wastes from big pharma and other medical organizations, and live on heavily-polluted land. Climate change simply sounds like another ill they will have to deal with.

The truth is the environment is already killing us and we cannot afford to resign ourselves to fate. We need to prioritize everyday environmental health just as much as we speak about climate change.

How can we do this?

  1. Stop buying bottled water. Bottled water companies are not producing water. They are producing plastic. Plastics are a big problem for the environment and for our health. They have been linked to endocrine disruptions, and I suspect they might play a role in increasing the disposition of women to uterine fibroids. (Please note that this is a suspicion. Hopefully when the research grants come through, I can confirm it). Reduce your use of plastic bags. Rather opt for shopping bags that you can reuse.
  2. Get off the grid if you can. Diesel and petrol generators don’t simply make the air unattractively cloudy, they release volatile hydrocarbons into the environment, some of which are known to cause cancer, dizziness, liver lesions, etc. Where you can, opt for solar panels. I know they are not perfect, but they are worth the investment in saving our environment and in the process, ourselves.
  3. Opt for natural household products where necessary. The products we use and the way we dispose them have a tendency to affect water resources and land. In other words, they find their way back to us and cause illnesses we cannot easily treat.

We should become more responsible stewards of the environment, not just because we are afraid of temperatures getting hotter and some places getting flooded, but also because we exist in a mutualistic relationship with the environment. If we do not take care of it, it cannot take care of us. So far, it has endured the abuse we termed development, and has sustained us in spite of our narcissistic approach to it. Now is the time for us to introspect, change our ways, get over our insecurities and treat the environment with all the love and care we would give to ourselves. XOXO

Featured image taken from pinterest

Relationships

#Sexforgrades: It is that simple

A few months ago in Toronto, I had dinner with a Nigerian male colleague. As we sat to enjoy a spread of delicious Cantonese meals, our conversation drifted towards women’s rights and practices in the workplace. With glee in his eyes and admiration in his voice, this colleague told me about how young girls in his former workplace in Nigeria were often harassed by their male bosses and were at risk of losing their jobs if they did not oblige the men who owned all the power. When my face contorted in response to what he was saying, he quickly issued a disclaimer:

“These men are very gentle men. They don’t harass the women like that. They ask calmly and pay the girls a lot of money. In fact, one of my bosses gave a young lady a huge sum of money to shop for new clothes.”

“Were her clothes tattered?” I asked

He laughed. “No. He saw her in a skirt and said he preferred her in skirts so he gave her money to buy more skirts.”

My face contorted even more. He continued.

“Look this man is a married man. Everyone knows he loves his wife. He just likes to play with the girls at work but he respects his wife a lot.”

“What if the girls at work don’t want to play with him?”

“Then, they will lose their jobs. It’s that simple.” He said.

When #sexforgrades started trending, I remembered those words. I remembered the finality of his tone and in some way felt the helplessness of the women who had been told to give in to the will of tyrannous men or lose their jobs, their education, their promotions, and every other thing they worked hard for because in the minds of these rapists, the choice was just that simple. You either want to have sex with your boss or be unemployed. You either want to meet up with your lecturer in a hotel room or fail a course you are good at. In the minds of these rapists, there is no in-between where what the women want and deserve gets any attention. If the desires of the men are not fulfilled, then the women lose. If the desires of the men are fulfilled, the women still lose. As far as the men are concerned, it is that simple.

The trending hashtag on sex for grades is not exposing a new culture in Nigerian universities. If anything at all, it is exposing the historical practices of men who have an erroneous perception of ownership over women’s bodies, women’s rights and women’s access to resources. These men, who are cushioned and protected by the a strong rape culture in Nigeria believe that they are invincible, and will go to any length to ensure they conquer a headstrong female who tickles their fancy. Interestingly, they also launch attacks against young men who are friends with the women they intend to rape, sometimes saying to them “how can you a young man want to eat what the elders like to eat?” In other words, how can a young man dare to compete with a lecturer/boss for the attention of a woman the boss desires strongly to rape?

Rape, either through coercion or intimidation is a well-known practice and many can attest to the fact that it is woven into the fabric of many institutions. Yet, sexual harassment policies in Nigerian institutions are non-existent. Instead, rules are made to control what women wear. Shorts skirts are considered an invitation to be raped, and in a country where the heat from the sun is hot enough for you to cook an egg on the sidewalk, wearing camisoles to the classroom is considered an invitation to be harassed by your educator or even your male colleagues.

When women report harassment in these institutions, they are often asked to verify they did not ask for it with questions such as:

“what were you wearing?”

“why were you walking on the same side of the road as him?”

“why did you sit in front in class?”

With such questions following reports of sexual assault, it is no wonder the rape culture in Nigeria thrives gloriously. Tyrannous men are brazen in their pursuits of their prey, because they know that even if they are reported, there will always be a way to absolve themselves of taking responsibility for the heinous crimes they commit against women.

In the wake of #sexforgrades, women have been advised to avoid the lecturers who harass them by skipping classes, told not to wear makeup to class so they are not attractive to lecturers and in some tweets, women have been advised to avoid showering, wear unattractive clothing and sit at the back of the classroom so they can protect themselves from rapey lecturers whose zeal for life lie in their desire to break and humiliate the young women they have been employed to educate. As far as society is concerned, it is really that simple.

There are many simple approaches we could take to sexual harassment in Nigerian institutions. The government could prioritize the development of a sexual harassment policy; there could be weighty consequences for people who are reported for harassment; there could be disciplinary action against those who support and protect the culture of harassment. There could be many simple approaches that will ensure women are not treated as mere objects or game caught in the midst of several traps.

But instead, many seek to justify harassment and in cases where there is proof beyond doubt, women are asked to forgive and let God judge. Why?

Because in a country where rape is culture, it is difficult to draw the line between normalcy and sexual harassment. It is difficult to understand why women are so angry that their bodies are considered fair game. It is difficult to see why they feel humiliated after they are raped, coerced and harassed. While it may be clear-cut in regions where women’s rights are a priority, in Nigeria, it is not just that simple.

Featured image: from harassed.com

Blog

Why I chose the topic I did for my TED talk

When I received an invitation sometime in May to give a TED talk at my alma mater, I was unsure of what to speak about. You see, while I was there, I was known for my academic pursuits. People knew me as the girl who got the innovation grant, the girl who won the three-minute thesis competition, the girl who was selected for the sub-Saharan Africa L’Oreal-UNESCO fellowship. Based on that reputation, I figured people would be expecting me to tell them how I did it. I mean, it was not unusual for younger students to come to me while I was there and ask what the secret of my success was. I remember telling one young lady in particular that I always make a decision to give anything my best before I even start on it. She nodded in approval but the look on her face was that of disappointment. It did not seem like tangible advice.

So, when I was invited to give a TED talk, my first thought was to give an inspirational and methodical speech on how to be excellent. I even thought of using my experience to tailor the speech to be “How women can succeed in science”. Surely, people would find that useful, it could go viral, reach a million views in a week and become the talk everyone is raving about. But as I sat in a condo in Toronto, staring at my PC, poised to write my speech, I realized I was about to do a big disservice to all the female scientists who have worked hard in their careers, yet bent beneath the weight of condescension and non-recognition. I remember stubbornly typing the title “How to be a successful female scientist”, but my hands would just not go on to type the self-glorifying speech.

I walked to the window of the condo I was staying in Toronto and looked out at the sky-high buildings, the fields of green and the people who walked hastily down the streets, rushing to their next appointments. Here I was, gifted an opportunity to speak on a huge platform like TED, and I was thinking of telling people how well I had done? Surely, there were other women in the world who had done much better and could give a better speech, but what price did they have to pay for their success?

The realization that came with that question caused my shoulders to drop as I closed my eyes. In what was a rush of emotions, I remembered every single time I had to fight twice as hard as a male scientist to get what I needed. I remembered my friends who cried in the bathrooms at work because their male bosses abused them verbally, harassed them sexually and intimidated them at every turn. I remembered the days I had to call out a male supervisor after he had sent an email in red and bold, claiming that I did not know what I was doing simply because I used a word that was different from his choice even though both words had exactly the same meaning. I remembered the many times I and other female scientists were taunted for not having an ‘MRS degree’ (i.e. being married) and were even told we might soon ‘expire’. I remembered not only the things that were said and done, but also the emotions they evoked. The emotion of feeling like we were not enough, feeling like we did not belong, feeling like we were expected to not have other life interests else we would be considered to be unserious about our careers. I remembered looking at the workplaces we were hoping to get into and realizing there were not many people who looked like us. I remembered the doubt this cast on our career goals. Did we really stand a chance?

That was when I decided to speak about the issues women in science face. I started to read reports on the subject to see what the general trend was. Many reports spoke about women struggling to balance the work life and family, while very few spoke about the conditions under which women are expected to work in science. It seemed like even reputable organizations were trying to tiptoe around the real issues, and instead preferred to blame it on something no one could really figure out how to solve – work-life balance. Please don’t get me wrong, women in science do face issues around balancing their careers and staying relevant in their chosen fields. But, why are the women who do not have to face these issues feeling like calling it quits? These are some of the issues I highlight in my TED talk.

I am aware that the solutions proffered in my talk do not fully address the issues I raised, but I hope they serve as a starting point. Many of the younger students in my alma mater look at me and see success, but what they don’t know is that beneath all that glamour, there was a lot of unnecessary perseverance. While I believe in working hard for my achievements and earning my success, I do not accept that the scales must be deliberately tilted to subject me to the psychological and emotional gymnastics that come with being a female in science. If the men in science are allowed to fail, to not know enough, and are given opportunities to learn and grow, women in science should not be crucified for wanting the same.

If you have not seen my TED talk, please watch it here. I hope it resonates with you, and even if you disagree, I would like to read your thoughts.

Featured image: From the 2017 L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science sub-Saharan Africa fellowship. The women shown are female scientists in Africa whose research have the potential to positively impact the continent.

Travel and Lifestyle

Soweto’s new chill spot is where the great food is at

As you drive up Vilakazi street in Soweto, away from the hustle and bustle of traders displaying beautiful hand-made African craft, you will find on your left, a beautiful, centrally-located restaurant called SUD. Home to a number of creative and delicious meals, SUD is the first restaurant to offer a culinary experience like none other in the area.

With a menu that accurately states the restaurant’s mission to cater to every palate, SUD offers a variety of delicious meals that will leave your taste buds dancing with delight. At the opening on Sunday, the 1st of September, guests were treated to a buffet display of some of the restaurant’s choice dishes. From Jalapeno poppers, to beer-battered hake fillet pieces and free range chicken lollipops, guests were tantalized by the delicious food, the beautiful environment and the very attentive serving staff.

I tasted almost everything and I would definitely recommend the chicken lollipops! The meat is tender, falls off the bone easily and is cooked in a delicious curry sauce that will have you going back for more. The beer-battered hake cups served with a sweet carrot-infused sauce were lovely , and the jalapeno poppers were spicy without being overpowering.

The restaurant’s menu is very creative with a dessert like Rooibos panna cotta, and sides like broccoli sprouts in plum sauce, crisp potato halumette with rosemary salt and a champagne and mustard mash (fancy!). For drinks, you can expect the in-house chef, Patrick to help with food and wine pairings, selecting from the restaurant’s impressive wine display. If you are looking to try something local and new, you can order a gin and tonic, and expect to be impressed by the exciting gin flavors from the local gin company listed by the restaurant.

SUD is located at 6877 Vilakazi Street, Dube, Soweto. The restaurant has an outdoor seating area for those who would like to bask in the sun as they enjoy their meal, an indoor seating area for those who would like to enjoy a fine dining experience, and a VIP section for those who would like to hold small, intimate gatherings. No matter what your preferred dining style is, SUD has the perfect spot for you!

Here, you can see the beautiful wine display
indoor seating at the restaurant
outdoor seating area

Next time you are in Soweto, stop at SUD for a bite and let me know about your experience!

Relationships

Mills and Boon – A First Introduction to Toxic Love

The first time I fell in love with the idea of falling in love, I had a mills and boon novel in my hands. These books depicted what perfect love looked like. They made me, and almost every girl I knew who read them warm and fuzzy inside. It was an introduction to a world we were too young to experience, yet impressionable enough to look forward to. The happy endings were all that mattered as I raced through every story to the end of the novel. I wanted to read about the declaration of love, the moment it happened and the acceptance of it. But I did not know that for most of my teenage years, these books would inform my approach to relationships.

A couple of weeks ago, I was speaking with a friend about my teenage life, expectations and relationships, and somehow, mills and boon books popped up in our conversation. With nostalgia in my tone, I shared how these books were perfect for old soul romantics who love chivalry and a good dose of thoughtful romance. I shared about how these books inspired me to seek romantic relationships and helped me develop love interests as a teenager. As I write this now, I realize that in itself was probably problematic but at the time of this conversation, the idea that these books inspired a teenager to actively seek romantic relationships was not the thought that stopped me in my tracks.

Something unexpected dawned on me as I dreamily rambled on about these books, and it did not have the nostalgic, exciting effect I had when the conversation first started. If anything, I was scared as the realization hit me. Mills and Boon did not just arouse the desire for romantic relationships in me and many other young girls I knew. It aroused the desire for toxic romantic relationships.

Think about it. In all the mills and boon novels I read, there was always a charming handsome man with a well-built body, blue or green eyes and a dose of arrogance to go with his looks. Then there was the woman – the object of his desire – innocent, naive and in many instances powerless in the face of his charm. They meet, and even though the attraction is clear from the start, there is a considerable amount of effort put into concealing this. The story goes on until perhaps the first kiss or maybe even sexual encounter. It is magical, everything she has ever dreamed of. It is a moment full of hope for the relationship she is now looking forward to. And this is where the stories often take a sad turn. He ‘disappears’.

He stops making contact, stops answering the phone and makes it a mission to walk past her when he bumps into her in public. She starts to question herself, starts to wonder if she read his emotions wrongly when they kissed or had sex. Eventually, she accepts that he is not into her and starts to hate him for making her fall in love with him. But…just at the time when she starts to hate him, he resurfaces, apologizes for his actions and opens up about his battle with personal demons. He confesses his love for her, explaining that the strong emotions provoked by this love made him ignore her, and somehow, they end up happily ever after. Not too shabby for a romantic story right?

But should this be how romantic stories go?

As I spoke with my friend two weeks ago, I realized that these books may have conditioned many women, including me, into believing toxic relationships where men pay a lot of attention on one day, and totally ignore our presence the next day is normal. They have planted seeds in the minds of women to make them believe that men who act aloof or ignore them after an encounter are simply battling their emotions and are not good at expressing what they feel to the women they desire. It creates the idea, in the minds of impressionable young girls that being ignored by a man who seemed to desire them is not enough reason to let go of him. A man who ignores you after leading you on is not a man you should cut off. Instead, the man is painted as one who is fighting personal demons when in reality, that is not the case. Many men who lead women on only to ignore them later are really not fighting any demons to be with said women. They are simply uninterested and in some cases, have moved on to new pursuits.

But, due to conditioning, which I do not place solely on the shoulders on mills and boon novels, many women tend to believe these men will be back. They await the day he is vulnerable with them and the tears-inducing declaration of love that will lead them to happily ever after. Sadly, for many, those days never come.

Did mills and boon novels influence your idea of relationships when you were young? Would love to read your experiences in the comments!

Post credits: featured image from notsalmon.com

Relationships

A hairdresser’s guide to keeping a man

For two weeks, I have been walking around like a woman who does not care much for appearance. With my hair undone and my eyebrows ‘unwaxed’, dressed in my joggers and a dowdy blue sweater, I have scared many people at the grocery store and on one occasion, scared myself as I walked past the mirror in my closet. While I don’t have any explanation for my choice of outfit these past couple of weeks, walking around with my super-coiled mass of hair boiled down to my lack of cornrow skills. If I knew how to cornrow my hair, my looks would have easily been sorted with a crotchet needle. But asking me to cornrow my own hair is equivalent to asking me to pee while walking – difficult and to be honest, unnecessary. Besides, I cherish the few times I am able to visit a salon to have my hair done.

So this week, when I finally admitted to myself that I could not continue to look like I had given up on my life, I went in search of a salon in the area. I dreaded the idea of going to the salon I tried a few months ago, where the hairdresser had insisted on how her hands can grow hair, yet left me with traction alopecia after my first plait. The other salon which is closest to my home has the most unfriendly set of faces I have ever seen. Every time I walk past, I wonder if they are gathered for mourning. I decided to check the high street and was lucky to find a well-located yet almost empty salon. The stylist greeted me with a warm smile, drawing me in with the assurance of her ability to cornrow my hair without inflicting pain on my scalp.

I felt assured and took a seat in front of the mirror. As she combed out my hair, she asked me the usual questions most people did. “Where are you from? How long have you lived in Johannesburg? How often do you go home?” I answered them as briefly as I could and was about to stick my nose in my cellphone when she asked me an unexpected question:

“How do you keep a man happy?”

Erm… Was this my moment to act like an expert on the subject of men and offer my own perspective of them as a woman? Nah. I told her I knew nothing about men and how to keep them happy but I wanted to know why she was asking.

“Well”, she began, “they have been teaching us in church about how to keep a man happy. We have a group where we exchange ideas and thoughts to help people build good relationships”

“Oh” I responded. “Is there a similar group for the men?”

She laughed “My sister, no. You know the responsibility of keeping the relationship alive falls on the woman.”

I tried to smile and failed. I could see in the mirror that what I had managed was more of a grimace than a smile. She continued speaking.

“There are three secrets we have learned to keep a man happy. The first is to make sure you are his peace. When he comes home, you need to be in a calm state of mind, ensure that the home is clean and the food is ready. The second is to learn what he likes and do it for him all the time. For example, my husband loves wrestling so I watch with him even though I don’t like it.”

She looked at my face, saw I had no intention to speak and continued.

“The third secret is to make sure you respect him. We women just need love, men need respect. That is why the bible says we should submit. So to keep a man happy, you must learn not to talk back during arguments and to just let him express himself. If you are a humble and quiet woman, even a bad man will change for you.”

I raised my eyebrows.

“Sister, you don’t believe me? Some men can go out and cheat but when they remember they have a good woman at home, they say ‘no, she does not deserve this’ and they return home.”

I almost chuckled but I didn’t. I was really interested in hearing more so I let her talk some more.

“For example, my husband does not watch Telemundo with me, while I am watching, he sends me on an errand and changes it to Africa Magic because that is what he likes – those movies where fire flies out of trees to strike people.”

Me: Why doesn’t he respect the fact that you like Telemundo?

Her:He thinks Telemundo is silly and unintelligent.

Me (in my head): but movies about crying trees unleashing balls of fire on unsuspecting villagers are not? What a wonder!

“So what do you do when he changes the channel before you return from the errand?” (the part about being sent on an errand was something I was still trying to understand)

“I go into the room to sleep. There is nothing else I can do. I can’t force him to like what I like, and though they have advised us in church to watch TV with our husbands, I just can’t stand those movies.”

“But you watch wrestling with him. Why not those movies?” I asked

“Ah! I can’t stand them. I watch the wrestling so he can know I at least have an interest in what he likes.”

“Shouldn’t he show an interest in what you like?”

“Sister! You know these men can easily find another woman that will do what you are not willing to do so you need to be ready to sacrifice.”

For the rest of my time in the salon, she shared many tips of how to keep a man – all of which centered around keeping the house clean so he returns to a place that feels like home with you as his peace, not talking back and doing only the things he likes so he does not feel tempted to go elsewhere.

As she plaited the end of the last row and I got up to leave, I turned to her and asked “do you really think these tips will help you keep your husband?”

She looked at me and for a few seconds seemed to be deep in thought before she shrugged “I don’t know my sister. Sometimes I think the people in this church group are just playing games with us.”

Credits: featured image from racked.com