Demystification and captured moment(s)

shift happensLast week wasn’t very amazing for me. Still, I had a few pure moments of feeling like I am not insane nor am I alone. The purity of these moments made it feel like peace as it ought to feel. And everything to combined into one glorious moment of feeling understood. A moment of forgotting why Soren Kierkegaard ever resonated with me, when he wrote “People understand me so poorly that they don’t even understand my complaint about them not understanding me”.

Upon reflection, it was also a moment of awaking to my own lack of appreciation: it seems to me that in my struggle for recognition I easily take for granted the core people that form my support system. What does this say about me? Not quite sure but I will trouble this shortly.

First let me put it on the record that I am grateful for all the support I have. I forget on many occasions to overtly express my gratitude but it doesn’t mean I am unappreciative. I know exactly who to count on for support. Just as I know that aside from my family and friends, I have people like Alfredo, my supervisor, who support me and accept my view of the world as sane.

I called out Alfredo by name for one reason: his presentation this past Wednesday was the source of my dear moments of being and awakening. The presentation was titled “How blue is the blue sky? A reflection on a research and (social) engagement”. It was a basic demystification of what is qualified as true and (by implication) false research.

Before I go any further about the presentation, let me make a disclaimer. I strongly believe that my research embeds my own biography in very nuanced and non nuanced ways. As a consequence, the slightest of things said in the academic arena, especially those that make me feel understood, tend to matter a lot to me. I put emphasis on a lot because I also view the academic space as one of my few areas of success; I am actually at that point in my life where it is no longer absurd that I can be married to the life of the mind – a life which with hard work, I can possibly flourish.

My disclaimer noted, I will proceed with the presentation details. Then, I will reflect on my precious moment(s) of awakening.

Salient points of Alfredo’s presentation

In my mind, there were two main points to the presentation. These points were weaved together by a number of examples that ensured you see them as strongly intertwined.

The first point spoke directly to the title. It’s all a fallacy that a dichotomy exists between “blue sky” and “ grass-roots” research. Blue sky research, as he qualified it, is believed to be “basic, fundamental and curiosity driven” while grass-roots research is “applied, directed and (possibly) community engaged”. According to Alfredo, the fallacy has been perpetuated by many claims left implicit about innovation; claims that unfortunately have a strong influence on how funding is channelled. He reminds us that we are society that loves hierarchies. That we assume blue sky research is “up there”, therefore it is much more innovative and deserving of funds comes as no surprise. What comes perhaps as a surprise, is that we fail to recognise that innovation doesn’t happen in vacuum. What may seem as fundamental and curiosity driven endeavour may in actual fact be a product of several well directed endeavours, which, without doubt, were curiosity driven. Curiosity, as he reminds us, drives everyone. To embellish a bit, curiosity is not a commodified resource, which some lucky few can afford while others cannot. Sayings like “necessity is a mother of invention” exist for a reason and, indeed, speak directly to a drive that is akin to how curiosity is used in blue sky research.

Now moving on to the second point, which is linked to the first, but stands by itself because it problematises funding and we all know that money matters can be tricky to deal with. Anyway, the point made –putting it as delicately as I can — is money doesn’t constrain a person to the point where we can imagine it adds/removes the possibility to innovate; money or no money, what remains fundamental is for the person to apply themselves (wholeheartedly) to the task at hand. To unpack this point, I will use one of the examples he made, but frame its interpretation on what he said as well as in what I believe he meant based on my own understanding of who he is. The example was, while it remains true that Michelangelo was paid to paint the ceiling of St. Peter’s Basilica, he applied himself and the result was ‘pure work of art’. Many researchers, especially those doing blue sky research, tend to be funded for their work. Like Michelangelo, they have a brief with all expectations outlined, but, as Alfredo reminds us, it doesn’t mean there is absolutely no room to innovate for the masses. That is, produce something “on the side” that may potentially be appreciated by the masses. The key however lies in how one applies themselves to the task. To truly grasp what I think he really means, one has to understand the following:

At heart, Alfredo believes while one may not receive a Nobel prize for their work, no contribution is invaluable. He believes creating hierarchies that suggest that some fields, area of expertise or any form of work is superior than others, is a fallacy. To him, any work done honestly and with the necessary effort that it deserves is worthy of recognition.


Back to my moments: what was the trigger?

Again, let me put yet another disclaimer. It’s almost always about me when I choose to pen anything down in this platform. To me, this a meditative platform that I can ‘trouble’ questions like ‘how do I easily forget that I have an awesome support system?’ And, of course, the question at hand, ‘what was the trigger for my precious moment(s)?’

My answer is simple yet difficult to articulate. I fail on many occasions to accept that while all people matter as human beings, not all matter within my small space of existence. This said, my moment put in context was also a moment of rejection. A rejection of those who think my work doesn’t matter. And a rejection of those who maintain hierarchies at all cost.

In my moment, I had the language given to me and I knew it was absolutely imperative to stop concerning myself with those in my outer circle, because, by so doing, I lose the plot and end up thinking that I am not understood. Worse still, I end up taking for granted people in my inner circle; the very people that cheer me on, fight with/for me and generally provide me with plenty of space to be me.

Only through rejection I realised that I had the opportunity to reclaim myself as a unique being. With my strong support system and warped sense of humour (that cracks me up but also lands me in trouble) I can never be alone nor feel misunderstood. Understood even in those moments when I am the only one laughing because those are the “I am, I am, I am!” moments. Moments, I repeat, of reclaiming myself and remembering that it takes me to understand who I am, before expecting that understanding from others.

I am, I am, I am! Grounded in self and being; a being that also includes engaging with what lies below the blue sky. This is who I am. And I am because I believe once each of us begins to be, then in our collective being, we can all contribute to something significant. Who knows? That something could be a world without hierarchies. Just imagine that, and for a moment, meditate on being by considering, for example, Ghandi’s words: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”.

Journey, Lessons and Reflection

Last night, like I have done many times before, I sat in solitude to reflect and take stock of my life and my journey thus far. I cried, laughed and sighed in absolute despair as I attempted to answer the question: Am I any closer to becoming the Mathe I truly want to be?

I acknowledged with gratitude how far I have come to where I am today. Then, I went on to ask myself the question: how does one truly measure the proverbial journey of a “thousand miles”? Is it by the distance travelled or the distance to be travelled?

I am not sure if there are simple answers but at the same time I wanted to know what emotion was legitimate for me to feel. Sadly, I am not very close to where I want to be.

I want to be at a place of contentment filled with inner and outer peace even when the hand dealt to me is less than ideal. A place where material possessions, money, fear etc play minimal or no role at all in making decisions! A place which in few words affords me the “arrogance of choice” i.e. choice that is driven by my priorities and truth about this journey called life.

Any lessons learnt from the journey travelled thus far?

Arrived or not to where I want to be, it is certainly important to reflect on the lessons learnt. While it is fair to say, I have had many lessons from different varying sources, I have learnt two very valuable lessons from attending “mekete”- ceremonial festivities. I have learnt:

  1. It takes hard work and perseverance to get to the ‘feeding stage of the masses’. One my wake up early to see to it that the cooking fire is burning, but there are no guarantees that all will go well. One may be faced with the task to tell off those acting as obstacles to get out of the way or get in line. One may also have to take shit from others but instead of being humiliated by it choose to take it as a humbling act.
  2. How to recognise and appreciate what privilege means. It is privilege if one can have a single person come to offer assistance of any kind. It is also privilege if uninvited guests can come and simply join in with the festivities, be it there are about celebrating a life that has passed on or a union of a new life to be. In a nutshell, privilege is having at least one person walk with you for the entire or part of the journey.

With lessons learnt thus far, I hope as I forge forward to where I want to be, I have the strength and courage to hold on to my faith, trusting that He and only He who knows the desires of our hearts will help me to my destination. I hope also that I may continue to remember words of wisdom from those who privilege me by walking this beautiful journey with me. I am truly grateful for all the words of kindness, support and encouragement I have received. Words such as as this from Carla Tsampiras: “…  remember that shit and rubbish can also make good compost, especially if balanced with nurturing rain and the warm sunlight of those who do believe in you“!

Looking forward …

Since entering adulthood, I have been on a wonderful journey which I dubbed: “getting to the roots”. I began this journey by looking for a man who contributed partly to my good looks 🙂 . In the very first birthday card I got from him, he wrote the following:

One cannot change the past but can shape and help influence the future… Look forward always and your life shall be true!

Today, it is his birthday and while I may not have any words of wisdom, I am looking forward! I am looking forward to many years of his positive influence in my life. I am looking forward to all that life has to bring. I am looking forward …!

Indeed, not with certainty but I am looking forward. I am looking forward because I now fully understand that nothing can be gained by reflections of the past. So, I look forward in faith for rooted I know that I can withstand the winds of change.

To a life lived in the present whilst looking forward to what tomorrow brings. Happy birthday dad!

Friendship and dark days

What indeed is friendship? And what is the measure of good friendship? I may not ever be able to answer the former but the latter I can 😉 .

True measure of friendship is in the dark days when there is but little sunshine in your life. The days when one fears to get out of bed and thinks burying their head under the duvet covers beats the ostrich burying its head in the sand. But get out of bed one must! For the dark days are the days of the truth and with the truth comes the light. Sadly, one such enlightening truth is “when days are dark, friends are few”!

Prays for the return of the years of gentlemen-hood

Its been a while since I blogged and I think yesterday was one of those enlightning days for me that are worth documenting. I came to peace with the idea of remaining single for eternity. Not something that my elders would want to hear but I am clear that until I meet a gentleman I am not settling for a guy with muscles and/or looks.

So what happened. Well I was in a company of a guy that is definately easy on the eyes. I had absolutely no problems with the fact that Fresh the person to him refers to the DJ and while for me it refers to the prince of Bel Air. Nor did I have problems with the fact that if I were to cook a meal for him I would have to cook his steak and veggies to death. And I am not even going to discuss music…! Back to the point, despite the obvious differences I still never expected the guy mid-conversation to pick up his phone and call a friend about a non-urgent issue.

The guy practically made an ‘oh sh%$t’ statement and called his friend to discuss trivial issues about either girls or beer. I just can’t remember for I was seething with anger. Unfortunately it didn’t occur to me to ask him to stop the car but it did dawn on me that he would rather be chating on the phone than converse with me and so I called him as soon as he was off the phone. Did he answer? Of course not, he thought I was insane and perhaps blowing things out of proportion. I think I was too shocked to blow anything and frankly if I were to blow anything it would have been him and guys like him who lack a sense of what good manners entail.

For me, the ultimate good manners for guys is captured by an era of gentleman-hood. An era when no woman would open doors for themselves (unless there was no male in her company) and certainly an era when a man would know that it is only polite to excuse himself if at all he cannot resist the pulse to have a conversation with another.

Until the return of such an era, I shall remain happily single! And I must admit I never thought I could ever say this but there, it is said! I will not only be a ‘lefetoa’ (one passed for marriage) but will graduate to be a ‘mokubata’ (politically correct translation is a cold spinster and the proper translation is not so kosher)! Not necessarily easy labels to live with in our society but I know that I have the power to respond or not to respond to such labels. Hence, it is my decision to embrace a life without a guy if it means not sharing a life with a gentleman. Am I insane?


“Lefu le qoleng ea kobo!” This is a saying that one often hears at home and its literal translation is ‘death lies at a tip of a blanket’ (remember that Basotho are a nation of proud blanket wearers and as such it is fitting to use blanket). This expression is often used to remind us of our own mortality so that we can live a meaningful life where each day is lived to its fullest.

Let me get straight to the point of this blog. About two weeks ago, whilst watching soccer and explaining why my support for teams is dependent on which team is least favoured in the room. Denis, a fellow resident at the village, remarked about my perspective on things. I had stated to him in the past that I believe death needs to be celebrated for no one is likely to leave this world alive. We all laughed at this seemingly hidden life secret whose reality only hits us when a loved one has been called to meet up with the creator. He thought that my aurgument was very unusual but being the nice guy he was, he made it a point to understand my point of view….

Today, I learnt that Denis answered the call to leave this world of ours. This came as a real shock but I guess it is true;”lefu le qoleng ea kobo”. With this expression coming to mind, I quickly remembered elements of my argument to Denis that much as we may feel pain or sorrow, we need to embrace death as the key that finally grants us a true peaceful dwelling with our creator. Denis has run his race with grace and kindness; for that he will certainly be remembered. I therefore hope that as his family and all who know him mourn, will also celebrate his loving and kind heart. It is also my hope that we will continue with own race in life with full appreciation that our time may not be as long as we hope; thus we need to live each day as though it was our last.

Finally,it is my sincerest prayer that his soul will rest in perfect peace and in time that his family will come to terms with his departure.

Sing and dance through it all

This evening I went to Rhodes University Chamber Choir concert. I must say the performance was impressive—but if the truth be told, Wits choir is a little bit better than us. This is not really about comparing the two choirs, my point is while listening to the choir, I was reminded of an article I read not so long ago — the jive that kept us alive —a tribute to John Matshikiza.

The gist of the article was about dancing and singing through all that life has to offer us. Yesterday, we were hit by a mini tornado here in Grahamstown; it is still relatively windy to be at ease, but despite this, it was impossible not to enjoy the singing and dancing. Strange as this may sound, it suddenly made sense to me why music is such a huge part of our culture. For example, in my own culture, we sing virtually for every occasion including war. We have songs known as mokorotlo (war songs) and koli-ea-malla (sad songs), which I provide as support for my statement.

Much as I had never thought about singing and dancing as part of culture, I never underestimate the power of song. The repertoire included songs in isiXhosa, Sesotho, IsiZulu, Germany, English and I think Latin as well. It wasn’t just the language factor but some compositions were dated as far back as the pre-Christ era. This means that the choir, through song and dance, was able to transcend it all — language, time and differences in culture.

So, as food for thought, we should consider singing and dancing through it all — be it we are in pain or filled with joy. Whilst, of course, taking heed of advice given in a song Nna Na (I think it should have been: Nnana). In this song, a person called Nnana is asked to remember that life is like a spinning wheel (bophelo ke lebili); what goes around will surely come around!