Archive for April, 2012

Why Does Every Nigerian Woman Want to Get Married & Be A Mrs.?

April 27, 2012

My afrifem sisters on twitter and I have been discussing the institution of marriage in Nigeria for a while now. In the face of increased reports of spousal abuse, exploitation, domestic violence and related mortality the question ‘why do women want to get married’ has taken on a heightened urgency.

Why despite the many risks and the lack of protection from abuse do women, most frequently the victims, continue to make finding and keeping a husband such a lifetime priority over and above dignity, happiness, health and frequently even over and above their life. I don’t know why. And I really can’t speak for anybody but myself.

Why would I want to be married and answer a Mrs. Somebody. Okay I really don’t want to be married. Primarily because the institution is stacked so heavily to benefit one party, the man but if I did want to be married why would I?

What are the advantages of being married in Nigeria?

1. Access to capital through your own personal work horse. Chinweizu has already said it so eloquently. It can be a cushy role sometimes being a Mrs. Somebody. You get to play with children all day or pursue ill advised pet projects while someone else (the Man) hustles for your bread and butter.

Of course this is not every woman’s reality. A lot of women have to hustle for their own and their children’s bread and butter too. Increasingly in my family law practice I see women doing all the hustling while their abusive husbands pretend to lead the leisurely life of a kept bum with expensive taste.

There are as many men out there looking for ‘made women’ to marry and exploit as there are women looking for ‘made men’ to marry and exploit. Why am I surprised? I remember growing up hearing my male peers declare they will marry working women for their extra income. Why didn’t we see it coming?

In the rural areas access to farming land rights, the difference between life and death in an agrarian subsistence economy, is given through men. Certain cash crops are also monopolised by men. So if you want to survive you must have a man, get a husband. Wives are conditioned to be territorial and can make it hell for any sister in law to depend on her male relatives.

Women with access to capital are less likely to stay in unhealthy abusive relationships. Its cliche. Daughters of the rich and powerful are quicker to step when a relationship goes bad. (Advise to men if you marry a rich man’s daughter forget bending her to your will to make her ‘submit’. She’s daddys spoilt princess. Treat her like one.)

Would I marry a really super duper rich man for his money? Only if we had a prior contractual agreement! I’m too self absorbed. I’m not sure I could maintain a fawning adulation indefinitely. Self made rich men are powerful men. Frequently driven controlling alpha males.

As Jane Fonda found out its cool getting a ranch, million dollar stock options and flawless diamonds for birthday presents but her life wasn’t her own any longer. She walked away happy anyway. Who wouldn’t? If you get real desperate it might be worth investing a few years or your life.

Marrying the super duper rich scion of a self made rich man on the other hand could work. He has a trust fund, probably never had to work and hustle a day in his life. Saw his mother brow beaten by an over bearing father. Over compensates by spending his fortune indulging his working class wife who he was attracted to because she was so unlike his mother. Just saying.

He could also be a junkie, a spoilt brat, a sadist or a sociopath. You never know where the apple is going to fall. Still there have been a couple successful models. Cindy Crawford comes to mind. And the senior Mrs. Hilton mother to Paris and Nikky. I can think of no African model. The male scions of the African elite class are usually bastards with an overwhelming sense of entitlement and their own privilege.

So the choice is Dangote or his son. Now imagine the sort of Machiavellian project meeting, seducing and keeping either of them would be. A life sentence. Surely getting a loan from the bank and making my own fortune is easier. And more satisfying fun. For me.

.
2. Access to richer, high social status networks.
Women are stereotyped for using marriage to scale the social class ladder. You can go from working class to middle class or even aristocracy literally with the stroke of a pen on that certificate. Sign on the dotted line Kate. Thank you Duchess. Neat trick. Everyone else has to work real hard for it and sometimes for many generations. Ask Fayad.

Of course women aren’t the only ones that use marriage to fast track up the social ladder. Men do it too. Again ask Fayad. If his son Dodi had been successful the family could have cut short what will be a few more generations of social climbing. Imagine that, they could have been related by blood to the English monarch.

I wouldn’t mind marrying a prince. It may not be a guarantee for happiness but marriage never was anyway. Since there are so few princes available and the really important ones rarely marry outside their race we’ll scratch that as never going to happen. And I really don’t want some small village prince. Or even a big village prince. He would have to be at least a prince of a recognized nation. (What can I say? I have big eye!)

Even after a divorce women retain their acquired social status especially when the marriage was long term . Ask Ivana Trump. Or Kimora Lee Simmons. Or Jennifer Oyakhilome. They flourished post divorce. Riding the wave of their ex husbands social capital mostly. Not to say they didn’t do a lot of hard work themselves but seriously the contacts and networks built up during the marriage helped.

3. Access to shelter.

In both urban and rural settings accommodation and housing is inadequate. In urban centers like Abuja its also bloody expensive. A few years ago I heard of the ‘Abuja Marriage’. Basically a woman moved in with a man that had a house whether rented or owned and they proceeded to play ‘house’ , have children and answer Mr. & Mrs for all intents and purposes.

Except neither party knew the others family or ever been to the village homestead, a key criteria of a stable marriage in Nigeria. Sometimes the lacuna was deliberate and malicious. Some men treated the woman as a glorified sex slave and housekeeper and abandoned her and their children for a family approved ‘wife’ when the time came. Which is when the women finally came to see us lawyer people.

Of course the female victims of the ‘Abuja Marriage’ were no less fucked than the runs babes that pick up a different guy every night because they need a place to crash. What’s the alternative? Sleep under the bridge? Surely virginity, if some paedophile didn’t take that years ago, isn’t that important. Or very safe under the bridge anyway.

Would I want to give up my autonomy and independence through a marriage for a roof over my head? Let’s look at it differently. Would I give up the insecurity and trauma of being homeless in exchange for being a wife? Go figure. I’m glad I can earn an income and rent or buy my own house.

Of course I know a lot of financially independent women who have been socialized to believe its ‘wrong’ and ‘bad’ for a young single woman to own or rent a decent home and who choose to stay in bedsits or B.Qs instead. Or squat with relatives. Till they’re married. And Mister will get them a home.

Now these advantages to be married sum up to ‘security’. A lot of women are looking for security when getting married. Security from the storms of life. In a world that still gives the majority of its women too little opportunity to find financial security outside marriage. Ironically many women don’t find it in marriage either. Especially Nigerian women where a man can divorce and impoverish his wife and the mother of his children with legal and social support and connivance.

Other possible advantages of marriage could be companionship and love. Why do I mention these last when most writers would cite them as most important advantages of marriage? Well because I’m an Igbo-Nigerian woman who has lived her entire adult life in Nigeria. Love and companionship always come up later in a conversation about marriage

If I were to tell my Igbo-Nigerian grand mother I wanted to marry someone her first question would be what does he do for a living? Come to think of it that would be my Russian grandmothers first question too. My Nne-ukwu would go on to ask about his family pedigree. She would never ask me about love. Babushka would. Eventually. And love would win the day in her case.

Nne-ukwu would dismiss me if I based my decision on ‘ifunanya’ which is Igbo for ‘love’ but really means ‘attraction’. Literally it means ‘I see you eye’. You don’t marry for love she would say (though it sure does lead to a lot of quicky marriages.) Marriage is a practical choice, not an emotional one she would insist. Its the rest of your life. How can you plan the rest of your life on a fleeting ‘attraction’. She would say.

She would also call me irresponsible if I said I didn’t want to marry unless I had a plan to be responsible which to her means nurturing a family. Luckily in Igbo-Nigeria women had those options. We could marry and be a ‘female husbands’. Except the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill criminalised it. Maybe I can sue for violation of my constitutionally protected cultural rights?

Only after verifying whether my choice was capable of sustaining a family in a decent if not opulent manner and came from an acceptable pedigree would she enquire if he was considerate, responsible and attentive. Those would be her top 3 criteria for a suitable life long companion. Love will come later she would say, after a life time building a family side by side like it did with her and grandfather.

I’m not going to even consider the frequently quoted cliches and subjective arguments about the ‘social status’ of a married woman in Nigeria. Its hog-wash. All I can say is being a ‘Mrs’ won’t protect you from poverty, sickness, death, disrespect, dismissal, sexual exploitation, victimisation, harassment or violence. So what ‘social status’ does it confer?

So have I convinced myself that I want to be married? No. I can get all of the above without being married. Might be harder to do but hey I’m the mountain goat, remember? And I can be married and still have none of the above. That might make me a sucker.

Posted by MzAgams with WordPress for BlackBerry.

Marriage Aint the Problem. unfair Gender Roles Are.

Marriage Aint the Problem. unfair Gender Roles Are.

Advertisements

What (Not) to Do When Your Business Start Up Falters & You’re On the Verge of Bankrupcy

April 25, 2012

So you decided to brave the waters of entrepreneurship. It all happened before you were quite ready to take the leap but sometimes a push or a shove is just what you need anyway. Times are never ideal. Maybe you were just being opportunistic. Doesn’t matter. You started a small business instead of re-entering the job market. You can taste, smell, see and feel that this is a million dollar idea/innovation/model.

Your savings will almost never be enough no matter how tight you planned it, how frugal you are or how creative you get. There’s economic inflation, stagnation, recession and depression going on in Nigeria. And the unexpected will surely happen, the one thing you didn’t foresee. Like a death or prolonged illness. You will pay cash. Do not feel complacent because you have a few thousand quid in your account.

While you’re building your client/customer base remember you will have a high default rate especially if your in a service industry (like law). Don’t depend on the account books that say you’ve got NGN1 million in receivables for the month. Customers and clients will not pay for a variety of reasons.

Even tough you’re still building your professional brand and reputation resist the urge to under value yourself. Set your price and stick to it or offer standard discounts. Identify your target market. I will be tough breaking into it. Have a strategy. Your strategy will fail Re tool it often.

Do not panic when the digits in your bank balance start to shrink and your statement turns red. Do not panic when your landlord serves you quit notice and you’re about to become homeless. Do not panic when they throw your lovingly acquired art deco belongings into the street. Do not panic when they ring the auction bell and you lose the family heirlooms. Do not panic when they repossess your car.

Don’t ask your family or friends for money. They’ll resent not being able to help. You’ve put them on the spot. Exposed their own weaknesses. They’ll retaliate by lecturing you on your chosen lifestyle which their risk averse nature envied but could not emulate. There’ll be lots of I told you so’s. They’ll insist on a post mortem. You don’t need that. Its not a funeral.

Don’t dump on family and friends for the same reason. They got their own shit going on even if they’ve been pretending its all honky dorey. They don’t want to hear you whine about yours. Forget what the Bible says no one wants Misery for company. We all want Joy. All the time. And your Misery does not need company either. That would be Misery squared. Kill yourself already!

Buckle up and face the music. You made the choices. Face the consequences like a Man. With courage. With determination. With steely resolve. With a stiff upper lip. You will power through this challenge like all the others. There’s no other choice. Is there? Focus on the course until successful. You’ll be reaping the rewards soon enough. Focus on that.

I read stories of successful entrepreneurs. They all speak of the early challenges building their business. The reduced income. The relinquishing of their financial privileges. Losing homes, country club membership, cars and material possessions while they pursue the Dream. Some lost families. I know every entrepreneur that went through it didn’t succeed but all the successful ones went through it.

Some of course were privileged to have a safety net. A trust fund, a rich family or husband or boyfriend or sugar daddy or big TV network that paid their bills while they struggled. Others had a cheer leader at least. Someone who believed in them and egged them on. A mother, a wife, a girlfriend, a mistress.

Yeah. I did that deliberately. We expect men to pay the bills and women to be cheerleaders. Right? Even I’m caught in the tired cliche. Where are the male cheerleaders? And the women that pay the bills? (They all seem to be gay! Or not quite straight. Talk about gender bending.)

Don’t lose focus of your objective. The storms of life may happen all around you but you must keep your eye on the prize and keep on walking towards it. Think of it as a quest. An adventure. You’re the hero (read heroine as a appropriate). You must slay the dragon. Overcome you fears. Because maybe that’s all it is really. A fear of failing. Or maybe a fear of flying.

While the hurricane rages enter the eye of the storm and ignore it. You must be single minded in pursuing your purpose. Don’t let anything distract you. Avoid all people that only have advice on how you should live your life. You only need people that can offer advice and encouragement on how to build your business right now. The others just mess with your mind. Don’t get sucked into a pity party.

Ignore the well meaning but mean minded third cousin that tells you its time to move back to the ghetto. No good will come of it. Downsizing maybe on the cards but don’t downgrade. Big difference. If you downgrade you’ll feel so sorry for yourself you’ll be paralysed or suicidal or even homicidal. Remember this is Naija. Even the ghetto here is more ghetto. It aint nothing like Soweto.

Do not move in with family or friends under any circumstances. Go stay in a hotel if you have to. If you can’t afford a room park in their lot. Sleep in the car. Use the gym or pool in the morning then groom and shower there. Squatting with family or friends is a sure fire way of discovering that even family or friends are only so friendly and accommodating. Guests like fish start to smell after 3 days.

Do not desperately hound the few paying clients you do have. We all have the capacity to sniff out desperation and we are all wired to either take advantage of it or to secretly gloat at others misfortune. Don’t make the mistake of telling anyone your hard luck story. Guaranteed to kill you. Outsource debt recovery. You need your energy to drum up new business. Don’t let debtors frustrate you.

Stay the course. You’ve done the planning, the mapping, the execution. Go with the flow. Plans rarely proceed exactly as drawn up and maps don’t always take you exactly the route you drew. Sometimes you detour, out of necessity, sometimes because something new caught your eye. You’re an explorer and opportunist, so of course you must explore it. Go and explore!

Resist the urging of your well meaning friend that says he can get a couple hundred million from that governor or that minister if only you can write a proposal and lend your registered company to launder the loot. Resist the urging of family that tell you to chase that appointment as PA or SA or SSA. Government money is government money. Making returns is par for the government course. You’ll be able to boast in your successful old age that your fortune is not tainted.

As a matter of fact the less family and friends know about what’s going on with you the better. Get a mentor. Otherwise seek and follow your own counsel. Go where your business instincts lead you. Remain independent and free to make your own choices. Make your own mistakes. There is no right or wrong. Just what works and what doesn’t and the same thing doesn’t work for different people. Know yourself and to thine own self be true.

Remember to eat well and to have regular good sex. When you’re hungry you get cranky if you don’t feed your hunger. Same thing when you’re horny you get cranky. Feed your hunger. You don’t need additional avoidable crankiness. Now is also a good time to start yoga if you’re into that sort of thing. You could also start something else. Like horse back riding. Or bowling.

Do not stop hanging out. People is where you get your energy, your inspiration and your motivation. Just stop hanging out with the wrong people. The ones that don’t energize, inspire or motivate you, The jaded pessimistic malcontents that only see an oncoming train, whose response to life is ‘deep cover’ paranoia. Or worse. Resignation!

Also avoid the overly cautious ones that look at you with pity sure you’re about to fail because they can’t envisage themselves coping with the uncertainty or even succeeding. They’ll poison your mind with their doubts and fears and ifs, buts and maybe’s.

Count your blessings and your social capital everyday. Remember what you do have. Use it wisely. If prayer helps you, pray but don’t expect manna from heaven so to speak. Miracles happen naturally, not super-naturally. You can’t reap a harvest if you don’t plant and tend the seeds.

I guess since I’m a woman and my target audience are women I should also add you resist the friends that advice you to find a rich powerful man to support you and all your projects. Power, sex and money make for a mine field. Some women have the talent and the aptitude for it. Some don’t. Know yourself no be crime.

Last but not least always always remember, this too shall pass. Its only for a season. Keep walking. And keep smiling. It ain’t over till the fat lady sings. Don’t ever give up!

Posted by MzAgams with WordPress for BlackBerry.

If You’re A Woman Considering A Divorce in Nigeria Read This & Then Just Do It

April 24, 2012

Just do it.

You’re already considered a bad evil woman. Staying in a loveless abusive marriage isn’t going to score you any brownie points. They’re not going to think any better of you.

They being your in-laws ,your family possibly including your mother, definitely your super competitive uncles, their jealous wives, your aunts, your numerous cousins and the great grand fathers family down the street .

They already think your a failure as a wife and mother you know. Or why else would your husband be abusing you in the first place they say. You must be doing something wrong.

You’re stubborn. Too opinionated. You talk too loudly in the company of men. You don’t know how to respect your husband. You’re always out hustling for money to feed the family. That means you’re a prostitute.

We all know ain’t no heterosexual Nigerian male going to do any favours for you without demanding his settlement from you. In kind if you’re not a powerful woman already. And the powerful ones didn’t become powerful by being stingy with the pussy.

Hey. We know these things. Its the bread and butter we’re fed from childhood. All part of the social conditioning. Protest all you like. Behind your back they all think you’re a bloody slut. You’re a woman ain’t you? You don’t live with the husband? You’re a slut.

So don’t think by hanging in there you’re making some sort of statement to fulfil the righteous requirements on marital status. You’re wrong. Only the hypocrites buy it. Right before asking you to meet them in their hotel suite.

So just do it!

The judicial system is fucked up but a good lawyer can get you a statutory divorce within a year. And you can get custody of the children if you’re married under the Matrimonial Causes Act.

Its only under some customary laws that women are denied custody and those laws can and should be challenged. If you want to get out of a bad marriage do a bit of research. Find out what applies in your case. Speak to a lawyer.

Just do it.

And mean it. Get out of that relationship. Take custody of the children if in their best interest or secure your visitation and access rights if that’s appropriate. Get some maintenance money. Or a settlement. Go start a new life.

Its not going to get better. He’s not going to change. And if he does I guess he’ll come looking for you and the kids anyway. Right? If he’s collecting your pay check and still putting the family into debt. Step.

Just do it okay?

If he’s running you like his own personal beast of burden. Step. If he’s more interested in using the family income to buy an iphone than pay for school, healthcare and rent. Step. Especially if most of that income is coming from you.

You have one leg up on the sisters that are indigent or unemployed. You have earning capacity. If you’re paying the family bills while living with your husband you can likewise pay them without him.

He’s a bum and he’s living off you while you make noises about being a submissive wife. A lot of the time his family, his mother and his brother live off of you too. With your acquiescence and full cooperation. They’re not even kind.

Just do it!

Get out and file for that divorce. There is life after divorce. You may actually find the person for you. The person whose weirdness is compatible with your weirdness. If that’s too much for your religious comfort zone to handle you can be happy with only Jesus and the kids.

If you’re separated already you might as well go to court and make it nice and legal. That means settle who gets custody, who gets control, who pays school fees, maintenance and how much. Courts do decide custody and maintenance in separation petitions too. You’ll still be technically married.

Its not cool calling your lawyer only when you and your spouse disagree about custody or visitation or school fees or something and then abandon the matter till the next crisis. Take it to a court. Let a judge and the law decide it. Or take it to marital mediators.

Just do something.

While prayer and your personal religious faith values are important in your quest to turn your marital situation around you must do your part. You must make an informed decision and identify your objective.

Is it a lifetime of wrangling over custody, schools, travel arrangements? A court approved arrangement is no guarantee to a non acrimonious divorce or separation but the absence of one is a guarantee to disaster. Children of divorce have enough to deal with.

Just do it. Nike it.

Posted by MzAgams with WordPress for BlackBerry.

The Best Advice for Writers Ever – The One Cardinal Rule

April 20, 2012

“It has often been said
there’s so much to be read, you never can cram all those words in your head.

So the writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads.

That’s why my belief is
the briefer the brief is,
the greater the sigh
of the reader’s relief is.

And that’s why your books have such power and strength. You publish with shorth!
(Shorth is better than length.)”

― Dr. Seuss

Posted by MzAgams with WordPress for BlackBerry.

Reflecting on Writing, Grave’s Disease, Forgiveness, Self Care & Bible Quotes

April 19, 2012

I had a relapse in Grave’s disease again. I could feel my body reacting to the stress hormones that trigger it. I happened shortly after I wrote the letter to my mother. The emotions hijacked me. They were so strong. I thought I was having a heart attack.

For a minute I forgot why I’ve refocused on my writing and been consistent with my blog. It was first and foremost therapy for my auto-immune disorder. You can’t indulge a full blown neurotic hypochondria living in Nigeria. Healthcare with or without insurance cover is expensive. And unreliable of course. We have no confidence in the system.

But you must have confidence in something. I was playing with Felix, the cat. He depends on me. Totally. I saved him from certain death. I wonder. Who do I depend on? If Felix had depended on himself he would have died. He somehow knew to come to my doorstep.

I digress. The loss of health insurance forced me to get creative with my therapy. Come to think of it scarce resources always encourage creativity. The final outcome here will of course establish whether we are successful. The gamble. No less than my life.

I am grateful to modern science. When my condition was first diagnosed my heart was already failing. I needed the medical therapy to save my life. I researched my condition. I knew more about it than my doctors. I resisted their pressure to have a thyroidectomy. I’m trying to hang on to all my bits and parts.

Once the worse symptoms were under control I started looking into causative factors and addressing them. I really do believe that all illness is rooted in the psychosomatic. I know there are those who disagree. If you’re one of them please be civil if you must argue your point of view in the comments.

Everything I read linked my condition to stress and anxiety. Some writers suggest its a break down in an over active fight or flight response. I like that one best. Living in Naija is like that. Always alert. Anything can happen. At any time. You’re constantly braced for disaster.

At its worse I used to feel like I had a hand around my throat. Choking me. That was me of course. I was choking myself. With my cigarettes. And felt I wasn’t speaking my truth anymore. I hadn’t written in 4 years. I felt frustrated. Full of things to say but not saying them. Why? What is the symbolic relationship?

Why was I choking myself with the poison sticks and the silence that were sapping my life force? And why has it been so difficult to stop even knowing this is what stands between me and bursting good health and Life! Why am I ignoring this self care?

My tweets this morning quoting Jeremiah in the Bible were about my smoking among other things and me acknowledging that my ill health is the result of over 4 decades of lots of unhealthy habits. ‘Return to the Lord and he will heal you’ is an analogy for returning to healthy habits and the body healing itself.

I discovered the words and inspiration I needed to forgive my father in ‘The Prophet’ by Khalil Gibran. I found the inspiration for the letter to my mother online. I found the motivation to forgive myself in the Bible. Words that speak to the soul are everywhere. And the soul understands.

Why am I indulging in high risk self destructive behaviour like smoking? Its a symptom of stress disorders. A negative turning inward in response to some conflict. Probably the residue of my manic childhood and adolescence. We won’t go into that.

I always resolved my feelings and conflicts through my writing. I write what I’m feeling. See it in black and white. Resolve it. Or at least move the interior conversation forward.
Learn something. Sing my soul song. My own form of ‘speaking in tongues’. To borrow a popular term of reference.

My excuse for not writing the previous 4 years was not enough time. But more than once I recall modifying or withholding my true and honest sentiments to suit the point of view of my employers. Both were true actually and led to a considerable amount of tension.

The international NGO sector is notorious for long hours, low wages, poor benefits and taking advantage of people’s compassion and kindness long after they stop being start ups while boasting to donors they’re keeping overheads down. ‘Working harder than Wall Street executives without the perks’ I used to say. And there is a lot of burn out going on.

Of course some do better than others at taking care of their employees. Some take as good care of their employees as they do their beneficiaries. Some don’t take very good care of their beneficiaries. Some employees are better than others at self care. I digress. Again. Classic avoidance behaviour.

March ended. My daily writing must continue. Yet I have not been very disciplined this month. Writing as self care and therapy. I told someone this morning I didn’t want to indulge in any more narcissistic navel gazing. An unfair categorisation of what was a very emotional experience. If that is what I feel like writing about I will. That’s what blogs are for right? At least I’m not calling it a how-to book and selling it.

Personal journey and how-to-books are usually useless except as inspirational autobiography. Each persons journey is personal. How I resolve my thyroid disorder is not a road map for anyone else. I wish folks would stop marketing themselves as the ultimate solution. I digress. Again.

I have written of my dislike of the word discipline. That includes routine repetitive tasks. My Meyer-Briggs results confirm as much. However, I am in the process of healing my relationship with the word. In a less positive light I have been called ‘fickle’. I consider myself spontaneous. And impulsive. A risk taker.

(I found a balance. I have learnt to draw a road map and move serpentinely through it smelling the roses and allowing spontaneity.)

While the Dr. Sheldon Cooper’s of life eat oatmeal for breakfast every Monday no matter what most of us would find that incredibly tedious and limiting. What if you were offered an opportunity to have a bowl of berries and yogurt? Or eggs benedict?

In Nigeria everything is so fluid most folks plan meals according to what they can afford day to day. I’ve become one of those people since losing my job. Forced to see my previously unacknowledged privilege. The freedom to choose what I want to eat.

It took several decades, losing my job and an illness to really appreciate that. So now I have a menu. If its on the menu in the absence of exotic alternatives we will eat oatmeal every Monday. Again I digress. Avoidance. Face that which you fear! What am I afraid of?

I want to talk of forgiveness. About forgiving myself as an essential part of my mental and physical healing process. I feel I have finally in the course of my recent writing forgiven and accepted both my mother and father.

Now its time to forgive myself. This is the uncomfortable part. The part I’ve been avoiding. The hedonistic narcissist in me seeks pleasure, not pain. It cringes from the sort of honest self critical reflection this requires. This amounts to narcissistic injury. Or suicide.

Still that which is noble and good and divine in each of us has its coping mechanisms. It flourishes even on the sun-less forrest floor stretching and climbing towards the sunlit canopy above like jungle liana.

I am a Capricorn, ruled by Saturn symbol for pater, and depicted as the mountain goat. We never take the scenic route through the valley. Must climb that bloody mountain. We love the view from the top. Cold. Paternalistic. Logical. And yes that describes me too. Just like the Meyer-Briggs test.

It is also told that the moon was rising on the day I was born (whatever that means) so I’m also supposed to have some very un-Capricorn like traits. Feminine traits. It may all be hog wash and psycho-babble but it carries the storyline forward. Gives a fun and picturesque framework for exploring the unconscious and reclaiming what Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ calls the intuitive feminine.

I feel inspiration coming on. Forgiveness and healing beckons. Then eureka! I realize. There is nothing to forgive, everything is exactly as it should be for us to take the next step of our individual journey. And our collective journey. And it all led to this moment. And continues tomorrow.

‘This is the day that the Lord has made. It is wonderful in our sight’

Posted by MzAgams with WordPress for BlackBerry.

Mind Reset: You’re an Entrepreneur. Stop Thinking Like A Manager.

April 13, 2012

Do you really want to take that job? I know. It seems like a complete validation of your work, your effort and your genius. I know. Your monthly take home and benefits after tax exceed $5000. That’s $60,000 per annum. I know. I know. I know.

Taking that job is going to be the difference between you being a manager and an entrepreneur. Its the difference between being an owner and an employee. Its the difference between freedom and security. Its the difference between building and operating.

Do you get it now? No? Okay. Let me explain then. If you’re a risk taker, an empire builder and a dreamer always constructing prototypes and models you will not be happy as a manager. And if you are risk averse, pay attention to detail and avoid mistakes you’ll have a heart attack as an entrepreneur. Got that?

Working in the non profit sector for 12 years, 7 of them as an employee manager you will end up feeling you are implementing someone else’s dreams and aligning my actions to someone else’s mission. While I enjoyed and learnt from my experience I also found it more than a little frustrating most of the time.

It was frustrating always working with scarce resources. And it was annoying constantly being told what a virtue working with scarce resources is. Its a skill set your encouraged to acquire by the rich people who lead and fund the sector because they feel guilt about their personal privilege.

Poor people conserve scarce resources by default. They don’t wait to be told or educated by rich know-it-all town folk with funny accents and shiny well fed faces who generally assume that poor working class people need their messianic help.

The more collaborative decision making was also frustrating. Things took longer to happen. Consensus was always right round the corner. Despite that the folks with the resources still dominate the decision making process anyway.

Yeah. When someone ‘gives’ a donation or a grant they can attach all sorts of conditions to how you spend it. Shareholders/investors simply look at the ROI. They’re risk takers like the promoting entrepreneur. Even the more socially aware investor of the 21st century knows the importance of letting people get on with the work.

At Ashoka I was hired for my entrepreneurial skills but the work demands and structure really required management skills. They tried to harness the energy of entrepreneurs to manage programs. It afforded me an opportunity to enhance that skill set but led to conflicts between me and my the folks that pulled the strings at head office.

Lesson one; don’t take praise from your boss for ‘taking ownership’ to literally or too seriously. Its still someone else’s organisation and someone else’s dream. You will only be allowed to do so much.

Oxfam GB on the other hand is a traditional organisation with a conservative hierarchy of power and responsibility. I was hired for my management skills. I was expected to deliver the ‘innovations’ designed and approved by the decision makers.

Lesson two; organisational politics is very important in a bureaucracy. Management is rewarded for carrying out instructions, playing by the rules and steady measurable progress. You won’t score brownie points for trial and error.

Entrepreneurs need to have management skills but being generalists they don’t usually have business degrees or even want to have that level of expertise. Especially since management skills are so different from entrepreneurial skills.
Entrepreneurs don’t play by the rules, they take risks, make mistakes, learn from mistakes, and keep trying. Managers are motivated by security. Entrepreneurs are motivated by freedom. You won’t find freedom in that management job. And you’ll find security elusive unless you do exactly as you’re told. How good are you at doing exactly what you’re told?

Lesson 3; know when its time to quit. Watch out for signs that you’re not enjoying what you’re doing. The boredom that sets in when things become routine. The self censorship that makes you refrain from saying something you believe because its contrary to what the company paying your salary believes.

I’m an entrepreneur. A builder. A risk taker. A wealth creator. Five years as a non profit country program director may have developed my management skills but it also has imposed a mental paradigm of scarcity, caution and pessimism. Not necessarily wrong or bad unless I let myself get stuck there.

Posted by MzAgams with WordPress for BlackBerry.

What Must be Said by Gunter Grass (A Translation)

April 11, 2012

What must be said

*

Why have I been silent, silent for so long?,

Our generals have gamed it out,

Confident the west will survive.

We people have not even been considered.

What is this right to “preventive war”?

A war that could erase the Iranian people.

Dominated by it’s neighbor, pulsing with righteousness

Smug in the fact that it is they, not Iran,
Who have the Bomb.

Why have I so far avoided to identify Israel by it’s name?,

Israel and it’s ever increasing nuclear arsenal,

Beyond reproach, Uncontrolled, uninspected.

We all know these things

Yet we all remain silent, fearful of being labeled:
anti-Semitic
hateful
worse

Considering Germany’s past these labels stick
So we call is “business”, “reparation” take your pick,

As we deliver yet another submarine.

As we provide to Israel the means to deliver annihilation.

I say what must be said.

Why did I stay silent until now?

Because I’m German, of course.

I’m tainted by a stain I cannot wash out

I’m silent because I want so badly to make it right

To put my sins in the past and leave them silently there.

Why did I wait to say it until now?

And write these words with the last of my ink?

Declaring that Israel threatens world peace?

Because it is true and it must be said,

Tomorrow will be too late.

We Germans now carry a new burden of sin on our shoulders

Through the weapons we have sold

We are helping to carry out this foreseeable tragedy

No excuse will remove our stain of complicity.

It must be said. I won’t be silent

I’ve had enough of the hypocrisy;

Please shed the silence with me,

The consequences are all too predictable.

It’s time to demand free and permanent control
of BOTH Israel’s nuclear arsenal
AND Iran’s nuclear facilities
enforced with international supervision.

It’s the only way, in a land convulsed with insanity,
Israelis, Palestinians, everybody, will survive.

And we too, will survive.

Posted by MzAgams with WordPress for BlackBerry.

Governance by Jingle.

April 5, 2012

An exchange earlier on twitter put me to mind of one of my pet peeves in Nigeria – governance by jingle. As usual the tweeple I was debating with chose to be combative and dismissive of ideas different than theirs. . Another pet peeve. Why do a lot of Nigerian feel they have to shoot you out of the water if you don’t whole heartedly agree with their point of view hook, line and sinker?

Could it be insecurity? An irrational fear that any disagreement is a personal attack? Or could it just be grand standing? The need to prove to the audience that you know more than everyone else? Anyway whatever the motivations of others that’s a blog post for another day. I have something to say about Governance by jingle.

I do not have anything against behavioural change programs and methods. I think they are important. Nor do I have anything against policy change or introduction. What I do have a problem with is the assumption that these are enough to solve all our problems.

I will use the National Policy on Women to illustrate what I mean.

The policy adopted by the government made very good recommendations for everything from maternal health to political participation. It even set a guideline for 35% representation of women in all elective and appointed positions. The policy expired with not a single milestone achieved.

Why? Well because there was no strategy or funding for its implementation of course. At least not from the government. Civil society did make an effort, they took the policy and used it to direct their programming and to request for grants from international development agencies but nothing came of it because they have their own program strategies and focus they are pursuing.

The policy expired without much progress especially on political representation and participation. We never even came close to 10% women’s participation.
When it expired I remember thinking why did the government bother to spend time and probably an obscene amount of money to make a policy it had no intention of implementing?

Of course the fact that they wrote and launched a policy made the news and we all hailed them but after four years all I could think was ‘why did we hail them?’ There were lots of jungles telling Nigerians in simple language set to simple music that women were an important part of the national equation and should be ‘allowed’ to participate. A lot of people went around saying ‘I’m gender sensitive now, its a good idea for women to participate’ but it didn’t translate into more women in office. I wonder why?

Let me highlight a few things I think the government could have done in addition to the jingles and dramas to enforce and implement the national women’s policy on political participation.

1. Impose sanctions on political parties that don’t have a more equitable number of women in their leadership structures at all levels.

2. Provide funding to key line ministries and civil society groups to build the capacity of women to participate and to hold public office.

3. Increase childcare facilities (and funding) for women that work or want to participate as appropriate.

4. Increase funds available to female candidates for campaigns and registration for primaries. Its unfair to ask women to raise money for campaigns like men. It exposes them to exploitation since most of the money is in male hands right now.

5. Instead of giving women ‘free’ candidate require parties to provide to pay for forms in the party or something.

I’m sure you can think of many more actions that would have made the policy come alive. Its governance by jingle.

Ciao

Posted by MzAgams with WordPress for BlackBerry.

April: African Womens Decade 2010-2020, Easter & Symbolism in Writing

April 3, 2012

We’re not going to stop blogging, daily, just because women’s history month is over. Big question what to write about in April?

April is domestic violence awareness month and I think I read STD or sexual health awareness month in the US. I google and the only thing I find from Africa is the UN African Women’s Decade (2010-2020). Didn’t see much on that either. Just a launch here. A statement there. Maybe a good idea to explore this April.

We’re led by the west and the US on so many levels but how much are we doing to catch up? I’d like to see a Women’s History Month promoted in Africa. And a domestic violence awareness month. And a sexual violence awareness month. With all that it entails.

I understand that the economic dynamics are different in Nigeria and Africa. Corruption, bad governance, infrastructure, industrialisation, basic education and basic healthcare are the development priorities and necessarily consume much of our time and resources.

But we must tend to the people, our biggest resource. We must tend to their interior needs as much as we try to tend to their material needs. Why else do you think religion is the fastest growing industry? Our governments should do more to tend to the other needs of our people.

The power and influence of the church seems to be directly related to the distance and lack of compassion from the government. If our government doesn’t care at least the church does. If our neighbours don’t care at least the priest does.

African. Women’s Decade. What does it mean? What is the objective? How does it influence us? What are we supposed to do with it? How is it relevant to African women on the continent and in the diaspora? I think I’ll spend the month of April and find out.

Of course Easter is the other big event of the month. The passion, death and resurrection of Jesus is fundamental to Christianity. Without the crucifixion there would be nothing. My memoir writing last month was my own symbolic Lenten cleansing. I shall find some apt symbolism for the resurrection.

Surely you wouldn’t expect me to write on easter bunnies and easter eggs? Or even about Jesus and the reason for the season? Of course not. Every writer and his dog will do that much.

I didn’t quite know where last months writing would take me. I was surprised at the outcome myself. Let’s see where this takes us! Fun, games and adventures. Let’s go!

Posted by MzAgams with WordPress for BlackBerry.

The End of Women’s History Month. What a Fantastic Exercise! Thank u for being a part of it!

April 2, 2012

Yay! Its done! I’ve written a memoir! And so I end Women’s History Month. I’ve contributed my history to the body of work! The Persephone entry was supposed to be up on the 31st but I fell asleep before midnight. Still I have managed to write and post a blog entry daily the last week. Even while sick.

Its been challenging and also very enlightening. I’ve learnt a lot about writing, about telling stories and about myself. I have shared a lot about myself, by far a greater challenge.

Its not easy writing a memoir or an autobiography. Its certainly not easy being honest and candid. I rewrote the ‘You run off with a muscle bound biker and call yourself a feminist?’ post so you might want to read it again.

Most important I am developing a daily habit of writing. I have refocused my feminism. Given it some sort of features cause it was all over the place. Writing itself helped me focus. Made my thoughts tangible and audible over all the white noise.

Certainly gives me a better idea the type of stories I want to tell. That need to be told.. Thank you for reading and validating me. The knowledge you were reading and your comments kept me going when I wanted to give up.

In the posts I deliberately tried to display both my narcissism and my unwitting racism. Did I succeed? And I wonder now, did I write in the conflicts? Or did I just give the resolution?

I read some of my poetry from a few years ago. I realized it was actually me resolving all these conflicts. I’m going to go ahead and publish them. One entry I didn’t write was on poetry. I planned to. Now I know why.

I never published my poetry because I wasn’t ready to share that part of myself. But of course I had a more complex BS story for why I didn’t published. I knew intuitively I wasn’t ready to write that post. Clarissa Pinkola Estes would be proud.

Posted by MzAgams with WordPress for BlackBerry.